Tag Archives: Assassin

Protagonist or prominent character whose profession is expert killing.

Baccano! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Baccano!

 

Related: Durarara!! (Character crossover & same creator)

Similar: Gungrave

Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Comedy Mystery

Length: 16 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Phenomenal English voice track with a plethora of accents.
  • An intriguing mystery woven around the supernatural.
  • A varied cast – Isaac and Miria are hilarious.
  • Well-defined period setting reminiscent of gangster films and a gory version of Murder on the Orient Express.
  • Add the jazz music, and Baccano has a great atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • The narrative structure causes confusion at several points.
  • Long shots lose more detail than they should on characters.

Baccano opens with a historian and his apprentice discussing an event centred on the Flying Pussyfoot, a US continental express train that left a bloody trail in its wake. They can’t decide on where to start or even who should be the main character in their chronicle, and for good reason, as Baccano’s nonlinear narrative jumps all over the place between perspectives and times. Add in a large cast and you can understand the difficulty in deciding how to approach the story.

Baccano takes place primarily in three locations: 1930s Chicago with tensions rising between mafia groups, New York where an alchemist looks to create the elixir of immortality, and in between the two is the Flying Pussyfoot, acting as a nexus for the many plot threads including the legend of the ‘Rail-Tracer,’ a monster said to target train passengers. Baccano’s twist on the mafia genre is the inclusion of immortals, humans who can regenerate from any damage, every drop of spilt blood vacuuming back into their body after death – to disgustingly great visual effect, I might add. This is a tale of alchemy, psychopaths, gangs, thievery and loyalty.

My favourite characters were Isaac and Miria, a thieving duo with the craziest ideas for heists. “We will steal from Earth itself by digging and taking the gold we find without asking.” Genius! They make for a hilarious couple and bring much of the humour to an otherwise dark tale. Their leaps of logic are stupid as hell and oh so funny, yet somehow unexpectedly brilliant.

It would take the whole review to list all characters and tell of their stakes in the narrative. Rest assured that each character is different, bringing their own complexities and personality to the conflict. You never know who will ally with whom, who is evil. Everyone is interconnected and it’s a thrill to see how all the threads tie together in the end.

I love seeing stories told in unusual ways, such as Memento, presented in reverse and a favourite of mine. Unfortunately, Baccano went too far with its nonlinear technique. Often, I wasn’t sure how a current scene had anything to do with the plot until it caught up to another thread. The first few episodes are the same section of time told from different perspectives; however, there is nothing at the start of the new scene to indicate the plot has jumped backwards a short way. Most films that use this repeated-from-another-perspective technique have each jump start with a common event, an explosion, for example, to tell the audience we have rewound.

Despite this attention deficit storytelling, Baccano is an anime well worth watching. Just pay attention to the scene jumps so that you don’t lose yourself, and I recommend watching Baccano twice to uncover all it has to offer. I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

Art – High

Good costume and setting design inspired by gangster period pieces. Nicely detailed backgrounds, but characters lose too much detail at a distance. Suitably gory.

Sound – Very High

One of the best English voice tracks in anime. Great to finally hear a variety of accents. Definitely recommend in English. The jazz music is great too, reminiscent of the era. Intro theme is perfect, giving a sense of the fun and craziness in the show. The accompanying visuals help to remind you of the characters as well. The most notable issue with sound isn’t even a problem; the ending theme is nice, but it doesn’t match the rest of the soundtrack with its piano ballad – reminds of a Japanese Delta Goodrem.

Story – High

A brutal conflict between gangs that spans centuries. From the psychotic to the funny to the weak, the cast of characters is complex and engaging. The nonlinear narrative structure, while unique and interesting, does drop a few balls as it juggles the many plot threads.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch if you enjoy nonlinear narratives. Baccano! is an engaging, if sometimes confusing, tale of warring mafia gangs with a supernatural twist. Watch in English.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHilariousHoly S***Positive Recommended English Voice TrackStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative:

Incoherent

Basilisk – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou

 

Similar: Ninja Scroll the Movie

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal

Romeo x Juliet

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action Adventure Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Creative powers make for strategic encounters.
  • Both ninja clans have good and evil.
  • No character feels safe.
  • Tragedy of the premise makes you feel for the characters.

