Tag Archives: Action

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

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – The Terminator is a pop idol?

Japanese Title: Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song

 

Similar: Steins;Gate

Violet Evergarden

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction Thriller

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Engaging and fast-paced time travel thriller
  • Some fascinating future world concepts

Negatives:

  • Wildly inconsistent art can be jarring

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Take Terminator 2: Judgement Day, combine it with J-pop, and you have yourself a lovely old Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But it works.

This story is about an AI called Vivy (a.k.a. Diva) charged with the mission of changing the past to alter the future where AI rose up and massacred humanity. A scientist in the future sends the AI Matsumoto to tell Vivy of the calamity and guide her through time. The scientist chose Vivy because is the last of the old AIs and wasn’t affected by the calamity, and as the first autonomous AI, she sits in a museum in the future, unaffected. Her design was to be a singer at a theme park, her dream to bring everyone joy. Matsumoto is of limited physical capacity, residing in either a teddy bear or a cube, but has great knowledge and analytical capabilities with a preference for hacking. And he loves to talk.

What immediately grabs me in Fluorite Eye’s Song is the world design and general atmosphere. The premise hooks me, yes, but we’ve seen similar many times before. I love the grounded feel of this clean near future world, akin to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

We start at the genesis of the AI revolution. AI in the form of androids already exists, but they rarely pass for human. Each has a singular purpose – this AI is a waiter, this AI cleans the streets, this AI is an information guide, and so on, fulfilled with precision. AI do all menial jobs now, leading to a more utopian society. However, as the technology improves, they become more and more human. Thus, the question becomes, when do we treat them as human? When do they get rights? The opening scenario centres on this very question as a politician campaigns to give AIs names, treating them as individuals. Such dilemmas always fascinate me.

Fluorite’s story focus isn’t on these questions though; they are background to inform the main plot, which is the consequences of the answers garnered by these questions. In the future timeline, for instance, this politician dies in a blast setup by an anti-AI group. Unfortunately for this group, his death draws sympathy and support for a bill that few people initially cared about, setting in motion a series of catastrophic events. Vivy’s first mission is to keep him alive.

Funnily enough, the anti-AI group were right.

One change isn’t enough of course. Fifteen years later, Matsumoto returns to Vivy with a new mission, a new event to nudge in another direction. This time, an AI is going to crash a space hotel on a city. Furthermore, the previous change they made didn’t have the desired effects either, as is traditional for time edit stories. You fix one thing and a dozen other problems arise to take its place. This makes Fluorite engaging, for you never know what will happen next. You simultaneously experience relief when they avert one disaster and a sense of foreboding for the consequences of their actions. Fluorite evokes a bit of Steins;Gate in this way.

Each key event in the timeline occurs some years apart, so we get to jump through time and see the evolution of this world influenced by AI. A few human characters also stick around, aging with each time skip. This structure works.

While the main plot is a success, I do wish there was a little more time for the philosophical and moral aspect of AI. There’s a little bit with moments such a human marrying an AI, just not enough. Perhaps they thought it best not attempted if they couldn’t do it justice, as what is included is executed well enough. For those of you interested in the subject, I highly recommend the film Ex Machina and the series Star Trek: The Next Generation, specifically the episodes focused on the android Data (happened to rewatch stellar episodes “Measure of a Man” and “The Offspring” while going through this anime). Seeing those other titles does show how Fluorite could be better and have more depth in several ways. If the whole concept is new to you, then Fluorite will be an absolute ride – then watch the others afterwards (start Star Trek TNG at season two though – long explanation).

My other criticisms are towards the art and music. The art looks amazing sometimes with high detail, textured colouring, multi-layered shading, and fluid animation. Other times it has no detail, flat colours, single tone shading, and two-frame animation. We’ve seen plenty of amazing looking anime and plenty of downright ugly works, but I can’t recall one that is so inconsistent. This isn’t a case of great action and static in between either. It will randomly cut to high quality shots and then seconds later we’re looking at late 90s anime done on a computer. It stands out every time. Hard to describe without experiencing it for yourself.

As for the music, my criticism isn’t that it’s bad. I wish it were more creative. When you consider Fluorite is all about the future, advanced technology, and AI takeovers, I would expect the music to be more creative than generic J-pop. Even by today’s standards, there’s nothing in this music. Give me something wilder like the opera from The Fifth Element, where they used a computer to make the singer hit impossible notes, infusing that sci-fi element.

