Tag Archives: Intelligent

The show as a whole, often due to intelligent characters, has intellectual depth.

Death Parade – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Death Parade

 

Related: Death Billiards (side episode)

Similar: Death Note

Hell Girl

Bartender

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Thriller Mystery Game

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Superb intensity and a thrilling premise.
  • Realistic understanding of human nature.
  • Sharp dialogue and to the point.
  • The first episode.

Negatives:

  • Second episode.
  • Non-game episodes aren’t as interesting.

After death, all go to a bar in Limbo, a quiet place, where bartender Decim waits to judge passing souls, pitting them against each other in pub games like bowling, darts, and arcade cabinets. These are no mere games, however. Each point, each strike…each miss has consequences, for they inflict pain on the opponent, or worse, reveal one’s true self in this parade of death. Reincarnation awaits those found worthy, the eternal void for all others. Actions and emotions make a dangerous game.

Death Parade is an anime few people talk of, so I entered its muted atmosphere not knowing what to expect, much like the dead contestants. Further like the contestants, I found myself stunned by what I had seen. Death Parade has not only one of the best first episodes in anime, but of any TV series out there. Tension, suspense, emotion, drama, and full character arcs, all synthesised in twenty minutes.

Although the games involve an element of physical pain for losing points, the true conflict lies in mental torture. Anyone can create the blandness of a SAW-like competition; few can elevate it to the inner core of psychology and emotion. Death Parade nails this element.

As a game progresses, memories from the players’ lives return, piece by piece, and it is in how the characters react to these pieces that determines who they truly are. Best of all, Death Parade does not go easy on the characters out of pity. Yes, you will pity many among the dead, but like reality, pity will not erase a poor decision. As more memories return, the greater the strain and conflict becomes on these people, escalating tension to breaking point. And it is brilliant.

However, Death Parade isn’t all success. After the masterful first episode, comes the series’ worst episode, where they explain everything from the first, doing away with the subtlety and different interpretations of the characters’ actions – was the character telling the truth or lying? The second episode is designed to explain Limbo and the concept of the judgment game, but it explains too much. Furthermore, other episodes show all we need to know about Limbo anyway – could probably skip episode two altogether.

Overarching the several games is the plot of Decim, a novice arbiter, and his assistant, the ‘Black Haired Woman,’ who seems most human of all Limbo residents. She adds humanity to the arbitrations, an offset against Decim’s no-nonsense, stoic attitude as he learns the intricacies of passing judgement. His jokes are so serious that no one even considers he may be kidding. I like their story, particularly where it concludes.

This in mind, episodes that don’t focus on a game or judgement aren’t as interesting. I would have thought God playing galactic billiards with a manager would be fascinating, but it’s not. If there were one thing I would have added, it would be deeper world building in Limbo. We get too little to be interesting enough.

Death Parade was a complete surprise to me. I can’t even remember how it entered my backlog, yet I am delighted to have watched it, picked at random from my list. Do yourself a favour and watch Death Parade – also hope this Limbo isn’t real once you die.

Art – High

With emotion being a core element of Death Parade, the artists did an excellent job at capturing it, especially the negative emotions. Great imagery and use of composition to compound tension.

Sound – Very High

When the emotions hit, positive or negative, the actors truly deliver – in either language – accompanied by great dialogue. It can shift from happiness to madness in a few sentences, yet still feel believable. Strangely, I have never seen an OP more opposite to the tone and theme of the series. Love the song, but it is far too cheerful.

Story – High

A bartender judges whether the dead deserve another life or the void by observing their decisions during pub games. An engaging look at the human condition and life’s choices, save for a couple of episodes.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Must watch. Insightful, tense, and conflict-driven, Death Parade is necessary for any anime fan. Note: While Death Billiards (the proof of concept for Death Parade) arrived first, watch it after the series, as it’s merely a weaker substitute to the first episode.

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

Positive:

Engaging DialogueExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationStellar Voice ActingStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

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Rick and Morty – Review

 

Similar: South Park

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Science Fiction Comedy Adventure

Length: 11 episodes (season 1), 10 episodes (season 2), ongoing

 

Positives:

  • Hilarious.
  • Creative.
  • Each episode brings something new.
  • Outstanding voice work, particularly for the title characters.

Negatives:

  • Art, though detailed, looks a tad cheap.

Imagine Back to the Future’s Doc Brown as a crazed alcoholic and Marty McFly as his bumbling grandson, and you have a rough picture of Rick and Morty. Rick’s job, as a mad scientist, is to take Morty on crazy adventures through time and space, visiting parallel universes where all sorts of shenanigans go down. Endlessly creative, Rick and Morty is a breath of [disgusting] fresh air for comedy.

Every episode is an adventure. You never know where it’s headed, what comedy gold mine they will tap, unexpected jokes at every turn. I could not decide which episode was best. Was it the Magic School Bus/Jurassic Park parody inside the human body? Or when they mock Shyamalan by out-twisting twists to see which twist is best in a world of twists? But then they visit Pluto and we learn the truth behind Pluto’s demotion as a planet. Let us not forget the inter-dimensional TV, which allows viewing of TV shows from other dimensions. These aren’t meme-filled, in-joke spewing episodes either; even if you don’t see the parody, it works. As soon as I thought, ‘That’s the best episode,’ they hit with another clever idea. Episode after episode, I laughed to the bounds of life support.

At its centre, Rick and Morty shines from its title characters, their dynamic flawless – truly superb – made all the more incredible by knowing the same actor (Justin Roiland) performs both Rick and Morty. This is South Park levels of acting brilliance and snappy, natural dialogue.

Like South Park, Rick and Morty makes great use of social commentary for political incorrectness, making fun of the protected “harmless” classes. There are so many jokes, so many types of jokes, infinitely quotable, that you must pay attention. One probably needs several viewings to catch them all.

After seeing Rick and Morty references everywhere, I assumed it another lowest-common-denominator show that fans would kill into the molten core before forgetting it and moving on – something good, but not special. My assumptions could not have been further from the truth.

Art – High

High detail, plenty of animation, disgusting imagery, all great, but it does look a little cheap with the characters at times.

Sound – Very High

The voice work by Justin Roiland, who plays both Rick and Morty, some of it improvised, is fantastic. He’s a natural. This reminds me of Matt & Trey’s ability to play every character at once and just make it up as they go. I love the cameos as well – Rob Paulsen as a talking dog in search of his testicles made me lose it.

Story – Very High

Morty, an ordinary kid, embarks on crazy adventures through time and space with his drunk, potty-mouthed grandfather. Every episode takes unexpected turns in the story, creative in their approach, and always fresh.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Funny, creative, engaging, Rick and Morty is one of the best cartoons to come out in a while.

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

 

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

Positive:

HilariousHoly S***Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

From the New World – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shinsekai Yori

 

Similar: Shiki

Psycho-Pass

A Lull in the Sea

When They Cry

RahXephon

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Mystery Drama Horror

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Multi-layered mystery.
  • Surprisingly phenomenal villain.
  • Mood colouring and lighting.
  • The progression adds weight to the characters.
  • Complex commentary on war, slavery, and race superiority.

Negatives:

  • Art is cheap on occasion.
  • Tangential start doesn’t represent later greatness.

“In the school’s restricted section, did you know it’s full of graves?” one boy says to his circle of friends. “No way!” another gasps. A third leans forward. “Yeah! And I’ve heard there’s this creature called the balloon dog.” “What is it?” “If you get too close, it gets bigger – like a balloon – until it explodes!” “Woah…” Tension clings to the air like an ever-thickening spider’s web. The campfire pops.

From the New World strongly resembles the stories we used to tell each other around the fire – mystery, suspense, and much embellishment. This is a surprise pick for me, an anime I watched solely on the recommendation from Shiki. It follows a group of friends, psychics in a specialised school, but as days pass, they begin to realise more lurks in this school and their lives. The tale starts small, simple, before it escalates into a dangerous adventure from primary school unto adulthood. So much so that the first few episodes are a poor indicator of what’s to come.

One problem is New World’s tendency to get distracted like a dog spotting a squirrel, going off on episode-long tangents that could have taken the background in more important story. For example, an early episode focuses on psychic football for the whole episode, just to make a small point at the end. It’s a similar issue with the main threads as well. We get a chunk of kids’ stuff, then a chunk of monster conflict, and a chunk adult drama afterwards, all separate rather than woven together. Thankfully, as the threads converge, this issue vanishes.

The convergence of these threads holds New World’s strength, for where the story ends is unimaginable at the start. New World hides its intentions well, too well even, as many may quit before the story flourishes, before the villain unveils his plan. And what a great villain it has. I can’t say much, lest I give anything away, but this may be one of anime’s greatest villains. The motivations, the plan, the deception…beautiful.

On the hero side, we have these children, a mixed group that faces a lot over the story’s course. The progression succeeds, for the most part. After time jumps, some personality changes aren’t quite believable nor sold to the audience. These baffling shifts end up not mattering within an episode or two of the jump, strangely enough, so it isn’t a big problem. They tried too hard on the shock value, I wager.

New World’s biggest failing, in my eyes, stems from omitted material. During early episodes, we see glimpses of the past, which I took as indicators of future plot. Alas, the flashbacks are irrelevant in the grand scheme and become a missed opportunity, where they could have tied past, present, and future into an expanded scope, making use of the mysterious world largely left untouched.

I suspect From the New World won’t be on many people’s radar. It’s an unassuming anime without anything flashy and grandiose to draw the eye of the passing viewer. For those who stay, however, a dangerous mystery awaits.

Art – High

The characters have almost no shading or highlights; they look like stickers over a background, particularly during animated close-ups in daylight. Thankfully, most scenes take place at night or indoors, where the mood lighting and shadow layers add visual depth to this depressing world. It seems they forgot they couldn’t use that technique in the sun. One episode features flying boulders and they look hilariously awful – the lowest quality CG with no effort to blend into the scene. Good animation elsewhere.

Sound – High

The music is unsettling, and like the mood colouring, adds atmosphere. The weird ED got me the first time, thinking my speakers had broken. While early episodes don’t show this, the overall script is great and performed well in either language.

Story – Very High

Psychic kids uncover the truth about their school and the world’s past, delving into a mystery far more dangerous than they could have anticipated. Once past the weak start, From the New World weaves conspiracy, social commentary, horror, and drama into a beautiful tapestry.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for mystery and campfire horror fans. There is no breathing room in From the New World, so if you don’t like an oppressive atmosphere, this won’t be for you. However, if you enjoy a slow-burn mystery, From the New World delivers greatness.

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

 

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentPhenomenal Villain

Negative:

Terrible Start

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost in the Shell STAND ALONE COMPLEX

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG (sequel – included in review)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (further sequel movie)

Ghost in the Shell (movie – alternate story)

Similar: Psycho-Pass

Ergo Proxy

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Crime Science Fiction Action

Length: 26 episodes (season 1), 26 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Engaging themes and philosophic questions.
  • Some of the most creative villains in crime fiction.
  • The music and acting.
  • High effort put into creating a believable future.

Negatives:

  • Tachikoma episodes.
  • Occasional pacing issues.

Having seen and loved the Ghost in the Shell movie, I couldn’t wait to begin the series Stand Alone Complex. My first impression was one of disappointment, however, for the style and tone from the film was nowhere to be found. Gone was the gritty, used future, replaced by a clean and polished Japan. Gone was Major Kusanagi’s introspective quality that enamoured me to the film – a brighter tone took its place, matching the shiny Japan. Though once I got over this disappointment, I found myself highly engaged in Stand Alone Complex’s sci-fi driven crimes.

SAC is a separate take on the Ghost in the Shell universe. The characters and concepts are similar overall, but you need to let go of any pre-conceived perceptions about the world and characters – Section 9 agent Bato is a lot more cheerful, for example, offsetting Kusanagi’s endless solemnity. We still follow Public Security Section 9, specialists in counter cyberterrorism, as they deal with a variety of unusual high-tech crimes.

Straight off, you should know this is a crime serial. If you don’t enjoy crimes dramas (not talking about garbage like CSI) then Stand Alone Complex won’t be for you. While it does bring an interesting twist with sci-fi, it’s still a crime serial through and through. If you do enjoy crime, then you are in for a great series that explores police procedure in a realistic future of advanced AI and cybernetics.

SAC has two distinctive episode types, noted during each title sequence: “Stand Alone” episodes, which are (obviously) stand-alone stories lasting an episode each, and “Complex” episodes that follow the main plot. One could watch just the Complex episodes without missing plot. However, the Stand Alone episodes delve into the characters and explore philosophical topics more than the main arc, so they are definitely worth watching.

Even then, SAC is at its best during the main story. The first season focuses on Kusanagi and her team’s efforts to catch The Laughing Man (name based on J.D. Salinger’s short story of the same name), a ‘hacktivist’ fighting against government corruption. He has the ability to hack everyone’s brain chips (more common than smart phones in the future) to cover his face with a smiley face logo; wherever he goes, and even on camera, all anyone sees of his face is this smiley. Only those unchipped – the poor, basically – can see his true face. What an excellent villain. He’s creative in execution, morally grey in actions, and thoroughly engaging throughout. 2nd GIG is similarly creative, though I like The Laughing Man best.

Smaller crimes for the Stand Alone episodes tend to target a philosophical concept, though always with a sci-fi slant (hacking, cyborgs, the digital space, etc.), which succeeds to mixed results. One notable episode early on explores the validity of androids to be seen as human. At what stage of artificial intelligence would we consider them human, if ever? What if a human has a deep connection with a robot, does that give ‘humanity’ to the machine? These episodes don’t lend to a binge watch ‘just one more’ feeling, but are engaging in their own right.

The Stand Alone episodes fail when they focus on spider tanks called Tachikoma, AI like hyperactive children. See, these Tachikoma, being young AI with the ability to learn (hence the child-like personalities), tend to gather around the cyber campfire to engage in long-winded philosophical discussions. Rather than show these conundrums through actions, as seen in other episodes, their philosophy is told to us to the point of boredom. The discussions weren’t even interesting. Add in those squeaky voices and it can become unbearable. Tachikoma are best taken in small doses.

In the end, while Stand Alone Complex wasn’t quite what I wanted after the film, I loved its philosophy, commentary on political correctness with cyborgs (“We say ‘mechanically enhanced’ – cyborg is racist!”), conmen taking the victim route of “racism” for financial gain, and real world parallels with radical refugee insurgents and terrorism. Stand Alone Complex left me with plenty to think about.

Art – High

A sharp, clean style renders SAC nicely. The CG for the vehicles isn’t bad, if noticeable, though the full CG opening looks strange.

Sound – Very High

Same psychedelic, ethereal music from the movie, for the most part. Yoko Kanno, of course – explains the great quality. Great script and acting. The dub team did an excellent job in creating a natural translation, so either language works.

Story – Very High

A cyber police unit battles criminals of a high-tech nature, most notably The Laughing Man. SAC is a crime serial in a realistic science fiction world implemented to great results. Heavy on philosophy.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must if you enjoyed the movie – start with the movie to see if you like the themes tackled. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a great anime void of almost all anime tropes. An easy recommendation unless crime serials aren’t for you.

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

Positive:

Engaging DialogueGreat MusicPhenomenal VillainStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Ghost in the Shell – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost in the Shell

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (sequel)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (alternative series)

Similar: RahXephon

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

Akira

Psycho-Pass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Action

Length: 1 hr. 23 min.

 

Positives:

  • Detailed, dirty world.
  • Moments of cerebral peace and introspection.
  • Cool tech.
  • Making of a Cyborg sequence and music.

Negatives:

  • Too short.

In the year 2029, the human world has become one with the cyber world through the field of cybernetics. An unaugmented human is the rarity. This merging of worlds has brought a new vulnerability to humans – brain-hacking – and a hacker known as the Puppet Master is taking full advantage. Enter Major Kusanagi and her Section 9 group of cybernetic cops to investigate.

Ghost in the Shell showed me it was something special within minutes. I am not referring to Kusanagi’s camouflage skin, which is awesome, but the ‘Making of a Cyborg’ segment where we see her creation into a being far beyond that which is human. The sequence takes us through every stage of the process from her metal and muscle frame to her synthetic skin. Coupled with the ethereal music, I felt a genuine sense of watching an artist bring something to life, the creative process made manifest, the layers upon layers that go into a single human. Magnificent.

Kusanagi was bred to be the ultimate entity of justice – skilled, focused, and with a seemingly single-minded life against crime. She isn’t sure of her origins, and seeing the Puppet Master’s ability to implant false realities into the brains of others – similar to Total Recall – has made her question the truth of her own thoughts. Though she is more machine than woman, she shows a curiosity for the world. The film’s acts are punctuated by these moments where Kusanagi roams the city streets and lets the music, the environment take over as she absorbs what she knows is concrete, what is real, what will forever be real in her cybernetic mind. The world may be dirty, but it is alive to her.

I went into this film for the action and the futuristic setting, but I came out fixated on the calmer moments and the relation between organic and cybernetic. The way the villain manipulated people was an engaging and terrifying possibility. A civilian illegally hacks his wife’s mind to find his daughter after his wife took her away in the divorce; in reality, the man was never married, doing the Puppet Master’s work by proxy without realising it, leading the police to dead ends. Great idea for a villain plot – I enjoy seeing villains who rely on something other than strength.

Aiding Kusanagi is her partner, Batou, also augmented with the latest tech – grafted sunglasses seem to be a staple of cyberpunk augmentation. It isn’t cyberpunk if no one has built-in sunglasses. Kusanagi’s purpose for living does make her a little too eager to dive into enemy territory and Batou must act as the voice of caution to remind her of her limits. Regardless of caution, he will always enter the fight with her once she has decided.

My only serious complaint with Ghost in the Shell is the short length. So much of the world and the story had room for exploration. I want to know more about Kusanagi, about her history, the history of cybernetics. How does the world cope with this technology? What laws have they enacted? Great worlds and characters always leave me asking for more – I guess that’s why Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a reality.

Art – Very High

Ghost in the Shell’s grimy, rainy, futuristic world is brought to life with detailed art and great animation. The ‘Making of a Cyborg’ is one of my favourite sequences in anime. The attention to the mechanics of the cyborgs and the tech is a delight.

Sound – Very High

The music is unusual, psychedelic, ethereal chants, and I love it. The fit with the setting and humanity themes is perfect. Ghost in the Shell is from the era of great dubs for films, so the choice is up to your preference. The Puppet Master in English sounds like The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded – probably where the Wachowskis got the voice, having admitted Ghost in the Shell’s influence on their films. 90s bleeps and bloops made me chuckle.

Story – High

Cybernetic police investigate a ‘ghost-hack,’ which allows control of people’s brains. An introspective film set in a grimy world of tech and blurred lines between human and machine. Needed to be longer.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t like cerebral sci-fi. Ghost in the Shell is a great film and Stand Alone Complex is there if you want to see more.

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

 

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

Positive:

Engaging DialogueFluid AnimationGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Phenomenal VillainStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None