Tag Archives: Adventure

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

Dororo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Dororo

 

Similar: Demon Slayer

Mushi-shi

Sword of the Stranger

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brutal depiction of samurai times (even without the monsters)
  • The monsters
  • Hyakkimaru’s lore
  • Beautiful rustic art

Negatives:

  • Visuals dip in the finale

(Request an anime for review here.)

Did you watch Mushi-shi and think, “This anime is too friendly. Needs more violence and demons”? Well, do I have the anime for you!

Dororo takes Mushi-shi’s adventure of roaming rural Japan in search of the unusual, but instead of trying to understand the supernatural like Ginko would do, Hyakkimaru massacres them to the very last. He was born as a child of sacrifice. Though he should have died, missing his limbs, most organs, skin, and even a spine at birth, a prosthetics doctor found him down the river and rebuilt him to survive. Now, with each demon he slays, a part of him regrows. His single-minded focus to cleanse the land of demons and regain his body drives him down a dangerous path. Thankfully, the ever-cheerful street rat Dororo latches onto him and claims him for an older brother.

The feudal world of Dororo is a harsh one. It does not romanticise the samurai era whatsoever. There was a time when a samurai’s primary goal was collecting the heads of enemies, even if it meant taking them by force from allies. After all, the survivor tells the tale. The country is in a state of desolation – Hyakkimaru’s father and lord performed the sacrifice to bring prosperity to his state. Samurai or peasant, honour is a scare resource when starvation grips the soul. Dororo’s parents were victims of a battle, an inconsequential skirmish in the grand scheme of things, fought over scraps of power. He now travels with Hyakkimaru in search of demons to slay and food to survive, all the while making the most of life.

There is so much to like about Dororo. The titular character is likeable from the very first. I love his energy and craftiness. The contrast between him and Hyakkimaru is a perfect balance between the former’s bubbly personality and the latter’s silence. The perfect foil. Hyakkimaru wouldn’t have worked as a protagonist without him. Speaking of, I love the design of Hyakkimaru with the prosthetics, blades hidden inside his arms, and the way he regrows bit by bit. When a new leg shoots out after a kill, it’s painful yet great to watch. The more he regrows, the more human he becomes and learns about the world around him. Smell and sound are a surprise. However, he becomes more obsessed with the next kill the closer he gets to completion. His arc is fantastic, culminating in a crazy scenario that I don’t even want to hint at.

Dororo gripped me from the start. If you want a prime example of how to do a first episode, watch this anime. There are no exposition dumps, no out of place humour (we all know another studio would have forced a boob grab or some such cliché), and the showing of the characters, their motivations, and the world is spot on.

Then we have the world. The watercolour environments give such a rustic, quaint feel that you wish you could roam that countryside. That is, until you face a demon, or worse, the samurai. I can imagine the Japanese tourist board setting up walking tours to visit the modern equivalent, safe from horrors of course. The charming feel to the world was a great decision, for it lulls the audience into thinking perhaps things aren’t so bad, perhaps they have found peace. Then reality hits and all goes to hell.

The variety of demons and the way they fit into this world – like a mini fairy tale each episode – is fantastic. Some are simple beasts of instinct, while others are cunning. There’s always something new over the next mountain. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the action is exciting with great animation. Doesn’t hold back on gore either.

Now, I don’t recommend this as a binge show. Much like Mushi-shi, it’s best to let it sink in every few episodes. I watched Dororo over the course of two months – hence the delay on this request – and would not have had it any other way. The episodic structure (until the final stretch) facilitates this method. Dororo gets better with each episode. Each piece of the puzzles comes together to make one of the decade’s best anime.

Art – Very High

The samurai drama visual style is a success. Plenty of animation too, but it does have to use some TV shortcuts like repeating animations. Beautiful backgrounds are an increasingly rare sight these days.

Sound – High

I almost had a serious negative about a casting choice, but it worked perfectly in the end. Acting is solid, though Hyakkimaru isn’t quite right. I like the first OP and ED, listening to them each time, but I would skip the second set.

Story – Very High

A street rat and a cursed child roam a war torn land in search of food and demons. Dororo doesn’t hold back on the realities of war, starvation, and the desperation to survive as it delivers riveting action and an engaging arc.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Dororo is a surprise hit for me. I wouldn’t want you to miss it (unless you don’t like violence).

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

 

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationRiveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Naruto: Shippuden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Naruto: Shippuden

 

Related: Naruto

Similar: One Piece

Hunter x Hunter

Basilisk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 500 episodes (296 without filler)

 

Positives:

  • Conclusions to plot lines established in Naruto classic
  • Several excellent fights

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is less important in favour of convoluted lore
  • New plot lines feel like filler
  • The Great Ninja War
  • Way, way too long

(Request an anime for review here.)

