Category Archives: Science Fiction

Technology and civilisation have advanced beyond our current situation.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Arata Naru Tatakai no Overture

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (main series)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction War Drama

Length: 1 hr. 30 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Emotion conveyed without words.
  • Theme of opposed power.
  • Great final battle.
  • Excellent audio, as always.

Negatives:

  • Overlap with the series’ start.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In the previous film, My Conquest is the Sea of Stars, admirals didn’t like this young Reinhard Lohengramm upstart gaining glory. They dismissed him, saying he wouldn’t get far. Now he’s on the path to admiral. The position is within his grasp, which rankles other power players due to his royal family connection since his sister married the Kaiser.

For Yang on the opposing faction, we see a more personal side of him, as being a hero in the war requires personal sacrifices. One scene has Yang relinquish his feelings for a woman, and hers for him, when his friend proposes to her. There’s no dialogue – visuals and music convey this emotional moment alone, reminiscent of the final battle from the previous movie.

The villain this time is a warmonger working behind the scene to profit off the war and make sure it goes on forever.

Overture taps into the same themes from early in the main series – command and power. Reinhard was given executive power to override any dissenters, whereas Yang can’t do anything without approval from above. This theme plays out several times to significant effect on the soldiers depending to their commander’s competence, ending in a great battle. I like that these movies use their time to give more perspective from the lower ranks. It builds the society a little each time.

This is more of the franchise I know and love. The writing is engaging, the characters complex, and the conflict ripe. To detail these would be to repeat my Legend of the Galactic Heroes review, so read that for the full picture.

Overture to a New War is the lead up to the start of the series, ending in the show’s first battle, though with a few changes. As such, this is a good taster of what Legend of the Galactic Heroes has to offer.

Art – High

A slight improvement over the main series.

Sound – Very High

The acting and classical soundtrack has not missed a step.

Story – Very High

Overture to a New War tells of events just before the start of the main series, adding a new villain and emotional challenges for Yang. This movie doesn’t deviate in quality from its parent story.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Overture to a New War is a great place to start the venerable series if intimidated by its runtime, though events have added significance if you know what is to come.

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Planetes – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Planetes

 

Similar: Moonlight Mile

Space Brothers

Cowboy Bebop

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance Drama

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Final act.

Negatives:

  • Romance has no chemistry.
  • No characters of note.
  • More slice of life than drama for acts one and two.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Does this really fall under the ‘drama’ category? I asked myself this question a lot when watching Planetes. Until the third act, this should be classified as ‘slice of life’ for how little occurs and how dull the characters are.

Planetes is about a crew aboard a space station and their jobs as space debris collectors. The opening scene is of a loose screw shattering a space liner’s window, killing all inside. Ever since then, Earth has made an effort to clean up space. Tanabe is the newest member of the collection crew, joining an odd bunch of misfits who have no manners, including Hachimaki, a 25-year-old with dreams of owning a spaceship of his own. Their equipment is trash. At this rate, they are likely to add more trash to space instead of reduce it.

After the disaster in the opening, I expected similar tense situations to be a regular occurrence, similar to Moonlight Mile. A few episodes in, no such event has occurred. Alright, Planetes is a better Moonlight Mile, giving characters time to grow in between disasters rather than the end-to-end disasters of the latter. The characters still haven’t given me reason to care, but let’s give them a chance. So far, it’s mostly about putting up with living with each other, bickering, and corporate bureaucracy.

Several more episodes pass, and still no significant events wake me up from my stupor. They had time to give us an episode on space weeaboos – funny, but does nothing for the plot – though not a moment of tension. The downtime with character hasn’t developed them into anything interesting either.

It is at this point I realise Planetes isn’t good. It’s middle-of-the-road boring.

You have a mismatched crew trying to emulate Cowboy Bebop with none of the chemistry that made Bebop’s crew great. Tanabe using the clichéd anime introduction of yelling your profile put me off her right away. A story-lite series can’t sustain itself unless the characters are some of the best in the business. The episode about the girl born and living on the moon for research on the human body is interesting, though still not about the main story.

