Category Archives: Action

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

One Piece: Grand Line & Chopper Arcs (seasons 2 & 3) – Anime Review

Related: One Piece: East Blue Arc (Season 1)

Length: 16 episodes (season 2), 15 episodes (season 3)

 

Positives:

  • Chopper is a good introduction
  • More creative locations and ideas, like the giants

Negatives:

  • Luffy is still uninteresting
  • Still in the introduction

(Request an anime for review here.)

This time in One Piece, we look at two seasons: Grand Line Inrush arc and Chopper on Winter Island arc.

The Grand Line Inrush arc takes Luffy and his crew along the Grand Line, a volatile band of water that divides the oceans and where the laws of nature take a vacation. One could be on a desert island in the morning only to hit a land of perpetual rain by evening. Monsters are a common sight in these parts. After a brief encounter with a lonely giant whale, Luffy arrives at an island of bounty hunters that want that sweet, sweet mullah on his head. This is a mere pit stop in the story to introduce us to Princess Vivi of Alabasta. She employs the talents of the Straw Hats to transport her to safety back to her country, where a rebellion threatens.

Matters become more interesting on the next island. Two giants have been stuck in a duel for 100 years, evenly matched for eternity. The giants turn out to be rather friendly. However, a dastardly organisation called Baroque Works – responsible for the troubles in Alabasta – has plans for the giants and their new friends. Agent “Mr 3” wants to turn everyone into a giant wax wedding cake. Our heroes are to remain as cake toppers for all time!

What an unusual power. Similar to Gaara’s sand tomb, it’s a terrifying ability to imagine as it would suffocate you to death. One Piece, of course, tempers it with humour. These quirky villains are a riot. The guy literally has his hair styled into a 3 with the end lit like a candle!

The story gets a little more serious in the Chopper on Winter Island arc, where the team need to find a witch to cure Nami’s illness. The island, as the arc title would indicate, is in perpetual winter. And what is synonymous with winter? Reindeer. The witch’s small reindeer assistant is Chopper. Of all the character backstories so far, I like his the most. He was assistant to a crazy doctor reminiscent of a good Rick from Rick & Morty until his death, wish unfulfilled. It’s a touching story of regret, powerlessness, and ambition. He becomes the Straw Hats’ doctor after they help him fulfil his old teacher’s dying wish. This cute reindeer is the show’s mascot. Just don’t make him angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry. I want to see more of him, though I hope he isn’t relegated to mere comedy relief.

One Piece’s adventurous feel continues to be its greatest asset, aided by a good pace on a micro level wherein no story lasts too long. However, we still seem to be in the introduction stage. On a macro level, these 92 episodes haven’t gone far in the grand scheme and I wonder how long it will take a real plot to develop.

There isn’t much more to say about these seasons. They continue in much the same vein as what came before. See you in the next season.

Quality so far – Medium (still)

Current Thoughts: I like the addition of Hulk the Reindeer to the team. It is also great to see the continued feel of adventure with the locations and cultures. Two giants stuck in an eternal battle – why not? An island covered in snow in the middle of the ocean? Let’s do it.

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One Piece: East Blue Arc (season 1) – Anime Review

Related: One Piece: Grand Line Inrush (season 2)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 61 episodes (season 1)

 

Positives:

  • Textured art holds up in the remastered version
  • A brilliant variety of character
  • The world is already full of adventure and promises so much more

Negatives:

  • Shouting = dialogue
  • Luffy hasn’t done much so far

(Request an anime for review here.)

Never has the saying “better late than never” been more applicable to my anime viewing timeline. At over 900 episodes as of this writing, One Piece has reached proportions that seem impossible to tackle (read all about my recurring nightmare here, in One Piece and the Curse of the Backlog). However, I shall take this one episode at a time and finally conquer the seas! (Or until I no longer find it entertaining. Whichever comes first.)

For those of you marooned on an island in the South Pacific since 1999, One Piece follows the adventures of Luffy, a boy with ambitions of becoming king of the pirates and who has the power to stretch his body like Mr Fantastic. First, he needs a crew if he means to survive all that the ocean and other pirates have to throw at him. Much of this first season is travelling to various locations, where he meets and recruits crewmates. Among them, we have Zoro the three-sword pirate, Sanji the chef, Nami the cartographer, and Usopp the best pirate to have ever lived.

I had tried One Piece many years ago – a few times, in fact, but had given up within an episode or two. Revisiting it now hasn’t changed my mind on those opening few. They give a terrible first impression. What is with the shouting? Of the approximately 190 lines of dialogue in the first episodes, over 100 are shouted – that doesn’t even include the action/reaction yells and one-word screams. Some pink-haired kid yells just about every line he has! Yelling for dialogue is a trait of cartoons for little kids, as it holds their attention better. This coupled with Luffy’s laissez-faire attitude to the most dangerous situations (more on him later) makes One Piece feels so bloody juvenile. Is this for five-year-olds? Thankfully, this only holds true for the first few episodes. Once they reach the Usopp recruitment story (starts episode nine), the tone jumps up two age demographics.

I think back to the start of Naruto, which also had a weak few episodes. Who can forget the second episode where Naruto hangs out with that brat Konohamaru? However, Naruto was clever enough to include the scene when a teacher betrays him and shows him how life isn’t friendly or fair. This is a promise from the author that despite the juvenile tone of the early episodes, this isn’t a “happy go lucky” anime. One Piece needed that moment.

It’s obvious One Piece isn’t for small children with all the guns, alcohol, and smoking, which leads me into an aside about the original 4Kids dub, having gone down in infamy. I watched the new Funimation dub, which is unedited and matches the original Japanese, but I also looked into the 4Kids atrocity that removed blood, replaced all the guns with…something, swapped Sanji’s cigarette for a lollipop, skipped entire episodes, and cut the alcohol, amongst many other changes. This was their most censored import. Why bother bringing it over at all if they’re going to change everything, you ask? As I’ve discovered, the decision makers at 4Kids did not watch One Piece before acquiring the licence. It was a package deal with other anime, likely for a younger audience than One Piece. So when it came time to dub it, they realised it didn’t fit their target demographic and thus began the massacre. Funimation, thankfully, took over the project years later and undid all of the changes to release it remastered in HD.

This HD re-release was a fantastic idea. When I thought back to One Piece’s art style before this viewing, all I could remember was those giant mouths. I still hate them of course (they add to the screaming as well). However, outside of this pet peeve, One Piece’s art holds up well because of the textured environments and the character designs. Imagine if it had gone for the standard style of the day with those flat colours, two-tone shading/lighting, and shallow backgrounds. It wouldn’t have aged well at all! As for the character designs, I find some great examples here. I love the fish people from the octopus guy to the sawfish captain. The fat pirate queen in episode one and her look later in the season (plus her perfect skin power) has me laughing. Best design award has to go to Captain Smoker, a marine in pursuit of Luffy who smokes not one but two cigars at all times and has belts of cigars strapped across his massive biceps and chest. Bloody hilarious! More than having good individual designs, there is strong cohesion for such a large cast.

By contrast, I find audio to be One Piece’s weakest department. The original Japanese performances are a mixed bag, as is often the case in battle shounen, while the dub is quite good (the new one). The lack of great music so far most surprises me. I think back to how many iconic tracks Naruto already had by this point, though that is probably a genre exception. For many battle anime, the OPs are all people remember, sometimes just the songs created by the dub studio such as Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.

As for story, I am mixed so far. It is better than my past impressions had led me to believe, there is no doubt here. This is very much a romanticised view of pirates and is rather tame, despite all of the “not safe 4Kids” content. Almost all story arcs so far have been about recruiting someone to Luffy’s crew and/or giving us their backstory. We have Zoro the edgelord with a sword in his mouth (I don’t like this design) who kept losing to a girl, Nami and the death of her mother at the hands of the fishmen she works for, Usopp the greatest pirate to have sailed the four seas and his tissue of lies, and so on. These are fine stories, some better (Nami) than others (Zoro). However, when I think of what Naruto and Bleach have accomplished by the 60-episode mark, they far outshine One Piece. Naruto has completed the Zabuza arc and is mid-chunin exam, while Bleach is at the climax of the Soul Society Arc. That said, anyone who has seen Bleach would tell you that one good arc doesn’t make for a great anime. One Piece has plenty more to show off, so I hope it delivers something great.

 

I don’t mean to say an anime such as this needs to turn dark right away as Naruto did. What I want is depth. Even if it’s just a few promises of what is to come. The biggest disappointment has to be Luffy. Battle protagonists are rarely the most interesting of the cast since they have little flexibility in demographic marketing, yet even by those standards, Luffy is a thumbs down from me at the moment. I hate how he doesn’t care about anything or how he laughs at every predicament. In a more serious setting, they would all be dead because of him. Not to keep drawing comparisons to Naruto, but when the orange ninja laughs and brushes off dangerous situations, there are consequences. Most of all, I hate how half of Luffy’s dialogue is yelling about how he’s going to be “king of the pirates”. We get it!

The action is quite good. Standard shounen content on the positive side of the scale. It doesn’t have the flashiness of Bleach or the strategy of Naruto or the brisk pacing in Yu Yu Hakusho. However, it doesn’t have any glaring problems either. One Piece hasn’t had the action drag for ages (Bleach, Naruto) or power reset (Bleach) or repeated some trope to death (there is always a bigger fish in Yu Yu Hakusho). I will want something more soon though or I’ll stop paying attention when a fight starts.

To end on a positive, I want to discuss One Piece’s greatest promise for the future of the series – the world. There is such variety and limitless possibilities for a world where you can sail to a new island, meet a new culture, a new species of person. It reminds me of a simpler classic Star Trek (one of my favourite franchises) and that is always a plus. I love the restaurant ship that roams the seas to feed one and all in a scrumptious experience. There are rules (“more what you’d call guidelines”) that vary by location. One gets a strong sense of character and personality at each destination. When the crew gets on that ship and hits the open blue, I want to see what island they will discover next. One Piece delivers a true feeling of adventure.

Quality so far – Medium

Current thoughts: The early episodes don’t give a good first impression, but once the longer story begins, One Piece stretches it’s creativity to give a good opening season with promises of so much more adventure. Luffy needs to grow up and do something. See you in the next season.

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GetBackers / Kiddy Grade / Witchblade – Quick Thoughts

GetBackers

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 49 episodes

Today theme of quick reviews is action anime I liked at one point, yet haven’t seen in a long time and haven’t reviewed. When I did my “Watched but Not Reviewed” list (missing quite a few titles, in hindsight), it brought many anime back to my attention that simmered to the surface until I had the urge to check them out again. Are they as I remember?

We start with GetBackers, my favourite of the three in the past. It even featured an honourable mention in my “Former Favourite Anime” list, so this was important to me. I need to say this right away though: GetBackers does not live up to my memory whatsoever. The art is super budget for this super powered series. The animation is far more of a slideshow than I remember and the characters have little detail, though their designs are unique so clarity isn’t an issue. I swear it looked better in my head.

GetBackers is set in an alternate Earth where some people have superpowers akin to The X-Men (each can do their one thing) and most of these superhumans work as either Retrievers, Transporters, or Bodyguards at odds with one another. It’s like John Wick – you have to accept this is how the world works or we aren’t going anywhere. Main duo Ban and Ginji work as Retrievers, the GetBackers, guaranteeing satisfaction no matter how small or impossible the request. Unfortunately, they are horrendous with money even after a big payday and so live in squalor.

