We may have done it. We may have found the worst anime, dear readers. I don’t want to make a definitive statement without seeing a few other candidates first, but Angel Sanctuary may be the slurry of the septic tank.
This is a story of a guy, Setsuna, who may really be a woman – an angel woman called Alexiel – in love with his sister. Every supernatural entity seems interested in him, for reasons that aren’t made too clear. One character – a princess, apparently – wants him because his previous angel incarnation saved her life. Alexiel’s brother, who looks more like her sister, wants Setsuna to revert to his angel self so they can fight, for some reason. The story throws in random thugs to fight Setsuna as well, as if this wasn’t bloated enough already. And of course there’s the “romance” with his sister.
The immediate problem you notice with Angel Sanctuary, after supressing the bile in your throat at the animation, is the muddled nature of the story. It never bothers to let events sink in – it is one scene, one concept to the next, one after the other in a ratatatat, each said to be of great importance, yet not treated as such. The manga is 20 volumes long, which I imagine expands upon proceedings and likely lessens the ridiculousness of having everyone chase Setsuna at once by spreading out events. I haven’t mentioned several sub-stories either. It’s a mess.
Some guy’s father “has a premonition” that turns him around to see his son before he dies. Where did he gain this power? Why are you asking me?
The writing is something else. The credits for the edition I watched had behind the scenes of the VO recording and Crispin Freeman, the one good dub performance, is reading one of the lines but stops, asking what it even means. “The only thing of beauty to come out of God’s refuse that I am…” You’ll often find yourself asking that same question.
Angel Sanctuary loves its weird lore, dumping specialist terms you will never remember and fantasy names you won’t care about at a dozen per scene. You can’t overload three episodes like this and expect the audience to remember.
Giving the characters actual character and personality to associate with the lore would help. No one develops throughout this story. The development is so bad that I expected the incest sub-plot (or is it the main plot? Never clear) to have no conflict, but to my surprise, it had some. Now, don’t mistake this for praise – I would never praise Angel Sanctuary. The conflict is terrible. “I’m so conflicted about my feelings. It’s tearing me apart [Lisa]!” Two seconds later: “Oh hey, I’m no longer conflicted.”
The romance is, predictably at this point, one of no substance. Why do these two love each other? Haven’t the foggiest. I suspect that with the angel versus demon battle alluding to Christian mythology, the incest romance is just to complete the theme. Like everything in Angel Sanctuary, it doesn’t make sense or work towards the overall cohesion of the narrative.
You would have to see this anime for yourself to believe how bad it is. Too difficult to put into words.
How did Angel Sanctuary even get on my list when it is so obviously bad? It was advertised in one of the first anime DVDs I bought ages ago and I, for some reason, had to watch it at some point, on principle. It’s worse than I could have ever hoped for.
Art – Very Low
This low key frame animations, inconsistent anatomy, digital light effect using, no cinematography, eyesore of an anime is painful to witness.
Sound – Very Low
No level of acting could make this awful writing work. The dub is something special.
Story – Very Low
A guy with a supernatural secret grapples with feelings for his sister as angels and demons want a piece of him. What is this story trying to show?
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: So baffling that you have to see it to believe it. Angel Sanctuary is garbage – the sort of garbage that is fascinating to watch, like a fireworks factory on fire.
I didn’t expect this. In this season of revivals and forgotten sequels, I didn’t expect Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These to be one of the better titles. I am amazed this reboot didn’t try to cram 110 episodes into 12. No lies, my expectations were barely above the quality of The Last Airbender movie. Imagine my surprise when Die Neue These (German: The New Thesis) got me with that grand opening, a fleet of ships soaring to the heavens as a spine-tingling aria lifts hope itself.
Even after that good impression, my expectations remained tepid. It looked and sounded good, but story and character matter above all else to me – and when it involves some of my favourite characters in the best story anime has created, no amount of visual flair and evocative music can distract me from what matters.
Like the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the story is about a clash of ideologies. Democracy stands on one side – chaotic, corrupt, and idealistic, but free and with great potential. On the other side stands an absolute monarchy, where the people’s quality of life is dependent on the decisions of a single person – prosperity one generation doesn’t prevent utter despair the next. We follow Reinhard, a young commander in the Galactic Empire’s fleet on a steep upward trajectory to greatness, and the thorn in his side, Yang Wen Li, master tactician of the Free Planets Alliance.
One fascinating thing about seeing the same story – any good story – adapted multiple times, is in how it demonstrates that idea and premise alone aren’t enough, that execution matters most. Pride & Prejudice is my favourite classic story, with numerous adaptions over decades of cinema. Despite my love of the story, most of these adaptations aren’t good. Not because they aren’t faithful, but because they aren’t engaging. Give 10 directors the same book to adapt and you will likely see 10 different stories of varying quality.
In the case of Die Neue These, it does a good job of creating an engaging story with interesting characters and tense action. The execution is solid, in essence. However, this anime is in a precarious situation, for it is reinventing one of the giants. Comparisons to the original are inevitable, just as everyone will compare any version of Pride & Prejudice to the BBC’s 1995 miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
Die Neue These does have the advantage of releasing two decades after the original’s conclusion. This is long enough for it to have a potential new audience, particularly one that has no interest (at their own loss) of visiting such an old anime. Legend of the Galactic Heroes looks old to the new anime generation. Die Neue These took the idea of the original and brought it forward with all new bodywork and shiny paint, slick against the wind.
Storywise, the largest change is a streamlining of the dialogue-heavy scenes of old and the significant increase in action shots (I suspect the original would have had more action had they the budget for animation). When I talked of execution earlier, the dialogue was one of the original’s key elements to success, so to have it lessened should spell doom for the series.
At its core, this is the same story full of scheming, smart strategy, questionable decisions, grey characters, and losses on both sides. Yang is still Yang and Reinhard is still Reinhard. Sure, it’s not as good – not even in the same planetary system – yet it isn’t a disaster. Able to let go of comparisons to the original, I enjoyed this. Honestly, I think the fact that it wasn’t terrible allowed me to relax and go along for the ride. I looked forward to my nightly episode.
Die Neue These does have its share of problems, even on its own merits. The most glaring issue is the speed at which some scenarios resolve. I’m not talking of how the original took its time to go in depth with every character and every thread of its complex political web, while the new trims that down to focus only on major characters. No – you get the sense that an extra episode on a conflict here or there could have fleshed out the strategies and politics employed. And it’s not as though they were rushing to hit a perfect story beat for episode 12, the season finale. Episode 12 doesn’t feel like a point where one would think to leave the audience wanting more. A “down swing” episode is an odd choice on which to end.
I won’t pretend that I love Die Neue These. Most of the great experiences I had towards this series were reminders of watching the original for the first time. I cannot erase the original in my mind.
But this isn’t an anime for fans of the old series, like me. Do you know what people like me do when we want Legend of the Galactic Heroes? We go to the original. I’ve said it many times before: there’s no point in doing the exact same thing again. Look at Psycho’s remake. Take a risk. It probably won’t be as good, but who knows, it may provide something different and interesting. An adaptation doesn’t affect the original either.
I need more seasons (story’s barely started at 12 episodes) before I can give final judgement on Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These. I’ve enjoyed it so far. Pleasantly surprised.
Art – High
Die Neue These can do the one thing the original could not – animate everything. As such, we have a lot more action scenes this time. They look good, the spaceships’ CG blends in almost all the time, and the scenes fit the younger, higher energy of this series. I still prefer the refined character designs and classic look of the original, though I have little problem with the art direction here.
Sound – High
With many of the original actors no longer with us or retired, the team decided to go with a completely new cast. I am too used to the originals to prefer the new, but they do a good job. Different this time around is the inclusion of a dub (the original never crossed the ocean). I could get used to a dub easier than I could a changed Japanese cast, as it would be a new experience. However, I can’t say I agree with several of the casting choices. Reinhard in particular doesn’t sound right in English without that calm commanding presence befitting his character. I suppose that if the dub is your first viewing it may be fine. Love the music!
Story – High
An alliance of free planets battles to hold onto their freedom against the Galactic Empire as ideologies clash and heroes rise. This streamlined adaptation of a classic has nothing on the original, but seen on its own targeted at a new generation makes for a solid anime.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: If you don’t find the original series engaging because of its dialogue-heavy nature and old visuals, then I do recommend Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These. You’ll be missing several key qualities, but you won’t know what they are, so no harm there.
Rakugo is a traditional Japanese style of storytelling, a mix of stand-up comedy and one-man theatre. The performer stays knelt on a cushion and depicts several characters in conversation, using only a fan and cloth as props. If you’ve ever recounted a story to friends, imitating multiple people by slightly changing your voice and shifting your head back and forth, you will have an idea of Rakugo. The stories are comical in nature, though a performer does like to throw in an occasional drama to throw off the audience.
Steeped in tradition and inflexible, Rakugo is a dying art form in the face of modern entertainment such as television. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is the story of Rakugo – how it used to be and how it struggles to keep up with the times, as told across two generations. It starts in the modern day with former yakuza member Kyoji released from prison, aspiring to perform Rakugo and turn his life around. He goes to the revered Yakumo, who had performed at the prison during Kyoji’s incarceration. The young man’s enthusiasm triggers a flood of memories in Yakumo. We flash back to his days as an apprentice and the rivalry he had with Sukeroku.
