Kemonozume – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kemonozume

 

Similar: Devilman Crybaby

Basilisk

Parasyte –the maxim-

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stands out.
  • Great romantic conflict.
  • Fast pace.
  • Satisfying conclusion.

Negatives:

  • Third act focuses too much on action.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen this anime. Nor would I blame you. It doesn’t look the most appealing. I only watched it after seeing the following scene (and it’s not even representative of the story):

Kemonozume is a Romeo & Juliet story that pits a monster slayer against the monster he loves. In this world, a species of monsters slinks through society disguised as humans, consuming people to survive in plain sight. The samurai-like Kifuuken clan has one purpose: killing Flesh Eaters. Toshihiko is their leader’s son and an expert slayer who falls in love with beautiful Yuka at first sight. She shows him that there is more to life than the warrior’s code – she even takes him tandem skydiving – and he gives her love she had been taught didn’t exist in return. Their whirlwind romance derails when he discovers her to be a Flesh Eater. Toshihiko must now choose between love and duty.

I do not enjoy Romeo & Juliet. Like every other poor unfortunate soul, I had to study it at school. Hated it then. Hate it now. So to see this anime, with its ragged art and surreal palette that intrigued me, reveal itself as a Romeo & Juliet romance, I braced for stupid. However, Kemonozume did two things that rallied my spirits. First, they are a threat to each other just as much as their respective sides are a threat to them. And secondly, the romance isn’t chaste. This couple doesn’t shy away from sex, from lust, from passion.

I maintain that sex scenes (or risqué fan service, if we’re talking teen anime) are often the biggest waste of screen time in any medium. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, could benefit from removing 90% of the sex scenes. Such scenes rarely add anything to the story.

Kemonozume differs because much of this couple’s personal story occurs during the sex scenes. See, Yuka’s true form is at greatest risk of coming out during moments of heightened sexual ecstasy, a problem made worse by how much these two adore and crave each other. The theme of rebelling against what they were born to be isn’t just seen in them running away from home to go on an adventure. We see it in their most intimate moments. The sex doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s always a justification for making that scene a sex scene rather than something else. It also helps that the weird art makes these moments something you’ve probably never seen before, visually, and the exaggerated lines amplify the emotions they feel.

Another strength of Kemonozume is its humour. For instance, after encountering Yuka for the first time, falling for her instantly, he starts to see her face on everyone else’s heads in this hilarious scene. Like the rest of this anime, it exaggerates the joke three steps beyond the norm, but it works here. Distracting Flesh Eaters with holograms of dancing nude women is also a good laugh. I will concede that some humorous moments could do with better timing.

Sadly, Kemonozume falls short of excellence with a third act that contains too much action. It’s not that action has no place in this romance. Rather, the action become a bit too shounen, so to speak, albeit surreal shounen action – like the sex, this looks different from other action scenes. Without this third act, it wouldn’t be fitting to give this anime the “Action” label. On the positive side, it’s only a few episodes (being a short, fast-paced anime helps here) and the conclusion is satisfying. If the end weren’t satisfying, I would leave Kemonozume bitterly disappointed. I can thankfully say the opposite.

Now, despite my praises, do keep in mind that this is wildly different from “normal” anime. Should Kemonozume not grab your interest within one episode, you most likely won’t change your mind by the end. Don’t force yourself to watch it on my account – on anyone’s account.

Art – Medium

Visually unusual art – highly stylised on a budget. It’s clear they didn’t have much money to work with, but made the most of it to create something distinct. Allows for plenty of animation, but the art itself is very rough. This style could be a deal breaker for some.

Sound – Medium

The nice jazz soundtrack is stronger than the decent voice acting.

Story – High

The son and heir of a monster hunting clan falls in love with one of the very maneating women he’s born to kill. Fast, savage, and racy, Kemonozume is a unique take on the forbidden love romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I greatly enjoyed Kemonozume, but I know it won’t appeal to many, so give it a try and see if you feel as I did.

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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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Blood Blockade Battlefront – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kekkai Sensen

 

Related: Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Baccano!

Jormungand

Tiger & Bunny

Trigun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • NYC looks great.
  • Character focused standalone episodes.

Negatives:

  • Shounen protagonist doesn’t fit.
  • Lacks focus for the first act.

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I can’t help but wonder if Blood Blockade Battlefront wasn’t intended for an older audience originally, until an editor/studio said it couldn’t succeed without the shounen demographic and so the protagonist lost a few years to meet that new audience. I say this because Leonardo, our protagonist, doesn’t fit with the rest of the cast.

Leonardo is a teenager who recently acquired the “All-seeing Eyes of the Gods”, which gives him immense power beyond his comprehension, so he heads to Hellsalem’s Lot (New York City) where the supernatural is an everyday part of life to look for help. There, he unexpectedly joins Libra, a crime-fighting organisation that deals with the supernatural and the mundane through use of powers of their own and modern technology.

Libra is a group of adults. While the focus is on the supernatural action with a comedy slant, when it does focus on characters, these Libra members have adult problems, which doesn’t gel with the themes of Leonardo’s character. Furthermore, there are too many episodes where he feels like a tagalong to the plot (or isn’t present at all), as if the author couldn’t figure out how to use his shounen protagonist in a seinen series. The adults are just more interesting in Blood Blockade Battlefront.

There is one episode where Leonardo works – the mushroom guy episode. He meets this mushroom guy (no better way to put it) with an appetite for burgers, who has spores that can erase memories. Criminals prize his spores. Imagine you could commit a crime and wipe everyone’s memory of the event – free money. Unfortunately, the spores affect mushroom guy as much as anyone else, which means he doesn’t know anyone because he forgets after each mugging. The standalone episode regarding his and Leonardo’s friendship is a good one. In fact, I find the standalone episodes to be the best of the series.

Another one that comes to mind deals with the work/family balance that many career adults face. A woman in Libra needs to assist with an important mission to intercept a drug shipment, but the day of the mission happens to coincide with parents’ day at her son’s school – a day she has missed for several years already due to work. The episode has a great moment on parenting when her husband explains to the son that it hurts her more than it does him when she can’t keep her promises. The humour works too (same author as Trigun). When she tries to get off the mission roster, her boss guilts her into staying by laying out the consequences of mission failure on other children – in a comedic way. In the end, she has to do both concurrently.

As I said, Leonardo is a side character to most missions, so he doesn’t drag down the series too much. He’s okay. The unclear motives and goals for early episodes are a bigger problem. The start is too hectic for its own good.

I do love the feel of this city matched with the tone of the characters. Mermaids, vampires, werewolves, monkeys, and aliens living alongside humans in a towering metropolis gives me a Baccano meets Tiger & Bunny meets The Fifth Element with a dash of One Punch Man vibe. The creative visuals and light humour, yet balanced by some heart, make Blood Blockade Battlefront an easy anime to watch once you clear the initial hurdle of not knowing what the hell is going on.

Art – High

It’s Studio Bones, so the art has a good minimum quality. I particularly like the look of New York City – fantastic colour depth and detail. The notable flaws are moments of repeated animation and the protagonist’s eye effect looks slapped in the scene.

Sound – Medium

Can’t stand the protagonist’s voice in English, so I switch to Japanese and he sounds the same! Don’t like either of their nasal voices. Other than that, the acting is good, though there is a missed opportunity in not having accents from New York’s various boroughs akin to Baccano.

Story – Medium

A kid with magic eyes joins a crime-fighting organisation in the big city populated by human and supernatural denizens alike. Blood Blockade Battlefront works best when following individual characters and is in need of a more adult protagonist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action comedy fans only. Blood Blockade Battlefront isn’t a remarkable anime, but it has enough to entertain fans of the contemporary action genre. (Still can’t say Blood Blockade Battlefront quickly without fumbling my words.)

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru

 

Similar: Toradora

Bakemonogatari

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Second season looks better.

Negatives:

  • Unlikeable protagonist throughout.
  • “Deep” thoughts.
  • The drama isn’t really drama.
  • Hard to care.

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I only watched this anime because of the title (“What is a snafu…?”) and came out wishing I hadn’t bothered. There is a subreddit called r/im14andthisisdeep that collects “deep” thoughts that are actually basic to the average person. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is that subreddit in anime form.

It follows the nihilistic high school years of Hachiman, who is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club as punishment for imposing his “deep” worldview on everyone. This club, which includes the ice queen Yukino, has the sole purpose of helping students in need achieve their goals. It’s a club about helping people, in short, with the hope of making Hachiman less of a douche.

As an example of the club’s activities, the first case is helping a girl who can’t cook, where the real lesson is that it’s the thought and effort that counts among friends. She soon joins the duo along with several others to create the typical group of high school friends.

SNAFU presents itself as a meta anime on the “high school friendships” genre, commenting on how much the genre overblows high school and how it doesn’t define your life, but ends up eating its own tail to become a pretentious, overblown high school friendship anime. It goes through the usual episodes – beach, summer festival, sports day, etc. However, instead of thinking, “You’re right, it is really stupid how big of a deal they make out of these events,” I just see SNAFU doing the same as the anime on which it comments.

The one differentiating factor is that the characters aren’t cheerful. Hachiman is anti-social, Yukino is anti-social, another girl is bad at socialising, and even the popular girl doesn’t have anyone who cares for her. Despite this difference, the story and characters play out much the same way as your average anime from this genre.

Initially, I thought that Hachiman’s musings were meant to be taken as the pretentious ramblings of some kid who thinks he has the world figured out, that we were meant to see him as unlikable before the story turns our opinion of him. He does grow less unlikeable, sure, but I don’t know anyone who would want to hang around such a boring person.

I considered the idea that the author was trying to emulate the deep (read: stupid) thoughts we all had as teenagers, and that this nonsense was accurate for a kid his age, but it never calls him out on it. Hachiman doesn’t sound like a teenager in over his head; he sounds like an adult failing to write a teenager. No one with any life experience would believe this author’s life lessons and witty advice – and by any, I mean any, even a few months out of high school would dissolve such notions. It’s weak.

The drama isn’t really drama either. It’s just students interacting lightly in a slice of life way to resolve petty affairs. It’s hard to care about such minor problems. Oh, your life hinges on being elected class president? Oh wow, so rough. It takes a council of 40 students to organise the same sports day as every year and if it fails, all is lost? What a tough life. Perhaps this is meant as satire, though if the case, then it flops.

It also bothers me that there is seemingly only one teacher in this school, who acts like one of the students and barely looks older than they do. This world, this anime feels so empty.

SNAFU isn’t funny enough to recommend as a comedy, doesn’t have enough tension for a drama, and shouldn’t even have the romance label. The worst thing about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is to see studio Brain’s Base, responsible for unconventional greats like Baccano and Princess Jellyfish, forced to make an anime so visually and narratively bland.

Art – Medium

Average art, indistinguishable for other anime of the era, until a different studio takes over in season 2 and does a better job. Cinematography is still stock.

Sound – Medium

Acting is average as well. Not bad, though nothing memorable.

Story – Low

A nihilistic student is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club, which helps other students achieve their goals. This story and its unlikable protagonist won’t appeal to anyone with a drop of life experience.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For 14-year-olds only. If you are above that age, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU’s deep messages will be laughable.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow

Mushi-shi – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mushishi

 

Related: Mushishi –Next Passage- (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Kino’s Journey

Natsume’s Book of Friends

Mononoke

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Mystery

Length: 46 episodes (3 seasons), 3 specials

 

Positives:

  • Perfect execution of tone and theme.
  • Varied and original stories.
  • Unpredictable mysteries.

Negatives:

  • Art is on a tight budget.

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Piece of advice if you ever intend to review anime: don’t give yourself two weeks to watch an anime that you should space out over months. Not watching it while you’re on a Star Trek: TNG binge and finishing Game of Thrones (I don’t wanna talk about it) would also help. Honestly, I haven’t even finished all of Mushishi yet (few episodes and the specials to go), but the review has already been delayed and I don’t wish to do so again. And I already know what to say.

Mushishi is an excellent anime. You should all watch it.

There, done. That was worth the delay. Onto the next one!

In all seriousness, I feel I need to explain why Mushishi is a must watch, as it isn’t so obvious on the surface. I can’t imagine one could make a trailer for Mushishi that would entice many people into watching it (at least not without lying about its tone and feel). A large part of this is the art problem – getting to that in a moment – and the absence of exciting clips one could use to advertise the anime.

Mushishi is an anthology of supernatural mysteries. We follow Ginko, a Mushi Master, as he wanders Japan in pursuit of mysterious whisperings pertaining to “mushi”. These lifeforms transcend the bindings of reality. They take many forms from diseases to plants to the air itself. They are neither good nor evil. They simply are.

To ordinary citizens however, they can be the cause of strife or a great blessing. One mushi disguises itself by wearing the skin of a woman’s child. Another lives in people’s ears and “eats” the sound they’re meant to hear. This is where Ginko’s expertise comes in. As a Mushi Master, he dedicates his life to helping people affected them, yet does so without killing mushi, unlike his peers.

It helps to know, going in, what type of a series Mushishi is. If you just watch the first episode, it probably won’t grab you because it doesn’t establish a grander story or end on some hook to keep you going. I didn’t know what it was about, so it wasn’t until a few episodes in that I caught on a realised I was meant to focus on one episode at a time. Once I did, it hooked me.

The brilliance of Mushishi is in these short stories (one episode each). They tend to focus on an individual and their surrounding community affected by mushi. Each episode establishes the characters, presents the conundrum, and takes us down measured and winding path of twists to create a complete story. Every time. No episode is rushed or incomplete. Some are better than others, of course, but every episode is a full arc and an engaging one at that. This is the core brilliance of Mushishi. It makes you care for these characters and their story within minutes. Mwah, perfection.

Furthermore, it isn’t predictable. One can never be certain of the outcome of any given episode. Sometimes it’s a happy end, other times it’s a negative, and often it’s somewhere in between. The tone matches this unpredictability as well, evoking an air of the unknown – we know little of the mushi as we know little of the story’s destination. Ethereal, like the mushi, is how I describe it. Mushishi is what I wanted from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

The other thing I like is how it doesn’t use the same old Japanese myths that you see everywhere. These tales still feel like those fables you would tell around a campfire at night, yet they aren’t a repeat of what came before.

Mushishi’s one real flaw – the aspect most likely to turn people away – is the art. It isn’t impressive in any way.

How can you tell investors had little confidence in the success of a series, even one based on an award-winning manga (Kino’s Journey, anyone)? By allocating such a small art budget. When an anime has so little animation, a studio usually makes up for it with gorgeous stills of beautiful environments and detailed characters. Mushishi has none of that. It doesn’t have the surreal imagery it deserves either. When Ginko performs a ritual to cleanse a mushi or when one finally reveals its true purpose, weird things start happening (gushing silver from a kid’s eyes, for example), but the art hasn’t the strength to covey what the author is saying. The art simply isn’t vivid enough. You know the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle when the witch has her power extracted? That’s what Mushishi needs.

Thankfully, as the ponderous and ethereal anime that it is, Mushishi doesn’t need the best art to succeed and it gets a little better after the first season. (If an action series had this art, it would be dead on arrival.) Do not let the art get in the way of you watching Mushishi. I cannot recommend this anime enough.

Art – Low

There isn’t much in the way of animation nor are the still shots gorgeous to make up for it. They could have put more effort in character designs, at least – too many peasants look the same across episodes. Improves in season 2.

Sound – High

The OP is in English – interesting choice. It works in establishing tone. You can watch this in either Japanese or English (love the narrator’s voice) accompanied by a strong script, though note that only season 1 has a dub. The understated and mysterious soundtrack is great too.

Story – Very High

An expert on supernatural entities known as mushi travels around Japan investigating their wonderful and dangerous appearances. This anthology of fables is engaging from start to finish.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Mushishi is an anime I recommend to everyone. However, I caution you against binging it. Watch a few episodes at a time and allow them to sink in before you start the next.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Mirai – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mirai no Mirai

 

Similar: Wolf Children

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

When Marnie Was There

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 38 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful visuals, particularly in environment details.
  • Small quirks.

