Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Space Brothers – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Uchuu Kyoudai

 

Similar: Moonlight Mile

A Place Farther than the Universe

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 99 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Knowledgeable about the space programs

Negatives:

  • Atrocious directing
  • Flatline pace from start to finish
  • Moving manga

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I have wanted to watch Space Brothers since I started writing reviews. Who hasn’t dreamt of being an astronaut or travelling the stars to expand humanity’s horizon? I kept it on the backlog as one to look forward to amongst the long series, something to pick me up – an old reliable – after clearing through a stack of lesser anime. Several readers also requested this for review. Imagine my disappointment to be met with this.

Space Brothers is about the process to becoming an astronaut. It follows Mutta, a recently furloughed automobile engineer in search of a new purpose. Meanwhile, his younger brother Hibito is on top of the world, or rather, out of this world as a leading astronaut set for the moon. When Mutta’s parents sign him up for the space program behind his back, he now has opportunity to fulfil the promise made by the siblings as children. They could both go to space together.

When I say Space Brothers is about the astronaut process, I mean it. This anime does deliver on that promise. We see every step of the rigorous journey from the application to the interviews to the many training programs before one even has a hope of final selection for the rocket crew. Yep, you could spend years preparing, practicing, and training only to end up on the bench as everyone else watches Earth shrink to a marble from the window. Space Brothers does a good job of detailing the process while injecting a personal touch from the characters.

It sounds as if Space Brothers has succeeded in its mission, so how could I possibly be disappointed?

The execution of this project has resulted in the most boring anime experience of my life.

A long series that takes its time isn’t an issue for me – Legend of the Galactic Heroes is my favourite anime after all. However, it needs to justify the extra time taken. Space Brothers does not do that by any measure when this extra time goes to filler. Every shot is slow. The shot should cut, but will instead hang for a half or full second or even two (a long time in editing). How many times do I have to watch someone wake up, brush their teeth, and eat breakfast? I have lost count at the number of slow pans across a character with no animation.

Speaking of. Screenshots of Space Brothers look fine. Animation of Space Brothers looks the same. There is no animation. The mouths flap at least. When someone walks, the camera will switch to a medium shot to cut off the legs (no animation needed there) and bob a still image of the character up and down. This is moving manga. And filler.

Here’s what you do: get a camera and a copy of the manga. Now slowly pan the camera as you read panels through the viewfinder. Oh, you finished reading the panel already? Tsk, tsk, don’t be so hasty. You must finish panning the camera first or you will break the “immersion” of this man’s career. That’s the Space Brothers experience.

Speaking of again. Read the great manga instead (no camera). You will clear the full series (the anime covers half of the volumes) in a third of the time it would take to finish the anime. The anime also manages to make every character boring and none of the foreigners, of which there are many, seem very foreign.

Space Brothers has to have the worst anime direction I’ve ever seen. There is no craft, no effort whatsoever in this directing.

The acting is good, but the script lacks soul. It’s flat, likely a symptom of the bad directing. The soundtrack seems to have maybe three songs, each overused to death and made more noticeable when that damned camera is still slowly panning after the dialogue ends! I swear the sound editor turns up the volume on that one “idle’ song just to drive you mad during these moments.

I can’t even recommend it for the good parts in between the filler. There are no good parts. This awful directing is everywhere. Across the 99 episodes, I recall no tension, not even during the one tense moment.

Do not watch Space Brothers. You could become an astronaut with the willpower required to make it through this series.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Read the manga. I cannot recommend the Space Brothers anime with how much it disrespects your time.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DisappointingPoor Pacing

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

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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.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

The Return – 30 Reviews in 30 Days!

As many of you may have noticed, I have been on an impromptu hiatus for a while. With many in my industry relying on my work during COVID, I was simply too busy and had to scale back in many areas, including the reviews. However! I’m back and I am returning strong.

Over the next 30 days, starting tomorrow, I’ll be doing one review a day across a mix of manga and anime, current and backlist, popular and hidden gems. I’ll knockout a few titles that have been sitting on the “watched/read but not reviewed” list such as Red River, Blame, Billy Bat, and Yuri on Ice, and get to the current crop anime like Dr Stone, Wonder Egg Priority, perhaps Jujutsu Kaisen, and anime of the year, Ex-Arm.

Then we have all of the messages and comments sent by many of you during this time. I will get to what I can during this week.

Hope to see you all throughout the challenge and thanks for waiting!

Super Dimension Fortress Macross – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Macross

 

Related: Macross Zero (prequel)

Macross Plus (sequel)

Macross: Do You Remember Love? (alternate version)

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam

Martian Successor Nadesico

Terra e…

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Romance Science Fiction

Length: 36 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Weaponised culture
  • A real sense of adventure through space
  • Full of unconventional ideas
  • That kissing demonstration

Negatives:

  • The art and animation has plenty of jank
  • Minmay is too annoying for a love interest

(Request an anime for review here.)

Macross, often known as Robotech in the West (more on that saga later), is a classic of mecha sci-fi anime. A cursory glance at the series paints a picture of a Gundam clone. As a fan of Gundam, I had no problem should that be the case. However, the differences are significant.

They make Macross worthwhile.

Today, we focus specifically on the first entry of this long running franchise, Super Dimension Fortress Macross (like the first Mobile Suit Gundam, they needed to change the name to differentiate from other entries). Shortly before the new millennium, an alien spaceship crash-landed on Earth. A united humanity worked for a decade to reverse-engineer this technology in anticipation of the aliens’ return. They succeed in creating SDF-1 Macross, a city sized spaceship, but its maiden voyage also alerts the Zentradi aliens out in space, bringing them back to Earth. An attempt to escape and draw alien attention goes awry and the Macross teleports deep into space, taking the nearby water and town with it.

A hasty salvage mission brings much of these surroundings – civilians included – on board the gargantuan ship. They must now make their way home while establishing a normal life inside and fighting off threats outside. Amongst the crew is Hikaru, a young pilot, and Lynn Minmay, a flighty singer and the target of his affections.

Macross’s first hook into me is the teleportation of the town alongside the ship. Bringing an entire town aboard a ship is something different indeed and is a clever way of having ordinary civilian life within a grand space journey. In long journey Gundam series – a much more serious and realistic franchise – you can’t get away with this. The most Gundam can sell to the audience is bringing a few civilians aboard the main ship, while cutting away to other characters elsewhere amongst the populace. Macross can go from dogfights in space one episode to a walk in the park next episode for the same characters. This completely changes the tone of the series. I love the cosy feel and balance offered by this dynamic. It’s more fun than Gundam. Not to suggest it lacks dramatic moments, of course.

The alien Zentradi are humanoid giants obsessed with war. Everything in their society revolves around combat. And this is where Macross’s greatest difference and best selling point compared to its peers comes into play. What starts as a war of weapons and bodies soon turns into a war of culture. Culture is humanity’s secret weapon.

One of the first major social events aboard the Macross, in an effort to create a normal life, is the Miss Macross contest. Minmay wins, which launches her off to stardom as the most famous person in Macross “city”, netting music, film, and sponsorship deals. Her music inspires the people. She will even perform live to calm everyone as war rages outside. The Zentradi intercept her broadcast and have no idea what’s going on. They’ve never heard music before. This launches infiltration missions to figure out what’s going on and perhaps capture some of this…whatever this is! The more they encounter human culture, the more bleeds out to the aliens. “I like this ‘music’ thing,” some think to themselves. “Why are we trying to destroy it again…?” A song called Lili Marleen inspired Minmay’s character, as it was popular by both the Allies and Axis during WW2.

This very much mirrors accounts of North Korean defectors. Most North Koreans would swear up and down that their country is great, superior to other countries, but they don’t know any more of the real world than what the government propaganda feeds them. However, there are leaks. South Korean TV dramas are a favourite with North Koreans, surreptitiously watched on smuggled discs with the threat of eternal labour or death hanging over their heads. In these k-dramas, they see a version of life beyond the border and begin to long for it. (I recommend Crash Landing on You on Netflix if you want a great k-drama involving North Korea.)

Needless to say, this aspect of Macross is excellent. It also leads to the most hilarious kissing scene in anime history in the third act. One of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen. Pure gold.

To talk of the characters, there isn’t too much to say. Most are solid, decent characters for their roles. If you are familiar with the casts of old Gundam series, you will see similarities, which is fine. An all-round decent cast. The only one to stand out is Minmay and I wouldn’t say for good reasons. The kinda romance between her and Hikaru isn’t engaging. First, she’s far too flaky and meek for someone like him. Young guy sees pretty girl, his brain shuts off, he “falls in love”, yes, but I don’t buy that he would keep chasing after another more mature woman shows interest. Minmay is the sort of woman that would have men leaving her every few months as her fans cry, “Are they crazy? How could they leave someone as kind, attractive, and famous as her!?”

Yet others would say, “No matter how hot she is, someone out there is sick of dealing with her shit.” Discussing the series with friends after finishing it revealed that I am not alone in my sentiments towards her. She is a divisive one. Her role in the story is great, don’t misunderstand me, but her character is irritating.

Before I leave you with my recommendation for Macross, I must talk of its release in the West and why you may have never heard of it before, despite a new release every few years. Macross first came out in English as Robotech in 1985, combing three different series and not even from the same franchise – Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. The explanation was that one series alone was too short for American TV at the time (required 65+ episodes), so they decided to combine three and make a new story. It doesn’t end there!

 

Macross wouldn’t receive an unedited, clean release with a dub until 2006, almost 24 years after creation. Interestingly, Minmay has the same voice actress and singer in both Japanese and English. Her voice stands out amongst the Americans, though it is authentic. The distribution rights are still a nightmare. The US distributor only has rights to SDF Macross as a legal battle over the Japanese rights has circled back to throw the English rights into question. The other series, as far as I’m aware, have never had foreign release. Absolute mess!

This dub comes with the advantage of remastered audio, should Macross’s age be a turn off, and it is a good dub. The animation is a bit jank, a far cry from what the likes of Gundam was putting out at the time, though it has charm.

I thoroughly enjoyed Super Dimension Fortress Macross and I will be going onto the next series.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For classic anime fans. It may be a little rough around the edges, yet Macross still holds up as a worthwhile anime today.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None