Category Archives: Mystery

An air of the unknown, a puzzle to solve…

Link Click – Dive into mystery

Chinese Title: Shiguang Dailiren

 

Related: Link Click 2nd Season (TBR)

Similar: Death Parade

Steins;Gate

Id: Invaded

 

Watched in: Chinese

Genre: Contemporary Drama Fantasy Mystery

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great character animation without generic expressions
  • Engaging short stories
  • “Page turning” pace and plots

Negatives:

  • Vocal audio sounds a little off

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Time for my dip into China’s offering of anime for the season (we won’t count the increasing number of Japanese content animated in China). We’ve had some rubbish with The King’s Avatar but we’ve also had greatness with Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation. Now I look at something different once again with the contemporary fantasy mystery Link Click.

This short series centres around two young men with different powers that work in tandem to “investigate” photographs. Xiaoshi can enter photos and possess the photographer, travelling to see the past from their perspective. Meanwhile, Guang acts as the “eye in the sky” with his ability to look into a photo and see what occurred in a limited time around its taking. He knows how the scene plays out, guiding Xiaoshi from the present via some form of telepathy. The photo doesn’t need to be of the subject. Time and place matter. Together, they take on cases for clients in need of information or a correction for something in the past. For example, the first case has them entering the life of an assistant to a chief financial officer to acquire evidence of fraud.

There is only one rule: don’t change the past in any appreciable way. However, by becoming their targets, experiencing life from their perspective, they may get more than they bargained for. Xiaoshi feels a subject’s pain most of all. He has to fight against a need to make things right.

I love this premise. It has immediate promises of drama, mystery, tension, and twists. I’m pleased to say that Link Click delivers on all of these promises.

Drama comes from the interesting and varied choice of target characters to inhabit, even when they don’t seem interesting on paper. One case has the guys trying to find the secret ingredient to an amazing noodle recipe. It’s just two ordinary people in business together selling noodles. As we see their relationship deteriorate though, the drama keeps us hooked and wanting to know how this will end. Each victim receives full characterisation in a single episode. Not an easy task. On the other end, there are high drama targets, such as the assistant mentioned previously who is a victim of sexual abuse from her boss, physical abuse from colleagues, and is just all round miserable. Drama escalates in a later case when it cuts close to home for Xiaoshi while possessing some stranger with past regrets. An early concern I had was a lack of connection between the two protagonists and the cases. They would solve a case involving strangers and move on to the next. Thankfully, after a few of these, cases become more personal (even if unintentionally) and the drama grips tighter. This is where Link Click elevates itself. The emotional core is strong.

Mystery, tension, and twists work as a trio thanks to good plotting and the right pacing across several compelling cases. The first few episodes work as standalone short stories, but matters build into longer cases with higher stakes. At that point, I had to go full binge to find out what happens next. Link Click has the perfect hooks of a mystery series. I can’t say much more than that.

If I had to present any negatives, I would say it needs a little more in several areas. Mind you, these have easy fixes and the second season could very well step it up in most regards. The stoic Guang, for instance, is still rather flat for a main character, particularly alongside Xiaoshi who we come to know much better over the course of the season. Maybe it’s because Xiaoshi takes the lion’s share of screen time. I also want more from the antagonists. They aren’t as present as they should be for hero versus villain scenarios. They feel a tad distant. With the introduction of what seems like the first major villain headed into the next season, the battle of wits may have more back and forth. Give me a touch of that Death Note. The audio placement for the voice acting is a little off – something common in Chinese anime, for some reason – though not a major problem.

Link Click is a great anime and an easy binge at 11 episodes with a fast pace that ramps up in the second half as the stakes reach new heights. I look forward to the next season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Link Click is a gem of the season and well worth a watch.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Moriarty the Patriot – Not So Smart

Japanese Title: Yuukoku no Moriarty

 

Similar: Death Note

Black Butler

Monster

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Mystery Thriller

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Production I.G. production values
  • Spiffin opening songs

Negatives:

  • Poor use and understanding of these iconic characters
  • Villains are comically flat
  • Artificially intelligent
  • James Bonde

(Request an anime for review here.)

