Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam 0080: Pocket no Naka no Sensou

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam (prequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Drama

Length: 6 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Moral greyness.
  • Great self-contained story with a satisfying end.
  • Quality animation without sacrificing visual detail.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t start strong.

(Request an anime for review here.)

If there are two things you can rely on with this franchise, it’s that a Gundam will be the centre of all attention and there will be an annoying kid. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket manages to defy expectations by omitting the latter.

10-year-old Alfred lives on a neutral colony in space, where little much happens with the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon rampaging in distant locations. Nevertheless, Alfred has a keen interest in the war, particularly in relation to the mobile suits. Excitement strikes when a skirmish bursts into the colony and a Zaku mobile suit crash lands in the woods nearby. Alfred befriends the pilot Bernie. In exchange for learning all about the war and mobile suits, Alfred provides local knowledge of the land to locate a secret Gundam developed by the Federation in the colony. What starts as a naïve child looking for adventure, will soon turn dire when destruction of the entire colony isn’t beyond reason if it means stopping the Gundam.

The first episode does little to capture your attention. The peaceful start focused on Alfred’s mundane life arguing with friends at school about mobile suits and playing light gun games at home isn’t interesting. It makes you wonder what the aim of the story is. No good stuff mentioned above starts until the final scene of the episode. Setting the scene and ordinary life is worthwhile before upheaval, but it didn’t need to take so long. And it isn’t until episode 3 when we near the mid-point that matters kick into gear and the tension has weight.

Bernie is part of cell embedded in the colony disguised as service workers while they search for the Gundam. It’s interesting how one can’t quite decide on whether they are villains looking to attack the colony, made more difficult by the fact that the Gundam’s pilot is a friend of Alfred’s (unbeknownst to anyone), or heroes acting in preemptive self-defence. This moral greyness is a large contributor to War in the Pocket’s engagement.

Gundam stood out at the time as a shounen anime by, apart from putting effort in the functionality of its mechs, enforcing consequences on its characters. Shounen of the era rarely had death. Whether it was through a dragon ball wish or returning from the dead without explanation, people rarely died. It was too violent for children. Gundam, on the other hand, knew that war had casualties and that a bullet to the head meant death. This realistic approach is well present in War in the Pocket and makes it satisfying. The conflict is meaningful because the consequences matter.

My greatest disappointment with this short series is the lack of screen time for the woman next door, Christina. It’s evident that as the pilot of the Gundam Bernie and Alfred are searching for, she is to generate conflict for the two. A crush/friend is one of the enemy, which will give them pause once unveiled. Because she doesn’t have much screen time, we don’t feel this moment of revelation as strongly as the writer intends. That said, this thread isn’t core to the story, so it doesn’t collapse the house.

The core is Bernie and Alfred. Like the greyness of the infiltration cel, Bernie and Alfred’s friendship also has nuance to it. Is Bernie truly friends with Alfred or just taking advantage of some dumb kid? This thread plays out well.

To top it off, Alfred isn’t annoying like the usual Gundam brats. Yes, he does start annoying, particularly when interacting with some girl at school, but kids are like that. Be around kids for a few hours and they are bound to do something annoying – you know, kids being kids (I used to teach them). What makes Gundam kids so insufferable is that they are never not annoying while also contributing nothing to the story. Alfred becomes endearing over time and proves his purpose in the story. And for that, this anime receives my praise.

War in the Pocket is an unrelated side story of the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Apart from the general war from the original, nothing really carries over to here. This is a short story apart from the main conflict of the Gundam universe, which one can enjoy without prior knowledge of the franchise. As such, I would recommend this series to those who have an interest in Gundam yet feel daunted by its scale (for a modern recommendation with easy access, look to Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin).

Art – High

War in the Pocket uses a more realistic art style to draw in an older audience. It succeeds in having quality animation throughout the series without sacrificing character and environmental detail.

Sound – Medium

The music is that classic old anime style. As for the acting, stick to the Japanese since the dub is so-so at best.

Story – High

A boy helps a mobile suit pilot uncover the secret of the Gundam project on his space colony. What starts as an unlikely pairing between a rather annoying mobile suit otaku and a pilot ends up as a satisfying Gundam short story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. For Gundam fans, this is an easy recommendation. For non-Gundam fans, War in the Pocket is ideal if you are looking for a taste of the franchise, as it requires no prior knowledge.