Negatives:

  • Lacks real substance.
  • Parents don’t have enough story.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mirai is the latest film from director Mamoru Hosoda, known for other anime films Summer Wars, Girl Who Leapt through Time, The Boy and the Beast, and Wolf Children. While I haven’t seen the first of that list (review coming soon™), I find Mirai to be his weakest. It doesn’t have an element that draws me in, attaches me to it in the way Girl through Time did with its protagonist’s personality.

Based on Hosoda’s experiences with his own children, Mirai is about a little boy called Kun who, up until this point, received all the attention from his parents. Now with his newborn sister Mirai around, he’s no longer the centre of the universe. And that doesn’t sit well with him.

He throws tantrums. He hurts his sister. He chucks his toys on the floor. He does everything in his four-year-old power to turn the attention back to him. Nothing works. In an effort to teach him much-needed life lessons, family members from the past and future visit him in the house courtyard, taking him on small adventures.

This narrative quickly reminded of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which I coincidentally saw for the first time last week, where ghosts of past, present, and future visit the protagonist to change him for the better. In the case of A Christmas Carol, it’s about turning a nasty rich miser into a generous man. With this connection made, I became more interested. Unfortunately, Mirai doesn’t have the weight and emotion found in Dickens’s title.

Mirai’s structure alternates between the present day world, where Kun misbehaves in some way to garner attention, and the past/future world with a relative that teaches a lesson relating to the aforementioned behaviour. One time, he throws his toys on the floor in a temper tantrum against his mother. So when he runs to the courtyard, it takes him back in time to when his mother was a little girl and loved throwing everything on the floor as well. This shows him that she too was a kid once, but they also go too far and trash her whole house, which earns her a scolding. “Your mother knows you’re just a kid, but don’t go too far. Give her a break looking after a newborn.”

It may sound as though I am simplifying the lesson too much, but I’m not. That’s all there is to it. These mini adventures have no nuance, no depth, which is perhaps intentional so that little kids get it. Even then, it’s too on the nose and has little for older viewers.

I could look over this, somewhat, if the adventures were more…adventurous? There isn’t enough fantasy in this fantasy adventure story. When he’s with his mother, why didn’t they go on some Peter Pan style adventure fighting pirates, feasting on junk food, blowing stuff up, only to come back to the reality of a trashed home? Any kid’s imagination would conjure up far more outlandish adventures.

The exception to this lack of fantasy is with the last adventure for the finale. Kun goes on a train journey (he loves trains) and has to face his biggest fear before he can return home. This was the only adventure I cared for in the whole film.

The other issue in Mirai is with the parents’ subplot. When we first meet them, we learn that the mother will return to work sooner than she did with the firstborn while the father wants to become a stay-at-home dad, though he has much to learn. The film’s first half sets up their situations and struggles, but the second half doesn’t pay them off. The third act all but forgets their storyline. It suddenly goes, “I guess their fine parents now.” It’s weak.

What I do really like in Mirai is the visual detail. First, there’s the house itself with the courtyard. Hosoda hired a real architect to design the unusual house for film, explained in-story by Kun’s father being an architect. I love this house. The way it makes the most of their narrow plot of land and the courtyard is great. I would be happy to live there. I also love the small details – not just in the environment. The dog barking at the vacuum cleaner, the way Mirai behaves like a real baby, and dad’s quirks when working from home while looking after the kids add a layer of authenticity to the world.

It’s a shame the story lacks gravitas to back up all the effort that when into the visuals. For emotion, I look to how Wolf Children made my heart break; for fun, I look to how Girl Who Leapt through Time made me fall in love with the girl’s attitude. Mirai is Hosoda’s love letter to his family, yet not one I recommend to others.

Art – Very High

Lots of detail, beautiful animation, and interesting environment designs are a pleasure. The only real flaw is an overreliance on making background objects in CG.

Sound – Medium

The acting is good all around, though I wonder if Kun doesn’t sound a few years too old. The 80s “city pop” opening and ending themes are a nice touch.

Story – Low

Past and future relatives of a little boy teach him life lessons when he can’t handle all the attention given to his newborn sister. A severe lack of weight to the adventures and overly simplistic moral storytelling don’t make an engaging story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For art fans only. Mirai’s story isn’t worth attending for. However, if you love anime with lots of visual and animated details, then there is much to notice here.

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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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