Tag Archives: Creepy

Expect to feel uneasy. Creepy doesn’t necessarily equate to a bad show. The villain may be sleazy, or a relationship could be inappropriate.

Aoi Bungaku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Bungaku

 

Similar: Monster

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror

Box of Goblins

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Something different.
  • Stories three and six.
  • Complex characters.
  • Dark and twisted imagery in some stories.

Negatives:

  • Stories two and four.
  • First story needs more episodes.

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Aoi Bungaku is an adaptation of six Japanese literary classics, each sharing a facet of the authors’ lives and psychology. This makes the second short story collection I’ve reviewed recently, but where Diamond Daydreams is an easy viewing experience, Aoi Bungaku is intense, dark, and often twisted.

No Longer Human, the first story, follows the descent into darkness of a high school student after losing his way into drugs and abuse. This noir-esque tale shows his life at different stages in four episodes, each stage worse than the last. He sees a ghost of his former self in reflection, void of identity, a hollow shell with no purpose.

The most depressing story in the collection, scholars consider No Longer Human to be autobiographical, explaining why the author killed himself after its completion. This story most needed the extra space – likely a series of its own – out of all works presented, even though it receives the most episodes.

Too heavy for you? Well, In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom, changes gear with its comedic tone as it tells of a bandit and his love for a beautiful yet spoilt woman. She agrees to marry him if he fulfils her request, and in his blindness, he agrees to all she asks. Her requests keep getting more and more outlandish. She starts with a simple ride up the mountain, then it’s to kill his other wives without question, and she only demands worse from there on.

On paper, this story sounds brutal. However, the comedy gives the opposite result. There’s a talking boar, for example, trying to reason his way out of becoming dinner for the wives, one of whom speaks English, for some reason. Sudden chibi comedy bursts on the scene as well. Honestly, I’m not sure what the intent was with this one. It doesn’t work as a comedy nor as a dark tale – though one of the woman’s final requests is truly messed up. A weak story, in the end.

Kokoro, story three, takes us in yet another direction to deliver the best of the series. It explores the friendship between a scholar and a wanderer. The scholar begins to regret inviting his friend to use the spare room when he takes an interest in the landlady’s daughter, for whom the scholar has designs. In a single episode, we see a full character arc pass from friendship and trust to jealousy and egoism. We see more development here than some anime have in a season. And that’s not even Kokoro’s greatest strength.

The next episode goes back to the start of the tale, but this time shows everything from the wanderer’s perspective. It’s brilliant to see how versions of events differ and exemplifies the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ device. Kokoro handily wins best story in this anime.

Run, Melos! comes next, killing the momentum by being the weakest of the lot. It’s a contemporary take on a Greek classic, focusing on unwavering friendship no matter what life may throw. The story hasn’t much to it, no real turns or points of interest – the shortness doesn’t help.

The Spider’s Thread – story five – puts an assassin to the test in redemption at the end of his life. He lived a life without concern for anyone or anything but himself – he even kills a woman that fed him in kindness – and goes to Hell for his actions. However, he receives one final chance at redemption when a spider’s thread descends from Heaven.

The most psychedelic of the stories, The Spider’s Thread almost reaches greatness. I like its idea – reminds of Death Parade. Yet with most of the conflict occurring in his mind it lacks the weight, the impact, it could have had if he had faced other people as well.

Lastly, we end on Hell Screen. A lord commissions a famous artist to paint an epic depiction of ‘Buddhist Hell’ in all its facets. The artist’s superior skill stems from his ability to capture the emotion of reality like no other. The catch is that he must witness these emotions for himself, and the commission being one of hell, his research turns to madness. Life begins to imitate art as the lord’s people go mad.

This story recalls the Warhammer novel Fulgrim, where Slaanesh, Chaos God of Pleasure and Excess, corrupts a legion of Space Marines in their quest for perfection in art and battle. The corruption goes so far, drives the legion so mad that one artist paints his magnum opus from his own blood, sweat, and faeces – literally. Highly recommended book. Without giving anything away, the painter’s final masterpiece in Hell Screen is similar to that – twisted yet riveting.