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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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The Garden of Sinners – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kara no Kyoukai

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Darker than Black

Ghost Hunt

Key the Metal Idol

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery Thriller

Length: 9 movies (35 min. to 2 hrs. each)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful environments.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Dead eyes syndrome.
  • Atrocious editing and pacing.
  • No one has a personality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Garden of Sinners is an unusual anime series. I’m not sure if you can refer to it as a series, in the standard sense, for it is nine movies of vastly varying length – 35 minutes to 2 hours long. Furthermore, the movies aren’t connected much beyond the main characters and subject matter. It’s akin to older British detective serials like Poirot, where little of the story carries from one episode to the next, which allows the audience to join any week in the series on TV without feeling lost.

Using this series structure, The Garden of Sinners tells of a detective agency that takes on cases involving the supernatural – spirits, curses, and the like. The agency has three members: the sorceress Touko, able to create human-like dolls, the ordinary human Kokutou, and part-doll protagonist Shiki. She has the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, a power that allows her to see a target’s “lifelines” that will kill them when cut. (That’s how they deal with the supernatural entities.)

The first movie follows a string of suicides by schoolgirls all leaping from the same skyscraper set for demolishment. On paper, this is an interesting anime, just my sort of thing. I love contemporary supernatural stories and I am a ravenous consumer of detective serials. This should be a direct feed of serotonin to my brain injected via a syringe of intriguing mystery, complex characters, fascinating mysticism, and unpredictable story. The Garden of Sinners has none of that.

The most glaring issue is that none of these characters has a personality. This should come as no surprise from the same author who brought us the worse-than-Twilight of anime that is Fate/stay night. Shiki is, by intention, an emotionally repressed person. However, once again, like a bloody broken record, I must stress that emotionally repressed does not equate to zero personality, never mind the other characters who are meant to be real people. I can’t imagine what the authors of these soulless characters think mute people must be like in real life. Do they think that mutes will have no personality because they can’t speak?

This lack of soul bleeds into the mysteries themselves. The narrative never makes an effort to have the audience care for the answers to its questions. It assumes that because it hasn’t given us an answer, we must therefore care to know the answer. I hear my neighbour arguing with her daughter in Mandarin on occasion. I’m not interested to translate what they are saying (daughter probably stays out too late). Have the police turn up to cart away a third person I never knew was there and then you have my attention.

The Garden of Sinners tries to con the audience into thinking it has an intricate plot full of hidden details and deeper meaning, when in fact, it is poor structure and storytelling. “This is really complicated – it must be good!”

To compound problems, the editing is a slog. Many shots hold for too long. It’s just a few seconds here and there, but it doesn’t feel right and adds up over time. Directors and editors don’t have to follow set rules for how long a shot should be. Breaking the rules can create an effect. One can let the camera linger for a few seconds to make the audience feel awkward. An extreme close-up, right in a character’s face as they’re talking creates extreme discomfort in the viewer as desired. However, when breaking the rules, it must be with care. Should the effect backfire, it makes the editing seem amateur, as is often the case in The Garden of Sinners. This isn’t deal breaking, but these long shots do allow us to ponder on the fact that the story and characters are empty.

The exception is the fifth movie about a double homicide that never happened. The visuals take a hit in quality, though do get more consistent, and the editing is much tighter. It feels like a different studio’s production. Despite it being nearly 2 hours long, it’s much easier to get through than the movies half its length because things are happening at pace. There is more energy, more life to it all. Doesn’t magically turn into a great movie, mind you, but it shows how much of a difference editing makes.

Before I leave you, I must touch upon the most forced product placement I have seen in anime. The first movie opens on Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream, drawing some equation between it and Shiki’s personality. And it returns to the ice cream again later. It is…fascinatingly shocking how blatant this advertising is. I don’t know what to make of it.

Art – High

The good old “dead eyes” syndrome studio ufotable is known for makes a return. The editing needs a lot of work, except in movie five. The animation is a mix of long stills broken up by shots of high animation, some in first person. The environments and atmospherics are beautiful.

Sound – Medium

The one and only thing I will take away from this is the soundtrack. I love the melodies and I am a sucker for ethereal vocals. As for the acting, it seems the actors were told to never have emotion in their voice, and under no circumstances are they to have any range. No talent allowed here!

Story – Low

A detective agency dealing with the supernatural investigates a series of mysterious cases. There is no adequate reason The Garden of Sinners needed to be so long and so slow, nor is there a reason to have such soulless characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. The Garden of Sinners isn’t the worst anime – rather average, all things considered – but it is certainly one of the dullest. I can’t recommend anyone waste their time. If you must, then just watch the fifth entry as a standalone movie.

