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One Piece: East Blue Arc (season 1) – Anime Review

Related: One Piece: Grand Line Inrush (season 2)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 61 episodes (season 1)

 

Positives:

  • Textured art holds up in the remastered version
  • A brilliant variety of character
  • The world is already full of adventure and promises so much more

Negatives:

  • Shouting = dialogue
  • Luffy hasn’t done much so far

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Never has the saying “better late than never” been more applicable to my anime viewing timeline. At over 900 episodes as of this writing, One Piece has reached proportions that seem impossible to tackle (read all about my recurring nightmare here, in One Piece and the Curse of the Backlog). However, I shall take this one episode at a time and finally conquer the seas! (Or until I no longer find it entertaining. Whichever comes first.)

For those of you marooned on an island in the South Pacific since 1999, One Piece follows the adventures of Luffy, a boy with ambitions of becoming king of the pirates and who has the power to stretch his body like Mr Fantastic. First, he needs a crew if he means to survive all that the ocean and other pirates have to throw at him. Much of this first season is travelling to various locations, where he meets and recruits crewmates. Among them, we have Zoro the three-sword pirate, Sanji the chef, Nami the cartographer, and Usopp the best pirate to have ever lived.

I had tried One Piece many years ago – a few times, in fact, but had given up within an episode or two. Revisiting it now hasn’t changed my mind on those opening few. They give a terrible first impression. What is with the shouting? Of the approximately 190 lines of dialogue in the first episodes, over 100 are shouted – that doesn’t even include the action/reaction yells and one-word screams. Some pink-haired kid yells just about every line he has! Yelling for dialogue is a trait of cartoons for little kids, as it holds their attention better. This coupled with Luffy’s laissez-faire attitude to the most dangerous situations (more on him later) makes One Piece feels so bloody juvenile. Is this for five-year-olds? Thankfully, this only holds true for the first few episodes. Once they reach the Usopp recruitment story (starts episode nine), the tone jumps up two age demographics.

I think back to the start of Naruto, which also had a weak few episodes. Who can forget the second episode where Naruto hangs out with that brat Konohamaru? However, Naruto was clever enough to include the scene when a teacher betrays him and shows him how life isn’t friendly or fair. This is a promise from the author that despite the juvenile tone of the early episodes, this isn’t a “happy go lucky” anime. One Piece needed that moment.

It’s obvious One Piece isn’t for small children with all the guns, alcohol, and smoking, which leads me into an aside about the original 4Kids dub, having gone down in infamy. I watched the new Funimation dub, which is unedited and matches the original Japanese, but I also looked into the 4Kids atrocity that removed blood, replaced all the guns with…something, swapped Sanji’s cigarette for a lollipop, skipped entire episodes, and cut the alcohol, amongst many other changes. This was their most censored import. Why bother bringing it over at all if they’re going to change everything, you ask? As I’ve discovered, the decision makers at 4Kids did not watch One Piece before acquiring the licence. It was a package deal with other anime, likely for a younger audience than One Piece. So when it came time to dub it, they realised it didn’t fit their target demographic and thus began the massacre. Funimation, thankfully, took over the project years later and undid all of the changes to release it remastered in HD.

This HD re-release was a fantastic idea. When I thought back to One Piece’s art style before this viewing, all I could remember was those giant mouths. I still hate them of course (they add to the screaming as well). However, outside of this pet peeve, One Piece’s art holds up well because of the textured environments and the character designs. Imagine if it had gone for the standard style of the day with those flat colours, two-tone shading/lighting, and shallow backgrounds. It wouldn’t have aged well at all! As for the character designs, I find some great examples here. I love the fish people from the octopus guy to the sawfish captain. The fat pirate queen in episode one and her look later in the season (plus her perfect skin power) has me laughing. Best design award has to go to Captain Smoker, a marine in pursuit of Luffy who smokes not one but two cigars at all times and has belts of cigars strapped across his massive biceps and chest. Bloody hilarious! More than having good individual designs, there is strong cohesion for such a large cast.