Moriarty the Patriot is Dexter by way of the Sherlock Holmes universe, presenting a “what if” alternative to Holmes’s infamous rival. What if Moriarty had committed his crimes for the good of Britain? It’s not the first time someone has taken such an angle for this character, so let’s investigate how anime fared.

William James Moriarty is an orphan adopted into nobility who wants to break the class divide and mete out justice against the rich for their treatment of lower classes. Class disparity is the main theme of Moriarty the Patriot. Early episodes have him helping lower class people enact revenge against the rich that “got away with it.” For example, he helps a tailor kill the nobleman who murdered children, including the tailor’s son, for sport.

The immediate difference those familiar with the original Moriarty will notice about this version is his conversion into that of a bishounen. Professor Moriarty was far from handsome, caring about intellect over vanity. Holmes described him as hunched over, balding, and with sunken eyes. It is weird seeing Moriarty as a simpering pretty boy. The appearance change is of no importance to me. In fact, he looks as I would expect for an anime. His character matters. And this is where Moriarty is a pale imitation of his inspiration.

In the backstory episode of him as a child orphan with his sickly brother, it tries to make him look smart and benevolent by giving advice on all sorts of things to commoners, but it comes across as forced and condescending for a kid. He’s a know-it-all that happens to know exactly everything to advise these stupid commoners. The only bit that worked was him advising a group of bank robbers on dirt around the bank. The explanation is that he read a lot at the grand library. Firstly, an ability to riddle off a bunch of facts for “life hacks” isn’t a sign a genius (and has nothing to do with what made the original Moriarty a smart villain). Second, the Victorian lower class weren’t dumb. It’s up there with the myth that medieval peasants never bathed. Moriarty the Patriot needs everyone else to look like idiots so that Moriarty can prove his “genius” (remember my point in other reviews about how bad early writing echoes throughout a story? Keep this in mind.)

Also, while knowing the data helps with horse racing betting, it isn’t as sure as he makes it out to be. If you could win 80% of the time…just think for a second.

As an adult, they tone down the know-it-all aspect of Moriarty, yet we never witness an instance of actual genius from him. Original Moriarty avoided getting his hands dirty and preferred eliminating people through “accidents.” He was a schemer, not a hitman. Holmes described him as a spider at the centre of a web. This iteration is so unlike the original in appearance, personality, motivation, and methods that I don’t know why they called him Moriarty (commercial familiarity aside). If he weren’t called Moriarty but this were still a Holmesian story, I would never guess who he is meant to be. His plans rely on stupid opponents.

The classism is extreme and ridiculous. Every high-class person spits on anyone lower than them at every opportunity. It’s inaccurate and makes no sense. Think about it – if the people who work for you do a great job, you want them to keep doing that job well. So why treat them in such a manner that would make them worse at their job? We aren’t talking a faceless corporation where a money pusher at the top never sees the people below him. Nothing exemplifies this more than episode four, where a nobleman allows his gardener’s baby to die rather than allow his personal doctor to provide a simple treatment. The gardener falls into depression and the botanical garden, the nobleman’s pride and joy (all thanks to this gardener), falls in quality. When the gardener’s wife tries to take revenge, the show presents it as some great surprise to the noble. What could the motivation possibly be?

I get that some people are scum of the earth – obviously – and money can’t make everyone smart, but these villains are another level of stupid writing. I don’t refer to one or two here. All villains in Moriarty the Patriot are the stupidest characters in the show, which is ironic for a series based on Holmes’s smartest opponent. One guy murders a low class passenger in his expensive room on a cruise ship. Even if you do throw the body overboard, what about the pool of blood on the carpet in your room? This is the genius intellect Moriarty has to contend with?

They all amount to the same motive: “I am rich, therefore I hate poor people.”