You have a romance between Tanabe and Hachimaki with as much electricity as a rubber gasket. He’s an ego-driven brute who constantly reproaches her and keeps flaking on the relationship, while she’s a woman of zero strength that rarely stands her ground against his selfishness. I despise female leads that never find strength.

Even so, I stuck with it for the sake of the review and to my surprise, the third act finally starts the story. Hurrah!

Humanity prepares to send a manned mission to Jupiter, calling on everyone in the world to apply. Hachimaki signs up in some desperate bid to do more with life. What follows is a series of trials to find the best candidates – Tanabe is a background character by now. Finally we have intense character-to-character conflict that isn’t the bickering of daily life. The theme of corporate morality also becomes a focal point, as only the rich will get richer when they colonise Jupiter, widening the wealth gap for the rest.

Planetes is quite preachy in its morals. It is many characters telling you how you should feel, rather than expressing their own opinions and leaving it to audience interpretation. Even though the story picks up in the third act, I don’t find myself much invested because the characters mean nothing to me. Those prior episodes didn’t use their time well.

Planetes and Moonlight Mile need to have a baby, combining the former’s ability to slow down with the latter’s penchant for disasters.

Art – High

Clean character art and detailed enough environments are nice, but the tech detail is where it’s at.

Sound – Medium

Voice work could be better – why is there so much shouting? Tanabe’s girlfriends sound so annoying.

Story – Low

Planetes tells of the lives of a crew aboard a space station collecting space debris. With so many characters, few of which have much to say, a flaccid romance, and conflict that doesn’t start until the third act, this story is more slice of life than drama.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. You may find Planetes more interesting than I did. Outside the third act, it has no pulse.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Poor Pacing

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: The Origin

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Loum Arc (sequel)

Mobile Suit Gundam (original version)

Similar: Code Geass

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action

Length: 4 episodes (1 hr. each)

 

Positives:

  • “Char” Aznable.
  • A Gundam protagonist that earns every step of his power.
  • Mix of politics, assassinations, and war.
  • No Gundam vagueness.

Negatives:

  • Ill-suited slapstick.
  • (Where is my next episode?)

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is pitched as a retelling of the series that started it all, Mobile Suit Gundam. Of course I would watch a remake of a classic I enjoyed. I thought we would open on Amuro, the original protagonist, so when it focused on a blond child called Casval and his little sister, I admit to my confusion. Where’s Amuro?

As it turns out, Gundam: The Origin starts before the original, at the inciting incident that led Char Aznable on the path to become such an enigmatic figure in the wars to come. I am hooked. Char is the most interesting character in Universal Century Gundam, so to see him as protagonist, with his backstory explored in depth, is a delight.

After a teaser of adult Char in a space battle, we return to him as a child on a space colony. His family’s high-class life shatters with the sudden death of his father, an advocate for Spacenoid (citizens of space colonies) independence. The father’s supporters smell foul play in this “natural” death and anarchy breaks loose on the streets. Everything is in disarray. Who’s in charge? Who’s allied with whom? What does each player in the game want? Answers are hard to find.

Char, his sister, and his mother are now valuable pieces in either inciting further action or quelling the riots. Life pushes them around. For Char, however, this isn’t a life worth living. He begins to plot a course towards revenge. Will he get revenge though? And on whom? With so many players in the game, his quest won’t be an easy one.

Gundam: The Origin is a good show in all aspects, but Char makes it great. As an anti-hero, we are never quite sure what he will do to achieve his goal. When he’s friendly with someone, we a never sure if he’s actually friends with them or up to something. Up to something – that’s a good way of summing up Char. He’s always up to something

Beyond him, Gundam: The Origin has an extensive cast, each with a purpose in this political maelstrom. Friends, enemies, or somewhere in between, you will meet all sorts. Barring some random slapstick, the cast feels written for an older audience than typical Gundam, which I suspect stems from having an older protagonist in Char. It’s a refreshing change, especially coupled with him earning power and skill through work rather than having it all thrown at him like other Gundam series (Unicorn) that I will not mention here (Unicorn).

