Category Archives: Fantasy

The focus is on emotional conflict.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kaguya-hime no Monogatari

 

Similar: Mushishi

Wolf Children

Spirited Away

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Length: 2 hr. 17 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Masterful artwork.
  • Simple, yet has depth.
  • Employs surprising subtlety.

Negatives:

  • Folktale simplicity does limit character attachment.

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The Tale of Princess Kaguya was the final film directed by the late Isao Takahata, the other half of Studio Ghibli’s directorial excellence alongside Hayao Miyazaki. Takahata tended to direct the studio’s more realistic works, such as Only Yesterday and the best-film-I-never-want-to-watch-again Grave of the Fireflies. I found it unusual for him to be at the helm of this project based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The departure from his comfort zone isn’t cause for concern however, for he executed this film brilliantly with a unique art style that makes the subtle story leap off the page.

We start with a bamboo cutter at work in the forest. To his astonishment, he finds a little girl growing inside a bamboo shoot and takes her home to his wife. They take the girl in as their own, but it is clear this is no ordinary child, one they believe is a blessing sent from heaven. She grows at an alarming rate.

Another blessing lands before the cutter when he finds a mound of gold inside a bamboo tree. This convinces him that she must be a princess. And a princess must live like royalty, so he tears up their mountainside roots and takes her to the capital. He gives Kaguya everything to make her happy – a mansion, the finest clothes, servants, the best teacher in etiquette, and dozens of suitors after her hand in marriage. Nothing is too much for his princess. But did he ever ask if she wanted any of this?

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is most effective in its combination of art and sticking to the folktale narrative. The art is beautiful, so beautiful. Even if you aren’t a fan of folktale stories due to their simplicity, Kaguya is worth it for the imagery. The style recalls old Japanese paintings (see below for one from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, 17th century), though modernised a little to work better in motion. Studio Ghibli managed to make the art look traditional and have such texture (one can feel the “paper”) that you could believe they had taken some 17th century artist’s sketchbook and simply animated it.

This art is a great example of the “less is more” concept for the visual side of storytelling. They could have easily used effects to add more stars in the sky and atmospheric lighting, which I am sure would have still looked fine, but the restraint to exclude many modern techniques makes it special.

Narratively, Kaguya has similar restraint. It reminds of Western fairy tales, where the purpose isn’t to explain every detail or fantasy element. Why is Sleeping Beauty to die from a spinning wheel and not a sword? Where did Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother come from? It doesn’t matter. The tale is about a simple character in a simple story with a simple message.

You have to watch Kaguya with the same mentality, which is where I think some people may not be interested. Fairy tale simplicity isn’t for everyone. I love Disney’s adaptations of fairy tales, so Kaguya was great for me. (Funnily enough, I don’t enjoy reading these same fairy tales because without the visuals and style, I find them too shallow.)

What made this tale so interesting to me was its sadness. Frankly, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is rather depressing. We see her father seduced by greed, yet still believing he’s doing everything for her. He deems the villagers they lived with as beneath them (reminds me of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens – recommend the TV series). Kaguya doesn’t want her eyebrows removed and teeth blackened like other noblewomen, yet she also doesn’t want to disappoint her family. Outside of the humour with the five buffoons that call themselves princes, professing how much they will worship her and how rare of a treasure she is, I find little happiness here. Then again, perhaps that’s just me. Even when she meets one of her old village friends again and has a moment of freedom, it just made me sadder because I knew how fleeting it would be.

And the ending…well, I leave that for you to experience.

Art – Very High

The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s art is both stunning and unique. To change the style would mean to lose more than just the art.

Sound – Very High

The dub is perfectly fine and the performances by Kaguya’s parents are particularly emotive. However, go with the original Japanese to get the full experience of all the formalities and uncomfortable elements of the period. Also, Kaguya’s voice matures better with the character’s arc in Japanese. Nice in-world music.

Story – High

A bamboo cutter finds a girl inside a bamboo shoot and wants to give her the world, not realising that the world is too much for a little girl. This simple folktale uses subtlety to evoke great emotion in the reader.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Despite the pastel art, I recommend The Tale of Princess Kaguya more to adults than to kids. The emotional subtlety is rewarding.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStellar Voice ActingStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

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KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

 

Similar: No Game No Life

Ixion Saga DT

Slayers

Log Horizon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 20 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny characters.
  • Fun, colourful style.
  • Great parody of otherworld anime.

Negatives:

  • Weak story lacks progression.
  • World could do with greater exploration.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Kazuma is useless. Darkness is useless. Megumin is also useless. Aqua is especially useless. Everyone is useless in the world of KonoSuba! And it is great.

After an embarrassing death, high schooler Kazuma has the chance at another life in a fantasy world. A nerd’s dream come true! Unfortunately, he spawns as the worst class in the game and Aqua, the goddess that granted the new life, is a companion without talents to speak of. They soon recruit descendant from a powerful magical bloodline, arch wizard Megumin, master of explosion magic. At last, some strength to the group!

Nope. She can only cast one spell before collapsing. Well, at least they have a resilient tank in the form of paladin Darkness. She will save them! Nope. She’s has zero accuracy in combat and is a masochist that loves taking a beating from monsters – the more people that watch her sweet arse and bountiful breasts get beat the better.

KonoSuba is a refreshing change after trudging through the endless mire of isekai (otherworld) anime. This parody is better and funnier than the vast majority of titles in the genre, not to suggest there is stiff competition.

Everything works and make sense in this take on the genre, Kazuma being utter trash most of all. His team starting out at the bottom doing menial quests such as slaying killer cabbages and painting houses that barely pay enough for living expenses (note how most isekai forget expenses), just like in any MMO, makes sense. Every isekai fan believes that if they woke up in a fantasy world, they would be a powerful knight or wizard at the top of the food chain (just like how advocates for communism think they would be part of the small ruling class and not one of a billion peasants at the bottom). Who knew that being an otaku NEET doesn’t train you for life in a dangerous fantasy world? KonoSuba shows the reality of how garbage everyone would be and leans into it for great comedic effect.

The characters in particular bring this series together. They are such fun, such a riot to hang out with that they overshadow problems. I did think there was a risk of repetition at the start. For example, Darkness’s love of masochism could have quickly become her running into the fray to get smashed, we laugh at the joke and repeat next episode. However, the joke stays fresh because it isn’t about having her armour stripped off each battle. Instead, it’s about the ridiculous lengths she will go to for arousal and how much more desperate she is each time. Just when I thought it wouldn’t be funny anymore, she surprised me next episode.

The big problem with KonoSuba is the story, or lack thereof. The main goal is to defeat the Demon King, something I forgot about a few episodes in since they ignore this in favour of episodic stories. Now, these small stories work well in facilitating the characters and comedy, but they don’t progress the plot. Watching these episodes in the moment wasn’t a problem until it cares about the Demon King again, where it reminds you of how little the plot has moved. The overarching story feels like an afterthought. “Oh damn, I wrote all these great jokes but forgot the story. Quick, make something up – kill bad guy…big monster…demon…yes, demon king! All done. Phew.”

As such, if you are going to watch KonoSuba, you have to do so for the characters and humour. The world itself lacks depth, having used the generic fantasy template, and the story is just as straightforward as can be. If after you meet the whole team you don’t find it funny, then don’t proceed further.

Art – Medium

I like the colours and character designs. It’s a shame little effort went into making the environments anything but generic. If you removed characters from the shot, you wouldn’t know which anime the environment was from. The animation is strong, particularly in the spell effects that took the largest portion of the budget.

Sound – High

The acting is strong, though it may take a little getting used to Kazuma’s voice, as he sounds too old for a teen, but hey, at least it’s something different from the usual forgettable isekai protagonists. (Note: There is a dub on the way, for those interested.)

Story – Medium

A teen revives in a fantasy world, but has no talents and is surrounded by others with no talent either. Characters and humour hold up this rather barebones story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for comedy fans. KonoSuba is greater than the sum of its parts thanks to its characters and hilarious comedy. This is an easy anime to watch and recommend.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tsubasa Chronicle

 

Related: xxxHOLiC (same universe)

Similar: Cardcaptor Sakura

Pandora Hearts

InuYasha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy Romance

Length: 52 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Good music.

Negatives:

  • No style.
  • No tension.
  • No reason to care.
  • No interesting characters.

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Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is so boring that I only tried to answer one question before its end: Is this Sakura the same as the one from Cardcaptor Sakura? They look the same and share a name. Turns out, no, they aren’t the same. The author was just too lazy to come up someone new. Well, that’s it, end of review – see you next time!

What, you want me to talk about this anime? What is there to say? Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is so full of nothing that there is nothing to talk about.

Syaoran and Sakura are a young teen couple madly in love, but when she grows wings and her feathers disperse into other dimensions, she loses her precious memories including those of him. Syaoran starts hopping through dimensions to different worlds, where he meets a ninja torn from his world, a magician, and the rabbit thing Mokona from xxxHOLiC (one of the dimensions), who help recollect her feathers.

Initially, I liked how Syaoran and Sakura started as a couple – unusual for teen anime – as I believed it meant skip over the shy “will they, won’t they” nature of anime romance and go straight to developing them as a couple. Unfortunately, when she loses her feathers, she transforms into a comatose slab of boring that occasionally wakes up.

The narrative doesn’t take time to establish these two in our hearts for us to care when Sakura goes down. Why do they love each other? This is supposedly a love so strong it transcends time and space, yet we have no reason to believe it. Even once she stops sleeping so much in later episodes, she’s as empty headed as one can imagine. The author wanted to start on the big moment of her losing her memories, which is fine, but she then needed to work harder to make us care through flashbacks, or something.

Looking past this empty couple, there is nothing else to see. The action is boring as sin with its series of meaningless fights and poor animation. Cardcaptor Sakura has better action than this action series (and its collecting element is stronger). Not even using a Pokémon-like approach to the battles with magical companions can make it interesting. The action feels like filler with no end in sight since they extend the quest on a whim by saying, “Well, you’ve collected 200 feathers so far, but there’s another 100 to go! … Wait, did I say 100? I meant 300!”

Don’t fall for it. Don’t waste your time with Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. This is a contender for the Most Boring Anime of All Time award.

Art – Low

The characters look too similar to other CLAMP titles, the animation is poor, and the colouring is desaturated in season 1. It’s hard to take the drama seriously when everyone looks like Jack Skellington with giant hands. This is moving manga with worse character art than the manga.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine, I suppose, considering the script has nothing to say. The music is the only good element, a little reminiscent of .hack//Sign’s excellent soundtrack.

Story – Low

A boy travels to different dimensions to recollect his girlfriend’s lost memories with the aid of unlikely allies. So full of nothing, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle gives you no reason to care.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. There isn’t anything awful about Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, but that’s not a reason to watch something.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari

 

Related: Tenchi Muyo (main series)

Similar: Vision of Escaflowne

Vandread

Familiar of Zero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Ecchi Harem Fantasy

Length: 13 episodes (45 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • Pretty cool world design.

Negatives:

  • The perfect protagonist.
  • So much stupid.
  • Glaring audio and visual hiccups.
  • Really, really

(Request an anime for review here.)

The original, janky, and rather rubbish Tenchi Muyo was an anime I occasionally caught on TV an eon ago. I never made an effort to watch much of it, since it was a harem with awful art. A decade later, I stumbled upon a page regarding Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar, which had far superior art and positive buzz from fans. How could Tenchi Muyo have produced anything that wasn’t garbage? And so, with many more years passed since then, it’s finally time to end my curiosity and see the fuss.

This story has Kenshi, younger brother of original Tenchi Muyo’s protagonist, teleported to the fantasy world of Geminar with a mission to assassinate Princess Lashara, but he fails and becomes her slave before eventually fighting for her against his summoners.

War on Geminar makes a good first impression with its visual production. While not unusual by today’s standards, it was rare for what is evidently an otaku-only anime to have an animation budget – sliding stills and big boobs were the expectation. The world design also has creativity. The reptilian mech designs look good, animated fluidly in duels, and I love the idea of an airship being a landmass with a palace and forest on top. Sure, the first episode has harem markers and some fan service barf, but my impression is positive. This is nothing like the Tenchi Muyo I remember. What is this grand magi-tech fantasy kingdom?

However, once the story settles in and starts churning through daily life in Geminar, everything turns to crap. We meet all the girls of his harem, covering every harem archetype to draw in the maximum otaku audience (see cover image of this review up top for the full selection). Whatever one’s preference, War on Geminar has the girl for you. Of course, none of them has an iota of depth, their sole purpose in the anime being to fulfil the obligations of their archetype. It’s stupid interaction after moronic interaction with Kenshi. They almost have depth, right up until the harem tropes undermine their arc to keep them in the pit of trash.

Where it becomes truly atrocious though, is with Kenshi. Allow me to introduce you to the most Mary Sue character in anime. You think you know, but you don’t.

Lashara puts Kenshi to work in the high-class girls’ school as handyman, a Jack-of-All-Trades; except, the writer forgot the “master of none” part of the Jack-of-All-Trades. Kenshi is perfect at everything on his first day. Housekeeping, brick laying, shoemaking, construction work, five-star cooking, delivery, climbing, running, sword fighting – you name it, Kenshi is the best at it first try. Every girl in school is after him, but because he’s so fast and never tires, they all drop of exhaustion. His massage skills are so great that a single grope from him will leave any girl in a permanent state of crippling arousal, for some reason. Then every girl wants him to wash her back during bath time.

Wait, wasn’t this some fantasy anime with mechs? Yep, that’s what it claims.

War on Geminar has an identity problem. It can’t decide if it wants to be a fantasy war series or a high school harem. Once you strip away all art (which has weakened after a few episodes) and all the flash, this is just another bad harem. The highest budget harem you should perhaps watch for its terribleness, certainly, but still a bad harem like any other at its core.

Art – Medium

War on Geminar appears to have great art at first glance. From characters to world design, this looks far better than the original Tenchi Muyo. I like the mech designs and flying palace. There is good animation during duels, but has so much awful outside that – static shots, repeating animations that linger, and some horrible shots. One instance has smoke billowing out of a building, and when the building tips over, so does the smoke pillar. Yes, the smoke in the air “tips” over.

Sound – Very Low

The writing turns you into an idiot. The princess who speaks in third person is especially dumb. Full of kewl quips and one-liners. Even the sound design is poor, which is rare – I mean rare. For example, the guy running on grass makes the sound of heels on tiles. Why?

Story – Very Low

A boy mysteriously teleported to another world joins a cast of girls to defend the empire. This is the highest budget harem garbage ever made, Mary Sue protagonist included.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it or a must watch for garbage. Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar’s production values make it easier to watch that other “so bad it’s good” titles, so if you want some absolute trash, then have fun with this one.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Awful DialogueInduces StupidityMary SueRubbish Major Characters

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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