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Let’s go on a quest! Characters usually embark on a grand journey, encountering various obstacles along the way.

The Seven Deadly Sins – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nanatsu no Taizai

 

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins: Revival of the Commandments (Sequel)

Similar: Samurai 7

Yona of the Dawn

Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Well-paced.
  • The talking pig.

Negatives:

  • Immature humour and protagonist don’t match the plot.
  • Baby-faced art.
  • Stereotypically battle anime action.
  • No surprises.

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Princess Elizabeth collapses into a pub during her quest to find the Seven Deadly Sins, legendary warriors said to have betrayed the king. The perverted child that owns the pub saves her and turns out to be the Sin of Wrath, Meliodas. He soon agrees to aid her plight and, accompanied by his talking pig, they search for the other Sins.

The Seven Deadly Sins came recommended, so I watched it in anticipation of seeing something worthwhile. I waited, and I waited… And I waited. Something worthwhile never came. I like the talking pig – he’s good for a few laughs – and the pacing never drags. That’s about it.

The first warning sign beyond the blobby character designs (though never judge an anime by its cover, and all that wisdom) is the protagonist. Meliodas looks like a kid despite being thousands of years old. (If you’re wondering why from a marketing perspective, it’s to match the age of the target demographic.) His defining trait is groping women. This anime isn’t subtle about his “rapiness” and I’m sure they would have him do far worse if it didn’t affect the age rating. It isn’t funny like what you find in Golden Boy and Great Teacher Onizuka. The gag is that he gropes women – usually the princess. And that’s the whole gag. These jokes only work when there is some form of repercussion or counterplay. It is so encouraged that a point of conflict between him and another character is about how he doesn’t grab her arse as he does to other women.

This “humour” alongside the alcohol jokes had me questioning the target market at first. I had gone into The Seven Deadly Sins without research, so perhaps my age group assumption was off. However, everything else is in line with a typical battle anime for a middle school audience. The baby-faced art and dumbed down story don’t mesh with the sexual and alcoholic humour. It’s not that it’s inappropriate for kids – this is for the individual to decide – but rather, I don’t think they’ll get it. And it’s not the same as adult jokes hidden in Pixar and DreamWorks movies, which slip by children for adults to find hilarious. Thankfully, the series seems to grow tired of this joke and barely uses it after a while.

I don’t know what to make of the other characters. Most don’t do much. Elizabeth is a nuisance who cries at everything, including in the middle of a deadly battle because Meliodas is nice to her. It’s as lame as it sounds. Ban, the immortal Sin of Greed, has the most screen time after Meliodas and the only real character arc. I liked his backstory with the Fountain of Youth and his theme, naturally, of greed. I thought this to be a turning point in the series, but alas, it goes back to Meliodas the Boring. The other Sins are filler characters preceded by much hype and no payoff. I assume they will have their time to shine in later arcs, in which case they should have come into the story later on.

One thing Hunter x Hunter does well is not keeping side characters around when they aren’t story relevant. Naruto is similar with the team system, where it can logically bring along only story relevant characters for the current mission. In The Seven Deadly Sins, once a character joins the group, you know they will hang around doing nothing most of the time.

A final point I want to make on the characters relates to the seven deadly sins theme. This was most famous in Fullmetal Alchemist with the villains, where you get why they have the model the seven sins. Each of those villains is a perfect match to their sin while not being one-note either. They are fantastic characters. The seven deadly sins in this anime don’t seem to have any point of relevance to the theme. Why are they titled after the sins? They each committed some sin as part of their backstories, yet it doesn’t relate much to the sin with the slight exception of greed. Meliodas, for example, failed to protect someone. What does that have to do with wrath? Most of these characters have similar sins, so they could equally fit the Wrath title. Furthermore, unlike FMA, these personalities have nothing to do with the sin, weakening the theme even more. I’m willing to bet a considerable amount of anime bucks that the author read FMA, thought the villains cool, and decided to use the theme in his manga, but made them the good guys to differentiate himself without understanding what made the others so great.