Negatives:

  • Some characters don’t get the development and screen time they deserve.
  • The English voice track doesn’t work well with Japanese nouns and honorifics.

Two ninja clans have feuded for the last four-hundred years, only held at bay by a royal pact prohibiting conflict in the last few generations. In this time of tenuous peace, Gennosuke, grandson of the Kouga clan leader, and Oboro, granddaughter of the Iga clan leader, have fallen in love and their marriage is to create a binding peace between the clans. However, the current shogun decides to use the clans to determine the successor from his two sons. Each clan must select its ten best ninja to annihilate each other. The winning clan will receive the support of the shogun for the next thousand years and rule over the defeated. The pact is broken.

Basilisk is a brutal story as both sides cut each other down to the last. You quickly learn that no one is safe in this conflict; no character wears unkillable ‘plot armour.’ This creates great tension in every moment of conflict, for you never know what will happen, who will die. Basilisk makes great use of the ninja theme with every aspect shrouded in deception and brutality. Each ninja has a special power such as a spider-man who spits glue-like phlegm, and a woman can use her blood to mark the target and create a red mist she can vanish into. To reveal any more would constitute spoilers since the powers themselves are kept hidden for use as twists in the plot. I love strategic use of character abilities and talents.

The writers did a great job with the characters. Neither clan is the good or bad side. Both have characters with shades of grey, beautiful and ugly, calm and angry, kind and cruel. Having these complex characters on both sides makes it all the harder to see them die.

It is clear Basilisk drew much inspiration from Ninja Scroll the Movie with the unique ninja powers and action style. In my review of Ninja Scroll, I noted the lack of character development as a core issue. Thankfully, Basilisk uses its longer screen time to develop the characters through flashbacks and during downtime. Even then, a few characters don’t get the screen time they deserve in such a large cast.

Basilisk excels at character design, each ninja’s look based on their powers – they even have a ninja with no arms or legs. The action is suitably gory and uncensored as a man cuts off his own head. I do wish the visual style in general had more grit like Ninja Scroll the Movie and BerserkBasilisk looks too clean by comparison.

Finally, we come to the audio. Don’t use the English track. With so many archaic Japanese names and locations coupled with honorifics –dono and –sama spoken in American accents (some rather heavy, see: character Okoi), the English voice work sounds strange. If they insisted on using the honorifics with these voices, they should have use titles like ‘lord’ and ‘lady’ instead. Stick to the Japanese original with its well-matched voices to the characters.

I highly recommend Basilisk to anyone who isn’t averse to a little gore. The ninjas and their powers make for an engaging narrative of action and tragedy.

Art – High

A variety of character designs that fit their creative powers. Gore and violence worthy of the brutal premise. I would have liked more grit in the general art.

Sound – High

In Japanese, each character has the right voice, well executed. In English, however, the heavy use of Japanese words doesn’t sound right. Outside of the forgettable title tracks, the music is nice. I particularly liked what I refer to as ‘mountain monk’ music (I have no idea what it’s called) – flutes, chimes, ethereal vocals, etc.

Story – High

A tragic tale of two ninja clans willing to fight to the last warrior if it means wiping out the opposing clan. Add in the forbidden romance, and you have a great story to hear.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Can’t go wrong watching this. Basilisk manages to deliver great action coupled with complex characters in a dark tale of love and hate.

(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:

Holy S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStrategic

Negative: None

Angel Heart – Review

Japanese Title: Angel Heart

 

Related: City Hunter (main series)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Noir

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Comedy

Length: 50 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Has a good sense of humour, particularly involving City Hunter.
  • City Hunter is a great character with an equally good voice actor.
  • Haunting music enhances the sombre moments.
  • Starts strong, but…

Negatives:

  • …the plot wanes after thirteen episodes and goes on too long.
  • Start isn’t indicative of the remainder of the series.
  • The few supernatural elements are vague.

Ever watched a show that starts about one thing, only to change direction part way in? Angel Heart is one such show.

Angel Heart starts regarding an accelerated growth fourteen-year-old assassin, codename Glass Heart, who has a sudden moral crisis after killing a little girl’s father. Glass Heart kills herself by leaping off a tall building. However, the organisation she worked for revives her using advanced medical technology and transplanting a new heart into her. This heart belonged to recent accident victim, Kaori, and causes problems for Glass Heart, as she recalls memories and emotions of its original owner.

We are plunged into two minds: the killer instinct of Glass Heart and the kind mercy of Kaori. As Kaori’s thoughts seek out her fiancé, City Hunter – a former assassin turned good guy for hire – police officer Saeko investigates the theft of the donor heart alongside City Hunter, who swears to kill whoever has it. Memories flash through Glass Heart’s mind, conflicting opinions of what she feels for people, and which sentiments are truly hers.

Thirteen episodes in, all this changes as the psychological conflict is no more, the serious tone dropped for a lighter-hearted atmosphere, and the show loses any central plot. It becomes a case-by-case serial where City Hunter takes on various clients. For the most part these individual cases are interesting in their own few-episode stories, but with no overarching plot, there’s nothing to keep me going. Unless it’s a comedy or a near movie-length detective serial (think Poirot), one simply can’t follow this format – yes, one could have a few individual stories peppered throughout, just not as a basis for the show. The arcs themselves also linger for an episode after resolution. The intricate web of X is related to Y, but Y works for Z, while Z wants to kill X, however, A is spying on Y, yet A isn’t what he seems, etc. from the first arc is swept away.

There are a few other minor story related problems; the occasional supernatural elements are poorly explained or vague. The blind barman for example, can know who people are by simply being near them. In fact, this show has that whole ridiculous ‘sense someone’s aura’ to know what sort of a person they are – assassins identify each other this way. Fortunately, this doesn’t amount to much as no conflict is solved through this, meaning it could be removed without effect. There is also that common action trope where bullets seem incapable of hitting a target when convenient, despite being surrounded.

It’s all a real shame, as the characters are quite good: Glass Heart with her dual mind, Mochi the sissy son of a Yakuza boss who has to do whatever people can rope him into, and the blind barman who knocks sense into City Hunter when needed. City Hunter himself is the strongest of the lot, equal parts comedic perv and action man; he’s a good character with plenty of diversity to him. His voice actor does an exceptional job of transitioning from his serious tone to his comedic idiolect. The humour of this show is well executed, even during its occasional presence in the first thirteen episodes, yet it still isn’t enough to carry like in other anime – FMP: Fumoffu, Trigun, etc.

Angel Heart could have been a great show if it had stuck to its original idea of exploring the morality of an assassin. Instead, we are left with many tacked on episodes. It should have been no more than thirteen to sixteen episodes like the original series, City Hunter ’91.

Art – Medium

The art matches the tone of the show’s first thirteen episodes with a mature style found in films such as Perfect Blue and Ghost in the Shell. There is some creative psychedelic imagery at the start, but along with the tone change, such creativity is lost, leaving the unimaginative behind.

Sound – High

The acting is great, even for side characters, and I was pleased to see use of other languages (Chinese, Korean) not just Japanese – in anime, everyone tends to speak Japanese as a first language regardless of what country they hail from. The music is good, ranging from mystery to pop to electro.

Story – Medium

Strong start with the story of a conflicted assassin that unfortunately wanes too soon and stretches too far.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch the first thirteen episodes, rest at your own discretion.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingMisleadingWeak End