Category Archives: Science Fiction

Technology and civilisation have advanced beyond our current situation.

Ex-Arm – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ex-Arm

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Akira

Guilty Crown

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Negatives:

  • Ugliest anime ever?
  • Incompetent script
  • The directing is terrible
  • Doesn’t even know how to use CG properly

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And so we come to the 30th review of the past 30 (+2) days. I saved the best for last. Ex-Arm is a thing of beauty, an art piece of wonder so spectacular it defies reality. Physics hold no power over Ex-Arm.

CG anime is often terrible with bad writing to match. However, the recent triumph of Beastars and Dorohedoro seemed to turn a real corner for CG in this medium. Then comes Ex-Arm to set the industry back three decades. The story behind this disaster is even worse than the resulting product itself. I don’t know where to begin with this. There are so many things wrong with the art alone that I want to say them all at once. I can’t decide which is the worst!

What about the opening scene? It actually starts with 2D animation – well, I say animation, but can you call two frames flitting back and forth as characters drag across the screen “animation”? Then they have a shot of a character surrounded by lightning as the world tears apart. The still image below is almost as animated as the video. Only the lightning moves as this guy holds the sort of pose some weeaboo would post a photo of themselves imitating on Twitter with the caption, “Cross me and the devil comes out to play,” serious about it. They are so proud of this shot. Expect to see it several dozen times across the 12 episodes. Snap cut to the opening sequence.

Now, anime openings are known for being of high quality, sometimes even deceptive of the anime’s actual quality. I think Ex-Arm’s OP may be worse than the series. The highlights are character profile shots of the typical OP, but they have no animation. A rotating 3D model of the characters shows up instead. Boy, are they proud of those models. They want you to see them in all their glory to get you excited for what is to come. That’s what an OP is for, right? We also bear witness to the fire effects, which look pasted in by a fan edit.

Once the OP ends, we establish the setting at a Japanese high school and at this point, I think they must be trolling us. They do something I never thought someone would even consider. I want you to imagine what a camera zoom looks like. The camera starts at a distance and zooms in on the subject, bringing the detail closer to the eye. Sounds accurate. What it doesn’t do is blow up the image. Ex-Arm though, in its avant-garde genius, does blow up the image as if zooming in Photoshop, to the point where you can see the pixilation. Funniest moment of the entire series! Don’t believe me? Look at the image below and keep in mind it is full HD 1080p.

The comedy doesn’t end there. Classroom interior, protagonist sitting bored at his desk in glorious CG. Enter two classmates – in 2D! I couldn’t stop laughing. Ex-Arm can’t even remain visually consistent. This isn’t the only instance either. Flat characters pop up at random throughout the series and the protagonist’s brother is 2D as well, for some reason that I’m sure is beyond the understanding of my puny brain. (The classmates stop animating halfway in the scene, by the way.)

We’re less than three minutes in and every artistic decision is the wrong one. Soon after, the first action scene enters the fray and removes any hope of value in Ex-Arm. When the police android kicks a guy in the head, it has the impact of a pillow fight. There is no recoil, no weight, no mass to anything, most noticeably in action scenes, and the woman doesn’t move that fast (I’m sure she’s meant to), yet dodges a thousand bullets out in the open. The director claims they used motion capture for Ex-Arm, but I don’t believe it. No way. This cannot be motion-captured animation. Perhaps it was, before the incompetent animators “improved” it in post.

Imagine being the poor bastard who wrote the source material seeing this result. Only something like Redo of Healer would be improved by such visuals.

Who made this atrocity, you might be wondering. This Crunchyroll original comes from new studio Visual Flight, made up of what seems like a team with little animation experience. Most come from the live action space. The director, Yoshikatsu Kimura, equated the logic that because live action is done in the real world – a 3D space – he is fit for a 3D anime. Furthermore, he brought on his usual crew from live action work, not experienced anime workers. I promise you they have never heard of animation ramping. Yes, the production committee is responsible for hiring him, but this clown made every wrong decision from start to finish. Can you believe this anime’s trailer has the line, “Declaring war against all SF (science fiction) series around the world!”?

