Do you like memes? No, do you love memes? Boy, do I have the anime for you!
Pop Team Epic is trolling made manifest in anime form. When I started the first episode and it played an ordinary idol anime opening, I thought I had put on the wrong series. No, it was just messing with me. When the episode ended with half the runtime remaining, only to restart the episode with the girls voiced by the opposite gender, I…had no words. This is a hard one to describe.
Put simply, Pop Team Epic is a collection of skits lasting anywhere between 10 seconds to a minute long. It pulls from anything and everything. One second, Berserk’s evil egg mutates into the face of the blond girl, the next second we’re waking up in the cart at the start of Skyrim, and then we find ourselves in real life. It is a thousand memes put through a vulgar blender and sprayed onto walls, floor, and ceiling to see what sticks. I take it the studio allowed its artists and voice actors to do whatever they wanted.
My favourite skits are when, rather than bothering to animate a scene, two people flip through storyboard pages or the time we look into the voice-recording studio, where the actors lose their minds over the insanity of the script – full mental breakdowns! The random cuts to a French animator from the studio talking in a calm voice, explain something about the animation, before it cuts to the two girls in France flipping everyone off also got a chuckle.
There’s not much to say about Pop Team Epic. Is it good? Eh… It’s hit and miss from skit to skit – since they don’t last long, the bad ones don’t hang around. I think the biggest problem with Pop Team Epic is watching it in episodic format. This material works best taken in one skit at a time, shared to you online by a friend or stranger like a meme. If someone were to send you a video of the same meme done it different ways over a 20-minute video, you’d stop laughing a minute in. Watching Pop Team Epic as an anime series is just that. And like most memes, this will be dated in a year’s time.
My recommendation, should Pop Team Epic seem of interest to you, is to watch random clips online. It doesn’t really work when put together as an “episode”, too random in its structure and rarely giving time to appreciate the joke. Here, watch one:
Art – Medium
A random collection of visual techniques and styles – sometime with no art whatsoever – works as often as it fails. Or is the other way around? I swear one scene was made in Microsoft Paint.
Sound – Medium
I’ll give it to the actors – they commit. Watch it in Japanese for extra lunacy.
Story – ?
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For meme connoisseurs only. If you must watch Pop Team Epic, do it in random doses like a mad doctor throwing prescriptions at passersby.
Jormungand was pitched to me as the Black Lagoon of its year. I can see why, for the similarities are obvious – an action series with a ragtag bunch of misfits circumventing the law to fight bad guys around the world. I am sad to report however, that Jormungand isn’t in the same league as Black Lagoon. That doesn’t mean we can’t look at this title as a lesson in the difference between an okay series and a great series.
The story follows international arms dealer Koko and her band of bodyguards made up of former soldiers. The latest addition to her team is child soldier Jonah, who doesn’t really want to be there. Her mission is to bring world peace by breaking every law seemingly possible while escaping intelligence agencies and other outlaw organisations.
The core of any story is its characters. In Black Lagoon, the characters had personalities larger than life, injecting the narrative with a constant stream of humour and energy. Importantly, they didn’t have gimmicks; they had personalities. Jormungand, on the other hand, uses gimmicks to define its characters. When one relies on gimmicks, each encounter with those characters starts to become repetitive with little room for growth because the writer didn’t establish their foundations. For instance, one woman’s gimmick is that she doesn’t wear panties in battle because it “increases accuracy”. This joke repeats for every scene with a focus on her. The first time, it says, “Hey, I’m not wearing panties – aren’t I quirky?” Next scene: “Hey, I’m still not wearing panties – quirky, right?” And the next: “Still nothing down there – bet you love how quirky I am.” Another woman’s quirk is her lustful crush on Koko, which also rears up every time she sees her.
You can’t do this to a character that’s supposed to matter. That’s throwaway character material. Jormungand tries too hard to make these people wacky. Without the personalities to back them up like in Black Lagoon, the quirks come across as annoying and random because they don’t tie to characters through a personality. Keep the panty-less gunslinger joke if you find it sidesplittingly hilarious, but it should be no more than the garnish to well-rounded attributes. Koko is the only character I would consider to have depth among the cast.
On the flipside, you have the problem of Jonah. He’s the “man of few words” archetype that, as I’ve said many times before, isn’t an easy one to make interesting because of how little there is to work with. One would think that having less pieces to construct a character is easier, when in reality every piece must be perfect. It’s like a chef trying to make a Michelin star dish of only three ingredients. Jonah’s counterpart in Black Lagoon is “Rock”, an ordinary salaryman who also didn’t want to join the pirates at the start. Comparing the two, you can see the difference it makes when you have a dull mute in one case and guy in over his head in a gunfight yet still dignified enough to do up his tie on the other.
