Tag Archives: Featured

Dota: Dragon’s Blood – does it know how to last hit?

Similar: Castlevania

Orphen

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Quality production
  • Love the variety of accents
  • The elven goddess is a creepy and effective antagonist

Negatives:

  • Feels like it’s missing lore context if you aren’t familiar with the source

(Request an anime for review here.)

Full disclosure, I know nothing about Dota 2 lore. This review comes from the perspective of someone who doesn’t play the game or read any related lore. I did play the original DotA mod a decent amount and watched a few tournaments, but to be honest, I didn’t know there was any lore to the game. A one paragraph profile per character, sure, though nothing more. As such, if you are a loremaster, your experience may vary.

For those even less familiar with the material than me, Dota 2 is the standalone sequel to the original DotA mod from Warcraft 3. The mod proved more popular than Warcraft 3 itself until game studio Valve hired key developers to make a complete game, independent of Warcraft and Blizzard. The worst business move Blizzard ever made was not capitalising on DotA and they’ve since shot themselves in the foot with their StarCraft 2 and abysmal Warcraft 3 Reforged modding policy. Valve just had to change a few character and item names to avoid direct reference to trademarks, though references are still in place – the burst fire mage Lina the Slayer, based on Lina Inverse from Slayers, is still in the game, for example. Dota 2 has gone on to reach massive heights with the largest prize pools in esports history with its world championships each year, The International.

Dota: Dragon’s Blood brings together a handful of characters from Dota 2’s large cast of “Heroes” for an adult fantasy adventure. The protagonist is Davion the Dragon Knight, who slays dragons for a living only to have the soul of an elder dragon merge with his body during a fight with a demon. He can now transform against his will into a human-dragon hybrid monster (think the Hulk). He soon joins forces with Mirana, “princess of nothing,” to stop this demon from claiming more dragon souls. Meanwhile, the elven mage Invoker plots against the elven goddess Selemene, whose sycophantic followers wreak genocide across elven lands.

The best thing I can say immediately about Dragon’s Blood – or any game to film tie-in – is its disregard for the source material’s gameplay. Unless it’s something like Wreck it Ralph where the game is the point of the story, trying to incorporate gameplay elements in a film/series is cringe inducing (see Uwe Boll films for reference). It finally feels like Hollywood is starting to grasp how to adapt games for screen. Then again, Sony’s upcoming offerings don’t look promising, so perhaps it’s only in the animation sector.

Speaking of animation, Studio Mir (The Legend of Korra) once again makes the art form a delight to behold. The action scenes are fluid and violent, even on the horror side at times. This isn’t a series for kids. The character designs are classic high fantasy and coming from a game that requires distinct silhouettes for visibility in combat, there is variety. On a world building level, again, classic fantasy except for the elves, who are far less noble than the stereotype. Love that most of them are Australian and the actors do a good job for non-natives. It matches their society better than the typical Oxford English. The world grabs me.

However, the characters are a little lacking and this is where I wonder if my unfamiliarity with the source has an effect. I have not looked into the lore since finishing the series either – want to keep my outsider’s perspective. After all, you shouldn’t need outside material to enjoy a good adaptation. Had I been well acquainted with Davion and Mirana beforehand, would they engage me? I’m not even certain if all notable characters in Dragon’s Blood are from the game. I assume so.

Mirana is supposed to be a princess of “nothing” and yet, I don’t have the impression of a princess nor do I feel the shadow of secrets from her backstory. She’s fine though not compelling. The same is true of Davion. His personality does make him entertaining – I’ll give him that.

The more interesting characters are the antagonists Selemene and the not-as-antagonistic Invoker. Selemene is the Goddess of the Moon but more akin to a goddess of lust and obsession, as she forces her followers to pledge undying love to her. She’s psychotic about this. You want a favour from her? You had better be ready to say you love her or off with your head. It sounds mundane on paper yet she is genuinely threatening. She has a much stronger presence than the main villain consuming dragon souls (I often forgot he was in the story). Against her we have Invoker, who is a sympathetic antagonist with a personal story that drives engagement. I want more of the elven subplot over the main plot.

In all, Dota: Dragon’s Blood is certainly good enough for a relative outsider to the franchise, like myself, to find reason to watch this anime. I am looking forward to the next season and that’s worth something. Riot Games has an animated series of its own on the way for their game League of Legends, which I am much more familiar with, so it will be interesting to see how that compares.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Even the Dota illiterate can enjoy this fantasy series.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Biohazard: Infinite Darkness

 

Related: Resident Evil: Degeneration

Resident Evil: Vendetta

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Action Horror

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • The video game-like CG works better than most CG anime

Negatives:

  • Thin on character
  • Probably won’t mean much to non-franchise fans

(Request an anime for review here.)

This is an impromptu review urged on by a random recommendation from Netflix. At only four episodes long, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness makes for a good pit stop while I work on something longer.

The Resident Evil franchise has a decent history of CG anime films dating back to 2008 (as well as those hilarious live-action films). It follows the same vein of Final Fantasy: Advent Children in going for a more realistic visual style compared to your typical CG anime, emulating a cutscene. They come from a time when the in-game graphics were still quite removed from cutscenes, so to see a “movie-length” cutscene was the ultimate fan service. That said, the Resident Evil films never looked as good as those top tier cutscenes out of something like a Blizzard game or those E3 trailers. Infinite Darkness, however, looks much better than previous entries. Mouth animations are still a little too smooth and atmospherics have some way to go, but it’s suitable for something without a Pixar budget.

The quality of CG anime hasn’t been good overall, to put it nicely, and with the likes of Ex-Arm amongst recent releases, the trajectory doesn’t seem to head upwards. CG anime quality is particularly odd because we have had plenty of great non-anime CG series in the past. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is one of the most famous examples, looking better in 2008 than almost all CG anime today – never mind comparisons to the final season in 2020 (choice of visual style is important in masking CG shortcomings on a budget). On a mini-series front, we have the likes of Love, Death, and Robots (highly recommended, by the way) that manages to exhibit a variety of visual styles to a masterclass level. These don’t look like anime, though. On the other hand, Advent Children doesn’t have a cartoony style and most would still associate it with anime. So why can’t CG anime be better?

Whether it is for budgetary reasons, inexperienced crews (*cough* Ex-Arm) or a lack of effort, CG anime leaves much to be desired. Beastars is one of few cases to not bleed the eyes. Of course, the West has had its share of problems. There are dozens – maybe hundreds – of children’s CG cartoon that you’ve never heard of with some serious jank. They’ve had issues even amongst the successful series. Animation in The Dragon Prince season one was like watching a Pentium 1 PC try to run Crysis.

All of this is to say that while Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is an anime and is more visually appealing than most CG anime, it still doesn’t feel like one. It can’t be the subject matter – military versus zombies isn’t foreign to anime. Is it not capital A anime enough? Does it need screeching lolis (preferably eaten by zombies) to feel like anime? Well, no, of course not. Do the eyes need to be bigger than the brain? “What is anime” is a much harder question to answer than one would imagine. To me, I suppose it doesn’t feel like anime because it doesn’t move like anime. There is that indescribable quality which you recognise when you see it. Similarly, when does it go from a cartoon drawing to manga? Plenty of manga don’t fit the standard parameters should someone describe the manga style.

Funnily enough, all animation is “anime” in Japanese. Here is a great video on the subject by Kenny Lauderdale.

So, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, regardless of whether it feels like anime, is it any good? It’s okay. A decent action series with zombies, a government conspiracy, and plenty for fans of the franchise. That latter point is both its biggest draw and biggest repellent. Fans of Resident Evil will like seeing classic characters Leon and Claire on screen in a story that occurs between Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. It follows a new outbreak in southern Asia and the cover up afterwards, leading to an infection in the White House. The president calls in Leon, the man who saved his daughter, to join the operation. Meanwhile, Claire investigates the case on her own for a humanitarian organisation.

For fans, Infinite Darkness will be fine, but outsiders will likely find the characters thin. This anime – as is often the case with tie-in media – relies on the original material to build the world and characters. “You know their personalities, their backstories, their struggles, their ghosts already from playing the games, so why should we waste time on establishing them again?” The result is an average zombie flick, enjoyed but likely forgotten by most next week. If you need a zombie fix and want something more complete, I recommend Train to Busan.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Resident Evil fans. As a series predicated on familiarity with the franchise, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is decent fan service to aficionados.

(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

A Whisker Away – One True Cat Girl?

Japanese Title: Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu

 

Similar: The Cat Returns

A Silent Voice

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 1 hr. 44 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The girl’s cat-like behaviour
  • The cats
  • Animation is brilliant

Negatives:

  • The boy is bland
  • Romance doesn’t really work

(Request an anime for review here.)

Miyo is a girl in love. A little too much in love if you ask most people. Her target is Kento, a quiet boy who keeps his troubles to himself. She comes from a disjointed family with an overbearing mother – in Miyo’s view – and a weak father. Instead, this energetic girl throws all attention into drawing the eye of her crush. Nothing works. Opportunity arises when a fat cat sells her a mask that transforms her into a cute little cat, after which she uses her newfound form to visit Kento in disguise. He takes the cat in and calls her Taro.

The girl, I like, particularly the way they animated her. The animators managed to convey how a human would move if inhabited by the spirit of a cat. In one scene, she hears two boys at school making fun of Kento, so she jumps off a walkway, crashes through the branches of a tree, and lands before them like a wild cat. Perfect embodiment of the character. She’s so full of energy and life.

However! She doesn’t quite work in this story. Or is it that the story doesn’t work around her? If I didn’t know A Whisker Away was a children’s film, I would have expected a completely different direction around the halfway mark. Miyo is obsessed with this guy, performs crazy gestures to get his attention and show what he means to her. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a foundation to the supposed relationship between these two. She comes across as…creepy isn’t the right word – more like crazy. I know this is a children’s film all in good fun, but it doesn’t mesh well. It needed a “before” segment, where we see something that justifies her fanatical behaviour. Perhaps they used to be close friends (and we see this) and she’s trying to break him from depression, or there’s some sort of magic that wiped her from his memory and she can’t tell him about it, but the curse never said anything about making him fall for her all over again. You know, something. The tiny glimpses we receive aren’t enough. At all.

In a more dramatic film, her behaviour would be set up for a confrontation about her one-sided obsession and end in a broken heart. In an adult horror film, she’d pull out a knife. No, wait! Brass knuckles with claws on them that leave scratch marks like a cat. The final twist would be that she was never cat – it was all in her head! Someone get on this film, stat!

Anyway, where was I.

Ah yes, the other piece that doesn’t fit the Whisker Away puzzle is Kento. He’s as bland as a grey cement wall. Feels like she wants to host a pity party for him, not show affection, at times. This is where that before segment would have helped as well. It could setup a personality for him before he breaks and she has to pull him back together again. Furthermore, when he does finally pay attention to her after the real price for the cat transformation is revealed, he changes in a flash to help her, presumably falling in love at the same time. There needs to be more to sell his change. As is, he’s a dull character who feels largely unimportant until the final act. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the story had twisted away from him to become a self-discovery tale for Miyo. I half expected it.

A Whisker Away isn’t as good a Mari Okada’s other work (she wrote this one) I recently reviewed, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (wrote and directed). I recommend that film before this. A Whisker Away is still alright though – Miyo cat is adorable. I like all the cat stuff. And it is a pretty film.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anyone in need of an easy time. A Whisker Away is an overly simple anime film. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

The Promised Neverland Season 2 – Holy Truncation Batman!

Japanese Title: Yakusoku no Neverland 2nd Season

 

Related: The Promised Neverland Season 1

The Promised Neverland manga (partially included in this review)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Mystery Thriller

Length: 11 episodes (season 2), 181 chapters (manga)

 

Positives:

  • Opening song

Negatives:

  • Most egregious truncation of the source material in anime history?
  • Doesn’t succeed on its own either
  • Recycled animation
  • Some bad acting amongst new characters

(Request an anime for review here.)

Contains spoilers for season one – unavoidable.