It is finally done. Naruto Shippuden (and The Last Movie) is no longer on my backlog. It gives me a mix of emotions – relief at having such a giant off my back, nostalgia from thinking 16 years into the past, and a tinge of sadness that it is over. It wasn’t an easy journey to reach this point. 500 episodes of Shippuden – after 220 episodes of Naruto – isn’t an afternoon’s viewing experience, especially once you hit The Wall that is the Great Ninja War. More on that later. Let’s go back. There is a lot to talk about here, so forgive the ramble and tangents.

Naruto ended with two central threads: Sasuke has betrayed the village to seek out the arch villain Orochimaru’s help and the criminal organisation Akatsuki has revealed itself to the ninja world. Shippuden jumps ahead two and a half years as Naruto returns to the hidden leaf village after a long training adventure with his perverted teacher Jiraya. The anime (unedited version) opens with a flashforward of Naruto and Sakura finally catching up to Sasuke in Orochimaru’s lair, giving the audience a taste of the major event to come. It fails to mention that we don’t reach this until Shippuden episode 51 and that it’s the most anti-climactic moment in the entire franchise. Not a great start.

Shippuden also disappoints in how it handles filler. Where Naruto padded the episode count after the main story concluded while we waited for the sequel, Shippuden inserts extensive filler arcs every second or third season.

To drag out the series further, canon episodes regularly have artificial lengthening techniques. Battle anime are notorious for static pans across a battlefield or characters’ faces. Shippuden takes it to another extreme of time wasted. I particularly remember an episode where Naruto confronts Orochimaru and only a minute of real content occurs between dramatic pauses, slow pans, and repeated lines. Replaying scenes from the previous episode is more rampant that ever, unjustified in their presence. They often repeat within the same episode in case we have Alzheimer’s. The absolute worst padding you will ever see is when Naruto’s allies remove the seals on Akatsuki’s hideout.

Let me set the scene. Akatsuki have sealed themselves inside a cave while they perform a ritual to extract a powerful demon beast from within a ninja. Outside, several of Naruto’s allies split up to remove five seals scattered around the area. Before that however, a trap summons an exact clone in ability and strength of each ninja, which they have to 1v1 before they can proceed (I thought this was the dumbest fan service idea only for it to be outdone later). These fights are just moronic. It’s repetitive and devoid of any depth – don’t forget stretching out every single shot. So, if they are fighting their exact equals, how can they win? Well, by fighting harder than themselves from before! What…? This makes one facepalm so hard that my friends and I still bring it up each time Naruto is mentioned.

Anyways, after that comes the seal removal. Each character grabs one and counts down to pull them in sync. What begins is the longest countdown in cinema history. It takes several minutes off the end of an episode, ending in a cliffhanger, only to repeat from the beginning of the next episode and take forever again.

You know what it’s like? Daytime soap operas. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Passions, Days of Our Lives, or the likes of The Bold & the Beautiful then you will know exactly what I mean.

With how much Shippuden wanted to waste my time, I opted for the “Kai” edit this rewatch. When originally watching this while current, I made it early into the Great Ninja War (Shippuden episode ~250), so I had plenty of experience with the broadcast edition. No way was I sitting through all of that unedited. Little did I know the worst was still to come.

From here on, I will be reviewing Naruto Shippuden under the assumption of the Kai edit, which follows the manga closer [almost] free of filler. There’s not much to say about the filler. It’s trash – don’t watch it.

So, Naruto Shippuden proper, how is it? I can best summarise it thusly: old is good while new is bad.

In essence, the direct continuation of story threads from the original series is successful, while new elements introduced are just crap. Interestingly, the story structure almost alternates between old and new threads, throwing you from one end of the engagement spectrum to the other.

The first arc sees Akatsuki venture into sand country to capture Gaara for the demon beast within him (their goal is a combine the power of all demon beasts). We get to meet a couple of new members, including former sand ninja and puppet master Sasori. Naruto loves to have villains that are former citizens of the place they’re attacking to add that extra emotional connection. Sasori works here, not only for giving us a great fight between three generations of puppeteers – and the only good fight involving Sakura – but also in emphasising the damage ninja life can have on oneself. It’s a good complement to Gaara’s story arc. Where Gaara fell through maltreatment from his family, Sasori lost himself when his parents died. Both grew twisted because of ninja society. A little care and consideration saved one from evil, while the other could never be human again.

Naruto’s execution of theming and tying heroes to villains is among the best in shounen anime and it makes you care for the conflict. Sure, they have a variety of interesting powers and fighting styles that make for great action – action is important to keep it exciting – yet without that emotional core, it wouldn’t stay with the audience once the battle is over. We see this time and time again. Think Lee vs. Gaara (untalented hardworking nobody vs. effortless prodigy gifted with immense power) or Naruto vs. Neji (unloved yet free outsider vs. popular and powerful slave). There are many such examples in Naruto that pack an emotional punch. The same is true for Shippuden in the better fights. The perfect example of the opposite is in the grand finale, but let’s not jump ahead just yet. My rant has some way to go.

Sasori’s partner – Akatsuki always travel in pairs – is Deidara, a loudmouth with mouths in his hands that chew special explosive clay. I hate this character. His backstory is so lame, likely thrown in place at the last minute when the author had to hit a deadline (it doesn’t come up until much later, when his story is already over, by the way). His backstory is the edgy teen who wasn’t allowed to blow things up so he went and joined Al Qaeda in protest. That’s it. And he never shuts up. Plus he ends each sentence with a “yeah” or “hm” grunt. I understand that with such a large cast you need to get creative with differentiating characters, yet you don’t need their quirk in every. god. damn. sentence. The actor never makes it sound natural by the end.

His fight with Gaara is quite good though. More of a visual spectacle. It works by contrast to Sasori’s fight, which has more story and is on a smaller scale in a confined environment. Keeping Deidara going after this arc was the mistake.

Overall, this arc is a good start and gives the [false] impression that Shippuden will maintain the same qualities that made the original series good.

Next arc introduces Sai, the replacement for Sasuke on Naruto’s team. Here we have the first example of “new” failure. His trait is being socially barren. Raised as a spy and assassin since infancy, he has no understanding of emotion or relationships. It’s a classic sad Naruto backstory, which is fine, but his arc doesn’t contribute much. He was forced into the team by the head of ninja CIA with the secret mission of killing Sasuke once found, rather than bringing him back alive. This doesn’t lead to anything. He grows a heart by becoming friends with the others before they find Sasuke, pre-empting the conflict before it starts. To top him off, the story forgets about him a third of the way through. If you were watching this week to week, his return would come as a surprise. “Oh hey, I remember that guy! What was his name again?”

That said, Sai is one of the better new additions. Most newcomers are indistinguishable from filler episode characters. The story leads Naruto to the other ninja nations, each presenting their own crew, none of which is interesting. The most important of the lot is another demon beast ninja who speaks only in rap. It is as annoying as it sounds.

After my praise for Naruto’s supporting cast in the original, it saddens to have to report on how forgettable the new guys are. Worse still, the original cast are little more than background images. Why bother creating new characters when you had such a strong cast to work with already?

This arc concludes in that flashforward I mentioned earlier. They find Sasuke, he leaves, and we are back to square one. Pointless.

Next arc shifts focus back to Akatsuki on the hunt for the next beast, two different members taking helm. Here we have one of the best fights in Shippuden: Shikamaru vs. Hidan with the scythe. I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t seen it and there isn’t much in the way of story to dissect. Any fight with Shikamaru on stage is great for the focus on strategy over flashy abilities.

By contrast, we have the fight against his partner Kakuzu, who is a Frankenstein’s monster-style ninja with the power to stitch himself back to life. Here we see a major crack in the walls caused by one of battle anime’s worst tropes: protagonist power progression. Battle anime need to keep going bigger and more powerful to avoid stagnation with the audience. I don’t think that is necessary, if done right, though the core audience does. The only time you can deescalate is by starting a new series. A power reset each arc, like Bleach, isn’t enough. The audience still wants something bigger.

Dragon Ball Z is the classic example of why this is such a problem. Remember how when they were fighting Frieza the story impressed upon you his power and importance? Now remember how when the next villain came along, making him look like a joke, and the heroes had to grow so much stronger to beat the new guy that they could now kill Frieza with a single flick? And remember how this power was concentrated in a few main characters, making most of the allies useless in the process? Well, Naruto reaches that point. The fight against Kakuzu, which was a struggle for the team fighting him, ends with the arrival of Naruto, fresh off his latest mind-numbing training arc, who takes him out with ease. Because he’s the protagonist, the genre dictates that he must be the one to do this.

It’s not as bad as Dragon Ball Z’s issue, but it doesn’t prevent the groan-worthy ending to a fight, especially off the back of the intelligent fight against Hidan.

Next, we switch to Sasuke’s perspective as he assembles a new team. When I say new, I mean the bad new of Shippuden. He recruits a Jekyll & Hyde sort with no personality, shark boy, and yet another Sasuke fangirl. Sasuke manages to get away from his fangirls back home only for the author to go back to the same overdrawn well and give us another. You want to know the real kick in the nuts? She’s the worst of them all. Her only gimmick is being a fangirl, something the “comedy” reminds us of in every scene with her. She will have a fangirl moment (and another sort of moment, if you catch my drift) any time she sees Sasuke, even in the middle of a dramatic scene. Anyone with her as a groupie would want to shoot themselves.

Everything with these three characters is just a waste of time in the lead up to an event we’ve all been waiting for: the reuniting of Sasuke and Itachi. We can’t have this happen right away, er…125 episodes in, of course. We need another arc first.

Regardless, once it does come to a head, what can I say – it’s fantastic. Built up from the early episodes of the original, the conclusion to Itachi’s story is excellent. Surrounded by filler and padding, it is noticeable that this story was likely planned from the beginning. Its emphasis on character and emotion to deliver the final piece of the puzzle is the polar opposite of The Great Ninja War. (We’ll get to that. We’ll get to that.) This is the best of all Shippuden to me.

