Tag Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Wolf’s Rain – Review

Japanese Title: Wolf’s Rain


Similar: Ergo Proxy

Darker than Black


Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

Length: 30 episodes (26 in season one, 4 OVA to conclude)



  • An extensive and varied soundtrack from multiple countries.
  • Great visual quality expected from studio Bones.
  • Solid Japanese voice work alongside the likes of Crispin Freeman and Steve Blum in an equally good English track.


  • Serious pacing issues.
  • The main drive of the plot, the search for paradise, doesn’t have any urgency due to vague objectives and potential consequences early in the series.
  • Four recap episodes in the middle.

I first started watching Wolf’s Rain in 2003 shortly after its initial airing. It took until yesterday, eleven years later to finish watching the anime – I never felt that ‘just one more episode’ drive. Poor pacing issues, vague storytelling, and filler episodes make Wolf’s Rain a difficult anime to invest in.

Wolf shapeshifters were thought extinct for 200 years; however, a few survived and blended into the populace as humans. A white wolf named Kiba follows the scent of Lunar Flowers to Cheza the flower maiden, key to opening the door to paradise. Unfortunately, the villain Darcia, who seeks to open paradise to remove his family’s curse, kidnaps Cheza. Kiba along with three other wolves, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, give chase to rescue her. Meanwhile, a hunter and his dog Blue track down the pack of wolves, intent on wiping them out.

Wolf’s Rain’s narrative setup is a good one brought down by ambiguity. I understand (and recommend) that a writer shouldn’t lay out all the cards on the table within the first chapter; however, you must at least tell the audience which game you are playing. The narrative structure in Wolf’s Rain is akin to playing poker, only to have someone declare ‘Gin!’ and win the game, which is when you realise you weren’t playing the right game. Wolf’s Rain doesn’t establish the importance of paradise or the relevance of the villain (outside of kidnapping because the plot needed conflict) until late in the series. Furthermore, it isn’t some grand twist. The world is ending and paradise must be opened in order to save it. Only the blood of a wolf and the lunar maiden can accomplish this task. That’s all they needed to state clearly within a few episodes. It seems as though the writers assumed that the audience already knew all of this somehow.

Wolf’s Rain main storytelling device is allegory. Everything represents something. The focus here is on religious pilgrimage and social constructs. The wolves’ search for paradise is their journey to enlightenment, while the government’s extinction of wolves is the suppression of freedom. Looking at the device on a macro level, it is well executed, as the wolves face a dozen trials from betrayal to self-doubt to false hope as their varied personalities clash with one another. That said, it fails on a micro level, the scene-to-scene narrative. Writers can’t just throw something at the audience a claim quality because it’s ‘symbolic.’ Even if something is symbolic, it still needs structure and quality. When using symbolism, ask this: if the audience doesn’t catch the symbolism, will they still understand what is going on? If a character hulking out and turning evil is symbolic of inner struggle, there still needs to be a plausible reason for hulking out into evil. One can’t suddenly make him evil and declare symbolism!

The pacing doesn’t help either. Where some episodes have action, drama, and tension throughout, other episodes consist of nothing more than slow pans across silent scenes where little happens. Yes, moments of silence and introspection can enhance the narrative tension, but here the silence builds to nothing. To compound further, episodes 15 to 18 are recaps of the story thus far from the perspectives of different characters – the same recap four times! One would assume these recaps at least garner extra backstory or maybe revelations about a character’s motives. Alas, no, just filler. Imagine if you had to pay for this back when it was four episodes a DVD.

Where Wolf’s Rain does shine is with its music. Composer Yoko Kanno is to be commended for her excellent work with the soundtrack. She recorded music from around the world to craft an extensive and varied soundtrack. The opening theme sounds like something from Sting, the closing is by Maaya Sakamoto in English, there is European chant, Indian Raga, violin for moments of sorrow, and so much more. Truly great music.

It is a true shame the storytelling in Wolf’s Rain is so vague. As things are, I found the plodding story moments a hindrance to reach the tension. The soundtrack is worth a listen on its own, at the least.

Art – High

Great work as always by studio Bones with attention to detail like persistent battle damage. In human form, the artists managed to convey wolfish characteristics without resorting to clichéd ‘dog-ears-and-be-done-with-it’ design.

Sound – Very High

A phenomenal soundtrack from around the world along with great voice work in both languages. Gravel brothers Steve Blum and Crispin Freeman bring the appropriate levels of growl to the villain and Tsume, respectively.

