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.
Joe Yabuki is a douche. A giant douche. Never has a bigger douche roamed the lands of Japan, itching for a fight. He wants trouble. Drunkard and former boxing coach Danpei witnesses Joe’s latest street brawl and sees something in his punch. Though Joe is vulgar, he has potential for greatness in the ring and he could give Danpei a reason to live again.
Tomorrow’s Joe is Japan meets the Wild West. Everything has this dusty ragged look, from the art to the characters. Joe’s whistling echoes across the windswept streets of the slum, creating a lonely and downtrodden atmosphere.
The archetype of starting as a delinquent before finding a purpose in sport/music/art is a common one. You expect the character to grow as a person over time, both in skill and temperament. Joe is in dire need of the latter. See, when I said he is a douche, I should have made it clear that I meant throughout the entire series. I’m unsure if I can think of a more unlikeable protagonist. He is a prick to everyone even when he has no reason to be, especially to those who care for him. Speaking of, it makes no sense to have a gang of children, Danpei, and many more besides to be so obsessed with him. No one would stand by him after the fifth instance of douchery, let alone the tenth. And why does no one object to little children hanging around a dangerous criminal all the time?
Shortly into the story, Joe is arrested. He has the opportunity to go free if he doesn’t act like a prick. Of course he acts like a prick. Later, after the kids and company do all they can to support his release, he again has an opportunity, but lo and behold, he’s a right arse to the judge as well. This happens every episode. He tries excessively hard to be cool – the number of face punches he takes without falling is another effort to convince you he’s cool. Even the worst protagonists must have a point of sympathy for the audience. Why would anyone want him to succeed?
The repetitive cycle of dickery results in a glacial pace for the first act, which mostly takes place in prison. Even after prison, the story is mediocre. Not until around the midpoint does it start to become interesting.
Opposite Joe, we have two great rivals and without them Tomorrow’s Joe would have little value. The first is against Rikiishi, a fellow inmate who is Joe’s opposite – upstanding, polite, and disciplined, which irks Joe to no end. Carlos from Venezuela joins the series later. When the story focuses on the rivalries – prep through to the matches themselves – Tomorrow’s Joe is at its best. Some episodes are top tier quality. An episode that will stick with me for a long time is with Rikiishi losing his water weight before the weigh-in and the loss of his mind in the process. It makes the others all the more disappointing not to have the same passion and emotional intensity.
So, Tomorrow’s Joe gets better around halfway, but asking someone to stick around for forty episodes is a bit much. If it were spectacular in the end, maybe.
Art – Medium
The rough art comes across as style rather than errors, which ages it well – fights look good. One can see the French influence in the line work and character design.
Sound – Low
The music is okay – I like the whistling – but the voice audio is bad. The higher the voice, the worse it gets. The bass is shallow while the mic breaks against a high pitch. When the little fangirl screeches, which is often, your eardrums burst.
Story – Medium
A delinquent wanderer must find disciple through boxing if he is to survive prison and the world beyond. The first half is a challenge to clear – owed in no small part to Joe being insufferable – though it’s better once the boxing gets serious.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For old anime fans only. You have to love the rustic style of Tomorrow’s Joe to make it seventy-nine episodes (more if you go for the sequel). Interestingly, a love of boxing isn’t required (unlike Fighting Spirit), as character drama takes precedence.
There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.
In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.
The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.
Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.
In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.
Art – Very High
Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.
Sound – High
The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.
Story – Medium
A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.
Just a short review today of My Conquest is the Sea of Stars, prequel to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. This movie describes the first conflict between the two legends of the series, Yang and Reinhard.
We open on a battle above a Jupiter-like planet, and immediately the high budget and art quality shine to show us a visually engaging conflict. Yang is only an adviser at this stage, having to work under an incompetent commander. In typical Yang fashion, he and his best friend Attenborough are far too relaxed about the commander not taking the advice to avoid the planet’s volatile atmosphere.
For Reinhard’s part, he has to contend with a superior who takes issue with how fast Reinhard has risen up the ranks, especially with Reinhard’s relation to the king’s wife. The admiral plots to get him out of his hands at the Iserlohn Fortress as soon as possible. Commanders loathe this young upstart, intertwining politics and strategy in the same battle.
