Category Archives: Thriller

High suspense, tension, and excitement. Is the killer under your bed?

Rainbow – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin


Similar: Tomorrow’s Joe


Grave of the Fireflies


Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes



  • Brutal depiction of post-war Japan.
  • Chemistry between the boys.
  • Sakuragi vs. prison guard dynamic.
  • Top-notch acting.
  • Unexpected outcomes.


  • Second half doesn’t tie together as well as it should.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Post-war Japan was a harsh place. For the poor, the abused, life was rough as the country tried to rebuild. In 1955, six teens find themselves on the wrong side of the law and sent to a correctional school, where they meet Sakuragi, their new cellmate. The events that follow will push them to the limits, punish them for daring to live, and test their resolve for survival until their sentences in hell are over.

Rainbow is brutal, not for the faint of heart. The production team warns you as much each episode with a disclaimer that the brutality, the depravity you will see is accurate of the time and it would be a disrespect to hide it. The first experience in prison is to have the doctor violate one of the boys in front of his friends. The doctor has a faux-gentle voice that makes one’s skin crawl. We witness a child rape not long after. It won’t be the last.

Rainbow never relents with either the characters or the audience. If you are to start this journey, know that peace never truly arrives.

Day one in the cell, Sakuragi beats the ego out of the other six to teach humility. Survival of the fittest is the only natural law that matters in this “school” and reckless bravado will get you killed. He becomes a role model to the others, uniting the group in friendship that even hell will have a tough time breaking. This chemistry between the boys not only makes Rainbow engaging but also loaded with emotion. When all of them put themselves on the line to allow Joe to see his little sister and save her from the rapist that adopted them, you feel a genuine bond tying these guys together.

Each brings something to the group with a distinct personality. The short but business savvy ‘Turtle’ has an endearing cockiness about him. ‘Cabbage’ is a friendly giant, ‘Soldier’ is disciplined, ‘Uncovered’ may be a bit of a prick but he’s got a plan to cover your back, and Mario is loyal to his own detriment. Every character in Rainbow is memorable thanks to a complete backstory and complex characteristics. It’s evident within an episode or two that the creator didn’t take any shortcuts when planning his characters.

As I watch these characters grow, I want nothing but the best for them. I want to protect these guys. I want them to be happy. Why can’t they catch a break? Why can’t they just be happy? It’s rare for a story to have me care so much for so many of its characters.

Their camaraderie evokes emotional moments. The most emotional scene for me doesn’t involve any violence or tragedy; it’s just everyone being there for one in the group when he needs them most.

The best arc in Rainbow belongs to Sakuragi, however, because of the conflict between him and the prison guard, a man who will stop at nothing to ruin his life. The guard tries to sow dissent among the friends, tortures the guys, and is complicit in the doctor’s vile acts as long as he can continue to torment Sakuragi. Their arc is fantastic and unexpected in direction. Rainbow as a whole makes several unexpected turns – not twists exactly. Rather, you don’t expect the outcomes of certain threads and events. The writer took bold decisions with the plot.

If I haven’t made it clear already, Rainbow is an anime worthy among the best. Yet, nothing is without fault and the major one with this anime is that the second half isn’t as strong as the first, owing to a lack of cohesion between arcs. The second half is closer to a series of short stories for each of the guys. While these stories are great, the writer didn’t weave them together. It would have been better to run several stories in unison, leaping frogging each other through interwoven events. For example, Joe’s story is about wishing to sing while Mario’s is about his boxing. There is no reason these couldn’t have had connected events and a little shared conflict. Weaving arcs together deepens the connection and raises stakes further when more characters have something on the line. Even so, Rainbow is still excellent throughout.

I don’t know how this anime stayed off my radar until requested for review. I had the horrid thought the other day that I may never have seen Rainbow if not for one dear reader… Even though I’m certain I have every great (or said to be great) anime on my list already, I am going to go through the databases again, just to be sure another Rainbow doesn’t slip past me. Such great anime deserves to be watched by all.

Art – High

The animation is only above average, but the visual style has atmosphere and the painterly stills during key moments are gorgeous, full of emotion.

Sound – Very High

You need great performances to pull off an anime of Rainbow’s weight, and they did it. I love the OP and ED, which stay the same throughout, unable to skip them each time they started. The only audio flaw is with some of the American characters likely played by expats in Japan with mixed acting expertise.

Story – Very High

Seven cellmates in a juvenile reform school cling to hope and friendship during a harsh post-war Japan. Rainbow’s uncompromising conflict will have you engaged and cheering for these boys to the end.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t like the brutal subject matter. Rainbow is a top tier anime that deserves a larger audience.