Inconsistent art and forgettable music aside, I had a great time with Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song. I want to go to that space hotel (with a different fate than in the anime, of course). It’s quite likely the best anime of its season. I have a couple of others I need to complete, though my sampling doesn’t promise anything better than this or Odd Taxi.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is an easy recommendation.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

86 (Eighty-Six) – Ethically Sourced Warfare

Japanese Title: 86 – Eighty-Six –

 

Related: 86 2nd Season (TBR)

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans

Aldnoah.Zero

Guilty Crown

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Visually nice
  • More focus on non-combat side of war is interesting
  • Good music

Negatives:

  • Most characters are nothing
  • World building needs work
  • Lacks nuance

(Request an anime for review here.)

“Ethically sourced warfare.” This is the creed of the Republic of San Magnolia, for in the war with the Empire there are no casualties on their side. Only AI drones die for this conflict. Or so they say. In truth, the zero casualty count refers to the Alba, a silver-haired race that lives in luxury and without worry in the Republic’s eighty-five districts. The others – those of the wrong race – are the front line soldiers. These drones aren’t unmanned. These outcasts are known as the Eighty-Six and when they die, they aren’t human casualties because they aren’t human in the eyes of the Republic.

Vladilena is a rising star in the Republic military, recently assigned to take over as Handler for the “drones” of squadron Spearhead, a unit infamous for driving its Handlers mad. Leading Spearhead is Shinei, a.k.a. Undertaker, a repeat lone survivor of many battles with a special connection to the dead. Vladilena knows the truth of this war, working to keep her unit alive and to spread the message about the atrocities facing the Eighty-Six.

With a premise like that, I’m in from episode one. I like that we see military “service” for the Alba as a cushy desk job. Regulations are whatever as long as you don’t go against the grain. Looking at this city, you wouldn’t imagine there is a bloody war happening not far away. I am also surprised that the “drones aren’t unmanned” fact wasn’t kept as a twist. Generally, the protagonist would get this new job guiding a bunch of AI drones, many of which die in the war – doesn’t matter because they’re just machines, of course – until the mid-point turn that forces her out into the world and she sees the truth. All those drones she sacrificed for the sake of winning a skirmish? Real people, dead, because of her. Now she would work to make up for her ignorance. That’s the normal structure. Interesting to see 86 reveal the information upfront.

This change allows the story to be less action focused, which may put some people off. Instead, more time goes towards conversation between Vladilena in the city and Shinei on the frontline, sometimes bringing in the rest of Spearhead. 86 is about the effects of war rather than the war itself. For the first season anyway. I haven’t read the source material, but I wouldn’t be surprised for action to take up a larger and larger share as the story progresses.

Early conflict for Vladilena is her approach to dealing with these outsiders. She takes that classic well-meaning but actually condescending approach that we see between rich philanthropists and the poor in the real world. She’s so certain of being in the right amongst her peers, is so much more progressive than them that she doesn’t consider perhaps she doesn’t know as much about the Eighty-Six as she thinks. Just because she knows more than the others, it doesn’t mean she can swoop in and tell the Eighty-Six who they should be and how to fix everything. I like that. It’s a good seasonal arc for her.

However, 86 isn’t as good as I had hoped it would be on initial impression. Cutting back on action in a war story is a bit of a risk. Action is much easier to pull off than dialogue is in keeping an audience engaged. When dialogue is the centre, characters become of utmost importance as the driving force of the narrative.

The cast of characters is a problem in 86. When examined, there are only three real characters: the protagonist, her scientist friend, and Undertaker. Everyone else is nothing. The series dedicates two episodes to characterising the rest of the Spearhead crew, as they remind Vladilena that even with her kind words she is still an upper class citizen safe in her palace. She cannot relate to them nor be one of them. In fact, she hasn’t bothered to ask for their real names. And so, she gets to know them better until they let her into their lives – remotely – and grow closer. Despite this, each of these side characters are little more than one line bios in the series’ archive. There are too many of them, for one, that they end up as this singular entity of hive-minded thought. I can’t truly distinguish them in any meaningful way. Those important names arrive in a rapid-fire sequence, many of which are sci-fi names that take effort to remember. But who will bother to remember when they are so boring?

Add to this Shinei the Undertaker. He is of the quiet reserved type, a favourite archetype of mine, which is one of the most difficult to pull off without coming across as bland. Shinei isn’t as strong of a character as he needs to be for such a story. Lean 90% action and he would do fine. The audience wouldn’t particularly care when they attend for the action. His backstory and reason for driving handlers insane is interesting for the future. Right now, there’s not enough to him to make me think, “I care about this guy. I care about all he’s been through. I want him to have better.”

