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.

Afro Samurai – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Afro Samurai

 

Related: Afro Samurai Resurrection (sequel – included in this review)

Similar: Ninja Scroll the movie

Samurai Champloo

Shigurui: Death Frenzy

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Action

Length: 5 episodes (season 1) & movie (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Gory, stylised action complemented by bleak visuals.
  • Great and sometimes unusual voice work, particularly from Samuel L. Jackson.

Negatives:

  • Poor sound mixing muffles speech under the music.
  • Not much to the plot, even with flashbacks.
  • In particular, the anime doesn’t explain why the headbands are worth anything beyond pieces of cloth.
  • Though the action animations are great, the lip movements don’t match the words half the time.

After seeing his father decapitated for a headband, Afro trains up as a samurai to avenge his father and reclaim the number one headband. Afro Samurai is set in a feudal Japan meets futuristic Wild West world of swordfights, gunslingers, and Mexican standoffs, wind blowing through your afro. Legends say the strongest warrior and owner of the number one headband is a god and only the number two can challenge for that power. Being number two, challengers beset Afro as he works his way to the mountain of number one. He knows no love, no happiness, only the murderous violence the number two headband incites in the heart of every man after the power of number one.

Afro Samurai’s biggest draws are its over-the-top action and style. The action is in the vein of Kill Bill with its excessive gore, blood spraying in ludicrous amounts. No shot is standard, not shot is dull. The camera zooms into every unsheathing of a sword, light sparking off the blade, every cocking of a hammer, pull of a trigger.

From its desaturated colours to no-cares-given protagonist, Afro Samurai is sombre anime. The only source of humour is Afro’s chain smoking sidekick, Ninja Ninja (both voiced by Samuel L Jackson). He is the antithesis to Afro, never shutting up and a coward. He doesn’t do much beyond provide commentary to the adventure and say what Afro is really thinking. Ninja Ninja is Jackson at his silliest and quite humorous.

Afro Samurai’s bleakness doesn’t just cover its tone but also extends to its sparse plot. On his quest, Afro meets various characters from his childhood (including a Vader-type samurai with a teddy bear head), which the plot does try to inject personality into by way of flashbacks. However, these flashbacks are minimal in content and depth, and little effort is made to characterise in the present. There is also this brotherhood of monks looking to create a clone of Afro with all his skills to claim number one for themselves. While I found their Evangelical preacher of a leader amusing, the brotherhood doesn’t feel particularly relevant and could have been cut from the show with ease, but then you would have even less to populate the narrative.

What bothered me most were the headbands. They never explain why these mere pieces of cloth have any kind of power. I fail to see how you have to own a headband to be the best or challenge the best. Furthermore, if they are as powerful as they claim, can’t one simply bury the headband in the middle of a forest to stop challengers hounding you? If they don’t know you have the headband, they won’t bother challenging. Hell, if you have to have it on you to gain its power, then stuff it in your sock instead of parading around with it on your head. Misery solved.

If you can look past these logical fallacies and want an anime all about the action and blood, then Afro Samurai is for you. On the other hand, if you want more than ankle-deep characterisation and story, then skip this one.

Art – High

Afro Samurai uses a high number of key frames to bring the gruesome animation to life. Desaturated colouring enhances the bleakness of Afro’s quest. The mouth animations don’t match the words half the time – not just out of sync, but the wrong shape altogether (this anime was drawn for English).

Sound – Medium

Great voice work overpowered by the poor mixing of music, which is an even bigger shame since the music itself is decent – a mix of rap and long whistles for Mexican standoffs.

Story – Medium

The flashbacks provide backstory to the characters, but in the present, the plot doesn’t involve much beyond killing a series of enemies to reach the top.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of over the top action. Afro Samurai is worth your while if you want an anime all about the action and with enough backstory to give the characters purpose, don’t expect more than that.

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingNo Development

Berserk – Review

Japanese Title: Kenpuu Denki Berserk

 

Related: Berserk: The Golden Age (remake)

Similar: Claymore

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Horror Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – Medium

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

Story – High

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

Overall Quality – High

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

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

 

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Riveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

 

Bakemonogatari – Review

Japanese Title: Bakemonogatari

 

Related: Nisemonogatari (sequel)

Similar: Katanagatari

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

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

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – Very High

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

Sound – High

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

Story – High

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

Overall Quality – High

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

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

 

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

Positive:

Engaging DialogueStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingIncoherentMisleading