Category Archives: Anime Reviews

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

Berserk – Review

Japanese Title: Kenpuu Denki Berserk

 

Related: Berserk: The Golden Age (remake)

Similar: Claymore

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Horror Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good animation, especially considering the show’s age.
  • Guts is a great lead character that portrays a more believable muscle-bound character than most other anime.
  • English voice track is well done for the most part.
  • Properly used horror in an interesting plot.
  • ‘Forces’ music track fills one with epicness.

Negatives:

  • Incomplete, cliffhanger ending.
  • First episode is deceptive due to the incomplete ending, and the next few episodes are slow to start.
  • Opening and closing sequences will leave you horror-struck with lacklustre quality.
  • Poor use of what little music there is.

Berserk came out during a time when anime in the West was marketed towards a broader audience, even going so far as to censor elements or tone down language to reach the young demographic. Outside of films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, you had to search high and low for mature anime that wasn’t terrible. Then Berserk came along with its dark themes, unadulterated horror and violence to show us just how adult anime could be.

Berserk centres on Guts, the orphan swordsman, and Griffith, leader of a mercenary band, as they fight for their country of Midland. However, Griffith has ambitions beyond just fighting for a king; he wants to be king. Griffith’s plans test the loyalties of Guts and his mercenaries to the limit. Berserk focuses on themes of loyalty, isolation, and the fundamentals of humanity, the nature of good and evil innate with us. Be forewarned, this anime gets dark, very dark, contains nudity, plenty of violence, and gore everywhere. These aspects are not thrown in at random. No violence for the sake of violence. Gore for the sake of gore. Each use is relevant, an uncensored view of the scene.

Guts is a fantastic protagonist, a badass anti-hero, who wields a giant sword that can cut horses in half. Normally, wielding a giant sword is indicative of a terrible character, one that the creators put no thought into, especially when it comes to physics. With Guts however, he has the look and ferocity of a man who can wield such a weapon. The animators made the effort to show the heft of swinging such a heavy weapon; Guts doesn’t twirl it around like a baton as seen in other anime and games. As a character, Guts goes through a range of emotional and physical trials, exemplifying his depth. When designing a brawny character, look to Guts for the archetype done right.

Griffith too is a suitably complex character with his own strengths and weaknesses, exploring the price of ambition, but to elaborate further would constitute spoilers, so I shall stop there. The supporting cast of mercenaries is a mixed bag of quality, but they are good when it counts, Casca in particular who struggles with her identity as a women in a band of men. Villains, ranging from generals to nobles, are despicably evil, sick and twisted, some with magic elements thrown in.

There are two major narrative faults. The first episode can confuse viewers, being a flash-forward that we never return to because of the second fault, the finale. Berserk is incomplete; after an awesome adventure that keeps getting better and a horrifying finale, the series ends on a cliffhanger. It is clear they intended to have a sequel series, but never got around to it. (They did go back to the beginning again with the recent release of Berserk: The Golden Age; however, that’s a new take on the manga, so you won’t get closure on this version.)

Berserk comes highly recommended. Just don’t watch it if you can’t handle the thought of an incomplete anime. You could read the manga afterwards, however. Also, not for children – can’t stress this enough.

Art – High

You will find higher quality anime these days, of course, but Berserk’s gritty medieval style doesn’t feel dated beyond the use of action lines and slow motion to hide the occasional low frame rate.

Sound – Medium

Has one of the best tracks in anime: ‘Forces.’ Even so, the soundtrack is limited and hardly used. Many battles have no music for some reason, not for added effect. The opening and ending themes are awful, sung in terrible English and don’t fit the series – just…awful. The acting is good in either language, though I found the English suited the characters better, except for Griffith; his English actor can’t command the scene as Griffith should.

Story – High

An excellent fantasy tale of corruption and loyalty with a good cast of characters brought to a halt by a cliffhanger ending and no continuation.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of dark fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the realities of battle and horror. No incomplete anime deserved a conclusion more than Berserk.