These aren’t terrible characters – apart from Meliodas, perhaps – and have enough dimension to avoid being flat. They simply don’t have anything to elevate them, which is where the theme could have played a significant part.

I haven’t even talked of the action yet. The action is as stereotypically battle anime as you can get. It has impossibly fast moves (no need to animate), delayed damage, invincibility to attacks when standing still, crying ability names, and a secret move for each fighter. The Seven Deadly Sins greatest action crime is the “just kidding” fake-out. Once every fight, a character will take massive damage or an instant kill attack, pretend to take the hit or be out of the fight, but then, “Just kidding!” they’re actually fine. (If they would all die, then we could get out of here.)

It also has the laziest battle progression. With the use of lightning fast attacks almost exclusively, we don’t see how someone survives an attack – they stand there and take it – and the defender has to tell the attacker how his ability worked for the audience’s sake. Every. Single. Fight. If that’s not lazy, I don’t know what is.

When someone breaths fire and the opponent creates a shield to block said fire, we don’t need an explanation. In The Seven Deadly Sins however, someone breaths fire, the opponent takes the fire to no consequence, and then has to tell us how invisible fire-eating thetans cover his skin or some nonsense like that. This is what I imagine a boxing anime would look like if the creator knew nothing about boxing. Did he get through the opponent’s guard by feinting left to land a right hook? “What does feinting mean? His punches just go through because of abracadabra. But don’t worry, the opponent takes no damage because of mumbo jumbo.”

No effort went into figuring out how the abilities work and how characters would attack/defend with them in battle. I’m sure you, dear readers, could all point out instances of impossibly fast or fake out actions in other battle anime and wonder why I criticise them so much here and not there. These action techniques are valued in rarity. When Rock Lee drops the weights and goes lightning fast (note how we can still see the action and slow motion adds impact), it matters because it’s a change from the norm. Sticking with Naruto, you see Gaara survive all manner of attacks without a scratch and you’re thinking, “How the hell does he survive?” He’s the exception, which makes him more interesting. When the series does reveal the secret behind his sand armour, it only has to explain once before we can see it in action, in detail, from that point forward. Deadly Sins’ problem is that these techniques constitute 90% of the action. Add on to this the “everyone has a trump card” ability mechanic, and it becomes boring real fast.

If you are new to battle anime, The Seven Deadly Sins will likely seem decent. It has competent production values – it’s no Beet the Vandal Buster – and fights don’t have padding to last several episodes. The tournament takes a few episodes, not an entire season, which is refreshing. However, in all other respects, I would recommend the established series like Naruto, My Hero Academia, or Hunter x Hunter. The battle genre is one of anime’s most competitive and it certainly isn’t lacking in content to keep you busy for the next century, so to turn to The Seven Deadly Sins, you must be desperate.

Art – Medium

I detest the character designs of The Seven Deadly Sins, especially the baby faces. Though it looks made for kids, the art doesn’t match the content other than in its immaturity. The animation is better than the style.

Sound – Medium

The dub cast uses their Sword Art Online character voices, which I couldn’t un-hear, so you may want to go with the Japanese. Could do with more memorable music – battle anime usually have memorable soundtracks.

Story – Low

When the Holy Knights of Britannia overthrow the king, a princess goes in search of the legendary warriors known as the “Seven Deadly Sins” to reclaim her kingdom and defeat the tyrants. The Seven Deadly Sins is as generic as imaginable in its action, often at the expense of character and story that showed potential. The pacing is good.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For action anime fans only. The Seven Deadly Sins feels worse than the sum of its parts, owing to a lack of anything to differentiate itself from the competition. You could watch so many other battle anime first.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingNot Funny

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Pokémon: The First Movie – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Pokémon: Mewtwo no Gyakushuu

 

Related: Pokémon (main series)

Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns (sequel)

Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (next movie)

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 25 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Mewtwo is a menacing villain.
  • Good moral lesson.
  • Team Rocket works better than in the series.

Negatives:

  • Production values aren’t movie quality.
  • Dated pop songs in the dub.

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The first soundtrack I ever owned was for Pokémon: The First Movie on cassette. It was all I played on my Sanyo Walkman for months. Listening to a particular song was a challenge, as I had to fast forward and guess when to stop. Nope, too early – still on ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’. Oops, too far. Screw it; let’s just go back to the Pokémon Theme. Only good song on the list anyway. (Man, I’m glad I live in the future.)

The release of Pokémon: The First Movie was a major event in the West. Pokémon was at the height of popularity with the trifecta of games, anime, and trading cards. We kids went nuts for a movie featuring Mew, the rarest Pokémon. Would we receive the adorable monster in game and in card from at last? (Spoiler: No. Nintendo hated us. Bastards.) To see Pokémon on the big screen was mind blowing to the child mind. What about all these years later, though?

You know what, it ain’t bad.

The story centres on Mewtwo, clone of the ancient Mew, believed to be the most powerful Pokémon. Breaking free from the shackles of his creator, Mewtwo seeks to prove his superiority over humankind and all Pokémon by inviting the best trainers to the ultimate challenge on his island. Of course, Ash Ketchum, who has actually never won anything meaningful in his Pokémon trainer career, receives an invitation – ‘cause protagonist. Little do he and the other trainers know that Mewtwo has sinister plans for their Pokémon.

The First Movie was refreshing at the time for having a plot with serious stakes – the end of the world and all natural Pokémon. The main series suffered from endless low-stakes episodes, usually undermined by Team Rocket. Ash had never faced a challenge. In fact, the series hated challenging him so much that in the Pokémon League, the final test for a trainer, he lost not because another trainer bested him, but because his Pokémon doesn’t listen. Super lame. The First Movie had weight, which holds up today.

It’s also great for fan service, bringing together most fan favourites such as Charizard, Venusaur, Blastoise, and Gyarados in one place for an epic battle. Let’s not forget Mewtwo, the star of the show. He is a great villain. You don’t expect a Pokémon villain to have good and bad qualities in conflict within himself as he seeks a purpose. And he delivers one of the deepest lines in history. (I hear Gandhi rose from his grave upon hearing Mewtwo’s words.)

Mew plays well off Mewtwo. I love how Mew cares so little for Mewtwo’s bravado, more interested in playing around like a cat distracted by yarn in the face of destruction.

Team Rocket is a pleasant surprise too. As funny as Team Rocket can be in small doses, having them appear every episode to derail the plot grew tedious. In The First Movie, they’re hilarious and complement the film rather than get in the way. Meowth has always been the best character and he has some great lines in this, and the fight against his clone is great. There’s something amusing about Meowth chatting with his clone while all around them Pokémon are stomping the life out of each other.

Pokémon: The First Movie won’t hold any interest if you aren’t a fan of the franchise. This is aptly described as the best episode of the original series rather than a standalone film. But if you do have any passing interest in the franchise, even if purely through the games, Pokémon: The First Movie is the perfect trip back to childhood.

Art – Medium

Though Pokémon: The First Movie looks much better than the series, it still barely reaches the standard for good anime visuals of the time.

Sound – Medium

I can’t watch Pokémon in anything but the dub – I don’t even know most names in Japanese. Meowth is always the best voice, but Mewtwo has the best dialogue this time. The soundtrack is mostly pop songs that haven’t aged after their populist inclusion in 1999. They don’t fit. At all.

Story – Medium

The ultimate Pokémon invites the best trainers to his island for a test of strength, where he can cement his dominion over mankind. Mewtwo’s villainy and the ultimate lesson of Pokémon: The First Movie make it one of the franchise’s best stories.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for Pokémon fans. Even if you aren’t a Pokémon fan, The First Movie is an enjoyable ride down nostalgia lane.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

A Place Further than the Universe – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho

 

Similar: Yuru Camp

Girls’ Last Tour

Space Brothers

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good finish.
  • Pleasant art.

Negatives:

  • Frequent immaturity to force cuteness.
  • First act is rather boring.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I don’t have much to say on A Place Further than the Universe, which comes as a pleasant change after Hunter x Hunter’s review.

It is a story about spirit and youth. Mari feels trapped in her ordinary Japanese life and craves to do something impulsive, go on an adventure! But after she chicken’s out on an impromptu adventure, all seems set to return to normal – that is until she meets Shirase, a girl determined to go to Antarctica, where her mother went missing. A third girl joins them soon. However, not just anyone can go on an Antarctic expedition, especially not a trio of high school kids. Their ticket to the frozen land appears in the form of Yuzuki. If they can convince this idol to go, they can accompany her as companions.

Like all anime about cute girls, acting cute is a top priority for the characters and the main reason I’m not into these shows. Cuteness doesn’t bother me – it’s the forced cuteness. The first scene has Mari suddenly bawl her eyes out in front of her mother, which I assume is meant to be cute, but is just immature. Not even an infant would act this way. The difference between A Place Further than the Universe and Girls’ Last Tour, where the cuteness worked for me, is in how much they draw attention to it. Here, the girls have these overreactions and pantomime-like performances as if to say, “Look at me – I’m cute! You agree, right?” The girls in Last Tour simply are cute, so they don’t have to demand your attention every few minutes.

 This immaturity, often from Mari, is a recurring annoyance and seems to replace story and development for act one. Act two is a little more interesting as they train and prepare for the expedition. It’s still too much “cute girls being cute”, but the Antarctic knowledge from a mature adult character improves matters. The episodes aren’t bad, though I routinely found my focus slipping, only to snap back a few minutes later and realise I was still watching this anime.

The Antarctic portion doesn’t start until act three. At last, the girls have things to do other than act cute and seeing daily life in the Antarctic is fascinating – how a ship breaks through the ice, how supplies come in, sunburn, the dangers of a blizzard, and so on. There isn’t any great disaster for them to contend with – things are still light-hearted – but it’s more than just the girls now, as it should have been from the start. It also closes Shirase’s arc in the search for her mother in a heartfelt and satisfying way. The third act is far superior to what came previous and as such, leaves you with a positive impression.

Fans of cute girls anime will love this more than I did, of that I have no doubt. A Place Further than the Universe doesn’t pretend to anything beyond its initial impression. It doesn’t lie, bait, or emotionally manipulate you. It’s about high school girls going on an adventure to Antarctica with a lot of silliness and a touch of emotion. And that’s fine.

Art – High

This anime’s strongest quality, the art, uses bright colours and pure white highlights to complement the energetic and uplifting feel of the story.

Sound – Medium

The acting is alright – a little overdone to the point of becoming pantomime at times.

Story – Medium

A group of high school girls set their adventurous hearts on reaching Antarctica to accomplish something with their youth. A Place Further than the Universe keeps things light, which does limit depth and makes it hard to keep paying attention, but the end is strong enough to leave on a good note.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the cute girls doing things genre. We’ve had cute girls in bands, in tanks, on battleships, and now in Antarctica. Fans of the genre are spoilt for choice!

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Hunter x Hunter – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hunter x Hunter (2011)

 

Related: Hunter x Hunter (1999) (old version)

Hunter x Hunter Movie 1: Phantom Rogue (side story)

Hunter x Hunter Movie 2: The Last Mission (side story)

Similar: Naruto

Yu Yu Hakusho

One Piece

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Adventure

Length: 148 episodes

 

Positives:

  • No filler plague.
  • The villains Hisoka and Chimera King.
  • Phantom Troupe arc.

Negatives:

  • Hunter Exam is a waste of time.
  • Greed Island may be one of shounen’s worst arcs.
  • Too many ideas. No cohesion.
  • Poor character designs.
  • Perpetually delayed and incomplete.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Hunter x Hunter is purported to be different from other shounen battle anime. Let’s start by dispelling this notion, as it only sets up false expectations and ultimate disappointment.

Like all battle anime, Hunter x Hunter (don’t pronounce the x) is about a kid with big dreams. This time, we follow Gon Freecss, a boy in search of the father that abandoned him and his mother. To that end, he must become a hunter like his father before him in the belief that the profession will open new avenues of investigation.

Naturally, the story starts with Gon taking the exam to become a hunter. And here we hit the first brick wall. The Hunter Exam is tunnel-through-the-mountain boring! The exam is just one fake out after another.

Gon lives on an island, so must travel by ship to the mainland. Little does he know that the crossing is part of the test. Once ashore, he asks for directions to the exam, except the false directions are also part of the test. Then it’s an old lady with riddles, followed by a secret password into the exam site. But wait, that isn’t the site. We have to run a marathon first to get there! Watching people run, how riveting. Alright, are we done yet? No, we need to cook some barbeque. (Just kill me now.) And on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, (did I mention the recap episode halfway?), and on, and on…and on it goes for 21 episodes of boring task after boring task. This exam is every idea the author came up with dragged on for eternity. Why not pick the best three ideas and make something engaging of them? It serves no purpose other than to introduce characters, which could have happened naturally later had the exam be removed (and most introductions don’t matter anyway – more on that later).

Could a 21-episode exam work? Certainly, if interesting. Naruto managed it with the chunin exam using secret ninja techniques called “character development”, “meaningful conflict”, and “story progression”. Had the first episode of HxH been after this arc, all we would need is the narrator telling us, “This is Gon. He’s a hunter.” Twenty-one episodes saved. It’s the worst start to a shounen anime I’ve seen, barring the ones that had no potential to begin with. The arc isn’t filler, but it may as well be.

The plot next moves into a tournament arc, another common element of the genre. Gon and Killua have to fight to the top of a battle tower with hundreds of floors and millions in prize money. Matters get serious from the 200th floor onwards. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch all 200 floors – good performance leapfrogs contestants up faster.

The downfall of the tournament arc is the training sessions that eat up too much time between fights. HxH has a massive problem with over explaining its concepts and making them unnecessarily convoluted. This anime uses auras. If you’ve seen anything with aura powers before, you’ll get the point in a minute. HxH deems you too stupid to grasp it in less than hours of lectures. You can bet your savings that it will pause every fight for some long-winded explanation of X character’s power and strategy.

Training episodes suck because they have no plot nor any internal character growth. It isn’t a problem exclusive to this anime, yet these are particularly boring. Off the top of my head, only Bleach does them worse.

The first great moment occurs in episode 31 when Gon faces Hisoka, an interesting Pierrot-like villain, who values the challenge above all else and will go to extreme lengths for the greatest challenges, such as saving heroes with potential to contest him in future. He takes a keen interest in Gon. The exam introduced us to him and his villainy, but it all repeats here anyway. His power is a malleable aura compared to bubblegum that can manipulate targets with puppet strings, among other magician-type tricks. He’s a theatrical fighter that loves to put on a show.

Hisoka belongs to a villain group known as the Phantom Troupe, which leads into the next and best arc of the series. Gon and friends head to the big city to earn big bucks so they may buy a video game that will lead to his father. The Phantom Troupe arc succeeds where the others fail because it is all plot relevant and gives all main characters something to do, rather than forgetting half the team (more on that later). It also helps to have several interesting villains that pose a real threat. A highlight is the fight between Kurapika, the guy I confused for a girl in the artwork, and a villain. He is the revenge guy of the series, as there must be one in every shounen. Despite sharing much with others of his archetype, he works thanks to an interesting ability that cleverly explains how he can hope to match such powerful villains, but without overpowering him for the rest of the series. Shounens usually have to pull some convoluted nonsense to backpedal the power, such as Bleach with its moronic power resets.

At the end of this arc, 58 episodes in, I’m not blown away, yet it has been on an upward trajectory and I am convinced it’s only the good stuff from here.

Boy was I wrong.

The Greed Island arc that follows is somehow worse than the exam. Greed Island is the video game Gon seeks on his father’s trail. Players enter the game world and fight using cards with abilities. That’s right, we are in Yu-Gi-Oh now! It’s as dumb as it sounds. This arc was just an excuse for the author to cram in more convoluted mechanics and hours of idiots explaining how they work. If you want to see some of the worst pacing and exposition anime has to offer, watch the dodgeball game in this arc. Only masters of Zen can handle such trash.

The main villain for this period, a punk that blows people up with the power of cards, is pathetically dull. Much like the exam, this arc amounts to little more than wasting 17 episodes of your time. If I didn’t know better, I would believe this to be a filler arc.

Finally we come to the Chimera Ant arc, the longest at 61 episodes long, which tells of a species of dangerous human-creature hybrids that soon develop aura powers. The Hunter Association dispatches many hunters to deal with the threat.

The story has now gone from a big city, to a video game, and reached a monster slaying fantasy. Hunter x Hunter lacks focus. This review is so long because I feel as though I am reviewing three different anime at once. Watching this series gives the impression that the author had too many ideas and wanted them all to be in one story, jumping impatiently from one to the next. Remember the Big Bad Phantom Troupe? They’re barely relevant after their arc. That Yu-Gi-Oh garbage? Forget it ever existed. Arc after arc seems to wipe the relevance of the story that came previous. None suffer more than HxH’s characters.

Each arc dumps a boatload of new character on your lap for you to care about, only to take them away as soon as the arc ends. “What happened to that guy?” I kept asking myself. At the start, HxH presents a core group of four characters. Remember Kurapika of central importance against the Troupe? He’s barely in this. Oh yeah, there’s some guy called Leorio – you’ll know him as the tall guy you see on most cover art who receives enough attention for a major character. Well, he has as much screen time as a minor character. Only Killua with the white hair has the screen time to match his relevance alongside Gon.

So when we come to the Chimera Ant arc, it is no surprise to have over 50 – yes, 50 – new characters thrown at the story. A story, I might add, that isn’t directly relevant to the main plot even with 61 episodes. Interestingly, however, it’s a good arc. It starts slow (could have fit in half the number of episodes), though once the main villain emerges in act two it shows promise, until it finishes with a strong third act. The heart of the story is the Chimera King villain that questions life, morality, and meaning.

This arc gives fans a reason to call HxH dark, “the darkest shounen anime”. It isn’t really. It’s only dark if you haven’t seen what a proper dark story looks like. A villain killing random civilians isn’t dark – it’s just meaningless. There are a couple of dark moments, but it’s nowhere near enough to call the series dark. What Itachi does in Naruto is darker, yet I wouldn’t call that anime dark either. That said, a false reputation doesn’t take away from the strength of its third act. It’s a shame the arc has to be part of this anime. Both this arc and HxH would have benefited from separation. The Chimera Ant arc works as a standalone story similar to From the New World and with its removal, HxH can refocus on the plot. There is a main story consequence resulting from the Ants, but that could have come just as easily from the Phantom Troupe.

What HxH boasts in the end is two good arcs, which still need work, and a mixture of decent and utter trash for the remainder of the time. I haven’t covered half the problems with HxH in this already too-long review.

A common note you will hear of this anime is that it is the best of the battle shounen. It has the smartest fights, greatest characters, best villains, and most complex stories, they will tell you. Does it? Not really. There are smarter fights, greater characters, and better villains in other shounen anime. Nor is HxH different from the norm. You have the same types of arcs, the same cast of characters, yelling for power, energy attacks, poor explanations, and there is even a Super Saiyan mode (I won’t give it away, but it is the goofiest super mode I have ever witnessed). It does do one better than the rest – no unofficial filler, though that doesn’t save it from other pacing issues, including a narrator that repeats everything we just saw.

Many of these problems are common to most entries in the genre though. Would I recommend another battle anime over this? I don’t know. No matter which you pick, you have to tolerate a lot of garbage.

Is HxH better than most of the genre? Sure, why not. With such a low bar, it isn’t difficult to hit single digit ranks, though that is still low when looking at anime as a whole. If coming from Dragon Ball Z, as this did with the 90s manga release, it would seem mind blowing to have any strategy to fights, character development, and a story that’s more than “punch the bad guy”.

The difficulty I have with justifying a recommendation to watch Hunter x Hunter is in its 148-episode length. Consider how many other better anime you could finish in that time. And you have to factor in that no one has any idea when or even if this will ever receive a conclusion. If you love shounen, you will love this – I don’t doubt it. But if you don’t love shounen, then I can’t recommend it.

Art – Medium

What is with these character designs? Everyone looks like a bootleg knock off from other anime with no thought to theme or cohesion. There’s a reason these characters feature so little in aesthetic contests. Like all long anime, the budget has to cover too much ground. However, unlike other battle anime, HxH doesn’t drop in quality for action scenes – quite the opposite. A pleasant surprise.

Sound – High

The acting is the strongest area of HxH and the music is solid, though lacks variety for such a long series.

Story – Medium

A kid becomes a hunter in a quest to find his father, but will have to overcome many trials and foes before the end. The short version: Phantom Troupe and Chimera Ant arcs are good, and I wouldn’t bother with the rest.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For battle shounen fans only. Hunter x Hunter doesn’t have the crossover appeal to go beyond its demographic. For those who do start, note that the series is incomplete with no continuation in sight.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Samurai Jack – Cartoon Review

Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 62 episodes (5 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Incredible style from top to bottom.
  • Balance of humour, action, and emotion.
  • AKU!
  • Less is more to perfection.

Negatives:

  • I can’t think of anything notable.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Samurai Jack is a unique show. I wager you won’t find its likeness just anywhere. From its striking visual style to its storytelling through sound and silence with little dialogue, this cartoon is a once every few generations type of art piece.

We follow Jack, a samurai thrown from his time into the future by the shape-shifting master of darkness, Aku. Jack must find a way back to the past to finish the job he started and stop Aku. His journey will take him to the far corners of the world, where Aku’s evil weighs heavily on all. This isn’t Jack’s world anymore. Robots, aliens, and all manner of beasts roam the world now.

Samurai Jack’s brilliance is in the cohesion of its every facet, each unique in style, yet brought together to perfection. The animation fluidity is low, for instance, but it’s sharp execution combined with precise editing gives it weight and impact, so much so that to improve the fluidity to the level of, say, a Ghibli film wouldn’t look right anymore. In fact, increasing the quality as they did for the final season could have been a disaster. Not the case, thankfully.

Genndy Tartakovsky has a style to his cartoons that extracts every grain of quality from a limited budget. It wouldn’t work without all elements uniting as one. Had the editing been off, the limited animation would stand out. It would have felt cluttered had there been more dialogue and sound. Genndy likes to give his scenes breathing time with subtle visual and auditory humour. When Jack meets a trio of talking dogs, everything stops for a long time to allow Jack’s awkwardness in this new world to sink in. It’s nothing but Jack looking left and right as club music pounds outside the booth. Less is more seems to be Genndy’s life motto.

Then when the action starts, the gear shifts into overdrive. Quick cuts, multi-panel shots, and single sound actions take over to give us the most tightly edited action scenes in animation. Samurai Jack never ever wastes your time. Watch the following video of a fight between Jack and a ninja to see what I mean.

