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Hinamatsuri – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hinamatsuri

 

Similar: The Disastrous Life of Saiki K

Mob Psycho 100

Barakamon

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Damn funny.
  • Surprising heart for a comedy.
  • Incorporates drama and conflict without compromise.

Negatives:

  • Protagonist has weak arc.
  • Shading looks auto-filled.

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Nitta is your average yakuza member until a large metal egg comes through a portal and cracks him over the head. This metal egg has a human face, one that talks and asks him to push the release button, which reveals her as a young girl. As if the whole “metal egg with naked girl out of nowhere” bit wasn’t weird enough, she also has incredible psychic power and not the slightest notion of responsibility or restraint. Her powers start turning on him and wreck his life – or worse, his vase collection. However, Nitta can take advantage of his new minion, Hina, to do dirty Yakuza work.

I put off Hinamatsuri until the day before this review, as I had no inclination for it (I usually start a series a month ahead of time in case something external comes up, such as the packed work schedule I’ve had for two months now). I had judged it by the cover: generic loli/moe girls – check; whimsical art – check; slice of life – check. This is going to be another of those anime about a group of girls finding their way through life with naïve idealism that has no foundation in reality, isn’t it?

Imagine my utter astonishment when the above blurb occurred in the first episode. It cracked me up and all my prejudice went out the window (as did all of Nitta’s possessions). Hinamatsuri is funny, yes, but it gets better.

Another psychic girl called Anzu soon enters the fray, tasked with retrieving Hina for the lab from which they were hatched. Sadly for Anzu, her psychic ability is nothing compared to Hina’s might (their duel is amazing, by the way). Her mission a failure, Anzu ends up homeless and must survive by scavenging on the streets, where she ends up joining a homeless group.

Where Hinamatsuri truly nailed it was with Anzu’s story arc. Not only are her antics of having no idea how society functions hilarious, the depiction of homelessness is realistic within the bounds of comedy. The other homeless people teach her the tricks of trade, such as gathering cans to exchange at recycling depots and checking around vending machines for fallen change. When she does have a cash windfall and wastes it all on food indulgences, it’s simultaneously hilarious and creating conflict. Her actions have consequences that matter, yet without getting so dramatic that it would no longer be comedy. Later in her arc, as she works to better herself, you care for her because of the meaningful struggle that came earlier. Again, not too dramatic either.

How many times have I reviewed comedy anime like Please Teacher and said that the biggest failing was in forcing drama for the finale, at the total expense of comedy, in an attempt at “deep” emotion? I didn’t even expect Hinamatsuri to have that type of ending  – it doesn’t come across that way at all for the first half. It surprised me both by the inclusion of such drama and the success of its execution. This does me good to see.

Where Hinamatsuri does fail, unfortunately, is in Anzu’s counterpart, Hina. While her bum-like lifestyle despite living the rich life with Nitta and her monotone expression are humorous, she has no real arc to speak of. She does learn to stop taking Nitta’s caregiving for granted, but that occurs early on, after which she just sits around like the bum she is. She is so dumb that when Anzu tells her that discarded TVs are worth decent change, Hina begs Nitta for money and buys a new flat screen for thousands, just so Anzu can pawn it off to a dealer for a little cash. Palm, meet forehead. (I love it.)

She brings good laughs, certainly, but I wonder if Hinamatsuri would have been better with Anzu as protagonist. I’m not sure this time, as the funniest character rarely makes for the best protagonist. Still, a good arc is most important.

This anime has even more on offer than what I covered here, such as the sub-plot of Hina’s middle school classmate working as a bartender because she can mix drinks like no other (incidentally, she also has a stronger arc than Hina does). Suffice it say, I recommend Hinamatsuri.

Art – Medium

I am not a fan of the “auto fill” looking style of shading and highlights you see these days. It lacks artistry, as if generated by a software plugin. And as in most cases, moe/loli character designs aren’t to my taste, though these ones seem plugin generated as well. The animation and environments, however, are quite good.

Sound – High

The acting is strong and works well in English, especially in the casting of Hina as a monotone bore. That said, the original Japanese is better overall. I don’t understand the choice of OP and ED songs. They are suited for slice of life drama like A Place Further than the Universe, not a comedy.

Story – Medium

A yakuza has his life thrown sideways when a psychic girl falls into his apartment and wrecks everything. Funnier than expected, Hinamatsuri is a surprise success, though the protagonist has the weakest of the plots.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Hinamatsuri is a very “anime” comedy, which won’t be to everyone’s taste – I often pass over these types myself – but this is one of the better ones, so give it a go. An episode or two is all you need to test.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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Pokémon: The Movie 2000 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Pokémon: Maboroshi no Pokémon Lugia Bakutan

 

Related: Pokémon: The First Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 20 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The legendary Pokémon feel legendary.
  • High tension.