To give a few positives, the main duo is good fun and the humour is successful, for the most part. GetBackers also feature the best – the best – use of chibification in all of anime. If I will forever remember one element of GetBackers for the rest of my life, it will be the chibification perfection. I still laugh whenever Ginji turns into a scared chibi after realising he’s alone with Dr Jackal.

Now for a dose of memory versus reality. I remember GetBackers as an awesome action series with cool powers, varied characters, and a mysterious plot. In reality, we have repetitive action, cool though limited powers, varied but one-note characters, and puddle-deep mystery. It astonishes me how different this is from memory.

GetBackers was in the early years of when I really got into anime and when one is at that early stage, everything is so much more impressive. I believe this was my first super power variety anime (saw Scryed later). I can imagine past me having a conversation with present me, gushing about how cool the powers are and how there are so many, how unique it is, only for present me to pull out 30 anime that do the same and often better. Conversation over.

It’s why I don’t blame newcomers for thinking everything is amazing. Everyone has been there. Every anime is a 10 when you have only seen seven of them. As one’s mental library builds, the flaws start to come out when a superior example is available.

A key detail I never noticed was the repetition. Nowadays, repetition almost guarantees to kill my interest, never mind rewatching the series, as I did several times with GetBackers in its heyday. Ban has the power to make people see illusions for one minute after eye contact. Let me tell you, no word of a lie, that this resolves every case. I love illusion powers and I thought this was the coolest thing ever, but man is it the same resolution every time. A common scene is to have the villain kill the heroes, immediately vocalise his plan/list of compatriots, and then for Ban to say “Just one minute”, revealing it was all an illusion. This is no Sharingan level of cool.

On rewatch now, GetBackers was okay for the first few cases. Once they enter the Infinite Fortress – a labyrinthine slum filled with superpowers – it loses the fun. The anime also didn’t adapt the biggest reveal of the story, which would have explained why people have these powers and why the Infinite Fortress matters. Knowing the twist, however, I’m not sure I entirely disagree with cutting it.

I tried the dub for the first time (none of these anime had a dub at the time) and holy Pokéballs, Shinji, is it not good. It isn’t “they recorded random people on the street” levels of bad. These are clearly actors, just not voice actors. This is a great example of a professional dub that studios thought were fine once upon a time, which thankfully doesn’t fly anymore (at least, I hope not). The lack of energy in the voices, the stiff reads, the monotones, bloody hell, what a disaster. The acting starts bad and only gets worse with each new character introduced. It’s hard to believe the likes of Cowboy Bebop managed a perfect dub when this was normal.

Almost forgot – the OP song may just be the worst I’ve heard in anime. If you want to know my taste in music, then take this and imagine the opposite.

*     *     *     *     *

 

Kiddy Grade

Genre: Ecchi Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

Next we have Kiddy Grade, an anime similar to GetBackers with a variety of super powered pairs facing off, but in a heavy sci-fi setting. Our leading ladies are Éclair and Lumière, agents of the Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs. While the organisation’s name implies involvement only in commerce, it actually has fingers in every space pie (everything comes back to money if you look far enough).

This is a spy thriller with Éclair donning a number of disguises, undercover missions, and gadgets for every conundrum. It explores several “what if” questions from the setting and sci-fi concepts for drama. Even the powers have sci-fi roots. Lumière can talk to computers, for example, and Éclair’s strength comes from body modification. There is effort in the world building.

After the stark difference between memory and reality with GetBackers, Kiddy Grade is about as I recall. I should note that this anime came to me later in the experience track and that I didn’t love it at the time, just enjoyed it enough for a rewatch (when you didn’t have much variety, rewatches were common). My opinion of it has fallen – I lost interest by the end of act one this time – as this is a case where once you’ve seen so many better versions of this story, this setting, this idea, you can’t help but wish for something else. Also, my distaste for lolis has only increased, of which there are too many here.

The similarities between Kiddy Grade and the previous anime are uncanny, right down to espousing the same basic morality lessons – “Being evil is bad.” “Don’t kick puppies.” I never put the two together until this rewatch.

However, Kiddy Grade works better than GetBackers by having more variety, more effort in the narrative through line, and significantly better art. Without looking it up, I want you to guess how far apart these anime released.

Five years? Three years? Three months? Try five days apart. Kiddy Grade is better representative of how standard anime looked in the early 2000s. The production holds up from studio GONZO and the dub is so much better than GetBackers that you’d never guess they came from the same year. It’s fascinating to see.

*     *     *     *     *

Witchblade

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

And finally, we have Witchblade, based on the American comic series of the same name and the anime I had watched last of the three. By the time I got to this, I had seen plenty of anime, so I was under no illusions towards its quality. The question is whether my slightly favourable memories are too kind or too harsh.

This is a more mature series than the other two. A sci-fi action series like the others, except hyper sexualised in the ass kicking. Kiddy Grade has panty shots; Witchblade has death by snu snu. If the shot in the OP of the protagonist wiping streaks of blood across her bare arse, vagina blade in full view, isn’t enough to tell you what this anime is going for, then no one can help. Witchblade is about tall, leggy, busty women in scant armour beating the life out of one another (toned down from the comics, if you can believe it). The Witchblade lusts for battle – literally – as combat turns it on to orgasmic peaks.

And if it were in the hands of a worse team, that’s all Witchblade would be. However, this anime has more to it, for at its heart is the story of Masane doing everything she can to give her daughter Rihoko a better life. Their relationship, not the action, is the spine of Witchblade. In fact, of these three anime, Witchblade has the least action with far more time spent on character and relationships. Furthermore, despite being more sexual than the others by leagues, it is the most mature (and certainly less creepy than Kiddy Grade). It has a surprising romance that doesn’t forget Masane’s status as a single mother. Long before the end of the story, I care for this woman and her daughter. I feel for the struggles they go through as a child welfare agency wants to separate them. And I appreciate how grown up the romance is without changing the tone into a heavy drama.

Should action be your main draw, then Witchblade also delivers. It isn’t repetitive, unlike the other two, nor does it drag beyond its welcome and doesn’t pause to exposit on how the powers work every fight. This isn’t some spectacular anime, of course – more lore, a darker mystery, and more development to the antagonists wouldn’t have gone amiss. It engaged me to the end, however, and that is worth something.

I also like the scientific approach to the Witchblade. If you supposed this device and its power was real, how would scientists approach it? Masane ends up working for a corporation doing such research (they pay her to kill rabid mutants and machines on the streets) and the antagonists come from a rival corporation developing other Witchblades, exploring the genetics of it all. They are trying to make it work with men as well (the device only functions on women).

So much to my surprise after this trio revisit, Witchblade turns out to be the best of the three, no contest. The production quality is also the highest, though it is newest. When considering my opinion of these three at the time I first watched them, Witchblade was the lowest. Now, it’s the best.

Recommendation: I recommend Witchblade – I give it a medium rating, with a low for the other two, which I don’t recommend. GetBackers is too dated, too repetitive, and too long for me to justify, while Kiddy Grade is somewhere in the middle. There is simply so much better these days. If you do want similar from that era, go with Scryed. Witchblade’s focus on a much older protagonist than usual with an older relationship too makes it stand out from the crowd.

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Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yuu Yuu Hakusho

 

Similar: Bleach

Hunter x Hunter

InuYasha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Fantasy

Length: 112 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fun, likeable characters
  • Good pace for a battle anime
  • Surprisingly strong dub considering age
  • Foreground artwork holds up…

Negatives:

  • …most background artwork doesn’t
  • Overuse of several battle tropes

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There are many classic battle anime from the hand drawn age, few of them any good. I thought I would look at one – just one – in full to get a feel for the classic era outside of Dragon Ball Z. Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files comes the highest recommended so let’s go with that. And at a mere 112 episodes, it can’t be that hard to suffer through if the worst comes to the worst.

However, to my delight, one of Yu Yu Hakusho’s strengths is a good pace. You don’t feel its length across the four arcs as no fight drags beyond a few episodes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yu Yu Hakusho is about a 14-year-old delinquent who dies one day saving a boy from being hit by a car, which goes against his nature. The kid baby in charge of spirit realm admin gives Yusuke a chance at revival if he can complete several tasks to prove himself as a Spirit Detective. Under the guidance of Shinigami Botan, he races against the clock to keep his spirit alive and his dead body intact. The story starts off, as most shounen do, with a series of smaller stories before it dives into longer arcs with bigger action.

Something I immediately like about Yu Yu Hakusho are these smaller stories. It avoids the tedious “monster of the week” structure found in the likes of Bleach, instead foregoing action in favour of a character focus. Early episodes are about Yusuke’s soon-to-be friendship with Kuwabara, another delinquent always hungering for a fight, who can’t handle that his rival is dead. He’s my favourite character, voiced brilliantly in the dub by Christopher Sabat (you wouldn’t know he voices Vegeta when you hear him here). Great dub, by the way. Kuwabara is such a meathead but you love him more for it.

These early episodes are the best of the show, for me. Perhaps I have seen too much shounen action – this action is good, mind you, and we’ll get there – but I like the character and humour focus of the first season, where Yusuke goes on mini capers taking care of incidents around town. The demon world is also a rather unimaginative setting (think a wasteland like any other). As such, later seasons aren’t as engaging. I suspect, however, I am in the minority for this opinion.

Yusuke also enlists the help of, begrudgingly at first, two demons when it comes to fighting the stronger denizens of the other realm. Kurama the fox spirit and manipulator of plants acts as the brains of the operation, while Hiei the fire demon born to a tribe of ice demons brings pint sized firepower. Get used to the idea of enemies becoming friends, for this writer loves the trope. As a set, the team make for a good balance of characters that don’t feel like usual archetype slots of a shounen cast.

Now to the action. Yu Yu Hakusho defies expectations of shounen action. Fights don’t last a dozen episodes – most are over in one. It knows when a fight is insignificant in the grand scheme and doesn’t drag it out. If this were Bleach or DBZ, every minor squabble would take 10 episodes at least. Here, the fight lasts long enough to have meaning and for the combatants to entertain, but then it moves on. It also mixes things up in who wins or loses. Only major fights take a few episodes, usually as the big finale for the season, and there aren’t many of these. Yes, one could tighten a few encounters, though not a major issue.

Villain designs, while dated, are entertaining at times. This anime has the most hilarious muscled villains. Muscles on top of muscles. It’s like a parody – “Oh yeah, you reckon going Super Saiyan was ridiculous? Check this out!” Straight out of botched surgeries.

Furthermore, Yu Yu Hakusho skips over training arcs. It shows a little to give the audience an idea of what Yusuke’s up to before the narrator says, “In this way, two months of training passed.” More anime should do this. The one notable training arc it doesn’t skip over in a later season has other threads woven through to avoid hitting a dead stop (rasengan training in Naruto still haunts me).

There has been a fair amount of praise from me so far, so let me temper this with criticisms, all of which revolve around the action. I despise the trope of enemies explaining how their ability work to the hero for the sake of the audience. This makes them stupid and I hate stupid. One opponent even tells of his technique before the fight. You can perhaps get away with a single enemy cocky enough to do this, not the majority, as seen here. Then we have the constant commentary from the sidelines that the hero can’t possibly win…right before they win. Lastly, it also overuses the trope of:

“You may have beaten my teammate, but he was weaker than me.”

“You may have beaten those two, but I am stronger.”

“I may be the last of my team, but the other guys were nothing compared to me.”

