Vandread was the other anime from my ‘Watched but Not Reviewed’ list that I was tempted to revisit. Though unlike Scryed, which I surmised would still be good, Vandread was certain to be trash. But is it glorious trash?
In the future as presented by Vandread, men and women live on separate planets, able to reproduce through cloning to fuel the endless war between the two. Women are monsters who eat men, say the men! Men are savage barbarians, say the women! Generations of no in-person contact have led to the growth of demonising myths about the opposing sides. At the launch of the men’s new Vanguard battleship, low-class labourer Hibiki sneaks aboard to steal a mech, but finds himself captured by pirate women in a surprise attack. Oh no, they’re going to eat him! However, the battle created a wormhole, sucking the Vanguard and pirate ship into distant space, where the men and women must work together to survive.
These women aren’t part of female society anymore. The vanity war between women on their home planet made them strike out on their own to become something better. As for the men, Hibiki had no status on his world, the doctor wants to help others regardless of faction, and the Vanguard pilot finally has a purpose. An easy bond forms between the groups. The core theme of becoming something greater than your birth persists throughout every character arc.
Vandread is light-hearted – I mean, an episode is all about setting up the Christmas party – so set expectations to low.
The screen time alternates between space battles and comedy. The battles are terrible – don’t just mean the visuals – and aren’t worth paying attention to. The comedy largely plays on basic gender stereotypes in a fun manner. Main girl Dita is obsessed by aliens and calls Hibiki ‘Alien-san’ as she stalks him around the ship – she wants to confirm if rumours about men having a hose between their legs is true. Conveniently for her, his mech functions better with both of them inside yet has a single seat, forcing her to sit on his lap.
This isn’t a harem, surprisingly. I am amazed they resisted the temptation with a 5-to-1 ratio of men to women in the cast all aboard a single ship. That one choice makes Vandread much more enjoyable as a bad anime.
Vandread is as silly as it sounds. I used to like this show when I had seen a handful of anime. Now? The silliness is still fun in a bad way, but I find myself unable to care once the second season starts. A single season is enough. It looks like arse too, which tests the tolerance of your eyes.
Art – Very Low
All the CG for the ships and mechs looks awful. Character designs suck – the protagonist is a walking cliché of the era. He has many shounen anime clones.
Sound – Low
The script is rubbish and the voice work is average, yet is fun because no one takes the material seriously.
Story – Very Low
In a universe where men and women live on different planets, female space pirates capture three men and find themselves teaming up to combat forces from all sides. Vandread is stupid in every facet in the right way to make it fun.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: For fans of bad anime. If you don’t want to think and need to veg out, Vandread is the perfect remedy with its silliness.
Hunter x Hunter is purported to be different from other shounen battle anime. Let’s start by dispelling this notion, as it only sets up false expectations and ultimate disappointment.
Like all battle anime, Hunter x Hunter (don’t pronounce the x) is about a kid with big dreams. This time, we follow Gon Freecss, a boy in search of the father that abandoned him and his mother. To that end, he must become a hunter like his father before him in the belief that the profession will open new avenues of investigation.
Naturally, the story starts with Gon taking the exam to become a hunter. And here we hit the first brick wall. The Hunter Exam is tunnel-through-the-mountain boring! The exam is just one fake out after another.
Gon lives on an island, so must travel by ship to the mainland. Little does he know that the crossing is part of the test. Once ashore, he asks for directions to the exam, except the false directions are also part of the test. Then it’s an old lady with riddles, followed by a secret password into the exam site. But wait, that isn’t the site. We have to run a marathon first to get there! Watching people run, how riveting. Alright, are we done yet? No, we need to cook some barbeque. (Just kill me now.) And on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, (did I mention the recap episode halfway?), and on, and on…and on it goes for 21 episodes of boring task after boring task. This exam is every idea the author came up with dragged on for eternity. Why not pick the best three ideas and make something engaging of them? It serves no purpose other than to introduce characters, which could have happened naturally later had the exam be removed (and most introductions don’t matter anyway – more on that later).
