Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Wandering Son – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hourou Musuko

 

Similar: Sweet Blue Flowers

Koi Kaze

One Week Friends

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colouring.

Negatives:

  • Weak protagonists.
  • Too many characters.
  • Lacks weight.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wandering Son is a coming of age story about Shuichi, a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy, going through school. It touches on the subjects of cross-dressing, transgenderism, and puberty. I say touches because it barely delves below the surface on any of its primary topics.

Firstly, it has too many characters – way too many characters for a 12-episode anime (11 in the broadcast version), spreading the screen time too thin. There are so many characters, most of which are similar in both personality and design, that one loses track of who’s who, especially when cross-dressing – “same face” syndrome is a notable problem. They describe Yoshino as “a masculine girl” and Shuichi as a “feminine guy”, but due to the lack of design variety, everyone looks just about equally masculine and feminine. Swap hairstyles and anyone could pass for the opposite gender.

Shuichi lacks presence for a protagonist, often feeling like part of the background. These characters don’t have the emotional weight to make me care for their struggles. Hell, I’m not even sure if struggles is the right word, since the conflict is so light. One gets the feeling that it will all resolves itself on its own in time, just like puberty problems everyone goes through.

Speaking of, puberty is a boring subject for a story to focus on. Might just be me though. I am far more interested in the growing responsibilities that come with approaching adulthood and the struggles of finding a purpose in life before thrown into the real world.

As for the transgenderism, much like the protagonist, it doesn’t have a strong presence. The story doesn’t make a big deal about the transgenderism – it’s light on conflict – which is want you want, I suppose, in a general sense. You want characters defined by more than a single factor like identity or sexuality. It recalls the history of gay characters in Hollywood. First, they didn’t exist. Then, they were villains, followed by comic stereotypes, until finally we’re seeing “no big deal” gay characters, which is where you want to be. How many straight characters have no attention drawn to their sexuality? Almost all of them. However, in the case of Wandering Son, where transgenderism is the core theme, you need to give it more attention. On the flip side, that can’t be all there is to the characters either otherwise they end up flat, which is the case here.

If you have reached the stage of your anime journey where you are looking for something different because you have seen enough shounen action/isekai/mecha/teen melodrama to last a lifetime, then Wandering Son is that something different with its subject matter. However, being different isn’t reason to worship something. There is nothing truly bad about this anime. Nor is there anything particularly good. I find it unmemorable.

Art – Medium

Wandering Son uses a nice watercolour style, fitting for the tone and mood of the series. I don’t know why they had to use this faded white vignette, usually reserved for dreams and flashbacks, all the time though. It’s like having someone’s finger in the corner of every photo. Characters need to look more different as well, particularly in the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine and music is pleasant enough.

Story – Low

A boy who wants to be a girl meets a girl who wants to be a boy and they go through school together alongside other friends. The main characters in the bloated cast don’t have enough emotional weight to lead this passive story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Wandering Son is only for those wanting something different, even if it isn’t interesting.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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A Certain Magical Index – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Toaru Majutsu no Index

 

Related: A Certain Scientific Railgun (spin-off – included in review)

Similar: Strike the Blood

Guilty Crown

Shakugan no Shana

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Science Fiction

Length: 48 episodes (Index – 2 seasons), 48 episodes (Railgun – 2 seasons), 4 OVA, 1 movie

 

Positives:

  • Nothing.

Negatives:

  • Won’t shut up about character names.
  • Talks more about abilities rather than using them.
  • Insufferable characters.
  • Moronic through and through.
  • Almost all dialogue is useless.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So close. So close! We were this close to peak stupidity. We have idiotic characters, some of anime’s tropes at their worst, and fantasy mechanics so lazy that you could shuffle a fantasy/sci-fi deck and pick at random to create something better.

A Certain Magical Index is set in Academy City, a place where magic meets science and most citizens have a supernatural power. Kamijou is unique among the populace, for his ability cancels out the abilities of others. He doesn’t need it though since he keeps his nose out of trouble. This easy life changes when a nun girl called Index Librorum Prohibitorum containing over 100,000 magical texts in her brain comes under his protection. A powerful organisation of psychics would love to crack that skull of hers and see what knowledge comes tumbling out.

The first issue the author should have nixed in the planning phase was Kamijou’s tension nullifying ability – sorry, I meant his ability to nullify others. The most powerful enemies throw everything they have at him and he flicks them away as if it’s nothing. What’s the point? Nullifying characters aren’t new and have worked in other fiction. Usually, the character has to hold onto the enemy to nullify their power, thus limiting the range and giving a counter (throw him off), or the nullification puts them on even footing but the character still has to win a standard sword fight (a.k.a. No Items, Fox Only, Final Destination). For Kamijou, it’s a free win. So again I ask, what’s the point?

Needless to say, the action sucks.

Then we come to the characters, each of which are insufferable from the first meeting. Where to start? The eight-year-old girl we’re supposed to believe is a 30-year-old teacher? The 25-year-old guy we’re supposed to believe is 14? The character who thinks being able to tell the time without a clock is the coolest skill ever? Or each character’s obsession with secret names? Every fight, half the dialogue is about their stupid names, as if anyone would care. If it revealed some secret identity or twist that changed the flow of battle, sure, but it doesn’t.

What I said about the 8-year-old looking teacher and the middle-aged teen is serious, by the way. Index takes anime tropes and cranks them up to the max unironically. It’s possible the author was trying to be ironic, but I suspect he just copied from all other supernatural high school anime like a hack. Wouldn’t it be cool if allies fought each other for no discernible reason?

Oh yeah, I haven’t talked about Kamijou himself. There’s nothing to say. He’s the generic “nice guy” protagonist of this genre. Meanwhile, Index is a typical moe genki girl that should have taken a shotgun to the jaw in episode 1.

The worst aspect of Index has to be the dialogue, which is almost entirely exposition to explain the awful mechanics and lore of this world. We aren’t watching a story. We are hearing the author read aloud his world-building diary (a bad world build at that) instead.

There is so much useless dialogue. It doesn’t get any worse than when it introduces the Misaka clones that talk in the third person with dialogue tags. Not only is it overused, but also makes no sense. And just when you think the clones are finally gone, one returns as a naked loli – still narrating in the third person – with the added twist of saying her name twice each line. Yay! (If ISIS ever takes me, all they need to break me is her dialogue on repeat.) And she has clones!

The audience has no reason to care about anything. Characters talk and talk instead of having personalities and development. They even talk about their abilities more than they use them! Not that it really matters. The abilities are unimaginative and as mentioned previously, don’t affect the protagonist.

Yet with all that said, this isn’t as bad as it could be. The abilities look alright and I’ve seen worse animation. The pacing is fine as well. I wish they had put more effort into making A Certain Magical Index so bad it’s good. It’s just bad.

In the end, I only have one question. How in hell did this garbage get multiple seasons and spin-offs?

Art – Low

The character designs are among the worst in anime. The spell effects are alright though and the animation could be worse.

Sound – Very Low

This awful script has padding, not characters. There is so much dumb here that it will leave you speechless.

Story – Very Low

One super powered teen in a city of many must protect a walking library from a villainous organisation. No one could save this story.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Unless you want to walk into the den of stupidity, avoid A Certain Magical Index and all its spin-offs at all costs.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Awful DialogueHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityNo DevelopmentRubbish Major CharactersUseless Side Cast

The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kaguya-hime no Monogatari

 

Similar: Mushishi

Wolf Children

Spirited Away

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Length: 2 hr. 17 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Masterful artwork.
  • Simple, yet has depth.
  • Employs surprising subtlety.

Negatives:

  • Folktale simplicity does limit character attachment.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Tale of Princess Kaguya was the final film directed by the late Isao Takahata, the other half of Studio Ghibli’s directorial excellence alongside Hayao Miyazaki. Takahata tended to direct the studio’s more realistic works, such as Only Yesterday and the best-film-I-never-want-to-watch-again Grave of the Fireflies. I found it unusual for him to be at the helm of this project based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The departure from his comfort zone isn’t cause for concern however, for he executed this film brilliantly with a unique art style that makes the subtle story leap off the page.

We start with a bamboo cutter at work in the forest. To his astonishment, he finds a little girl growing inside a bamboo shoot and takes her home to his wife. They take the girl in as their own, but it is clear this is no ordinary child, one they believe is a blessing sent from heaven. She grows at an alarming rate.

Another blessing lands before the cutter when he finds a mound of gold inside a bamboo tree. This convinces him that she must be a princess. And a princess must live like royalty, so he tears up their mountainside roots and takes her to the capital. He gives Kaguya everything to make her happy – a mansion, the finest clothes, servants, the best teacher in etiquette, and dozens of suitors after her hand in marriage. Nothing is too much for his princess. But did he ever ask if she wanted any of this?

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is most effective in its combination of art and sticking to the folktale narrative. The art is beautiful, so beautiful. Even if you aren’t a fan of folktale stories due to their simplicity, Kaguya is worth it for the imagery. The style recalls old Japanese paintings (see below for one from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, 17th century), though modernised a little to work better in motion. Studio Ghibli managed to make the art look traditional and have such texture (one can feel the “paper”) that you could believe they had taken some 17th century artist’s sketchbook and simply animated it.

This art is a great example of the “less is more” concept for the visual side of storytelling. They could have easily used effects to add more stars in the sky and atmospheric lighting, which I am sure would have still looked fine, but the restraint to exclude many modern techniques makes it special.

Narratively, Kaguya has similar restraint. It reminds of Western fairy tales, where the purpose isn’t to explain every detail or fantasy element. Why is Sleeping Beauty to die from a spinning wheel and not a sword? Where did Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother come from? It doesn’t matter. The tale is about a simple character in a simple story with a simple message.

You have to watch Kaguya with the same mentality, which is where I think some people may not be interested. Fairy tale simplicity isn’t for everyone. I love Disney’s adaptations of fairy tales, so Kaguya was great for me. (Funnily enough, I don’t enjoy reading these same fairy tales because without the visuals and style, I find them too shallow.)

What made this tale so interesting to me was its sadness. Frankly, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is rather depressing. We see her father seduced by greed, yet still believing he’s doing everything for her. He deems the villagers they lived with as beneath them (reminds me of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens – recommend the TV series). Kaguya doesn’t want her eyebrows removed and teeth blackened like other noblewomen, yet she also doesn’t want to disappoint her family. Outside of the humour with the five buffoons that call themselves princes, professing how much they will worship her and how rare of a treasure she is, I find little happiness here. Then again, perhaps that’s just me. Even when she meets one of her old village friends again and has a moment of freedom, it just made me sadder because I knew how fleeting it would be.

And the ending…well, I leave that for you to experience.

Art – Very High

The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s art is both stunning and unique. To change the style would mean to lose more than just the art.

Sound – Very High

The dub is perfectly fine and the performances by Kaguya’s parents are particularly emotive. However, go with the original Japanese to get the full experience of all the formalities and uncomfortable elements of the period. Also, Kaguya’s voice matures better with the character’s arc in Japanese. Nice in-world music.

Story – High

A bamboo cutter finds a girl inside a bamboo shoot and wants to give her the world, not realising that the world is too much for a little girl. This simple folktale uses subtlety to evoke great emotion in the reader.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Despite the pastel art, I recommend The Tale of Princess Kaguya more to adults than to kids. The emotional subtlety is rewarding.

(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:

Fluid AnimationStellar Voice ActingStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Paranoia Agent – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mousou Dairinin

 

Similar: Perfect Blue

Paprika

Monster

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Mystery Thriller

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Unnerving.
  • Great music.
  • One wild ride.

Negatives:

  • Wacky at the expense of clarity at times.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Finishing Paranoia Agent is a bittersweet experience for me with Satoshi Kon being one of my favourite anime directors. He was one of the few directors whose anime I could be sure to watch on his name alone. Ironically, my experience with Kon’s work started in disgust as he disturbed me for years with the psychological horror Perfect Blue. I put off watching Paranoia Agent for the longest time since it would mean I have none of his filmography left to watch. However, when a dear reader requested it, I couldn’t make any more excuses.

I can best describe Paranoia Agent as an amalgamation of all his work. It has bits of everything. The psychological unease of Perfect Blue, the mind-bending trip of Paprika, the endearing adventure of Tokyo Godfathers, and the visual storytelling of Millennium Actress are all present. To gather so many varied elements in one place and have them work together is no easy task, so how does Paranoia Agent fare?

It follows the case of Lil’ Slugger, a boy who zips around town on rollerblades beating people with a bent baseball bat. The detectives’ task seems an impossible one with the kid appearing and disappearing at what feels like random. He makes no sense.

As soon as you start Paranoia Agent, you know it is Kon’s work. That opening sequence of the cast laughing uncontrollably with soulless eyes, ethereal vocals blasting behind them, is just the right levels of insane and unnerving to set the tone (see video above if you haven’t). The plot seems to start normal enough when Lil’ Slugger attacks the creator of a beloved animal mascot, but once people question if there really was an attack – did she make it all up for attention? – a plushie of the mascot comes to life to comfort her. All in her head, of course. Simple enough to explain.

Then we move onto episode 2, where a popular kid doesn’t like that the fat kid he kept around to make himself feel better starts getting more attention than him. He wishes Lil’ Slugger would attack his “friend” so that he could save him and be hailed a hero by all. He daydreams of the applause. His wish comes true, except everyone thinks he’s the attacker. With the world turned against him, his reality distorts and life begins to melt away. Further and further we, the audience, descend into a world of madness that is difficult to describe and follow. Episode 3 enters full Perfect Blue territory that I won’t give away. Another episode has a student sneezing out his math knowledge. Literal formulas expelled from nose and mouth. And wait until you see what a kid, a middle-aged man, and a geriatric get up to.

For a while, the series feels like an anthology of short stories as it focuses on a different victim each episode. One must wait until the end for it to come together and make sense – well, for the most part. So if you feel lost along the way, don’t worry too much.

That said, Kon could have put more work into making the audience understand what is going on in the moment. I’ll use an early example. During an interrogation, a suspect believes they’re on some fantasy adventure and any questions the detective asks make no sense because they don’t fit the fantasy. The co-detective has the idea to roleplay as a party member to extract bits and pieces within the context of the fantasy world. The lead detective finds this ridiculous, of course, growing increasingly frustrated as they have to humour these delusions. However, when he reacts, it is as though he is a participant of the fantasy world, which doesn’t quite make sense, since he is a non-believer. In short, the fantasy exaggerations go too far and just cause confusion.

Instead of having him in the fantasy, cutting back to the detective should have shown him sitting there irked in boring reality while others play pretend like weirdos next to him. It feels like Kon overindulged in the fantasy element that would become central to Paprika, where it works better, two years later.

Kon truly knows how to make the audience uncomfortable at every turn. His use of creepy imagery and minimal audio makes for tension that grips to breaking point. Even the way a character animates puts one on edge. The journalist hounding the mascot artist has an ordinary enough design, but when he’s looking into the camera at the perspective character and you in the audience by extension, his every mouth movement feels as if he’s about kiss you in the most horrid manner. You want to get away from him – just like the woman does.

Only upon reaching the end of the anime can you receive any relief from all the madness. It’s a wild ride. Paranoia Agent isn’t as good as his more focused films, but it is still a Satoshi Kon work all the way through.

Art – High

Sporting Kon’s realistic art style and creative visuals, Paranoia Agent is a great looking anime. There is a downgrade in animation and detail compared to his movies.

Sound – High

Kon uses one of his (and my) favourite composers, Susumu Hirasawa, having worked previously on Millennium Actress and later in Paprika with him to make a damn weird OP sequence. (Hirasawa is also responsible for the superb Berserk soundtrack). Despite the great tracks, Kon allows a lack of music to unnerve the audience in key scenes.

Story – High

A rollerblading kid with a baseball bat terrorises residents, prompting an investigation by the police that takes a turn for the mental. Not all pieces quite fit together, but Paranoia Agent is a thrill ride nonetheless.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Paranoia Agent will be too weird for many, yet I still recommend it to all but the faintest of heart. Its strangeness is worth experiencing at least once.

