Category Archives: Action

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

Darker Than Black – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha

 

Related: Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Psycho-Pass

RahXephon

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Mystery

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 5 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Complex lore.
  • Creative powers and restrictions.
  • The comedic tangents are hilarious.
  • Character designs.

Negatives:

  • Lacks finality and answers.
  • Season 2 becomes oversimplified.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Darker than Black is an anime of malicious compliance. When I told it that it coveys lore in a vague manner, it responded with, “You don’t like my lore?” “That’s not wh—” “Fine, then I won’t give you any. If all you like is action, then that’s what I’ll give. Happy, are you!?” “…”

Before that moment in history, let’s go back to the start of Darker than Black. Ever since two gates appeared in Tokyo and Brazil, a fake sky replaced the real one and select people gained paranormal abilities at the cost of their humanity. These supernaturals known as Contractors became weapons for various governments and a group called the Syndicate. Officer Misaki has her investigatory skills put to the test when the Syndicate’s best agent, Hei the Black Reaper, is spotted in Tokyo. Hei and his associates have designs to uncover a mystery surrounding Hell’s Gate that threatens Contractors. Other Contractor division won’t let the Syndicate go unanswered either. Tokyo is a dangerous place to be.

First, I love the powers. Think of them as X-Men, but with a payment required after each use. The payment differs per character and ranges from smoking a cigarette to revealing a secret of yours to the next person you see. The cost tends to be something the Contractor hates. One Contractor, a magician, has to give away the technique to a magic trick every time he uses his illusion power. Bummer. Hei’s power is the ability to generate electricity, a favourite of mine. The writer could have merely copied the X-Men and been fine, but I appreciate the thought put into differentiating these powers by adding the payments.

Darker than Black also has artificial beings called Dolls that pass for human, but are dead inside and have scouting powers to aid their Contractor unit. Hei has one such doll with him as well as a Contractor whose power is to possess animals. Unfortunately for him, someone destroyed his human body during possession so he’s stuck as an animal for life. This makes him a tad grumpy.

Then we come to the larger world, where I find plenty interesting. I love that the police use an old woman known as the Stargazer, who can track when Contractors use powers by observing the fake stars above. Each Contractor is represented in a star – another great lore detail. Misaki has a telescope locked on Hei’s star, BK-201, which is how she knows he’s in town.

Most of the lore I have shared with you so far is presented in a decent manner. However, when it comes to the Gates, the lore behind Contractors, and even world history, Darker than Black takes serious issue with giving us this information. When it does present these aspects, it seems hesitant, as if the anime is worried about you finding out. “Does it or does it not work this way?” was a recurring question I had. This compounded with the fact that there is a lot of lore can make Darker than Black a headache for those who aren’t big fans of lore. It doesn’t help that much remains unanswered by the end, no thanks to season 2.

Here we arrive at the malicious compliance. If season 1 suffered from too much vague lore, season 2 suffers from having none whatsoever (the backstory threads are good, though). I said illuminate the lore, not eradicate it! In season 2, we follow two young siblings, one of which is a Contractor, and their escape from capture in Russia. It amounts to twelve episodes of action – good action, sure, but it no longer stands out like Darker than Black. I am particularly annoyed that Misaki is barely in season 2.

This does not lessen my recommendation for sci-fi/supernatural fans to watch the first season – likely twice to catch everything. If you worry about it being too heavy, the story occasionally diverts for some levity. The private eyes who narrates to himself noir-style and his cosplay girl assistant are the perfect change of pace. Even with several questions left unanswered, the lore we do get and the characters make Darker than Black an engaging experience.

Art – High

Darker than Black manages to have a large cast of characters, each distinct from the last, and yet doesn’t resort to lazy design techniques such as hair colour being the only distinguishing feature. The dark palette suits the story. Season 2 sees a noticeable dip in character and animation quality.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either Japanese or English voices. Nice soundtrack – the main singer is bilingual and mixes English with Japanese better than most. The script could do with tighter exposition.

