Tag Archives: Anime

Berserk – Review

Japanese Title: Kenpuu Denki Berserk

 

Related: Berserk: The Golden Age (remake)

Similar: Claymore

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Horror Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good animation, especially considering the show’s age.
  • Guts is a great lead character that portrays a more believable muscle-bound character than most other anime.
  • English voice track is well done for the most part.
  • Properly used horror in an interesting plot.
  • ‘Forces’ music track fills one with epicness.

Negatives:

  • Incomplete, cliffhanger ending.
  • First episode is deceptive due to the incomplete ending, and the next few episodes are slow to start.
  • Opening and closing sequences will leave you horror-struck with lacklustre quality.
  • Poor use of what little music there is.

Berserk came out during a time when anime in the West was marketed towards a broader audience, even going so far as to censor elements or tone down language to reach the young demographic. Outside of films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, you had to search high and low for mature anime that wasn’t terrible. Then Berserk came along with its dark themes, unadulterated horror and violence to show us just how adult anime could be.

Berserk centres on Guts, the orphan swordsman, and Griffith, leader of a mercenary band, as they fight for their country of Midland. However, Griffith has ambitions beyond just fighting for a king; he wants to be king. Griffith’s plans test the loyalties of Guts and his mercenaries to the limit. Berserk focuses on themes of loyalty, isolation, and the fundamentals of humanity, the nature of good and evil innate with us. Be forewarned, this anime gets dark, very dark, contains nudity, plenty of violence, and gore everywhere. These aspects are not thrown in at random. No violence for the sake of violence. Gore for the sake of gore. Each use is relevant, an uncensored view of the scene.

Guts is a fantastic protagonist, a badass anti-hero, who wields a giant sword that can cut horses in half. Normally, wielding a giant sword is indicative of a terrible character, one that the creators put no thought into, especially when it comes to physics. With Guts however, he has the look and ferocity of a man who can wield such a weapon. The animators made the effort to show the heft of swinging such a heavy weapon; Guts doesn’t twirl it around like a baton as seen in other anime and games. As a character, Guts goes through a range of emotional and physical trials, exemplifying his depth. When designing a brawny character, look to Guts for the archetype done right.

Griffith too is a suitably complex character with his own strengths and weaknesses, exploring the price of ambition, but to elaborate further would constitute spoilers, so I shall stop there. The supporting cast of mercenaries is a mixed bag of quality, but they are good when it counts, Casca in particular who struggles with her identity as a women in a band of men. Villains, ranging from generals to nobles, are despicably evil, sick and twisted, some with magic elements thrown in.

There are two major narrative faults. The first episode can confuse viewers, being a flash-forward that we never return to because of the second fault, the finale. Berserk is incomplete; after an awesome adventure that keeps getting better and a horrifying finale, the series ends on a cliffhanger. It is clear they intended to have a sequel series, but never got around to it. (They did go back to the beginning again with the recent release of Berserk: The Golden Age; however, that’s a new take on the manga, so you won’t get closure on this version.)

Berserk comes highly recommended. Just don’t watch it if you can’t handle the thought of an incomplete anime. You could read the manga afterwards, however. Also, not for children – can’t stress this enough.

Art – High

You will find higher quality anime these days, of course, but Berserk’s gritty medieval style doesn’t feel dated beyond the use of action lines and slow motion to hide the occasional low frame rate.

Sound – Medium

Has one of the best tracks in anime: ‘Forces.’ Even so, the soundtrack is limited and hardly used. Many battles have no music for some reason, not for added effect. The opening and ending themes are awful, sung in terrible English and don’t fit the series – just…awful. The acting is good in either language, though I found the English suited the characters better, except for Griffith; his English actor can’t command the scene as Griffith should.

Story – High

An excellent fantasy tale of corruption and loyalty with a good cast of characters brought to a halt by a cliffhanger ending and no continuation.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of dark fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the realities of battle and horror. No incomplete anime deserved a conclusion more than Berserk.

(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:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Riveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

 

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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

Bartender – Review

Japanese Title: Bartender

 

Similar: Ristorante Paradiso

Gallery Fake

Death Parade

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant music.
  • Attention to detail on the subject matter of alcoholic drinks.