This great conclusion leads into another strong arc where the heroes must face the leader of Akatsuki, Pain. Similar to other great Naruto villains, Pain and his close companions follow the theme of how harsh ninja life truly is and how it can break even the nicest kid. An accident from the “good guys” created one of the most powerful villains. While a moment of love almost saved him, as it did with Gaara, it wasn’t enough to keep him from the path of pain.

He makes for a great villain. Not as good as Orochimaru or Itachi, in my books, but great nonetheless. His abilities and those of his companions are interesting. We have action, story, character, and emotion rolled into a satisfying package.

This should have been the end of it, barring the resolution of Naruto and Sasuke’s arc as a capstone. However, if you looked away from your screen at this moment and checked the episode count, you would realise we are only halfway through Shippuden.

Welcome to the Great Ninja War.

Where to begin with this one. It could warrant an entire review of its own. You know what? Let’s do it. I’m on a roll, so what’s another 1000 words?

After Pain. comes the revelation that there was another bad guy behind everything all along. (It hurts just writing that sentence. That’s the real pain.) This new villain was mentioned a few times as a backstory, though never as a relevant character to the current day. After a rubbish politicking plot that I won’t bore you with, the great nations decide to set aside their differences to team up and defeat this villain and his army of Power Rangers putty monsters. Toss aside character-focused storytelling and engaging combat in favour of two masses of bodies throwing themselves at each other.

When you think it can’t get any less interesting, the author pulls out the ultimate fan service card and episode count extender. He brings back every known character from the dead using the Reanimation Technique rediscovered by Orochimaru in the original series. A technique that barely managed two reincarnations can now summon a hundred of the best ninja with ease (remember what I said about power escalation earlier).

It was fine the first time to have two Hokage from history return to give us some lore and a bit of the “rule of cool” factor. This time, however, is just ludicrous. Outside of two or three cases, all it does is stage rematches for fan service. Even the Akatsuki members that just died come back. My level of bafflement at this entire arc is difficult to put into words. I can’t believe any self-respecting author would be okay with this.

The Great Ninja War makes up one-third of all Naruto episodes and feels like filler at least 75% of the time. This is canon filler. Even when watching this in the Kai edit, it feels as if there is no end. I get the sense that whoever was making this fan edit was also losing interest, only finishing the project out of obligation. The editing gets sloppier as you go – one episode has a scene repeat in succession (was the end of one episode and the start of the next in the broadcast release). More and more pointless flashbacks make it in. Don’t get me started on how much Shippuden uses flashbacks to pad runtime. Flashbacks should be banned from anime. The fan editor no longer bothered cutting down those slow dragged out scenes most of the time anymore. I don’t blame them. I would have given up long ago.

The Great Ninja War reaches almost Dragon Ball Z levels of terrible. As if in homage to Goku’s idiocy, Naruto also has a “Don’t interfere with my fight!” moment. Never mind that thousands of lives are on the line.

There are some good moments in this abomination. Kakashi has a good episode against a villain relevant to him, Naruto’s emotional moment meeting that character is quite touching, and Itachi is good, as always. Don’t let that give you hope though. It is small consolation for what you have to sit through.

So, despite all indications, the war does eventually come to end. And just when it seems the chute has no crap left to expel, it squeezes out one final turd. The reincarnations are dead, the masses of fights are over – surely, there is nothing left. The plumbing can’t take anymore.

Wrong!

How do I put this? Shippuden starts to become Evangelion – specifically, the End of Evangelion. Character and story is thrown aside for end-of-the-world lore and a ninja origin story. Naruto becomes the Child of Prophecy (barf); the goddess of chakra revives to wipe out the world. At one point, even the moon gets involved. A character you never cared about reveals himself as the true villain behind everything. Yeah, the guy I mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the true true villain.

What the hell does any of this have to do with anything?

Naruto loses focus, going from character driven conflicts to lore vomit with bigger and bigger abilities, constantly escalating, merely dragging it out. The supporting cast, new additions included, are relegated for bad lore.

The reasoning for any of this crap to be a part of the narrative is so flimsy you can see tape barely holding it together. It is utter shite.

Once that’s over, it wraps with the finale of Naruto and Sasuke’s conflict. After the Great Ninja War and the End of Evaruto, it’s a bloody blessing that this doesn’t fail. It’s not great, though it’s not bad either. The finale is of much better quality, particularly in visuals, though it feels weird coming after so much filler and in how it ignores much of what just happened.

Some might say that The Last Naruto Movie is the true end to the series. It isn’t. The movie’s sole purpose is to sell you on the idea of the Naruto and Hinata relationship. Remember when that was a thing they never developed at any point? Naruto goes from ignoring Hinata like always to suddenly confessing undying love after a stint through this extended filler episode they call a movie. There is no foundation to this relationship. I don’t care for it whatsoever.

And that’s it. That’s Naruto concluded with my far too long tirade, a few thousand words over the limit. What do I think of it overall? Well, the parts I like are great, notably the original series. It has some of anime’s greatest fights, most complex villains, and best supporting characters. But there is also a lot of baggage weighing it down. Shippuden should have just been a conclusion to Itachi, Orochimaru, Sasuke, and Akatsuki (as first established, not what it became to justify the Great War). 150 episodes, maximum, to cover the golden content in this 720-episode bloat.

I don’t regret my time with this series. I do wish I could recommend it though, but in its current state, I can’t ignore the problems that come at the end. At most, I would recommend watching from the original series until the conclusion of Pain’s arc, in the Kai edit. No one should have to go beyond that.

The real question is whether finishing Shippuden has motivated me to start on Boruto. No. The answer is no. Naruto is done in my life.

Art – Medium

Like most long-running shounen anime, Naruto: Shippuden is inconsistent in its art. You can have episodes with brilliant, fluid animation and proper cinematography. You can also have episodes filled with static shots and character cutouts sliding across the screen. Character designs have lost detail to make them easier to draw and animate.

Sound – Medium

The music still shines as one of the best collections amongst shounen anime. The dub isn’t much of an improvement over Naruto classic. Those that were great before are still great – Naruto’s English voice is still bad to me. The writing has taken a serious dive, particularly in the new plots.

Story – Medium

Naruto and co. continue their search for Sasuke as they fight foes old and new. The old ongoing threads are good, while new introductions to the story are filler.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Naruto classic fans only. Even if you watch the Naruto Kai edit, this is still a gargantuan anime that I can’t recommend to anyone not already invested from the original series. There are several satisfying conclusions for fans, however.

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

 

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor PacingWeak End

The Rising of the Shield Hero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari

 

Similar: Re:Zero

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions

Overlord

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Drama Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good music

Negatives:

  • Loli harem
  • Everyone is moronic
  • Conflict points forgotten every few episodes
  • Infuriating to watch

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Rising of the Shield Hero is infuriating from the very first episode. Should you embark on this isekai journey, know that you will want to pluck your eyes out at the stupidity of the characters before long.

Like all MMO isekai, this story is about an ordinary guy transported into a fantasy world that follows the rules of a video game. The difference here, however, it that he is one of four summoned to save this world from the impending apocalypse against their will. Each hero wields a legendary item – sword, spear, bow, or shield. For some reason, seemingly everyone in this world hates whoever wields the shield. So, of course, Naofumi is bestowed with the power of the Shield Hero.

Matters immediately turn against him when the king ignores him before the court, the one woman who joins his party (fighters flock to the other heroes) robs him like the sucker he is and falsely accuses him of rape. No one believes his denial.

See, this setup sounds good on paper – much of the story sounds good on paper – but the execution doesn’t just fail, it infuriates. Let’s take the trial, where the king and the other heroes determine what to do with the Shield Hero for “raping” the woman. First, everyone believes her without question as if they are dumbest people to have ever lived. No, not as if – they are the dumbest people to have ever lived. Furthermore, Shield Hero can’t even remain consistent. One second he’s accused of rape, which holds an instant death penalty, with the other heroes saying he’s scum and should die, but when he demands to be sent back home, some dipshit says he’s giving up at first sign of trouble? Ah yes, facing death is just “a sign of trouble”. What kind of garbage dialogue is this?

You want to know what happens next? Do they kill him? Do they at least lock him up? Nope, he just walks out.

The purpose of this incident was to strip him of all allies and resources, starting him at the lowest point for maximum conflict in the story. This is good. Executing it in this manner is not. And as I said, Shield Hero can’t keep its story straight. It forgets he’s supposed to be put to death. Yes, word does spread of his “actions” and people shun him at every turn, including merchants ripping him off, but the fact that he supposedly raped a princess (the woman was a princess) may as well have been as serious a crime as pissing on a postman everyone liked.

Let me talk about the whole “the Shield Hero always sucks” device for a moment. We never receive an explanation for why everyone thinks the Shield sucks. The king holds a personal grudge against all Shield Heroes, sure, but why would anyone else go along with it? The peasantry doesn’t give a toss about a king’s feelings.

Then we come to the idea that the Legendary Shield itself is weak. Has this guy not seen 300? It quickly becomes apparent that the Shield has great power, including the ability to summon an iron maiden to crush opponents in a spiked tomb. Furthermore, he’s not the first Shield Hero, which means previous incarnations would have demonstrated its power. Do I need to explain further?

Another weird point is how blasé the four guys are about suddenly teleporting to a fantasy world. The story tries to explain it by saying that three of them played an MMO matching this setting in their alternate versions of Japan (Naofumi read about it in a book). Look, if I ended up in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars one day, it would still be a shock regardless of how many hours days months years I put into those games. It’s as if the isekai genre has become so overdone, so trite that there’s no point trying to sell the premise – the audience will eat it up either way.

Anyway, after the rape trial that everyone forgets, Shield Hero buys himself a slave tanuki-girl called Raphtalia to be his sword since the Legendary Heroes cannot wield other weapons. Raphtalia is probably the best character of the series. After a training curve and going from loli to adult overnight (“game mechanics”), she’s tough, competent, and justifies her presence. I wouldn’t call her great, but it’s a surprise to have a female character of her quality in an isekai harem.

One point of conflict arises when Bitch Princess learns of Raphtalia. She yells about how the Shield Hero is reprehensible for keeping a slave. To nobody’s surprise, everyone sides with her in wanting to lynch him. Doesn’t this kingdom have rampant slavery of demi-humans without checks and don’t all humans, royal family included, treat demi-humans like trash? Why would any of them care he has a slave?

You want to know what happens next? The Spear Hero challenges him to a duel, where the princess cheats for him (everyone sees this, but she says she didn’t cheat, so they believe her [just kill me]), the conflict is explained away by someone finally agreeing that she cheated, and then forgotten like the rape before it.

The presence of these two characters in particular, Spear Hero and princess, tanks the quality of Shield Hero.

A big chicken/loli girl joins Naofumi next in an episode that defies belief. Dipshit Spear Hero and his Bitch Princess are extorting a village with ludicrous taxes that will starve the people. When the Shield Hero objects, they challenge him to a chocobo race for ownership of the village. Naturally, Bitch Princess cheats the whole time. This episode makes Shield Hero feel like the comical Wacky Racers rather than the grim fantasy it so desperately wants to portray. He wins, they bugger off.

Do their actions give them a bad reputation? Take a guess.

It’s like this over and over again. When not on a filler grinding episode (obviously the most interesting part of an MMO…), someone – usually the princess or Spear Hero – accuses him of a crime that warrants death (or equivalent), everyone believes the accuser, he defends himself miserably, the situation resolves because someone says so, and there are no lasting consequences. The only consistency is that everyone hates the Shield Hero. Yet even that only continues by raising idiotic scenario after even more idiotic scenario to have everyone hate him. He saves the world? Doesn’t matter – someone said I should hate him, therefore I do. The way they treat him, even during the apocalyptic waves, you’d think they didn’t want saving.

The stupidest of all conflict points has to be the brainwashing shield. Later in the series, a third loli girl joins Shield Hero’s harem, who turns out to be the other princess and first in line for the throne. Bitch Princess is on her trail to kill the competition. When she catches up to the Shield Hero’s group and sees loli princess with him, what can she do to separate sister from protector? I know! How about accuse him of kidnapping the girl? What? She’s saying she wants to be with him? Hmm, what to do…what to do? That’s right! His shield has a brainwashing power. Does it really? Yes, because I say so. And with that evidence to go on, everyone believes her. (Just tear my eyes out and feed them to the chickens already!)

Execution is wrong at every turn. For instance, the other heroes are more interested in feeding their egos with glory and adoration of the masses. They will sweep into town, solve whatever problem the people are facing, and ride off like champions without consideration for the larger problems created. This is an interesting idea, to have heroes be the cause of problems. Poor execution sadly saps potential. Naofumi rocks up and solves the problem in an episode or two with no lasting effects on the story. Instead of using the “monster of the week” formula, it’s a “problem of the week” structure and just as disposable. Action scenes also follow the “you made me use my trump card” battle structure, which rarely performs well at the best of times. When the trump card does come out, there’s no reason they couldn’t have used it right away to end the fight without injury.

The conflict owes its stupidity to the characters above all. I’ve talked a lot of Bitch Princess (the resolution to her arc is so moronic that you’ll want to blow your brains out to forget it), but she is just the start. Spear Hero, dipshit supreme and useful idiot-in-chief; the other heroes, may as well delete them for how much they bring to the table; loli princess, complains that Shield Hero doesn’t get along with her father, demanding he apologise to the king; the king, why is he king; the populace, none should be saved; and worst of all, Queen Chicken.

Late in the series, the queen of chocobos chickens filolials comes to the Shield Hero and says that if the four heroes don’t learn to work together, they won’t be strong enough to conquer later waves of the apocalypse. She will kill them to summon four new heroes who can do better, should it come to that. Remember how I said that all conflict resolves through hand waving? This threat resolves the hatred from other heroes – never mind the stupidity of not making this clear from the beginning, you absolute. incompetent. imbeciles!

That’s not the worst of it. She says the following to him, in regards to his conflict with other heroes: “Did you every try to get along with them? Did you ever try to defend yourself? If you don’t defend yourself, it will be seen as an admission of guilt.”

Not only was he the friendliest on arrival and not only did he try to defend himself from the very beginning, this logic is utterly moronic. For one, they want him to be guilty. This logic reminds me of those teachers who say to a bullied kid, “Have you tried being nicer [to your bullies]?”

Stupidity just doesn’t stop. Look, just because you make fun of light novel tropes in your first scene, doesn’t make you any better than the rest of them. In fact, you turned out worse! The season ends with consequences for some of the biggest idiots. However, as I said at the start, the execution is wrong every step of the way. The story can’t decide if it’s a grim fantasy, one hero against the world, or some dumb loli harem for idiots. It’s certainly not the former with its inability to kill characters for good.

