Tag Archives: Detective

The protagonist or prominent character is a detective and the crime element is core to the narrative.

Darker Than Black – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha

 

Related: Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Psycho-Pass

RahXephon

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Mystery

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 5 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Complex lore.
  • Creative powers and restrictions.
  • The comedic tangents are hilarious.
  • Character designs.

Negatives:

  • Lacks finality and answers.
  • Season 2 becomes oversimplified.

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Darker than Black is an anime of malicious compliance. When I told it that it coveys lore in a vague manner, it responded with, “You don’t like my lore?” “That’s not wh—” “Fine, then I won’t give you any. If all you like is action, then that’s what I’ll give. Happy, are you!?” “…”

Before that moment in history, let’s go back to the start of Darker than Black. Ever since two gates appeared in Tokyo and Brazil, a fake sky replaced the real one and select people gained paranormal abilities at the cost of their humanity. These supernaturals known as Contractors became weapons for various governments and a group called the Syndicate. Officer Misaki has her investigatory skills put to the test when the Syndicate’s best agent, Hei the Black Reaper, is spotted in Tokyo. Hei and his associates have designs to uncover a mystery surrounding Hell’s Gate that threatens Contractors. Other Contractor division won’t let the Syndicate go unanswered either. Tokyo is a dangerous place to be.

First, I love the powers. Think of them as X-Men, but with a payment required after each use. The payment differs per character and ranges from smoking a cigarette to revealing a secret of yours to the next person you see. The cost tends to be something the Contractor hates. One Contractor, a magician, has to give away the technique to a magic trick every time he uses his illusion power. Bummer. Hei’s power is the ability to generate electricity, a favourite of mine. The writer could have merely copied the X-Men and been fine, but I appreciate the thought put into differentiating these powers by adding the payments.

Darker than Black also has artificial beings called Dolls that pass for human, but are dead inside and have scouting powers to aid their Contractor unit. Hei has one such doll with him as well as a Contractor whose power is to possess animals. Unfortunately for him, someone destroyed his human body during possession so he’s stuck as an animal for life. This makes him a tad grumpy.

Then we come to the larger world, where I find plenty interesting. I love that the police use an old woman known as the Stargazer, who can track when Contractors use powers by observing the fake stars above. Each Contractor is represented in a star – another great lore detail. Misaki has a telescope locked on Hei’s star, BK-201, which is how she knows he’s in town.

Most of the lore I have shared with you so far is presented in a decent manner. However, when it comes to the Gates, the lore behind Contractors, and even world history, Darker than Black takes serious issue with giving us this information. When it does present these aspects, it seems hesitant, as if the anime is worried about you finding out. “Does it or does it not work this way?” was a recurring question I had. This compounded with the fact that there is a lot of lore can make Darker than Black a headache for those who aren’t big fans of lore. It doesn’t help that much remains unanswered by the end, no thanks to season 2.

Here we arrive at the malicious compliance. If season 1 suffered from too much vague lore, season 2 suffers from having none whatsoever (the backstory threads are good, though). I said illuminate the lore, not eradicate it! In season 2, we follow two young siblings, one of which is a Contractor, and their escape from capture in Russia. It amounts to twelve episodes of action – good action, sure, but it no longer stands out like Darker than Black. I am particularly annoyed that Misaki is barely in season 2.

This does not lessen my recommendation for sci-fi/supernatural fans to watch the first season – likely twice to catch everything. If you worry about it being too heavy, the story occasionally diverts for some levity. The private eyes who narrates to himself noir-style and his cosplay girl assistant are the perfect change of pace. Even with several questions left unanswered, the lore we do get and the characters make Darker than Black an engaging experience.

Art – High

Darker than Black manages to have a large cast of characters, each distinct from the last, and yet doesn’t resort to lazy design techniques such as hair colour being the only distinguishing feature. The dark palette suits the story. Season 2 sees a noticeable dip in character and animation quality.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either Japanese or English voices. Nice soundtrack – the main singer is bilingual and mixes English with Japanese better than most. The script could do with tighter exposition.

