Tag Archives: Action

Often high in violence and fast-paced. Not necessarily gory, though can be.

Blame! – Manga Review

Japanese Title: BLAME!

 

Related: NOiSE (prequel)

 

Genre: Action Horror Science Fiction

Length: 66 chapters (10 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • It’s different
  • Art has a grim, chaotic quality

Negatives:

  • Lack of dialogue translates to lack of context and emotion
  • Character faces

Blame takes readers into a cyberpunk hellscape far beneath the ground – or is it a tower above ground? Who knows… All sense of direction and sanity has no point of reference in this labyrinth haunted by creatures out of Hellraiser and Warhammer 40k. Killy, seemingly the one man in this place with a functional gun, fights his way through one dangerous floor after the other in search of someone with the “Net Gene,” a genetic marker that can access the central control network of this technological wasteland.

Blame (pronounced “Blam” like a gunshot) sports minimal dialogue as its unique selling point. Art conveys most of the narrative, told in chaotic, messy lines dripping with grim cyberpunk aesthetics. I like the look of this world. I’m a big cyberpunk fan, so this should come as no surprise. The enemies look great too, drawing inspiration from several sources of which I am already a supporter. One could make a great sci-fi horror film with their kind. A notable visual irritant is the human faces, which look sketched on as the manga went to print. It’s like artists that have excellent skill at drawing people except the hands are always munted (fingers are frustrating to draw!).

Anyways, this is an atmospheric piece more than anything. The world and this environment must have a special draw to you should you want to enjoy Blame. The characters aren’t anything to boast about, so with minimal dialogue there is a singular appeal here.

In between blasting enemies with his gun, Killy does meet various characters from isolated groups trying to survive against the cybernetic monsters. Most dialogue is in these encounters. Scenes of dialogue are moments of rest in the dangerous City.

I haven’t much to say about any character in this manga, for there isn’t much too any of them. The most personality comes from the main enemy in how threatening it is. The mute story translates into muted character depth. There is plenty of background and environmental story work though little foreground and central storytelling.

Some may recommend Blame as some secret masterpiece, so daring and avant-garde in its decision to forgo most dialogue and let the world around speak for itself. However, if you step back and examine it once the feeling of reading something different has worn off, you realise there isn’t much to the story and the lack of dialogue often feels like the author didn’t know what or how to write a scene. It would have been too difficult for him. I’m not saying he couldn’t have done it, but it feels like it.

If you’ve never seen a dialogue-free story before, Blame will be a fresh experience and worth your time. It’s a quick read by virtue of the minimal dialogue. Don’t go expecting this to sit amongst the greats. This is no opening scene from Up or Clarice hunting Buffalo Bill.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: For those after something different. Blame is from a unusual crop and won’t be to everyone’s taste.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Beastars Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars Season 2

 

Related: Beastars (Season 1)

Beastars (manga)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves on the manga
  • The snake
  • The unusual tone in the main conflict
  • Music continues to be great

Negatives:

  • The CG animation still has room for improvement

(Request an anime for review here.)

Note: Mild and implied spoilers for season one.

Beastars was a surprising hit for many people, including myself, back in 2019. Who would have thought “that CG furry anime” could have such great characters, killer music, and non-horrible CG? It’s back again for a second season and I am very intrigued, even more so because I have read the manga to conclusion. Those who have done so as well will know what I’m hinting at.

Legosi of Cherryton Academy for herbivores and carnivores continues his search for the killer of his friend, a sweet alpaca. Meanwhile, star of the academy and leading candidate for the prestigious Beastar position, the red deer Louis, has fallen in with a back alley gang of lions after killing their leader. They don’t want to eat him, however – they want him to lead.

The story picks up where season one left off, but there are immediate and noticeable changes from the source material. If you haven’t read the manga but have seen season one, the only notable change there was in cutting down that finale’s action scene from a typical shounen anime brawl into something that fit the tone more. It was a great change. Season two changes far more and for the better.

A new character to the series is the school security guard, a giant snake, who had a tiny presence in the manga (one or two chapters?) after an impactful introduction. We never saw her again (a problem to discuss in tomorrow’s manga review). The anime gives her the time she deserves and delivers a couple of great horror episodes with a feel of high school myths told around a torch late at night. Let’s hope the anime further fixes the manga’s mistake and brings the snake back in future. Also, Haru (the white bunny and Legosi’s love interest) gets more screen time of importance, which is better treatment given to her than by the manga.