The upper class did look down on the lower class in an organised hierarchical sense, where each individual has their place in society and must not step above their station. The lower class weren’t like slaves of the South. Even within the upper class, one could find further structure of which rich families could associate with particular other rich families as equals. Mastering social standing wasn’t an afternoon’s lesson.

The one area in which Moriarty the Patriot is accurate is the charity of nobles. Or rather, the appearance of benevolence by nobles. The Moriarty family takes in the two orphan brothers because it makes them look good to other nobles. Appearance is the material point. A noble doesn’t allow tenants to die on their land because it would look bad. Perhaps nobles care for the lower class employees, perhaps they don’t. Regardless, they care about appearances.

All of this is not to defend nobles or paint them as kind. My point is that nobles would be just as varied and complex a class of people as any other and that making them so two-dimensionally evil is lazy. The final moral message is equally flat.

Most of season one is a series of cases with Moriarty helping victims enact revenge on the rich that wronged them – a revenge of the week, if you will. I thought it would remain this way throughout, acting as a prequel to Moriarty’s encounters with Holmes in the book. Perhaps the clash in The Final Problem (the main Moriarty novel) would be the finale or hint that it occurs after the end of the anime. However, Sherlock Holmes himself enters the story and Watson too. Proceedings switch to a Holmes perspective for a good while before it cuts back and forth, becoming almost fifty-fifty between Moriarty and Holmes.

Holmes is a little closer in depiction to the source material. For one, Holmes was a good-looking man with great care for personal cleanliness (his residence was a mess on account of being a hoarder though). Still, it is weird to see Holmes as a bit of a ditz in this incarnation, always at odds with Mrs Hudson, who is more like a mother/nanny to keep his antics in check. Though as I said, I don’t care about changes as long as they deliver something worthwhile.

The most accurate element of this adaptation is Scotland Yard, still easily fooled by master criminals.

Moriarty the Patriot is better when it follows Holmes, funnily enough, owed in large parts to drawing more from the original Sherlock Holmes cases. It’s evident that the writer for this series would have nothing without another franchise to lean on. The structural shift feels like the intended “revenge of the week” formula ran out of ideas and the author had to return to the source.

The improvement in quality is short lived, sadly, with the introductions of “James Bonde” and Jack the Ripper. James Bonde may just be the worst reference I have ever seen to an iconic franchise. I can’t elaborate without spoiling anything. You should know, however, I actually cringed. Jack the Ripper drops things a level further with supernatural physical abilities, something not presented in the world elsewhere and it tries attributing them to intelligence (?) when he escapes a trap. Overall, anime isn’t sending over its best.

The greatest deception Moriarty the Patriot ever pulled was giving me hope for a great anime with these high production values based on a beloved franchise. Victorian London looks great (could use a full time spellchecker though) and I love the opening songs. My hope mostly worsened as time went on.

I have read the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes and seen a dozen different adaptations, some with greater departures from the source material than this yet still delivered. I would have to go back through the archives to be sure, but I’m confident Moriarty the Patriot is the weakest series to utilise the great detective that I have consumed.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Not for Sherlock Holmes fans. Others may be able to switch off and enjoy Moriarty the Patriot as a schlock thriller.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Odd Taxi – A great oddity

Japanese Title: Odd Taxi

 

Similar: Aggretsuko

Baccano

Paranoia Agent

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Mystery

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Excellent main mystery
  • A strong finish
  • Memorable visual design

Negatives:

  • Some side plots are superfluous
  • Jarring CG cars

(Request an anime for review here.)

If you, like me, are a seeker of more unique anime each season, then this one is for you. Odd Taxi is the “something different” of the spring 2021 slate and one I recommend.

It follows a dulcet walrus taxi driver that keeps his tusks clean. Odokawa finds himself thrown from the comforts of his taxicab when he gives rides to several disparate characters, seemingly unrelated, amid the disappearance of a high school girl. He encounters a pop idol, a nurse, a yakuza member, and even the police, amongst others.