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Riveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

 

Beet the Vandel Buster (& Exelion) – Review

Japanese Title: Bouken Ou Beet (& Exelion)

 

Similar: Ragnarok

Sword Art Online

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Battle Action Adventure

Length: 77 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Against:

  • Art is flat and lacklustre with a low frame rate.
  • Battles are lame and empty, yet drawn out where yelling grants power.
  • Ability casting sequences look ridiculous.
  • Stupid characters with dumb names; protagonist in particular with a voice of poison to your eardrums.
  • Opening sequences will fry your brain.
  • Minimal effort in show’s creation.
  • Lip-sync hardly matches the dialogue.
  • Electricity freezes things?
  • Too often, sound effects won’t match what is on screen.

You never imagine that a show with more than one season could be this bad. You think to yourself, at worst it will be so-so, something forgettable. Then Beet the Vandel Buster comes along ready to shatter all your notions about quality. This show is bad, atrocious even.

Where to start?

The plot: this is your typical battle anime. Protagonist Beet and his gang of Busters face Vandels (demons trying to rule the world), each encounter lasting several episodes before they repeat the process with a different enemy. Oh, there’s an EXP and levelling system from RPGs in this as well, though it doesn’t do anything of importance. Action is repetitive and formulaic: villain shows up to boast about how powerful he is, hero proves him wrong, but no, the villain has a trick that nearly kills the hero, then, oh wait, I shall yell to get super powerful. I win. Yes, yelling in this show makes you powerful. If tied down, no matter how tightly, yells will give Beet the strength to break free. You may think this is a power contrivance, but it’s a mercy compared to having to watch the ridiculous weapon summon animation for his idiotic sword every episode coupled with the static attack sequences – streaked background fights everywhere.

The overall story starts and ends with little more than defeat of some demon before they fight the next. It would at least be enjoyable if the fights were worth mention; however, they are so empty and without strategy that you long for Beet to just yell his way to victory. Unfortunately, you have to endure episode after episode of the same dragged out fight until you give in and just end your life right there. Ability power is inconsistent, as sometimes a skill will instant kill, where other times it just scratches creatures of similar power. Also, electricity freezes targets? And bullets don’t do what bullets do, as in, they don’t kill…or cause any real damage…and can be dodged by running at slower than human speeds… Forget about physics. When convenient, gravity seems non-existent, then it returns stronger than normal, when convenient, to make up for any earlier absence.

It doesn’t help that the characters are so unlikable to the point of irritation. There is Beet the brat who yells too much and somehow wins fights despite being the stupidest person alive. He gets one of the strongest Buster teams killed within the second episode and is rewarded with a Deus-ex Machina of no-consequence power for his ass-hattery. Expect to see plenty of cliché yelling-to-the-sky-with-closed-eyes moments from him – I think they are supposed to make you care about the character…I’m not sure…I just want him to burn.

The rest of his crew is as clichéd. Poala, his childhood friend, is your typical violent tsundere to Beet. Next, we have Milfa (I do not joke about these names), who is either old enough to match her physical stature, and thus a paedophile, or is an extremely sexualised early teen girl. And finally, to round off this band of banality is Kiss, a blonde boy who specialises in spellcasting and nothing of use. Again, not joking about the name. This doesn’t need to be said at this point, but if I must: There is no character development.

As much effort into the art as into the plot – flat, no depth, and the most you see is one-tone shading. It is hard to say if the sound design is worse or better than art. The voice work is lifeless or generic for most characters, except Beet, always the exception, who has quite possibly the worst voice in anime history. You know, I think we could mount a case for aural assault after hearing him. He couldn’t be any more obnoxious. No voice is skilled or suited to the role. That said, Beet is so atrocious that he eclipses them all with his awfulness. I don’t know if one should be thankful or horrified…

The ear murder doesn’t end there. After it is done yelling your eardrums into pulp, it tops it off with lip-syncing that only fits the dialogue half the time, and sound effects that don’t match the action on screen. When a man lifts a boulder, you hear the sound of a rope under strain…seriously, who didn’t notice that error? An energy attack hitting an insect carapace makes the sound of two clashing swords…I mean really, how…just, how? These errors happen far too often to pass as innocent mistakes.

If by this point I haven’t convinced you that this is a bad anime and you still want to watch it, then go right ahead. I won’t stop you; my conscience is clear now that you have been warned. Everything about Beet the Vandel Buster is atrocious. Stay away.

Art – Very Low

Lifeless art and too few frames leaves you thinking this was a waste of colour in this world. Half the time characters don’t even animate. Sliding across the screen is how it works these days, apparently.

Sound – Very Low

Voices to make your ears bleed. SFX chosen with a dartboard.

Story – Very Low

Repetitive battles filled with Deus-ex Machina moments and no development.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: If you watch Beet the Vandel Buster, Beet will turn you into a drooling idiot before long. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Deus Ex MachinaEar Grating Voice WorkHorrendous ActionNo DevelopmentRepetitiveRubbish Major CharactersUgly Artistic Design

Bartender – Review

Japanese Title: Bartender

 

Similar: Ristorante Paradiso

Gallery Fake

Death Parade

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant music.
  • Attention to detail on the subject matter of alcoholic drinks.

Negatives:

  • Dull unless you love alcoholic drinks’ history.
  • No mystery or intrigue with a slow pace.
  • Uninteresting characters.
  • Almost no animation.

With little to say about Bartender, this will be a short review. As the name implies, this anime is about a bartender who can mix drinks like no other. By observing behaviour and attire, he can discern which drink is best for the individual. He remembers every drink he has served to any given person, while being a well of knowledge on all alcohol.

That’s really it. Each episode focuses on a few drinks, gives you their history, tells you the recipe, and wraps it in a light story of the bartender helping someone, possibly depressed, or in a search for the perfect drink, or someone in need of help. In every case, there is little conflict, if any, and most of the time passes with the facts. The lack of mystery had me dying to move on to another show.

Needless to say, this is a boring show to any but the most interested fans of alcoholic drinks and related history. It overestimates what alcohol does for people as if such drinks create miracles for your soul. While it is charming to see such passion and attention to detail for the subject matter, we all know that it’s far from reality – this isn’t the place for that debate, though.

Bartender is an alcohol history program swirling in a glass of anime with a taste of jazz and a slice of plot on the side.

Art – Medium

The environments are quite good, suiting the look of a bar. However, with no variety, get used to seeing the same compositions throughout. They shouldn’t have used CG for the drinks, as to stand out from the surroundings.

Sound – High

Music is Bartender’s strongest aspect. The jazz and piano tunes are fitting to the bar environment – it is exactly what you would expect from a quiet drinks lounge. Opening sequence is a mismatch, while the ending is perfect, using live-action footage of a bartender showing you how to mix a new drink each episode as musicians perform. It may be worth getting this soundtrack.

Story – Low

Not much one can do with a story whose focus is on alcoholic drinks in a bar.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of alcoholic drinks and their history; boring to everyone else.

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

 

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing Shallow

Bakuman – Review

Japanese Title: Bakuman.

 

Related: Bakuman – season 2

Similar: Shirobako

Space Brothers

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Art Slice of Life

Length: 25 episodes (Season 1)

 

Positives:

  • Good pacing that details the manga creation process.
  • Real characters with ordinary problems.

Negatives:

  • Low tension reduces engagement over long sessions.
  • Doesn’t hit the needed emotional peak.
  • Romance lacks conflict.
  • Poor antagonist that never feels threatening.

For fans of manga, which I assume would be most anime fans, Bakuman is a dramatized behind-the-scenes look at the process of publication and serialisation of your favourite works.

