Tag Archives: Adventure

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

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – Anime Review

Japanese Title: JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken (2012)

 

Related: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (sequel)

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (old version)

Similar: Fist of the North Star

Gurren Lagann

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Action Adventure

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Humorous melodrama from over the top characters, particularly the villain, Dio.
  • Such MANLINESS.
  • Stylish retro throwback art.
  • Great opening theme for part one.

Negatives:

  • The comedic melodrama lessens the impact of serious moments.
  • The second half is weaker mainly due to a duller villain than the first half.
  • The rules of the supernatural power ‘Hamon’ are poorly established.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure may just be the manliest tale— No, it’s MANLIEST; if your beard doesn’t grow an inch when you say it, then you’re doing it wrong. So, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure may just be the MANLIEST tale ever told in anime. It follows Jonathan Joestar, JoJo for short, and his aristocratic lineage’s fight against a cursed mask that turns humans into vampires, MANLY vampires. 19th century England invaded by manga logic of blocking blades with bare hands, powering up, and sculpted arse cheeks, best sums up JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

The adventure starts with the arrival of Dio, the son of a thief, who helped JoJo’s father years ago. Dio is a douche, a MANLY douche intent on taking over JoJo’s life of luxury. In public, he acts a gentleMAN, but is aggressive and cruel behind the scenes – he burns JoJo’s dog alive – and will do anything for power. Once Dio dons the cursed mask, turning vampire, JoJo makes it his mission to defeat Dio. You really aren’t prepared for the levels of MAN involved in the conflict between JoJo and Dio. Even draining blood is MANLY; rather than the sexy bite to the neck, vampires sink their fingers into one’s flesh like hoses to extract blood. This anime is Gears of War if it embraced its homoeroticism.

They get into fights and have over the top rivalries with smack talk. It works well here because the anime makes its style clear and that you should not take it too seriously. The, let’s be honest, cheerleader of the group, Speedwagon, delivers lines of melodrama even Shakespeare couldn’t dream of. (He and the narrator could do with less telling of the action that we can already see.) Even the tragic moments are overly melodramatic on purpose. This does lessen the impact of serious and emotional scenes, however, which may bother some viewers.

To counter vampirism, heroes can harness the power of ‘Hamon,’ which seems to invent its rules as it goes along. Hamon starts as a Qi-like power that sends out energy waves, but later has magnetic properties and the power of foresight. Huh? This gives the impression that the writer didn’t plan the parameters of the power early in the series. Adding new effects at later stages is fine, but it needs to make sense. If you establish that a character’s superpower is ice control, you can’t add telekinesis out of nowhere. That said, this wasn’t a serious issue, just jarring each time.

My other complaint is the weaker second half when the story jumps two generations to JoJo’s grandson, Joseph Joestar – so, still JoJo – where the new villain isn’t as interesting as Dio. Without the personal connection between hero and villain, I found my engagement slipping, particularly when the narrative beats are so similar between parts one and two. It was still enjoyable, though I would advise against a marathon of both parts in succession. Have a break in between.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is such a campy series that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. Before I started, I didn’t know much about this anime beyond the supernatural premise in England. I expected a Brothers Grimm sort of adventure; instead, I got the MANLIEST anime in existence.

Art – High

JoJo uses a vibrant colour pallet that changes with the mood and tone of the scene. With turquoise, violet, scarlet, and many more, this anime has more colours than a Mardi Gras parade, suiting its campy style perfectly. The action is heavily stylised through texture, colour blocks, background streaks that don’t look awful (if you can believe it) and audio text, 60s Batman style. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is how you do a retro throwback without looking dated. My only real complaint is the inconsistency of animation; in calm scenes, the animation can be jerky, while it’s much smoother during action.

Sound – High

The audio quality is high in all departments. Of note are the first opening theme and the melodramatic voice acting.

Story – High

A multi-generational story of MANLY MEN fighting the undead with power of MANLINESS. The heroes and first villain are hilarious to watch, flexing at each other in the middle of a fight with more homoeroticism than a Mr Universe contest. I found the first half more engaging than the second.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it unless you dislike exaggerated characters and campiness. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a fun, retro anime that doesn’t take itself too seriously as it flexes its biceps the size of Britain in your face.