In addition to being the different anime, Odd Taxi is the “furry” anime of the season – seems to one in each slate these days. However, Odd Taxi’s use of animals as character is different from the rest. In fact, I can’t recall any other story using an animal cast in this manner, which it succeeds in doing. It seems arbitrary at first, but it makes sense as you progress.

Similar sentiments apply to Odd Taxi as a whole. It starts a little slow and the various threads don’t seem to have much connection or relevance for a few episodes, but it grows better with time and the final act is excellent. The various characters and their threads are fascinating to follow (for the most part – more later) as you piece together the mystery of the girl’s disappearance. I always say that to have a great mystery, the viewer should be able to solve it before the revelations, even if they are unlikely to. Odd Taxi succeeds in that regard, so I’ll avoid spoilers.

The character arcs are a mix of noir crime and social commentary. The former mostly relate to the primary characters – the yakuza, the corrupt police, the dame – while the latter is for subplots. Ironically, the main crime threads have more comedy than the subplots do, where the social commentary gets dark at times.

The most interesting of the subplots relates to a gacha addict. The obsession started in school after his teacher’s attempt at equality between rich and poor students backfired by promoting inequality in other ways. For this guy, it manifested in the form of rare eraser collecting. Whichever kid had the rarest, most valuable erasers was the king of the playground. One thing leads to another and this kid steals his dad’s credit card, gets scammed, and he grows up with an addiction to collecting expensive yet meaningless exclusives, like units in a gacha mobile game. Despite being a whale (big spender), he can’t compete with a super whale. He too crosses Odokawa’s path. I won’t give away anything further.

On the other side, some subplots aren’t interesting or even relevant. At worst, they feel like cast padding. As in, “This show has too few characters. Add some more, slap on some social stuff to give them arc, and don’t worry about tying them to the main plot.” The most egregious of these and the one I would outright delete is the lonely monkey in search of a girlfriend. He’s so desperate for a girlfriend that he doesn’t care about being a sugar daddy as long as there is the illusion of a genuine relationship.

Apart from recurring appearances, the show dedicates an episode to him and that is where I zoned out. Odd Taxi hadn’t hit its peak – the third act – by this episode, so I had doubts about it being worth finishing after wasting time on this guy and other minor characters. His minor relevance isn’t worth the screen time wasted or the pacing slowed. I thought perhaps that he was a poor attempt at a red herring on the writers’ part, which if done properly would have been good. This guy is seeking a younger woman; maybe he took it too far with that high schooler and now her body is in the drying concrete at his work site. Pick any Agatha Christie novel and you’ll find a sizeable cast of characters, all of which are relevant and engaging because they matter to the construction of the main plot. Thankfully for Odd Taxi, these excess characters don’t diminish the main mystery directly. They’re just filler.

I’ve noticed a lot of 13-episode anime recently that bloat their casts of characters when they don’t have enough screen time for everyone. May be a coincidence.

Speaking of coincidence, the final negative I want to address is the contrivance in some cases. Coincidences should be used sparingly, particularly for the purposes of solving a situation. Odd Taxi isn’t too bad in this sense but it would have been even better if the writers had shaped events to avoid coincidences.

Negatives aside, Odd Taxi comes together to deliver a great mystery in an excellent third act amid an eccentric cast of characters. Can’t forget the unique use of anthropomorphism either. Recommended!

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Odd Taxi is a rarity in anime, being both unique and great. Ideally, go in blind.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None

The Promised Neverland Season 2 – Holy Truncation Batman!

Japanese Title: Yakusoku no Neverland 2nd Season

 

Related: The Promised Neverland Season 1

The Promised Neverland manga (partially included in this review)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Mystery Thriller

Length: 11 episodes (season 2), 181 chapters (manga)

 

Positives:

  • Opening song

Negatives:

  • Most egregious truncation of the source material in anime history?
  • Doesn’t succeed on its own either
  • Recycled animation
  • Some bad acting amongst new characters

(Request an anime for review here.)

