Tag Archives: Fantasy

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

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

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We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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Ponyo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gake no Ue no Ponyo

 

Similar: Tsuritama

My Neighbour Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 41 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful visuals.

Negatives:

  • Ponyo, the character.
  • No arcs, no development.
  • Drags on.
  • No stakes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ponyo is The Little Mermaid but with children and no consequences. A little fish-human hybrid escapes from her sea wizard father to see the surface world, where she meets human boy Sousuke. The two become fast friends. However, her father, knowing the damage she could unleash on the world, summons the power of the ocean to bring her back. Things deteriorate when Ponyo tastes human blood and begins to transform into a girl with magic that throws the world off balance, causing insurmountable natural disasters.

This is the worst Studio Ghibli movie I have seen to date and with only five left for me to complete, it will likely be the worst overall. Yes, worse than Tales from Earthsea. It will be difficult to detail why Ponyo is so bad without revealing the end, so the next paragraph onwards will have spoilers. The short version of my review, for those interested in seeing this film for themselves, is as follows: Ponyo is an obnoxious character, the mother should have Sousuke taken away from her due to recklessness, there is no character development and no arcs, the end is garbage, and the story is boring. I do not recommend Ponyo.

Spoilers from here on.

So, Ponyo’s use of magic and fraternisation with Sousuke’s causes disasters around the world, with a tsunami most notable to our characters. One’s first expectation seeing this is to assume something will occur to halt the tsunami in time or everyone will die. Should the tsunami hit – keep in mind this is a Noah’s ark, God’s judgment tsunami – there is no way you could recover in a children’s movie without some bad writing to fix things, hence the above expectation. But the tsunami goes unchallenged and wipes the landscape. My alarm bells ring. And I am right, for no one dies in the end. There isn’t even any damage. I do not jest – nothing of consequence occurs by the conclusion. How is everything okay? Magic!

Go choke on six pack rings, you garbage movie. What a condescending story, treating children like morons that can’t cope with any stakes in life. Is Ponyo a film for the mentally fragile that cover their eyes and block their ears to reality, pretending everything is perfect?

The problems don’t end there. We’ve had decent stories with bad endings before, but Ponyo makes you suffer along the way by forcing you to sit through dull scene after agonisingly boring scene of Ponyo and Sousuke bonding or Ponyo being obnoxious. If only the fisherman had harpooned her at the start. Their “bonding” not only fails to capture the child spirit, Ghibli’s signature, but the scenes often serve no purpose to the story. I’m sure you’ve seen the infamous scene of Ponyo interacting with a baby. Is Ponyo’s monstrous face supposed to be cute? Nightmares are made of the stuff.

These “whimsical” scenes drag on forever in a vain effort to make this brat charming. Everything in Ponyo is overdone, including the score, which swells up as if at the climax of the film every other scene. This feels like a near 3-hour movie.

With an ending like Ponyo’s, of course there is no character arcs or development. All that changes is Ponyo becomes human because she and Sousuke “love” each other. I don’t need to say it at this point, but those two have no basis for a romance so strong that it fixes the world. If our world were reliant on them to save us, we’d be screwed.

Some things I’ve heard complaints about don’t bother me, such as how did Ponyo’s human-sized father have a fish child with a giant goddess. How did Hagrid’s human father mate with his giantess mother in Harry Potter? Who knows… Some questions are best left unanswered. The small details aren’t the problem in Ponyo. You need to look out for the big things.

There are only two good scenes in the entire film: when Sousuke’s mother flashes in Morse code to his father how much of an idiot he is for cancelling on dinner again (he has to work at sea) and the scene with the sea wizard walking on land. They got a laugh from me.

If you removed Ghibli’s visuals from this movie, no one would remember it.

Art – Very High

There is no denying that we have gorgeous art with a ton of animation. Just look at the opening scene with all the marine life swimming around the sea wizard’s submarine. The amount of effort that scene alone would require is astonishing. Shame it didn’t go towards a better story.

Sound – Medium

The opening opera singer is magnificent. The score, taken as individual tracks, is great too, but the usage is overdone. It’s trying to be Fantasia.

Story – Very Low

A little boy finds a sea creature that begins to transform into a girl, though heralds natural disasters as well. With weak characters, scenes that drag, and the worst ending in anime, Ponyo’s story is utter garbage.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. I haven’t decided on whether Ponyo should be in my lowest tier yet. Regardless, it isn’t worth your time. A few clips of the visually beautiful scenes on YouTube are the best there is from this title.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotLacks ConflictNo Development

The Saga of Tanya the Evil – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Youjo Senki

 

Similar: Overlord

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

GATE

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Visually atmospheric.
  • Satisfying sound effects.
  • Creative combination of magic and tech.

Negatives:

  • Not evil enough.
  • Tone clashes.
  • Loses steam.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Saga of Tanya the Evil, what an unusual title for an anime with an unusual little girl on the cover art. I can already feel what I’m going to see in this one.

The story starts amidst a war in an alternate reality where magic and technology create a new kind of conflict. A blonde girl, Tanya, leads an air unit of the Empire (alternate reality Germany) that can fly through the aid of magic-infused jet packs or flying horse armour (available now for $2.50 in Skyrim), and her gospel magic when threaded through the barrel of a rifle delivers almighty justice upon her foes. She is said to be supremely evil.

Tanya is also the reincarnation of a Japanese businessman.

In our reality, after a disgruntled former employee pushed him in front of a train, Being X (God) visited him and reincarnated the ruthless businessman out of spite for his defiance against divinity. Tanya tries to avoid the war at first, retire as a wounded soldier in the countryside, but her divine magic makes her so powerful that the Empire keeps putting her on the frontlines. It isn’t long before she becomes that lance that will pierce all foes, propelling the Empire to dominance.

This is certainly an unusual premise and when combined with the good pacing and gritty visuals, makes for an easy watch. My favourite aspect of Tanya the Evil is the fusion of magic and technology, which recalls the Wolfenstein games in its ability to work in a supernatural element without breaking the World War feel. One can imagine that if this magic existed, WW1 would look and operate like this. It’s a cool moment when Tanya fires her first Gospel Explosive Shell like a missile. We have a strong start.

Problems arise as more pieces fall into place, not quite hitting the mark as they land a little wonky. The first issue is with some of the writing. We have lame action one-liners that don’t work outside of Schwarzenegger/Stallone-esque action flicks and the occasional clunky explanation. For instance, when Tanya nukes a unit out of the sky, rather than let the moment speak for itself, someone narrates that her shot burns all oxygen in the area, so you can’t breathe even if you avoid the blast. No need for this. We get it: big boom = dead.

These are mere minor quibbles, however – easy to ignore. The bigger issues revolve around Tanya. From the way people describe her, you expect her to be little Hitler – Satan in a girl’s body. The camera loves to swap to a fisheye lens and zoom in close to her distorted face as she pulls a maniacal grin. “She is so evil, you can’t even,” they keep telling us. And yet, she’s not that evil nor particularly ruthless. Every close up of her grin, every line touting her immeasurable malevolence is trying far too hard to convince us of a falsehood. She’s no Johan.

It’s more comical than evil.

This rolls into the next problem – the tone. Tanya the Evil has a tone issue. Judging by my blurb above, you would expect a gritty war drama with an evil protagonist and magic. However, almost everything has a coating of comedy. This worked fine when she was trying to have herself knocked out of commission to avoid war, but once she’s supposed to have become so evil that she strikes fear in the hearts of allies and enemies alike, it undermines the tone.

Then we have Tanya’s character arc. Why is she so invested in winning the war for the Empire? She does allude to a desire to meet Being X again to shove a barrel down his throat and return to her normal life, though I fail to see a connection between that and her sudden…love (?) for the Empire. Are we missing several chapters that changed her character?

This in turn leads to the final problem with Tanya’s evil saga – Being X/God. Her being a reincarnation and the god character don’t need to be in this story. She could have just been a genius girl with magic talents and pure evil within her soul. Was the author trying to create another guy-trapped-in-MMO story without an MMO? (Please don’t make it so…) As for God, he doesn’t do much outside of the reincarnation and giving a scientist the final piece to a technological puzzle (Captain America vibes here).

I don’t know if the author is going to for some greater message with the inclusion of a God-like character. How does it relate to the theme? Perhaps the next season will elucidate.

At 12 episodes, I don’t feel we have covered much of the story. Future content could right the fallen pieces and bring it all together in a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed my time with The Saga of Tanya the Evil but the slow downward trend in quality leaves me tepid towards it.

Art – High

This has good visuals – detailed, well animated, good lighting, and thoughtful shot compositions. I particularly like the texture of the world and the atmosphere of the skies. Gives a proper, grim WW1 meets fantasy feel. The only problem is the ugly character designs for the young girls with their droopy faces, melting eyes, and pudgy jawlines – doesn’t match any other character. Also, there are a few bad sweeping CG shots of battlefields.

Sound – High

Good acting in either language (although, I hate the moe casting choice for Japanese Tanya) – pick you preference – and the writing is solid apart from the occasional clunks. Excellent sound effects. The magic impacts are so satisfying.

Story – Medium

A man reincarnated as a magical girl of evil will lead the Empire to victory in a World War. An eviler protagonist and less comedy would have helped the war story meet the gritty tone it desired.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a little different and easy to watch, so give a go. I hope the sequel does better.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

My Bride is a Mermaid – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Seto no Hanayome

 

Similar: Ah! My Goddess

School Rumble

To LOVE Ru

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 26 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • So many great laughs.
  • Visual humour.

Negatives:

  • Art is cheap.
  • All attempts at drama fail.
  • Final two episodes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When Nagasumi drowns one summer, he considers himself fortunate to be saved by the mermaid Sun. However, according to the laws of Yakuza mermaids, once a human catches sight of a mermaid, he must swim with the fishes – either by death or by marriage. Nagasumi has no choice. He becomes engaged to Sun and she joins his school to be close to her beloved, against her Yakuza family’s wishes. So not only does he have to contend with a sea dwelling gang after his hide, he must also keep Sun’s true nature secret from classmates.

Yakuza mermaids, a ridiculous concept to be sure, but an effective one. Sun’s father sends his best henchmen to kill Nagasumi and free his daughter from the shackles of marriage to such a loser. His enforcer can morph into a shark – he does this a lot in the heat of the moment. My Bride is a Mermaid is unexpectedly hilarious. The art gives an impression of mid 2000s harem with lame comedy.

Instead of turning into a full harem, as one would expect, the other girls must either kill or protect him. A tiny girl that lives in a conch has the job of assassinating the guy while pretending to be sweet and innocent in front of Sun. The disciplinarian girl from his class with a crush on him acts the police officer role, like her father, making her the perfect rival to the mermaids.

The Yakuza take up positions in the school to accomplish their mission, including the boss as a class teacher, while the bookkeeper teaches maths through criminal means. This black man with curly hair is considered so charming and attractive that the mere sight of him renders everyone enamoured. This recurring joke never failed to make me laugh. It reaches a new level when Nagasumi drinks a charm potion and becomes the apple of everyone’s eye (and loins).

Some of the gang aren’t so successful. The giant octopus teaches cooking, though often includes bits of his tentacles in the process. It isn’t long before a rival gang joins the fun to take the humour to yet greater heights. Their leader, a Terminator of a man, is a riot. He doesn’t understand his daughter at all, so plays gal games and re-enacts them as the girl to get closer to his daughter.

Mermaid has a ton of visual humour in the facial expressions, reminiscent of Great Teacher Onizuka, which alleviates the subpar art quality. One classmate is called “chimp”, but he acts like a real chimp, face included. Does anyone realise this?

The jokes come fast and they come often in this one. It is comedic beat after comedic beat, sharply timed with barely a dull moment in between. Just about every joke lands. These aren’t the greatest jokes of all time – it’s no Fumoffu – but they are fun.

My Bride is a Mermaid fails, however, in the tradition of most comedy from that era, when it attempts to inject drama in a place where it doesn’t belong. All drama fails here. Unlike Ah! My Goddess, one of the few light-hearted comedies to manage a little drama, which worked it in slowly without compromising the identity of the anime, Mermaid’s drama comes out of nowhere and contributes nothing of value.

The drama is at its worst in the final two episodes with the introduction of a new villain that goes against the tone thanks to his persistent rape vibes. Why did all of these comedies just have to finish with drama? Is comedy alone never enough? I like a story that can manage both of course, but I equally love others that stick to comedy. In the end, quality matters. Was it studio mandate at the time to have a dramatic finish, much like how every drama this decade must end in a tragic death to extract fake tears from you? Or that every fantasy has to be inside a game?

I’ve said it before, but bad final episodes leave the strongest impressions on a dissatisfied audience. My Bride is a Mermaid isn’t one of the greats. Even so, it didn’t deserve such a careless end. I went in with no expectations and came out having had a good time thanks to the comedy. Don’t let the garbage drama stop you from enjoying a laugh.

Art – Low

This cheap-looking, budget-animated, too-cutesy anime’s visuals are partially redeemed by great use of visual humour, particularly with the faces.

