Aldnoah.Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aldnoah.Zero

 

Related: Aldnoah.Zero 2nd Season (included in review)

Similar: Gundam SEED

Code Geass

Mobile Suit Gundam

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A few good music tracks.

Negatives:

  • Possibly anime’s worst protagonist.
  • Everyone is an idiot.
  • Illogical story directions.
  • The CG is distracting.
  • Forced exposition dialogue that never ends!
  • Laughable romance chemistry.

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Why didn’t I listen? I don’t know why, but whenever I hear of genre plus premise combination I love, I underestimate the warnings. “How bad can it be?”

Humanity spread to space and settled on Mars, where they discovered a machine called ‘Aldnoah’ that gave them immense technological power. Not wanting to share this technology, the Vers Empire of Mars declared war on Earth. This war shattered the Moon’s hypergate that facilitated quick travel to Mars, leading to a ceasefire. Fifteen years later, the war restarts when the Martians assassinate their own Princess Asseylum, peace ambassador to Earth. The war sweeps up high schooler Inaho and his friends into the fight.

If you’ve seen Gundam SEED, Aldnoah.Zero’s story should sound familiar. It’s a shame they didn’t take anything else from SEED, like good characters…or strong conflict…or romantic chemistry…or anything.

Aldnoah.Zero’s problems start with its writing, exposition dialogue in particular, which introduces itself to us a few minutes in as Inaho and the gang ride a bus past a construction site repairing damage from the war. Each character takes their turn to dump exposition on us, all but talking into the camera. They are telling each other things they already know, for the audience’s sake. Could the exposition be any clumsier?

Yes, yes it can. Almost every scene in episode one has someone exposit in this manner. One villain tells another villain about the super secret plan to attack Earth. “We have been setting this plan for 15 years!” “Yes, I know, dumbass, I’m part of the plan.” (If only he had said that.) Even when in the middle of resuscitating someone, Inaho has to exposit about how and when he learnt CPR. (I wish I were the one dying.) Bloody hell, the writer needs to find a different line of work.

Next, let’s talk characters.

I’ve done it. I have found the worst protagonist in anime. I have found the One, the protagonist with no redeeming quality. Let me introduce you to Inaho. He has no personality and no emotion. Oh, they tell us he has personality and emotion, but they lie! One scene has the protagonist witness a missile flying through the air towards the princess’s convoy and he just stares at it. “Oh hey, it’s a missile. Quite interesting. Maybe we should move, I guess…whatever.” I assume he’s supposed to be the stoic type, but he comes across as dead. Delete him from the story and you wouldn’t notice the difference. He also knows how to pilot a mech better than trained veterans can because…reasons.

The chemistry between him and the princess is laughable (surprise, she didn’t die in the assassination – there are no twists in Aldnoah.Zero). You know how when a relationship reaches its emotional peak, series will often flashback to a compilation of ‘best bits’ in their relationship? Well, the most romantic moment Aldnoah.Zero could find in Princess and the Dude’s relationship was him giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. What was supposed to be a dramatic, emotional scene had me laughing into pain. Pro tip: If that’s the most romantic scene you have, then you must rethink your main couple.

As for the rest of the cast, we have a bunch of idiots. An eight-year-old girl is the bodyguard/assistant to the royal princess? Genius! The admiral on the front line to defend your planet is more concerned about the dating lives of her crew than training them for combat? We’re so going to win this war! Every military expert in this anime sounds as though they know nothing about war. Only idiots survived the first war, it seems.

Oh yes, there is a third major character, some Terran servant with the Martians. He has military training and the Martians allow him to pilot, for some inconceivable reason, and give him a promotion in season two, for another inconceivable reason. One would imagine that a Terran among the Martian creates interesting conflict, but no, he’s just there to make a love triangle with the princess. It takes no effort to have more complexity and depth than what Aldnoah.Zero offers. I care for none of these characters. They never develop a character. All they do is state the plot or exposition.

One element that shows promise, at first, is the Martian technology. Where the Terrans use the generic mech seen on the cover, Mars’s Orbital Knights each have a unique mech with some special power granted by Aldnoah. The first such mech has an energy shield that disintegrates any matter it touches. It literally walks through buildings when chasing the heroes, which is rather cool. Yet even this goes bad. You see, Aldnoah.Zero’s plot devolves into a mech-of-the-arc affair. A unique mech appears with some unbeatable power, it blows everything, and all seems lost until Inaho snaps his fingers and finds the weak point. Each mech has a few episodes to shine before the story discards it for the latest model. These mechs have no character. The author had a bunch of ideas for mechs with unique powers, but rather than choose a few to build up for us to invest in, he threw them all at the heroes to die one after the other. Think of the Death Star, just about any main Gundam, or even an iconic sword in anime. Think of the story, the mythos that builds around these devices and the impact it leaves on the audience during those major encounters. “Oh shit, he’s drawing the big sword! You dead!” Aldnoah.Zero’s mechs have the same impact as cannon fodder.

So, even the one good idea dies within a few episodes. Do I have anything nice to say about Aldnoah.Zero? I like some of the music… And that is all. Aldnoah.Zero is the worst mecha anime I have seen and one of the worst anime to air.

Art – Low

The CG mechs are mediocre at best, which isn’t good enough as it’s a constant eyesore. It either needs to be great or not there at all. Anime a decade ago had better CG. Stiff animation in dialogue scenes with only mouth movements.

Sound – Very Low

This on the nose, in your face script is painful. The decent music offers little redemption, like trying to plug a sinking ship with your dingaling.

Story – Very Low

Earth defends against Martian separatists looking to claim the bountiful planet for their own. Aldnoah.Zero boasts an atrocious protagonist swathed in a plot run by idiots to execute the worst of mecha anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Aldnoah.Zero, you have reached the bottom. Any mecha anime has to be better than this.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast

Attack on Titan Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2

 

Related: Attack on Titan Season 1

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • New Titan type.
  • Some solid art and audio.

Negatives:

  • Too much CG.
  • Atrocious twists.
  • No tension.
  • Characters are still flat.

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Get your hype pants on; we are here for season 2 of Attack on Titan! Feeling all nice and comfortable? Right, now take them off and prepare for boredom as you sink further and further into the couch, until all we can see of you is two dead eyes staring at the screen. Attack on Titan Season 2 is bad.

The first problem should become obvious after you finish episode one. Where are the main characters? Where’s the main story? Instead, we follow the B team as they search for a breach in the wall that let a dozens of Titans inside. The purpose of this point of view is to give us the backstories for a few characters, which is fine in concept, but it takes near half the season and isn’t engaging.

Not that the main characters are of any interest either. Eren is still your ever-angry teen, Mikasa still has no personality to speak of (the last episode gives a glimmer – yay…), and Armin is still useless. I have yet to comprehend how Armin is supposed to fill the role of the ‘smart’ character. If he is smart, it’s because everyone else is an idiot. In a fight against the Armoured Titan, do you attack the armour or go for the exposed muscles? Go for the armour of course! Just keep slashing at that impenetrable plate until every blade breaks. You’ll get through it eventually, I’m sure. And then – I kid you not – one character has this incredible epiphany, recalling full plate knights with no armour on the back of joints to allow movement and how the Titan must have the same weakness. Did you not see the exposed muscle everywhere until now? You. Idiots.

If this series doesn’t end with humanity wiped out, I will feel cheated.

Now I must talk about the twists. The midpoint twist is one of anime’s worst. It’s the sort of twist that was thought of at the last moment, the writer running to print room to stop the presses for his last second addition. Or he planned the twist but executed it this poorly. I’m not sure which reality is worse. The story tries to explain it by flashing back to the moments of foreshadowing, yet ignores all the aspects that break the twist. And the end twist, what else can it be but a deus ex machina to crown the cake in a red bollock trying to pass for a cherry?

