Tag Archives: Assassin

Protagonist or prominent character whose profession is expert killing.

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan – Tsuiokuhen

 

Related: Rurouni Kenshin (main series)

Similar: Basilisk

Ninja Scroll

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Samurai Action Drama Romance

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The right type of tragic backstory.
  • Surprising turns.
  • Improved technicals compared to series.

Negatives:

  • Missing a poetic detail from the manga.
  • Tomoe doesn’t have enough of her own story.

I made my disappointment for Rurouni Kenshin clear in my review, finding the ‘neutered for children’ approach to be a ruination of the good manga. The series also removed the best part of Kenshin’s tale, his backstory. Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal is that backstory told over four episodes.

In the lead up to the Japanese revolution, a swordsmaster rescues a slave child from bandits. That child is Kenshin, who, after training under the swordsmaster, would play a pivotal role in the Meiji restoration of Japan. Trust and Betrayal details Kenshin’s bloody legacy and the price it exacts from his soul. One night, he meets Tomoe, a mysterious woman who sees beyond his assassin’s visage. However, his actions have already set in motion a fate that cannot be avoided without a price.

Rurouni Kenshin failed in large part for forgetting who Kenshin was, what atrocities he committed, in the series’ efforts to protect the children. Trust and Betrayal remedies that error by delving deep into Kenshin’s character. It doesn’t hide why he kills as many people as he does; it doesn’t pretend that his actions are pleasant; it doesn’t pretend that he can merely walk away unscathed from it all. An honesty of character is never a bad thing.

Trust and Betrayal does falter in two parts. First, Tomoe doesn’t have enough time for her own story. Not knowing her importance, one would assume that she is a minor character based on her screen time. Where Kenshin is dissected to his core, Tomoe is left unexplored. I understand she is supposed to be mysterious, but even after the conclusion, too little comes to light. Second flaw: they removed a minor detail from the finale that who have compounded the finale’s impact.

Rurouni Kenshin the manga was a seemingly light-hearted samurai story that hid darkness within. The anime was all that darkness removed; Trust and betrayal is the darkest point realised. I wish for a full Rurouni Kenshin adaptation in this style.

Art – High

The mature style suits the narrative better than the childish version from the series ever could. The art reminds me of classical Japanese still-life paints, like the one of the cranes in Kenshin’s house. Good cinematography and animation. Could do without the epilepsy flashing for action, which was all the rage in that era.

Sound – High

Though the cast is the same in Japanese (where common in characters), the acting is much better – not having Kenshin sound like he’s gargling bubble bath helps. The English, too, is better, void of the irritating mannerisms. Music has more impact.

Story – High

The legend of an assassin who would kill hundreds and the consequences of his actions. Kenshin the Manslayer’s origin story. A tragic story soaked in blood. Great, but could have gone deeper.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Even if you have no desire to watch the main series, Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal is worth your time. If only Rurouni Kenshin had this level of quality.

(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 DevelopmentStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Advertisements

Rurouni Kenshin – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan

 

Related: Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal (prequel – watch after main series)

Samurai X: Reflection (sequel)

Samurai X: The Motion Picture (side story)

Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc (alternative version)

Similar: Trigun

Gintama

Samurai Champloo

InuYasha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Samurai Action Adventure Comedy Romance

Length: 94 episodes + 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Enjoyable with some good humour.

Negatives:

  • Takes a season to reach the main plot.
  • Neutered from the manga.
  • Poor understanding of physics, even with suspension of disbelief.
  • Go-nowhere romance.
  • Kenshin’s voice.

Rurouni Kenshin (or Samurai X in some places) was the first mange I ever read. I was visiting some friends in France and they had the full collection. I am ashamed to admit that I read too much Kenshin instead of spending time with my friends – Nicolas, Simon, je vous en prie de me pardoner. Needless to say, I found the manga a great read. I thought nothing of the sort with the anime.

Kenshin is a wandering samurai trying to distance himself from the world, but he can never escape his past as the Hitokiri Battousai, for someone in every town either wants to hire him or wants to kill him for the massacres he committed in the previous era. He goes largely unnoticed because of his unassuming nature and he carries a reverse-bladed sword. After an initial moment of disbelief that he is the legendary manslayer, dojo owner Kaoru takes him in, charmed by his goofiness and aid he leant her against a Battousai imposter. She has a ‘in love, but I will deny it at every turn’ relationship with him.

The first few episodes serve to introduce the main gang of Kenshin, Kaoru, and later, Sanosuke, a street fighter who lost his honour, and Yahiko, a street rat in need of disciple, which Kaoru provides. The subsequent episodes focus on minor conflicts – bandits, thugs, people after Kenshin, etc. You wouldn’t know that the main plot involves a presumed-dead warrior, successor to the Hitokiri Battousai name, Shishio. Surviving live immolation, he wears bandages at all times and must regularly cool himself, as his skin doesn’t ventilate anymore. You wouldn’t know of this main plot because it takes a season of meandering to reach him. It’s not as though he is some surprise revelation or the first season was about building him up. No, beyond the character introductions, the first season has no effect on the second – the third is non-canon filler.

This would be okay, if season one was good in its own right, but it’s too light hearted, feels too tailored for children, and void of meaningful tension. At one point, a group of villains run at a Gatling gun one at a time, only to die – too stupid to garner emotional investment. The season gives bits and pieces of relevance among filler plot of the week. The manga didn’t have half this nonsense, was darker, and faster reading washed weaker segments away. The writers also separated the manga’s best story and created Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal out of it (the quality is better in that segment, so I am actually thankful).

The action translated poorly from the manga as well. The special techniques already required suspension of disbelief, but to accept them in the anime approaches ignorance. Better animation to illustrate them would have helped. The one aspect that did translate was the reverse blade plot device; they make far too big a deal out of it here and on paper. Kenshin refuses to kill anymore and wields a katana with the blade on the inside to avoid killing in combat. Er…yeah…even the blunt side of a sword would kill with his speed and strength. He even makes a huge fuss over using a normal katana, at one point, as though he couldn’t simply turn it around – again, with his skill, that would impair him little.

Look, Kenshin is still a decent anime, above average – good humour – but with the source material they had to work with, this should have been much better.

Art – Low

Did they have one animator chained to desk animating three seasons with the time and budget for a single season? Stiff animation, lots of stuttering. Next time, take the money you wasted on season three and use it to animate the episodes that mattered. The sequel, prequel, and OVAs look far better, a high quality.

Sound – Medium

Voice work is equally average in either language, except Kenshin. You have a choice of poison: you can take his annoying Japanese voice or take his stupid speech mannerism in English. (“It is beautiful, that it is.” “You should not fight, that you should not.” “Please, cut my tongue out, would you, please.” [Alright, that last one is fake.]) Acting is better in the sequel, prequel, and OVAs as well.

Story – Medium

A manslayer wanders around to escape his past, until he meets a woman. Bits of story with lots of filler, then story, then filler.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: I rarely advocate for reading manga instead of watching the anime, but this is one instance where I insist. If you do want to watch, prepare to skip some episodes – the ones with pirates are useless – and don’t bother with season three.

(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: None

Negative: 

DissapointingPoor Pacing

Gungrave – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gungrave

 

Related: Gungrave (video game basis)

Similar: Berserk

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Texhnolyze

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mafia Drama Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Deep characters and development.
  • Stylish, fast-paced action.
  • Brutal drama.
  • Top tier acting for the well-characterised dialogue.
  • Less is more.

Negatives:

  • The action focused final third could not live up to the preceding drama.

Before I begin the review, you must know of the two ways to watch Gungrave, depending on what type of story you prefer. If you start at episode one, you will witness a flash-forward before the plot rewinds to the beginning. Or, you can begin at episode two and have no idea of what is yet to come. With the first method, you will be wondering how things went so wrong; with the second method, you won’t know what goes wrong. It is up to your preference. Both are equally great, though I will write this review on the assumption that you skip episode one to avoid spoiling for method two. (All trailers spoil too much, so I settled for the opening above.)

After the murder of their friends by a rival gang, street punks Brandon and Harry join the largest crime syndicate, Millennion. Brandon seeks to get closer to Maria, the Godfather’s ward, while Harry wishes to make something of himself. Brandon is quiet, disciplined – the muscle – and loyal to a fault. He barely talks, but he projects tons of character in his manner, in the tone of his expression. Harry, on the other hand, is a leader, too charismatic for his own good, a smooth talker of great ambition and intellect.

Gungrave is the story of how these two friends climb the mafia ranks, putting character, morals, and love on the line. Gungrave’s roots in gangster films are obvious – the notion of ‘loyalty to the family’ is a recurring theme throughout. It is a blend of Scarface and The Godfather with a touch of science fiction (only anime would take such down-to-earth films and add the fantastical).

Brandon and Harry, supported by a larger cast, are the heart of Gungrave. Their character arcs are something to be studied at length for how well and believably the characters evolve by the end. It’s rare to see a story that doesn’t treat friendship as an all-binding law. I enjoy a ‘power of friendship’ story as much as the next viewer, but it’s always a pleasure to see a story that questions if friendship really is all-powerful. And Gungrave manages to convey all of this without resorting to long conversations. Most stories can only manage such depth by sitting the characters down for long dialogues to explain their motives, which is rather dull, even if insightful. Brandon’s restriction as a silent character forced the writers to express thought without word – that look in his eye, that moment’s hesitation. Gungrave conveys development through actions, choices and consequences, never resorting to extended conversations where characters tell us where they stand.

Despite the serious gangster story and unfettered violence, there are moments of well-timed humour to give the audience time to breathe. If you have seen the famous gangster films, you will know that despite the many guns, action occupies only a small amount of screen time. Guns in mafia films aren’t about delivering action, but as tools to convey character emotions. Gungrave is no different. The syndicate isn’t about killing. It’s about control and family, understating how humans work and what makes them comfortable, makes them unwilling to defy you, or better yet, work for you.

The action, when present, is excellent and doesn’t drag for episodes on end. That said, when the action does dominate the final third (also like most gangster films), it isn’t as good as preceding episodes. An unfortunate side effect of having such powerful drama come first – a real first-world [story] problem.

Gungrave still keeps me glued to the screen after several viewings for its subtlety in character and is my favourite anime. Can you believe this is based on a video game? It’s amazing that a simple action game spawned such an excellent series. If only movies could manage such adaptation quality.

Art – High

Gungrave looks great for a pre-HD anime with a Trigun and Cowboy Bebop-esque art style. The action looks fantastic and cinematography works overtime to amplify characters’ emotion.

Sound – Very High

The cast couldn’t be better for Gungrave’s Japanese track. Even with the European-dominated naming (some Engrish), I recommend sticking with Japanese. Tomokazu Seki, once again, delivers the perfect quiet character. The music consists mostly of slow jazz and solo violin. I like the lyric-less OP.

Story – Very High

A mafia story of power, greed, family and loyalty. Characters and development of excellent depth.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Gungrave is an exemplar is subtle characterisation and uncensored human nature. Remember to start at episode one or two depending on your preferred story type.

(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:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Monster – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Monster

 

Similar: Master Keaton (same creator)

Death Note

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Terror in Resonance

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Thriller Drama Horror Mystery

Length: 74 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Johan, one of the greatest villains in fiction.
  • Every character has nuance and depth beyond the scope.
  • Many threads woven together to create a tense, unforgettable story.
  • Art that evolves as the characters grow over time.
  • Psychological atmosphere brought to life with tense music.
  • An opening sequence that other anime could learn much from.

Negatives:

  • Some unnecessary flashbacks to scenes we just watched last episode.
  • A few episodes muddle the storytelling coherence, but it is clarified later.

Monster is a sombre, twisted look into the life of one man and the events that unfold under his influence. It takes us down into the seedy underbelly of a post-Berlin Wall 1990s Germany, where the country is shaken by the rise of a serial killer.

Our tale starts with Doctor Tenma, a genius neurosurgeon in Düsseldorf. He has it all: the rich fiancée, Eva, the prestige, and the skill. One night, a little boy comes into the emergency room, gunshot to the head, and only Tenma’s ability can save him. Nine years later, a string of murders occurs and sweeps Tenma up into the brutality. The killer is that very same boy from all those years ago, and the murders are the mere tip of his machinations. What would you do if you had saved the life of the next Hitler?

Tenma feels a personal responsibility, especially with how much attention Johan favours him with, a truly messed up connection akin to Dumbledore and Voldemort. To worsen matters, Detective Lunge is on the case and his primary suspect is Tenma, for he has gained much since the murders. Lunge is a bloodhound, hell-bent on solving the case, even at the cost of all personal feelings and livelihood – a darker Sherlock Holmes. He’s the creepy guy you want in charge of your case, but wouldn’t invite over for dinner. I like his strange quirk where he types with his fingers in the air to archive every detail to memory.

The opening sequence sets the tone for Monster without a single word or lyric. Tenma keeps looking over his shoulder at distant, ethereal voices, yet there is never anything around once he looks. He is stalked and alone on his quest for the elusive killer.

The true star of Monster is the villain, Johan, a Hannibal Lecter type. He reveals himself to us early, but for much of the narrative, he remains in the shadows, controlling the events with unparalleled skill. Importantly, his ability to manipulate countless others and their organisations is believable, most prominently when we see him play his game in person. The way Johan manages to understand people, get inside their heads is brilliant, twisted, but brilliant – only one with such little emotion and empathy would be willing to go as far as he does. Whenever Johan is in a scene, it reminds me of Game of Thrones’ Geoffrey; he creates a tension unlike any other, as if he could kill at any moment. Unlike Geoffrey, however, who is a petulant child with the bigger stick, Johan has the subtlety, the patience of a master. He is bred for perfection in appearance and intelligence, and makes full use of that fact.

Monster introduces new characters and plot threads every few episodes. First, it is murder, then serial murder, then the mafia, and just when you think they couldn’t possibly add more, Nazi topics – the perfect race, Hitler’s rise to power, etc. – enter the fold. What it means to kill. Eugenics. Child psychology. More and more, seemingly endless wealth of themes weave into the plot. You must, must dedicate your attention to Monster or you may find yourself lost in its intricate plotting. If you do pay attention, Monster will reward you with nuance and maturity in the characters and themes at a level far beyond the norm.

“I brought him back to life… That monster…I brought him back to life…”

Art – High

Monster sports a more realistic art style than most anime. In fact, one could be forgiven for assuming it is not anime due to its highly detailed depiction of 1990s Germany. The face art may be off-putting at first (those irises are really small), but I grew accustomed within a few episodes. Most impressive, to me, is how well the art conveys the characters’ emotions and personalities. Pay particular attention to Eva and Tenma – he looks like a changed man by the end.

Sound – Very High

Excellent acting is either language, yet the English takes the crown, as the foreign languages (German, Czech, etc.) sound better from the English actors; however, Johan makes the English a must – bone-chilling performance. Great music and ambient sounds like the stalking Predator bring heights of tension and drama – again, some truly creepy songs. My only auditory gripe is with the lack of German accents for many characters, not even a slight one, though they do at least incorporate German mannerisms into dialogue.

Story – Very High

Monster is a once in a decade anime. The writers masterfully wove so many character threads together, filled with a ruthless, human logic that few creators bother to incorporate into their stories. Every character is human, a part of them broken by the hardships of life. Johan is a villain I will never forget.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: I cannot emphasise how much you must watch Monster. That said, I would wait until you have developed a liking for lengthy dramas, or you may miss much of the subtlety that makes Monster unforgettable, as I had in my youth. Remember to pay attention at all times.

(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:

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Phenomenal VillainPositive Recommended English Voice TrackStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid

 

Related: Full Metal Panic! (prequel)

Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (side-story)

Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory (sequel)

Similar: Black Lagoon

Code Geass

Gundam 00

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Mecha Comedy Romance Drama

Length: 13 episodes + 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • A darker evolution on the first season.
  • Engaging battles against psychotic enemies.
  • Stellar voice work returns coupled with the series’ best music yet.
  • Several great new jokes.

Negatives:

  • An unfinished side plot with no sequel available.

Mithril is back, this time facing their most psychotic and depraved enemy. The conflict centres on Hong Kong, where weapons-dealing organisation Amalgam has set up camp with their Whispered Technology. Across the river in Japan, Sagara still protects Chidori from capture; however, his ability to balance work as a bodyguard, student, and mercenary piloting the ace mech comes under question by the top.

After Fumoffu’s sidesplitting hilarity, The Second Raid may come as a shock with how dark its narrative goes. It begins familiar with Mithril intervening in a takeover by a military dictator, followed by a couple of episodes with excellent comedy. I could relate to Sagara’s fear of allowing someone so close with scissors for a haircut – No, the shampoo isn’t poisonous, he tells himself. Then Sagara’s story descends into darkness when his competence is disputed.

I love this direction in the franchise. It shows a progression to the story, a maturing of the show alongside the audience, and more importantly, Sagara. His work and Chidori are all he has. His work is his life and when he feels like a failure, his whole world collapses under that weight. I didn’t believe the writer had the courage to push his characters this far when I started this series back in season one.

The villains received similar treatment. Gates, the weapons dealer, brings a mix of humour and craziness, as he executes his henchmen on a whim when offended or for a mere joke. But the truly twisted aspect is the twin girls working under him. They have this creepy sexuality to them that speaks of a psychologically tortured past, probably isolated from birth. I got the impression that they were a ‘what if’ scenario to Sagara. What if he hadn’t found a mentor that gave him direction in life? He might have ended up as damaged as these two girls. I wish to see more of their backstories.

Lastly, the action, already great in the past, has improved, more strategic than before. Equipped with technology to rival Mithril, the stakes are high on the streets of Hong Kong.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid is an excellent continuation to the franchise. I loved the darker direction, yet still with enough signature humour, and the limits to which Sagara is pushed.

Art – High

The Second Raid sports an upgrade in visual quality from the original, particularly in the action department. A darker aesthetic to match the tone and greater detail make for a nice anime. The new mechs look vicious, evolved forms of Venom.

Sound – Very High

The same great actors return alongside a couple of new faces (Naruto’s Ero-sensei as the villain is hilarious) – I still recommend Japanese despite the good English track. With the Hong Kong setting, we hear plenty of Chinese, which works in either version. Tense violin and a brass orchestra bring the best soundtrack Full Metal Panic has seen.

Story – High

The Second Raid takes Full Metal Panic into some dark corners to excellent effect. Still has some great comedy to offset the weight, most notably from the villain. Greatest flaw is the unfinished side plot with Tessa’s brother.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for fans of Full Metal Panic! Now where is the final season?

(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:

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicHilariousRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None