Could a 21-episode exam work? Certainly, if interesting. Narutomanaged it with the chunin exam using secret ninja techniques called “character development”, “meaningful conflict”, and “story progression”. Had the first episode of HxH been after this arc, all we would need is the narrator telling us, “This is Gon. He’s a hunter.” Twenty-one episodes saved. It’s the worst start to a shounen anime I’ve seen, barring the ones that had no potential to begin with. The arc isn’t filler, but it may as well be.
The plot next moves into a tournament arc, another common element of the genre. Gon and Killua have to fight to the top of a battle tower with hundreds of floors and millions in prize money. Matters get serious from the 200th floor onwards. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch all 200 floors – good performance leapfrogs contestants up faster.
The downfall of the tournament arc is the training sessions that eat up too much time between fights. HxH has a massive problem with over explaining its concepts and making them unnecessarily convoluted. This anime uses auras. If you’ve seen anything with aura powers before, you’ll get the point in a minute. HxH deems you too stupid to grasp it in less than hours of lectures. You can bet your savings that it will pause every fight for some long-winded explanation of X character’s power and strategy.
Training episodes suck because they have no plot nor any internal character growth. It isn’t a problem exclusive to this anime, yet these are particularly boring. Off the top of my head, only Bleach does them worse.
The first great moment occurs in episode 31 when Gon faces Hisoka, an interesting Pierrot-like villain, who values the challenge above all else and will go to extreme lengths for the greatest challenges, such as saving heroes with potential to contest him in future. He takes a keen interest in Gon. The exam introduced us to him and his villainy, but it all repeats here anyway. His power is a malleable aura compared to bubblegum that can manipulate targets with puppet strings, among other magician-type tricks. He’s a theatrical fighter that loves to put on a show.
Hisoka belongs to a villain group known as the Phantom Troupe, which leads into the next and best arc of the series. Gon and friends head to the big city to earn big bucks so they may buy a video game that will lead to his father. The Phantom Troupe arc succeeds where the others fail because it is all plot relevant and gives all main characters something to do, rather than forgetting half the team (more on that later). It also helps to have several interesting villains that pose a real threat. A highlight is the fight between Kurapika, the guy I confused for a girl in the artwork, and a villain. He is the revenge guy of the series, as there must be one in every shounen. Despite sharing much with others of his archetype, he works thanks to an interesting ability that cleverly explains how he can hope to match such powerful villains, but without overpowering him for the rest of the series. Shounens usually have to pull some convoluted nonsense to backpedal the power, such as Bleach with its moronic power resets.
At the end of this arc, 58 episodes in, I’m not blown away, yet it has been on an upward trajectory and I am convinced it’s only the good stuff from here.
Boy was I wrong.
The Greed Island arc that follows is somehow worse than the exam. Greed Island is the video game Gon seeks on his father’s trail. Players enter the game world and fight using cards with abilities. That’s right, we are in Yu-Gi-Oh now! It’s as dumb as it sounds. This arc was just an excuse for the author to cram in more convoluted mechanics and hours of idiots explaining how they work. If you want to see some of the worst pacing and exposition anime has to offer, watch the dodgeball game in this arc. Only masters of Zen can handle such trash.
The main villain for this period, a punk that blows people up with the power of cards, is pathetically dull. Much like the exam, this arc amounts to little more than wasting 17 episodes of your time. If I didn’t know better, I would believe this to be a filler arc.
Finally we come to the Chimera Ant arc, the longest at 61 episodes long, which tells of a species of dangerous human-creature hybrids that soon develop aura powers. The Hunter Association dispatches many hunters to deal with the threat.
The story has now gone from a big city, to a video game, and reached a monster slaying fantasy. Hunter x Hunter lacks focus. This review is so long because I feel as though I am reviewing three different anime at once. Watching this series gives the impression that the author had too many ideas and wanted them all to be in one story, jumping impatiently from one to the next. Remember the Big Bad Phantom Troupe? They’re barely relevant after their arc. That Yu-Gi-Oh garbage? Forget it ever existed. Arc after arc seems to wipe the relevance of the story that came previous. None suffer more than HxH’s characters.
Each arc dumps a boatload of new character on your lap for you to care about, only to take them away as soon as the arc ends. “What happened to that guy?” I kept asking myself. At the start, HxH presents a core group of four characters. Remember Kurapika of central importance against the Troupe? He’s barely in this. Oh yeah, there’s some guy called Leorio – you’ll know him as the tall guy you see on most cover art who receives enough attention for a major character. Well, he has as much screen time as a minor character. Only Killua with the white hair has the screen time to match his relevance alongside Gon.
