Tag Archives: Battle

Anime where the bulk of the screen time is allocated to fights, usually one vs. one.

Hunter x Hunter – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hunter x Hunter (2011)

 

Related: Hunter x Hunter (1999) (old version)

Hunter x Hunter Movie 1: Phantom Rogue (side story)

Hunter x Hunter Movie 2: The Last Mission (side story)

Similar: Naruto

Yu Yu Hakusho

One Piece

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Adventure

Length: 148 episodes

 

Positives:

  • No filler plague.
  • The villains Hisoka and Chimera King.
  • Phantom Troupe arc.

Negatives:

  • Hunter Exam is a waste of time.
  • Greed Island may be one of shounen’s worst arcs.
  • Too many ideas. No cohesion.
  • Poor character designs.
  • Perpetually delayed and incomplete.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Hunter x Hunter is purported to be different from other shounen battle anime. Let’s start by dispelling this notion, as it only sets up false expectations and ultimate disappointment.

Like all battle anime, Hunter x Hunter (don’t pronounce the x) is about a kid with big dreams. This time, we follow Gon Freecss, a boy in search of the father that abandoned him and his mother. To that end, he must become a hunter like his father before him in the belief that the profession will open new avenues of investigation.

Naturally, the story starts with Gon taking the exam to become a hunter. And here we hit the first brick wall. The Hunter Exam is tunnel-through-the-mountain boring! The exam is just one fake out after another.

Gon lives on an island, so must travel by ship to the mainland. Little does he know that the crossing is part of the test. Once ashore, he asks for directions to the exam, except the false directions are also part of the test. Then it’s an old lady with riddles, followed by a secret password into the exam site. But wait, that isn’t the site. We have to run a marathon first to get there! Watching people run, how riveting. Alright, are we done yet? No, we need to cook some barbeque. (Just kill me now.) And on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, (did I mention the recap episode halfway?), and on, and on…and on it goes for 21 episodes of boring task after boring task. This exam is every idea the author came up with dragged on for eternity. Why not pick the best three ideas and make something engaging of them? It serves no purpose other than to introduce characters, which could have happened naturally later had the exam be removed (and most introductions don’t matter anyway – more on that later).

Could a 21-episode exam work? Certainly, if interesting. Naruto managed it with the chunin exam using secret ninja techniques called “character development”, “meaningful conflict”, and “story progression”. Had the first episode of HxH been after this arc, all we would need is the narrator telling us, “This is Gon. He’s a hunter.” Twenty-one episodes saved. It’s the worst start to a shounen anime I’ve seen, barring the ones that had no potential to begin with. The arc isn’t filler, but it may as well be.

The plot next moves into a tournament arc, another common element of the genre. Gon and Killua have to fight to the top of a battle tower with hundreds of floors and millions in prize money. Matters get serious from the 200th floor onwards. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch all 200 floors – good performance leapfrogs contestants up faster.

The downfall of the tournament arc is the training sessions that eat up too much time between fights. HxH has a massive problem with over explaining its concepts and making them unnecessarily convoluted. This anime uses auras. If you’ve seen anything with aura powers before, you’ll get the point in a minute. HxH deems you too stupid to grasp it in less than hours of lectures. You can bet your savings that it will pause every fight for some long-winded explanation of X character’s power and strategy.

Training episodes suck because they have no plot nor any internal character growth. It isn’t a problem exclusive to this anime, yet these are particularly boring. Off the top of my head, only Bleach does them worse.

The first great moment occurs in episode 31 when Gon faces Hisoka, an interesting Pierrot-like villain, who values the challenge above all else and will go to extreme lengths for the greatest challenges, such as saving heroes with potential to contest him in future. He takes a keen interest in Gon. The exam introduced us to him and his villainy, but it all repeats here anyway. His power is a malleable aura compared to bubblegum that can manipulate targets with puppet strings, among other magician-type tricks. He’s a theatrical fighter that loves to put on a show.