Aoi Bungaku slips under the radar of most anime fans. I had never heard anyone mention it before unless I specifically searched for material on it. Those looking for a hidden gem may find it in Aoi Bungaku.

Art – High

Despite being low on animation, Aoi Bungaku has some great imagery and compositions in several stories. The art style changes for each story to match the tone – dark and grainy for the heaviness in No Longer Human, vibrant for In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom’s comedic angle, and so on. I liked Kokoro’s camerawork and framing most.

Sound – High

The protagonist in each story shares the same actor, who also plays host, and the acting is good overall. Music effectiveness seems to match story quality.

Story – High/Medium

A series of Japanese classics with a focus on character study get anime adaptations, succeeding to varying degrees. Stories three and six rise above, while two and four lack presence. The split rating is for the varying quality between stories.

Overall Quality – High/Medium

Recommendation: Watch Kokoro (episodes 7 & 8) and Hell Screen (episode 12) – give or take the rest. Even if interested in seeing all stories, Aoi Bungaku is only twelve episodes long and presents something new every few, so it won’t take much time to experience this distinct anime.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Koi Kaze – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koi Kaze

 

Similar: Wandering Son

OreImo

Rumbling Hearts

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Drama Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The ending.
  • Common sense not forgotten.
  • Cliché-free.

Negatives:

  • Thin on content.
  • Lacks relationship scaffolding.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) is the real scientific theory of sexual attraction between two relatives who meet after separation since birth or infancy. GSA forms the basis of Koi Kaze. 27-year-old Koshiro works as a marriage matchmaker, despite incompetence in his own relationships, and an encounter with a teenage girl rekindles hope of love within him. However, Nanoka reveals herself as his sister, not seen since their parents divorced long ago, each taking custody of one child. She will be staying with him and their father for school from now on. Sexual tension bubbles under one roof.

Where incest most often plays a comedic role in anime (Ouran High School Host Club), or as drama so laughable it may as well be comedy (Vampire Knight, Please Twins), Koi Kaze is one of the few that takes a serious angle and knows what that requires. Most notably, people actually bloody question the morality of the relationship. Thank the anime gods – some sense! When the mother insinuates she would kill Koshiro if he does anything to her daughter, I sat up, impressed the writer included an authentic reaction to the thought of one’s children getting amorous. This is especially important with the 12-year age gap between the two.

The relationship spawns in a time of heartbreak for both. Their vulnerability and desperation for comfort coupled with GSA, and our general attraction to people who look similar to ourselves, sells us on the inception of the taboo path they tread. Many writers don’t realise how biologically difficult it is for an incestuous union to form, so the setup is crucial. Furthermore, they don’t dive right into each other’s pants. Koshiro hates his feelings and himself, lashing out at Nanoka, while she, the younger of the two, doesn’t know what to make of any of this. I’m glad this wasn’t a case of “This is wrong, but take me anyway!” The story has conflict and inner turmoil.

Where Koi Kaze falls flat is beyond the setup. Alright, an unfortunate concoction of circumstances and lust triggers this relationship, but what keeps it going? For a moment, think of this as a normal relationship – no taboo, no age gap, just two people yearning. What interests them beyond the initial burst of endorphins? Act 2, the middle development of their relationship is lacking and thin of content. He’s a dick and a loser while she’s emotionless. This doesn’t make them bad characters, of course, – we’ve all met such people – but if this were a normal relationship, would they remain or even become a couple? I don’t think so.

That said, if the story had gone longer, maybe we would have seen them realise they have no interest in each other beyond lust. It would be intriguing to see the slow destruction in their relationship, which the sober ending hints at. If the writer had included this stage – delete act 2, move the current solid act 3 up to 2, followed by new act 3 – Koi Kaze could have been great.

This anime is decent, regardless. I am surprised to see genuine thought and effort go into such a complex subject. It’s worth a look for being something different.