Negatives:

  • Dull unless you love alcoholic drinks’ history.
  • No mystery or intrigue with a slow pace.
  • Uninteresting characters.
  • Almost no animation.

With little to say about Bartender, this will be a short review. As the name implies, this anime is about a bartender who can mix drinks like no other. By observing behaviour and attire, he can discern which drink is best for the individual. He remembers every drink he has served to any given person, while being a well of knowledge on all alcohol.

That’s really it. Each episode focuses on a few drinks, gives you their history, tells you the recipe, and wraps it in a light story of the bartender helping someone, possibly depressed, or in a search for the perfect drink, or someone in need of help. In every case, there is little conflict, if any, and most of the time passes with the facts. The lack of mystery had me dying to move on to another show.

Needless to say, this is a boring show to any but the most interested fans of alcoholic drinks and related history. It overestimates what alcohol does for people as if such drinks create miracles for your soul. While it is charming to see such passion and attention to detail for the subject matter, we all know that it’s far from reality – this isn’t the place for that debate, though.

Bartender is an alcohol history program swirling in a glass of anime with a taste of jazz and a slice of plot on the side.

Art – Medium

The environments are quite good, suiting the look of a bar. However, with no variety, get used to seeing the same compositions throughout. They shouldn’t have used CG for the drinks, as to stand out from the surroundings.

Sound – High

Music is Bartender’s strongest aspect. The jazz and piano tunes are fitting to the bar environment – it is exactly what you would expect from a quiet drinks lounge. Opening sequence is a mismatch, while the ending is perfect, using live-action footage of a bartender showing you how to mix a new drink each episode as musicians perform. It may be worth getting this soundtrack.

Story – Low

Not much one can do with a story whose focus is on alcoholic drinks in a bar.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of alcoholic drinks and their history; boring to everyone else.

(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:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing Shallow

Bakuman – Review

Japanese Title: Bakuman.

 

Related: Bakuman – season 2

Similar: Shirobako

Space Brothers

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Art Slice of Life

Length: 25 episodes (Season 1)

 

Positives:

  • Good pacing that details the manga creation process.
  • Real characters with ordinary problems.

Negatives:

  • Low tension reduces engagement over long sessions.
  • Doesn’t hit the needed emotional peak.
  • Romance lacks conflict.
  • Poor antagonist that never feels threatening.

For fans of manga, which I assume would be most anime fans, Bakuman is a dramatized behind-the-scenes look at the process of publication and serialisation of your favourite works.

One day, Saiko, a depressed and unambitious teen, returns to class after school’s end to retrieve a forgotten notebook, only to find it in the hands of classmate Takagi. He panics, his mind jumping to the sketches of his secret crush contained within the notebook. Takagi tells him not to look so worried; after all, it’s not as though it is a Death Note. In exchange for Takagi’s silence about the unrequited love, Saiko must join him in becoming full-fledged manga creators – Takagi as the writer, Saiko the artist. And so begins their journey on the road to publication.

This is an anime for those who read manga, preferably Shounen Jump, where Bakuman was first serialised. For anyone unfamiliar, Shounen Jump (also known as ‘Jack’) is a weekly publication in Japan with a variety of manga including Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, and many other popular works. Having your work serialised in such a magazine, and for it to be a hit with fans, is a big deal. In Bakuman, you will spot many manga – unfortunately, it all seems to be work published in Jump, which makes Bakuman look like an advertisement reel.

Following the new partnership, Takagi drags Saiko to the house of his crush, Azuki, who reveals she wants to be a voice actor and agrees to play the heroine of their series when turned into anime. Things don’t go as expected when Saiko yells out that he wants to marry her once they achieve their goals (remember, they are only fourteen at this point) and what do you know, she agrees. While this is a ridiculous setup to the relationship, it doesn’t continue in such a manner, instead walking a more subdued path for the show’s remainder; so subdued in fact, that there really is little conflict in this romance. The secondary relationship of Takagi and his girlfriend has far more screen time. In a way, you get the feeling that the romance was an afterthought to increase the number of plotlines from one to…two.

Saiko now has something to achieve. However, things aren’t as easy as imagined since voice actors become successful at a younger age than mangaka, meaning she may be gone by the time he amounts to anything. He must succeed before completion of high school. These are solid, well-rounded characters with goals like everyone else, and I appreciated that. For the most part, this show keeps the character development and interactions within the realm of realism.