Another disappointment relates to the world building. After a strong establishing episode, the world barely builds. We end up see and knowing almost nothing of this world, which is a problem in a completely fictional setting. Even the social world building amounts to little when, in one episode, Vladilena gives a lecture and announces to a whole class of cadets the truth about the drones. She suffers zero consequences. I get that she is a bit of a prodigy and related to people of high rank but this should be high treason. Isn’t the whole point that everyone is blissfully ignorant and to break that ignorance could undo the fabric of societal order? Even if everyone is aware but chooses to feign ignorance because it gives them easy lives, it should still have consequences. When a story does things like this, it renders the rules of this world meaningless. When everything is meaningless (and your characters aren’t good enough), why should I care?

What started out as promising has end up being an average anime that neither offends nor excites. There is room for improvement though I am not hopeful. I probably won’t be watching season 2, which is all you need to know, I suppose.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If you’re up for a war story by way of anime, 86 is a decent watch.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Dota: Dragon’s Blood – does it know how to last hit?

Similar: Castlevania

Orphen

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Quality production
  • Love the variety of accents
  • The elven goddess is a creepy and effective antagonist

Negatives:

  • Feels like it’s missing lore context if you aren’t familiar with the source

(Request an anime for review here.)

Full disclosure, I know nothing about Dota 2 lore. This review comes from the perspective of someone who doesn’t play the game or read any related lore. I did play the original DotA mod a decent amount and watched a few tournaments, but to be honest, I didn’t know there was any lore to the game. A one paragraph profile per character, sure, though nothing more. As such, if you are a loremaster, your experience may vary.

For those even less familiar with the material than me, Dota 2 is the standalone sequel to the original DotA mod from Warcraft 3. The mod proved more popular than Warcraft 3 itself until game studio Valve hired key developers to make a complete game, independent of Warcraft and Blizzard. The worst business move Blizzard ever made was not capitalising on DotA and they’ve since shot themselves in the foot with their StarCraft 2 and abysmal Warcraft 3 Reforged modding policy. Valve just had to change a few character and item names to avoid direct reference to trademarks, though references are still in place – the burst fire mage Lina the Slayer, based on Lina Inverse from Slayers, is still in the game, for example. Dota 2 has gone on to reach massive heights with the largest prize pools in esports history with its world championships each year, The International.

Dota: Dragon’s Blood brings together a handful of characters from Dota 2’s large cast of “Heroes” for an adult fantasy adventure. The protagonist is Davion the Dragon Knight, who slays dragons for a living only to have the soul of an elder dragon merge with his body during a fight with a demon. He can now transform against his will into a human-dragon hybrid monster (think the Hulk). He soon joins forces with Mirana, “princess of nothing,” to stop this demon from claiming more dragon souls. Meanwhile, the elven mage Invoker plots against the elven goddess Selemene, whose sycophantic followers wreak genocide across elven lands.

The best thing I can say immediately about Dragon’s Blood – or any game to film tie-in – is its disregard for the source material’s gameplay. Unless it’s something like Wreck it Ralph where the game is the point of the story, trying to incorporate gameplay elements in a film/series is cringe inducing (see Uwe Boll films for reference). It finally feels like Hollywood is starting to grasp how to adapt games for screen. Then again, Sony’s upcoming offerings don’t look promising, so perhaps it’s only in the animation sector.

Speaking of animation, Studio Mir (The Legend of Korra) once again makes the art form a delight to behold. The action scenes are fluid and violent, even on the horror side at times. This isn’t a series for kids. The character designs are classic high fantasy and coming from a game that requires distinct silhouettes for visibility in combat, there is variety. On a world building level, again, classic fantasy except for the elves, who are far less noble than the stereotype. Love that most of them are Australian and the actors do a good job for non-natives. It matches their society better than the typical Oxford English. The world grabs me.

However, the characters are a little lacking and this is where I wonder if my unfamiliarity with the source has an effect. I have not looked into the lore since finishing the series either – want to keep my outsider’s perspective. After all, you shouldn’t need outside material to enjoy a good adaptation. Had I been well acquainted with Davion and Mirana beforehand, would they engage me? I’m not even certain if all notable characters in Dragon’s Blood are from the game. I assume so.