So when we come to the Chimera Ant arc, it is no surprise to have over 50 – yes, 50 – new characters thrown at the story. A story, I might add, that isn’t directly relevant to the main plot even with 61 episodes. Interestingly, however, it’s a good arc. It starts slow (could have fit in half the number of episodes), though once the main villain emerges in act two it shows promise, until it finishes with a strong third act. The heart of the story is the Chimera King villain that questions life, morality, and meaning.
This arc gives fans a reason to call HxH dark, “the darkest shounen anime”. It isn’t really. It’s only dark if you haven’t seen what a proper dark story looks like. A villain killing random civilians isn’t dark – it’s just meaningless. There are a couple of dark moments, but it’s nowhere near enough to call the series dark. What Itachi does in Naruto is darker, yet I wouldn’t call that anime dark either. That said, a false reputation doesn’t take away from the strength of its third act. It’s a shame the arc has to be part of this anime. Both this arc and HxH would have benefited from separation. The Chimera Ant arc works as a standalone story similar to From the New World and with its removal, HxH can refocus on the plot. There is a main story consequence resulting from the Ants, but that could have come just as easily from the Phantom Troupe.
What HxH boasts in the end is two good arcs, which still need work, and a mixture of decent and utter trash for the remainder of the time. I haven’t covered half the problems with HxH in this already too-long review.
A common note you will hear of this anime is that it is the best of the battle shounen. It has the smartest fights, greatest characters, best villains, and most complex stories, they will tell you. Does it? Not really. There are smarter fights, greater characters, and better villains in other shounen anime. Nor is HxH different from the norm. You have the same types of arcs, the same cast of characters, yelling for power, energy attacks, poor explanations, and there is even a Super Saiyan mode (I won’t give it away, but it is the goofiest super mode I have ever witnessed). It does do one better than the rest – no unofficial filler, though that doesn’t save it from other pacing issues, including a narrator that repeats everything we just saw.
Many of these problems are common to most entries in the genre though. Would I recommend another battle anime over this? I don’t know. No matter which you pick, you have to tolerate a lot of garbage.
Is HxH better than most of the genre? Sure, why not. With such a low bar, it isn’t difficult to hit single digit ranks, though that is still low when looking at anime as a whole. If coming from Dragon Ball Z, as this did with the 90s manga release, it would seem mind blowing to have any strategy to fights, character development, and a story that’s more than “punch the bad guy”.
The difficulty I have with justifying a recommendation to watch Hunter x Hunter is in its 148-episode length. Consider how many other better anime you could finish in that time. And you have to factor in that no one has any idea when or even if this will ever receive a conclusion. If you love shounen, you will love this – I don’t doubt it. But if you don’t love shounen, then I can’t recommend it.
Art – Medium
What is with these character designs? Everyone looks like a bootleg knock off from other anime with no thought to theme or cohesion. There’s a reason these characters feature so little in aesthetic contests. Like all long anime, the budget has to cover too much ground. However, unlike other battle anime, HxH doesn’t drop in quality for action scenes – quite the opposite. A pleasant surprise.
Sound – High
The acting is the strongest area of HxH and the music is solid, though lacks variety for such a long series.
Story – Medium
A kid becomes a hunter in a quest to find his father, but will have to overcome many trials and foes before the end. The short version: Phantom Troupe and Chimera Ant arcs are good, and I wouldn’t bother with the rest.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For battle shounen fans only. Hunter x Hunter doesn’t have the crossover appeal to go beyond its demographic. For those who do start, note that the series is incomplete with no continuation in sight.
When a reader requested Giant Robo for review, I made a joke about how on the nose the title was. Easy to guess what that anime is about! Well guess what? It ain’t about a giant robot! What…?
Yeah, the robot is barely in it and even when on screen, usually does nothing. Oh sure, the robot can cry, but need it to fight more than a few times in six hours of film? No robot for you!
Not only is the robot barely in Giant Robo, the robot isn’t even needed! (Don’t even mention the other robots teased in the introduction.)