You’d think that with a live action director, it would at least have good cinematography and directing. Perhaps it looks terrible in CG, but you can imagine how it would have looked great if done in live action. Nope, it would still be miserable. Interviews with him tell all you need to know about how doomed Ex-Arm was before it started.

They couldn’t even get the key visuals right. Look at this crap below, also used as the static ED:

I haven’t even covered the story yet. It follows high school student Akira, who meets with Truck-kun one day and wakes up years later as a brain inside an electronic briefcase. Inhabiting an android proxy, he fights against terrorists alongside a special police force.

The story sucks. It’s not as bad as the visuals, though it doesn’t elevate the piece an iota. The script is the worst aspect in terms of story, riddled with cliché – particularly of the fan service variety – and like the animation, has no weight. Just vapid. There are much worse anime stories out there, yet it has no positives. On an audio front, some of these voice actors are far too good for this, while others, such as the villains, deliver bad performances though it may not be their fault on such a project. Wait until you see the accompanying mouth animations.

I am baffled at Ex-Arm’s existence. Self-awareness seemed to have flown out the window in the making of this disaster.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Must be seen to be believed. Ex-Arm’s handling of CG is so incompetent that words cannot do it justice.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHorrendous ActionRubbish Major CharactersUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

Xam’d: Lost Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bounen no Xamdou

 

Similar: Toward the Terra

RahXephon

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Last Exile

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great art and animation
  • Starts strong

Negatives:

  • Characters lack personality
  • Needs more drama
  • No intrigue in the story
  • Convoluted world building

(Request an anime for review here.)

Xam’d: Lost Memories exists for an odd reason. It was created by studio Bones and Sony for the PlayStation Network’s video download service (this was before streaming made consumption easier). As it often is with “showcase” titles, whether film or games, the visuals matter more than all else. When showing off your new service or product, you need material to catch the eye. After all, the audience won’t get to play or sit down with your content just yet (some media may get a demo, yes). It’s why console manufacturers bring out games with the best graphics for new hardware announcements. They throw in a couple of indies to appease the hardcore crowd, but the AAA games wow the masses. Xam’d, for its time, was an anime equivalent.

It triumphs in the art department with its colourful palette and fluid animation to bring its unique designs to life. This was an art showcase first, a story second. Unfortunately, and not unlike many of those AAA showcase games, there isn’t that much once you see past the visuals.

The story follows Akiyuki, a boy living on an island away from the great war raging between continents in the outside world. The peace of his life shatters when a suicide bomber detonates in his school bus. All that saves him is a mysterious injection of power from a girl. It comes at a price and transforms him into a monster.

This is a great hook – certainly grabbed me – and the monster mutation is grotesque in a non-horror sort of way. Very bubbly and deformed. The mutation makes him arm look like Popeye’s when dormant. He should get that checked out. Could burst any day now. The fantasy is bioscience meets tech infused monsters, morphing drastically into odd designs. It’s a bit Final Fantasy.

Akiyuki soon joins an airship crew, they travel around the world, inevitably getting involved in the war and other conflicts as they try to solve the power that threatens to turn him to stone. Another good element. I love stories with what I like to call the “travelling home base,” where a crew aboard some sort of vessel – boat, spaceship, walking castle – face various dangers outside as they travel, yet can always return to the safety of the home base, though occasionally the dangers breach inside. I particularly like it when the home base creates some semblance of normal life for the crew. The Star Trek franchise is brilliant at this.

Right, so we have a great hook and an ongoing element I love. What could go wrong? Nothing really goes wrong because nothing really happens. Xam’d meanders a lot and doesn’t give much plot. What it does give is also too convoluted for its own good, even in the lore and world building. Something as simple as the cause of the war is obfuscated for no reason. It reminds me of Final Fantasy XIII’s insane story. I would never dare suggest Xam’d is as convoluted – nothing is as convoluted as Final Fantasy XIII (heavens that story sucked). It isn’t good when something reminds me of it though. Too much time goes to side stories that don’t matter; you could cut them outright. Everything from the characters to the story and to the world needed more refinement, slimming down to focus on the core elements that could make Xam’d great.

