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Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Related: Phantom The Animation (old OVA)

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Darker than Black

Jormungand

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Suitably grim atmosphere.
  • Follows through with the brutality.

Negatives:

  • What is with act 3?
  • Too much expository dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ever watch an anime that has something about it, something that makes you swear it’s great and yet, there is something equally wrong with it in every aspect that makes you swear it’s bad as well? Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is one such anime.

Let’s start with the beginning. A Japanese man wakes up one day in a dingy room with no idea of how he got there or memory of who he is. Excellent start – we are straight into a moment of high conflict that generates many questions for the audience. Unfortunately, this man has to spell out all of these questions, as if the audience is too dumb to figure out the predicament he’s in. The monologue doesn’t stop. All the scene needed was to have him look around confused, not recognising himself in the mirror, and then just as it feels this is going for too long, the masked assassin woman attacks him and we’re off into tense action.

Less is more, as always.

The man soon learns that a mafia organisation called Inferno has kidnapped him and intends to brainwash him into another killing machine, an assassin like the masked woman. This is my kind of premise. My mind conjures up scenes of psychological torture, clever manipulation, and emotional tearing as the protagonist struggles to hold onto the scraps of his identity. And Phantom does deliver that, but not without a side dish of problems each time.

The way we learn of this premise is through an excess of expository dialogue similar to the man’s monologue, a recurring problem particularly in the first act. What makes it so blatant is the simplicity of the fix. Just cut it. There doesn’t need to be anything in its place. We can see what they’re doing to him by, oddly enough, seeing what they do to him.

This isn’t an anime for toddlers. Things don’t need to be spelt out like an instruction manual. Extra subtlety of character wouldn’t hurt either. When one of the brainwashing scientists doesn’t like how his superior treats him, he says as she walks off, “Such arrogance. How much longer do you think you will be giving me such orders?” Why did the writers have so little faith in the audience to read the air?

Let’s pause the negatives for a moment and focus on positives. I love the execution of the brainwashing, of how they train some guy to kill people for a living and become the assassin “Zwei” alongside the woman “Ein” (two and one in German, respectively). They don’t strap him down and force him to watch random images with his eyes held open. Instead, they make him believe that he made the choice to kill. “If you don’t kill this bad man first, he will kill you. You don’t want that, do you now?” So of course it was his choice. Right? Coupled with how they take advantage of his weakness for Ein, his change works well.

The other major point Phantom has in its favour is the follow through on its premise. For a story about assassins in the darkest corner of society, it delivers on the brutality. No one, no matter the age or level of innocence, is off limits from sudden murder. Too often, I see stories with brutal premises yet spineless executions. There’s no point starting a story about murder and bloody violence if one is going to water it down into this puddle cranberry juice.

Phantom isn’t all violence, however – explosive gunfights aren’t common, honestly. The story moves at a good clip and changes things before matters grow stale, though this doesn’t always succeed.

The second half introduces a little girl who doesn’t fit the series. She feels token, as if Phantom would fail without a small girl, for some reason. I get that they want to create a stronger connection by introducing someone that isn’t drained emotionally, someone normal, but she goes against the tone. It isn’t a major issue though, unlike the final act.

While I won’t spoil the details of act 3, don’t read further if you do intend to try Phantom, which I recommend, as it will infer spoilers.

Still reading? Alright.

Act 3 goes off the funking rails. This grim, psychological thriller turns into a high school drama, wacky high school OP included. I have never been so confused by a time skip before. One of the weirdest things I’ve seen in anime. It feels like a prank.

Furthermore, the [Bee] train never gets back on the rails properly once it explains everything. One scene has a character running through a hail of bullets, which goes against the rules established earlier. Before, even a few bullets meant death. Now, it strays into action cliché. The most annoying part of the final act is the use of the “friend sent to execute an ally, while the ally yells the friend’s name as they’re shot” trope not once, not twice, but thrice. We see the same trope three times in short sequence! At least the main characters’ story concludes well.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is almost an anime I love. If you mention just the good parts, it’s the anime for me, but the problems are a hindrance. I’ve had my eye on it for years ever since it came in an ad flyer for a DVD I bought way back when. Though it isn’t as great as I had hoped for, it is certainly an interesting ride.

Art – Medium

Phantom has the most mature visual style of the studio Bee Train anime. The problem is that is still looks too similar to so many of these shows from the era that it can be difficult to differentiate. It could have used better cinematography to be visually stimulating – see Black Lagoon.

Sound – Medium

Japanese or English is fine – the Hollywood movie references such as “You talkin’ to me?” work better in English. I like the opening song.

Story – Medium

A man wakes up in an unknown location and without memory, unaware of what awaits him on the path to mould him into an assassin. Requiem for the Phantom has a solid layer of quality covered by another layer of mistakes holding it down. And that third act…

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. They don’t really make anime like Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom anymore. If you are into the serious, methodical action with a focus on psychology, this could be for 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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Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari

 

Related: Tenchi Muyo (main series)

Similar: Vision of Escaflowne

Vandread

Familiar of Zero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Ecchi Harem Fantasy

Length: 13 episodes (45 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • Pretty cool world design.

Negatives:

  • The perfect protagonist.
  • So much stupid.
  • Glaring audio and visual hiccups.
  • Really, really

(Request an anime for review here.)

The original, janky, and rather rubbish Tenchi Muyo was an anime I occasionally caught on TV an eon ago. I never made an effort to watch much of it, since it was a harem with awful art. A decade later, I stumbled upon a page regarding Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar, which had far superior art and positive buzz from fans. How could Tenchi Muyo have produced anything that wasn’t garbage? And so, with many more years passed since then, it’s finally time to end my curiosity and see the fuss.

This story has Kenshi, younger brother of original Tenchi Muyo’s protagonist, teleported to the fantasy world of Geminar with a mission to assassinate Princess Lashara, but he fails and becomes her slave before eventually fighting for her against his summoners.

War on Geminar makes a good first impression with its visual production. While not unusual by today’s standards, it was rare for what is evidently an otaku-only anime to have an animation budget – sliding stills and big boobs were the expectation. The world design also has creativity. The reptilian mech designs look good, animated fluidly in duels, and I love the idea of an airship being a landmass with a palace and forest on top. Sure, the first episode has harem markers and some fan service barf, but my impression is positive. This is nothing like the Tenchi Muyo I remember. What is this grand magi-tech fantasy kingdom?

However, once the story settles in and starts churning through daily life in Geminar, everything turns to crap. We meet all the girls of his harem, covering every harem archetype to draw in the maximum otaku audience (see cover image of this review up top for the full selection). Whatever one’s preference, War on Geminar has the girl for you. Of course, none of them has an iota of depth, their sole purpose in the anime being to fulfil the obligations of their archetype. It’s stupid interaction after moronic interaction with Kenshi. They almost have depth, right up until the harem tropes undermine their arc to keep them in the pit of trash.

Where it becomes truly atrocious though, is with Kenshi. Allow me to introduce you to the most Mary Sue character in anime. You think you know, but you don’t.

Lashara puts Kenshi to work in the high-class girls’ school as handyman, a Jack-of-All-Trades; except, the writer forgot the “master of none” part of the Jack-of-All-Trades. Kenshi is perfect at everything on his first day. Housekeeping, brick laying, shoemaking, construction work, five-star cooking, delivery, climbing, running, sword fighting – you name it, Kenshi is the best at it first try. Every girl in school is after him, but because he’s so fast and never tires, they all drop of exhaustion. His massage skills are so great that a single grope from him will leave any girl in a permanent state of crippling arousal, for some reason. Then every girl wants him to wash her back during bath time.

Wait, wasn’t this some fantasy anime with mechs? Yep, that’s what it claims.

War on Geminar has an identity problem. It can’t decide if it wants to be a fantasy war series or a high school harem. Once you strip away all art (which has weakened after a few episodes) and all the flash, this is just another bad harem. The highest budget harem you should perhaps watch for its terribleness, certainly, but still a bad harem like any other at its core.

Art – Medium

War on Geminar appears to have great art at first glance. From characters to world design, this looks far better than the original Tenchi Muyo. I like the mech designs and flying palace. There is good animation during duels, but has so much awful outside that – static shots, repeating animations that linger, and some horrible shots. One instance has smoke billowing out of a building, and when the building tips over, so does the smoke pillar. Yes, the smoke in the air “tips” over.

Sound – Very Low

The writing turns you into an idiot. The princess who speaks in third person is especially dumb. Full of kewl quips and one-liners. Even the sound design is poor, which is rare – I mean rare. For example, the guy running on grass makes the sound of heels on tiles. Why?

Story – Very Low

A boy mysteriously teleported to another world joins a cast of girls to defend the empire. This is the highest budget harem garbage ever made, Mary Sue protagonist included.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it or a must watch for garbage. Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar’s production values make it easier to watch that other “so bad it’s good” titles, so if you want some absolute trash, then have fun with this one.

(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:

Awful DialogueInduces StupidityMary SueRubbish Major Characters

Back Street Girls: Gokudolls – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Back Street Girls – Gokudolls

 

Similar: Detroit Metal City

Aggretsuko

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Ecchi Comedy

Length: 10 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Occasionally funny.

Negatives:

  • Comedy drags.
  • Too many extra skits.
  • So disappointing.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The idea of three yakuza men forced to have sex reassignment surgery to become pop idols after messing up an important job should be hilarious. I am crushed – utterly crushed, I tell you, that Back Street Girls: Gokudolls is a failure. Such a dumb premise had me laughing at the mere thought, but the final product isn’t anywhere near as funny as the premise lead me to imagine.

Skits that drag the jokes for too long and an excessive number of outright unfunny scenes (some unrelated to the idols) made just 10 episodes a chore to complete. Even with each episode split into several mini episodes for separate skits it felt too long.

Watch one minute of Back Street Girls and it will remind you of the great Detroit Metal City. So how is it that with such similar styles and humour, Detroit succeeded where Back Street Girls failed? The key, as ever with comedy, is in the timing. Detroit kept it sharp with ~10-minute episodes (excluding OP and ED). Everyone has experienced the difference when hearing two people tell the same joke – one person knows the flow, where to put emphasis, when to pause for effect and the other person doesn’t. Great comedians are also great storytellers.

Back Street Girls, ideally, should have had the order from up high to cut half the material, keeping only the best skits and trimming them down to bullets of comedy. Some skits barely relate to the idol “girls”, leaving me wondering why they are in the anime.

The best material relates to the yakuza boss dealing with the idols. He realised how much money idols make and wanted that for his gang, but no idol would willing join the yakuza, so he put his wimps to use. See, this boss is an idol fanatic that knows every minute detail of the idol lifestyle. Idols are in bed by 9 p.m. Idols don’t play mahjong (it isn’t cute). Idols don’t drink alcohol or even water – only cute drinks like juice allowed!

While these skits had me laughing, they aren’t enough to carry the series. It is also difficult to watch the screen when the art is so poor. The art style, which is similar to Detroit, is suitable in that intentionally ugly way. However, the lack of animation and overuse of shaky cam with action lines grows old fast. It’s one of those anime where it being specifically an anime doesn’t seem to matter.

I was adamant on watching and reviewing Back Street Girls based on the premise alone. What a disappointment. Absolutely crushed. If I were a drinker, I would be drinking my sorrows away like these lads.

Art – Low

Back Street Girls relies on texture and expressive stills instead of animation. The most animation is in the lip flaps, which is motionless at times. If a character needs to move, it jumps to the end frame. (e.g. When someone stands up, they will be sitting one shot and then be standing the next.)

Sound – Medium

The best audio is the early 2000s style idol J-pop opening. The overacting and screaming matches the series tone, though lives and dies on the quality of the skit.

Story – Low

Three yakuza men become teen girl J-pop stars as repentance to their boss. The occasional funny skit isn’t what this wonderfully silly premise deserved.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. At most, I would recommend watching a few of the best skits on YouTube or somewhere if available. Back Street Girls: Gokudolls isn’t worth more.

(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:

Disappointing

Ghost Hunt – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost Hunt

 

Similar: Psychic Detective Yakumo

Ghost Stories

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Horror Mystery

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good fun.
  • Everyone is a fraud.
  • Isn’t predictable.
  • The Australian accent.

Negatives:

  • The Australian accent.
  • Low production values.
  • Not scary at all.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ghost Hunt looks like arse, the performances are half-arsed, and these ghost hunters couldn’t tell the difference between a gust of wind and their arses. And that’s what makes this anime fun.

For reasons that could never see justification, Mai is forced to work as the assistant to 17-year-old Kazuya, sceptical ghost hunter of the Shibuya Psychic Research Company. Their slave-master relationship begins at her school with the case of the abandoned school building, but soon goes on tour to other haunted locations in Japan. They are joined – rather coincidentally – at each site by a rock star Buddhist monk, vain Shinto priestess, TV spirit medium, and (my favourite) an Australian Catholic priest.

The poor visuals and near absence of animation turned me off the series until the full cast of characters assembled at school. Unable to handle the bad PR of having a haunted building on campus, the principal hired someone from every religion he could think of to assist Kazuya. They are great together. I love that they each think everyone else is a fraud. It brings a good level of humour to the story, especially coupled with the inspiration taken from those fake American ghost-hunting series. A chair falls over and everyone freaks out!

However, nothing is funnier than the Catholic priest in the English dub. His accent is so bad that it transcends hilarity, so much so that I recommend watching Ghost Hunt in English. I couldn’t stop laughing every time he spoke.

The other strength of Ghost Hunt is in how they handle the mysteries. Each case takes three to four episodes, building layers to the backstory and throwing twists at the investigators. It isn’t as predictable as I anticipated. I like how Kazuya is a sceptic who doesn’t jump straight to the supernatural answer, instead checking if there is an earthly explanation for the weird occurrences first. Just when you’re sure it’s a phantom, he unveils a logical explanation or vice-versa. Furthermore, these aren’t generic urban myths you see in every horror series. The mysteries are good enough to keep you on the hook, wanting to know what happened, and the group dynamic among these hack frauds maintains decent tension and humour.

In an effort to dispel any notions that Ghost Hunt is a great series after all that praise, let us go through the problems. First, Mai isn’t a useful character. She is your typical audience stand-in – an ordinary person thrust into a paranormal world surrounded by experts (“experts”) that do all the work. Second, there is no need to waste time reintroducing the other exorcists each new case. And third, Ghost Hunt isn’t scary. At all. It could have made more effort with the horror side of being a comedy horror series.

I went in with zero expectations, which dropped further upon seeing the art and hearing the performances, but I came to embrace the goof once the cast gathered and the mysteries developed.

Art – Low

There isn’t much animation (no high detail to compensate either) and the shattering glass is so obviously CG. What else do you need to know?

Sound – Low

You have to watch this in English for the Australian accent. He does have oddities in his Japanese dialect as well, but you won’t notice them if you don’t understand Japanese. The spooky OP is effective, though I wonder if the lack of lyrics was a budget constraint (made the best of what they had, regardless).

Story – Medium

A high school girl becomes assistant to a ghost hunter to pay off a debt. With some possibly unintentional comedy and unpredictable mysteries, Ghost Hunt has enough to be good fun for cheesy horror fans.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Ghost Hunt’s slim budget and cut corners only add to the fun. This is a horror series for those who prefer mystery over gore (see Another for the gore).

(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

Steins;Gate 0 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Steins;Gate 0

 

Related: Steins;Gate (prequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Length: 23 episodes

 

Positives:

  • You don’t have to watch this.

Negatives:

  • Unrecognisable characters.
  • Pointless.
  • Padded through obfuscation.
  • Fan fiction.
  • Bad plotting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Note: Implied spoilers for the original Steins;Gate ahead.

The best thing I can say about Steins;Gate 0 is that you don’t have to watch this anime. It’s pointless. It presents the “what if” scenario of Okabe failing to save Christina, his love, at the end of the original Steins;Gate. This isn’t a bad idea, by any means, to give us the “bad ending” and show how the hero would cope with loss and failure. What if Superman failed to save the day? What if the murderer was cleared of all charges and got away? These are interesting scenarios. Steins;Gate 0 couldn’t have executed this any worse than it did.

Okabe’s experiences of seeing a loved one die repeatedly across many timelines has left him drained, a far cry from the cheerful mad scientist we knew from the previous series. This presents an immediate challenge, though not necessarily a problem if compensated right. Okabe’s larger than life personality and lovable insanity is one of the driving forces in Steins;Gate, and to remove this elements means leaving a void. A writer can alleviate this by either bringing a similar replacement character (not the best solution, as it often feels copycat-ish) or by ramping up the dramatic tension. We would miss Mr Mad Scientist, yes, but the story would grip us while his sombre changes make sense. Steins;Gate 0 does neither.

There is no replacement for Okabe’s presence and the tension has never been flatter in this franchise. The first two acts have so little going on that it makes the creatively bankrupt nature of this anime too obvious to ignore.

Without Okabe driving the plot, as he did in the original with his time travel research, Steins;Gate 0’s hook is the introduction of an AI so advanced that it can replicate the human brain. In this case, Christina’s former research colleagues managed to copy her brain to a machine and it is up to Okabe to test the veracity of her humanity. She appears as a digital avatar of herself on a smartphone. (Imagine the movie Her but without the creativity, good writing, and satisfaction). This gimmick doesn’t amount to much in the end nor does the series explore a tenth of its potential – ramifications of such technology, possibility of hacking the AI, it going beyond the programming, emotion, and so on. It’s just an excuse to have Christina in the story while also keeping her dead. Furthermore, she isn’t half the great character we remember.

This leads to the next problem – characters. The characters here are garbage. If you have just finished Steins;Gate, it can be difficult to comprehend how such a great cast of characters could become so pathetic in the next series. Let me summarise it simply: If the characters didn’t still have their signature quirks such as Mayuri’s “Tuturuuuu”, Faris’s catgirl cosplay and meows, Daru’s net-speak, and the like, one wouldn’t recognise these people by personality.

They feel like fan fiction versions of their former selves, written by a fan that didn’t quite grasp what made these characters them. The surface is there, but none of the soul. (Let’s not even get into the useless Christina-looking clone character they added to no purpose.)

In fact, this entire series feels like fan fiction, which is even more baffling when I saw that it came from the same creator. Gone is the intricate plotting. Gone is the tension. Gone is the dialogue. Gone is Steins;Gate.

The core problem goes back to Okabe. The story lacks a driving force, resulting in much standing around and talking about the story rather than acting through it. Characters withhold information from others for inexplicable reasons, purely as a means to stretch out the plot. And the red herrings are some of the worst misdirection anyone could dream of. The new villain is so nonsensical that I could spoil it and be doing you a favour. Had the characters received the same respect here as they had in Steins;Gate, this would be over in five episodes. Most characters have no place anywhere in the series, crammed into scenes for fan service. Even characters with a point are forced into scenes where they don’t belong just to maximise exposure (read: “Buy the merchandise for all these characters”). I laughed when several of the most innocuous characters are transformed into killer soldiers just to include them more. We can’t forget the fan service!

Fan service made sense in the original. It was always a little out there, but it fit the otaku-centric culture and didn’t undermine the tone outside the rare occasion. Here, it couldn’t be clearer that the team cared about fan service first with oh so “hilarious” sexual mishaps and otaku mannerisms that sap all drama from the air at the worst times.

Look no further than breasts for answers. Compared to the original, every female character has jumped up a dozen bust sizes to defy gravity and maximise profits on erotic merchandise.

If you look at this anime on its own, which you can, it’s below average and boring. Add in the pedigree of Steins;Gate and you have yourself one of the worst franchise continuations in anime history. Steins;Gate 0 reminds me of the Terminator movie franchise in how pointless the releases have become. At least Terminator took until the third film to run out of creativity.

I didn’t even cover a fraction of the details wrong with Steins;Gate 0 – we’d be here all night otherwise. This isn’t the worst anime ever made, but boy do I hate it.

Art – Medium

The women have become more homogenised and the new characters are uninspired. The cinematography, though still decent, is down on the original.

Sound – Low

Mind-meltingly dull script lacking in personality and the actors don’t have the room to flex as they used to. The music is forgettable, unexpectedly.

Story – Low

Steins;Gate 0 is the “what if” scenario had the hero failed to save his lover. This pointless continuation of the franchise is fan faction with a big budget.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Steins;Gate 0 should have stayed lost in time.

(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:

DisappointingIncoherentPoor PacingUseless Side Cast