Bakuman is more of a feel-good show than one that explores the emotional intensity of aiming for stardom. While, yes, it does have moments of failure, setbacks, and disappointment, it never portrays the turmoil quite as it could have and should have. Anyone who has had to go through that journey of trying to become a successful artist of any medium on talent alone – no help, no family inheritance, no connections – will tell you that it isn’t easy, that emotions run high, and at the best of times, you feel like the best you can do is tread water. I would go so far as to say that they should have included the emotional intensity of a show like Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien to capture that internal struggle. With that, Bakuman could have been one of my favourite anime.

The main antagonist offers little in the form of adversity. He is a manga prodigy, set for serialisation in his mid-teens and in competition for the same publication spots as them. My problem with this character is that we’re told he is great, never shown a reason why. He’s weird in your stereotypical young genius way, making constant sound effect noises with the behaviour of a two-year-old. Bakuman plays things too nice.

The best aspect of the show is the detail they put into the manga creation process from idea to print, the writers disguising it within an anime to prevent it feeling documentary-like. To top it off, you also get a taste of the manga they design. You aren’t just told about their work without ever seeing the results, as most career shows will do. One even hopes that some of their stories become real manga. Money & Intelligence, a one-shot set in a world where people can sell their intelligence directly into another’s mind, sounds great. I want to read it!

Bakuman is a worthwhile anime, particularly if you are a fan of manga. It doesn’t suffer from anything inherently awful, and yet never hits that greatness it could have. Still, I do recommend Bakuman to anyone who wants an enjoyable viewing experience.

Art – High

The art style is nothing special, but is neat and varied from your typical anime. Seeing them draw a variety of manga styles in one show is a treat.

Sound – Medium

Sound falls into much the same area as art: good, though not remarkable. None of the voice work is poor or irritating, except the antagonist, and the music is pleasant enough. The good opening song sounds like Japan’s version of the Backstreet Boys with that one song you thought was decent, but would never ever admit to.

Story – Medium

Better than most journey-to-career-success anime. Lacks emotional intensity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Bakuman is more enjoyable than its individual qualities let on, in particular for those who want to see the manga creation process.

(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:

DissapointingLacks Conflict

Bakemonogatari – Review

Japanese Title: Bakemonogatari

 

Related: Nisemonogatari (sequel)

Similar: Katanagatari

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 13 episodes (12 is the finale; 13 is a bonus)

 

Positives:

  • Fantastic art style and animation to create a vibrant, yet haunting world.
  • Well-suited music to the dialogue heavy plot.
  • Strong male and female protagonists.
  • Solid voice work to accompany the varied dialogue.
  • Dark humour from lead female is a pleasant change of pace.

Negatives:

  • Incoherent story overall marred by throwaway side characters.
  • Random screens of text flashing every few seconds.
  • Sexually creepy at times.
  • Too little character development, even from the protagonists.
  • No world building despite the incredible visual design.

Bakemonogatari is one weird anime. You don’t get many as weird as this one. This anime has people with spaghetti for brains and staplers as weapons. Probably the most normal thing here, as far as anime goes, is starting with a pantie-shot. From then on, it goes to a whole different dimension. The question we ask ourselves: Is this weirdness good? It does create greatness, but unfortunately, it brings several poor decisions along for the ride.

Immediately, I was struck by the vivid art of Bakemonogatari. Its brilliant use of light, shade, and colour is gorgeous. There is style here, plenty of it. Gradients give backgrounds depth on top of the multi-layering. All colour choice is deliberate, intended to match the mood and atmosphere of the characters and their situations, even at the cost of continuity – a room could be bright one moment and change to dark if the situation called for it, regardless of realism.

It is a shame then that poor choices mar these visuals. Bakemonogatari use a mix of live-action, stop-motion, collage pages, and text for metaphors and similes. At times, the change in art is both hilarious and clever, the rest, tedious and forced. The worst offenders are the screens of text; they flash at random intervals for no purpose. Every instance broke my immersion. Get used to seeing a flat colour with Japanese lettering and the subtitle ‘unidentified cut’ underneath. A dozen times. Per episode. Every episode. Unbelievably stupid decision to kill the atmosphere. It feels as though they had a great idea to use live-action, collages, and so on, and found them to work so well that they thought, ‘why not add more?!’ only to kill it all by going too far. Such a shame.

The plot swims in much the same ocean as the alternative art styles: greatness weighed by poor decisions. We start with protagonist, Araragi, running up a grand spiral staircase in what you can assume is his high-school (most expensive high-school I have ever seen, especially considering no one goes there – more later). He looks up to see a girl falling down the hundred-meter tower. He catches her (don’t question how she drifts twenty meters from the central axis into the stairs) only to find she weighs five kilos (still enough that it should have broken his arms from that height, however). With Senjougahara’s secret revealed, she cannot let him go; she attacks armed with a box cutter and a stapler. After she staples the inside of his cheek for the fun of it, he pulls open his mouth to show no wound. Turns out Araragi recently reverted to human after a stint as a vampire. They become tenuous allies to return Senjougahara’s stolen weight (from a giant ghost crab that also took her memories) with the help of his acquaintance who cured his vampirism.

This initial premise captured my interest; unfortunate then that it lasted but a few episodes before it took a tangent about a little girl with another supernatural problem. The tangent itself wasn’t poor, but lacked development of the main plot and romance. When yet another girl with a paranormal issue enters afterwards, one realises this show is on a formulaic cycle and has little to do with the initial promise. His former life as a vampire has no bearing on the plot. Senjougahara’s backstory seems forgotten, and the relationship development stalls until episode twelve – a fantastic episode, admittedly.

In all, five girls partake, including the lead female, which is why you see Bakemonogatari categorised as a harem anime, yet this isn’t one. Yes, creepy sexualisation exists with a side character or two, but nothing that constitutes a relationship or even a crush required by harem anime. At least they made the correct decision in that aspect.

One of the strangest factors is how the entire world’s population is nine: protagonist, five girls, mystic, minor vampire girl, and Senjougahara’s father. That’s it. No background characters at all, not even in a school big enough to have a glass tower of no purpose, and parking for a thousand bicycles. Is this a problem though? Not really, but it did reduce world depth. This brings me to another negative: no world building. Why is this ghost crab after her? Where do all these supernatural elements come from? Where is the lore, the backstory? You get nothing. The world feels empty despite the visual depth.

Bakemonogatari is heavily dialogue driven. You have to pay attention, as it moves at a brisk pace while you extrapolate what is relevant from the random junk littered throughout. Episodes tend to diverge halfway through into some long-winded tangent before they return on track – medium success rate. The camera likes to cut away to different angles during dialogue. Focus on someone’s feet, then their hands, the corner of the table, the wall, a badly framed shot of the face. Prepare for irrelevance as well. The side of a building, some grass, a window, dirt, more grass…

Allow me to stress that this isn’t for children, and not because of the nudity. Topics of discussion range from Araragi’s virginity to Senjougahara’s choice of clothing and even to some specific types of incest-like fetishes. Honestly, I didn’t even know those were actual fetishes… Anyway, they deal with deep psychological issues caused by broken families and assault on loved ones. Dialogues are largely between the two lead characters, where Bakemonogatari is at its best. The dynamic between these two is a pleasure to watch. I find it hilarious how her attempts to help him with problems (she’s the more mature of the two), end up abusing him instead, making things worse, except, she honestly believes she’s helping. The humour is along those lines: serious in delivery, ironic in reception. His stray lock of hair being a symbol for his arousal level is clever too.

Despite the negatives, Bakemonogatari is still an anime worth watching. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend you watch no more than three episodes at a time to avoid overload and to maintain your focus throughout. Marvel at the art, focus on the lead characters, and you will end with a positive opinion.

Art – Very High

Truly spectacular. From the light to the shade, marvellous work here. However, it is brought down by some obnoxious screen flashes that occur far too often.

Sound – High

The right actors to match the great dialogue. Music is enjoyable too, outside of the opening and closing sequences.

Story – High

Moments of greatness distracted by random elements thrown in for the sake of being random. Three of the five story arcs fall flat.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch this for what it does right. Take Bakemonogatari in small doses to stave off what it does wrong.

(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:

Engaging DialogueStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingIncoherentMisleading