Category Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Violet Evergarden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Violet Evergarden

 

Similar: The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Kobato.

Plastic Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Slice of Life Drama

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.
  • Elegant character designs.
  • Touching sub-stories.
  • The instrumental soundtrack and great acting.

Negatives:

  • Violet is the weakest part.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I had wanted to watch Violet Evergarden ever since the release of the stunning trailer (above) two years ago. There was no indication as to the contents of the story, but if the series had art and animation half as good as the trailer, then I’d be interested.

I am pleased to say that the art and animation are better than half as good as the trailer, while the story is unexpected. It tells of Violet Evergarden, a former child soldier with mechanical arms in a post-WWI-esque setting, who has to find a new purpose in life now that she has no orders to follow, enemies to kill, or someone to protect. Her life thus far has left her emotionally void. She receives opportunity to fix that when she meets the “Auto Memory Dolls” – letter typists that transcribe a customer’s emotions to the page. Perhaps, given enough time through learning from the emotions of others, she may come to understand the meaning of her major’s final words: “I love you.”

Violet is a blunt girl, unaware of the feelings of others, as is understandable. She writes without heart. When someone confides in her, such as an emotional problem, she doesn’t hesitate to tell others when asked, not realising it should remain private without instruction. She is also rather one note and the weakest element of the series. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Violet Evergarden weren’t an entirely character driven story. Despite the war backstory, expect little action outside two or three episodes. Everything else is about Violet and her interactions with colleagues at the postal service, clients, and a few auxiliary characters.

Her description should remind Full Metal Panic viewers of Sargent Sagara, a child soldier also of little emotion. My readers will know too that I love that character. So why not Violet? She lacks the counterbalance that makes Sagara such a great protagonist. Sagara is deathly serious (often literally) yet unexpectedly hilarious. Violet is just serious.

Now, comedy on the level of FMP wouldn’t fit the tone of Evergarden, so that isn’t the right solution (though a little more levity wouldn’t have gone amiss). Instead, other characters should have shown more emotion and humour in response to her serious behaviour. Her colleagues and clients take her actions too normally. People don’t display enough shock or laughter at some of the things she does. At most, a few clients get angry because she translates their feelings too literally onto paper, such as not getting the hint that one woman wants to play coy with her suitor before accepting his proposal. If done, this would allow Violet to react (and develop) at the reception of her actions. In improvisational acting/comedy, a scene works when one actor initiates for the other to react, which allows the first actor to react in turn, followed by the other again, and back and forth it goes until they have extracted all material. But imagine if one started the scene, only for the other to give a response that doesn’t facilitate further reaction. The scene would end there with nothing worthwhile. Violet is that full stop in interactions all too often.

She does develop by the end and show emotion – enough to avoid the label of a bad or boring character, certainly – but it’s not at a level to make a compelling protagonist.

Where Evergarden finds success is in the supporting cast, particularly the clients. Dolls will travel to wherever the client should require them, allowing us to see much of the country in which she lives and giving the art team an excuse to create more wondrous environments. The clients range from a princess in love to an astronomer that needs help copying rare books. Then there’s her colleagues, such as Iris the country girl whose family wants her to return to the village, quit her job, and get married, much to her protestations. Each of their stories tie into Violet’s theme, as it should be in every story, of understanding emotion. A highlight is episode 10 when she writes letters for a mother and daughter. I truly enjoyed these episodic arcs.

They, alongside the visuals and music, made Violet Evergarden an easy series to finish. I love everything about Violet Evergarden except for Violet herself. Hell, I even love the idea of Violet. Her execution is the problem. This good anime contained potential for greatness, had Violet received slight tweaks that would have opened her up to movement and depth.

Art – Very High

Disgustingly beautiful art and animation in many scenes. Violet Evergarden is not quite movie level consistence, as it does resort to static characters at times, though it never lingers. I love the character designs and attention given to the fashion.

Sound – High

Strong acting and a lovely instrumental soundtrack complement the story and visuals.

Story – Medium

A child soldier learns the meaning of emotion through writing letters on behalf of clients. The supporting cast and their sub plots help prop up a mediocre protagonist in Violet Evergarden.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. Violet Evergarden is worth a shot for the art alone – could be enough to carry you to the end. However, Violet as a character may cause some viewers to lose interest after a few episodes. Watch episode 10 if you only have time for one.

(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 AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

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Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Giant Robo the Animation: Chikyuu ga Seishi Suru Hi

 

Related: GR: Giant Robo (new version)

Similar: Mobile Fighter G Gundam

Heroman

Tetsujin 28

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Drama

Length: 7 episodes (49 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • High production values in animation and music.

Negatives:

  • Misleading advertising and OP.
  • Protagonist is useless.
  • Little depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When a reader requested Giant Robo for review, I made a joke about how on the nose the title was. Easy to guess what that anime is about! Well guess what? It ain’t about a giant robot! What…?

Yeah, the robot is barely in it and even when on screen, usually does nothing. Oh sure, the robot can cry, but need it to fight more than a few times in six hours of film? No robot for you!

Not only is the robot barely in Giant Robo, the robot isn’t even needed! (Don’t even mention the other robots teased in the introduction.)

An evil organisation called Big Fire (…) wants to destroy the source of Earth’s renewable energy, Shizuma Drives, and return humanity to the dark ages. The International Police Force fights back with special warriors from around the globe, capable of immense feats and super powers, alongside Daisaku, the 12-year-old kid in control of Giant Robo.

The warriors are the reason for Giant Robo’s superfluous nature. They are so powerful – super strength, teleportation, god weapons, immortality, and more – that I have to question why there are giant robots at all. Characters often describe Giant Robo as a trump card against Big Fire, but these warriors don’t need the help and certainly not from a kid. Daisaku is more useless than his robot. Each episode opens to an introduction of the story, pressing us with the importance of Giant Robo and its amazing young pilot, Daisuke! He has no combat abilities, though conveniently for his purpose in the plot has the watch that controls Robo.

Normally I would chalk Daisuke up to the need for a kid protagonist in a story for kids. However, my understanding is that Giant Robo is a loose adaptation of the source material that tries bringing pieces from every corner of the mangaka’s work, so I assume Daisuke feels more a protagonist in his manga.

The production team had two options to make this work. They either cut Daisuke (or make him a side character if they have to keep him) or give him something to do and lower the strength of the warriors. Currently, his job is to ask whiny questions while waiting for his cue on the next Robo appearance.

As for the warriors, the stars of the show, they aren’t memorable owing to their lack of distinction. They don’t have personalities as much as they have a thing. One’s thing is to be cool and brooding. Another’s is be a joker. You remember these people by power, not by character. Most of Giant Robo is action. When it isn’t action, it’s talking about the previous plot point and getting to the next plot point. Little time passes on character development. We don’t see character moments. Because this is for kids, characters spend too much time telling about their motivations, about the lessons they learned, and making sure that the kids get it.

Seen in the context of an old anime, there is enjoyment to find in Giant Robo. It looks great, even today, and the orchestral soundtrack is beautiful. The classic feel and maniacal villains that remind of Tin Tin’s foes are fun, but you cannot divorce Giant Robo from the modern day and the advancements in anime that come with it. This story hasn’t aged well. If you don’t have the nostalgia bug, these story problems will get in the way.

Art – High

The visuals are a mix of Metropolis and Lupin the Third and still hold up today. I like the style and the attention to detail with the parallax scrolling backgrounds.

Sound – Medium

Giant Robo has two dubs – one by Manga Entertainment and the other by Media Blasters. The latter is better, though Daisaku’s voice sounds too much like a girl, so the Japanese might be a better choice. The orchestral soundtrack is suitably world ending.

Story – Low

An international group of super powered warriors fight against an evil that wants to return humanity to the dark ages. A show called Giant Robo that isn’t about a giant robot, which has an extraneous protagonist, and an ending revelation that beggars belief doesn’t make for great story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For old anime fans only. I can only see enjoyment for those going into Giant Robo as a nostalgia trip. For the love of anime, don’t believe the title!

(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:

Misleading

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

House of Five Leaves

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • And now for something completely different.
  • The grander plot.
  • Mauve is gorgeous.

Negatives:

  • Second acts of most episodes are dull.
  • The comic office staff are out of place.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What an unusual anime. When a dear reader requested ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department for review, I wasn’t really looking forward to it, if I can be brutally honest for a moment. A bureaucrat goes around the states of a peaceful nation to audit the peace? What…? Where’s the conflict if everything is peaceful? I had to force myself to start it for the sake of the review.

The first episode didn’t impress me beyond the visuals. We learn that the kingdom of Dowa has known peace for a century thanks to a government initiative called ACCA that cares for the needs of citizens. Rumours have started stirring, however, of a coup d’état against the king. Jean Otus of ACCA now has the job of auditing the Dowa’s 13 territories to see how peace suits them and to uncover the truth of these rumours.

The slow start and lightweight feel, for lack of a better word, to the mystery of the rumours didn’t compel me to keep watching. If not for the “peace” in the blurb, one would expect ACCA to be in the vein of Bridge of Spies and similar Cold War films, where tension holds the very fabric of reality at peace. But because Dowa is at peace and the storytelling slant is tranquil, I found myself questioning why this story needed telling. I don’t joke when I tell you that only my love for the visuals kept me going. (If I’m not feeling an anime for review, I will often take forever to get through it.)

By the second episode, I’m starting to love the opening song (I wouldn’t skip it from here on) and the protagonist Jean is growing on me. Let’s not forget Mauve, one of anime’s most gorgeous women and her role in the plot. She has a mysterious air about her and this sultry confidence that made me unsure if she truly was Jean’s ally. Then we learn of someone spying on Jean, who himself is acting like a spy in his tour of the states. The layers of spying go all the way to the top. I’m not hooked, but I’m no longer dreading it.

The problem with ACCA is the overrepresentation of daily life. I understand that this is a country at peace and peace breeds routine, monotony in society. But! They should have worked in more spying as an undercurrent to the ordinary events, extracting bits of information during chitchat, and everyone suspicious of something, all with a fun angle like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Kingsman. From the outside, it would seem like daily life, but underneath that is spy work. The existing second acts of most episode are boring. Most third acts of episodes interested me enough to keep going.

The second issue I have with ACCA relates to the territories. Each territory has a specialty – one is agriculture, another makes all the movies, and so on – yet most of them don’t feel much different and aren’t interesting, unlike Kino’s Journey where every location brought something new. It wasn’t until Jean visits the territory that lives akin to 17th century France, with electronics such as mobile phones banned, that my interest piqued. Alright, some variety!

The core of the plot also comes to light soon. As the coup builds, Jean needs to learn which side each district will fall on, should a power play occur – with the crown or the conspirators.

ACCA had slowly built my interest until the third act, where it delivers its best episodes as all the secrets come tumbling out. If anything, its story is too end-loaded and could have measured it out more to boost engagement earlier. Still, the strong finish left me with a good impression.

ACCA’s aversion to anime tropes also helps its case. In fact, the one notable trope it does use – goofy co-workers from Jean’s home office – is an eyesore. Their comedic relief isn’t funny and doesn’t fit the tone of the show. Their inclusion was to counterbalance the drama, though the fun spy work I mention above would have been more fitting. It could have done without them.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department isn’t going to blow you away nor is it a great anime, and yet, because it’s something different, you don’t have the feeling of “same old, same old” when watching it. I urge you to give it a chance.

Art – High

ACCA looks different yet familiar to anime. I love the colours and character designs. This anime adores animating things fluttering in the wind. It also uses small visual techniques you rarely see in anime, such as characters fading into view as the camera reverse dollies through them.

Sound – High

The OP is great and went on my playlist before I finished the series. The woman’s vocals struck me. As for the acting, it’s good in either language, so go with your default preference.

Story – Medium

An inspector from ACCA, the government department responsible for the country’s peace, travels to the 13 states after rumours of a coup d’état surface. ACCA overcomes its dull segments with an unusual concept executed through interesting characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it, I urge you. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department won’t be for everyone. In fact, this little-known anime will interest very few among us, but it’s worth trying in case you are one of those few. I wouldn’t want you to miss out.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

A Lull in the Sea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nagi no Asukara

 

Similar: AnoHana

Ponyo

Tsuritama

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful underwater city.
  • Gorgeous song in first ED.

Negatives:

  • The melodrama drags on.
  • Little underwater world building.
  • Too many dull characters.
  • Characters’ eyes are melting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Oh wow, an anime set in an underwater town. Look at those colours, those fish! I love the sea and marine life, so this is going to be good. I’m excited!

Aaaand it’s gone.

That’s how long my excitement lasted for A Lull in the Sea. It starts with beautiful colours in this magical underwater town teeming with life and detail, but not five minutes later, you see that the sea people move underwater no differently than someone on land. Everything has the same weight as on land, people stroll down the streets like on land, they speak the same as with surface air, and they even watch TV like on land. On land, on land, ON LAND! What is the point of setting it underwater if everything functions the same as on land? All they show is one scene of a guy doing a floaty jump with the aid of water and characters swimming on occasion – no faster than ordinary humans! Argh, if they swim the same as we do, then why doesn’t the water affect all else that they do? How lazy can one be in creating a world? Effort went into figuring out how they can survive on land without salt water – take regular salt baths – so why not put a day’s work into the rest of the lore? And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

Right, after presenting us with this lazy world, we learn that the teens from the sea must start attending school on the surface, as their high school closed down due to dwindling birth rates. Hikari and his friends have trouble fitting in with the surface kids, for a deep-seated hatred simmers between the two societies. However, when the fisherman’s son Tsumugu accidentally catches the sea girl Manaka, there may be a chance at bridging the gap before the sea people hibernate.

The story isn’t much better than the world building. Hikari is a shouty protagonist – always annoying – and his first character moment is yelling at Manaka for wearing the surface school uniform, instead of their old one like the rest of the group has. She makes friends with Tsumugu and all Hikari does is spew bigotry at the guy. He’s the most bigoted of the lot. This is obviously to set him up for change later on, but you have to give us something to like about the character from the start. No, he’s just a prick – doesn’t come around to be likeable or interesting either.

The rest are the usual forgettable players in slice-of-life-turned-melodrama anime. People butt heads here and there, some fall in love, others fall out of it, people grow jealous, all dragged out for too long. Everyone loves someone who doesn’t love them, creating this massive love circle. It’s tedious.

With the way these kids act about romance and relationships, you would imagine they have been through the most brutal hardships in love. But no, they’re immature kids and this is garbage melodrama.

There are some good moments, however. I like the conflict stemming from banishment should a sea person marry a surface human. The local fisherman have nice stories to tell as well. In fact, the less important a character seems to be, the more interesting their story.

What really knocked this anime down an entire tier was the pacing in the second half. These 26 episodes could have fit into 13 had one character’s amnesia arc not gone on forever for no good reason. Just end already! I cannot impress upon you how much this play reeks of desperation to extend the story and heighten the stakes. Since these stakes don’t matter relative to the rest, it only weakens the overall effect.

A Lull in the Sea is a standard high school drama that goes for the heart with a supernatural twist. I wager it would have affected me a decade ago, but my heart has since turned to ice. In all seriousness, you’ve seen this all before, which coupled with the padded second half and lazy world building makes this a no from me. Don’t waste your time.

Art – Medium

The underwater environment looks gorgeous with light refraction, Greek architecture, and the abundance of fish, though they should have put more effort into the submerged physics. Sadly, we spend little time underwater. Land scenes are still rather good. Character faces are munted with eyes melting and some profile shots don’t look human.

Sound – Medium

The first ED song is gorgeous (going on my playlist) while the rest of the music is good and the acting is fine. However, the script needs a trim and more punch.

Story – Low

A group of friends from the underwater city must get along with other students at their new land school, but the impending hibernation threatens all they have worked for. A Lull in the Sea overindulges in melodrama, dragging out a good concept into a chore to complete, and the world building is lazy.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. A Lull in the Sea is a waste of time unless you love overwrought melodrama. A better-realised water world would have been enough for me. They failed.

(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 BuildingPoor Pacing

s-CRY-ed – Anime Review

Japanese Title: s.CRY.ed

 

Similar: GetBackers

Canaan

Code Geass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The definition of hot-blooded anime.
  • Straight Cougar character.
  • Creative powers.

Negatives:

  • Younger sister isn’t of much use.
  • The Japanese acting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Writing up my ‘Watched but Not Reviewed’ list – which I have since realised is missing many titles – gave me the urge to revisit s-CRY-ed, or Scryed for simplicity’s sake. I had watched Scryed several times within a year – I had access to less than ten titles at the time, so pickins were slim. As I mentioned in the list, I remembered this series as wall-to-wall action and similar to Marvel’s Civil War. Is it as I remember? Let’s find out.

A geological phenomenon splintered a part of Japan, creating an isolated area called ‘The Lost Ground’ where people known as Alters have started to develop the ability to summon weapons. Kazuma is one such Alter working as a mercenary to care for himself and his sister in this lawless land. The mainland government to bring the law, however, and have recruited Alters looking for a better life in exchange for their services in capturing ‘Native Alters’. Kazuma soon meets Ryuho, elite member of the mainland order HOLY, igniting a rivalry for the history books.

The rivalry is the heart of Scryed. You’re probably thinking this is a rivalry like Naruto versus Sasuke, Ash versus Gary, or Yugi versus Seto ‘I have Money’ Kaiba. No, no, no, you don’t understand. Kazuma versus Ryuho is on another level. Nothing takes precedence. These guys hate each other by mere mention of the other’s name. It’s never quite clear why. When one tries to help the other, that help is refused with prejudice because you never, ever accept anything from your rival. A starving Kazuma would tell Ryuho to kill himself if he offered food. When these two are on screen, each line of dialogue from one is met by derision or anger from the other like a bitter couple that has been married for too long, yet have to see each other every day. Ryuho would rather murder a puppy than accept help from Kazuma. This rivalry sounds absurd, but it is so absurd that it loops back around to greatness and it gives us the most ridiculous final episode of any show I have ever seen. Only this rivalry could give us such insanity.

You need to be into the rivalry to enjoy Scryed fully. However, beyond that, the action is good, thanks in most part to creative powers. I like that the author didn’t simply give them pliable powers and call them mutants. Each power is a physical construct. Instead of super strength, for example, Kazuma materialises a power gauntlet with thrusters around his right arm. Ryuho’s Alter is a humanoid in a strait jacket that kills with the straps. The most creative power has to be from the guy who can manipulate people by writing a script in his book, which is a different take on classic mind control. These differentiating factors make Scryed feel fresh, even today. Wait until you meet the guy with the gun.

The characters are a mixed bag. Kazuma is a hooligan while Ryuho is a snooty highborn – fitting for the rivalry. My favourite character is Straight Cougar, who can transform any vehicle into a super car out of Wacky Racers or Redline in addition to operating at a faster level than everyone else. His philosophy is speed, because the faster you do things, the more time you save and thus the more you can accomplish in life. That’s my kind of philosophy. He has this running gag of mispronouncing people’s names by one letter. Even after hearing this joke several times an episode, every episode, it still makes me laugh because it’s sharp and timed perfectly amidst regular dialogue. I love this character. His interactions with Minori Mimori, a researcher of Alters in love with Ryuho, are a delight.

Mimori is a serviceable character. The fact that her purpose isn’t just to be a love interest makes her more interesting. Where the cast falters is in some of the lesser Alters, who are merely filling bodies, and in Kazuma’s younger sister, Kanami. She is the narrator, of sorts, with her power to read the thoughts and emotions of others while dreaming. All she does is tell us Kazuma’s emotions that we can already see on screen… Pointless. Her inclusion is to give Kazuma something to protect, which is fine, but she has too much screen time for a clichéd younger-but-is-the-adult-in-the-house girl.

The story is where my memory went most wrong. I thought it was akin to Civil War, when its arc is the opposite, really. The Alters start divided between the lawless and HOLY. HOLD (owners of HOLY) treats the Lost Ground citizens like trash, arrested and tortured with no hesitation, eventually leading some to question if they are on the correct side. Real estate moguls want to develop the area, but the natives are a problem. I recalled Scryed as consisting of 90% action as well. In truth, though there is plenty of action, the story has much more to it than I remembered with character development, changing motives, and conflict to keep thing interesting.

A revisit of Scryed was a pleasant surprise. I expected nothing but nostalgia to keep me going. Instead, I finished the series and enjoyed every episode. That ending…

Art – Medium

The style is the same as the later released Gundam SEED though lacks visual depth and the animation is wonky at times. Interesting designs for the powers.

Sound – Medium

Clumsy exposition. The first line to the research scientist is someone telling her that she graduated seven years early. The acting is serviceable for the content, with a few great performances, but the Japanese acting for Kazuma and Ryuho is terrible. I like the ED – brings back memories.

Story – Medium

A mysterious phenomenon gifted select people with Alter powers, which has ignited a conflict for control over this ‘Lost Ground’ with free mercenaries on one side and organised Alters on the other. Scryed’s embodiment of testosterone in an eternal rivalry is entertaining and varied enough to warrant interest.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans. If you want hyper-action, yelling out names, bitter rivalry, and cool powers, look no further than Scryed.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None