Tag Archives: Anime

Full Metal Panic! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Full Metal Panic!

 

Related: Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (side-story)

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (sequel)

Similar: Code Geass

Black Lagoon

Gundam 00

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Mecha Comedy Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sagara.
  • Sagara and Chidori’s chemistry with that excellent Japanese acting.
  • Balances action and comedy.
  • Awesome mechs and action.
  • So funny.
  • Engaging premise that delivers.

Negatives:

  • Could do with more romance.
  • Some poorly timed ecchi.

Full Metal Panic is one of the reasons I love anime. Sagara, a military sergeant with mercenary organisation MITHRIL, goes undercover as a high school student to protect a ‘Whispered’ girl with powerful technological secrets in her head. Only anime would take that premise, add mechs, play it with straight-faced humour, and have unrestrained action.

Full Metal Panic’s greatest strength is in Sagara, an utterly unique character. As a child soldier from the Middle East, he never learnt about culture or social edicts outside of the military, which makes it hilarious that he has to pass for a Japanese high school student. A joke? A JOKE?! No idea what that is. Social boundaries? Never heard of them. Pop culture? Is that a type of infection? He will go to any lengths to complete the mission, even if that means interrogating a student at gunpoint in the bathroom. All of this would fail if not for the delivery, and thankfully, Seki’s performance is one of the best in anime. He delivers every line seriously, no matter how funny the scene – it reminds me of Rowan Atkinson’s delivery as Black Adder. Watching Sagara play a dating-sim to learn about relationships nearly killed me. I agree with his logic, but it just doesn’t work with a real girlfriend.

Acting as a foil to Sagara is Chidori, the girl he must protect. She sees him as a stalker and doesn’t buy his excuse that it’s a coincidence he always happens to be there when she turns around. She has a love-hate relationship with him, reprimanding him for his antics while never admitting that she enjoys the excitement he brings. I usually hate her character type, the tsundere; however, Chidori has two key differences. One, she isn’t aggressive for no reason, it is part of her core personality and she carries her own weight, rather than an idiot whose sole purpose is to hit the protagonist. Second, she isn’t aggressive during the romance, avoiding a trait that I see as the height of stupidity in a character. One of the biggest errors I see with tsundere characters is making them immature underneath the aggressive façade – writers think that’s cute, for some reason. This results in ultimately empty characters. With Chidori, she is actually strong as a person to the core.

FMP starts with a comedy focus until terrorists led by Gauron, a ruthless mercenary from Sagara’s past, plot to kidnap Chidori. Sagara’s team consists of Kurtz, a womanising German sniper, and Melissa, a chain-smoking, beer-chugging mech pilot from China. Mechs are the focus in combat, interesting in design and with touches of sci-fi from Whispered technology. I particularly liked Gauron’s sleek, vicious mech, Venom.

What impressed me most about FMP’s narrative is the seamless blend of comedy and action, neither overpowering the other. One episode, I am dying of laughter, the next, I am struck by tense, dramatic action that shows the contrast between Sagara’s high school life and the harshness of his job as a mercenary.

Underlying the comedy and action is a layer of romance, FMP’s lightest aspect. While I love the chemistry between Sagara and Chidori, their relationship sees little progress in the second half of the series – their relationship status, so to speak, still feels undetermined by the end, teetering on the edge of becoming serious. It’s obvious to us, the audience, but the writing didn’t let it step forward.

Another complaint, a minor one, is with the timing of the few ecchi instances. In the second episode, when Chidori makes her first personal connection towards Sagara, panty shot! Why…? It only detracts from the scene. Ironically, ecchi barely appears in comedy scenes, where it could actually work. Minor problem, however.

Full Metal Panic has stayed with me since I first watched it at release and I like to revisit it every few years. Sagara is one of the best fictional characters ever created and it’s always a riot hanging out with him on screen.

Art – High

A great example of art looking typically anime, yet has style to be recognisable. The character design is spot on and matches personalities without resorting to over-exaggerated traits. Some of the best mech designs. Action scenes look awesome with an attention to detail in battle damage and recoil. Superb editing and camerawork to keep the narrative paced and comedy snappy.

Sound – Very High

Good voice work in English, but the Japanese acting is so bloody phenomenal that the English is overshadowed. Tomokazu Seki does what few others can as Sagara, straight-faced in delivery and yet so hilarious. Paired with Satsuki Yukino as Chidori and a tight script, they create flawless chemistry. The music draws inspiration from The A-Team and other military types – brass and drums.