Contains spoilers for season one – unavoidable.

What the hell happened here? I watched the first season of The Promised Neverland a year ago, which I quite liked, and now I come back to this…this… What do you even call this? Did an intern carrying the script trip over and have most of the pages fall into a shredder, collect what was left, rewrite the page numbers at the bottom, and then hand it to the animation department?

I had heard rumblings that viewers were discontent with the cutting of material. I did not realise just how bad it was until I read the manga. This review was to come out weeks ago, but less than halfway through the season, I could already feel something missing, so I turned to the manga, you know, to read the 30-50 chapters that went into this season. Little did I realise that this adapted all remaining chapters.

The Promised Neverland, at first, is about children living in an innocent orphanage before they learn that this is a farm and they are the livestock for demons. Season two follows them after the escape and on the run, guided by a series of clues left by the mysterious “William Minerva” to get back to the human world.

Season one adapts 37 chapters of the 181 total. Season two “covers” the rest. That’s right, 144 chapters in 11 episodes. And Horimiya fans reckoned they had it bad. I don’t know why studio CloverWorks thought that Promised Neverland – this anime, of all anime – would work with such truncation. I’m not certain (and I don’t have time to do the research right now), but this may just be the worst case of cut content in anime history. We’ve had incomplete adaptations of manga epics in the past or ones that created a new ending to finish what they had available, yes, though I can’t recall any finished adaptations with such massive holes. Unlike Horimiya, which worked alright without those chapters, Promised Neverland doesn’t work without 50% – at minimum – of what they removed. Why even bother with a second season if it’s going to lack all substance and make little sense? The first season worked fine as a standalone anime with suggestions to read the manga if you want the rest.

It hurts the brain to comprehend.

It’s particularly strange because season one was such a good adaption. In fact, I found it improved upon the manga by cutting back on inner monologues that over explain proceedings to the audience and made it darker. The manga is more light-hearted and has more playful moments, whereas the anime pushed the thriller angle to much success. A quick side note, however, is that the tone for the Grace Field arc in the manga better matches the rest the series. The manga isn’t anywhere near as dark as the premise would imply. The anime would have needed to make a few changes to the rest to match season one, which makes the abundance of “happy kids” moments, as I refer to them, more glaring and irritating in the second season. They work in the manga because they are tonally consistent and only take a page rather than a scene. Of course, they are also further apart with all content present.

Season two initially matches the manga well enough when the kids meet two demons that don’t eat humans and learn more of the world. We learn that demons eat meat to maintain their form and intelligence. Without feeding, they would devolve into ravenous savages. I love this world building detail. However, a few episodes in, they reach the hideout provided by Minerva and it all flies out the window. So butchered is this one section alone that there is no purpose to leaving it in. In the manga, it turns out there is someone living in the hideout already, a crazy man. He is the whole point of that section, so to remove him but leave the rest is simply stupid.

Then comes the time skip. Around 90 chapters ignored, gone, including the best action arc of the series, where some kids find themselves in a demon duke’s hunting ground for sport. Worse still is the effect on what they do adapt from the final arc. Without the setup that comes before, the finale is limp. Everything revolves around a grand plan, which already requires a fair suspension of disbelief in the manga, yet now demands a total leave of logic. The plan only works if all antagonists are absolute idiots.

See, this season’s failure isn’t that it cut material. I don’t inherently care about cut material. Its failure is being a bad anime, adaptation or not. Again, why did they bother?

This season isn’t worth your time. Instead, look at the manga.

The manga isn’t without its faults. I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t dark enough because there isn’t enough death, especially considering the pre-schoolers in the group (I have the impression the author grew too attached to the characters). The answer and eventual solution to the demon and human world divide is so lame. Magic? Really? While the final arc is a great finish to the ride, the epilogue chapters are just contrived nonsense (again, author is too attached). Contrivances and coincidences to solve non-action problems are a recurring issue with this author. Minerva’s pen, for instance, is a wonder machine that solves any plot puzzle for which the author couldn’t think of an idea, providing the next clue on the trail. I would have also liked to see more of the mother and the important demons to give them more impact in the end. The mother especially needed more chapters.

