Tag Archives: Magic

Expect spellcasting. Spoon bending doesn’t count.

Monsters, Magic, and Romance – Quick Manga Reviews

The Metamorphosis

Japanese Title: Henshin

Genre: Historical Drama

Length:  5 chapters (1 volume)

This batch of manga has a Western and horror focus, with a little romance to end things on a lighter note. We start with The Metamorphosis, a manga adaptation of Franz Kafka’s famous book of the same name about a man who finds himself transformed into a giant insect one morning. I haven’t read the book, so everything I say applies only to the manga.

The story is largely in flashbacks as the man reflects on his life and the events that led to his isolation as an insect man in his bedroom, shunned by family. As a dutiful son, he takes on all the burdens for his family after his father loses his job. He works hard and soon make decent money travelling from town-to-town selling fabrics. However, his family grows complacent under the ease of their lives now that food is always on their table. The father in particular is lazy. He’s the “back in my day” and “I could show them a thing or two” type to do nothing while reading his newspaper, ignoring the fact that he needs a job. Even the sister, who is the nicest of them, relies on the man for violin tuition money.

This is an interesting story, and while I’m sure the book is better with it’s 200 pages versus the manga’s five short chapters, I quite enjoyed it. Further research after finishing this has revealed to me that there are many interpretations of the story. And the interpretations are varied. I took it to be a harsh reflection of what it means to have others take advantage of you, take you for granted when you give everything and ask nothing in return. The moment you can no longer keep giving is when they no longer see you as useful. You are pathetic, disgusting. An insect.

If you haven’t read The Metamorphosis but want to have a simple understanding of the story, then the manga is an easy gateway. The art is suitably creepy for the insect, though a bit too simple elsewhere.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Found it by accident and enjoyed it.

*     *     *     *     *

H.P. Lovecraft: Various Stories

Japanese Title: Lovecraft Kessakushuu

Genre: Fantasy Horror

Length:  8 stories of varying length (1-3 volumes each)

H.P. Lovecraft is synonymous with supernatural horror. There is no greater influence on the genre. Cthulhu, monsters of the unknown, mind breaks from forbidden knowledge, and most of the things that nightmares are made of come from his works. It came as a surprise – while browsing at random – to see several of his stories adapted to manga form.

This review covers most of the Lovecraft manga (I couldn’t get my hands on a couple of them) adapted by Gou Tanabe, a Lovecraft connoisseur, including The Haunter in the Dark, The Colour Out of Space, and The Hound and Other Stories.

Another surprise is in how good these manga are. The Metamorphosis is around about the quality I expect of classic adaptations to different formats. This has been quite consistent in comic books, cartoons, and short films that I have seen of classics. Tanabe’s manga do a great job of evoking that air of insanity and general “what the hell is that” tone of Lovecraft’s short stories. The art is among the most realistic that you’ll find in manga, showing much of the story and characters emotions before one even considers the accompanying words. This is proper horror art.

I haven’t read the original versions of these stories (all of my Lovecraft experience come from works influenced by him, mostly video games), but they work perfectly for the uninitiated. At no point do I feel lost, as if there is an expectation that I already know the details of the Lovecraft universe.

These stories, as is most often the case with Lovecraft, involve mysterious supernatural entities, whether monster or ethereal concept, that slowly corrupt the world and its characters. My favourite of these is The Haunter in the Dark. A writer with a passion for the occult takes in interest in a gothic church he can see from his bedroom window. There are local stories about what went on in that abandoned church, yet no one is willing to speak of them. His curiosity gets the better of him and he awakens a creature from the dark. He had better hope the power doesn’t go out…

At the Mountains of Madness is the longest of the adaptations at 25 chapters and one I haven’t had a chance to read. I want to see a story that has a little more time to explore a concept in greater detail.

These manga aren’t perfect, but they are an engaging short reads late at night. Read a few or all of them, it’s up to you how deep you want to delve into madness.

Overall Quality – High

Result: I want to read more Lovecraftian works. These are a good introduction, which I recommend to anyone with a horror interest.

*     *     *     *     *

Spring Breeze Snegurochka

Japanese Title: Harukaze no Snegurochka

Genre: Historical Drama

Length:  7 chapters (1 volume)

Continuing with manga based on the West, we look at Spring Breeze Snegurochka. This time we go into Russian 1933, the Soviet Union era, where a woman in a wheelchair and the man that cares for her are in search of something within an old mansion, now controlled by the secret police. They will do anything to find the object.