Mirana is supposed to be a princess of “nothing” and yet, I don’t have the impression of a princess nor do I feel the shadow of secrets from her backstory. She’s fine though not compelling. The same is true of Davion. His personality does make him entertaining – I’ll give him that.

The more interesting characters are the antagonists Selemene and the not-as-antagonistic Invoker. Selemene is the Goddess of the Moon but more akin to a goddess of lust and obsession, as she forces her followers to pledge undying love to her. She’s psychotic about this. You want a favour from her? You had better be ready to say you love her or off with your head. It sounds mundane on paper yet she is genuinely threatening. She has a much stronger presence than the main villain consuming dragon souls (I often forgot he was in the story). Against her we have Invoker, who is a sympathetic antagonist with a personal story that drives engagement. I want more of the elven subplot over the main plot.

In all, Dota: Dragon’s Blood is certainly good enough for a relative outsider to the franchise, like myself, to find reason to watch this anime. I am looking forward to the next season and that’s worth something. Riot Games has an animated series of its own on the way for their game League of Legends, which I am much more familiar with, so it will be interesting to see how that compares.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Even the Dota illiterate can enjoy this fantasy series.

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Biohazard: Infinite Darkness

 

Related: Resident Evil: Degeneration

Resident Evil: Vendetta

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Action Horror

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • The video game-like CG works better than most CG anime

Negatives:

  • Thin on character
  • Probably won’t mean much to non-franchise fans

(Request an anime for review here.)

This is an impromptu review urged on by a random recommendation from Netflix. At only four episodes long, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness makes for a good pit stop while I work on something longer.

The Resident Evil franchise has a decent history of CG anime films dating back to 2008 (as well as those hilarious live-action films). It follows the same vein of Final Fantasy: Advent Children in going for a more realistic visual style compared to your typical CG anime, emulating a cutscene. They come from a time when the in-game graphics were still quite removed from cutscenes, so to see a “movie-length” cutscene was the ultimate fan service. That said, the Resident Evil films never looked as good as those top tier cutscenes out of something like a Blizzard game or those E3 trailers. Infinite Darkness, however, looks much better than previous entries. Mouth animations are still a little too smooth and atmospherics have some way to go, but it’s suitable for something without a Pixar budget.

The quality of CG anime hasn’t been good overall, to put it nicely, and with the likes of Ex-Arm amongst recent releases, the trajectory doesn’t seem to head upwards. CG anime quality is particularly odd because we have had plenty of great non-anime CG series in the past. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is one of the most famous examples, looking better in 2008 than almost all CG anime today – never mind comparisons to the final season in 2020 (choice of visual style is important in masking CG shortcomings on a budget). On a mini-series front, we have the likes of Love, Death, and Robots (highly recommended, by the way) that manages to exhibit a variety of visual styles to a masterclass level. These don’t look like anime, though. On the other hand, Advent Children doesn’t have a cartoony style and most would still associate it with anime. So why can’t CG anime be better?

Whether it is for budgetary reasons, inexperienced crews (*cough* Ex-Arm) or a lack of effort, CG anime leaves much to be desired. Beastars is one of few cases to not bleed the eyes. Of course, the West has had its share of problems. There are dozens – maybe hundreds – of children’s CG cartoon that you’ve never heard of with some serious jank. They’ve had issues even amongst the successful series. Animation in The Dragon Prince season one was like watching a Pentium 1 PC try to run Crysis.

All of this is to say that while Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is an anime and is more visually appealing than most CG anime, it still doesn’t feel like one. It can’t be the subject matter – military versus zombies isn’t foreign to anime. Is it not capital A anime enough? Does it need screeching lolis (preferably eaten by zombies) to feel like anime? Well, no, of course not. Do the eyes need to be bigger than the brain? “What is anime” is a much harder question to answer than one would imagine. To me, I suppose it doesn’t feel like anime because it doesn’t move like anime. There is that indescribable quality which you recognise when you see it. Similarly, when does it go from a cartoon drawing to manga? Plenty of manga don’t fit the standard parameters should someone describe the manga style.

Funnily enough, all animation is “anime” in Japanese. Here is a great video on the subject by Kenny Lauderdale.

So, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, regardless of whether it feels like anime, is it any good? It’s okay. A decent action series with zombies, a government conspiracy, and plenty for fans of the franchise. That latter point is both its biggest draw and biggest repellent. Fans of Resident Evil will like seeing classic characters Leon and Claire on screen in a story that occurs between Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. It follows a new outbreak in southern Asia and the cover up afterwards, leading to an infection in the White House. The president calls in Leon, the man who saved his daughter, to join the operation. Meanwhile, Claire investigates the case on her own for a humanitarian organisation.

