Tag Archives: Fantasy

Basically, Lord of the Rings, though it can also be in a modern setting.

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

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Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

 

Related: Magi: The Kingdom of Magic (2nd season – included in review)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

The Twelve Kingdoms

Fairy Tail

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 50 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Arabian setting is a little different

Negatives:

  • Arabian setting is superficial
  • First year university understanding of politics and economy
  • Sleazy

(Request an anime for review here.)

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic takes the typical action adventure fantasy of anime and wraps it in an Arabian skin. Before every fantasy was isekai, they were of the swords and sorcery variety, with authors taking the formula but applying one twist to make it different. Much like the many isekai skins of today, the Arabian theme here is superficial at best.

Scattered throughout the world of Magi are towers that dominate the landscape, each containing labyrinths of danger with untold treasures at the end. It is said these are the works of djinns, magical beings that grant the power of kings to those found worthy. Aladdin is a young magician in possession of a magic flute that can summon one such djinn. He teams up with Alibaba, a street rat with the daring required to delve deep into the labyrinths, and Morgiana, a slave girl turned warrior.

I said the Arabian theme is superficial because Magi still feels very Japanese. I don’t mean this is too much of an anime – that is self-evident and expected. There is little to no Arabian culture in the series beyond the aesthetics and character names. If you re-skinned the art to a Japanese setting and changed the names, you wouldn’t know it was once Magi. Even the music has little Arabian influence. It feels as though the author saw a couple of cartoon films in this setting and then set about writing the series. When using a different setting and culture, the most appealing aspect and what should be a unique selling point is how it will stand out from its peers. Ultimately, Magi feels the same as most fantasy anime from its time.

So, what about the rest of it? How does it fare as a fantasy anime?

The characters are of mixed quality. Alibaba is decent and works as the adventurous hero, though his arc and power curve flies off the tracks in the second season (more of a story issue, however). Morgiana is decent as well in the role of tough girl, as informed by her rough backstory, but with a good heart that cares for her friends.

The worst character is Aladdin. When he isn’t the stereotypical “genki” kid, he’s groping women, something that happens every second episode. I think it’s meant to be hilarious and “cute.” “Oh look, he’s grabbing my breasts. Isn’t that adorable?” says the adult woman about a child. It’s so sleazy. Doesn’t add anything either and goes out of its way to waste cels. The one time it works is in the first episode when he motorboats a fat guy’s moobs, thinking they belong to a woman. But they open with that joke, so there’s nowhere to go.

On an action front, expect the usual anime adventure fantasy. The magic system is straightforward and forgettable, though not a hindrance to the overall experience. Going back to the flimsy Arabian inspiration issue, they could have done so much more to make the magic and monsters engaging. I can’t imagine most anime fans have seen much Arabian mythology, so this would be an easy opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Think of something like Yokai Watch, which draws on an insane amount of Japanese monster lore to create its Yokai. And that’s a show for young children. If only Magi had a tenth the effort in use of lore.

Similarly, the story also follows a typical anime adventure fantasy, not that this is inherently a negative. It’s all in the execution. Unfortunately, Magi doesn’t deliver with wit and cunning. Expect some Picard facepalm-inducing moments. I’ll mention one that made not just single facepalm, but pull out the double Picard. At some point, a character abolishes a monarchy in this world in a few minutes with promises to distribute all wealth as if that will solve everything. No, this isn’t some populist ploy to cajole the citizenry into doing what he wants. The writing presents this as a genius move. Why haven’t we done this in real life? It’s so obvious! I usually find this sort of nonsense in YA fantasy with a lowborn female protagonist (she’s secretly special, of course) that has two princes chasing after her skirt. The politics and social side of Magi is far weaker than the action side.

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is fine, but a little too stupid to appeal beyond the core. Fullmetal Alchemist was clearly an inspiration and Magi could have learned a thing or two from it.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fantasy fans only. Unless you have exhausted the long list of superior fantasy anime above Magi, then give this one a miss.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Legacies and B Movies – Quick Manga Reviews

Oldman

Chinese Title: OLDMAN

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length:  22 chapters (4 volume)

My first impression of Oldman: “Is that Sean Connery?” “Is that Cate Blanchett as the queen on the key art?” “Is that Rhys Ifans as the doctor?” Apparently so. The author Sheng Chang uses real actors for reference with his characters, as if casting them in a film (and in the hopes that someone like the late Sean Connery would act in an adaptation).