Negatives:

  • Most forgettable villain.
  • Romance between Ash and Misty?

(Request an anime for review here.)

I had watched Pokémon: The Movie 2000 so many times as a child, even more than the Pokémon: The First Movie, that I lost count. It is perhaps third behind Disney’s The Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians for my most watched kids’ movies. It was a perfect storm of factors to make me love it. It was a Pokémon movie released at the height of my Pokémon mania, it featured Pokémon from Gold & Silver games, which are still my favourites, while also incorporating the legendary birds of the three elements at the centre, and gave it epic an scope to threaten the world. It’s as if Nintendo had asked little me what kind of Pokémon movie I wanted. It goes without saying, but I bloody loved this movie.

I hadn’t seen it in over a decade until I rewatched it for this review. So many memories came back to me, recalling a simpler time when I didn’t even know this was called anime, when I had no responsibilities and could waste time as though it wasn’t a limited resource. Fond memories.

Unfortunately, I doesn’t hold up as well as The First Movie. But before I get into why, let me cover the scenario in brief.

Lawrence, a man with more money than sense, likes to collect the rarest Pokémon in his gigantic flying fortress. On his crosshairs are the three legendary birds of ice, lightning, and fire – Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres – which, when disturbed according to the prophecy, will summon the ultimate prize: Lugia. Disturbance of these legendary birds results in climate change that Al Gore can only dream of and is the reason for Lugia’s awakening. Ash Ketchum and company find themselves washed into this conflict when a storm carries their boat off course. Only Lugia and “the chosen one” (spoiler: it’s Ash) can restore balance to the elements and save the world.

I’ll go over a few positives first. I like that no one takes the prophecy seriously at first, that it’s just a story for the tourists to add character to this holiday island they end up on. By the end, it isn’t even clear if the “chosen one” aspect of the prophecy was true or if Ash just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help. As mentioned before, I love the legendary birds and their world-ending conflict feels appropriate to hype they receive in Pokémon lore. Later legendaries would power creep them to the point where one Pokémon is the God and still not feel as cool. The tension is also high from the moment the first storm hits.

Where The Movie 2000 falls flat is in the villain. Think about how many times I have seen this movie and know that I still can’t remember any of Lawrence’s character (even forgot his name). He is utterly forgettable. You compare him to Mewtwo from the previous movie and it’s night and day. Mewtwo has a clear motivation, with reasoning, a complete arc, and memorable lines. Lawrence has nothing to recommend himself as the star villain of your movie. The only positive I can give is that he’s not from Team Rocket, which is something different.

When you have a villain who isn’t a personal threat to the protagonist, it weakens the villain-hero conflict, which you need to make up for in other areas. For instance, you can have more conflict between allies to heighten the emotional drama. Looking at the previous movie once more, Mewtwo threatened Ash’s Pokémon and made them fight to the death. Now that’s heavy conflict. This apocalyptic scenario, while a tense rollercoaster, requires no emotional investment from the heroes.

As a kid, you’re first priority in a movie is the cool factor and the fun factor. Who cares about baby stuff like emotions and drama? Pokémon: The Movie 2000 is certainly cool and fun, but as an adult, it no longer contains the factors I desire most.

Before I go, I want to touch on something I didn’t properly notice when I was but a wee lad. Did they try to push a romance between Ash and Misty? The story introduces a new girl who tells them the prophecy and teases Misty about her feelings for Ash. I never got that sense from the series. Perhaps this was a test ground. Either way, it isn’t particularly relevant nor affect enjoyment. It’s just odd.

Art – Medium

The art is a little better than The First Movie, except in the case of the CG fortress, though that isn’t a serious issue. I like the texture of the environments.

Sound – Medium

I have no comment on the Japanese. No matter what I do, I can’t get used to it. Meowth, as always, is the best. There is another cover song of the main theme like before.

Story – Medium

A storm will destroy the world unless Ash can restore balance between ice, lightning and fire with the aid of an ancient Pokémon. This is a fun Pokémon side adventure, albeit one that needs a better villain.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Pokémon fans only. Not only is this tailored to Pokémon fans, most references won’t make sense without prior knowledge.

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Ga-Rei-Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ga-Rei: Zero

 

Similar: Canaan

Blood+

Elfen Lied

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Music is rather good.

Negatives:

  • Lacks weight.
  • Fails at connecting us to characters.
  • Meaningless yuri bait.
  • Narrative doesn’t resonate.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ga-Rei-Zero is the prequel anime to the manga Ga-Rei, following the tale of Kagura and the fate that forced her to fight her sister Yomi. They are agents of the Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division (SDCD) to slay monsters.

I love a good tragedy, especially one that pits ally against ally before the end. The key to a tragic tale, such as this one, is to make the audience care about the characters and their relationship before they must kill each other. This is especially true when you know events are going to turn for the worse and you’re pleading for them to stay allies, stay happy, but nothing you say can change the inevitable. So tragic. So good!

I’m sad to say that Ga-Rei-Zero doesn’t succeed in that respect. These girls are too boring, too clichéd to care an ounce about. The have the typical dynamic of yuri bait anime, with one as the strong katana girl, the other as timid and weak. To be fair, as a slight defence of Yomi, the generic katana girl type wasn’t as oversaturated at time of release in 2008.

These foster sisters have no development. Their relationship grows by way of fan service for character “building” – naked baths with boobs squished against the other’s back, making out randomly, and other yuri bait that is incongruous to the tone they try to convey. Emotional development comes in the form of staring off into space accompanied by a slow pan. That’s another problem. The cinematography is so boring. Every composition is stock standard with a slow pan. Moving manga, as they call it. There’s no detail, no art to anything in the visuals.

The writing is similar, though it’s not so bad that makes it to the ranks of Vampire Knight. It’s just so dull, without any creativity. And the exposition. The first time these girls meet, Yomi dumps the full backstory for Kagura, her father, and herself. Wow! If you told me they made Ga-Rei-Zero by plugging parameters into an anime-creating AI to generate a series, I’d believe you.

The world building lacks artistry. The powers are vague, they try mixing things up with new weapons, such as a gun sword and combat wheelchair, but there’s no cohesion to any of these. (That AI theory is sounding more plausible by the minute.)

Ga-Rei-Zero also needs better narrative resonance – the tying up of a story from start to finish. It opens with an SDCD squad called to fight monsters and dying, followed by the reveal of Yomi as the evil sister to Kagura. They went for a “flashforward” opening, wherein we see an event later in the story with dramatic implications before we rewind back to the start in happier times. Flashforwards elicit one question: “What happened to make things go so wrong?” The mistake they made was having such a long flashforward. They didn’t need to introduce the SDCD. We could get to that later. All we needed to know is the following: monsters are attacking, led by protagonist’s sister, and the good guys are fighting back. The relevant information is in the last few minutes of episode 2 – first episode isn’t needed.

What this does is set the wrong expectations. For the entire series, we are wondering when the SDCD will become a major part of the narrative. It would be as if you opened an Avengers movie on a team fight, but 20 minutes in, you focus solely on Captain America for the rest of the narrative. The longer it goes, the more the audience expects and questions why the rest of the Avengers haven’t joined. If you’d called the film Captain America and had a cameo scene featuring the Avengers at some point in act one, then the expectation isn’t there. It’s all about that initial presentation. I suspect they started this way to have a ton of gore and death immediately, which can be effective shock value, but rings hollow when superfluous.

One defence of this you’ll here is that Ga-Rei-Zero is a prequel to the manga and that the narrative will resonate if you finish the story. But we aren’t here for a manga. Furthermore, it was a simple fix. Cut episodes 1 and 2 save for the last few minutes and play that before the opening credits.

Even if you ignore this poor opening, you can feel that lack of synergy between elements of the series. For instance, the theme of the battle against monsters doesn’t complement the conflict theme between Kagura and Yomi except in the one case where Kagura has to kill a mind-controlled civilian she liked. Good theming has the sub-plots/conflicts support the main theme.

Then we have Yomi’s engagement to the heir of another important family. It doesn’t contribute much, nor does it lend to the theme. Once again, that AI thought, “Every story has a romance, therefore I must put one in.”

What I dislike most about Ga-Rei-Zero is how Yomi’s turn to evil happens. She doesn’t descend into evil like in Gungrave or fall to greed as seen in Madoka Magica. No poor decisions, no character conflict, no slow creeping corruption that seduces her. Nope, mind control does it. The ultimate sin with a tragedy like this is to have an ally turn foe by anything other than their own choices and actions.

All of this dullness and lack of synergy results in a boring anime. There is far worse out there – Ga-Rei-Zero isn’t that bad – but let’s just say that I have more fun with worse anime than this.