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


Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequencePhenomenal VillainStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None


Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica


Related: Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 1 & 2 (alternate version)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 3: Rebellion (sequel)

Similar: Steins;Gate


Princess Tutu

Neon Genesis Evangelion


Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes



  • Relentless conflict against the characters.
  • Keeps getting better.
  • Superb development of the plot points.
  • Many beautiful art elements.


  • First two episodes are dull enough to turn people away.

(Request an anime for review here.)

“It’s a deconstruction of the genre – it’s so good!” Whenever I hear this word ‘deconstruction’ as praise for a series, I take it as a warning sign of incoming rubbish, for it’s often used as a blanket excuse to wave away the same mistakes from the genre it “deconstructs.” Throw in a moe style, and my hopes for Puella Magi Madoka Magica aren’t high going in. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.

My fears are realised in the first episode. Madoka Magica opens with an it-was-a-dream sequence – the worst opening type – and we soon meet a borderline Mary-Sue in the transfer student, Akemi (perfect at school, loved by all, etc.). Random psychedelic stuff happens suddenly to protagonist Madoka with no explanation, ending in an offer from a Digimon to become a magical girl.

Akemi turns out to be a magical girl. However, she wants to prevent the Digimon creature Kyuubey from contracting Madoka and her friend Sayaka to become magical girls. In exchange for service fighting evil witches, they would have any wish granted. What wish could these privileged girls want granted when they have never wanted for anything in their lives? Kind classmate Mami, also secretly a magical girl, takes them on a witch hunt to help them decide.

Episode two ends and I am still unimpressed. Studio SHAFT already wowed me with their visually superior Bakemonogatari, so the interesting world won’t keep me engaged alone (the giant moe heads don’t help). Seeing Mami summon rifles from under her skirt is…nifty (each girl has a different power), but where’s the hook snared in my brain to keep me until the end of the series?

And then episode three does something truly magical. It gives a third dimension to one of its characters. Mami says that being a magical girl is not fun, a lonely existence, and frightening. Something in her manner hints at the disturbing events to come.

From that moment on, Madoka Magica had me. The writers demonstrated they understood depth of character in that single scene, earning audience trust that we would not be lead into drudgery.

Despite Mami’s words and Akemi’s warnings, Madoka still wants to become the most wonderful of little girl superheroes because she feels it would give purpose to her bland life. She doesn’t seem to understand the terms of the contract – we do; the story makes sure of this. She must soon learn that being a magical girl isn’t a game.

Meanwhile, the promise of any wish granted looks tempting to her friend Sayaka when it can cure her hospitalised friend. He could walk and play music again. Will she feel he owes her love for what she has done for him? (I recently read a true story of a man who took a bullet for his long-time crush, causing irreparable damage to his spine. He feels she owes him love, even though he knows it’s wrong.)

With the approach of the all-powerful witch Walpurgis Nacht, the girls have to make a decision fast.

Madoka Magica improves so much that it manages to justify opening on a dream sequence and having Akemi approach Mary-Sue status. A rare feat, indeed. The twists and turns as we spiral down this story just keep getting better.

I still stand by my distaste of the first two episodes. I know Madoka Magica is supposed to start like any other magical girl story before it flips the table into a realm of trauma. Still they could have started better than the generic entries of the genre. Yes, the episodes that follow do lessen the impact of a weak opening, but better writing would have pieced out morsels of foreshadowing. The morsels would show us this isn’t like other magical girl anime, though we aren’t quite sure why…yet. Mami’s words in episode three is one such morsel.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is not a happy anime full of wishful-thinking and fun times. It’s dark, disturbing, and – I cannot believe I am going to say this about a moe anime – receives my highest recommendation.

Art – High

I like the world – sterile, yet interesting in its space, almost like a dream world with so much infrastructure, yet so few people to populate it. Madoka’s bathroom for example, is gigantic and full of mirrors but in a house too small to fit it. At school, each classroom is a glass box, like the storage rooms in the Vatican library. That said, I am not a fan of characters with heads as wide as the shoulders, and the compositions aren’t what Studio SHAFT would achieve later in Bakemonogatari.

Sound – High

Fine acting – no fake squeaky voices! The Celtic music is a nice touch.

Story – Very High

A young girl is set to learn that the world of Magical Girls isn’t quite so magical. After it gets over the weak start, Madoka Magica dives into a world of psychological challenges, punishing conflict, and a beautifully meted out plot.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. I don’t care if you hate moe or magical girls, you must watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I cannot guarantee you will like it, but I promise you it will be different.