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

ReLIFE – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ReLIFE

 

Similar: Welcome to the NHK

Orange

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 4 OVA (conclusion)

 

Positives:

  • Strong character designs.
  • The light-hearted approach is different.
  • Good use of chibification.
  • Chizuru’s smile.

Negatives:

  • A subplot overshadows main plot for a few episodes.
  • Arata’s backstory is flat.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Anime has a fair number of stories about a character going to the past to fix mistakes in their life. ReLIFE take a different approach by eschewing the time travel element and sending protagonist Arata to present day high school disguised as his young self instead.

This opportunity comes by way of the ReLIFE Research Institute, whose mission statement is to help those that have given up. In the middle of the night, a dimly lit back alley, some random guy comes up to him knowing his full employment history and offers a pill to take a second chance. A 27-year-old man pretending to be a 17-year-old in high school should be easy for him, right? (How many times have you thought, “If I knew everything I know now, I would ace school!”?) Unfortunately for Arata, wasting away in life doesn’t help even if he’s been through high school already, and he fails at everything whether mental or physical. He pulls his shoulder throwing a ball. Fortunately for Arata, the experiment isn’t about achieving better grades.

Upon first seeing this setup, I assumed the story would take the dramatic route along the likes of Orange, where everything in the protagonist’s life went wrong because of one year of high school. I know high school seems like a massive deal when you’re going through it, but in reality, it’s a minor part of life, so I’m glad the writer didn’t overblow it. This light-hearted approach makes ReLIFE something different from similar titles. The only significant element of drama comes from the knowledge that everyone will forget him once the experiment is over. I love this catch for not only making sense as a way to cover up once complete, but also working as a metaphor for how friends drift apart after graduation despite swearing we will all keep in touch.

The heart of ReLIFE is its characters, who are so lovable and enjoyable to be around that they make this journey a pleasure. My favourite character – no contest – is Chizuru, an awkward yet smart girl who has difficulty making friends and has a terrifying smile. Her and Arata’s dynamic is so much fun while their relationship develops – he’s really an adult, so he can’t think further than friendship though! Her smile is perfect.

All these characters feel natural as friends. They avoid the feeling that each is there to fill the token slots of a slice of life cast. Each has a problem to overcome before year’s end. As my readers will know, I’m not a fan of protagonist’s whose job is to solve everyone else’s problems like in Clannad, not least of which is because those character either have no life wisdom to impart or are losers themselves that couldn’t fix a scraped knee. Thankfully, Arata isn’t a problem-solving angel. Progression comes naturally through group effort.

ReLIFE isn’t without its flaws, however. Arata’s backstory on how he came to give up on life is two-dimensional. He worked an office job where everyone was evil except his mentor, who killed herself when bullied by these cartoon villains. Weak. Then there’s a subplot between the two sports girls in the group that halts all main story for a few episodes between the mid-point and act 3.

Lastly, the ending takes place in the 4-episode OVA that suffers from a drop in art quality and feels rushed storywise in parts. The anime series of 13 episodes only adapts about half of the manga, while the OVA hits key points from the remainder. The bittersweet ending is still satisfying, all considered. It has made me consider reading the manga for the full experience, should I ever find the time (I won’t…probably).

ReLIFE was a journey I can easily recommend to anyone. It isn’t as good as the likes of Kids on the Slope or Nodame Cantabile for high school anime, but gets my recommendation nevertheless.

Art – Medium

The character designs and colouring carry ReLIFE’s art department, for there isn’t much in the way of animation, though this isn’t the sort of anime where you can flex. I love the designs – simple yet distinguishable – and funny use of chibification. The OVA really skimps out on the art budget, replacing unnamed characters with silhouettes at school.

Sound – High

Charming music matches the light-hearted approach to reforming one’s life. Great acting in both Japanese and English. I preferred the latter for adding more voice to the dialogue. In an unusual though welcome twist, ReLIFE has a different ending song each episode with some pieces by bands I’ve loved in other anime.

Story – High

Offered a chance at reforming his life, a 27-year-old man goes back to high school transformed into a 17-year-old boy to make friends and live a little. A great group dynamic and fun approach makes this anime enjoyable.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. ReLIFE is such an easy viewing experience with such broad appeal that only the most ardent anti-slice of life crowd won’t enjoy it.

(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

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Related: Phantom The Animation (old OVA)

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Darker than Black

Jormungand

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Suitably grim atmosphere.
  • Follows through with the brutality.

