Category Archives: Science Fiction

Technology and civilisation have advanced beyond our current situation.

Vandread – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Vandread

 

Related: Vandread: The Second Stage (included in review)

Similar: Martian Successor Nadesico

A Certain Magical Index

Gurren Lagann

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Science Fiction Action Comedy

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • So ridiculous it’s entertaining.

Negatives:

  • Ugly as sin.
  • Don’t expect quality anywhere.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Vandread was the other anime from my ‘Watched but Not Reviewed’ list that I was tempted to revisit. Though unlike Scryed, which I surmised would still be good, Vandread was certain to be trash. But is it glorious trash?

In the future as presented by Vandread, men and women live on separate planets, able to reproduce through cloning to fuel the endless war between the two. Women are monsters who eat men, say the men! Men are savage barbarians, say the women! Generations of no in-person contact have led to the growth of demonising myths about the opposing sides. At the launch of the men’s new Vanguard battleship, low-class labourer Hibiki sneaks aboard to steal a mech, but finds himself captured by pirate women in a surprise attack. Oh no, they’re going to eat him! However, the battle created a wormhole, sucking the Vanguard and pirate ship into distant space, where the men and women must work together to survive.

These women aren’t part of female society anymore. The vanity war between women on their home planet made them strike out on their own to become something better. As for the men, Hibiki had no status on his world, the doctor wants to help others regardless of faction, and the Vanguard pilot finally has a purpose. An easy bond forms between the groups. The core theme of becoming something greater than your birth persists throughout every character arc.

Vandread is light-hearted – I mean, an episode is all about setting up the Christmas party – so set expectations to low.

The screen time alternates between space battles and comedy. The battles are terrible – don’t just mean the visuals – and aren’t worth paying attention to. The comedy largely plays on basic gender stereotypes in a fun manner. Main girl Dita is obsessed by aliens and calls Hibiki ‘Alien-san’ as she stalks him around the ship – she wants to confirm if rumours about men having a hose between their legs is true. Conveniently for her, his mech functions better with both of them inside yet has a single seat, forcing her to sit on his lap.

This isn’t a harem, surprisingly. I am amazed they resisted the temptation with a 5-to-1 ratio of men to women in the cast all aboard a single ship. That one choice makes Vandread much more enjoyable as a bad anime.

Vandread is as silly as it sounds. I used to like this show when I had seen a handful of anime. Now? The silliness is still fun in a bad way, but I find myself unable to care once the second season starts. A single season is enough. It looks like arse too, which tests the tolerance of your eyes.

Art – Very Low

All the CG for the ships and mechs looks awful. Character designs suck – the protagonist is a walking cliché of the era. He has many shounen anime clones.

Sound – Low

The script is rubbish and the voice work is average, yet is fun because no one takes the material seriously.

Story – Very Low

In a universe where men and women live on different planets, female space pirates capture three men and find themselves teaming up to combat forces from all sides. Vandread is stupid in every facet in the right way to make it fun.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: For fans of bad anime. If you don’t want to think and need to veg out, Vandread is the perfect remedy with its silliness.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

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Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Giant Robo the Animation: Chikyuu ga Seishi Suru Hi

 

Related: GR: Giant Robo (new version)

Similar: Mobile Fighter G Gundam

Heroman

Tetsujin 28

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Drama

Length: 7 episodes (49 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • High production values in animation and music.

Negatives:

  • Misleading advertising and OP.
  • Protagonist is useless.
  • Little depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When a reader requested Giant Robo for review, I made a joke about how on the nose the title was. Easy to guess what that anime is about! Well guess what? It ain’t about a giant robot! What…?

Yeah, the robot is barely in it and even when on screen, usually does nothing. Oh sure, the robot can cry, but need it to fight more than a few times in six hours of film? No robot for you!

Not only is the robot barely in Giant Robo, the robot isn’t even needed! (Don’t even mention the other robots teased in the introduction.)

An evil organisation called Big Fire (…) wants to destroy the source of Earth’s renewable energy, Shizuma Drives, and return humanity to the dark ages. The International Police Force fights back with special warriors from around the globe, capable of immense feats and super powers, alongside Daisaku, the 12-year-old kid in control of Giant Robo.

The warriors are the reason for Giant Robo’s superfluous nature. They are so powerful – super strength, teleportation, god weapons, immortality, and more – that I have to question why there are giant robots at all. Characters often describe Giant Robo as a trump card against Big Fire, but these warriors don’t need the help and certainly not from a kid. Daisaku is more useless than his robot. Each episode opens to an introduction of the story, pressing us with the importance of Giant Robo and its amazing young pilot, Daisuke! He has no combat abilities, though conveniently for his purpose in the plot has the watch that controls Robo.

Normally I would chalk Daisuke up to the need for a kid protagonist in a story for kids. However, my understanding is that Giant Robo is a loose adaptation of the source material that tries bringing pieces from every corner of the mangaka’s work, so I assume Daisuke feels more a protagonist in his manga.

The production team had two options to make this work. They either cut Daisuke (or make him a side character if they have to keep him) or give him something to do and lower the strength of the warriors. Currently, his job is to ask whiny questions while waiting for his cue on the next Robo appearance.

As for the warriors, the stars of the show, they aren’t memorable owing to their lack of distinction. They don’t have personalities as much as they have a thing. One’s thing is to be cool and brooding. Another’s is be a joker. You remember these people by power, not by character. Most of Giant Robo is action. When it isn’t action, it’s talking about the previous plot point and getting to the next plot point. Little time passes on character development. We don’t see character moments. Because this is for kids, characters spend too much time telling about their motivations, about the lessons they learned, and making sure that the kids get it.

Seen in the context of an old anime, there is enjoyment to find in Giant Robo. It looks great, even today, and the orchestral soundtrack is beautiful. The classic feel and maniacal villains that remind of Tin Tin’s foes are fun, but you cannot divorce Giant Robo from the modern day and the advancements in anime that come with it. This story hasn’t aged well. If you don’t have the nostalgia bug, these story problems will get in the way.

Art – High

The visuals are a mix of Metropolis and Lupin the Third and still hold up today. I like the style and the attention to detail with the parallax scrolling backgrounds.

Sound – Medium

Giant Robo has two dubs – one by Manga Entertainment and the other by Media Blasters. The latter is better, though Daisaku’s voice sounds too much like a girl, so the Japanese might be a better choice. The orchestral soundtrack is suitably world ending.

Story – Low

An international group of super powered warriors fight against an evil that wants to return humanity to the dark ages. A show called Giant Robo that isn’t about a giant robot, which has an extraneous protagonist, and an ending revelation that beggars belief doesn’t make for great story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For old anime fans only. I can only see enjoyment for those going into Giant Robo as a nostalgia trip. For the love of anime, don’t believe the title!

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

Misleading

Guilty Crown – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Guilty Crown

 

Similar: Code Geass

Neon Genesis Evangelion

The Future Diary

Black Bullet

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Romance

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Vibrant visuals.
  • That girl can sing!

Negatives:

  • Protagonist is such a whiner.
  • Corny villains.
  • The girl is flat.
  • Story tries too hard to shock you.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Guilty Crown’s visuals don’t match the audience reception. When I look at a poster or trailer for this anime, I expect higher ratings from your general viewer. Guilty Crown has all the marks of anime destined for popularity – it looks good, has the popular art style of the age, and a young protagonist with a big sword and a girl hanging onto him. Yet, people don’t like it. This discrepancy is the sole reason I watched Guilty Crown.

After a virus crippled Japan, reliance on foreign aid allowed an independent military company called GHQ to control the nation. The guerrilla group Funeral Parlour has fought back for years, finding new hope for victory with the acquisition of a super power – the ability to draw weapons out of people’s souls. However, a failed operation forces the power’s carrier, singer Inori, to bestow it on high schooler Shuu instead of Gai the leader of Funeral Parlour. Shuu becomes an unwilling participant in the fight to reclaim Japan’s freedom.

This setup should sound familiar to any who have seen Code Geass. In fact, most of Guilty Crown feels inspired by that much-loved series – oppressed Japan, rebel force, unique power with dire consequences later on, and given by a girl. The problem with taking such obvious elements from a great story is that it increases expectations and thus the pressure to succeed. “You took a leg up from that giant and yet you still failed?”

Sadly, this feels closer to Aldnoah.Zero in quality. The protagonist even has “anti-social” as his defining trait, though is not as brain-dead as Aldnoah’s counterpart (and they share a villain whose personality is being disgusted at the dirty lower class). Just like that guy, Shuu isn’t actually anti-social – he’s boring, which the lazy writer shoved under the anti-social blanket as a defence.