Oldman is a medieval action manga with one fantasy element. The titular Oldman, imprisoned son of the queen, breaks out of jail to enact revenge on his ageless mother. On the way out, he grabs Rebecca, a once legendary warrior doomed to rot in her cell with both arms and legs severed from her body. They join a few other characters on the quest, including a doctor to construct a new set of limbs for Rebecca.

The opening volume of Oldman is excellent and shows so much promise. The conflict inherent between Oldman and the queen is obvious, but the questions garner much intrigue. How is such an old man the son of a young queen? What the hell happened to Rebecca? Who is the other girl with amnesia yet friends with Oldman? Can he do real magic or is it all trickery? Volume 1 made me binge this series in a single sitting.

Sadly, it doesn’t hold up through to the end. The middle section flakes on the detail as it sets up a decently complex two-thread plot, with the final act rushing to the finish line. There is a great story here that needs at least 10 volumes to do it justice. I can see this making for a good 26-episode anime should one flesh out the skeleton presented.

The mix of action and surprising amount of comedy layered with mystery succeeds well. However, the action physics need work. Take Rebecca’s mannequin limbs. They have built in enhancements, including explosives that create rocket-like punches. Except, these explosives would shatter her arms to splinters before anything else. It doesn’t makes sense. Also, taking a few lessons from Shadiversity on the effectiveness of arrows and full plate armour wouldn’t go amiss. Just because you use Hollywood actors for reference, doesn’t mean you should use outdated Hollywood medieval action as well.

I do wish Oldman had more time.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Give me a fleshed out remake.

*     *     *     *     *

Diamond Dust

Korean Title: Diamond Dust

Genre: Drama Music Romance

Length:  40 chapters (3 volumes)

Diamond Dust is a manhwa webtoon about a piano prodigy with strict parents and the terminally ill underground musician she falls in love with. If you are imagining the stereotypical strict Asian parents forcing their child down one career path from birth, then you’d be right. And if you imagine the romance is the usual misery lit, then you’d also be right. In essence, Diamond Dust is predictable. Yet, the merging of the two story types makes it more engaging than seeing either apart.

The piano career side features a father that resents everyone in his family without prodigious talent (the mother is just as bad). He forces the girl to practice piano 12 hours a day, bans socialising, and freaks out at the slightest action that could endanger her golden hands. The parents are truly nasty, but in that believable sense where you see they believe that they’re doing what’s best for their daughter. She does find massive success until she (obviously) has a breakdown after one too many high-pressure performances. Her fingers cramp up. She cannot play.

Warmth and comfort arrive in the form of a young musician trying to make it in a struggling band. A tumour is pressing into his brain, affecting his memory and ability to concentrate. The romance follows all the beats you expect. She rebels against the parents, his conditions strains the relationship, the parents try to keep him away from her, and so on. Diamond Dust does this well. Don’t expect any surprises.

One last thing I want to note is the design of the two main characters. They suffer from same-face syndrome (until the cancer progresses), which makes them look like siblings – not something you want from a romantic couple. If not for the different hairstyles, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart in close ups.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Not bad. Wasn’t disappointed.

*     *     *     *     *

Kyouko

Japanese Title: Kyouko

Genre: Action Drama

Length:  14 chapters (2 volumes)

If you know anything about B movies (low budget, non-artsy films), you will be familiar with the hack director’s number one plot device for conflict and motivating the protagonist – rape. There is so much rape. More specifically, the filmmakers don’t understand the crime and no one cares after it happens. They use it like a villain randomly shooting a puppy to show how evil he is.

Kyouko (aka The Accident) is one such example. The protagonist, a woman, is gang raped in the first chapter as her boyfriend watches on, helpless. An American soldier happens to pass by and rescues her. Rather than show any signs of trauma at the experience, she dumps the boyfriend and is ready to jump this American’s bones right away. Then someone assassinates him. Her quest for revenge turns into action schlock with dumb conspiracies.

Another manga I read after Kyouko that fit the mould is Mephisto. That protagonist is a rapist, serial killer, and bathes in the intestines of children and we are supposed to sympathise with him? Ha!