An evil organisation called Big Fire (…) wants to destroy the source of Earth’s renewable energy, Shizuma Drives, and return humanity to the dark ages. The International Police Force fights back with special warriors from around the globe, capable of immense feats and super powers, alongside Daisaku, the 12-year-old kid in control of Giant Robo.
The warriors are the reason for Giant Robo’s superfluous nature. They are so powerful – super strength, teleportation, god weapons, immortality, and more – that I have to question why there are giant robots at all. Characters often describe Giant Robo as a trump card against Big Fire, but these warriors don’t need the help and certainly not from a kid. Daisaku is more useless than his robot. Each episode opens to an introduction of the story, pressing us with the importance of Giant Robo and its amazing young pilot, Daisuke! He has no combat abilities, though conveniently for his purpose in the plot has the watch that controls Robo.
Normally I would chalk Daisuke up to the need for a kid protagonist in a story for kids. However, my understanding is that Giant Robo is a loose adaptation of the source material that tries bringing pieces from every corner of the mangaka’s work, so I assume Daisuke feels more a protagonist in his manga.
The production team had two options to make this work. They either cut Daisuke (or make him a side character if they have to keep him) or give him something to do and lower the strength of the warriors. Currently, his job is to ask whiny questions while waiting for his cue on the next Robo appearance.
As for the warriors, the stars of the show, they aren’t memorable owing to their lack of distinction. They don’t have personalities as much as they have a thing. One’s thing is to be cool and brooding. Another’s is be a joker. You remember these people by power, not by character. Most of Giant Robo is action. When it isn’t action, it’s talking about the previous plot point and getting to the next plot point. Little time passes on character development. We don’t see character moments. Because this is for kids, characters spend too much time telling about their motivations, about the lessons they learned, and making sure that the kids get it.
Seen in the context of an old anime, there is enjoyment to find in Giant Robo. It looks great, even today, and the orchestral soundtrack is beautiful. The classic feel and maniacal villains that remind of Tin Tin’s foes are fun, but you cannot divorce Giant Robo from the modern day and the advancements in anime that come with it. This story hasn’t aged well. If you don’t have the nostalgia bug, these story problems will get in the way.
Art – High
The visuals are a mix of Metropolis and Lupin the Third and still hold up today. I like the style and the attention to detail with the parallax scrolling backgrounds.
Sound – Medium
Giant Robo has two dubs – one by Manga Entertainment and the other by Media Blasters. The latter is better, though Daisaku’s voice sounds too much like a girl, so the Japanese might be a better choice. The orchestral soundtrack is suitably world ending.
Story – Low
An international group of super powered warriors fight against an evil that wants to return humanity to the dark ages. A show called Giant Robo that isn’t about a giant robot, which has an extraneous protagonist, and an ending revelation that beggars belief doesn’t make for great story.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For old anime fans only. I can only see enjoyment for those going into Giant Robo as a nostalgia trip. For the love of anime, don’t believe the title!
Guilty Crown’s visuals don’t match the audience reception. When I look at a poster or trailer for this anime, I expect higher ratings from your general viewer. Guilty Crown has all the marks of anime destined for popularity – it looks good, has the popular art style of the age, and a young protagonist with a big sword and a girl hanging onto him. Yet, people don’t like it. This discrepancy is the sole reason I watched Guilty Crown.
After a virus crippled Japan, reliance on foreign aid allowed an independent military company called GHQ to control the nation. The guerrilla group Funeral Parlour has fought back for years, finding new hope for victory with the acquisition of a super power – the ability to draw weapons out of people’s souls. However, a failed operation forces the power’s carrier, singer Inori, to bestow it on high schooler Shuu instead of Gai the leader of Funeral Parlour. Shuu becomes an unwilling participant in the fight to reclaim Japan’s freedom.
This setup should sound familiar to any who have seen Code Geass. In fact, most of Guilty Crown feels inspired by that much-loved series – oppressed Japan, rebel force, unique power with dire consequences later on, and given by a girl. The problem with taking such obvious elements from a great story is that it increases expectations and thus the pressure to succeed. “You took a leg up from that giant and yet you still failed?”
Sadly, this feels closer to Aldnoah.Zero in quality. The protagonist even has “anti-social” as his defining trait, though is not as brain-dead as Aldnoah’s counterpart (and they share a villain whose personality is being disgusted at the dirty lower class). Just like that guy, Shuu isn’t actually anti-social – he’s boring, which the lazy writer shoved under the anti-social blanket as a defence.
Shuu’s introduction presents him as a kid with no power, no spine, and no purpose in life, allowing for plenty of growth, as is typical for a character of this story type. Minutes later, a girl with more cleavage than anything else says to this horny kid, “Take me, Shuu. You can use me!” and all of the character setup evaporates. Giving him instant power with little learning curve and no real competition undermines the position he started in. It shortcuts him out of his personal conflict. Look at Code Geassinstead, where Lelouch has to experiment with the limitations of his power and find clever strategies to maximise his ability within its limitations. Shuu simply draws a giant sword from Inori’s chest and destroys everything.
Oh, I almost forgot, they do try having a learning curve, but that’s just an excuse to have the most forced boob grab in anime history as Shuu tries to draw a weapon from his classmate. Silly me for forgetting this crucial story point!
Remember how annoying Anakin is in the prequels, always whining about how Obi-Wan didn’t let him do whatever he wanted? That best describes Shuu. Most of his dialogue is whining. With no likeable quality, no girl would be after this guy, let alone three. Speaking of girls, Inori has no personality. Her job is arm candy, submissive to every guy around her. Pathetic character.
Why didn’t these writers put more effort into creating layered characters? When the plot shifts the landscape dramatically for the third act, Shuu has to make difficult decisions (just like Lelouch), but because he’s such a flat character, you don’t root for him to succeed. When supporting characters hate him, you agree with them. A better writer would have you feel sorry for him or understand his perspective even if you don’t agree with him. In Guilty Crown, I didn’t care who the hero was or who’s in charge as long as they got this series over with.
Guilty Crown has the elements for a great story – see Code Geass for it done correctly – but it just happens to have executed every one of those elements incorrectly. Production I.G.’s quality art was wasted on this anime.
Art – High
Production I.G. of Psycho Pass fame always puts effort in the visuals, regardless of story quality. Good animation, beautiful lighting, and vibrant effects made me want to watch Guilty Crown in spite of the negative buzz.
Sound – Low
I love that the girl, whose profession is singer, can and does sing. I wish they had used similar music for the theme songs. The script needs a top-to-bottom rework including character edits to succeed.
Story – Low
A teen gains the power to draw weapons from people’s souls and must fight to reclaim his country from external forces. Guilty Crown feels like any light novel anime, despite coming from a manga. Less clichés and more effort at originality would have gone a long way.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. Guilty Crown tempts you with its visuals, but don’t fall for it. There is nothing for you here.
Samurai Jack is a unique show. I wager you won’t find its likeness just anywhere. From its striking visual style to its storytelling through sound and silence with little dialogue, this cartoon is a once every few generations type of art piece.
We follow Jack, a samurai thrown from his time into the future by the shape-shifting master of darkness, Aku. Jack must find a way back to the past to finish the job he started and stop Aku. His journey will take him to the far corners of the world, where Aku’s evil weighs heavily on all. This isn’t Jack’s world anymore. Robots, aliens, and all manner of beasts roam the world now.
Samurai Jack’s brilliance is in the cohesion of its every facet, each unique in style, yet brought together to perfection. The animation fluidity is low, for instance, but it’s sharp execution combined with precise editing gives it weight and impact, so much so that to improve the fluidity to the level of, say, a Ghibli film wouldn’t look right anymore. In fact, increasing the quality as they did for the final season could have been a disaster. Not the case, thankfully.
Genndy Tartakovsky has a style to his cartoons that extracts every grain of quality from a limited budget. It wouldn’t work without all elements uniting as one. Had the editing been off, the limited animation would stand out. It would have felt cluttered had there been more dialogue and sound. Genndy likes to give his scenes breathing time with subtle visual and auditory humour. When Jack meets a trio of talking dogs, everything stops for a long time to allow Jack’s awkwardness in this new world to sink in. It’s nothing but Jack looking left and right as club music pounds outside the booth. Less is more seems to be Genndy’s life motto.
