Tag Archives: Battle

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

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.

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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.

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

No DevelopmentWeak End

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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.

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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

Scryed

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.

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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

One-Punch Man – Anime Review

Japanese Title: One-Punch Man

 

Similar: Overlord

Tiger & Bunny

Inferno Cop

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Superhero Action Comedy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Action animation.
  • Several good jokes and a funny premise.

Negatives:

  • Shallow characters.
  • Repetitive action structure like every shounen, albeit faster paced.
  • Jokes grow stale from repetition.
  • No tension.

When I first heard of One-Punch Man, long before an anime adaptation was in consideration, it sounded sidesplittingly funny. A superhero, so strong he defeats all enemies in a single punch, is depressed at the lack of challenge. A brilliant idea. Shame then they used it to create an anime the same as the rest of its genre. One-Punch Man tries to be The Incredibles of shounen anime, but fails.

Given that premise, I expected the focus to be on the non-action parts of the hero’s life – maybe he goes into therapy or finds ways to create tougher villains (see Mystery Men). What I didn’t expect was to have the action dominate. Some claim it isn’t about the action, yet why does it take nearly three quarters of the screen time? With a protagonist who wins in a single punch (no exaggeration), there is no tension or conflict.

The writers try to fake tension by having a side character fight, where the matchup is more even, but we know Saitama will show up at the final second, wasting a dozen-plus minutes of our time. This happens every fight. So desperate are these writers to remove Saitama, they often pretend he doesn’t exist. In any fight, a simple call to Saitama would solve everything without effort; however, for several fights, the heroes magically forget him, even when the world faces destruction. Of course, he still shows up right after a side hero gets a useless bravery moment.

Even the attempts at drama are forced. After Saitama saves a city, some random guy in the crowd says, “He saved us, but our city’s still damaged, so he’s a scumbag!” Then everyone who had been cheering for Saitama says, “Yeah, he saved our lives, what a scumbag!” Did the team think anything through, put some effort during planning? Hell, even his backstory is lazy. He became strong by doing 100 push-ups, sit-ups and squats with a 10 km run every day – that’s not even impressive for a human athlete.

If it isn’t about the action, then what are we supposed to focus on? The flat cast of characters? No character has more than surface characterisation, with the exception of Saitama’s sidekick Genos, who shows the beginnings of development. Frankly, the story is better when it focuses on him. Instead of exploring the established characters, they introduce new ones to distract everyone like a pack of seals from the last characters’ flatness. Furthermore, the side cast is pointless with Saitama around; this would be fine if it worked at the humour’s core, but instead, we are supposed to see these characters as contenders of real importance, somehow care for them.

Humour’s focus rarely deviates from the One-Joke Man. See enemy – wait for trouncing of useless side characters – win in one punch – Saitama annoyed (‘HAHAHAHAHA’ cue card for audience) – repeat. At times, however, the jokes are great. Good strategic censorship always makes me laugh, that angel guy going Super Saiyan brought pain, Saitama getting no credit for kills and the first couple of one-punch jokes were funny. Once you realise they didn’t think of much beyond that, One-Punch Man becomes boring. For expert execution of the same joke used several times, see Fawlty Towers’ episode ‘The Germans.’

Their one attempt at a story is the introduction of a superhero league, which pays heroes with public donations and ranks them by class. Unfortunately, this aspect has no impact on the plot. Similar to not calling Saitama every fight, they use the most convoluted reasons to keep Saitama from the top. Remove the league and nothing changes but the loss of several characters in this bloated cast.

One-Punch Man would have been far more interesting with the removal of Saitama. Instead, have him become a legend, a myth. He would represent the retired shounen hero after beating every villain, become so bored with fighting that he hid from the world. Focus on Genos in his search of the legend – battle villains along the way – hoping to become apprentice and rise as the next shounen hero. Justify Saitama’s absence by having him not care whatsoever about the world’s end – that’s how boring combat should be to him. This would allow for conflict with Genos and still have the occasional one-punch win.

Despite all I have said, One-Punch Man isn’t a bad anime – simply average. It doesn’t bring anything new or a spin to the table; however, it isn’t bad either, even when it bores. One-Punch Man is OK.

Art – High

For a few action minutes every episode, the animation is spectacular, a magnificent spectacle of colour and fluidity – the animators better have received above the appalling industry rates. However, outside these sequences, scenes return to slow pans and static characters (‘let the mouth take the budget’). Applying the manga-like art style from those action sequences to the whole series would have been nice. Some character designs are hilarious.

Sound – Medium

Fine all around in the sound department. The music doesn’t hype as much as I would have expected for the genre. The actors don’t have room to flex in this script. Nothing bad, though nothing stands out either.

Story – Medium

The funny premise of a one-punch superhero grows repetitive before long. The protagonist saps all tension and conflict from proceedings, leaving a generic battle storyline.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the genre. One-Punch Man is enjoyable in parts, though unmemorable outside the action animation.

(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 Animation

Negative:

DissapointingLacks ConflictUseless Side Cast