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Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher

 

Related: Marvel Future Avengers

Similar: Iron Man

Canaan

Spriggan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 22 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Animated well.

Negatives:

  • Action is repetitive.
  • No mystery or suspense.
  • Generic scientist villain.
  • Royalty-free rock music?

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I just watched this out of curiosity to see what they would do with a Marvel anime film instead of a series. I shouldn’t have bothered.

After the Punisher disrupts a secret S.H.I.E.L.D mission, the agency forces him to team up with Black Widow to fight Leviathan, a terrorist organisation selling stolen S.H.I.E.L.D tech. The vigilante and hero will have to put their differences aside to save the world.

Action, action, and more action constitute Avengers Confidential’s runtime. There’s a fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against some thugs, another fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against the generic weapons scientist enemy, and, of course, yet more combat between the two leads. Honestly, these two fight each other more than they do enemies.

The action is so repetitive as well. How many times do they hit fist to fist? It must be at least once per fight. Avengers Confidential has no mystery or suspense to keep you watching. It has as much content as an episode from the Marvel series anime. There is no substance here, no character and little story to speak of. I wonder how this anime would look from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about these characters. Would such an audience have any sense for whom these characters are and for what they are meant to stand?

There’s nothing more to say other than don’t waste your time as I did with this incredibly boring film. It’s made to look even worse should you come at it from Marvel’s Hollywood movies.

And with that, I am done with Marvel’s foray into anime, unless they try again with something better at a later date. Overall, I am not impressed with these Marvel anime. X-Men had good qualities, but the rest…I doubt people will even remember which characters received adaptations in a few years.

Art – Medium

Avengers Confidential is well animated, though the anatomy looks off at times, particularly faces, as if two studios worked on separate scenes independently.

Sound – Low

The acting is decent with little to say while the music sounds like royalty-free rock.

Story – Low

The Punisher and Black Widow team up to defeat Leviathan, a terrorist organisation looking to sell S.H.I.E.L.D technology to super villains. You need more than straightforward action to have a good story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Watch any Avengers animated series instead, or you have a hundred more engaging action anime than Avenger Confidential.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

RepetitiveShallow

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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

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (original series)

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin

Code Geass

Rose of Versailles

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the original’s ideas.
  • Beautiful.
  • Great music.

Negatives:

  • Too condensed.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I didn’t expect this. In this season of revivals and forgotten sequels, I didn’t expect Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These to be one of the better titles. I am amazed this reboot didn’t try to cram 110 episodes into 12. No lies, my expectations were barely above the quality of The Last Airbender movie. Imagine my surprise when Die Neue These (German: The New Thesis) got me with that grand opening, a fleet of ships soaring to the heavens as a spine-tingling aria lifts hope itself.

Even after that good impression, my expectations remained tepid. It looked and sounded good, but story and character matter above all else to me – and when it involves some of my favourite characters in the best story anime has created, no amount of visual flair and evocative music can distract me from what matters.

Like the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the story is about a clash of ideologies. Democracy stands on one side – chaotic, corrupt, and idealistic, but free and with great potential. On the other side stands an absolute monarchy, where the people’s quality of life is dependent on the decisions of a single person – prosperity one generation doesn’t prevent utter despair the next. We follow Reinhard, a young commander in the Galactic Empire’s fleet on a steep upward trajectory to greatness, and the thorn in his side, Yang Wen Li, master tactician of the Free Planets Alliance.

One fascinating thing about seeing the same story – any good story – adapted multiple times, is in how it demonstrates that idea and premise alone aren’t enough, that execution matters most. Pride & Prejudice is my favourite classic story, with numerous adaptions over decades of cinema. Despite my love of the story, most of these adaptations aren’t good. Not because they aren’t faithful, but because they aren’t engaging. Give 10 directors the same book to adapt and you will likely see 10 different stories of varying quality.

In the case of Die Neue These, it does a good job of creating an engaging story with interesting characters and tense action. The execution is solid, in essence. However, this anime is in a precarious situation, for it is reinventing one of the giants. Comparisons to the original are inevitable, just as everyone will compare any version of Pride & Prejudice to the BBC’s 1995 miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

Die Neue These does have the advantage of releasing two decades after the original’s conclusion. This is long enough for it to have a potential new audience, particularly one that has no interest (at their own loss) of visiting such an old anime. Legend of the Galactic Heroes looks old to the new anime generation. Die Neue These took the idea of the original and brought it forward with all new bodywork and shiny paint, slick against the wind.

Storywise, the largest change is a streamlining of the dialogue-heavy scenes of old and the significant increase in action shots (I suspect the original would have had more action had they the budget for animation). When I talked of execution earlier, the dialogue was one of the original’s key elements to success, so to have it lessened should spell doom for the series.

It doesn’t.

At its core, this is the same story full of scheming, smart strategy, questionable decisions, grey characters, and losses on both sides. Yang is still Yang and Reinhard is still Reinhard. Sure, it’s not as good – not even in the same planetary system – yet it isn’t a disaster. Able to let go of comparisons to the original, I enjoyed this. Honestly, I think the fact that it wasn’t terrible allowed me to relax and go along for the ride. I looked forward to my nightly episode.

Die Neue These does have its share of problems, even on its own merits. The most glaring issue is the speed at which some scenarios resolve. I’m not talking of how the original took its time to go in depth with every character and every thread of its complex political web, while the new trims that down to focus only on major characters. No – you get the sense that an extra episode on a conflict here or there could have fleshed out the strategies and politics employed. And it’s not as though they were rushing to hit a perfect story beat for episode 12, the season finale. Episode 12 doesn’t feel like a point where one would think to leave the audience wanting more. A “down swing” episode is an odd choice on which to end.

I won’t pretend that I love Die Neue These. Most of the great experiences I had towards this series were reminders of watching the original for the first time. I cannot erase the original in my mind.

But this isn’t an anime for fans of the old series, like me. Do you know what people like me do when we want Legend of the Galactic Heroes? We go to the original. I’ve said it many times before: there’s no point in doing the exact same thing again. Look at Psycho’s remake. Take a risk. It probably won’t be as good, but who knows, it may provide something different and interesting. An adaptation doesn’t affect the original either.

I need more seasons (story’s barely started at 12 episodes) before I can give final judgement on Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These. I’ve enjoyed it so far. Pleasantly surprised.

Art – High

Die Neue These can do the one thing the original could not – animate everything. As such, we have a lot more action scenes this time. They look good, the spaceships’ CG blends in almost all the time, and the scenes fit the younger, higher energy of this series. I still prefer the refined character designs and classic look of the original, though I have little problem with the art direction here.

Sound – High

With many of the original actors no longer with us or retired, the team decided to go with a completely new cast. I am too used to the originals to prefer the new, but they do a good job. Different this time around is the inclusion of a dub (the original never crossed the ocean). I could get used to a dub easier than I could a changed Japanese cast, as it would be a new experience. However, I can’t say I agree with several of the casting choices. Reinhard in particular doesn’t sound right in English without that calm commanding presence befitting his character. I suppose that if the dub is your first viewing it may be fine. Love the music!

Story – High

An alliance of free planets battles to hold onto their freedom against the Galactic Empire as ideologies clash and heroes rise. This streamlined adaptation of a classic has nothing on the original, but seen on its own targeted at a new generation makes for a solid anime.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: If you don’t find the original series engaging because of its dialogue-heavy nature and old visuals, then I do recommend Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These. You’ll be missing several key qualities, but you won’t know what they are, so no harm there.

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

Positive:

Great MusicStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Persona 3 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: PERSONA 3 THE MOVIES

 

Related: Persona 3 the Movie #1: Spring of Rebirth (included in review)

Persona 3 the Movie #2: Midsummer Knight’s Dream (included in review)

Persona 3 the Movie #3: Falling Down (included in review)

Similar: Persona 4 the Animation

Noragami

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Fantasy

Length: ~1 hr. 30 min. each movie

 

Positives:

  • Looks and sounds like the game.

Negatives:

  • Lacks the relationship development.
  • Boring protagonist.
  • Not enough story.
  • No tough decision made.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Persona may be the best Japanese role-playing game series, known for great stories, tough gameplay, and complex character arcs. It is also known for its several anime adaptations, none of which have a good reputation. With Person 3 going to movies rather than a series and released after Persona 4 the Animation, I had hopes for a better adaptation with lessons learned from its predecessors. I should have thought better.

A 25th hour exists after the stroke of midnight, the Dark Hour, which none but a select few are aware of. The Dark Hour is the time of Shadows, monsters that feed on the human mind and spread apathy in society. New kid Yuuki finds himself dragged into the conflict by the SEES organisation, a group of Persona summoners that fight Shadows in Tartarus, the giant tower visible during the 25th hour. Yuuki’s unique ability to summon multiple Persona will prove invaluable.

This is a great setup for a story. It has everything a young adult audience could want – unique individuals, supernatural powers, a secret society, double lives with school, and a dash of edge (they summon Persona by shooting themselves in the head with magic guns). It’s part of why the game is so beloved. However, going from game to anime, you have to remove the key element of gameplay, which is easier said than done. This does give opportunity to touch up any story issues caused by gameplay interruptions, as the game has to put gameplay above all else. In the case of Person 3 the game, it suffers from pacing issues between key plot points while you climb the levels of Tartarus. The anime doesn’t need to show the several hundred battles it takes to reach the top.

Flipside, the anime does have to make difficult decisions about the protagonist and his potential relationships. In the game, you choose his name (or hers if you play the PSP edition), his dialogue, and whom to date. What is the anime to do? Should it pick one girl and make that the official pairing, igniting a waifu war for the decade? A harem, on the other end, won’t fit the tone. Person 3 the anime went with no relationships, abstaining from any difficult decisions. The protagonist has no personality and the relationships are surface deep.

I don’t understand why they made Yuuki this way. They could have easily given him a personality that didn’t contradict the dialogue choices from the game. Even if there were a contradiction, it would be better than this soggy toilet paper of a protagonist. If you’re going to be so limp with the adaptation, why bother at all?

The relationships are a similar case. Alright, you can’t make the game relationships work without the multiple choices, so what do you have in its place? Nothing? Perfect… With a blank protagonist, what character development opportunities did they expect to find? If Person 3 the game were a favourite of mine, I would be disgusted.

These movies don’t work even when seen with uninitiated eyes. For one, the opening scene with Yuuki entering the Dark Hour and signing the contract with Igor is nonsense without context from the game. The story doesn’t establish his life or set the scene for even a moment first. This scene should have come after his first day of school, at the earliest. The action is good, yet even this grows dull without characters to care about to the end.

The dark tone and grim style are the best features of these movies, which is a pleasure to see translated from old PS2/PSP graphics. Outside of that, everything is either mediocre or worse. These Person 3 movies do not deserve your attention.

Art – High

These movies look great, matching the game’s style, but they aren’t “movie” quality. Instead, it’s a good-looking series stitched together into movies.

Sound – Medium

The soundtrack comes from the game, which is neat. The acting is average – no surprise when most character-building dialogue isn’t present.

Story – Low

Teenagers hunt Shadow creatures using summons during a hidden 25th hour of the day. The Person 3 movies made no tough decision and ended with an anime that has the style of the game, but none of the character.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. This limp adaptation of Person 3 isn’t worth your 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:

DisappointingShallow