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Jormungand – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jormungand

 

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Strong production values.
  • Knows it’s weapons.

Negatives:

  • Unmemorable for the genre.
  • Tries too hard with some characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Jormungand was pitched to me as the Black Lagoon of its year. I can see why, for the similarities are obvious – an action series with a ragtag bunch of misfits circumventing the law to fight bad guys around the world. I am sad to report however, that Jormungand isn’t in the same league as Black Lagoon. That doesn’t mean we can’t look at this title as a lesson in the difference between an okay series and a great series.

The story follows international arms dealer Koko and her band of bodyguards made up of former soldiers. The latest addition to her team is child soldier Jonah, who doesn’t really want to be there. Her mission is to bring world peace by breaking every law seemingly possible while escaping intelligence agencies and other outlaw organisations.

The core of any story is its characters. In Black Lagoon, the characters had personalities larger than life, injecting the narrative with a constant stream of humour and energy. Importantly, they didn’t have gimmicks; they had personalities. Jormungand, on the other hand, uses gimmicks to define its characters. When one relies on gimmicks, each encounter with those characters starts to become repetitive with little room for growth because the writer didn’t establish their foundations. For instance, one woman’s gimmick is that she doesn’t wear panties in battle because it “increases accuracy”. This joke repeats for every scene with a focus on her. The first time, it says, “Hey, I’m not wearing panties – aren’t I quirky?” Next scene: “Hey, I’m still not wearing panties – quirky, right?” And the next: “Still nothing down there – bet you love how quirky I am.” Another woman’s quirk is her lustful crush on Koko, which also rears up every time she sees her.

You can’t do this to a character that’s supposed to matter. That’s throwaway character material. Jormungand tries too hard to make these people wacky. Without the personalities to back them up like in Black Lagoon, the quirks come across as annoying and random because they don’t tie to characters through a personality. Keep the panty-less gunslinger joke if you find it sidesplittingly hilarious, but it should be no more than the garnish to well-rounded attributes. Koko is the only character I would consider to have depth among the cast.

On the flipside, you have the problem of Jonah. He’s the “man of few words” archetype that, as I’ve said many times before, isn’t an easy one to make interesting because of how little there is to work with. One would think that having less pieces to construct a character is easier, when in reality every piece must be perfect. It’s like a chef trying to make a Michelin star dish of only three ingredients. Jonah’s counterpart in Black Lagoon is “Rock”, an ordinary salaryman who also didn’t want to join the pirates at the start. Comparing the two, you can see the difference it makes when you have a dull mute in one case and guy in over his head in a gunfight yet still dignified enough to do up his tie on the other.

As for the action, which is why most would attend this screening, it is rather good. Studio White Fox brought strong production values to the table to pump the action full of energy and explosions. As it tries to do with the quirky characters, Jormungand goes over the top with action. If your one interest is action, more action and crazier action, you won’t be disappointed. And the writer knows his weapons to impart authenticity.

Perhaps if I had not seen several such similar anime already, I would have liked it more – I suppose it’s the curse of happening to start at the top before working your way down. It’s hard to settle for something around the middle of the pack, where the plot doesn’t stick with me and I can’t remember anyone’s names except the two listed above.

Art – High

The art is sharp and clean with good animation and effort in the cinematography. It’s a seinen action series – it’s as expected.

Sound – Medium

The acting is alright, but with a script that lacks room for the actors to play like in Black Lagoon, it doesn’t reach greatness. It’s similar with the music – alright, though doesn’t go as crazy as it should.

Story – Medium

An arms dealer takes a child soldier under her wing to show him the ropes as a merchant of war. Jormungand doesn’t push itself far enough to become memorable in the competitive modern action genre.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans only. Jormungand is there for those who can’t get enough action and have exhausted the likes of Black Lagoon, Requiem for the Phantom, and Cowboy Bebop.

(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

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Angel Beats! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Angel Beats!

 

Similar: Death Parade

Plastic Memories

Haibane Renmei

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Drama

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Occasionally funny.
  • No space for rent.

Negatives:

  • Too many characters for 13 episodes.
  • Emotions don’t land.
  • Weak art.
  • Script often makes you cringe.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Until I committed to watching Angel Beats (after a reader requested it for review), I had thought it was another adaptation of Key Visual’s awful visual novels, owing to the similarity in character design (I had attributed the reduced real estate between the eyes to someone finally pointing out how ugly Key characters were). Much to my delight, I discovered that it only involved one notable staff member from those past projects and it wasn’t someone from the art department. The composer wrote this story as an original with no visual novel relations. Thank Thor; Angel Beats isn’t doomed before the first frame!

With that happy thought in mind, I dove right in.

Angel Beats is a “trapped in limbo” story with video game rules, where each of the “player characters” cannot escape the confines of a high school until they undo a past regret and move on in death. Otonashi is the newest student in this strange world of the in-between. He awakens with no memories and next to a girl hunched over a sniper rifle. She’s aiming at a silver-haired girl in the school’s soccer field. He doesn’t see the girl as a threat and rightfully so, for she is as dulcet as a puppy. He soon learns otherwise when he talks to her and she kills him.

He’s fine the next morning, of course, since no one dies in this limbo high school of NPCs. The silver girl or “angel” is just there to enforce the rules as student body president. Meanwhile, Otonashi joins sniper girl’s club of player characters. They have one mission – defeat the angel and get out of here.

The first few episodes are fine overall as they explain the rules and the story focuses more on comedy, like a group of high school friends taking their military LARP most seriously. The second episode has them breaking into their own secret underground base when the traps meant for the angel turn on them. The team members drop like flies to video game traps and it’s funny.

The quality falls as you progress further into the story, figuring out the goal is to give each character an emotional send off before they depart limbo. They can only pass on once they make up for a regret in life, which means a shoehorned tragic backstory for each person is imminent (sniper girl’s is laughable, even with dead kids involved). It gets worse when you remember the episode count and calculate that there is no way to accommodate so many characters. You don’t care about anyone before they leave. You see the ending coming eight episodes away and yet it’s still ham-fisted.

No emotional moment in Angel Beats worked for me. The story is a metaphor about moving on from high school and having to say goodbye to friends – possibly for the last time – which is relatable to just about everyone in the audience (if you’re still in high school, you can relate to leaving primary/middle school friends behind). Even with such a relatable theme, these scenes extracted nothing from me.

The writer needed to cut down on characters. Have more characters than the core group, by all means, but don’t make them all matter. By trying to make everyone matter, no one matters.

Moreover, Angel Beats needs a stronger script to pull off the drama. Half of the script consists of Otonashi asking questions on behalf of the audience (oh, what convenient amnesia), so that others can explain everything. His dialogue in some scenes will be no more than one question after the other. Then we have what can only be described as the “anime” dialogue. That first scene when he awakens near sniper girl has the following cringe worthy exchange.

After seeing no threat from the small silver-haired girl, he says, “Listen, how about I go down there?”

Sniper girl whirls around and quickly yells, “What? Why? Why the hell go down there? That doesn’t make any sense! What the hell made you say that? Are you an idiot or what? Go die!”

“…”

“That’s something we say here all the time since no one dies here,” she adds, now speaking normally. “What ya think? Funny?”

“Not so much, but what do I know?”

This dialogue is meant to convey her personality, but is so forced that it’s just obnoxious. I can see someone turning this off at that moment, 3 minutes in. Don’t forget, this dialogue comes after she rambles about her club’s name with no context, which is also obnoxious. The way these characters talk and behave doesn’t convey the sense of people trapped in limbo. It feels like any other high school action anime cast.

Once the school concert is over a few episodes in (the music is the strongest element) and drama replaces comedy, Angel Beats becomes rather bland and predictable. Not to give away too much, but the angel adversary plot resolves shortly as well to lessen conflict further.

Angel Beats is an alright anime if you go in knowing not to expect much from the drama. Honestly though, there are so many better anime you could spend your time on and this one’s been forgotten by now, so there’s no conversation waiting either.

Art – Low

Characters have zero design originality, though thankfully they aren’t landlords. CG background characters and CG environments don’t blend well with principal objects. Lights and shadows are inconsistent to the characters. Look at the screenshot above with the sniper rifle – note how sharp the shadows are on the characters, gun and bush (drawn in by a person digitally) against the fuzzy shading on the building and the lack of shadow beneath the rifle (calculated by computer graphics). The only complement I can offer is for the skies.

Sound – Low

Average acting, no matter the language, and the script is several tiers below what’s needed for the drama. The music is nice.

Story – Low

A group of students try to escape limbo high school by killing the angel that enforces the rules. Too many characters, quick drama, and a lack focus don’t make for a great story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. If you haven’t seen Angel Beats yet, you aren’t missing out. It has nothing recommending itself these days, though it isn’t a bad anime.

(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:

Poor Pacing

Blood Blockade Battlefront – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kekkai Sensen

 

Related: Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Baccano!

Jormungand

Tiger & Bunny

Trigun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • NYC looks great.
  • Character focused standalone episodes.

Negatives:

  • Shounen protagonist doesn’t fit.
  • Lacks focus for the first act.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t help but wonder if Blood Blockade Battlefront wasn’t intended for an older audience originally, until an editor/studio said it couldn’t succeed without the shounen demographic and so the protagonist lost a few years to meet that new audience. I say this because Leonardo, our protagonist, doesn’t fit with the rest of the cast.

Leonardo is a teenager who recently acquired the “All-seeing Eyes of the Gods”, which gives him immense power beyond his comprehension, so he heads to Hellsalem’s Lot (New York City) where the supernatural is an everyday part of life to look for help. There, he unexpectedly joins Libra, a crime-fighting organisation that deals with the supernatural and the mundane through use of powers of their own and modern technology.

Libra is a group of adults. While the focus is on the supernatural action with a comedy slant, when it does focus on characters, these Libra members have adult problems, which doesn’t gel with the themes of Leonardo’s character. Furthermore, there are too many episodes where he feels like a tagalong to the plot (or isn’t present at all), as if the author couldn’t figure out how to use his shounen protagonist in a seinen series. The adults are just more interesting in Blood Blockade Battlefront.

There is one episode where Leonardo works – the mushroom guy episode. He meets this mushroom guy (no better way to put it) with an appetite for burgers, who has spores that can erase memories. Criminals prize his spores. Imagine you could commit a crime and wipe everyone’s memory of the event – free money. Unfortunately, the spores affect mushroom guy as much as anyone else, which means he doesn’t know anyone because he forgets after each mugging. The standalone episode regarding his and Leonardo’s friendship is a good one. In fact, I find the standalone episodes to be the best of the series.

Another one that comes to mind deals with the work/family balance that many career adults face. A woman in Libra needs to assist with an important mission to intercept a drug shipment, but the day of the mission happens to coincide with parents’ day at her son’s school – a day she has missed for several years already due to work. The episode has a great moment on parenting when her husband explains to the son that it hurts her more than it does him when she can’t keep her promises. The humour works too (same author as Trigun). When she tries to get off the mission roster, her boss guilts her into staying by laying out the consequences of mission failure on other children – in a comedic way. In the end, she has to do both concurrently.

As I said, Leonardo is a side character to most missions, so he doesn’t drag down the series too much. He’s okay. The unclear motives and goals for early episodes are a bigger problem. The start is too hectic for its own good.

I do love the feel of this city matched with the tone of the characters. Mermaids, vampires, werewolves, monkeys, and aliens living alongside humans in a towering metropolis gives me a Baccano meets Tiger & Bunny meets The Fifth Element with a dash of One Punch Man vibe. The creative visuals and light humour, yet balanced by some heart, make Blood Blockade Battlefront an easy anime to watch once you clear the initial hurdle of not knowing what the hell is going on.

Art – High

It’s Studio Bones, so the art has a good minimum quality. I particularly like the look of New York City – fantastic colour depth and detail. The notable flaws are moments of repeated animation and the protagonist’s eye effect looks slapped in the scene.

Sound – Medium

Can’t stand the protagonist’s voice in English, so I switch to Japanese and he sounds the same! Don’t like either of their nasal voices. Other than that, the acting is good, though there is a missed opportunity in not having accents from New York’s various boroughs akin to Baccano.

Story – Medium

A kid with magic eyes joins a crime-fighting organisation in the big city populated by human and supernatural denizens alike. Blood Blockade Battlefront works best when following individual characters and is in need of a more adult protagonist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action comedy fans only. Blood Blockade Battlefront isn’t a remarkable anime, but it has enough to entertain fans of the contemporary action genre. (Still can’t say Blood Blockade Battlefront quickly without fumbling my words.)

(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

Toward the Terra – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Terra e… (TV)

 

Related: Terra e… (Movie – old version)

Similar: RahXephon

Gundam SEED

No. 6

Xam’d Lost Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • Needs stronger key villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

This is my kind of sci-fi anime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – Medium

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

Sound – Medium

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

Story – Medium

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

Overall Quality – Medium

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

(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

Soul Eater – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Soul Eater

 

Related: Soul Eater NOT! (spin-off)

Similar: Blue Exorcist

Noragami

Bleach

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Comedy

Length: 51 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • Weak third act.
  • Narrow world building.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

The larger world is missing.

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – Medium

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

Story – Medium

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

Overall Quality – Medium

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

(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