Story – Medium

An over reliance on symbolisms leaves the plot vague for too long. Also suffers from pacing issues and four episodes of recap in the middle.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Unless you can stand a vague narrative and slow pace, you won’t enjoy Wolf’s Rain. I do really love that music.

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


Great Music


Poor Pacing

xxxHOLiC Kei & Shunmuki & Rou – Review

Japanese Title: xxxHOLiC Kei & Shunmuki & Rou


Related: xxxHOLiC (Season 1) & Movie: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (prequel)

Similar: Natsume’s Book of Friends




Watched in: Japanese (no English dub like season 1)

Genre: Supernatural Mystery Comedy

Length: 13 episodes (Kei), 2 OVAs (Shunmuki), 2 OVAs (Rou)



  • An overarching plot that season 1 lacked.
  • Expanded core cast with more backstory.
  • Reference to Akagi in xxxHOLiC Kei episode 6!


  • The art in Kei has lost the sharpness and style that made season 1 look unique.
  • Theme of addiction and deeper philosophies largely lost.
  • Most humour is gone.

(Note: this review assumes you have either watched xxxHOLiC season 1 or read the review. Still spoiler-free, however.)

What happened? Where did the heart of xxxHOLiC go? In its transition to xxxHOLiC Kei and the OVAs that followed (xxxHOLiC Shunmuki & xxxHOLiC Rou), the franchise lost its greatest quality: the exploration of addiction and its consequences. While I appreciate the inclusion of an on-going plot to connect the episodes, the creators overbalanced the structure and narrative, eschewing the heart of the original.

xxxHOLiC Kei picks up after season one with Watanuki still working for Yuuko to clear his curse. Cases span a few episodes per customer, allowing for more backstory, but without the depth of the life lessons, these extended cases aren’t as engaging. Much of the humour is gone in Kei, and even more so in the OVAs, replaced with rather drab gloom at times where it isn’t needed. Only Mokona, the adorable ball of fluff, brings any laughter to the scene. The constant gloomy atmosphere didn’t hold my attention like the first season. The art in Kei also lost what made xxxHOLiC visually striking. Yes, the characters have the same hyper-stretched style, but the backgrounds are blurry as though the artists used softer brush strokes and didn’t bother with the detailing stage. That unique quality is no more. Shunmuki and Rou do bring back sharpness with the jump to HD; however, there is something more…generic about the art, though the OVAs do look nice.

Not all is worse. Kei feels like a more important story to Watanuki as a character. Where in the original, Watanuki was more of a Good Samaritan helping people with their addictions; in Kei, he has a greater personal stake in the narrative. Several of the lessons learned are for his benefit rather than the customer. Similarly, in the final OVA Rou, Doumeki is a focus character. We get a chance to see past xxxHOLiC events through his eyes and his backstory. I never say no to good backstory. There are also guest appearances from CLAMP’s other franchise, Tsubasa Chronicles, in xxxHOLiC Shunmuki.

Overall, xxxHOLiC Kei & Shunmuki & Rou are certainly not bad. Fans of the original series will likely enjoy this, unless the humour and theme of addiction were the draw, as they were for me.

Art – Medium

xxxHOLiC Kei looks like someone overused the blur tool; however, the OVAs bring back the sharp quality.

Sound – Medium

Without the English track and the constant gloom, the voice work has less to offer than the original. The ending theme to xxxHOLiC Kei is catchy and adorable, though.

Story – Medium

Without the focus on addiction (the series’ namesake), consequences, and lessons learned, the heart of xxxHOLiC is diminished.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Only for those who want to see more of the characters. Be aware that the tone is more serious than the first.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

xxxHOLiC & A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Review

Japanese Title: xxxHOLiC & xxxHOLiC: Manatsu no Yoru no Yume


Related: xxxHOLiC Kei & Rou & Shunmuki (sequel)

Similar: Natsume’s Book of Friends




Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Mystery

Length: 24 episodes (Season 1) & a 1 hr. movie



  • The sultry and seductive Yuuko is a great character shrouded in mystery.
  • A great English voice track that brings out the protagonists’ nuances.
  • Insightful looks into life morals and philosophies regarding addiction.
  • Enjoyable and light-hearted humour.
  • A sharp art style that accentuates Yuuko’s personality and power.


  • Lacks direction in the episodic format without an overarching plot.
  • You have to like the CLAMP hyper-stretched art style, especially here.
  • The majority of ambient characters are no more than sketches filled white.
  • Fluctuation in character proportions breaks immersion.

(Note: The film xxxHOLiC: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is included in this review, as its qualities are the same as season 1 of xxxHOLiC.)

Watanuki spends his days chased by spirits only he can see. One afternoon, while dealing with a particularly troublesome horde of spirits, he stumbles into a shop run by the mysterious and seductive Yuuko, a sorceress who grants wishes in exchange for payment equal to the wish – usually an object precious to the customer. In exchange for his servitude, she agrees to work on removing his curse. And so begins his servitude as her personal chef, errand boy and chore slave.

The title refers to addiction, xxxHOLiC’s theme. The ‘x’s are Japan’s version of blank spaces, just as we use ___. So the title is a multi-purpose term for addictions like alcoholic, workaholic, or even chocoholic. Despite the supernatural slant on the narrative, each case is interesting because xxxHOLiC portrays the addiction and resulting struggles in a realistic way. xxxHOLiC’s acknowledgement that people will lie and deny any problem with their addictions, and the reality that some addictions have long-lasting consequences, is the key that turned the series from something forgettable to an anime worth my time. Many customers end up in the shop without meaning to, without realising that they need help – a great metaphor for reality. Not all cases have a happy end.

The life lessons Yuuko brings to the table have actual depth rather than being “philosophical” one-liners. The shop’s first customer since Watanuki, for example, is losing the use of her arm and can’t understand why. Watanuki investigates to find that she is a serial liar, concocting falsehoods in conversations with friends and acquaintances to make herself look better in their eyes. While these lies seem innocent, the supernatural is using her addiction as an opening to infect her. Watanuki asks Yuuko why they didn’t just tell the woman to stop lying. Yuuko explains that the woman lies for her own sake and nobody else’s. It wouldn’t make a difference if told of the consequences; she would still lie, addicted to the feeling of looking good in front of others, until she experienced the consequences for herself. I appreciated this more realistic view on the problem rather than waving a magic wand to fix fundamental issues within a person’s character.

Yuuko steals the show. She is an inter-dimensional sorceress with great fashion sense, an insatiable appetite, confidence, and isn’t afraid to be seductive when needed, reminding me of Bayonetta. Actress Colleen Clinkenbeard brings her to life especially well in English with a sultriness and nuance to her voice not found in Japanese.

Another great character is Doumeki – popular, talented, good looking, better at soccer than Watanuki – a guy too aloof to be scared by spirits, which infuriates Watanuki. He has this great deadpan voice at all times (the similarity in voice for both languages is uncanny).

xxxHOLiC’s main potential turn off, outside of the CLAMP’s stretched art style (full Jack Skelington here), is the episodic format. The lack of overarching plot to the series makes the show lack direction, even if each individual episode is interesting. If you accidentally skipped a few episodes, you wouldn’t notice.

Regarding the movie, there isn’t much to say. It is essentially an extended episode with a bigger budget allowing for grander animation, more variety in environments, and a larger cast of characters. The overall quality is similar with the same strengths and weaknesses as the series. Watch it after the season for full context. xxxHOLiC is an enjoyable, fun show. It is a pleasure to watch the dynamic between the calm Yuuko and Watanuki’s hysteria.

Art – Medium

xxxHOLiC uses CLAMPS’s iconic thin art style to the extreme here. It may turn some away. Crowds could use detailing.

Sound – High

A solid Japanese track with a better English one accompanied by pleasant and mysterious instrumental music. Plenty of violin.

Story – Medium

xxxHOLiC’s supernatural angle on the exploration of addiction is interesting and unique. However, the lack of continual plot between episodes can reduce compulsion to keep watching. (Is that the show’s way of telling you not to get addicted to anime…?)

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Great for anyone who likes humour undercoated by deep morals with an air of mystery about it. Worth watching for sorceress Yuuko alone.

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


Positive Recommended English Voice TrackStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day – Review

Japanese Title: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai.


Related: AnoHana: The Movie (sequel)

Similar: Angel Beats!

Waiting in the Summer


Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Young Adult Drama

Length: 11 episodes.



  • Emotionally powerful story surrounding a strong cast of characters with development.
  • Proper opening and closing.
  • Good animation with an attention to character movement details.
  • Great voice acting that conveys the characters’ emotions.
  • Oozes charm.


  • Characters’ side plots needed more time.
  • Visual character detail drops at times.
  • Too few music tracks.

Ano Hana, or the excessively long name above, is a show I went into not knowing what to expect. By the end of its eleven episodes, I was impressed at its ability to weave charm, emotion, character, humour, and conflict into one. This is an anime not to be missed.

We arrive as high school student Jintan is shadowed by the ghost of his childhood friend, the late Menma. She pesters him non-stop and eats his food. As kids, they were part of a group of six friends called the ‘Super Peace Busters.’ Since the death of Menma, they drifted apart, venturing down different paths in life. Jintan fell into a state of depression, failing exams, avoiding school, all the while attributing the hallucination of Menma to stress. The adorable Menma tries her best to cheer him up with her loony antics; she’s a cute character with the heart of a child and innocence to match. She isn’t overdone either, keeping her from becoming an irritation, as is often the case with her character archetype.

Jintan soon realises she will move on if he completes her wish, only, she can’t remember what it is, the scatterbrain. They figure it involves getting the old group back together. This is harder than thought since everyone has changed after so many years, and only Jintan can see Menma. Former friends have turned either pretentious like the black-haired girl, Tsuruko, or callous and heartless as Yukiatsu, the light-haired boy. Only Poppo, the boisterous traveller believes Jintan that Menma has returned. Lastly, there’s Anaru, who has joined the trendy girls out of low self-esteem despite being little like them. The acting is fantastic, particularly for Anaru.

The struggle is on for Jintan, with Menma’s well-meaning help, to rekindle their friendships. Even Pokémon games are used (or Nokémon as they retitled it here) to bring back the memories – they incorporated it accurately from the three starters, trading to evolve, hunting in grass, and even using a link cable for Gold Version!

Conflict is interspersed with light-hearted humour that never overpowers the emotion of the show. An adorable charm complements the heavy moments, creating a good balance where no single aspect becomes too much. With a well-crafted plot built on a foundation of believable, three-dimensional characters, you feel the emotions, the trials and triumphs of everyone. The side plots are relevant, as they have to deal with problems like any other teenager; often, writers will forget that problems don’t go away just because another arises. We still see jealousy, selfish motives in relationships, and doubt at capabilities. Jintan especially has to overcome great adversity before the end. Looking at a poster or screenshot doesn’t do this anime’s depth justice.

Warning: if you are the sort who shows emotion in times of sadness for a show or movie, prepare for rivers here.

My one complaint in terms of plot is how little time some of the side stories get to develop. Another episode or two could have satisfied every thread.

You won’t go wrong in watching Ano Hana. You will feel joy and sorrow simultaneously for deep characters brought to life by the right voices, leaving no reason not to spend time with the Super Peace Busters.

Art – High

The art leans towards charm rather than the emotion. That’s not to say the emotion won’t come through their expressions – the opposite in fact. Menma’s cute design enhances the sorrow you feel for her, while making her more adorable during her wacky moments. No compromises were made with the environmental art; however, the same can’t be said for the characters. There are times when the quality slips, in particular regards to light and shadow.

Sound – High

An aspect I rarely comment on, for it is usually unremarkable either way is the opening and ending sequences. Ano Hana manages to do both beautifully, music and art matching the story well. It is unfortunate the same can’t be said for the background tracks, which are lacking. At first, I thought the acting was nothing special outside of Menma – who sounds adorable – but was pleased to concede defeat when the emotions hit their high notes, delivered with skill by the actors. Anaru the trendy girl is especially good.

Story – High

A coming-of-age story that looks to the past filled with depth, emotion, and conflict. Brilliant.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Ano Hana surprised me with the quality of its narrative, delivering mature drama rarely found in teen stories.

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


CharmExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequenceStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None


Air TV (& Movie) – Review

Japanese Title: AIR & Gekijouban Air (Movie)


Related: Air Movie (included below in review)

Similar: Kanon



Genre: Melancholic Romance.

Watched in: Japanese.

Length: 13 episodes, 2-episode special & a movie (retelling of the series).



  • Has nice environmental art.


  • Dopiest character design in anime.
  • Vague story.
  • Moments meant to be deep are laughable.
  • Weak characters, most notably the lead female, surrounded by a glut of stereotypes that develop poorly.

You have not seen bad character art until you watch Air, an anime about…something – there isn’t much of a story. But first we have to talk about the characters. A hamster riding a t-rex in a tutu wielding a turnip is less ridiculous than this! You will either fall out of your chair with laughter or vomit with disgust at how terrible the characters are designed, more specifically the females.

Now we all know that your typical anime facial proportions are a little skewed, but as it is animation, it looks fine. Here we have what can only be described as caricatures of anime characters. The eyes are bigger than your fist, while the mouth is so minuscule it is often no more than a dot. Seriously, if the eyes were out of their sockets, they would be the size of American footballs. The girls look permanently drugged; hell, one of them even sounds it.

