Category Archives: Mystery

An air of the unknown, a puzzle to solve…

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

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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

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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

ID: Invaded – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ID:Invaded

 

Similar: Psycho Pass

Real Drive

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great concept
  • A nice blend of “hype” and “mystery” music
  • Weirdly awesome mental landscape

Negatives:

  • The abstract mind makes the mysteries unsolvable ahead of time

(Request an anime for review here.)

Every great crime mystery has three components to success. The first is an interesting crime that generates plenty of questions and mystery. This doesn’t mean it has to be something crazy like a dead clown hanging from a chandelier with foam sword in one hand and nuclear detonator in the other. It can be something as simple as a shot to head during lunchtime, dead body in the apartment, yet the neighbours heard nothing. The second component is engaging characters, most notably for the detective protagonist and the main suspects. You want to look forward to these characters parrying words. And lastly, to engage the audience fully, the crime must be solvable before the big reveal. You don’t want to make it obvious – keep them guessing, unsure of their theories – but the pieces must be present.

In this third component, ID: Invaded fails.

ID: Invaded is about a detective agency that can investigate cases by diving into the unconscious minds of criminals by using a machine called Mizuhanome. Our main detective, Sakaido, is a murder himself after avenging the death of his family, for only a killer can safely enter into the mind of another killer. While he investigates on the mental plane, rookie detective Hondomachi hits the streets to interview witnesses and suspects.

The look of the virtual world in the target’s unconscious is cool. The opening scene has Sakaido in pieces with digital cube particles instead of blood. After he pulls himself together, he needs to reconstruct the scene physically from the fragmented reality that is the human mind. It recalls games like Ghost Trick and Remember Me. I love this representation. There is no denying the visual engagement. It’s weirdly awesome. However, this very concept is also ID: Invaded’s greatest flaw.

What Sakaido is looking at, these pieces to a murder mystery, are abstract. Even the faces on the people in the unconscious realm aren’t accurate. They are an amalgamation of faces remembered from one’s life, just as it is in your dreams. This means that the clues don’t mean much until we see the answers. It’s like solving a 1000-piece puzzle of pure white that doesn’t reveal the picture until all pieces are in place. The audience doesn’t have the opportunity to solve the case ahead of time – as you would in an Agatha Christie novel – without relying almost exclusively on guesswork, and in a crime story, this drops audience engagement to a level no author wants.

Now, the visuals do make up some of the loss, as mentioned earlier, as do the unusual characters on both the law enforcement and criminal sides. One of the criminals, called “The Perforator”, likes to drill holes in people’s skulls. Always delightful. Sakaido is also an interesting protagonist with his status as both criminal (still in jail) and detective. Sorry, “brilliant detective” as the mind detectives call themselves. Side note: it took me a while to realise that brilliant detective refers to their job title and not a token of praise. Poor choice of name.

I’m not sold on Hondomachi. She feels like a character design first (adult that looks like a teenager) and personality second, though her role in the story is interesting. The Inception-like system of her in the real world on the job while Sakaido is in the brain finding clues works well. It adds a nice dose of tension when everything is parallel in real time. Incorporating the Mizuhanome in the crimes itself is another good choice that heightens the stakes. It isn’t just a tool. One could almost call it evidence in the grander story, similar to the PreCrime unit in Minority Report or the Sibyl System in Psycho Pass. I like it when wild science fiction concepts go all in on the unique selling point.

ID: Invaded is a good anime, all aspects considered, and its unique nature means you aren’t looking at “more of the usual”. So I do recommend it if you liked any of the titles that I referred to throughout the review. It’s a story I would like to see the author take another crack at to elevate it to greatness.

Art – High

ID: Invaded has one of the most distinct art styles for faces, notably in the eyes. Oddly successful. The abstract design of the unconscious is great.

Sound – High

Several solid tracks accompany the series – I’ll be listening to the OP & ED beyond the final episode. The mystery music of ethereal piano notes and sinister violin adds much to the scene. The acting is strong too and you can go with either language to suit your preference.

Story – Medium

A former detective turned criminal investigates cases by diving into the minds of criminals via a machine. This cool concept is a little too abstract for its own good, as it doesn’t give the audience the information needed to solve the case until the big reveal.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. I recommend ID: Invaded to fans of Psycho Pass and Ghost in the Shell for its unique take on the exploration of the criminal mind to solve mysteries.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

The Promised Neverland – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yakusoku no Neverland

 

Related: The Promised Neverland 2nd Season (2021)

Similar: Now and Then, Here and There

Made in Abyss

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Tense atmosphere
  • Good animation
  • Shows the workings

Negatives:

  • Gives away the mystery too early
  • Villains are comical

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The Promised Neverland should be an anime that you want to go in blind for, as I did, but its great mystery comes out within the first episode, so that magic is gone. Does make it easier to talk about in review.