You already have the visuals and good audio, but the rest is average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For visual fans only. Sure, Xam’d: Lost Memories isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have any feature to recommend itself above others except for nice visuals.

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

Positive: 

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

(Request an anime for review here.)

Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building

Dr Stone – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Dr Stone

Related: Dr Stone: Stone Wars (season 2 – included in review)

Dr Stone Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Log Horizon

Cells at Work

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Ascendance of a Bookworm

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 35 episodes (2 seasons)

Positives:

  • The science focus is fun and different
  • Commits to the premise
  • Protagonist and antagonist

Negatives:

  • Female character designs are weak alongside the males
  • Drags at times

(Request an anime for review here.)

Are you tired of battles in your shounen anime? Has Mr Young Hero pulled out a few too many new super techniques in the middle of a fight for your liking? Has your shounen been too shounened? Then science is your answer! Dr Stone takes the typical shounen style and substitutes battles for science.

After a mysterious green light leaves humanity petrified in stone, teen whiz kid Senku awakens millennia later as an unknown fluid de-petrifies him. The world he once knew has long vanished under the unrelenting might of nature. If he revived, then everyone could come back. He makes it his mission to bring all seven billion people on Earth back to life with the power of science!

Unfortunately, he’s a weakling and can’t lift a pebble to save himself. So, he first revives his friend from the old times, Taiju, a guy perfectly suited to grunt work. Sturdy back, simple brain. All seems to go well until the wildlife sniffs manflesh and attacks the pair. Senku revives the one guy he knows able to fight lions with his bare fists – Tsukasa, “The Strongest High School Primate.” This “teenager” is equally strong in muscle and conviction. While he does save them, he disagrees with Senku’s notion that all of humanity is worth saving. His philosophy is that adults had screwed up the world before and this was a chance to fix it without them. A rift forms, and as Senku tries to revive adults, Tsukasa is shattering them to pieces.

The pressure is on in a battle of science versus muscle. And what of these other people already alive in the world? Did some resist the light?

(Fun fact: There has never been a moment when all of humanity was on Earth together since 31st October 2000, after the first set of astronauts set off for the International Space Station. The ISS has had a crew aboard ever since.)

The “what if” presented pulls you in immediately. I love the progression from one invention to the next, as if following a tech tree in an RTS. Dr Stone is over the top. But it’s over the top in the right way, as it commits all marbles to the bet. If it had been more serious, then the silly shounen side would have been farcical by comparison. Everything commits.

You do have to not think about the petrification part too much. There are holes even by the show’s logic. It glosses over the rather convenient solution to broken statues, for instance. Similarly, the science is simplified to varying degrees. The principals, formulas, and ideas are sound, but the process is like those drawing guides that go from two ovals with sticks in one step to a fully detailed horse in the next image. The author paid more attention to accuracy in chemistry than he did to biology and physics (shounen physics still prevail here). Once you roll with it, Dr Stone is a fun anime! And it’s different from other Shounen Jump offerings. I never felt like I was watching the same thing, yet again, from adaptations out of that magazine.

Dr Stone is still very much a shounen in spirit though. Grandstanding, ridiculous proclamations, reality-breaking abilities, shouting for dialogue, and that hyper shounen aura abound in this adventure. This isn’t a science documentary.

The main turn off I could see for viewers once latched onto the initial premise would be the science/experimentation segments. They are the equivalent to shounen training episodes, though learning about chemistry is far more interesting than seeing a ninja repeat the same action a thousand times. I had watched the first season when it was current in 2019; however, the season was mostly an incomplete building up towards the grand conflict with Tsukasa. See, if the first big battle was just another shounen battle, then Dr Stone would have been a waste of time. The 11-episode second season caps the arc to a satisfying point. Looking back over the total 35 episodes, I think this arc could fit in a single season were it not for the aforementioned drag during the science sections. An alternative is to extend the runtime a little, cut back on some of the experimentation, and break it up with more character work. The science over punching approach is fun – I love it – but everything needs the right pace. Being able to binge the series now does alleviate the problem a little. The cast also outgrows the character development available. At least three-quarters of the cast is comedic relief with singular personality quirks, many of them blending into a forgettable blur.

On the other hand, Senku and Tsukasa receive plenty of development and make for good leads. That said, even they could have done with more interaction to explore their ideologies in greater depth (we see plenty of their ideologies in isolation, but not enough in opposition on screen together). The more important support characters are also quite good. Once you hit tier three importance, then we meet the blur.

We see this degradation in character designs as well, where the tier one and tier two (most of them) characters have fantastic unique designs that lean into the hyper energy, while everyone else – particularly the girls – are bland, even off-putting.

My headcanon on the character design meeting:

“Artist, you know that You-Gee-Oh kid? Give me his vegetable cousin. He will make for a mighty protagonist!”

“Oh venerable author, what of the girls?”

“Eh, don’t care. Just make sure their eyes are too far apart half of the time.”

I still enjoy Dr Stone and will be watching the next season, so I do recommend it to just about anyone who doesn’t hate shounen energy. It does help to go in knowing the contents and setting expectations accordingly.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. Dr Stone may be shounen anime to the core, but the focus on science over action has it stand out from peers and deliver something fun.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Dai 08 MS Shotai

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 (main series)

Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket (related story)

Similar: Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid

Code Geass: Akito the Exiled

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks excellent
  • A tight, small scale story
  • Presents a different view of war in the Gundam universe
  • As with most Gundam, the acting is strong in either language

Negatives:

  • The romance is too simple

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes the core concepts of Gundam – mecha, war, politics, and romance – and compresses it down into a 12-episode package. It succeeds in delivering quality for all of those elements save one, in part.

The 08th MS Team brings war to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation leads a special squadron of guerrilla Gundam, ferretting out the scattered remnants of Zeon presence in the area. The Federation won the last war and mean to press the advantage. Shiro’s resolve wavers and – more importantly – his loyalty comes into question when confronted by Aina Sahalin, Zeon pilot and previous acquaintance, across the trees. She’s also sister to the psychotic enemy commander. The traitor title seems to suit Shiro best these days.

One thing I must say is how good 08th MS Team looks even by today’s standards. Wouldn’t guess it’s a ’90s anime. They put a lot of work in considering this is a series and I want some of these cels for my collection. Seeing this quality from scene one puts me in a good mood.

Such effort brings the guerrilla warfare to life and makes every damaging shot on the mechs have impact. It isn’t a flurry of laser beams flashing across the screen with little weight. The action takes a slower, more tactical pace than the usual Gundam spectacle (nothing against the spectacle, or course). As I said, everything is scaled down and it works. When a franchise has as many series as Gundam does, it’s good to have variety even if not always to my taste (such as Gundam Build Fighters).

The characters are a strong and varied lot. The writers made them relatable with their simple ambitions outside of war. They have grounding. You want them to survive to see better days. Zeon similarly features such human characters. Of course, there are a few crazies on both sides to play villains. Further beyond the major characters, 08th MS Team emphasises the burden of war on innocent locals, a side often forgotten when merely glimpsed on the evening news. Yes, the Federation is eradicating evil (according to them) hiding in this jungle, but this jungle is home to ordinary people as well. Even minor characters don’t feel superfluous.

Then we come to Shiro and Aina as a couple. They’re good as individuals, yet their connection is the core of the personal conflict, which doesn’t hit the target.

If you’re going to have characters make grand gestures of love and put a lot on the line, you need to give something to hang those actions on. Build those foundations first and then I could believe anything they do for love. It’s surprising to see the main coupling only hit mid-tier development when character depth outside of this is solid. I find the main issue is a lack of screen time for these two together. They meet early on, but don’t reunite again until too late to develop their relationship to a meaningful level. The romance is simple – not a bad thing inherently – and lacks a second act where it builds beyond initial attraction into something with promise of longevity. They meet, and then skip to “I’ll die for you.”

Beyond that, I don’t have any notable complaints with 08th MS Team. I can recommend this great anime widely, beyond Gundam circles.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. If you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a great introduction and standalone series. If you are familiar, then this is one of the best the franchise has to offer.

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None