Look at any poster, video or screenshot of Zegapain. It looks like trash. It requires effort to make characters this generic and to have mecha designs this ugly. This doesn’t happen by accident. The dialogue is just as you imagine accompanying that art. So why would a reader recommend I review Zegapain, likening it to RahXephon in the process? I was even more confused after the first episode – one of anime’s worst starts.
It opens on protagonist Kyo having to kiss a guy disguised as a girl for a student film by his friend Ryoko. He refuses, notices a buxom babe on the high dive outside, strips to his Speedos, and charges off to meet her. (Does he always wear swimmers instead of underwear?) His enthusiasm comes from finding a new recruit to his dying swim club. Next thing he knows, he’s part of a conference call with the military. The girl, Misaki, puts his hand on her boob, pulls him into her chest, and they teleport aboard a mech. (Right…) She tells him to treat the battle like a VR game. I laughed when the mech warns of incoming enemies, but Misaki praises Kyo for spotting them so quickly – girl, he didn’t do anything! He fights perfectly without training. Though there is more to his story, it’s still a cataclysmically stupid idea to bring him to the front line. A better writer would sell the situation.
Before first episode’s end, it is evident that the characters have no depth – I imagine the brainstorm session took five minutes. Only a couple have goals and motivations. The battle tech is a bunch of ‘stuff’ doing ‘things’ cobbled together without thought of how this works or how it came to be.
Needless to say, but Zegapain seems like a bottom-dwelling anime at this point.
However, after a few more battles of floaty CG and meaningless action, Kyo finds a glitch on the battlefield. A message tells him not to believe his world. And that’s where things start to get interesting. We have a Matrix situation here, except he can’t be sure of which world is reality. If his high school is virtual, then who are all these people? And how did the outside world turn to ruin? More and more mysteries unfold as the plot develops, resulting in an intriguing storyline. I’m as astonished as you are.
Of course, it doesn’t erase the fact that the script seems randomly generated or that the characters are surface deep, but this one strength is enough for me to enjoy Zegapain to the end.
Kyo is still a bad protagonist. He’s far too accepting of everything for the convenience of the writer’s laziness. He teleports suddenly from school to the battleship thanks to a gizmo in his forehead, is about to ask where the gizmo came from and how he got it, when he says, “Ah, whatever, it got me here after all.” Even more reason to question it, you idiot! And what is the obsession with returning to this swim club subplot every episode? It doesn’t matter! Hell, why swimming? It isn’t realistic that a swim club in the heat of Japan’s summer would struggle for members. It’s for Misaki in the swimsuit, isn’t it?
Several episodes that lean more slice of life are a waste of time as well and the antagonists are as weak as the heroes. Despite all these faults, something about the reality versus virtual reality plot gets me. It just gets me.
Zegapain is a hidden gem— well, gem is a bit much. More like a peculiar stone on the riverbank with an unusual texture that a few will find interesting.
Art – Very Low
Zegapain approaches Hand Shakers level of CG with its mechs. Furthermore, why make them CG if you aren’t going to take advantage of the easier animation tools? What was the point? The regular art has zero creativity and even randomly drops in quality on occasion.
The voice actors do the best they can with this bad script. I think the music came royalty free.
Story – Medium
A teen has to distinguish between reality and the virtual world amidst an alien occupation and high school troubles. The characters and action may have no merit, but the plots works well.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Give it a chance. Zegapain is most engaging if you can enjoy a good story in the face of weak characters and ugly art.
Metropolis adapts the 1949 manga of the same name from the creator of Astro Boy (hence the character designs), Osamu Tezuka, who based this story on a single image of the famous 1927 Metropolis silent film. As such, despite sharing a name and setting, the two versions have little in common.
The city of Metropolis rose to greatness thanks to leaps and bounds in technological advancements. Robots have replaced much of the manual labour and menial tasks. However, what should have been a utopia of man and machine, has turned into a class war. Robots are second-class citizens, attacked and destroyed by rioters on a daily basis. They cannot venture beyond their designated zones. Japanese detective Shunsaku and his nephew Kenichi arrive in town on the trail of an organ trafficking case, but the master of Metropolis, Duke Red, has plans involving a robot girl of his creation that throws them off track.
Metropolis draws you in with its city design. Life bustles and clanks along on every corner and in every alley, creating a sense of wonder and a desire to see more. But a film is about story, and it’s not long before you start to ask where this elusive feature has gone. Every character moves in every scene – it never stops to sit down and show us motion within characters. More scenes go towards showing us the world and all the fancy art techniques used than towards developing characters. Art came over story.
The plodding pace of the first act is manageable thanks to the world, though once in the second act and the pace is still like gears grinding together, it becomes difficult to pay attention. The heroes are your standard good guys, which is obviously not ideal, yet I believe the true problem lies with the antagonists. The Duke is your typical Big Boss Villain atop the Tower, residing in the background for the most part (why does he look like a cockatoo?). The other is his adopted son, Rock. He goes after the robot girl, intent on destroying her out of jealousy. The Duke lost his daughter and would rather create an artificial replacement over accepting Rock. His daddy issues aren’t interesting because they lack a foundation to make us care or see them as a problem. We have a few brief interactions between father and son that serve to advance plot, not deepen character. One could say the same for much of the cast. They are tools to the story, nothing more.
The third act finally gets it together to give us action atop the highest skyscraper, which makes for a spectacular and tense set piece. Emotion and character enter the spotlight as the truth behind the robot girl comes out. The Duke reached for the sun in his beloved city and it went beyond his control. He constructed his tower too high and it fell so far. You may notice this as an adaptation of the Tower of Babel, and you’d be right – Metropolis outright states this. Some subtlety would be nice.
I love art as much as anyone does, but story is more important. Metropolis has plenty of the former and mere morsels of the latter.
Art – Very High
Tezuka’s Astro Boy character art of Popeye biceps and effeminate curls on everyone has never looked good to me. It doesn’t hold up, nor does the once spectacular CG for several scenes. I was going to give the art a High rating, until the finale blew me away. It’s magnificent.
Sound – Medium
The acting is fine in either language, while the music is serviceable. The finale song is the only standout.
Story – Low
A detective and his nephew become involved in the plight of a robot girl amidst a technologically advanced city. Metropolis put nine out of ten energy cells into the art, leaving a blinking check engine light for the characters and plot.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For art fans. Metropolis is an engaging time if great art alone can sustain your enjoyment.
In a world where everyone has large anime eyes, Ryuuji’s narrow eyes and pinpoint irises mark him as a thug, the worst kind of thug, a thug that is…nice. Taiga is a doll of a girl, tiny, cute, and a bundle rage that hates her public image of a fragile midget. As is natural, these two opposites collide and help set each other up with their crushes – Ryuuji likes Taiga’s best friend, while Taiga likes his best friend. And they’re neighbours. What a coincidence! But could it be that they are meant to be with each other? Find out in Toradora!
I have watched too much anime. Watching Toradora, I realised I had seen it all before several times, though not to this anime’s fault. I have to shift my mindset if I want to analyse it fairly. Ever wonder why all of those atrocious games journalists think “artsy” indie games are masterpieces? It’s because they’ve played too many games and those faux-deep indies are something different from the popular titles. Something different can instil a false sense of quality to a lazy “critic”. Ironically, they probably haven’t played enough games or they would have experienced the inspirators already. I never want to be in that cesspool.
So, to give Toradora a fair chance – or honestly, any art a fair chance – I look at its own merits. Of course, part of that merit is to see if it learnt from its predecessors. You can’t release a story without character development and claim it’s a masterpiece just because that’s how stories were thousands of years ago. It is important to note that nothing in fiction is original. Nothing. Instead, what we mean by originality is how an artwork brings all its pieces together and at what skill level.
Alright, Toradora has the ‘opposites attract’ main couple, and its initial plot is the ‘help each other find love, only to realise it was beside us all along’ type. I am sure that all of you, dear readers, can think of several stories to have these two tropes. However, these two together is rarer. The more you mix elements, the more ‘original’ something feels. (Keep in mind not to be different for the sake of being different.) Toradora uses these two elements to great comedic results.
Ryuuji and Taiga concoct ridiculous schemes to pair the other up with his/her crush. Ryuuji knocks out his friend in sports class and takes the friend to the med bay so Taiga can spend time with him. Genius plan! She could just ask him, but noooooo… (Where have I written that before…?) I love the ludicrousness of anime romantic comedies.
One episode has Taiga give her love letter to the wrong guy. Hell, she doesn’t even put the letter in the envelope. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. Everything goes wrong when her breast padding slips out in the school swimming pool. No one can know she is flat. I do have a problem with how hard they try to make her seem tough sometimes. It weakens the joke.
The supporting cast complements the main, particularly Taiga’s best friend/Ryuuji’s crush, reminiscent of Kill la Kill’s Mako (or rather, vice versa). I love that cheerleader type sidekick and wouldn’t say no to more of them.
Toradora isn’t without its touches of drama. The core theme of finding and being honest about yourself works well in bringing conflict amidst the comedy. One drama subplot that falls flat involves Taiga’s absentee father. He storms back into her life making promises, only to leave her disappointed. The subplot lacks impact (like her father, aye?) and could have gone further. It’s a minor point, regardless.
The ending plot is a bit…odd, but oddness is the hallmark of anime. And the end is rather sweet.
Alright, I’m going to leave it here. I have my first moment of free time in three months, so I finally have the opportunity to play some games. Reviews should be back to routine as well.
Art – High
Good character designs – distinctive protagonists. I wish the rest had the same level of effort. The animation is nice too.
Sound – High
Good voice work. The same actress voices taiga’s best friend and Mako from Kill la Kill for a hilarious sidekick. I didn’t like any of the theme songs in the slightest.
Story – High
A guy that looks like a thug and doll-like midget girl try to break free of the prejudice of others. Toradora mixes humour, heart, and a touch of drama to make a solid high school anime.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A must for high school anime fans. If you haven’t seem much of the genre, then Toradora will likely impress. However, if you are familiar, then you won’t find much new here. Good series nonetheless.
Length: 45-60 hours (15-20 hours per arc, depending on reading speed)
50% word count in excess.
More telling than showing.
Useless ‘gamey’ elements.
Poor lore and mechanic explanations.
World feels empty.
No basis to the romance.
Worst sex scene ever put to fiction.
Fate is a massive franchise, having mutated from a visual novel of three arcs into a tentacled monster of anime, games, and spinoffs. Due to its size and popularity, I followed a ‘watch order’ guide and started with the Fate/stay night visual novel since the anime Fate/stay night mashes all three arcs into one mess.
The story opens strong in the prologue with the red girl, Rin, a few character/world building scenes, and Rin summoning her servant Archer. We meet much of the human cast in efficient time and the stakes are clear. Seven mages will summon legendary figures from history or mythology to fight for the Holy Grail, granting a single wish. We also learn that a servant’s identity is of utmost importance, for knowing the hero is to know their weakness and ultimate weapon. Instead of names, they go by their class – Saber, Archer, Berserker, Rider, Assassin, Caster, and Lancer. (This cleared much confusion about why I had seen characters with the same names across the Fate franchise.) Typically, only the servant and master know the true name. Archer, however, can’t remember his identity.
So, we have the characters, the world, the stakes, interesting lore, a good concept, and a decent pace in a short period. The writing could use work, but it’s not bad.
Then the story resets once you start the first arc proper, titled Fate, where we now follow the actual protagonist, Shirou (introduced in the prologue), only to repeat the same story save a change or two, and dump a ton of exposition. The writing nosedives and the pacing stalls, which coupled with the bad art, makes Fate/stay night a difficult journey to complete.
First, Shirou is a rubbish character, only marginally better than your usual idiot harem protagonist. Fate/stay night is a harem of sorts, with each arc defined by which of the three girls Shirou pursues. And by pursues, I mean makes no effort to attract. He also gains free power when convenient for the plot.
Arc one centres on Shirou paired with his servant, the blonde knight Saber, who is one of the few good features of the story thanks to her backstory. The second arc, Unlimited Blade Works, has Rin as the love interest with Saber shifted to a minor character, which feels clumsy because she’s still crucial, yet forgotten most of the time in favour of Archer. Heaven’s Feel switches the romance to childhood friend Sakura. Each arc builds on the previous, so it’s important to play them in order if you want the full story, though expect a lot of repetition for the mechanics, rules explanations, and introductions. Characters also have inconsistencies across arcs.
Back to Shiro, much of the first act is girls fawning over him, when not expositing. An early scene has Shirou and three girls yammering on about him and food. I set the novel to auto, left for dinner, and returned to find then still at it. Almost all 15 days per arc has one of these ‘eating’ scenes that drones on for hours. These conversations don’t advance the plot or develop character either, often going in circles to repeat the same garbage until you want to choose one of the bad endings, just to end it all. They are filler, proven no more effectively than by their marked absence in the Unlimited Blade Works anime. There’s more food related scenes than action in this “action” series.
