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Toward the Terra – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Terra e… (TV)

 

Related: Terra e… (Movie – old version)

Similar: RahXephon

Gundam SEED

No. 6

Xam’d Lost Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Grand scope with proper closure.
  • Intriguing open.
  • The sci-fi elements make for an engaging story.

Negatives:

  • Needs stronger key villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In another anime with the premise of a protagonist realising his world is a lie, we have Toward the Terra. Where No. 6 setup an ordinary world for the protagonist to exit from, Terra echoes events closer to the likes of The Island or Logan’s Run with a dash of RahXephon and Battlestar Galactica.

In Jomy’s world, talented people join the elites of humanity on the day they reach adulthood. This is an exciting occasion. Who wouldn’t want their child to lead humanity to greatness? This is also a lie. The test of adulthood is actually to identify any potential “Mu” among the populace. They are an evolved race of humans possessing psychic abilities that strike fear in the government. All Mu are executed.

Jomy’s birthday takes a turn for the weird when a mouse starts talking to him telepathically at an amusement park. It’s not long before he’s on the run as one of the Mu and the lie that is his world tears at the seams. Not only is there a race of psychics that live on a ship among the clouds, their leader Soldier Blue has fallen into a coma and wants Jomy to inherit his power and the burden of leading the Mu to a brighter future.

Toward the Terra immediately differentiates itself from the pack of like-minded stories by going off in a wild direction. This story spans years and ventures to places I didn’t predict. One could watch the first episode of Terra followed by the final episode and have no idea how it got from A to Z. No character is the same by the end of this series.

The first act sets up so many questions about this world and its characters. Where did the Mu come from? How blind is the average human to reality? Did Jomy’s human parents really love him? Is it possible for Jomy to undo the brainwashing on society? Who is leading the humans? Why are they so insistent on killing the Mu that aren’t a part of their society? Unlike No. 6, which setup many question but either forgot to answer them or gave meaningless payoffs, Terra delivers some great arcs and story conclusions.

This is my kind of sci-fi anime.

That said, it doesn’t reach greatness when looked at as a whole. There are moments of greatness – the setup episodes and other key events I won’t give away – but the problems are intrusive. The one that has stuck with me since having finished Terra months ago is the switch from Jomy’s perspective to one of the human elites in training.

We follow Keith, a Spock-like character except boring and with no personality. Furthermore, we have no clear idea why the focus is on him for so many episodes (turns out, he’s a major villain – no spoiler, they should have alluded as much from the start). Even furthermore, we don’t see Jomy during this section. It all makes sense in the end, of course, yet the structure of this early second act feels so disconnected from the plot that instead of enjoying the story, I’m asking, “Why does any of this matter?” for too long. It needed a back and forth of perspectives.

Oh yes, almost forgot – Keith’s main rival at the academy is a smiley evil guy. A laughable character. No one would just stand there and take his sneering for more than a day before removing all his teeth. When at this stage of the story, I thought all the good the premise had setup was going down a black hole. Thankfully, it picks up again once Jomy re-enters the scene and Keith’s role matters – he even becomes interesting after the academy years are over. The villains in general are on the weaker side.

Several other moments also standout as blots in the story. I can’t go into detail without revealing too much (as I said, this story goes in such unexpected directions), but they are in the vein of characters doing stupid things for the sake of forced conflict.

There is also a minor annoyance where each episode starts with several minutes from the previous episode. This isn’t a “last time on Terra…” bit, but a straight repeat of scenes. Could do without it, though not a deal breaker.

In all, the good outweigh the bad with the premise being a story type I love accompanied by strong sci-fi elements. I enjoyed Toward the Terra and may even rewatch it in future.

Art – Medium

The technical quality is average, but the creativity of the sci-fi world is good old retro-futurism. Beautiful skies. There is this one character, an alien scientist with the dumbest and most out of place design, like a stick figure in a scene of elfin people. I laughed every time she came on.

Sound – Medium

Solid acting and the soundtrack is suitable to the anime, though you won’t remember the details.

Story – Medium

On the cusp of adulthood, a boy learns he is an alien linked to the first of his race, which makes him an enemy of society and all humanity. This grand space voyage has a lot in it that works for the most part.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. Toward the Terra’s sci-fi elements will make it a pleasure to fans of the genre, but those same elements will alienate others. And the characters aren’t strong enough to carry interest if sci-fi the premise doesn’t hook you.

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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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Soul Eater – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Soul Eater

 

Related: Soul Eater NOT! (spin-off)

Similar: Blue Exorcist

Noragami

Bleach

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Comedy

Length: 51 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Creative visual design.
  • Fluid action animation.
  • Often funny.