The focus of this season is the murder mystery. Who killed the alpaca? I love this story thread. The hunt for the killer and the several scenes with said killer have great tension and the snap between killer situation and ordinary school life works perfectly here and are some of my favourite scenes. The way Beastars handles juxtaposition of carnivore versus herbivore, fight to the death versus living ordinary life is simply brilliant (done better than in the manga too). This isn’t just an anime with “furry” characters.

Not all changes are for the better. The story falters in the finale at the apex of Louis’s arc, cutting a pivotal moment short and lessening the impact. If you haven’t read the manga, then this will still be noticeable, though you won’t have the source to fill in what the director was trying to do. Should you feel dissatisfied, watch this excellent extended ED video only after you have watched episode 12 (spoilers). A deer leading a gang of lions sounds ludicrous if you haven’t seen Beastars, but man does it work and make for a compelling subplot. The mirroring of Legosi’s and Louis’s arcs continues to impress.

The visuals are the same as the first time around, so if you couldn’t stand it then, you won’t handle it now. Despite some slippery animation issues, I still find that it works. The compositions and visual metaphors sometimes have me forgetting the CG.

Acting, still just as good. Love Orochimaru’s voice actor for the snake! The music has a tough act to follow after that quality season one soundtrack, and while few could match that original stop motion OP, every new song in season two is excellent.

In all, Beastars delivers another quality season. Now, season three – should they announce it – promises some excellent content, particularly in the world-building department as we explore wider society. However, to avoid the downward trajectory brought on by the manga, it would need even more changes than this season. What downward trajectory? That’s for tomorrow’s review.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Keep watching. And if you haven’t started Beastars, then what are you waiting for?

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

Red River – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori

 

Genre: Historical Action Drama Romance

Length: 96 chapters (28 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Good use of historical events and characters
  • An engaging and grand plot
  • Quite a few beautiful art compositions

Negatives:

  • Uses the same set of plot conundrums each arc
  • Characters are thin on dimensions

Red River uses a story type more common in the West than in Japan – you could have called it the West’s “isekai” at one point – time travel. Fifteen-year-old Japanese girl Yuri’s greatest troubles are the flutters in her heart from the boy she just kissed. A mysterious force yanks her into the water and takes her back to 14th century BC Middle East. The Hittite Empire is on the rise, set to rival the Egyptians and Yuri will be at the fore of it all. That is, if she can survive plots from the evil queen, rival lovers for the prince’s affection, rival lovers for her affection, and assassination attempts.

Prince Kail takes her as a concubine for protection, but love soon blossoms between the pair. Yuri will have to make the choice between staying by Kail’s side – even if he must marry a foreign princess for duty – or finding a way back to her family in Japan. Some say she is a reincarnation of the goddess Ishtar. This story of love and war spans several countries and draws in many characters.

Red River reminds me of classic epics like the Mahabharata or Ramayana, where the characters are simple, designed for their one role with a straightforward personality, and plot drives the story (complex characters are relatively modern). It’s easy to remember so many of these characters because they are simple. “Wasn’t he the one that fed insider information to the queen?” Around 95% of characters can have their complexity covered in only one sentence. Even the handful of major characters are quite simple. There are no hidden motivations, subtext, or deeper truths to unravel on closer inspection. This may be a problem for readers who like their characters as complex as a labyrinth with no end.

The romantic conflicts are easy to follow. Yuri loves Kail, but he’s a prince, so they can’t be together. Kail loves Yuri, but he knows he’s a prince, so they can’t be together. This other guy also loves Yuri, but she’s with Kail, so they can’t be together. The queen is trying to sacrifice Yuri to curse Kail because she wants her son to be the next king, therefore Kail must protect Yuri. It’s easy to follow.

However, if you can accept this fact, Red River is an engaging saga over its 28 volumes (an easy read) as the Hittites wage war with various surrounding kingdoms involving real people from history. This is the time of Tutankhamun, Nefertiti, Ramses II, and Mattiwaza. Because they lived so long ago, details are thin on what they were like in reality, which gives plenty of room for creative freedom by the author. Key historical events and alliances also play prominent roles throughout Red River’s plot. The historical aspect of the manga is the most interesting part to me. Had it been all fictional characters and fictional events, it wouldn’t have captured my attention anywhere near as well.