The exposition may be worse. Repeated exposition from the prologue aside, the way Rin explains the lore (exposition parrot is her main job) and mechanics is like a poorly written dictionary. Furthermore, the Fate series has these pointless game elements such as grades for character attributes and magic levels. What a lazy and binary technique of representing character power. Worse yet, they don’t matter. If the plot needs an A+ servant injured by a weak attack, then it will happen. Remove these statistics and nothing is lost. Instead, why not build the world. Fate/stay night gives the impression of having 20 people in existence. So many words, yet such an empty world.
Any editor can remove half the text with a cursory glance from all the filler. Even plot text is over written, full of stating the obvious and explaining an action just before doing it.
‘I should go to the kitchen.’
‘I go to the kitchen.’
‘I should eat something.’
‘I eat something.’
Imagine that, but with five times the words.
Arriving at the plot, matters improve little. After spending so much time establishing the rules, insisting upon the importance of character statistics and each servant’s power, Fate/stay night throws all the rules out the window and does whatever. I don’t imagine the writer bothered to edit for consistency. I don’t imagine he edited at all.
For a plot that’s about everyone fighting to the death, few characters actually fight to the death. I can’t remember how many times a good guy lives because a villain just lets them go. Hell, the loli girl, master of Berserker, captures Shirou and instead of killing him, takes him home to become her slave (of sex?). Of course he gets away, rendering the event pointless. The alliance between Rin and Shirou also makes little sense, stretching the limits of plausibility for why a girl, whose life training prepared her to crush mages and servants, would forget all that faster than a sneeze.
But, none of the above makes Fate/stay night a terrible visual novel. Amateurish, sure. Requiring an editor? Certainly. Only once you find the true purpose for this game’s creation can you witness its soul. Much like the Holy Grail isn’t what it seems, Fate/stay night isn’t an action series, nor is it a fantasy – well, yes, it is a fantasy, though not the sort one normally thinks of. All of this – the legendary heroes, the magic, the violence, the lore – serves as a self-insert fantasy for the author to get it on with the ladies.
If you are of innocent mind, then avert thine eyes and skip the next paragraph, for I have to describe the first “session of love” if I am to truly impress upon you the horrendousness of this text. The excuse to have sex is retardedly hilarious. Prepare yourselves (or your anus, in Rin’s case), we are about to enter the worst erotic fiction ever conceived.
After a lost battle, Shirou, Saber, and Rin flee to an abandoned house in enemy territory. Saber has little energy left and with Berserker on the hunt, they need to recharge her before the next fight. What’s the one surefire way to recharge a servant? You guessed it: have sex. Feeding her energy had never been a problem until now, but hey, we have to ram sex scenes in somehow. Saber is hesitant, so Rin must take charge and ready her for the ritual by lubricating the knight. Rin becomes an instant bisexual, Saber – the all-powerful Saber – a weak, quivering girl, whose lips say no but her body says yes. Then Shirou mans up to do his duty, despite being so totally against it all, and the self-insert fantasy enters full swing in an orgy of awkward prose, bad anatomy, and most importantly, cringe. The way actions and sensations are described gives the impression that the author had never had sex before.
These characters change into new people for the scene (except Shirou – he’s always a loser) to justify sex. I should mention that this forms the basis of Shirou and Saber’s romantic thread… This scene is so bad that I considered the idea someone had pranked me by modding my game with fan fiction. I didn’t know this was an eroge beforehand.
The second sex scene with Saber is vanilla, but full of, “No, you mustn’t…” “There’s no need to suck that…” “No, don’t touch me there…” The other arcs also have their share of ridiculous erotica, though none as hilarious as the Shirou-Saber-Rin bender. Like the exposition and food scenes, the erotica contributes nothing. The author has no sense of focus.
What does Fate/stay night look like when it isn’t about the sex? We’ll find out in the next review, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Or better yet, when the author isn’t involved? See the Fate/Zero review after that.
Art – Very Low
The character art looks like amateur work you find on DeviantArt, as if the artist copied someone else. With no animation to contend with, the art has no excuse looking this cheap. A later port added some improved art shots.
Sound – Low
The music is bland, the voice work stiff.
Story – Low
Mages summon heroes of mythology and history to fight to the death for the Holy Grail. Fate/stay night’s good concept receives no help from the writer, who can’t do exposition, or romance, or pacing.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: Avoid it…then again, you may want to play the first arc to see what horrific writing looks like. Fate/stay night is worse than the sum of its parts thanks to its atrocious technical writing, filler, and most particularly, the sex scenes. Watch Fate/Zero first, since this game spoils parts of that superior series.
