Tag Archives: Action

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

Ninja Scroll the series – Review

Japanese Title: Juubee Ninpuuchou: Ryuuhougyoku-hen

 

Related: Ninja Scroll the movie (prequel)

Similar: Basilisk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The villains have some interesting abilities.

Negatives:

  • A bloated cast of villains leaves no room for character development.
  • The art and animation is lacklustre and markedly worse than the movie.
  • Uninteresting plot.
  • Lacks the choreography that made the action in the movie compelling to watch.
  • Awkward dialogue and poor audio quality.
  • Electronic music doesn’t match the medieval setting.

Fourteen years after the events of the movie, Jubei is once again roped into conflict when a group of demons destroy a village, killing everyone except the priestess Shigure. Jubei fights the demons and acquires the mysterious Dragon Jewel, making him a target to the demons. The government agent Dakuan from the movie is charged with the priestess’s protection. He hires Jubei again as a bodyguard to escort her and the Dragon Jewel to safety.

These fourteen years weren’t kind to Ninja Scroll. It went from a good action anime in the movie to a snooze-fest in Ninja Scroll the series. Each episode is about fending off some new ninja with a speciality power. While the powers have some creativity to them, the characters have no depth. One major complaint I had against the film was the lack of development for most characters, stating that a little extra screen time could have served admirably. Here they have thirteen episodes to work with, and rather than develop characters, they bloat the cast with a new villain each episode.

Even Jubei is worse. It seems like they heard the one line description of Jubei’s character from the movie (easy-going vagabond ninja) and didn’t bother to look further into his character. He is now one-note. His haunted past, inner turmoil, humanity and strength, all gone.

So, the narrative and characters are bland, but what about the action, the movie’s best aspect? Surely, the action is still worthwhile, no? It isn’t, I’m afraid. Though it is the strongest part of the series, which isn’t saying much, without the choreography and animation from the movie, action scenes aren’t compelling. Every fight has that moment where Jubei slashes at the enemy, appears to do nothing, they stare at each other, and the villain even talks before being split in two. I grew bored within a two episodes.

You will be thankful for the dull action when you have to listen to poor dialogue coupled with awkward voice work, particularly in English where the audio quality fluctuates between characters. Many of the actors aren’t the same as the film and worse than their originals. Almost every English voice, some with terrible accents, sounds either bored or as if they are reading straight off the script. The mismatched music doesn’t help either. Synth and electronic music wasn’t the best choice for a medieval setting. Who thought mechanised singing was a good idea?

I’m not sure why Ninja Scroll the series needed to be. It doesn’t add anything to the movie, introduces nothing of worth, and doesn’t even manage the action that made the original entertaining.

Art – Low

So generic. Lacks the dark visual quality of the movie. Also suffers from an inconsistent frame rate. Weak gore. Shadows go missing quite often.

Sound – Low

The wrong kind of music for the theme and setting coupled with poor voice work to match the awkward dialogue.

Story – Very Low

A repetitive new-enemy-of-the-episode structure that leaves no room for character development or any meaningful plot, for that matter.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid this and watch Basilisk instead. Ninja Scroll the series isn’t worth your time, even if a fan of the movie. It’s just too boring to suffer through the blandness.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Awful DialogueDissapointingEar Grating Voice WorkNo DevelopmentRepetitiveShallowTorture MusicUseless Side Cast

Ninja Scroll the movie – Review

Japanese Title: Juubee Ninpuuchou

 

Related: Ninja Scroll: the Series (sequel)

Similar: Afro Samurai

Basilisk

Sword of the Stranger

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action

Length: 1 hr. 30 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Well-choreographed and brutal action.
  • A variety of cool ninja powers.
  • Dark visuals to match the grim narrative.

Negatives:

  • With the action focus, most characters have little to no development time.
  • Some awkward explanatory dialogue.
  • Weak music.

Jubei is a vagabond swordsman, hiring out his skills to those who can pay. One night, he helps a ninja woman in trouble. She is Kagero, the last of her ninja unit after an investigation into a mysterious plague led them to slaughter at the hands of a ninja who can turn to stone. He is known as one of the eight devils – eight ninja with extraordinary abilities. A government official looking into the matter hires Jubei to defeat these devils. Thus, Jubei and Kagero are drawn into a plot that threatens to overthrow the government.

Ninja Scroll is an action heavy film of blood, nudity, and cool abilities. The action scenes, Ninja Scroll’s focus, are the most exciting aspect with great choreography and variety in techniques. At only an hour and a half long, there isn’t time to drag out the action or have characters stare into each other’s eyes for episodes on end. Each fight in Ninja Scroll is sharp, intense and varied as Jubei faces the eight devils, all with interesting powers. One ninja can live in shadow, while another can summon snakes from anywhere – anywhere… The manner in which these powers are used is the anime’s most creative aspect. Unfortunately, outside of the action, these villains have no development; they are evil and must do evil things with cool powers.

The lack of development is an issue across the board except for Jubei and Kagero, whose motivations and personalities are explored beyond surface level. The government at the core of the plot doesn’t get any screen time to establish and why this overthrow could be so disastrous. Of course, if your interest lies solely with the action, then this won’t matter. The plot itself is constructed enough to support the action; it isn’t vague or full holes, but does lack depth.

Ninja Scroll is a good-looking film, especially when you consider its 1993 release date. If all you saw during its era was Dragon Ball Z, then Ninja Scroll’s gritty quality comes as a surprise. The artists went for a grim atmosphere throughout, shadows filling all corner of the screen. Even when the sun is out, jet-black shadows contrast with the light in every scene. The animation is good – the blood in particular, which there is plenty of. Each villain has interesting visual designs to fit their abilities. I particularly liked the snake woman with her intricate tattoos.

A great failing is the dialogue. There are several moments where a character will explain how someone died even though we just saw them die. Too much stating the obvious, as well. Jubei slashes the rock ninja, who says in a stilted manner, “A very skilful attack, but you must realise I cannot be cut.” Exposition by stating the obvious isn’t good writing. The dialogue in the latter half gets pretty rubbish at points.

Ninja Scroll stands on its great action and dark atmosphere. It’s a shame that they didn’t extend the airtime to allow for character exploration, and they could have hired a better dialogue writer.

Art – High

Ninja Scroll looks good, defying age, and is loaded with blood.

Sound – Medium

A variety of voices well executed; however, the Japanese takes the edge, as the plethora of ancient Japanese names sound odd in English – a minor gripe. The music is underused and weak overall.

Story – Medium

This is purely about action with a decent narrative structure to support it. The villains are cool in design, just not in development.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Ninja Scroll’s action coupled with dark fantasy art is well worth your time. Just don’t expect extensive character development.

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

Positive: 

Holy S***Riveting Action

Negative: 

No Development

Wolf’s Rain – Review

Japanese Title: Wolf’s Rain

 

Similar: Ergo Proxy

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

Length: 30 episodes (26 in season one, 4 OVA to conclude)

 

Positives:

  • An extensive and varied soundtrack from multiple countries.
  • Great visual quality expected from studio Bones.
  • Solid Japanese voice work alongside the likes of Crispin Freeman and Steve Blum in an equally good English track.

Negatives:

  • Serious pacing issues.
  • The main drive of the plot, the search for paradise, doesn’t have any urgency due to vague objectives and potential consequences early in the series.
  • Four recap episodes in the middle.

I first started watching Wolf’s Rain in 2003 shortly after its initial airing. It took until yesterday, eleven years later to finish watching the anime – I never felt that ‘just one more episode’ drive. Poor pacing issues, vague storytelling, and filler episodes make Wolf’s Rain a difficult anime to invest in.

Wolf shapeshifters were thought extinct for 200 years; however, a few survived and blended into the populace as humans. A white wolf named Kiba follows the scent of Lunar Flowers to Cheza the flower maiden, key to opening the door to paradise. Unfortunately, the villain Darcia, who seeks to open paradise to remove his family’s curse, kidnaps Cheza. Kiba along with three other wolves, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, give chase to rescue her. Meanwhile, a hunter and his dog Blue track down the pack of wolves, intent on wiping them out.

Wolf’s Rain’s narrative setup is a good one brought down by ambiguity. I understand (and recommend) that a writer shouldn’t lay out all the cards on the table within the first chapter; however, you must at least tell the audience which game you are playing. The narrative structure in Wolf’s Rain is akin to playing poker, only to have someone declare ‘Gin!’ and win the game, which is when you realise you weren’t playing the right game. Wolf’s Rain doesn’t establish the importance of paradise or the relevance of the villain (outside of kidnapping because the plot needed conflict) until late in the series. Furthermore, it isn’t some grand twist. The world is ending and paradise must be opened in order to save it. Only the blood of a wolf and the lunar maiden can accomplish this task. That’s all they needed to state clearly within a few episodes. It seems as though the writers assumed that the audience already knew all of this somehow.

Wolf’s Rain main storytelling device is allegory. Everything represents something. The focus here is on religious pilgrimage and social constructs. The wolves’ search for paradise is their journey to enlightenment, while the government’s extinction of wolves is the suppression of freedom. Looking at the device on a macro level, it is well executed, as the wolves face a dozen trials from betrayal to self-doubt to false hope as their varied personalities clash with one another. That said, it fails on a micro level, the scene-to-scene narrative. Writers can’t just throw something at the audience a claim quality because it’s ‘symbolic.’ Even if something is symbolic, it still needs structure and quality. When using symbolism, ask this: if the audience doesn’t catch the symbolism, will they still understand what is going on? If a character hulking out and turning evil is symbolic of inner struggle, there still needs to be a plausible reason for hulking out into evil. One can’t suddenly make him evil and declare symbolism!

The pacing doesn’t help either. Where some episodes have action, drama, and tension throughout, other episodes consist of nothing more than slow pans across silent scenes where little happens. Yes, moments of silence and introspection can enhance the narrative tension, but here the silence builds to nothing. To compound further, episodes 15 to 18 are recaps of the story thus far from the perspectives of different characters – the same recap four times! One would assume these recaps at least garner extra backstory or maybe revelations about a character’s motives. Alas, no, just filler. Imagine if you had to pay for this back when it was four episodes a DVD.

Where Wolf’s Rain does shine is with its music. Composer Yoko Kanno is to be commended for her excellent work with the soundtrack. She recorded music from around the world to craft an extensive and varied soundtrack. The opening theme sounds like something from Sting, the closing is by Maaya Sakamoto in English, there is European chant, Indian Raga, violin for moments of sorrow, and so much more. Truly great music.

It is a true shame the storytelling in Wolf’s Rain is so vague. As things are, I found the plodding story moments a hindrance to reach the tension. The soundtrack is worth a listen on its own, at the least.

Art – High

Great work as always by studio Bones with attention to detail like persistent battle damage. In human form, the artists managed to convey wolfish characteristics without resorting to clichéd ‘dog-ears-and-be-done-with-it’ design.

Sound – Very High

A phenomenal soundtrack from around the world along with great voice work in both languages. Gravel brothers Steve Blum and Crispin Freeman bring the appropriate levels of growl to the villain and Tsume, respectively.

Story – Medium

An over reliance on symbolisms leaves the plot vague for too long. Also suffers from pacing issues and four episodes of recap in the middle.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Unless you can stand a vague narrative and slow pace, you won’t enjoy Wolf’s Rain. I do really love that music.

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

Karas – Review

Japanese Title: KARAS

 

Similar: Zetman

Blassreiter

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 6 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Dazzling visuals full of energy.
  • Intense action with great cinematography.

Negatives:

  • Too many plot lines that keep shoving each other out of the way.
  • Very little character development across the board.
  • Obvious CG on occasion.
  • Core of the narrative doesn’t become clear until the fourth episode.
  • BLOOM! Ah, my eyes!

Every once in a while, I come across an anime that on the surface looks fantastic, has an interesting premise, and oozes style, but is kicked in the crotch by the most baffling and obvious errors. Karas is one such anime.

Immediately, Karas (Japanese for ‘crow’) dazzles with its intense action as two power-armoured samurai duel among the clouds, gunfire flashing out once they transform into fighter jets before they crash into the city below. The visuals are brilliant and intense, sometimes too intense with excessive use of bloom. It burns the eyes. Karas boasts actual cinematography, often lacking in television anime. Scenes are shot from creative angles, well composited to draw you into the action. The camera shudders against shockwaves, increasing immersion. This anime is beautiful to behold.

However, once the opening action subsides, Karas loses the audience. The premise revolves around a world of demons existing out of sight in a human city. The humans were once aware of the demons’ existence, but have since forgotten and relegated the use of demons to myths and ridicule. (How did they forget?) The Karas tech-fighters exist to keep the balance between the two worlds. Eko, a former Karas, grows tired of human ignorance and raises an army of demons enhanced by his tech-magic to destroy the humans. In response, Yurine uses her own tech-magic to give Otoha the power of the Karas to fight against Eko.

None of this is clear until the halfway mark. The first three episodes largely follow Nue – a rogue demon on humanity’s side – and not the supposed protagonist Otoha. Then episode four hits, and at last, we see the narrative’s core. Nue is all but dropped for Otoha to take his place. This is the obvious problem. Karas has too many plot threads that it can’t manage. I got the impression that the story compositor thought he was plucking a guitar with how fast the scenes jump between threads. Just as a scene is about to reveal its purpose, it cuts away to anoth- no, back again- wait, a third challenger approaches! It’s irritating, particularly in the first two episodes. Two police officers investigating the murders caused by kappa (water demons) also have a meaningless plot thread. Only in the final two episodes, once several plot threads get the Falcon Punch they deserve, can we enjoy the narrative.

None of this is to say that Karas is bad. Rather, it is crippled by baffling choices. It feels as though the first half of the series was in the draft stage, structure wise. Still, Karas is a gorgeous spectacle of action.

Art – High

Karas is a dazzling display of action that blends CG with anime. The CG is noticeable (though not bad) in a few scenes without environmental filters. Wear sunglasses against the bloom.

Sound – Medium

Decent English and Japanese voice tracks with good sound effects.

Story – Medium

Karas has a good narrative to tell between demons and humans, but is unfortunately elbowed across the face by unnecessary side plots.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch Karas if you want spectacular sights and action. Make sure to read the full review or a synopsis beforehand so you aren’t lost in the early narrative.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative:

IncoherentUseless Side Cast

Elfen Lied – Review

Japanese Title: Elfen Lied

 

Similar: When They Cry

Mirai Nikki

Deadman Wonderland

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Action Romance

Length: 13 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • An unsettling atmosphere crafted by contrasting the innocence of children with hyper-violent gore.
  • Haunting opening theme and soundtrack inspired by Gregorian chant.
  • The telekinetic protagonist’s volatile nature creates plenty of tension.

Negatives:

  • The clichéd humour doesn’t ever lighten the mood, which can make the constant tension exhausting.
  • The male love interest is a weak character that serves little purpose to the core.
  • In trying to imitate the Japanese voice track too closely, the English voices sound awful despite the skilled actors. The Japanese isn’t ideal either.
  • Outside of action scenes, most animation ceases.

A severed arm twitching in a pool of blood. Decapitated heads sail across the room, blood sprays the walls. Screams fill the air. At the centre of the carnage, a young girl, naked. Don’t be fooled by the innocent looking girl; Elfen Lied is violent and bathed in gore, not an anime for the faint of heart.

In the world of Elfen Lied (German for ‘Elven Song’) exists a race known as Diclonius. Human in appearance other than small horns protruding from the skull, Diclonii control telekinetic arms called vectors capable of tearing people in two with a flick. Their purpose is to eliminate humanity and spawn a population of their own. Lucy, the protagonist, is one such Diclonius, who escapes from the laboratory, massacring guards and researchers on the way out. She ends up on a beach in front of Kouta, the male love interest, and his friend Yuka. Her mind traumatised by a gunshot, Lucy now lies dormant, replaced by Nyuu, an innocent alter-personality with the mental development of a child. The laboratory dispatches other Diclonii and a mercenary to hunt Lucy down.

Elfen Lied is an anime of tension. It juxtaposes the young innocence of the characters with the violent nature of their telekinetic powers. How can something so small be so psychotic? Every scene with Nyuu is tense, for she could snap at any moment. A mere second of lost control and a character loses a limb or their head. A Diclonius doesn’t discriminate. Man, woman, child – all die in Elfen Lied. Elfen Lied is brutal and gory, contains child and animal abuse on physical and emotional levels. Do not watch this if you are prone to nightmares.

Nyuu/Lucy duality brings an interesting dynamic to the story. While her innocence is what keeps the power at bay, it is also her greatest weakness, as she is too naïve to control her power. It reminds of the 1931 Frankenstein film (which I highly recommend, by the way) where the monster doesn’t comprehend that actions have consequences, especially when those actions can be so destructive. Elfen Lied explores the nature of humanity, and what can come from it when a child is isolated, abused, and pushed to the limit. It accomplishes this goal rather well.

Music enhances these moments where a character’s psyche breaks and violence paints the screen. The opening is a tragic Latin opera called ‘Lilium,’ set to bizarre symbolist art inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The hymn unsettles, a warning for what is to come. Several versions of ‘Lilium’ play throughout the series and are an important role in the narrative.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Outside of the Diclonii, the rest of the characters are either underdeveloped or dull. Kouta in particular is weak. While his backstory is good and ties with Lucy’s plot line, as a character he has no purpose other than to serve as a romantic device. He is just so dull. A street lamp with a blown bulb would be more interesting. Yuka is even more useless. She is nothing more than the third point for a love triangle. The writers could have cut her from the series with no effect on the plot. The romance between her and Kouta is lame, filled with generic misunderstandings and anime romance tropes. What little humour Elfen Lied has is trite, seen in every anime teen romance – trip over each other, grabbing the breast, up-skirts, etc.

The average voice acting doesn’t help either. Even though Japan records all actors at once, here they sound stilted with no interactions off each other. The dub is even worse. Kouta’s voice actor is as deadpan as the character, and the female actors tried too hard to imitate their Japanese counterparts, resulting in these awful squeaky voices. No child sounds like that! What’s strange is that the English cast has done great work elsewhere (same team as Full Metal Panic and RahXephon, both great English tracks), but here they sound like amateurs.

Despite all Elfen Lied does wrong, I enjoyed the story. It’s a great example of using gore to enhance the narrative surrounding innocent characters.

Art – Medium

Mouth movements comprise all the animation in most non-action scenes; sometimes, even the mouth doesn’t bother, too exhausted it seems. Other than the action scenes, visual details are low. The manga creator intentionally chose a ‘moe’ artist for the anime to enhance the contrast between innocence and violence. However, this style doesn’t look the greatest, especially on Kouta. Gore and action is great.

Sound – Medium

A great Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack and tension music brought down by an average Japanese voice track, and an even worse English one.

Story – Medium

Protagonist Lucy carries the violent narrative with her dual personas and volatile nature. Shame then that the other pieces of her love triangle are worthless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Elfen Lied is a worthwhile anime for fans of uncensored violence. Watch in doses of three episodes at a time to avoid exhaustion from the constant tension.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***

Negative:

Useless Side Cast