Contrary to my machine gun of negatives, The Promised Neverland is a good manga I recommend to anyone unless you didn’t care for the first season. It’s a page-turner, the demon culture is interesting, you feel for the main characters (the cast is too big to care for the rest), and the action is solid. Oh, nice art too – love the full-page illustrations before each chapter. Meanwhile, the only good element of The Promised Neverland Season 2 is the opening song.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Read The Promised Neverland manga instead.

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Ghost Stories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakkou no Kaidan

 

Similar: Ghost Hunt

Pop Team Epic

Cromartie High School

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: [Comedy] Horror Mystery

Length: 19 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The masterpiece dub

Negatives:

  • Everything else

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ghost Stories is a rubbish anime. The characters are forgettable, the horror is laughable, the mysteries put one to sleep, and the art is crap. Watch it in English, however, and Ghost Stories is a great anime. If you haven’t heard of this gem, Ghost Stories was a flop in Japan (shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with eyes and ears) and the studio said that ADV, the dubbing company, could do whatever they wanted to the show as long as they followed three rules. Don’t change names, don’t change how the ghosts die (part of the Japanese folklore), and don’t change the meaning of each episode. Other than that, fair game. And they were merciless.

What resulted was one of the most hilarious anime ever made in the style of an “abridged” parody series, before abridged anime were all the rage. Almost all dialogue was improvised, and since they record dubs one actor at a time (to match the visual timing), whoever got in the booth first for a scene, set the improv direction and the rest played off it. They just had to follow the purpose of the scene.

When told they could change anything except for the above three rules, they took that to heart. None of the original feel or tone of Ghost Stories remains in the dub, much to everyone’s delight.

The most notable change is personalities. Gone are the clichéd and bland school kids. In are the most offensive twerps since South Park. The protagonist has a mouth to make a sailor blush, a true hatred for lesbians, and is obsessed with her body. Her younger brother is retarded (literally) mumbling gibberish that gets more incomprehensible as he grows upset. Only she can decipher his speech. The love interest is a degenerate perv, while the nerd is even more stereotyped and Jewish, thus the butt of Jew jokes (like South Park). My favourite is the prim and proper girl turned into a fanatical born again Christian, calling everything a sin and reminding you every second of every day that you must find Jesus. Each line out of her mouth cracks me up.

The humour is more than offensive jokes. There are pop culture references, social commentaries, mocking of anime clichés, and meta humour on the atrocious animation quality of Ghost Stories. The mockery of the lip flaps always gets me. The animation was clearly a rush job and is perfect fodder for the actors. Lip flap matching is far superior in the improvised dub than it is in the structured original.

Looking at the Japanese version, Ghost Stories is a total snooze fest. The structure is that of a “monster of the week” type, with a new haunting for the kids to investigate each episode and it couldn’t be more paint-by-numbers. This isn’t a case where the original is “so bad it’s good” and the dub parodies it. No, the original is mind numbing – certainly not helped by the art either. Character faces aren’t even consistent from scene to scene. I’m not convinced they had an art director on staff. What truly baffles me though is the ending theme song. I first thought it was part of the parody with lyrics like, “I miss you, I miss you. I need you, I need you. Sexy, sexy!” Lost my mind when I discovered it’s the original song. Whose idea was that!? Keeping it for the dub only makes it better.

Ghost Stories is a wild ride. Even if the humour isn’t to your taste, it’s still an interesting study for a few episodes in how it changed between versions. A few “best of” clip compilations are also available on YouTube if you don’t want to watch the full 19 episodes.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch in dub. Ghost Stories is legendary in anime circles for a reason.

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

Positive: 

Hilarious

Negative: 

Ugly Artistic Design