It’s no secret that trash overwhelmingly populates the harem genre. It’s also common knowledge that harem is mainstream among anime fans, as a harem entry hits the charts each season. Fans also forget them just as quickly when the next season throws a new batch of waifus to pick from.
Harem anime is the easiest genre to make and thus floods the new release list every few months. To stand out from the orgy, studios select series that can bait the reader in, whether through an all-monster-girl cast, picking up girls in a dungeon, or making every girl be the guy’s teachers. A-1 Pictures’ gamble to go meta-harem with Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend paid off, wedging it between the breasts of fellow harems The Testament of Sister New Devil (what is this name?) and Absolute Duo in that season’s top 10. Parodying the genre elevates you above the genre, yes? Well, let’s find out.
Saekano follows high school otaku Tomoya in his dream to make the most compelling harem visual novel. To this task, he recruits illustrator Eriri, bestselling author Utaha, and boring girl Megumi as model for the main character. However, to tap into the emotions required for a compelling visual novel, he and his ‘super team’ must experience these emotions themselves.
So, the excuse for a harem this time is the creation of the visual novel, where 99% of harem anime come from, which is a better excuse than most. The characters comment on the harem – getdown with the meta – in the process of crafting the game characters, writing the story, and designing the illustrations, often to comedic results. Episode 0 is full meta, as it assigns each character a role in the harem anime – think of a harem LARP. This Episode 0 deceptively sets up the idea that Saekano is a meta harem, which is not the case, as it’s more of a workplace anime like Shirobako and New Game before it then becomes an ordinary harem.
Giving the characters jobs that drive their progression is a nice addition. (Ever notice how most harem characters do nothing in life?) Even so, Tomoya isn’t much more interesting than your average harem protagonist. He’s about light novel protagonist level. The greatest missed opportunity lies in Megumi. It would have been much more interesting if she were nothing like the ‘boring girlfriend’ archetype required for the game. Instead, make her the opposite but have to act like the generic harem main girl. What we have is an unironic bland girl with no arc, whose main purpose is to create the clickbait title of the anime.
The third act of season one introduces Tomoya’s cousin, a musician, whom he recruits to compose music for the game. Up to this point, most episodes focused on each character’s role (Saekano still uses the harem structure of ‘let each girl have their turn’). When the cousin enters, it’s her turn to jump Tomoya and there’s nothing meta or ironic about the cousin-cest. The usual accidental flashing, towel drops, no boundaries, and shallow titillation fill the screen time. Saekano becomes the cliché it’s supposedly parodying. Season one is a bore.
Funnily enough, season two opens with new meta about the first season, mocking it as boring and clichéd. “How did such a generic anime get a second season?” And Saekano sees a marked improvement from there. Work takes centre stage with serious conflict. The team struggles with finding the answers to what will make for a compelling game in the face of deadlines. Eriri and Utaha also receive an offer to work on a professional project. This creates Saekano’s best moment, when Tomoya has to face the reality that he isn’t cut out to lead a team of professionals. Eriri and Utaha aren’t amateurs, yet he treats them as such, not demanding of them the same quality as you would of a professional. For the first time in a harem, the protagonist is punished for being too nice. Progress!
You may be asking yourself about what happened to the meta. Saekano’s core failure is a lack of focus. Is it a harem parody? No, it’s a romance. Wait, no, it’s about finding success in life. Saekano needed to choose one and relegate the others to subplots instead of giving each one main plot time in turn (ironically, just as harem does with its girls). A symptom of this failure is no more evident than when Tomoya fades as protagonist in season two. He becomes a supporting character in his own story! (Not a great loss, if I’m honest.)
Saekano is still above most harem, but only average by other standards, which is far better than anyone should expect.
Art – Low
Saekano uses the style of coloured lines instead of black for character outlines – as seen in Bakemonogatari – but at random, giving characters an off-putting neon glow. A-1 Pictures tried copying Shaft without purpose. Bad CG intrudes at odd times, such as when the author is typing. No artistry either. It really wants you to find these girls sexy with how it pans across anywhere but the face.
Sound – Medium
The acting is fine with nothing outstanding. Music is forgettable.
Story – Medium
A visual novel aficionado convinces a bestselling author, a respected illustrator, and a random girl to join his project of creating the best harem visual novel. A lack of focus holds this story back, though still succeeds in parts.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For harem fans only. Saekano’s meta humour and effort at conflict make a more interesting anime than the usual harem. Its faults still confine it to the genre.