By contrast, I find audio to be One Piece’s weakest department. The original Japanese performances are a mixed bag, as is often the case in battle shounen, while the dub is quite good (the new one). The lack of great music so far most surprises me. I think back to how many iconic tracks Naruto already had by this point, though that is probably a genre exception. For many battle anime, the OPs are all people remember, sometimes just the songs created by the dub studio such as Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.

As for story, I am mixed so far. It is better than my past impressions had led me to believe, there is no doubt here. This is very much a romanticised view of pirates and is rather tame, despite all of the “not safe 4Kids” content. Almost all story arcs so far have been about recruiting someone to Luffy’s crew and/or giving us their backstory. We have Zoro the edgelord with a sword in his mouth (I don’t like this design) who kept losing to a girl, Nami and the death of her mother at the hands of the fishmen she works for, Usopp the greatest pirate to have sailed the four seas and his tissue of lies, and so on. These are fine stories, some better (Nami) than others (Zoro). However, when I think of what Naruto and Bleach have accomplished by the 60-episode mark, they far outshine One Piece. Naruto has completed the Zabuza arc and is mid-chunin exam, while Bleach is at the climax of the Soul Society Arc. That said, anyone who has seen Bleach would tell you that one good arc doesn’t make for a great anime. One Piece has plenty more to show off, so I hope it delivers something great.

 

I don’t mean to say an anime such as this needs to turn dark right away as Naruto did. What I want is depth. Even if it’s just a few promises of what is to come. The biggest disappointment has to be Luffy. Battle protagonists are rarely the most interesting of the cast since they have little flexibility in demographic marketing, yet even by those standards, Luffy is a thumbs down from me at the moment. I hate how he doesn’t care about anything or how he laughs at every predicament. In a more serious setting, they would all be dead because of him. Not to keep drawing comparisons to Naruto, but when the orange ninja laughs and brushes off dangerous situations, there are consequences. Most of all, I hate how half of Luffy’s dialogue is yelling about how he’s going to be “king of the pirates”. We get it!

The action is quite good. Standard shounen content on the positive side of the scale. It doesn’t have the flashiness of Bleach or the strategy of Naruto or the brisk pacing in Yu Yu Hakusho. However, it doesn’t have any glaring problems either. One Piece hasn’t had the action drag for ages (Bleach, Naruto) or power reset (Bleach) or repeated some trope to death (there is always a bigger fish in Yu Yu Hakusho). I will want something more soon though or I’ll stop paying attention when a fight starts.

To end on a positive, I want to discuss One Piece’s greatest promise for the future of the series – the world. There is such variety and limitless possibilities for a world where you can sail to a new island, meet a new culture, a new species of person. It reminds me of a simpler classic Star Trek (one of my favourite franchises) and that is always a plus. I love the restaurant ship that roams the seas to feed one and all in a scrumptious experience. There are rules (“more what you’d call guidelines”) that vary by location. One gets a strong sense of character and personality at each destination. When the crew gets on that ship and hits the open blue, I want to see what island they will discover next. One Piece delivers a true feeling of adventure.

Quality so far – Medium

Current thoughts: The early episodes don’t give a good first impression, but once the longer story begins, One Piece stretches it’s creativity to give a good opening season with promises of so much more adventure. Luffy needs to grow up and do something. See you in the next season.

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Code Geass: Re;surrection & Akito the Exiled – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Code Geass: Fukkatsu no Lelouch & Code Geass: Boukoku no Akito

 

Related: Code Geass (original timeline)

Code Geass movies (prequels – alternate timeline)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction

Length: Re;surrection: 1 hr. 52 min. movie

Akito the Exiled: 5 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Animation and visuals in general hold strong
  • Resurrection’s villain has an interesting power
  • Akito the Exiled gives us a different view of the war

Negatives:

  • The alternate timeline is bad fan fiction
  • Far stupider than the main series
  • Lacks weight and consequence
  • Unjustified series revival

(Request an anime for review here.)

Warning: Contains implied spoiler for Code Geass – go watch the series first if you want to avoid any spoilers!

Of all the anime franchises out there, Code Geass is amongst the last I would have picked for a revival. It has, to this day, one of the best endings in the medium. Everything wraps up in a neat, satisfying end that doesn’t need further exploration. It’s done; leave it!

Later they announced the spin-off series Akito the Exiled to mixed reviews and it was largely apart from the series proper. So, whatever. Then they start the Code Geass Movies, which I thought was a simple cash grab that repackages the series into an a set of abridged films (Gundam often does this to maintain interest between new releases). Now we come to Resurrection, the fourth film that promises to continue to story from where the series ended. I look at the poster and see Lelouch featured. If you’ve seen the series but not the movies, you will understand my confusion at his involvement. That’s when I learn the movies changed key events from the original series.

Most notable amongst the changes is the reversal of several character deaths. Pivotal moments that had a significant impact on the story and characters undone without a second thought. One would imagine this wouldn’t go down well amongst fans – surely, the meaningful consequences are one of the key factors that drew them to Code Geass. However, while researching the production of the films and the motivations behind the changes, I would see comments underneath articles of such stupidity that it hurts to be distantly associated with them as fans of the same series. Things like, “Movie so much betta cuz [character] lives and [character] don’t make stpd decicion. Like if agree.” Mastery of language isn’t a strength amongst these commenters.

In discussion with my friend about Resurrection after having watched it together, he tells me of something called “saviour fan fiction”, where fans who don’t like that their favourite character/s died will rewrite the canon to have them survive and often help/save the day. Looking further into the background of these movies, I start seeing this everywhere. Almost everyone who likes the alternate timeline does so because some character doesn’t die. They don’t care that it undermines the story, that the challenges these characters faced is what gave them depth. If not for these complex character arcs, would they have liked the characters to begin with? Whom am I kidding – these saviour dimwits can’t see beyond the superficial.

I haven’t even talked about Resurrection yet.

Resurrection starts shortly after Lelouch brings peace to the world. This time of peace isn’t beneficial to all, however, for the Kingdom of Zilkhstan’s primary trade was in weapons and who needs those anymore? Their ruler, Princess Shamna, kidnaps Nunnally of the United Federations council and uses the girl to amplify her Geass power as tries to elevate her kingdom once more. Many characters from the previous story arrive to get her back.

There are so many problems here – even ignoring the alternate timeline changes – that I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start on the premise. No kingdom, were they as powerful as purported here, would collapse to rubble if they couldn’t sell weapons anymore. One, people would still buy weapons (though not as many) and two, what of their other industries? Did everyone in the kingdom work in weapon factories?

Then we have the characters. The news ones – most of them from the kingdom – are so forgettable. There is this one scene where the crippled prince has Suzaku in chains and starts whipping him with a cat o’ nine tails like it’s some fetish. It’s so random that my friend and I burst into laughter. I couldn’t tell you what the enemy fighters are about. The only new character with a hint of complexity is the princess. As for the returning characters, they are mere silhouettes of their former selves. The greatest issue here is the sheer number of them. It feels as if Resurrection wanted to include the entire cast from the original 50-episode series. Surely, production would be smart enough to know you can’t do this in under two hours. Then you remember this is just fan service to satiate the drooling saviour fan fic writers. Of course, go ahead, cram everyone in and make sure we get plenty of framed arse shots instead of character arcs.

The worst offender is Lelouch himself (to be fair, this is also because he’s the most important). He starts the film as a brain dead simpleton (literally) until CC restores him to health amidst this conflict – nice coincidence to have them hiding in the one village in the world where any conflict is happening. The moment he recovers, he’s back to his old self. No concerns whatsoever for how he got there to begin with after what he did to bring peace. Why do this, why even involve him if you’re going to undo everything? You could have used someone els— Oh, silly me. Of course – fan service!

They don’t even get the strategy right. Code Geass is known for smart characters and smart battles. It pits Lelouch in battles where brains matter more than brawn. Resurrection is nothing like that. Shamna has a cool power, full of potential for interesting battle scenarios. I won’t give it away, as it is the one good element of the story. All I’ll say is that it’s a power which is difficult to figure out. As such, Lelouch has to use deductive reasoning to figure out why she’s always one step ahead. It’s similar to L cracking how people are dying as if by the power of God in Death Note. Unlike that anime, where we see each step of the process, Resurrection rushes through the trial and error stage as Lelouch eliminates the possibilities.

If insistent on going through with this whole alternate timeline story, they should have at least turned this into a series. Everything is so rushed. We don’t get to know any of the new characters, the old characters only have a connection because of what we know from past stories, and the events jump from one to the next too quickly. This feels like a recap movie, not the definitive continuation of Code Geass.

Ahead of Resurrection, I thought I would check out the spin off series Code Geass: Akito the Exiled. This is part of the original timeline, taking place between seasons one and two. It is set in on the frontlines of Europe, where the Britannian Empire is invading the Europia United allied nations. We follow a secret military unit made up of people from all over Europe and Japanese street kids led by an aristocratic girl.

The first thing that jumps out to me is the accents in the dub. Set in Western Europe, they made the effort to give accents to characters from different countries, something I very much appreciate. They work – for the most part. The French accents, sadly, all use the wrong ‘r’ sound. It’s placed too far forward in the mouth (sounds more German) and makes me tick each time I hear it. An absolute minor nit-pick that most won’t matter to most – hell, most won’t even notice! – but I notice it every. damn. time.

Enough of accents. Akito the Exiled is better than I expected for a spin off series (the bar is set to low). Not to say it’s great or that it lives up to the Code Geass name. The action is engaging enough – could do with less CG – and the characters are fine, if a bit too simple. Unlike Resurrection, where the new introductions get 30 seconds of characterisation, Akito’s [almost] entirely new cast has far more depth and actual arcs. I should have mentioned Resurrection has no arcs.

I also like how it centres on a different part of the world. If you make a spin-off, it’s good to have something new. In fact, the worst aspects of the series are the tie-in elements to the original, namely the inclusion of Geass powers and the appearance of Lelouch. The powers feel tacked on and the villain’s power is a worse version of Lelouch’s Geass. He never uses it in an interesting manner. Would have been better without it.

Lelouch’s appearance is worse, as it comes across like a fan service cameo. He gets sent to take over the operation on the European front. The story sees a notable dive when he joins. I’m just asking myself the whole time why he’s there. The answer is obvious, of course – fan service – yet I still wonder.

Do I recommend either of these? Resurrection, definitely not; Akito the Exiled, maybe. The latter is decent for Code Geass fans that want to see more of the world, whereas the former undermines the value of the original. It should be offensive to any fan.

Art – High

The Code Geass continuations still look good – the movies more so than Akito the Exiled, where CG battle scenes are jarring amongst the 2D. Hard to fail here when coming off the back of the original.

Sound – Medium

There is a notable drop in script quality, though the actors still give it their all. The soundtrack, unlike the art, hasn’t maintained some level of quality. Utterly forgettable. Akito the Exiled’s writing is better.

Story – Low

Akito the Exiled shows us the war with Britannia on the European front, while Resurrection continues the series as a new threat rises in the time of peace. Akito the Exiled isn’t an awful supplement to the series, expanding the world and giving us a new set of characters. Resurrection, however, is bad fan fiction.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid the Code Geass movies, especially Resurrection. Give Akito the Exiled a try if you want more that isn’t garbage.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Disappointing

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans

 

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Gurren Lagann

Rainbow

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 50 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Great mech designs
  • Doesn’t take the subject matter lightly
  • Perfect end for this story
  • Dirty land brawls

Negatives:

  • Lack of interpersonal conflict
  • Talks down to the audience regarding characters
  • Drags in the second season with space battles

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can only go so long without watching a new Gundam series. It was a while as I waited for this one to release in a complete collection (season 2 took forever). So, was it worth the wait?

Iron-Blooded Orphans centres on a squad of child soldiers, who manage to survive an attack when their military company leaves them to die as fodder. They live on Mars, a desolate planet that relies on the benevolence of Earth. Kudelia Aina Bernstein, daughter of one of Mars’s aristocratic families, leads the plight for independence, but her naiveté comes under fire when she sees the effects of war, particularly on children, first hand. Mikazuki and his comrades of Tekkadan, led by Orga, aren’t messing around when it comes to fighting for their lives.

First, I love the premise. It’s great how Iron-Blooded Orphans goes to the lowest level, to the people at the very bottom of the ladder. Even more so, I love how it doesn’t shy away from the tough circumstances these kids would face and the harsh violence they must commit. Episode 3 illustrates this when Mikazuki executes the leader of their military organisation – and man responsible for leaving them behind – with a bullet to the head the instant he talks back. I did not expect such good sense.

The story hooks you from the start with high stakes and high conflict. I’m sold right away. So what goes wrong?

It isn’t long before you notice something off about the characters, about the way in which they interact with each other. There is a distinct lack of interpersonal conflict. One would imagine that Kudelia’s naiveté could cause much drama amongst these poor downtrodden kids. Why does this spoilt rich girl think she can save us? But nope, there are a few minor comments here and there and we move on. Surely there would be conflict between Mikazuki and Orga. No, Mikazuki never questions his leader. He follows like a dog, a passive protagonist. A love triangle starts between Mikazuki, Kudelia, and this other girl (childhood friend). Come on, there has to be conflict here, right!? At best is a slight shyness from the childhood friend. The most conflict comes from minor characters, whose names you will never remember.

Even with a plethora of external conflicts on these characters, a story also needs internals ones (often aggravated by those external forces). It’s what makes characters human, relatable, and memorable. Regardless of what I think of the rest of Iron-Blooded Orphans, this single factor alone makes me prefer other Gundam series like SEED and Origin.

This problem is no more evident and sorely needed than in the case of the “legitimate businessman” and his harem of women that ally with Tekkadan. Supposedly, he’s married to all of these women whom he claims to love equally. However, there is clearly a favourite, which one would imagine is leading towards several cases of jealousy and thus conflict. Nothing comes of this weird relationship dynamic. His purpose is to create a bridge between Tekkadan and a large yakuza-like corporation they end up working for. Give me drama!

That leads to another problem with this series: too many characters. Way, way too many characters. Tekkadan has twice as many named characters as it should. Then we have businessman and his harem, followed by several enemy organisations, each with their own cast of characters. Gundam series generally have a large cast, but this is on another level. It’s not so much the quantity (Legend of the Galactic Heroes has far more) as it is the quantity at one time. When you have so many characters fighting for screen time, everyone suffers. The phrase “wide as the ocean, deep as a puddle” applies to much of the cast (still no one as bad as Cagali). Cut it in half. Yes, half.

I believe this is the reason we have so little character conflict. Not enough time when a hundred characters need their share in the spotlight. This also explains why everyone and their grandpa has to spell out their motivations for the audience. For instance, an enemy squad captain returns after defeat to challenge Mikazuki to a duel, knowing he stands no chance against the Gundam. Once defeated and given the chance to retreat, he requests to be killed instead. Why? Well, it’s obvious, but he has to give a dramatic monologue for minutes to make sure we understand. Iron-Blooded Orphans deals in heavy themes not for small children, so why talk down to the audience like children in regards to characters? People will get it. Every character has this moment.

Also do something about the creepy marriage between one of the antagonists and a child. It isn’t talked about enough by other characters. I’m not sure what they were going for here. If they want to establish that this isn’t unusual, they need to make a point of it. Just creepy.

To top it all off, I’m not a fan of the designs. I know this is personal taste, but the hairstyles are just too silly for a gritty war drama. Does anyone else think the protagonist looks like Sonic the Hedgehog? On the other hand, we have the mechs. There are awesome designs here. The main Gundam, Barbatos, a relic of an ancient war is one of my all-time favourite designs. I liked it before having even seen the series. 10 outta 10! Gundam of the year!

So far in this review, I have been quite negative – it comes from a place of love – so why did I enjoy this in the end? It is equal parts being a Gundam fan in general, the action, and the story.

The decision to have much of the action be up close and personal, mechs smashing into each other, tearing armour plate by plate instead of all the usual high tech beam weapons was an ideal match to the story’s tone. Some of the deaths, people crushed inside their cockpits, are brutal. I cannot emphasise enough how little Iron-Blooded Orphans holds back on the subject of child soldiers and war. It also gains extra points for featuring one of the only instances where a hero shoots an enemy in the head during their speech on “honour”.

Then we have the story, which stays engaging (apart from a lull in season 2) in the face of an average cast of characters. The meld of war, politics, shifting alliances, and scrappy fights had me until the end. And what an end it is. I should never have doubted the team to deliver the right ending, but this surprised me. The perfect end to this type of story.

Do I recommend Iron-Blooded Orphans? Yes, but not to Gundam newbies. This one is overloaded with specialist terms and names you’ve never heard of. It can get difficult to track who’s who when referred to by name alone. Or were they talking about an organisation? Go with Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin if you want to start with the main line series or Gundam SEED / Gundam 00 if you prefer standalone stories.

Art – High

Though I’m not a fan of the character designs, there is no denying Iron-Blooded Orphans looks great. Best of all, repeat animations aren’t an issue and the action flows smoothly. There is a visceral quality to the way Barbatos carves up enemies.

Sound – High

I like the soundtrack, but I wish it had a little more grunge to match to the down and dirty lives of these kids. The acting is better than the script, which could do with a simple 10% trim that over explains characters.

Story – High

A squad of child soldiers find themselves holding destiny in their hands before they fight for a better future. A great story with mediocre characters comes to an excellent conclusion.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it (if it isn’t your first Gundam series). Iron-Blooded Orphans is a solid series despite its flaws. However, I don’t recommend this for first-timers to the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Kurozuka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kurozuka

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Ergo Proxy

Blade of the Immortal

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy Horror Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Intriguing start

Negatives:

  • Leaps to the future too soon
  • Laughing maniac villain is ineffective
  • Most interesting character isn’t in the story enough
  • Visuals show their age

(Request an anime for review here.)

It pains me – it pains me to report how disappointed I am with Kurozuka. This is my type of story. Historical fact woven into in a fantasy narrative with vampires, romance, unflinching action, and cyberpunk – what’s not to love? Maybe the fact that we are missing the middle of the story.

Kurozuka opens in feudal Japan with Minamoto no Yoshitsune (a real historical figure, also known as Kurou) and his closest ally as they flee into the mountains after the fall of Kurou’s brother, first ruling shogun of Japan. The real historical account says that he committed suicide here. Kurozuka postulates that idea of him meeting a stunning woman, Kuromitsu (based on a fable), whom he soon discovers is a vampire and rather than fight her, falls in love. He falters while defending her, but she turns him into an immortal to save his life. Thus a romance set to span over a millennium is born.

I love this setup, particularly in the presentation. It doesn’t hold back on the gore and dark fantasy. His conversion to vampire is the perfect illustration of this, where the norm would be to have him die and then wake up as a vampire or show a sanitised transformation at most. Kurozuka has him alive as a dismembered head while Kuromitsu prepares a new body for him. It’s gruesome and just right (narratively relevant in future as well). The tone of the romance is clear from the start. I am in!

Then episode 3 leaps a thousand years into a dystopian cyberpunk future with Kurou having no idea how he got there. A chance encounter has him join the resistance to combat the Red Imperial Army sporting the same emblem as the clan that tried to kill him and Kuromitsu all those generations ago. The resistance promises they can help him find the one person he knows.

And here is where you lose me.

The setup promises a twisted romance through the ages, Kurou and Kuromitsu forever entwined in a love story painted in blood and guts. I wouldn’t be wrong in expecting to see these two appearing in various eras throughout history, perpetuating the unhealthy cycle of their relationship, one of those affairs where the best decision would be to end it now, in a moment of happiness, but they can’t help themselves from trying again, slaves to their love.

Instead, the story plants itself in the future city with extensive use of flashbacks to dole out bits of the past, of the “middle” of the story for us to figure out. This does not succeed. At all.

The structure is disjointed as all hell. When we flashback, we aren’t sure of which period we are in half the time. This is intentional, as revealed later. Worst of all, the idea of having an amnesiac Kurou on a quest to find Kuromitsu removes her, the most interesting character, from much of the story and turns him into a blank slate. I’ve said it many times: be careful of using amnesia as a plot device. The two most important characters have the least agency. The resistance fighters feel more important to the day-to-day of the story and the main villain, a Joker-like laughing maniac, grates one’s nerves within a single scene. (I would be remiss in mentioning that the horror goes down as the sci-fi goes up too.)

So, why structure the story in such a manner? It is all for the twist that reveals why he has amnesia, why he doesn’t wake up in the future beside her and why the Red Army wants him. The writer sacrificed everything to deliver such a mediocre twist. Worse yet, the twist is a fine piece of vampire lore that could have created plenty of great conflict along the way, if we could have seen it throughout time. I can’t wrap my brain around the insistence upon nailing this twist. It just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to give it away, in case you do watch Kurozuka, so allow me to craft an example instead. Imagine if you took Code Geass, as is, but you hid the fact that Lelouch had the power of mind control (don’t worry, Kurozuka’s twist isn’t mind control). You therefore removed any scene that shows his power because it would give away the twist. Sure, it’s an interesting reveal that he was mind controlling people all along (only once per person as well, to further the twist), but at what cost? You’ve now removed most of the compelling scenes and conflict, all because you wanted a big surprise.

Kurozuka is this hypothetical version of Code Geass. It has the components for a fantastic story. I can point to several elements I love, yet leaves much to be desired once brought together. Forget the twist. I want their relationship. Give me their turmoil, damn it!

I am more positive than negative over Kurozuka, though this has much to do with it being the type of story and aesthetic that I like. The ideas and possibilities that made me ponder interesting questions captivated me more than the product itself. As such, if you aren’t into vampires or cyberpunk, it is unlikely to work for you in the face of its structural and character issues.

Art – Medium

In its heyday, Kurozuka would have looked great. Age hasn’t been kind, ironically, as certain animation techniques and elements like CG blood do not hold up. The visual tone, however, is still strong in conveying atmosphere and several action scenes have great animation.

Sound – Medium

I like that they kept the kabuki narration in Japanese even for the English dub – not the sort of thing that works in another language. The acting is good, probably the strongest element of the entire production. The soundtrack is an intense electro death metal collection that, though not to my taste, is a perfect fit to the cyberpunk tragedy when you think about it.

Story – Medium

A samurai falls in love with a vampire woman, sparking a romance destined to last over a thousand years. A brilliant start filled with promises of a dark romance through the ages soon falters with a leap to the future, all in favour of an unsatisfying twist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. I was going to suggest trying Kurozuka, but as the opening few episodes are deceptive to the overall experience, I can’t do so. The paranormal dystopian aspect is the draw.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Disappointing

Drifters – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Drifters

 

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Fate/Zero

Re:Creators

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Action Comedy Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes, 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Harsh visual style
  • Effort in the fantasy and samurai speech mannerisms

Negatives:

  • Constant random humour is jarring
  • Unfortunate use of CG
  • No profiling for elf ears

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I loved Drifters for about one episode. The distinct visual style, gritty action, and commitment to bloodlust had me sold. Then the comedy started and I recoiled in disgust. Why? Why do this to me?

Drifters opens in the midst of a clash between samurai armies during the Battle of Sekigahara, year 1600. Bodies litter the muddy fields as screams echo through the trees. Amongst this carnage stands Toyohisa, blood crazed and hungry for battle. Upon spotting an enemy commander, he charges the cavalry line as one soldier against many. This foolhardy act goes as well as expected and he finds himself on the receiving end of a dozen spears. He cuts down several enemies before oblivion takes hold.

However, instead of the afterlife, a white corridor lined with doors and a solitary office clerk awaits him. At a mere gesture from the clerk, one of these doors opens and sucks Toyohisa to another world, a world where knights of the human Orte Empire reap the land and oppress other races such as elves and dwarves. Toyohisa, almost involuntarily, comes to the aid of elves and makes it his mission to free them of tyranny. The fact that he gets to wage war and taste more blood is a coincidence. It should be an easy matter, after all, with his superior combat prowess and the famed Nobunaga – also ripped from his time alongside other historical figures – on this team. He didn’t anticipate that whatever supernatural being the clerk was fighting against would summon fighters of his own. Nor did he anticipate they would be so twisted by malice at the manner of their deaths that they developed powers beyond imagining.

If you told me all of the above, I would say, “Sold! I will watch Drifters.” What you would have failed to mention was the damned humour.

Have you seen Hellsing Ultimate (same manga author as Drifters)? Remember those jarring cuts to comedy in a caricature art style that punched all dramatic tension out of your gut? Remember how the few times they used it in Hellsing was bad enough? Yeah, well, now imagine it first happening once an episode, then once an act, until is ramps up to once per scene and more. If you haven’t seen the like before, I want you to imagine cartoon sound effects added to any dramatic scene you like. It is intolerable.

I cannot impress upon you enough how much they overuse this technique. How is anyone supposed to take the slaughter of innocent elves seriously when it’s going to cut to Nobunaga honking some woman’s boobs at any moment? That joke makes an appearance once per episode – at least – after the woman joins the party. Joan of Arc is on fire, literally, in perpetuity out of spite for how the Church betrayed and burned her alive. She now has the power to incinerate others. But that isn’t as important as using the same moronic cut away reaction as last episode. The opener doesn’t give any indication of this.

One could improve Drifters by simply editing out these cuts. It wouldn’t be difficult either because they are almost forgotten when we return to the actual scene. The only humour that made me laugh was Toyohisa telling Nobunaga what happened to Japan and his legacy after his death.

This negative was enough of a detractor to me that I was sick of Drifters halfway through. I found it so bad that the stylish action, harsh visuals, and even the introduction of many interesting historical figures bringing their specialities to the battlefield barely made a difference. I mean, a WWII pilot joins mid battle amongst a squad of real dragons. If a meeting of Nobunaga, Hannibal, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Rasputin, Joan of Arc, Anastasia Romanova, and the machinations of Adolf God Damn Hitler can’t save a series, nothing can.

The action is good in all of its gory stylishness and insanity. But that unfunny humour every damn time! Look, I need to stop here before I think of it any further and dwell on how it ruined a fun action series.

Art – Medium

I am torn on Drifter’s art. On one hand, I love the harsh style, thick outlines, and high contrast shadows. On the other hand, I hate the CG characters (crowds, I can understand, but principal characters?) and how lazy the art is come characters in profile. It’s most noticeable with the elves’ ears – they look the same from the front and side, which is goofy.

Sound – High

In contrast to the low effort of the elf ears, their fictional language is well done. You feel like you can understand it, though not quite. Similarly, the samurai era speech (or a good representation of it) imitates the serious and forceful mannerisms of samurai films. And the OP is dope as hell. The real letdown is the poor timing and overuse of random comedy in the script.

Story – Low

Various historical figures find themselves dragged into a fantasy world to fight a war for supernatural beings. A fun concept brought down by insisting we suffer through lame comedy every five seconds.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For action fans only. Drifters is a lot of fun and would be an easy recommendation if not for the bad humour.

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

Positive:  None

Negative:

Not Funny