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Now and Then, Here and There – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku

 

Similar: Grave of the Fireflies

Vision of Escaflowne

Future Boy Conan

Bokurano

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Drama Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Grim environments.

Negatives:

  • Little world building.
  • Doesn’t go far enough.
  • Uninspired and cheap character art.
  • Protagonist isn’t quite right.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When you set your story in a dystopian world where children kill each other, you must have your child characters kill each other. It is not enough to say that it happens in the world, yet somehow doesn’t happen around your characters. If you say the world is cruel, that is how cruel you must be as a writer. Now and Then, Here and There fails in this regard.

Our story starts in Japan with ordinary boy Shu going through an ordinary day, until he sees a blue-haired girl by the name of Lala-Ru. While defending her from attack, he is transported to another world, where water is most precious and drives war. That girl he was with, she can unleash water from her pendant and control it, making her priceless, especially to the mad king Hamdo. Shu meets another girl while imprisoned. She is Sara, who also teleported from Earth and is trapped in this desolate world. It’s not long before Shu’s captors conscript him into a child soldier army, whose primary job is pillaging villages for women to force into breeding more soldiers for Hamdo’s army.

As you can see above, Now and Then seems like a suitably grim tale, so how does it fail? Well, for a story about child soldiers, they don’t kill much.

Take a moment with me to imagine that everything in the blurb above described an adult male joining an army of adults in a world war. How much killing would you expect in such a story? Tons – you wouldn’t even have to think about it. Every WW1/2 movie on the frontlines kills people by the hundreds in a single scene. Now think of a child soldier army in WW1 – would the killing be any less? No. Of course, Now and Then’s world has a small population, but you can use relative scaling. The fundamental problem with this anime finds its roots in how lenient it is on its characters. Yes, even with one of them being raped (she has the arc that matches the premise most).

In the Warhammer 40k universe – the grimmest of all fiction universes – you don’t get stories of peace, of happy times, of paradise. “In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war,” is its tagline and therefore, paradise has no place in Warhammer 40k stories. If Now and Then’s author wasn’t willing to kill paradise and its children, he shouldn’t have written this story.

If I may divert towards Shu for a moment, I want to talk of his problems in this story. He isn’t a good fit, which is an odd thing to say, for he is by design an outsider to this foreign world. His starting point as an eternal optimist (read: every battle shounen protagonist) is fine and juxtaposes the grimness. Unfortunately, he doesn’t change with the experiences in this world, unlike Sara, the superior character. Shu’s reactions to this world are too…normal.

His obsession with Lala-Ru also makes it difficult to find emotional resonance. She has no personality. The author may as well have removed her and had just the pendant as the maguffin – wouldn’t have removed any emotion.

The war and the world suffer similar fates. Despite the widespread conflict, Hamdo’s flying fortress, and all the characters, this world doesn’t feel lived in. I can best describe it as a bunch of actor on stage with naught save a nice backdrop. You never get the sense that they are in the world of that backdrop. This all ties back to my earlier criticism of the characters. Without an emotional connection to the characters, the world, and the conflict, it all ends with a void, a void filled by niceties that shouldn’t be here.

Now and Then is halfway there. Some events are horrific and a reveal at the end of a supporting character’s arc is perfect for the genre. But where Now and Then fails, is in showing us the gravity of these moments. When a child shoots someone, it doesn’t feel like a traumatic event. When someone dies, it has the same impact as a throwaway character from the likes of Aldnoah.Zero or any ‘kids in war’ anime. And if this were pitched as a story like those action shounen, it could get away with a lower emotional ceiling. Now and Then, Here and There should be heart-wrenching.

It isn’t.

Art – Very Low

No detail to the poorly designed characters. The colouring is flat. They used the least animation they could get away with. While the backgrounds look great, everything else is cheap.

Sound – Medium

The main kid has an annoying voice in either language – trying too hard. Other voice work is fine. Watch it in Japanese.

Story – Medium

A boy finds himself transported to a world where water means everything, and beside him is a girl that can control water. Now and Then, Here and There’s dystopian tale of child soldiers and war doesn’t go far enough to earn the premise it presents.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. You have to be a fan of the genre to find your time worthwhile with Now and Then, Here and There. See Grave of the Fireflies for how far it should have gone.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World Building

Akame ga Kill – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akame ga Kill!

 

Similar: Kill la Kill

The Seven Deadly Sins

Attack on Titan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • It ends.

Negatives:

  • The characters.
  • The story.
  • The writing.
  • The art.
  • The action.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I read Akame ga Kill pitched as anime’s Game of Thrones. Either the recommender hasn’t seen Game of Thrones or hasn’t seen Akame ga Kill­. My sides will never recover.

From the first scene, Akame ga Kill is an obnoxious anime. I fail to recall a time I hated a protagonist quicker than here. A cocky hero with forced-cool dialogue? Yeah, I hope he dies. He’s so stupid that a large-breasted girl cons him for all him money on his first day in the capitol. She just about asks for it and he hands it over. He’s that stupid. Then a noble girl happens to be passing in the next scene to take him to her estate. Why make him lose all his money if it amounts to nothing? The purpose is to acquaint him with the nobles, but it’s so clumsy that they may as well have typed the script directions on screen.

We then meet the main plot. A group of assassins called Night Raid aim to kill the sinful elite of the kingdom, chief of which is the emperor and his minister for oppressing the populace. Busty Girl is a member of Night Raid, as it happens. So that’s why she was in the useless scene earlier.

Night Raid’s signature – and by extension, Akame ga Kill’s – is gratuitous violence. It’s so meaningless, so overwrought and in a story littered with unfunny humour of poor timing that it didn’t faze me in the slightest to see a noblewoman sliced in two at the waist, her hands spiralling away from her body. Akame ga Kill has so much edge that Gillette has its engineers working around the clock to unlock its secrets. I mean, each episode is titled ‘Kill something’ – ‘Kill the Darkness,’ ‘Kill the Grudge,’ ‘Kill the Audience’s Sanity and Tolerance to Atrocious Writing.’

Episode one’s key action scene has Busty Girl comment how Hero Guy is good because he’s lasted longer than usual against Emo Girl. In reality, Emo Girl mostly stood around and when she does attack, he survives through luck. Her sword that bifurcates people like butter can’t pierce a wooden statuette in his shirt pocket when convenient. Wow, so impressive, Hero Guy. They’ll fall in love over nothing, of course.

Night Raid reveals to Hero Guy that the noble girl and her family torture commoners for amusement, including his friends whose names I can’t remember. Much like the violence, there is no build up to this revelation so it leaves no impact. It does foreshadow how shallow the villains will be, however. “Are you shocked? Are you shocked yet?” The show keeps asking. Yes, I am shocked at how someone can write a story and characters this bad. I can’t believe this is making Aldnoah.Zero look like quality.

I am unsure of the target audience for this anime. It’s too violent for children, yet too immature for adults. Hell, it’s too immature for children.

By the way, I wrote this review after watching a single episode, and with the final episode complete, I have nothing to change except to say it only becomes worse. Here are a few highlights to come:

  • The strongest villain falls in love with Hero Guy for no valid reason.
  • Emo Girl and her sister want to kill each other for edginess.
  • Fights devolve into characters playing their Trump Cards – they literally call their best abilities Trump Cards (how subtle) – creating a binary flow to fights. It also makes no sense why they don’t open with their ‘I Win’ buttons.

Akame ga Kill has no redeeming quality.

Art – Very Low

While some of the backgrounds look decent, nothing can make up for poor animation, bad choreography, generic style, and dissonant character designs. The character design is so lazy that half of them dress in everyday modern clothes in a fantasy world. The creator couldn’t be bothered to design clothes.

Sound – Very Low

Every character sounds like the typecast of their archetype in an atrocious script. The music is as forgettable and generic as the art.

Story – Very Low

A group of assassins kill the corrupt elite of the kingdom one villain at a time. With some of anime’s worst characters, shoddy action, expository dialogue, and cringe-to-the-edge, Akame ga Kill will kill your brain before the end.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Akame ga Kill has likely made it into the ten worst anime I have seen, and I go out of my way to watch some bad anime for the ‘so bad it’s good’ joy. Akame ga Kill cannot even boast that quality.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityNo DevelopmentRubbish Major CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.

In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.

The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.

Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.

In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.

Art – Very High

Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.

Sound – High

The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.

Story – Medium

A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.

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

 

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Psycho-Pass 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Psycho-Pass 2

 

Related: Psycho-Pass (prequel)

Psycho-Pass Movie (sequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Action

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The villain’s lore.

Negatives:

  • The new girl.
  • So much stupid.
  • Mishandled parallels to season one.
  • Script written for robots.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t hold back my curiosity any longer; I have to know what everyone means by saying Psycho-Pass 2 is terrible when compared to season one, Psycho-Pass. How can one create a terrible product when given such a strong and established series to work from? Well, dear readers, this is how.

Psycho-Pass 2 starts not long after the last season with a new girl, Shimotsuki, joining veteran Akane on a case reminiscent of Akane’s first day in Division 1. However, this time, Akane finds a way to lower the target’s Crime Coefficient out of the “execute him now” range. Shimotsuki disagrees with Akane’s decision to give him a chance. Get used to Shimotsuki disagreeing with everything Akane does, for that’s her only purpose in Psycho-Pass 2 when she’s not being the stupidest character I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.

The villain, just like last time, has found a way to cheat the all-powerful Sybil system and keep his Crime Coefficient at “saintly” levels while killing people. Similarity is another aspect you should get used to. Psycho-Pass 2 is a near-carbon copy of Psycho-Pass. I don’t just mean that the villain’s method is the same or that themes carried over. I’m referring to scene for scene, shot for shot similarities, as if paying tribute. (Who pays tribute in a continuation of the same story? What are you? Slow?) Characters find themselves in the same situations, with the same dilemmas and decisions to tackle as before. There are too many such similarities to list. Think of it as giving two ghostwriters the same book outline to flesh out, yet one of the ghostwriters sucks.

Apart from being lazy, this “poetry” (“Again, it’s sort of like poetry; they rhyme.” – that guy who made the Star of the Rings prequels) fails because of the emotional aspects, not the technical. When a character has to make a difficult decision, the weight comes from the emotional context. If your protagonist has to choose between saving his mother or his girlfriend, it doesn’t matter if we never get the sense that he cares about either. They may as well be cannon fodder. You can transplant the same rules to psychological dilemmas. Do I sacrifice part of my soul to kill the villain? If sacrificing part of the soul won’t change anything in the character, then who cares? Psycho-Pass 2 is a context-less failure without the masterful psychology.

Worse than this problem, however, is the new character, Shimotsuki, whose role in this poetry is to replace the “by-the-book” character from season one. Where the original guy had a solid point on occasion, Shimotsuki is a threat to society with her stupidity. She’s a pretentious, one-note rookie that thinks she knows best despite being inexperienced in every department. For example, episode 4 has a hostage situation where the team knows an officer is in danger alongside civilians. So what does this rookie genius do? (Oh yeah, she’s supposed to be a genius. Bloody hell…) She does nothing – just waits for the captured officer to contact them. That’s right, an officer who’s probably on the verge of death has to lead the hostage rescue, while the equipped team outside should “just wait.” There’s stupid characters, then there’s this bimbo. And she’s surprised when the chief has another team take over the scene… You’re testing my tolerance, Psycho-Pass 2.

For a supporting character, she certainly takes plenty of space with her idiocy. Her position after the story’s main twist is idiotic. She must be mentally deficient to be the way she is in the end, as we receive the flimsiest justification for why she makes several of the stupidest decisions I have seen in anime. Not to mention, they’re inconsistent with her preachy nonsense from earlier. Psycho-Pass 2 likes to preach a lot. The original did explain character ideology to the audience more than necessary, but it succeeded most times. If you recall, the original’s first episode had a great scene that showed its themes through a rape victim wanting revenge, thus elevating her Crime Coefficient. This time, they added a scene to preach about how the Orwellian Sybil system isn’t so bad because you can still be a good person by yourself. What nonsense is this?

Psycho-Pass 2 doesn’t even feel connected to the previous season. They didn’t need to make this. They had nothing to say, nothing new to add, no extra world to develop, and none of the new characters are interesting. Kogami’s absence is noticeable. The only good I can say about this anime is that the villain’s secret is excellent, and therefore a travesty to see squandered in this piece.

Psycho-Pass 2 is the perfect example of the same idea poorly executed. Ideas are worthless without proper execution – it’s why no paid for that guy from high school with ideas he swore were better than the best filmmakers’ and game designers’ works.

After the series, I threw on the movie in hopes of something better after hearing it was made by the A team while the B team worked on Psycho-Pass 2. The movie takes us out of Japan to see how the world fared without the Sybil system. It’s okay – too black and white for my tastes. If you do want to watch it, find the dual-mix version, which takes half the audio track from the Japanese version and mixes it with half of the English, as characters speak different languages. Without the dual-mix, you have to either bear a lot of horrid Engrish in Japanese, or have confusing scenes in English as people pretend to speak different languages while speaking the same language. The dual-mix still has some Engrish, but it makes sense, for it comes from the Japanese characters. I love this dual-mix idea and hope to see more of it in future.

Art – Medium

Season 2 looks worse. It has that over-smoothed shading from cheap flash animation in many scenes, though the animation quality itself is good. The cinematography and imagery has none of the passion from before. Even the world doesn’t look as interesting despite being the same setting!

Sound – Medium

Robotic script in the face of fine acting. Music is nice.

Story – Low

A new girl joins seasoned Akane as they investigate the case of someone who can manipulate his crime coefficient to pass unseen by society’s judge. Psycho-Pass 2 copies everything from season one except for good story, good characters, logic, and world building.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For intellectual curiosity only. Psycho-Pass 2 is worse in every way. Even seen on its own, it has nothing to recommend itself. However, if you want to study a great example of the same idea executed twice to polarising results, Psycho-Pass 2 has plenty to teach.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingInduces Stupidity

Noragami – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Noragami

 

Related: Noragami Aragato (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Kamisama Kiss

Soul Eater

Bleach

Ah! My Goddess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Good fun.
  • Solid all-round.