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


Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationHoly S***Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters


Terrible Start

Aoi Bungaku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Bungaku


Similar: Monster

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror

Box of Goblins


Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes



  • Something different.
  • Stories three and six.
  • Complex characters.
  • Dark and twisted imagery in some stories.


  • Stories two and four.
  • First story needs more episodes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Aoi Bungaku is an adaptation of six Japanese literary classics, each sharing a facet of the authors’ lives and psychology. This makes the second short story collection I’ve reviewed recently, but where Diamond Daydreams is an easy viewing experience, Aoi Bungaku is intense, dark, and often twisted.

No Longer Human, the first story, follows the descent into darkness of a high school student after losing his way into drugs and abuse. This noir-esque tale shows his life at different stages in four episodes, each stage worse than the last. He sees a ghost of his former self in reflection, void of identity, a hollow shell with no purpose.

The most depressing story in the collection, scholars consider No Longer Human to be autobiographical, explaining why the author killed himself after its completion. This story most needed the extra space – likely a series of its own – out of all works presented, even though it receives the most episodes.

Too heavy for you? Well, In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom, changes gear with its comedic tone as it tells of a bandit and his love for a beautiful yet spoilt woman. She agrees to marry him if he fulfils her request, and in his blindness, he agrees to all she asks. Her requests keep getting more and more outlandish. She starts with a simple ride up the mountain, then it’s to kill his other wives without question, and she only demands worse from there on.

On paper, this story sounds brutal. However, the comedy gives the opposite result. There’s a talking boar, for example, trying to reason his way out of becoming dinner for the wives, one of whom speaks English, for some reason. Sudden chibi comedy bursts on the scene as well. Honestly, I’m not sure what the intent was with this one. It doesn’t work as a comedy nor as a dark tale – though one of the woman’s final requests is truly messed up. A weak story, in the end.

Kokoro, story three, takes us in yet another direction to deliver the best of the series. It explores the friendship between a scholar and a wanderer. The scholar begins to regret inviting his friend to use the spare room when he takes an interest in the landlady’s daughter, for whom the scholar has designs. In a single episode, we see a full character arc pass from friendship and trust to jealousy and egoism. We see more development here than some anime have in a season. And that’s not even Kokoro’s greatest strength.

The next episode goes back to the start of the tale, but this time shows everything from the wanderer’s perspective. It’s brilliant to see how versions of events differ and exemplifies the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ device. Kokoro handily wins best story in this anime.

Run, Melos! comes next, killing the momentum by being the weakest of the lot. It’s a contemporary take on a Greek classic, focusing on unwavering friendship no matter what life may throw. The story hasn’t much to it, no real turns or points of interest – the shortness doesn’t help.

The Spider’s Thread – story five – puts an assassin to the test in redemption at the end of his life. He lived a life without concern for anyone or anything but himself – he even kills a woman that fed him in kindness – and goes to Hell for his actions. However, he receives one final chance at redemption when a spider’s thread descends from Heaven.

The most psychedelic of the stories, The Spider’s Thread almost reaches greatness. I like its idea – reminds of Death Parade. Yet with most of the conflict occurring in his mind it lacks the weight, the impact, it could have had if he had faced other people as well.

Lastly, we end on Hell Screen. A lord commissions a famous artist to paint an epic depiction of ‘Buddhist Hell’ in all its facets. The artist’s superior skill stems from his ability to capture the emotion of reality like no other. The catch is that he must witness these emotions for himself, and the commission being one of hell, his research turns to madness. Life begins to imitate art as the lord’s people go mad.

This story recalls the Warhammer novel Fulgrim, where Slaanesh, Chaos God of Pleasure and Excess, corrupts a legion of Space Marines in their quest for perfection in art and battle. The corruption goes so far, drives the legion so mad that one artist paints his magnum opus from his own blood, sweat, and faeces – literally. Highly recommended book. Without giving anything away, the painter’s final masterpiece in Hell Screen is similar to that – twisted yet riveting.

Aoi Bungaku slips under the radar of most anime fans. I had never heard anyone mention it before unless I specifically searched for material on it. Those looking for a hidden gem may find it in Aoi Bungaku.

Art – High

Despite being low on animation, Aoi Bungaku has some great imagery and compositions in several stories. The art style changes for each story to match the tone – dark and grainy for the heaviness in No Longer Human, vibrant for In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom’s comedic angle, and so on. I liked Kokoro’s camerawork and framing most.

Sound – High

The protagonist in each story shares the same actor, who also plays host, and the acting is good overall. Music effectiveness seems to match story quality.

Story – High/Medium

A series of Japanese classics with a focus on character study get anime adaptations, succeeding to varying degrees. Stories three and six rise above, while two and four lack presence. The split rating is for the varying quality between stories.

Overall Quality – High/Medium

Recommendation: Watch Kokoro (episodes 7 & 8) and Hell Screen (episode 12) – give or take the rest. Even if interested in seeing all stories, Aoi Bungaku is only twelve episodes long and presents something new every few, so it won’t take much time to experience this distinct anime.

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


Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor


Related: Kaiji: Against All Rules (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Akagi

One Outs

No Game No Life

Death Note


Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Gambling Sports Psychological Thriller

Length: 26 episodes (season 1), 26 episodes (season 2)



  • Intense gambling psychology.
  • Brutal challenges.
  • Clever strategies.
  • Great protagonist to cheer for while yelling at his naïveté.


  • Drags at times.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Akagi is one of my favourite hidden gems of anime, regardless of its flaws, so when going into Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor by the same creator, my expectations were high. And Kaiji delivers.

It follows Kaiji, a bum with no responsibilities in life and gambling as his only talent. His life goes to hell one day when a debt collector called Endou turns up at his door to collect on a loan Kaiji co-signed with a friend. This friend scarpered, so the repayment of 300,000 yen falls on Kaiji’s shoulders. Except, the debt now stands at 3,850,000 yen due to compound interest – the Yakuza are unfair like that. With not a yen to Kaiji’s name, Endou offers an alternative: play a game on our boat, win and clear your debt. Who knows, he may even leave with extra in his pocket. Tempted by Endou’s masterful baiting, Kaiji accepts.

The game isn’t a standard tournament of poker, blackjack, or mahjong, as one would expect. No, it’s rock-paper-scissors.


You heard me. The twist is that players have limited uses of each symbol, meaning there are limited wins on the table. Each win allows a player to take a star from the opponent. To survive the night, a player must have at least three stars (they start with three), but also use up all their symbols. To complicate matters further, beforehand each player could borrow 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 yen at a rate of 1.5% per ten minutes in a four-hour tournament. All must be repaid before leaving the boat. Win an excess to the debt and you keep the difference. Players can sell extra stars at the end for exorbitant amounts of money. Why are the stars so valuable? Well, finish with less than three stars and you become a slave until the tournament next year.

The premise had me hooked. It reminds me of a gambling version of the Zero Escape game series (Virtue’s Last Reward is the best visual novel ever made). At first, Kaiji feels like every underdog gambling setup: bum guy forced to clear a friend’s debt. But no, Kaiji spirals into crazy territory only anime would attempt.

The games takes unexpected turns, even in something as simple as RPS. I get the impression the writer thought of the obvious first, discarded it, and said, “I don’t print until I find something better.”

Kaiji’s strength (and where it outshines Akagi) lies in the conflict between characters. The gambling is a mere device to bring the psyche of each contestant to bear. This is a depraved underworld where the rich put on these sick and twisted games for entertainment. With each subsequent game – for there are several throughout the series – the entertainment grows more and more twisted.

The central theme is trust and betrayal. Kaiji must survive in a world where people will do anything for survival, or worse, greed. He starts as a naïve, gullible fool. Several times, I found myself yelling, “Of course it’s a trick, you fool! How could you fall for that?” Unlike other shows, however, where a character (usually the villain) falls for a trick because the writer said so, Kaiji sells us on the decision first.

Kaiji himself elevates this anime above most other artworks of this nature, such as Danganronpa. He has complexity. He doesn’t simply cheat everyone nor does he go full goody-two-shoes. He struggles against his conscience between the requirements to win and the cost on his soul.

If I had to level a complaint, it would be the pacing. It drags at times. One scene of characters being indecisive with a single decision shouldn’t take an episode, let alone a few. There is also enough to be had within the first season; the second is more of the same but in different games. Then again, if you enjoyed the first, you’ll find it easy to keep going.

Kaiji is one hell of a tense ride.

Art – Medium

Kaiji sports the same art style as Akagi, and as with the latter, it’s either hit or miss with the audience. I like its eccentricity. It’s a notch above Akagi on a technical level.

Sound – High

The acting couldn’t have more tension if the actors tried, accentuated by equally tense music. The intense sports-like narrator is perfect.

Story – High

A debt-riddled bum agrees to risk it all in a chance at clearing his debts. The games are strange, the rules insane, and the tension high. A little long in parts.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. If you liked Akagi, you will like Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor. Outside the art, the tension is most likely to put people off. Yes, it’s so intense it may stress you too much.

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


StrategicStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Terror in Resonance – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Zankyou no Terror


Similar: Death Note



Eden of the East


Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Length: 11 episodes



  • Compelling premise.
  • Love the soundtrack.
  • Tackles some concepts rarely covered.