Story – High

Super powered humans called Contractors work jobs for the nefarious Syndicate while uncovering the mystery that threatens Contractors worldwide. Darker than Black’s super powers and interesting characters deliver a great anime, but its complexities can alienate.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for science fiction fans. Darker than Black has everything a sci-fi fan could want – lore, depth, sociology, philosophy. Non-fans (maybe even fans) will find the lack of concreteness tedious, especially since it leaves much unanswered. Season 2 is optional viewing.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne no Musume-tachi

 

Similar: Darker than Black

Baccano!

Elfen Lied

The Garden of Sinners

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror Science Fiction

Length: 6 episodes (45 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • Doesn’t hold back.
  • Story spanning multiple decades.
  • Strong world building.

Negatives:

  • Not enough psychological conflict.
  • First act of most episodes.
  • Main villain has no presence.

(Request an anime for review here.)

One of the reasons I do little research on a title before I watch it is to go in as blind as possible. Sometimes, this method delivers shocking results. I did not expect Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne to be this graphic. And I’m not referring to the amount of violence and sex, but rather the manner in which the story executes these elements. Mnemosyne does not hold back when it comes to adult content. You have been warned.

Mnemosyne centres on Rin, an immortal woman fed a time fruit from the invisible tree Yggdrassil, who runs a private investigation agency alongside partner Mimi. Their job takes a turn when a search for a lost cat leads to amnesiac Koki and someone murdering these immortal women.

Most interesting in Mnemosyne is the structure, in that each episode takes place in a different decade. We start in the 90s and hop through the decades, seeing how society changes each instance, with the latter episodes set beyond our time and in the genre of science fiction. As such, the world building leaps forward each era – new global events in the background, technological advancements, aging mortals, etc. I particularly like how after a devastating earthquake, Tokyo’s depressed population retreats into a virtual reality of human indulgence. The people are so taken by the virtual that the real world is designated ‘Version 1.0’ – a launch version of the program, if you will. These are good world building details.

While the world evolves well across the years, I cannot say the same for the characters. Now, these characters aren’t bad, not at all. A core of the story is about how the immortal women don’t change while their mortal acquaintances die around them. Unfortunately, Rin and co. don’t react much to these changes. How much more interesting would it be to see a psychological toll for having such an existence? Or perhaps how they stay sane? Ironically, despite all the brutality, the story doesn’t push its characters far enough in the neglected psychological component.

The physical themes of sex and violence – two basic human instincts – have impact, certainly. The two sometimes (often) mix into some extreme form of BDSM – torture, mutilation, eroticism, bits missing, naked bodies, the full monty. The blood angels hunting Rin lure immortal women with the human instinct of lust, granting a state of ecstasy before devouring them. Mnemosyne is bold with its sexuality and not ashamed of it. Interestingly, none of this is gratuitous. Yes, they could have cut away before the graphic material starts and dropped down to a lower age rating tier, but the violence and sex drive the plot and characters of this supernatural world. These elements and the plot type give this anime a vampire fiction-esque feel.

Mnemosyne’s story problems lie in the first act of most episodes. The writing needs work in linking Rin with the key character introduced each episode. For example, in the first episode, after leaving the scene of a truck accident, she runs into Koki and helps, responds, and acts towards this stranger as though he’s a close friend. Her actions aren’t believable – nor is his response. The writers needed to get these two together and didn’t think of a proper way to do it. This happens consistently. Funny enough, each episode consistently improves in the same way after the first act as well. Flawed, but consistent. How odd.

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is so close to being great. Its good points have strength, but the weak parts are significant enough to hold it back. The characters needed that extra emotional push, and a main villain with more presence than minor antagonists would have assuredly helped. Even so, this anime engaged me to the end.

Art – Medium

The art is good – strong imagery – but could do with more animation and a touch more gothic. And get rid of the Photoshop filter used in flashbacks – looks cheap.

Sound – High

Mnemosyne has great acting in both versions and music that evolves with the times.

Story – Medium

In a world of sex and violence, the immortal Rin investigates attacks against her fellow immortal women through the ages. While engaging (and brutal), Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne doesn’t give the emotional side enough focus to match the physical.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is hard to find an audience for with the extreme sadism, but if you don’t mind that, it’s worth a try. Give it two episodes at least.

