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Ex-Arm – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ex-Arm

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Akira

Guilty Crown

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Negatives:

  • Ugliest anime ever?
  • Incompetent script
  • The directing is terrible
  • Doesn’t even know how to use CG properly

(Request an anime for review here.)

And so we come to the 30th review of the past 30 (+2) days. I saved the best for last. Ex-Arm is a thing of beauty, an art piece of wonder so spectacular it defies reality. Physics hold no power over Ex-Arm.

CG anime is often terrible with bad writing to match. However, the recent triumph of Beastars and Dorohedoro seemed to turn a real corner for CG in this medium. Then comes Ex-Arm to set the industry back three decades. The story behind this disaster is even worse than the resulting product itself. I don’t know where to begin with this. There are so many things wrong with the art alone that I want to say them all at once. I can’t decide which is the worst!

What about the opening scene? It actually starts with 2D animation – well, I say animation, but can you call two frames flitting back and forth as characters drag across the screen “animation”? Then they have a shot of a character surrounded by lightning as the world tears apart. The still image below is almost as animated as the video. Only the lightning moves as this guy holds the sort of pose some weeaboo would post a photo of themselves imitating on Twitter with the caption, “Cross me and the devil comes out to play,” serious about it. They are so proud of this shot. Expect to see it several dozen times across the 12 episodes. Snap cut to the opening sequence.

Now, anime openings are known for being of high quality, sometimes even deceptive of the anime’s actual quality. I think Ex-Arm’s OP may be worse than the series. The highlights are character profile shots of the typical OP, but they have no animation. A rotating 3D model of the characters shows up instead. Boy, are they proud of those models. They want you to see them in all their glory to get you excited for what is to come. That’s what an OP is for, right? We also bear witness to the fire effects, which look pasted in by a fan edit.

Once the OP ends, we establish the setting at a Japanese high school and at this point, I think they must be trolling us. They do something I never thought someone would even consider. I want you to imagine what a camera zoom looks like. The camera starts at a distance and zooms in on the subject, bringing the detail closer to the eye. Sounds accurate. What it doesn’t do is blow up the image. Ex-Arm though, in its avant-garde genius, does blow up the image as if zooming in Photoshop, to the point where you can see the pixilation. Funniest moment of the entire series! Don’t believe me? Look at the image below and keep in mind it is full HD 1080p.

The comedy doesn’t end there. Classroom interior, protagonist sitting bored at his desk in glorious CG. Enter two classmates – in 2D! I couldn’t stop laughing. Ex-Arm can’t even remain visually consistent. This isn’t the only instance either. Flat characters pop up at random throughout the series and the protagonist’s brother is 2D as well, for some reason that I’m sure is beyond the understanding of my puny brain. (The classmates stop animating halfway in the scene, by the way.)

We’re less than three minutes in and every artistic decision is the wrong one. Soon after, the first action scene enters the fray and removes any hope of value in Ex-Arm. When the police android kicks a guy in the head, it has the impact of a pillow fight. There is no recoil, no weight, no mass to anything, most noticeably in action scenes, and the woman doesn’t move that fast (I’m sure she’s meant to), yet dodges a thousand bullets out in the open. The director claims they used motion capture for Ex-Arm, but I don’t believe it. No way. This cannot be motion-captured animation. Perhaps it was, before the incompetent animators “improved” it in post.

Imagine being the poor bastard who wrote the source material seeing this result. Only something like Redo of Healer would be improved by such visuals.

Who made this atrocity, you might be wondering. This Crunchyroll original comes from new studio Visual Flight, made up of what seems like a team with little animation experience. Most come from the live action space. The director, Yoshikatsu Kimura, equated the logic that because live action is done in the real world – a 3D space – he is fit for a 3D anime. Furthermore, he brought on his usual crew from live action work, not experienced anime workers. I promise you they have never heard of animation ramping. Yes, the production committee is responsible for hiring him, but this clown made every wrong decision from start to finish. Can you believe this anime’s trailer has the line, “Declaring war against all SF (science fiction) series around the world!”?

You’d think that with a live action director, it would at least have good cinematography and directing. Perhaps it looks terrible in CG, but you can imagine how it would have looked great if done in live action. Nope, it would still be miserable. Interviews with him tell all you need to know about how doomed Ex-Arm was before it started.

