Tag Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

X-Men – Anime Review

Japanese Title: X-Men

 

Similar: Wolverine

Tiger & Bunny

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Best of the Marvel anime.
  • Strong drama episode between Cyclops and Emma Frost.
  • Good casting in English.

Negatives:

  • Japanese girl’s power is uninteresting.
  • Weak music.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Advertisements

Joker Game – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Joker Game

 

Similar: 91 Days

Rainbow

ACCA: 13-Territory Investigation Department

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The spymaster.
  • Improves in the second half.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t know what to do with itself.
  • First episode is one of anime’s worst.
  • Lacks tension half the time.
  • The accents.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The world is on the brink of collapse. World War II is imminent. Sensing the danger and realising the importance of an intelligence network, Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki sets up Japan’s “D Agency” for spies. His eight agents are to spy on enemy and ally nations alike, using their training in manipulation and infiltration to gather intel for Japan.

Accompanying the request, my reader informed me of Joker Game’s divisive reception – liked in Japan, disliked in the West – which had me intrigued. The first episode seemed to make it easy to see which side I would fall on. What a mess of an episode!

It introduces us to D Agency through the eyes of Sakuma, a military police officer that liaises with them for the army. One evening, the spies invite him to join a poker game and he loses. However, they reveal that he didn’t lose. They had cheated by way of having observers to the game signalling the contents of his hand. It goes into this long explanation about cheating techniques, courting allies to your side of the game, and how this “Joker Game” is some elaborate metaphor for international politics. A load of nonsense.

For one, the metaphor doesn’t fit if you think about it for but a moment. One spy reveals that he converted an observer to his side by giving him a cigarette when in need, which is supposed to equate to flipping a political ally in Washington. Except, people don’t flip that easily. This oversimplification of politics, intelligence, and spies undermines the complexity of their work. I cannot stress enough how dumb it is.

Even with the incompetent metaphor, this could have been a great episode had we, the audience, had opportunity to get in on the game. You see, none of these spy tricks and cheats they talk of can we see during the game itself. There’s no opportunity for us to figure it out. They play an ordinary looking game followed by an explanation telling us everything. Why not show us? It couldn’t be less interesting. And you want the cyanide-laced cherry on top? The “Joker Game” is irrelevant to the rest of the plot. Yep, the whole affair doesn’t matter.

The larger series is an anthology, to my surprise, chronicling the spies’ assignments in various countries. Joker Game improves after the opening two-part story, but not by much.

Episode 3 has us travel to France to join a spy among the French Resistance. His plan, as it turns out, is idiotic and relied on sheer luck to succeed. Not the elite spy games promised, is it? Next we move to Shanghai, where a police officer investigates a possible terrorist bombing of his captain’s home. This is a decent episode, but it doesn’t have enough time to get into the details – details that invest the audience in the narrative. Joker Game tries to cram the entirety of Chinatown into 20 minutes.

That’s a core issue with this. The anthological nature doesn’t give a story time to breathe in a single 20-minute episode. Just when it feels like we’re getting started, the episode is over!

Joker Game only works when it focuses on a small event. The best instance of this occurs in episode 11 when a German officer investigates the corpse of a Japanese man, suspecting that Yuuki is somehow involved. The spymaster had escaped his clutches decades ago when Japan and Germany were at war in World War I. The entire episode is about the German trying to find one piece of evidence to confirm his fears.

I liked this episode so much that I feel the story should have been about the conflict between Yuuki and the German. It could have still had subplots spotlighting other spies (episode 12 is a great look at love in a spy’s life) while keeping the focus on the spymaster, Joker Game’s best character. He has such presence, thanks in no small part to his actors in either Japanese or English, that he could carry a series.

By the end, I found several things to like about Joker Game – really, that first episode is such a bad first impression that I could understand if most viewers dropped the anime on the spot. Many of the scenario ideas have potential, but the overall execution makes Joker Game feel as though it doesn’t know what to do with itself. There is too much in this anime. The second half is an improvement, though not enough to redeem the series. So as it turns out, I fall in the middle between Japan’s praise and the West’s rejection of Joker Game.

Spy stories are a rarity in this medium, so you will be seeing something different, at minimum, which for me is often reason enough to try something.

Art – Medium

Good art as always from Production I.G., but this has little animation – expect many slow pans of characters thinking. A few episodes have superior shot composition, cinematography, and lighting than others such that you could be visually bored one episode and engaged the next.

Sound – Medium

Oof, what a mixed bag we have here. In Japanese, you have the least American sounding Americans in existence, whereas the dub has actors who can’t do accents. Episode 3’s French accents are awful – most sound more German than French! (Unless they’re meant to be German spies… Oh. My. God. What a twist!) The actual German accents are better, though one strays into Russian territory. Yuuki the spymaster has the standout performances in both versions.

Story – Low

Japan’s spy agency sends its agents around the world in preparation for World War II. After a terrible opening episode, matters slowly improve for Joker Game to conclude with a decent finish.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For spy fans only. I can’t see Joker Game going over well with most viewers, especially if starting from the beginning. I do recommend episode 11 to all for a nice tension piece.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Violet Evergarden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Violet Evergarden

 

Similar: The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Kobato.

Plastic Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Slice of Life Drama

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.
  • Elegant character designs.
  • Touching sub-stories.
  • The instrumental soundtrack and great acting.

Negatives:

  • Violet is the weakest part.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I had wanted to watch Violet Evergarden ever since the release of the stunning trailer (above) two years ago. There was no indication as to the contents of the story, but if the series had art and animation half as good as the trailer, then I’d be interested.

I am pleased to say that the art and animation are better than half as good as the trailer, while the story is unexpected. It tells of Violet Evergarden, a former child soldier with mechanical arms in a post-WWI-esque setting, who has to find a new purpose in life now that she has no orders to follow, enemies to kill, or someone to protect. Her life thus far has left her emotionally void. She receives opportunity to fix that when she meets the “Auto Memory Dolls” – letter typists that transcribe a customer’s emotions to the page. Perhaps, given enough time through learning from the emotions of others, she may come to understand the meaning of her major’s final words: “I love you.”

Violet is a blunt girl, unaware of the feelings of others, as is understandable. She writes without heart. When someone confides in her, such as an emotional problem, she doesn’t hesitate to tell others when asked, not realising it should remain private without instruction. She is also rather one note and the weakest element of the series. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Violet Evergarden weren’t an entirely character driven story. Despite the war backstory, expect little action outside two or three episodes. Everything else is about Violet and her interactions with colleagues at the postal service, clients, and a few auxiliary characters.

Her description should remind Full Metal Panic viewers of Sargent Sagara, a child soldier also of little emotion. My readers will know too that I love that character. So why not Violet? She lacks the counterbalance that makes Sagara such a great protagonist. Sagara is deathly serious (often literally) yet unexpectedly hilarious. Violet is just serious.

Now, comedy on the level of FMP wouldn’t fit the tone of Evergarden, so that isn’t the right solution (though a little more levity wouldn’t have gone amiss). Instead, other characters should have shown more emotion and humour in response to her serious behaviour. Her colleagues and clients take her actions too normally. People don’t display enough shock or laughter at some of the things she does. At most, a few clients get angry because she translates their feelings too literally onto paper, such as not getting the hint that one woman wants to play coy with her suitor before accepting his proposal. If done, this would allow Violet to react (and develop) at the reception of her actions. In improvisational acting/comedy, a scene works when one actor initiates for the other to react, which allows the first actor to react in turn, followed by the other again, and back and forth it goes until they have extracted all material. But imagine if one started the scene, only for the other to give a response that doesn’t facilitate further reaction. The scene would end there with nothing worthwhile. Violet is that full stop in interactions all too often.

She does develop by the end and show emotion – enough to avoid the label of a bad or boring character, certainly – but it’s not at a level to make a compelling protagonist.

Where Evergarden finds success is in the supporting cast, particularly the clients. Dolls will travel to wherever the client should require them, allowing us to see much of the country in which she lives and giving the art team an excuse to create more wondrous environments. The clients range from a princess in love to an astronomer that needs help copying rare books. Then there’s her colleagues, such as Iris the country girl whose family wants her to return to the village, quit her job, and get married, much to her protestations. Each of their stories tie into Violet’s theme, as it should be in every story, of understanding emotion. A highlight is episode 10 when she writes letters for a mother and daughter. I truly enjoyed these episodic arcs.

They, alongside the visuals and music, made Violet Evergarden an easy series to finish. I love everything about Violet Evergarden except for Violet herself. Hell, I even love the idea of Violet. Her execution is the problem. This good anime contained potential for greatness, had Violet received slight tweaks that would have opened her up to movement and depth.

Art – Very High

Disgustingly beautiful art and animation in many scenes. Violet Evergarden is not quite movie level consistence, as it does resort to static characters at times, though it never lingers. I love the character designs and attention given to the fashion.

Sound – High

Strong acting and a lovely instrumental soundtrack complement the story and visuals.

Story – Medium

A child soldier learns the meaning of emotion through writing letters on behalf of clients. The supporting cast and their sub plots help prop up a mediocre protagonist in Violet Evergarden.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. Violet Evergarden is worth a shot for the art alone – could be enough to carry you to the end. However, Violet as a character may cause some viewers to lose interest after a few episodes. Watch episode 10 if you only have time for one.

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

 

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Giant Robo the Animation: Chikyuu ga Seishi Suru Hi

 

Related: GR: Giant Robo (new version)

Similar: Mobile Fighter G Gundam

Heroman

Tetsujin 28

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Drama

Length: 7 episodes (49 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • High production values in animation and music.

Negatives:

  • Misleading advertising and OP.
  • Protagonist is useless.
  • Little depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When a reader requested Giant Robo for review, I made a joke about how on the nose the title was. Easy to guess what that anime is about! Well guess what? It ain’t about a giant robot! What…?

Yeah, the robot is barely in it and even when on screen, usually does nothing. Oh sure, the robot can cry, but need it to fight more than a few times in six hours of film? No robot for you!

Not only is the robot barely in Giant Robo, the robot isn’t even needed! (Don’t even mention the other robots teased in the introduction.)

An evil organisation called Big Fire (…) wants to destroy the source of Earth’s renewable energy, Shizuma Drives, and return humanity to the dark ages. The International Police Force fights back with special warriors from around the globe, capable of immense feats and super powers, alongside Daisaku, the 12-year-old kid in control of Giant Robo.

The warriors are the reason for Giant Robo’s superfluous nature. They are so powerful – super strength, teleportation, god weapons, immortality, and more – that I have to question why there are giant robots at all. Characters often describe Giant Robo as a trump card against Big Fire, but these warriors don’t need the help and certainly not from a kid. Daisaku is more useless than his robot. Each episode opens to an introduction of the story, pressing us with the importance of Giant Robo and its amazing young pilot, Daisuke! He has no combat abilities, though conveniently for his purpose in the plot has the watch that controls Robo.

Normally I would chalk Daisuke up to the need for a kid protagonist in a story for kids. However, my understanding is that Giant Robo is a loose adaptation of the source material that tries bringing pieces from every corner of the mangaka’s work, so I assume Daisuke feels more a protagonist in his manga.

The production team had two options to make this work. They either cut Daisuke (or make him a side character if they have to keep him) or give him something to do and lower the strength of the warriors. Currently, his job is to ask whiny questions while waiting for his cue on the next Robo appearance.

As for the warriors, the stars of the show, they aren’t memorable owing to their lack of distinction. They don’t have personalities as much as they have a thing. One’s thing is to be cool and brooding. Another’s is be a joker. You remember these people by power, not by character. Most of Giant Robo is action. When it isn’t action, it’s talking about the previous plot point and getting to the next plot point. Little time passes on character development. We don’t see character moments. Because this is for kids, characters spend too much time telling about their motivations, about the lessons they learned, and making sure that the kids get it.

Seen in the context of an old anime, there is enjoyment to find in Giant Robo. It looks great, even today, and the orchestral soundtrack is beautiful. The classic feel and maniacal villains that remind of Tin Tin’s foes are fun, but you cannot divorce Giant Robo from the modern day and the advancements in anime that come with it. This story hasn’t aged well. If you don’t have the nostalgia bug, these story problems will get in the way.

Art – High

The visuals are a mix of Metropolis and Lupin the Third and still hold up today. I like the style and the attention to detail with the parallax scrolling backgrounds.

Sound – Medium

Giant Robo has two dubs – one by Manga Entertainment and the other by Media Blasters. The latter is better, though Daisaku’s voice sounds too much like a girl, so the Japanese might be a better choice. The orchestral soundtrack is suitably world ending.

Story – Low

An international group of super powered warriors fight against an evil that wants to return humanity to the dark ages. A show called Giant Robo that isn’t about a giant robot, which has an extraneous protagonist, and an ending revelation that beggars belief doesn’t make for great story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For old anime fans only. I can only see enjoyment for those going into Giant Robo as a nostalgia trip. For the love of anime, don’t believe the title!

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

 

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

Misleading

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

House of Five Leaves

Joker Game

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • And now for something completely different.
  • The grander plot.
  • Mauve is gorgeous.

Negatives:

  • Second acts of most episodes are dull.
  • The comic office staff are out of place.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What an unusual anime. When a dear reader requested ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department for review, I wasn’t really looking forward to it, if I can be brutally honest for a moment. A bureaucrat goes around the states of a peaceful nation to audit the peace? What…? Where’s the conflict if everything is peaceful? I had to force myself to start it for the sake of the review.

The first episode didn’t impress me beyond the visuals. We learn that the kingdom of Dowa has known peace for a century thanks to a government initiative called ACCA that cares for the needs of citizens. Rumours have started stirring, however, of a coup d’état against the king. Jean Otus of ACCA now has the job of auditing the Dowa’s 13 territories to see how peace suits them and to uncover the truth of these rumours.

The slow start and lightweight feel, for lack of a better word, to the mystery of the rumours didn’t compel me to keep watching. If not for the “peace” in the blurb, one would expect ACCA to be in the vein of Bridge of Spies and similar Cold War films, where tension holds the very fabric of reality at peace. But because Dowa is at peace and the storytelling slant is tranquil, I found myself questioning why this story needed telling. I don’t joke when I tell you that only my love for the visuals kept me going. (If I’m not feeling an anime for review, I will often take forever to get through it.)

By the second episode, I’m starting to love the opening song (I wouldn’t skip it from here on) and the protagonist Jean is growing on me. Let’s not forget Mauve, one of anime’s most gorgeous women and her role in the plot. She has a mysterious air about her and this sultry confidence that made me unsure if she truly was Jean’s ally. Then we learn of someone spying on Jean, who himself is acting like a spy in his tour of the states. The layers of spying go all the way to the top. I’m not hooked, but I’m no longer dreading it.

The problem with ACCA is the overrepresentation of daily life. I understand that this is a country at peace and peace breeds routine, monotony in society. But! They should have worked in more spying as an undercurrent to the ordinary events, extracting bits of information during chitchat, and everyone suspicious of something, all with a fun angle like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Kingsman. From the outside, it would seem like daily life, but underneath that is spy work. The existing second acts of most episode are boring. Most third acts of episodes interested me enough to keep going.

The second issue I have with ACCA relates to the territories. Each territory has a specialty – one is agriculture, another makes all the movies, and so on – yet most of them don’t feel much different and aren’t interesting, unlike Kino’s Journey where every location brought something new. It wasn’t until Jean visits the territory that lives akin to 17th century France, with electronics such as mobile phones banned, that my interest piqued. Alright, some variety!

The core of the plot also comes to light soon. As the coup builds, Jean needs to learn which side each district will fall on, should a power play occur – with the crown or the conspirators.

ACCA had slowly built my interest until the third act, where it delivers its best episodes as all the secrets come tumbling out. If anything, its story is too end-loaded and could have measured it out more to boost engagement earlier. Still, the strong finish left me with a good impression.

ACCA’s aversion to anime tropes also helps its case. In fact, the one notable trope it does use – goofy co-workers from Jean’s home office – is an eyesore. Their comedic relief isn’t funny and doesn’t fit the tone of the show. Their inclusion was to counterbalance the drama, though the fun spy work I mention above would have been more fitting. It could have done without them.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department isn’t going to blow you away nor is it a great anime, and yet, because it’s something different, you don’t have the feeling of “same old, same old” when watching it. I urge you to give it a chance.

Art – High

ACCA looks different yet familiar to anime. I love the colours and character designs. This anime adores animating things fluttering in the wind. It also uses small visual techniques you rarely see in anime, such as characters fading into view as the camera reverse dollies through them.

Sound – High

The OP is great and went on my playlist before I finished the series. The woman’s vocals struck me. As for the acting, it’s good in either language, so go with your default preference.

Story – Medium

An inspector from ACCA, the government department responsible for the country’s peace, travels to the 13 states after rumours of a coup d’état surface. ACCA overcomes its dull segments with an unusual concept executed through interesting characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it, I urge you. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department won’t be for everyone. In fact, this little-known anime will interest very few among us, but it’s worth trying in case you are one of those few. I wouldn’t want you to miss out.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None