Art – Very Low

The CG is hideous for the special vision that allows agents to see spectres and the monsters look even worse. It doesn’t even justify the CG with complex animation. On top of that, the cinematography, character designs, and environments have no creativity whatsoever.

Sound – Low

The music and acting are quite good, but the script has no weight to it, dragging down everything around it. Also, the music doesn’t sync with the action as it should, often going too long as if they have to play the entire track.

Story – Low

Two sisters that slay monsters must eventually fight each other. The story doesn’t do enough to create an emotional connection to the characters for us to care about their fates.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Ga-Rei-Zero is one of those anime that only select fans will remember as the years go by.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

No Development

The Saga of Tanya the Evil – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Youjo Senki

 

Similar: Overlord

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

GATE

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

Tanya is also the reincarnation of a Japanese businessman.

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

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

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

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

It’s more comical than evil.

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – High

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

Story – Medium

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

Overall Quality – Medium

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

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Angel Sanctuary – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tenshi Kinryouku

 

Similar: Koi Kaze

X

Ceres, Celestial Legend

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Drama Romance

Length: 3 episodes

 

Positives:

  • May be the worst anime of all time.

Negatives:

  • The writing.
  • The art.
  • The acting.
  • The romance.
  • The lore.
  • The characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We may have done it. We may have found the worst anime, dear readers. I don’t want to make a definitive statement without seeing a few other candidates first, but Angel Sanctuary may be the slurry of the septic tank.

This is a story of a guy, Setsuna, who may really be a woman – an angel woman called Alexiel – in love with his sister. Every supernatural entity seems interested in him, for reasons that aren’t made too clear. One character – a princess, apparently – wants him because his previous angel incarnation saved her life. Alexiel’s brother, who looks more like her sister, wants Setsuna to revert to his angel self so they can fight, for some reason. The story throws in random thugs to fight Setsuna as well, as if this wasn’t bloated enough already. And of course there’s the “romance” with his sister.

The immediate problem you notice with Angel Sanctuary, after supressing the bile in your throat at the animation, is the muddled nature of the story. It never bothers to let events sink in – it is one scene, one concept to the next, one after the other in a ratatatat, each said to be of great importance, yet not treated as such. The manga is 20 volumes long, which I imagine expands upon proceedings and likely lessens the ridiculousness of having everyone chase Setsuna at once by spreading out events. I haven’t mentioned several sub-stories either. It’s a mess.

Some guy’s father “has a premonition” that turns him around to see his son before he dies. Where did he gain this power? Why are you asking me?

The writing is something else. The credits for the edition I watched had behind the scenes of the VO recording and Crispin Freeman, the one good dub performance, is reading one of the lines but stops, asking what it even means. “The only thing of beauty to come out of God’s refuse that I am…” You’ll often find yourself asking that same question.

Angel Sanctuary loves its weird lore, dumping specialist terms you will never remember and fantasy names you won’t care about at a dozen per scene. You can’t overload three episodes like this and expect the audience to remember.

Giving the characters actual character and personality to associate with the lore would help. No one develops throughout this story. The development is so bad that I expected the incest sub-plot (or is it the main plot? Never clear) to have no conflict, but to my surprise, it had some. Now, don’t mistake this for praise – I would never praise Angel Sanctuary. The conflict is terrible. “I’m so conflicted about my feelings. It’s tearing me apart [Lisa]!” Two seconds later: “Oh hey, I’m no longer conflicted.”

The romance is, predictably at this point, one of no substance. Why do these two love each other? Haven’t the foggiest. I suspect that with the angel versus demon battle alluding to Christian mythology, the incest romance is just to complete the theme. Like everything in Angel Sanctuary, it doesn’t make sense or work towards the overall cohesion of the narrative.

You would have to see this anime for yourself to believe how bad it is. Too difficult to put into words.

How did Angel Sanctuary even get on my list when it is so obviously bad? It was advertised in one of the first anime DVDs I bought ages ago and I, for some reason, had to watch it at some point, on principle. It’s worse than I could have ever hoped for.

Art – Very Low

This low key frame animations, inconsistent anatomy, digital light effect using, no cinematography, eyesore of an anime is painful to witness.

Sound – Very Low

No level of acting could make this awful writing work. The dub is something special.

Story – Very Low

A guy with a supernatural secret grapples with feelings for his sister as angels and demons want a piece of him. What is this story trying to show?

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: So baffling that you have to see it to believe it. Angel Sanctuary is garbage – the sort of garbage that is fascinating to watch, like a fireworks factory on fire.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueEar Grating Voice WorkIncoherentNo DevelopmentPoor PacingRubbish Major CharactersUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast