Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Elfen Lied – Review

Japanese Title: Elfen Lied

 

Similar: When They Cry

Mirai Nikki

Deadman Wonderland

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Action Romance

Length: 13 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • An unsettling atmosphere crafted by contrasting the innocence of children with hyper-violent gore.
  • Haunting opening theme and soundtrack inspired by Gregorian chant.
  • The telekinetic protagonist’s volatile nature creates plenty of tension.

Negatives:

  • The clichéd humour doesn’t ever lighten the mood, which can make the constant tension exhausting.
  • The male love interest is a weak character that serves little purpose to the core.
  • In trying to imitate the Japanese voice track too closely, the English voices sound awful despite the skilled actors. The Japanese isn’t ideal either.
  • Outside of action scenes, most animation ceases.

A severed arm twitching in a pool of blood. Decapitated heads sail across the room, blood sprays the walls. Screams fill the air. At the centre of the carnage, a young girl, naked. Don’t be fooled by the innocent looking girl; Elfen Lied is violent and bathed in gore, not an anime for the faint of heart.

In the world of Elfen Lied (German for ‘Elven Song’) exists a race known as Diclonius. Human in appearance other than small horns protruding from the skull, Diclonii control telekinetic arms called vectors capable of tearing people in two with a flick. Their purpose is to eliminate humanity and spawn a population of their own. Lucy, the protagonist, is one such Diclonius, who escapes from the laboratory, massacring guards and researchers on the way out. She ends up on a beach in front of Kouta, the male love interest, and his friend Yuka. Her mind traumatised by a gunshot, Lucy now lies dormant, replaced by Nyuu, an innocent alter-personality with the mental development of a child. The laboratory dispatches other Diclonii and a mercenary to hunt Lucy down.

Elfen Lied is an anime of tension. It juxtaposes the young innocence of the characters with the violent nature of their telekinetic powers. How can something so small be so psychotic? Every scene with Nyuu is tense, for she could snap at any moment. A mere second of lost control and a character loses a limb or their head. A Diclonius doesn’t discriminate. Man, woman, child – all die in Elfen Lied. Elfen Lied is brutal and gory, contains child and animal abuse on physical and emotional levels. Do not watch this if you are prone to nightmares.

Nyuu/Lucy duality brings an interesting dynamic to the story. While her innocence is what keeps the power at bay, it is also her greatest weakness, as she is too naïve to control her power. It reminds of the 1931 Frankenstein film (which I highly recommend, by the way) where the monster doesn’t comprehend that actions have consequences, especially when those actions can be so destructive. Elfen Lied explores the nature of humanity, and what can come from it when a child is isolated, abused, and pushed to the limit. It accomplishes this goal rather well.

Music enhances these moments where a character’s psyche breaks and violence paints the screen. The opening is a tragic Latin opera called ‘Lilium,’ set to bizarre symbolist art inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The hymn unsettles, a warning for what is to come. Several versions of ‘Lilium’ play throughout the series and are an important role in the narrative.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Outside of the Diclonii, the rest of the characters are either underdeveloped or dull. Kouta in particular is weak. While his backstory is good and ties with Lucy’s plot line, as a character he has no purpose other than to serve as a romantic device. He is just so dull. A street lamp with a blown bulb would be more interesting. Yuka is even more useless. She is nothing more than the third point for a love triangle. The writers could have cut her from the series with no effect on the plot. The romance between her and Kouta is lame, filled with generic misunderstandings and anime romance tropes. What little humour Elfen Lied has is trite, seen in every anime teen romance – trip over each other, grabbing the breast, up-skirts, etc.

The average voice acting doesn’t help either. Even though Japan records all actors at once, here they sound stilted with no interactions off each other. The dub is even worse. Kouta’s voice actor is as deadpan as the character, and the female actors tried too hard to imitate their Japanese counterparts, resulting in these awful squeaky voices. No child sounds like that! What’s strange is that the English cast has done great work elsewhere (same team as Full Metal Panic and RahXephon, both great English tracks), but here they sound like amateurs.