They couldn’t even get the key visuals right. Look at this crap below, also used as the static ED:

I haven’t even covered the story yet. It follows high school student Akira, who meets with Truck-kun one day and wakes up years later as a brain inside an electronic briefcase. Inhabiting an android proxy, he fights against terrorists alongside a special police force.

The story sucks. It’s not as bad as the visuals, though it doesn’t elevate the piece an iota. The script is the worst aspect in terms of story, riddled with cliché – particularly of the fan service variety – and like the animation, has no weight. Just vapid. There are much worse anime stories out there, yet it has no positives. On an audio front, some of these voice actors are far too good for this, while others, such as the villains, deliver bad performances though it may not be their fault on such a project. Wait until you see the accompanying mouth animations.

I am baffled at Ex-Arm’s existence. Self-awareness seemed to have flown out the window in the making of this disaster.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Must be seen to be believed. Ex-Arm’s handling of CG is so incompetent that words cannot do it justice.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHorrendous ActionRubbish Major CharactersUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

Xam’d: Lost Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bounen no Xamdou

 

Similar: Toward the Terra

RahXephon

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Last Exile

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great art and animation
  • Starts strong

Negatives:

  • Characters lack personality
  • Needs more drama
  • No intrigue in the story
  • Convoluted world building

(Request an anime for review here.)

Xam’d: Lost Memories exists for an odd reason. It was created by studio Bones and Sony for the PlayStation Network’s video download service (this was before streaming made consumption easier). As it often is with “showcase” titles, whether film or games, the visuals matter more than all else. When showing off your new service or product, you need material to catch the eye. After all, the audience won’t get to play or sit down with your content just yet (some media may get a demo, yes). It’s why console manufacturers bring out games with the best graphics for new hardware announcements. They throw in a couple of indies to appease the hardcore crowd, but the AAA games wow the masses. Xam’d, for its time, was an anime equivalent.

It triumphs in the art department with its colourful palette and fluid animation to bring its unique designs to life. This was an art showcase first, a story second. Unfortunately, and not unlike many of those AAA showcase games, there isn’t that much once you see past the visuals.

The story follows Akiyuki, a boy living on an island away from the great war raging between continents in the outside world. The peace of his life shatters when a suicide bomber detonates in his school bus. All that saves him is a mysterious injection of power from a girl. It comes at a price and transforms him into a monster.

This is a great hook – certainly grabbed me – and the monster mutation is grotesque in a non-horror sort of way. Very bubbly and deformed. The mutation makes him arm look like Popeye’s when dormant. He should get that checked out. Could burst any day now. The fantasy is bioscience meets tech infused monsters, morphing drastically into odd designs. It’s a bit Final Fantasy.

Akiyuki soon joins an airship crew, they travel around the world, inevitably getting involved in the war and other conflicts as they try to solve the power that threatens to turn him to stone. Another good element. I love stories with what I like to call the “travelling home base,” where a crew aboard some sort of vessel – boat, spaceship, walking castle – face various dangers outside as they travel, yet can always return to the safety of the home base, though occasionally the dangers breach inside. I particularly like it when the home base creates some semblance of normal life for the crew. The Star Trek franchise is brilliant at this.

Right, so we have a great hook and an ongoing element I love. What could go wrong? Nothing really goes wrong because nothing really happens. Xam’d meanders a lot and doesn’t give much plot. What it does give is also too convoluted for its own good, even in the lore and world building. Something as simple as the cause of the war is obfuscated for no reason. It reminds me of Final Fantasy XIII’s insane story. I would never dare suggest Xam’d is as convoluted – nothing is as convoluted as Final Fantasy XIII (heavens that story sucked). It isn’t good when something reminds me of it though. Too much time goes to side stories that don’t matter; you could cut them outright. Everything from the characters to the story and to the world needed more refinement, slimming down to focus on the core elements that could make Xam’d great.

You already have the visuals and good audio, but the rest is average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For visual fans only. Sure, Xam’d: Lost Memories isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have any feature to recommend itself above others except for nice visuals.

(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 Animation

Negative: None

Golgo 13 – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Golgo 13

 

Related: Golgo 13 (anime adaptation)

 

Genre: Historical Action Drama

Length: 200 volumes (so far)

 

Positives:

  • Each “episode” is an engaging spy thriller
  • Good use of historical events and conspiracies
  • Each story takes you to a new country with new characters, keeping it fresh

Negatives:

  • Earlier art doesn’t hold up
  • Lack of complete translation

Golgo 13 is the second bestselling manga series of all time (behind One Piece) and the longest running manga still in publication at 200 volumes so far. I didn’t know this when I started. Never even heard of Golgo 13. I thought I was doing quite well at 13 volumes ahead of this review. Turns out Golgo 13 is a big deal! It took COVID-19 to pause this series for a few months after 52 years of constant releases.

This veteran manga is about the titular Golgo 13, a professional assassin for hire, willing to take on any job as long at the pay is right and the deal is straight. Try to cross him or double deal and he will kill you. If the shot is possible, even by the slimmest chance, he will make the kill.

Golgo is a James Bond type with little known about his origins – what we do know could just as well be false. He’s a man of few words who keeps to himself except when there’s a job to do or a beautiful lady in his path. It’s speculated Golgo may have dozens of children around the world due to his amazing penis (their words, not mine). He harkens to an older era of spy thriller, where plot continuity and character depth weren’t expected. Each volume is a couple of standalone stories, like hour-long episodes of a TV show, often drawing on real historical events but changing them into a “what really happened” conspiracy plot. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and Princess Diana’s death are but a few of the historical events that intersect with Golgo’s job.

I prefer this structure for this sort of protagonist, just like the James Bond novels. Had it been one long story, I would have grown bored around eight volumes in, as this character type doesn’t work for a continuous story, where you want to know and see him evolve over arcs. That doesn’t work here. Instead, each “episode” is an engaging spy thriller. I read one episode per sitting.

Included at the end of each volume are intel files profiling Golgo and his many exploits. It talks of his preferred clothing, including underwear, notable injuries, skills, and, my favourite, his body profile. See below for your amusement. A fun addition.

“…at any rate, an amazing penis.” Legendary line.

One weird writing device is the overuse of the ellipses. I’m not sure if this was commonplace in 60s manga – I’ve never seen it – but the author always has to make it clear when a character gives no vocal reaction. You’d think a simple lack of dialogue would suffice, but no, they must think “…” Not a real problem, though still a weird choice.

Golgo 13’s art in the early volumes is outdated by today’s standards, though it holds up well enough. The environments, particularly in the establishing shots, are full of clear detail.

While I do recommend Golgo 13, I should note the incomplete English translation. Only 13 volumes (a best of collection?) have had official translations (even less from fan translations) and I believe they aren’t in original order either, not that this matters with the independent story structure. However, 13 volumes is plenty enough to leave me satisfied. I have had my fill.

Art – Medium

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. As the oldest manga still in publication and an all-time bestseller, Golgo 13 surely is worth a read.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Blame! – Manga Review

Japanese Title: BLAME!

 

Related: NOiSE (prequel)

 

Genre: Action Horror Science Fiction

Length: 66 chapters (10 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • It’s different
  • Art has a grim, chaotic quality

Negatives:

  • Lack of dialogue translates to lack of context and emotion
  • Character faces

Blame takes readers into a cyberpunk hellscape far beneath the ground – or is it a tower above ground? Who knows… All sense of direction and sanity has no point of reference in this labyrinth haunted by creatures out of Hellraiser and Warhammer 40k. Killy, seemingly the one man in this place with a functional gun, fights his way through one dangerous floor after the other in search of someone with the “Net Gene,” a genetic marker that can access the central control network of this technological wasteland.

Blame (pronounced “Blam” like a gunshot) sports minimal dialogue as its unique selling point. Art conveys most of the narrative, told in chaotic, messy lines dripping with grim cyberpunk aesthetics. I like the look of this world. I’m a big cyberpunk fan, so this should come as no surprise. The enemies look great too, drawing inspiration from several sources of which I am already a supporter. One could make a great sci-fi horror film with their kind. A notable visual irritant is the human faces, which look sketched on as the manga went to print. It’s like artists that have excellent skill at drawing people except the hands are always munted (fingers are frustrating to draw!).