Negatives:

  • Nothing stands out.
  • First season has little plot.
  • Lots of side tracking.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Japan’s Shinto religion, which Noragami borrows from, has hundreds of gods across all levels, from the goddess Amaterasu to your dead granny. With so many gods, some of them, surely, must be trash. Yato is one such trash god. The toilet god gets shrines, but this God of Calamity Yato doesn’t even have a birdhouse for people to pray at.

On a quest to build a shrine of his own, he takes odd jobs – bathroom cleaner, babysitting, etc. – for 5-yen payments at a time. Maybe his problem is that he’s so bad at business. Who knows…? High school girl Hiyori saves him from becoming road kill on one such odd job to find a lost cat. Alas, she takes the truck hit in his place, but instead of meeting death, it kicks her spirit from her body. While she can re-enter her body, she now periodically falls asleep and separates again to roam as a spirit with Yato.

Noragami tells us its main goal is to fix Hiyori’s predicament. However, it quickly abandons this direction to focus on Yato’s predicament as a trash god and his dark past that led him here. Before this, he needs a new spirit weapon after his previous weapon demanded release from serving such a trash god. Weapons in Noragami are born of human-like spirits, who transform into a weapon at their master’s command. Yato finds Yukine, a nubile spirit with potential that first needs human discipline. The weapons being people with emotions and a consciousness raises several interesting questions about the morality of their servitude. Either way you shake it, these spirits are slaves to the gods. One god may claim all her weapons are family, yet it doesn’t erase that their will is bound to her whims. This element, which many anime would have forgotten, is Noragami’s strongest and a thoughtful addition to character-with-monsters-for-weapons anime.

Once Yukine establishes himself as Yato’s new weapon, the plot moves onto another god and her obsession with killing Yato for a past crime. This is when the plot gets going and largely takes place in season 2. The first season is a lot of meandering and side tracking. Yukine as the focus isn’t interesting enough to warrant stalling the main plot for so long, more so because he’s the weakest of the cast. Noragami has a problem with being side tracked. If it’s not Yukine’s problem, it’s some other supporting character than needs help in a way that doesn’t influence the main plot. Season 1 comes down to a monster-of-the-week formula.

This chain of side tracking reminds of old point and click games. Alright, your goal is to open that door, so you need a key, but to get that key you need to help the hag on the hill, yet to help the hag, you must learn to cook, though cooking requires a journey to Nepal, where a monk will talk to you about the weather. Only then can you go all the way back to get the key (if you read the manga that is, for the anime doesn’t advance the first thread). Noragami’s threads at least relate to each other more than the nonsense I’ve just spouted, though their disconnected feel stems from each side quest eclipsing the main. It doesn’t feel as though Yato searches for a new weapon while helping Hiyori. Instead, one erases the other from existence until resolved, only for it to face erasure again when a new side quest pops up. This isn’t a serious issue, yet was an easy fix in the draft stage.

The saving grace among side quests is the humour. Noragami is consistently funny. Yato is a comedy machine when paired with Hiyori, whose narcolepsy jokes never get old. That said, a joke seems to act as a full stop to any serious scene, as if the writers were afraid of allowing the story to be serious for a moment.

I haven’t much to say about Noragami, for it doesn’t stand out in any aspect nor does it fail miserably in any either. My above criticisms aren’t experience-breaking issues while at the same time, the parts I like – people becoming weapons, the humour, the morality – don’t carry Noragami beyond the ‘solid’ realm. That’s it – Noragami is a solid show from characters to action. If you’re a fan of the genre and need your fix before the next greatness, Noragami will tide you over in solid fashion.

Art – High

Like the recently reviewed Hyouka, the little movements in Noragami’s animation, such as clothes shifting rather than staying stiff when walking, are a pleasant surprise. Creepy spirit designs – many eyeballs (don’t watch if eyeballs sprouting from human bodies makes you vomit).

Sound – High

Great energy in both languages – pick either – but I preferred the Japanese for having a crazier protagonist. It’s unusual to have legit English songs – it works.

Story – Medium

A low-rent god accompanied by a girl in limbo and his spirit weapon fight off spirits and gods alike, as he escapes his past to become a legitimate god. Noragami’s story is solid in most aspects, with no outstanding problems yet no strengths to stand out.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For contemporary supernatural fans. If you like the high-school-kids-do-supernatural-things-in-our-world anime type, you will enjoy Noragami. Do note that you may have to continue on to the manga for a conclusion to Hiyori’s arc (it truly hasn’t advanced in the anime), as a third season isn’t confirmed.

(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