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

Positive: 

Great OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

 

Vision of Escaflowne – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tenkuu no Escaflowne

 

Related: Escaflowne the Movie (alternative version of series)

Similar: Avatar – The Last Airbender

Gundam SEED

The Twelve Kingdoms

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Van, the [actual] protagonist, is a strong character with his head on straight.
  • The world has a great blend of magical technology and medieval roots.
  • Surprisingly deep with its character webs and backstories. Cat-women with literal luck flowing through their veins are a cool idea.
  • The mech duels have a sense of weight and power behind them.
  • A soundtrack that inspires epicness.

Negatives:

  • Hitomi, the [supposed] protagonist, doesn’t do enough considering her position in the series.
  • Certain aspects of the animation shows their age.
  • English dub sounds awkward during moments without music or effects.

When Hitomi is practicing sprint at high school one evening, a beam of light opens a portal, summoning a young warrior and a dragon on to the track. The warrior, Van, slays the dragon and teleports back to his planet of Gaea, accidentally taking Hitomi with him. Having slain a dragon, Van ascends to the throne of his kingdom, but alas, the Zaibach Empire obliterates Fanelia. They seek Van’s unique mech, Escaflowne, powered by the heart of a dragon. His country in ruins, Van must flee, bringing Hitomi with him and hopes to rebuild upon his return with allies.

Vision of Escaflowne was the first series to show me that the anime had a high level of sophistication with fantasy. Until I saw this, it was nothing but superpowers, sci-fi, or high school settings when in the real world. The universe of Escaflowne is fully realised with more depth than necessary, which is exactly what every good fantasy has – detail and more detail. We see several kingdoms of different cultures, each based on the major empires of our medieval time, fictional races such as Beastmen, and magical technology that fits in the world. The standout in lore for me is the mecha (referred to as Guymelef) with their Da-Vinci-like inner workings. They are extensions of the warrior, each movement tracked one-for-one by an exoskeleton of gears and cables. Every movement, every swing of a giant sword has weight behind it, selling the size and power behind these machines.

On their adventure, they meet a wide array of characters, most notable of which is Allen, a charming knight from the neighbouring kingdom of Asturia. Hitomi swoons at the sight of him. He may look like a ponce, but he’s a good character. He breaks the mould of his archetype by understanding that there is nothing honourable in fighting a losing battle, just stupidity. Similarly, the main villain hounding Van and crew, Dilandau, fits into the young and bloodthirsty psycho category, but his emotional dependence on the subordinates he abuses brings an extra layer to his character.

Most impressive of all though is Van. I like his indifference to Hitomi at first. A girl doesn’t instantly distract him when he has responsibilities as king. It shows a maturity uncommon in young adult anime. Hitomi has several instantaneous crushes throughout the series, which also make sense, as the greatest dilemma she has faced so far in life is getting her first kiss. Van’s care for her, at first, doesn’t extend further than owing her for warning him of danger with her power to see the future. While Van is impetuous and inexperienced as king, he has no delusions about what it means to be king and knows his responsibilities to Fanelia. It’s good to see the writer didn’t make him a high school kid that we are somehow supposed to accept is king. He is competent; I like competent characters.

Hitomi is a bit of a let-down, sadly. Her power of precognition and the fact that she operates outside of the destiny machine used by the Zaibach emperor to control the tide of battle is crucial to the plot and Van’s quest, but she doesn’t do much beyond that. She spends much of her time as an onlooker to the battles. And for the love of magic, are you seriously going to stay in a school uniform for such a dangerous journey?

Vision of Escaflowne is very much a character story with its relationship dramas, flawed personalities and tenuous alliances. Van and Hitomi must contend with fate in a war-torn world littered by death.

Art – High

The art is good, despite age, though not on the level of Trigun or Cowboy Bebop. Fight animations look great (love the PoV shots from within the cockpit) with weight behind the attacks, but smaller details, like mouth movements, are comparatively poor. Why does everyone have a nose that could spear a rhino?

Sound – High

Excellent soundtrack of chants and choir with the occasional light string or flute pieces. The dub is awkward during several moments without music. You can “hear” the dubbing; the voices seem to come from forefront of the screen, not the characters. It’s alright, but the Japanese spatial audio is better. Also, in Japanese you get Tomokazu Seki (Sagara in Full Metal Panic, Brandon in Gungrave) as Van, one of the best in the business.

Story – High

Van’s struggles to reclaim his kingdom with a group of allies by his side make for an engaging war story infused with fantasy. Hitomi could have stood around a little less as the protagonist.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: An easy anime to recommend. Vision of Escaflowne is a classic of anime that mixes action and romance in a world of magic technology and mysticism bound to the machine of fate.

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

Positive: 

Great Music

Negative: None.

