Category Archives: Science Fiction

Technology and civilisation have advanced beyond our current situation.

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.

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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

Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.

In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.

The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.

Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.

In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.

Art – Very High

Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.

Sound – High

The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.

Story – Medium

A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Psycho-Pass 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Psycho-Pass 2

 

Related: Psycho-Pass (prequel)

Psycho-Pass Movie (sequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Action

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The villain’s lore.

Negatives:

  • The new girl.
  • So much stupid.
  • Mishandled parallels to season one.
  • Script written for robots.

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I can’t hold back my curiosity any longer; I have to know what everyone means by saying Psycho-Pass 2 is terrible when compared to season one, Psycho-Pass. How can one create a terrible product when given such a strong and established series to work from? Well, dear readers, this is how.

Psycho-Pass 2 starts not long after the last season with a new girl, Shimotsuki, joining veteran Akane on a case reminiscent of Akane’s first day in Division 1. However, this time, Akane finds a way to lower the target’s Crime Coefficient out of the “execute him now” range. Shimotsuki disagrees with Akane’s decision to give him a chance. Get used to Shimotsuki disagreeing with everything Akane does, for that’s her only purpose in Psycho-Pass 2 when she’s not being the stupidest character I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.

The villain, just like last time, has found a way to cheat the all-powerful Sybil system and keep his Crime Coefficient at “saintly” levels while killing people. Similarity is another aspect you should get used to. Psycho-Pass 2 is a near-carbon copy of Psycho-Pass. I don’t just mean that the villain’s method is the same or that themes carried over. I’m referring to scene for scene, shot for shot similarities, as if paying tribute. (Who pays tribute in a continuation of the same story? What are you? Slow?) Characters find themselves in the same situations, with the same dilemmas and decisions to tackle as before. There are too many such similarities to list. Think of it as giving two ghostwriters the same book outline to flesh out, yet one of the ghostwriters sucks.

Apart from being lazy, this “poetry” (“Again, it’s sort of like poetry; they rhyme.” – that guy who made the Star of the Rings prequels) fails because of the emotional aspects, not the technical. When a character has to make a difficult decision, the weight comes from the emotional context. If your protagonist has to choose between saving his mother or his girlfriend, it doesn’t matter if we never get the sense that he cares about either. They may as well be cannon fodder. You can transplant the same rules to psychological dilemmas. Do I sacrifice part of my soul to kill the villain? If sacrificing part of the soul won’t change anything in the character, then who cares? Psycho-Pass 2 is a context-less failure without the masterful psychology.

Worse than this problem, however, is the new character, Shimotsuki, whose role in this poetry is to replace the “by-the-book” character from season one. Where the original guy had a solid point on occasion, Shimotsuki is a threat to society with her stupidity. She’s a pretentious, one-note rookie that thinks she knows best despite being inexperienced in every department. For example, episode 4 has a hostage situation where the team knows an officer is in danger alongside civilians. So what does this rookie genius do? (Oh yeah, she’s supposed to be a genius. Bloody hell…) She does nothing – just waits for the captured officer to contact them. That’s right, an officer who’s probably on the verge of death has to lead the hostage rescue, while the equipped team outside should “just wait.” There’s stupid characters, then there’s this bimbo. And she’s surprised when the chief has another team take over the scene… You’re testing my tolerance, Psycho-Pass 2.

For a supporting character, she certainly takes plenty of space with her idiocy. Her position after the story’s main twist is idiotic. She must be mentally deficient to be the way she is in the end, as we receive the flimsiest justification for why she makes several of the stupidest decisions I have seen in anime. Not to mention, they’re inconsistent with her preachy nonsense from earlier. Psycho-Pass 2 likes to preach a lot. The original did explain character ideology to the audience more than necessary, but it succeeded most times. If you recall, the original’s first episode had a great scene that showed its themes through a rape victim wanting revenge, thus elevating her Crime Coefficient. This time, they added a scene to preach about how the Orwellian Sybil system isn’t so bad because you can still be a good person by yourself. What nonsense is this?

Psycho-Pass 2 doesn’t even feel connected to the previous season. They didn’t need to make this. They had nothing to say, nothing new to add, no extra world to develop, and none of the new characters are interesting. Kogami’s absence is noticeable. The only good I can say about this anime is that the villain’s secret is excellent, and therefore a travesty to see squandered in this piece.

Psycho-Pass 2 is the perfect example of the same idea poorly executed. Ideas are worthless without proper execution – it’s why no paid for that guy from high school with ideas he swore were better than the best filmmakers’ and game designers’ works.