Negatives:

  • What is with act 3?
  • Too much expository dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ever watch an anime that has something about it, something that makes you swear it’s great and yet, there is something equally wrong with it in every aspect that makes you swear it’s bad as well? Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is one such anime.

Let’s start with the beginning. A Japanese man wakes up one day in a dingy room with no idea of how he got there or memory of who he is. Excellent start – we are straight into a moment of high conflict that generates many questions for the audience. Unfortunately, this man has to spell out all of these questions, as if the audience is too dumb to figure out the predicament he’s in. The monologue doesn’t stop. All the scene needed was to have him look around confused, not recognising himself in the mirror, and then just as it feels this is going for too long, the masked assassin woman attacks him and we’re off into tense action.

Less is more, as always.

The man soon learns that a mafia organisation called Inferno has kidnapped him and intends to brainwash him into another killing machine, an assassin like the masked woman. This is my kind of premise. My mind conjures up scenes of psychological torture, clever manipulation, and emotional tearing as the protagonist struggles to hold onto the scraps of his identity. And Phantom does deliver that, but not without a side dish of problems each time.

The way we learn of this premise is through an excess of expository dialogue similar to the man’s monologue, a recurring problem particularly in the first act. What makes it so blatant is the simplicity of the fix. Just cut it. There doesn’t need to be anything in its place. We can see what they’re doing to him by, oddly enough, seeing what they do to him.

This isn’t an anime for toddlers. Things don’t need to be spelt out like an instruction manual. Extra subtlety of character wouldn’t hurt either. When one of the brainwashing scientists doesn’t like how his superior treats him, he says as she walks off, “Such arrogance. How much longer do you think you will be giving me such orders?” Why did the writers have so little faith in the audience to read the air?

Let’s pause the negatives for a moment and focus on positives. I love the execution of the brainwashing, of how they train some guy to kill people for a living and become the assassin “Zwei” alongside the woman “Ein” (two and one in German, respectively). They don’t strap him down and force him to watch random images with his eyes held open. Instead, they make him believe that he made the choice to kill. “If you don’t kill this bad man first, he will kill you. You don’t want that, do you now?” So of course it was his choice. Right? Coupled with how they take advantage of his weakness for Ein, his change works well.

The other major point Phantom has in its favour is the follow through on its premise. For a story about assassins in the darkest corner of society, it delivers on the brutality. No one, no matter the age or level of innocence, is off limits from sudden murder. Too often, I see stories with brutal premises yet spineless executions. There’s no point starting a story about murder and bloody violence if one is going to water it down into this puddle cranberry juice.

Phantom isn’t all violence, however – explosive gunfights aren’t common, honestly. The story moves at a good clip and changes things before matters grow stale, though this doesn’t always succeed.

The second half introduces a little girl who doesn’t fit the series. She feels token, as if Phantom would fail without a small girl, for some reason. I get that they want to create a stronger connection by introducing someone that isn’t drained emotionally, someone normal, but she goes against the tone. It isn’t a major issue though, unlike the final act.

While I won’t spoil the details of act 3, don’t read further if you do intend to try Phantom, which I recommend, as it will infer spoilers.

Still reading? Alright.

Act 3 goes off the funking rails. This grim, psychological thriller turns into a high school drama, wacky high school OP included. I have never been so confused by a time skip before. One of the weirdest things I’ve seen in anime. It feels like a prank.

Furthermore, the [Bee] train never gets back on the rails properly once it explains everything. One scene has a character running through a hail of bullets, which goes against the rules established earlier. Before, even a few bullets meant death. Now, it strays into action cliché. The most annoying part of the final act is the use of the “friend sent to execute an ally, while the ally yells the friend’s name as they’re shot” trope not once, not twice, but thrice. We see the same trope three times in short sequence! At least the main characters’ story concludes well.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is almost an anime I love. If you mention just the good parts, it’s the anime for me, but the problems are a hindrance. I’ve had my eye on it for years ever since it came in an ad flyer for a DVD I bought way back when. Though it isn’t as great as I had hoped for, it is certainly an interesting ride.

Art – Medium

Phantom has the most mature visual style of the studio Bee Train anime. The problem is that is still looks too similar to so many of these shows from the era that it can be difficult to differentiate. It could have used better cinematography to be visually stimulating – see Black Lagoon.

Sound – Medium

Japanese or English is fine – the Hollywood movie references such as “You talkin’ to me?” work better in English. I like the opening song.