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

 

Similar: No Game No Life

Ixion Saga DT

Slayers

Log Horizon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 20 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny characters.
  • Fun, colourful style.
  • Great parody of otherworld anime.

Negatives:

  • Weak story lacks progression.
  • World could do with greater exploration.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Kazuma is useless. Darkness is useless. Megumin is also useless. Aqua is especially useless. Everyone is useless in the world of KonoSuba! And it is great.

After an embarrassing death, high schooler Kazuma has the chance at another life in a fantasy world. A nerd’s dream come true! Unfortunately, he spawns as the worst class in the game and Aqua, the goddess that granted the new life, is a companion without talents to speak of. They soon recruit descendant from a powerful magical bloodline, arch wizard Megumin, master of explosion magic. At last, some strength to the group!

Nope. She can only cast one spell before collapsing. Well, at least they have a resilient tank in the form of paladin Darkness. She will save them! Nope. She’s has zero accuracy in combat and is a masochist that loves taking a beating from monsters – the more people that watch her sweet arse and bountiful breasts get beat the better.

KonoSuba is a refreshing change after trudging through the endless mire of isekai (otherworld) anime. This parody is better and funnier than the vast majority of titles in the genre, not to suggest there is stiff competition.

Everything works and make sense in this take on the genre, Kazuma being utter trash most of all. His team starting out at the bottom doing menial quests such as slaying killer cabbages and painting houses that barely pay enough for living expenses (note how most isekai forget expenses), just like in any MMO, makes sense. Every isekai fan believes that if they woke up in a fantasy world, they would be a powerful knight or wizard at the top of the food chain (just like how advocates for communism think they would be part of the small ruling class and not one of a billion peasants at the bottom). Who knew that being an otaku NEET doesn’t train you for life in a dangerous fantasy world? KonoSuba shows the reality of how garbage everyone would be and leans into it for great comedic effect.

The characters in particular bring this series together. They are such fun, such a riot to hang out with that they overshadow problems. I did think there was a risk of repetition at the start. For example, Darkness’s love of masochism could have quickly become her running into the fray to get smashed, we laugh at the joke and repeat next episode. However, the joke stays fresh because it isn’t about having her armour stripped off each battle. Instead, it’s about the ridiculous lengths she will go to for arousal and how much more desperate she is each time. Just when I thought it wouldn’t be funny anymore, she surprised me next episode.

The big problem with KonoSuba is the story, or lack thereof. The main goal is to defeat the Demon King, something I forgot about a few episodes in since they ignore this in favour of episodic stories. Now, these small stories work well in facilitating the characters and comedy, but they don’t progress the plot. Watching these episodes in the moment wasn’t a problem until it cares about the Demon King again, where it reminds you of how little the plot has moved. The overarching story feels like an afterthought. “Oh damn, I wrote all these great jokes but forgot the story. Quick, make something up – kill bad guy…big monster…demon…yes, demon king! All done. Phew.”

As such, if you are going to watch KonoSuba, you have to do so for the characters and humour. The world itself lacks depth, having used the generic fantasy template, and the story is just as straightforward as can be. If after you meet the whole team you don’t find it funny, then don’t proceed further.

Art – Medium

I like the colours and character designs. It’s a shame little effort went into making the environments anything but generic. If you removed characters from the shot, you wouldn’t know which anime the environment was from. The animation is strong, particularly in the spell effects that took the largest portion of the budget.

Sound – High

The acting is strong, though it may take a little getting used to Kazuma’s voice, as he sounds too old for a teen, but hey, at least it’s something different from the usual forgettable isekai protagonists. (Note: There is a dub on the way, for those interested.)

Story – Medium

A teen revives in a fantasy world, but has no talents and is surrounded by others with no talent either. Characters and humour hold up this rather barebones story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for comedy fans. KonoSuba is greater than the sum of its parts thanks to its characters and hilarious comedy. This is an easy anime to watch and recommend.

(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: None

Negative: None