Art – Medium

Average art and animation – many static shots with mouth movements only. The white mouths look odd, or have I become too used to black mouths? Every shot seems a beat too long. Each line has a beat too much before the next.

Sound – Medium

Nanoka is rather flat in Japanese. Give some emotion! The dub is fine, though the script hasn’t much opportunity for range. The music is appropriately melancholic.

Story – Medium

Two siblings estranged by their parents’ divorce reunite and develop feelings for each other against better judgement. Despite lacking act two content, Koi Kaze’s serious take on a taboo relationship is solid.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If the subject matter and melancholic romance interests you, then give Koi Kaze’s taboo story a chance.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Parasyte -the maxim- – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu

 

Similar: Tokyo Ghoul

Death Note

Shiki

Midori Days

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Horror Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Complex dynamic between protagonist and his Parasyte.
  • Freaky mutations.
  • Commentary on humanity.
  • Development of the Parasytes.
  • Excellent acting.

Negatives:

  • A little flub at the end.
  • Doesn’t explain the ability to sense Parasytes by some humans.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I went into Parasyte –the maxim- having just completed Tokyo Ghoul, whose disappointing story and characters still weighed on me at how squandered an opportunity that anime was. To make matters worse, I had chosen Tokyo Ghoul as the anime to end the quality drought I had lived through the previous month (my watch order isn’t the same as review order). How wrong I was to rely on Tokyo Ghoul. So, when Parasyte started in similar fashion with ordinary student Shinichi suddenly thrust into the supernatural world, I reserved expectations.

He awakens one day with an alien Parasyte inside his body. Parasytes are supposed to assume full control of their hosts, but his didn’t have enough time to latch onto the brain, thus stayed confined to his right arm. After the initial freak out, Shinichi and Migi, as it calls itself, form a symbiotic relationship for survival, as other Parasytes take a deadly interest in a host still having full brain function and knowledge of their existence. Shinichi also employs Migi’s strength to stop other Parasytes from harming humans.

The star of the show is Migi, no question. Not only is it amusing to see Shinichi’s right hand move with a mind of its own, studying while he sleeps or commenting on his dates, but Migi is a genuine threat. I have lost count how many times a protagonist has formed an alliance with a dangerous character promising to kill the protagonist for one false move, but no one believes the threat whatsoever, removing any tension. For some reason, these characters are usually teens trying to act cool with no personalities to speak of.

To Parasytes, as with most creatures, survival is the ultimate protocol and when Migi says he will kill anyone Shinichi tells about the Parasytes, you believe it. Migi will do anything to stay protected. Deaths are merciless.

Migi’s calculating cold logic, for he struggles with the concept of emotion, makes for gripping character interactions. For example, he knows that helping Shinichi kill other Parasytes is a part of their give-take relationship, yet it doesn’t stop him commenting on how Parasytes feeding on humans is no different from humans feeding on nature. Humans should just accept this, he says. Furthermore, as he and other Parasytes adapt to human society, it’s fascinating to see their development, how they react to ‘human’ elements of life.

Most fascinating is the teacher/researcher of the Parasytes and her intrigue with the concept of offspring and motherhood. Why do we care for little bundles of flesh that do no more than cry and soil themselves at our wallet’s expense? The writer demonstrates great understanding of humanity. The story hits its best when she and a human detective on the Parasyte trail enter the fray.

Parasyte does have some problems. The one that bothered me most was this girl’s ability to sense Parasytes while not being one herself. Parasytes can sense each other because of their empathic connection, so how did select humans acquire this radar without a Parasyte? Her romantic subplot is fine – competes with Shinichi’s crush Satomi – but an explanation wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Another fault is in the ending – not the actual ending, the second ending. Parasyte reaches its climax in the twenty-third episode, setting up episode twenty-four as a ‘wind down’ story. No, something new comes up for ten minutes to create a final host-parasite interaction that is pointless and weakens the actual ending. Still, it’s so pointlessness it doesn’t ruin the series prior.

I am surprised that I had heard little to nothing of Parasyte beforehand, considering its quality. Perhaps the body horror is a little too off-putting.

Art – High

Creatively disgusting monsters are well animated, especially during transformations. Sharp art.

Sound – Very High

This anime boasts great acting in both tracks – the Parasytes’ actors in particular – and a varied soundtrack reminiscent of Death Note. The sound effects for transformations can be funny, like the blowing of raspberries when shrinking back to hand form.

Story – Very High

A high schooler wakes one morning with a Parasyte in his right hand, capable of changing shape to aid or kill. Parasyte starts well, reaching greatness in the second act as characters develop and the Parasytes adapt to the human life.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless eyeballs and mouths sprouting anywhere on the body gives you the shivers. Paraystethe maxim- came to me after a glut of bad to mediocre anime and ended the suffering with its impressive characters and development.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Serial Experiments Lain – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Serial Experiments Lain

 

Similar: Boogiepop Phantom

Texhnolyze

Ergo Proxy

Perfect Blue

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Akira

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Mystery

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Atmospheric art and sound design.
  • Unnerving in all the right ways.
  • Intriguing mystery.

Negatives:

  • Too slow, even for a slow anime.
  • Stiff dialogue.

When I started anime, while Serial Experiments Lain was much talked about by core viewers, I avoided it because it looked like the edgy show for emos, or some rubbish. I don’t know how I came to that conclusion. I was an idiot teen. Since I became an adult and no longer hated things I’ve never seen because of what others thought, I had added Serial Experiments Lain to watch. When a reader sent in a request (submit your review requests here), it was the perfect excuse to bump it up the schedule.

Lain is your typical introverted teen. One day, girls in her class receive an email from their classmate Chisa. Nothing unusual. Exceeeeept for the tiny detail that Chisa killed herself recently. When Lain opens the email, it takes her into the net’s social media network called the Wired, opening a new world of mystery and danger to her otherwise dreary existence. More suicides, strange men in black, and the surreal begin to warp her mind, blending the virtual with reality. In the Wired, are they any different? Lain will soon realise she has an important role in both worlds.

Serial Experiments Lain is one hell of a trip. If you don’t like having your brain slowly drained through a hole in your temple by cyborg ants, Lain won’t be for you. It has a detached, isolated tone, which is a perfect match to Lain’s character and life, or rather, her outlook on life. The first episode is largely her staring blankly and possibly tripping out – I’m not sure. We experience Lain’s emotions.

Unfortunately, this drugged state is overdone. Most characters act drugged out when they aren’t, and the stilted dialogue has massive silence between lines. “How are you?”

.

.

.

.

.

.

“Good.”

When everyone is drugged, no one is drugged. It weakens the impact on the few where it fits. Dialogue scenes are uncomfortable, not in the right way, despite there being so few of them.

Most screen time focuses on the visual and audio experience to steep the viewer in the explorations of existentialism and consciousness. Lain has more experience than story, sometimes to its detriment. The director stands before a spotlight, arms raised as he yells, “More. More! Give her more drugs. I want the audience to smell the psychosis!”

“Um, Sir, sh—” tries the poor production assistant.

“More!” The director cackles to the darkness.

“Sir! We need to start the next scene!” yells the assistant.

“Oh, right.” The director clears his throat. “Carry on.”

I feel it could have balanced the two without weakening its core intent, the ‘experience’ moments. As always, less is more. Some experience moments feel like tangents, irrelevant “babbling” about dementia and the mind, despite these scenes being of importance, simply because they are overdone. It’s as if while brainstorming, the team came up with several ideas on how to convey a key development of Lain’s psychology, but rather than pick the best of the pool, they threw everything on screen. One perfect moment is better than ten competing for the same objective. The dementia sells itself, without the need to force it into every grain of the story.

Few viewers will enjoy this anime. Serial Experiments Lain’s appeal is so niche it has dethroned RahXephon as the most niche anime I have reviewed.

Art – High

The tone reminds me of Perfect Blue – never a bad thing. Lain uses visual effects such as grain, TV noise, and distortions to mess with your head. I hate the ridiculously small mouth-to-head ratio though.