Sound – Medium

The acting is just as silly as the script, which it should be. I prefer the dub, for the Japanese made several poor casting choices that turn funny characters into annoyances.

Story – Low

A guy agrees to marry a mermaid to avoid death at the hands of her yakuza merman father, later bringing her to school for endless hijinks. My Bride is a Mermaid’s comedy far outshines the feeble drama.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for anime comedy fans. The story may go nowhere and the drama may fall flat on every occasion, but the comedy in My Bride is a Mermaid is certainly worth sticking around for.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Weak End

Persona 3 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: PERSONA 3 THE MOVIES

 

Related: Persona 3 the Movie #1: Spring of Rebirth (included in review)

Persona 3 the Movie #2: Midsummer Knight’s Dream (included in review)

Persona 3 the Movie #3: Falling Down (included in review)

Similar: Persona 4 the Animation

Noragami

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Fantasy

Length: ~1 hr. 30 min. each movie

 

Positives:

  • Looks and sounds like the game.

Negatives:

  • Lacks the relationship development.
  • Boring protagonist.
  • Not enough story.
  • No tough decision made.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Persona may be the best Japanese role-playing game series, known for great stories, tough gameplay, and complex character arcs. It is also known for its several anime adaptations, none of which have a good reputation. With Person 3 going to movies rather than a series and released after Persona 4 the Animation, I had hopes for a better adaptation with lessons learned from its predecessors. I should have thought better.

A 25th hour exists after the stroke of midnight, the Dark Hour, which none but a select few are aware of. The Dark Hour is the time of Shadows, monsters that feed on the human mind and spread apathy in society. New kid Yuuki finds himself dragged into the conflict by the SEES organisation, a group of Persona summoners that fight Shadows in Tartarus, the giant tower visible during the 25th hour. Yuuki’s unique ability to summon multiple Persona will prove invaluable.

This is a great setup for a story. It has everything a young adult audience could want – unique individuals, supernatural powers, a secret society, double lives with school, and a dash of edge (they summon Persona by shooting themselves in the head with magic guns). It’s part of why the game is so beloved. However, going from game to anime, you have to remove the key element of gameplay, which is easier said than done. This does give opportunity to touch up any story issues caused by gameplay interruptions, as the game has to put gameplay above all else. In the case of Person 3 the game, it suffers from pacing issues between key plot points while you climb the levels of Tartarus. The anime doesn’t need to show the several hundred battles it takes to reach the top.

Flipside, the anime does have to make difficult decisions about the protagonist and his potential relationships. In the game, you choose his name (or hers if you play the PSP edition), his dialogue, and whom to date. What is the anime to do? Should it pick one girl and make that the official pairing, igniting a waifu war for the decade? A harem, on the other end, won’t fit the tone. Person 3 the anime went with no relationships, abstaining from any difficult decisions. The protagonist has no personality and the relationships are surface deep.

I don’t understand why they made Yuuki this way. They could have easily given him a personality that didn’t contradict the dialogue choices from the game. Even if there were a contradiction, it would be better than this soggy toilet paper of a protagonist. If you’re going to be so limp with the adaptation, why bother at all?

The relationships are a similar case. Alright, you can’t make the game relationships work without the multiple choices, so what do you have in its place? Nothing? Perfect… With a blank protagonist, what character development opportunities did they expect to find? If Person 3 the game were a favourite of mine, I would be disgusted.

These movies don’t work even when seen with uninitiated eyes. For one, the opening scene with Yuuki entering the Dark Hour and signing the contract with Igor is nonsense without context from the game. The story doesn’t establish his life or set the scene for even a moment first. This scene should have come after his first day of school, at the earliest. The action is good, yet even this grows dull without characters to care about to the end.

The dark tone and grim style are the best features of these movies, which is a pleasure to see translated from old PS2/PSP graphics. Outside of that, everything is either mediocre or worse. These Person 3 movies do not deserve your attention.

Art – High

These movies look great, matching the game’s style, but they aren’t “movie” quality. Instead, it’s a good-looking series stitched together into movies.

Sound – Medium

The soundtrack comes from the game, which is neat. The acting is average – no surprise when most character-building dialogue isn’t present.

Story – Low

Teenagers hunt Shadow creatures using summons during a hidden 25th hour of the day. The Person 3 movies made no tough decision and ended with an anime that has the style of the game, but none of the character.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. This limp adaptation of Person 3 isn’t worth your time.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DisappointingShallow