Tag Archives: Fantasy

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

Bakemonogatari – Review

Japanese Title: Bakemonogatari

 

Related: Nisemonogatari (sequel)

Similar: Katanagatari

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 13 episodes (12 is the finale; 13 is a bonus)

 

Positives:

  • Fantastic art style and animation to create a vibrant, yet haunting world.
  • Well-suited music to the dialogue heavy plot.
  • Strong male and female protagonists.
  • Solid voice work to accompany the varied dialogue.
  • Dark humour from lead female is a pleasant change of pace.

Negatives:

  • Incoherent story overall marred by throwaway side characters.
  • Random screens of text flashing every few seconds.
  • Sexually creepy at times.
  • Too little character development, even from the protagonists.
  • No world building despite the incredible visual design.

Bakemonogatari is one weird anime. You don’t get many as weird as this one. This anime has people with spaghetti for brains and staplers as weapons. Probably the most normal thing here, as far as anime goes, is starting with a pantie-shot. From then on, it goes to a whole different dimension. The question we ask ourselves: Is this weirdness good? It does create greatness, but unfortunately, it brings several poor decisions along for the ride.

Immediately, I was struck by the vivid art of Bakemonogatari. Its brilliant use of light, shade, and colour is gorgeous. There is style here, plenty of it. Gradients give backgrounds depth on top of the multi-layering. All colour choice is deliberate, intended to match the mood and atmosphere of the characters and their situations, even at the cost of continuity – a room could be bright one moment and change to dark if the situation called for it, regardless of realism.

It is a shame then that poor choices mar these visuals. Bakemonogatari use a mix of live-action, stop-motion, collage pages, and text for metaphors and similes. At times, the change in art is both hilarious and clever, the rest, tedious and forced. The worst offenders are the screens of text; they flash at random intervals for no purpose. Every instance broke my immersion. Get used to seeing a flat colour with Japanese lettering and the subtitle ‘unidentified cut’ underneath. A dozen times. Per episode. Every episode. Unbelievably stupid decision to kill the atmosphere. It feels as though they had a great idea to use live-action, collages, and so on, and found them to work so well that they thought, ‘why not add more?!’ only to kill it all by going too far. Such a shame.

The plot swims in much the same ocean as the alternative art styles: greatness weighed by poor decisions. We start with protagonist, Araragi, running up a grand spiral staircase in what you can assume is his high-school (most expensive high-school I have ever seen, especially considering no one goes there – more later). He looks up to see a girl falling down the hundred-meter tower. He catches her (don’t question how she drifts twenty meters from the central axis into the stairs) only to find she weighs five kilos (still enough that it should have broken his arms from that height, however). With Senjougahara’s secret revealed, she cannot let him go; she attacks armed with a box cutter and a stapler. After she staples the inside of his cheek for the fun of it, he pulls open his mouth to show no wound. Turns out Araragi recently reverted to human after a stint as a vampire. They become tenuous allies to return Senjougahara’s stolen weight (from a giant ghost crab that also took her memories) with the help of his acquaintance who cured his vampirism.

This initial premise captured my interest; unfortunate then that it lasted but a few episodes before it took a tangent about a little girl with another supernatural problem. The tangent itself wasn’t poor, but lacked development of the main plot and romance. When yet another girl with a paranormal issue enters afterwards, one realises this show is on a formulaic cycle and has little to do with the initial promise. His former life as a vampire has no bearing on the plot. Senjougahara’s backstory seems forgotten, and the relationship development stalls until episode twelve – a fantastic episode, admittedly.

In all, five girls partake, including the lead female, which is why you see Bakemonogatari categorised as a harem anime, yet this isn’t one. Yes, creepy sexualisation exists with a side character or two, but nothing that constitutes a relationship or even a crush required by harem anime. At least they made the correct decision in that aspect.

One of the strangest factors is how the entire world’s population is nine: protagonist, five girls, mystic, minor vampire girl, and Senjougahara’s father. That’s it. No background characters at all, not even in a school big enough to have a glass tower of no purpose, and parking for a thousand bicycles. Is this a problem though? Not really, but it did reduce world depth. This brings me to another negative: no world building. Why is this ghost crab after her? Where do all these supernatural elements come from? Where is the lore, the backstory? You get nothing. The world feels empty despite the visual depth.

Bakemonogatari is heavily dialogue driven. You have to pay attention, as it moves at a brisk pace while you extrapolate what is relevant from the random junk littered throughout. Episodes tend to diverge halfway through into some long-winded tangent before they return on track – medium success rate. The camera likes to cut away to different angles during dialogue. Focus on someone’s feet, then their hands, the corner of the table, the wall, a badly framed shot of the face. Prepare for irrelevance as well. The side of a building, some grass, a window, dirt, more grass…

Allow me to stress that this isn’t for children, and not because of the nudity. Topics of discussion range from Araragi’s virginity to Senjougahara’s choice of clothing and even to some specific types of incest-like fetishes. Honestly, I didn’t even know those were actual fetishes… Anyway, they deal with deep psychological issues caused by broken families and assault on loved ones. Dialogues are largely between the two lead characters, where Bakemonogatari is at its best. The dynamic between these two is a pleasure to watch. I find it hilarious how her attempts to help him with problems (she’s the more mature of the two), end up abusing him instead, making things worse, except, she honestly believes she’s helping. The humour is along those lines: serious in delivery, ironic in reception. His stray lock of hair being a symbol for his arousal level is clever too.

Despite the negatives, Bakemonogatari is still an anime worth watching. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend you watch no more than three episodes at a time to avoid overload and to maintain your focus throughout. Marvel at the art, focus on the lead characters, and you will end with a positive opinion.

Art – Very High

Truly spectacular. From the light to the shade, marvellous work here. However, it is brought down by some obnoxious screen flashes that occur far too often.

Sound – High

The right actors to match the great dialogue. Music is enjoyable too, outside of the opening and closing sequences.

Story – High

Moments of greatness distracted by random elements thrown in for the sake of being random. Three of the five story arcs fall flat.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch this for what it does right. Take Bakemonogatari in small doses to stave off what it does wrong.

(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:

Engaging DialogueStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingIncoherentMisleading

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Asura Cryin’ – Review

Japanese Title: Asura Cryin’

 

Similar: A Certain Magical Index

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 13 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • The spell effects and mech summonings look nice.
  • Well-designed and animated mechs.
  • Good opening and closing sequences (that likely setup false expectations).

Negatives:

  • Frame rate drop in character animation.
  • A poorly setup start that quickly loses focus, ending in a weak finale.
  • Generic high school side plots.
  • Several androgynous characters, while pretending that they aren’t.
  • Muddled lore rules.
  • Many useless side characters, particularly the harem.

Asura Cryin’ is one of those shows you know is incomplete. It feels like they had a good idea and some general framework around it, but in the end too much was missing to have a solid final product. Rather than waste their time designing too many side characters, shoehorning in generic scenarios and random sleaze, they should have focused on the core concept.

Three different groups battle over a mech known as Asura Machina owned by Tomo, a wimpy high-school student. The mech is bound to him because of spirit girl Misao, who follows him around like a lost puppy. She’s still obsessed with fashion, even though she’s dead. So, Dark Society, the Divine Guards, and a demon faction all require this mech, ready to fight to the death. That is, until three episodes in where they’re all chums going on picnics, having casual chats while taking a leak…you know, the uje… Then the focus is on preventing Tomo and a demon girl Kanade (human in every way except with large fun-bags – how creative – and can use fire magic) from…getting busy…because the resulting contract plus his mech would create some powerful evil. More characters are introduced at this point – all of them female – until…they become ‘best buds’ and all’s cool despite having just tried to kill each other. Don’t confuse this with development, as no event changes these allegiances; it just happens.

More useless and irrelevant side characters enter to fill time, all the while, anyone who is relevant breaks the rules established by the world. A character’s powers seem selected at random. One has the ability to drain ‘luck’ from something by biting it (with no comprehension of how probability works); another can somehow fight these supposedly all-powerful mechs with nothing more than a sword; there’s even a guy who invents powers as he goes, and yet, somehow forgets he has them the next battle where it would be a free win. This plot doesn’t take itself seriously enough and is all over the place in its tone.

The concept and acquisition of the mechs is interesting, along with the idea of various factions vying for control over them, but beneath that, it’s just weak. For example, the demon’s mention they control the city, but this translates to nothing in the plot. Similarly, the Divine Guards work for the douchebag pope to eradicate demons; however, this too is worthless as they’re chums like no other. And Dark Society? You never see them, nor hear about them, or anything useful.

On the character front, it’s no better. Tomo and the ghost are decent enough. The Dark Society woman with glasses is a cyborg with the ability to pull guns out of nowhere (ones even bigger than her) and is a sleaze to a creepy degree. Sleaze is a common trope in this show – not to the extent that most straight up harem anime have. Kanade’s sole purpose is to pitch Tomo’s tent several times an episode; oh yes, she does fight…once.

Dialogue is hilariously bad: “It’s a forbidden existence that shouldn’t exist” – you know they were trying to be deep but failed miserably. Some forgettable girl says, “The world was created from an explosion once, correct? Well then, that means that an explosion carries with it the entirety of the world.”

Asura Cryin’ does have some redeeming qualities. The music is good, especially the opening and closing themes, accompanied by nice visuals in a heavy palette of purples and greens – this scheme translates to much of the show.

Asura Cryin’ can’t seem to avoid a dozen awful things for every one good choice in the same field. A sequel season is out for this, but I doubt I will get around to it unless requested, since I don’t see improvements on the horizon. What a waste.

Art – Medium

Animation and visual design is a mixed bag. Environments, mechs and spells look great using dark colours when necessary. The mechs remind of Warmachine’s Cygnar Warjacks, which is nothing but praise from me. A character’s shadow turning to dark matter from which the mech grows is a particularly cool effect. Where it falls is with the characters. Every male has girlish attachments to their hair, and styles are inflated. While the mechs have great animation (though at times you see more CG than anime) the characters suffer from a low frame rate in action.

Sound – Medium

I don’t know why I enjoy the opening song’s techno and ethereal lyrics – catchy. Background music consists mostly of brass instruments and violin with the occasional pipe organ, with electronic added for the action sequences. Rubbish acting.

Story – Very Low

Doesn’t know what to do with all the magic lore, supernatural factions and mecha it created. Pathetic characters.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Not worth your time unless you’re desperate. Asura Cryin’ needed a few more months’ incubation before being ready for production.

(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:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueIncoherentUseless Side Cast

Aria the Animation (all 3 seasons) – Review

Japanese Title: Aria the Animation

 

Related: Aria the Animation; Aria the Natural (season 2 – included in review)

Aria the OVA: Arietta (included in review)

Aria the Origination (season 3 – included in review)

Similar: Sketchbook: Full Color’s

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Fantasy (-ish)

Length: Season one – 13 episodes; Season two – 26 episodes; 1 OVA; Season three – 13 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Nice Venetian architecture.
  • Beautiful water effects and reflections.

Negatives:

  • No tension, excitement, or danger.
  • Little plot to speak of with no progression.
  • Poor twists.
  • Too long and slow all the way.

With three seasons and a special, you would expect Aria the Animation to be something good, if not great, to garner so much support. It didn’t deserve such patronage. Now, it isn’t bad, I just can’t fathom how this got renewed after the first season. This story has no substance. It is difficult to place the genre. There is no relationship conflict to be a drama, not enough humour to be comedy, no action, not enough fantasy or science fiction, and no romance. I had to check the genre online, the first time I’ve ever needed to.

The story takes place on Aqua, formerly known as Mars until they filled it with water one-hundred and fifty years ago, in the city of Neo-Venice, a replica of Earth Venice. The recreation of Venice is one of the things I do like about Aria. They took care to include famous Venetian landmarks such as the St Mark’s Basilica, the island of Burano, and Plaza San Marco. The architecture and feel of the place is accurate, although it is much cleaner than real-Venice – if you have been there you’ll know the water is more green than blue. However, you have to suspend disbelief since filling Mars with water won’t make it function exactly like Earth.

Akari, the young resident of Neo-Venice dreams of being a professional gondolier (pilot of the boats Venice is famous for) under the tuition of Alicia, the blond-haired lady of the Aria Gondola Company who says ‘my, my,’ a lot. She becomes fast friends with other gondolier women: Aika, the apprentice with blue hair, her bossy teacher Akira, and the studious Alice – far too many similar names. The best character is the cat/teddy creature they have as the company mascot. He is fun to watch when he’s trying to charm the cat mascot of another company.

