Tag Archives: Adventure

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

Tokyo Godfathers – Review

Japanese Title: Tokyo Godfathers

 

Related: Paprika (same director)

Perfect Blue (same director)

Millennium Actress (same director)

Similar: Kurenai

Tekkon Kinkreet

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Drama

Length: 1 hr. 32 min.  movie

 

Positives:

  • A heart-warming Christmas story.
  • The protagonists are a fun trio.
  • A good amount of humour balances the heavy drama moments.

Negatives:

  • Too many of the narrative events and twists are convenient coincidences.
  • Lacks Satoshi Kon’s signature psychological style.

Tokyo Godfathers is the third of director Satoshi Kon’s anime films, a film unlike the rest of his portfolio. It is a touching Christmas story centred on a homeless trio – an alcoholic, a runaway, and a transvestite – who find a baby abandoned in a rubbish tip. With a key found by the infant as their clue, they set off through Tokyo to find her parents.

On the journey, the trio must confront their pasts, the lives they abandoned and ran away from. Baby Kiyoko acts as a catalyst to bring the trio back to reality. They are an unlikely group, always at each other’s throats, bickering and insulting one another; however, rather than hostility, you get a sense of family from them. They support each other as if they are all they have in the world while they sift through people’s trash to survive. The alcoholic lost his daughter to illness, followed by his wife who couldn’t take it any more after he was barred from professional cycling for fraud. This abandoned baby girl reminds him of his own. How can someone abandon a baby when others lose theirs to illness? The transvestite too has an emotional connection to the baby. He is the most attached of the trio, as the baby makes him feel like a mother.

While Tokyo Godfathers has a unique premise and tells an interesting overall story, it does suffer from one big problem – coincidence. Many of the events or twists occur due to coincidence. When in trouble, they coincidentally stumble into an acquaintance that can aid them. When the trail runs cold, they coincidentally find a precise clue that points them in the right direction. And so on. It wouldn’t be a problem if there were a couple of small coincidences – after all, life has coincidences – but here, every turning point is coupled with coincidence. There is a huge web of connections by the end in Tokyo, a city of 13 million, mind you. To be fair, some of them are hilarious such as the half dozen people named Kiyoko (the baby’s name). Tokyo Godfathers does a great job of balancing humour with drama. The banter among the trio is great.

Another point of note: if you are a fan of Satoshi Kon, Tokyo Godfathers may disappoint you, as it is nothing like his other work. It lacks the psychology and mind-bending found in his anime. Of course, if that doesn’t bother you, then it won’t matter.

Tokyo Godfathers is a good film with its unique setup and a mix of humour and drama that ultimately handicaps itself through convenience and coincidence. The dynamic between the homeless trio and their personal trials are worth the price of admission alone.

Art – High

Though not as creative as Paprika or as unsettling as Perfect Blue, the art still boasts high detail and solid character design. Only the ending credits crawl gets weird when the Tokyo skyline dances. Comes out of nowhere, actually…

Sound – High

The voice work for the protagonists is great. I appreciate the inclusion of actual Spanish for the Spanish characters.

Story – Medium

A unique story of a homeless trio trying to return an abandoned baby to its parents. Unfortunately crippled by overuse of coincidence to drive the narrative from point to point.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A good Christmas film I can recommend to most. Avoid if you don’t like an overuse of coincidences to push the plot forward conveniently.

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

Positive:

Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Kaiba – Review

Japanese Title: Kaiba

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Weirdly creative in design.
  • A strange tale of memories and mental manipulation.

Negatives:

  • You have to love the abstract art and surreal narrative to enjoy.
  • Little music, repeats often.
  • Though the world and monsters are creative, they aren’t detailed or explained much. The weirdness simply is.
  • The child-like art makes the few promiscuous scenes creepy.

Kaiba is a man on a mission to be the best at children’s card games, and he’s going to do it with or without the rules because he’s got money! …wait, wrong anime. Actually, Seto Kaiba entering into Kaiba the anime wouldn’t be the strangest thing that happens in this show. Kaiba is a surreal trip into a world of memory manipulation expressed through abstract art that you will either love or hate.

Kaiba (hole in his chest) lives in a society where the wealthy barter and trade for memories. After death, a person’s memories are stored into a chip, whereupon it can be implanted into a new body to live again. Memories can also be deleted or added as needed – out with bad, in with happy – to improve one’s life. In essence, you could theoretically live forever. Authorities kill people on a whim, bodies turned to sludge and their memories transferred to the mainframe in wait of a new body.

Kaiba wakes up in a strange corner of society, suffering from amnesia and embarks on a journey to recover his memories, the pendant around his neck with the picture of a girl his only clue. On his journey, he encounters a variety of characters from a memory smuggler to a space sheriff. Kaiba isn’t sure which memories are real and which have been altered.

The art in Kaiba is unusual, wildly different from what people expect when they think ‘anime.’ It is inspired by old anime – very old – like Astro Boy old, and you must love this style in order to enjoy Kaiba. The abstract art matches the abstract narrative. The style and themes hold consistent throughout the series. My major complaint with the art is the child-like character design being dissonant with the events of the narrative. These characters look like infants, yet there are several promiscuous scenes that some may find disturbing (others will probably laugh). We are told that they are adults, but the character look and sound like children. Using female voice actors for almost all male characters really didn’t help with convincing the audience of character age.

Ultimately, Kaiba is a difficult anime to discuss without going into spoiler territory. If you love the surreal or just want to watch one of the stranger shows out there, then Kaiba is for you. One episode is all you need to decide if it’s worth your while or not.

Art – Medium

Weird abstract art that you must love to enjoy this anime. I would personally never use it.

Sound – Medium

A serviceable voice track accompanied by slow, psychedelic music. Most tracks consist of 10-15 second clips that loop endlessly to create a song. It feels as if each track makes an appearance every episode, which gives an air of…cheapness.

Story – Medium

A strange tale of a boy searching for his lost memory, which succeeds at its core, though the world at large, the lore is left unexplored.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Only for those who love the weird and surreal. One could either love or hate Kaiba within a single episode.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Wolf’s Rain – Review

Japanese Title: Wolf’s Rain

 

Similar: Ergo Proxy

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

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

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – Very High

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

Story – Medium

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

Overall Quality – Medium

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

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

Avatar the Last Airbender – Review

Japanese Title: Abatā Densetsu no Shōnen An

 

Related: The Legend of Korra (sequel)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

Gundam SEED

Vision of Escaflowne

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 61 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Excellent, thoroughly developed characters.
  • Fluid and awesome action with magnificent spell effects.
  • Perfect pacing.
  • Great for children and adults alike.
  • Pleasant Humour.
  • Engaging story that keeps getting better, particularly in the third season.

Negatives:

  • Takes a little time to get used to characters sounding American despite none looking so, though this won’t hinder my experience.
  • Finale makes a single poor decision.

I first heard of Avatar the Last Airbender with the announcement of the film by the same name. As an introduction to the world of Avatar, the film couldn’t have gone worse. However, surrounding all this excrement was a fanbase livid at the mutilation of their beloved show. I kept hearing how amazing the show was. Now, source material is often better than adaptations, so I figured the cartoon must be better. But amazing? No, I doubted that. I have encountered many rabid fanbases in my time surrounding anime (I know that this isn’t anime, but the same audience enjoys it) and rarely do they result in something worth your time. In the end, I acquired this show for the sole purpose to educate myself when I argue that the show isn’t all that great. Instead, Avatar turned out to be…phenomenal.

Our story starts with the awakening of Aang, airbender and the next Avatar incarnation discovered frozen in an iceberg by two nomads of the Water Tribe. Aang has little time to learn the remaining three elements (Earth, Water, and Fire) before a comet passes Earth that will empower the current Fire Lord, who seeks world domination, into a being of living destruction – all the while hunted by Fire Prince Zuko.