Baccano! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Baccano!

 

Related: Durarara!! (Character crossover & same creator)

Similar: Gungrave

Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Comedy Mystery

Length: 16 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Phenomenal English voice track with a plethora of accents.
  • An intriguing mystery woven around the supernatural.
  • A varied cast – Isaac and Miria are hilarious.
  • Well-defined period setting reminiscent of gangster films and a gory version of Murder on the Orient Express.
  • Add the jazz music, and Baccano has a great atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • The narrative structure causes confusion at several points.
  • Long shots lose more detail than they should on characters.

Baccano opens with a historian and his apprentice discussing an event centred on the Flying Pussyfoot, a US continental express train that left a bloody trail in its wake. They can’t decide on where to start or even who should be the main character in their chronicle, and for good reason, as Baccano’s nonlinear narrative jumps all over the place between perspectives and times. Add in a large cast and you can understand the difficulty in deciding how to approach the story.

Baccano takes place primarily in three locations: 1930s Chicago with tensions rising between mafia groups, New York where an alchemist looks to create the elixir of immortality, and in between the two is the Flying Pussyfoot, acting as a nexus for the many plot threads including the legend of the ‘Rail-Tracer,’ a monster said to target train passengers. Baccano’s twist on the mafia genre is the inclusion of immortals, humans who can regenerate from any damage, every drop of spilt blood vacuuming back into their body after death – to disgustingly great visual effect, I might add. This is a tale of alchemy, psychopaths, gangs, thievery and loyalty.

My favourite characters were Isaac and Miria, a thieving duo with the craziest ideas for heists. “We will steal from Earth itself by digging and taking the gold we find without asking.” Genius! They make for a hilarious couple and bring much of the humour to an otherwise dark tale. Their leaps of logic are stupid as hell and oh so funny, yet somehow unexpectedly brilliant.

It would take the whole review to list all characters and tell of their stakes in the narrative. Rest assured that each character is different, bringing their own complexities and personality to the conflict. You never know who will ally with whom, who is evil. Everyone is interconnected and it’s a thrill to see how all the threads tie together in the end.

I love seeing stories told in unusual ways, such as Memento, presented in reverse and a favourite of mine. Unfortunately, Baccano went too far with its nonlinear technique. Often, I wasn’t sure how a current scene had anything to do with the plot until it caught up to another thread. The first few episodes are the same section of time told from different perspectives; however, there is nothing at the start of the new scene to indicate the plot has jumped backwards a short way. Most films that use this repeated-from-another-perspective technique have each jump start with a common event, an explosion, for example, to tell the audience we have rewound.

Despite this attention deficit storytelling, Baccano is an anime well worth watching. Just pay attention to the scene jumps so that you don’t lose yourself, and I recommend watching Baccano twice to uncover all it has to offer. I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

Art – High

Good costume and setting design inspired by gangster period pieces. Nicely detailed backgrounds, but characters lose too much detail at a distance. Suitably gory.

Sound – Very High

One of the best English voice tracks in anime. Great to finally hear a variety of accents. Definitely recommend in English. The jazz music is great too, reminiscent of the era. Intro theme is perfect, giving a sense of the fun and craziness in the show. The accompanying visuals help to remind you of the characters as well. The most notable issue with sound isn’t even a problem; the ending theme is nice, but it doesn’t match the rest of the soundtrack with its piano ballad – reminds of a Japanese Delta Goodrem.

Story – High

A brutal conflict between gangs that spans centuries. From the psychotic to the funny to the weak, the cast of characters is complex and engaging. The nonlinear narrative structure, while unique and interesting, does drop a few balls as it juggles the many plot threads.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch if you enjoy nonlinear narratives. Baccano! is an engaging, if sometimes confusing, tale of warring mafia gangs with a supernatural twist. Watch in English.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHilariousHoly S***Positive Recommended English Voice TrackStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative:

Incoherent

The Legend of Korra – Review

Related: Avatar: The Last Airbender (prequel)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Korra, as a character and through her arc, displays a rare maturity in the face of conflict.
  • A series of villains made intriguing by their flaws and motivations.
  • Gorgeous art all-round.
  • Fight choreography at the top of its game. No yelling for power.
  • A varied supporting cast, each different from the next, each with proper personalities. Also, Varrick is the best.
  • Great references to the original series without resorting to info dumps. (Cabbage Corp.!)
  • Excellent voice work, infant characters’ most surprising.
  • The inclusion of sports, political structures, advances in technology, propaganda, public services, entertainment, and the like, makes for superb world building.
  • Doesn’t feel like a re-tread of Avatar.

Negatives:

  • One mistake at the end of season one (reminiscent of Avatar’s season four’s finale error).
  • It would have been nice to see more Fire Nation.

Note: This review contains implied spoilers from prequel, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Outside of the new Star Wars film, nothing has as much pressure to live up to its prequel as The Legend of Korra, for me. As it happens, Korra is an exemplar of what a sequel should be. Nothing in Korra feels like a re-tread; the creators knew they couldn’t get away with a ‘Hollywood’ sequel cash-in.

The Legend of Korra starts seventy years after the events of Avatar, during a time of peace, as Korra, the new Avatar, moves to Republic City (think UN capitol in a 1940s Shanghai inspired setting with added zeppelins and Model-T Fords) to learn airbending from Master Tenzin, Aang’s son. However, when she arrives, the city isn’t as peaceful as it appears, for the triad gangs torment the lower echelons of the city and the ‘Equalist’ faction of humans seek to eliminate all bending from the world. Because of their power, some benders have gained higher status, looking down on non-benders. Masked leader Amon and his Equalists begin to capture benders; Amon claims he can remove their power permanently. Korra must stop him.

Like Avatar before it, Korra isn’t this basic plot. It is layered with a half-dozen plotlines woven together to create a deep and compelling narrative. While worrying about Amon, Korra has to deal with politicians trying to seize power in tragedy, master her final element of air, compete as a pro-bender (boxing with the elements in teams of three to push opponents out of the ring, backed by a great commentator) behind Tenzin’s back, shoulder Avatar responsibilities, and have a social life.

Even with this many plotlines, the narrative never feels overstuffed where each plotline tries to choke the others out. I never grew tired of a plotline because there was always another to step-up when one needed a break. I couldn’t find, and believe me I tried, any padding. Even action scenes, the most common source of padding in kids’ entertainment, are the perfect length. There is no power yelling for five episodes, no twenty-episode fights ended with a trump card that should have been used at the start, and the choreography is phenomenal – it has spoiled me. Spoiled! Korra is an intense, close-knit experience with the right amount of quiet moments to pour emotion into the narrative.

At its core, Korra is about characters. From the main to the supporting cast, every character is well thought out and has a purpose in the world. I don’t know where to begin. Aang’s hilarious grandchildren (“Those maggots will bow to me!”)? The aged original cast? The new Team Avatar with Mako’s Batarang eyebrows, Bolin’s humour and innocence, and Asami’s confidence? The other descendants? There’s too many to cover. I could write a review for each individual character, so high is their quality of design. No one feels like a quest-giver NPC waiting for the protagonist to turn up to complete the NPC’s purpose. You get the sense that they all lead lives that don’t revolve around Korra.

In my Avatar review, I mentioned Aang as the weakest (yet still great) of the core characters because of his over-dorkiness in season one and righteous personality (not my favourite). Korra however, is my favourite here, followed closely by Varrick the eccentric inventor and businessman – think Ton Stark if he was completely mad. What I liked most about Korra is her strength and maturity. She doesn’t accept something because a teacher said so. She questions everything, forging her own path. Even when down, she doesn’t whine about how unfair the world is; she whines about how weak she is, how it’s her fault and not someone else’s. And then there is her season-four story arc (no spoilers, don’t worry); I never expected a kids’ show to have the capacity to go this dark. Love it.

There is little to complain about in Korra. As mentioned above, season one’s finale mistake for convenience was a bother. I know they made the decision under the assumption that Korra would only last one season, but still, nothing wrong with leaving a little damage. My biggest disappointment is the lack of Fire Nation. We get hints at, but never see, the state of the Fire Nation, and what few characters make an appearance don’t get much screen time. All that said, no complaint against Korra affected my larger enjoyment, just like in Avatar. Anything I consider “bad” about Korra is only bad by comparison to the rest of the show – the sort of bad that wouldn’t even have time for mention in a lesser art piece due to bigger issues.

Korra is how a sequel should be done. We still have the group of friends with loyalty, infighting, fear, jealousy, love, and the animal companion, but it’s different focus, advancements in society, tournament element, ordinary jobs, big city with a criminal underbelly, politicians, a different kind of enemy, and close-knit conflict, makes for a new and fresh experience. I had high hopes for The Legend of Korra, and I was not disappointed.

