Tag Archives: Horror

Has strong elements to unsettle or frighten the audience.

Attack on Titan Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2

 

Related: Attack on Titan Season 1

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • New Titan type.
  • Some solid art and audio.

Negatives:

  • Too much CG.
  • Atrocious twists.
  • No tension.
  • Characters are still flat.

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Get your hype pants on; we are here for season 2 of Attack on Titan! Feeling all nice and comfortable? Right, now take them off and prepare for boredom as you sink further and further into the couch, until all we can see of you is two dead eyes staring at the screen. Attack on Titan Season 2 is bad.

The first problem should become obvious after you finish episode one. Where are the main characters? Where’s the main story? Instead, we follow the B team as they search for a breach in the wall that let a dozens of Titans inside. The purpose of this point of view is to give us the backstories for a few characters, which is fine in concept, but it takes near half the season and isn’t engaging.

Not that the main characters are of any interest either. Eren is still your ever-angry teen, Mikasa still has no personality to speak of (the last episode gives a glimmer – yay…), and Armin is still useless. I have yet to comprehend how Armin is supposed to fill the role of the ‘smart’ character. If he is smart, it’s because everyone else is an idiot. In a fight against the Armoured Titan, do you attack the armour or go for the exposed muscles? Go for the armour of course! Just keep slashing at that impenetrable plate until every blade breaks. You’ll get through it eventually, I’m sure. And then – I kid you not – one character has this incredible epiphany, recalling full plate knights with no armour on the back of joints to allow movement and how the Titan must have the same weakness. Did you not see the exposed muscle everywhere until now? You. Idiots.

If this series doesn’t end with humanity wiped out, I will feel cheated.

Now I must talk about the twists. The midpoint twist is one of anime’s worst. It’s the sort of twist that was thought of at the last moment, the writer running to print room to stop the presses for his last second addition. Or he planned the twist but executed it this poorly. I’m not sure which reality is worse. The story tries to explain it by flashing back to the moments of foreshadowing, yet ignores all the aspects that break the twist. And the end twist, what else can it be but a deus ex machina to crown the cake in a red bollock trying to pass for a cherry?

Oh man, don’t forget the unbelievable overuse of the flashforward narrative structure. Almost every episode starts with the characters in a dire situation before it flashes back to the present for us to wonder how they get to that situation. I hate to break it to you, writer, but this is Attack on Titan – everyone is in a dire situation at all times. It isn’t shocking to show these scenes to us. More than that, it is lazy. Lazy, the perfect word to summarise the writing this season.

The laziness should have been obvious from season 1, seen no more clearly than in the author’s misunderstanding of how big an area a 480 km radius covers. This lack of basic research comes to a head in season 2 with the main goal of finding the hole in the wall. The scouts on horseback cover a vast distance in a day or two that should take weeks. The world of Attack on Titan feels the size of a city, not the size of the large country it purports to be.

Alright, the story is garbage. What of the action, the real reason everyone attends class?

A few scenes are exciting with that same quality animation, the most interesting of which introduces the new yeti-looking Titan with intelligence above the rest. However, the action Attack on Titan is known for – Spidermaning with swords versus giants – is scarcer this time around. I don’t know if it was time or budget, but action scenes seem designed to require as little of the webslinging as possible. On the other hand, I have praised many action series that didn’t have half the spectacle of Attack on Titan. But those series used the action to develop characters, since they knew that they couldn’t rely on flashiness to engage the audience.

Attack on Titan does not do this with its characters, main or otherwise. Action development is a pacifist having to make the decision to kill someone to save another he cares about. In Attack on Titan, we know how everyone will act and how they will fight, so there’s no excitement. Mute the action and you miss nothing.

All these problems combined manage to kill Attack on Titan’s other strength – atmosphere. The increasing plot armour for important characters coupled with having a Titan on the heroes’ side means the tension is low. Yep, humanity is on the brink of extinction and the tension is still low. Just great. That oppressive feeling, the sense of impending doom, the idea that it could all end today is gone.

Art – High

Season 2 has few of the amazing action sequences from before, with more static shots and ‘left to right’ animations taking their place. There is CG everywhere now. CG horses running across CG ground, the Colossal Titan in full CG, and more CG horses stand out like ink blots on paper. The art is still good overall, but doesn’t have the impressiveness of season 1.

Sound – Medium

Take all the music of Attack on Titan and lower the hype. You now have this soundtrack. The script hasn’t much to say.

Story – Low

Scouts investigate a breach in the wall that allowed a swarm of Titans inside human territory. An overuse of the flashforward story structure, flat characters, and twists conjured out of thin air saps all engagement for the story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For diehard Attack on Titan fans only. If you are a fan, you’ve already seen season 2, so my recommendation doesn’t matter. But for those unsure after the first season, this isn’t worth your time. Attack on Titan Season 2 has almost none of the qualities that made the first engaging.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Deus Ex MachinaNo Development

Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.

In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.

The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.

Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.

In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.

Art – Very High

Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.

Sound – High

The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.

Story – Medium

A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

School-Live! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakkougurashi!

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Higurashi: When They Cry

High School of the Dead

Perfect Blue

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Mystery Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good contrast.
  • The opening sequence.

Negatives:

  • Moe over world building.
  • Beach episode.
  • Unexplored psychosis.

(Request an anime for review here.)

NOTE: In order to review School-Live, I must spoil an early point in the series. If you want to go in blind, do not read further.

Though the ‘moe gone dark’ genre is a congregation of mediocrity, whenever a new one releases, I can’t help but give it a shot. I try to ignore it, but it keeps nudging me, “Hey, I might be as good as Madoka Magica. You won’t know until you watch me. Eh? Eh?Yeaaaargh…alright. School-Live, show me what you got.

Four girls and a teacher find themselves trapped inside their school after a zombie outbreak. As the last survivors in the area, they hole up and do their best to make school a home, going out on excursions for supplies. School-Live’s angle to stand out lies in its protagonist, Yuki. She has no idea they live in a zombie apocalypse. The ruined school is still whole, the zombies are still her classmates, and the foraging excursions are merely class trips or ‘Tests of Courage’. Well, you’ve hooked me.

Unlike other psychosis stories where the mental breakdown is the climactic twist, School-Live reveals the secret in the first episode. It instead focuses on how the characters around Yuki deal with her psychosis. Everyone plays along with her idea that all is normal, which creates great contrast between her happy world and the tragic reality. I felt sorry for her.

And School-Live almost nails it.

Alas, we now turn to the ‘moe’ part of the ‘moe gone dark’ genre. Unlike Madoka, where moe is just the outer shell, the style, School-Live’s moe is the focus. When given the choice to show girls doing moe things or girls developing character, this anime chooses moe nine times out of ten. School-Live is the perfect example of what I mean when I say that moe ruins shows – it’s not the ugly character design or the terrible voices, but the story focus.

Imagine you are on episode 9 out of 12 and so far the series hasn’t given much in the way of backstory or world building, and instead of realising the climax is fast approaching, it gives us a beach episode. Are you serious? You haven’t shown how the world got into this state or how the zombies overcame everything Japan threw at them! If these girls kept the zombies out by stacking a few desks and if they are so slow, so easily distracted, so easily killed, how did anyone fall to them to begin with? It’s not as though these are the Nazi vampires from Hellsing Ultimate – these don’t wield rocket launchers. Zombie apocalypses are flimsy premises to begin with, but School-Live does nothing to suspend our disbelief. Instead, we get a beach episode. Yay…

Inner-character – motivations, secrets, psyche – has toe-deep exploration. Even Yuki, who is so far broken from reality, has little airtime to unravel her psychology. Give us more to believe such a mental block would occur and in this way. School-Live strays close to having this psychosis for shock value only.

The most glaring absence is the lack of development for the students-turned-zombies. When one girl has to kill a former classmate, I do not care because they were never people to begin with as far as story is concerned. They are faceless zombies included to fill the space. No one outside of the main five and one other girl have any story or personality to them. Again, cut a few moe sequences in favour of showing us life pre-outbreak.

Fans of Higurashi will also find some disappointment in how tame School-Live’s horror is. When things should go from 0 to 100 in a split second – like HigurashiSchool-Live reaches 50 before it’s distracted by more moe. I don’t recall a single scary moment. Tension, sure, plenty of that, but no real horror.

School-Live is still a decent anime. Its greatest tragedy comes from how obvious its faults are throughout the story. The manga apparently has many differences, so may be a better use of your time.

Art – Medium

The colourful palette works well contrasted with the ruined environment. Could do without the auras around the zombies – looks silly.

Sound – High

The cutesy VO, mainly for the protagonist, could have been worse for a moe anime. The cheerful OP is so damn catchy. I like how the sequence grows darker each episode, happy scenes replaced by their current state of ruination.

Story – Medium

Four schoolgirls and an airheaded teacher survive a zombie apocalypse inside their high school. School-Live’s great idea does not live up to its potential – less focus on moe next time, please.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For moe-gone-dark fans. If you love the contrast between moe girls and a dark world, then School-Live is another to add to your library. Others will likely feel disappointed by this anime’s shortcomings.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World Building

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica

 

Related: Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 1 & 2 (alternate version)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 3: Rebellion (sequel)

Similar: Steins;Gate

School-Live!

Princess Tutu

Neon Genesis Evangelion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Relentless conflict against the characters.
  • Keeps getting better.
  • Superb development of the plot points.
  • Many beautiful art elements.

Negatives:

  • First two episodes are dull enough to turn people away.

(Request an anime for review here.)

“It’s a deconstruction of the genre – it’s so good!” Whenever I hear this word ‘deconstruction’ as praise for a series, I take it as a warning sign of incoming rubbish, for it’s often used as a blanket excuse to wave away the same mistakes from the genre it “deconstructs.” Throw in a moe style, and my hopes for Puella Magi Madoka Magica aren’t high going in. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.

My fears are realised in the first episode. Madoka Magica opens with an it-was-a-dream sequence – the worst opening type – and we soon meet a borderline Mary-Sue in the transfer student, Akemi (perfect at school, loved by all, etc.). Random psychedelic stuff happens suddenly to protagonist Madoka with no explanation, ending in an offer from a Digimon to become a magical girl.

Akemi turns out to be a magical girl. However, she wants to prevent the Digimon creature Kyuubey from contracting Madoka and her friend Sayaka to become magical girls. In exchange for service fighting evil witches, they would have any wish granted. What wish could these privileged girls want granted when they have never wanted for anything in their lives? Kind classmate Mami, also secretly a magical girl, takes them on a witch hunt to help them decide.

Episode two ends and I am still unimpressed. Studio SHAFT already wowed me with their visually superior Bakemonogatari, so the interesting world won’t keep me engaged alone (the giant moe heads don’t help). Seeing Mami summon rifles from under her skirt is…nifty (each girl has a different power), but where’s the hook snared in my brain to keep me until the end of the series?

And then episode three does something truly magical. It gives a third dimension to one of its characters. Mami says that being a magical girl is not fun, a lonely existence, and frightening. Something in her manner hints at the disturbing events to come.

From that moment on, Madoka Magica had me. The writers demonstrated they understood depth of character in that single scene, earning audience trust that we would not be lead into drudgery.

Despite Mami’s words and Akemi’s warnings, Madoka still wants to become the most wonderful of little girl superheroes because she feels it would give purpose to her bland life. She doesn’t seem to understand the terms of the contract – we do; the story makes sure of this. She must soon learn that being a magical girl isn’t a game.

Meanwhile, the promise of any wish granted looks tempting to her friend Sayaka when it can cure her hospitalised friend. He could walk and play music again. Will she feel he owes her love for what she has done for him? (I recently read a true story of a man who took a bullet for his long-time crush, causing irreparable damage to his spine. He feels she owes him love, even though he knows it’s wrong.)

With the approach of the all-powerful witch Walpurgis Nacht, the girls have to make a decision fast.

Madoka Magica improves so much that it manages to justify opening on a dream sequence and having Akemi approach Mary-Sue status. A rare feat, indeed. The twists and turns as we spiral down this story just keep getting better.

I still stand by my distaste of the first two episodes. I know Madoka Magica is supposed to start like any other magical girl story before it flips the table into a realm of trauma. Still they could have started better than the generic entries of the genre. Yes, the episodes that follow do lessen the impact of a weak opening, but better writing would have pieced out morsels of foreshadowing. The morsels would show us this isn’t like other magical girl anime, though we aren’t quite sure why…yet. Mami’s words in episode three is one such morsel.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is not a happy anime full of wishful-thinking and fun times. It’s dark, disturbing, and – I cannot believe I am going to say this about a moe anime – receives my highest recommendation.

Art – High

I like the world – sterile, yet interesting in its space, almost like a dream world with so much infrastructure, yet so few people to populate it. Madoka’s bathroom for example, is gigantic and full of mirrors but in a house too small to fit it. At school, each classroom is a glass box, like the storage rooms in the Vatican library. That said, I am not a fan of characters with heads as wide as the shoulders, and the compositions aren’t what Studio SHAFT would achieve later in Bakemonogatari.

Sound – High

Fine acting – no fake squeaky voices! The Celtic music is a nice touch.

Story – Very High

A young girl is set to learn that the world of Magical Girls isn’t quite so magical. After it gets over the weak start, Madoka Magica dives into a world of psychological challenges, punishing conflict, and a beautifully meted out plot.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. I don’t care if you hate moe or magical girls, you must watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I cannot guarantee you will like it, but I promise you it will be different.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationHoly S***Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative:

Terrible Start

Aoi Bungaku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Bungaku

 

Similar: Monster

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror

Box of Goblins

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Something different.
  • Stories three and six.
  • Complex characters.
  • Dark and twisted imagery in some stories.

Negatives:

  • Stories two and four.
  • First story needs more episodes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Aoi Bungaku is an adaptation of six Japanese literary classics, each sharing a facet of the authors’ lives and psychology. This makes the second short story collection I’ve reviewed recently, but where Diamond Daydreams is an easy viewing experience, Aoi Bungaku is intense, dark, and often twisted.

No Longer Human, the first story, follows the descent into darkness of a high school student after losing his way into drugs and abuse. This noir-esque tale shows his life at different stages in four episodes, each stage worse than the last. He sees a ghost of his former self in reflection, void of identity, a hollow shell with no purpose.

The most depressing story in the collection, scholars consider No Longer Human to be autobiographical, explaining why the author killed himself after its completion. This story most needed the extra space – likely a series of its own – out of all works presented, even though it receives the most episodes.

Too heavy for you? Well, In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom, changes gear with its comedic tone as it tells of a bandit and his love for a beautiful yet spoilt woman. She agrees to marry him if he fulfils her request, and in his blindness, he agrees to all she asks. Her requests keep getting more and more outlandish. She starts with a simple ride up the mountain, then it’s to kill his other wives without question, and she only demands worse from there on.

On paper, this story sounds brutal. However, the comedy gives the opposite result. There’s a talking boar, for example, trying to reason his way out of becoming dinner for the wives, one of whom speaks English, for some reason. Sudden chibi comedy bursts on the scene as well. Honestly, I’m not sure what the intent was with this one. It doesn’t work as a comedy nor as a dark tale – though one of the woman’s final requests is truly messed up. A weak story, in the end.

Kokoro, story three, takes us in yet another direction to deliver the best of the series. It explores the friendship between a scholar and a wanderer. The scholar begins to regret inviting his friend to use the spare room when he takes an interest in the landlady’s daughter, for whom the scholar has designs. In a single episode, we see a full character arc pass from friendship and trust to jealousy and egoism. We see more development here than some anime have in a season. And that’s not even Kokoro’s greatest strength.

The next episode goes back to the start of the tale, but this time shows everything from the wanderer’s perspective. It’s brilliant to see how versions of events differ and exemplifies the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ device. Kokoro handily wins best story in this anime.

Run, Melos! comes next, killing the momentum by being the weakest of the lot. It’s a contemporary take on a Greek classic, focusing on unwavering friendship no matter what life may throw. The story hasn’t much to it, no real turns or points of interest – the shortness doesn’t help.

The Spider’s Thread – story five – puts an assassin to the test in redemption at the end of his life. He lived a life without concern for anyone or anything but himself – he even kills a woman that fed him in kindness – and goes to Hell for his actions. However, he receives one final chance at redemption when a spider’s thread descends from Heaven.

The most psychedelic of the stories, The Spider’s Thread almost reaches greatness. I like its idea – reminds of Death Parade. Yet with most of the conflict occurring in his mind it lacks the weight, the impact, it could have had if he had faced other people as well.

Lastly, we end on Hell Screen. A lord commissions a famous artist to paint an epic depiction of ‘Buddhist Hell’ in all its facets. The artist’s superior skill stems from his ability to capture the emotion of reality like no other. The catch is that he must witness these emotions for himself, and the commission being one of hell, his research turns to madness. Life begins to imitate art as the lord’s people go mad.

This story recalls the Warhammer novel Fulgrim, where Slaanesh, Chaos God of Pleasure and Excess, corrupts a legion of Space Marines in their quest for perfection in art and battle. The corruption goes so far, drives the legion so mad that one artist paints his magnum opus from his own blood, sweat, and faeces – literally. Highly recommended book. Without giving anything away, the painter’s final masterpiece in Hell Screen is similar to that – twisted yet riveting.

Aoi Bungaku slips under the radar of most anime fans. I had never heard anyone mention it before unless I specifically searched for material on it. Those looking for a hidden gem may find it in Aoi Bungaku.

Art – High

Despite being low on animation, Aoi Bungaku has some great imagery and compositions in several stories. The art style changes for each story to match the tone – dark and grainy for the heaviness in No Longer Human, vibrant for In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom’s comedic angle, and so on. I liked Kokoro’s camerawork and framing most.

Sound – High

The protagonist in each story shares the same actor, who also plays host, and the acting is good overall. Music effectiveness seems to match story quality.

Story – High/Medium

A series of Japanese classics with a focus on character study get anime adaptations, succeeding to varying degrees. Stories three and six rise above, while two and four lack presence. The split rating is for the varying quality between stories.

Overall Quality – High/Medium

Recommendation: Watch Kokoro (episodes 7 & 8) and Hell Screen (episode 12) – give or take the rest. Even if interested in seeing all stories, Aoi Bungaku is only twelve episodes long and presents something new every few, so it won’t take much time to experience this distinct anime.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None