Anyways, this is an atmospheric piece more than anything. The world and this environment must have a special draw to you should you want to enjoy Blame. The characters aren’t anything to boast about, so with minimal dialogue there is a singular appeal here.

In between blasting enemies with his gun, Killy does meet various characters from isolated groups trying to survive against the cybernetic monsters. Most dialogue is in these encounters. Scenes of dialogue are moments of rest in the dangerous City.

I haven’t much to say about any character in this manga, for there isn’t much too any of them. The most personality comes from the main enemy in how threatening it is. The mute story translates into muted character depth. There is plenty of background and environmental story work though little foreground and central storytelling.

Some may recommend Blame as some secret masterpiece, so daring and avant-garde in its decision to forgo most dialogue and let the world around speak for itself. However, if you step back and examine it once the feeling of reading something different has worn off, you realise there isn’t much to the story and the lack of dialogue often feels like the author didn’t know what or how to write a scene. It would have been too difficult for him. I’m not saying he couldn’t have done it, but it feels like it.

If you’ve never seen a dialogue-free story before, Blame will be a fresh experience and worth your time. It’s a quick read by virtue of the minimal dialogue. Don’t go expecting this to sit amongst the greats. This is no opening scene from Up or Clarice hunting Buffalo Bill.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: For those after something different. Blame is from a unusual crop and won’t be to everyone’s taste.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Dai 08 MS Shotai

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 (main series)

Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket (related story)

Similar: Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid

Code Geass: Akito the Exiled

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks excellent
  • A tight, small scale story
  • Presents a different view of war in the Gundam universe
  • As with most Gundam, the acting is strong in either language

Negatives:

  • The romance is too simple

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes the core concepts of Gundam – mecha, war, politics, and romance – and compresses it down into a 12-episode package. It succeeds in delivering quality for all of those elements save one, in part.

The 08th MS Team brings war to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation leads a special squadron of guerrilla Gundam, ferretting out the scattered remnants of Zeon presence in the area. The Federation won the last war and mean to press the advantage. Shiro’s resolve wavers and – more importantly – his loyalty comes into question when confronted by Aina Sahalin, Zeon pilot and previous acquaintance, across the trees. She’s also sister to the psychotic enemy commander. The traitor title seems to suit Shiro best these days.

One thing I must say is how good 08th MS Team looks even by today’s standards. Wouldn’t guess it’s a ’90s anime. They put a lot of work in considering this is a series and I want some of these cels for my collection. Seeing this quality from scene one puts me in a good mood.

Such effort brings the guerrilla warfare to life and makes every damaging shot on the mechs have impact. It isn’t a flurry of laser beams flashing across the screen with little weight. The action takes a slower, more tactical pace than the usual Gundam spectacle (nothing against the spectacle, or course). As I said, everything is scaled down and it works. When a franchise has as many series as Gundam does, it’s good to have variety even if not always to my taste (such as Gundam Build Fighters).

The characters are a strong and varied lot. The writers made them relatable with their simple ambitions outside of war. They have grounding. You want them to survive to see better days. Zeon similarly features such human characters. Of course, there are a few crazies on both sides to play villains. Further beyond the major characters, 08th MS Team emphasises the burden of war on innocent locals, a side often forgotten when merely glimpsed on the evening news. Yes, the Federation is eradicating evil (according to them) hiding in this jungle, but this jungle is home to ordinary people as well. Even minor characters don’t feel superfluous.

Then we come to Shiro and Aina as a couple. They’re good as individuals, yet their connection is the core of the personal conflict, which doesn’t hit the target.

If you’re going to have characters make grand gestures of love and put a lot on the line, you need to give something to hang those actions on. Build those foundations first and then I could believe anything they do for love. It’s surprising to see the main coupling only hit mid-tier development when character depth outside of this is solid. I find the main issue is a lack of screen time for these two together. They meet early on, but don’t reunite again until too late to develop their relationship to a meaningful level. The romance is simple – not a bad thing inherently – and lacks a second act where it builds beyond initial attraction into something with promise of longevity. They meet, and then skip to “I’ll die for you.”

Beyond that, I don’t have any notable complaints with 08th MS Team. I can recommend this great anime widely, beyond Gundam circles.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. If you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a great introduction and standalone series. If you are familiar, then this is one of the best the franchise has to offer.

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None