Shuu’s introduction presents him as a kid with no power, no spine, and no purpose in life, allowing for plenty of growth, as is typical for a character of this story type. Minutes later, a girl with more cleavage than anything else says to this horny kid, “Take me, Shuu. You can use me!” and all of the character setup evaporates. Giving him instant power with little learning curve and no real competition undermines the position he started in. It shortcuts him out of his personal conflict. Look at Code Geass instead, where Lelouch has to experiment with the limitations of his power and find clever strategies to maximise his ability within its limitations. Shuu simply draws a giant sword from Inori’s chest and destroys everything.

Oh, I almost forgot, they do try having a learning curve, but that’s just an excuse to have the most forced boob grab in anime history as Shuu tries to draw a weapon from his classmate. Silly me for forgetting this crucial story point!

Remember how annoying Anakin is in the prequels, always whining about how Obi-Wan didn’t let him do whatever he wanted? That best describes Shuu. Most of his dialogue is whining. With no likeable quality, no girl would be after this guy, let alone three. Speaking of girls, Inori has no personality. Her job is arm candy, submissive to every guy around her. Pathetic character.

Why didn’t these writers put more effort into creating layered characters? When the plot shifts the landscape dramatically for the third act, Shuu has to make difficult decisions (just like Lelouch), but because he’s such a flat character, you don’t root for him to succeed. When supporting characters hate him, you agree with them. A better writer would have you feel sorry for him or understand his perspective even if you don’t agree with him. In Guilty Crown, I didn’t care who the hero was or who’s in charge as long as they got this series over with.

Guilty Crown has the elements for a great story – see Code Geass for it done correctly – but it just happens to have executed every one of those elements incorrectly. Production I.G.’s quality art was wasted on this anime.

Art – High

Production I.G. of Psycho Pass fame always puts effort in the visuals, regardless of story quality. Good animation, beautiful lighting, and vibrant effects made me want to watch Guilty Crown in spite of the negative buzz.

Sound – Low

I love that the girl, whose profession is singer, can and does sing. I wish they had used similar music for the theme songs. The script needs a top-to-bottom rework including character edits to succeed.

Story – Low

A teen gains the power to draw weapons from people’s souls and must fight to reclaim his country from external forces. Guilty Crown feels like any light novel anime, despite coming from a manga. Less clichés and more effort at originality would have gone a long way.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Guilty Crown tempts you with its visuals, but don’t fall for it. There is nothing for you here.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Rubbish Major Characters

Samurai Jack – Cartoon Review

Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 62 episodes (5 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Incredible style from top to bottom.
  • Balance of humour, action, and emotion.
  • AKU!
  • Less is more to perfection.

Negatives:

  • I can’t think of anything notable.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Samurai Jack is a unique show. I wager you won’t find its likeness just anywhere. From its striking visual style to its storytelling through sound and silence with little dialogue, this cartoon is a once every few generations type of art piece.

We follow Jack, a samurai thrown from his time into the future by the shape-shifting master of darkness, Aku. Jack must find a way back to the past to finish the job he started and stop Aku. His journey will take him to the far corners of the world, where Aku’s evil weighs heavily on all. This isn’t Jack’s world anymore. Robots, aliens, and all manner of beasts roam the world now.

Samurai Jack’s brilliance is in the cohesion of its every facet, each unique in style, yet brought together to perfection. The animation fluidity is low, for instance, but it’s sharp execution combined with precise editing gives it weight and impact, so much so that to improve the fluidity to the level of, say, a Ghibli film wouldn’t look right anymore. In fact, increasing the quality as they did for the final season could have been a disaster. Not the case, thankfully.

Genndy Tartakovsky has a style to his cartoons that extracts every grain of quality from a limited budget. It wouldn’t work without all elements uniting as one. Had the editing been off, the limited animation would stand out. It would have felt cluttered had there been more dialogue and sound. Genndy likes to give his scenes breathing time with subtle visual and auditory humour. When Jack meets a trio of talking dogs, everything stops for a long time to allow Jack’s awkwardness in this new world to sink in. It’s nothing but Jack looking left and right as club music pounds outside the booth. Less is more seems to be Genndy’s life motto.

Then when the action starts, the gear shifts into overdrive. Quick cuts, multi-panel shots, and single sound actions take over to give us the most tightly edited action scenes in animation. Samurai Jack never ever wastes your time. Watch the following video of a fight between Jack and a ninja to see what I mean.

It draws inspiration from many styles cinema and world culture. You will find influence from Kurosawa films, anime (Jack fights in a mecha samurai one episode), noir, cyberpunk, Ghibli, silent film, Star Wars, comic books, aboriginal art, and the list goes on. It would take several viewings to find them all. More importantly, this show succeeds in making them work together.

