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Drifters – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Drifters

 

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Fate/Zero

Re:Creators

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Action Comedy Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes, 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Harsh visual style
  • Effort in the fantasy and samurai speech mannerisms

Negatives:

  • Constant random humour is jarring
  • Unfortunate use of CG
  • No profiling for elf ears

(Request an anime for review here.)

I loved Drifters for about one episode. The distinct visual style, gritty action, and commitment to bloodlust had me sold. Then the comedy started and I recoiled in disgust. Why? Why do this to me?

Drifters opens in the midst of a clash between samurai armies during the Battle of Sekigahara, year 1600. Bodies litter the muddy fields as screams echo through the trees. Amongst this carnage stands Toyohisa, blood crazed and hungry for battle. Upon spotting an enemy commander, he charges the cavalry line as one soldier against many. This foolhardy act goes as well as expected and he finds himself on the receiving end of a dozen spears. He cuts down several enemies before oblivion takes hold.

However, instead of the afterlife, a white corridor lined with doors and a solitary office clerk awaits him. At a mere gesture from the clerk, one of these doors opens and sucks Toyohisa to another world, a world where knights of the human Orte Empire reap the land and oppress other races such as elves and dwarves. Toyohisa, almost involuntarily, comes to the aid of elves and makes it his mission to free them of tyranny. The fact that he gets to wage war and taste more blood is a coincidence. It should be an easy matter, after all, with his superior combat prowess and the famed Nobunaga – also ripped from his time alongside other historical figures – on this team. He didn’t anticipate that whatever supernatural being the clerk was fighting against would summon fighters of his own. Nor did he anticipate they would be so twisted by malice at the manner of their deaths that they developed powers beyond imagining.

If you told me all of the above, I would say, “Sold! I will watch Drifters.” What you would have failed to mention was the damned humour.

Have you seen Hellsing Ultimate (same manga author as Drifters)? Remember those jarring cuts to comedy in a caricature art style that punched all dramatic tension out of your gut? Remember how the few times they used it in Hellsing was bad enough? Yeah, well, now imagine it first happening once an episode, then once an act, until is ramps up to once per scene and more. If you haven’t seen the like before, I want you to imagine cartoon sound effects added to any dramatic scene you like. It is intolerable.

I cannot impress upon you enough how much they overuse this technique. How is anyone supposed to take the slaughter of innocent elves seriously when it’s going to cut to Nobunaga honking some woman’s boobs at any moment? That joke makes an appearance once per episode – at least – after the woman joins the party. Joan of Arc is on fire, literally, in perpetuity out of spite for how the Church betrayed and burned her alive. She now has the power to incinerate others. But that isn’t as important as using the same moronic cut away reaction as last episode. The opener doesn’t give any indication of this.

One could improve Drifters by simply editing out these cuts. It wouldn’t be difficult either because they are almost forgotten when we return to the actual scene. The only humour that made me laugh was Toyohisa telling Nobunaga what happened to Japan and his legacy after his death.

This negative was enough of a detractor to me that I was sick of Drifters halfway through. I found it so bad that the stylish action, harsh visuals, and even the introduction of many interesting historical figures bringing their specialities to the battlefield barely made a difference. I mean, a WWII pilot joins mid battle amongst a squad of real dragons. If a meeting of Nobunaga, Hannibal, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Rasputin, Joan of Arc, Anastasia Romanova, and the machinations of Adolf God Damn Hitler can’t save a series, nothing can.

The action is good in all of its gory stylishness and insanity. But that unfunny humour every damn time! Look, I need to stop here before I think of it any further and dwell on how it ruined a fun action series.

Art – Medium

I am torn on Drifter’s art. On one hand, I love the harsh style, thick outlines, and high contrast shadows. On the other hand, I hate the CG characters (crowds, I can understand, but principal characters?) and how lazy the art is come characters in profile. It’s most noticeable with the elves’ ears – they look the same from the front and side, which is goofy.