Being back in this universe amongst these characters makes me comfortable, like going home for the holidays and relaxing with loved ones after a busy year. The nostalgia of seeing several major characters at the start, before all the changes the series puts them through tempts me to start the series again (No! Have to get through unwatched series first!).
Sea of Stars changes things up by giving us a perspective from an ordinary Imperial soldier. He isn’t anyone important nor will he have a notable impact on the war, but that’s what makes his perspective so interesting, oddly enough. Throughout Legend of the Galactic Heroes, we see Yang and Reinhard’s grandeur, yet to the ordinary person, these heroic achievements aren’t the biggest deal when trying to live life day to day. Politics don’t really matter to a grunt in the cockpit. It’s fascinating to hear what he and fellow soldiers think of the people at the top. He doesn’t care about Reinhard’s controversial background, just whether Reinhard can keep him alive to get home tomorrow.
This lower level perspective also allows for more world building, as we follow soldiers on the streets during downtime. Sea of Stars doesn’t feel like a waste. The team took the opportunity to add more to the already rich franchise, rather than take the lazy route and rehash all we already know.
My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is a must watch – the climactic battle where music tells the entire story earns your time alone. No words, no sound effects – just the action and music weaving an emotional conflict.
Art – High
This takes the art from the main series up a notch with more animation and colour depth, thus allowing for visually engaging battles.
Sound – Very High
Same quality acting, writing, and orchestra as Legend of the Galactic Heroes. I loved the use of nothing but music for the finale’s atmosphere and emotions.
Story – Very High
My Conquest is the Sea of Stars details the first encounter between those two heroes who would become legendary. With focus on a superb strategic battle and world building from the soldiers’ perspective, this prequel is a great addition to the epic series.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch after Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While you can watch My Conquest is the Sea of Stars standalone, as it doesn’t spoil anything, its significance and much of the larger context comes from the parent series.
How do I talk about Legend of the Galactic Heroes? How do I tell you this is anime greatness without overhyping it? When someone says x movie is the best movie ever made, it never lives up to expectations, even if it is the best movie because of how our brains equate “best” to mean “flawless.” And if we find a single point we don’t like, our cynical brains say, “This is the best? Pfft, didn’t anyone else see he was wearing a Rolex in medieval warfare? Unwatchable!” So, when you read this review, don’t believe anything I say until you see it for yourself. I don’t want overhype.
In an alternate future, the Galactic Empire ruled the stars until several planets rebelled and formed the Free Planets Alliance in the name of democracy. This decades war with tens of thousands of ships and billions of lives on the board has no end in sight. Both sides believe victory is at hand with the rise of their respective heroes – Reinhard von Lohengramm, young, arrogant, ambitious, on the Empire’s front line and Yang Wen-Li the miracle strategist of the FPA.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a space opera of epic proportions with so many characters, so many threads, and so much conflict that it’s tough to simplify. In essence, take Star Wars but from the perspective of the commanders rather than the pilots and Jedi, while also dealing with the political complexities of Game of Thrones. The Alliance draws parallels to the UK, USA, and East Asia, whereas the Empire has a more WW2 German and European aristocratic design. As if leading millions into battle wasn’t enough, Yang and Reinhard have to manoeuvre the political landscape of aristocrats plotting for maximum profits in war, politicians using any opportunity to gain favour, factions within factions, and even military superiors threatened by their rise through the ranks. Galactic Heroes throws conflict from all sides at its protagonists. Their mettle tested, inexperience crushed, relationships strained, kindness seared by enemies, the reality of war will change them.
The greatness of Galactic Heroes dwells in its handling of the conflict, particularly between Yang and Reinhard. I’m sure we’ve all seen stories where the author favours their protagonist to the point of unrealistic wins for said protagonist. That problem doesn’t poison this narrative. With two protagonists on opposing sides, such favouritism isn’t possible. A win for Reinhard is likely a loss for Yang and his allies or vice versa. And you never know who will win a given battle. Such unpredictability and masterful plotting keeps the audience leaning forward, hands gripping armrests as a character could die at any moment. The first episode kills what I thought was a major character.
Furthermore, the dictatorship versus democracy motif isn’t so black and white. The easy road is to paint one side as evil while the other shines like a monastery of saints. The hard road means to balance both, using no black or white, just grey across all players in the game. “Who is right?” is a complex question to answer when everyone has flaws. One detail that stuck with me is the Patriotic Knight Police of the Alliance, who will beat anyone that disturbs the peace and “unity” of the Alliance’s democracy – “You are free to say anything you want as long as it’s what we like.”
The quality is even more impressive once you realise Galactic Heroes is ninety-five percent dialogue. You wouldn’t imagine such a dialogue heavy story could be this riveting – in most cases, dialogue dominance does result in boredom – however, this dialogue is so sharp, so lean that every line builds the world, builds character, or advances the plot. You must pay attention.
Galactic Heroes’ overarching plot is a slow one, as is the case in real life war and politics. To offset what could be poor pacing, short stories occur episode to episode. For example, we may see how Reinhard deals with a gluttonous noble in one episode, while the next may dive into a moment of history and build the world with richness that makes loremasters foam at the mouth. A personal standout was the rise of the first Kaiser and how the public gave him ultimate dictatorship, free rights sacrificed for what they believed was the greater good. He then executed 20,000 people on mere suspicion of planning his assassination. The next emperor killed 500,000,000 in an uprising and exiled another 10,000,000,000 relatives by association. Galactic Heroes draws on real world events for its conflicts with an attention to detail rarely seen in fiction – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” These writers studied their history.
Longer story arcs often focus on a ship-to-ship battle, where fleets dot space like stars in the night. Though these battles have plenty of action, our view is still from the bridge alongside the commanders – imagine spectating a real-time strategy game. Seldom do we fly out with a dogfighter. That said, important pilots enter the story later on for us to follow.
A most interesting battle occurs early when Yang has the task of capturing Iserlohn Fortress, an artificial and impenetrable planet thanks to its Death Star-like weapon, Thor’s Hammer, capable of wiping a fleet in a single shot. Every battle has complex strategies that keep the audience riveted throughout.
Galactic Heroes has its flaws, of course. Outside of its age, my main complaint would regard some of the minor characters. After a hiatus for several dozen episodes, some important yet unmemorable characters crop up once more and I ask myself, “Who is that again?” for a few episodes. It’s a problem because context is everything with such complex dynamics, where a detail as simple as a character’s faction alignment can change all meaning in their words. The immense crew of memorable characters makes this particularly noticeable.
Alright, I have talked enough. I could go on for days if I don’t stop myself and this is already my longest review by fifty percent – didn’t even touch on the cast of a hundred characters, the planet dedicated entirely to banking, Reinhard’s sister being married to the Kaiser, religious elements, and so much more. I don’t like to set ‘my favourite’ anime in stone without giving it time to simmer as I deconstruct every facet for a while, but I expect Legend of the Galactic Heroes to claim the throne when all is seen and reviewed. I didn’t hold this back for my 200th anime review for no reason.
Art – High
The art starts old (not 70s hair old) and the animation is a little wobbly. However, the show goes for so long that the art improves significantly. In fact, you can see the difference between old and new within the same scene as it switches shots in season one. Like a lot of older sci-fi, much of our technology is more advanced than predicted, but Galactic Heroes uses a coherence of style and society to draw us in regardless. I would recognise these characters instantly.
Sound – Very High
Along the art’s vein, audio quality starts feeling old but soon improves. I love the Austrian influenced orchestra and opera, which sounds like attending a war with Mozart playing on one side and Beethoven on the other. The actors are perfect throughout, thanks in no small part to the phenomenal script (see how many industry veterans you recognise in their early days). Outside some occasional Engrish music (for the Alliance national anthem, oddly enough), I have no complaints.
Story – Very High
Two factions of opposing ideologies war across the stars as their leaders crumble around them, giving rise to two heroes who will shape the conflict like no other. It is difficult to capture into words the grandeur and depth of Legend of the Galactic Heroes’ story. Characters, conflict, or story, there is little to improve.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is phenomenal in every way and should be experienced by all. However, this is a demanding anime. If you can’t dedicate the time and focus to pay attention, it’s simply not worth trying. Also, do keep its age in mind when you start.
Why would you do this to me? Why would you set up so well, promise so much and then tear it away? You are tearing me apart, LisaTerror in Resonance!
A terrorist bombing leaves Tokyo in shock, for the only clue the police have is an internet video of two masked people calling themselves ‘Sphinx,’ presenting a riddle on the whereabouts of the next bomb. Plutonium also went missing from a nuclear facility six months ago. Lisa witnesses two teenage boys, Nine and Twelve, from her school planting toys stuffed with explosives. They give her a choice: become an accomplice or die. Thinking her life unable to get any worse than it already is, she joins them.
So, teenagers as terrorists – that’s interesting. An emo girl roped into the operation – could be good. Shame it isn’t. The worst is that Terror in Resonance seems good as your watching it, but in the latter half when they reveal the secrets and motivations, it retroactively contaminates elements that seemed solid.
Most notably is the motivation behind these edgy teens. I won’t give anything away, but it’s imbecilic. A thousand ways come to mind that are better at changing the world for the better than random bombings. To give an analogy, imagine someone killing puppies. You guess he’s evil. But, ah, yes, it’s because these puppies are being tortured and killing them is mercy. That makes sense. Wait, you think, why not free them? Well, they can’t survive without anyone to care for them, so it’s better they die now than starve in the cold. That makes sen—why not give them to somebody? Surely, there must be other avenues to try before euthanasia. Terror in Resonance doesn’t even ask these questions. It goes straight to the nuclear option, made worse when you’re told these kids are geniuses.
That’s another thing – the “intelligence” of characters and strategies is idiotic. Take the first riddle (‘Sphinx’ motif at play). It’s easy to solve with a quick Google search (or Yahoo, as is popular in Japan) and I’ve heard it before. Yet the detective in charge never thinks of that.
Later, they introduce Five, a “genius” girl working for the FBI, to catch Nine and Twelve. If the quirky naming scheme wasn’t obvious enough, Resonance wants to be Death Note. Nothing wrong with that. But to draw inspiration from another piece, one must understand said piece, particularly what made it succeed. The Resonance writer seems to think that throwing random crazy and nonsensical mental duels at the story was Death Note’s secret.
She has edge and crazy instead of character. Yes, L was an oddball in Death Note, but that’s on top of his depth. Five’s motivations make no sense, as every move she chooses puts her further from the objective of recovering the plutonium. One duel has Five face the boys in a shopping centre. Her team has eyes everywhere, while the boys must navigate the surveillance in a grid like a chessboard. It’s nonsense. Especially once you realise no one needs to play this convoluted game. I assume the writer thought the scene needed some hook, some quirk to draw the audience and forced in the cliché chess angle.
I almost forgot Lisa – as the plot did (ba-dum tss). Each episode, I kept wondering about her purpose to the story, as the camera occasionally cut to her moping in the hideout or around town. She has none. She leapt at Twelve’s invitation, yet is unwilling to partake in the bombings. Resonance’s main theme is cycle of abuse and if one would break the cycle when given power of one’s abuser. She’s a concentrated proxy of this cycle, but with so little personality and impact, her metaphorical role amounts to nothing, like all edgelords. Cut her from the story!
The writer muddled the message by trying to make everything more complicated than necessary. It didn’t need all the Death Note touches – should have been itself. These kids want to change the world through extreme means; however, their actions are confusing. So many better decisions could have had higher efficacy. Terror in Resonance’s art, music, and concepts are better than the story itself.
Art – High
Terror in Resonance has nice clean art and animation, rarely relying on static shots. Colours pop.
Sound – Very High
I love the soundtrack, from the ethereal OP and ED (I hated skipping them twice when pressed for time) to the instrumental background music. With Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain) on the music, her international folio delivers, including Indian Tabla – a rarity in anime – for tension. The dub is better than the original, as the American characters don’t speak Engrish and it matched voices better. Original is still good, overall.
Story – Medium
A terrorist attack on Tokyo leaves little clues outside an internet video with a riddle warning of another bomb. Sadly, a need for edge and desire to be Death Note fails to deliver on the premise.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. I debated extensively on whether to go for a high or medium rating, but the faults dampen the end feeling. I recommend Terror in Resonance on the merits of its visuals, audio, and the concepts it tackles, in spite of its story stumbles.