Hisoka belongs to a villain group known as the Phantom Troupe, which leads into the next and best arc of the series. Gon and friends head to the big city to earn big bucks so they may buy a video game that will lead to his father. The Phantom Troupe arc succeeds where the others fail because it is all plot relevant and gives all main characters something to do, rather than forgetting half the team (more on that later). It also helps to have several interesting villains that pose a real threat. A highlight is the fight between Kurapika, the guy I confused for a girl in the artwork, and a villain. He is the revenge guy of the series, as there must be one in every shounen. Despite sharing much with others of his archetype, he works thanks to an interesting ability that cleverly explains how he can hope to match such powerful villains, but without overpowering him for the rest of the series. Shounens usually have to pull some convoluted nonsense to backpedal the power, such as Bleach with its moronic power resets.

At the end of this arc, 58 episodes in, I’m not blown away, yet it has been on an upward trajectory and I am convinced it’s only the good stuff from here.

Boy was I wrong.

The Greed Island arc that follows is somehow worse than the exam. Greed Island is the video game Gon seeks on his father’s trail. Players enter the game world and fight using cards with abilities. That’s right, we are in Yu-Gi-Oh now! It’s as dumb as it sounds. This arc was just an excuse for the author to cram in more convoluted mechanics and hours of idiots explaining how they work. If you want to see some of the worst pacing and exposition anime has to offer, watch the dodgeball game in this arc. Only masters of Zen can handle such trash.

The main villain for this period, a punk that blows people up with the power of cards, is pathetically dull. Much like the exam, this arc amounts to little more than wasting 17 episodes of your time. If I didn’t know better, I would believe this to be a filler arc.

Finally we come to the Chimera Ant arc, the longest at 61 episodes long, which tells of a species of dangerous human-creature hybrids that soon develop aura powers. The Hunter Association dispatches many hunters to deal with the threat.

The story has now gone from a big city, to a video game, and reached a monster slaying fantasy. Hunter x Hunter lacks focus. This review is so long because I feel as though I am reviewing three different anime at once. Watching this series gives the impression that the author had too many ideas and wanted them all to be in one story, jumping impatiently from one to the next. Remember the Big Bad Phantom Troupe? They’re barely relevant after their arc. That Yu-Gi-Oh garbage? Forget it ever existed. Arc after arc seems to wipe the relevance of the story that came previous. None suffer more than HxH’s characters.

Each arc dumps a boatload of new character on your lap for you to care about, only to take them away as soon as the arc ends. “What happened to that guy?” I kept asking myself. At the start, HxH presents a core group of four characters. Remember Kurapika of central importance against the Troupe? He’s barely in this. Oh yeah, there’s some guy called Leorio – you’ll know him as the tall guy you see on most cover art who receives enough attention for a major character. Well, he has as much screen time as a minor character. Only Killua with the white hair has the screen time to match his relevance alongside Gon.

So when we come to the Chimera Ant arc, it is no surprise to have over 50 – yes, 50 – new characters thrown at the story. A story, I might add, that isn’t directly relevant to the main plot even with 61 episodes. Interestingly, however, it’s a good arc. It starts slow (could have fit in half the number of episodes), though once the main villain emerges in act two it shows promise, until it finishes with a strong third act. The heart of the story is the Chimera King villain that questions life, morality, and meaning.

This arc gives fans a reason to call HxH dark, “the darkest shounen anime”. It isn’t really. It’s only dark if you haven’t seen what a proper dark story looks like. A villain killing random civilians isn’t dark – it’s just meaningless. There are a couple of dark moments, but it’s nowhere near enough to call the series dark. What Itachi does in Naruto is darker, yet I wouldn’t call that anime dark either. That said, a false reputation doesn’t take away from the strength of its third act. It’s a shame the arc has to be part of this anime. Both this arc and HxH would have benefited from separation. The Chimera Ant arc works as a standalone story similar to From the New World and with its removal, HxH can refocus on the plot. There is a main story consequence resulting from the Ants, but that could have come just as easily from the Phantom Troupe.