This happens with just about every enemy team, particularly in season 2, which is a tournament arc. These tropes are fine in moderation. Yu Yu Hakusho likes to wolf them down like a kid at the desert buffet going back for fifths. This repetition hurts the series the most and contributes to times when the pace feels off. And once you notice the pattern emerge, what’s to stop you from skipping a few episodes when you’ve seen this already?

Even so, Yu Yu Hakusho is an overall success. This isn’t the battle shounen to change your mind on the genre. It’s still for that core demographic. However, if you are part of that core and are tired of modern series going on forever, look no further than Yu Yu Hakusho with its complete story at a mere 112 episodes.

Art – Medium

The art is a mixed bag. We have moments of great animation (usually the battles) and some quality backgrounds. We also have sliding animation, bland backgrounds, and streaks. Done by hand with texture is a plus.

Sound – High

With a surprisingly good dub for such an old anime, you can go with either track here. The opening song, which stays throughout the series, doesn’t seem to fit a battle anime, but it grows on you.

Story – High

A delinquent and his unlikely allies have to deal with all manner of supernatural entities on the streets and in the arena. Fun characters, good pacing, and solid action make Yu Yu Hakusho a ride to the finish.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For classic shounen fans. Yu Yu Hakusho won’t convince those averse to battle anime to change their minds, but it is a good classic of the genre and doesn’t drag for 100s of episodes.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Vinland Saga – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Vinland Saga

 

Similar: Dororo

The Heroic Legend of Arslan

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Action Drama

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good music

Negatives:

  • No effort at historical realism
  • Empty protagonist
  • No likeable characters
  • Super powered warriors when convenient
  • Art is riddled with problems

(Request an anime for review here.)

It shouldn’t be difficult to write a story about Vikings marauding the coasts of Europe. At minimum, it shouldn’t be difficult to know that Vikings didn’t act like high school anime characters. It should be easy, yet Vinland Saga fails in nearly all possible measures.

I need to go from the start, where an early sign warned of the direction for which this anime headed. Thors, leader of the village and father to Thorfinn, finds a runaway slave on his land. His family tries to rehabilitate the slave, but he soon dies. Worse yet, his owners come to collect and Thors, being the honourable Viking that he is, refuses to return him even as a dead body, offering a few cows instead. He buries the slave.

I understand what the author is going for here – difficult not to – however, the execution shows a lack of thought into the time and place of this story. Thors acts like a modern day person objecting to slavery. This likely stems from the author’s inability to separate his personal feelings from the characters within the story. Some authors think it makes them noble or better people if they write moral characters, regardless of whether it fits the story. This only makes them bad writers. A great writer doesn’t just write the good guys that align with their personal morals, while all villains are everything they see as reprehensible.

This slave incident is minor, in the grand scheme, yet it is an early indicator of problems to come. In 99% of fiction, every core problem has a presence within the first chapter or two (or first episode or two, in the case of anime). It’s why author agents and publishers can reject a novel within a few pages. If characters are shallow in the finale, they will be so in the opening as well. Mistakes echo in every chapter.

The author wants you to know how noble Thors is so that when he gets into an ambush later, executed by the mercenary Askeladd at the behest of the Danish king (Thors deserted his army years ago), you buy into the idea that he would let himself die for the sake of his honour and morals. Thors challenges Askeladd to a duel and wins. It doesn’t take a genius intelligence to foresee that a sellsword driven by gold wouldn’t hold up the terms of the duel. That isn’t the problem. We run into heightened levels of stupidity when Thors, who up until now has outsmarted and outfought the entire mercenary crew singlehanded, refuses to dishonour himself and “cheat”, even though his death leaves his village without a leader, without their strongest (possibly only) fighter, and his family without a father. For honour.

I hate stupid characters. An honourable character isn’t stupid. Someone who doesn’t save themselves, not even for the sake of others, just to preserve their honour is loathsome, however.

And so, Thorfinn makes it his life’s mission to kill Askeladd. Does he turn himself into a killer so he can stab him at the first opportunity? No. Thorfinn joins Askeladd’s crew, fights for him, does his dirty work, all so he can prove himself worthy of an honourable duel to the death.