The writing as a whole is leaps better than what I expect from a Universal Century series. Vague dialogue is nowhere in sight. No one stands in the open cockpit of a mech preparing to self-destruct while they spout some “cool” line instead of running clear. The conflict and political landscape is coherent (unless intentionally masked for story), free of the vague nonsense that plagues this franchise. There is no rambling on about the ‘dialogues’ to come, the ‘dialogues’ that will solve all, the bloody ‘dialogues’ that will answer the meaning of bloody life! No complaints about the writing from me this time.

And so, we reach my major gripe. Where is my next episode? I want more, damn it! You can’t just start the story, give me all this good writing, an amazing protagonist, political intrigue that makes me lean forward, and then just end it right there. What are you playing at, Sunrise?

If future Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin entries maintain this quality, it could very well earn a ‘Very High’ rating from me.

Art – High

The chaotic action scenes use CG for the mechs and ships, but it works well, as spaceships don’t need much work and the particle effects mask it well. Unlike the recent Berserk that has random camera movements, just because, Gundam: The Origin takes advantage of the CG with a dynamic camera that dives into the action. Everything else is clean.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The script is less wishy-washy than other Universal Century Gundam. When a character needs to say something, they say it.

Story – High

A retelling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but from before the start with the events that made Char the legend he has become. I expected another Gundam Unicorn; I got something great instead.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is a great place to start for newcomers to the gargantuan franchise, while also giving plenty to veterans.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Now and Then, Here and There – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku

 

Similar: Grave of the Fireflies

Vision of Escaflowne

Future Boy Conan

Bokurano

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Drama Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Grim environments.

Negatives:

  • Little world building.
  • Doesn’t go far enough.
  • Uninspired and cheap character art.
  • Protagonist isn’t quite right.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When you set your story in a dystopian world where children kill each other, you must have your child characters kill each other. It is not enough to say that it happens in the world, yet somehow doesn’t happen around your characters. If you say the world is cruel, that is how cruel you must be as a writer. Now and Then, Here and There fails in this regard.

Our story starts in Japan with ordinary boy Shu going through an ordinary day, until he sees a blue-haired girl by the name of Lala-Ru. While defending her from attack, he is transported to another world, where water is most precious and drives war. That girl he was with, she can unleash water from her pendant and control it, making her priceless, especially to the mad king Hamdo. Shu meets another girl while imprisoned. She is Sara, who also teleported from Earth and is trapped in this desolate world. It’s not long before Shu’s captors conscript him into a child soldier army, whose primary job is pillaging villages for women to force into breeding more soldiers for Hamdo’s army.

As you can see above, Now and Then seems like a suitably grim tale, so how does it fail? Well, for a story about child soldiers, they don’t kill much.

Take a moment with me to imagine that everything in the blurb above described an adult male joining an army of adults in a world war. How much killing would you expect in such a story? Tons – you wouldn’t even have to think about it. Every WW1/2 movie on the frontlines kills people by the hundreds in a single scene. Now think of a child soldier army in WW1 – would the killing be any less? No. Of course, Now and Then’s world has a small population, but you can use relative scaling. The fundamental problem with this anime finds its roots in how lenient it is on its characters. Yes, even with one of them being raped (she has the arc that matches the premise most).

In the Warhammer 40k universe – the grimmest of all fiction universes – you don’t get stories of peace, of happy times, of paradise. “In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war,” is its tagline and therefore, paradise has no place in Warhammer 40k stories. If Now and Then’s author wasn’t willing to kill paradise and its children, he shouldn’t have written this story.