Overall Quality – Very Low

Result: Truly a B movie in manga form.

*     *     *     *     *

Cradle of Monsters

Japanese Title: Mouryou no Yurikago

Genre: Action Horror

Length:  41 chapters (6 volumes)

Continuing with the B movie inspirations, we have Cradle of Monsters, a horror manga that blends The Poseidon Adventure with The Walking Dead and a low budget. After a cruise ship capsizes in the middle of the ocean, everything goes to hell as most of the passengers turn into zombies and many of the remaining living become murderers. Amongst this chaos are a few survivors, most of them teenagers from the same school on a trip.

This is not a good manga. Quickly you will notice how the fan service takes priority and how irritating it is. While people are dying, the primary concern of the artist is to have a panty shot or for the writing to mention how a character isn’t wearing panties. Half of the deaths mention this, I swear. The ultimate fan service in Cradle of Monsters (or so the author believes) is the frequent golden showers before or at the moment of death. This guy has a serious fetish.

Should you look past the fan service, there isn’t much on offer anyway. To say the characters are one-dimensional would be to give them too many dimensions. Everyone in this story is evil except for maybe three people. I find it so dull when a disaster story makes everyone incomprehensibly evil. Apart from being unrealistic, it’s also predictable. Furthermore, there are so few survivors. It isn’t as if this situation has been raging for months while the infection spreads. Maybe, what, a few hours have passed since the incident and only 20 or so people are alive out of everyone on a massive cruise liner? The author is clearly lazy.

This story wasn’t planned out either. Characters will teleport around the ship for dramatic ambushes, surprise reveals, and last second rescues. It makes no sense how they catch up or get ahead of the main group when navigation is so limited. Again, lazy.

Character backstories also suffer under the lack of forethought. Many characters have a backstory that suddenly reveals a talent they just so happen to need to get out of a situation. “I never mentioned this before, but in the past I studied this thing, so I can use it to clear this obstacle for us.” I believe they call this an “ass pull” in the business. Happens over and over.

And finally, this horror manga isn’t scary. The art is quite bad, so turns supposed frightening moments into comedy, which combined with the above-mentioned issues makes for a yawn-inducing experience.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: That’s going to be a no from me on the golden showers.

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Monsters, Magic, and Romance – Quick Manga Reviews

The Metamorphosis

Japanese Title: Henshin

Genre: Historical Drama

Length:  5 chapters (1 volume)

This batch of manga has a Western and horror focus, with a little romance to end things on a lighter note. We start with The Metamorphosis, a manga adaptation of Franz Kafka’s famous book of the same name about a man who finds himself transformed into a giant insect one morning. I haven’t read the book, so everything I say applies only to the manga.

The story is largely in flashbacks as the man reflects on his life and the events that led to his isolation as an insect man in his bedroom, shunned by family. As a dutiful son, he takes on all the burdens for his family after his father loses his job. He works hard and soon make decent money travelling from town-to-town selling fabrics. However, his family grows complacent under the ease of their lives now that food is always on their table. The father in particular is lazy. He’s the “back in my day” and “I could show them a thing or two” type to do nothing while reading his newspaper, ignoring the fact that he needs a job. Even the sister, who is the nicest of them, relies on the man for violin tuition money.

This is an interesting story, and while I’m sure the book is better with it’s 200 pages versus the manga’s five short chapters, I quite enjoyed it. Further research after finishing this has revealed to me that there are many interpretations of the story. And the interpretations are varied. I took it to be a harsh reflection of what it means to have others take advantage of you, take you for granted when you give everything and ask nothing in return. The moment you can no longer keep giving is when they no longer see you as useful. You are pathetic, disgusting. An insect.

If you haven’t read The Metamorphosis but want to have a simple understanding of the story, then the manga is an easy gateway. The art is suitably creepy for the insect, though a bit too simple elsewhere.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Found it by accident and enjoyed it.

*     *     *     *     *

H.P. Lovecraft: Various Stories

Japanese Title: Lovecraft Kessakushuu

Genre: Fantasy Horror

Length:  8 stories of varying length (1-3 volumes each)

H.P. Lovecraft is synonymous with supernatural horror. There is no greater influence on the genre. Cthulhu, monsters of the unknown, mind breaks from forbidden knowledge, and most of the things that nightmares are made of come from his works. It came as a surprise – while browsing at random – to see several of his stories adapted to manga form.

This review covers most of the Lovecraft manga (I couldn’t get my hands on a couple of them) adapted by Gou Tanabe, a Lovecraft connoisseur, including The Haunter in the Dark, The Colour Out of Space, and The Hound and Other Stories.

Another surprise is in how good these manga are. The Metamorphosis is around about the quality I expect of classic adaptations to different formats. This has been quite consistent in comic books, cartoons, and short films that I have seen of classics. Tanabe’s manga do a great job of evoking that air of insanity and general “what the hell is that” tone of Lovecraft’s short stories. The art is among the most realistic that you’ll find in manga, showing much of the story and characters emotions before one even considers the accompanying words. This is proper horror art.

I haven’t read the original versions of these stories (all of my Lovecraft experience come from works influenced by him, mostly video games), but they work perfectly for the uninitiated. At no point do I feel lost, as if there is an expectation that I already know the details of the Lovecraft universe.

These stories, as is most often the case with Lovecraft, involve mysterious supernatural entities, whether monster or ethereal concept, that slowly corrupt the world and its characters. My favourite of these is The Haunter in the Dark. A writer with a passion for the occult takes in interest in a gothic church he can see from his bedroom window. There are local stories about what went on in that abandoned church, yet no one is willing to speak of them. His curiosity gets the better of him and he awakens a creature from the dark. He had better hope the power doesn’t go out…

At the Mountains of Madness is the longest of the adaptations at 25 chapters and one I haven’t had a chance to read. I want to see a story that has a little more time to explore a concept in greater detail.

These manga aren’t perfect, but they are an engaging short reads late at night. Read a few or all of them, it’s up to you how deep you want to delve into madness.

Overall Quality – High

Result: I want to read more Lovecraftian works. These are a good introduction, which I recommend to anyone with a horror interest.

*     *     *     *     *

Spring Breeze Snegurochka

Japanese Title: Harukaze no Snegurochka

Genre: Historical Drama

Length:  7 chapters (1 volume)

Continuing with manga based on the West, we look at Spring Breeze Snegurochka. This time we go into Russian 1933, the Soviet Union era, where a woman in a wheelchair and the man that cares for her are in search of something within an old mansion, now controlled by the secret police. They will do anything to find the object.

The most interesting aspect of this piece is the Russian focus, a subject you don’t see much of out of Japan. It taps into many real figures from history, including Rasputin, the Russian royal family, and domestic rebels. Combined with the fictional characters, Spring Breeze makes for decent “what if” alternate history story if you have some familiarity with Russia’s past. If you don’t, the plethora of complex Russian names will go in one ear and out the other. The story is dense with characters, particularly in the latter half when the secrets unravel and people unmask themselves. There is a notable character reveal that means nothing if you don’t know who he is already.

As for the story itself, the history aspect is interesting but not so much for the main two characters. The woman’s rape into Stockholm syndrome into love (?) arc doesn’t work or make sense, not with the page time given. The man is the quiet type with no screen presence.

I don’t recommend this unless you love the subject matter.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Interesting to see a manga take on Russian history.

*     *     *     *     *

Cambrian

Japanese Title: Cambrian

Genre: Horror Science Fiction

Length:  28 chapters (3 volumes)

To go back to horror for moment, let’s stop at Cambrian. This is a disgusting manga. Literally. It features a biologist who believes he has created the next step of human evolution, splicing humans with marine creatures. He can now transform into an ammonite and rapes women with his tentacles (eating them is also involved) to spread his mutation. He infects a few and they infect more, creating a cult that will take humanity into the “next step.”

Yeah, no thanks. I don’t want to have barnacles covering my skin, even if it means I can rollout like Golem. Patrick maybe a hilarious cartoon character – doesn’t mean I want become a starfish. Looking like the Alien isn’t worth regeneration powers. Especially if my hair now forms into a sea biscuit. The main woman develops spiked nipples and a vajine spike for defence when aroused. I can imagine Cambrian would give nightmares to some people.

There’s a lot of sex (little of it consensual) and sexual violence (not many sample pages I can use for below). However, this isn’t a ℌệ𝔫𝔱ằ𝔦, though I’m sure it’s someone’s fetish. This is more of a sexual horror series, relying on grotesque body horror to engage the audience. This isn’t for me. Even outside of the sex and horror filling most pages, there is little in the way of character development or story. It’s frankly rather boring despite the shock value.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Wouldn’t have bothered if I knew the result.

*     *     *     *     *

Witches

Japanese Title: Majo

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Length:  7 chapters (2 volumes)

Enough of the revolting. Why don’t we cheer ourselves up with a manga of magical girls meets Western literature? Dying of the plague is a welcome change.

Witches is an anthology of short stories set in the recent past of our world. Each story chronicles a girl or woman that has to deal with some injustice and she discovers a magical power along the way to help her. The issues are more in the mental realm – dealing with a bigot or some close-minded individual, for instance.

While the stories are from diverse locations and cultures, they do rather feel the same more often than not. Strip away the dressings of the art, the environment, and the personalities – boil down to core plot and character details – and you find much repetition. The dynamic of “good character is wise and smart against bad character, who is dumb and evil” is overused. Witches lacks character subtlety. Read one of these stories and you have read them all.

I want to focus on the art, for a moment. It is simultaneously great and poor. On most pages, in black and white, I do not find the abundance of detail appealing. The art is too messy, the details lost in the mayhem. Rather than admire the art, I find myself looking closer and asking, “What is that supposed to be?” However, there are the occasional colour pages and suddenly it all makes sense. When you have nine different shades of green in a random pattern to create nature, it looks good. Turn it black and white and all we have are scribbles. It recalls that meme of “The teacher’s copy [of the colour image] vs. students’ copy [black and white on the exam sheet],” where you have to label an undecipherable image. I wonder if the artist did the whole original in colour.

It’s probably a matter of taste. I can image people loving the chaos of the visuals as an accompaniment to the chaotic magic. The art is certainly not generic. I would never insult it so.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Unusual and different.

*     *     *     *     *

Annarasumanara

Korean Title: Annarasumanara

Genre: Mystery Romance

Length:  27 chapters (3 volumes)

Keeping with the theme of magic and adding a dash of romance to the potion, let’s finish on Annarasumanara, a manhwa that blurs the boundaries of magic and reality.

We follow a high school girl going through a rough time, lost in her mind amid the pressures of succeeding at school while feeding her sister. Her dad abandoned them after failing in his career. She finds comfort in visiting a handsome magician at a nearby abandoned amusement park, rumours saying he can perform real magic. (“Annarasumanara” is the magician’s equivalent to abracadabra.)

Annarasumanara is a poignant manhwa that allows the art to do most of the talking to great effect and leaves much open to interpretation. Is any of his magic real? That was just a trick but maybe this was real… How else would you explain it? Similarly, her opinion of the magician is up in the air for much of the story. I like that this isn’t the usual instant infatuation prevalent in manhwa.

There is a subplot between the protagonist and a male classmate, the rival for the top spot in exams. He comes from big money (their house is like a palace on top of a high rise on top of a casino – hilarious metaphor) and ends up paying her to do worse on exams so that he can appear greater. A one-sided relationship develops on his part. He admires her independence, resents her love for the magician. The best part about this guy is his design. He looks like a…worm? Hard to describe – look below. All girls in school call him handsome though, which makes it even better.

I like this one. The writing isn’t spectacular, but the reliance on art over text more than makes up for it.

Overall Quality – High

Result: I recommend it alongside the Lovecraft manga of this batch.

*     *     *     *     *

Ao Haru Ride

Japanese Title: Ao Haru Ride

Genre: Romance

Length: 53 chapters (13 volumes)

Wait! One more before we go. Quick one, I promise.

Ao Haru Ride is a shoujo romance about a boy too aloof to share his feelings and girl too shy to take charge. Or is that blurb for another shoujo manga? Most certainly. This is generic shoujo. The art is indistinguishable from its peers and the characters are so inoffensive to the audience’s sensibilities that they don’t stand out in any way.

Most of my manga reading is before sleep (I have a half-finished brick of a fantasy novel by my bed, untouched in months because of manga). Let me put it simply: Ao Haru Ride is great for falling asleep.

After two or so volumes, I can’t be bothered with this. Ao Haru Ride is one of my few dropped manga. I won’t be mentioning any similar shoujo manga in future. It would be repetitive.

Overall Quality – Dropped

Result: I will confuse this for another dozen shoujo manga in future.

 

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Wonder Egg Priority – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wonder Egg Priority

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Digimon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Great animation
  • The backstory

Negatives:

  • The egg girls have no presence
  • Overstuffed with trauma ideas
  • Doesn’t feel sure about its narrative tone

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wonder Egg Priority is a story of suicide and its causes amongst young girls. While an admirable effort, it ultimately attempts too much in too little time.

Ai Ohto has been a lonely depressed girl for a long while. The one ray of sunshine she had was her best friend, who recently committed suicide by jumping off the school roof. This leaves Ai a wreck. Then, in a surreal twist of fate, she finds an egg in her dream and talking toilet paper tells her to smash it. She does so and out hatches a girl her age. That’s weird. Then come the murder goblins crashing through the school halls of this dreamscape, splattering paint wherever they go. They paint with blood, however. Behind these “Seeno Evil” monsters is a puppet master, a “Wonder Killer” monster that seems made of sacks of paint. Killing the master with Ai’s pen-turned-Keyblade frees the egg girl and she can leave this limbo.

Ai then meets the two people, er, dolls (?) behind these wonder eggs, who tell her that if she helps enough girls, she can revive her dead friend (represented by a statue in the dream world). Furthermore, she isn’t the only one cracking eggs. She teams up with three other girls of varying archetypes (quiet studious girl, pretty tomboy, and the bad girl) and they become friends.

Wonder Egg Priority may sound abstract and odd from my description above, but it is rather straightforward by the second episode. In fact, I’m not sure if it intended abstraction and failed or the creator just thought it was cool. If you’ve seen Madoka Magica (or played Persona) this anime will seem familiar, only not as grim, which is an odd thing to say considering Wonder Egg tackles suicide, abuse, rape, self-harm, bullying, and more (catalysts for the suicides). See, Wonder Egg is overstuffed with these trauma elements that it barely manages to dedicate enough time for more than a couple. In fact, there are so many instances – some character have multiple traumas – that you’d be forgiven for missing a few. I don’t suggest the execution is awful. It’s undercooked.

This isn’t an example like having a happy romance for 90% of the story before someone rapes the lead female in the finale for shock value. Trauma permeates Wonder Egg, so it isn’t out of place when we meet another abuse victim. However, it rarely has the intended impact.

Most egregious are the egg girls. Ai or a friend will hatch one, the enemies will spawn, a chase ensues, and during a moment of downtime before the Wonder Killer confrontation, Ai will get to know the girl and what lead her to suicide. Then they kill the monster and the girl is gone. You can’t expect the audience to feel invested, or truly care, when a character’s trauma boils down to a two-minute scene ahead of her departure for another girl to enter next episode.

The story does spend more time on the four main girls though, yet even then it’s too much for too few episodes. I compare this to Madoka Magica because that anime accomplishes – in terms of tragedy – what this tried to do. Madoka focused on the core character elements, boiled it down to the essentials and gave them the appropriate amount of screen time. Less is more once again.

The best episodes are in the final act when it goes into the backstory for this wonder egg experiment and the two scientists behind it. I’m sorry to say though that it has little to do with Ai and is far more engaging than her story. I wonder if they should have been the mains instead.

Where Wonder Egg succeeds most is in the visual department. This is a beautiful anime with masterful understanding of colour theory, light, and shade. Compositions often remind of the Monogatari franchise. The animation is great, never relying on those slow pans I hate so much, and is at its most fluid during the action scenes, which are more intense than expected for such a bright and colourful anime.

My only visual quibble is with the dream world. Yes, the gremlins and big goobers are imaginative, but the school setting is as generic as any anime school. Think of how Persona 5 turns ordinary locations into crazy realities representing a villain’s psyche. Or how Madoka has that witch magic everywhere. Do something creative. You’re in a dream; you can do anything you want and it can enhance theme and reinforce messages.

Overall, Wonder Egg Priority is a goodish anime, more enjoyable as a visual experience over a narrative one that could appeal to a decent amount of viewers. Do note that the heavy emphasis on trauma may put off some people.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Wonder Egg Priority looks beautiful and is different from other anime this season.

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None