Mistakes echo in every chapter.

This stupidity compounds further when we talk fighting prowess. After a jump of some years, Thorfinn is a trained warrior, often sent in first like a scout or assassin capable to dispatching a dozen enemy soldiers with ease. There is no doubt of his deadliness. He could kill Askeladd any day now, whether in his sleep or with his back turned. That wouldn’t be honourable though.

I hate stupid characters and Thorfinn is the stupidest in the lot.

Speaking of his deadliness, Vinland Saga has a crippling issue of nonsensical character strength. Looking at this show, you would imagine we were in for a realistic Viking saga. It couldn’t further from. This first rears its nonsensical head when Thors leaps five metres into the air in the battle against Askeladd’s crew.

At first, I thought it was a minor exaggeration of strength, as was often done in folk tales of legendary warriors. However, one warrior fighting for the English can hurl boulders with the strength of a trebuchet using his bare hands. He can also mow down a half dozen soldiers with a single throw of a hand axe. It’s ridiculous.

The issue isn’t the strength (anime is no stranger to super powers). Rather, there is a problem in how it affects tone and breaks the in-story logic of the world. If a warrior were that strong, he could conquer the world. Just give him a cart of boulders and no fort stands a chance. The story avoids this pickle by conveniently forgetting that some characters are super powered when required. Thorfinn does duel Askeladd early on – after we see him massacre a squad – and one would think the kid had never held a weapon with the way he fought. Vinland Saga can’t decide if it wants to be a realistic Viking drama or a battle anime.

Not only is inconsistency a problem, it also makes action less interesting. One battle has Askeladd and co hired by a French nobleman to siege the castle of a rival nobleman. The enemy has a fortified position with view of open ground in front of their castle and a river protecting their rear, guarded up and down stream. The Vikings manage to bypass this defence by hoisting their longships on their shoulders and charging full tilt from the forest into the water. They run as if these boats are as heavy as a paperweight. No one gets tired either. If all trained warriors were this strong, that castle wouldn’t have lasted a day even without Viking help. Let’s not forget to make these same Vikings weak in the next fight so we can kill some off. It would have been better to go more supernatural – incorporate powers bestowed by the Norse gods or something – and work out clever uses than to have this nonsense. Or you go grounded and use some brainpower.

When I talk of realism, I don’t mean everything has to be exactly as it was in real Viking times. I’m talking of getting the tone and feel right. The recently reviewed Dororo is more realistic than this despite having monsters and magic. I praised it for how it truly feels like a nation gripped by famine during samurai times. The way the characters act – the way the monsters and magic affect them and the world all makes sense. Everything fits together.

In Vinland Saga, nothing works. You have these stupid overpowered characters that turn weak when needed. You have a protagonist with no depth beyond his “I’m angry and will kill you” attitude 24/7. Everyone acts like a modern day anime character. The big twist of the story makes Askeladd protagonist (he should have been from the start) and introduces enough allegiance flip-flopping to make you want to hook your brain through your nose.

Is Vinland Saga the worst anime? It is the worst Viking anime, sure. I hated Vinland Saga more and more with each passing episode. I do not recommend this to anyone. If you want Viking content, go watch the History channels Vikings instead.

Art – Low

I could show you many nice still of Vinland Saga. I would however be hiding the insane amount of CG and poor implementation. The number of scenes with characters running (read: sliding) across a CG ground are too many to count. Even the OP has one. This anime almost looks great, except there is something wrong in every shot.

Sound – Medium

Thorfinn’s performance is laughable. The script is rubbish for a historical Viking show. The one redeeming quality is the great soundtrack.

Story – Low

A Viking boy swears revenge against the mercenary that killed his father. With so many stupid character and inconsistent strengths, the feeble plot is the least of the problems here.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. I don’t recommend Vinland Saga, especially to Viking fans.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingInduces Stupidity