The most interesting aspect of this piece is the Russian focus, a subject you don’t see much of out of Japan. It taps into many real figures from history, including Rasputin, the Russian royal family, and domestic rebels. Combined with the fictional characters, Spring Breeze makes for decent “what if” alternate history story if you have some familiarity with Russia’s past. If you don’t, the plethora of complex Russian names will go in one ear and out the other. The story is dense with characters, particularly in the latter half when the secrets unravel and people unmask themselves. There is a notable character reveal that means nothing if you don’t know who he is already.

As for the story itself, the history aspect is interesting but not so much for the main two characters. The woman’s rape into Stockholm syndrome into love (?) arc doesn’t work or make sense, not with the page time given. The man is the quiet type with no screen presence.

I don’t recommend this unless you love the subject matter.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Interesting to see a manga take on Russian history.

*     *     *     *     *

Cambrian

Japanese Title: Cambrian

Genre: Horror Science Fiction

Length:  28 chapters (3 volumes)

To go back to horror for moment, let’s stop at Cambrian. This is a disgusting manga. Literally. It features a biologist who believes he has created the next step of human evolution, splicing humans with marine creatures. He can now transform into an ammonite and rapes women with his tentacles (eating them is also involved) to spread his mutation. He infects a few and they infect more, creating a cult that will take humanity into the “next step.”

Yeah, no thanks. I don’t want to have barnacles covering my skin, even if it means I can rollout like Golem. Patrick maybe a hilarious cartoon character – doesn’t mean I want become a starfish. Looking like the Alien isn’t worth regeneration powers. Especially if my hair now forms into a sea biscuit. The main woman develops spiked nipples and a vajine spike for defence when aroused. I can imagine Cambrian would give nightmares to some people.

There’s a lot of sex (little of it consensual) and sexual violence (not many sample pages I can use for below). However, this isn’t a ℌệ𝔫𝔱ằ𝔦, though I’m sure it’s someone’s fetish. This is more of a sexual horror series, relying on grotesque body horror to engage the audience. This isn’t for me. Even outside of the sex and horror filling most pages, there is little in the way of character development or story. It’s frankly rather boring despite the shock value.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Wouldn’t have bothered if I knew the result.

*     *     *     *     *

Witches

Japanese Title: Majo

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Length:  7 chapters (2 volumes)

Enough of the revolting. Why don’t we cheer ourselves up with a manga of magical girls meets Western literature? Dying of the plague is a welcome change.

Witches is an anthology of short stories set in the recent past of our world. Each story chronicles a girl or woman that has to deal with some injustice and she discovers a magical power along the way to help her. The issues are more in the mental realm – dealing with a bigot or some close-minded individual, for instance.

While the stories are from diverse locations and cultures, they do rather feel the same more often than not. Strip away the dressings of the art, the environment, and the personalities – boil down to core plot and character details – and you find much repetition. The dynamic of “good character is wise and smart against bad character, who is dumb and evil” is overused. Witches lacks character subtlety. Read one of these stories and you have read them all.

I want to focus on the art, for a moment. It is simultaneously great and poor. On most pages, in black and white, I do not find the abundance of detail appealing. The art is too messy, the details lost in the mayhem. Rather than admire the art, I find myself looking closer and asking, “What is that supposed to be?” However, there are the occasional colour pages and suddenly it all makes sense. When you have nine different shades of green in a random pattern to create nature, it looks good. Turn it black and white and all we have are scribbles. It recalls that meme of “The teacher’s copy [of the colour image] vs. students’ copy [black and white on the exam sheet],” where you have to label an undecipherable image. I wonder if the artist did the whole original in colour.

It’s probably a matter of taste. I can image people loving the chaos of the visuals as an accompaniment to the chaotic magic. The art is certainly not generic. I would never insult it so.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Unusual and different.

*     *     *     *     *

Annarasumanara

Korean Title: Annarasumanara

Genre: Mystery Romance

Length:  27 chapters (3 volumes)

Keeping with the theme of magic and adding a dash of romance to the potion, let’s finish on Annarasumanara, a manhwa that blurs the boundaries of magic and reality.

We follow a high school girl going through a rough time, lost in her mind amid the pressures of succeeding at school while feeding her sister. Her dad abandoned them after failing in his career. She finds comfort in visiting a handsome magician at a nearby abandoned amusement park, rumours saying he can perform real magic. (“Annarasumanara” is the magician’s equivalent to abracadabra.)

Annarasumanara is a poignant manhwa that allows the art to do most of the talking to great effect and leaves much open to interpretation. Is any of his magic real? That was just a trick but maybe this was real… How else would you explain it? Similarly, her opinion of the magician is up in the air for much of the story. I like that this isn’t the usual instant infatuation prevalent in manhwa.

There is a subplot between the protagonist and a male classmate, the rival for the top spot in exams. He comes from big money (their house is like a palace on top of a high rise on top of a casino – hilarious metaphor) and ends up paying her to do worse on exams so that he can appear greater. A one-sided relationship develops on his part. He admires her independence, resents her love for the magician. The best part about this guy is his design. He looks like a…worm? Hard to describe – look below. All girls in school call him handsome though, which makes it even better.

I like this one. The writing isn’t spectacular, but the reliance on art over text more than makes up for it.

Overall Quality – High

Result: I recommend it alongside the Lovecraft manga of this batch.

*     *     *     *     *

Ao Haru Ride

Japanese Title: Ao Haru Ride

Genre: Romance

Length: 53 chapters (13 volumes)

Wait! One more before we go. Quick one, I promise.

Ao Haru Ride is a shoujo romance about a boy too aloof to share his feelings and girl too shy to take charge. Or is that blurb for another shoujo manga? Most certainly. This is generic shoujo. The art is indistinguishable from its peers and the characters are so inoffensive to the audience’s sensibilities that they don’t stand out in any way.

Most of my manga reading is before sleep (I have a half-finished brick of a fantasy novel by my bed, untouched in months because of manga). Let me put it simply: Ao Haru Ride is great for falling asleep.

After two or so volumes, I can’t be bothered with this. Ao Haru Ride is one of my few dropped manga. I won’t be mentioning any similar shoujo manga in future. It would be repetitive.

Overall Quality – Dropped

Result: I will confuse this for another dozen shoujo manga in future.

 

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Oh! My Goddess – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Aa! Megami Sama!

 

Related: Oh! My Goddess (anime)

 

Genre: Comedy Fantasy Romance

Length: 308 chapters (48 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous character art and designs (after a few volumes)
  • Good fun
  • Starts and ends well

Negatives:

  • Art begins in an ugly state
  • Main thread goes nowhere for ~30 volumes in the middle

Oh! My Goddess (sometimes called Ah! My Goddess) was one of the first anime I loved after having seen the 5-episode OVA and movie. It would later receive another adaptation with the first season retelling the OVA and several other volumes to be more manga accurate. It was enjoyable, but still the same section of story, more or less. The second season came about and was just comedy slice of life, much to my annoyance. Season 2 felt like a waste of time. The lack of closure has bothered me ever since.

My dive into the world of manga had me thinking of incomplete anime I could conclude in the source material. Oh! My Goddess was my first candidate. It has taken a while – 308 chapters over 48 volumes – but I did it. Does it have everything I’d hoped for?

The first shock came to me with the art of chapter one. To me, Oh! My Goddess has always had characters designs in a beautiful style I cherish. However, I find the manga starts ugly. How did they get the anime designs from this? I considered the possibility of a redraw of the manga that I hadn’t heard of, but the covers for later volumes showed what I was used to. And I must say, it is impressive to see how quickly the art improves from chapter to chapter. The art is years better within a few volumes. Thank the goddess, for I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate that Belldandy with the melting face for long. Oh! My Goddess ends up with elegant characters, expressive features, and detailed backgrounds where needed. The chibis are adorable too.

The premise in brief, for anyone not familiar with the franchise: University student Keiichi accidentally calls the Goddess Helpline and the goddess Belldandy answers his call with one wish. Thinking it’s all a joke and as a “manlet” (his words) with no chance of getting a girlfriend, he wishes for someone as beautiful as Belldandy to stay by his side forever. Wish granted! Since his dorm doesn’t allow girls, he finds himself homeless with his…girlfriend? They settle in a temple and begin to go about daily life in this unexpected relationship. No one at uni can believe someone like him got a woman like her. Her two sisters, Skuld and Urd, soon join them on Earth and the pandemonium only increases.

The anime’s second season that annoyed me so much turns out to be canon. It’s not exactly the same, but content is in line with the manga. See, Oh! My Goddess the manga stops main story progression – the Keiichi-Belldandy relationship – around volume 5 and doesn’t restart until the volume 38-ish mark. That is over 30 volumes of no progress and I could it feel more acutely with each passing chapter. The issue isn’t that the “filler” is bad (I’ll get to that in a moment), but rather that we don’t seem to go anywhere. Doesn’t even have the decency to focus on the main thread for one in four volumes – would still be a bad ratio, by the way, though it would be something. It recalls when classic Naruto was in filler mode while waiting for Shippuden. A filler arc would finally end and you’d start the next episode thinking, “Are we finally done?” only to have more filler molest you.