The Rising of the Shield Hero was the biggest isekai in the first half of 2019. If this is the best the genre has to offer these days, then there is no hope.

Art – Medium

The animation, though inconsistent at times, is good and the world has plenty of texture. Early episodes show promise of high production values, but they drop over time to a decent level.

Sound – Low

I like the OPs with their electro vocals and the acting is good (except the Japanese loli voice, as always), but the writing is another story. It is just so moronic. Every episode brings your head into your hands as you question the mentality of these characters.

Story – Very Low

A guy summoned to a fantasy land unfortunately receives the power of the weakest hero weapon – the shield – and faces endless discrimination as he tries to protect the world that hates him. Good on paper, bad in execution, The Rising of the Shield Hero is a painful train wreck.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. The Rising of the Shield Hero is an infuriating experience I don’t recommend to anyone.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Awful DialogueInduces StupidityRubbish Major Characters

Log Horizon 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Log Horizon 2

 

Related: Log Horizon (season 1)

Similar: Overlord

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions

Spice and Wolf

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Expands on the game’s mechanics
  • More economy and social dynamics

Negatives:

  • Disappointing look at the larger world
  • Kids are still around
  • Rather padded due to incomplete source material

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Log Horizon’s first season left me on a positive note. I loved the focus on the mechanics and social aspects of an MMO world, rather than championing action above all else like we see in most of the genre. My primary criticisms were the child characters, who contributed nothing to the story, the small scope of the world despite claims of it spanning the globe, and the clunky action bogged down by overexplanations. So, what does the second season bring to the table? Let’s find out.

With governance and society settled in the virtual district of Akiba, Shiroe and his guild look to explore further out into the world of Elder Tale, especially as other regions gain power. His greatest struggle now is figuring out how to keep Akiba going with funds running low. He comes up with the plan of forming a raid to plunder a mountain of riches guarded by raid bosses. However, plans go awry when the players realise that there are in fact consequences to dying and respawning in game.

First, I like this exploration of death mechanics. It adds a new level of consequences to an area once thought inconsequential. Death in Elder Tale comes at the expense of your real life memories, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until the players remember that they don’t know if they’re trapped in here or not. There may still be a way out of the game. This is interesting. Much like the food mechanics and importance of NPCs in season 1, this demonstrates effort on the author’s part in the creation of his MMO world. When you look at the likes of Sword Art Online or .hack//Sign, you don’t feel any sense that the author spent more than a day creating their worlds. They just slapped together less than the basics of a fantasy world and called it a masterpiece. These mechanics are Log Horizon’s greatest strength.

We also receive more exploration of economy – other great element of the series – with Akiba’s financial struggles. This invites new allies and other guilds to the mix on the path to the gold trove. Shiroe is still a great character as well with diabolical plans and cunning stratagems.

You may notice that all the positives I have to say are more of what was already strong in Log Horizon. Unfortunately, that’s the case. Log Horizon 2 doesn’t fix anything.

The larger world exploration, for instance, is a massive disappointment. They go to a new region across the water – equivalent of China in game, I believe – and it’s just bland. Most MMOs put in a ton of effort in making their zones distinct and varied, knowing that players will spend countless hours in these places and should be as appealing as possible. Such a disappointment.

Then we have the issue of the kids. I had hoped that season 1 would be the end of their arc; alas, we are to suffer further in boredom through their pep talks and lack of contribution to the plot. At least they’re episodes are funnier this time with the entrance of a new character that looks suspiciously like a female Shiroe…

Look, the kids are inoffensive, but they are symptom of a larger problem this season: padding. This season feels like 12 episodes stretched out to fill 25 episodes. I suspect that the source material was running out at the time (light novels still aren’t complete, by the way) and they had to pad for time. More episodes have diversions to “fun” moments that don’t advance story. More dialogue sequences slow to a crawl to hit that runtime. And more action scenes drag out with the trademark of pausing every few seconds to explain abilities. Watching Log Horizon makes me realise that smooth anime action not bogged down in exposition takes real talent.

None of this content is truly bad, by any means, but one can easily see the gears wearing out before reaching halfway down the track. Log Horizon is one of the few good MMO isekai and I hope for a third season. Still can’t help wishing it was so much better though.

Art – Medium

The art is the same as the first season: rather generic style for the genre, though decent, and could use more animation.

Sound – High

The same great OP song is back (I wish more shows stuck to their best theme song rather than changing it every cour) and the acting is good. The localisation is still great as well.

Story – Medium

The guild faces financial pressures as their city becomes unsustainable, so it’s up to their cunning guild leader to find a way past raid bosses to a mountain of gold. Log Horizon 2 adds more of the good from the previous series without addressing any of the issues.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Log Horizon fans only. Since Log Horizon 2 doesn’t fix any of season 1’s problems, this will only appeals to fans of the first.

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No Game No Life – Anime Review

Japanese Title: No Game No Life

 

Related: No Game No Life: Zero (prequel movie)

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Overlord

Problem Children from another World

The World God Only Knows

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Colourful art
  • A good number of jokes

Negatives:

  • The contests are weak
  • Tries to be serious
  • Not genius

(Request an anime for review here.)