What HxH boasts in the end is two good arcs, which still need work, and a mixture of decent and utter trash for the remainder of the time. I haven’t covered half the problems with HxH in this already too-long review.

A common note you will hear of this anime is that it is the best of the battle shounen. It has the smartest fights, greatest characters, best villains, and most complex stories, they will tell you. Does it? Not really. There are smarter fights, greater characters, and better villains in other shounen anime. Nor is HxH different from the norm. You have the same types of arcs, the same cast of characters, yelling for power, energy attacks, poor explanations, and there is even a Super Saiyan mode (I won’t give it away, but it is the goofiest super mode I have ever witnessed). It does do one better than the rest – no unofficial filler, though that doesn’t save it from other pacing issues, including a narrator that repeats everything we just saw.

Many of these problems are common to most entries in the genre though. Would I recommend another battle anime over this? I don’t know. No matter which you pick, you have to tolerate a lot of garbage.

Is HxH better than most of the genre? Sure, why not. With such a low bar, it isn’t difficult to hit single digit ranks, though that is still low when looking at anime as a whole. If coming from Dragon Ball Z, as this did with the 90s manga release, it would seem mind blowing to have any strategy to fights, character development, and a story that’s more than “punch the bad guy”.

The difficulty I have with justifying a recommendation to watch Hunter x Hunter is in its 148-episode length. Consider how many other better anime you could finish in that time. And you have to factor in that no one has any idea when or even if this will ever receive a conclusion. If you love shounen, you will love this – I don’t doubt it. But if you don’t love shounen, then I can’t recommend it.

Art – Medium

What is with these character designs? Everyone looks like a bootleg knock off from other anime with no thought to theme or cohesion. There’s a reason these characters feature so little in aesthetic contests. Like all long anime, the budget has to cover too much ground. However, unlike other battle anime, HxH doesn’t drop in quality for action scenes – quite the opposite. A pleasant surprise.

Sound – High

The acting is the strongest area of HxH and the music is solid, though lacks variety for such a long series.

Story – Medium

A kid becomes a hunter in a quest to find his father, but will have to overcome many trials and foes before the end. The short version: Phantom Troupe and Chimera Ant arcs are good, and I wouldn’t bother with the rest.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For battle shounen fans only. Hunter x Hunter doesn’t have the crossover appeal to go beyond its demographic. For those who do start, note that the series is incomplete with no continuation in sight.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works]

Note: Not to be confused with the old Unlimited Blade Works movie

 

Related: Fate/stay night (source – visual novel)

Fate/stay night (anime – alternate 1st arc)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (alternate 3rd arc)

Fate/Zero (prequel)

Similar: The Future Diary

Basilisk

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Stylish action.
  • Huge improvement over the visual novel.
  • Heroic Spirits have interesting backstories.

Negatives:

  • Fights lack substance.
  • Still has exposition and explanations in excess.
  • Villains let heroes live on a whim.
  • Doesn’t stick to its own rules.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left the franchise in the Fate/stay night visual novel, a mess of an artwork mired in exposition, sloppy writing, and worse sex. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works adapts the second arc of the visual novel, with Rin instead of Saber as the romance option and Archer taking the Heroic Spirit spotlight.

Protagonist Shirou summons Saber to participate in the Holy Grail War against other magi and their servants. By a matter of convenience, he teams up with Rin and her servant Archer.

The genericity of Shirou hasn’t changed. He’s your goody two-shoes harem protagonist but with a hero complex to make him an action harem protagonist. His plot armour from arc one makes less sense this time, and he becomes instantly powerful before the end – I believe they call this an ‘ass pull’ – and as such, is the worst holdover from the source material.

Thanks to a dramatic cut in exposition and filler scenes, Rin doesn’t wear out her welcome, though she is still an average tsundere with more stereotype than brains. She whines too much. The romance with her, though irrelevant to the plot, has no foundation (the horrendous sex scenes were seamlessly cut). Unlimited Blade Works is actually about Archer and his backstory, as Fate was Saber and her history.

Like before, the suspense comes from the Heroic Spirit’s identity, even more so with Archer because of his amnesia. I am torn on the result. On one hand, the backstory itself is a great idea, yet on the other, the present day component – the consequence of the backstory, if you will – is garbage. I can’t help but feel that Unlimited Blade Works would have been superior if it only had to take inspiration from the source, not the beat-for-beat story.

That said, this anime is an improvement in every area. Yes, it could do with less explaining of mechanics when it shows them later anyway, and moments of describing actions before doing them drool off the visual novel, but this is still so much better. You can’t imagine without having played the game.

With all the visual improvements, I am disappointed that the fights aren’t smarter. This anime often receives the name ‘Unlimited Budget Works’ for all the animation and effects it has, but as anyone who’s watched a Michael Bay film will tell you, effects don’t make great action. Fights look good, sure, but they aren’t smart. How rarely anyone kills a weak mage while their servant is away in battle. Villains allow good guys to walk away despite impressing upon us the victory condition of killing all other mages. It isn’t just one villain – several villains do this. It’s as though the author couldn’t think for more than two seconds about plausible scenarios for characters to escape. How many times now has it been, in anime, where the premise is about fighting to the death, yet doesn’t happen?

Each subsequent fight is less interesting than the previous. The tension wanes when you realise consequences aren’t what they promised. The hype lies. Rin tells us that Berserker will wreck everyone in a fight, yet the fight against him is incongruent with her words. The author again didn’t spare a thought to finding a creative solution in beating a seemingly invincible opponent. I mentioned inconsistencies between arcs in the VN review, which we can see in effect here, as Berserker was conveniently stronger in the first arc when the author needed to kill another character. The rule breaking is still alive and well.

Why are the masters kids when an adult mage would crush them? It’s also convenient that all the mages connect to Shirou in some way – another source material problem. Honestly, 90% of the problems in Unlimited Blade Works stem from the visual novel. With a little extra thought, a little extra planning, a little better dialogue, this could have been a great anime.

What does Fate/stay night look like without the lead weight of the visual novel? Find out next time in the Fate/Zero review.

Art – High

I love the triadic colour palette of red, blue, and bright yellow. Its vibrancy pops in motion – gone is the ‘OC, don’t steal’ character art. Great looking fights use CG and particle effects, though often at the expense of substance. Occasional bad CG such as the skeletons slaps your eyes.

Sound – High

The voice work is good, but I’m not a fan of several casting choices in English. The music complements proceedings, except OPs and EDs seem out of place.

Story – Medium

Seven mages summon seven Heroic Spirits of myth and history to fight for the Holy Grail. This is arc two of Fate/stay night, focused on Rin and Archer instead of Saber. Unlimited Blade Works salvages the best parts of the visual novel to create an entertaining, if not deep, action anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime action fans. If you love anime’s signature action of one-on-one fights then you will love Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, when able to overlook the story and writing problems. It isn’t necessary to watch the first arc unless you’re interested in Saber. Watch Fate/Zero first.

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

 

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

No DevelopmentWeak End

Food Wars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shokugeki no Souma

 

Related: Food Wars Season 2

Similar: Freshly Baked!! Japan

Yume-iro Pâtissière

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Ecchi Cooking Battle

Length: 24 episodes (season one), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Good use of ecchi in battles.
  • Food makes the mouth water.

Negatives:

  • Unbelievably repetitive.
  • No losing.
  • Antagonists provide no challenge.
  • The story never takes its foot off the ground.

In the tradition of turning everything into a battle anime, Food Wars takes the culinary arts and bastes it in honey and butter over a slow roasting fire, juices dripping off the crackling and meat ready to fall off the bone, until the opponent orgasms in ecstasy and defeat. It’s Iron Chef meets Playboy in the cooking arena.

After losing 500 cook-offs to his father, Soma enrols in an elite cooking school to improve his skills. This crazy school stuffed with pretentious kids only has a 10% graduation rate (that would mean the school is rubbish in reality, but let’s ignore that).

Though just cooking, Food Wars treats a cook-off like some grand battle, rabid audience included, with secret recipes and techniques for battle strategies. But where Food Wars’ genius truly lies is in the tasting phase. The battles produce food so tasty, so succulent, so orgasmic, it blows one’s clothes right off. The moment that jus touches the lips, every nerve in the body, from scalp to the ticklish part of the feet, lights up with a burning passion to devour the dish until one is left a twitching mess in a pool of their own juices. Eating bad food is to be molested.

This is how you do ecchi – funny, has a purpose, enhances scenes, is ridiculous and knows it. Hell, one guy walks around naked all the time. Male or female stand no chance under the influence of great taste.

Food Wars is a great anime… Well, it would have been if not for one glaring problem. It is so repetitive. Repetitive beyond measure and worse yet, the repetition is predictable, void of any surprises or development. Once you’ve seen one food battle, you’ve seen them all. They go a little something like this: judge/opponent underestimates the young challenger, they talk about the dish probably being awful, they taste it, explode in orgasm, can’t stop masturbating eating, and praise the dish endlessly. Repeat, every single time.

Furthermore, there is too much winning. When someone loses, it’s not because they made a terrible dish, just that the opponent was better. If you’ve seen a cooking show, you know the failures are the best parts – when someone is overconfident, forgets to turn the oven on, or uses salt instead of sugar. In Food Wars, everything is perfect (Soma has a minor slip-up once, but recovers better than Heston Blumenthal). The judging is a farce. In fact, why do these kids attend this school? There are no lessons, it doesn’t teach them anything, they brought all skills with them, and they are already pros. What’s the point?

Outside of battles, it’s not interesting either. Attempts at serious interaction fall flat, for there is no substance or material worthy of engagement.

Food Wars needs better antagonists that can challenge the heroes. Why isn’t a contestant using every trick to undermine Soma? Where is Gordon Ramsay telling them it’s RAW?! The best they have is a girl called Erina said to have the Golden Palate, whose first words while sucking on her mother’s tit were, “Not enough depth of flavour.” And while Soma’s dismissal of her haughty superiority is humorous, she doesn’t do much in the end (see above for how their encounter proceeds).

For several episodes, Food Wars is good fun. The clever use of ecchi and delicious food are a feast for a wide range of tastes. Once you figure the battle pattern, however, the food loses much of its flavour, rice turning to ash in the mouth.

Art – Medium

The art is good, albeit generic, but the food, which is what counts, looks amazing. Makes me so hungry. Creepy as hell ED sequence – surprised it was legal for broadcast!

Sound – Medium

Cheesy as hell dialogue delivered with absolute seriousness is good, and the music delivers full hype and energy. It’s a shame the OP and ED don’t match this whatsoever. They actually used a foreign Japanese accent for foreigners! Are the voice actors finally evolving?

Story – Low

People cook, others taste, and everyone loses their clothes. Sadly, Food Wars has little story and development to make up for its repetitive battles.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Food Wars is worth a few episodes, minimum, and despite its major flaws, is an easy viewing experience good for the background while occupied with another task, such as googling yourself.

(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:

Repetitive

Kill la Kill – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kill la Kill

 

Similar: Gurren Lagann

s-CRY-ed

Revolutionary Girl Utena

FLCL

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Energetic, crazy fights.
  • Several hilarious characters.
  • Great soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Action becomes tiring.
  • Not much in the way of story.
  • Many characters lack individual motivations.
  • Script redundancies.

In conversations about Studio Trigger’s two major properties, Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill (they worked on Lagann at Gainax before creating their own studio), consensus decreed the former to be superior. However, upon starting Kill la Kill, I wondered why, for it felt like the better anime. It got to the point immediately rather than Lagann’s meanderings and the action had more weight. Then I watched a few more episodes… And I realised why KLK didn’t excite the same level of praise: that action is all there is to it.

But first, the story. Ryuko’s father was murdered, and to find answers, she joins Honnouji Academy, a school run like a Nazi camp that puts every playground fight to shame. Honnouji seems to have no other purpose than to facilitate students beating the crap out of each other, where the elite wear special uniforms that transform them into super humans. Ryuko acquires one such uniform, Senketsu, who also talks. It feeds on her blood (I know what you’re thinking…) for immense power and gives her protection of the…non-existent kind. Let’s just say Korean MMOs have a new bar to reach for armour design. At Honnouji’s head, stands Satsuki, president of the student council and the school’s top bitch. She commands a line of elite students, all of whom Ryuko must vanquish in order to get the answers she desires. In short, Kill la Kill is a ‘fight your way to the top’ anime.

That’s it.

The first significant bit of story, outside the setup, doesn’t arrive until two-thirds through the series. Even then, it shakes proceedings but a little. Fights, fights, and more fights fill KLK’s airtime. Yes, the fights have energy, unparalleled craziness, and creative powers (one girl fights with tennis, another guy wins by throwing money at you, literally), but with one fight per episode, my eyes glaze over.

Furthermore, the dialogue surrounding these fights seems stuck on an endless loop. There’s only so many times I can stand to hear of Senketsu’s need for blood or about how amazing Satsuki is. Say something different! And how often can Satsuki promise answers if Ryuko wins a fight, only to receive no answers afterwards? I also don’t see why everyone is loyal to Satsuki – diehard, get-attacked-by-her-and-still-love-her loyal. None of these opponents is motivated beyond loyalty to her. Why? They would have been more interesting if they felt like individuals – ironic considering how unique their designs are. This is a common problem in large cast shounen anime – one thing Naruto got right; many characters, yet each had individual motivation, making them distinct from each other.

Thankfully, humour comes to the rescue. Beyond the over-the-top (and effective) sexual comedy, KLK rarely goes a minute without a joke. The best of these come from Mako, a hyperactive girl who forces her way to be Ryuko’s best friend. You have likely seen her in gifs already. She talks of how friendship should righteously triumph and how the bigger-breasted fighter will always be the winner. Love it. Many jokes come at the expense of the student council and Satsuki’s love for exhibitionism – she denies it, of course. (Not fooling anyone, Satsuki!)

Unless you love plotless action, Kill la Kill will start to feel repetitive after a few episodes. If you do wish to watch it, take in doses. No single fight is bad, but engagement drops with each successive episode in a short period.

Art – High

Heavily stylised art renders Kill la Kill’s fights in a crazy and creative way. It’s also more consistent than Gurren Lagann is. However, the animation for non-action scenes could do with more frames.

Sound – High

The voice work is good, whether sub or dub fits your fancy. For me, the music stood out most, as it hyped me for the fights with its choir.

Story – Medium

A schoolgirl with a super powered uniform fights her way to the top of school, searching for answers in her father’s death. Kill la Kill hits the ground running; sadly, the ground stays rather flat for most of the journey.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If pure action appeals to you, Kill la Kill will deliver two-dozen high energy, very nimble, crazy fights. Don’t expect more than that, however.

(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:

Great Music

Negative: None

Gurren Lagann – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

 

Similar: Kill la Kill

Eureka Seven

Martian Successor Nadesico

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 27 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Energetic in concept and delivery.
  • Kamina is great.
  • Good art and animation, most of the time.
  • Progression.
  • The sexual humour.

Negatives:

  • New abilities spring out of nowhere and get out of control.
  • Bit too much stating the obvious.
  • Dissonance between the serious violence and comedic violence.
  • The action drags.

Alright, take four. I keep hearing of how great this anime is, how funny, how touching, and how developed the characters are, so it’s time to finish this. Gurren Lagann has not been an easy series for me to get into. I have watched the first few episodes three times already, and yet never had the urge to go further. Was it goofy mech designs? Or the flat protagonist? Perhaps the lack of context and reason to care? A combination of all three, I suspect, made Gurren Lagann a challenge. Now that I have finished it for review, what do I think? It’s good…not great, but good.

In a desert world where mankind lives underground, shy kid Simon works as a digger, trusty drill ever-turning in search of treasure. Life is simple, too simple for the likes of Kamina, who ropes Simon into drilling for the surface, where promises of adventure and excitement await. However, a mech-like Beastman attacks their underground village. With the help of their trusty midget mech Lagann and surface dwelling sniper Yoko, they fight of the creature. So begins their fight to regain control of the surface.

I must pause to address the early episodes. The first episode itself is fine – establishes the characters, their situation, and has the call to adventure – but what follows put me to sleep several times. Little but action occupies the show’s first third (could even say two thirds), Now, action isn’t a problem – I love action; however, it needs motive beyond ‘to win/kill the enemy’ – that motive is a given in any action sequence. What lies beyond that base motive? Is an answer at stake? Will a mystery see resolution? Where’s the urgency? These fights become so repetitive in stake, strategy, and execution – enemy appears, they butt heads; enemy appears, they butt heads; and repeat. It doesn’t help that Simon has no dimension to begin with. I get that the hero’s journey starts with a weak hero, but the hero should be interesting and worth cheering for. He’s not annoying or any such thing; he’s just nothing, not a protagonist until the turning point. After that, he’s a good character, yet there were no traces of this early on.

Kamina, on the other hand, carries the early episodes. He’s also weak, a young man chasing his father’s shadow, but makes up for it with humour, overconfidence, and “advice” on being a man in combat. I see they wanted contrast between Kamina and Simon, though unfortunately gave all characterisation to one party. I didn’t buy his romance with Yoko, however. It felt like a Hollywood action film where they get together simply because they are the main male and female. Delete a few scenes, and I wouldn’t have known it was romance instead of friendship.

The humour suffers from a similar imbalance to characterisation. On one side, the non-action humour is hilarious, particularly when pertaining to sex; to the other side, the Looney Tunes action humour doesn’t mesh well with the serious violence – Tom & Jerry humour in Mad Max. The further Gurren Lagann progresses, the less this is a problem.

That could be said about everything in this anime, whether referring to characters, action, mech design, antagonists, or humour. Gurren Lagann’s acts go from low to medium to high in story/character quality. Sadly, one issue that persists is the tendency to make up new rules as it goes along – “this mech can suddenly use this new power,” and such. Working outside the established rules only weakens the impact of victories. Before long, I found myself expecting some newly invented rule to solve the latest dilemma. I wasn’t wrong.

In the end, it boils down to one simple fact: Gurren Lagann is for a younger audience. This is the shounen for those younger viewers who don’t want to suffer hundreds of episodes in a tedious battle anime. Gurren Lagann is of a higher quality than those as well. For myself, I have seen so many anime/TV series/films/games at this point, that if the action is too straightforward, I can’t maintain interest. If I didn’t watch Gurren Lagann for review, I would have left it at a few episodes and not felt like I was missing much.

Art – High

Jarring inconsistency is the art’s greatest problem. At times, the animation is plentiful, fluid, and colourful; other times, the frame rate halves and characters lose all detail. It’s either great or terrible.

Sound – High

Both languages bring the same level of energy and character to the performances. I wish the non-lyrical music weren’t quite so generic like your average action-adventure anime. Characters talk to the camera to state the obvious too often.

Story – High

Dwellers from below ground come to the surface to fight against monsters, unaware much greater threats lurk beyond the horizon. While Gurren Lagann falters several times, it is an overall fun and energetic adventure.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For action fans. With Gurren Lagann aimed at a younger audience, it may not hook older viewers. Give it 3-5 episodes; if the characters don’t make you stay, then it won’t be for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Terrible Start