  • Muddled motivations and actions.
  • Main antagonist is garbage.
  • “Geniuses.”
  • Riddles solved easily.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Why would you do this to me? Why would you set up so well, promise so much and then tear it away? You are tearing me apart, Lisa Terror in Resonance!

A terrorist bombing leaves Tokyo in shock, for the only clue the police have is an internet video of two masked people calling themselves ‘Sphinx,’ presenting a riddle on the whereabouts of the next bomb. Plutonium also went missing from a nuclear facility six months ago. Lisa witnesses two teenage boys, Nine and Twelve, from her school planting toys stuffed with explosives. They give her a choice: become an accomplice or die. Thinking her life unable to get any worse than it already is, she joins them.

So, teenagers as terrorists – that’s interesting. An emo girl roped into the operation – could be good. Shame it isn’t. The worst is that Terror in Resonance seems good as your watching it, but in the latter half when they reveal the secrets and motivations, it retroactively contaminates elements that seemed solid.

Most notably is the motivation behind these edgy teens. I won’t give anything away, but it’s imbecilic. A thousand ways come to mind that are better at changing the world for the better than random bombings. To give an analogy, imagine someone killing puppies. You guess he’s evil. But, ah, yes, it’s because these puppies are being tortured and killing them is mercy. That makes sense. Wait, you think, why not free them? Well, they can’t survive without anyone to care for them, so it’s better they die now than starve in the cold. That makes sen—why not give them to somebody? Surely, there must be other avenues to try before euthanasia. Terror in Resonance doesn’t even ask these questions. It goes straight to the nuclear option, made worse when you’re told these kids are geniuses.

That’s another thing – the “intelligence” of characters and strategies is idiotic. Take the first riddle (‘Sphinx’ motif at play). It’s easy to solve with a quick Google search (or Yahoo, as is popular in Japan) and I’ve heard it before. Yet the detective in charge never thinks of that.

Later, they introduce Five, a “genius” girl working for the FBI, to catch Nine and Twelve. If the quirky naming scheme wasn’t obvious enough, Resonance wants to be Death Note. Nothing wrong with that. But to draw inspiration from another piece, one must understand said piece, particularly what made it succeed. The Resonance writer seems to think that throwing random crazy and nonsensical mental duels at the story was Death Note’s secret.

She has edge and crazy instead of character. Yes, L was an oddball in Death Note, but that’s on top of his depth. Five’s motivations make no sense, as every move she chooses puts her further from the objective of recovering the plutonium. One duel has Five face the boys in a shopping centre. Her team has eyes everywhere, while the boys must navigate the surveillance in a grid like a chessboard. It’s nonsense. Especially once you realise no one needs to play this convoluted game. I assume the writer thought the scene needed some hook, some quirk to draw the audience and forced in the cliché chess angle.

I almost forgot Lisa – as the plot did (ba-dum tss). Each episode, I kept wondering about her purpose to the story, as the camera occasionally cut to her moping in the hideout or around town. She has none. She leapt at Twelve’s invitation, yet is unwilling to partake in the bombings. Resonance’s main theme is cycle of abuse and if one would break the cycle when given power of one’s abuser. She’s a concentrated proxy of this cycle, but with so little personality and impact, her metaphorical role amounts to nothing, like all edgelords. Cut her from the story!

The writer muddled the message by trying to make everything more complicated than necessary. It didn’t need all the Death Note touches – should have been itself. These kids want to change the world through extreme means; however, their actions are confusing. So many better decisions could have had higher efficacy. Terror in Resonance’s art, music, and concepts are better than the story itself.

Art – High

Terror in Resonance has nice clean art and animation, rarely relying on static shots. Colours pop.

Sound – Very High

I love the soundtrack, from the ethereal OP and ED (I hated skipping them twice when pressed for time) to the instrumental background music. With Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain) on the music, her international folio delivers, including Indian Tabla – a rarity in anime – for tension. The dub is better than the original, as the American characters don’t speak Engrish and it matched voices better. Original is still good, overall.

Story – Medium

A terrorist attack on Tokyo leaves little clues outside an internet video with a riddle warning of another bomb. Sadly, a need for edge and desire to be Death Note fails to deliver on the premise.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. I debated extensively on whether to go for a high or medium rating, but the faults dampen the end feeling. I recommend Terror in Resonance on the merits of its visuals, audio, and the concepts it tackles, in spite of its story stumbles.

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


Great MusicPositive Recommended English Voice Track


DissapointingUseless Side CastWeak End