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

Positive:

Holy S***

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

Super GALS! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Super GALS! Kotobuki Ran

 

Similar: Neighbourhood Stories

Cheeky Angel

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Tough girls.

Negatives:

  • Spastic romances.
  • Unrealistic conflict with a teacher.
  • Fashion gangsters.
  • So looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What would a high school girl do for a perm? Self-proclaimed greatest Gal, Ran, would do anything, even partake in her family’s heritage as detectives by taking to Shibuya’s streets to do good deeds – as long as she can still dress up, of course. But will her cop father ever buy the promised perm when fashion, karaoke, and boys to mooch free food from keep distracting her?

In essence, Super GALS is about a trio of fashionista girls dealing with people (often creeps) and rival Gal gangs in Tokyo’s fashion centre, Shibuya. As ridiculous as that sounds, Super GALS’ greatest problem lies in that it is too serious for the premise. The drama it introduces seems to miss the point of the world they live in.

For example, a subplot with Ran’s friend Miyu reveals she’s the leader of some street gang. Yes, totally, totally serious and legit having a spindly tween fashionista as a gang leader. They don’t play with it. Imagine Zoolander if the ‘fashion models as the most powerful people in the world’ premise was executed seriously – no jokes, no parody. That would have sucked. Well, that’s what happens when Super GALS aims for drama. No one is going to buy this girl as a street gang member, never mind as leader, so why not go all out and spring great jokes? The team should have watched Zoolander.

Another thread taken too seriously involves a teacher who goes abusive dictator on Ran. In what universe does a teacher who threatens to punch a student (and later does) last until the end of the lesson in a decent school? They could have made it comical, have the teacher get at her in subtle ways that can’t pin the blame on him (see Full Metal Panic Fumoffu episode 2). That would have taken some thought, which I doubt was spared in this series. Also, his motivations are pathetic. He does this because he hates her…just because.

Super GALS reaches its worst point during the romantic subplot for Aya (third Super Gal). She is “in love” with the most handsome teenage boy in the area from another school, but his cold personality makes him difficult to approach. Still, she’s obsessed with him. She once tells him, “I don’t care if you cheated on me – I love you. You can do whatever you want as long as you let me love you” (paraphrasing). Reality have mercy.

Okay, some teens do believe in this idealistic “love slavery” – I saw this in person during high school. However, there was always several people ready to point out the distortions of wanting such a one-sided relationship. Having the relationship isn’t the problem. It’s sick and twisted, brimming with brilliant possibilities, but you have to tap that vein or it comes across as shallow, no, idiotic. Super GALS treats it like the most romantic of relationships where no one has a bad thing to say. Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You could have taught plenty to Super GALS.

Ran and co. are at their best during the comedy moments against other fashion cliques, such as the Ganguro Girls (ultra tan with bright hair). Even then, however, it’s never great. I mean, fifty-two episodes! Wow, that’s long to base such a puddle-deep premise on. It would require a skilled writer to keep the jokes interesting for that long. A few episodes was all it took to exhaust the hairspray reserves.

Art – Low

The character style is not trendy enough for the era, which is ironic considering the show’s fashion focus. Weak animation. The colouring is bright, but looks vomited onto the screen.

Sound – Low

The dub is better, for the most part, since, as is often the case, the Japanese actors made little effort at a dialect or accent. The girls sound like every other girl in Japanese. The English version does more valley/fashionista that fits much better. The voices eventually become grating regardless of language, however.

Story – Low

A trendy girl and her friends law down the law in Shibuya against other fashion gangs and creeps. Unrealistic conflicts, laughable gangsters, and trendy troubles cannot sustain 52 episodes. Better in the slice of life aspects.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you’re super into fashion, in high school, and like old anime, I can’t imagine Super GALS will have much appeal.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous Action

Tokyo Ghoul – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tokyo Ghoul

 

Related: Tokyo Ghoul √A (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Shiki

Parasyte -the maxim-

Attack on Titan

Ajin: Demi-Human

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Horror Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes (season 1), 12 episodes (season 2), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Fantastic hook.
  • Great performances across the board.
  • Quality art and music.

Negatives:

  • Nosedives after a few episodes.
  • Little but action in second season.
  • Pathetic protagonist.
  • More ideas than story.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tokyo is a city of fear with flesh hungry ‘ghouls’ masquerading as ordinary humans ready to eat unsuspecting citizens at first opportunity. A ghoul attacks Kaneki, the guy with the worst luck in love, but before she can finish him, an accident kills her and injures him. Doctors transplant her (unknowingly) ghoulish organs into him to save his life. He reawakens half-ghoul, half-human and loses his taste for normal food. An unfortunate need for love and affection has changed his life forever. (I knew there was something wrong when the woman looked older than claimed – a first in anime.)

Kaneki must not only cope with his hunger for flesh, but also the imprint of the ghoul Rize in his mind. After failing to kill himself, he reluctantly ventures into ghoul society where a café owner and a waitress, Touka, guide him in his new life as he tries to cling to his old, human life. To further layer this misfortune, Tokyo’s ghoul hunting branch has turned its attention to the 20th ward where they live.

What a great start. It gives us the premise, journey setup, conflict, and hook without missing a beat. The idea of a civilised ghoul society among the savages also brims with promise, and we get glimpses at detailed world building, such as ghouls’ ability to enjoy coffee or some ghouls eating human food to blend in, throwing it up later in secret. My favourite element is how “good” ghouls only eat suicide victims, thus keeping murder off the menu.

However – and I’m sure you know what’s coming next – it’s a shame this setup goes nowhere. Where do I start with this travesty? Right, Kaneki. He starts out as the weak bookish type, as is typical of the genre and perfectly fine, but he stays weak for almost the entire season. Only the hidden power (sprouting energy-like flesh limbs) of his ghoul half makes him stronger, which isn’t real strength for it takes no effort on his part. He doesn’t grow as a person. In Tokyo Ghoul √A (read: Root A), he gets stronger at the cost of having as much personality as a plank of imitation wood.

Kaneki may just be the most irrelevant protagonist I’ve ever seen. His friend/crush Touka’s story arc should have been his. Or merge the two into one, giving her his origin story while keeping her backstory and familial conflict. She would make for a far better protagonist.

Next, we have the unused elements. Kaneki soon wants to resume normal life at uni with his friend. A ghoul trying to be friends with a human should be interesting, yes? Well, they introduce the idea and do nothing with it. Furthermore, the friend’s uni roommate is a ghoul who has passed for human all this time and he uses the friend to hurt Kaneki. This conflict lasts an episode. What’s the point of presenting it at all?

Then there’s the villains, who almost all fall in the realm of ‘crazy for the sake of crazy’ instead of a personality and depth. Crazy, sure, yet they’re still one-dimensional. This type is starting to become one of my most hated character builds. Other than modelling one villain after Jason Voorhees with the hockey mask, I barely remember these characters. The human villains have a touch of depth, though with their purpose relegated to action scenes any depth is wasted.

Beyond the great setup, the only good story is in side plots, usually focused on other ghouls coping (or not) with their condition. But as these side plots don’t affect Kaneki, they don’t matter in the end. In fact, they impact him so little that they shunt him out of the story for the duration. Yeah, he stops being protagonist for extended periods (should have stayed that way).

I wrote my review for Beck before this and noted how that anime starts dull but keeps getting better. Tokyo Ghoul does the reverse. It starts strong with its vampire fiction type world and premise and then keeps getting worse – Root A feels like the dullest action scenes for twelve episodes. Tokyo Ghoul is more of an idea for a world than a story.

Art – High

I love the high contrast coupled with a vibrant palette. The art drew me to watch Tokyo Ghoul initially.

Sound – High

The actors give performances far above what this anime deserves. The protagonist in particular shows good range, shifting between the human and ghoul states. I don’t know how they didn’t make more use of this duality. Good music.

Story – Low

Once human, now half ghoul, a uni student tries to cope with his hunger for human flesh as he navigates the supernatural world within Tokyo. It has been a while since I have been this disappointed after such a strong start. Though never terrible, Tokyo Ghoul bores one’s tears ducts dry.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Watching Tokyo Ghoul can only lead to sheer disappointment.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingHollow World BuildingNo Development