Tag Archives: Anti-Hero

The protagonist or a prominent character does whatever it takes for the greater good without allowing himself or herself to turn to the dark side. Batman, Sagara from Full Metal Panic, and yes, even Godzilla fit the anti-hero mould.

Overlord – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Overlord

 

Related: Overlord II & III (sequels – included in review)

Similar: Log Horizon

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Drifters

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length: 39 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Mighty protagonist
  • Old school MMO knowledge

Negatives:

  • Much of the side cast lacks depth
  • Plans could use more cunning
  • Art keeps getting worse

(Request an anime for review here.)

The end of an MMO’s life can be a sad event for those who spent years living in that world. To outsiders, it’s just another game they never heard of. To the players, to those who formed lasting friendships and created countless memories, it can be tough to let go. For Momonga, it’s a time of heartbreak when the MMO Yggdrassil reaches the end of its life, outstripped by newer and grander games. The Great Tomb of Nazarick, once home to a mighty guild only has NPCs, artefacts, and memories to fill it vast caverns. He sits in the guild hall, alone, his last guildmate logged out already, as the timer counts to midnight marking the final shutdown. He falls asleep.

When he awakens sometime later, he’s still logged in. Not only that, it becomes apparent that he has become his character, an almighty necromancer, and that the NPCs have come to life around him. They follow their initial character profiles, yes, but they are as real as anyone else is now. He takes on the name of his guild, Ainz Ooal Gown, and decrees it his objective in this new life to take his guild to greater heights and conquer the world of Yggdrassil.

I love this premise and the angle it took of making him more of a villain, commanding the non-human races in conflict against the humans. (My understanding is that in the game itself, there were two faction with the non-humans seen as the “evil” side.) He isn’t truly evil – you aren’t watching Voldemort and his minions – but he does feel like a player seeing this world as a mere game, where the victory condition is to conquer everything like in the Civilisation series.

Unfortunately, he’s the only memorable character. His guild headquarters are like the ultimate challenge tower of an old school MMO with powerful monsters guarding each floor. These monsters are the new guild members. Each is a rather one-note character. We have the brawny guy, the smart guy, the naïve yet powerful child, the loli vampire, the succubus in love with Ainz (he reprogrammed her profile as a joke before the shutdown, only for it to carry over), and several others. They are as you would expect from their one-line descriptions. They should have been more akin to the homunculi from Fullmetal Alchemist instead of these unimposing cast fillers. Ainz truly carries the series.

That said, he doesn’t carry it enough to elevate Overlord to greatness. For one, his masterful plans aren’t as cunning as I would like them to be. One would hope for something on the level of Code Geass when you have such an anti-hero protagonist. What we have is okay.

The last great flaw with Overlord is the art. First, all the design effort went into Ainz, who looks great as an undead sorcerer, leaving the monsters that surround him and the humans they face as generic (the succubus has a little more effort than the rest). Much worse, however, is the reliance on CG as a Tour-de-France cyclist relies on drugs.

The first scene to greet you is an army of CG skeletons that look just awful. We don’t see them again for a while, which made me think it was a temporary matter and Overlord II does see an improvement, but lo and behold, the CG soon returns in full force like an endless horde of ugly. Overlord III’s climactic few episodes are a showcase of the worst CG you will see in any full production in the last 10 years of anime. The archers, knights, goblins, horses, demons, everything – all CG 90% of the time, even in close ups. I cannot believe Madhouse output this work. The studio behind One-Punch Man and many of anime’s greatest looking films did this? How? I could understand if it came from the folk responsible for Hand Shakers, but Madhouse!?

To end on a positive though, I do enjoy that Overlord draws from more old school MMO sensibilities, with its ridiculously overpowered items and lack of structure to the game design. It speaks to a time when balance wasn’t much of a concern. Of all the MMOs I mastered, this reminds me most of the Norse mythology themed Ragnarok Online (perhaps that’s why the author called his game Yggdrassil?) It makes for a nice change from other isekai that lean modern.

Whether Overlord grabs you will depend entirely on how much you like the protagonist and your level of tolerance for the art. It’s one of the better MMO isekai in a field of weak competitors.

Art – Low

No animation on the protagonist when he talks feels incredibly lazy – they could have at least given him some sort of psychic effect. The monster designs aren’t half as good as the protagonist’s design. Lots of still shots, dull photography, and repeating animation. It gets worse in season 3 when the big climatic battle almost all CG.

Sound – Medium

The protagonist has the best performance in either language, effortlessly switching between the nerdy inner voice and imposing outer overlord. Good acting elsewhere. I like some of the OP and ED songs.

Story – Medium

A player falls asleep in game at the end of an MMO’s life only to wake up as his character, an undead overlord. The unique perspective of playing the villain is interesting enough to make up for its shortcomings.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For video game fans. Overlord’s best features all relate to games, yet doesn’t do enough to appeal beyond the core. However, it is something different for the genre.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Banana Fish – Anime Review

Japanese Title: BANANA FISH

 

Similar: Rainbow

Black Lagoon

91 Days

No. 6

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Strong protagonist.
  • Great visuals.
  • Doesn’t cringe from the subject matter.

Negatives:

  • Weak villains.
  • Humour doesn’t work.
  • Could use more brains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Banana Fish is an adaptation of a manga by the same name that ended 24 years ago. Once a manga reaches a certain age, it’s often deemed outdated and financially unviable. Should one receive an anime adaptation, even then it could become “old news” and have no second season in favour of a gamble at the next big hit. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see something as old as Banana Fish on the slate. And when a studio does go out of its way for an old licence, they will put the full production effort behind it, as is the case here.

The story centres on young Ash Lynx, a handsome boy adopted by New York City Mafia Don Dino Golzine, who declares that Ash should inherit his empire. The boy is ruthless, resourceful, and charismatic – all the qualities he desires in an heir (and it helps that Ash is just his type). Unfortunately for the Don, the boy is also rebellious and despises him like the devil. Ash becomes hell-bent on destroying his father and abuser, especially once suspicion arises of his involvement in the death of Ash’s brother and a mind control drug called Banana Fish. This dangerous game becomes more personal when he meets Japanese photographer Eiji, with whom he makes fast friends. Eiji has just entered a world of abuse, drugs, and death.

Ash is an interesting character and the strongest element of the story. He is a mix of violence and pain as he hates just about everything in his life, yet has these moments of intense vulnerability like a lost child that has no idea of the world. As a child, people sexually abused him, particularly in the mafia including Dino, which taught him that his most valuable asset to these monsters is his body. He’s so damaged by this, one isn’t sure if he’s actually gay or if he’s willing to use his asset to gain the upper hand. It’s messed up, but it makes for an interesting protagonist.

Banana Fish opens on a song to hype you up for the action and ends on a ballad of sadness to remind you of Ash’s pain. That is the heart of Banana Fish.

Eiji is the opposite: sweet, innocent, doesn’t know how to handle gun, and hasn’t even kissed someone. He’s the only good in Ash’s life. Nothing was free in Ash’s world, until he made a friend.

The rest of the cast is a motley crew of gangsters, street urchins, and forgotten soldiers. They work fine in their roles. Where Banana Fish fails its characters is with the villains. Not one of them is interesting or has any depth. Dino is just a creep obsessed with getting Ash to come back as his heir. His plan to accomplish this? What plan? The Chinese guy with long hair, said to be a master manipulator, only succeeds through plot convenience and his ultimate desire for death is just nonsensical. He’s more whiny cartoon child than evil genius. The rest are run-of-the-mill thugs and henchmen, as normal.

The focus on action over character does lessen the impact of weak villains, since this isn’t a battle of ideologies or wits. However, the action-dominated story does dampen the initial setup with Ash’s background and his friendship with Eiji. It doesn’t stop long enough for us to absorb these characters.

To compound problems further (it’s chain of problems, at this point, one leading into the next), the action isn’t smart like Code Geass or stylised like John Wick or Mad Max: Fury Road, so I don’t feel the action alone can carry the series to greatness. People take life-threatening injuries only to stand up a minute later as if they won’t die of blood loss any moment now. Also, Ash is supposed to have an IQ of 180, yet his plans are far from genius. One hit on Dino involves standing atop a truck to take the shot while speeding past. Really, that’s your plan? Nothing in Banana Fish lends credence to his genius label. If they simply hadn’t mentioned it in that one episode, it would have been irrelevant. He’s of average intelligence with high charisma, which is perfectly fine.

My other problem with Ash is the overuse of certain tropes. For instance, I lost count the number of times he wiled his way out of captivity by seducing his captor/guard. It’s awfully convenient that every single one of them is gay and falls for the oldest trick in the book. It made sense the first time when his captor was a past abuser that still craved him. After that is pushing it. Even the humour, which is often jarringly out of place, uses this trope in a light-hearted manner.

Banana Fish has a much stronger first half than second. The first has all the tension, tough choices, harsh losses, and less to do with weak villains. It’s still a decent anime in the second half, though you have to love it for the action more than anything else. And if you make it to the end, the final scene is the best in the series.

Art – High

One of the better-looking series of the year, Banana Fish has a colourful style with plenty of detail, nice animation, and consistent quality. Distant characters lack detail though.

Sound – High

From OP to ED, main character to supporting, all the audio is great.

Story – Medium

An heir to a criminal empire rebels against the predator that raised him and finds friendship in an unexpected place. Banana Fish has a strong first half, fluctuates up and down for the rest of the way, but ends on a great moment.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans. Banana Fish looks great and has plenty of action to keep the crowd busy. Not for children.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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

One Outs – Anime Review

Japanese Title: One Outs

 

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

Akagi

No Game No Life

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Sports Gambling

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The strategy moments.
  • Absurdity of it all.

Negatives:

  • Infallible protagonist.
  • Opponents are amateurs.
  • Require immense suspension of disbelief.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In a moment of desperation, a baseball professional hires the reckless gambler and pitcher Toua Tokuchi in the hopes of getting his team out of the gutter. Tokuchi is a risk for the team because of his gambling. He isn’t talking a couple of Gs on a game here and there. No, Tokuchi likes a few more zeros on that number and in much, much greater frequency. His first bet with the team owner, instead of a salary, is ¥10,000,000 for every out he pitches, but a loss of ¥50,000,000 for every run he forfeits. Bets only escalate for there.

This premise should sound familiar to many of you – it certainly did for me. But imagine my surprise when I learnt, near the end of the series, that One Outs is not from the folio of the extreme gambling mangaka god, Nobuyuki Fukumoto. It’s not just the premise that matches. The voice actor for Tokuchi is the same as Akagi and Kaiji (he only comes out of hiding for these roles). I should have noticed that this wasn’t one of Nobuyuki’s works when the protagonist begins as the king, not the underdog, and when the opponents were easy. Join me as we dive further.

One Outs starts on the back lots, where people bet on a shortened form of baseball called ‘one outs’. Roughly put, you bet either that the pitcher will get three strikes or that the batter will score a clean hit first. Tokuchi is a pro at this, having won 499 games. The first act is a series of increasing bets in this underground gambling format and loses interest after the first game. It doesn’t evolve beyond the bigger pot. We waste four episodes here.

After this, the story moves to the baseball stadium with Tokuchi’s new team in a few matches. It remains a gambling anime with a sport element, mind you, so this isn’t suddenly for sports fans. Here we encounter the problem of having an overpowered protagonist in the face of lesser opponents.

It’s not about him being better than any pitcher that has ever lived – this, I don’t mind. It’s part of the absurdity of these anime. The problem lies in the opponents, both on the field and off. The team owner, who plays main antagonist, has little impact watching the games in a comfy lounge chair from his office. He makes a few underhanded changes to the matches, but they’re negligible. Akagi and Kaiji pit their protagonists with the major villains face-to-face, on the field. This team owner is a pitiful substitute and a one-note character.

As for the opposing teams, they have a few interesting contenders, such an import player so fast he can secure any base. Unfortunately, most opponents and allies alike are complete idiots. They don’t have an ounce of professionalism to their character. Tokuchi even explains baseball basics to them as if this is their first game. These feel like dumb kids on the playground, which further compounds the problem of Tokuchi being such an invincible player. To convince the audience that a character is a genius, the best technique is to have him defeat an equal or smarter opponent in a clever and believable manner. If the opponents are idiots, then it gives the impression that your average Joe could do the same.

The escalation of bets is also predictable. “Here’s a ridiculous bet.” “Ha! I can’t believe you suggested that! You will never— oh damn, you won. No way!” You would imagine that after the tenth amazing feat people would catch on that Tokuchi is infallible, but you’d be wrong.

Where One Outs does engage is with the psychological manipulation. That said, it’s nowhere near a “genius” as the author thinks it is. Much of it relies on the dimwits for opponents.

The best moments occur when real strategy is involved. For example, a famous batter has to play with an injured elbow and a pitch to said elbow would end his career. Tokuchi takes advantage of this to psyche out the pitcher, making him aim away from the elbow out of fear that he might end the career of a beloved player, giving him an easy hit. There are enough of these moments to last the series, but I wish there were more. In fact, One Outs could have been better had Tokuchi been a decent pitcher yet with masterful strategy. Instead, he’s an alleged genius and the best pitcher you’ve never seen.

You may be thinking that I compare One Outs too much to Akagi and Kaiji, but they are the perfect examples of this concept done better. I don’t need to go beyond those when they demonstrate definitive superiority. One Outs will appeal either to those who haven’t seen this anime style before or to those who can’t get enough of it. I expect that I would have enjoyed this one much more had it been the first of its kind I had seen.

Art – Medium

One Outs doesn’t have the distinct style of its inspirators, though still in the same vein for the protagonist, instead blending in what reminds me of Initial D. Outside of characters running bases, there is little animation.

Sound – Medium

Masato Hagiwara returns for the third time as an extreme gambling protagonist, which is fitting. The rest of the cast is good as well. Soundtrack leaves much room for improvement.

Story – Low

A pitcher gambles millions on each game of baseball for the ultimate thrill. An infallible protagonist against amateurs pretending to be professionals weakens tension and limits potential.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of Akagi and Kaiji. While One Outs isn’t as good as those two series, if you like the ridiculousness of the extreme gambling then you will have fun.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Mary Sue

Castlevania – Anime Review

Related: Castlevania Season 2

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the games.
  • Looks and sounds great.
  • Deeper than expected.
  • Unflinchingly brutal.

Negatives:

  • Too early to gauge full quality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In the same way that game-to-film (or vice versa) adaptations bring the worst out of art, game-to-anime conversions are mind-numbing experiences that contain none of the game’s magic. When Netflix announced a Castlevania series, I didn’t even bother adding it to my ‘might, perhaps, one day if there is no more anime, eventually’ list. The series releases and the strangest comment reaches my ears… It’s good. What unspeakable pact did the creators enter into?

While not an anime, Castlevania adopts plenty from the likes of Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D in its adaptation of the game franchise of the same name. More specifically, this uses Castlevania III as a launching point with some Symphony of the Night elements.

The first episode introduces us to the human Lisa as she enters Dracula’s castle and meets the vampire lord of Wallachia himself. Rather than throw her out – or worse, drain her – he is endeared by her desire to learn science and spread such enlightenment across mankind. She doesn’t run away like the others. He teaches her chemistry to help the villagers and marriage is not far behind. However, the Church grows suspicious of her newfound curative abilities and finds heathenistic devices in her house, such as instruments of glass too thin to be of human creation. They burn her at the stake.

Oh what a grave mistake.

Dracula’s wrath unleashes a demon horde across Wallachia. The land is now a place of death. At a small inn still untouched by the horde, Trevor Belmont is drunk and getting drunker. His family of demon slayers fell from grace since their excommunication by the Church, so there’s little to do but drink these days. Even a horde of game doesn’t interest him. A human plea will soon change this.

So, the story starts like a Castlevania game, and it does well by setting the stakes as high as Dracula’s castle and giving a flawed yet likeable protagonist. Then there’s Dracula, exuding majesty and awe-inspiring power. They didn’t tone him down. I was prepared for something like the Devil May Cry anime, where the characters, especially protagonist Dante, have none of the personality that makes them enjoyable. Instead, Castlevania added more than what was to be found in the games.

These four episodes serve as the setup to a grander series. They establish Dracula, Trevor and his allies, and the subplot of the Church, which added the story depth to turn this from good to great. I hope to see the Church subplot throughout the series.

The action is no wet skeleton either. It’s gory and brutal, as it should be for the franchise, and the choreography has thought behind it. Duels are especially satisfying.

With all this praise, what’s the downside? Well, it’s hard to say at this point, as I am reviewing the start of a series. I have no complaints right now, but elements could become problems. For example, Trevor’s bravado will turn annoying if overused and he trash talks instead of fighting, like a bad villain monologue. The inside of Dracula’s castle may also have little story, with all interesting plot occurring outside under the Church’s influence. Who knows? It’s too early to say. Still, it looks right, sounds right, and feels right.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for Castlevania.

Art – High

The art feels like the games turned animated, dripping with gothic atmosphere. Some animation is jittery, but good overall.

Sound – High

The accents work well in English. The Japanese is good enough if you prefer that. Music complements the dark atmosphere.

Story – High

A son in the long line of once-noble Belmonts prepares to fight the Lord of Darkness, Dracula. Castlevania is a great start to adapting such a venerable franchise.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Unless you can’t stand gore, Castlevania’s four episodes give a good taste of whether you should look forward to more.

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

 

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None