Sound – High

In contrast to the low effort of the elf ears, their fictional language is well done. You feel like you can understand it, though not quite. Similarly, the samurai era speech (or a good representation of it) imitates the serious and forceful mannerisms of samurai films. And the OP is dope as hell. The real letdown is the poor timing and overuse of random comedy in the script.

Story – Low

Various historical figures find themselves dragged into a fantasy world to fight a war for supernatural beings. A fun concept brought down by insisting we suffer through lame comedy every five seconds.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For action fans only. Drifters is a lot of fun and would be an easy recommendation if not for the bad humour.

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

Positive:  None

Negative:

Not Funny

Gosick – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gosick

 

Similar: Black Butler

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Heaven’s Memo Pad

Ghost Hunt

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pretty environments.
  • Good acting.

Negatives:

  • Omnipotent detective.
  • Whiny guy and tantrum girl don’t make for great leads.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I love how anime schools are beyond reality. Some go so grand, so outlandish that no real school would ever look like this. I think of Bakemonogatari’s school often, with its sky-scraping glass tower that serves no purpose other than great cinematography. Only anime can abuse the “rule of cool” so much for a mere school. Gosick has one such school. It’s a grand gothic and Victorian mix with an indoor botanical garden large enough to fit another school. And I love it. Not particularly relevant to this review – just thought I’d mention it!

As for the story proper, Gosick is about a 13-year-old Kazuya, who happens upon a doll-like girl around his age called Victorique de Blois in the school’s grand library. She’s an odd girl, keeping to herself and not possessing particularly keen manners, despite her prim appearance. Kazuya intrigues her, however, and she decrees that he is to be her plaything to entertain her with stories in the garden atop the school, when not joining her in solving mysteries, of course. She throws tantrums when bored, but switches on her genius when summoned for a case.

Contrary to the goth loli design, she isn’t lewded to sinful heaven like most of her archetype. Frankly, I consider this a miracle. There is a mild explanation for her petite stature in her backstory, but I think the artist just liked the look. She truly is a dress-up doll. I’m still not a fan of the type, though I do appreciate some effort went into incorporating her design into the rest of the art.

The story, for the most part, is Sherlock Holmes & Watson style crime mysteries. Now that, I love. They start with a few small cases, including a ghost ship, that last a few episodes each before it delves into a grander story about her origins and the tale of her cursed mother. More on this later.

I’m sorry to report, however, that these mysteries aren’t going to impress anyone with a modicum of experience in the genre. The major issue is Victorique’s omnipotence. She will say exactly what happened in some cases without ever going to the scene. It’s not as though she makes an educated guess, which she adjusts and confirms later on through investigation. No, she says exactly how it transpired. Furthermore, the audience can’t solve these mysteries ahead of time by catching clues. I don’t know if this was intentional by the writer to make her seem smarter or if the writer didn’t have the skill.

This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if it had something else going for it, such as strong characters you want to join in the adventure. Here too we have a problem. Kazuya is weak – too wimpy for a Watson substitute. I don’t get his personality choice. The dynamic between him and Victorique is for him to be her pet, her plaything, yet he doesn’t have a strength to counterbalance this weakness. He’s loyal and kind to her, but that just makes him a better servant. The original Watson is a good sidekick to Holmes, yes, but he also brings common sense and a clarity Holmes lacks when tunnel-visioned on a case. Watson must take charge at times. Kazuya doesn’t feel like an independent character who would exist without her.

As for Victorique, her tantrums are annoying. I assume (correctly) that it’s meant to endear her towards us and fit her child-like design. I just find it tiresome. They don’t make sense with her otherwise “mature” persona – not played as some flaw, like a mature outward façade covering a vulnerable inner core either. It comes across as an excuse to have a loli throwing tantrums because that’s what the writer likes. It doesn’t mesh.

Humour arrives in the form of her brother, who has hair that could pierce the heavens. He also works as a detective, but with his inferior skills, he often resorts to taking credit for his reclusive sister’s work. He’s a bit on the weird side for a gothic mystery, though is more memorable and focused than the other two.

