Category Archives: Horror

Has strong elements to unsettle or frighten the audience.

Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

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There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.

In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.

The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.

Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.

In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.

Art – Very High

Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.

Sound – High

The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.

Story – Medium

A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

School-Live! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakkougurashi!

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Higurashi: When They Cry

High School of the Dead

Perfect Blue

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Mystery Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good contrast.
  • The opening sequence.

Negatives:

  • Moe over world building.
  • Beach episode.
  • Unexplored psychosis.

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NOTE: In order to review School-Live, I must spoil an early point in the series. If you want to go in blind, do not read further.

Though the ‘moe gone dark’ genre is a congregation of mediocrity, whenever a new one releases, I can’t help but give it a shot. I try to ignore it, but it keeps nudging me, “Hey, I might be as good as Madoka Magica. You won’t know until you watch me. Eh? Eh?Yeaaaargh…alright. School-Live, show me what you got.

Four girls and a teacher find themselves trapped inside their school after a zombie outbreak. As the last survivors in the area, they hole up and do their best to make school a home, going out on excursions for supplies. School-Live’s angle to stand out lies in its protagonist, Yuki. She has no idea they live in a zombie apocalypse. The ruined school is still whole, the zombies are still her classmates, and the foraging excursions are merely class trips or ‘Tests of Courage’. Well, you’ve hooked me.

Unlike other psychosis stories where the mental breakdown is the climactic twist, School-Live reveals the secret in the first episode. It instead focuses on how the characters around Yuki deal with her psychosis. Everyone plays along with her idea that all is normal, which creates great contrast between her happy world and the tragic reality. I felt sorry for her.

And School-Live almost nails it.

Alas, we now turn to the ‘moe’ part of the ‘moe gone dark’ genre. Unlike Madoka, where moe is just the outer shell, the style, School-Live’s moe is the focus. When given the choice to show girls doing moe things or girls developing character, this anime chooses moe nine times out of ten. School-Live is the perfect example of what I mean when I say that moe ruins shows – it’s not the ugly character design or the terrible voices, but the story focus.

Imagine you are on episode 9 out of 12 and so far the series hasn’t given much in the way of backstory or world building, and instead of realising the climax is fast approaching, it gives us a beach episode. Are you serious? You haven’t shown how the world got into this state or how the zombies overcame everything Japan threw at them! If these girls kept the zombies out by stacking a few desks and if they are so slow, so easily distracted, so easily killed, how did anyone fall to them to begin with? It’s not as though these are the Nazi vampires from Hellsing Ultimate – these don’t wield rocket launchers. Zombie apocalypses are flimsy premises to begin with, but School-Live does nothing to suspend our disbelief. Instead, we get a beach episode. Yay…

Inner-character – motivations, secrets, psyche – has toe-deep exploration. Even Yuki, who is so far broken from reality, has little airtime to unravel her psychology. Give us more to believe such a mental block would occur and in this way. School-Live strays close to having this psychosis for shock value only.

The most glaring absence is the lack of development for the students-turned-zombies. When one girl has to kill a former classmate, I do not care because they were never people to begin with as far as story is concerned. They are faceless zombies included to fill the space. No one outside of the main five and one other girl have any story or personality to them. Again, cut a few moe sequences in favour of showing us life pre-outbreak.

Fans of Higurashi will also find some disappointment in how tame School-Live’s horror is. When things should go from 0 to 100 in a split second – like HigurashiSchool-Live reaches 50 before it’s distracted by more moe. I don’t recall a single scary moment. Tension, sure, plenty of that, but no real horror.

School-Live is still a decent anime. Its greatest tragedy comes from how obvious its faults are throughout the story. The manga apparently has many differences, so may be a better use of your time.

Art – Medium

The colourful palette works well contrasted with the ruined environment. Could do without the auras around the zombies – looks silly.

Sound – High

The cutesy VO, mainly for the protagonist, could have been worse for a moe anime. The cheerful OP is so damn catchy. I like how the sequence grows darker each episode, happy scenes replaced by their current state of ruination.

Story – Medium

Four schoolgirls and an airheaded teacher survive a zombie apocalypse inside their high school. School-Live’s great idea does not live up to its potential – less focus on moe next time, please.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For moe-gone-dark fans. If you love the contrast between moe girls and a dark world, then School-Live is another to add to your library. Others will likely feel disappointed by this anime’s shortcomings.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World Building

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne no Musume-tachi

 

Similar: Darker than Black

Baccano!

Elfen Lied

The Garden of Sinners

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror Science Fiction

Length: 6 episodes (45 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • Doesn’t hold back.
  • Story spanning multiple decades.
  • Strong world building.

Negatives:

  • Not enough psychological conflict.
  • First act of most episodes.
  • Main villain has no presence.

(Request an anime for review here.)

One of the reasons I do little research on a title before I watch it is to go in as blind as possible. Sometimes, this method delivers shocking results. I did not expect Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne to be this graphic. And I’m not referring to the amount of violence and sex, but rather the manner in which the story executes these elements. Mnemosyne does not hold back when it comes to adult content. You have been warned.

Mnemosyne centres on Rin, an immortal woman fed a time fruit from the invisible tree Yggdrassil, who runs a private investigation agency alongside partner Mimi. Their job takes a turn when a search for a lost cat leads to amnesiac Koki and someone murdering these immortal women.

Most interesting in Mnemosyne is the structure, in that each episode takes place in a different decade. We start in the 90s and hop through the decades, seeing how society changes each instance, with the latter episodes set beyond our time and in the genre of science fiction. As such, the world building leaps forward each era – new global events in the background, technological advancements, aging mortals, etc. I particularly like how after a devastating earthquake, Tokyo’s depressed population retreats into a virtual reality of human indulgence. The people are so taken by the virtual that the real world is designated ‘Version 1.0’ – a launch version of the program, if you will. These are good world building details.

While the world evolves well across the years, I cannot say the same for the characters. Now, these characters aren’t bad, not at all. A core of the story is about how the immortal women don’t change while their mortal acquaintances die around them. Unfortunately, Rin and co. don’t react much to these changes. How much more interesting would it be to see a psychological toll for having such an existence? Or perhaps how they stay sane? Ironically, despite all the brutality, the story doesn’t push its characters far enough in the neglected psychological component.

The physical themes of sex and violence – two basic human instincts – have impact, certainly. The two sometimes (often) mix into some extreme form of BDSM – torture, mutilation, eroticism, bits missing, naked bodies, the full monty. The blood angels hunting Rin lure immortal women with the human instinct of lust, granting a state of ecstasy before devouring them. Mnemosyne is bold with its sexuality and not ashamed of it. Interestingly, none of this is gratuitous. Yes, they could have cut away before the graphic material starts and dropped down to a lower age rating tier, but the violence and sex drive the plot and characters of this supernatural world. These elements and the plot type give this anime a vampire fiction-esque feel.

Mnemosyne’s story problems lie in the first act of most episodes. The writing needs work in linking Rin with the key character introduced each episode. For example, in the first episode, after leaving the scene of a truck accident, she runs into Koki and helps, responds, and acts towards this stranger as though he’s a close friend. Her actions aren’t believable – nor is his response. The writers needed to get these two together and didn’t think of a proper way to do it. This happens consistently. Funny enough, each episode consistently improves in the same way after the first act as well. Flawed, but consistent. How odd.

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is so close to being great. Its good points have strength, but the weak parts are significant enough to hold it back. The characters needed that extra emotional push, and a main villain with more presence than minor antagonists would have assuredly helped. Even so, this anime engaged me to the end.

Art – Medium

The art is good – strong imagery – but could do with more animation and a touch more gothic. And get rid of the Photoshop filter used in flashbacks – looks cheap.

Sound – High

Mnemosyne has great acting in both versions and music that evolves with the times.

Story – Medium

In a world of sex and violence, the immortal Rin investigates attacks against her fellow immortal women through the ages. While engaging (and brutal), Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne doesn’t give the emotional side enough focus to match the physical.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is hard to find an audience for with the extreme sadism, but if you don’t mind that, it’s worth a try. Give it two episodes at least.

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

Positive:

Holy S***

Negative: None

Parasyte -the maxim- – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu

 

Similar: Tokyo Ghoul

Death Note

Shiki

Midori Days

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Horror Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Complex dynamic between protagonist and his Parasyte.
  • Freaky mutations.
  • Commentary on humanity.
  • Development of the Parasytes.
  • Excellent acting.

Negatives:

  • A little flub at the end.
  • Doesn’t explain the ability to sense Parasytes by some humans.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I went into Parasyte –the maxim- having just completed Tokyo Ghoul, whose disappointing story and characters still weighed on me at how squandered an opportunity that anime was. To make matters worse, I had chosen Tokyo Ghoul as the anime to end the quality drought I had lived through the previous month (my watch order isn’t the same as review order). How wrong I was to rely on Tokyo Ghoul. So, when Parasyte started in similar fashion with ordinary student Shinichi suddenly thrust into the supernatural world, I reserved expectations.

He awakens one day with an alien Parasyte inside his body. Parasytes are supposed to assume full control of their hosts, but his didn’t have enough time to latch onto the brain, thus stayed confined to his right arm. After the initial freak out, Shinichi and Migi, as it calls itself, form a symbiotic relationship for survival, as other Parasytes take a deadly interest in a host still having full brain function and knowledge of their existence. Shinichi also employs Migi’s strength to stop other Parasytes from harming humans.

The star of the show is Migi, no question. Not only is it amusing to see Shinichi’s right hand move with a mind of its own, studying while he sleeps or commenting on his dates, but Migi is a genuine threat. I have lost count how many times a protagonist has formed an alliance with a dangerous character promising to kill the protagonist for one false move, but no one believes the threat whatsoever, removing any tension. For some reason, these characters are usually teens trying to act cool with no personalities to speak of.

To Parasytes, as with most creatures, survival is the ultimate protocol and when Migi says he will kill anyone Shinichi tells about the Parasytes, you believe it. Migi will do anything to stay protected. Deaths are merciless.

Migi’s calculating cold logic, for he struggles with the concept of emotion, makes for gripping character interactions. For example, he knows that helping Shinichi kill other Parasytes is a part of their give-take relationship, yet it doesn’t stop him commenting on how Parasytes feeding on humans is no different from humans feeding on nature. Humans should just accept this, he says. Furthermore, as he and other Parasytes adapt to human society, it’s fascinating to see their development, how they react to ‘human’ elements of life.

Most fascinating is the teacher/researcher of the Parasytes and her intrigue with the concept of offspring and motherhood. Why do we care for little bundles of flesh that do no more than cry and soil themselves at our wallet’s expense? The writer demonstrates great understanding of humanity. The story hits its best when she and a human detective on the Parasyte trail enter the fray.

Parasyte does have some problems. The one that bothered me most was this girl’s ability to sense Parasytes while not being one herself. Parasytes can sense each other because of their empathic connection, so how did select humans acquire this radar without a Parasyte? Her romantic subplot is fine – competes with Shinichi’s crush Satomi – but an explanation wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Another fault is in the ending – not the actual ending, the second ending. Parasyte reaches its climax in the twenty-third episode, setting up episode twenty-four as a ‘wind down’ story. No, something new comes up for ten minutes to create a final host-parasite interaction that is pointless and weakens the actual ending. Still, it’s so pointlessness it doesn’t ruin the series prior.

I am surprised that I had heard little to nothing of Parasyte beforehand, considering its quality. Perhaps the body horror is a little too off-putting.

Art – High

Creatively disgusting monsters are well animated, especially during transformations. Sharp art.

Sound – Very High

This anime boasts great acting in both tracks – the Parasytes’ actors in particular – and a varied soundtrack reminiscent of Death Note. The sound effects for transformations can be funny, like the blowing of raspberries when shrinking back to hand form.

Story – Very High

A high schooler wakes one morning with a Parasyte in his right hand, capable of changing shape to aid or kill. Parasyte starts well, reaching greatness in the second act as characters develop and the Parasytes adapt to the human life.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless eyeballs and mouths sprouting anywhere on the body gives you the shivers. Paraystethe maxim- came to me after a glut of bad to mediocre anime and ended the suffering with its impressive characters and development.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Tokyo Ghoul – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tokyo Ghoul

 

Related: Tokyo Ghoul √A (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Shiki

Parasyte -the maxim-

Attack on Titan

Ajin

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Horror Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes (season 1), 12 episodes (season 2), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Fantastic hook.
  • Great performances across the board.
  • Quality art and music.

Negatives:

  • Nosedives after a few episodes.
  • Little but action in second season.
  • Pathetic protagonist.
  • More ideas than story.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tokyo is a city of fear with flesh hungry ‘ghouls’ masquerading as ordinary humans ready to eat unsuspecting citizens at first opportunity. A ghoul attacks Kaneki, the guy with the worst luck in love, but before she can finish him, an accident kills her and injures him. Doctors transplant her (unknowingly) ghoulish organs into him to save his life. He reawakens half-ghoul, half-human and loses his taste for normal food. An unfortunate need for love and affection has changed his life forever. (I knew there was something wrong when the woman looked older than claimed – a first in anime.)

Kaneki must not only cope with his hunger for flesh, but also the imprint of the ghoul Rize in his mind. After failing to kill himself, he reluctantly ventures into ghoul society where a café owner and a waitress, Touka, guide him in his new life as he tries to cling to his old, human life. To further layer this misfortune, Tokyo’s ghoul hunting branch has turned its attention to the 20th ward where they live.

What a great start. It gives us the premise, journey setup, conflict, and hook without missing a beat. The idea of a civilised ghoul society among the savages also brims with promise, and we get glimpses at detailed world building, such as ghouls’ ability to enjoy coffee or some ghouls eating human food to blend in, throwing it up later in secret. My favourite element is how “good” ghouls only eat suicide victims, thus keeping murder off the menu.

However – and I’m sure you know what’s coming next – it’s a shame this setup goes nowhere. Where do I start with this travesty? Right, Kaneki. He starts out as the weak bookish type, as is typical of the genre and perfectly fine, but he stays weak for almost the entire season. Only the hidden power (sprouting energy-like flesh limbs) of his ghoul half makes him stronger, which isn’t real strength for it takes no effort on his part. He doesn’t grow as a person. In Tokyo Ghoul √A (read: Root A), he gets stronger at the cost of having as much personality as a plank of imitation wood.

Kaneki may just be the most irrelevant protagonist I’ve ever seen. His friend/crush Touka’s story arc should have been his. Or merge the two into one, giving her his origin story while keeping her backstory and familial conflict. She would make for a far better protagonist.

Next, we have the unused elements. Kaneki soon wants to resume normal life at uni with his friend. A ghoul trying to be friends with a human should be interesting, yes? Well, they introduce the idea and do nothing with it. Furthermore, the friend’s uni roommate is a ghoul who has passed for human all this time and he uses the friend to hurt Kaneki. This conflict lasts an episode. What’s the point of presenting it at all?

Then there’s the villains, who almost all fall in the realm of ‘crazy for the sake of crazy’ instead of a personality and depth. Crazy, sure, yet they’re still one-dimensional. This type is starting to become one of my most hated character builds. Other than modelling one villain after Jason Voorhees with the hockey mask, I barely remember these characters. The human villains have a touch of depth, though with their purpose relegated to action scenes any depth is wasted.

Beyond the great setup, the only good story is in side plots, usually focused on other ghouls coping (or not) with their condition. But as these side plots don’t affect Kaneki, they don’t really matter in the end. In fact, they impact him so little that they shunt him out of the story for the duration. Yeah, he stops being protagonist for extended periods (should have stayed that way).

I wrote my review for Beck before this and noted how that anime starts dull but keeps getting better. Tokyo Ghoul does the reverse. It starts strong with its vampire fiction type world and premise and then keeps getting worse – Root A feels like the dullest action scenes lasting twelve episodes. Tokyo Ghoul is more of an idea for a world than a story.

Art – High

I love the high contrast coupled with a vibrant palette. The art drew me to watch Tokyo Ghoul initially.

Sound – High

The actors give performances far above what this anime deserves. The protagonist in particular shows good range, shifting between the human and ghoul states. I don’t know how they didn’t make more use of this duality. Good music.

Story – Medium

Once human, now half ghoul, a uni student tries to cope with his hunger for human flesh as he navigates the supernatural world within Tokyo. It has been a while since I have been this disappointed after such a strong start. Though never terrible, Tokyo Ghoul bores one’s tears ducts dry.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Watching Tokyo Ghoul can only lead to sheer disappointment.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingHollow World BuildingNo Development