Story – High

Full Metal Panic is an excellent blend of action, comedy, and touches of romance. The characters are excellent and memorable. My one wish is for romance that is more concrete.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch. I have finished Full Metal Panic a half dozen times now and it still engages me through and through. Sagara is such a fantastic character.

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

Positive:

HilariousRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Ah! My Goddess TV – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aa! Megami-sama! (TV)

 

Related: Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancy (season 2)

Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings (OVA side story)

Ah! My Goddess: The Movie (sequel)

Ah! My Goddess OVA (original version)

Similar: My Bride is a Mermaid

Maison Ikkoku

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Romance Comedy

Length: 24 episodes & 3 specials

 

Positives:

  • Sweet romance.
  • Fun, innocent comedy.
  • Pretty art style and elegant character design.
  • Beautiful music coupled with perfectly matched voices.

Negatives:

  • Slow relationship progression.

Keiichi is the unluckiest guy. If there is a hole to step in, he will step in it. If there is an accident waiting to happen, he will trigger it. Being a short guy with an unmemorable face, he’s never had a girlfriend either. Seeing such misfortune on one guy for all his life, the Yggdrassil machine up in heaven adjusts his fate. When he dials a number, his call redirects to the Goddess Helpline, and from his mirror emerges Belldandy (Norse goddess of the present).

She offers him one wish, any wish. Thinking this all some prank by his dorm seniors, he wishes for her to be his girlfriend. The wish is granted. However, since Kei’s university dorm has a no-girls policy, his manly seniors eject him onto the street, and after a lengthy search, Kei and Bell find residence in a temple. They are soon joined by her sisters, Skuld (goddess of future), who thinks his intentions impure, and Urd (goddess of past), who thinks them not impure enough!

Ah My Goddess is an anime full of heart and sweetness. It gives that warm, fuzzy feeling I like to experience every once in a while. The romance is light-hearted and innocent; the characters have goodness to them, even in the antagonists. Kei’s motor-club seniors always make me laugh – they carry full toolkits under their jackets in case anyone suffers a breakdown.

Despite the three women and one man living under the same roof setting, this isn’t a harem. Outside of the conflict with Urd and Skuld, Keiichi has to contend with hiding Belldandy’s identity as they attend university, where the campus queen, who rejected Keiichi in the past, is jealous of Belldandy’s beauty and popularity. The rich guy makes it his mission to pull her as well. It’s funny to see Belldandy clueless about human customs, getting into bad situations, but her innocence and kindness gets her out alive with Keiichi’s help. They also have to deal with devils, heaven glitches, and the occasional supernatural entity. Keiichi polymorphed into a scooter by a devil had me laughing to the point of pain.

I enjoyed the small details such as each goddess’s transport catalyst. Belldandy can travel between mirrors, Urd through televisions, and Skuld via warm water. They also recharge power with different sources – sleep, alcohol, and ice cream, respectively. Devils are weak to various things as well, which leads to many humorous scenarios; main antagonist Mara can’t handle lucky charms or resist dancing to rock, and Urd, being half devil, falls asleep to classical Enka.

Unfortunately, rather, frustratingly, I should say, the light-hearted nature of Ah My Goddess leads to a restrained relationship between Belldandy and Keiichi. The constant stalling, in particular due to Keiichi’s cowardice becomes tiresome before the end; the relationship barely sees progression after the initial foundation. This wouldn’t be such a problem if they were saving for season 2, but there it is even worse. At least the movie knows what to do.

Even so, I love Ah My Goddess. As long as you don’t go in expecting Rumbling Hearts, I am sure you will enjoy it too.

Art – High

Ah! My Goddess has a gorgeous art style and character design suited to the elegance of Belldandy. The animation is good, in particular when racing or casting spells. I appreciate Belldandy’s varied and ever-evolving wardrobe – most anime sticks to one or two outfits throughout.

Sound – High

Though the acting is great in Japanese, I prefer the English, for Belldandy is sweeter, Urd sexier, Skuld cuter, and Keiichi funnier. Fantastic music with Nord and Celtic influences.

Story – Medium

I enjoy the premise of a goddess coming down to Earth to live with a nice, ordinary guy. Keiichi and Belldandy make for the sweetest couple. Frustrating relationship stalling, however.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Despite the problems with relationship progression, I easily recommend Ah! My Goddess. I love the humour and sweetness of these characters – Belldandy always lifts my spirits.

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

Positive:

CharmGreat MusicHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice Track

Negative:

Weak End

Cowboy Bebop – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Cowboy Bebop

 

Related: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (movie side story)

Similar: Gungrave

Black Lagoon

Trigun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great style in its deep world building and visuals.
  • Love the characters, especially Ed.
  • Groovy jazz and Wild West music.
  • Many great comedy moments.

Negatives:

  • Could do with more overarching plot and a deeper exploration of the main antagonist.

Ah, Cowboy Bebop, the old classic. This was the anime that cemented my interest in the genre. Before Bebop, I wasn’t considered an anime fan; enjoyed a few series, yes, but had no interest in the medium as a whole, as I did with video games. Cowboy Bebop made me ask the question ‘what else does anime have to offer?’

The story follows Spike, a Bruce Lee meets Hans Solo type, and Jet as they hunt bounties across the galaxy aboard the spaceship Bebop, a bucket of tin always in need of repairs using money they don’t have. The sexy Faye Valentine and Edward, thirteen-year-old hacker extraordinaire and all-round weirdo, soon join them. Oh, and Ein, the wonder corgi – cutest anime pet.

Set in the year 2071, Cowboy Bebop takes a realistic approach to the progress of humanity into a Wild West galaxy of space flight and bounty hunters. Humanity has settled on the likes of Mars and Venus with hyperspace gates making long distance travel a breeze. The artists paid attention to detail in every aspect of the world building. It’s cool to see the mechanics of ships – air brakes, flap controls, veneer thrusters – and I am a stickler for the inconsequential details such as people getting Venus sickness from the planet’s atmosphere or how advertising works in the future. This doesn’t lead to anything, but I appreciate when creators build their lore beyond the necessary. Bebop’s universe has it all – combat drugs, bar fights, truckers, gambling, future PETA terrorists, and a mockery of Yuri Gellar. Most importantly, none of this world building needs explanation; no character halts the narrative to explain to the audience how the world works. We see it for ourselves – amazing what visuals can do for storytelling, aye?

Bebop uses an episodic format, each episode hunting a new bounty head from smugglers to gangsters, but there are a couple of two-parters. While each episode is great, some comedy focused (the crew high on mushrooms was the best), the lack of an overarching story does reduce the episode-to-episode engagement, making this closer to a series of related short stories. Only five episodes have a direct link, where Spike’s past and the antagonist Vicious catch up to Spike. Vicious isn’t a particularly interesting villain, as we never learn his motivations or raison d’être, which is strange because the single-episode villains have much characterisation. He is threatening, though; I will give him that.

Cowboy Bebop is all about the characters. They are the heart of this show. It’s as if one took the Millennium Falcon with its crew, dropped the galactic war, and focused on the characters’ pasts and how they handle small adventures. I particularly enjoy Ed; she is weird as hell, feral, talks in the third person and hilarious. Bebop has plenty of humour, as a matter of fact, quick, snappy humour, unexpected at times. The three old men who appear in most episodes, no matter the remoteness of location, slay me every time with their whining about how hard they worked back in the day and how little they have to show for it.

Watching Cowboy Bebop again, seventeen years after release, its quality still amazes me. The industry took years to produce a series of this quality again. Regardless of how many newer series I prefer, this unique anime will always be something special.

Art – Very High

I cannot believe Cowboy Bebop is from 1998. The animation, the art, the design, the cinematography, the detail, everything looks fantastic. I don’t see how they could have done better without an exponential budget increase.

Sound – Very High

Cowboy Bebop was the anime series to demonstrate the possibilities of quality dubbing, far surpassing the original Japanese. Yoko Kanno, one of the best composers in anime, helmed the music and it is excellent – jazz, blues, drums, Western – is there anything she can’t do? The OP track is a personal favourite.

Story – High

The fun space adventures of the Bebop and its ragtag crew of interesting characters. I would have liked a concrete overarching story to tie everything together.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Cowboy Bebop is a must watch for its quality and significance to the anime medium, though at this point, I would be surprised if there is anyone left who hasn’t seen this.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice TrackStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Code Geass – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch

 

Related: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Death Note

Gundam 00

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Science Fiction Action Mecha

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 25 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Deep, intricate plot with many worthy players involved.
  • Strategic action and power plays.
  • Interesting powers.
  • A fantastic soundtrack that amps the action and tragedy equally.
  • Unforgiving.

Negatives:

  • Lacklustre resolution to the thread on Lelouch’s mother.
  • Some nonsense flip-flopping in season 2.

I watched Code Geass by accident. What, I accidentally watched fifty episodes of a show? Yes, more or less. I had acquired several anime from a friend and picked one at random start with, not knowing what any were about. Next thing I knew, it was the end of the next day. Code Geass is exactly my kind of story – anti-hero, small group versus a titan, unforgiving with its characters, and loaded with twists.

We follow Lelouch, an exiled Britannian prince seeking revenge against the Britannian Empire responsible for his mother’s death and crippling of his sister. He resides in Area 11, formerly Japan until Britannia striped the country of its power, resources, and culture. ‘Elevens,’ as the citizens are referred to, live beneath the boots of wealthy Britannians. A mysterious green-haired girl grants Lelouch the power of Geass, enabling mind control through eye contact once per target. Equipped with his newfound power, Lelouch dons the persona of Zero and takes command of the Japanese rebels against Britannia. What follows is a tale of cunning, lies, betrayal, and brutality.

The key, I find, to Code Geass’s success is in its unforgiving nature with the characters. We have a wide cast of characters from every angle of the conflict – rebels, Britannians, students, scientists, citizens rich and poor, foreign powers, etc. – and every single one of them is on the line. People die left and right, including many you expect to go the distance. Furthermore, both allies and enemies are worthy of their roles in the narrative. Lelouch is a smart tactician, and it would have been a dull affair indeed if his opponents were easy to defeat; no, in Code Geass the Britannians bring just as much cunning to the field. In particular, I enjoyed his chess-like battles against half-sister Princess Cornelia and Lelouch’s childhood friend Suzaku, who starts as a sanctimonious prick, one of my most hated character types, but like all great characters in Code Geass, there is more to him than that.

It’s a joy to watch Lelouch try to balance his life as a student, where a girl fancies him and he works on the student council, against his role as rebel leader without revealing his identity or power to anyone – the comic relief comes from school. Normally, I find the premise of high school teens fighting wars and such difficult to buy, but here they sell it by not forgetting the difficulties he would face. More than once, his actions as Zero have dire consequences on his Britannian classmates, which creates some excellent relationship conflict I didn’t expect.

That isn’t to say all is perfect in Code Geass. The strategic plays in battle aren’t as well illustrated as say Death Note (part one) and in the second season, there is some flip-flopping between allegiances akin to Pirates of the Caribbean 3’s nonsense where people switched sides every sneeze. The thread regarding Lelouch’s mother ends so poorly that despite being important to Lelouch, it has little effect on what follows or the ending.

Lastly, as a fan of mechs, I want to touch on their representation here. With studio Sunrise on production, one would expect Gundam-like mecha, but they actually try something different. Here, we have rollerblading, grappling hook wielding mechs with cockpits that jettison when in danger. I liked the urban-focused design in practicality and was a little disappointed when the more powerful mechs enter the scene, pushing too close to Gundam traits.

Code Geass has too many layers and elements for me to discuss in a reasonable review, but it all comes together in an anime I couldn’t stop watching. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more. JUST ONE MORE! Even for this review, watching a third time, I meant to finish a few per day while I worked on other reviews, but I ended up completing all episodes in three days. Was I commanded to watch all episodes…? The conflict, the tension keeps on rising, destruction and tragedy every step of the way.

Art – High

CLAMP lends its iconic character art to Code Geass (not as hyper stretched as xxxHOLiC) coupled with what studio Sunrise does best – mechs. Love the costume design, especially for the Britannians. Biggest complaint is with mouths appearing on the side of the face when in profile, which gets rather extreme at times. Also, why are there so many skirt wedgies in season two? Seriously, can’t un-see it anymore.

Sound – Very High

Excellent acting in both languages, though I prefer the English, as Lloyd the scientist, one of my favourite characters, has the wrong voice in Japanese. Watching Code Geass again, I was reminded of how great this soundtrack is – many perfect tracks to enhance the scene. Only OPs and EDs let audio down, not because they are bad, but because they are too cheerful. (Season one, second opening is atrocious, though – didn’t anyone tell her she couldn’t sing?)

Story – Very High

Code Geass manages to craft an intense, strategic plot of a forsaken prince seeking revenge against his father’s empire. A few missteps didn’t hinder my ultimate enjoyment, even if a couple of events were eye narrowing.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Be prepared for sleepless nights once you begin.

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

Positive: 

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam 00

 

Related: Gundam 00 Season 2 (included in review)

Gundam 00 The Movie – A Wakening of the Trailblazer (conclusion – included in review)

Similar: Code Geass

Full Metal Panic!

Gundam SEED

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 25 episodes (S1), 25 Episodes (S2), 2 hr. movie

 

Positives:

  • A catalyst that grips from the get-go.
  • Sharp visuals and battle animations.
  • Varied and interesting Gundam designs.
  • Excellent acting in both languages.

Negatives:

  • Bland as bricks protagonist.
  • Ludicrous end to season 1, act 2.
  • Could do with more relationship conflict.
  • Several side characters receive far too much screen time before they become relevant.
  • Ultimate ending in the movie forgets why the story started.

In the year 2307, fossil fuels have depleted and the world has turned to solar power by building three orbital elevators to a ring of solar arrays in space. The world’s three alliances control an elevator each – Union (Americas), Human Reform League (most of Asia), and the AEU (Europe). However, smaller nations such as those of the Middle East don’t benefit from the arrays, forcing them into war for energy. Furthermore, the alliances secretly increase their military strength in defiance of the treaties. An independent group known as Celestial Being appears, intervening in wars and crushes all sides with the goal to end all conflict. They have the most powerful mechs the world has seen, allowing four Gundam Meisters to take on armies.

One of the best story pitches ever. Gundam 00 engaged me within minutes and kept the frames turning until the very end, despite its flaws.

We have a bloated cast here, but the focus is on the Meisters, Tieria, Allelujah, Lockon, and Setsuna, who receives the most screen time due to his Middle Eastern history. It’s a shame that he’s the dullest character. He barely says anything nor does he emote at all. He’s supposed to be the strong silent type, but delivers the bland nothing type. His archetype has a fine line between great and rubbish – I never find anyone in between. See Full Metal Panic’s Sagara (similar backstory to Setsuna, interestingly enough) for how it’s done.

The other pilots are good, Allelujah in particular with his split personality; however, while each pilot does have a short arc to illustrate their motivations, outside of those arcs, they lack interpersonal conflict, except Setsuna, for his birth country is at the centre of the main conflict. His plotline looking at child soldiers, religious fanaticism, and political conflict in a war-torn nation is interesting, but he isn’t.

Much of the cast bloating comes from a Chinese celebrity who helps fund Celestial Being, which the camera cuts to every episode, but all she does is sit there with a servant and make innocuous comments. Similar situation with uni student Saji and his girlfriend Louise; they serve to show the conflict from a civilian perspective without any effect on the plot until season two. Saji’s sister, a journalist reporting on Celestial Being, is more interesting and her investigations have conflict and tension that adds to the narrative. Saji and Louise should have been peripheral to her thread until needed.

Some dialogue made me cringe as well. Saji has to ask all the stupid questions on the audience’s behalf, though no one watching is that dumb. Setsuna (yet again) repeats barf-inducing line such as ‘I am a Gundam’ a dozen times throughout. I also hate the telekinetically linked dialogue thing they do – several people from different corners of the world, in no contact, finishing each other’s sentences by coincidence. Trying way too hard to be dramatic.

So, with these problems, how did Gundam 00 keep me watching? It’s because of the overall conflict. No faction misses the irony of using war to prevent war; the whole premise would have fallen flat if everyone had accepted Celestial Being as a great idea. In fact, a superpower uses Celestial Being to defeat an opponent, knowing they would have to interfere according to their own doctrine. Celestial Being has to intervene, always, regardless of which faction is in the wrong. The political game of RISK and its effects on the world economy and power is great to watch, and the best part of Gundam 00, coupled with intense action and a perfect pace.

Gundam 00 has its share of flaws, I grant you, and yet I have no qualms about recommending it anyone. Of course, if Gundam in general isn’t for you, this won’t be the series to convince you. For everyone else, get ready for an intense conflict that begs a marathon.

Movie: A Wakening of the Trailblazer – I get the impression the writers had no idea how to conclude such a strong opening premise. How does one end a story about achieving world peace? Well, world peace is out, since it isn’t realistic in any universe, but if it ends with more war, the audience won’t feel satisfied. So, what does one do? I’m not sure, but it certainly isn’t what A Wakening of the Trailblazer went with. The movie is rubbish. If the character names were changed and you didn’t know this was a sequel to Gundam 00, you wouldn’t guess they were related. Not required viewing. Movie Quality – Low

Art – High

Beautiful art, especially with those particle effects. Battles boast great choreography without resorting to repetition of animations. I love the mech designs, possibly my favourite in all of Gundam. Improves with season 2.

Sound – High

Really, the Gundam series in general has excellent acting in English from Ocean Production studio (Black Lagoon, Death Note, most Gundam dubs). No exception here. I enjoyed the OPs, and the music in general is good, but it doesn’t live up to the likes of Gundam SEED.

Story – Medium

An incredible start to a global conflict, unfortunately, distracted from by side characters brought in too soon and an episode that nukes the fridge in the second act. Too little character conflict and a one-note protagonist weakened my engagement to the individuals.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for fans of Gundam action. Even with a few weak aspects, I found Gundam 00 thoroughly enjoyable for its sharp action and production quality. I watched all episodes within a few days.

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

Positive:

Stellar Voice ActingStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Weak End