Nobuyuki Fukumoto has spoiled me. He pioneered a manga genre (later adapted into anime) that manages to take the ridiculous and turn it into a tense battle unlike any battle anime. Oh, he has nothing to do with No Game No Life – just wanted to start on something positive about the genre of extreme gambling.

No-life virgin siblings Sora and Shiro find themselves sucked into another world when they accept a challenge online. In this new world called Disboard, games rule everything. Everyone settles disputes – no matter how petty – through games, which can vary from something as minor as rock-paper-scissors to as grand as VR showdowns in a stadium. Ten rules govern these games. These rules are law, bindings created by the God of Games. The genius gaming duo accept the god’s trial and set out to conquer this bizarre world and challenge his might.

No Game No Life is another isekai with a gamer protagonist sent into a world where their seemingly useless skills IRL are the ultimate talent. This anime takes it to an extreme. These two are apparently unbeatable at games. The opening scene has them taking out thousands of players in an MMO using just their four characters. Yes, they can control more than one character at a time and still beat anyone without a sweat – Sora even controls all four at one point (uses two mice with his feet) when Shiro passes out.

Of course, this level of skill is ridiculous. However, with an intention to go big, to go ludicrous with the comedy, it works…for a time. With the ten commandments of Disboard laid out, one expects nonsensical contests in this idiotic world. And you get that…for a time. A game of rock-paper-scissors just about determines a kingdom’s monarch. According to the rules, it is binding! Even cheating is permitted, as long as you’re not caught.

The first cracks in the narrative appear when you see how basic the games are in these challenges. Poker, chess, blackjack – is that the best you can do?

You can tell the author has no understanding of the likes of poker or chess because he never makes use of their rules and metagame, not even in a creative way. During the chess match, the only similarity with chess is the names and number of pieces. There is nothing chess-like about the contest. May as well not even call it chess.

I wager that he picked chess at random because chess is something everyone has heard of, requires less work explaining the game and he hoped no one would notice the chess reference is irrelevant. It would have been more logical and more engaging to come up with something original that drew inspiration from chess. Or better yet, since these kids just play video games all day, why not draw on some popular real time strategy game? (Answer: The author knows even less about RTS.) If Nobuyuki Fukumoto were here, there would be some actual tension, perhaps even a few missing fingers? (Please?) Sora could do with a few life-threatening games of mahjong. I’m just sayin’.

No Game No Life thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is, which is to say, extremely dim. It only succeeds on a prayer that the audience doesn’t ask questions.

I return to my earlier point though, that this would be fine if it all served the comedy. It wouldn’t matter that this chess game has no chess in it or that this FPS match is moronic if it were all a means to great jokes. Lamentably, No Game No Life begins to huff its own farts and think the games are of genius-level strategy, refocusing on the serious rather than the humour. Making the characters overpowered to a laughable degree works for comedy, but once you do that, you can’t go back. You write yourself into a hole. You can’t expect people to take it seriously when you want to be dramatic and serious all of a sudden.

As you have likely guessed as well, the “genius” of these characters only stems from the author saying so, not because we ever see any actual genius strategy on screen. The rules bend in convenient service to these geniuses and worst of all, their opponents are all idiots (by author decree, naturally). The author also made little effort with the characters. For instance, why is it that two socially inept kids, as labelled by their introductions, face no social problems except when an ecchi gag calls for it?

No Game No Life is at its best in the first few episodes, when you don’t know that the author has nothing up his sleeve, when the outlandish world is all about delivering jokes, when the coronation of the cheating queen is a parody of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with the archbishop as the judge and Sora plays the game’s theme tune on his phone. I genuinely laughed for the first act.

After that, it goes downhill. The premise dies when it thinks it’s actually clever. The humour dies when excessive fan service takes over after running out of jokes. The once funny-in-a-creepy way relationship between Sora and Shiro becomes plain creepy.

With how No Game No Life ends up, I’m surprised there was anything good at all in the beginning.

Art – Medium

Colourful and vibrant, the art style suits a game world created by a childish god. That said, it lacks creativity in design. For a world run on games, it doesn’t look like a world of games. And no, plonking down giant chess pieces on the landscape doesn’t count. Like the chess event itself, this was done at random, it seems.

Sound – Medium

I cannot stand forced moe voices, so the original Japanese track is torture to me. I find the dub does a much better job with comedic timing and even tightens up some of the jokes. The ex-princess is particularly better in English. This is a preference, so go with whichever suits.

Story – Low

Genius gamer siblings must rise up in a fantasy world run on games to unite the people and challenge the God of Games himself. After an entertaining start, No Game No Life loses track of what works – the comedy – and begins to take itself too seriously.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For isekai fans only. No Game No Life runs on its premise and no one asking questions. If you can do that, you may enjoy it. But if you want to see what could have been instead, watch Kaiji or Akagi.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None