Do you like memes? No, do you love memes? Boy, do I have the anime for you!
Pop Team Epic is trolling made manifest in anime form. When I started the first episode and it played an ordinary idol anime opening, I thought I had put on the wrong series. No, it was just messing with me. When the episode ended with half the runtime remaining, only to restart the episode with the girls voiced by the opposite gender, I…had no words. This is a hard one to describe.
Put simply, Pop Team Epic is a collection of skits lasting anywhere between 10 seconds to a minute long. It pulls from anything and everything. One second, Berserk’s evil egg mutates into the face of the blond girl, the next second we’re waking up in the cart at the start of Skyrim, and then we find ourselves in real life. It is a thousand memes put through a vulgar blender and sprayed onto walls, floor, and ceiling to see what sticks. I take it the studio allowed its artists and voice actors to do whatever they wanted.
My favourite skits are when, rather than bothering to animate a scene, two people flip through storyboard pages or the time we look into the voice-recording studio, where the actors lose their minds over the insanity of the script – full mental breakdowns! The random cuts to a French animator from the studio talking in a calm voice, explain something about the animation, before it cuts to the two girls in France flipping everyone off also got a chuckle.
There’s not much to say about Pop Team Epic. Is it good? Eh… It’s hit and miss from skit to skit – since they don’t last long, the bad ones don’t hang around. I think the biggest problem with Pop Team Epic is watching it in episodic format. This material works best taken in one skit at a time, shared to you online by a friend or stranger like a meme. If someone were to send you a video of the same meme done it different ways over a 20-minute video, you’d stop laughing a minute in. Watching Pop Team Epic as an anime series is just that. And like most memes, this will be dated in a year’s time.
My recommendation, should Pop Team Epic seem of interest to you, is to watch random clips online. It doesn’t really work when put together as an “episode”, too random in its structure and rarely giving time to appreciate the joke. Here, watch one:
Art – Medium
A random collection of visual techniques and styles – sometime with no art whatsoever – works as often as it fails. Or is the other way around? I swear one scene was made in Microsoft Paint.
Sound – Medium
I’ll give it to the actors – they commit. Watch it in Japanese for extra lunacy.
Story – ?
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For meme connoisseurs only. If you must watch Pop Team Epic, do it in random doses like a mad doctor throwing prescriptions at passersby.
Until I committed to watching Angel Beats (after a reader requested it for review), I had thought it was another adaptation of Key Visual’s awful visual novels, owing to the similarity in character design (I had attributed the reduced real estate between the eyes to someone finally pointing out how ugly Key characters were). Much to my delight, I discovered that it only involved one notable staff member from those past projects and it wasn’t someone from the art department. The composer wrote this story as an original with no visual novel relations. Thank Thor; Angel Beats isn’t doomed before the first frame!
With that happy thought in mind, I dove right in.
Angel Beats is a “trapped in limbo” story with video game rules, where each of the “player characters” cannot escape the confines of a high school until they undo a past regret and move on in death. Otonashi is the newest student in this strange world of the in-between. He awakens with no memories and next to a girl hunched over a sniper rifle. She’s aiming at a silver-haired girl in the school’s soccer field. He doesn’t see the girl as a threat and rightfully so, for she is as dulcet as a puppy. He soon learns otherwise when he talks to her and she kills him.
He’s fine the next morning, of course, since no one dies in this limbo high school of NPCs. The silver girl or “angel” is just there to enforce the rules as student body president. Meanwhile, Otonashi joins sniper girl’s club of player characters. They have one mission – defeat the angel and get out of here.
The first few episodes are fine overall as they explain the rules and the story focuses more on comedy, like a group of high school friends taking their military LARP most seriously. The second episode has them breaking into their own secret underground base when the traps meant for the angel turn on them. The team members drop like flies to video game traps and it’s funny.
The quality falls as you progress further into the story, figuring out the goal is to give each character an emotional send off before they depart limbo. They can only pass on once they make up for a regret in life, which means a shoehorned tragic backstory for each person is imminent (sniper girl’s is laughable, even with dead kids involved). It gets worse when you remember the episode count and calculate that there is no way to accommodate so many characters. You don’t care about anyone before they leave. You see the ending coming eight episodes away and yet it’s still ham-fisted.
No emotional moment in Angel Beats worked for me. The story is a metaphor about moving on from high school and having to say goodbye to friends – possibly for the last time – which is relatable to just about everyone in the audience (if you’re still in high school, you can relate to leaving primary/middle school friends behind). Even with such a relatable theme, these scenes extracted nothing from me.
The writer needed to cut down on characters. Have more characters than the core group, by all means, but don’t make them all matter. By trying to make everyone matter, no one matters.
Moreover, Angel Beats needs a stronger script to pull off the drama. Half of the script consists of Otonashi asking questions on behalf of the audience (oh, what convenient amnesia), so that others can explain everything. His dialogue in some scenes will be no more than one question after the other. Then we have what can only be described as the “anime” dialogue. That first scene when he awakens near sniper girl has the following cringe worthy exchange.
After seeing no threat from the small silver-haired girl, he says, “Listen, how about I go down there?”
Sniper girl whirls around and quickly yells, “What? Why? Why the hell go down there? That doesn’t make any sense! What the hell made you say that? Are you an idiot or what? Go die!”
“That’s something we say here all the time since no one dies here,” she adds, now speaking normally. “What ya think? Funny?”
“Not so much, but what do I know?”
This dialogue is meant to convey her personality, but is so forced that it’s just obnoxious. I can see someone turning this off at that moment, 3 minutes in. Don’t forget, this dialogue comes after she rambles about her club’s name with no context, which is also obnoxious. The way these characters talk and behave doesn’t convey the sense of people trapped in limbo. It feels like any other high school action anime cast.
Once the school concert is over a few episodes in (the music is the strongest element) and drama replaces comedy, Angel Beats becomes rather bland and predictable. Not to give away too much, but the angel adversary plot resolves shortly as well to lessen conflict further.
Angel Beats is an alright anime if you go in knowing not to expect much from the drama. Honestly though, there are so many better anime you could spend your time on and this one’s been forgotten by now, so there’s no conversation waiting either.
Art – Low
Characters have zero design originality, though thankfully they aren’t landlords. CG background characters and CG environments don’t blend well with principal objects. Lights and shadows are inconsistent to the characters. Look at the screenshot above with the sniper rifle – note how sharp the shadows are on the characters, gun and bush (drawn in by a person digitally) against the fuzzy shading on the building and the lack of shadow beneath the rifle (calculated by computer graphics). The only complement I can offer is for the skies.
Sound – Low
Average acting, no matter the language, and the script is several tiers below what’s needed for the drama. The music is nice.
Story – Low
A group of students try to escape limbo high school by killing the angel that enforces the rules. Too many characters, quick drama, and a lack focus don’t make for a great story.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. If you haven’t seen Angel Beats yet, you aren’t missing out. It has nothing recommending itself these days, though it isn’t a bad anime.
I can’t help but wonder if Blood Blockade Battlefront wasn’t intended for an older audience originally, until an editor/studio said it couldn’t succeed without the shounen demographic and so the protagonist lost a few years to meet that new audience. I say this because Leonardo, our protagonist, doesn’t fit with the rest of the cast.
Leonardo is a teenager who recently acquired the “All-seeing Eyes of the Gods”, which gives him immense power beyond his comprehension, so he heads to Hellsalem’s Lot (New York City) where the supernatural is an everyday part of life to look for help. There, he unexpectedly joins Libra, a crime-fighting organisation that deals with the supernatural and the mundane through use of powers of their own and modern technology.
Libra is a group of adults. While the focus is on the supernatural action with a comedy slant, when it does focus on characters, these Libra members have adult problems, which doesn’t gel with the themes of Leonardo’s character. Furthermore, there are too many episodes where he feels like a tagalong to the plot (or isn’t present at all), as if the author couldn’t figure out how to use his shounen protagonist in a seinen series. The adults are just more interesting in Blood Blockade Battlefront.
There is one episode where Leonardo works – the mushroom guy episode. He meets this mushroom guy (no better way to put it) with an appetite for burgers, who has spores that can erase memories. Criminals prize his spores. Imagine you could commit a crime and wipe everyone’s memory of the event – free money. Unfortunately, the spores affect mushroom guy as much as anyone else, which means he doesn’t know anyone because he forgets after each mugging. The standalone episode regarding his and Leonardo’s friendship is a good one. In fact, I find the standalone episodes to be the best of the series.
Another one that comes to mind deals with the work/family balance that many career adults face. A woman in Libra needs to assist with an important mission to intercept a drug shipment, but the day of the mission happens to coincide with parents’ day at her son’s school – a day she has missed for several years already due to work. The episode has a great moment on parenting when her husband explains to the son that it hurts her more than it does him when she can’t keep her promises. The humour works too (same author as Trigun). When she tries to get off the mission roster, her boss guilts her into staying by laying out the consequences of mission failure on other children – in a comedic way. In the end, she has to do both concurrently.
As I said, Leonardo is a side character to most missions, so he doesn’t drag down the series too much. He’s okay. The unclear motives and goals for early episodes are a bigger problem. The start is too hectic for its own good.
I do love the feel of this city matched with the tone of the characters. Mermaids, vampires, werewolves, monkeys, and aliens living alongside humans in a towering metropolis gives me a Baccano meets Tiger & Bunny meets The Fifth Element with a dash of One Punch Man vibe. The creative visuals and light humour, yet balanced by some heart, make Blood Blockade Battlefront an easy anime to watch once you clear the initial hurdle of not knowing what the hell is going on.
Art – High
It’s Studio Bones, so the art has a good minimum quality. I particularly like the look of New York City – fantastic colour depth and detail. The notable flaws are moments of repeated animation and the protagonist’s eye effect looks slapped in the scene.
Sound – Medium
Can’t stand the protagonist’s voice in English, so I switch to Japanese and he sounds the same! Don’t like either of their nasal voices. Other than that, the acting is good, though there is a missed opportunity in not having accents from New York’s various boroughs akin to Baccano.
Story – Medium
A kid with magic eyes joins a crime-fighting organisation in the big city populated by human and supernatural denizens alike. Blood Blockade Battlefront works best when following individual characters and is in need of a more adult protagonist.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For action comedy fans only. Blood Blockade Battlefront isn’t a remarkable anime, but it has enough to entertain fans of the contemporary action genre. (Still can’t say Blood Blockade Battlefront quickly without fumbling my words.)
I only watched this anime because of the title (“What is a snafu…?”) and came out wishing I hadn’t bothered. There is a subreddit called r/im14andthisisdeep that collects “deep” thoughts that are actually basic to the average person. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is that subreddit in anime form.
It follows the nihilistic high school years of Hachiman, who is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club as punishment for imposing his “deep” worldview on everyone. This club, which includes the ice queen Yukino, has the sole purpose of helping students in need achieve their goals. It’s a club about helping people, in short, with the hope of making Hachiman less of a douche.
As an example of the club’s activities, the first case is helping a girl who can’t cook, where the real lesson is that it’s the thought and effort that counts among friends. She soon joins the duo along with several others to create the typical group of high school friends.
SNAFU presents itself as a meta anime on the “high school friendships” genre, commenting on how much the genre overblows high school and how it doesn’t define your life, but ends up eating its own tail to become a pretentious, overblown high school friendship anime. It goes through the usual episodes – beach, summer festival, sports day, etc. However, instead of thinking, “You’re right, it is really stupid how big of a deal they make out of these events,” I just see SNAFU doing the same as the anime on which it comments.
The one differentiating factor is that the characters aren’t cheerful. Hachiman is anti-social, Yukino is anti-social, another girl is bad at socialising, and even the popular girl doesn’t have anyone who cares for her. Despite this difference, the story and characters play out much the same way as your average anime from this genre.
Initially, I thought that Hachiman’s musings were meant to be taken as the pretentious ramblings of some kid who thinks he has the world figured out, that we were meant to see him as unlikable before the story turns our opinion of him. He does grow less unlikeable, sure, but I don’t know anyone who would want to hang around such a boring person.
I considered the idea that the author was trying to emulate the deep (read: stupid) thoughts we all had as teenagers, and that this nonsense was accurate for a kid his age, but it never calls him out on it. Hachiman doesn’t sound like a teenager in over his head; he sounds like an adult failing to write a teenager. No one with any life experience would believe this author’s life lessons and witty advice – and by any, I mean any, even a few months out of high school would dissolve such notions. It’s weak.
The drama isn’t really drama either. It’s just students interacting lightly in a slice of life way to resolve petty affairs. It’s hard to care about such minor problems. Oh, your life hinges on being elected class president? Oh wow, so rough. It takes a council of 40 students to organise the same sports day as every year and if it fails, all is lost? What a tough life. Perhaps this is meant as satire, though if the case, then it flops.
It also bothers me that there is seemingly only one teacher in this school, who acts like one of the students and barely looks older than they do. This world, this anime feels so empty.
SNAFU isn’t funny enough to recommend as a comedy, doesn’t have enough tension for a drama, and shouldn’t even have the romance label. The worst thing about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is to see studio Brain’s Base, responsible for unconventional greats like Baccano and Princess Jellyfish, forced to make an anime so visually and narratively bland.
Art – Medium
Average art, indistinguishable for other anime of the era, until a different studio takes over in season 2 and does a better job. Cinematography is still stock.
Sound – Medium
Acting is average as well. Not bad, though nothing memorable.
Story – Low
A nihilistic student is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club, which helps other students achieve their goals. This story and its unlikable protagonist won’t appeal to anyone with a drop of life experience.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For 14-year-olds only. If you are above that age, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU’s deep messages will be laughable.
So, Soul Eater – this one took me a while to finish despite getting through the first 30 episodes in a week. It’s fun for the most part, but once it reaches the latter half, the increased action focus and reduced comedy coupled with stagnating development dampened my motivation. Before I explain why, let’s get on the same page with the premise.
Soul Eater is a Bleach-esque anime set in the realm of death where Shinigami train at Death Weapon Meister Academy and fight off supernatural evils. Its distinguishing characteristic is the living weapons, Demon Scythes, which switch between human and weapon form to fight for their masters. The ultimate goal of any Shinigami is to harvest 99 souls and one witch’s soul to turn their weapon into a mighty Death Scythe. The principal characters are the straight-laced Maka, wielding the scythe Soul Eater Evans, the brash Black Star contrasted by his kind weapon Tsubaki, and the OCD-riddled Death the Kid with his twin pistols Patty and Liz.
The first aspect one notices of Soul Eater is its distinct visual style. The urban anime art reminds me of the game The World Ends with You, which is a great fit to the character and world design. The drooling sun and laughing moon look like graffiti you would find in an abandoned train yard. It stands out from other battle anime.
However, in spite of this distinct looking world there is something missing from it. For a time, I could not put my finger on it, on why Soul Eater didn’t draw me in. The action is good, similar to other good battle anime, and the cast, though nothing new for the genre (except perhaps Death the Kid) is solid. You’ll likely find a favourite and enjoy the powers. So what’s missing?
The larger world is missing.
It took me far longer than I would like to admit to realise that there is nothing in this world outside of the main plot. It’s like a rail network with only one line. You can look outside the windows and see a city around you, but no trains go there and you only see story-relevant passengers on board. This city is a mere background like North Korea’s fake “Peace Village”. Soul Eater has a narrow world. You know how most fantasy anime have main characters travel to distant places and meet other cultures? Soul Eater not only doesn’t do this, but it also gives the impression that no such places exist. All of this adds up to a difficulty in finding reason to invest in this world and its characters. If you can attach to the characters otherwise, then I assume this won’t be as much of an issue for you as it was for me.
For the characters themselves, as I said, they are solid. My favourite is Death the Kid (even though the way he holds the guns with his pinkies is the stupidest thing ever). The school exam episode is hilarious. Seeing Kid’s OCD cripple him so badly that he can’t start until he writes his name perfectly on the paper had me rolling. It’s a shame the series shifts from this fun battle anime in the first half to a serious-action-only second half. Honestly, if the fun angle had persisted, I would have finished this much sooner.
The third act is the weakest section. My understanding is that this act is a wild deviation from the manga, which wasn’t finished at the time (the manga continued for four years after the anime). It shows.
The final battle in particular is one of the weakest I have seen in this genre. Off the top of my head, only something garbage from start to finish like Beet the Vandal Buster delivers a worse showdown. Soul Eater’s finale feels like the filler it is, written by someone with no investment in the manga or experience in writing. For one, it focuses on Black Star almost exclusively, who is the most “annoying shounen kid” of the cast. He’s not even the protagonist! For two, the win condition for this fight is just nonsensical. I won’t give it away, though you can watch the final episode (51) for yourself – even out of context you will see what I mean. A wet tissue of an ending.
I’ve said it before, but a bad end feels worse than poor quality in any other section. Soul Eater is a lot better than the end presents to us. If you do want to watch this, I recommend switching to the manga afterwards.
Art – High
Soul Eater’s distinctive designs make it a memorable look. Also, the animation shines during action scenes.
Sound – Medium
T.M.Revolution, one of my favourite artists responsible for much of the excellent Gundam SEED soundtrack, does the first opening here – I never skipped it. The music in general is decent, as is the voice acting in both languages. The dialogue does need trimming and less shounen clichés during combat though.
Story – Medium
A group of young Shinigami battle supernatural entities to collect souls for their living weapons and to protect their city. The story follows a normal shounen structure, but is truly let down by its end.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For action fans. While a little different from the norm, Soul Eater is still a battle anime at heart so won’t extend beyond its demographic. You will need to continue with the manga for a proper end.