Category Archives: Action

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

Black Blood Brothers – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Black Blood Brothers

 

Similar: Blood+

Hellsing Ultimate

Dance in the Vampire Bund

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Vampire Action Comedy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A good pitch with all the right ingredients.
  • Nice, clean art.

Negatives:

  • Despite the depth of the idea, dozens of small problems hinder the overall result.
  • The younger brother can get annoying, especially with that laugh.
  • Leaves a couple of threads open with no sequel in sight, but it isn’t a cliffhanger.
  • Several stiff action animations. Low frame rate on mouths as well.

Old vampire Jirou and his little brother Kotarou travel to Japan for the ‘Special Zone’ where humans and vampires live in peace protected by a barrier that keeps unwanted vampire bloodlines out. However, the Kowloon Children, feral vampires thought wiped out by Jirou ten years ago in the Hong Kong War, kidnap Kotarou and forces Jirou to fight once more. Mediator Mimiko is sent by the Company to babysit Jirou and make sure he doesn’t destroy too much of the city. A feral infiltrates the zone, threatening to taint all vampires within.

If you were to send this pitch to an agent, they are almost guaranteed to want to see the full story. It has the makings of an engaging tale. On the surface, Black Blood Brothers has everything you could ask for in a vampire anime: ancient bloodlines, warring factions, a handsome vampire protagonist with a broken heart, a human woman forbidden from intimacy with him, sexual undertones to vampirism, a threat to the entire vampire race, action, special powers, and even some comedy. And yet, there’s something missing, something hard to define. It’s as though every aspect is one step away from greatness. Yes, an ancient bloodline is a must, but the writers never establish their significance. The powers are cool, but the writers forget they exist in certain situations. The forbidden nature between vampire and human is tantalising, but that thread doesn’t hold throughout the series. Jirou’s lost love brings a dimension of humanity to his character, BUT we don’t see enough of his past for him to grow on the audience. “That is great, but…” summarises every point in Black Blood Brothers.

I found Black Blood Brothers an enjoyable enough anime to keep me engaged until the end of its twelve-episode run. I sorely wish that they had sat down for just one more day to brainstorm the ideas, fleshing them out into something great. Lastly, Jirou has a telekinetic ability, which he uses to fling his brother around when misbehaving, all controlled with his middle finger… Weird.

Art – Medium

The frame rate is minimal, many animation jumping between two or three frames. Even when the motion distance is larger, the frames don’t increase (same number of frames for a whisper as with yelling, for example). Flying statues during some action sequences – no signs of life even when sliced open. However, the art quality is clean and looks nice in stills.

Sound – High

The voice work is good in both languages. Jirou’s actors convey his politeness and old-fashioned mannerisms well, yet still bring the anger when needed. Mimiko’s short fuse is entertaining to hear. Great ending theme and the rest of the tracks are decent.

Story – Medium

The story of an ancient vampire fighting neophyte feral vampires is not an uncommon plot type, though a flexible one allowing for much variation. Black Blood Brothers’ twist of involving the humans and a good degree of comedy is an enjoyable choice, though ultimately unfinished.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Black Blood Brothers had all the ingredients for a great vampire story, but it fell short by a little in every aspect. Even so, if you are looking for a short, well-paced anime to relax with, then Black Blood Brothers will appeal.

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

Positive: None.

Negative:

Incomplete

Trinity Blood – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Trinity Blood

 

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Trigun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Action

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nations of vampires, the Vatican, and future tech styled in a Renaissance aesthetic makes for an interesting world. Android priests and hologram nuns, what more could you want.
  • Vampire priest Abel and several of his allies are good characters.

Negatives:

  • Goes off on several tangents early in the series for no value.
  • A sudden and weak conclusion.
  • Another tangent halfway through with the most annoying brat.

900 years after Armageddon, the Vatican is at war with vampires. However, among their elite battle priests is Abel Nightroad, a vampire who feeds on the blood of other vampires. As a priest, he is a kind, genteel sort of fellow, but in his vampiric form wielding a scythe, a thirst for blood and slaughter takes over, at odds with his policy of no killing. While this split personality makes for an interesting character setup, the writers didn’t push it as far as they could have. Abel isn’t tortured enough. We don’t see much of an internal conflict about who he wants to be against what he is. It would have been good to see him address the hypocrisy regarding his pacifism when you consider how much he kills.

After the first two episodes, Trinity Blood derails to introduce the supporting cast over several episodes through unnecessarily boring story arcs. Take priestess in training Esther. Rather than establishing her bloody past at the hands of vampires and personality through action, she sits down to have a chat. Everything stops so that a character may say ‘hello.’ Even a core antagonist, Abel’s brother, Cain, is introduced without agency and doesn’t do anything until late in the story. The exception to this is Tres, the android priest, whose cold manner is a joy to watch. “Requesting damage report” instead of “Are you hurt?” Classic. His English voice actor, Christopher Sabat, does a great job conveying the personality of a machine – Japanese just sounds bored.

Despite the Vatican-versus-vampires setup, the conflict comes in equal parts from humans as it does from vampires. Within the Vatican itself, high-ranking officials scheme for power, including Cardinal Francesco, the pope’s illegitimate brother, who acts in violence wherever vampires are concerned. This being anime, the pope is a kid – of course. His sister, Cardinal Caterina, runs Abel’s elite unit in eradicating rogue vampires, yet she also leads the effort in negotiating a peace between the Vatican and the kingdom of civilized vampires – vampires are the best engineers and have the most advanced technology. Having this dynamic of politics and treachery brings a much needed layer to the plot. It helps build the world into something real. Furthermore, I like that the Vatican isn’t a hive mind. It would have been a dull affair indeed to have everyone in agreement.

The world of Trinity Blood is a dark place despite the beautiful architecture, the sun rarely given a chance to shine, warm lights and candles as patches of safety in the darkness. Nothing illustrates this better than a latter arc with Albion, a human nation that has suspiciously advanced technology. The Albion plot is the culmination of everything until that point, even bringing relevance to events that seemed out of place earlier – the band of child vampires like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, for instance. Every card is played in the political machine and each character has the chance to affect the plot. This is easily the strongest of Trinity Blood’s arcs. Shame the ultimate end is sudden and doesn’t make much sense; the open thread is the least of its worries.

Trinity Blood is a tough anime for me to review. I love the world design and many of the characters within it, and the politics are great too, but what’s wrong in this anime is significant. It’s not as though you can skip the tangential episodes, as they give titbits of information (not that other episodes couldn’t have conveyed the same), forcing you to sit through them. But then, the great episodes come before you and it’s suddenly engaging…only to slide back down into doldrums. Why? Why couldn’t they have planned the narrative structure beforehand?

Art – High

Love the world design of combining Renaissance Italy with future engineering. Airships with a Vatican interior are a cool idea. Doesn’t look dated, but the backgrounds have this fuzzy quality to them at times, which isn’t the same as distance blur, just low resolution.

Sound – Medium

Good voice work, but the English dialogue is better written than the Japanese original. Troy Baker shows his range as Abel in English, transitioning masterfully between the amicable priest and angry vampire. The opening theme reminds me of ballads in Bollywood films from the male lead to his lady of affection. The ending theme, however, could do with a lot less Engrish. Also, where is my choir?

Story – Medium

An unfocused narrative brings down a fantastic setup of the future Vatican fighting vampires while having vampires of their own as allies. Several characters are interesting, but their development, like the plot, can be a little scattered.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Worth a try for what it does right. Trinity Blood is great in parts and downright coma inducing in others. Another few edit runs in pre-production wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, the world design and characters made this anime an easy watch.

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

Positive: 

Positive Recommended English Voice Track

Negative:

IncoherentWeak End

Blood Lad – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Blood Lad

 

Similar: Rosario + Vampire

Strike the Blood

Soul Eater

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 10 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Colourful palette.
  • An interesting idea with several good pop-culture jokes.

Negatives:

  • Deviates from the premise within two episodes.
  • Terrible visualisation in action sequences.
  • Bland characters that don’t evolve.
  • Succumbs to the tropes it parodies.

A parody about a vampire who’s an otaku of Japanese pop-culture rather than a bloodthirsty killer? Sounds interesting. What? It devolves into an action series that has little to do with otaku culture and parody? Just great

Staz is a vampire and leader of a demon gang. He’s also a nutter for Japanese games, anime and manga, which he smuggles in from the human world. When a human girl stumbles into the demon world, he pitches a tent on her property. Two seconds later, a plant monster eats her. Ah well, what can you do? Wait, she’s now a ghost! Except, Staz doesn’t fancy her anymore because he’s only into human chicks. He vows to return her to life so that his tent may once more stand upright. And so, Staz goes off in search of the Book of Human Resurrection to restore her.

As an otaku, Staz is a funny character with his pop-culture references; however, since the anime forgets he’s an otaku for the most part, we don’t get many of these jokes during all the action. This problem is at the core of Blood Lad; it sets itself up as a parody series, taking several clichéd anime tropes and mocking them. For example, the human girl, whose name I can’t remember from blandness, has large breasts despite being an early high school student, which they make fun of – once. After that, she becomes the generic, large breasted twelve-year-old (I’m sure she’s supposed to be older than that) love interest. Then they bring in another large breasted teen, (and there was much rejoicing. Yaaaaay…) same as the human, just aggressive instead of timid. One joke before a swan dive into the ocean of generic. Why not take the cliché and run with the joke? Every time Blood Lad parodies a trope, it ends up succumbing to cliché itself.

A funny idea for a character and a vivid colour palette couldn’t save Blood Lad from devolving into an anime you have seen many times before. Even if you’re into vampires, Blood Lad brings nothing of note to the mythos.

Art – Medium

Vibrant colours, which is a surprising choice considering the vampire theme; however, there isn’t much to look at. Not as creative as you would imagine for an otaku parody. Action sequences look awful because the character layer doesn’t interact with the attack layer. For example, when blood sprays everywhere, the character isn’t affected until the camera cuts to a different angle and then he is streaked in blood.

Sound – Medium

The voice work is good in both languages, but they don’t say much worth listening to. Forgettable music.

Story – Low

What starts out as an otaku parody with a vampire quickly devolves into a lame plot about saving a useless girl. At least some of the jokes are funny.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For fans of mild otaku humour with action. Blood Lad had potential in its premise. It could have been a humorous look at otaku culture from the perspective of a vampire, but its unfocused execution makes this anime a forgettable one.

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

Positive: None.

Negative: 

Horrendous ActionMisleadingRubbish Major CharactersShallow

Escaflowne the Movie – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Escaflowne

 

Related: Vision of Escaflowne (original series)

Similar: Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Romance

Length: 1 movie

 

Positives:

  • A dark and imposing atmosphere makes for a menacing Escaflowne machine.
  • Action is more brutal and gory than the original series.
  • Great soundtrack with new and returning tracks.

Negatives:

  • Minimal characterisation and character development.
  • The romance is sudden with no validity.
  • The magitech is all but gone, the best part of the lore.

Note: while this review is spoiler-free, I do recommend watching the original series before the movie.

In my previous review, I said Vision of Escaflowne was a character piece with its drama, flawed personalities and tenuous alliances. Escaflowne the Movie, on the other hand, is far from. In the process of cutting down a twenty-six-episode series to a single movie, the creators decided on sacrificing the characters in favour of the war angle.

The premise of Escaflowne is still the same. Hitomi is summoned to Gaea where she meets Van and his allies as they fight to protect the machine Escaflowne, hoping to use its power to defeat the enemy.

The greatest change is with Hitomi. She is depressed, dropped out of the track team, and doesn’t like her place in life. Her power of precognition from the series is gone, as is the theme of fate and fighting destiny; this makes her even more passive than before, if you can believe it. Replacing her future sight, is her role as the Wing Goddess, whose power coupled with the blood of a Draconian like Van gives mastery over the god of war, Escaflowne. Van starts as a war veteran, savage, gladiatorial in appearance, having already lost everything he holds dear at the hands of his brother. Van and Hitomi’s relationship is shallow, void of subtleties that made it work in the series. She is suddenly interested in him with little interaction, and he reciprocates later after a single conversation. Not exactly Pride & Prejudice, is it?

Much of the cast is back, though like Hitomi, they take a lesser role in the proceedings. Allen is still the leader of the allies from countries decimated by the Black Dragon Empire (Zaibach in the series). He doesn’t teach Van caution and battle strategy this time, losing what made him a good character – this applies to all characters really. They contribute to the war effort, but they don’t affect the character of the narrative. Dilandau is still bloodthirsty, yet without his emotional dependencies, he’s just a psycho, not a complex character. I get the impression that the writers assumed you had seen the series to fill in the character complexities for yourself.

The greatest disappointment is the replacement of magic technology with simple magic. Escaflowne is organic, powered by blood; gone are the intricate mechanics of the machines, all those whirring gears and taut cables. Yes, Escaflowne’s increased size and beating heart makes for an imposing figure, but it would have been nice if they hadn’t sacrificed so much in the process.

Forgetting comparisons to the original, Escaflowne the Movie is still a decent fantasy war film and worth a watch for fans of the series to see a different take on the world. The heavy atmosphere as the music swells during the action with Escaflowne is a sight to behold, at the very least.

Art – High

The dark visuals and less stylised characters (spearhead noses are gone) give the Escaflowne movie a more adult look. Improved animations for the smaller details. The loss of magitech reduced visual creativity and variety, however.

Sound – High

Keeps the same iconic chants while bringing several new hymns and oriental instrumental pieces to the dire setting. Awkwardness is fixed from the series’ English dub.

Story – Medium

While the savage nature of Van and Gaea is an interesting take on Escaflowne, without the character arcs and drama, this story has less to offer than the series.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch this if you liked the series and want an alternate take. Escaflowne the Movie brings a darker, adult look to the tale of Van and Hitomi with some heavy and imposing moments.

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

Positive: 

Great Music

Negative: 

No Development

Vision of Escaflowne – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tenkuu no Escaflowne

 

Related: Escaflowne the Movie (alternative version of series)

Similar: Avatar – The Last Airbender

Gundam SEED

The Twelve Kingdoms

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Van, the [actual] protagonist, is a strong character with his head on straight.
  • The world has a great blend of magical technology and medieval roots.
  • Surprisingly deep with its character webs and backstories. Cat-women with literal luck flowing through their veins are a cool idea.
  • The mech duels have a sense of weight and power behind them.
  • A soundtrack that inspires epicness.

Negatives:

  • Hitomi, the [supposed] protagonist, doesn’t do enough considering her position in the series.
  • Certain aspects of the animation shows their age.
  • English dub sounds awkward during moments without music or effects.

When Hitomi is practicing sprint at high school one evening, a beam of light opens a portal, summoning a young warrior and a dragon on to the track. The warrior, Van, slays the dragon and teleports back to his planet of Gaea, accidentally taking Hitomi with him. Having slain a dragon, Van ascends to the throne of his kingdom, but alas, the Zaibach Empire obliterates Fanelia. They seek Van’s unique mech, Escaflowne, powered by the heart of a dragon. His country in ruins, Van must flee, bringing Hitomi with him and hopes to rebuild upon his return with allies.

Vision of Escaflowne was the first series to show me that the anime had a high level of sophistication with fantasy. Until I saw this, it was nothing but superpowers, sci-fi, or high school settings when in the real world. The universe of Escaflowne is fully realised with more depth than necessary, which is exactly what every good fantasy has – detail and more detail. We see several kingdoms of different cultures, each based on the major empires of our medieval time, fictional races such as Beastmen, and magical technology that fits in the world. The standout in lore for me is the mecha (referred to as Guymelef) with their Da-Vinci-like inner workings. They are extensions of the warrior, each movement tracked one-for-one by an exoskeleton of gears and cables. Every movement, every swing of a giant sword has weight behind it, selling the size and power behind these machines.

On their adventure, they meet a wide array of characters, most notable of which is Allen, a charming knight from the neighbouring kingdom of Asturia. Hitomi swoons at the sight of him. He may look like a ponce, but he’s a good character. He breaks the mould of his archetype by understanding that there is nothing honourable in fighting a losing battle, just stupidity. Similarly, the main villain hounding Van and crew, Dilandau, fits into the young and bloodthirsty psycho category, but his emotional dependence on the subordinates he abuses brings an extra layer to his character.

Most impressive of all though is Van. I like his indifference to Hitomi at first. A girl doesn’t instantly distract him when he has responsibilities as king. It shows a maturity uncommon in young adult anime. Hitomi has several instantaneous crushes throughout the series, which also make sense, as the greatest dilemma she has faced so far in life is getting her first kiss. Van’s care for her, at first, doesn’t extend further than owing her for warning him of danger with her power to see the future. While Van is impetuous and inexperienced as king, he has no delusions about what it means to be king and knows his responsibilities to Fanelia. It’s good to see the writer didn’t make him a high school kid that we are somehow supposed to accept is king. He is competent; I like competent characters.

Hitomi is a bit of a let-down, sadly. Her power of precognition and the fact that she operates outside of the destiny machine used by the Zaibach emperor to control the tide of battle is crucial to the plot and Van’s quest, but she doesn’t do much beyond that. She spends much of her time as an onlooker to the battles. And for the love of magic, are you seriously going to stay in a school uniform for such a dangerous journey?

Vision of Escaflowne is very much a character story with its relationship dramas, flawed personalities and tenuous alliances. Van and Hitomi must contend with fate in a war-torn world littered by death.

Art – High

The art is good, despite age, though not on the level of Trigun or Cowboy Bebop. Fight animations look great (love the PoV shots from within the cockpit) with weight behind the attacks, but smaller details, like mouth movements, are comparatively poor. Why does everyone have a nose that could spear a rhino?

Sound – High

Excellent soundtrack of chants and choir with the occasional light string or flute pieces. The dub is awkward during several moments without music. You can “hear” the dubbing; the voices seem to come from forefront of the screen, not the characters. It’s alright, but the Japanese spatial audio is better. Also, in Japanese you get Tomokazu Seki (Sagara in Full Metal Panic, Brandon in Gungrave) as Van, one of the best in the business.

Story – High

Van’s struggles to reclaim his kingdom with a group of allies by his side make for an engaging war story infused with fantasy. Hitomi could have stood around a little less as the protagonist.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: An easy anime to recommend. Vision of Escaflowne is a classic of anime that mixes action and romance in a world of magic technology and mysticism bound to the machine of fate.

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

Positive: 

Great Music

Negative: None.