As for the action, which is why most would attend this screening, it is rather good. Studio White Fox brought strong production values to the table to pump the action full of energy and explosions. As it tries to do with the quirky characters, Jormungand goes over the top with action. If your one interest is action, more action and crazier action, you won’t be disappointed. And the writer knows his weapons to impart authenticity.
Perhaps if I had not seen several such similar anime already, I would have liked it more – I suppose it’s the curse of happening to start at the top before working your way down. It’s hard to settle for something around the middle of the pack, where the plot doesn’t stick with me and I can’t remember anyone’s names except the two listed above.
Art – High
The art is sharp and clean with good animation and effort in the cinematography. It’s a seinen action series – it’s as expected.
Sound – Medium
The acting is alright, but with a script that lacks room for the actors to play like in Black Lagoon, it doesn’t reach greatness. It’s similar with the music – alright, though doesn’t go as crazy as it should.
Story – Medium
An arms dealer takes a child soldier under her wing to show him the ropes as a merchant of war. Jormungand doesn’t push itself far enough to become memorable in the competitive modern action genre.
Until I committed to watching Angel Beats (after a reader requested it for review), I had thought it was another adaptation of Key Visual’s awful visual novels, owing to the similarity in character design (I had attributed the reduced real estate between the eyes to someone finally pointing out how ugly Key characters were). Much to my delight, I discovered that it only involved one notable staff member from those past projects and it wasn’t someone from the art department. The composer wrote this story as an original with no visual novel relations. Thank Thor; Angel Beats isn’t doomed before the first frame!
With that happy thought in mind, I dove right in.
Angel Beats is a “trapped in limbo” story with video game rules, where each of the “player characters” cannot escape the confines of a high school until they undo a past regret and move on in death. Otonashi is the newest student in this strange world of the in-between. He awakens with no memories and next to a girl hunched over a sniper rifle. She’s aiming at a silver-haired girl in the school’s soccer field. He doesn’t see the girl as a threat and rightfully so, for she is as dulcet as a puppy. He soon learns otherwise when he talks to her and she kills him.
He’s fine the next morning, of course, since no one dies in this limbo high school of NPCs. The silver girl or “angel” is just there to enforce the rules as student body president. Meanwhile, Otonashi joins sniper girl’s club of player characters. They have one mission – defeat the angel and get out of here.
The first few episodes are fine overall as they explain the rules and the story focuses more on comedy, like a group of high school friends taking their military LARP most seriously. The second episode has them breaking into their own secret underground base when the traps meant for the angel turn on them. The team members drop like flies to video game traps and it’s funny.
The quality falls as you progress further into the story, figuring out the goal is to give each character an emotional send off before they depart limbo. They can only pass on once they make up for a regret in life, which means a shoehorned tragic backstory for each person is imminent (sniper girl’s is laughable, even with dead kids involved). It gets worse when you remember the episode count and calculate that there is no way to accommodate so many characters. You don’t care about anyone before they leave. You see the ending coming eight episodes away and yet it’s still ham-fisted.
No emotional moment in Angel Beats worked for me. The story is a metaphor about moving on from high school and having to say goodbye to friends – possibly for the last time – which is relatable to just about everyone in the audience (if you’re still in high school, you can relate to leaving primary/middle school friends behind). Even with such a relatable theme, these scenes extracted nothing from me.
The writer needed to cut down on characters. Have more characters than the core group, by all means, but don’t make them all matter. By trying to make everyone matter, no one matters.
Moreover, Angel Beats needs a stronger script to pull off the drama. Half of the script consists of Otonashi asking questions on behalf of the audience (oh, what convenient amnesia), so that others can explain everything. His dialogue in some scenes will be no more than one question after the other. Then we have what can only be described as the “anime” dialogue. That first scene when he awakens near sniper girl has the following cringe worthy exchange.
After seeing no threat from the small silver-haired girl, he says, “Listen, how about I go down there?”
Sniper girl whirls around and quickly yells, “What? Why? Why the hell go down there? That doesn’t make any sense! What the hell made you say that? Are you an idiot or what? Go die!”
“That’s something we say here all the time since no one dies here,” she adds, now speaking normally. “What ya think? Funny?”
“Not so much, but what do I know?”
This dialogue is meant to convey her personality, but is so forced that it’s just obnoxious. I can see someone turning this off at that moment, 3 minutes in. Don’t forget, this dialogue comes after she rambles about her club’s name with no context, which is also obnoxious. The way these characters talk and behave doesn’t convey the sense of people trapped in limbo. It feels like any other high school action anime cast.
Once the school concert is over a few episodes in (the music is the strongest element) and drama replaces comedy, Angel Beats becomes rather bland and predictable. Not to give away too much, but the angel adversary plot resolves shortly as well to lessen conflict further.
Angel Beats is an alright anime if you go in knowing not to expect much from the drama. Honestly though, there are so many better anime you could spend your time on and this one’s been forgotten by now, so there’s no conversation waiting either.
Art – Low
Characters have zero design originality, though thankfully they aren’t landlords. CG background characters and CG environments don’t blend well with principal objects. Lights and shadows are inconsistent to the characters. Look at the screenshot above with the sniper rifle – note how sharp the shadows are on the characters, gun and bush (drawn in by a person digitally) against the fuzzy shading on the building and the lack of shadow beneath the rifle (calculated by computer graphics). The only complement I can offer is for the skies.
Sound – Low
Average acting, no matter the language, and the script is several tiers below what’s needed for the drama. The music is nice.
Story – Low
A group of students try to escape limbo high school by killing the angel that enforces the rules. Too many characters, quick drama, and a lack focus don’t make for a great story.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. If you haven’t seen Angel Beats yet, you aren’t missing out. It has nothing recommending itself these days, though it isn’t a bad anime.
Akira has been a crybaby throughout his life. His friend Ryou was always the leader and daredevil. Akira’s willingness to follow Ryou on whatever adventure leads him into a world of devils and derangement. A devil even inhabits his body. With the power of a devil and the heart of a man, he becomes Devilman and joins Ryou in killing other devils. However, the devil inside has an insatiable appetite for food and pleasure. Akira has gone in way over his head.
Alongside Christianity (so much Christian imagery throughout), sex is a big theme of Devilman Crybaby. Akira always has sex on his mind, made worse by trying to fight it. All villains, whether human or devil, have a sexual component to them. One rich devil woman is after Akira for having the devil Amon inside him – he was the best she’d ever had. Miki – Akira’s foster sister that he tries not to perv on – is unknowingly a model for a peddler of underage nude imagery.
Now, unlike Kemonozume, where the sex scenes are about passion and character conflict, Devilman Crybaby’s sex is just about violence. Gory, monstrous, violent sex. In the first episode, we see a woman’s breasts grow like worms and mutate mouths from the nipples to bite someone’s head off during an orgy. Another’s vagina tears open in a shark-like mouth for her to consume sex fiends. Nightmare fuel, I believe they call it.
This is probably the most sexually violent series I’ve ever seen. If this were live action, I don’t imagine they could get away with it in most countries. Furthermore, the art and animation styles are perfect at delivering the intended violence, the debauchery, the delirium of these scenes. It’s disgusting in an artistic way even with the cinematography – how the camera flies up crotches to show precisely where a character is looking, or the way Akira is practically eating the camera when gorging himself on food. It wouldn’t have worked with a “standard” anime style. These scenes aren’t mere shock value either. They allow you to feel the mental state of the characters, allow you to feel the horror of others with the purpose of immersing you in just how messed up the situation is. It recalls Berserk’s climactic scene except it appears throughout the series.
So, if after reading all of that, the thought of such sexual violence seems like too much, then don’t put yourself through it. This could give nightmares. It’s well done, but not to everyone’s taste. I’ve had a few friends put off from watching it after I described this. It’s lucky I’m used to all levels of content, as I went in blind with no idea any of this was coming.
There is humour to give a little balance (though it does diminish in later episodes). The funniest moments have to be the first day at school after Akira’s transformation. He’s suddenly tall, muscular (large package included) with bad boy good looks and all the girls tripping over each other to get near him. They even give him all of their lunches since he can now eat a metric ton in one sitting. It’s like thirsty fans giving a Twitch streamer endless donations. And let’s not forget the way he runs on the track (another good example of the art augmenting the otherworldly nature of the characters and story). Priceless.
What stops Devilman Crybaby from reaching my highest tier is the main characters though. They don’t get enough exploration. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first because I thought the story successful. It can be hard to notice weaker characters in a great story. A good story can carry mediocre characters. The simple way to figure it out is to take your characters and put them in another story, then think of whether you would still want to follow them. If I put Akira and Ryou in Death Note, for example, adapting the story to fit their characters, would it make an interesting story? Well, no, because Akira doesn’t have the layers or nuance required and Ryou isn’t smart, only getting away with the things he does in Devilman Crybaby thanks to the author’s pen.
The first episode is a perfect example. After a trio of street rappers stop Miki to bust a rhyme for her (she’s popular and a known model) and Akira is too weak to help, Ryou arrives on the scene and brandishes a semi-automatic rifle, firing at their feet. Do any consequences come of this? Nope. He does whatever he wants and no one questions it. When hunting devils, he has no problems with collateral damage, which does bother Akira but doesn’t translate into consequences. At first, I thought it was just this anime’s weird style, yet this rule doesn’t apply to anyone else.
As for Akira, he doesn’t get to “flex” his character enough for us to know him fully. There isn’t much more than the soft heart in a devil’s body dichotomy. The story still works in the end with how much it ramps up conflict to biblical proportions, but you are scratching your head a few times too many along the way, wondering if they couldn’t have executed the characters better.
Regardless, I was engaged from start to finish and I love that this is only 10 episodes. Devilman Crybaby went for exactly as long as it needed to.
Art – High
The animation and character designs remind a lot of Kemonozume, allowing for fluidity and extreme distortion that leans into the nightmare imagery. It’s heavily stylised, even in the cinematography and use of light and shadow. However, the lack of highlights and shadows on characters bothers me to the point where it pulls me out of scenes too often.
Sound – High
Devilman Crybaby is available in many languages, thanks to Netflix, so take your pick. I preferred the English for handling the foreign language segments better than the Japanese did. Biblically epic soundtrack – the ED paired with the cliffhangers urges you onto the next episode right away.
Story – High
A weak kid inhabited by a devil works with his best friend to fight devils infiltrating humanity as the situations escalates. A good story carries weaker characters to the end.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Try it. I think Devilman Crybaby is a good anime, but its content is so uncensored and nightmarish that I can’t recommend it to everyone. If it sounds like your sort of anime, then go for it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen this anime. Nor would I blame you. It doesn’t look the most appealing. I only watched it after seeing the following scene (and it’s not even representative of the story):
Kemonozume is a Romeo & Juliet story that pits a monster slayer against the monster he loves. In this world, a species of monsters slinks through society disguised as humans, consuming people to survive in plain sight. The samurai-like Kifuuken clan has one purpose: killing Flesh Eaters. Toshihiko is their leader’s son and an expert slayer who falls in love with beautiful Yuka at first sight. She shows him that there is more to life than the warrior’s code – she even takes him tandem skydiving – and he gives her love she had been taught didn’t exist in return. Their whirlwind romance derails when he discovers her to be a Flesh Eater. Toshihiko must now choose between love and duty.
I do not enjoy Romeo & Juliet. Like every other poor unfortunate soul, I had to study it at school. Hated it then. Hate it now. So to see this anime, with its ragged art and surreal palette that intrigued me, reveal itself as a Romeo & Juliet romance, I braced for stupid. However, Kemonozume did two things that rallied my spirits. First, they are a threat to each other just as much as their respective sides are a threat to them. And secondly, the romance isn’t chaste. This couple doesn’t shy away from sex, from lust, from passion.
I maintain that sex scenes (or risqué fan service, if we’re talking teen anime) are often the biggest waste of screen time in any medium. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, could benefit from removing 90% of the sex scenes. Such scenes rarely add anything to the story.
Kemonozume differs because much of this couple’s personal story occurs during the sex scenes. See, Yuka’s true form is at greatest risk of coming out during moments of heightened sexual ecstasy, a problem made worse by how much these two adore and crave each other. The theme of rebelling against what they were born to be isn’t just seen in them running away from home to go on an adventure. We see it in their most intimate moments. The sex doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s always a justification for making that scene a sex scene rather than something else. It also helps that the weird art makes these moments something you’ve probably never seen before, visually, and the exaggerated lines amplify the emotions they feel.
Another strength of Kemonozume is its humour. For instance, after encountering Yuka for the first time, falling for her instantly, he starts to see her face on everyone else’s heads in this hilarious scene. Like the rest of this anime, it exaggerates the joke three steps beyond the norm, but it works here. Distracting Flesh Eaters with holograms of dancing nude women is also a good laugh. I will concede that some humorous moments could do with better timing.
Sadly, Kemonozume falls short of excellence with a third act that contains too much action. It’s not that action has no place in this romance. Rather, the action become a bit too shounen, so to speak, albeit surreal shounen action – like the sex, this looks different from other action scenes. Without this third act, it wouldn’t be fitting to give this anime the “Action” label. On the positive side, it’s only a few episodes (being a short, fast-paced anime helps here) and the conclusion is satisfying. If the end weren’t satisfying, I would leave Kemonozume bitterly disappointed. I can thankfully say the opposite.
Now, despite my praises, do keep in mind that this is wildly different from “normal” anime. Should Kemonozume not grab your interest within one episode, you most likely won’t change your mind by the end. Don’t force yourself to watch it on my account – on anyone’s account.
Art – Medium
Visually unusual art – highly stylised on a budget. It’s clear they didn’t have much money to work with, but made the most of it to create something distinct. Allows for plenty of animation, but the art itself is very rough. This style could be a deal breaker for some.
Sound – Medium
The nice jazz soundtrack is stronger than the decent voice acting.
Story – High
The son and heir of a monster hunting clan falls in love with one of the very maneating women he’s born to kill. Fast, savage, and racy, Kemonozume is a unique take on the forbidden love romance.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Try it. I greatly enjoyed Kemonozume, but I know it won’t appeal to many, so give it a try and see if you feel as I did.