Story – High

Super powered humans called Contractors work jobs for the nefarious Syndicate while uncovering the mystery that threatens Contractors worldwide. Darker than Black’s super powers and interesting characters deliver a great anime, but its complexities can alienate.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for science fiction fans. Darker than Black has everything a sci-fi fan could want – lore, depth, sociology, philosophy. Non-fans (maybe even fans) will find the lack of concreteness tedious, especially since it leaves much unanswered. Season 2 is optional viewing.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Samurai Champloo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Samurai Champloo

 

Similar: Afro Samurai

Michiko and Hatchin

Rurouni Kenshin

Katanagatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stylised art and animation.
  • Great dub.

Negatives:

  • Bit boring.
  • No reason to care for main goal.
  • Plateaus early.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I have overheard this exchange many times: “I haven’t seen much anime. Mainly just what everyone has watched – Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, you know.” “Oh man, you should totally watch Samurai Champloo! It’s like Bebop. You’ll love it.” I thought it finally time to test this oft-mentioned recommendation.

Well, it’s little like Cowboy Bebop. For one, Bebop is excellent; Samurai Champloo is not. The two series share a director and similar music…and that’s about it. Bebop too didn’t have a stellar overarching story, but its self-contained arcs each episode had depth to engage the viewer. Champloo’s episode arcs are half trying to move the feeble plot while not giving enough in its mini stories.

The adventure kicks off when ditzy waitress Fuu saves Mugen, a wild warrior, and Jin, the well-mannered ronin, from execution. In exchange, the two samurai agree to help her find a samurai “who smells of sunflowers.”

Things seem fine at first. The setup is solid, the character quirks play well off each other, and they had direction. Several episodes later though, with no progression in sight, my engagement swan dived off a cliff into the blistering barnacles below. If this were like Cowboy Bebop, where the creators could rest everything on each individual episode’s story, it would work. I would conclude with “The overall story is average, but the smaller stories are worth your time.” Unfortunately, Champloo’s smaller stories are mediocre alternations between dealing with someone trying to kill the heroes or them helping a local in exchange for food. A few episodes are better, even pretty good, but none even comes close to the Bebop’s weakest episode.

As for the overarching story, it’s Champloo’s weakest element. The story never gives a reason to care for finding the sunflower samurai and it turns out weak at the resolution – a goal for the sake of having a goal. It lacks the gravitas to drive a story.

This weakness similarly bleeds into the characters. Each of the trio has a secret, as most characters do in fiction, but since the writers didn’t weave these secrets throughout the story, they have no impact when illuminated at the end. If Edward Elric’s big secret were that he wanted to be a flamenco dancer all along, the audience wouldn’t see this as some amazing twist. Was Ed liking flamenco a recurring element in the story? No. So why the big reveal? Champloo’s secrets aren’t as bad as a Flamenco Ed, by any means. They do leave a lot to be desired though. It goes get a bit better in the second half – certainly funnier.

What I wish for most here is an increased intensity, both in comedy and drama. What you see in the opening episodes is what you get throughout, save for a few good fights in the finale. It frustrates me to see a project with potential that needed one person to say, “Make it more intense.” Samurai Champloo doesn’t have bad ideas, just weak execution.

Art – High

Samurai Champloo’s stylised art reminiscent of Afro Samurai and The World Ends With You DS game has good animation. I like the ‘knobbly’ character design. Mugen looks an inch from starvation, which is fitting.

Sound – High

Modern DJ scratches and jazz replace the traditional music for a medieval setting. This works with the story style. Great dub.

Story – Medium

Two polarising samurai help a ditzy waitress find a mysterious samurai “who smells of sunflowers.” Reaching its peak within a few episodes, Samurai Champloo doesn’t escalate the comedy or action enough to overcome the weak motivations.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Perhaps you may find Samurai Champloo more interesting than I did – the three-episode rule is all you need to know if it is so. The modern art/music meets samurai dichotomy may be off putting, whereas its very unusualness will be its appeal to others.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

LOGH: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Waga Yuku wa Hoshi no Taikai

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (main series)

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War (sequel side story)

Similar: Code Geass

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 59 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Visually engaging and strategic battles.
  • Upgraded art from the series.
  • More micro world building.

Negatives:

  • Little new information from the main series.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Just a short review today of My Conquest is the Sea of Stars, prequel to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. This movie describes the first conflict between the two legends of the series, Yang and Reinhard.

