Category Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

(Request an anime for review here.)

Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

(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: 

Hollow World Building

Golden Time – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Golden Time

 

Similar: Toradora

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Rumbling Hearts

A Lull in the Sea

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Funny, at first
  • Fashionable

Negatives:

  • The drama blows!
  • Bland as bricks protagonist
  • Bad amnesia plot
  • This isn’t a relationship

(Request an anime for review here.)

Golden Time looks good on paper. Or rather, it looks good in stills, thanks in particular to the fashionable character designs. However, once the CG extras and lack of animation come into play, it’s a letdown. Or rather, the start of the letdown. Posters, stills, and snippets from early episodes of Golden Time promise a fun romantic comedy, but lurking in later episodes is face clawing melodrama, a shockingly bad twist, and no romance.

I had an inkling things were off from the start when the protagonist had amnesia. “No,” I thought, “there must be a good reason for it. They aren’t going to pull off that twist, surely.”

They did.

Banri is a first-year university student with amnesia. Lost and confused, he makes a friend on his first day only to have some random girl slap his new friend, Mitsuo, with a bouquet of flowers. Turns out, this fashionable beauty is an absolute psycho of a childhood friend that stalked Mitsuo to this university after he kept it secret to escape her. Banri has the hots for this crazy Kouko and thinking with his pants rather than his head, he allows her to drag him off to whatever university adventure catches her fancy.

The early episodes of Golden Time are the fun one would expect. Early focus goes to club recruitment, which is rather humorous from the demonic Tea Club to the Scientology-like cult that ropes in Banri and co. The Festival Club has his apparent high school crush, unbeknownst to him.

Fun soon gives way for banality and cliché of anime romcoms before it takes a sharp turn into melodrama with an amnesia twist so widely known to be horrendous that you’d think no one would use it. If the protagonist doesn’t remember anything, then we have little to go on, little for him to develop from, and little for us to care about. Amnesia, more often than not, creates false conflict through contrivance. It can work – see the excellent film Memento – but this writer is certainly not good enough to pull it off. And when Banri does remember the past, he forgets everything that happened after the initial memory loss just to double down on the worst amnesia twist of all time.

An amnesia twist is bad enough by itself, yet it isn’t Golden Time’s only major failing. The love triangle is as clichéd as you can imagine, which combined with misunderstandings as the primary source of conflict makes for a tedious anime to complete. False melodrama reeks throughout the latter part of Golden Time. Banri also has no personality to show for himself. No girl would be interested in him – never mind more than one – and his relationship (if you can call it that) with Kouko is simply crap. I have nothing positive to say about the romance.

I cannot recommend Golden Time to anyone. Romantic comedy fans won’t like the melodrama. Drama fans won’t like the tonal imbalance. And no one will like the twist.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. I don’t know to whom Golden Time could appeal. The melodrama dampens the comedy, which in itself doesn’t fit the drama, and the romance doesn’t exist.

(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: 

Shyamalamalam-Worthy Twists

Wonder Egg Priority – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wonder Egg Priority

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Digimon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Great animation
  • The backstory

Negatives:

  • The egg girls have no presence
  • Overstuffed with trauma ideas
  • Doesn’t feel sure about its narrative tone

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wonder Egg Priority is a story of suicide and its causes amongst young girls. While an admirable effort, it ultimately attempts too much in too little time.

Ai Ohto has been a lonely depressed girl for a long while. The one ray of sunshine she had was her best friend, who recently committed suicide by jumping off the school roof. This leaves Ai a wreck. Then, in a surreal twist of fate, she finds an egg in her dream and talking toilet paper tells her to smash it. She does so and out hatches a girl her age. That’s weird. Then come the murder goblins crashing through the school halls of this dreamscape, splattering paint wherever they go. They paint with blood, however. Behind these “Seeno Evil” monsters is a puppet master, a “Wonder Killer” monster that seems made of sacks of paint. Killing the master with Ai’s pen-turned-Keyblade frees the egg girl and she can leave this limbo.

Ai then meets the two people, er, dolls (?) behind these wonder eggs, who tell her that if she helps enough girls, she can revive her dead friend (represented by a statue in the dream world). Furthermore, she isn’t the only one cracking eggs. She teams up with three other girls of varying archetypes (quiet studious girl, pretty tomboy, and the bad girl) and they become friends.