Negatives:

  • Weak third act.
  • Narrow world building.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So, Soul Eater – this one took me a while to finish despite getting through the first 30 episodes in a week. It’s fun for the most part, but once it reaches the latter half, the increased action focus and reduced comedy coupled with stagnating development dampened my motivation. Before I explain why, let’s get on the same page with the premise.

Soul Eater is a Bleach-esque anime set in the realm of death where Shinigami train at Death Weapon Meister Academy and fight off supernatural evils. Its distinguishing characteristic is the living weapons, Demon Scythes, which switch between human and weapon form to fight for their masters. The ultimate goal of any Shinigami is to harvest 99 souls and one witch’s soul to turn their weapon into a mighty Death Scythe. The principal characters are the straight-laced Maka, wielding the scythe Soul Eater Evans, the brash Black Star contrasted by his kind weapon Tsubaki, and the OCD-riddled Death the Kid with his twin pistols Patty and Liz.

The first aspect one notices of Soul Eater is its distinct visual style. The urban anime art reminds me of the game The World Ends with You, which is a great fit to the character and world design. The drooling sun and laughing moon look like graffiti you would find in an abandoned train yard. It stands out from other battle anime.

However, in spite of this distinct looking world there is something missing from it. For a time, I could not put my finger on it, on why Soul Eater didn’t draw me in. The action is good, similar to other good battle anime, and the cast, though nothing new for the genre (except perhaps Death the Kid) is solid. You’ll likely find a favourite and enjoy the powers. So what’s missing?

The larger world is missing.

It took me far longer than I would like to admit to realise that there is nothing in this world outside of the main plot. It’s like a rail network with only one line. You can look outside the windows and see a city around you, but no trains go there and you only see story-relevant passengers on board. This city is a mere background like North Korea’s fake “Peace Village”. Soul Eater has a narrow world. You know how most fantasy anime have main characters travel to distant places and meet other cultures? Soul Eater not only doesn’t do this, but it also gives the impression that no such places exist. All of this adds up to a difficulty in finding reason to invest in this world and its characters. If you can attach to the characters otherwise, then I assume this won’t be as much of an issue for you as it was for me.

For the characters themselves, as I said, they are solid. My favourite is Death the Kid (even though the way he holds the guns with his pinkies is the stupidest thing ever). The school exam episode is hilarious. Seeing Kid’s OCD cripple him so badly that he can’t start until he writes his name perfectly on the paper had me rolling. It’s a shame the series shifts from this fun battle anime in the first half to a serious-action-only second half. Honestly, if the fun angle had persisted, I would have finished this much sooner.

The third act is the weakest section. My understanding is that this act is a wild deviation from the manga, which wasn’t finished at the time (the manga continued for four years after the anime). It shows.

The final battle in particular is one of the weakest I have seen in this genre. Off the top of my head, only something garbage from start to finish like Beet the Vandal Buster delivers a worse showdown. Soul Eater’s finale feels like the filler it is, written by someone with no investment in the manga or experience in writing. For one, it focuses on Black Star almost exclusively, who is the most “annoying shounen kid” of the cast. He’s not even the protagonist! For two, the win condition for this fight is just nonsensical. I won’t give it away, though you can watch the final episode (51) for yourself – even out of context you will see what I mean. A wet tissue of an ending.

I’ve said it before, but a bad end feels worse than poor quality in any other section. Soul Eater is a lot better than the end presents to us. If you do want to watch this, I recommend switching to the manga afterwards.

Art – High

Soul Eater’s distinctive designs make it a memorable look. Also, the animation shines during action scenes.

Sound – Medium

T.M.Revolution, one of my favourite artists responsible for much of the excellent Gundam SEED soundtrack, does the first opening here – I never skipped it. The music in general is decent, as is the voice acting in both languages. The dialogue does need trimming and less shounen clichés during combat though.

Story – Medium

A group of young Shinigami battle supernatural entities to collect souls for their living weapons and to protect their city. The story follows a normal shounen structure, but is truly let down by its end.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans. While a little different from the norm, Soul Eater is still a battle anime at heart so won’t extend beyond its demographic. You will need to continue with the manga for a proper end.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Nisekoi: False Love – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nisekoi

 

Similar: Toradora

My Bride is a Mermaid

Golden Time

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Harem Comedy Romance

Length: 32 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Reasonably funny.
  • Beautiful art.

Negatives:

  • Goes nowhere.
  • Same harem clichés.
  • The promise pendant gimmick is moronic.
  • Initial setup doesn’t matter.

(Request an anime for review here.)

There’s something to be said about watching a certain type of anime for first time. I remember thinking Elfen Lied was great, believing Emma: A Victorian Romance was a superior romance, and dubbing Scryed as one of action anime’s best. These were the first anime of their kind I had seen and as such, I didn’t have a measuring stick to compare. Sure, I had seen other gore stories like Elfen Lied, but never one centred on innocent girls. Emma came to me before my love of period romances and Scryed, despite being action – one of the few genres I watched back then – was so different in its powers and commitment to characters. Not to suggest that I find these series bad today. However, I have seen many better cases since. I am sure you can all relate.

Coming to Nisekoi, it is the 30th of its kind that I have seen, which does no favours for its cliché-riddled characters and head-smacking plot. I had heard sound bites of negativity from several people, including from some of my readers. This seemed odd, for Nisekoi is from studio Shaft known for quality works like Bakemonogatari and Madoka Magica. And what screenshots I had glimpsed looked great.

Having finally seen it, the art is great – better than I had imagined – but the story…well, I’ll get to that. 

Nisekoi is a comedic reverse Romeo & Juliet, of sorts. Raku, heir to a yakuza family, enters into a forced engagement with Chitoge, granddaughter of the mafia’s leader, as a way to bring peace between the gangs. The only problem is that they hate each other and thus must pretend to be in love for the sake of duty. To further complicate matters, Raku made a promise with a girl 10 years ago, but he can’t remember who she was. He just knows she will have the matching key to the pendant around his neck. Also, he has a crush on his school friend Onodera. 

The first episode has so many clichés – toast in mouth, guy falls on top of girl, fawning over transfer student, girl punching guy – that it immediately makes one lose hope. However, once episode two introduces the key event of Raku’s engagement to Chitoge, my opinion reverses. The premise is genuinely funny. Seeing these two pretend to be in love while yakuza and mafia thugs spy on them from behind trees, yet not be in love when classmates are around to make sure everyone knows they hate each other had me laughing plenty.

So where does it go wrong? If you’ve noticed the harem genre above (or tag below) and this isn’t your first rodeo, you can guess with 100% accuracy. More girls for the harem. 

Nisekoi’s premise barely lasts a few episodes before it spirals into harem wheel spinning. A third girl joins the cast, and then another soon after. Each settles into her dutiful role as a harem girl, never deviating from the mould or advancing the plot. Even the Raku-Chitoge relationship that gave hope earlier thanks to their stronger personalities falls right into place. The wrong place.

It’s the same harem garbage you see everywhere. The bathhouse, beach, and school play episodes are the same, tsundere behaviour is the same as ever, and even Kamino itself couldn’t have made a better clone for the childhood friend. It is good-looking garbage of course – Shaft brings their signature cinematographic flair and unique art style to make this the most beautiful harem of all time (sorry, War on Geminar; you can’t compete anymore). 

The one story distinction Nisekoi has over its kin is the idea of his “one true waifu” to end up with, but even that goes nowhere, so it doesn’t matter.

In reality, the plot centres on that pendant of his. The gimmick is lame. For one, the pendant looks too stupid for anyone to wear at all times. Second, it’s a contrived way of tying two people together because we are somehow to believe that a 10-year-old promise magically makes people compatible. It hints early on that Onodera has the key. Turns out, it may not be her but Chitoge he made the promise with (she too has a key). But wait! It may not be either of them. Yet another girl from his childhood has a key and swears they made a promise. (She is from the city’s third “gang” – the police.)

Give me a break. 

See, I can imagine that had Nisekoi been my first harem anime, I would have enjoyed it. I would have still been disappointed by the lack of direction, naturally, but I would have laughed a lot (remember, the clichés wouldn’t have been clichéd to me yet) and the visuals would have suckered me in. Now though, having been through the trenches fighting off the same old harem thots for years, my eyes glaze over. Unless you’re new to the genre, don’t bother with this one. 

Art – High

Nisekoi looks great with extensive effort gone into the cinematography, colouring, and animation. That’s how it gets you. It looks too good for a bad anime. Several girls do look too much like Monogatari characters.

Sound – Medium

I like the lead girl’s performance and the others are fine too. Music is serviceable.

