Tag Archives: Fantasy

The focus is on emotional conflict.

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

Bakemonogatari

Mushi-shi

 

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

Genre: Supernatural Mystery Comedy

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

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • 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.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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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

Bakemonogatari

Mushi-shi

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Mystery

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

 

Positives:

  • 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.

Negatives:

  • 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.

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

 

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

Positive:

Positive Recommended English Voice TrackStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Avatar the Last Airbender – Review

Japanese Title: Abatā Densetsu no Shōnen An

 

Related: The Legend of Korra (sequel)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

Gundam SEED

Vision of Escaflowne

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 61 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Excellent, thoroughly developed characters.
  • Fluid and awesome action with magnificent spell effects.
  • Perfect pacing.
  • Great for children and adults alike.
  • Pleasant Humour.
  • Engaging story that keeps getting better, particularly in the third season.

Negatives:

  • Takes a little time to get used to characters sounding American despite none looking so, though this won’t hinder my experience.
  • Finale makes a single poor decision.

I first heard of Avatar the Last Airbender with the announcement of the film by the same name. As an introduction to the world of Avatar, the film couldn’t have gone worse. However, surrounding all this excrement was a fanbase livid at the mutilation of their beloved show. I kept hearing how amazing the show was. Now, source material is often better than adaptations, so I figured the cartoon must be better. But amazing? No, I doubted that. I have encountered many rabid fanbases in my time surrounding anime (I know that this isn’t anime, but the same audience enjoys it) and rarely do they result in something worth your time. In the end, I acquired this show for the sole purpose to educate myself when I argue that the show isn’t all that great. Instead, Avatar turned out to be…phenomenal.

Our story starts with the awakening of Aang, airbender and the next Avatar incarnation discovered frozen in an iceberg by two nomads of the Water Tribe. Aang has little time to learn the remaining three elements (Earth, Water, and Fire) before a comet passes Earth that will empower the current Fire Lord, who seeks world domination, into a being of living destruction – all the while hunted by Fire Prince Zuko.

Aang travels with waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka across the world, encountering a wide cast of characters on their many adventures. The characters are a large part of what makes this a great show. Katara, the motherly type, has to keep her brother’s antics in line. Much of the comedy comes from Sokka, who can’t waterbend like his sister and must fight with his lucky boomerang.

Aang is the weakest of the cast at the beginning; not saying he is a bad character – far from it, great in fact – he simply doesn’t hold up to the rest. He has one of those righteous personalities. You know the type: doesn’t kill people or even really harm them, no matter how evil, vegetarian because he can’t harm animals, and other pious life choices. At first, I thought this would make for great conflict considering his mission, and it does for a while, only to throw a reversal later. While Aang’s story is great, the other major characters experience more interesting story arcs that culminate in epic conclusions. If anything, that is a testament to Avatar’s quality. When the supporting cast has such fantastic arcs that the protagonist’s arc couldn’t possibly live up to them, you know you have something good.

The best character of all is Prince Zuko the firebender. Upon first meeting, he irritated with his whining about lost honour and his obsession with the Avatar. However, my opinion turned around as he developed. Before long, I realised that the writers intended for one not to like him so that his growth will mirror one’s opinion of him. Truly great writing.

Full thought went into every side character – the creators didn’t take shortcuts even for single-episode appearances. From the completely nutters, bad-joke-loving, king of Omashu to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh (voiced by legendary Mako – one of his last roles), I looked forward to each new location for the characters they will meet.

Humour is a strong element of the series. In the first season however, as an older viewer, you may find some moments a little too tailored towards the intended young audience. Thankfully, the third season’s high notes with some truly dark moments well make up for this. Prepare to laugh plenty throughout the show, especially at the hands of Sokka. If you have kids, watch it with them to earn many awesome points in their eyes, and with the show tailored towards them, the pacing is never dull, as the writers knew they could never release their attention. Every single episode captured my interest.

Action never occurs for the sake of action, so you don’t get tired of seeing the elemental powers. Take Naruto, for example, and his overused shadow clone technique that grows old because he whips it out at a whim every few minutes. Yes, it’s great when executed correctly, but could have been better with less airtime. Avatar doesn’t make that mistake.

In the end, Avatar the Last Airbender is a brilliant show. With many likable characters that experience proper development, action and visuals that fit the themes, and an overall plot that concludes with an epic finale, this is easily a must watch.

Art – Very High

Art and animation of a high quality in a colour palette suited to the elemental nature of the powers. It looks particularly great in action – water flowing across the screen as fire rages, wind slicing things apart while earth smashes the environment. Visuals’ only flaw is in the animation of the mouths, where it could have done with a few more frames to match the other smoothness.

Sound – High

Masterful acting once acclimated to the American accents in an Asian setting. Audio effects for spells are great.

Story – Very High

Only a few missteps with the protagonist and a lack of intensity in season one hurt this show’s story. Avatar will still surprise with just how good it is, the final season in particular. Hilarious, too.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Rent it, buy it, watch it. Then you can join in on the discussions as to why the movie is so damn terrible. Get the kids involved as well.

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

 

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice TrackRiveting ActionStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStellar Voice Acting

Negative: None

Berserk – Review

Japanese Title: Kenpuu Denki Berserk

 

Related: Berserk: The Golden Age (remake)

Similar: Claymore

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Horror Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good animation, especially considering the show’s age.
  • Guts is a great lead character that portrays a more believable muscle-bound character than most other anime.
  • English voice track is well done for the most part.
  • Properly used horror in an interesting plot.
  • ‘Forces’ music track fills one with epicness.

Negatives:

  • Incomplete, cliffhanger ending.
  • First episode is deceptive due to the incomplete ending, and the next few episodes are slow to start.
  • Opening and closing sequences will leave you horror-struck with lacklustre quality.
  • Poor use of what little music there is.

Berserk came out during a time when anime in the West was marketed towards a broader audience, even going so far as to censor elements or tone down language to reach the young demographic. Outside of films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, you had to search high and low for mature anime that wasn’t terrible. Then Berserk came along with its dark themes, unadulterated horror and violence to show us just how adult anime could be.

Berserk centres on Guts, the orphan swordsman, and Griffith, leader of a mercenary band, as they fight for their country of Midland. However, Griffith has ambitions beyond just fighting for a king; he wants to be king. Griffith’s plans test the loyalties of Guts and his mercenaries to the limit. Berserk focuses on themes of loyalty, isolation, and the fundamentals of humanity, the nature of good and evil innate with us. Be forewarned, this anime gets dark, very dark, contains nudity, plenty of violence, and gore everywhere. These aspects are not thrown in at random. No violence for the sake of violence. Gore for the sake of gore. Each use is relevant, an uncensored view of the scene.

Guts is a fantastic protagonist, a badass anti-hero, who wields a giant sword that can cut horses in half. Normally, wielding a giant sword is indicative of a terrible character, one that the creators put no thought into, especially when it comes to physics. With Guts however, he has the look and ferocity of a man who can wield such a weapon. The animators made the effort to show the heft of swinging such a heavy weapon; Guts doesn’t twirl it around like a baton as seen in other anime and games. As a character, Guts goes through a range of emotional and physical trials, exemplifying his depth. When designing a brawny character, look to Guts for the archetype done right.

Griffith too is a suitably complex character with his own strengths and weaknesses, exploring the price of ambition, but to elaborate further would constitute spoilers, so I shall stop there. The supporting cast of mercenaries is a mixed bag of quality, but they are good when it counts, Casca in particular who struggles with her identity as a women in a band of men. Villains, ranging from generals to nobles, are despicably evil, sick and twisted, some with magic elements thrown in.

There are two major narrative faults. The first episode can confuse viewers, being a flash-forward that we never return to because of the second fault, the finale. Berserk is incomplete; after an awesome adventure that keeps getting better and a horrifying finale, the series ends on a cliffhanger. It is clear they intended to have a sequel series, but never got around to it. (They did go back to the beginning again with the recent release of Berserk: The Golden Age; however, that’s a new take on the manga, so you won’t get closure on this version.)

Berserk comes highly recommended. Just don’t watch it if you can’t handle the thought of an incomplete anime. You could read the manga afterwards, however. Also, not for children – can’t stress this enough.

Art – High

You will find higher quality anime these days, of course, but Berserk’s gritty medieval style doesn’t feel dated beyond the use of action lines and slow motion to hide the occasional low frame rate.

Sound – Medium

Has one of the best tracks in anime: ‘Forces.’ Even so, the soundtrack is limited and hardly used. Many battles have no music for some reason, not for added effect. The opening and ending themes are awful, sung in terrible English and don’t fit the series – just…awful. The acting is good in either language, though I found the English suited the characters better, except for Griffith; his English actor can’t command the scene as Griffith should.

Story – High

An excellent fantasy tale of corruption and loyalty with a good cast of characters brought to a halt by a cliffhanger ending and no continuation.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of dark fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the realities of battle and horror. No incomplete anime deserved a conclusion more than Berserk.