This is a classic talent versus hard work type of career story. Yakumo is the perfectionist – dedicated and hardworking despite his crippled leg. Sukeroku is his opposite – gifted, lazy, freestyling, and charismatic enough to hold the audience in his every word. I like these types of rivalries. However, the trap I often see writers fall into is showing too much favouritism to one over the other. Some will unrealistically depict natural talent as the sole ingredient to be the best, when that is obviously untrue (lazy writing, as it doesn’t take effort to show why the character is so accomplished). On the other hand, stories with hardworking protagonists will discard the power of innate talent, ignoring how much of an advantage it gives in the early and middle stages of mastery.
Rakugo strikes the perfect balance. Talent goes as far as it should and hard work accomplishes what is realistically possible. Furthermore, it depicts the cost of dedication and the trap of talent. Neither character is free of sacrifice for their approach to the art.
At first, these characters weren’t of particular interest, but they grew on my over time when I got to see how they lived and the conflict they dealt with. Yakumo puts the career, the dream above all else. I appreciate characters with conviction to be the best and not take opportunities for granted, as I have mentioned elsewhere. But what sells it is the cost that comes with this mind set. I cannot stand it when there are no consequences, no matter how noble the aspirations. Writers sometimes forget that accomplishments cost time, time that is no longer available to spend on other part of life, such as friends or hobbies.
It starts slow, though by the end of season one, it had me hooked to the drama. Season two spotlights the next generation of Rakugo storytellers with Kyoji as the lead, which, while still a good season, isn’t really necessary. The first ends in a strong place, so don’t feel compelled to watch season two for completion’s sake if already satisfied.
Enough about the characters, let’s talk of the art itself, of Rakugo. The performances are fantastic. The first episode has a complete Rakugo act on stage about a thief stealing from a conman, who is making a claim for stolen property that doesn’t exist with the police. It’s a gripping performance – not just in anime, but also by the voice actor, Tomokazu Seki. This scene will let you know if Rakugo is for you.
By contrast, episode two shows us a bad performance and it is striking. The lines fall flat, the delivery has no emotion, and no one laughs at the routine. You feel just like the audience watching this – bored. And it is perfect. A good actor intentionally acting badly is a challenging feat.
My favourite detail in the performances is the cinematography, the show don’t tell of how the scenes are shot. When a performer is making everyone laugh, the audience in the palm of his hand, we see close ups of his neck beaded with sweat, arm straining to hold the pose, and his eye twitching on the verge of losing the act at any moment. We learn so much by seeing so little. If this were a shounen anime, we would cut away to another character, the background darkened as we go into his head for a dramatic monologue explaining everything about the performance, accompanied by a shocked expression one would expect from hearing that your mother was the villain the entire time. Had Rakugo been done that way, I would have given up paying attention.
The one fault of the Rakugo, as great as these performances are, is the insistence on a full routine each episode, which for the most part don’t contribute to the story outside of key moments. It would be equivalent to showing every minute of every game in a sports anime. Because of their nature, each episode is like attending the theatre yourself and you don’t want to go to the theatre 25 times in a day. As such, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju isn’t a show for binge watchers. My recommendation is to do an episode or two a day at most for maximum enjoyment.
Art – High
The characters have delightfully expressive faces that allow for vibrancy in the performances, yet without turning into a cartoony art style. I like the attention to backgrounds and textures.
Sound – Very High
All of the major actors in Rakugo are excellent, as they need to be for performances that require a dozen different voices alternating on the fly. The actors must have had a blast with these roles that didn’t just have the one voice throughout.
Story – High
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju chronicles the art of Rakugo across generations and the artists it inhabited. This methodical anime weaves art and drama that draws in the audience to satisfying results.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Try it, I urge you. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju has limited appeal, as evidenced by its niche success. However, give it a try – an episode is all you need – for you are missing out otherwise.
“Is Darling in the FranXX better than Evangelion?” someone asked me. “Studio Trigger is Gainax 2.0, so have they finally surpassed their past?” Better than Eva? Darling in the FranXX isn’t even better than Guilty Crown – forget Evangelion.
Darling in the FranXX feels like Trigger’s attempt at stepping out of Gainax’s shadow. That’s not how you distinguish yourself from your predecessors. You do so by forging your own path, your own identity, which they were well in the process of doing with the likes of Kill la Kill and the great Little Witch Academia. Now, people will start thinking that Trigger is possibly stuck in the past.
