Category Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans

 

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Gurren Lagann

Rainbow

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 50 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Great mech designs
  • Doesn’t take the subject matter lightly
  • Perfect end for this story
  • Dirty land brawls

Negatives:

  • Lack of interpersonal conflict
  • Talks down to the audience regarding characters
  • Drags in the second season with space battles

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I can only go so long without watching a new Gundam series. It was a while as I waited for this one to release in a complete collection (season 2 took forever). So, was it worth the wait?

Iron-Blooded Orphans centres on a squad of child soldiers, who manage to survive an attack when their military company leaves them to die as fodder. They live on Mars, a desolate planet that relies on the benevolence of Earth. Kudelia Aina Bernstein, daughter of one of Mars’s aristocratic families, leads the plight for independence, but her naiveté comes under fire when she sees the effects of war, particularly on children, first hand. Mikazuki and his comrades of Tekkadan, led by Orga, aren’t messing around when it comes to fighting for their lives.

First, I love the premise. It’s great how Iron-Blooded Orphans goes to the lowest level, to the people at the very bottom of the ladder. Even more so, I love how it doesn’t shy away from the tough circumstances these kids would face and the harsh violence they must commit. Episode 3 illustrates this when Mikazuki executes the leader of their military organisation – and man responsible for leaving them behind – with a bullet to the head the instant he talks back. I did not expect such good sense.

The story hooks you from the start with high stakes and high conflict. I’m sold right away. So what goes wrong?

It isn’t long before you notice something off about the characters, about the way in which they interact with each other. There is a distinct lack of interpersonal conflict. One would imagine that Kudelia’s naiveté could cause much drama amongst these poor downtrodden kids. Why does this spoilt rich girl think she can save us? But nope, there are a few minor comments here and there and we move on. Surely there would be conflict between Mikazuki and Orga. No, Mikazuki never questions his leader. He follows like a dog, a passive protagonist. A love triangle starts between Mikazuki, Kudelia, and this other girl (childhood friend). Come on, there has to be conflict here, right!? At best is a slight shyness from the childhood friend. The most conflict comes from minor characters, whose names you will never remember.

Even with a plethora of external conflicts on these characters, a story also needs internals ones (often aggravated by those external forces). It’s what makes characters human, relatable, and memorable. Regardless of what I think of the rest of Iron-Blooded Orphans, this single factor alone makes me prefer other Gundam series like SEED and Origin.

This problem is no more evident and sorely needed than in the case of the “legitimate businessman” and his harem of women that ally with Tekkadan. Supposedly, he’s married to all of these women whom he claims to love equally. However, there is clearly a favourite, which one would imagine is leading towards several cases of jealousy and thus conflict. Nothing comes of this weird relationship dynamic. His purpose is to create a bridge between Tekkadan and a large yakuza-like corporation they end up working for. Give me drama!

That leads to another problem with this series: too many characters. Way, way too many characters. Tekkadan has twice as many named characters as it should. Then we have businessman and his harem, followed by several enemy organisations, each with their own cast of characters. Gundam series generally have a large cast, but this is on another level. It’s not so much the quantity (Legend of the Galactic Heroes has far more) as it is the quantity at one time. When you have so many characters fighting for screen time, everyone suffers. The phrase “wide as the ocean, deep as a puddle” applies to much of the cast (still no one as bad as Cagali). Cut it in half. Yes, half.

I believe this is the reason we have so little character conflict. Not enough time when a hundred characters need their share in the spotlight. This also explains why everyone and their grandpa has to spell out their motivations for the audience. For instance, an enemy squad captain returns after defeat to challenge Mikazuki to a duel, knowing he stands no chance against the Gundam. Once defeated and given the chance to retreat, he requests to be killed instead. Why? Well, it’s obvious, but he has to give a dramatic monologue for minutes to make sure we understand. Iron-Blooded Orphans deals in heavy themes not for small children, so why talk down to the audience like children in regards to characters? People will get it. Every character has this moment.

Also do something about the creepy marriage between one of the antagonists and a child. It isn’t talked about enough by other characters. I’m not sure what they were going for here. If they want to establish that this isn’t unusual, they need to make a point of it. Just creepy.

To top it all off, I’m not a fan of the designs. I know this is personal taste, but the hairstyles are just too silly for a gritty war drama. Does anyone else think the protagonist looks like Sonic the Hedgehog? On the other hand, we have the mechs. There are awesome designs here. The main Gundam, Barbatos, a relic of an ancient war is one of my all-time favourite designs. I liked it before having even seen the series. 10 outta 10! Gundam of the year!