Aang travels with waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka across the world, encountering a wide cast of characters on their many adventures. The characters are a large part of what makes this a great show. Katara, the motherly type, has to keep her brother’s antics in line. Much of the comedy comes from Sokka, who can’t waterbend like his sister and must fight with his lucky boomerang.

Aang is the weakest of the cast at the beginning; not saying he is a bad character – far from it, great in fact – he simply doesn’t hold up to the rest. He has one of those righteous personalities. You know the type: doesn’t kill people or even really harm them, no matter how evil, vegetarian because he can’t harm animals, and other pious life choices. At first, I thought this would make for great conflict considering his mission, and it does for a while, only to throw a reversal later. While Aang’s story is great, the other major characters experience more interesting story arcs that culminate in epic conclusions. If anything, that is a testament to Avatar’s quality. When the supporting cast has such fantastic arcs that the protagonist’s arc couldn’t possibly live up to them, you know you have something good.

The best character of all is Prince Zuko the firebender. Upon first meeting, he irritated with his whining about lost honour and his obsession with the Avatar. However, my opinion turned around as he developed. Before long, I realised that the writers intended for one not to like him so that his growth will mirror one’s opinion of him. Truly great writing.

Full thought went into every side character – the creators didn’t take shortcuts even for single-episode appearances. From the completely nutters, bad-joke-loving, king of Omashu to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh (voiced by legendary Mako – one of his last roles), I looked forward to each new location for the characters they will meet.

Humour is a strong element of the series. In the first season however, as an older viewer, you may find some moments a little too tailored towards the intended young audience. Thankfully, the third season’s high notes with some truly dark moments well make up for this. Prepare to laugh plenty throughout the show, especially at the hands of Sokka. If you have kids, watch it with them to earn many awesome points in their eyes, and with the show tailored towards them, the pacing is never dull, as the writers knew they could never release their attention. Every single episode captured my interest.

Action never occurs for the sake of action, so you don’t get tired of seeing the elemental powers. Take Naruto, for example, and his overused shadow clone technique that grows old because he whips it out at a whim every few minutes. Yes, it’s great when executed correctly, but could have been better with less airtime. Avatar doesn’t make that mistake.

In the end, Avatar the Last Airbender is a brilliant show. With many likable characters that experience proper development, action and visuals that fit the themes, and an overall plot that concludes with an epic finale, this is easily a must watch.

Art – Very High

Art and animation of a high quality in a colour palette suited to the elemental nature of the powers. It looks particularly great in action – water flowing across the screen as fire rages, wind slicing things apart while earth smashes the environment. Visuals’ only flaw is in the animation of the mouths, where it could have done with a few more frames to match the other smoothness.

Sound – High

Masterful acting once acclimated to the American accents in an Asian setting. Audio effects for spells are great.

Story – Very High

Only a few missteps with the protagonist and a lack of intensity in season one hurt this show’s story. Avatar will still surprise with just how good it is, the final season in particular. Hilarious, too.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Rent it, buy it, watch it. Then you can join in on the discussions as to why the movie is so damn terrible. Get the kids involved as well.

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice TrackRiveting ActionStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStellar Voice Acting

Negative: None

Beet the Vandel Buster (& Exelion) – Review

Japanese Title: Bouken Ou Beet (& Exelion)

 

Similar: Ragnarok

Sword Art Online

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Battle Action Adventure

Length: 77 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Against:

  • Art is flat and lacklustre with a low frame rate.
  • Battles are lame and empty, yet drawn out where yelling grants power.
  • Ability casting sequences look ridiculous.
  • Stupid characters with dumb names; protagonist in particular with a voice of poison to your eardrums.
  • Opening sequences will fry your brain.
  • Minimal effort in show’s creation.
  • Lip-sync hardly matches the dialogue.
  • Electricity freezes things?
  • Too often, sound effects won’t match what is on screen.

You never imagine that a show with more than one season could be this bad. You think to yourself, at worst it will be so-so, something forgettable. Then Beet the Vandel Buster comes along ready to shatter all your notions about quality. This show is bad, atrocious even.

Where to start?