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

 

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Riveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

 

Beet the Vandel Buster (& Exelion) – Review

Japanese Title: Bouken Ou Beet (& Exelion)

 

Similar: Ragnarok

Sword Art Online

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Battle Action Adventure

Length: 77 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Against:

  • Art is flat and lacklustre with a low frame rate.
  • Battles are lame and empty, yet drawn out where yelling grants power.
  • Ability casting sequences look ridiculous.
  • Stupid characters with dumb names; protagonist in particular with a voice of poison to your eardrums.
  • Opening sequences will fry your brain.
  • Minimal effort in show’s creation.
  • Lip-sync hardly matches the dialogue.
  • Electricity freezes things?
  • Too often, sound effects won’t match what is on screen.

You never imagine that a show with more than one season could be this bad. You think to yourself, at worst it will be so-so, something forgettable. Then Beet the Vandel Buster comes along ready to shatter all your notions about quality. This show is bad, atrocious even.

Where to start?

The plot: this is your typical battle anime. Protagonist Beet and his gang of Busters face Vandels (demons trying to rule the world), each encounter lasting several episodes before they repeat the process with a different enemy. Oh, there’s an EXP and levelling system from RPGs in this as well, though it doesn’t do anything of importance. Action is repetitive and formulaic: villain shows up to boast about how powerful he is, hero proves him wrong, but no, the villain has a trick that nearly kills the hero, then, oh wait, I shall yell to get super powerful. I win. Yes, yelling in this show makes you powerful. If tied down, no matter how tightly, yells will give Beet the strength to break free. You may think this is a power contrivance, but it’s a mercy compared to having to watch the ridiculous weapon summon animation for his idiotic sword every episode coupled with the static attack sequences – streaked background fights everywhere.

The overall story starts and ends with little more than defeat of some demon before they fight the next. It would at least be enjoyable if the fights were worth mention; however, they are so empty and without strategy that you long for Beet to just yell his way to victory. Unfortunately, you have to endure episode after episode of the same dragged out fight until you give in and just end your life right there. Ability power is inconsistent, as sometimes a skill will instant kill, where other times it just scratches creatures of similar power. Also, electricity freezes targets? And bullets don’t do what bullets do, as in, they don’t kill…or cause any real damage…and can be dodged by running at slower than human speeds… Forget about physics. When convenient, gravity seems non-existent, then it returns stronger than normal, when convenient, to make up for any earlier absence.

It doesn’t help that the characters are so unlikable to the point of irritation. There is Beet the brat who yells too much and somehow wins fights despite being the stupidest person alive. He gets one of the strongest Buster teams killed within the second episode and is rewarded with a Deus-ex Machina of no-consequence power for his ass-hattery. Expect to see plenty of cliché yelling-to-the-sky-with-closed-eyes moments from him – I think they are supposed to make you care about the character…I’m not sure…I just want him to burn.

The rest of his crew is as clichéd. Poala, his childhood friend, is your typical violent tsundere to Beet. Next, we have Milfa (I do not joke about these names), who is either old enough to match her physical stature, and thus a paedophile, or is an extremely sexualised early teen girl. And finally, to round off this band of banality is Kiss, a blonde boy who specialises in spellcasting and nothing of use. Again, not joking about the name. This doesn’t need to be said at this point, but if I must: There is no character development.

As much effort into the art as into the plot – flat, no depth, and the most you see is one-tone shading. It is hard to say if the sound design is worse or better than art. The voice work is lifeless or generic for most characters, except Beet, always the exception, who has quite possibly the worst voice in anime history. You know, I think we could mount a case for aural assault after hearing him. He couldn’t be any more obnoxious. No voice is skilled or suited to the role. That said, Beet is so atrocious that he eclipses them all with his awfulness. I don’t know if one should be thankful or horrified…

The ear murder doesn’t end there. After it is done yelling your eardrums into pulp, it tops it off with lip-syncing that only fits the dialogue half the time, and sound effects that don’t match the action on screen. When a man lifts a boulder, you hear the sound of a rope under strain…seriously, who didn’t notice that error? An energy attack hitting an insect carapace makes the sound of two clashing swords…I mean really, how…just, how? These errors happen far too often to pass as innocent mistakes.

If by this point I haven’t convinced you that this is a bad anime and you still want to watch it, then go right ahead. I won’t stop you; my conscience is clear now that you have been warned. Everything about Beet the Vandel Buster is atrocious. Stay away.

Art – Very Low

Lifeless art and too few frames leaves you thinking this was a waste of colour in this world. Half the time characters don’t even animate. Sliding across the screen is how it works these days, apparently.

Sound – Very Low

Voices to make your ears bleed. SFX chosen with a dartboard.

Story – Very Low

Repetitive battles filled with Deus-ex Machina moments and no development.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: If you watch Beet the Vandel Buster, Beet will turn you into a drooling idiot before long. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Deus Ex MachinaEar Grating Voice WorkHorrendous ActionNo DevelopmentRepetitiveRubbish Major CharactersUgly Artistic Design