Then when the action starts, the gear shifts into overdrive. Quick cuts, multi-panel shots, and single sound actions take over to give us the most tightly edited action scenes in animation. Samurai Jack never ever wastes your time. Watch the following video of a fight between Jack and a ninja to see what I mean.
It draws inspiration from many styles cinema and world culture. You will find influence from Kurosawa films, anime (Jack fights in a mecha samurai one episode), noir, cyberpunk, Ghibli, silent film, Star Wars, comic books, aboriginal art, and the list goes on. It would take several viewings to find them all. More importantly, this show succeeds in making them work together.
The future Earth in Samurai Jack is a post-apocalyptic melting pot that allows the series to bring you something new each episode. One episode could be in a city out of Blade Runner and the next could have Jack meeting a caveman. The overarching story is to defeat Aku, while the episodic plot is about Jack helping the many peoples and societies affect by Aku’s tyranny. This episodic structure allowed you to watch any episode back in the days when we were slaves to the TV schedule. Only the final season weaves ongoing narrative each episode, required in the build up to the finale.
This plethora of locations and characters to choose from also gives us great variety in the types of episodes. One has Jack polymorphed into a chicken, where he is kidnapped and forced into cock fighting. Sounds weird? It works. I imagine the production team kept thinking of crazier and weirder ideas for the series just to see if they could make it work. How about an episode that breaks the mould of minimal dialogue? Jack encounters a Scotsman that has the longest insults you’ve ever had the fortune to hear. He’s loud, brusque, and aggressive – Jack’s opposite. Hey, it works. Can we get Jack to join the mafia? Sure, let’s do it.
One of my favourite episodes has to be the season one finale, where Aku recites fairy tales to children with him featured as the hero or Jack as the evil villain. “Once upon a time there was a little girl with an adorable red cape, and great flaaaming eyebrows!”
Aku is a brilliant villain. He may be the all-powerful evil of the universe, but he is so much fun! Every scene with the guy is a riot. He is a villain that loves being evil, but he has his share of problems too. His inability to catch Jack has him depressed at times, so he sees a therapist. It’s a clone of himself… Perfect.
Think about this: they managed to have a villain that kills indiscriminately in a kid’s cartoon. It should traumatise kids, but due to the careful balance with humour, it succeeds. Samurai Jack is full of humour, and yet full of emotion. It reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist in how it balanced both ends.
And here we arrive at Jack himself. He could have easily been a standard protagonist surrounded by a brilliant series, someone we would remember for the series not for the character. Genndy could have gotten away with the cultural encounters and odd scenarios to keep us engaged. Most cartoon protagonists for kids don’t have much depth to them. It’s about the whole package of the cartoon rather than the character. However, Jack has the qualities of a character worthy of any drama series. He breaks, he falls, he thinks it all too much, especially when he arrives so close to success and it slips through his fingers. It is in his effort to stand back up that we see a complete character.
Samurai Jack adapts Bushido culture better than most anime. The final season in particular draws on the earthly and the mystical aspects of the samurai legend. His culture is at the core of his character, yet he is a character out of his time where such a culture no longer exists. The internal conflict that arises is fantastic. As I said – could have gotten away without it, but that extra effort elevates this show into the hall of excellence and makes it one worth remembering.
I have no notable complaints with Samurai Jack. At most, I could say some episodes aren’t as good as others, though that’s an occasional drop to 95% quality. Not a real complaint, is it? There was a time when I could bemoan its incomplete state, but after a 13-year wait, Genndy gave us the conclusion to the samurai’s journey. It was everything I had hoped for.
Art – Very High
Samurai Jack needs to be seen to appreciate the quality of its visuals, thanks in no small part to the sharp animation, pinpoint editing, and cinematic flair. I love the character designs – identifiable, distinct silhouettes, and it all fits together, from the caveman to the robot assassin.
Sound – Very High
Phil LaMarr as Jack and the late Mako as Aku – a perfect match. The stellar sound mixing matches the editing style. Minimalist, restrained, and flawless.
Story – Very High
A samurai searches for a way back to the past to save the ruined future from a master of darkness. You could watch any episode of Samurai Jack and have a great time. Why do that though, when you can watch all of them?
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. There is nothing else like Samurai Jack.