After the series, I threw on the movie in hopes of something better after hearing it was made by the A team while the B team worked on Psycho-Pass 2. The movie takes us out of Japan to see how the world fared without the Sybil system. It’s okay – too black and white for my tastes. If you do want to watch it, find the dual-mix version, which takes half the audio track from the Japanese version and mixes it with half of the English, as characters speak different languages. Without the dual-mix, you have to either bear a lot of horrid Engrish in Japanese, or have confusing scenes in English as people pretend to speak different languages while speaking the same language. The dual-mix still has some Engrish, but it makes sense, for it comes from the Japanese characters. I love this dual-mix idea and hope to see more of it in future.

Art – Medium

Season 2 looks worse. It has that over-smoothed shading from cheap flash animation in many scenes, though the animation quality itself is good. The cinematography and imagery has none of the passion from before. Even the world doesn’t look as interesting despite being the same setting!

Sound – Medium

Robotic script in the face of fine acting. Music is nice.

Story – Low

A new girl joins seasoned Akane as they investigate the case of someone who can manipulate his crime coefficient to pass unseen by society’s judge. Psycho-Pass 2 copies everything from season one except for good story, good characters, logic, and world building.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For intellectual curiosity only. Psycho-Pass 2 is worse in every way. Even seen on its own, it has nothing to recommend itself. However, if you want to study a great example of the same idea executed twice to polarising results, Psycho-Pass 2 has plenty to teach.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingInduces Stupidity

Moonlight Mile – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Moonlight Mile: Lift Off

 

Similar: Space Brothers

Planetes

Armageddon (Hollywood movie)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Adventure Drama

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Science and engineering detail.
  • Some tense dilemmas.

Negatives:

  • Disjointed storytelling.
  • Characters don’t have time to develop amidst the dilemmas.
  • Junk animation and CG.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What made me curious to watch this anime? Was it a) space, b) the engineering, c) premise, or d) sex? The answer is a), of course – I love space! Alright, I admit, it was the sex, okay. Happy? But no, in all seriousness, when I was at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, they had an exhibition spotlighting civil engineering in manga – infrastructure, architecture, development, etc. – as the Japanese take great pride in their civil engineers (when you watch them build a house in a day, you can see why [turn on captions for subtitles]). I picked up Moonlight Mile because it had an astronaut on the cover (I am serious about the loving space part), but was struck by how sexually graphic the opening scene was. If I hadn’t seen the cover first, I would have assumed this belonged in the section you wouldn’t mention to your parents. This scene is so graphic that I was curious if they got away with it in the anime adaptation. Spoiler: they don’t.

But first, the story. Two climbing buddies, Gorou from Japan and Jack “Lostman” Woodbridge from the US, make a pact atop Mount Everest to see each other in space as they look to the sky above. They soon part and set about achieving this goal in their own manner. Gorou takes the path of an engineer, while Lostman goes the air force route (two-thirds of US astronauts come from the military). Becoming an astronaut is no easy journey and each will face trials and setbacks, even more so than real astronauts, for Moonlight Mile loves to throw one disaster after another at the protagonists.

Now, you know me, I love conflict – it’s the engine of fiction – but there comes a point where you need to allow characters to grow. In fiction, scenes follow the rough pattern of action and reaction. Something happens in a scene (action) and the characters react/reflect on this action in the next scene (reaction). Moonlight Mile rarely stops for the reaction. All space movies have those disasters – oxygen leak, broken thruster, power failure, etc. – for the astronauts to solve. These moments are exciting edge-of-your-seat tense, yet if you have nothing but this, as Moonlight Mile does, the tension wanes. The characters, while decent, feel like mere nuts and bolts to this story, rather than driving agents.

The first episode is nothing but a disastrous climb up Everest to establish the characters. This should have taken a few minutes. Well, there is Gorou’s butt as well.

As for my initial curiosity, while most episodes have a sex scene, it isn’t graphic. Still certainly not for kids, though is a far cry from the manga. It also doesn’t add to character, for Gorou falls in love with a new girl faster than a shooting star. This wouldn’t be an issue if he grew from each relationship. Alas, a new girl means a clean slate of development, so what’s the point?

In regards to the engineering, Moonlight Mile succeeds in taking care to do the math and science in a disaster. I’m not a rocket scientist, so someone more qualified may find great flaws here, but Moonlight Mile doesn’t try to convince us that training oil drillers to become astronauts is easier than training astronauts to operate a drill.

Art – Low

The 2D animation is junk, whereas the 3D sees overuse for vehicles and sweeping shots. Even the ground is CG in these scenes – so distracting.

Sound – Medium

The Japanese script is a bit dry, so go with the English, which added more banter and a natural flow to the dialogue.

Story – Medium

Two friends and rivals vow to meet each other as astronauts in space. This is their journeys to meet that goal. Moonlight Mile suffocates its characters in disaster after disaster for them to resolve, giving little room to develop. At least the disasters are tense.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For space fans. Did you like Armageddon? If yes, then Moonlight Mile is the anime version. If you thought that movie needed better science, Moonlight Mile will also satisfy in that regard.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Darker Than Black – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha

 

Related: Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Psycho-Pass

RahXephon

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Mystery

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 5 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Complex lore.
  • Creative powers and restrictions.
  • The comedic tangents are hilarious.
  • Character designs.

Negatives:

  • Lacks finality and answers.
  • Season 2 becomes oversimplified.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Darker than Black is an anime of malicious compliance. When I told it that it coveys lore in a vague manner, it responded with, “You don’t like my lore?” “That’s not wh—” “Fine, then I won’t give you any. If all you like is action, then that’s what I’ll give. Happy, are you!?” “…”

Before that moment in history, let’s go back to the start of Darker than Black. Ever since two gates appeared in Tokyo and Brazil, a fake sky replaced the real one and select people gained paranormal abilities at the cost of their humanity. These supernaturals known as Contractors became weapons for various governments and a group called the Syndicate. Officer Misaki has her investigatory skills put to the test when the Syndicate’s best agent, Hei the Black Reaper, is spotted in Tokyo. Hei and his associates have designs to uncover a mystery surrounding Hell’s Gate that threatens Contractors. Other Contractor division won’t let the Syndicate go unanswered either. Tokyo is a dangerous place to be.

First, I love the powers. Think of them as X-Men, but with a payment required after each use. The payment differs per character and ranges from smoking a cigarette to revealing a secret of yours to the next person you see. The cost tends to be something the Contractor hates. One Contractor, a magician, has to give away the technique to a magic trick every time he uses his illusion power. Bummer. Hei’s power is the ability to generate electricity, a favourite of mine. The writer could have merely copied the X-Men and been fine, but I appreciate the thought put into differentiating these powers by adding the payments.

Darker than Black also has artificial beings called Dolls that pass for human, but are dead inside and have scouting powers to aid their Contractor unit. Hei has one such doll with him as well as a Contractor whose power is to possess animals. Unfortunately for him, someone destroyed his human body during possession so he’s stuck as an animal for life. This makes him a tad grumpy.

Then we come to the larger world, where I find plenty interesting. I love that the police use an old woman known as the Stargazer, who can track when Contractors use powers by observing the fake stars above. Each Contractor is represented in a star – another great lore detail. Misaki has a telescope locked on Hei’s star, BK-201, which is how she knows he’s in town.

Most of the lore I have shared with you so far is presented in a decent manner. However, when it comes to the Gates, the lore behind Contractors, and even world history, Darker than Black takes serious issue with giving us this information. When it does present these aspects, it seems hesitant, as if the anime is worried about you finding out. “Does it or does it not work this way?” was a recurring question I had. This compounded with the fact that there is a lot of lore can make Darker than Black a headache for those who aren’t big fans of lore. It doesn’t help that much remains unanswered by the end, no thanks to season 2.

Here we arrive at the malicious compliance. If season 1 suffered from too much vague lore, season 2 suffers from having none whatsoever (the backstory threads are good, though). I said illuminate the lore, not eradicate it! In season 2, we follow two young siblings, one of which is a Contractor, and their escape from capture in Russia. It amounts to twelve episodes of action – good action, sure, but it no longer stands out like Darker than Black. I am particularly annoyed that Misaki is barely in season 2.

This does not lessen my recommendation for sci-fi/supernatural fans to watch the first season – likely twice to catch everything. If you worry about it being too heavy, the story occasionally diverts for some levity. The private eyes who narrates to himself noir-style and his cosplay girl assistant are the perfect change of pace. Even with several questions left unanswered, the lore we do get and the characters make Darker than Black an engaging experience.

Art – High

Darker than Black manages to have a large cast of characters, each distinct from the last, and yet doesn’t resort to lazy design techniques such as hair colour being the only distinguishing feature. The dark palette suits the story. Season 2 sees a noticeable dip in character and animation quality.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either Japanese or English voices. Nice soundtrack – the main singer is bilingual and mixes English with Japanese better than most. The script could do with tighter exposition.

Story – High

Super powered humans called Contractors work jobs for the nefarious Syndicate while uncovering the mystery that threatens Contractors worldwide. Darker than Black’s super powers and interesting characters deliver a great anime, but its complexities can alienate.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for science fiction fans. Darker than Black has everything a sci-fi fan could want – lore, depth, sociology, philosophy. Non-fans (maybe even fans) will find the lack of concreteness tedious, especially since it leaves much unanswered. Season 2 is optional viewing.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None