We open on a battle above a Jupiter-like planet, and immediately the high budget and art quality shine to show us a visually engaging conflict. Yang is only an adviser at this stage, having to work under an incompetent commander. In typical Yang fashion, he and his best friend Attenborough are far too relaxed about the commander not taking the advice to avoid the planet’s volatile atmosphere.

For Reinhard’s part, he has to contend with a superior who takes issue with how fast Reinhard has risen up the ranks, especially with Reinhard’s relation to the king’s wife. The admiral plots to get him out of his hands at the Iserlohn Fortress as soon as possible. Commanders loathe this young upstart, intertwining politics and strategy in the same battle.

Being back in this universe amongst these characters makes me comfortable, like going home for the holidays and relaxing with loved ones after a busy year. The nostalgia of seeing several major characters at the start, before all the changes the series puts them through tempts me to start the series again (No! Have to get through unwatched series first!).

Sea of Stars changes things up by giving us a perspective from an ordinary Imperial soldier. He isn’t anyone important nor will he have a notable impact on the war, but that’s what makes his perspective so interesting, oddly enough. Throughout Legend of the Galactic Heroes, we see Yang and Reinhard’s grandeur, yet to the ordinary person, these heroic achievements aren’t the biggest deal when trying to live life day to day. Politics don’t really matter to a grunt in the cockpit. It’s fascinating to hear what he and fellow soldiers think of the people at the top. He doesn’t care about Reinhard’s controversial background, just whether Reinhard can keep him alive to get home tomorrow.

This lower level perspective also allows for more world building, as we follow soldiers on the streets during downtime. Sea of Stars doesn’t feel like a waste. The team took the opportunity to add more to the already rich franchise, rather than take the lazy route and rehash all we already know.

My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is a must watch – the climactic battle where music tells the entire story earns your time alone. No words, no sound effects – just the action and music weaving an emotional conflict.

Art – High

This takes the art from the main series up a notch with more animation and colour depth, thus allowing for visually engaging battles.

Sound – Very High

Same quality acting, writing, and orchestra as Legend of the Galactic Heroes. I loved the use of nothing but music for the finale’s atmosphere and emotions.

Story – Very High

My Conquest is the Sea of Stars details the first encounter between those two heroes who would become legendary. With focus on a superb strategic battle and world building from the soldiers’ perspective, this prequel is a great addition to the epic series.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch after Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While you can watch My Conquest is the Sea of Stars standalone, as it doesn’t spoil anything, its significance and much of the larger context comes from the parent series.

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

Positive: N/A

Negative: N/A

Eureka Seven – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Eureka Seven

 

Related: Eureka Seven AO (sequel)

Eureka Seven – Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (alternative version)

Similar: Gundam SEED

Xam’d: Lost Memories

Gurren Lagann

Guilty Crown

Neon Genesis Evangelion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance Action Adventure Drama

Length: 50 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Art is quite nice.
  • Some cool mechs.

Negatives:

  • Keeps changing its identity.
  • A chore to finish.
  • “Eh-oo-wreck-ah”
  • Romance lacks believability.
  • Crying!

(Request an anime for review here.)

Eureka Seven, what a ch— Sorry, Ehoowrecka Seven, what a chore to sit through. How can an anime about air surfing mechs be this tedious?

Our arduous journey starts when a mech known as Nirvash typeZERO crashes in 14-year-old Renton’s small town of Bellforest. A girl called Ehoowrecka Eureka pilots Nirvash, a unique mech capable of controlling Trapar waves like no other machine, and being the first girl he has probably ever seen, Renton falls in love with her. Infatuated and desperate to escape his small town life, he joins her in Gekkostate against the military.

Gekkostate? Trapar? Nirvash typeZERO? Ehoowrecka? Lore is the first of Eureka Seven’s problems. As is evident, it bombards the viewer with specialist terms (nouns often made up for lore) within the first episode, never giving a chance to let them sink in. All these terms featured in the official blurb – a bad sign (Tip: the best blurbs mention no names). On top of half the characters having made up names, every sci-fi object has an unintuitive sci-fi name that if looked at on paper, you wouldn’t guess its purpose. This world didn’t have questions I wanted to explore further – I just wanted to get out.