Where Red River falters most in its plot is with repetition. Expect to see the following devices several times. Yuri kidnapped by the enemy; a prince from a rival kingdom falling for Yuri (often the kidnapper); the queen using Black Water to mind control innocent people to kill others (there is a minor magic element); and someone close to Yuri such as a servant or advisor framed for whatever evil the queen committed, followed by an unfair trial. Plenty else happens, yes, but you start to notice when it’s one of those four again. Leaning more into the politics could have avoided the need to resort to these staples. Instead of the queen controlling someone to kill her 30th victim, why not have here use some clever political scheme to corner her opponents?

Red River could have been a High quality manga even with the simple characters had it not been for this repetition problem. When you see Yuri kidnapped again by a love rival, you know where the story will go. And when the plot is meant to carry the series, such predictability kills motivation. It is particularly egregious when the final arc use the Black Water, Yuri kidnapping, a foreign prince, and the false accusation towards an ally all over again.

Still, Red River is a good manga that I recommend to any history fans who want it spliced with shoujo romance. I enjoyed my time with it.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: For history fans. The romance is quite typical of shoujo, but the use of real historical characters and events makes this war drama something different.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Dai 08 MS Shotai

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 (main series)

Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket (related story)

Similar: Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid

Code Geass: Akito the Exiled

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks excellent
  • A tight, small scale story
  • Presents a different view of war in the Gundam universe
  • As with most Gundam, the acting is strong in either language

Negatives:

  • The romance is too simple

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes the core concepts of Gundam – mecha, war, politics, and romance – and compresses it down into a 12-episode package. It succeeds in delivering quality for all of those elements save one, in part.

The 08th MS Team brings war to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation leads a special squadron of guerrilla Gundam, ferretting out the scattered remnants of Zeon presence in the area. The Federation won the last war and mean to press the advantage. Shiro’s resolve wavers and – more importantly – his loyalty comes into question when confronted by Aina Sahalin, Zeon pilot and previous acquaintance, across the trees. She’s also sister to the psychotic enemy commander. The traitor title seems to suit Shiro best these days.

One thing I must say is how good 08th MS Team looks even by today’s standards. Wouldn’t guess it’s a ’90s anime. They put a lot of work in considering this is a series and I want some of these cels for my collection. Seeing this quality from scene one puts me in a good mood.

Such effort brings the guerrilla warfare to life and makes every damaging shot on the mechs have impact. It isn’t a flurry of laser beams flashing across the screen with little weight. The action takes a slower, more tactical pace than the usual Gundam spectacle (nothing against the spectacle, or course). As I said, everything is scaled down and it works. When a franchise has as many series as Gundam does, it’s good to have variety even if not always to my taste (such as Gundam Build Fighters).

The characters are a strong and varied lot. The writers made them relatable with their simple ambitions outside of war. They have grounding. You want them to survive to see better days. Zeon similarly features such human characters. Of course, there are a few crazies on both sides to play villains. Further beyond the major characters, 08th MS Team emphasises the burden of war on innocent locals, a side often forgotten when merely glimpsed on the evening news. Yes, the Federation is eradicating evil (according to them) hiding in this jungle, but this jungle is home to ordinary people as well. Even minor characters don’t feel superfluous.

Then we come to Shiro and Aina as a couple. They’re good as individuals, yet their connection is the core of the personal conflict, which doesn’t hit the target.

If you’re going to have characters make grand gestures of love and put a lot on the line, you need to give something to hang those actions on. Build those foundations first and then I could believe anything they do for love. It’s surprising to see the main coupling only hit mid-tier development when character depth outside of this is solid. I find the main issue is a lack of screen time for these two together. They meet early on, but don’t reunite again until too late to develop their relationship to a meaningful level. The romance is simple – not a bad thing inherently – and lacks a second act where it builds beyond initial attraction into something with promise of longevity. They meet, and then skip to “I’ll die for you.”

Beyond that, I don’t have any notable complaints with 08th MS Team. I can recommend this great anime widely, beyond Gundam circles.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. If you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a great introduction and standalone series. If you are familiar, then this is one of the best the franchise has to offer.

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Ghost in the Shell – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Koukaku Kidoutai: The Ghost in the Shell

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell 1.5 (included in review)

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (included in review)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (included in review)

Ghost in the Shell (anime movie)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (anime series)

 

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 71 chapters (across the four series)

 

Positives:

  • Deeply imaginative future world
  • High detail art
  • The crimes take full advantage of the cyberpunk society
  • Packed with lore

Negatives:

  • Stand Alone Complex manga doesn’t have the art or density of the original works
  • Ghost in the Shell 2’s experimental approached hasn’t aged well

Ghost in the Shell is a remarkable franchise in how varied it is. No two versions of it are all that similar, yet one instantly recognises their connection. The popular first movie of the same name isn’t an adaptation of the manga, while the Stand Alone Complex series is a little closer to the source but still so different. The Hollywood film is yet again a wholly original version (and much more accurate than its critics decreed – more on that later). Today’s focus is the original manga and its sequels, with a little on the Stand Alone Complex manga.

Ghost in the Shell, for the uninitiated, takes place in a near future cyberpunk society where the lines between human and machine have blurred almost beyond recognition. Every cyborg connects to the network through a “ghost,” offering incredible conveniences to users. With such advanced technological developments come new crimes. Major Motoko Kusanagi and her unit at Public Security Section 9 specialise in dealing with the most egregious of cybercrimes. When a dead man walks across security cameras like a living person, you call Section 9.

I love this franchise. It’s up there amongst the best and is one of my favourites. The depth and detail of this world is so creative and sparks such imagination. It’s a world that lends itself to myriad adaptations. Anyone can find new story ideas within the world of Ghost in the Shell without needing to expand the world, much like The Lord of the Rings. Author Masamune Shirow created a brilliant foundation.

I should provide a warning for this manga. It is dense. The first series clocks in at a mere 11 chapters, but don’t let that fool you. They have enough text to rival 50 chapters of the average manga, and not just any text – specialist text crammed with technobabble, explanations of how the technology works, and police jargon. Take your time.

Then we have the art. As if trying to outdo the text, details pack the art on every page. Not just detailed, but clear as well. Plenty of manga fall either into the “clear but low detail” camp or on the “detailed but messy” side. Ghost in the Shell has the best both worlds.

As for the story itself, this is a series of crime cases with a light connection between them, akin to the standalone episodes of Stand Alone Complex though they are still complex. The most interesting element of each case is in how it explores the “what if” scenarios of such a future. If one could transplant a brain and spine into another body, what kind of new crimes could arise? Do they even have to have a human body? Why not become a tank? Every case is engaging from start to finish. This is what great cyberpunk is made of.

A peculiar point to note regarding the Hollywood film, as alluded to earlier, is how true to theme and Ghost in the Shell “lore”, for lack of a better word, it is. Regardless of the final quality of the story itself, casting Scarlett Johansson as the Major 100% fits with the world. “But she looks nothing like her!” I hate to break it to you but neither does the Major. The brain and spinal cord are her only human parts. She changes appearance within this manga to someone “fans” would say doesn’t look like her – and she’s a comedic character in the manga. To say Johansson is incorrect is to not understand Ghost in the Shell or cyberpunk.

I should also bring up the Ghost in the Shell 2 manga. In classic Shirow style, it’s a complete departure from his previous work though still equally dense. Released in 2001, six years after the first, this sequel blends a ton of CG into the art to create a cyber-mindscape for the Major to explore and hack into. I like the cyber world. CG characters, water, and vehicles though? They have not aged well at all. Like cyberpunk itself, this experimental manga could have blown your mind at the time. It turns your mind off today. The story also focuses on the singular concept from start to finish and drags its feet by chapter two. An interesting experiment. Not one I recommend.

Lastly, I want to mention the Stand Alone Complex manga. It is apparent from the first page that the manga does not come from Shirow’s pen. Gone is the art detail and depth of writing. A straightforward anime tie-in manga isn’t worth your time, though it isn’t bad by any measure. There is simply no need for it once you see the anime. It doesn’t justify your time, unlike the original.

The Ghost in the Shell movie and Stand Alone Complex are better than any iteration of the manga, as they take more time to build the world and spread out the specialist text, amongst other improvements. However, as the manga is a different set of stories, and great ones at that, it’s still well worth your time.

Art – Very High

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. Ghost in the Shell may be one of the most difficult manga to approach, yet I still recommend it to anyone with a love of speculation.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)