This story, like all others of its kind, is about humanity on the brink of extinction and the only thing saving them from the evil Klaxosaur is a bunch of inexperienced teenagers piloting mechs – or FranXX, as they are known here. Each FranXX requires one boy and one girl in harmony to function. Hiro is part of the latest batch to become pilots, when he fails in his tests and looks set to return to the lab, that is, until the half-human half-Klaxosaur Zero Two invites him to join her on the battlefield in humanity’s last stand. Though she is the best pilot, she also has a reputation for killing her partners after a mere three fights. How long will Hiro last?
Before I dissect the story and characters, let’s address the fan service. I make no secret of my dislike for fan service, as it often comes at the expense of other, better elements. However, most fan service in good anime doesn’t much matter. It’s generally reserved for the low end of the scale.
FranXX was made for fan service first, everything else second. Seemingly every scene has an eye for titillation. When characters get dressed, which is before each fight, they have to wear special underwear (why?) and the camera has to give a close up every time. The “ass shot” camera angle is the director’s favourite. Girls fondle each other despite having no knowledge of anything sex-related (even kissing is alien to them). Zero Two is fan service cancer. Her introduction has her get naked for a swim in front of Hiro, catch a fish with her mouth, and then leap out of the water like a dolphin, boobs almost slapping him in the chin. Does this serve any purpose? No.
The beach episode makes an appearance, of course. One would imagine that a beach episode in a series about sheltered and repressed children would be different, but it isn’t.
Worst of all is the piloting. The boys control the FranXX by steering the girls arse (right after she orgasms from the connection “going in”). I don’t know why Trigger stopped there. Why not just be honest and have them naked in doggy-style for fights? The boys already come equipped with a gear stick.
A key point to remember throughout this is that unlike Kill la Kill where the titillation served some satirical and comedic purposes, Darling in the FranXX wants you to take all of this seriously. And to make it even worse, if you can imagine, it thinks itself clever.
Zero Two is wish fulfilment for sad otaku when she falls in love and drapes herself over a guy of no talent or interesting quality. Every line out of her is “Darling” this and “Darling” that. Far from endearing, this quickly grows irritating. It’s akin to “onii-chan” and all that guff from harem anime.
Relationships and romance are a core theme of FranXX. However, these are the shallowest elements of the series. Society forces these kids to couple up, which makes the relationships inorganic though not a problem just yet, if as a mere starting point. But the organic relationship growth never blooms. When one couple swears undying love, all I hear is the order from above to be “in love”. There is an attempt at relationship drama with the inclusion of another girl that likes Hiro (don’t ask me what she sees in him), but her involvement is irrelevant.
It tries by having love mechanics in the cockpit, whereby a couple’s combat prowess turns flaccid if they don’t trust and “love” each other. This just doesn’t succeed.
The cast consists on an equally bland assortment of characters. The tsundere, the bro, the one fat guy (in a dying world), the shy girl, the reserved chick, the childhood friendzone girl – you know them all already. I keep waiting for a reason to care about any of these people (see the relationship problems above for why). I never get the sense that thought went into developing them. It’s almost as if they knew viewers would draw parallels between them and their counterparts in Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, doing the work for the writers. The closest I got to caring for these characters was when the boys and girls declared war on each other in their dormitory, reminiscent and accurate to boarding school life shenanigans. Wish there was more elsewhere.
The world building is similar – zero effort. Humanity lives in mobile fortresses called Plantations, hinting at a full society, yet we barely glimpse it. The most we have is a quick pass through a city and the grand council sitting around expositing. SEELE was dull in Evangelion and is duller here. The world doesn’t justify itself for being this way because we never explore it. You want the audience to be asking questions, to know more as you unveil the world and characters piece by piece until the big finish (don’t answer every little thing, mind you – leave them pondering small mysteries). FranXX never made me ask the right questions because it never cared enough to show me something worth investigating.
Even the Klaxosaurs aren’t compelling. Yes, there is a little story behind them, but as enemies, they have no character.
Lastly, we come to the story. Well, take Eva but give it Gurren Lagann’s third act, ending included, and you have FranXX’s full story. Oh, and remove anything engaging you may find in those other anime, of course.
For much of the series, the action goes like this: Klaxosaur spotted, send out the FranXX except for Zero Two because she’s a loose cannon and dangerous to her partner, scrub pilots get stomped, forced to send Zero Two and darling Hiro, they annihilate the enemy with ease, Hiro comes back wounded though without lasting damage, other kids hate Zero Two, and repeat. Why even bother with a team of pilots?
Zero Two monopolises the action. Her weakness is supposed to be that she will consume a trained pilot after every three fights, and these pilots don’t just grow on trees, yet once Hiro enters the picture, that weakness become irrelevant. When he reaches the point of death, he magically gets better and that’s that, problem solved. With such little effort I am astonished, astonished I tell you, they even bothered to include the weakness at all.
Also, she can’t go anywhere without an armed guard due to her rogue nature, yet they give her an all access key to go where the other kids can’t? It bites them an episode later. Shocker.
What cracks me up are the commanders. Despite humanity’s existence hanging in the balance, the command crew consists of two or three people. That’s it? I thought we were all about to die.
By now, I am asking myself if there is anything good about Darling in the FranXX. The art is good, as usual from Trigger. It’s likely what’s stopping me from dumping this anime straight into the bottom tier. I don’t want to rely on impulse with this viewing so fresh in my mind, so I will err on the side of caution for now and ruminate on it. And it all could be worse, even in the face of so many faults. Some of the small character moments and interactions are fun, as seen in the dormitory war, for example. The mobile fortresses as humanity’s last homes is also an interesting idea – if only they had explored them!
If only they had explored anything.
Art – High
You can rely on Studio Trigger to do a good job with the art and animation, though this isn’t on the level of Kill la Kill or Little Witch Academia. FranXX designs are so damn silly.
Sound – Medium
The voice acting is fine, as is the music. The protagonist in English sounds like a middle-aged man.
Story – Low
Boys and girls paired as couples fight in mechs to protect humanity from Dinobots. The boy pilots by manoeuvring the girl’s arse – that is the least of this anime’s problems.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. The memes are better than Darling in the FranXX.
So here we are at the final Marvel anime series and by pure coincidence, I saved the best for last. X-Men is the first of the Marvel line up that I would consider good. Iron Man was almost average, Wolverine was nothing but shallow action, and Blade just plain sucked.
This X-men adventure follows the team after the death of Jean Grey as Phoenix, its members dispersed in mourning until Professor X summons them on a mission to Japan in search of missing mutant girl Hisako Ichiki. A cult known as the U-Men has been kidnapping mutants to harvest their organs for enhancement experiments. The X-Men soon run into Emma Frost, former White Queen of the villainous Hellfire Club, who also claims to be in search of the girl, though the X-Men have their doubts, Cyclops in particular.
The structure is the same as the other Marvel anime – meet new character, help with small problem, uncover bigger conspiracy, fight the mid-tier enemies, prepare for final plan, climax – but X-men stands above the others because it pauses to let characters develop, to let the drama sink in. Jean’s death hit Cyclops especially hard and his head isn’t in the game, snapping at his teammates. Help comes from the unlikeliest source (unless you’ve read the comics) – Emma. One episode has little more than Cyclops and Emma talking, like a therapy session, and it is great. It’s good to see a complex character like Emma receive focus and to meet a broken Cyclops, which makes him more interesting than the usual stoic leader. This single episode has me wishing the X-Men could receive another, superior anime. There is much potential.
X-Men isn’t all success, however. The new girl, Hisako, is forgettable. I can’t remember her personality as of this review, two weeks after finishing the series, and her power is lame. She can create psionic armour to look like a mech, which seems awfully cliché for the Japanese mutant. I know this power is from the comics – still lame. They also allow her onto the team too quickly. She’s not a tag-along either, but a proper member, making me question how desperate the X-Men must be for new members.
Outside of this, there isn’t much to discuss. The action is decent – brutal Wolverine is always a pleasure – and the overall story works. To fit the Japanese setting, they modified the story of Moira MacTaggert by having her reside in middle-of-nowhere Japan instead of a European island (if I recall the comics I read over a decade ago correctly). It’s a nice bit of mystery and tension.
After the disappointments that were the other Marvel offerings, I am surprised I finally enjoyed one – pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying it’s great or that Fullmetal Alchemist will have to watch its back, but I am saying that, for once, Marvel didn’t waste my time with an anime.
Art – High
The art is closer to the Western style and is the best looking of the Marvel anime. They changed the look of Wolverine compared to his anime, oddly enough.
Sound – Medium
Well cast in English, while a few characters aren’t quite right in Japanese. The music is weak.
Story – Medium
The X-Men travel to Japan in search of a missing local mutant girl as Cyclops copes with the death of Jean Grey. Thanks an injection of drama and less tropiness, X-Men is a solid watch and the best of Marvel anime.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. The classic X-Men Animated Series and X-Men: Evolution may be far superior, but the X-Men anime is still good. It’s the one Marvel offering worth watching.