Category Archives: Horror

Has strong elements to unsettle or frighten the audience.

Castlevania – Anime Review

Related: Castlevania Season 2 (TBA)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the games.
  • Looks and sounds great.
  • Deeper than expected.
  • Unflinchingly brutal.

Negatives:

  • Too early to gauge full quality.

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In the same way that game-to-film (or vice versa) adaptations bring the worst out of art, game-to-anime conversions are mind-numbing experiences that contain none of the game’s magic. When Netflix announced a Castlevania series, I didn’t even bother adding it to my ‘might, perhaps, one day if there is no more anime, eventually’ list. The series releases and the strangest comment reaches my ears… It’s good. What unspeakable pact did the creators enter into?

While not an anime, Castlevania adopts plenty from the likes of Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D in its adaptation of the game franchise of the same name. More specifically, this uses Castlevania III as a launching point with some Symphony of the Night elements.

The first episode introduces us to the human Lisa as she enters Dracula’s castle and meets the vampire lord of Wallachia himself. Rather than throw her out – or worse, drain her – he is endeared by her desire to learn science and spread such enlightenment across mankind. She doesn’t run away like the others. He teaches her chemistry to help the villagers and marriage is not far behind. However, the Church grows suspicious of her newfound curative abilities and finds heathenistic devices in her house, such as instruments of glass too thin to be of human creation. They burn her at the stake.

Oh what a grave mistake.

Dracula’s wrath unleashes a demon horde across Wallachia. The land is now a place of death. At a small inn still untouched by the horde, Trevor Belmont is drunk and getting drunker. His family of demon slayers fell from grace since their excommunication by the Church, so there’s little to do but drink these days. Even a horde of game doesn’t interest him. A human plea will soon change this.

So, the story starts like a Castlevania game, and it does well by setting the stakes as high as Dracula’s castle and giving a flawed yet likeable protagonist. Then there’s Dracula, exuding majesty and awe-inspiring power. They didn’t tone him down. I was prepared for something like the Devil May Cry anime, where the characters, especially protagonist Dante, have none of the personality that makes them enjoyable. Instead, Castlevania added more than what was to be found in the games.

These four episodes serve as the setup to a grander series. They establish Dracula, Trevor and his allies, and the subplot of the Church, which added the story depth to turn this from good to great. I hope to see the Church subplot throughout the series.

The action is no wet skeleton either. It’s gory and brutal, as it should be for the franchise, and the choreography has thought behind it. Duels are especially satisfying.

With all this praise, what’s the downside? Well, it’s hard to say at this point, as I am reviewing the start of a series. I have no complaints right now, but elements could become problems. For example, Trevor’s bravado will turn annoying if overused and he trash talks instead of fighting, like a bad villain monologue. The inside of Dracula’s castle may also have little story, with all interesting plot occurring outside under the Church’s influence. Who knows? It’s too early to say. Still, it looks right, sounds right, and feels right.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for Castlevania.

Art – High

The art feels like the games turned animated, dripping with gothic atmosphere. Some animation is jittery, but good overall.

Sound – High

The accents work well in English. The Japanese is good enough if you prefer that. Music complements the dark atmosphere.

Story – High

A son in the long line of once-noble Belmonts prepares to fight the Lord of Darkness, Dracula. Castlevania is a great start to adapting such a venerable franchise.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Unless you can’t stand gore, Castlevania’s four episodes give a good taste of whether you should look forward to more.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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