So far in this review, I have been quite negative – it comes from a place of love – so why did I enjoy this in the end? It is equal parts being a Gundam fan in general, the action, and the story.

The decision to have much of the action be up close and personal, mechs smashing into each other, tearing armour plate by plate instead of all the usual high tech beam weapons was an ideal match to the story’s tone. Some of the deaths, people crushed inside their cockpits, are brutal. I cannot emphasise enough how little Iron-Blooded Orphans holds back on the subject of child soldiers and war. It also gains extra points for featuring one of the only instances where a hero shoots an enemy in the head during their speech on “honour”.

Then we have the story, which stays engaging (apart from a lull in season 2) in the face of an average cast of characters. The meld of war, politics, shifting alliances, and scrappy fights had me until the end. And what an end it is. I should never have doubted the team to deliver the right ending, but this surprised me. The perfect end to this type of story.

Do I recommend Iron-Blooded Orphans? Yes, but not to Gundam newbies. This one is overloaded with specialist terms and names you’ve never heard of. It can get difficult to track who’s who when referred to by name alone. Or were they talking about an organisation? Go with Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin if you want to start with the main line series or Gundam SEED / Gundam 00 if you prefer standalone stories.

Art – High

Though I’m not a fan of the character designs, there is no denying Iron-Blooded Orphans looks great. Best of all, repeat animations aren’t an issue and the action flows smoothly. There is a visceral quality to the way Barbatos carves up enemies.

Sound – High

I like the soundtrack, but I wish it had a little more grunge to match to the down and dirty lives of these kids. The acting is better than the script, which could do with a simple 10% trim that over explains characters.

Story – High

A squad of child soldiers find themselves holding destiny in their hands before they fight for a better future. A great story with mediocre characters comes to an excellent conclusion.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it (if it isn’t your first Gundam series). Iron-Blooded Orphans is a solid series despite its flaws. However, I don’t recommend this for first-timers to the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

ef – A Tale of Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ef – A Tale of Memories.

 

Related: ef: A Tale of Melodies (sequel)

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

Sola

Bakemonogatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Not as bad as it could be…I suppose?

Negatives:

  • Actually pretentious
  • Vomit-inducing character designs
  • No one develops
  • The dub is a special kind of awful

(Request an anime for review here.)

I was meant to review Weathering With You, but as I missed my opportunity to watch it, that will have to wait. Instead, I felt like covering something trashy – an anime I had almost forgotten I had seen.

ef – A Tale of Memories comes from studio Shaft before they were a creator of good anime. You can see hints here of what Shaft would become, particularly in their artistic styling. Thankfully, they abandoned these stories and characters for something more fun.

This story follows six characters that eventually become three couples as they overcome their obstacles along the way. The first couple is the most vanilla of the three, between an aspiring manga artist (or is it hentai?) and an energetic girl with unorthodox interests. The second couple uses the childhood friend + love triangle cliché who eventually realises she’s in love with this photographer kid instead. The third and honestly main couple of Renji and Chihiro (you’ll recognise them by his douche hair and her abhorrent eye patch) face the issue of her constant memory loss. Think 50 First Dates with moe. They work on this by writing a novel together, something she can’t forget.

Barring the third with memory loss, there is nothing too unusual about these romances. Frankly, they are as shallow as can be. However, the studio tries to distract you with “fancy” camera work and visual motifs. I commend people for trying to do something different, but everything in Tale of Memories from the quick cuts to the avant-garde shot compositions feel like difference for the sake of being different. And when they run out of ideas, we have stretches of blandness – still shots, no animation, no style. These stand out badly by contrast. To see this style don’t correctly, one need look no further than Shaft’s own Bakemonogatari.

The dialogue is like the cinematography. It alternates between artsy nonsense for the sake of it and stock dialogue that comes with Microsoft Script Writer 2006. If I haven’t made it clear yet, ef – A Tale of Memories is pretentious garbage. These characters don’t develop. They don’t grow as people discovering true love for the first time. No, they spout nonsense and confess feelings in a mire of melodrama. At least it isn’t insulting.

If you don’t like the idea of 50 First Dates gone moe teen melodrama, humour subtracted, then stay far away from ef – A Tale of Memories. I am so glad Shaft moved onto better projects.

Art – Very Low

Some shots are interesting, others are boring, but the majority are nonsense for the sake of being different. Hate the character designs. That douche’s hair! They are one step away from Clannad and one should never stray that close to cancer. Obnoxious – that is how best to describe the art overall.

Sound – Low

If you want to watch ef – A Tale of Memories, do not go with the dub. The problems range far and wide, though the worst has to be the use of honorifics. They use them, yet don’t speak like the Japanese is any other way, which makes it come across as a weeaboo fan dub. The script sounds better the less you understand the characters.

Story – Low

Three teen couples deal with circumstances that stand in the way of love. The ideas aren’t bad. A less pretentious script and presentation was needed if these couples had any chance at success, however.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. It isn’t as bad as Kanon’s romances. Still doesn’t make ef – A Tale of Memories worth a minute of your time.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Awful DialogueNo Development

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!

 

Similar: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Toradora

Another

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Drama Slice of Life

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Colourful, poppy animation
  • Good laughs
  • Works in the drama well

Negatives:

  • Nothing special above the rest

(Request an anime for review here.)

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is an anime that came off my abandoned list because a reader requested it for review. I had abandoned seeing this after judging it by the cover, for it has a character design type that I hate: the eye patch girl. You have no idea how much I hate that design. In particular, I hate the medical eye patch. I first encountered it in Ikki Tousen, a fighting anime featuring one such eye patch girl that has her clothes torn every fight. Wanted her to die.

I hate it because it doesn’t make any sense that they wear it all the time – medically irresponsible, even! It’s like those shounen characters with a band aid, usually across the nose. At some point, it has to come off. If you need a permanent eye patch, then get a proper one. The medical one just screams try hard of the lowest order and I have this irrational hatred of it. Before this turns into a full-blown rant about eye patches, I should start the actual review.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions takes the eye patch design and mocks it for the pathetic tacky fashion statement that it is. Yuuta is trying to escape his middle school past as a “chunibyo” called the “Dark Flame Master”. A chunibyo is the sort to believe that retaining your virginity until 30 turns you into a wizard. He fancied himself a fantasy hero. He was a LARPer who took it a bit too literally. No matter. He’s now in high school, where nobody knows of his dark secret. Time for a new leaf. In comes Rikka to ruin all that!

She is a magician of some renown and power, possessing the “Wicked Eye” that could unravel one’s destiny. Or so she believes. So dangerous is her eye that she covers it with an eye patch.

Try as he might, Yuuta can’t escape her delusions, aided by other classmates that join her magic circle and drag him back to chunibyo hell. The Dark Flame Master rises once more!

I find her a great character from the first episode when he sees her at the train station. The way she pretends to use the Force to open automated train doors and her smug strut on board that follows is simply a perfect introduction to the character. It isn’t long before the eye patch makes sense in completing her farcical appearance. This girl, whom I once hated based on appearance alone, is a delight to be around. My favourite scenes have to be those between her and her sister.

Her sister indulges the delusions on occasion, manifesting as epic duels of magic and comically oversized weapons (I love the cutaway to reality that shows them just smacking each other with an umbrella and ladle). The comedic timing is great throughout the series.

Chunibyo isn’t comedy all the way, however, as it introduces the drama at the heart of Rikka’s condition. Normally, this is where I would tell you that the story goes to crap while the writers try to force some emotion down your throats at the last minute. We’ve seen it time and time again in comedy anime, as though the writer is afraid that if the series doesn’t end with a gut punch, no one will take it seriously. They seem insecure in their comedy. But for Chunibyo, this isn’t the case.

First, it doesn’t bring this out of nowhere for the finale. We see hints of it from the first episode before the midpoint brings it to the forefront and the final act hammers it home. It explores the reason behind her chunibyo condition and her belief that if she can get strong, find just the right spell, she can see beyond the boundary of reality into another realm where her father has gone. It’s a clever way of explaining her character and giving her more depth than expected.

Now Yuuta, he’s rather flat. He works as a compliment to her craziness, but you never get the sense that he is a character beyond this story. He’s fine. I find the supporting cast more entertaining, particularly the girl who believes she wields the power of Mjolnir in her twin tails. I felt so sorry for her at the end.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is one of the comedy dramas that manages to end on a satisfying note. Sure, it doesn’t elevate itself to some unmissable masterpiece, yet at no point did I deem it a bad show. It is an enjoyable ride from start to finish. And the eye patch didn’t suck.

Art – High

More animation went into this anime than what was needed, which is appreciated. It allows the fantasies to come to life and lively characters to shine.

Sound – Medium

Neither the music nor script are anything to write home about, though they aren’t bad at all. The acting is the strongest element in the audio department.

Story – Medium

A girl who uses fantasies to escape from reality drags those around her into a world of everyday chaos. This simple plot manages to balance comedy and drama to deliver a satisfying, if predicable, anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is better than I expected and you may think so too.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Gosick – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gosick

 

Similar: Black Butler

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Heaven’s Memo Pad

Ghost Hunt

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pretty environments.
  • Good acting.

Negatives:

  • Omnipotent detective.
  • Whiny guy and tantrum girl don’t make for great leads.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I love how anime schools are beyond reality. Some go so grand, so outlandish that no real school would ever look like this. I think of Bakemonogatari’s school often, with its sky-scraping glass tower that serves no purpose other than great cinematography. Only anime can abuse the “rule of cool” so much for a mere school. Gosick has one such school. It’s a grand gothic and Victorian mix with an indoor botanical garden large enough to fit another school. And I love it. Not particularly relevant to this review – just thought I’d mention it!

As for the story proper, Gosick is about a 13-year-old Kazuya, who happens upon a doll-like girl around his age called Victorique de Blois in the school’s grand library. She’s an odd girl, keeping to herself and not possessing particularly keen manners, despite her prim appearance. Kazuya intrigues her, however, and she decrees that he is to be her plaything to entertain her with stories in the garden atop the school, when not joining her in solving mysteries, of course. She throws tantrums when bored, but switches on her genius when summoned for a case.

Contrary to the goth loli design, she isn’t lewded to sinful heaven like most of her archetype. Frankly, I consider this a miracle. There is a mild explanation for her petite stature in her backstory, but I think the artist just liked the look. She truly is a dress-up doll. I’m still not a fan of the type, though I do appreciate some effort went into incorporating her design into the rest of the art.

The story, for the most part, is Sherlock Holmes & Watson style crime mysteries. Now that, I love. They start with a few small cases, including a ghost ship, that last a few episodes each before it delves into a grander story about her origins and the tale of her cursed mother. More on this later.

I’m sorry to report, however, that these mysteries aren’t going to impress anyone with a modicum of experience in the genre. The major issue is Victorique’s omnipotence. She will say exactly what happened in some cases without ever going to the scene. It’s not as though she makes an educated guess, which she adjusts and confirms later on through investigation. No, she says exactly how it transpired. Furthermore, the audience can’t solve these mysteries ahead of time by catching clues. I don’t know if this was intentional by the writer to make her seem smarter or if the writer didn’t have the skill.

This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if it had something else going for it, such as strong characters you want to join in the adventure. Here too we have a problem. Kazuya is weak – too wimpy for a Watson substitute. I don’t get his personality choice. The dynamic between him and Victorique is for him to be her pet, her plaything, yet he doesn’t have a strength to counterbalance this weakness. He’s loyal and kind to her, but that just makes him a better servant. The original Watson is a good sidekick to Holmes, yes, but he also brings common sense and a clarity Holmes lacks when tunnel-visioned on a case. Watson must take charge at times. Kazuya doesn’t feel like an independent character who would exist without her.

As for Victorique, her tantrums are annoying. I assume (correctly) that it’s meant to endear her towards us and fit her child-like design. I just find it tiresome. They don’t make sense with her otherwise “mature” persona – not played as some flaw, like a mature outward façade covering a vulnerable inner core either. It comes across as an excuse to have a loli throwing tantrums because that’s what the writer likes. It doesn’t mesh.

Humour arrives in the form of her brother, who has hair that could pierce the heavens. He also works as a detective, but with his inferior skills, he often resorts to taking credit for his reclusive sister’s work. He’s a bit on the weird side for a gothic mystery, though is more memorable and focused than the other two.

Back to the story, once the opening cases are over with, the main story is more interesting, yet becomes less of a crime mystery. Gosick ends up losing its genre focus halfway through. More interesting on one hand – loses the genre on the other. It’s leans action over mystery by the end, which I take as a positive after the mediocre cases in the early game.

I want to be clear: Gosick never becomes bad. This is simply an example where once you’ve seen better, it is difficult to go backwards. I could see myself recommending this had I watched it a decade ago.

Art – High

I wouldn’t expect a series reliant on a goth loli to put any effort in the art. Gosick has surprisingly high production values. The environments look particularly good.

Sound – High

The music is appropriately gothic and the acting is good. No notable complaints here.

Story – Medium

A boy helps a doll-like girl with her hobby of playing detective – then the cases get personal. The mysteries are good enough to hold one’s attention, but if you’ve seen better, you’ll crave something more.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For mystery beginners. Gosick is an easy enough anime to watch unless you are used to more captivating mysteries.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

From Me to You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kimi ni Todoke

 

Similar: Lovely Complex

My Love Story

Maid Sama!

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Slice of Life

Length: 37 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A sweet romance.
  • Cute art.

Negatives:

  • Hits its peak within a few episodes.
  • Plays it too safe.

(Request an anime for review here.)

For those who aren’t aware, the movie The Ring (or just Ring in Japanese) is a cultural icon in Japan. It’s their Jaws or Dracula. In particular, the ghost girl with long black hair over her face is recognisable to all the Japanese. Unfortunately for our protagonist Sawako, she looks just like the Ring girl and terrifies her classmates at every turn. Down the empty school corridors, in the damp bathrooms, behind the schoolyard trees lurks the shy, sweet, introverted and utterly terrifying Sawako. Fear her.

Of course, she’s a harmless girl just trying to make friends. She has a crush on the most popular guy in class, Kazehaya, who turns out to be the one person not afraid of her. He doesn’t have trouble talking to the horror that is Sawako.

Despite the ghostly premise, From Me to You gives off feel-good romance vibes from the beginning. I would go so far as to say that it gives these vibes too early. Kazehaya likes her right away and they got along without delay, so it already feels like the conflict is over. They keep the drama going with so much self-pity and unspoken misunderstandings that it makes for a weak romance. Her core personality trait is shyness, true, but not saying anything at every convenient moment is just dim-witted. Too much time is spent with her watching shyly, too timid to talk to the guy, too timid to do anything. Grows old fast. Her flabbergasted expression by someone merely talking to her also wears thin before long (and she cries each time). If everything is flabbergasting, nothing is.

There is no inherent problem with the feel-good direction – I’m not advocating Shakespeare come in to dramatise every romance – yet if taking that route, a story needs another driving force. Comedy is the most common substitute. Romantic sitcoms can go for seasons on end with little true progression. Doesn’t mean it will be great – viewers will want progress and a conclusion eventually. Regardless, the audience needs something. From Me to You, while amusing in a charming way, isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. These characters aren’t compelling enough either to want to observe in daily life, intrigued by what they will do next.

As for the episodic story, we have the usual high school fare of festivals, classes, and school events. It’s what you expect from a high school anime. I see this as neither positive nor negative. Using these events in a more interesting way with actual conflict (i.e. something other than shyness) even if done for comedy matters more.

For some positives though, it is a pretty anime. You can feel the manga artist’s touch in the visual style (needs more animation than a manga page though). It has a strong shoujo flair that brightens up the screen. It makes for a nice compliment to the feel-good romance. The chibi humour is also amusing – not as funny as the likes of Get Backers, but successful nonetheless. The characters are most likeable (though not particularly memorable).

From Me to You is a difficult anime to dislike. I think that’s the secret to it’s success. Pleasant best describes it. However, while I did finish the series, I would not have gone beyond six or so episodes had it not been for the purposes of this review. Pleasantry can only keep me going for so long. Give me pleasantry plus something else and I could go forever, but not by itself. I feel this pleasantry makes it difficult for people to be critical of the series. It’s like telling the girl scout that her cookies taste awful. Makes one feel mean.

Now, if such pleasantry sounds appealing to you, then by all means, give this anime a go. From Me to You is an innocuous romance that pleases the eyes.

Art – Medium

The art is cute – pretty and feminine, reminiscent of Nana – with frequent use of chibification. The animation, however, has little to show for itself.

Sound – Medium

I am not a fan of Mamiko Noto’s meek voice, but it works here for the timid Sawako. Even so, I couldn’t take it for long periods at a time. Like the pleasant music.

Story – Medium

A girl that reminds every one of the creature from Ring struggles with love and friendship at school. Though a sweet love story, From Me to You resolves its major conflicts early on and makes the rest feel like an extended epilogue.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime romance fans only. From Me to You is for those who like their conflict light and their romance safe.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None