If I may divert towards Shu for a moment, I want to talk of his problems in this story. He isn’t a good fit, which is an odd thing to say, for he is by design an outsider to this foreign world. His starting point as an eternal optimist (read: every battle shounen protagonist) is fine and juxtaposes the grimness. Unfortunately, he doesn’t change with the experiences in this world, unlike Sara, the superior character. Shu’s reactions to this world are too…normal.

His obsession with Lala-Ru also makes it difficult to find emotional resonance. She has no personality. The author may as well have removed her and had just the pendant as the maguffin – wouldn’t have removed any emotion.

The war and the world suffer similar fates. Despite the widespread conflict, Hamdo’s flying fortress, and all the characters, this world doesn’t feel lived in. I can best describe it as a bunch of actor on stage with naught save a nice backdrop. You never get the sense that they are in the world of that backdrop. This all ties back to my earlier criticism of the characters. Without an emotional connection to the characters, the world, and the conflict, it all ends with a void, a void filled by niceties that shouldn’t be here.

Now and Then is halfway there. Some events are horrific and a reveal at the end of a supporting character’s arc is perfect for the genre. But where Now and Then fails, is in showing us the gravity of these moments. When a child shoots someone, it doesn’t feel like a traumatic event. When someone dies, it has the same impact as a throwaway character from the likes of Aldnoah.Zero or any ‘kids in war’ anime. And if this were pitched as a story like those action shounen, it could get away with a lower emotional ceiling. Now and Then, Here and There should be heart-wrenching.

It isn’t.

Art – Very Low

No detail to the poorly designed characters. The colouring is flat. They used the least animation they could get away with. While the backgrounds look great, everything else is cheap.

Sound – Medium

The main kid has an annoying voice in either language – trying too hard. Other voice work is fine. Watch it in Japanese.

Story – Medium

A boy finds himself transported to a world where water means everything, and beside him is a girl that can control water. Now and Then, Here and There’s dystopian tale of child soldiers and war doesn’t go far enough to earn the premise it presents.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. You have to be a fan of the genre to find your time worthwhile with Now and Then, Here and There. See Grave of the Fireflies for how far it should have gone.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World Building

Aldnoah.Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aldnoah.Zero

 

Related: Aldnoah.Zero 2nd Season (included in review)

Similar: Gundam SEED

Code Geass

Mobile Suit Gundam

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A few good music tracks.

Negatives:

  • Possibly anime’s worst protagonist.
  • Everyone is an idiot.
  • Illogical story directions.
  • The CG is distracting.
  • Forced exposition dialogue that never ends!
  • Laughable romance chemistry.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Why didn’t I listen? I don’t know why, but whenever I hear of genre plus premise combination I love, I underestimate the warnings. “How bad can it be?”

Humanity spread to space and settled on Mars, where they discovered a machine called ‘Aldnoah’ that gave them immense technological power. Not wanting to share this technology, the Vers Empire of Mars declared war on Earth. This war shattered the Moon’s hypergate that facilitated quick travel to Mars, leading to a ceasefire. Fifteen years later, the war restarts when the Martians assassinate their own Princess Asseylum, peace ambassador to Earth. The war sweeps up high schooler Inaho and his friends into the fight.

If you’ve seen Gundam SEED, Aldnoah.Zero’s story should sound familiar. It’s a shame they didn’t take anything else from SEED, like good characters…or strong conflict…or romantic chemistry…or anything.

Aldnoah.Zero’s problems start with its writing, exposition dialogue in particular, which introduces itself to us a few minutes in as Inaho and the gang ride a bus past a construction site repairing damage from the war. Each character takes their turn to dump exposition on us, all but talking into the camera. They are telling each other things they already know, for the audience’s sake. Could the exposition be any clumsier?

Yes, yes it can. Almost every scene in episode one has someone exposit in this manner. One villain tells another villain about the super secret plan to attack Earth. “We have been setting this plan for 15 years!” “Yes, I know, dumbass, I’m part of the plan.” (If only he had said that.) Even when in the middle of resuscitating someone, Inaho has to exposit about how and when he learnt CPR. (I wish I were the one dying.) Bloody hell, the writer needs to find a different line of work.

Next, let’s talk characters.

I’ve done it. I have found the worst protagonist in anime. I have found the One, the protagonist with no redeeming quality. Let me introduce you to Inaho. He has no personality and no emotion. Oh, they tell us he has personality and emotion, but they lie! One scene has the protagonist witness a missile flying through the air towards the princess’s convoy and he just stares at it. “Oh hey, it’s a missile. Quite interesting. Maybe we should move, I guess…whatever.” I assume he’s supposed to be the stoic type, but he comes across as dead. Delete him from the story and you wouldn’t notice the difference. He also knows how to pilot a mech better than trained veterans can because…reasons.

The chemistry between him and the princess is laughable (surprise, she didn’t die in the assassination – there are no twists in Aldnoah.Zero). You know how when a relationship reaches its emotional peak, series will often flashback to a compilation of ‘best bits’ in their relationship? Well, the most romantic moment Aldnoah.Zero could find in Princess and the Dude’s relationship was him giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. What was supposed to be a dramatic, emotional scene had me laughing into pain. Pro tip: If that’s the most romantic scene you have, then you must rethink your main couple.

As for the rest of the cast, we have a bunch of idiots. An eight-year-old girl is the bodyguard/assistant to the royal princess? Genius! The admiral on the front line to defend your planet is more concerned about the dating lives of her crew than training them for combat? We’re so going to win this war! Every military expert in this anime sounds as though they know nothing about war. Only idiots survived the first war, it seems.

Oh yes, there is a third major character, some Terran servant with the Martians. He has military training and the Martians allow him to pilot, for some inconceivable reason, and give him a promotion in season two, for another inconceivable reason. One would imagine that a Terran among the Martian creates interesting conflict, but no, he’s just there to make a love triangle with the princess. It takes no effort to have more complexity and depth than what Aldnoah.Zero offers. I care for none of these characters. They never develop a character. All they do is state the plot or exposition.

One element that shows promise, at first, is the Martian technology. Where the Terrans use the generic mech seen on the cover, Mars’s Orbital Knights each have a unique mech with some special power granted by Aldnoah. The first such mech has an energy shield that disintegrates any matter it touches. It literally walks through buildings when chasing the heroes, which is rather cool. Yet even this goes bad. You see, Aldnoah.Zero’s plot devolves into a mech-of-the-arc affair. A unique mech appears with some unbeatable power, it blows everything, and all seems lost until Inaho snaps his fingers and finds the weak point. Each mech has a few episodes to shine before the story discards it for the latest model. These mechs have no character. The author had a bunch of ideas for mechs with unique powers, but rather than choose a few to build up for us to invest in, he threw them all at the heroes to die one after the other. Think of the Death Star, just about any main Gundam, or even an iconic sword in anime. Think of the story, the mythos that builds around these devices and the impact it leaves on the audience during those major encounters. “Oh shit, he’s drawing the big sword! You dead!” Aldnoah.Zero’s mechs have the same impact as cannon fodder.

So, even the one good idea dies within a few episodes. Do I have anything nice to say about Aldnoah.Zero? I like some of the music… And that is all. Aldnoah.Zero is the worst mecha anime I have seen and one of the worst anime to air.

Art – Low

The CG mechs are mediocre at best, which isn’t good enough as it’s a constant eyesore. It either needs to be great or not there at all. Anime a decade ago had better CG. Stiff animation in dialogue scenes with only mouth movements.

Sound – Very Low

This on the nose, in your face script is painful. The decent music offers little redemption, like trying to plug a sinking ship with your dingaling.

Story – Very Low

Earth defends against Martian separatists looking to claim the bountiful planet for their own. Aldnoah.Zero boasts an atrocious protagonist swathed in a plot run by idiots to execute the worst of mecha anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Aldnoah.Zero, you have reached the bottom. Any mecha anime has to be better than this.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast