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.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: The Origin

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Loum Arc (sequel)

Mobile Suit Gundam (original version)

Similar: Code Geass

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action

Length: 4 episodes (1 hr. each)

 

Positives:

  • “Char” Aznable.
  • A Gundam protagonist that earns every step of his power.
  • Mix of politics, assassinations, and war.
  • No Gundam vagueness.

Negatives:

  • Ill-suited slapstick.
  • (Where is my next episode?)

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is pitched as a retelling of the series that started it all, Mobile Suit Gundam. Of course I would watch a remake of a classic I enjoyed. I thought we would open on Amuro, the original protagonist, so when it focused on a blond child called Casval and his little sister, I admit to my confusion. Where’s Amuro?

As it turns out, Gundam: The Origin starts before the original, at the inciting incident that led Char Aznable on the path to become such an enigmatic figure in the wars to come. I am hooked. Char is the most interesting character in Universal Century Gundam, so to see him as protagonist, with his backstory explored in depth, is a delight.

After a teaser of adult Char in a space battle, we return to him as a child on a space colony. His family’s high-class life shatters with the sudden death of his father, an advocate for Spacenoid (citizens of space colonies) independence. The father’s supporters smell foul play in this “natural” death and anarchy breaks loose on the streets. Everything is in disarray. Who’s in charge? Who’s allied with whom? What does each player in the game want? Answers are hard to find.

Char, his sister, and his mother are now valuable pieces in either inciting further action or quelling the riots. Life pushes them around. For Char, however, this isn’t a life worth living. He begins to plot a course towards revenge. Will he get revenge though? And on whom? With so many players in the game, his quest won’t be an easy one.

Gundam: The Origin is a good show in all aspects, but Char makes it great. As an anti-hero, we are never quite sure what he will do to achieve his goal. When he’s friendly with someone, we a never sure if he’s actually friends with them or up to something. Up to something – that’s a good way of summing up Char. He’s always up to something

Beyond him, Gundam: The Origin has an extensive cast, each with a purpose in this political maelstrom. Friends, enemies, or somewhere in between, you will meet all sorts. Barring some random slapstick, the cast feels written for an older audience than typical Gundam, which I suspect stems from having an older protagonist in Char. It’s a refreshing change, especially coupled with him earning power and skill through work rather than having it all thrown at him like other Gundam series (Unicorn) that I will not mention here (Unicorn).

The writing as a whole is leaps better than what I expect from a Universal Century series. Vague dialogue is nowhere in sight. No one stands in the open cockpit of a mech preparing to self-destruct while they spout some “cool” line instead of running clear. The conflict and political landscape is coherent (unless intentionally masked for story), free of the vague nonsense that plagues this franchise. There is no rambling on about the ‘dialogues’ to come, the ‘dialogues’ that will solve all, the bloody ‘dialogues’ that will answer the meaning of bloody life! No complaints about the writing from me this time.

And so, we reach my major gripe. Where is my next episode? I want more, damn it! You can’t just start the story, give me all this good writing, an amazing protagonist, political intrigue that makes me lean forward, and then just end it right there. What are you playing at, Sunrise?

If future Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin entries maintain this quality, it could very well earn a ‘Very High’ rating from me.

Art – High

The chaotic action scenes use CG for the mechs and ships, but it works well, as spaceships don’t need much work and the particle effects mask it well. Unlike the recent Berserk that has random camera movements, just because, Gundam: The Origin takes advantage of the CG with a dynamic camera that dives into the action. Everything else is clean.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The script is less wishy-washy than other Universal Century Gundam. When a character needs to say something, they say it.

Story – High

A retelling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but from before the start with the events that made Char the legend he has become. I expected another Gundam Unicorn; I got something great instead.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is a great place to start for newcomers to the gargantuan franchise, while also giving plenty to veterans.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Tomorrow’s Joe – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ashita no Joe

 

Related: Tomorrow’s Joe 2

Similar: Fighting Spirit

Rainbow

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Boxing Sports Drama

Length: 79 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Joe’s rivals, Rikiishi and Carlos.
  • Rough art aged surprisingly well.
  • Greatly improves in the second half.

Negatives:

  • Insufferable protagonist.
  • Too much of the comic relief.
  • First half is a slog.
  • Audio did not age like the art.

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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.

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

Positive:

Phenomenal Villain

Negative:

Ear Grating Voice WorkPoor Pacing

Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

LOGH: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Waga Yuku wa Hoshi no Taikai

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (main series)

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War (sequel side story)

Similar: Code Geass

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 59 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Visually engaging and strategic battles.
  • Upgraded art from the series.
  • More micro world building.

Negatives:

  • Little new information from the main series.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

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

Positive: N/A

Negative: N/A

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu

 

Related: In recommended viewing order, all are prequels (none included in review):

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaiden: Golden Wings

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaiden: A Hundred Billion Stars

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaiden: Spiral Labyrinth

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These (new version)

 

Similar: Code Geass

Rose of Versailles

Mobile Suit Gundam

Game of Thrones (TV)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction War Drama

Length: 110 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Endless depth to the characters and story.
  • Unpredictable conflict and developments.
  • Masterclass in dialogue and performance.
  • Galaxy building.
  • Orchestral and operatic score.
  • Riveting to the end.

Negatives:

  • Art and sound show their age in the first season.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None