Sound – High

Disturbing music complements the detached, isolated tone and psychedelic audio. Sounds drop in and out of existence, or are far too loud for what they are, unnerving the audience like classic J-horror.

Story – Medium

A girl investigates the mysterious appearance of her dead classmate’s consciousness in the internet. Pacing and writing issues mar this otherwise good exploration of identity and existentialism.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For psychology fans. Serial Experiments Lain doesn’t need the 3-episode rule. Its style is so unique and unusual that ten minutes are enough to know if it’s for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Poor Pacing

Another – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Another

 

Similar: When They Cry

Shiki

From the New World

The Future Diary

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Horror Mystery

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Several effectively shocking moments.

Negatives:

  • Boring until the last few episodes.
  • Empty characters.
  • Some atrocious dialogue.
  • Mystery structure needs work.

Another can teach us much about the need for proper execution and structuring. It teaches us that a fascinating concept alone cannot make a great story, that withholding too much for the sake of mystery can undo it all.

School student Kouichi transfers to class 3-3 in the quiet mountain town of Yomiyama. A gloomy atmosphere grips the class, as though joy and laughter became distant memories since the death of a student in class 3-3 twenty-six years ago. Even stranger, Kouichi meets Misaki, the classmate he alone seems to know exists, as the rest of the class sees right through her. His search for the truth in her existence will have consequences more dire than he could imagine. If only her being a ghost was the worst of it.

When I added Another to my list based on the pitch, I noticed the low favourability ratings on various sites. The raw numbers (I don’t read reviews beforehand unless I need convincing to watch the anime – avoids influenced opinions) didn’t match what I expected from such an intriguing concept. There had to be a grave error in Another. Within a couple of episodes, I found said error.

Another gives us no reason to care for the mystery. It would be as if I said, “I have something in my desk drawer, and you don’t know what it is.” Would you care about finding out the contents? No, I have given zero reason to believe the drawer contains anything interesting. You say, “Meh,” and move on. You didn’t see me hide a suspicious object or stuff what looked like someone’s severed hand inside. I wasn’t eager to uncover Another’s mystery because that drawer probably only contained a few pens, batteries, and miscellaneous stationary.

It would have been more effective to reveal the mystery in episode one, and instead focus on uncovering the source of this mystery. To give an analogy that doesn’t spoil Another, imagine a crime thriller without knowing there is a killer at all. People die from who knows what for reasons unknown. What is there to latch onto? It is better knowing there is a killer, but not knowing who the killer is – give something to fear rather than random deaths. Another clutched every card to its chest until the final episodes.

And because the setup is so poor, twists have no impact. The writers have to tell us the twists since they gave themselves nothing to work with beforehand. Twists come across as idiotic. I was bored with the story. It doesn’t help either that the mystery has little to do with the protagonist or that the classmates make flat characters, owing largely to their atrocious dialogue. The writer aimed for creepy, I know, but it would have been more effective if they sounded like real people first. The characters undermine the good work put into the town’s unsettling atmosphere.

Thankfully, at 12 episodes, Another isn’t a long anime, though they still had time to waste on a beach episode that doesn’t advance the plot save for a minute at the end. Even so, I did have some fun with Another. The deaths are so over the top, so sudden that they become hilarious (think Final Destination) and the final episode has one of the funniest reactions I have ever seen to death. Another has no shortage of shock value.

Art – Medium

Decent art – nothing special. I like the colouring, but characters look a tad rushed at times.

Sound – Medium

Stilted dialogue makes the students not sound like students, which veteran actors couldn’t fix. Slow music box jingles and dire violin are a nice addition.

Story – Low

In this class, one student appears to be invisible to all save the new guy. Little does he know, the mystery has more to it than an invisible student. A little restructuring and better writing could have made all the difference.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shock horror fans only. If you want to hide under a blanket as people die in horrific ways on the screen, then Another is for you. Don’t expect much else.

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

Positive:

Holy S***

Negative:

Awful DialogueShallow