Wonder Egg Priority may sound abstract and odd from my description above, but it is rather straightforward by the second episode. In fact, I’m not sure if it intended abstraction and failed or the creator just thought it was cool. If you’ve seen Madoka Magica (or played Persona) this anime will seem familiar, only not as grim, which is an odd thing to say considering Wonder Egg tackles suicide, abuse, rape, self-harm, bullying, and more (catalysts for the suicides). See, Wonder Egg is overstuffed with these trauma elements that it barely manages to dedicate enough time for more than a couple. In fact, there are so many instances – some character have multiple traumas – that you’d be forgiven for missing a few. I don’t suggest the execution is awful. It’s undercooked.

This isn’t an example like having a happy romance for 90% of the story before someone rapes the lead female in the finale for shock value. Trauma permeates Wonder Egg, so it isn’t out of place when we meet another abuse victim. However, it rarely has the intended impact.

Most egregious are the egg girls. Ai or a friend will hatch one, the enemies will spawn, a chase ensues, and during a moment of downtime before the Wonder Killer confrontation, Ai will get to know the girl and what lead her to suicide. Then they kill the monster and the girl is gone. You can’t expect the audience to feel invested, or truly care, when a character’s trauma boils down to a two-minute scene ahead of her departure for another girl to enter next episode.

The story does spend more time on the four main girls though, yet even then it’s too much for too few episodes. I compare this to Madoka Magica because that anime accomplishes – in terms of tragedy – what this tried to do. Madoka focused on the core character elements, boiled it down to the essentials and gave them the appropriate amount of screen time. Less is more once again.

The best episodes are in the final act when it goes into the backstory for this wonder egg experiment and the two scientists behind it. I’m sorry to say though that it has little to do with Ai and is far more engaging than her story. I wonder if they should have been the mains instead.

Where Wonder Egg succeeds most is in the visual department. This is a beautiful anime with masterful understanding of colour theory, light, and shade. Compositions often remind of the Monogatari franchise. The animation is great, never relying on those slow pans I hate so much, and is at its most fluid during the action scenes, which are more intense than expected for such a bright and colourful anime.

My only visual quibble is with the dream world. Yes, the gremlins and big goobers are imaginative, but the school setting is as generic as any anime school. Think of how Persona 5 turns ordinary locations into crazy realities representing a villain’s psyche. Or how Madoka has that witch magic everywhere. Do something creative. You’re in a dream; you can do anything you want and it can enhance theme and reinforce messages.

Overall, Wonder Egg Priority is a goodish anime, more enjoyable as a visual experience over a narrative one that could appeal to a decent amount of viewers. Do note that the heavy emphasis on trauma may put off some people.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Wonder Egg Priority looks beautiful and is different from other anime this season.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Beastars Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars Season 2

 

Related: Beastars (Season 1)

Beastars (manga)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves on the manga
  • The snake
  • The unusual tone in the main conflict
  • Music continues to be great

Negatives:

  • The CG animation still has room for improvement

(Request an anime for review here.)

Note: Mild and implied spoilers for season one.

Beastars was a surprising hit for many people, including myself, back in 2019. Who would have thought “that CG furry anime” could have such great characters, killer music, and non-horrible CG? It’s back again for a second season and I am very intrigued, even more so because I have read the manga to conclusion. Those who have done so as well will know what I’m hinting at.

Legosi of Cherryton Academy for herbivores and carnivores continues his search for the killer of his friend, a sweet alpaca. Meanwhile, star of the academy and leading candidate for the prestigious Beastar position, the red deer Louis, has fallen in with a back alley gang of lions after killing their leader. They don’t want to eat him, however – they want him to lead.

The story picks up where season one left off, but there are immediate and noticeable changes from the source material. If you haven’t read the manga but have seen season one, the only notable change there was in cutting down that finale’s action scene from a typical shounen anime brawl into something that fit the tone more. It was a great change. Season two changes far more and for the better.

A new character to the series is the school security guard, a giant snake, who had a tiny presence in the manga (one or two chapters?) after an impactful introduction. We never saw her again (a problem to discuss in tomorrow’s manga review). The anime gives her the time she deserves and delivers a couple of great horror episodes with a feel of high school myths told around a torch late at night. Let’s hope the anime further fixes the manga’s mistake and brings the snake back in future. Also, Haru (the white bunny and Legosi’s love interest) gets more screen time of importance, which is better treatment given to her than by the manga.

The focus of this season is the murder mystery. Who killed the alpaca? I love this story thread. The hunt for the killer and the several scenes with said killer have great tension and the snap between killer situation and ordinary school life works perfectly here and are some of my favourite scenes. The way Beastars handles juxtaposition of carnivore versus herbivore, fight to the death versus living ordinary life is simply brilliant (done better than in the manga too). This isn’t just an anime with “furry” characters.

Not all changes are for the better. The story falters in the finale at the apex of Louis’s arc, cutting a pivotal moment short and lessening the impact. If you haven’t read the manga, then this will still be noticeable, though you won’t have the source to fill in what the director was trying to do. Should you feel dissatisfied, watch this excellent extended ED video only after you have watched episode 12 (spoilers). A deer leading a gang of lions sounds ludicrous if you haven’t seen Beastars, but man does it work and make for a compelling subplot. The mirroring of Legosi’s and Louis’s arcs continues to impress.

The visuals are the same as the first time around, so if you couldn’t stand it then, you won’t handle it now. Despite some slippery animation issues, I still find that it works. The compositions and visual metaphors sometimes have me forgetting the CG.

Acting, still just as good. Love Orochimaru’s voice actor for the snake! The music has a tough act to follow after that quality season one soundtrack, and while few could match that original stop motion OP, every new song in season two is excellent.

In all, Beastars delivers another quality season. Now, season three – should they announce it – promises some excellent content, particularly in the world-building department as we explore wider society. However, to avoid the downward trajectory brought on by the manga, it would need even more changes than this season. What downward trajectory? That’s for tomorrow’s review.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Keep watching. And if you haven’t started Beastars, then what are you waiting for?

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

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Dai 08 MS Shotai

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 (main series)

Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket (related story)

Similar: Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid

Code Geass: Akito the Exiled

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks excellent
  • A tight, small scale story
  • Presents a different view of war in the Gundam universe
  • As with most Gundam, the acting is strong in either language

Negatives:

  • The romance is too simple

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes the core concepts of Gundam – mecha, war, politics, and romance – and compresses it down into a 12-episode package. It succeeds in delivering quality for all of those elements save one, in part.

The 08th MS Team brings war to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation leads a special squadron of guerrilla Gundam, ferretting out the scattered remnants of Zeon presence in the area. The Federation won the last war and mean to press the advantage. Shiro’s resolve wavers and – more importantly – his loyalty comes into question when confronted by Aina Sahalin, Zeon pilot and previous acquaintance, across the trees. She’s also sister to the psychotic enemy commander. The traitor title seems to suit Shiro best these days.

One thing I must say is how good 08th MS Team looks even by today’s standards. Wouldn’t guess it’s a ’90s anime. They put a lot of work in considering this is a series and I want some of these cels for my collection. Seeing this quality from scene one puts me in a good mood.

Such effort brings the guerrilla warfare to life and makes every damaging shot on the mechs have impact. It isn’t a flurry of laser beams flashing across the screen with little weight. The action takes a slower, more tactical pace than the usual Gundam spectacle (nothing against the spectacle, or course). As I said, everything is scaled down and it works. When a franchise has as many series as Gundam does, it’s good to have variety even if not always to my taste (such as Gundam Build Fighters).

The characters are a strong and varied lot. The writers made them relatable with their simple ambitions outside of war. They have grounding. You want them to survive to see better days. Zeon similarly features such human characters. Of course, there are a few crazies on both sides to play villains. Further beyond the major characters, 08th MS Team emphasises the burden of war on innocent locals, a side often forgotten when merely glimpsed on the evening news. Yes, the Federation is eradicating evil (according to them) hiding in this jungle, but this jungle is home to ordinary people as well. Even minor characters don’t feel superfluous.

Then we come to Shiro and Aina as a couple. They’re good as individuals, yet their connection is the core of the personal conflict, which doesn’t hit the target.

If you’re going to have characters make grand gestures of love and put a lot on the line, you need to give something to hang those actions on. Build those foundations first and then I could believe anything they do for love. It’s surprising to see the main coupling only hit mid-tier development when character depth outside of this is solid. I find the main issue is a lack of screen time for these two together. They meet early on, but don’t reunite again until too late to develop their relationship to a meaningful level. The romance is simple – not a bad thing inherently – and lacks a second act where it builds beyond initial attraction into something with promise of longevity. They meet, and then skip to “I’ll die for you.”

Beyond that, I don’t have any notable complaints with 08th MS Team. I can recommend this great anime widely, beyond Gundam circles.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. If you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a great introduction and standalone series. If you are familiar, then this is one of the best the franchise has to offer.

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None