Oh man, don’t forget the unbelievable overuse of the flashforward narrative structure. Almost every episode starts with the characters in a dire situation before it flashes back to the present for us to wonder how they get to that situation. I hate to break it to you, writer, but this is Attack on Titan – everyone is in a dire situation at all times. It isn’t shocking to show these scenes to us. More than that, it is lazy. Lazy, the perfect word to summarise the writing this season.

The laziness should have been obvious from season 1, seen no more clearly than in the author’s misunderstanding of how big an area a 480 km radius covers. This lack of basic research comes to a head in season 2 with the main goal of finding the hole in the wall. The scouts on horseback cover a vast distance in a day or two that should take weeks. The world of Attack on Titan feels the size of a city, not the size of the large country it purports to be.

Alright, the story is garbage. What of the action, the real reason everyone attends class?

A few scenes are exciting with that same quality animation, the most interesting of which introduces the new yeti-looking Titan with intelligence above the rest. However, the action Attack on Titan is known for – Spidermaning with swords versus giants – is scarcer this time around. I don’t know if it was time or budget, but action scenes seem designed to require as little of the webslinging as possible. On the other hand, I have praised many action series that didn’t have half the spectacle of Attack on Titan. But those series used the action to develop characters, since they knew that they couldn’t rely on flashiness to engage the audience.

Attack on Titan does not do this with its characters, main or otherwise. Action development is a pacifist having to make the decision to kill someone to save another he cares about. In Attack on Titan, we know how everyone will act and how they will fight, so there’s no excitement. Mute the action and you miss nothing.

All these problems combined manage to kill Attack on Titan’s other strength – atmosphere. The increasing plot armour for important characters coupled with having a Titan on the heroes’ side means the tension is low. Yep, humanity is on the brink of extinction and the tension is still low. Just great. That oppressive feeling, the sense of impending doom, the idea that it could all end today is gone.

Art – High

Season 2 has few of the amazing action sequences from before, with more static shots and ‘left to right’ animations taking their place. There is CG everywhere now. CG horses running across CG ground, the Colossal Titan in full CG, and more CG horses stand out like ink blots on paper. The art is still good overall, but doesn’t have the impressiveness of season 1.

Sound – Medium

Take all the music of Attack on Titan and lower the hype. You now have this soundtrack. The script hasn’t much to say.

Story – Low

Scouts investigate a breach in the wall that allowed a swarm of Titans inside human territory. An overuse of the flashforward story structure, flat characters, and twists conjured out of thin air saps all engagement for the story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For diehard Attack on Titan fans only. If you are a fan, you’ve already seen season 2, so my recommendation doesn’t matter. But for those unsure after the first season, this isn’t worth your time. Attack on Titan Season 2 has almost none of the qualities that made the first engaging.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Deus Ex MachinaNo Development

Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

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There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.

In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.

The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.

Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.

In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.

Art – Very High

Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.

Sound – High

The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.

Story – Medium

A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

School Rumble – Anime Review

Japanese Title: School Rumble

 

Related: School Rumble 2nd Semester (included in review)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Toradora!

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 52 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny.
  • Kenji Harima.
  • Quick pace.

Negatives:

  • Plot goes nowhere.
  • Low-end art.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When School Rumble introduces its main girl with the caption “Kinda stupid,” I know I am in for a good time. School Rumble hits with the jokes hard and fast, never slowing down to let us breathe, even to the detriment of its plot.

We follow the kinda stupid Tenma in her mission to confess love to Karasuma. Meanwhile, the almost as stupid delinquent-turned-supposed-softie Harima tries to complete his mission of confessing to Tenma. And then another student wants to confess to Harima, but then another guy wants to confess to her, and so on this love chain goes surround by hectic comedy.