And that’s just the start of the problems. The characters themselves are just as dopey. Lead female Misuzu is supposed to be cute, but with the tripping, squeaky voice, clumsiness, overused ‘cute’ noises, cutesy honorifics, and drug-addled face, it’s a wonder they didn’t make her hiccough rainbows, shoot love hearts out of her chest, and have candy floss for snot since they had already overdone every cliché. Closing my eyes whenever I talk makes me cute! (Every girl does this, jealous of Brock from Pokémon.) The creators have never heard of ‘less is more.’

Even the dog, Potato, who was cute enough being small and fluffy has to say ‘piko’ constantly as if that is a must or he just won’t be cute. Instead, it’s irritating and tiresome. If that isn’t enough, we have her friends, Kano – also drugged – and Minagi, who looks and sounds drugged. She’s meant to be gentile and smart, but you really don’t see it – unless being more addled than the rest counts. The I’m-aggressive-but-it’s-cute slot is filled by Michiru, the youngest of the girls with obligatory cutesy noises added to everything, and to top it off, is played by the same voice actress who does all characters of that stereotype.

Okay, you may ask, they look and sound stupid, but if the story is good, it’s still worth my time, right? I am forever and truly sorry; the plot is utter nonsense. See, one of the problems is that to tell you what it’s about, I would have to spoil some for you as the story doesn’t begin till episode nine. What, nothing happens for eight episodes in a thirteen episode series? Oh, stuff does happen, it is simply irrelevant to the larger plot. Even lead male Yukito is irrelevant throughout this, as he does nothing until episode ten. Friend Kano gets magically possessed (her eyes were vacant enough already) by something, but that goes nowhere. Minagi the Addled is so far gone that her imaginary friend is real, which is also immaterial. And the small things that do matter are in fact retold in episode ten! Even the two-episode special is simply a stupidity-padded version of the flashback episode nine.

So, the plot, the plot…where did it go… I have no choice but to start at episode nine.

A princess in the past had the ability to fly with cursed wings and is hunted for it. Her ability is passed down through someone else’s line because of “willpower,” but it kills the descendants through dreams as kids. (How they get old enough to bear offspring for the bloodline, I don’t know – don’t think about it. The only answer is too twisted.) And, that’s it.

No character development either. To develop, you need a catalyst (usually an event or conflict), a reaction from the character, and then overcome the conflict (failure to overcome can also be growth), but in Air, there is no catalyst; characters cry or get angry out of nowhere, subsequently it dissolves without effort, and is forgotten. The only growth comes from the lead female’s mother (who looks eighteen – also vacant) starting as an irresponsible drunk before learning to care for her adopted daughter. Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect the main plot either. What moments intend to be poignant and heartfelt are empty since the characters aren’t developed enough and I couldn’t imagine anyone caring for them.

So can anything good that can be said for AIR? The art outside of the characters is quite nice, I guess, plenty of colour. That’s pretty much it. The series isn’t terrible in the sense that everything is outright bad; it’s just that nothing is developed, no relevant plot goes anywhere, and it all-round feels…empty.

Art – Very Low

Can anything else be said about this drug-addled character design? The environments are passable.

Sound – Medium

Some decent tunes and acting, except for the little girl and the cutesy noises.

Story – Very Low

The plot doesn’t begin until the ninth episode, at which point you can expect one of the most empty and underdeveloped stories in anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid this at all cost. Hit the random button in an anime database and you will likely find something better than AIR.

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

Positive: None.


Atrocious PlotNo DevelopmentRubbish CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast


AIR the Movie – Review

AIR the Movie came out during the series (they are both based on a game of the same name and tell the same story) and is better in every way. Now, don’t get excited, I’m not saying it’s amazing; it simply has much of the rubbish removed from the series. For one, the characters don’t look so addled – it makes you wonder why they made the ridiculous art style choice for the series in the first place. The level of detail in the visuals is much higher overall.

At an hour and a half long, there isn’t the gargantuan amount of padding from the episodes. The story is also better told with much clearer dialogue and scenes. The relationship of the two lead characters is far more believable since it isn’t forced here, and the characters actually look closer in age (not twelve and twenty like the series). All the trash side characters, particularly her drugged friends, are non-existent in this. ‘Willpower’ also doesn’t carry on the curse and what triggers it also makes sense here (and you don’t have to wonder how they get old enough for children).

Unfortunately, Misuzu’s cuteness is still overdone, though as she is the only young girl this time, it feels lessened. The finer details of the plot are still a little vague, with plot holes, and a distinct lack of twists. I don’t think it achieved the intended depth. Still better than the series.

Overall Movie Quality – Medium