Category Archives: Action

Often high in violence and fast-paced. Not necessarily gory, though can be.

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

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We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher

 

Related: Marvel Future Avengers

Similar: Iron Man

Canaan

Spriggan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 22 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Animated well.

Negatives:

  • Action is repetitive.
  • No mystery or suspense.
  • Generic scientist villain.
  • Royalty-free rock music?

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I just watched this out of curiosity to see what they would do with a Marvel anime film instead of a series. I shouldn’t have bothered.

After the Punisher disrupts a secret S.H.I.E.L.D mission, the agency forces him to team up with Black Widow to fight Leviathan, a terrorist organisation selling stolen S.H.I.E.L.D tech. The vigilante and hero will have to put their differences aside to save the world.

Action, action, and more action constitute Avengers Confidential’s runtime. There’s a fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against some thugs, another fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against the generic weapons scientist enemy, and, of course, yet more combat between the two leads. Honestly, these two fight each other more than they do enemies.

The action is so repetitive as well. How many times do they hit fist to fist? It must be at least once per fight. Avengers Confidential has no mystery or suspense to keep you watching. It has as much content as an episode from the Marvel series anime. There is no substance here, no character and little story to speak of. I wonder how this anime would look from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about these characters. Would such an audience have any sense for whom these characters are and for what they are meant to stand?

There’s nothing more to say other than don’t waste your time as I did with this incredibly boring film. It’s made to look even worse should you come at it from Marvel’s Hollywood movies.

And with that, I am done with Marvel’s foray into anime, unless they try again with something better at a later date. Overall, I am not impressed with these Marvel anime. X-Men had good qualities, but the rest…I doubt people will even remember which characters received adaptations in a few years.

Art – Medium

Avengers Confidential is well animated, though the anatomy looks off at times, particularly faces, as if two studios worked on separate scenes independently.

Sound – Low

The acting is decent with little to say while the music sounds like royalty-free rock.

Story – Low

The Punisher and Black Widow team up to defeat Leviathan, a terrorist organisation looking to sell S.H.I.E.L.D technology to super villains. You need more than straightforward action to have a good story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Watch any Avengers animated series instead, or you have a hundred more engaging action anime than Avenger Confidential.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

RepetitiveShallow

Pokémon: The Movie 2000 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Pokémon: Maboroshi no Pokémon Lugia Bakutan

 

Related: Pokémon: The First Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 20 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The legendary Pokémon feel legendary.
  • High tension.

Negatives:

  • Most forgettable villain.
  • Romance between Ash and Misty?

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I had watched Pokémon: The Movie 2000 so many times as a child, even more than the Pokémon: The First Movie, that I lost count. It is perhaps third behind Disney’s The Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians for my most watched kids’ movies. It was a perfect storm of factors to make me love it. It was a Pokémon movie released at the height of my Pokémon mania, it featured Pokémon from Gold & Silver games, which are still my favourites, while also incorporating the legendary birds of the three elements at the centre, and gave it epic an scope to threaten the world. It’s as if Nintendo had asked little me what kind of Pokémon movie I wanted. It goes without saying, but I bloody loved this movie.

I hadn’t seen it in over a decade until I rewatched it for this review. So many memories came back to me, recalling a simpler time when I didn’t even know this was called anime, when I had no responsibilities and could waste time as though it wasn’t a limited resource. Fond memories.

Unfortunately, I doesn’t hold up as well as The First Movie. But before I get into why, let me cover the scenario in brief.

Lawrence, a man with more money than sense, likes to collect the rarest Pokémon in his gigantic flying fortress. On his crosshairs are the three legendary birds of ice, lightning, and fire – Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres – which, when disturbed according to the prophecy, will summon the ultimate prize: Lugia. Disturbance of these legendary birds results in climate change that Al Gore can only dream of and is the reason for Lugia’s awakening. Ash Ketchum and company find themselves washed into this conflict when a storm carries their boat off course. Only Lugia and “the chosen one” (spoiler: it’s Ash) can restore balance to the elements and save the world.

I’ll go over a few positives first. I like that no one takes the prophecy seriously at first, that it’s just a story for the tourists to add character to this holiday island they end up on. By the end, it isn’t even clear if the “chosen one” aspect of the prophecy was true or if Ash just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help. As mentioned before, I love the legendary birds and their world-ending conflict feels appropriate to hype they receive in Pokémon lore. Later legendaries would power creep them to the point where one Pokémon is the God and still not feel as cool. The tension is also high from the moment the first storm hits.

Where The Movie 2000 falls flat is in the villain. Think about how many times I have seen this movie and know that I still can’t remember any of Lawrence’s character (even forgot his name). He is utterly forgettable. You compare him to Mewtwo from the previous movie and it’s night and day. Mewtwo has a clear motivation, with reasoning, a complete arc, and memorable lines. Lawrence has nothing to recommend himself as the star villain of your movie. The only positive I can give is that he’s not from Team Rocket, which is something different.

When you have a villain who isn’t a personal threat to the protagonist, it weakens the villain-hero conflict, which you need to make up for in other areas. For instance, you can have more conflict between allies to heighten the emotional drama. Looking at the previous movie once more, Mewtwo threatened Ash’s Pokémon and made them fight to the death. Now that’s heavy conflict. This apocalyptic scenario, while a tense rollercoaster, requires no emotional investment from the heroes.

As a kid, you’re first priority in a movie is the cool factor and the fun factor. Who cares about baby stuff like emotions and drama? Pokémon: The Movie 2000 is certainly cool and fun, but as an adult, it no longer contains the factors I desire most.

Before I go, I want to touch on something I didn’t properly notice when I was but a wee lad. Did they try to push a romance between Ash and Misty? The story introduces a new girl who tells them the prophecy and teases Misty about her feelings for Ash. I never got that sense from the series. Perhaps this was a test ground. Either way, it isn’t particularly relevant nor affect enjoyment. It’s just odd.

Art – Medium

The art is a little better than The First Movie, except in the case of the CG fortress, though that isn’t a serious issue. I like the texture of the environments.

Sound – Medium

I have no comment on the Japanese. No matter what I do, I can’t get used to it. Meowth, as always, is the best. There is another cover song of the main theme like before.

Story – Medium

A storm will destroy the world unless Ash can restore balance between ice, lightning and fire with the aid of an ancient Pokémon. This is a fun Pokémon side adventure, albeit one that needs a better villain.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Pokémon fans only. Not only is this tailored to Pokémon fans, most references won’t make sense without prior knowledge.

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Ga-Rei-Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ga-Rei: Zero

 

Similar: Canaan

Blood+

Elfen Lied

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Music is rather good.

Negatives:

  • Lacks weight.
  • Fails at connecting us to characters.
  • Meaningless yuri bait.
  • Narrative doesn’t resonate.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ga-Rei-Zero is the prequel anime to the manga Ga-Rei, following the tale of Kagura and the fate that forced her to fight her sister Yomi. They are agents of the Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division (SDCD) to slay monsters.

I love a good tragedy, especially one that pits ally against ally before the end. The key to a tragic tale, such as this one, is to make the audience care about the characters and their relationship before they must kill each other. This is especially true when you know events are going to turn for the worse and you’re pleading for them to stay allies, stay happy, but nothing you say can change the inevitable. So tragic. So good!

I’m sad to say that Ga-Rei-Zero doesn’t succeed in that respect. These girls are too boring, too clichéd to care an ounce about. The have the typical dynamic of yuri bait anime, with one as the strong katana girl, the other as timid and weak. To be fair, as a slight defence of Yomi, the generic katana girl type wasn’t as oversaturated at time of release in 2008.

These foster sisters have no development. Their relationship grows by way of fan service for character “building” – naked baths with boobs squished against the other’s back, making out randomly, and other yuri bait that is incongruous to the tone they try to convey. Emotional development comes in the form of staring off into space accompanied by a slow pan. That’s another problem. The cinematography is so boring. Every composition is stock standard with a slow pan. Moving manga, as they call it. There’s no detail, no art to anything in the visuals.

The writing is similar, though it’s not so bad that makes it to the ranks of Vampire Knight. It’s just so dull, without any creativity. And the exposition. The first time these girls meet, Yomi dumps the full backstory for Kagura, her father, and herself. Wow! If you told me they made Ga-Rei-Zero by plugging parameters into an anime-creating AI to generate a series, I’d believe you.

The world building lacks artistry. The powers are vague, they try mixing things up with new weapons, such as a gun sword and combat wheelchair, but there’s no cohesion to any of these. (That AI theory is sounding more plausible by the minute.)

Ga-Rei-Zero also needs better narrative resonance – the tying up of a story from start to finish. It opens with an SDCD squad called to fight monsters and dying, followed by the reveal of Yomi as the evil sister to Kagura. They went for a “flashforward” opening, wherein we see an event later in the story with dramatic implications before we rewind back to the start in happier times. Flashforwards elicit one question: “What happened to make things go so wrong?” The mistake they made was having such a long flashforward. They didn’t need to introduce the SDCD. We could get to that later. All we needed to know is the following: monsters are attacking, led by protagonist’s sister, and the good guys are fighting back. The relevant information is in the last few minutes of episode 2 – first episode isn’t needed.

What this does is set the wrong expectations. For the entire series, we are wondering when the SDCD will become a major part of the narrative. It would be as if you opened an Avengers movie on a team fight, but 20 minutes in, you focus solely on Captain America for the rest of the narrative. The longer it goes, the more the audience expects and questions why the rest of the Avengers haven’t joined. If you’d called the film Captain America and had a cameo scene featuring the Avengers at some point in act one, then the expectation isn’t there. It’s all about that initial presentation. I suspect they started this way to have a ton of gore and death immediately, which can be effective shock value, but rings hollow when superfluous.

One defence of this you’ll here is that Ga-Rei-Zero is a prequel to the manga and that the narrative will resonate if you finish the story. But we aren’t here for a manga. Furthermore, it was a simple fix. Cut episodes 1 and 2 save for the last few minutes and play that before the opening credits.

Even if you ignore this poor opening, you can feel that lack of synergy between elements of the series. For instance, the theme of the battle against monsters doesn’t complement the conflict theme between Kagura and Yomi except in the one case where Kagura has to kill a mind-controlled civilian she liked. Good theming has the sub-plots/conflicts support the main theme.

Then we have Yomi’s engagement to the heir of another important family. It doesn’t contribute much, nor does it lend to the theme. Once again, that AI thought, “Every story has a romance, therefore I must put one in.”

What I dislike most about Ga-Rei-Zero is how Yomi’s turn to evil happens. She doesn’t descend into evil like in Gungrave or fall to greed as seen in Madoka Magica. No poor decisions, no character conflict, no slow creeping corruption that seduces her. Nope, mind control does it. The ultimate sin with a tragedy like this is to have an ally turn foe by anything other than their own choices and actions.

All of this dullness and lack of synergy results in a boring anime. There is far worse out there – Ga-Rei-Zero isn’t that bad – but let’s just say that I have more fun with worse anime than this.

Art – Very Low

The CG is hideous for the special vision that allows agents to see spectres and the monsters look even worse. It doesn’t even justify the CG with complex animation. On top of that, the cinematography, character designs, and environments have no creativity whatsoever.

Sound – Low

The music and acting are quite good, but the script has no weight to it, dragging down everything around it. Also, the music doesn’t sync with the action as it should, often going too long as if they have to play the entire track.

Story – Low

Two sisters that slay monsters must eventually fight each other. The story doesn’t do enough to create an emotional connection to the characters for us to care about their fates.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Ga-Rei-Zero is one of those anime that only select fans will remember as the years go by.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

No Development

The Saga of Tanya the Evil – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Youjo Senki

 

Similar: Overlord

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

GATE

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Visually atmospheric.
  • Satisfying sound effects.
  • Creative combination of magic and tech.

Negatives:

  • Not evil enough.
  • Tone clashes.
  • Loses steam.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Saga of Tanya the Evil, what an unusual title for an anime with an unusual little girl on the cover art. I can already feel what I’m going to see in this one.

The story starts amidst a war in an alternate reality where magic and technology create a new kind of conflict. A blonde girl, Tanya, leads an air unit of the Empire (alternate reality Germany) that can fly through the aid of magic-infused jet packs or flying horse armour (available now for $2.50 in Skyrim), and her gospel magic when threaded through the barrel of a rifle delivers almighty justice upon her foes. She is said to be supremely evil.

Tanya is also the reincarnation of a Japanese businessman.

In our reality, after a disgruntled former employee pushed him in front of a train, Being X (God) visited him and reincarnated the ruthless businessman out of spite for his defiance against divinity. Tanya tries to avoid the war at first, retire as a wounded soldier in the countryside, but her divine magic makes her so powerful that the Empire keeps putting her on the frontlines. It isn’t long before she becomes that lance that will pierce all foes, propelling the Empire to dominance.

This is certainly an unusual premise and when combined with the good pacing and gritty visuals, makes for an easy watch. My favourite aspect of Tanya the Evil is the fusion of magic and technology, which recalls the Wolfenstein games in its ability to work in a supernatural element without breaking the World War feel. One can imagine that if this magic existed, WW1 would look and operate like this. It’s a cool moment when Tanya fires her first Gospel Explosive Shell like a missile. We have a strong start.

Problems arise as more pieces fall into place, not quite hitting the mark as they land a little wonky. The first issue is with some of the writing. We have lame action one-liners that don’t work outside of Schwarzenegger/Stallone-esque action flicks and the occasional clunky explanation. For instance, when Tanya nukes a unit out of the sky, rather than let the moment speak for itself, someone narrates that her shot burns all oxygen in the area, so you can’t breathe even if you avoid the blast. No need for this. We get it: big boom = dead.

These are mere minor quibbles, however – easy to ignore. The bigger issues revolve around Tanya. From the way people describe her, you expect her to be little Hitler – Satan in a girl’s body. The camera loves to swap to a fisheye lens and zoom in close to her distorted face as she pulls a maniacal grin. “She is so evil, you can’t even,” they keep telling us. And yet, she’s not that evil nor particularly ruthless. Every close up of her grin, every line touting her immeasurable malevolence is trying far too hard to convince us of a falsehood. She’s no Johan.

It’s more comical than evil.

This rolls into the next problem – the tone. Tanya the Evil has a tone issue. Judging by my blurb above, you would expect a gritty war drama with an evil protagonist and magic. However, almost everything has a coating of comedy. This worked fine when she was trying to have herself knocked out of commission to avoid war, but once she’s supposed to have become so evil that she strikes fear in the hearts of allies and enemies alike, it undermines the tone.

Then we have Tanya’s character arc. Why is she so invested in winning the war for the Empire? She does allude to a desire to meet Being X again to shove a barrel down his throat and return to her normal life, though I fail to see a connection between that and her sudden…love (?) for the Empire. Are we missing several chapters that changed her character?

This in turn leads to the final problem with Tanya’s evil saga – Being X/God. Her being a reincarnation and the god character don’t need to be in this story. She could have just been a genius girl with magic talents and pure evil within her soul. Was the author trying to create another guy-trapped-in-MMO story without an MMO? (Please don’t make it so…) As for God, he doesn’t do much outside of the reincarnation and giving a scientist the final piece to a technological puzzle (Captain America vibes here).

I don’t know if the author is going to for some greater message with the inclusion of a God-like character. How does it relate to the theme? Perhaps the next season will elucidate.

At 12 episodes, I don’t feel we have covered much of the story. Future content could right the fallen pieces and bring it all together in a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed my time with The Saga of Tanya the Evil but the slow downward trend in quality leaves me tepid towards it.

Art – High

This has good visuals – detailed, well animated, good lighting, and thoughtful shot compositions. I particularly like the texture of the world and the atmosphere of the skies. Gives a proper, grim WW1 meets fantasy feel. The only problem is the ugly character designs for the young girls with their droopy faces, melting eyes, and pudgy jawlines – doesn’t match any other character. Also, there are a few bad sweeping CG shots of battlefields.

Sound – High

Good acting in either language (although, I hate the moe casting choice for Japanese Tanya) – pick you preference – and the writing is solid apart from the occasional clunks. Excellent sound effects. The magic impacts are so satisfying.

Story – Medium

A man reincarnated as a magical girl of evil will lead the Empire to victory in a World War. An eviler protagonist and less comedy would have helped the war story meet the gritty tone it desired.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a little different and easy to watch, so give a go. I hope the sequel does better.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None