Sci-fi/fantasy often invents specialist terms, but it is crucial to introduce these elements with memorable impact. If you call a fire spell ‘Schinezarcher’ and don’t introduce (and repeat) it in the right way, the viewer will simply say, ‘what’s it called? You know, that big fire spell.’

Think of Star Wars and how not confused you are in that film. It doesn’t throw Jedi, Midi-chlorians (shudder), Ewoks, Endor, Lando, and the like at you within five minutes. Star Wars uses a mix of intuitive terms (Lightsaber, Death Star) and unintuitive terms with proper introduction. When they threaten to destroy Alderaan, we see the planet Alderaan on the screen. You don’t want Alderaan confused for a battleship. They don’t have to point and say, “That’s Alderaan!” We get it through context. Eureka Seven will have two characters talking as a new term enters the lexicon – no visual aids, no context assist. Not all words need immediate explanation, of course, but there should be a point soon after that cements the meaning. The more unintuitive a term the more emphasis required. Gekkostate is the name of the mercenary/terrorist group they are a part of, by the way. At least the anime ingrains Eureka’s name by kicking you out of the experience each time someone uses it. Elements that are supposed to be cool or significant leave no impact because we don’t have groundwork to stand on first.

Why is this hater rambling on and on about bloody lore, you ask? Well, dear reader, this problem with the lore applies to everything in Eureka Seven. The sudden romance between…Renton (took a moment to remember his name) and Eureka has no establishment. Sudden infatuation from a teen boy towards a teen girl? Happens more than you know. A lasting romance we are told is profound? That requires foundations and work to build up. Why are these two kids so into each other? They have nothing to love about each other. If he wanted to bang that receding hairline, biology suffices as explanation, but life changing love? Sure thing, mate.

Renton spends most of the series crying while Eureka looks after a batch of kids. These kids! Bloody hell, I have never hoped more for child characters to die off each episode (not even Carl from The Walking Dead demands such loathing). And it almost happened too. Eureka’s backstory is that she was a mindless soldier and killed the parents of these kids before she snapped out of it, which raises yet another poorly established point. These kids love the woman that killed their parents without any story selling us on the idea. Maybe it’s just me, but loving my parents’ murderer would take more than ‘just because’. Show us this backstory instead of a recap in episode fourteen (!).

Eureka Seven just throws stuff into the story and hopes you care on instinct rather than merit. Dislike an element anyway? Don’t worry, the show veers off in a random direction every dozen episodes to haphazardly grab your interest again. The final villain’s plan when the whole shebang comes out is a good idea, but that don’t matta’ cause Renton gotta get his bone on.

Eureka Seven does not respect your time as a viewer. It’s like that person we all know who asks for a lift, is late to the pickup, and then expects you to have known they would be late. Screw that guy.

Art – High

Good art and animation – I like the mechs. Why does every character have a receding hairline?

Sound – Medium

The acting is good, but the music is forgettable and the script leaves a lot to be desired. Renton’s every line seems to be in question form. Also, the naming scheme is arse.

Story – Low

The sudden appearance of a girl and her mech sweeps a boy on board a mercenary group’s adventure. With an empty romance, a whiny protagonist, annoying kids, and an identity that changes every arc, Eureka Seven takes iron concentration to finish.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Fifty episodes is a lot to ask of your time for such an unremarkable series. The likes of Gundam SEED and Gurren Lagann use your time better than Eureka Seven does.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

DissapointingUseless Side Cast

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Zeta Gundam

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam (prequel)

Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (sequel)

Gundam Neo Experience 0087: Green Divers (side story)

Similar: Gundam SEED Destiny

Aldnoah.Zero

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 50 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Surprising consequences.
  • Good conflict and turns.
  • Cements the UC Gundam art style.

Negatives:

  • Unlikeable protagonist.
  • Several idiotic characters run rampant.
  • Poor execution of ideas.
  • Where is the security?
  • Mediocre dialogue and acting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The first two episodes of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam had me in stitches with their absurdity. You have to see it to believe it, but I will try my best to describe the events. We first get to know what sort of a kid 17-year-old Kamille is when he jumps a turnstile to punch a stranger and superior officer in the face for making fun of his name. He even yells, “I’m a MAN!” He’s arrested, of course, receives an earful of forced expository preaching, attacks the arresting officer, escapes by luck, steals an officer’s car without objection, crashes through a military barricade under gunfire without a scratch, and jumps from the speeding vehicle for some idiotic reason – there’s an explanation, I’m sure. Next, he waltzes into a Gundam right in front of its pilot and several soldiers, and after a brief battle simply flies off with it to join the enemy. Just gifts the Gundam along with another mech to the attackers. Who looked at this start and greenlit it without question? (My suspicions fall on some shadowy Kamille-looking figure.) Gundam truly knows how to lay on the stupid sometimes.

Anyway, on to the actual review. Zeta Gundam takes place seven years after the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the war between Earth and Zeon over, though remnants of Zeon remain. To hunt them down, the Earth Federation created the Titans, an elite Gundam unit (the one Kamille stole from). Given free reign, the Titans have gone beyond protocol to become power-crazed thugs, which gives rise to the rebellious Anti-Earth Union Group. After stealing the Gundams, Kamille joins the AEUG where former Zeon hero Char works as a pilot called Quattro (poor disguise, to be honest).

Interestingly, barring Kamille and the idiocy around him, Zeta’s premise is a strong one, ripe with conflict. The protagonist joining the enemy right away is intriguing. It even redeems itself from Kamille later by having serious consequences to some of his actions. The execution could be more believable, but it’s something. And he at least has piloting experience before using a Gundam, unlike many protagonists in this franchise.

It’s a real shame they made him so bloody unlikeable – a petulant child. If he didn’t have plot armour, he would have been shot dead several times from all the absurdities he pulls. They aren’t even ‘action movie’ absurdities that fall under ‘The Rule of Cool’. His actions are simply stupid.

This stupidity isn’t isolated to him either. One character later on frees a prisoner for a stupid reason, when the episode previous he was the toughest on the enemies. What loopy character development is this? Zeta is also the origin of the Gundam trope where a character volunteers for war but refuses to kill anyone, yet imagines they won’t die on the front line. The failings may remind you of a modern Gundam. Where Gundam SEED was a throwback to the original, SEED Destiny paralleled Zeta, intolerable protagonist and the pacifist included.

Remember Kamille stealing a Gundam while no one did anything? I lost count how many times someone unauthorised gets into a mech on impulse and petulance, screwing up for everyone. Don’t these mechs have security? Zeta exemplifies why teens should never be in charge of war.

You can see what the writers wanted to do with, for example, starting Kamille as a prick before he gains responsibility and grows up. Sadly, they don’t sell the transitions, primarily because they allow characters to pull off the most absurd actions without consequence. If they want someone to free a prisoner, that’s fine, but don’t let it slide with an insignificant punishment, simply because of plot armour. When a character screws up, make them pay or the audience won’t buy the story. These consequences should be the driving force in character development, not some out of nowhere change the writers suddenly need.

Zeta has a good story when viewed from a macro level or when following the adults like Char. It’s simultaneously worse and better than Gundam 0079 – worse because it fails in more areas, yet better because its strengths are more engaging than its predecessor was. The writers seem to have forgotten what made Amuro a good protagonist in 0079. However, more happens this time around. Gone is the season-long escape from a single enemy and the flat lined third act.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam took the franchise in a direction closer to what we would recognise today – flaws included – and is well worth a watch to Gundam fans.

Art – Medium

I like how Zeta Gundam cements what would become the franchise’s art style for the next two decades, but its age shows, particularly in the animation department. The need for smoother frame transitions becomes apparent in the first scene with Kamille running. Thankfully, mechs flying in space don’t take much work.

Sound – Medium

Zeta Gundam still has the old-timey music – OP could be from an 80s prom – but the background music is more modern. The acting is a bit stiff, more so in the dub, and the dialogue could do with work.

Story – Medium

An elite mech force called the Titans are responsible for eradicating the remnants of Zeon, the antagonists of Mobile Suit Gundam, but the Titans may be just as bad. A teen boy finds himself amidst the conflict alongside a man who looks a hero of the previous war. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam has great ideas and conflict; however, the execution of these could do with serious work – start with the protagonist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Gundam fans. Only fans of the franchise can handle the bad Gundam tropes that bog down Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and see the qualities beneath.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Induces Stupidity