Category Archives: Adventure

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

Log Horizon 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Log Horizon 2

 

Related: Log Horizon (season 1)

Similar: Overlord

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions

Spice and Wolf

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Expands on the game’s mechanics
  • More economy and social dynamics

Negatives:

  • Disappointing look at the larger world
  • Kids are still around
  • Rather padded due to incomplete source material

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Log Horizon’s first season left me on a positive note. I loved the focus on the mechanics and social aspects of an MMO world, rather than championing action above all else like we see in most of the genre. My primary criticisms were the child characters, who contributed nothing to the story, the small scope of the world despite claims of it spanning the globe, and the clunky action bogged down by overexplanations. So, what does the second season bring to the table? Let’s find out.

With governance and society settled in the virtual district of Akiba, Shiroe and his guild look to explore further out into the world of Elder Tale, especially as other regions gain power. His greatest struggle now is figuring out how to keep Akiba going with funds running low. He comes up with the plan of forming a raid to plunder a mountain of riches guarded by raid bosses. However, plans go awry when the players realise that there are in fact consequences to dying and respawning in game.

First, I like this exploration of death mechanics. It adds a new level of consequences to an area once thought inconsequential. Death in Elder Tale comes at the expense of your real life memories, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until the players remember that they don’t know if they’re trapped in here or not. There may still be a way out of the game. This is interesting. Much like the food mechanics and importance of NPCs in season 1, this demonstrates effort on the author’s part in the creation of his MMO world. When you look at the likes of Sword Art Online or .hack//Sign, you don’t feel any sense that the author spent more than a day creating their worlds. They just slapped together less than the basics of a fantasy world and called it a masterpiece. These mechanics are Log Horizon’s greatest strength.

We also receive more exploration of economy – other great element of the series – with Akiba’s financial struggles. This invites new allies and other guilds to the mix on the path to the gold trove. Shiroe is still a great character as well with diabolical plans and cunning stratagems.

You may notice that all the positives I have to say are more of what was already strong in Log Horizon. Unfortunately, that’s the case. Log Horizon 2 doesn’t fix anything.

The larger world exploration, for instance, is a massive disappointment. They go to a new region across the water – equivalent of China in game, I believe – and it’s just bland. Most MMOs put in a ton of effort in making their zones distinct and varied, knowing that players will spend countless hours in these places and should be as appealing as possible. Such a disappointment.

Then we have the issue of the kids. I had hoped that season 1 would be the end of their arc; alas, we are to suffer further in boredom through their pep talks and lack of contribution to the plot. At least they’re episodes are funnier this time with the entrance of a new character that looks suspiciously like a female Shiroe…

Look, the kids are inoffensive, but they are symptom of a larger problem this season: padding. This season feels like 12 episodes stretched out to fill 25 episodes. I suspect that the source material was running out at the time (light novels still aren’t complete, by the way) and they had to pad for time. More episodes have diversions to “fun” moments that don’t advance story. More dialogue sequences slow to a crawl to hit that runtime. And more action scenes drag out with the trademark of pausing every few seconds to explain abilities. Watching Log Horizon makes me realise that smooth anime action not bogged down in exposition takes real talent.

None of this content is truly bad, by any means, but one can easily see the gears wearing out before reaching halfway down the track. Log Horizon is one of the few good MMO isekai and I hope for a third season. Still can’t help wishing it was so much better though.

Art – Medium

The art is the same as the first season: rather generic style for the genre, though decent, and could use more animation.

Sound – High

The same great OP song is back (I wish more shows stuck to their best theme song rather than changing it every cour) and the acting is good. The localisation is still great as well.

Story – Medium

The guild faces financial pressures as their city becomes unsustainable, so it’s up to their cunning guild leader to find a way past raid bosses to a mountain of gold. Log Horizon 2 adds more of the good from the previous series without addressing any of the issues.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Log Horizon fans only. Since Log Horizon 2 doesn’t fix any of season 1’s problems, this will only appeals to fans of the first.

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No Game No Life – Anime Review

Japanese Title: No Game No Life

 

Related: No Game No Life: Zero (prequel movie)

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Overlord

Problem Children from another World

The World God Only Knows

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Colourful art
  • A good number of jokes

Negatives:

  • The contests are weak
  • Tries to be serious
  • Not genius

(Request an anime for review here.)

Nobuyuki Fukumoto has spoiled me. He pioneered a manga genre (later adapted into anime) that manages to take the ridiculous and turn it into a tense battle unlike any battle anime. Oh, he has nothing to do with No Game No Life – just wanted to start on something positive about the genre of extreme gambling.