The future Earth in Samurai Jack is a post-apocalyptic melting pot that allows the series to bring you something new each episode. One episode could be in a city out of Blade Runner and the next could have Jack meeting a caveman. The overarching story is to defeat Aku, while the episodic plot is about Jack helping the many peoples and societies affect by Aku’s tyranny. This episodic structure allowed you to watch any episode back in the days when we were slaves to the TV schedule. Only the final season weaves ongoing narrative each episode, required in the build up to the finale.

This plethora of locations and characters to choose from also gives us great variety in the types of episodes. One has Jack polymorphed into a chicken, where he is kidnapped and forced into cock fighting. Sounds weird? It works. I imagine the production team kept thinking of crazier and weirder ideas for the series just to see if they could make it work. How about an episode that breaks the mould of minimal dialogue? Jack encounters a Scotsman that has the longest insults you’ve ever had the fortune to hear. He’s loud, brusque, and aggressive – Jack’s opposite. Hey, it works. Can we get Jack to join the mafia? Sure, let’s do it.

One of my favourite episodes has to be the season one finale, where Aku recites fairy tales to children with him featured as the hero or Jack as the evil villain. “Once upon a time there was a little girl with an adorable red cape, and great flaaaming eyebrows!

Aku is a brilliant villain. He may be the all-powerful evil of the universe, but he is so much fun! Every scene with the guy is a riot. He is a villain that loves being evil, but he has his share of problems too. His inability to catch Jack has him depressed at times, so he sees a therapist. It’s a clone of himself… Perfect.

Think about this: they managed to have a villain that kills indiscriminately in a kid’s cartoon. It should traumatise kids, but due to the careful balance with humour, it succeeds. Samurai Jack is full of humour, and yet full of emotion. It reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist in how it balanced both ends.

And here we arrive at Jack himself. He could have easily been a standard protagonist surrounded by a brilliant series, someone we would remember for the series not for the character. Genndy could have gotten away with the cultural encounters and odd scenarios to keep us engaged. Most cartoon protagonists for kids don’t have much depth to them. It’s about the whole package of the cartoon rather than the character. However, Jack has the qualities of a character worthy of any drama series. He breaks, he falls, he thinks it all too much, especially when he arrives so close to success and it slips through his fingers. It is in his effort to stand back up that we see a complete character.

Samurai Jack adapts Bushido culture better than most anime. The final season in particular draws on the earthly and the mystical aspects of the samurai legend. His culture is at the core of his character, yet he is a character out of his time where such a culture no longer exists. The internal conflict that arises is fantastic. As I said – could have gotten away without it, but that extra effort elevates this show into the hall of excellence and makes it one worth remembering.

I have no notable complaints with Samurai Jack. At most, I could say some episodes aren’t as good as others, though that’s an occasional drop to 95% quality. Not a real complaint, is it? There was a time when I could bemoan its incomplete state, but after a 13-year wait, Genndy gave us the conclusion to the samurai’s journey. It was everything I had hoped for.

Art – Very High

Samurai Jack needs to be seen to appreciate the quality of its visuals, thanks in no small part to the sharp animation, pinpoint editing, and cinematic flair. I love the character designs – identifiable, distinct silhouettes, and it all fits together, from the caveman to the robot assassin.

Sound – Very High

Phil LaMarr as Jack and the late Mako as Aku – a perfect match. The stellar sound mixing matches the editing style. Minimalist, restrained, and flawless.

Story – Very High

A samurai searches for a way back to the past to save the ruined future from a master of darkness. You could watch any episode of Samurai Jack and have a great time. Why do that though, when you can watch all of them?

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. There is nothing else like Samurai Jack.

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

Positive:

CharmExtensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPhenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Real Drive – Anime Review

Japanese Title: RD Sennou Chousashitsu

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Serial Experiments Lain

Time of Eve

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good music.

Negatives:

  • The teens.
  • Jarring sexiness.
  • Lacks world building.
  • The virtual world isn’t interesting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Masamune Shirow of Ghost in the Shell fame steps up into a lead production role to bring us Real Drive, a science fiction series that brings exploration of the human creature to a younger audience.

I never would have known that this came from Shirow had I not glimpsed his name in the credits on Wikipedia when doing background research. Real Drive feels like someone tried to imitate Shirow without understanding what makes Ghost in the Shell, or more specifically, Stand Alone Complex so good.