Despite all Elfen Lied does wrong, I enjoyed the story. It’s a great example of using gore to enhance the narrative surrounding innocent characters.

Art – Medium

Mouth movements comprise all the animation in most non-action scenes; sometimes, even the mouth doesn’t bother, too exhausted it seems. Other than the action scenes, visual details are low. The manga creator intentionally chose a ‘moe’ artist for the anime to enhance the contrast between innocence and violence. However, this style doesn’t look the greatest, especially on Kouta. Gore and action is great.

Sound – Medium

A great Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack and tension music brought down by an average Japanese voice track, and an even worse English one.

Story – Medium

Protagonist Lucy carries the violent narrative with her dual personas and volatile nature. Shame then that the other pieces of her love triangle are worthless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Elfen Lied is a worthwhile anime for fans of uncensored violence. Watch in doses of three episodes at a time to avoid exhaustion from the constant tension.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***

Negative:

Useless Side Cast

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Avatar the Last Airbender – Review

Japanese Title: Abatā Densetsu no Shōnen An

 

Related: The Legend of Korra (sequel)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

Gundam SEED

Vision of Escaflowne

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 61 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Excellent, thoroughly developed characters.
  • Fluid and awesome action with magnificent spell effects.
  • Perfect pacing.
  • Great for children and adults alike.
  • Pleasant Humour.
  • Engaging story that keeps getting better, particularly in the third season.

Negatives:

  • Takes a little time to get used to characters sounding American despite none looking so, though this won’t hinder my experience.
  • Finale makes a single poor decision.

I first heard of Avatar the Last Airbender with the announcement of the film by the same name. As an introduction to the world of Avatar, the film couldn’t have gone worse. However, surrounding all this excrement was a fanbase livid at the mutilation of their beloved show. I kept hearing how amazing the show was. Now, source material is often better than adaptations, so I figured the cartoon must be better. But amazing? No, I doubted that. I have encountered many rabid fanbases in my time surrounding anime (I know that this isn’t anime, but the same audience enjoys it) and rarely do they result in something worth your time. In the end, I acquired this show for the sole purpose to educate myself when I argue that the show isn’t all that great. Instead, Avatar turned out to be…phenomenal.

Our story starts with the awakening of Aang, airbender and the next Avatar incarnation discovered frozen in an iceberg by two nomads of the Water Tribe. Aang has little time to learn the remaining three elements (Earth, Water, and Fire) before a comet passes Earth that will empower the current Fire Lord, who seeks world domination, into a being of living destruction – all the while hunted by Fire Prince Zuko.

Aang travels with waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka across the world, encountering a wide cast of characters on their many adventures. The characters are a large part of what makes this a great show. Katara, the motherly type, has to keep her brother’s antics in line. Much of the comedy comes from Sokka, who can’t waterbend like his sister and must fight with his lucky boomerang.

Aang is the weakest of the cast at the beginning; not saying he is a bad character – far from it, great in fact – he simply doesn’t hold up to the rest. He has one of those righteous personalities. You know the type: doesn’t kill people or even really harm them, no matter how evil, vegetarian because he can’t harm animals, and other pious life choices. At first, I thought this would make for great conflict considering his mission, and it does for a while, only to throw a reversal later. While Aang’s story is great, the other major characters experience more interesting story arcs that culminate in epic conclusions. If anything, that is a testament to Avatar’s quality. When the supporting cast has such fantastic arcs that the protagonist’s arc couldn’t possibly live up to them, you know you have something good.

The best character of all is Prince Zuko the firebender. Upon first meeting, he irritated with his whining about lost honour and his obsession with the Avatar. However, my opinion turned around as he developed. Before long, I realised that the writers intended for one not to like him so that his growth will mirror one’s opinion of him. Truly great writing.

Full thought went into every side character – the creators didn’t take shortcuts even for single-episode appearances. From the completely nutters, bad-joke-loving, king of Omashu to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh (voiced by legendary Mako – one of his last roles), I looked forward to each new location for the characters they will meet.

Humour is a strong element of the series. In the first season however, as an older viewer, you may find some moments a little too tailored towards the intended young audience. Thankfully, the third season’s high notes with some truly dark moments well make up for this. Prepare to laugh plenty throughout the show, especially at the hands of Sokka. If you have kids, watch it with them to earn many awesome points in their eyes, and with the show tailored towards them, the pacing is never dull, as the writers knew they could never release their attention. Every single episode captured my interest.

Action never occurs for the sake of action, so you don’t get tired of seeing the elemental powers. Take Naruto, for example, and his overused shadow clone technique that grows old because he whips it out at a whim every few minutes. Yes, it’s great when executed correctly, but could have been better with less airtime. Avatar doesn’t make that mistake.

In the end, Avatar the Last Airbender is a brilliant show. With many likable characters that experience proper development, action and visuals that fit the themes, and an overall plot that concludes with an epic finale, this is easily a must watch.

Art – Very High

Art and animation of a high quality in a colour palette suited to the elemental nature of the powers. It looks particularly great in action – water flowing across the screen as fire rages, wind slicing things apart while earth smashes the environment. Visuals’ only flaw is in the animation of the mouths, where it could have done with a few more frames to match the other smoothness.

Sound – High

Masterful acting once acclimated to the American accents in an Asian setting. Audio effects for spells are great.

Story – Very High

Only a few missteps with the protagonist and a lack of intensity in season one hurt this show’s story. Avatar will still surprise with just how good it is, the final season in particular. Hilarious, too.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Rent it, buy it, watch it. Then you can join in on the discussions as to why the movie is so damn terrible. Get the kids involved as well.

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice TrackRiveting ActionStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStellar Voice Acting

Negative: None

ZOIDS New Century Zero – Review

Japanese Title: Zoids Shin Seiki/Zero

 

Related: Zoids (same setting)

Zoids Genesis (same setting)

Similar: Mobile Fighter G Gundam

IGPX Immortal Grand Prix

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • The mecha Zoids are cool in design.
  • Fights are interesting and varied.
  • The English voice work is great.
  • Plenty of humour.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t explore character and narrative as much as it could have.
  • A couple of reused attack and transformation animations.
  • Dumb luck and contrivance wins some fights.

I first watched Zoids New Century during its release stint in English. My younger sibling was obsessed with the show, which inadvertently got me interested in the series – not that I had a choice with only one TV in the house as a teen. Watching it again a decade later for review, I wasn’t expecting much. I theorised that any positive opinion I had regarding the anime was likely nothing more than nostalgia. Battle anime aimed at a young audience don’t incite high hopes. However, it turns out that Zoids NC is a good show, far better than anticipated.

Zoids New Century is set 4000 years after the classic Zoids series, and other than the use of robot Zoids, the two series have little in common. Where the classic had an adventure narrative, New Century is closer to traditional battle anime with fights lasting an episode or two – this is one of Zoids’s strengths; the fights don’t drag on for a dozen episodes each. In its twenty-six episodes, Zoids has more battles than Dragon Ball Z does in a hundred. These battles centre on protagonist Bit Cloud, pilot of the Liger Zero, and his supporting pilots Brad the mercenary, Leena the rage machine, Jamie the timid tactician, and Doc Toros the Zoid engineer. Together, they make the Blitz Team.

The premise is simple. Teams fight against each other in sanctioned battles, usually 3 vs. 3, though it varies on occasion. Bit infiltrates the Blitz Team and steals the Liger Zero, a temperamental Zoid that refused to allow anyone to pilot it due to its stubborn and impetuous AI. After winning a battle for them, the team allows him aboard (not before Leena rages at him for taking the spotlight in the battle).

The battles have good variety with each opponent bringing their own strengths to overcome that shape the battle’s theme. While not overly strategic, each battle has good back and forth, and not the typical smash faces together until someone wins. The main flaw is that dumb luck wins a few fights early on, but this isn’t a big problem. It also helps that the characters are fun. Sure, they may not have incredible emotional depth or tortured souls, but they bring life and enthusiasm to the narrative, especially in the English voice track, and don’t have anything stupid about them.

The narrative never gets heavy handed, keeping its focus on the battles. Even when the villainous Backdraft Group comes in (similar to Team Rocket – not Jesse and James) humour remains with their focus on cheating to win, even so far as to bring in their own snarky robot judge to favour the villains. Harry Champ, a man destined to be king, is a hilarious antagonist, who keeps trying to defeat Bit with his expensive Zoids because he thinks Leena is Bit’s girlfriend, and Harry has the hots for her.

The creators knew what made for an engaging battle anime and stuck to it. While Zoids is safe, it works and is an enjoyable watch.

Art – Medium

Zoids makes great use of CG for the mechs, blending them into the standard art, one of the early examples to do so successfully, even if repeated on occasion. At first, you may notice the CG, but it doesn’t take long to fade.

Sound – High

Battle sounds and Zoid roars work well. Ocean Group (Vancouver studio known for Black Lagoon and Gundam) did a great job with a strong cast of actors that brought out their personalities much more than the Japanese had. Bit and Leena in particular have much greater range and emotion.

Story – Medium

Though safe, the characters are good enough to carry the show and bring life to the narrative.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A good show for anyone looking to have fun with a fast-paced battle anime about dinosaur robots beating the snot out of each other.

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

Positive:

Positive Recommended English Voice Track

Negative: None

Legend of Black Heaven – Review

Japanese Title: Kachou Ouji: Hard Rock Save the Space

 

Similar: BECK

Interstella 5555

Detroit Metal City

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Music Science Fiction

Length: 13 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stirring rock music sung in English, even for the Japanese version.
  • Psychedelic, yet fascinating opening sequence to get you pumped.
  • Humorous use of metaphor and innuendo to convey the narrative of a guy saving the galaxy through rock and roll under the guise of a TV show.
  • Has one of the greatest anime scenes ever in the Japanese track using an American actor.

Negatives:

  • Takes half the series to make the narrative core clear.
  • Despite the great opening, the closing sequence is terrible and not in theme with the rest of the music.

Oji was once Gabriel Tanaka of band Black Heaven, the biggest rock group around. Now he’s an office worker with a mundane life, a dull wife, and child – boring, everyday life. Enter Yuki, a voluptuous blonde and fan of Black Heaven, who gives him the opportunity of his daydreams, the chance to hold a guitar again without the glare of his wife and return to the nirvana that is rock and roll. Yuki needs him to play his perfect guitar solo to power a super weapon that can repel the oncoming alien invasion, while the world thinks the invasion is no more than a TV show.

Oji is an interesting character, varying between depression at his life and the zealous defence of his musical possessions. He hides his guitar from his wife, as she keeps trying to throw it out. Yuki and her band of undercover agents bring a nice dose of humour to Black Heaven. They go undercover to observe him, but are clearly not from Earth since they have no idea how to blend into the crowd. Black Heaven’s narrative is simple and focused on Oji’s boredom in life along with his struggle to regain his former rock star talent. The core of the plot isn’t clear until halfway through the series, so it may feel unfocused at first, but it’s worth bearing with it. It never quite explains why the ultimate weapon needs rock music to work, not that it isn’t a cool idea, but it would have been nice to have some lore on the weapon.

Black Heaven’s best aspect is the music. It has an excellent opening sequence and theme of rock ‘Cautionary Warning’ by John Sykes, sung in English even for the Japanese voice track. All of the guitar tracks are excellent; it’s clear the sound director was a fan of classic rock and knew to get a professional for the music. Each episode is titled after a famous rock song. The auditory let-down is the closing theme, a rubbish track that doesn’t fit the rest of the music – honestly, one of the worst tracks I have heard.

Legend of Black Heaven was a pleasant surprise, and is thoroughly underappreciated with a unique premise and a music angle rarely seen in anime. Lastly, there is this amazing scene:

Art – Medium

Adequate art and animation in the vein of Gundam Wing on a lower budget. Love the trippy opening art.

Sound – High

Fantastic guitar riffs and rock n’ roll along with a good Japanese voice track, but a mere average English one (outside the songs). Oji’s Japanese actor reaches a higher level of enthusiasm when he worked up, and Yuki is more seductive, whereas her English counterpart sounds a little flat.

Story – Medium

Simple plot laced with humour and a love for rock music. A bit slow to start.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for lovers of rock and roll. Who knew a guitar solo could save the world.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED Sequence

Negative: None

 

Blade – Review

Japanese Title: Blade

 

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Blood: The Last Vampire

X-Men

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Action

Length: 12 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Visual style is nice with decent atmospheric colouring; good screenshots, essentially.

Negatives:

  • So many action clichés: Locked swords that wouldn’t lock, simultaneous jump slash followed by silence before the damage appears on both, etc.
  • When the vampires burn in death, the fire looks photoshopped over the top, which is strange since the environmental fire looks good.
  • High action moments experience a drop in frame rate, even going so far as to have static characters merely drift across the screen.
  • The vampires are weak. A sneeze means death.
  • Despite the narrative focus on the death of Blade’s mother, we get no emotional exploration.
  • Squandered use of Blade.

An exasperated hiss, that is my reaction at the end of Blade. Madhouse did a poor job here in translating the Blade comics into anime. Blade is the fourth on Marvel’s anime slate, and after four attempts, they don’t seem to have learnt much, if anything at all. Here we have shallow narrative, noticeable animation shortcuts, and every action cliché imaginable.

Blade is on a mission to kill Deacon Frost, a regular villain from the comics, and his Japanese based ‘Existence’ organisation of vampires as vengeance for the death of his mother. From then on, the plot is as linear as can be, with no twists all the way. Blade teams up with another vampire hunter, Makoto, out for revenge for the death of her father. Together, they carve their way through hordes of vampires…with ease. Immediately, we have a problem. The vampires are weak! They die to a sneeze. Blade gets more resistance from the wind than from the vampires as he slices through. He could slash at the air for more of a challenge than these vampires. Deacon Frost and a couple of others are the only real vampiric challenge; however, they never explain why they are more powerful than the others. The story never explores anything beneath the surface. Blade finally confronts his mother’s killer? Meh, just another bad guy. What are the villains’ motivations? Eh, who cares; it’s not like depth matters. Instead, they waste time on calling out ability names.

This laziness is prevalent in every facet of Blade. The animation for instance, loses much of its frame rate during action sequences, even to the point where the animation stops altogether and the characters just slide across the screen. When Blade executes a flurry of attacks, half the time, rather than show off this fluid animation of him dancing between enemies, carving them to shreds, they chose to have still shots flash in sequence minimal detail. Only in the finale does anything interesting happen on the visual spectrum.

Blade is a dull anime and a squandered opportunity with the comic lore. Even after all said above, it still feels worse than that, worse than the sum of its parts from the disappointment at this anime.

Art – Medium

Nice style ruined by low frame rate action and so many static shots.

Sound – Low

Mere passable voice work lacking in nuance of better anime. Generic action music.

Story – Low

A bog standard action plot of a vampire hunter hunting a vampire that looks no deeper than the surface.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Read the comics instead. Wasted chance to create an alternative take on Blade mythos.

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

Positive: Nothing

Negative:

 DissapointingHollow World BuildingNo DevelopmentShallow