Tenma’s introductory caption is accurate, for she truly is a ditz, which is usually not my kind of character. However, School Rumble treats her like a ditz and doesn’t allow her to get away with it – a nice change. In one dilemma, Tenma can’t exit the girls’ bathroom with Karasuma outside because if your crush sees you exit the bathroom it is embarrassing, or shameful, or something. I don’t know – this girl’s crazy!

Her target of desire, Karasuma, is similarly an inverse of the usual guy the main girl wants. He is boring. Not the ‘we tell you he’s cool to explain why the girl loves him but he’s actually boring’ kinda guy. No, Karasuma is boring by design. From his personality to his no-detail art, he is the definition of boring and treated as such. The humour surrounding Tenma’s inexplicable obsession with him is hilarious. Finally, a high school anime knows what the audience is thinking when Main Girl swears it’s True Love with Boring Guy.

The best character of all however, is Kenji Harima. Again, I am not a fan of the delinquent thug archetype due to their predictable arcs, yet with Harima and his depth of character and complexity, he’s nothing like the usual delinquent stock. The humour derived from fancying himself a sensitive guy now that he’s in love, while beating the snot out of people, works well. The episode when he becomes a Jesus/Buddha/Noah hobo with a flock of animals after he thinks he can never get Tenma gives me stitches. To cope with his unrequited love, he creates a manga about a guy and girl falling in love that look like him and Tenma, though he swears they totally aren’t the same!

His and Tenma’s schemes to show love towards their crushes are equally idiotic and hilarious. One early episode has Harima trying to tell Tenma that she’s forgotten to write her name on her test paper, which will fail her. He comes up with crazy yet clever ways of telling her without being caught by the teacher, but Tenma is so stupid that she doesn’t notice his hints. He even writes, “You forgot to write your name,” on his paper and shows it her, but she takes it as the literal answer to one of the questions… Oh boy, this is gonna be a long journey of love.

And a long journey it is, as the plot barely coughs forward after 52 episodes. To pre-empt any disappointment, let me tell you that the goal of saying ‘I love you’ to their crushes amounts to nothing. Even if the manga does give resolution somewhere in its 22 volumes, this go-nowhere plot is still a problem. “But it’s a comedy! Story doesn’t matter in comedy,” I hear you say. That is the case, sometimes, but not when the comedy presents its story so much. School Rumble keeps going back to Tenma and Harima’s story of confessing love, almost moving it forward, before resetting everything back to zero with some misunderstanding so they can play the same joke again a few episodes later. I get the impression that the writer didn’t know what to do for humour once the confessions were over, and so stayed in the ‘safe zone.’

To contrast with the similar Ouran High School Host Club, I find School Rumble has the better jokes, but am more satisfied with Ouran due to its conclusion. Nevertheless, School Rumble’s comedy is sharp enough to engage you. The quick pace of having 2-3 mini-episodes per full episode, rather than dragging one joke for 20 minutes, also helps. Though by the second season, I do get tired of episodes that focus on the confessions since it’s obvious they go nowhere.

Art – Low

School Rumble hails from the early days where computers replaced cel animation, and as such, looks serviceable, at best. One scene that stands out is when two characters are supposed to dance. One complements the other about how good a dancer she is – except they aren’t animated!

Sound – High

Energetic voice acting in English and Japanese provided by a great script of non-stop jokes.

Story – Medium

High school teens try to say, “I love you,” to their crushes, but fail amidst a whirlwind of misunderstanding, hijinks, and comedic chaos. Solid characters and excellent comedy make up for School Rumble’s go-nowhere plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school comedy fans. I give School Rumble a High rating, despite its story problems, because the humour saves it. One episode is all you need to know if School Rumble is for you. Give it a chance.

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

Positive: 

Hilarious

Negative: None

March Comes in Like a Lion – Anime Review

Japanese Title: 3-gatsu no Lion

 

Related: March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 (release: 2017)

Similar: Your Lie in April

Ping Pong the Animation

Barakamon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Slice of Life Drama

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The protagonist.
  • Portrayal of depression.
  • So many gorgeous scenes.
  • OPs and EDs.

Negatives:

  • Facial close-ups.
  • Could do with compacting.
  • The talking animals.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Depression, an all-powerful force that colours our world in bleakness. Hope doesn’t exist in this world, nor does happiness. So why do those around us seem happy? How can they be happy when there is nothing to be happy about in life? Because depression is in our heads alone. Despite what we perceive, depression doesn’t bleed beyond the confines of one’s brain. The happiness of others is safe. March Comes in Like a Lion shows us this mental phenomenon through the eyes of Rei, a 17-year-old orphan and shogi professional.

I must first commend this anime for its portrayal of depression, which is often mischaracterised as a synonym for sadness. Sadness is losing your pet to old age and moving on after a period of mourning. Depression is losing your pet to old age and seeing this as to end of everything in your life. Sadness stops at a point; depression spirals ever downwards into a pit that exploits your greatest fears and most taut emotions. This is all in your head, of course, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When Rei is alone with no more than his mind for company, we see his descent. The loss of his family, the hatred from his adopted sister, and the lack of friends has morphed into a beast way beyond grief.

However, the moment others are around him, happiness bursts into life. The three sisters that live nearby are happy, despite their own loss, and their happiness infects him like an extended family. So what if he’s depressed? The world doesn’t stop spinning. Others don’t stop smiling. These are lessons Rei needs to learn if he is to grow out of his present state. As for friends, who says he has none? His self-proclaimed rival, Harunobu, regularly barges into his life and home to keep Rei company as his best friend – also self-proclaimed. Studio Shaft handled the balance between light and dark with deft mastery, thanks in no small part to the art, which conveys more emotion than the words.

Rei’s backstory is riveting as well. After losing his parents, his father’s friend and shogi rival takes him in to raise as a shogi professional like his own kids. However, when he surpasses those kids, the animosity reaches breaking point and he moves to his own place before the daughter can strangle him. You want to know the kicker? He didn’t even like shogi. He said what he had to. This backstory is what I would use to teach how to write conflict in a character’s past.

Where March Comes in Like a Lion falters is largely in two areas. The first is the shogi. Don’t watch this for the sport like you would Haikyuu and its brethren. The story does little to teach you the game as a newcomer, while also doing little to engage veterans. Shogi scenes serve to present mental conflicts only, which would be acceptable if there weren’t so much shogi. The best way I can put it is that the writer knows little about shogi – at least, that’s how it feels. I imagine the script read, “and then they played shogi,” for each shogi scene.

The second fault is with tangents. Several episodes abandon the protagonist and plot in favour of side characters – not particularly important ones at that either. These episodes should have waited for the OVAs, you know, the optional content that interrupts the flow of the main story. Thankfully, these faults don’t lessen my recommendation to watch at least half of the season. Oh yeah, there’s those creepy talking cats, who explain their jokes each scene. Maybe they are reason enough to skip this… No, even with Satan’s pets, March Comes in Like a Lion earns your attention.

Art – High

Studio Shaft did an incredible job with some of the scenes in March Comes in Like a Lion – the OPs and EDs are so gorgeous. The animation is a far cry from the static that was Honey and Clover. However, adherence to the mangaka’s art style has kept those dead eyes and ugly mouths, regularly highlighted by overused close ups of the faces.

Sound – High

The voice work is strong, except for those creepy cats and the little girl, who doesn’t sound like a little girl. I can see several music tracks being added to my playlist in future.

Story – High

A young man deals with depression punctuated by the happiness of those around him as he competes in shogi. Even if too long and off on a few tangents too many, March Comes in Like a Lion’s depiction of depression is top tier and balanced well by the humour.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for slice of life fans. March Comes in Like a Lion manages to convey the effects of depression in a relatable manner to those who have experienced it, and an understandable manner for those that haven’t. For this reason, it warrants at least a few episodes of your time, if not enough for the whole season. The first half is stronger than the second half.

(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 AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

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