Category Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Iron Man – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Iron Man

 

Related: Iron Man: Rise of Technovore

Similar: Wolverine

Tiger & Bunny

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks decent.
  • Better than Blade.

Negatives:

  • This Tony Stark doesn’t have enough charisma.
  • Villain’s plan gets a little silly by the end.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Iron Man was the first of the Marvel anime and like the other titles, this takes place in Japan with billionaire inventor Tony Stark arriving in the land of the rising sun to unveil his Arc Station, which would supply clean energy to the country free of charge. He intends to announce his retirement as Iron Man at the ceremony and have a new generation of armour pilots take over. It all goes wrong, however, when his new armours turn on the people.

The ‘Iron Man in Japan’ conceit may sound forced for the local market, but it has precedence in the comics. Tony had a significant arc in Japan as he dated a Japanese woman (same one as in this anime? I can’t recall), which made this adaptation smoother than the likes of Blade.

Iron Man is decent if you want a straightforward plot with action, life-threating dilemmas, and comic book craziness. The plot later incorporates a virus, mind control, and mechs.

This anime has two huge problems: the Marvel movies and the variety of Western Iron Man/Avengers cartoons available. Why bother with this anime when you can watch those instead? This applies to all Marvel anime productions. They are decent at best, which isn’t good enough to warrant your attention unless you really want to see Marvel characters in anime.

It may be harsh to have much of the criticism relate to other adaptations, but every viewer will make the comparisons regardless. Even standalone, what you have here in Iron Man is your average action series.

Art – Medium

The art is good, but Iron Man’s CG, while not the worst, does standout at times. A hell of a lot better than Blade (effort ran out by the fourth series?)

Sound – Medium

Neither audio track has enough charisma for Tony Stark – decent otherwise.

Story – Low

Tony Stark goes to Japan to unveil his Arc Station and a new line of power armour with hopes of retiring, but a criminal organisation puts those plans on hold. The story get silly in the end, but it’s okay overall.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Eh… Watch the movies or Western cartoons instead unless you want an anime that requires no concentration to enjoy.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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Metropolis – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Metropolis

 

Similar: Akira

Ghost in the Shell

Steamboy

Casshern Sins

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Drama Science Fiction Romance

Length: 1 hr. 49 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Some truly magnificent art.
  • City design.

Negatives:

  • Character motivations and personalities aren’t interesting.
  • Art over story.
  • Plodding pace.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Metropolis adapts the 1949 manga of the same name from the creator of Astro Boy (hence the character designs), Osamu Tezuka, who based this story on a single image of the famous 1927 Metropolis silent film. As such, despite sharing a name and setting, the two versions have little in common.

The city of Metropolis rose to greatness thanks to leaps and bounds in technological advancements. Robots have replaced much of the manual labour and menial tasks. However, what should have been a utopia of man and machine, has turned into a class war. Robots are second-class citizens, attacked and destroyed by rioters on a daily basis. They cannot venture beyond their designated zones. Japanese detective Shunsaku and his nephew Kenichi arrive in town on the trail of an organ trafficking case, but the master of Metropolis, Duke Red, has plans involving a robot girl of his creation that throws them off track.

Metropolis draws you in with its city design. Life bustles and clanks along on every corner and in every alley, creating a sense of wonder and a desire to see more. But a film is about story, and it’s not long before you start to ask where this elusive feature has gone. Every character moves in every scene – it never stops to sit down and show us motion within characters. More scenes go towards showing us the world and all the fancy art techniques used than towards developing characters. Art came over story.

The plodding pace of the first act is manageable thanks to the world, though once in the second act and the pace is still like gears grinding together, it becomes difficult to pay attention. The heroes are your standard good guys, which is obviously not ideal, yet I believe the true problem lies with the antagonists. The Duke is your typical Big Boss Villain atop the Tower, residing in the background for the most part (why does he look like a cockatoo?). The other is his adopted son, Rock. He goes after the robot girl, intent on destroying her out of jealousy. The Duke lost his daughter and would rather create an artificial replacement over accepting Rock. His daddy issues aren’t interesting because they lack a foundation to make us care or see them as a problem. We have a few brief interactions between father and son that serve to advance plot, not deepen character. One could say the same for much of the cast. They are tools to the story, nothing more.