One day, Saiko, a depressed and unambitious teen, returns to class after school’s end to retrieve a forgotten notebook, only to find it in the hands of classmate Takagi. He panics, his mind jumping to the sketches of his secret crush contained within the notebook. Takagi tells him not to look so worried; after all, it’s not as though it is a Death Note. In exchange for Takagi’s silence about the unrequited love, Saiko must join him in becoming full-fledged manga creators – Takagi as the writer, Saiko the artist. And so begins their journey on the road to publication.

This is an anime for those who read manga, preferably Shounen Jump, where Bakuman was first serialised. For anyone unfamiliar, Shounen Jump (also known as ‘Jack’) is a weekly publication in Japan with a variety of manga including Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, and many other popular works. Having your work serialised in such a magazine, and for it to be a hit with fans, is a big deal. In Bakuman, you will spot many manga – unfortunately, it all seems to be work published in Jump, which makes Bakuman look like an advertisement reel.

Following the new partnership, Takagi drags Saiko to the house of his crush, Azuki, who reveals she wants to be a voice actor and agrees to play the heroine of their series when turned into anime. Things don’t go as expected when Saiko yells out that he wants to marry her once they achieve their goals (remember, they are only fourteen at this point) and what do you know, she agrees. While this is a ridiculous setup to the relationship, it doesn’t continue in such a manner, instead walking a more subdued path for the show’s remainder; so subdued in fact, that there really is little conflict in this romance. The secondary relationship of Takagi and his girlfriend has far more screen time. In a way, you get the feeling that the romance was an afterthought to increase the number of plotlines from one to…two.

Saiko now has something to achieve. However, things aren’t as easy as imagined since voice actors become successful at a younger age than mangaka, meaning she may be gone by the time he amounts to anything. He must succeed before completion of high school. These are solid, well-rounded characters with goals like everyone else, and I appreciated that. For the most part, this show keeps the character development and interactions within the realm of realism.

Bakuman is more of a feel-good show than one that explores the emotional intensity of aiming for stardom. While, yes, it does have moments of failure, setbacks, and disappointment, it never portrays the turmoil quite as it could have and should have. Anyone who has had to go through that journey of trying to become a successful artist of any medium on talent alone – no help, no family inheritance, no connections – will tell you that it isn’t easy, that emotions run high, and at the best of times, you feel like the best you can do is tread water. I would go so far as to say that they should have included the emotional intensity of a show like Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien to capture that internal struggle. With that, Bakuman could have been one of my favourite anime.

The main antagonist offers little in the form of adversity. He is a manga prodigy, set for serialisation in his mid-teens and in competition for the same publication spots as them. My problem with this character is that we’re told he is great, never shown a reason why. He’s weird in your stereotypical young genius way, making constant sound effect noises with the behaviour of a two-year-old. Bakuman plays things too nice.

The best aspect of the show is the detail they put into the manga creation process from idea to print, the writers disguising it within an anime to prevent it feeling documentary-like. To top it off, you also get a taste of the manga they design. You aren’t just told about their work without ever seeing the results, as most career shows will do. One even hopes that some of their stories become real manga. Money & Intelligence, a one-shot set in a world where people can sell their intelligence directly into another’s mind, sounds great. I want to read it!

Bakuman is a worthwhile anime, particularly if you are a fan of manga. It doesn’t suffer from anything inherently awful, and yet never hits that greatness it could have. Still, I do recommend Bakuman to anyone who wants an enjoyable viewing experience.

Art – High

The art style is nothing special, but is neat and varied from your typical anime. Seeing them draw a variety of manga styles in one show is a treat.

Sound – Medium

Sound falls into much the same area as art: good, though not remarkable. None of the voice work is poor or irritating, except the antagonist, and the music is pleasant enough. The good opening song sounds like Japan’s version of the Backstreet Boys with that one song you thought was decent, but would never ever admit to.

Story – Medium

Better than most journey-to-career-success anime. Lacks emotional intensity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Bakuman is more enjoyable than its individual qualities let on, in particular for those who want to see the manga creation process.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingLacks Conflict