For fans, Infinite Darkness will be fine, but outsiders will likely find the characters thin. This anime – as is often the case with tie-in media – relies on the original material to build the world and characters. “You know their personalities, their backstories, their struggles, their ghosts already from playing the games, so why should we waste time on establishing them again?” The result is an average zombie flick, enjoyed but likely forgotten by most next week. If you need a zombie fix and want something more complete, I recommend Train to Busan.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Resident Evil fans. As a series predicated on familiarity with the franchise, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is decent fan service to aficionados.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Katanagatari – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Katanagatari

 

Similar: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Dororo

Mononoke

Samurai Jack

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Romance

Length: 12 episodes (double length)

 

Positives:

  • Storybook art
  • Whimsical score
  • Fairy tale stories
  • Fun main duo

Negatives:

  • Drags at times

(Request an anime for review here.)

Katanagatari is a series of fairy tale-like stories about a woman collecting the twelve “Deviant Blades” across Edo-era Japan (unaffiliated with the Bakemonogatari series – “gatari” means “story” in Japanese, so “Sword Story” in this case). This is based on real events from history, where a Japanese ruler would declare a “sword hunt” to confiscate all swords possessed by those not native to his territory, believing it would prevent them having the means to overthrow him. Togame, strategist to the shogunate, employs the help of Shichika, current master of the Kyotouryuu style that fights barehanded and turns the body itself into a blade.

The storybook art style is immediately striking and the only selling point I needed to try this anime (several readers have since requested it). One may think it cartoonish or that this is a small children’s anime, but children would find Katanagatari unbearably dull in truth. This is for a slightly older audience and the style fits the tone.

Despite the action sounding title, dialogue is the dominant form of this anime. Each episode is double length to fit the story associated with each sword in a single uninterrupted session. While I like this idea, I don’t feel each episode justifies the extra screen time, as it does drag often for a mere 12 episodes. A variable episode length would be better – I wish all series would do this, just like the variable length of book chapters. It took me a long time to finish this series (to be fair, life keeps getting in the way too). I recommend one episode per session. However, outside of that, I can’t present any other barriers to finishing the series. Katanagatari is a good anime.

First, the main duo is tons of fun. Shichika is muscle over brains taken to an almost extreme. “I’m bad at thinking” – his words. He’s also oblivious to how to treat Togame, the woman he claims to love. He’s humorously embarrassing. By contrast, Togame is all brains and no brawn. She’s a proper lady of good upbringing, unlike this hick country fella. Yet she trips on first meeting him. She talks too much, too many big words, is carried away with her monologues, and assumes other people’s answers only to realise she misheard a minute later. A perfect contrast to Shichika.

The meeting of this art style, whimsical score, and mystical stories reminds of fairy tales, as mentioned earlier, for which you need the right mindset. Each episode is about confronting an owner of one of these swords. Naturally, they are reluctant to relinquish their powerful weapons, so a conflict ensues. Sometimes it’s a typical action scene, though often there’s more thought to it, like a moral quandary or a puzzle to solve – as seen in fairy tales.

For example, one wielder is the last swordsman in a fallen kingdom swallowed by sand. He sits in a room in the castle with his sword at the ready, capable of slashing faster than light at anyone who dares enter. If you think logically, this falls apart. How does he eat? Go to the bathroom? Why don’t they fire a cannon from outside behind him? Those aren’t questions for this type of story. In Little Red Riding Hood, you don’t worry about how the hell a wolf could ever pass for an old granny. Approach Katanagatari with that mindset and you will have a good time. I mean, one guy punches with his guns. Need I say more?

Why is it okay to ignore those questions here but not in, say, Sword Art Online 2, you may ask? No story can encompass everything, account for every possibility, or factor in every detail from reality. Would make for rather boring stories. Instead, stories choose what focus on and the style in which to deliver the message, the morality, the character study, the action – whatever. Weak stories will either execute this vision poorly or sometimes not account for something that within the logic of its world breaks the story. Sword Art Online is garbage for many reasons, but the sword versus guns problem is idiotic because if a sword is so effective and bullets are so slow, why would anyone ever choose a gun in competitive play? By the logic established within that world, no one would use a gun.

Thankfully, Katanagatari isn’t Sword Art Online.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Katanagatari is unexpected in style and execution and I recommend it taken one episode per session. Cheerio!

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None