This story takes place in an orphanage where children await adoption while under the loving gaze of Mother Isabella. The children live a peaceful life studying, helping around the house, and playing together within the safety of the walls. One day, they receive the bittersweet news that a family has selected one among them. Two of the oldest kids run after her to return her stuffed bunny, only to find horror instead as demons drop her lifeless body into a jar. She’ll keep for later.

The orphanage turns out to be nothing more than a child farm and Isabella is the shepherd. The three smartest, Emma, Norman, and Ray, begin to plot their escape. Can they take everyone?

As alluded to in my opener, I am disappointed that The Promised Neverland reveals the truth behind the orphanage in the first episode. It could have held onto that secret for another episode or two. This isn’t a case like Death Note, where seeing the story from both sides enhances the conflict and drama. See, a major problem – really, the core problem – of this anime is the bad villains. Improving this single area would alleviate several other problems, such as the too-brief mystery, which itself isn’t automatically a problem. As I said, Death Note gives it away and it works in favour of the story. Seeing the villains’ perspectives here adds little of value.

The Promised Neverland has three villains: Isabella, Sister Krone, and the demons. The demons are a shadowy entity in the background with scant minutes of airtime across the series and don’t matter beyond the catalyst for child farming. They don’t need explanation. The two women, however, are central to the plot. Isabella is the quiet, measured, plotting type who knows more than she lets on. With each passing episode, I expect some deeper revelation to her character that will explain who she is, why she is. All we get is a few seconds of backstory that barely explain anything. She is flat. Nor do we see her cunning actions enough to become a smart antagonist.

Worse is Sister Krone (subtle name, you got there). She comes in to assist Isabella, but harbours ambitions of becoming a Mother herself. She is comically bad. The performance, both in English and Japanese, is horrendous on a level up there with Jared Leto’s Joker. I don’t blame the actors for this. No performance could save her writing. It’s so over the top and manic, meant to be frightening (akin to the Joker pretending to be a loving nun) that it elicits only laughter. Her impact on the story is negligible as well. I image later seasons will bring he back for some ungodly reason.

Speaking of, I think this story would have worked better as a single season narrative. Despite remaining engaged from start to finish, I have no motivation to watch the next season unless I hear great things from a trusted source. I get the impression that future arcs will focus on the demons and the unresolved issues at the orphanage. The demons, I don’t need an explanation; the resolution of the orphanage, I expect to find repetitive.

If a single season of 12 episodes was it, complete story start to finish, I can’t imagine we would have wasted time on Krone or had Isabella remain puddle deep (one can see they are “saving her for later”). Restrictions often increase creativity and quality because there are only so many minutes on screen, so many words on the page that when the editing starts, the weak links hit the cutting room floor. If you have any familiarity with multi-season American TV shows, you will know what it’s like to see weak content added for the sake of extending the story to a fifth, sixth, seventh season when the studio renews.

So, I have vehement criticisms, yet I stay engaged to the end – why? Well, the main characters, primarily. Emma, Norman, and Ray work great. Upon first seeing their designs, I predicted their roles and arcs in the story (the energetic yet naïve one, the clever yet emotionless one, and the emo yet ruthless one, respectively). They surprise me though. Yes, they are the archetypes I predicted, but they aren’t the stereotypes I expected. Emma is naïve and idealistic, saying she would even take snitches when they escape (they suspect some kids feed information to Isabella), which is a truly dumb idea when many lives are on the line. However, she also displays moments of brilliance in both mind and heart. Remember, these three kids are supposed to be the smartest. Unlike most anime with “genius” characters that are actually dumb as bricks and only win because the author says so, these three show real brains (not in the way the demons would prefer, of course). It helps that they aren’t pitched as reality altering geniuses.

My favourite element of this story is seeing the kids figure it all out. How does Isabella know where they are at all times? Who is snitching on them? Is someone snitching? How can they escape with kids who still pick their noses and eat it? Why do the demons want them and what determines the next “adopted” child? How do they train for escape with Isabella surveying their every move? Seeing them work through this systematically is most engaging. It would have been that much better if the villains were equally engaging obstacles to the goal though.

The Promised Neverland, in the face my criticisms, receives my easy recommendation. The core of the story and its characters are sound, pulling you from one episode to the next with fast pacing and clever cliffhangers. You will want to watch just one more episode.

Art – High

The art is good, notably in animation. The demon designs are freaky, though the world itself could do with more creativity.

Sound – High

You can go with either language here. The music infuses a creepy atmosphere and I like the OP song – will probably add it to my playlist.

Story – High

A group of orphans realise that the promised land of a family is a one-way trip down a demon’s gullet in reality and the orphanage is a farm. Other than revealing the mystery too soon, The Promised Neverland delivers a tense thriller that captures your attention to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. The Promised Neverland is an easy recommendation from me to anyone unless child abuse in any form is too much for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Gosick – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gosick

 

Similar: Black Butler

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Heaven’s Memo Pad

Ghost Hunt

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pretty environments.
  • Good acting.

Negatives:

  • Omnipotent detective.
  • Whiny guy and tantrum girl don’t make for great leads.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I love how anime schools are beyond reality. Some go so grand, so outlandish that no real school would ever look like this. I think of Bakemonogatari’s school often, with its sky-scraping glass tower that serves no purpose other than great cinematography. Only anime can abuse the “rule of cool” so much for a mere school. Gosick has one such school. It’s a grand gothic and Victorian mix with an indoor botanical garden large enough to fit another school. And I love it. Not particularly relevant to this review – just thought I’d mention it!

As for the story proper, Gosick is about a 13-year-old Kazuya, who happens upon a doll-like girl around his age called Victorique de Blois in the school’s grand library. She’s an odd girl, keeping to herself and not possessing particularly keen manners, despite her prim appearance. Kazuya intrigues her, however, and she decrees that he is to be her plaything to entertain her with stories in the garden atop the school, when not joining her in solving mysteries, of course. She throws tantrums when bored, but switches on her genius when summoned for a case.

Contrary to the goth loli design, she isn’t lewded to sinful heaven like most of her archetype. Frankly, I consider this a miracle. There is a mild explanation for her petite stature in her backstory, but I think the artist just liked the look. She truly is a dress-up doll. I’m still not a fan of the type, though I do appreciate some effort went into incorporating her design into the rest of the art.

The story, for the most part, is Sherlock Holmes & Watson style crime mysteries. Now that, I love. They start with a few small cases, including a ghost ship, that last a few episodes each before it delves into a grander story about her origins and the tale of her cursed mother. More on this later.

I’m sorry to report, however, that these mysteries aren’t going to impress anyone with a modicum of experience in the genre. The major issue is Victorique’s omnipotence. She will say exactly what happened in some cases without ever going to the scene. It’s not as though she makes an educated guess, which she adjusts and confirms later on through investigation. No, she says exactly how it transpired. Furthermore, the audience can’t solve these mysteries ahead of time by catching clues. I don’t know if this was intentional by the writer to make her seem smarter or if the writer didn’t have the skill.

This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if it had something else going for it, such as strong characters you want to join in the adventure. Here too we have a problem. Kazuya is weak – too wimpy for a Watson substitute. I don’t get his personality choice. The dynamic between him and Victorique is for him to be her pet, her plaything, yet he doesn’t have a strength to counterbalance this weakness. He’s loyal and kind to her, but that just makes him a better servant. The original Watson is a good sidekick to Holmes, yes, but he also brings common sense and a clarity Holmes lacks when tunnel-visioned on a case. Watson must take charge at times. Kazuya doesn’t feel like an independent character who would exist without her.

As for Victorique, her tantrums are annoying. I assume (correctly) that it’s meant to endear her towards us and fit her child-like design. I just find it tiresome. They don’t make sense with her otherwise “mature” persona – not played as some flaw, like a mature outward façade covering a vulnerable inner core either. It comes across as an excuse to have a loli throwing tantrums because that’s what the writer likes. It doesn’t mesh.

Humour arrives in the form of her brother, who has hair that could pierce the heavens. He also works as a detective, but with his inferior skills, he often resorts to taking credit for his reclusive sister’s work. He’s a bit on the weird side for a gothic mystery, though is more memorable and focused than the other two.

Back to the story, once the opening cases are over with, the main story is more interesting, yet becomes less of a crime mystery. Gosick ends up losing its genre focus halfway through. More interesting on one hand – loses the genre on the other. It’s leans action over mystery by the end, which I take as a positive after the mediocre cases in the early game.

I want to be clear: Gosick never becomes bad. This is simply an example where once you’ve seen better, it is difficult to go backwards. I could see myself recommending this had I watched it a decade ago.

Art – High

I wouldn’t expect a series reliant on a goth loli to put any effort in the art. Gosick has surprisingly high production values. The environments look particularly good.

Sound – High

The music is appropriately gothic and the acting is good. No notable complaints here.

Story – Medium

A boy helps a doll-like girl with her hobby of playing detective – then the cases get personal. The mysteries are good enough to hold one’s attention, but if you’ve seen better, you’ll crave something more.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For mystery beginners. Gosick is an easy enough anime to watch unless you are used to more captivating mysteries.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None