This middle section of arcs across 30 plus volumes focuses on side characters and most are decently fun. Urd arcs will often play on her demon half with visits from other demons, included her powerful demon mother (different mother to the other two sisters). Hers are quite good. Skuld arcs, on the other hand, are more child-like and about growing up as she crushes on a human boy or relies on her gadgets to solve all problems. I didn’t find these good or bad either way. Keiichi arcs are very much university centric, especially involving the motor club, where he has to build or repair some vehicle and partake in a race. These are among the better sub-arcs as author Kosuke Fujishima’s gearhead nature spills across the pages (he has a couple of other racing-focused manga). The background art also shines in these segments.

As for Belldandy arcs, they generally involve a challenge from a heavenly visitor. Someone either wants to bring her back or just wants to toy with Keiichi. These are among the weakest arcs. For one, they are all similar. What is it with the adult male gods/demons appearing as a child to mess with her? I don’t recall a single adult male god throughout the series (turns out the one featured in the movie is non-canon). These arcs could have been the focal points for progression, but they don’t amount to more than weird magical trials. Belldandy shines in other people’s arcs (she’s my favourite character).

My favourite of the sub-arcs has the interdimensional whale. Keiichi’s motor club seniors are going away for a time and need him to look after a couple of boxes of expensive parts. A couple of boxes ends up being a garage full. Since temples don’t have garages, they store it all in lounge room, but now they can’t use the lounge! Skuld has the idea to build a device that can create a TARDIS effect – “It’s bigger on the inside.” The intention is to expand the interior of the lounge room without affecting its exterior volume. However, the device doesn’t operate as planned and expands the room to infinity. They have no idea where their things are in this space. A creature called Schrodinger’s Whale soon appears before them, and it can navigate the space with ease as a being of negative dimensions. It’s an interesting concept clearly inspired by Star Trek (they are watching The Next Generation on TV before meeting it). I like those arcs that explore a mysterious concept. But no matter how much I like these, the total absence of main plot is nothing but infuriating.

Why didn’t they make more use of Heaven as a location? There is so much one could do on another world of immortal beings that blends Norse mythology with technology. The movie had more of Heaven than the manga series did before the final arc. So much untapped potential lay wasted.

So, after all these volumes, I reached the final arc that sends Keiichi and the three goddesses into Heaven for a series of trials that will put Keiichi and Belldandy’s relationship to the ultimate test. It is a good arc, ending in a lovely conclusion, except for one moronic detail. There is a canonical explanation for the lack of relationship progression. I kid you not, magic prevented development. That has to be the worst defence put forth by any author in the history of literature. Other than that, it’s a fine end.

I got my closure. I simply wish the journey there had been better.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: I can only recommend the Oh! My Goddess manga in full to fans of the anime that want closure. For the uninitiated to the franchise, the first season of the anime followed by the movie is the best experience, ending with volumes 39 to 48 of the manga should you want that final tie of the ribbon.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Redo of Healer – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kaifuku Jutsushi no Yarinaoshi

 

Similar: The Rising of the Shield Hero

Goblin Slayer

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Fantasy Harem

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Negatives:

  • Everyone is a rapist
  • Presents a rapist and sadistic protagonist as the good guy
  • Garbage animation and visuals
  • Moronic character logic
  • Mary-Sue protagonist and deus ex machina every episode
  • Bad acting
  • Inciting plot makes no sense

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Imagine taking The Rising of the Shield Hero and somehow making it ten times worse than it already is. Your result is Redo of Healer. Where to start?

Redo of Healer follows the incomprehensibly stupid story of Keyaru, a healing Hero who somehow gains the ability to time travel. He goes back to before the princess recruited him into her party to heal other Heroes and her powerful allies. Healing someone in this world causes the healer to experience the patient’s mental pain in seconds, so he refused to use his power again. However, the princess couldn’t accept this and locked him in the dungeon, where she turned him into a drug addict, sex slave for anyone in her circle, and torture victim. He would heal in exchange for drugs.

Right, so now that you have the backstory, let me describe what happens after he time travels. He goes back to before the princess recruits him into her party to heal other Heroes and her powerful allies. He accepts the invitation. Healing someone in this world causes the healer to experience the patient’s mental pain in seconds, so he refuses to use his power again. However, the princess doesn’t accept this and locks him in the dungeon, where she turns him into a drug addict, sex slave for anyone in her circle, and torture victim. He heals in exchange for drugs. Am I repeating myself?

That’s correct, he time travels only to choose to go through the same slavery and torture. Now, listen to this galaxy brain explanation. He repeats the same ordeal so that he can somehow absorb people’s memories, talents, and powers with a second of contact via his healing…

Yes, he refuses to do the job for which he’s hired…so that he can be tortured into doing the job…which he needs to do to steal everyone’s minds and abilities. If you can steal with one second of healing, why not go along with the job and steal what you need within a few days? Don’t even need to heal – just shake hands! And to think this stupid is just the first two episodes.

The actual reason for this repeat (apart from the author’s utter incompetence, of course, which we’ll take as a given throughout) is so that you can see what they do to him as a means of justifying all of the depraved things Keyaru will carry out in return, presenting him as some sort of good guy.

After he somehow breaks free of the addiction, he somehow shapeshifts himself to look like a royal guard and for the royal guard to look like him. This gets him close to the princess, after which he rapes and tortures her before changing her face, somehow erasing her memory, giving her a new personality, and having her “willingly” become his sex slave. He sets out with her on a quest to rape and torture everyone who wronged him. Our hero, everybody. And yes, Redo of Healer genuinely tells you that he’s a good guy and you are expected to agree with him.

Next he buys an underage wolf-girl slave, who he somehow strengthens with his semen (I’m not making a joke) and turns her into a sex slave. You may be noticing my overuse of the word “somehow” in this review. That’s because there is no explanation in relation to this guy’s endless powers. He can time travel, heal any injury in a split second (includes full regeneration), steal powers, steal talents, read minds, erase minds, rewrite personalities, shoot magic cream, move so fast it seems like teleportation, resist any poison, display strength beyond anyone, shapeshift himself, shapeshift others, copy any voice, give anyone any voice,  perform “alchemy” (it’s nothing like alchemy; they just call it that), make any potion, change his blood into magic, and mind control others, to name a few. He has whatever dumb power the author wants for the idiotic scene we are about to witness.

All of the girls he enslaves, rapes, or tricks throw themselves at him, fulfilling the fantasy of a rape victim falling in love with her rapist. It’s weird to see someone write self-insert fantasy with them as a rapist (of innocent people as well).

Oh god, I just recalled his “genius” strategies. This tries to present them as grand plans you’ll never see coming as he grins like a cocky mastermind, but they’re so obvious that you don’t realise you’re meant to show shock at the big reveal. Redo of Healer so desperately wants to be fantasy Code Geass.

Even if you remove the depravity – let’s suppose they only imprisoned him and forced him to heal, and his heal power just turned deadly instead – it is still a garbage anime. Why would the princess treat the most important person on her team this way? How can she be surprised when he betrays them in the big battle? The antagonists are laughable. They are evil for evil’s sake and like to make others suffer for whatever reason. No depth. With such evil people in charge, the kingdom would have collapsed decades ago.

The harem girls are vapid morons and useless when he can use any power he wants. The dialogue is as well written as this anime’s title. There are also random video game elements – as if the clichés couldn’t stop coming – like RPG stat wheels when he scans someone (another power). This author wanted you to know this series is garbage.

Now that I think about it, what was the point of the time travel? He puts himself through the same thing again, so why bother with the time travel angle. Could just have him learn this corrupted healing out of spite brewing in the dark damp of the dungeon and then he takes his revenge. It isn’t like Erased or Steins;Gate, where knowing the timeline matters to the plot.

Lastly, it goes without saying, but this anime looks and animates terribly, the performances are poor and the only above bottom tier music is the OP and ED, which don’t fit the tone anyway.

I don’t object to Redo of Healer for the depravity or incel-like thinking. There are far more depraved “connoisseur animations & Japan comics” out there for those interested. I don’t advocate banning it either. It’s just shit no matter how you slice this turd.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Redo of Healer is a school shooter’s manifesto.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueDeus Ex MachinaHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityMary SueRubbish Major CharactersUseless Side Cast

Sailor Moon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

 

Related: Sailor Moon R, Sailor Moon S, Sailor Moon SuperS, Sailor Moon Sailor Stars (seasons 2-5 – included in review)

Sailor Moon Crystal (remake – review further down)

Similar: Cardcaptors

Little Witch Academia

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 200 episodes (5 seasons) & 3 movies

 

Positives:

  • Villains are on theme
  • Knows its target audience
  • Crystal: less filler

Negatives:

  • Several minutes of repeated animation each episode
  • Original Japanese and first dub aren’t good
  • Villain of the week structure throughout
  • Chibiusa
  • Crystal: adopts the manga’s shortcomings

(Request an anime for review here.)

My interest in revisiting Sailor Moon piqued with all that I had heard about the edits and censorship of the original dub. I had seen a fair amount of scattered episodes as part of the morning cartoon block for the “big three” – the original big three of Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon.