Back to the story, once the opening cases are over with, the main story is more interesting, yet becomes less of a crime mystery. Gosick ends up losing its genre focus halfway through. More interesting on one hand – loses the genre on the other. It’s leans action over mystery by the end, which I take as a positive after the mediocre cases in the early game.

I want to be clear: Gosick never becomes bad. This is simply an example where once you’ve seen better, it is difficult to go backwards. I could see myself recommending this had I watched it a decade ago.

Art – High

I wouldn’t expect a series reliant on a goth loli to put any effort in the art. Gosick has surprisingly high production values. The environments look particularly good.

Sound – High

The music is appropriately gothic and the acting is good. No notable complaints here.

Story – Medium

A boy helps a doll-like girl with her hobby of playing detective – then the cases get personal. The mysteries are good enough to hold one’s attention, but if you’ve seen better, you’ll crave something more.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For mystery beginners. Gosick is an easy enough anime to watch unless you are used to more captivating mysteries.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Le Chevalier D’Eon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Le Chevalier D’Eon

 

Similar: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Rose of Versailles

Trinity Blood

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Supernatural Mystery

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks like France.
  • Animation succeeds in impactful sword strikes.

Negatives:

  • Script is inauthentic to the period.
  • So bland.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I love historical pieces. I particularly love it when anime takes a crack at it in a non-Japanese setting. Gankutsuou and The Rose of Versailles are two of my favourite anime, both based on historical France, interestingly enough (France is the favourite foreign county amongst the Japanese). Le Chevalier D’Eon, set in 18th century France during the reign of Louis XV, is another such historical anime. I saw middling reviews for this one and hoped, as I always do with anime outside the popular genres, that the reviews came down to it simply not being a fit for popular preference. While that is somewhat the case here, D’Eon still isn’t great.

Lia de Beaumont, favourite of the nobility including the king himself, floats down the river with her veins full of mercury and blood scribbles on her dead body. Her brother Charles d’Éon de Beaumont, spy and knight to the king, makes it his mission to find the truth of her death. This single murder soon unravels into a plot against France. However, the greatest twist in this tale comes from Lia herself. Her spirit, unable to crossover, returns to the living and inhabits d’Éon’s body. With her combat prowess and his espionage abilities, they plunge into a world of the dead and the treacherous.

I can best describe Le Chevalier D’Eon as a Three Musketeers tale with a dark supernatural angle instead of the usual fun swashbuckling. Many people die, blood splatters ceilings, zombies (called gargoyles here) rise from the dead, and ritual sacrifice of beautiful women is in high fashion.

The immediate issue is how this story fails to grip you from the beginning. Lia’s spirit possessing d’Éon is an interesting twist for a story that gives no indication of being anything but an authentic(ish) historical piece until that point, but the grander conspiracy isn’t clear for several episodes. It doesn’t give much reason to care. I would have started the story with the focus just on Lia’s death. Make it seem like an isolated incident personal to the protagonist, though nothing of greater import. Then, once he seems close to solving the case, he learns this is much bigger than a single death. Now we are in for a ride.

What we have is too vague. “Something is going on – can you give me more detail?”

“Nah, I don’t feel like it.”

If a writer holds back every little detail for so long, then one needs to draw in the audience with another element. And in a historical piece, the easy answer is through atmosphere and authenticity – transport the audience to 18th century France. Make us walk the bustling streets, catch the scent of a bakery around the corner and feel the chill in the air. Le Chevalier D’Eon looks like France, but doesn’t feel like it. The script in particular has no historical touches. Now, the characters haven’t come straight out of My Hero Academia or say, “That is wack, yo!” yet they don’t sound of their time.

I would go so far as to say that had they gone more authentic in every aspect, it would have inverted my opinion on the series. See, in order to convey more of the politics, society, manners, and life of 18th century France, they would need to cut scenes to make room. And what would they likely cut? The boring scenes. Only the action feels strong.

I can forgive a story not paying much attention to authenticity as long as it’s entertaining – several Robin Hood films come to mind. Sadly, that won’t apply here. The pacing is too slow, the conspiracy, even once rolling, doesn’t hold you tight like a beggar on the streets of Paris saves for a few scenes, and the characters never flourish.

On the flipside, some of the historical story details are great. Take the siblings, for example. D’Éon – or if you want his full name of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont – was a real person and a real spy for France who disguised himself as a woman – one Lia de Beaumont. He was apparently so convincing that people had no idea he was a man for years. His life was truly fascinating. I love how this anime takes his identities and works them into the supernatural.

If only the execution were better.

Le Chevalier D’Eon will likely only draw the attention of history fans. Such fans though love the details that this anime is lacking. Go for The Rose of Versailles instead.

Art – Medium

The art would be rated higher if not for the muddy backgrounds and blurring of detail. It feels like they tried to emulate a Renaissance painter’s style by using a Photoshop filter sometimes. I’m just grateful they didn’t copy the manga’s art. Action feels good thanks to weighty animations.

Sound – Medium

The acting is good. However, the script makes little effort to sound period accurate, which is a critical factor in the success of a period piece.

Story – Medium

A knight of France takes in the spirit of his powerful sister to uncover who murdered her and reveal what secret threatens the nation. The story is in dire need of an editor to sharpen the corners and tighten the edges so that it may bring out the potential.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For history fans only. I don’t know if I would even recommend Le Chevalier D’Eon to history fans when it doesn’t feel historical enough. It may not bother you though.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

From Me to You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kimi ni Todoke

 

Similar: Lovely Complex

My Love Story

Maid Sama!

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Slice of Life

Length: 37 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A sweet romance.
  • Cute art.

Negatives:

  • Hits its peak within a few episodes.
  • Plays it too safe.

(Request an anime for review here.)

For those who aren’t aware, the movie The Ring (or just Ring in Japanese) is a cultural icon in Japan. It’s their Jaws or Dracula. In particular, the ghost girl with long black hair over her face is recognisable to all the Japanese. Unfortunately for our protagonist Sawako, she looks just like the Ring girl and terrifies her classmates at every turn. Down the empty school corridors, in the damp bathrooms, behind the schoolyard trees lurks the shy, sweet, introverted and utterly terrifying Sawako. Fear her.

Of course, she’s a harmless girl just trying to make friends. She has a crush on the most popular guy in class, Kazehaya, who turns out to be the one person not afraid of her. He doesn’t have trouble talking to the horror that is Sawako.

Despite the ghostly premise, From Me to You gives off feel-good romance vibes from the beginning. I would go so far as to say that it gives these vibes too early. Kazehaya likes her right away and they got along without delay, so it already feels like the conflict is over. They keep the drama going with so much self-pity and unspoken misunderstandings that it makes for a weak romance. Her core personality trait is shyness, true, but not saying anything at every convenient moment is just dim-witted. Too much time is spent with her watching shyly, too timid to talk to the guy, too timid to do anything. Grows old fast. Her flabbergasted expression by someone merely talking to her also wears thin before long (and she cries each time). If everything is flabbergasting, nothing is.

There is no inherent problem with the feel-good direction – I’m not advocating Shakespeare come in to dramatise every romance – yet if taking that route, a story needs another driving force. Comedy is the most common substitute. Romantic sitcoms can go for seasons on end with little true progression. Doesn’t mean it will be great – viewers will want progress and a conclusion eventually. Regardless, the audience needs something. From Me to You, while amusing in a charming way, isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. These characters aren’t compelling enough either to want to observe in daily life, intrigued by what they will do next.

As for the episodic story, we have the usual high school fare of festivals, classes, and school events. It’s what you expect from a high school anime. I see this as neither positive nor negative. Using these events in a more interesting way with actual conflict (i.e. something other than shyness) even if done for comedy matters more.

For some positives though, it is a pretty anime. You can feel the manga artist’s touch in the visual style (needs more animation than a manga page though). It has a strong shoujo flair that brightens up the screen. It makes for a nice compliment to the feel-good romance. The chibi humour is also amusing – not as funny as the likes of Get Backers, but successful nonetheless. The characters are most likeable (though not particularly memorable).

From Me to You is a difficult anime to dislike. I think that’s the secret to it’s success. Pleasant best describes it. However, while I did finish the series, I would not have gone beyond six or so episodes had it not been for the purposes of this review. Pleasantry can only keep me going for so long. Give me pleasantry plus something else and I could go forever, but not by itself. I feel this pleasantry makes it difficult for people to be critical of the series. It’s like telling the girl scout that her cookies taste awful. Makes one feel mean.

Now, if such pleasantry sounds appealing to you, then by all means, give this anime a go. From Me to You is an innocuous romance that pleases the eyes.

Art – Medium

The art is cute – pretty and feminine, reminiscent of Nana – with frequent use of chibification. The animation, however, has little to show for itself.

Sound – Medium

I am not a fan of Mamiko Noto’s meek voice, but it works here for the timid Sawako. Even so, I couldn’t take it for long periods at a time. Like the pleasant music.

Story – Medium

A girl that reminds every one of the creature from Ring struggles with love and friendship at school. Though a sweet love story, From Me to You resolves its major conflicts early on and makes the rest feel like an extended epilogue.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime romance fans only. From Me to You is for those who like their conflict light and their romance safe.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Astro Fighter Sunred – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tentai Senshi Sunred

 

Similar: One-Punch Man

Gintama

Detroit Metal City

Pop Team Epic

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy

Length: 52 episodes (half-length each)

 

Positives:

  • The peculiar sense of humour.

Negatives:

  • Narrow appeal.
  • The art is on a negative budget.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Take the Red Ranger from Power Rangers, make him an arse leeching off his girlfriend and surround him with a muscled chicken, two Team Rocket grunts, a werewolf, the creature from the black lagoon, mecha rabbit, and Galactus. With all this combined, you have Astro Fighter Sunred. It’s the humour of One-Punch Man mixed with the Justice Friends from Dexter’s Laboratory, and structured as poorly (or as brilliantly) as Pop Team Epic.

What an odd anime.

Astro Fighter Sunred is a retired superhero story in the vein of One-Punch Man and The Incredibles, only more vulgar and animated far more poorly. Sunred is a bum, while the evil villain is really a grandmother whose greatest worries are about cleaning up after his minions.

Each episode consists of several shorts of varying lengths. As alluded to by the Pop Team Epic comparison, anything goes. Sometimes it’s a cooking show with the lamest recipes, at other times it’s a slapstick cartoon.

I don’t have much to say on this one. It’s one of those anime where you need to see it to understand what I mean. (You can find it on YouTube, I believe.)

This is a peculiar kind of humour for a much older generation. It’s parodying anime most of us have barely heard of. If you are part of the target audience, this may be the most hilarious thing you have ever seen. For everyone else though, I think it takes too much “effort” to figure out the references for a show meant to be dumb simple fun.

Art – Low

Technically, the art sucks. However, it does save itself from the pits by working with the style of humour, similar to how King of the Hill is a fit to its sensibilities. It’s clear many characters weak masks to avoid mouth animations.

Sound – Medium

The acting is quite good – nothing great, but serviceable to the script, which itself is snappy as it rolls from one joke into the next.

Story – Medium

A superhero bickers with his arch nemesis, a motherly fellow surrounded by his sensitive minions, as they stave off everyday life. The overall story lacks direction, but the episodic scenarios are a humorous little exploits.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. One episode. One episode – less even – is all you need to know if Astro Fighter Sunred’s peculiar humour is to your taste. It probably won’t be, yet you won’t know until you try.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None