Story – Low

The son of a yakuza leader must pretend to love another gang leader’s daughter – someone he hates – to keep the two groups from war, all while searching for the girl he made a promise with in childhood. Nisekoi is as generic a harem as any other that goes nowhere.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. No amount of fancy art can turn Nisekoi into a good anime.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Induces Stupidity

Battle Angel Alita – Anime Review

Japanese Title: GUNNM

 

Related: Alita: Battle Angel (live-action movie – included in review)

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Texhnolyze

Metropolis

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 2 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good art and animation.
  • Grimy cyberpunk world.

Negatives:

  • Severely clipped version of the full story.
  • Little connection with the characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Having seen the recent Hollywood release of Alita: Battle Angel in cinema and received a reader request, I thought it fitting to visit the anime version of Battle Angel Alita. This will be a combined review of sorts for the anime and movie.

Based on the nine-volume manga Gunnm from the 90s, this franchise is a classic of sci-fi. It follows Dr Ido and the cyborg Alita (or “Gally”) he reconstructed from a severed head found in the scrapyard. With no memory of her origins, Alita explores this cyberpunk city of bounty hunters and criminals as she learns to live and love.

Two episodes for nine volumes of content? It should come as no surprise to you when I say that Battle Angel Alita is an emaciated anime adaptation. Even if we ignore the manga for the moment and look at this on its own merits, there are notable issues. The story hops from key scene to key scene without the “in between” scenes where the non-crucial moments happen, yet these in betweens are often what bring a story to life and make us connect to characters.

I find this most notable in the first act, where Alita awakens with a new body and familiarises herself with the world around her. In the movie, we stay with her as she learns to control her body, wanders the city and makes friends. This is effective at endearing us to her so that when the action and suffering starts, we care about what happens to her. In the anime however, she wakes up and has no adjustment period. It skips over the first act character development. Furthermore, the movie’s take ingrains within us that she is a cyborg, whereas anime Alita just feels like a regular girl, which is rather important as a core theme is an exploration of what it means to be human.

The anime’s real focus is on the action and main events from the first half of the manga (the movie covers almost the same portion of story, though expanded upon). And when it comes to action, the anime delivers gory goodness. There are several brutal scenes.

Surprisingly, the movie doesn’t tone the violence down as much as one would imagine. Tearing the arms off a machine gets you a lower age rating than if they were flesh, so there’s plenty of brutality to go around. There is even one scene involving a severed head that is more unsettling in the movie than in the anime. I am surprised by some of the things they got away with.

The main plot events are similar across the manga, anime, and movie. The manga will of course have the most detail, but the movie isn’t short on story. It doesn’t feel like a time lapse of a longer story, unlike much of the anime.

I enjoy the story of Alita: Battle Angel. It has an endearing protagonist, some nasty villains, good exploration of theme, and a few turns I didn’t expect it to take. I greatly appreciate a story that claims it lives in a brutal world and delivers on that promise by making characters vulnerable at all times.

Something interesting I learnt after the fact was that the character of Chiren was a creation for the anime, which the movie took and expanded upon further. She is Dr Ido’s ex-wife (works as a cyberphysician like him) and a villain willing to do whatever it takes to return to the city in the sky for the elite. She is a good addition in giving more to Ido’s personal story. And she’s involved in two of the most disturbing scenes in the movie, which I won’t give away here.

A significant element of the movie and manga that is absent in the anime is the fictional sport of motorball. Imagine high-speed rollerblade racing mixed with basketball where anything goes, including shattering opponents to pieces. As long as your head survives, you can comeback back next time. Alita discovers an early passion for the sport thanks to the film’s love interest and it continues to play an important role throughout. The movie brings the visceral sport to life.

Lastly, I want to talk of the visuals. All three versions look great. Though the film version has more colour and visual variety, all versions paint a harsh world full of details. I am a huge cyberpunk fan and setting alone can often make or break my interest. The setting was the best of all elements in the movie for me. It’s rich with life and society. One gets a sense of how people would live in such a place, of how things work in this world. The bounty hunters (called “hunter-warriors”) in particular are great representations of the city with their rough personalities, rough morals, and equally rough cyborg bodies. They also generate good action in all mediums.

As for Alita herself in the movie, you will immediately notice how strange she looks with her large anime eyes. Interestingly, the director didn’t do this to make her look more anime-like. If that were the case, why was no one else given that look? It was a conscious decision to have Alita in full CG that gives an uncanny valley effect to remind the audience that she isn’t human. For myself, the eyes didn’t bother me after a while. What gets me is her smile. I don’t know why, but every time she smiles, it hits me with the uncanny valley. Whether you like the look or not, it does succeed in that regard, so don’t let it put you off watching the movie if the premise interests you.

So, to summarise: the manga is the fullest and most in depth version, while the movie is a good experience that doesn’t feel incomplete (barring the future sequel). The anime, unfortunately, is only worth watching after you have gone through one of the other versions, for it will lack any emotional weight otherwise. The anime is good supplementary material when you can fill in the gaps.

Overall Quality (for the anime) – Medium

Recommendation: Read the manga or watch the movie instead. While Battle Angel Alita is a nice looking OVA, the clipped story and lack of character moments makes it more of an ad for the manga. The live action film is also a better alternative for those who don’t want to read nine volumes.

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Street Fighter II: The Movie – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Street Fighter II Movie

 

Related: Street Fighter II V (series version)

Similar: Spriggan

Afro Samurai

s-CRY-ed

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action

Length: 1 hr. 41 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the characters from the games.

Negatives:

  • Not much to it outside a series of duels.
  • Animation stops between fights.

(Request an anime for review here.)

It’s not easy making a story based on a fighting game property. Fighting game stories have the problem where no one can win, just as one girl can’t be the “one true pairing” in a harem, otherwise you invoke the wrath of all who aren’t fans of the winner. Even when the story is a simple “heroes versus villains” affair, they can’t kill off the villains because it didn’t happen in the games. (If they ever do, they pretend it never happened in the sequel.) Really when adapting such games, they should do what League of Legends did a few years ago – retcon all lore and remove any ties between game and story beyond having characters in common.

For Street Fighter II The Movie, it’s the straightforward approach one would expect of the genre. Supervillain M. Bison has set plans in motion to crush the competition by brainwashing powerful fighters into becoming his pawns. Chun Li of Interpol heads up the counteroffensive, trying to recruit Major Guile and other fighters to her side. They are against the clock as Bison closes in on Ken and the legendary fighter Ryu.

If you haven’t guessed already, this brainwashing plot is merely a means to have Ken fight Ryu for the ultimate fan service action. I’d say it’s a spoiler, but why insult your intelligence? The whole film is fan service. This is why the fans are here.

Street Fighter II pairs up fighters with some semblance of story connection, such as Chun Li vs. Vega, as it moves from one duel to the next with a little story in between. I suspect the production team’s decision to have Ryu on a wanderer’s journey through Asia was just a means to encounter various fighters along the way. You know what? It works. At least they didn’t go for the clichéd tournament story. Though a few characters do feel shoehorned in with barely a justification, story-wise. Again, fan service.

If you want more story, you will have to see the live action Street Fighter movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and Kylie Minogue as Cammy (yes, the pop singer).

As a fan service film, you can’t stray from the source material, particularly when it comes to characters. This gets weird when seeing them in their signature costumes. I mean, why is Cammy wearing a green swimsuit that gives her a wedgie when assassinating a politician? Doesn’t make sense, but if you want to stick to the games…

There are a few things I found too dumb, even for what this anime is. For example, one fight takes place on the wings of a jet in flight with no adherence to physics. Then there’s Bison’s cyborg. It travels around the world observing fighters and scanning their power levels for his grand plan. Somehow, this obviously half-machine can walk around allied HQ without anyone noticing. In fact, nobody notices this thing anywhere.

It’s funny I should mention the live action movie earlier, since while writing this review, I realised I would rather watch that version over this animated one. Not because it’s better – the anime is leaps and bounds above – but because of how silly that movie is. I can laugh at how bad and inaccurate it is. There’s a big disconnect between a fan service movie like Street Fighter II and me. Simply, I am not a Street Fighter fan (I was into Soul Calibur). I have nothing against it, but without a connection via the games, I feel nothing for this anime unless they had gone the 10 extra miles to develop some complex story. I suspect most non-fans will feel the same.

I will give it credit: this is the best of the fighting-game-to-anime adaptations (unless there is one I haven’t head of), though it isn’t a high bar to beat. Street Fighter II knows what it is, knows what the fans want, and it focuses on this, as indicated by allocating 90% of the animation budget on the fights. And for what it wants to be, Street Fighter II The Movie is fine.

Art – Medium

The budget went into the fights, which look good, while scenes in between are static with minimal and often repeating animations. The cel drawn look adds nice grit to the action tone.

Sound – Medium

The dub is a watchable average. Good soundtrack of rock and electronic to pump up the action.

Story – Medium

A group of fighters work against a super villain’s plan for domination through mind control. It’s a straightforward story to facilitate the fan service.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Street Fighter fans only. The other potential audience outside of SF fans I can think of would be people who like to watch battle anime just for the 1-on-1 fights.

(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