The plot: this is your typical battle anime. Protagonist Beet and his gang of Busters face Vandels (demons trying to rule the world), each encounter lasting several episodes before they repeat the process with a different enemy. Oh, there’s an EXP and levelling system from RPGs in this as well, though it doesn’t do anything of importance. Action is repetitive and formulaic: villain shows up to boast about how powerful he is, hero proves him wrong, but no, the villain has a trick that nearly kills the hero, then, oh wait, I shall yell to get super powerful. I win. Yes, yelling in this show makes you powerful. If tied down, no matter how tightly, yells will give Beet the strength to break free. You may think this is a power contrivance, but it’s a mercy compared to having to watch the ridiculous weapon summon animation for his idiotic sword every episode coupled with the static attack sequences – streaked background fights everywhere.

The overall story starts and ends with little more than defeat of some demon before they fight the next. It would at least be enjoyable if the fights were worth mention; however, they are so empty and without strategy that you long for Beet to just yell his way to victory. Unfortunately, you have to endure episode after episode of the same dragged out fight until you give in and just end your life right there. Ability power is inconsistent, as sometimes a skill will instant kill, where other times it just scratches creatures of similar power. Also, electricity freezes targets? And bullets don’t do what bullets do, as in, they don’t kill…or cause any real damage…and can be dodged by running at slower than human speeds… Forget about physics. When convenient, gravity seems non-existent, then it returns stronger than normal, when convenient, to make up for any earlier absence.

It doesn’t help that the characters are so unlikable to the point of irritation. There is Beet the brat who yells too much and somehow wins fights despite being the stupidest person alive. He gets one of the strongest Buster teams killed within the second episode and is rewarded with a Deus-ex Machina of no-consequence power for his ass-hattery. Expect to see plenty of cliché yelling-to-the-sky-with-closed-eyes moments from him – I think they are supposed to make you care about the character…I’m not sure…I just want him to burn.

The rest of his crew is as clichéd. Poala, his childhood friend, is your typical violent tsundere to Beet. Next, we have Milfa (I do not joke about these names), who is either old enough to match her physical stature, and thus a paedophile, or is an extremely sexualised early teen girl. And finally, to round off this band of banality is Kiss, a blonde boy who specialises in spellcasting and nothing of use. Again, not joking about the name. This doesn’t need to be said at this point, but if I must: There is no character development.

As much effort into the art as into the plot – flat, no depth, and the most you see is one-tone shading. It is hard to say if the sound design is worse or better than art. The voice work is lifeless or generic for most characters, except Beet, always the exception, who has quite possibly the worst voice in anime history. You know, I think we could mount a case for aural assault after hearing him. He couldn’t be any more obnoxious. No voice is skilled or suited to the role. That said, Beet is so atrocious that he eclipses them all with his awfulness. I don’t know if one should be thankful or horrified…

The ear murder doesn’t end there. After it is done yelling your eardrums into pulp, it tops it off with lip-syncing that only fits the dialogue half the time, and sound effects that don’t match the action on screen. When a man lifts a boulder, you hear the sound of a rope under strain…seriously, who didn’t notice that error? An energy attack hitting an insect carapace makes the sound of two clashing swords…I mean really, how…just, how? These errors happen far too often to pass as innocent mistakes.

If by this point I haven’t convinced you that this is a bad anime and you still want to watch it, then go right ahead. I won’t stop you; my conscience is clear now that you have been warned. Everything about Beet the Vandel Buster is atrocious. Stay away.

Art – Very Low

Lifeless art and too few frames leaves you thinking this was a waste of colour in this world. Half the time characters don’t even animate. Sliding across the screen is how it works these days, apparently.

Sound – Very Low

Voices to make your ears bleed. SFX chosen with a dartboard.

Story – Very Low

Repetitive battles filled with Deus-ex Machina moments and no development.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: If you watch Beet the Vandel Buster, Beet will turn you into a drooling idiot before long. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Deus Ex MachinaEar Grating Voice WorkHorrendous ActionNo DevelopmentRepetitiveRubbish Major CharactersUgly Artistic Design