Category Archives: Adventure

Let’s go on a quest! Characters usually embark on a grand journey, encountering various obstacles along the way.

Basilisk – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou

 

Similar: Ninja Scroll the Movie

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal

Romeo x Juliet

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action Adventure Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Creative powers make for strategic encounters.
  • Both ninja clans have good and evil.
  • No character feels safe.
  • Tragedy of the premise makes you feel for the characters.

Negatives:

  • Some characters don’t get the development and screen time they deserve.
  • The English voice track doesn’t work well with Japanese nouns and honorifics.

Two ninja clans have feuded for the last four-hundred years, only held at bay by a royal pact prohibiting conflict in the last few generations. In this time of tenuous peace, Gennosuke, grandson of the Kouga clan leader, and Oboro, granddaughter of the Iga clan leader, have fallen in love and their marriage is to create a binding peace between the clans. However, the current shogun decides to use the clans to determine the successor from his two sons. Each clan must select its ten best ninja to annihilate each other. The winning clan will receive the support of the shogun for the next thousand years and rule over the defeated. The pact is broken.

Basilisk is a brutal story as both sides cut each other down to the last. You quickly learn that no one is safe in this conflict; no character wears unkillable ‘plot armour.’ This creates great tension in every moment of conflict, for you never know what will happen, who will die. Basilisk makes great use of the ninja theme with every aspect shrouded in deception and brutality. Each ninja has a special power such as a spider-man who spits glue-like phlegm, and a woman can use her blood to mark the target and create a red mist she can vanish into. To reveal any more would constitute spoilers since the powers themselves are kept hidden for use as twists in the plot. I love strategic use of character abilities and talents.

The writers did a great job with the characters. Neither clan is the good or bad side. Both have characters with shades of grey, beautiful and ugly, calm and angry, kind and cruel. Having these complex characters on both sides makes it all the harder to see them die.

It is clear Basilisk drew much inspiration from Ninja Scroll the Movie with the unique ninja powers and action style. In my review of Ninja Scroll, I noted the lack of character development as a core issue. Thankfully, Basilisk uses its longer screen time to develop the characters through flashbacks and during downtime. Even then, a few characters don’t get the screen time they deserve in such a large cast.

Basilisk excels at character design, each ninja’s look based on their powers – they even have a ninja with no arms or legs. The action is suitably gory and uncensored as a man cuts off his own head. I do wish the visual style in general had more grit like Ninja Scroll the Movie and BerserkBasilisk looks too clean by comparison.

Finally, we come to the audio. Don’t use the English track. With so many archaic Japanese names and locations coupled with honorifics –dono and –sama spoken in American accents (some rather heavy, see: character Okoi), the English voice work sounds strange. If they insisted on using the honorifics with these voices, they should have use titles like ‘lord’ and ‘lady’ instead. Stick to the Japanese original with its well-matched voices to the characters.

I highly recommend Basilisk to anyone who isn’t averse to a little gore. The ninjas and their powers make for an engaging narrative of action and tragedy.

Art – High

A variety of character designs that fit their creative powers. Gore and violence worthy of the brutal premise. I would have liked more grit in the general art.

Sound – High

In Japanese, each character has the right voice, well executed. In English, however, the heavy use of Japanese words doesn’t sound right. Outside of the forgettable title tracks, the music is nice. I particularly liked what I refer to as ‘mountain monk’ music (I have no idea what it’s called) – flutes, chimes, ethereal vocals, etc.

Story – High

A tragic tale of two ninja clans willing to fight to the last warrior if it means wiping out the opposing clan. Add in the forbidden romance, and you have a great story to hear.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Can’t go wrong watching this. Basilisk manages to deliver great action coupled with complex characters in a dark tale of love and hate.

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

Positive:

Holy S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStrategic

Negative: None

Mind Game – Review

Japanese Title: Mind Game

 

Similar: Paprika

The Tatami Galaxy

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Comedy

Length: 1 hr. 40 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Zany comedy.
  • A plethora of music and visual styles.
  • God, the ultimate troll.

Negatives:

  • May be too weird for most.
  • Slow to start.
  • Character animation is erratic in quality.

Random floppy wiener. Formula 1 racing. A couple having a picnic. A love letter passed on. Soccer player in a diaper chases a woman, Myon. She escapes to a bar with her friend Nishi. He is shot up the arse by the soccer player, separating soul from body. In limbo, god trolls Nishi through texts and recreates the bullet-up-the-rear moment with a wireframe model for Nishi to see over and over. God turns into a hippie. Then a literal shithead. Now a goldfish bowl with live fish. A fashion model. Nishi defies god to escape limbo back to just before his death. Renewed by his afterlife encounter, Nishi disarms the soccer player and caps him in the head. Yakuza. Car chase. Trapped on the city bridge. Giant whale erupts from the water and eats him and his friends. Now they live in its stomach.

This all sound too weird? Well, it should. Mind Game is one crazy anime. At some point in every scene, I had to question what I was watching. The crazy train never ends. Mind Game employs a narrative in the vein of Pinocchio, only instead of wanting to become a real boy, Nishi wants to grow into a real man that would impress Myon. He goes on a wild adventure with her and another friend, pushing their sanity to the limit.

Studio 4°C (known for the Catherine video game and Berserk remake) employs its zaniest visual techniques to deliver an energetic and spontaneous film. One moment you’re looking at roughly drawn art, almost as if the artists were in a hurry (which works), and the next moment, you’re looking at a Picasso style with random live action thrown in. It keeps changing. One would think that a dozen art directors had different ideas of what the film should look like, resulting in an amalgamation of ideas. For the most part, the splicing works to keep you captivated. Mind Game is never dull; I will concede that. However, the artistic choices are great or terrible, no in-between. Interestingly, the segment that looked most normal, Astro Boy inspired, was the dullest. By far my favourite was the encounter with god the douche-bag. Just brilliant.

Art’s only problem is the erratic animation quality. In some scenes – the climax, for example, or the car chase – animation is excellent; however, there are times where it feels as though the animation runs at five frames per second. This was probably an artistic choice, but it simply doesn’t work.

The music morphs with each scene, lest it appear too normal in this loony toon. The music’s range is incredible. An unsettling, one-note wind chime tune for a scene, Disney’s Fantasia for another. How about Bahamas holiday music? Sure, why not. Again, it works great in places, not so well in others.

If you do decide to watch Mind Game, be warned that what I have described here is only the tip of the craziness. Mind Game is an eclectic piece of work that will mess with your head, which you will either love or hate. It’s a self-aware tale that bends reality to breaking point and then keeps going.

Art – Medium

A crazy mix of art styles and techniques with random real life images thrown in. The animation quality is erratic.

Sound – Medium

Sports a new style of music every scene, some zanier than others. Like the music, the voice work changes in tone with each scene to varying degrees of success.

Story – Medium

The Pinocchio-like story is slow to start and nothing but weird from then on, possibly too weird for some. Don’t expect logic here.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Mind Game is an incoherent anime of ever-changing visual and musical styles that fans of oddity will enjoy. To everyone else, it likely isn’t worth your time.

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

Positive: 

Holy S***

Negative: 

Terrible Start

Wolf’s Rain – Review

Japanese Title: Wolf’s Rain

 

Similar: Ergo Proxy

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

Length: 30 episodes (26 in season one, 4 OVA to conclude)

 

Positives:

  • An extensive and varied soundtrack from multiple countries.
  • Great visual quality expected from studio Bones.
  • Solid Japanese voice work alongside the likes of Crispin Freeman and Steve Blum in an equally good English track.

Negatives:

  • Serious pacing issues.
  • The main drive of the plot, the search for paradise, doesn’t have any urgency due to vague objectives and potential consequences early in the series.
  • Four recap episodes in the middle.

I first started watching Wolf’s Rain in 2003 shortly after its initial airing. It took until yesterday, eleven years later to finish watching the anime – I never felt that ‘just one more episode’ drive. Poor pacing issues, vague storytelling, and filler episodes make Wolf’s Rain a difficult anime to invest in.

Wolf shapeshifters were thought extinct for 200 years; however, a few survived and blended into the populace as humans. A white wolf named Kiba follows the scent of Lunar Flowers to Cheza the flower maiden, key to opening the door to paradise. Unfortunately, the villain Darcia, who seeks to open paradise to remove his family’s curse, kidnaps Cheza. Kiba along with three other wolves, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, give chase to rescue her. Meanwhile, a hunter and his dog Blue track down the pack of wolves, intent on wiping them out.

Wolf’s Rain’s narrative setup is a good one brought down by ambiguity. I understand (and recommend) that a writer shouldn’t lay out all the cards on the table within the first chapter; however, you must at least tell the audience which game you are playing. The narrative structure in Wolf’s Rain is akin to playing poker, only to have someone declare ‘Gin!’ and win the game, which is when you realise you weren’t playing the right game. Wolf’s Rain doesn’t establish the importance of paradise or the relevance of the villain (outside of kidnapping because the plot needed conflict) until late in the series. Furthermore, it isn’t some grand twist. The world is ending and paradise must be opened in order to save it. Only the blood of a wolf and the lunar maiden can accomplish this task. That’s all they needed to state clearly within a few episodes. It seems as though the writers assumed that the audience already knew all of this somehow.

Wolf’s Rain main storytelling device is allegory. Everything represents something. The focus here is on religious pilgrimage and social constructs. The wolves’ search for paradise is their journey to enlightenment, while the government’s extinction of wolves is the suppression of freedom. Looking at the device on a macro level, it is well executed, as the wolves face a dozen trials from betrayal to self-doubt to false hope as their varied personalities clash with one another. That said, it fails on a micro level, the scene-to-scene narrative. Writers can’t just throw something at the audience a claim quality because it’s ‘symbolic.’ Even if something is symbolic, it still needs structure and quality. When using symbolism, ask this: if the audience doesn’t catch the symbolism, will they still understand what is going on? If a character hulking out and turning evil is symbolic of inner struggle, there still needs to be a plausible reason for hulking out into evil. One can’t suddenly make him evil and declare symbolism!

The pacing doesn’t help either. Where some episodes have action, drama, and tension throughout, other episodes consist of nothing more than slow pans across silent scenes where little happens. Yes, moments of silence and introspection can enhance the narrative tension, but here the silence builds to nothing. To compound further, episodes 15 to 18 are recaps of the story thus far from the perspectives of different characters – the same recap four times! One would assume these recaps at least garner extra backstory or maybe revelations about a character’s motives. Alas, no, just filler. Imagine if you had to pay for this back when it was four episodes a DVD.

Where Wolf’s Rain does shine is with its music. Composer Yoko Kanno is to be commended for her excellent work with the soundtrack. She recorded music from around the world to craft an extensive and varied soundtrack. The opening theme sounds like something from Sting, the closing is by Maaya Sakamoto in English, there is European chant, Indian Raga, violin for moments of sorrow, and so much more. Truly great music.

It is a true shame the storytelling in Wolf’s Rain is so vague. As things are, I found the plodding story moments a hindrance to reach the tension. The soundtrack is worth a listen on its own, at the least.

Art – High

Great work as always by studio Bones with attention to detail like persistent battle damage. In human form, the artists managed to convey wolfish characteristics without resorting to clichéd ‘dog-ears-and-be-done-with-it’ design.

Sound – Very High

A phenomenal soundtrack from around the world along with great voice work in both languages. Gravel brothers Steve Blum and Crispin Freeman bring the appropriate levels of growl to the villain and Tsume, respectively.

Story – Medium

An over reliance on symbolisms leaves the plot vague for too long. Also suffers from pacing issues and four episodes of recap in the middle.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Unless you can stand a vague narrative and slow pace, you won’t enjoy Wolf’s Rain. I do really love that music.

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

Avatar the Last Airbender – Review

Japanese Title: Abatā Densetsu no Shōnen An

 

Related: The Legend of Korra (sequel)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

Gundam SEED

Vision of Escaflowne

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 61 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Excellent, thoroughly developed characters.
  • Fluid and awesome action with magnificent spell effects.
  • Perfect pacing.
  • Great for children and adults alike.
  • Pleasant Humour.
  • Engaging story that keeps getting better, particularly in the third season.

Negatives:

  • Takes a little time to get used to characters sounding American despite none looking so, though this won’t hinder my experience.
  • Finale makes a single poor decision.

I first heard of Avatar the Last Airbender with the announcement of the film by the same name. As an introduction to the world of Avatar, the film couldn’t have gone worse. However, surrounding all this excrement was a fanbase livid at the mutilation of their beloved show. I kept hearing how amazing the show was. Now, source material is often better than adaptations, so I figured the cartoon must be better. But amazing? No, I doubted that. I have encountered many rabid fanbases in my time surrounding anime (I know that this isn’t anime, but the same audience enjoys it) and rarely do they result in something worth your time. In the end, I acquired this show for the sole purpose to educate myself when I argue that the show isn’t all that great. Instead, Avatar turned out to be…phenomenal.

Our story starts with the awakening of Aang, airbender and the next Avatar incarnation discovered frozen in an iceberg by two nomads of the Water Tribe. Aang has little time to learn the remaining three elements (Earth, Water, and Fire) before a comet passes Earth that will empower the current Fire Lord, who seeks world domination, into a being of living destruction – all the while hunted by Fire Prince Zuko.

Aang travels with waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka across the world, encountering a wide cast of characters on their many adventures. The characters are a large part of what makes this a great show. Katara, the motherly type, has to keep her brother’s antics in line. Much of the comedy comes from Sokka, who can’t waterbend like his sister and must fight with his lucky boomerang.

Aang is the weakest of the cast at the beginning; not saying he is a bad character – far from it, great in fact – he simply doesn’t hold up to the rest. He has one of those righteous personalities. You know the type: doesn’t kill people or even really harm them, no matter how evil, vegetarian because he can’t harm animals, and other pious life choices. At first, I thought this would make for great conflict considering his mission, and it does for a while, only to throw a reversal later. While Aang’s story is great, the other major characters experience more interesting story arcs that culminate in epic conclusions. If anything, that is a testament to Avatar’s quality. When the supporting cast has such fantastic arcs that the protagonist’s arc couldn’t possibly live up to them, you know you have something good.

The best character of all is Prince Zuko the firebender. Upon first meeting, he irritated with his whining about lost honour and his obsession with the Avatar. However, my opinion turned around as he developed. Before long, I realised that the writers intended for one not to like him so that his growth will mirror one’s opinion of him. Truly great writing.

Full thought went into every side character – the creators didn’t take shortcuts even for single-episode appearances. From the completely nutters, bad-joke-loving, king of Omashu to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh (voiced by legendary Mako – one of his last roles), I looked forward to each new location for the characters they will meet.

Humour is a strong element of the series. In the first season however, as an older viewer, you may find some moments a little too tailored towards the intended young audience. Thankfully, the third season’s high notes with some truly dark moments well make up for this. Prepare to laugh plenty throughout the show, especially at the hands of Sokka. If you have kids, watch it with them to earn many awesome points in their eyes, and with the show tailored towards them, the pacing is never dull, as the writers knew they could never release their attention. Every single episode captured my interest.

Action never occurs for the sake of action, so you don’t get tired of seeing the elemental powers. Take Naruto, for example, and his overused shadow clone technique that grows old because he whips it out at a whim every few minutes. Yes, it’s great when executed correctly, but could have been better with less airtime. Avatar doesn’t make that mistake.

In the end, Avatar the Last Airbender is a brilliant show. With many likable characters that experience proper development, action and visuals that fit the themes, and an overall plot that concludes with an epic finale, this is easily a must watch.

Art – Very High

Art and animation of a high quality in a colour palette suited to the elemental nature of the powers. It looks particularly great in action – water flowing across the screen as fire rages, wind slicing things apart while earth smashes the environment. Visuals’ only flaw is in the animation of the mouths, where it could have done with a few more frames to match the other smoothness.

Sound – High

Masterful acting once acclimated to the American accents in an Asian setting. Audio effects for spells are great.

Story – Very High

Only a few missteps with the protagonist and a lack of intensity in season one hurt this show’s story. Avatar will still surprise with just how good it is, the final season in particular. Hilarious, too.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Rent it, buy it, watch it. Then you can join in on the discussions as to why the movie is so damn terrible. Get the kids involved as well.

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice TrackRiveting ActionStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStellar Voice Acting

Negative: None

Allison and Lillia – Review

Japanese Title: Allison to Lillia

 

Similar: Last Exile

The Pilot’s Love Song

 

Genre: Adventure Romance

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A real sense of charm from its beautiful, storybook visuals populated by good characters with believable relationships.
  • Strong sound effects, for the action in particular.

Negatives:

  • Story never hits a high note.
  • Ambiguous character ages.
  • Final twist is…unexplained.

In a world based on Europe’s 1920s, there lays a continent divided by a gargantuan river into the two regions of Roxche and Sous-Beil. Both sides were at war for one-hundred-and-thirty years, but are currently in cease-fire. Tensions are still precarious as neither side is willing to give way in the issue over which region existed first; the older believes they have rightful ownership of the younger’s land. A feeble cause, I know, but wars have been fought over far less.

We follow the tales of two Roxcheans: Wil, a down-to-earth, book smart, loyal, peace-loving guy, and his friend, Allison. She’s an adventure girl, feisty, reckless, defiant, likes to ‘borrow’ without asking, sleeps way too much, and is a classic cover-hog. Her escapades get him into trouble, dragging him along for the ride. Their teamwork, complementing personalities and natural behaviour to each other makes for a believable friendship. Their ages are difficult to surmise, for Wil is in the fifth grade at the start, but they obviously aren’t eleven. A quick search revealed they are both seventeen, yet there is still one problem: how is a seventeen-year-old girl a proper military pilot? Maybe things were different in the twenties…

Another time it may be, and yet, I still felt uncomfortable at the relationship of two support characters, pilot Carr the charming love letter guy and Fiona, Princess of Ikstova (a small country between both regions). This isn’t a spoiler, as it happens quickly – which isn’t a problem – he looks twenty-something and she, ten (another search reveals her as twenty years old. Twenty!) No matter how hard you try, you can’t skew her appearance to adulthood. Their relationship isn’t explicit or ‘icky’ in anyway, it just looks inappropriate. And no, it isn’t a childhood crush you have on a celebrity; he is the instigator.

Back to Allison and Wil. When an old codger tells them of a treasure about a cover-up in the war that could end all strife, they are dubious. Then the old man is kidnapped and the adventure is on! They give chase into Sous-Beil using a seaplane. The conflict isn’t simply good versus bad. Both sides have positive and negative aspects, no outright evil nation.

Allison and Lillia’s narrative is more a series of short stories rather than a single large story. Yes, the characters and their lives link each; however, they are also self-contained arcs. I don’t understand this structural choice since they could have had the same stories, but with more ties between them. As it is, the plot doesn’t get a chance to escalate, build mystery, hit that high point in tension where everything comes together. You will see twists and have those tense moments, only without that expected crescendo. In fact, the pace slows the further the show progresses.

This show is loaded with charm. From the light-hearted and well-timed humour to the innocence of youth, and the beautiful storybook style art, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.

Allison and Lillia is an enjoyable show – even for the kids – that captures a sense of family and friendship, and what people are willing to do to protect those important to them. If only the plot had more heft and mystery to it…and characters’ ages were clearer (yes, it bothers me that much).

Art – High

Beautiful art full of charm. Magnificent vistas inspired by European countrysides are a pleasure to behold with the splendid environmental lighting effects.

Sound – High

The music throughout is well composed, matching the show in its European inspirations. Sound effects for the inorganic things are excellent. You feel bullets whiz past, explosions shake the ground, and hear planes fall to the horizon. The right actors for each character, especially for Allison, who could have gone the obnoxious road often associated with the young, strong female types.

Story – Medium

A tale of adventure against a backdrop of war torn countries. A missed opportunity, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A good show. Allison and Lillia is the ideal anime to watch with your kids, as it offers a fun adventure for all.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Charm

Negative:

DissapointingWeak End