We find ourselves in 2061 AD when a virtual network called “the Metal” has linked human consciousness on a global scale. However, security leaks and data breaches have begun to affect people’s minds beyond the virtual and into the real world. The young Minamo finds herself at the forefront of the investigation after she pulls Masamichi back from a failed dive into the Metal. She is to work alongside her brother Souta, the android Holon, and other investigators to find solutions.

Shirow’s first mistake was Minamo. I haven’t seen Ghost Hound, Shirow’s young adult horror anime, so I don’t know if he succeeded there, but he doesn’t seem to know how to write using or for teenagers.

I hate all the young characters in Real Drive. Their inclusion makes no sense in this, let alone having one as protagonist. She barely has anything to do with the Metal, which is the core of the story. When Minamo hangs out with her friends, usually at a dessert café, it feels included because “you need to have that in a young adult anime or it won’t be relatable,” said Shirow, not knowing what he’s talking about. Her brother would have made for a better protagonist. He is a young counterpart to the old Masamichi, is a lead diver for the Metal, has the romantic subplot, and has a justified presence.

Also, what is with the “sexiness” at random moments? You have the usual panty shots – bad panty shots aren’t a surprise anymore, so whatever – alongside weirdly timed instances of characters trying to act sexy. For example, when an old woman is in agony, possibly dying, during episode one, her granddaughter/assistant (?) makes sure to pose cutely with her arse in the air. “Old woman is dying, so let’s focus on the teen arse and have her turn like she’s in lingerie commercial,” said someone during production. “Get on it stat!”

Wait, it gets weirder. When the chairwoman of this Artificial Island video calls the investigation team, she presents herself as though she’s ready to ask Leo to draw her like one of his French girls. Why? What tone were they going for? Is there some hidden satire I’m missing? Shirow had a fair amount of eroticism in his Ghost in the Shell manga, and it’s adaptation weren’t shy either, so perhaps he felt obligated to have some erotic element in Real Drive. It doesn’t work here – more funny than sexy.

Next, we come to Shirow’s other big mistake, the virtual world itself. The Metal is incredibly boring. Remember Luke Skywalker floating in the batca tank in The Empire Strikes Back? Ever held your breath inside a swimming pool? Well then, you’ve experienced all the Metal has to offer. It isn’t engaging to watch people floating in water occasionally attacked by bubbles (!) as a substitute for action. Why didn’t he use marine life as proxies for viruses and data breaches? A monstrous, digitally warped shark is more frightening than bubbles. At most, we get some graphics in the environment and corruption on a character’s wetsuit. Do you know why Hollywood makes hacking sequences with effects, progress bars, and furious typing? Because real hacking is reading a bunch of text, which isn’t engaging.

I can’t wrap my mind around the notion that no one at production saw the Metal and pointed out that it‘s a load of nothing. The best scene in Real Drive is the very first, set in the past when a dive turns catastrophic. There is real action. After that, dives are mind numbing.

The vagueness of the overall plot compounds this dullness. For many episodes, Real Drive is about solving virtual problems with no concrete goal. You can’t have a non-episodic crime series and say it’s just about solving crimes. You need to be more specific. Which crime? Is the goal to ultimately catch the Seattle Reaper? Shirow already knows this – Stand Alone Complex is about catching the Laughing Man – so I’m surprised at the fault here. This gives the impression that he had an idea – “I want a series about solving virtual crimes” – but didn’t flesh it out, get at the core of his idea. I doubt Real Drive would have received the green light had it not had the name “Masamune Shirow” attached.

Art – Medium

What is with the doughy women? Every female character has extra dough packed on, even those that are said to be thin. I suspect that the artist has a fetish for “thicc” women, as the android Holon, designed to have the ideal female physique, is definitely for those who want to get down with the thiccness. The world has a lovely design akin to a futuristic paradise island, but the virtual side is plain water.

Sound – Medium

The music boasts a great orchestral soundtrack. However, the sound mixing is horrendous at times. In episode two, a scene of Minamo whining to her brother about breakfast has building tension music from the likes of Fantasia. Fire the mixer. The acting is fine.

Story – Low

A team of investigators dive into a global consciousness known as the Metal to resolve problems of this virtual world. The Metal is dull, the teenagers are superfluous, the sexiness makes no sense, and the plot offers little reason to keep watching Real Drive.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Real Drive is a poor man’s Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex…made by the same man.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None