Tag Archives: Horror

Has strong elements to unsettle or frighten the audience.

The Promised Neverland – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yakusoku no Neverland

 

Related: The Promised Neverland 2nd Season (2021)

Similar: Now and Then, Here and There

Made in Abyss

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Tense atmosphere
  • Good animation
  • Shows the workings

Negatives:

  • Gives away the mystery too early
  • Villains are comical

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The Promised Neverland should be an anime that you want to go in blind for, as I did, but its great mystery comes out within the first episode, so that magic is gone. Does make it easier to talk about in review.

This story takes place in an orphanage where children await adoption while under the loving gaze of Mother Isabella. The children live a peaceful life studying, helping around the house, and playing together within the safety of the walls. One day, they receive the bittersweet news that a family has selected one among them. Two of the oldest kids run after her to return her stuffed bunny, only to find horror instead as demons drop her lifeless body into a jar. She’ll keep for later.

The orphanage turns out to be nothing more than a child farm and Isabella is the shepherd. The three smartest, Emma, Norman, and Ray, begin to plot their escape. Can they take everyone?

As alluded to in my opener, I am disappointed that The Promised Neverland reveals the truth behind the orphanage in the first episode. It could have held onto that secret for another episode or two. This isn’t a case like Death Note, where seeing the story from both sides enhances the conflict and drama. See, a major problem – really, the core problem – of this anime is the bad villains. Improving this single area would alleviate several other problems, such as the too-brief mystery, which itself isn’t automatically a problem. As I said, Death Note gives it away and it works in favour of the story. Seeing the villains’ perspectives here adds little of value.

The Promised Neverland has three villains: Isabella, Sister Krone, and the demons. The demons are a shadowy entity in the background with scant minutes of airtime across the series and don’t matter beyond the catalyst for child farming. They don’t need explanation. The two women, however, are central to the plot. Isabella is the quiet, measured, plotting type who knows more than she lets on. With each passing episode, I expect some deeper revelation to her character that will explain who she is, why she is. All we get is a few seconds of backstory that barely explain anything. She is flat. Nor do we see her cunning actions enough to become a smart antagonist.

Worse is Sister Krone (subtle name, you got there). She comes in to assist Isabella, but harbours ambitions of becoming a Mother herself. She is comically bad. The performance, both in English and Japanese, is horrendous on a level up there with Jared Leto’s Joker. I don’t blame the actors for this. No performance could save her writing. It’s so over the top and manic, meant to be frightening (akin to the Joker pretending to be a loving nun) that it elicits only laughter. Her impact on the story is negligible as well. I image later seasons will bring he back for some ungodly reason.

Speaking of, I think this story would have worked better as a single season narrative. Despite remaining engaged from start to finish, I have no motivation to watch the next season unless I hear great things from a trusted source. I get the impression that future arcs will focus on the demons and the unresolved issues at the orphanage. The demons, I don’t need an explanation; the resolution of the orphanage, I expect to find repetitive.

If a single season of 12 episodes was it, complete story start to finish, I can’t imagine we would have wasted time on Krone or had Isabella remain puddle deep (one can see they are “saving her for later”). Restrictions often increase creativity and quality because there are only so many minutes on screen, so many words on the page that when the editing starts, the weak links hit the cutting room floor. If you have any familiarity with multi-season American TV shows, you will know what it’s like to see weak content added for the sake of extending the story to a fifth, sixth, seventh season when the studio renews.

So, I have vehement criticisms, yet I stay engaged to the end – why? Well, the main characters, primarily. Emma, Norman, and Ray work great. Upon first seeing their designs, I predicted their roles and arcs in the story (the energetic yet naïve one, the clever yet emotionless one, and the emo yet ruthless one, respectively). They surprise me though. Yes, they are the archetypes I predicted, but they aren’t the stereotypes I expected. Emma is naïve and idealistic, saying she would even take snitches when they escape (they suspect some kids feed information to Isabella), which is a truly dumb idea when many lives are on the line. However, she also displays moments of brilliance in both mind and heart. Remember, these three kids are supposed to be the smartest. Unlike most anime with “genius” characters that are actually dumb as bricks and only win because the author says so, these three show real brains (not in the way the demons would prefer, of course). It helps that they aren’t pitched as reality altering geniuses.

My favourite element of this story is seeing the kids figure it all out. How does Isabella know where they are at all times? Who is snitching on them? Is someone snitching? How can they escape with kids who still pick their noses and eat it? Why do the demons want them and what determines the next “adopted” child? How do they train for escape with Isabella surveying their every move? Seeing them work through this systematically is most engaging. It would have been that much better if the villains were equally engaging obstacles to the goal though.

The Promised Neverland, in the face my criticisms, receives my easy recommendation. The core of the story and its characters are sound, pulling you from one episode to the next with fast pacing and clever cliffhangers. You will want to watch just one more episode.

Art – High

The art is good, notably in animation. The demon designs are freaky, though the world itself could do with more creativity.

Sound – High

You can go with either language here. The music infuses a creepy atmosphere and I like the OP song – will probably add it to my playlist.

Story – High

A group of orphans realise that the promised land of a family is a one-way trip down a demon’s gullet in reality and the orphanage is a farm. Other than revealing the mystery too soon, The Promised Neverland delivers a tense thriller that captures your attention to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. The Promised Neverland is an easy recommendation from me to anyone unless child abuse in any form is too much for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: MEMORIES

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Perfect Blue

Akira

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 50 min. (3 short films)

 

Positives:

  • Magnetic Rose’s atmosphere and horror
  • Stink Bomb’s dark humour
  • Beautiful, grim art

Negatives:

  • Cannon Fodder has little to it

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Memories is an anthology of three short films that brings together several big talents of the anime industry. All three are based on manga works from executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo (director of Akira), however are directed by three different directors.

Magnetic Rose, first of the three, comes from director Koji Morimoto (animator of Akira, Kiki’s Delivery Service) and writer Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue). This follows a pair of engineers working for a salvage company sent to investigate a distress call from an abandoned space station. Inside, they find a residence of such opulence that it would match European palaces of old. It isn’t abandoned either. The opera singer who once lived here seems alive in the very bolts that keep this place together. Hologram or hallucination, the two men can’t differentiate as she pulls them deeper into her tragic past.

Of the three, Magnetic Rose is easily the best in all regards. Whether talking story, art, music or atmosphere, this is a level above the rest. You immediately feel the styles of Morimoto and Kon. The measured pace, the emphasis on atmosphere and emotion over dialogue, the attention to detail in all of the art, and the psychological tension are telltale signatures. I get strong Dead Space vibes. The madder things get, the more it draws me in. I love it. The only area for improvement is in giving depth to the characters. There is enough here to work, but more wouldn’t have gone awry.

The second film is Stink Bomb under the direction of Tensai Okamura (creator of Darker Than Black). This one is more of a black comedy around a horror scenario. A lab tech tries his company’s experimental cold medicine and takes a nap at work. He awakens to find everyone dead. Turns out this wasn’t cold medicine at all. He has become a living gas bomb, only he doesn’t realise this as he makes his way back to Tokyo with the secret formula.

Stink Bomb feels like it would be a perfect fit as an episode to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It’s all about the ridiculous scenario – equal parts comedy and horror – without much to the characters or the story beyond that. The more the death toll rises, the funnier it gets. The visuals are great here, particularly in the animation.

Otomo himself directs the last of these films, Cannon Fodder. This is a simple story set in a steampunk city that revolves around firing cannons in an endless war. There are cannons everywhere. Instead of skylights, buildings simply have more cannons. We follow a cannon loader as he goes about a day on the job.

While the most unique visually, Cannon Fodder is the shallowest and least interesting of the three. It’s more of a presentation for a world concept than it is a complete story. I take this an allegory on Japan’s “salary man” work life, where one is slave to the company, no matter the abuse received from higher up, living each day to work so you can pay the bills to live, stuck in this endless “war”. We even have the contrast of the child who wants to become the cannon officer (orders when to fire cannons), as children often do when idolising what their parents do for work (parents haven’t the heart to tell them of reality). An interesting concept, but not the most memorable.

Overall, I highly recommend Magnetic Rose (the worst thing about this film is reminding me that Satoshi Kon isn’t around anymore to share more of his genius with us). Try Stink Bomb if you want to continue, and then you may as well finish Cannon Fodder to complete the anthology. You might want to end on Magnetic Rose to close with the best.

Art – Very High

All three films feature a different style – Cannon Fodder especially – under the guidance of different art directors, all of which succeed in augmenting the tone of their respective stories. The animation is beautiful too.

Sound – High

The voice work is good for the most part. Standouts of the audio department are the sound design of Cannon Fodder and everything audio in Magnetic Rose, which delivers a haunting atmosphere.

Story – High

Three short stories: engineers investigate a haunted space station in Magnetic Rose; a hapless chemist becomes walking death in Stink Bomb; a look at a day in the life of citizens living in a city all about firing cannons in Cannon Fodder. The order of appearance happens to be the descending order of quality.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch Magnetic Rose, try Stink Bomb, then finish with Cannon Fodder if you want to complete the set. Memories is also good for showing to those who aren’t usually interested in anime.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Attack on Titan: Season 3 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin Season 3

 

Related: Attack on Titan: Season 1

Attack on Titan: Season 2

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Finally some human drama
  • First half delivers good action
  • Less Eren

Negatives:

  • Stories from previous seasons don’t carry over well
  • CG titans
  • Baseball titan
  • Continued lack of thought to the details

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Here we go, back for another season of Attack on Titan. After the poor showing of Attack on Titan: Season 2, I was done with this series, but a reader requested I return for the third season, as it had improved – or so the claim went. I go into this willing to give it a chance.

Attack on Titan: Season 3 starts well with beautiful animation and a focus on human versus human conflict. The titans became an uninteresting part of the series since it turned out every character and their mum is secretly a titan. Eren as a titan is still the greatest mistake this series made. You don’t think the author would do the same again, would he? Would he? It has also become evident which characters have plot armour, removing much of the tension that Attack on Titan executed well in the first season. These problems persist in season 3.

However, this season does improve in several ways. As I mentioned, the human conflict is good between the scouts – largely composed of the lower class – and the ruling class at the heart of civilisation. There should have been more such conflicts from the beginning of the anime. The most captivating element in any monster story is how characters react to each other, not the monster. Attack on Titan in general lacks complexity. Look no further than the one note cast of characters, especially Mikasa. I thought she would find relevance by now.

Ironically, the best action comes not against the titans but between humans, all of it in the first half of the season. The animation is great, the settings are creative and lend themselves well to the web swinging, and it’s different from earlier seasons. As for the titan action, it’s okay overall. The fight with the crawler titan has good atmosphere. A massive battle against a few special titans eats up most of the latter half of the season, which does drag from lack of story and two glaring flaws. First is the Bigfoot Titan and his baseball puns while pelting boulders. Just why? Imagine if Gollum started going on about fidget spinners in The Lord of the Rings. The second is the decision to have the Colossal Titan made entirely in CG – it never looks good (the crawler has the advantage of being in the dark).

In fact, we see a significant drop in visual quality during the second half. Static pans with only mouth movements become more common, highflying action is rare (characters hanging from walls or on roofs is popular), and we have less key frames throughout. The first half looks great, much better than season 2, only for the second half to slash the budget. One has to wonder either if a different team did the work or if they realised that fans would watch regardless. Attack on Titan is popular enough to draw a crowd on a shoestring production.

The “Part 1” and “Part 2” structure of this season brings another problem to mind: the disconnect in story between seasons. Think back to seasons 1 and 2 and how little most of their events matter to season 3. Even with this season, the two halves aren’t all that connected. There is no sense of planning for the overarching story, as though the author thought of it one season at a time. The internal conflict within the human city of Part 1? Irrelevant to Part 2. What happened in season 2 again? I’d say 10% matters from season to season. This simultaneously makes each season feel like filler and relevant content.

Every good story employs resonance to build and build the narrative, incorporating past elements with the new to reinforce themes and events. Attack on Titan lacks resonance. When an earlier setup does receive an answer, I imagine the editor had to remind the author the night before.

Lastly, we come to the details. In my season 2 review, I talked of how the author hadn’t grasped the size of the human territory within the walls and the travel time required. It gets worse. We have characters travelling vast distances in a fraction of the time it should take. People come to the rescue at the last second (see plot armour earlier) despite being on the other side of the battlefield a minute ago. You can get away with this to some extent, but repeat offences wear thin. On a scale of one to Game of Thrones season 7, Attack on Titan is an eight for poor travel logistics.

Then we have simple stupidity. The ruling class wants to disband the scouts, the one group able to slay titans. How moronic are they? While evading the police, the scouts have the idea of hiding Eren in a crowd of 100 scouts by pulling their hoods up while flying around. Hoods wouldn’t stay up – bet you the writer has never worn one. Not a big deal, but it’s one of many instance where no thought went into the idea. No one instance is atrocious, yet they add up over time. Another that comes to mind is the torture scene. The mad scientist woman is the interrogator, but because she is comedic relief, the scene is laughable rather than frightening.

Contrary to my plethora of criticisms, I am more positive than negative towards Attack on Titan: Season 3, mostly because of the first half and its visual plus audio quality (great new OPs). It’s easy for the action to sweep you up.

Still, season 3 has not increased the likelihood that I will watch the conclusion. There are no mysteries left for me to care about. Season 3 revealed the origins of the titans to lacklustre results (would have been better with no explanation and no attention drawn to the idea of a backstory whatsoever). The studio has announced the fourth and final season is to release in 2020.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Attack on Titan fans only. While an improvement over season 2, Attack on Titan: Season 3 isn’t worth it for those that already quit.

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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

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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

Le Chevalier D’Eon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Le Chevalier D’Eon

 

Similar: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Rose of Versailles

Trinity Blood

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Supernatural Mystery

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks like France.
  • Animation succeeds in impactful sword strikes.

Negatives:

  • Script is inauthentic to the period.
  • So bland.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I love historical pieces. I particularly love it when anime takes a crack at it in a non-Japanese setting. Gankutsuou and The Rose of Versailles are two of my favourite anime, both based on historical France, interestingly enough (France is the favourite foreign county amongst the Japanese). Le Chevalier D’Eon, set in 18th century France during the reign of Louis XV, is another such historical anime. I saw middling reviews for this one and hoped, as I always do with anime outside the popular genres, that the reviews came down to it simply not being a fit for popular preference. While that is somewhat the case here, D’Eon still isn’t great.

Lia de Beaumont, favourite of the nobility including the king himself, floats down the river with her veins full of mercury and blood scribbles on her dead body. Her brother Charles d’Éon de Beaumont, spy and knight to the king, makes it his mission to find the truth of her death. This single murder soon unravels into a plot against France. However, the greatest twist in this tale comes from Lia herself. Her spirit, unable to crossover, returns to the living and inhabits d’Éon’s body. With her combat prowess and his espionage abilities, they plunge into a world of the dead and the treacherous.

I can best describe Le Chevalier D’Eon as a Three Musketeers tale with a dark supernatural angle instead of the usual fun swashbuckling. Many people die, blood splatters ceilings, zombies (called gargoyles here) rise from the dead, and ritual sacrifice of beautiful women is in high fashion.

The immediate issue is how this story fails to grip you from the beginning. Lia’s spirit possessing d’Éon is an interesting twist for a story that gives no indication of being anything but an authentic(ish) historical piece until that point, but the grander conspiracy isn’t clear for several episodes. It doesn’t give much reason to care. I would have started the story with the focus just on Lia’s death. Make it seem like an isolated incident personal to the protagonist, though nothing of greater import. Then, once he seems close to solving the case, he learns this is much bigger than a single death. Now we are in for a ride.

What we have is too vague. “Something is going on – can you give me more detail?”

“Nah, I don’t feel like it.”

If a writer holds back every little detail for so long, then one needs to draw in the audience with another element. And in a historical piece, the easy answer is through atmosphere and authenticity – transport the audience to 18th century France. Make us walk the bustling streets, catch the scent of a bakery around the corner and feel the chill in the air. Le Chevalier D’Eon looks like France, but doesn’t feel like it. The script in particular has no historical touches. Now, the characters haven’t come straight out of My Hero Academia or say, “That is wack, yo!” yet they don’t sound of their time.

I would go so far as to say that had they gone more authentic in every aspect, it would have inverted my opinion on the series. See, in order to convey more of the politics, society, manners, and life of 18th century France, they would need to cut scenes to make room. And what would they likely cut? The boring scenes. Only the action feels strong.

I can forgive a story not paying much attention to authenticity as long as it’s entertaining – several Robin Hood films come to mind. Sadly, that won’t apply here. The pacing is too slow, the conspiracy, even once rolling, doesn’t hold you tight like a beggar on the streets of Paris saves for a few scenes, and the characters never flourish.

On the flipside, some of the historical story details are great. Take the siblings, for example. D’Éon – or if you want his full name of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont – was a real person and a real spy for France who disguised himself as a woman – one Lia de Beaumont. He was apparently so convincing that people had no idea he was a man for years. His life was truly fascinating. I love how this anime takes his identities and works them into the supernatural.

If only the execution were better.

Le Chevalier D’Eon will likely only draw the attention of history fans. Such fans though love the details that this anime is lacking. Go for The Rose of Versailles instead.

Art – Medium

The art would be rated higher if not for the muddy backgrounds and blurring of detail. It feels like they tried to emulate a Renaissance painter’s style by using a Photoshop filter sometimes. I’m just grateful they didn’t copy the manga’s art. Action feels good thanks to weighty animations.

Sound – Medium

The acting is good. However, the script makes little effort to sound period accurate, which is a critical factor in the success of a period piece.

Story – Medium

A knight of France takes in the spirit of his powerful sister to uncover who murdered her and reveal what secret threatens the nation. The story is in dire need of an editor to sharpen the corners and tighten the edges so that it may bring out the potential.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For history fans only. I don’t know if I would even recommend Le Chevalier D’Eon to history fans when it doesn’t feel historical enough. It may not bother you though.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None