Story – Medium

A man wakes up in an unknown location and without memory, unaware of what awaits him on the path to mould him into an assassin. Requiem for the Phantom has a solid layer of quality covered by another layer of mistakes holding it down. And that third act…

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. They don’t really make anime like Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom anymore. If you are into the serious, methodical action with a focus on psychology, this could be for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari

 

Related: Tenchi Muyo (main series)

Similar: Vision of Escaflowne

Vandread

Familiar of Zero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Ecchi Harem Fantasy

Length: 13 episodes (45 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • Pretty cool world design.

Negatives:

  • The perfect protagonist.
  • So much stupid.
  • Glaring audio and visual hiccups.
  • Really, really

(Request an anime for review here.)

The original, janky, and rather rubbish Tenchi Muyo was an anime I occasionally caught on TV an eon ago. I never made an effort to watch much of it, since it was a harem with awful art. A decade later, I stumbled upon a page regarding Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar, which had far superior art and positive buzz from fans. How could Tenchi Muyo have produced anything that wasn’t garbage? And so, with many more years passed since then, it’s finally time to end my curiosity and see the fuss.

This story has Kenshi, younger brother of original Tenchi Muyo’s protagonist, teleported to the fantasy world of Geminar with a mission to assassinate Princess Lashara, but he fails and becomes her slave before eventually fighting for her against his summoners.

War on Geminar makes a good first impression with its visual production. While not unusual by today’s standards, it was rare for what is evidently an otaku-only anime to have an animation budget – sliding stills and big boobs were the expectation. The world design also has creativity. The reptilian mech designs look good, animated fluidly in duels, and I love the idea of an airship being a landmass with a palace and forest on top. Sure, the first episode has harem markers and some fan service barf, but my impression is positive. This is nothing like the Tenchi Muyo I remember. What is this grand magi-tech fantasy kingdom?

However, once the story settles in and starts churning through daily life in Geminar, everything turns to crap. We meet all the girls of his harem, covering every harem archetype to draw in the maximum otaku audience (see cover image of this review up top for the full selection). Whatever one’s preference, War on Geminar has the girl for you. Of course, none of them has an iota of depth, their sole purpose in the anime being to fulfil the obligations of their archetype. It’s stupid interaction after moronic interaction with Kenshi. They almost have depth, right up until the harem tropes undermine their arc to keep them in the pit of trash.

Where it becomes truly atrocious though, is with Kenshi. Allow me to introduce you to the most Mary Sue character in anime. You think you know, but you don’t.

Lashara puts Kenshi to work in the high-class girls’ school as handyman, a Jack-of-All-Trades; except, the writer forgot the “master of none” part of the Jack-of-All-Trades. Kenshi is perfect at everything on his first day. Housekeeping, brick laying, shoemaking, construction work, five-star cooking, delivery, climbing, running, sword fighting – you name it, Kenshi is the best at it first try. Every girl in school is after him, but because he’s so fast and never tires, they all drop of exhaustion. His massage skills are so great that a single grope from him will leave any girl in a permanent state of crippling arousal, for some reason. Then every girl wants him to wash her back during bath time.

Wait, wasn’t this some fantasy anime with mechs? Yep, that’s what it claims.

War on Geminar has an identity problem. It can’t decide if it wants to be a fantasy war series or a high school harem. Once you strip away all art (which has weakened after a few episodes) and all the flash, this is just another bad harem. The highest budget harem you should perhaps watch for its terribleness, certainly, but still a bad harem like any other at its core.

Art – Medium

War on Geminar appears to have great art at first glance. From characters to world design, this looks far better than the original Tenchi Muyo. I like the mech designs and flying palace. There is good animation during duels, but has so much awful outside that – static shots, repeating animations that linger, and some horrible shots. One instance has smoke billowing out of a building, and when the building tips over, so does the smoke pillar. Yes, the smoke in the air “tips” over.

Sound – Very Low

The writing turns you into an idiot. The princess who speaks in third person is especially dumb. Full of kewl quips and one-liners. Even the sound design is poor, which is rare – I mean rare. For example, the guy running on grass makes the sound of heels on tiles. Why?

Story – Very Low

A boy mysteriously teleported to another world joins a cast of girls to defend the empire. This is the highest budget harem garbage ever made, Mary Sue protagonist included.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it or a must watch for garbage. Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar’s production values make it easier to watch that other “so bad it’s good” titles, so if you want some absolute trash, then have fun with this one.

(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:

Awful DialogueInduces StupidityMary SueRubbish Major Characters