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Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jin-Roh

 

Similar: Akira

Ghost in the Shell

Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 1 hr. 42 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Some good visual elements.
  • Lovely music.

Negatives:

  • Drab colours.
  • Metaphors are on the nose.
  • Thin on content.

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Mamoru Oshii’s Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is an introspective film hinged on a metaphor of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Constable Kazuki Fuse is traumatised after witnessing a terrorist girl detonate to avoid capture amid riots in an alternate history Japan. As an officer of the panzer troopers, an armoured ground force reminiscent of the video game Killzone’s Helghast, his change in behaviour mandates retraining and puts him in the middle of the conflict between the Capital Police and ordinary police forces. During his recovery, he grows close to the sister of the very terrorist girl who died before him.

This premise of a dystopian Japan, riots everywhere, Helghast-like officers clashing with police, and suicide bombers paints an intense portrait of a film. You’re probably imagining Akira. In truth, Jin-Roh couldn’t be further from intense. This slow, methodical film set in a nation without colour, without life, wants to evoke depression inside the viewer. Once vibrant greens and reds have faded. The world feels ‘Soviet’ where the higher ups have absolute power, giving no hope to the people.

Kazuki roams with no purpose. The few glimpses of life spark during his moments with the sister, but even those are drops in the calm ocean.

I am sad to say that Jin-Roh doesn’t succeed in evoking much emotion, nor does it engage the viewer. As I opened with, the story is a metaphor for ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which Oshii handles without an ounce of subtlety, for every second scene makes a simile or draws a motif to wolves and the fairy tale. He’s so obsessed with the metaphors and motifs that he forgets to develop the characters and the world in which they live. The story never gives a sense of why anyone does their jobs or what they hope to accomplish in this world nearing anarchy.

Oshii’s masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, has one of my favourite introspective moments in anime when Motoko Kusanagi glides through the streets of New Port City, so one would imagine that a film with more of this reflection would be a personal treat for me. What made that moment in Ghost special was its placement among scenes of intense action and intrigue. The story slowed down with a purpose. Jin-Roh is perpetually slow.

You could take almost any scene from this film and it would be interesting when seen standalone, similar to watching that scene from Ghost by itself. It’s once you realise that the film has almost nothing but this sluggishness repeated for an hour and a half that it becomes boring. It needs balance.

Rather than make me care for Kazuki’s plight, Jin-Roh had me crossing my fingers for another riot.

Art – High

The art is effective at evoking a dystopian atmosphere, but the much-muted brown palette becomes dull when it’s all there is. Characters could use more detail. Most of the animation budget went into people being riddled with bullets.

Sound – Medium

Voice work – fine. Music – lovely, tragic.

Story – Medium

A special unit officer reconsiders his position in life after witnessing the suicide death of a terrorist girl amid enforcement politics. Jin-Roh’s sacrifice of everything to convey its ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ motif limits its appeal and quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the slow and introspective ONLY. Seriously, if you don’t love, and I mean love, slow pieces with near-no story, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade will bore you to death.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri

 

Similar: Attack on Titan

Parasyte -the maxim-

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good art and environmental lighting.
  • Steampunk feudal Japan.

Negatives:

  • Almost everything is clichéd in execution.
  • Idiot plot.
  • No meaningful threats.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress starts at full steam ahead with an intense scene of an armoured train under attack by undead Corpses. One soldier detonates his own heart after a Corpse bites him in front of his comrades.

Once the train arrives in the safety of the city walls for some downtime, the problems come hard and fast. For example, the exposition. Every crewmember has to strip for inspection of bites from Corpses, as they would infect the whole city if gone unchecked. Despite seeing this before us, Ikoma and his sidekick explain this to each other as if they’ve never seen it before, which is a clumsy way of telling the audience. Why do writers keep writing themselves into bad exposition when the visuals do the job?

What follows is a tedious scene for conflict when soldiers shoot an innocent man under suspicion of infection. Its purpose is to give Ikoma a moment to grandstand and play the hero. The problem is that there was no threat and the situation would have resolved by inspection, which they were just doing! An actual threat would serve better – say, a stowaway Corpse.

I pushed this clumsiness aside in the hope that once past introductions and back to the action, Kabaneri would become good again. This hope is dashed with the introduction of Mumei, a cutesy princess-looking girl that feels out of place. She not the right sort of ray-of-sunshine-in-a-grim-world character. To worsen matters, she can kick off a Corpse’s head with her bladed shoe in one swipe. I thought that was ridiculous until episode two had her parkouring through the streets, felling Corpses like zombies out of Left 4 Dead. Why is humanity afraid when one person can take on hundreds? She also has that annoying “I guess I’m strong, whatever…” trait to make her insufferable. The revelation behind her ability is that she’s half Corpse – a Kabaneri. This transformation also occurs to Ikoma.

All the danger presented in the opening scene with Corpses stronger than humans? Gone. Tension? Evaporated.

Not even a train full of Corpses crashing through the city gate can revive the dead intensity. You would imagine that the potential conflict of mistrust from having two Kabaneri on your train of human survivors would be great, but you’d be wrong. The commander locks them up, which is a good start, yet this confinement resolves itself with little effort. Instead, the story focuses on some useless old people that want to stop the train for a funeral for the city’s fallen. Never mind that Corpses are on their trail and that they don’t have enough food to reach the next city at full steam. What is this, a population of idiots?

Everyone foams at the mouth to kill the Kabaneri, but two seconds later, when Mumei kills a Corpse amongst them, they bray for her blood because the Corpse was pregnant, despite the foetus being tainted already. Make up your minds! That’s when I understood this plot: Conflict only exists in this world because the people are all idiots.

The story has no point of redemption. Yes, they introduce stronger undead and a human villain, but no audience would care when it’s all so generic. It’s not clichéd in the right way – it’s not the cliché people pay for when buying a Harlequin Romance. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress cobbles together every mistake that comes from the predictable. You can predict the bad conflict and weak scenarios it will present.

People fight off the undead from fortress trains in a steampunk feudal Japan – sounds awesome, right? I’m not the only one who thinks so, yes? How do you make this so uninteresting? If not great, such a premise should guarantee an entertaining anime, at least, and yet, they didn’t even manage that.

Art – High

Wit Studios’ art style is immediately recognisable, as shared by Attack on Titan. Though Kabaneri doesn’t have all the flash of that anime, it is more consistent in quality, particularly when it comes to the CG. The art evokes strong atmosphere.

Sound – Medium

The music may not be to everyone’s taste, combining orchestral with electronic, which I enjoyed. The voice work is fine, but serves shallows dialogue and characters.

Story – Low

In a steampunk feudal Japan, humanity fights off Corpses from the safety of their mobile rail fortresses. After an intense start, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress derails into a story and characters with no thought beyond the clichés.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress should be great on the premise alone, but its execution is so predictable and banal that you’ll feel like you’ve seen it before.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Induces Stupidity

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: The Origin

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Loum Arc (sequel)

Mobile Suit Gundam (original version)

Similar: Code Geass

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action

Length: 4 episodes (1 hr. each)

 

Positives:

  • “Char” Aznable.
  • A Gundam protagonist that earns every step of his power.
  • Mix of politics, assassinations, and war.
  • No Gundam vagueness.

Negatives:

  • Ill-suited slapstick.
  • (Where is my next episode?)

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is pitched as a retelling of the series that started it all, Mobile Suit Gundam. Of course I would watch a remake of a classic I enjoyed. I thought we would open on Amuro, the original protagonist, so when it focused on a blond child called Casval and his little sister, I admit to my confusion. Where’s Amuro?

As it turns out, Gundam: The Origin starts before the original, at the inciting incident that led Char Aznable on the path to become such an enigmatic figure in the wars to come. I am hooked. Char is the most interesting character in Universal Century Gundam, so to see him as protagonist, with his backstory explored in depth, is a delight.

After a teaser of adult Char in a space battle, we return to him as a child on a space colony. His family’s high-class life shatters with the sudden death of his father, an advocate for Spacenoid (citizens of space colonies) independence. The father’s supporters smell foul play in this “natural” death and anarchy breaks loose on the streets. Everything is in disarray. Who’s in charge? Who’s allied with whom? What does each player in the game want? Answers are hard to find.

Char, his sister, and his mother are now valuable pieces in either inciting further action or quelling the riots. Life pushes them around. For Char, however, this isn’t a life worth living. He begins to plot a course towards revenge. Will he get revenge though? And on whom? With so many players in the game, his quest won’t be an easy one.

Gundam: The Origin is a good show in all aspects, but Char makes it great. As an anti-hero, we are never quite sure what he will do to achieve his goal. When he’s friendly with someone, we a never sure if he’s actually friends with them or up to something. Up to something – that’s a good way of summing up Char. He’s always up to something

Beyond him, Gundam: The Origin has an extensive cast, each with a purpose in this political maelstrom. Friends, enemies, or somewhere in between, you will meet all sorts. Barring some random slapstick, the cast feels written for an older audience than typical Gundam, which I suspect stems from having an older protagonist in Char. It’s a refreshing change, especially coupled with him earning power and skill through work rather than having it all thrown at him like other Gundam series (Unicorn) that I will not mention here (Unicorn).

The writing as a whole is leaps better than what I expect from a Universal Century series. Vague dialogue is nowhere in sight. No one stands in the open cockpit of a mech preparing to self-destruct while they spout some “cool” line instead of running clear. The conflict and political landscape is coherent (unless intentionally masked for story), free of the vague nonsense that plagues this franchise. There is no rambling on about the ‘dialogues’ to come, the ‘dialogues’ that will solve all, the bloody ‘dialogues’ that will answer the meaning of bloody life! No complaints about the writing from me this time.

And so, we reach my major gripe. Where is my next episode? I want more, damn it! You can’t just start the story, give me all this good writing, an amazing protagonist, political intrigue that makes me lean forward, and then just end it right there. What are you playing at, Sunrise?

If future Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin entries maintain this quality, it could very well earn a ‘Very High’ rating from me.

Art – High

The chaotic action scenes use CG for the mechs and ships, but it works well, as spaceships don’t need much work and the particle effects mask it well. Unlike the recent Berserk that has random camera movements, just because, Gundam: The Origin takes advantage of the CG with a dynamic camera that dives into the action. Everything else is clean.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The script is less wishy-washy than other Universal Century Gundam. When a character needs to say something, they say it.

Story – High

A retelling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but from before the start with the events that made Char the legend he has become. I expected another Gundam Unicorn; I got something great instead.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is a great place to start for newcomers to the gargantuan franchise, while also giving plenty to veterans.

(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:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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.

(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:

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