What the hell happened here? I watched the first season of The Promised Neverland a year ago, which I quite liked, and now I come back to this…this… What do you even call this? Did an intern carrying the script trip over and have most of the pages fall into a shredder, collect what was left, rewrite the page numbers at the bottom, and then hand it to the animation department?

I had heard rumblings that viewers were discontent with the cutting of material. I did not realise just how bad it was until I read the manga. This review was to come out weeks ago, but less than halfway through the season, I could already feel something missing, so I turned to the manga, you know, to read the 30-50 chapters that went into this season. Little did I realise that this adapted all remaining chapters.

The Promised Neverland, at first, is about children living in an innocent orphanage before they learn that this is a farm and they are the livestock for demons. Season two follows them after the escape and on the run, guided by a series of clues left by the mysterious “William Minerva” to get back to the human world.

Season one adapts 37 chapters of the 181 total. Season two “covers” the rest. That’s right, 144 chapters in 11 episodes. And Horimiya fans reckoned they had it bad. I don’t know why studio CloverWorks thought that Promised Neverland – this anime, of all anime – would work with such truncation. I’m not certain (and I don’t have time to do the research right now), but this may just be the worst case of cut content in anime history. We’ve had incomplete adaptations of manga epics in the past or ones that created a new ending to finish what they had available, yes, though I can’t recall any finished adaptations with such massive holes. Unlike Horimiya, which worked alright without those chapters, Promised Neverland doesn’t work without 50% – at minimum – of what they removed. Why even bother with a second season if it’s going to lack all substance and make little sense? The first season worked fine as a standalone anime with suggestions to read the manga if you want the rest.

It hurts the brain to comprehend.

It’s particularly strange because season one was such a good adaption. In fact, I found it improved upon the manga by cutting back on inner monologues that over explain proceedings to the audience and made it darker. The manga is more light-hearted and has more playful moments, whereas the anime pushed the thriller angle to much success. A quick side note, however, is that the tone for the Grace Field arc in the manga better matches the rest the series. The manga isn’t anywhere near as dark as the premise would imply. The anime would have needed to make a few changes to the rest to match season one, which makes the abundance of “happy kids” moments, as I refer to them, more glaring and irritating in the second season. They work in the manga because they are tonally consistent and only take a page rather than a scene. Of course, they are also further apart with all content present.

Season two initially matches the manga well enough when the kids meet two demons that don’t eat humans and learn more of the world. We learn that demons eat meat to maintain their form and intelligence. Without feeding, they would devolve into ravenous savages. I love this world building detail. However, a few episodes in, they reach the hideout provided by Minerva and it all flies out the window. So butchered is this one section alone that there is no purpose to leaving it in. In the manga, it turns out there is someone living in the hideout already, a crazy man. He is the whole point of that section, so to remove him but leave the rest is simply stupid.

Then comes the time skip. Around 90 chapters ignored, gone, including the best action arc of the series, where some kids find themselves in a demon duke’s hunting ground for sport. Worse still is the effect on what they do adapt from the final arc. Without the setup that comes before, the finale is limp. Everything revolves around a grand plan, which already requires a fair suspension of disbelief in the manga, yet now demands a total leave of logic. The plan only works if all antagonists are absolute idiots.

See, this season’s failure isn’t that it cut material. I don’t inherently care about cut material. Its failure is being a bad anime, adaptation or not. Again, why did they bother?

This season isn’t worth your time. Instead, look at the manga.

The manga isn’t without its faults. I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t dark enough because there isn’t enough death, especially considering the pre-schoolers in the group (I have the impression the author grew too attached to the characters). The answer and eventual solution to the demon and human world divide is so lame. Magic? Really? While the final arc is a great finish to the ride, the epilogue chapters are just contrived nonsense (again, author is too attached). Contrivances and coincidences to solve non-action problems are a recurring issue with this author. Minerva’s pen, for instance, is a wonder machine that solves any plot puzzle for which the author couldn’t think of an idea, providing the next clue on the trail. I would have also liked to see more of the mother and the important demons to give them more impact in the end. The mother especially needed more chapters.

Contrary to my machine gun of negatives, The Promised Neverland is a good manga I recommend to anyone unless you didn’t care for the first season. It’s a page-turner, the demon culture is interesting, you feel for the main characters (the cast is too big to care for the rest), and the action is solid. Oh, nice art too – love the full-page illustrations before each chapter. Meanwhile, the only good element of The Promised Neverland Season 2 is the opening song.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Read The Promised Neverland manga instead.

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

Katanagatari – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Katanagatari

 

Similar: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Dororo

Mononoke

Samurai Jack

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Romance

Length: 12 episodes (double length)

 

Positives:

  • Storybook art
  • Whimsical score
  • Fairy tale stories
  • Fun main duo

Negatives:

  • Drags at times

(Request an anime for review here.)

Katanagatari is a series of fairy tale-like stories about a woman collecting the twelve “Deviant Blades” across Edo-era Japan (unaffiliated with the Bakemonogatari series – “gatari” means “story” in Japanese, so “Sword Story” in this case). This is based on real events from history, where a Japanese ruler would declare a “sword hunt” to confiscate all swords possessed by those not native to his territory, believing it would prevent them having the means to overthrow him. Togame, strategist to the shogunate, employs the help of Shichika, current master of the Kyotouryuu style that fights barehanded and turns the body itself into a blade.

The storybook art style is immediately striking and the only selling point I needed to try this anime (several readers have since requested it). One may think it cartoonish or that this is a small children’s anime, but children would find Katanagatari unbearably dull in truth. This is for a slightly older audience and the style fits the tone.

Despite the action sounding title, dialogue is the dominant form of this anime. Each episode is double length to fit the story associated with each sword in a single uninterrupted session. While I like this idea, I don’t feel each episode justifies the extra screen time, as it does drag often for a mere 12 episodes. A variable episode length would be better – I wish all series would do this, just like the variable length of book chapters. It took me a long time to finish this series (to be fair, life keeps getting in the way too). I recommend one episode per session. However, outside of that, I can’t present any other barriers to finishing the series. Katanagatari is a good anime.

First, the main duo is tons of fun. Shichika is muscle over brains taken to an almost extreme. “I’m bad at thinking” – his words. He’s also oblivious to how to treat Togame, the woman he claims to love. He’s humorously embarrassing. By contrast, Togame is all brains and no brawn. She’s a proper lady of good upbringing, unlike this hick country fella. Yet she trips on first meeting him. She talks too much, too many big words, is carried away with her monologues, and assumes other people’s answers only to realise she misheard a minute later. A perfect contrast to Shichika.

The meeting of this art style, whimsical score, and mystical stories reminds of fairy tales, as mentioned earlier, for which you need the right mindset. Each episode is about confronting an owner of one of these swords. Naturally, they are reluctant to relinquish their powerful weapons, so a conflict ensues. Sometimes it’s a typical action scene, though often there’s more thought to it, like a moral quandary or a puzzle to solve – as seen in fairy tales.

For example, one wielder is the last swordsman in a fallen kingdom swallowed by sand. He sits in a room in the castle with his sword at the ready, capable of slashing faster than light at anyone who dares enter. If you think logically, this falls apart. How does he eat? Go to the bathroom? Why don’t they fire a cannon from outside behind him? Those aren’t questions for this type of story. In Little Red Riding Hood, you don’t worry about how the hell a wolf could ever pass for an old granny. Approach Katanagatari with that mindset and you will have a good time. I mean, one guy punches with his guns. Need I say more?

Why is it okay to ignore those questions here but not in, say, Sword Art Online 2, you may ask? No story can encompass everything, account for every possibility, or factor in every detail from reality. Would make for rather boring stories. Instead, stories choose what focus on and the style in which to deliver the message, the morality, the character study, the action – whatever. Weak stories will either execute this vision poorly or sometimes not account for something that within the logic of its world breaks the story. Sword Art Online is garbage for many reasons, but the sword versus guns problem is idiotic because if a sword is so effective and bullets are so slow, why would anyone ever choose a gun in competitive play? By the logic established within that world, no one would use a gun.

Thankfully, Katanagatari isn’t Sword Art Online.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Katanagatari is unexpected in style and execution and I recommend it taken one episode per session. Cheerio!

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None