The third act finally gets it together to give us action atop the highest skyscraper, which makes for a spectacular and tense set piece. Emotion and character enter the spotlight as the truth behind the robot girl comes out. The Duke reached for the sun in his beloved city and it went beyond his control. He constructed his tower too high and it fell so far. You may notice this as an adaptation of the Tower of Babel, and you’d be right – Metropolis outright states this. Some subtlety would be nice.

I love art as much as anyone does, but story is more important. Metropolis has plenty of the former and mere morsels of the latter.

Art – Very High

Tezuka’s Astro Boy character art of Popeye biceps and effeminate curls on everyone has never looked good to me. It doesn’t hold up, nor does the once spectacular CG for several scenes. I was going to give the art a High rating, until the finale blew me away. It’s magnificent.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine in either language, while the music is serviceable. The finale song is the only standout.

Story – Low

A detective and his nephew become involved in the plight of a robot girl amidst a technologically advanced city. Metropolis put nine out of ten energy cells into the art, leaving a blinking check engine light for the characters and plot.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For art fans. Metropolis is an engaging time if great art alone can sustain your enjoyment.

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative:

No Development

Key the Metal Idol – Anime Review

Japanese Title: KEY THE METAL IDOL

 

Similar: Chobits

Serial Experiments Lain

Ghost in the Shell

Video Girl Ai

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Music Drama

Length: 15 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Eerie tone.

Negatives:

  • A ‘Nothing’ protagonist.
  • 30,000 friends to become human.
  • Villain’s plan.
  • Out of its depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In his dying message, an old man tells his robot granddaughter, Key, that she can turn human if she makes 30,000 friends. She has until her battery runs out. Key becomes enamoured with pop idol Miho and desires to be a singer herself, believing she will gain the requisite friends through the big stage.

I can’t be the only one who thinks that 30,000 friends as the secret to becoming a ‘real girl’ is ridiculous. What an odd solution. I wonder if they considered that for Pinocchio in 1883. Believe it or not, Key the Metal Idol does find a way to justify the mass friend request gimmick, but that doesn’t make it any less illogical. If you can’t accept this goal, then stop the anime right there – the story doesn’t get better.

When all you need is 30,000 friends, I’d say going on TV as an automaton would do the trick. If people can create fan clubs from their favourite waifu, then a real android would have millions of adoring fans. She certainly doesn’t try to be discrete about her identity, so what the hell, go for it.

Before aiming at pop-stardom, Key finds herself roped into an adult video company. Hey, the producer wasn’t lying – she would receive many “friends” in a short time. Just sayin’. Thankfully, her friend Sakura rescues her from the casting couch. The adult video producer pursues her since. Key later becomes the faith healer of a cult, which is admittedly quite humorous (and the cult leader looks like the drunk boxing coach from Tomorrow’s Joe). Once another friend rescues her, the cult is now in pursuit as well.

Key the Metal Idol takes a while to reach its main plot of her trying to become a pop star (I thought this was a subplot for act one). The narrative is often distracted by subplots tangentially related to Key. She feels like a supporting character in her own series until the finale.

Once the main plot does begin, the conflicts stem from the choreographer obsessed with her, and from the evil robot scientists that wants the secret behind her autonomy beyond any other android. She is said to contain an immense amount ‘Gel’ (android power source). The main villain seems…special. Let me see if I understand you rightly, Mr Villain. You have created robots that pass for human and have complete remote control features, and your grand plan is to make a pop music group? Are you sure your PhD is real?

From the adult video producer to the scientist, all the villains are corny one-note characters, stereotypes. “I am evil!” yelled the mad scientist. “I am abusive!” yelled the abusive artist.

Key the Metal Idol’s best quality, if I had to give you one, is its eerie feel. From Key’s wide, unblinking eyes to the muted, unwavering music contrasted by the pop songs, the atmosphere does convey the feel of a child in a dangerous adult world. A better protagonist could have taken this atmosphere and chilled you to the bone.

Emotionless characters in anime rarely work. Rather than give us a pitiable character to care for, these writers give us empty characters with no personality for us to accept as deep. However, the ‘Nothing’ character is usually part of the supporting cast (50% of harems have one). In Key the Metal Idol, the Nothing is protagonist. You can see what the writer wanted. He expected us to feel for Key, similar to her inspirator Pinocchio, an innocent child lost in the dark world of reality as nefarious entities seek her power. But with no personality, this is like asking me to care for a gun in an action movie. There is no emotion to latch onto. We do see attempts at bridging a connection between her and the audience. For example, she drinks water in episode one in an attempt to fit in with the other school kids, despite it damaging her systems. The presentation— in fact, the presentation of this anime as whole, lacks style and weight to affect the audience. Even within the confines of Key as she is, the story doesn’t use her well.

I commend the team for trying, but it tackles subjects far beyond its ability. Key the Metal Idol is out of its depth.

Art – Low

The animation is surprisingly good for the time, but the cels weren’t lined up well, which results in screen jitter. For those who may not know, traditional animation uses cels (short for ‘celluloid’) with the background and each character painted on separate transparent layers. To make sure the cels align for each frame of photography, they have ‘registration holes’ on the edges (out of frame) that give consistent placement. I’m wondering if Key the Metal Idol used registration holes because every layer jitters more often than acceptable. It feels like they guessed the positioning of frames.

Sound – Low

Key is better in English – actually sounds like a robot in both cadence and filter – but the Japanese takes the rest. I like that they redid the music in English for the dub. It works within context.

Story – Low

Should an android make 30,000 friends before her battery runs out, she will become human. Key the Metal Idol reaches too far and the goal slips through its fingers.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For Serial Experiments Lain fans. I don’t know any better way to describe who will enjoy this anime. If you like that “oddness” and not-quite-there cohesion, then Key the Metal Idol may just be for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incoherent

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaiden: Golden Wings – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu Gaiden: Ougon no Tsubasa

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (main series)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 59 min.

 

Positives:

  • The finale.
  • Extra backstory titbits.

Negatives:

  • Missed backstory opportunity.
  • No political intrigue.
  • Lower production values until the finale.
  • Uncharacteristic melodrama.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Oh boy, more Legend of Galactic Heroes in the gaiden chapter, Golden Wings. Time for some complex characters and political machinations that grip me from start to finish!

Well…? Where are they?

Golden Wings goes back to Reinhard’s infancy, back to the death of his mother and the ultimate purchase of his sister, Annerose, by the emperor. Reinhard doesn’t take kindly to this development, of which his father, a poor noble, is complicit. He joins the military with best friend Kircheis to gain status and take back his sister.

While it’s nice to receive extra pieces of Reinhard’s past, Golden Wings doesn’t explore them enough. His mother’s death is a single scene with no scaffolding to create impact, but worse is the sale of Annerose to the emperor. They could have made more of a plot out of this – used the entire film, honestly. How does the emperor know of the daughter of a poor, lowly noble? How did they meet? When did he take a fancy in her? Did they spend time together first? All we see is that the father accepted a large sum in exchange for his daughter and then we move on to Reinhard in the military. What a letdown.

This missed opportunity points to the lack of political intrigue in Golden Wings as a whole. The emperor’s former favourite lady grows jealous of his new diversion, Annerose, and wanting to harm her, she sets her sights on Reinhard. Nothing would hurt Annerose more than the loss of her brother. The jealous woman sends an officer to have Reinhard removed…taken out of the picture…dealt with…meet with a little accident. I expected this to be the cover for some deeper plot, but no, it’s as it seems. A jealous woman wants Reinhard dead and sends a cartoony villain to kill him. No surprises, no twists. The finale is good for the action, certainly, though too straightforward for this franchise.