Art – Very High

Vibrant action sequences, fluid animation, hand-painted style backgrounds of high detail, and excellent character design. Even the use of CG blends in well. Improved the mouth animations from the first series. (I still can’t un-see the LFR for mouths in Avatar.)

Sound – Very High

The music has advanced with the new technology, using tunes for the era that inspired the Shanghai style setting. Jazz infused with Chinese touches are coupled with more traditional tracks of strings, flutes, and xylophones. Excellent voice work featuring lighter accents this time around.

Story – Very High

A tale of hardships, overcoming trauma, treachery, corruption, and loyalty. Every character is fully realised, filled with subtleties and depth rarely found in programming aimed at children.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: The Legend of Korra is a must watch adventure. This was a real page-turner; I did nothing but the essentials to survive while watching from start to finish.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationHilariousPhenomenal VillainPositive Recommended English Voice TrackRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None.

Basilisk – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou

 

Similar: Ninja Scroll the Movie

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal

Romeo x Juliet

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action Adventure Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Creative powers make for strategic encounters.
  • Both ninja clans have good and evil.
  • No character feels safe.
  • Tragedy of the premise makes you feel for the characters.

Negatives:

  • Some characters don’t get the development and screen time they deserve.
  • The English voice track doesn’t work well with Japanese nouns and honorifics.

Two ninja clans have feuded for the last four-hundred years, only held at bay by a royal pact prohibiting conflict in the last few generations. In this time of tenuous peace, Gennosuke, grandson of the Kouga clan leader, and Oboro, granddaughter of the Iga clan leader, have fallen in love and their marriage is to create a binding peace between the clans. However, the current shogun decides to use the clans to determine the successor from his two sons. Each clan must select its ten best ninja to annihilate each other. The winning clan will receive the support of the shogun for the next thousand years and rule over the defeated. The pact is broken.

Basilisk is a brutal story as both sides cut each other down to the last. You quickly learn that no one is safe in this conflict; no character wears unkillable ‘plot armour.’ This creates great tension in every moment of conflict, for you never know what will happen, who will die. Basilisk makes great use of the ninja theme with every aspect shrouded in deception and brutality. Each ninja has a special power such as a spider-man who spits glue-like phlegm, and a woman can use her blood to mark the target and create a red mist she can vanish into. To reveal any more would constitute spoilers since the powers themselves are kept hidden for use as twists in the plot. I love strategic use of character abilities and talents.

The writers did a great job with the characters. Neither clan is the good or bad side. Both have characters with shades of grey, beautiful and ugly, calm and angry, kind and cruel. Having these complex characters on both sides makes it all the harder to see them die.

It is clear Basilisk drew much inspiration from Ninja Scroll the Movie with the unique ninja powers and action style. In my review of Ninja Scroll, I noted the lack of character development as a core issue. Thankfully, Basilisk uses its longer screen time to develop the characters through flashbacks and during downtime. Even then, a few characters don’t get the screen time they deserve in such a large cast.

Basilisk excels at character design, each ninja’s look based on their powers – they even have a ninja with no arms or legs. The action is suitably gory and uncensored as a man cuts off his own head. I do wish the visual style in general had more grit like Ninja Scroll the Movie and BerserkBasilisk looks too clean by comparison.

Finally, we come to the audio. Don’t use the English track. With so many archaic Japanese names and locations coupled with honorifics –dono and –sama spoken in American accents (some rather heavy, see: character Okoi), the English voice work sounds strange. If they insisted on using the honorifics with these voices, they should have use titles like ‘lord’ and ‘lady’ instead. Stick to the Japanese original with its well-matched voices to the characters.

I highly recommend Basilisk to anyone who isn’t averse to a little gore. The ninjas and their powers make for an engaging narrative of action and tragedy.

Art – High

A variety of character designs that fit their creative powers. Gore and violence worthy of the brutal premise. I would have liked more grit in the general art.

Sound – High

In Japanese, each character has the right voice, well executed. In English, however, the heavy use of Japanese words doesn’t sound right. Outside of the forgettable title tracks, the music is nice. I particularly liked what I refer to as ‘mountain monk’ music (I have no idea what it’s called) – flutes, chimes, ethereal vocals, etc.

Story – High

A tragic tale of two ninja clans willing to fight to the last warrior if it means wiping out the opposing clan. Add in the forbidden romance, and you have a great story to hear.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Can’t go wrong watching this. Basilisk manages to deliver great action coupled with complex characters in a dark tale of love and hate.

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

Positive:

Holy S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStrategic

Negative: None