What was quite few years ago now, I tried the Japanese version to see it unaltered but I couldn’t make it more than two or three episode before I had to stop. The acting was bad and the audio quality was so tinny that it was an uncomfortable experience. Usagi in particular was a cheese grater on my eardrums. With an intolerable original track and a censored dub, that seemed it. However, Viz Media swooped in, snatched the English rights to the franchise, and re-dubbed the whole thing, including the movies, with higher fidelity sound effects as well. Add in the remastered visuals and this is a worthwhile revival. Viz gave Sailor Moon the Funimation One Piece treatment, which I’m sure is a delight to fans.

Before I dove into the remaster, I tried the Japanese to be sure – yep, still bad – and watched about a season’s worth in episodes of the old dub to establish a baseline for the remaster. I’ll talk about the old version first.

Wait – the premise! I forget that no matter how popular a series, someone will know nothing about it. Sailor Moon follows crybaby middle schooler Usagi (called Serena in the old dub) who receives the power to transform into the titular magical girl. Four other Sailor Guardians soon join her fight against evil creatures (more guardians join in later seasons) – the smart Ami as Sailor Mercury, the popular Minako as Sailor Venus, the disciplined Rei as Sailor Mars, and the strong Makoto as Sailor Jupiter. The two cats Luna and Artemis guide the girls in their missions. All of the girls – and many villains – have different names in the old dub for marketability reasons, which are usually similar to the original (e.g. Rei = Raye, Ami = Amy).

If you were to watch the old dub without knowing it was censored, you wouldn’t notice much wrong. This isn’t like One Piece, where it’s obvious that that pirate is supposed to have a gun to someone’s head, not…whatever that is. The Sailor Moon edits are mainly in dialogue, which is easy to blend in – renaming steamed buns to donuts was a stretch though. When a male cross dresser already looks like a woman, it’s as simple as changing a few words here and there to say it was always a woman. The most infamous edit is the relationship between Sailors Uranus and Neptune, changed from a lesbian couple to cousins. Everyone has heard of this change, so when watching the remaster, I was most curious to see what all the fuss was about.

What a letdown! This relationship is so tame that most kids would have no idea that they’re a couple. Censors overacted over nothing. Not to mention they are some of the least interesting characters in the series.

The only thing I like about the old dub was making Luna a bossy older woman like a British governess, reminding me of Professor McGonagall, which is always a good thing. Alas, it is not true to the source material, so it must go.

Enough of the old; let’s begin on the new.

Sailor Moon uses a villain of the week structure for 95% of its 200 episodes. The henchmen descend upon Earth like Rita’s cronies from Power Rangers, each tapping into a vice, theme, or activity often associated with girls. It was a good idea to make the subjects relevant to the target shoujo audience. Usagi and her friends care about jewellery, dating, friends, exams (begrudgingly), dancing, clothes, marriage, fitness, and so on, and so does the shoujo audience. Also, notice how they make the characters seem more mature by giving them activities and interests for girls a few years older than 14. This plays to a girl’s fantasy of looking up one age group. A villain’s plot will generally involve corrupting the good quality of a person and turning it against the girls. For example, a tennis student becomes hyper-competitive to the point of destruction. This is a good angle to take rather than summoning some monster to fight each episode. It feels more relevant. Sailor Moon R does away with this until the variations return in later seasons.

The main Sailor Moon S villain is hilarious. Mad scientist over the top but also has to do regular things like shop, but stays in mad scientist character. Direct quote, “That took longer than I thought. So hard to find a good gluten free snack these days.”

One early plan involves stealing people’s love (a strange, human concept) by hosting a late night radio show where women send in secret confession love letters, in return for a corsage that drains the energy and love of the woman who wears it. Having some evil handsome villain reading saucy letter on air is so corny. Quite nostalgically charming. However, there is only so far this format can get you and let me tell you, it grows tired well before the first season is over at episode 46.

Much of season one goes something like this: introduce theme, escalation, girls transform, Usagi throws tiara, and win. Oh, let’s not forget the useless Tuxedo Mask who shows up to spout some platitude before he buggers off. That meme of “My work here is done!” “…But you didn’t do anything,” is too accurate.

Is season two any different? Well, the Guardians do receive a new attack each, which they will use every episode right after they transform. Several minutes of each episode is repeated animation sequences: transformations, catch phrases, and special attacks. The more Guardians that join the series, the more time we lose to these animation sequences. Nice animation, sure, but it’s the same thing over…and over…and over…and over.

Sailor Moon only deviates from the formula for the first few and last few episodes of each season, where the entire plot occurs. The final season, Sailor Stars, does have a little more going on than the others. Not much more. One thing to note is that the finales are largely the same. A cataclysmic phenomenon will blanket the world (a.k.a. wherever the girls live) and all seems lost until Sailor Moon uses a super move to reverse the effects. Repetition is the name of Sailor Moon’s game. Each season may introduce new Guardians and new villains, but like the animation, there are levels of recycling here that no environmentalist could hope to compete with.

So, do I recommend Sailor Moon? It is dated in many ways by today’s standards. There is the animation, of course, and the formula, but then we have the power progression, which consists of being handed new powers without effort, and the character work. Take Usagi and Mamoru’s (Tuxedo Mask) relationship. This romance spans almost the entire 200-episode runtime, yet jack all happens. The relationship only exists because the story tells us they’re destined to be together. Creepy age gap aside (excused by the whole destiny lark), nothing about Usagi would recommend her to this guy. Meanwhile, he has the personality of dead wood.

I had hoped that the introduction of Chibiusa (Usagi’s time travelling future daughter) would mature Usagi, that realising she has the same maturity as an infant makes her grow up. Alas, this would deviate too much from the formula.

As for the rest of the Guardians, most viewers would expect more depth from the full cast. They are better than any run-of-the-mill high school anime cast found today at least. Sailor Jupiter is my favourite of the group, as she is the most well rounded in terms of humour vs. seriousness, contributes her part without overshadowing others, has brains unlike Usagi, and I like her personality. They aren’t bad characters. However, the rigid formula for each episode means that we can never truly explore these people because the villain of the week has to show up at this point, everyone has to transform at that time, and all must go back to normal before the credits roll.

Classic Sailor Moon is best when seen in the context of its release – a girls’ cartoon meant for one episode each morning. The repetitive nature wouldn’t feel so bad there. To watch it today, in the binge sphere? Not a chance. Only powerful nostalgia can tempt viewers into these 200 episodes.

Sailor Moon Crystal

Sailor Moon Crystal is the recent remake of the franchise, promising to stick close to the source manga. This has resulted in a near polar opposite adaptation of Sailor Moon that is possible while remaining recognisable. The ~40-episode seasons are now 13 episodes each (fourth season will be two movies) as all filler falls to the wayside.

For those wanting a better main plot – the Usagi and Mamoru thread – without padding, then Crystal is better. However, the manga, and therefore this adaptation, do a poor job with the supporting cast. The old anime filled its seasons between openers and finales with standalone stories often focused on a side character. One episode might show us one of Jupiter’s hobbies (the episode’s villain relates to this hobby) and in the process, develop her further. Next episode, we’ll see what Venus is up to with a guy she crushes on (99% chance he’s a villain in disguise). These episodes improved on weak parts of the manga despite being formulaic and non-canon. By returning to the original blueprint, Crystal loses a quality of the original in exchange for a faster pace and more central focus.

The other notable change when staying truer to the manga is the art. Crystal, in terms of design, is closer to the original art except with a new paint job. It does not look good. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Usagi’s tiny mouth with fat lips (relative to the size of her mouth) and giant eyes creeps me out. The director also loves close ups of her face, making me recoil each time. Then we have the shading. If it looks like someone did it in MS Paint for a DeviantArt OC, then please don’t use it. There is also the general lack of cinematography. Season 1 doesn’t feel storyboarded, as if they went from one shot to the next without planning. And let’s not forget the crime greater than anything a Sailor Moon villain could have dreamed of! The CG transformation sequences. How did anybody look at those rubber puppets pirouetting on screen and say, “Ship it!” without a hint of irony? Furthermore, these sequences see almost as much use per episode as in the original, so I must ask, why not dedicate the appropriate resources?

Crystal’s art does improve in time with a big leap forward for the third season. Gone is Usagi’s devil mouth. Gone is the MS Paint highlighting. And gone are the CG transformations. Crystal should have looked like this from the start. Many manga styles simply don’t translate well to animation.

If I were to pick just one adaptation to watch, I would pick neither – one is too long and repetitive, the other is quite an eyesore, and neither has anything I consider brilliant. But if you twisted my arm and I had to watch one, it would be Sailor Moon Crystal. Brevity makes all of the difference. Or I would watch just one season of the original – Sailor Moon S, most likely. I find them to be overall around the same quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For young girls and nostalgia. You need something as strong as nostalgia to draw you into Sailor Moon in this era or you can recommend Sailor Moon Crystal to young girls (they won’t care about the art issues).

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Repetitive

Fancy Lala – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou no Stage Fancy Lala

 

Related: Fashion Lala: The Story of the Harbor Light (spin-off)

Similar: Magical Angel Creamy Mami

Searching for the Full Moon

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Drama Music

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Holds up well
  • Good lessons for little girls
  • Music is good in both English and Japanese
  • Doesn’t fall into formulaic magical girl episodes

Negatives:

  • Not cautious enough about a lone girl in the entertainment business

(Request an anime for review here.)

You probably haven’t heard of Fancy Lala – I hadn’t until this came in as a review request – and for good reason. If I gave you these two pieces of information, what does that tell you: “magical girl anime” and “1998”? Yes, it matches Fancy Lala, but also matches a titan of the genre, Cardcaptor Sakura. They didn’t just release in the same year. They came out in the same week. And Cardcaptor Sakura eclipsed the anime we will be looking at today.

Fancy Lala is about a third-grade girl with an imagination larger than life. Miho has a chance meeting with two little fairies (more like dragons) who give her a magical pen and notebook. Anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Furthermore, the pen can transform her into the blue-haired teen Lala from her sketches. It isn’t long before an agent discovers her, convincing Lala to become a model and singer. Thus, Fancy Lala is born.

The first thing that strikes me about Miho is what she considers “cool”. Get this, right, she has the power to create any clothes she wants. Anything. So what does she draw? A transparent raincoat. Except it’s not even a raincoat. It’s a plastic wrap. Then we have her stage name, Fancy Lala, of all names. And I love it. I love how nonsensical her imagination is. This is what a nine-year-old would come up with. The brilliance of Miho is that she feels and thinks like a little girl, not what an adult says a little girl is like. I remember this one kid from primary school who said that if he were a billionaire, he would have a McDonalds at his house so he could eat there every day. That was the grandest thing he could think of. Miho captures that child mentality.

There isn’t as much fanfare as you would expect when she discovers the power. She’s rather casual about it, though I suppose transformation magic isn’t far out of the ordinary for a kid full of imagination.

The episode to episode story reminds very much of Clark Kent/Superman from the Lois & Clark TV series, except with modelling and school drama instead of dastardly villains. Lala has a photo shoot today, but oh no, Miho has to do something with her school friends at the same time! There’s plenty of transforming back and forth, Miho pretending to have arrived just as Lala left, and all that fun secret identity stuff. She notices how differently people treat Lala from Miho. The story strikes a good balance between real Miho plot and the Lala work plot. While she’s trying to make it as a model and then as a singer, she also has school events, family conundrums, and personal issues.

The one real gripe I have against Fancy Lala is how it handles the entertainment industry. Now, I know this a cartoon for little girls and not Perfect Blue; however, no one questions why a teenager never has her parents with her at any photo shoot, film set, or performance. You don’t want to teach kids to go into entertainment alone. The closest thing we have is an agent that tries to force her to work for him, from whom she flees, but then the woman she does join is also a stranger. She could be a trafficker for all Lala knows.

Apart from that, this anime has many great lessons to teach young girls. It explores the power of imagination, but tempers it with reality, talks about divorce, emphasises the importance of hard work and becoming someone people rely on, to name a few. When I first started Fancy Lala, it reminded me of Searching for the Full Moon, a similar anime I had seen long ago (in that, a girl with cancer can transform into a teen singer). Turns out it was inspired by Fancy Lala. This reminiscence was not a positive, for Full Moon was atrocious and taught some horrible life lessons. I expected to have much the same here – wish away your troubles, hard work doesn’t matter, and all that idiocy. Thankfully, Fancy Lala proved me wrong before long.

As a brief side note, Fancy Lala itself took from another series, as is the case with all art, called Creamy Mami, the anime that invented the idea of using an anime to promote idol singers. Fancy Lala’s twist was adding an actual story and drama.

Is it fair that Cardcaptor Sakura pushed this anime into obscurity? No, not in the slightest. Fancy Lala is the better anime. I like Cardcaptors well enough, but this not only avoids a formulaic structure each episode, the characters have more depth and the life lessons are far stronger. Fancy Lala has an ending I would not expect of the magical girl genre. It is a poignant end that leaves the audience with the best message of the series, while instilling inspiration and joy.

Art – Medium

The art is notably aged, but it holds up well and cel animation always has that textured beauty to it.

Sound – Medium

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn – considering the genre – that a first timer, an idol with a short-lived career after the series, voices Miho/Lala. Her acting is alright, better than one would expect. She’s here for the singing talent. The OP screams ‘90s magical anime. The dub actress is similar, whereby her musical ability is stronger than her acting. She’s fine in that regard as well. They did a good job translating the songs.

Story – High

A little girl finds a magic pen that transforms her into a teenager, soon becoming a model and singer. Packed with good lessons, escapist fun, and some nice music, Fancy Lala is a strong offering from the magical girl genre.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For young girls. I like Fancy Lala. Do I recommend it? Not quite. Not unless it’s to a child or an adult who has fond memories of being the sort of child who would have loved this anime, ready for a comfort trip back in time.

(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: None

Negative: None