Tag Archives: Horror

Has strong elements to unsettle or frighten the audience.

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

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We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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Future Diary – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mirai Nikki

 

Similar: Deadman Wonderland

Death Note

Another

Eden of the East

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Supernatural Action Horror Thriller

Length: 26 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Interesting premise.

Negatives:

  • No smart characters.
  • Alliance flip-flopping.
  • Inconsistent powers.
  • Yuno’s obsessiveness is weak.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Everyone knows of Mirai Nikki, or Future Diary in English, if not by name then by the yandere character of Yuno and her repeated pronouncements of “Yuki”. What I didn’t know, despite having heard of this series in 2011, was the premise of Future Diary. I always thought it was about an obsessive girl (Yuno) trying to kill the guy she loved. There is far more to the story than that, though not necessarily to its benefit.

Yuki has a cellphone diary that tells him the future, forewarning him of the many possible eventualities from his competitors in the battle royale. However, it doesn’t reveal his future unless tied to someone else. He teams up with his stalker Yuno, who also possesses a “future diary”, except hers only reports on Yuki’s status every ten minutes. When paired with his diary, it makes her the perfect guardian in this battle. What is the prize for victory? Godhood.

I was disappointed when they introduced the battle royale angle. I had hoped for a smaller scale story with the duo avoiding one fatality after the other, delaying the inevitable, akin to The Time Machine and Steins;Gate. The battle royale turned this into generic shounen horror, pointless ecchi included. Not that it couldn’t have succeeded, but the writer evidently could not handle the complexity of a story with so many possible outcomes and 12 time altering powers to track. Each diary is different and creates a 12-pointed rock-paper-scissors game.

Juggling all of these elements is Future Diary’s greatest failing. For one, the diaries for each character conveniently don’t forewarn of something or don’t function as they should when the plot needs a character to die. Comparing to the similar Death Note, the rules there are set and don’t waver, which makes it all the smarter when one player outsmarts the other. Bending the rules when convenient makes the audience lose trust in the author.

This also extends to the inherent supernatural abilities of some characters. A character can have the strength to break out of a bind one moment, and then be rendered useless the next in a similar situation. I’m not even sure if they are meant to have superpowers, but some characters defy human boundaries of ability.

Future Diary also has an overreliance on crazy over smarts. None of these contestants are smart. Instead, just about everyone is “lol I’m a crazy psycho, aren’t I interesting?” There’s little variety in the showdowns against the various competitors, lasting 2-3 episodes a kill, and it makes much of it feel like padding. Future Diary is like taking the Batman versus Joker story but with 11 different Jokers and one of them is on Batman’s side (sort of). The more copies of “the psycho” you include, the more it dilutes the strength of the individual. I thought that the battle royale direction would be about producing a variety of opponents with some clever trick to besting them. The only real difference between them is their diary’s ability, which even then isn’t that varied.

Then we have the allegiance switching every other episode. “You know these two allies? Let’s have them fight each other next episode.” “But, sir, that doesn’t make sen—” “Who cares – it will surprise the audience!” It reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, where Jack Sparrow and company flip-flopped allegiances every few minutes because the producers heard the audience liked Jack’s triple cross in the first movie. Future Diary does the same to generate dumb conflict.

Lastly, we come to the main couple, the one thing that gave Future Diary any popularity. Yuno’s obsession with Yuki doesn’t work for me. I don’t buy into her reason for being so possessive of him, even once the story provides an explanation later on. The best psychotic characters, as unhinged as they are, have a well-defined reason for their behaviour that we can understand, from their perspective, without agreeing with them. Yuno is just psychotic because that’s what the story needed.

And Yuki? You won’t remember him before the series is over.

I was rather bored with Future Diary for the most part. It doesn’t have that quality reminiscent of bad horror, where you can enjoy the silliness of the violence regardless of story quality (a bad story likely enhances the experience). The deaths needed to be more ridiculous like in Another, an anime that I didn’t find great either but had advantage of over the top deaths. It’s strange that Future Diary, so full of psychos, has such tame kills. I guess being generic shounen horror will do that to you.

Art – Medium

The visuals are rather good, though needs more atmosphere for this type of series. Scenes don’t feel as frightening as they should as a result.

Sound – Low

The Japanese and English acting is roughly the same. English Yuno is less annoying, but you may want her more psychotic Japanese counterpart. Regardless of language track, the writing sucks.

Story – Low

A boy with a mobile phone that tells the future enters a battle royale against others with similar devices, as a psycho chick protects him against everything except herself. Future Diary’s good idea crumbles under bad writing, incoherent storytelling, and shallow characters.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Future Diary is too much of a mess for me to recommend and the deaths aren’t inventive or ridiculous enough to enjoy with friends.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incoherent

High School of the Dead – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakuen Mokushiroku: High School of the Dead

 

Similar: High School DxD

Gantz

School Live!

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Harem Supernatural Action Horror

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The otaku.

Negatives:

  • Every other character.
  • Takes itself too seriously.
  • Zombies aren’t a real threat.
  • No effort fan service.
  • Episode 4 recap in a 12-episode series.

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I watch a trashy anime expecting silly fan service and dumb action against zombies, but all I get is trash? What is this nonsense? High School of the Dead should have made for a great terrible anime that has you laugh at its ludicrousity. What it presents us instead is trash that takes itself too seriously and fails to understand everything about its genre.

A sudden zombie attack on the high school leaves a group of teenagers and a few staff members as survivors in a society descended into madness. It’s a fight for survival as they flee in search of loved ones.

 

The main group consists of Mr Bland the usual harem protagonist, useless main girl, a kendo girl (obviously), a fat otaku, some screeching wench, and the dumbest nurse alive (perhaps literally, at this point). Of this group, the otaku is the only passable character. He represents a glimpse at what High School of the Dead should have been.

You see, every other character is taken seriously. I don’t mean a joke played with a straight face. Rather, the series expects us to take the kendo girl choosing to fight with a wooden training sword for her life, wearing nothing but an apron and panties, as serious. It demands that we pay attention to teenage whining about which nobody cares (reason enough to take your own life after listening to them). The screeching wench, a totally serious character, has the defining trait of yelling at everyone that she is smarter than the rest. If High School of the Dead understood itself, it would have killed her in the first episode for doing something stupid. And finally, how can anyone take the zombies seriously when they can neither see nor smell people? No one would die to these things. You need skill on the level of Shaun of the Dead to make this work.

 

The otaku stands alone as he has some fun and cracks jokes in this borefest of an anime. He finally has opportunity to put his gun obsession to use when the world goes to hell, relishing in shoving a nail gun up zombie arse. He’s also – seemingly – the one character to acknowledge the ecchi. It isn’t some running joke that everyone is blind to it either. Again, we are meant to take it seriously.

The ecchi and fan service in general is garbage, even by the standards of a fan service anime. (Don’t you have to be a fan for it to be a service, and who would be a fan of High School of the Dead?) The camera does all it can to focus on the flailing boobs and pantie shots. Every movement has to have jiggle that puts Dead or Alive to shame. If there is no jiggle, the world will end. It doesn’t try to do anything clever with the ecchi, surprise you with a sudden angle change, or make a joke of it. I cannot recall an ecchi joke save one – the sniper rifle support. Mr Bland uses a girl’s chest as a rest to steady his rifle in one scene. Naturally, because they take the scene seriously, it loses the humour anyway. It was genuinely funnier when I saw that scene as an out of context gif.

 

I guess there is the recurring joke of the school nurse with boobs so big she uses them as pillows when asleep at her desk, but the joke is just that she’s a bimbo every episode. If I were a fan service otaku, I would feel insulted by the laziness with which High School of the Dead treats the sacred art. This is Boobs the anime and they couldn’t even get that right. Did I mention episode 4 is a recap in this single-cour anime? The lazy is almost impressive.

If you want to see the “raunchy + undead” concept done right, look to the movie Lesbian Vampire Killers, which is not only hilarious but also far less safe for work. It knows how to make humour of fan service.

 

Art – Medium

The entire budget went into the jiggle physics and the action, which has plenty of animation, though is a bit jerky at times – needs more in-between frames.

Sound – Low

The acting and music are so-so. Certainly not the worst things about this anime.

Story – Very Low

A group of slutty high school kids and their bimbo school nurse try to survive the zombie outbreak with their jiggle and panties. High School of the Dead is trash that fails to understand fan service, comedy, and zombies.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. There must better fan service anime out there than High School of the Dead. I do recommend the movie Lesbian Vampire Killers instead, and Shaun of the Dead of course.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous ActionInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersUseless Side Cast

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tasogare Otome x Amnesia

 

Similar: Another

Ghost Hunt

AnoHana

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Romance

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Some gorgeous colours.
  • The humour succeeds.

Negatives:

  • The protagonist is as dull as the grave.
  • One of the worst dubs ever made.
  • Empty world.
  • The romance.

(Request an anime for review here.)

After you read the following blurb, I want you to guess what Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is about:

Yuuko has haunted Seikyou Private Academy ever since her death in the basement 60 years ago. Her memories of life lost, she establishes the Paranormal Investigations Club, where she meets Niiya, a boy who somehow has the ability to see her, Momoe, a girl afraid of ghosts, and the distrustful Kirie. They investigate the various mysteries surrounding the school to figure out which one relates to Yuuko’s death.

You’re thinking this is a horror mystery, yes? Well, you’d be wrong. I was wrong. This is a romance with a dash of horror mystery on the side – a romance with as much substance as a ghost.

Any romance with such a wet noodle of a guy as Niiya is doomed to fail. He’s a nobody. I don’t know what personality he’s meant to have. The idea of a ghost with several possibilities pointing to her identity and death is an interesting one. It hooked me. The mechanics of Yuuko’s appearance are interesting, for one.

When Niiya looks at her, he sees a sexy girl, voluptuous and well endowed in the right places, always flirting with him and craving his touch. But in the eyes of Kirie, she’s a monster, an onryo with long, matted black hair and black blood leaking from her skin. Her seductions aren’t for love. They are to ensnare Niiya and do who knows what to his soul. This is a great idea. The romance is obvious from the start and I thought its inclusion was to heighten tension, create uncertainty about whether she wants his love or his life. Unfortunately, this tension doesn’t last.

Another problem is the hollowness of the world. These four characters seem to be the entire population of this school. You see the occasional background character, but they may as well be cardboard cutouts. Imagine if there were more characters, each with a different perception of Yuuko and no one knows her true version.

We have this romance with no ground to stand on instead. Forcibly tripping over to grab both her breasts is supposed to be a heartfelt moment of their relationship (kill me…). Not joking. He’s a harem protagonist without a harem.

Even if Niiya were a great character, the meshing of romance and mystery needs work. The story progresses through a series of cases, investigating phantoms in mirrors, bodies buried under the school, an old myth about a curse on the last kid to leave school each day, and the like. All these mysteries lack layers without time to develop because the romance takes precedence.

Hell, there’s almost more comedy than mystery in this horror mystery. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia opens on a great scene of Momoe in the clubroom writing notes as various objects float around. She freaks out but explains everything away to keep her sanity. Niiya enters and can seemingly read her mind. Then the whole scene plays again, only to reveal Yuuko this time, responsible for moving the objects, drinking Momoe’s tea, and the mind reading is a coincidence. Niiya’s answers to Yuuko’s questions happened to fit Momoe’s thoughts. Great use of a ghost, I must say.

So what we have here is a horror mystery with more comedy and even more romance than either horror or mystery. Did I put in the wrong disc?

Art – Medium

The environments are grim and grungy, reminiscent of a noir detective game, but the characters look too clean, too ‘nice’ for the setting. Some shots have such gorgeous colours that I paused to admire them.

Sound – Low

What is with this dub? How did they make such a bad dub in 2012? This sounds out of the 90s before professionals did the job. Not everyone is bad, of course. That protagonist though…bloody hell. Thankfully, the Japanese is fine, so stick to it. Even so, don’t expect anything above average. The best friend’s freakouts are the best.

Story – Low

The Paranormal Investigations Club unravels their school’s mysteries to recover the memories of the girl that haunts the halls. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia made the grave mistake of focusing on romance with a soggy protagonist instead of the mysteries it had set up.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Even horror fans won’t find something of worth in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia because of the romantic focus.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow

Noblesse – Anime Review

Korean Title: Noblesse

 

Related: Noblesse: The Beginning of Destruction (prequel – included in review)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Castlevania

 

Watched in: Japanese & Korean

Genre: Supernatural Action Fantasy

Length: Two 30-minute movies

 

Positives:

  • Makes you want to read the manhwa.
  • Well-choreographed action.
  • Bloody good powers.

Negatives:

  • Awakening is just the opening chapter.
  • Production issues in Beginning of Destruction.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Noblesse (French for nobility), based on the popular manhwa webtoon of the same name, has received two short film adaptions, seemingly as a test for the reception of a full series. The first film, Noblesse: The Beginning of Destruction, tells the story of Raizel the Noblesse Vampire and werewolf lord Muzaka in medieval Europe as humans wage war around them, ending in the tragic falling out of these two friends. I assume this is a flashback volume from the manhwa selected as a self-contained story. Noblesse: Awakening is the proper start of the saga, where Raizel awakens from an 820-year slumber to find an unfamiliar modern world. He seeks out Frankenstein, loyal servant and current school principal, for help and ends up attending the school to learn modern life from his human classmates, who soon come under threat from other supernatural entities.

I have good and bad news about Noblesse. The good news? What we have of the series here is strong – I am excited for more. The bad news? That’s all there is in anime form (for now, hopefully) and we have to turn to the manhwa for the rest, which isn’t complete either.

While Awakening is a strong start, it truly is the mere first 2-3 episodes rushed to fit in as much as possible in 30 minutes. We see a bit of every key scene in setting up a larger story. Raizel awakens, meets Frankenstein, goes to class, makes friends against his will in a hilarious scene believing chopsticks are stakes and the garlic in kimchi is to poison him, and then the other vampires capture his friends for the climactic fight. Without having read the manhwa, I would wager it takes more time with these scenes. Still, they do work fine in the anime.

I like Raizel. He is the definition of a Korean drama protagonist. Let me tell you about Korean dramas one day – they’re plenty of fun. For now, the first rule is that the male lead must be tall, slender, handsome, and even a bit effeminate (middle-aged Korean ladies go nuts for that). Bonus points if he is emotionally reserved. Raizel barely speaks throughout both films with maybe 10 lines in Beginning of Destruction. However, he isn’t dull like Kaname, the aloof vampire of Vampire Knight – at least, not in what I’ve seen so far. His inner monologue, as present in the lunch scene, and his imposing manner give him character. When he has to make a hard choice in Beginning of Destruction, you can feel his pain conveyed in few words and facial expressions.

He’s overpowered as hell, though not without consequences. His blood magic looks great, particularly in the prequel.

Speaking of, Beginning of Destruction is the better of the two films when watched as is, owed due to the completeness of the arc. It does have lower production values, however, and I could only find it in Korean, which did work well. This story takes its time with the scenes, giving us enough to connect with the werewolf lord and the human girl he protects before the action starts. The action itself is well choreographed in both films and has a surprising amount of story weight for such little runtime.

Noblesse needs more episodes to deliver its potential, which I hope to see very soon. This is one of few anime adaptions I desire.

Art – High

The prequel may have average production values, but Awakening looks great and oozes style that is classically manhwa. Good animation for the engaging action.

Sound – Medium

The acting is solid. However, the music in Awakening feels generic, as if it not made for this anime but bought from a stock library. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the budget is responsible.

Story – Medium

An ancient vampire awakens to a modern world he doesn’t recognise and must learn of society and technology. The prequel shows his final moments before sleep over 800 years ago. Noblesse sets up a promising story that demands completion.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Hmm…I don’t like recommending incomplete work. If you fall in love and have to suffer the agonising wait for more, was it worth starting at all? Either wait or watch Noblesse and begin the manhwa.

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

Positive: N/A

Negative:

Incomplete