No-life virgin siblings Sora and Shiro find themselves sucked into another world when they accept a challenge online. In this new world called Disboard, games rule everything. Everyone settles disputes – no matter how petty – through games, which can vary from something as minor as rock-paper-scissors to as grand as VR showdowns in a stadium. Ten rules govern these games. These rules are law, bindings created by the God of Games. The genius gaming duo accept the god’s trial and set out to conquer this bizarre world and challenge his might.

No Game No Life is another isekai with a gamer protagonist sent into a world where their seemingly useless skills IRL are the ultimate talent. This anime takes it to an extreme. These two are apparently unbeatable at games. The opening scene has them taking out thousands of players in an MMO using just their four characters. Yes, they can control more than one character at a time and still beat anyone without a sweat – Sora even controls all four at one point (uses two mice with his feet) when Shiro passes out.

Of course, this level of skill is ridiculous. However, with an intention to go big, to go ludicrous with the comedy, it works…for a time. With the ten commandments of Disboard laid out, one expects nonsensical contests in this idiotic world. And you get that…for a time. A game of rock-paper-scissors just about determines a kingdom’s monarch. According to the rules, it is binding! Even cheating is permitted, as long as you’re not caught.

The first cracks in the narrative appear when you see how basic the games are in these challenges. Poker, chess, blackjack – is that the best you can do?

You can tell the author has no understanding of the likes of poker or chess because he never makes use of their rules and metagame, not even in a creative way. During the chess match, the only similarity with chess is the names and number of pieces. There is nothing chess-like about the contest. May as well not even call it chess.

I wager that he picked chess at random because chess is something everyone has heard of, requires less work explaining the game and he hoped no one would notice the chess reference is irrelevant. It would have been more logical and more engaging to come up with something original that drew inspiration from chess. Or better yet, since these kids just play video games all day, why not draw on some popular real time strategy game? (Answer: The author knows even less about RTS.) If Nobuyuki Fukumoto were here, there would be some actual tension, perhaps even a few missing fingers? (Please?) Sora could do with a few life-threatening games of mahjong. I’m just sayin’.

No Game No Life thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is, which is to say, extremely dim. It only succeeds on a prayer that the audience doesn’t ask questions.

I return to my earlier point though, that this would be fine if it all served the comedy. It wouldn’t matter that this chess game has no chess in it or that this FPS match is moronic if it were all a means to great jokes. Lamentably, No Game No Life begins to huff its own farts and think the games are of genius-level strategy, refocusing on the serious rather than the humour. Making the characters overpowered to a laughable degree works for comedy, but once you do that, you can’t go back. You write yourself into a hole. You can’t expect people to take it seriously when you want to be dramatic and serious all of a sudden.

As you have likely guessed as well, the “genius” of these characters only stems from the author saying so, not because we ever see any actual genius strategy on screen. The rules bend in convenient service to these geniuses and worst of all, their opponents are all idiots (by author decree, naturally). The author also made little effort with the characters. For instance, why is it that two socially inept kids, as labelled by their introductions, face no social problems except when an ecchi gag calls for it?

No Game No Life is at its best in the first few episodes, when you don’t know that the author has nothing up his sleeve, when the outlandish world is all about delivering jokes, when the coronation of the cheating queen is a parody of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with the archbishop as the judge and Sora plays the game’s theme tune on his phone. I genuinely laughed for the first act.

After that, it goes downhill. The premise dies when it thinks it’s actually clever. The humour dies when excessive fan service takes over after running out of jokes. The once funny-in-a-creepy way relationship between Sora and Shiro becomes plain creepy.

With how No Game No Life ends up, I’m surprised there was anything good at all in the beginning.

Art – Medium

Colourful and vibrant, the art style suits a game world created by a childish god. That said, it lacks creativity in design. For a world run on games, it doesn’t look like a world of games. And no, plonking down giant chess pieces on the landscape doesn’t count. Like the chess event itself, this was done at random, it seems.

Sound – Medium

I cannot stand forced moe voices, so the original Japanese track is torture to me. I find the dub does a much better job with comedic timing and even tightens up some of the jokes. The ex-princess is particularly better in English. This is a preference, so go with whichever suits.

Story – Low

Genius gamer siblings must rise up in a fantasy world run on games to unite the people and challenge the God of Games himself. After an entertaining start, No Game No Life loses track of what works – the comedy – and begins to take itself too seriously.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For isekai fans only. No Game No Life runs on its premise and no one asking questions. If you can do that, you may enjoy it. But if you want to see what could have been instead, watch Kaiji or Akagi.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

.hack//Sign – Anime Review

Japanese Title: .hack//Sign

 

Related: .hack//Legend of the Twilight (sequel)

.hack//Roots (sequel)

Similar: Log Horizon

Sword Art Online

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Top tier ethereal soundtrack

Negatives:

  • Unbelievably boring
  • Repetitive and slow
  • Poor action
  • Shallow MMO world

(Request an anime for review here.)

A decade before MMO isekai became a big deal there was .hack//Sign. If you’re wondering why the genre didn’t take off back then, let me enlighten you.

Whereas the popular isekai premise of today is to trap everyone inside an MMO, Hack Sign only traps an individual, a teenager called Tsukasa who wakes up in a dungeon with no memories and soon discovers he can’t log out. Furthermore, he begins to taste and feel this virtual world on his skin. When other adventurers hear of his predicament, some look to help him while others fear him, particularly for the Guardian artefact that protects him, able to fell players in a single strike.

So, this premise sounds intriguing, especially if it’s the first of its kind for you, right? It has mystery, a vast world, monsters, player versus player combat, and a pitiable protagonist. What could go wrong?

Never have you seen an anime more boring than Hack Sign. For a story set in a game about exploration and fighting monsters, there is very little exploration and next to no action. And what action we do see is so poorly animated that you’re grateful there isn’t more of it.

The last time I watched Hack Sign was all the way back in early 2003 and I didn’t realise until this rewatch for review that I had never finished it. Even with my love for MMOs, I couldn’t continue. I didn’t consciously drop it. It just faded away. I’d wager that the only reason I even made it to a few episodes from the end was the soundtrack, which I place as one of anime’s greatest. In fact, I like this soundtrack so much that I managed to finish this rewatch by passively enjoying the music.

Alright, that’s enough praise. Time for the juice.

I mentioned the lack of action earlier, so you must be wondering what fills the time instead. If I said “Nothing,” I wouldn’t be far off the mark. Most scenes are of characters just sitting around talking about Tsukasa’s predicament. Legends speak of an item called the “Key of Twilight” that can break the rules of the game and perhaps free Tsukasa. In itself, this wouldn’t be bad – I’d like to see an MMO isekai focused on socialising over action. However, when coupled with the amount of repetition, the same characters going over the same talking points, your eyes will roll back as you pass out.

A group of players roleplay as an unofficial “police” force called the Crimson Knights, led by a small woman with wings called Subaru. I really don’t get this character. All the Knights revere her, treat her like royalty combined with the respect commanded by the greatest leaders, and I don’t know why. At no point does she demonstrate great cunning, strength, power, leadership, or wisdom. Forget the story; this is Hack Sign’s greatest mystery.

Much like the circular conversations of Tsukasa’s acquaintances, the Crimson Knights scenes are repetitive to a baffling degree. Count the number of times Subaru’s top knight says that they should get rid of Tsukasa and witness how often other players offend him for not showing her enough respect. We’re just going in circles here.

Oh god, I just remembered the flashbacks! As if each scene going nowhere wasn’t bad enough, they have to replay them in the next episode! These aren’t your usual flashbacks either, glimpsing a past scene to draw attention to some detail. No, these will replay entire scenes for your brain-leaking pleasure.

Characters are the one element that can salvage a story crawling in circles. KonoSuba doesn’t really go much of anywhere, yet those characters are so fun that you could watch them for a long while. Sadly, Hack Sign doesn’t have that luxury.

Take Tsukasa, protagonist, most important of the cast – he’s anti-social, always running away, and quite the dick to everyone. Unlikable to the very end. Even with the tragic backstory. The Crimson Knights are one-note and the only real villain is a sleazy assassin searching for the Key (his real identity reveal is rather funny and exactly who you would expect if you’ve played MMOs before).

You can see the author tried to go for depth with the cast. This one character called BT (named after the Bacon Lettuce Tomato sandwich, minus the lettuce because she hates it) is part of the group helping Tsukasa, yet we see that she has ulterior motives as she uses both good and bad people, never quite sure which side she will fall on. Due to the execution, however, it has no impact. You wouldn’t want to hang out with any of these characters in an MMO.

I appreciate that the script doesn’t bog down with massive exposition and mechanic dumps (unlike Log Horizon), but Hack Sign goes too far in the other direction. There is so little substance that we have nothing left. A bit more focus and direction would help engage the audience.

Unless you want an unusual anime with great music to watch while you slowly sink into the couch, .hack//Sign isn’t for you (or me). If I knew it was so dull, why did I bother again? I wanted to see if it is as boring as I remember.

It is.

Art – Low

The character and world designs remind me of the Suikoden games, which is nice, but the animation sucks and there is so little variety for an MMO world in 26 episodes. Even the dangerous Guardian is a weak design – golden testicles floating around a bracelet, really?

Sound – Medium

Look, Hack Sign has one of the best anime soundtracks ever. I have had a few of its songs on my playlist for over 16 years. The acting is quite good as well – go for the Japanese, as this is from the era when the Japanese was usually the better track all round. Bear, for example, sounds much better with a deeper voice. However! No soundtrack or acting talent can save this mind-numbing script.

Story – Low

A kid wakes up one day as the sole player trapped in an MMO, where a magical artefact becomes his deadly guardian. One would imagine that such a premise would be full of mystery, suspense, and adventure. One would also be wrong.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Unless you are so intensely curious to see what the deal is with anime’s most boring series, avoid .hack//Sign.

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

Positive: 

Great Music

Negative:

Poor PacingRepetitive

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

 

Similar: Log Horizon

KonoSuba

The Rising of the Shield Hero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful watercolours
  • A realistic approach to MMO isekai

Negatives:

  • Random fan service humour
  • Thoroughly incomplete

(Request an anime for review here.)

“This isn’t a video game,” he says, not knowing what a video game is. Hal and friends are living in a world of swords and sorcery with no memory of how they got there or where they came from. Odd words like “phone” and “game” issue from them on occasion, yet without idea of their meaning. They awoke in this foreign land one day and a local suggested they volunteer as soldiers, ridding the region around town of monsters in exchange for little coin. What other options did they have but to accept?

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions takes the MMO isekai genre down a peg to offer something more measured and slower paced than your usual action-focused fare. It still follows the standard rules of an MMO – pick a class (warrior, mage, priest, thief, archer, etc.), join a guild, kill monsters, sell their parts – but considers the world from the perspective of “What if this were reality?” The conveniences of an MMO to make them fun to play aren’t present. If you want to craft something or learn a skill, an NPC won’t do it for you at the click of a button. Monsters don’t merely evaporate upon slaughter, leaving behind the items you need in a convenient package – warrior or mage must get their hands bloody to extract the loot. Death comes easily in the world of Grimgar. And players don’t respawn.

These players – no, these people now must strategize and fight together to win even the smallest victories. A mere goblin that a novice class character could 2-shot in any MMO demands everything they have. I like this, that it isn’t a breeze. Reminds a little of Log Horizon, where figuring out the basics matters and adjusting to this life requires work.

This realistic approach coupled with the beautiful watercolour art make for a refreshing change of pace from other isekai (do wish the character art was more watercolour though). Grimgar handles the world even more seriously than Log Horizon does. However, before you leap at the opportunity to watch this anime, I must impart upon you the negatives that await.

This is an anime where you can see the 100-episode plan from the beginning. You can see the intention to burn fuel slowly as it builds up the world and story piece by piece, giving the audience no more than what the characters learn for themselves. It’s unfortunate then that it only got 12 episodes with no signs of another season. Furthermore, should you want to continue in the source material, know that it comes from light novels (incomplete too), a medium infamous for having no standards. Nothing but disappointment may follow. I haven’t read them, so don’t take my word for their quality.

So, is it worth spending 12 episodes of your time in the world of Grimgar at all? Well, if it were 12 of the greatest fantasy anime episodes, then sure, but they aren’t what I would call great.

For one, when I said slow burn earlier, I meant it. These episodes are roughly three episodes of progress in another MMO anime. For two, the story and characters cannot escape their light novel roots. Despite the serious approach to the world, we still have a cast that would fit right at home in the goofy KonoSuba. They don’t feel built enough for this type of isekai. Yes, I know the purpose is (likely) to break them in bone and spirit later. What I refer to is tone. Let’s make an extreme example: If we put the cast of KonoSuba into the world of Game of Thrones, sure, we could unleash all the brutality the Thrones world has to offer upon them, yet it wouldn’t feel right from the beginning. Grimgar is not this extreme, of course. It is noticeable enough to be a detraction, however.

No scene leaps to mind more than when the party is on a break in the forest, where the dread knight of the group randomly goes on a tirade about big boobs after a girl slights him. It’s as forced as a magician knowing which card you will pick from the deck. How does one screw this up? The correct method was simple – have them running from a monster, they try to escape by sliding under a fallen tree but her big boobs stop her. Queue big boob rant for fan service and comedy.

Grimgar wants to be serious. At the same time, it can’t resist cramming in the usual junk from other light novels. That said, the balance leans more towards the serious, enough that it keeps Grimgar on the good quality side…for what little story it progressed through. You can’t escape the incomplete state. As such, I can only recommend Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions (should have called it Grimgar: Fantasy and Ash) for intellectual curiosity if you are – like me – someone interested in seeing different ideas for MMO anime. It’s a shame the better ones are abandoned like this.

Art – High

Love the style and colour palette – so vibrant and almost ethereal in quality, especially at night. If only the characters had this quality. You can thank A-1 Pictures for stripping the original artist’s creativity and replacing it with the “A-1 face”.

Sound – Medium

The music is good (there’s a lovely piano piece), as is the acting in either language you prefer. No major complaints here, though no major strengths either.

Story – Medium

A band of people wakes up in a fantasy world with no memory of how they got there and must learn to adapt to this dangerous life. With only 12 episodes, Grimgar doesn’t have opportunity to show more than a solid start to a story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For MMO anime fans only. Given that Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is so incomplete, I only recommend it to curious genre fans.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incomplete

Jormungand – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jormungand

 

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Strong production values.
  • Knows it’s weapons.

Negatives:

  • Unmemorable for the genre.
  • Tries too hard with some characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Jormungand was pitched to me as the Black Lagoon of its year. I can see why, for the similarities are obvious – an action series with a ragtag bunch of misfits circumventing the law to fight bad guys around the world. I am sad to report however, that Jormungand isn’t in the same league as Black Lagoon. That doesn’t mean we can’t look at this title as a lesson in the difference between an okay series and a great series.

The story follows international arms dealer Koko and her band of bodyguards made up of former soldiers. The latest addition to her team is child soldier Jonah, who doesn’t really want to be there. Her mission is to bring world peace by breaking every law seemingly possible while escaping intelligence agencies and other outlaw organisations.

The core of any story is its characters. In Black Lagoon, the characters had personalities larger than life, injecting the narrative with a constant stream of humour and energy. Importantly, they didn’t have gimmicks; they had personalities. Jormungand, on the other hand, uses gimmicks to define its characters. When one relies on gimmicks, each encounter with those characters starts to become repetitive with little room for growth because the writer didn’t establish their foundations. For instance, one woman’s gimmick is that she doesn’t wear panties in battle because it “increases accuracy”. This joke repeats for every scene with a focus on her. The first time, it says, “Hey, I’m not wearing panties – aren’t I quirky?” Next scene: “Hey, I’m still not wearing panties – quirky, right?” And the next: “Still nothing down there – bet you love how quirky I am.” Another woman’s quirk is her lustful crush on Koko, which also rears up every time she sees her.

You can’t do this to a character that’s supposed to matter. That’s throwaway character material. Jormungand tries too hard to make these people wacky. Without the personalities to back them up like in Black Lagoon, the quirks come across as annoying and random because they don’t tie to characters through a personality. Keep the panty-less gunslinger joke if you find it sidesplittingly hilarious, but it should be no more than the garnish to well-rounded attributes. Koko is the only character I would consider to have depth among the cast.

On the flipside, you have the problem of Jonah. He’s the “man of few words” archetype that, as I’ve said many times before, isn’t an easy one to make interesting because of how little there is to work with. One would think that having less pieces to construct a character is easier, when in reality every piece must be perfect. It’s like a chef trying to make a Michelin star dish of only three ingredients. Jonah’s counterpart in Black Lagoon is “Rock”, an ordinary salaryman who also didn’t want to join the pirates at the start. Comparing the two, you can see the difference it makes when you have a dull mute in one case and guy in over his head in a gunfight yet still dignified enough to do up his tie on the other.

As for the action, which is why most would attend this screening, it is rather good. Studio White Fox brought strong production values to the table to pump the action full of energy and explosions. As it tries to do with the quirky characters, Jormungand goes over the top with action. If your one interest is action, more action and crazier action, you won’t be disappointed. And the writer knows his weapons to impart authenticity.

Perhaps if I had not seen several such similar anime already, I would have liked it more – I suppose it’s the curse of happening to start at the top before working your way down. It’s hard to settle for something around the middle of the pack, where the plot doesn’t stick with me and I can’t remember anyone’s names except the two listed above.

Art – High

The art is sharp and clean with good animation and effort in the cinematography. It’s a seinen action series – it’s as expected.

Sound – Medium

The acting is alright, but with a script that lacks room for the actors to play like in Black Lagoon, it doesn’t reach greatness. It’s similar with the music – alright, though doesn’t go as crazy as it should.

Story – Medium

An arms dealer takes a child soldier under her wing to show him the ropes as a merchant of war. Jormungand doesn’t push itself far enough to become memorable in the competitive modern action genre.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans only. Jormungand is there for those who can’t get enough action and have exhausted the likes of Black Lagoon, Requiem for the Phantom, and Cowboy Bebop.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None