Each episode follows some unimaginative plot with no excitement, danger, drama, or tension. They are small adventures everyone has seen in one form or another. It would be like making an anime about someone going to the store to buy some milk before returning, and the largest conflict is the lack of exact change, therefore having to break a tenner. Nothing to hold your interest, essentially. No more needs to be said in regards to the story other than it’s pleasant but without substance. The only outright bad things are the twists that happen at random. Let’s time travel! No foreshadowing, no clues, no explanations, they just…happen.

Season 2 is a slight improvement to the first. The adventures they go on each episode actually have an unknown element that drives them to the end – don’t get excited, as it still isn’t anything interesting. On the negative, it’s twenty-six episodes long so you have to sit through twice as much. I guess if you’ve bothered with continuing after the first season, you must like it anyway. Finally, the OVA and season three have another small increment in quality with more shading and layers in the art, but the story is more of the same.

Unfortunately, little good can be said about Aria, and yet, little that is outright bad. It’s just…eh. I simply don’t understand what prompted so many seasons. I can only recommend it if you want to watch something that takes no thought or analysis on your part as you glide over the pleasant waters of Venice.

Art – High

The architecture and water carry the visuals. The wavering reflections of Neo-Venice look nice. Characters have the standard anime look, other than the elegant designs of their gondolier outfits, interspersed with morphs into the adult chibi.

Sound – Medium

Solid guitar tunes take up the majority of the compositions, an apt choice for a gondola ride.

Story – Low

A slow gondola ride through Venice with no conflict, no drama to experience. Sit back, and sleep.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Meh. Watch it if you just want to give your mind a rest. How did Aria receive so many seasons?

(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:

Lacks ConflictNo DevelopmentPoor PacingShallow

Air TV (& Movie) – Review

Japanese Title: AIR & Gekijouban Air (Movie)

 

Related: Air Movie (included below in review)

Similar: Kanon

Clannad

 

Genre: Melancholic Romance.

Watched in: Japanese.

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

 

Positives:

  • Has nice environmental art.

Negatives:

  • 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.

(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:

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

Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings – Review

Japanese Title: Aa! Megami-sama! Tatakau Tsubasa

 

Related: Ah! My Goddess TV (main story)

Ah! My Goddess: The Movie

 

Genre: Fantasy Romance Comedy

Watched in: Japanese & English.

Length: 2 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and effects.

Negatives:

  • Poor resolution to the narrative with a feeble climax.
  • There is not much here unless you are familiar with the main Oh My Goddess! series.

Fighting Wings is a two-episode special of the celebrated Ah! My Goddess series. It fits in somewhere after the second season, though there isn’t a direct link between the stories beyond the general premise of the show: university student Keiichi accidentally called the Goddess Hotline, summoning the goddess Belldandy, who has been his girlfriend since.

For those wanting this special to further the main plot, you will be disappointed as this focuses instead on side character, Lind a Valkyrie warrior goddess, who made a few appearances in earlier shows. When a phantom known as the Angel Eater goes on a rampage in Yggdrassil (heaven), Lind descends to Earth, the next target, where Keiichi and the goddesses reside. The plot moves at an improved pace from the second season, and sports a good amount of action with cool magic enhanced by the clean and beautiful art you can expect from the Ah! My Goddess series. The symbiotic angels of the goddesses are of particular beauty. If only the new angels didn’t have names like Cool Mint (spoken in poor English by the Japanese voice actors).

Cheesiness is Fighting Wings’s biggest flaw. With humour thrown into the middle of serious scenes, it makes you wonder if comedy wasn’t an afterthought once they realised that there was going to be none in this romantic comedy. To exacerbate matters, the humour isn’t a success, falling far short of the main series.

The turnabout for the heroines is also rather lame, far too convenient without much of a struggle or conflict. Suffering in a similar manner is the side plot of Skuld, the youngest goddess, unable to summon her angel, resolved with zero effort. With a lack of resolution against the villainy, I was unsatisfied and questioned why they bothered. Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t hate these episodes – Lind’s story has closure at least – they are merely disappointing. Yes, the voice acting is good with the regular voices from the series, and the music matches the Celtic and Nordic tunes of norm, but none of these live up to the equivalent in the first season, and more particularly, the movie.

It has left me with one positive though; I do want to see more of Lind’s story and hope she does make a return in future.

 

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For fans of Ah! My Goddess only. You aren’t missing out on much if you choose to skip Fighting Wings.

(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: N/A

Negative: N/A