Lastly, Reinhard is far too melodramatic a couple of times – out of character.

By the standards of any other anime or as a new series, Golden Wings is okay. However, okay isn’t good enough for Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Only excellence need apply.

Art – Medium

Several major characters look little like their main series counterparts – not for the better. Outside this, the shot composition and environment designs lack the creativity to make up for the limited animation. Only the finale looks great in its horrific destruction.

Sound – High

The voice work is still strong, though the script lacks the sharpness of political intrigue.

Story – Low

The early days of Reinhard’s life. Golden Wings doesn’t live up to the main series, yet is harmless in the end.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Legend of the Galactic fans only – even then, maybe not. Only to see it for extra backstory. You can safely skip this one.

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

Positive: N/A

Negative: N/A

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jin-Roh

 

Similar: Akira

Ghost in the Shell

Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 1 hr. 42 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Some good visual elements.
  • Lovely music.

Negatives:

  • Drab colours.
  • Metaphors are on the nose.
  • Thin on content.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mamoru Oshii’s Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is an introspective film hinged on a metaphor of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Constable Kazuki Fuse is traumatised after witnessing a terrorist girl detonate to avoid capture amid riots in an alternate history Japan. As an officer of the panzer troopers, an armoured ground force reminiscent of the video game Killzone’s Helghast, his change in behaviour mandates retraining and puts him in the middle of the conflict between the Capital Police and ordinary police forces. During his recovery, he grows close to the sister of the very terrorist girl who died before him.

This premise of a dystopian Japan, riots everywhere, Helghast-like officers clashing with police, and suicide bombers paints an intense portrait of a film. You’re probably imagining Akira. In truth, Jin-Roh couldn’t be further from intense. This slow, methodical film set in a nation without colour, without life, wants to evoke depression inside the viewer. Once vibrant greens and reds have faded. The world feels ‘Soviet’ where the higher ups have absolute power, giving no hope to the people.

Kazuki roams with no purpose. The few glimpses of life spark during his moments with the sister, but even those are drops in the calm ocean.

I am sad to say that Jin-Roh doesn’t succeed in evoking much emotion, nor does it engage the viewer. As I opened with, the story is a metaphor for ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which Oshii handles without an ounce of subtlety, for every second scene makes a simile or draws a motif to wolves and the fairy tale. He’s so obsessed with the metaphors and motifs that he forgets to develop the characters and the world in which they live. The story never gives a sense of why anyone does their jobs or what they hope to accomplish in this world nearing anarchy.

Oshii’s masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, has one of my favourite introspective moments in anime when Motoko Kusanagi glides through the streets of New Port City, so one would imagine that a film with more of this reflection would be a personal treat for me. What made that moment in Ghost special was its placement among scenes of intense action and intrigue. The story slowed down with a purpose. Jin-Roh is perpetually slow.

You could take almost any scene from this film and it would be interesting when seen standalone, similar to watching that scene from Ghost by itself. It’s once you realise that the film has almost nothing but this sluggishness repeated for an hour and a half that it becomes boring. It needs balance.

Rather than make me care for Kazuki’s plight, Jin-Roh had me crossing my fingers for another riot.

Art – High

The art is effective at evoking a dystopian atmosphere, but the much-muted brown palette becomes dull when it’s all there is. Characters could use more detail. Most of the animation budget went into people being riddled with bullets.

Sound – Medium

Voice work – fine. Music – lovely, tragic.

Story – Medium

A special unit officer reconsiders his position in life after witnessing the suicide death of a terrorist girl amid enforcement politics. Jin-Roh’s sacrifice of everything to convey its ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ motif limits its appeal and quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the slow and introspective ONLY. Seriously, if you don’t love, and I mean love, slow pieces with near-no story, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade will bore you to death.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None