It draws inspiration from many styles cinema and world culture. You will find influence from Kurosawa films, anime (Jack fights in a mecha samurai one episode), noir, cyberpunk, Ghibli, silent film, Star Wars, comic books, aboriginal art, and the list goes on. It would take several viewings to find them all. More importantly, this show succeeds in making them work together.

The future Earth in Samurai Jack is a post-apocalyptic melting pot that allows the series to bring you something new each episode. One episode could be in a city out of Blade Runner and the next could have Jack meeting a caveman. The overarching story is to defeat Aku, while the episodic plot is about Jack helping the many peoples and societies affect by Aku’s tyranny. This episodic structure allowed you to watch any episode back in the days when we were slaves to the TV schedule. Only the final season weaves ongoing narrative each episode, required in the build up to the finale.

This plethora of locations and characters to choose from also gives us great variety in the types of episodes. One has Jack polymorphed into a chicken, where he is kidnapped and forced into cock fighting. Sounds weird? It works. I imagine the production team kept thinking of crazier and weirder ideas for the series just to see if they could make it work. How about an episode that breaks the mould of minimal dialogue? Jack encounters a Scotsman that has the longest insults you’ve ever had the fortune to hear. He’s loud, brusque, and aggressive – Jack’s opposite. Hey, it works. Can we get Jack to join the mafia? Sure, let’s do it.

One of my favourite episodes has to be the season one finale, where Aku recites fairy tales to children with him featured as the hero or Jack as the evil villain. “Once upon a time there was a little girl with an adorable red cape, and great flaaaming eyebrows!

Aku is a brilliant villain. He may be the all-powerful evil of the universe, but he is so much fun! Every scene with the guy is a riot. He is a villain that loves being evil, but he has his share of problems too. His inability to catch Jack has him depressed at times, so he sees a therapist. It’s a clone of himself… Perfect.

Think about this: they managed to have a villain that kills indiscriminately in a kid’s cartoon. It should traumatise kids, but due to the careful balance with humour, it succeeds. Samurai Jack is full of humour, and yet full of emotion. It reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist in how it balanced both ends.

And here we arrive at Jack himself. He could have easily been a standard protagonist surrounded by a brilliant series, someone we would remember for the series not for the character. Genndy could have gotten away with the cultural encounters and odd scenarios to keep us engaged. Most cartoon protagonists for kids don’t have much depth to them. It’s about the whole package of the cartoon rather than the character. However, Jack has the qualities of a character worthy of any drama series. He breaks, he falls, he thinks it all too much, especially when he arrives so close to success and it slips through his fingers. It is in his effort to stand back up that we see a complete character.

Samurai Jack adapts Bushido culture better than most anime. The final season in particular draws on the earthly and the mystical aspects of the samurai legend. His culture is at the core of his character, yet he is a character out of his time where such a culture no longer exists. The internal conflict that arises is fantastic. As I said – could have gotten away without it, but that extra effort elevates this show into the hall of excellence and makes it one worth remembering.

I have no notable complaints with Samurai Jack. At most, I could say some episodes aren’t as good as others, though that’s an occasional drop to 95% quality. Not a real complaint, is it? There was a time when I could bemoan its incomplete state, but after a 13-year wait, Genndy gave us the conclusion to the samurai’s journey. It was everything I had hoped for.

Art – Very High

Samurai Jack needs to be seen to appreciate the quality of its visuals, thanks in no small part to the sharp animation, pinpoint editing, and cinematic flair. I love the character designs – identifiable, distinct silhouettes, and it all fits together, from the caveman to the robot assassin.

Sound – Very High

Phil LaMarr as Jack and the late Mako as Aku – a perfect match. The stellar sound mixing matches the editing style. Minimalist, restrained, and flawless.

Story – Very High

A samurai searches for a way back to the past to save the ruined future from a master of darkness. You could watch any episode of Samurai Jack and have a great time. Why do that though, when you can watch all of them?

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. There is nothing else like Samurai Jack.

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

Positive:

CharmExtensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPhenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None