Tag Archives: Magic

Expect spellcasting. Spoon bending doesn’t count.

The Garden of Sinners – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kara no Kyoukai

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Darker than Black

Ghost Hunt

Key the Metal Idol

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery Thriller

Length: 9 movies (35 min. to 2 hrs. each)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful environments.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Dead eyes syndrome.
  • Atrocious editing and pacing.
  • No one has a personality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Garden of Sinners is an unusual anime series. I’m not sure if you can refer to it as a series, in the standard sense, for it is nine movies of vastly varying length – 35 minutes to 2 hours long. Furthermore, the movies aren’t connected much beyond the main characters and subject matter. It’s akin to older British detective serials like Poirot, where little of the story carries from one episode to the next, which allows the audience to join any week in the series on TV without feeling lost.

Using this series structure, The Garden of Sinners tells of a detective agency that takes on cases involving the supernatural – spirits, curses, and the like. The agency has three members: the sorceress Touko, able to create human-like dolls, the ordinary human Kokutou, and part-doll protagonist Shiki. She has the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, a power that allows her to see a target’s “lifelines” that will kill them when cut. (That’s how they deal with the supernatural entities.)

The first movie follows a string of suicides by schoolgirls all leaping from the same skyscraper set for demolishment. On paper, this is an interesting anime, just my sort of thing. I love contemporary supernatural stories and I am a ravenous consumer of detective serials. This should be a direct feed of serotonin to my brain injected via a syringe of intriguing mystery, complex characters, fascinating mysticism, and unpredictable story. The Garden of Sinners has none of that.

The most glaring issue is that none of these characters has a personality. This should come as no surprise from the same author who brought us the worse-than-Twilight of anime that is Fate/stay night. Shiki is, by intention, an emotionally repressed person. However, once again, like a bloody broken record, I must stress that emotionally repressed does not equate to zero personality, never mind the other characters who are meant to be real people. I can’t imagine what the authors of these soulless characters think mute people must be like in real life. Do they think that mutes will have no personality because they can’t speak?

This lack of soul bleeds into the mysteries themselves. The narrative never makes an effort to have the audience care for the answers to its questions. It assumes that because it hasn’t given us an answer, we must therefore care to know the answer. I hear my neighbour arguing with her daughter in Mandarin on occasion. I’m not interested to translate what they are saying (daughter probably stays out too late). Have the police turn up to cart away a third person I never knew was there and then you have my attention.

The Garden of Sinners tries to con the audience into thinking it has an intricate plot full of hidden details and deeper meaning, when in fact, it is poor structure and storytelling. “This is really complicated – it must be good!”

To compound problems, the editing is a slog. Many shots hold for too long. It’s just a few seconds here and there, but it doesn’t feel right and adds up over time. Directors and editors don’t have to follow set rules for how long a shot should be. Breaking the rules can create an effect. One can let the camera linger for a few seconds to make the audience feel awkward. An extreme close-up, right in a character’s face as they’re talking creates extreme discomfort in the viewer as desired. However, when breaking the rules, it must be with care. Should the effect backfire, it makes the editing seem amateur, as is often the case in The Garden of Sinners. This isn’t deal breaking, but these long shots do allow us to ponder on the fact that the story and characters are empty.

The exception is the fifth movie about a double homicide that never happened. The visuals take a hit in quality, though do get more consistent, and the editing is much tighter. It feels like a different studio’s production. Despite it being nearly 2 hours long, it’s much easier to get through than the movies half its length because things are happening at pace. There is more energy, more life to it all. Doesn’t magically turn into a great movie, mind you, but it shows how much of a difference editing makes.

Before I leave you, I must touch upon the most forced product placement I have seen in anime. The first movie opens on Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream, drawing some equation between it and Shiki’s personality. And it returns to the ice cream again later. It is…fascinatingly shocking how blatant this advertising is. I don’t know what to make of it.

Art – High

The good old “dead eyes” syndrome studio ufotable is known for makes a return. The editing needs a lot of work, except in movie five. The animation is a mix of long stills broken up by shots of high animation, some in first person. The environments and atmospherics are beautiful.

Sound – Medium

The one and only thing I will take away from this is the soundtrack. I love the melodies and I am a sucker for ethereal vocals. As for the acting, it seems the actors were told to never have emotion in their voice, and under no circumstances are they to have any range. No talent allowed here!

Story – Low

A detective agency dealing with the supernatural investigates a series of mysterious cases. There is no adequate reason The Garden of Sinners needed to be so long and so slow, nor is there a reason to have such soulless characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. The Garden of Sinners isn’t the worst anime – rather average, all things considered – but it is certainly one of the dullest. I can’t recommend anyone waste their time. If you must, then just watch the fifth entry as a standalone movie.

(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:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

Advertisements

Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari

 

Related: Tenchi Muyo (main series)

Similar: Vision of Escaflowne

Vandread

Familiar of Zero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Ecchi Harem Fantasy

Length: 13 episodes (45 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • Pretty cool world design.

Negatives:

  • The perfect protagonist.
  • So much stupid.
  • Glaring audio and visual hiccups.
  • Really, really

(Request an anime for review here.)

The original, janky, and rather rubbish Tenchi Muyo was an anime I occasionally caught on TV an eon ago. I never made an effort to watch much of it, since it was a harem with awful art. A decade later, I stumbled upon a page regarding Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar, which had far superior art and positive buzz from fans. How could Tenchi Muyo have produced anything that wasn’t garbage? And so, with many more years passed since then, it’s finally time to end my curiosity and see the fuss.

This story has Kenshi, younger brother of original Tenchi Muyo’s protagonist, teleported to the fantasy world of Geminar with a mission to assassinate Princess Lashara, but he fails and becomes her slave before eventually fighting for her against his summoners.

War on Geminar makes a good first impression with its visual production. While not unusual by today’s standards, it was rare for what is evidently an otaku-only anime to have an animation budget – sliding stills and big boobs were the expectation. The world design also has creativity. The reptilian mech designs look good, animated fluidly in duels, and I love the idea of an airship being a landmass with a palace and forest on top. Sure, the first episode has harem markers and some fan service barf, but my impression is positive. This is nothing like the Tenchi Muyo I remember. What is this grand magi-tech fantasy kingdom?

However, once the story settles in and starts churning through daily life in Geminar, everything turns to crap. We meet all the girls of his harem, covering every harem archetype to draw in the maximum otaku audience (see cover image of this review up top for the full selection). Whatever one’s preference, War on Geminar has the girl for you. Of course, none of them has an iota of depth, their sole purpose in the anime being to fulfil the obligations of their archetype. It’s stupid interaction after moronic interaction with Kenshi. They almost have depth, right up until the harem tropes undermine their arc to keep them in the pit of trash.

Where it becomes truly atrocious though, is with Kenshi. Allow me to introduce you to the most Mary Sue character in anime. You think you know, but you don’t.

Lashara puts Kenshi to work in the high-class girls’ school as handyman, a Jack-of-All-Trades; except, the writer forgot the “master of none” part of the Jack-of-All-Trades. Kenshi is perfect at everything on his first day. Housekeeping, brick laying, shoemaking, construction work, five-star cooking, delivery, climbing, running, sword fighting – you name it, Kenshi is the best at it first try. Every girl in school is after him, but because he’s so fast and never tires, they all drop of exhaustion. His massage skills are so great that a single grope from him will leave any girl in a permanent state of crippling arousal, for some reason. Then every girl wants him to wash her back during bath time.

Wait, wasn’t this some fantasy anime with mechs? Yep, that’s what it claims.

War on Geminar has an identity problem. It can’t decide if it wants to be a fantasy war series or a high school harem. Once you strip away all art (which has weakened after a few episodes) and all the flash, this is just another bad harem. The highest budget harem you should perhaps watch for its terribleness, certainly, but still a bad harem like any other at its core.

Art – Medium

War on Geminar appears to have great art at first glance. From characters to world design, this looks far better than the original Tenchi Muyo. I like the mech designs and flying palace. There is good animation during duels, but has so much awful outside that – static shots, repeating animations that linger, and some horrible shots. One instance has smoke billowing out of a building, and when the building tips over, so does the smoke pillar. Yes, the smoke in the air “tips” over.

Sound – Very Low

The writing turns you into an idiot. The princess who speaks in third person is especially dumb. Full of kewl quips and one-liners. Even the sound design is poor, which is rare – I mean rare. For example, the guy running on grass makes the sound of heels on tiles. Why?

Story – Very Low

A boy mysteriously teleported to another world joins a cast of girls to defend the empire. This is the highest budget harem garbage ever made, Mary Sue protagonist included.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it or a must watch for garbage. Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar’s production values make it easier to watch that other “so bad it’s good” titles, so if you want some absolute trash, then have fun with this one.

(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:

Awful DialogueInduces StupidityMary SueRubbish Major Characters

The Devil Is a Part-Timer – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hataraku Maou-sama!

 

Similar: The World God Only Knows

Noragami

Maoyu: Archenemy & Hero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Funny for a few episodes.

Negatives:

  • Initial setup is barely relevant.
  • Satan starts as a generic good guy.
  • The extra girls.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The premise of The Devil is a Part-Timer is straightforward. Satan, ruler of darkness, snuffer of light, finds himself torn from his world of magic and thrust into modern Tokyo, where he must get a part-time job at “MgRonald’s” to pay for life in the big city.

This premise also has almost nothing to do with The Devil is a Part-Timer.

One would imagine that the master of evil, as depicted in the prologue, would be, well, you know, evil. Instead, we have a generic good guy protagonist with no defining traits. Satan starts out good!

There is no point to him being the devil. I am not exaggerating when I say that he does nothing evil whatsoever. He starts as a good guy; he ends as a good guy. No arc, no development, no point. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, as plenty of stories invert the roles – angels and nuns are evil, while devils and gangsters are good. Nothing new there. But the problem by doing this in The Devil is a Part-Timer, beyond going against the setup, is that the series leads nowhere. When a protagonist starts at the end of his arc, he has nowhere to go. His story is already over, so why is he protagonist? I expected some “twist” to reveal that the prologue was a lie, that Satan had been trying to save the world and the angels were evil from the start, at least. The actual plot events, which have a little action, feel so irrelevant because there is no lasting effect.

Furthermore, this leads to stale humour. Satan runs into Emi in the first episode, one of the angels that followed through the portal hunt him down. She works in a call centre now. Predictably, she uses the good ol’ “I must stay close by to kill you when I can” excuse to hang around the guy she’s secretly falling for. It’s funny, at first. However, since he doesn’t change and she’s already friendly with him in that tsundere sort of way, the scenario doesn’t evolve to generate new humour.

Change in this series arrives in the form of more characters – Satan’s generals and the other angels. Much like Emi, these join the good guys under one low-rent roof almost immediately. The Devil is a Part-Timer becomes borderline harem. Only two girls throw themselves at Satan – Emi and his little co-worker – but the vibe and social dynamics are reminiscent of a tame harem. They don’t shift the status quo.

It is funny for a few episodes – I laughed at these fish out of water figuring out how to open a bank account and managing a budget – and it isn’t awful like most harem anime, but the lack of relevance to the setup and absence of direction wears thin before long. If you go in knowing the title matters little and want an easy comedy, requiring no effort, there might be enough for you here. And the 13-episode length isn’t demanding. It just needed more effort to be anything beyond that.

Art – Medium

The opening scenes of backstory that paint a dark fantasy picture are far better than the rest of the series, which is average.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine. However, the fictional language akin to a mix of English and Latin makes it tough to watch in Japanese, where the actors aren’t even in the ballpark of pronunciation. I suppose, as a fictional language, you technically can’t get it wrong. It’s mostly in the first episode, so once past that, go with whichever language you prefer.

Story – Low

Ripped through a portal into modern Tokyo, Satan must find part-time work to earn a living with his general as angels and other demons seek him out. It starts funny, but the choice to make Satan a good guy immediately and to have several girls around him, turns The Devil Is a Part-Timer into a rather bland comedy.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For anime comedy fans only. The Devil Is a Part-Timer is for fans of the “anime version” of a common premise. Its execution isn’t good enough for most.

(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:

No Development

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

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

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

The Saga of Tanya the Evil – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Youjo Senki

 

Similar: Overlord

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

GATE

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Visually atmospheric.
  • Satisfying sound effects.
  • Creative combination of magic and tech.

Negatives:

  • Not evil enough.
  • Tone clashes.
  • Loses steam.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Saga of Tanya the Evil, what an unusual title for an anime with an unusual little girl on the cover art. I can already feel what I’m going to see in this one.

The story starts amidst a war in an alternate reality where magic and technology create a new kind of conflict. A blonde girl, Tanya, leads an air unit of the Empire (alternate reality Germany) that can fly through the aid of magic-infused jet packs or flying horse armour (available now for $2.50 in Skyrim), and her gospel magic when threaded through the barrel of a rifle delivers almighty justice upon her foes. She is said to be supremely evil.

Tanya is also the reincarnation of a Japanese businessman.

In our reality, after a disgruntled former employee pushed him in front of a train, Being X (God) visited him and reincarnated the ruthless businessman out of spite for his defiance against divinity. Tanya tries to avoid the war at first, retire as a wounded soldier in the countryside, but her divine magic makes her so powerful that the Empire keeps putting her on the frontlines. It isn’t long before she becomes that lance that will pierce all foes, propelling the Empire to dominance.

This is certainly an unusual premise and when combined with the good pacing and gritty visuals, makes for an easy watch. My favourite aspect of Tanya the Evil is the fusion of magic and technology, which recalls the Wolfenstein games in its ability to work in a supernatural element without breaking the World War feel. One can imagine that if this magic existed, WW1 would look and operate like this. It’s a cool moment when Tanya fires her first Gospel Explosive Shell like a missile. We have a strong start.

Problems arise as more pieces fall into place, not quite hitting the mark as they land a little wonky. The first issue is with some of the writing. We have lame action one-liners that don’t work outside of Schwarzenegger/Stallone-esque action flicks and the occasional clunky explanation. For instance, when Tanya nukes a unit out of the sky, rather than let the moment speak for itself, someone narrates that her shot burns all oxygen in the area, so you can’t breathe even if you avoid the blast. No need for this. We get it: big boom = dead.

These are mere minor quibbles, however – easy to ignore. The bigger issues revolve around Tanya. From the way people describe her, you expect her to be little Hitler – Satan in a girl’s body. The camera loves to swap to a fisheye lens and zoom in close to her distorted face as she pulls a maniacal grin. “She is so evil, you can’t even,” they keep telling us. And yet, she’s not that evil nor particularly ruthless. Every close up of her grin, every line touting her immeasurable malevolence is trying far too hard to convince us of a falsehood. She’s no Johan.

It’s more comical than evil.

This rolls into the next problem – the tone. Tanya the Evil has a tone issue. Judging by my blurb above, you would expect a gritty war drama with an evil protagonist and magic. However, almost everything has a coating of comedy. This worked fine when she was trying to have herself knocked out of commission to avoid war, but once she’s supposed to have become so evil that she strikes fear in the hearts of allies and enemies alike, it undermines the tone.

Then we have Tanya’s character arc. Why is she so invested in winning the war for the Empire? She does allude to a desire to meet Being X again to shove a barrel down his throat and return to her normal life, though I fail to see a connection between that and her sudden…love (?) for the Empire. Are we missing several chapters that changed her character?

This in turn leads to the final problem with Tanya’s evil saga – Being X/God. Her being a reincarnation and the god character don’t need to be in this story. She could have just been a genius girl with magic talents and pure evil within her soul. Was the author trying to create another guy-trapped-in-MMO story without an MMO? (Please don’t make it so…) As for God, he doesn’t do much outside of the reincarnation and giving a scientist the final piece to a technological puzzle (Captain America vibes here).

I don’t know if the author is going to for some greater message with the inclusion of a God-like character. How does it relate to the theme? Perhaps the next season will elucidate.

At 12 episodes, I don’t feel we have covered much of the story. Future content could right the fallen pieces and bring it all together in a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed my time with The Saga of Tanya the Evil but the slow downward trend in quality leaves me tepid towards it.

Art – High

This has good visuals – detailed, well animated, good lighting, and thoughtful shot compositions. I particularly like the texture of the world and the atmosphere of the skies. Gives a proper, grim WW1 meets fantasy feel. The only problem is the ugly character designs for the young girls with their droopy faces, melting eyes, and pudgy jawlines – doesn’t match any other character. Also, there are a few bad sweeping CG shots of battlefields.

Sound – High

Good acting in either language (although, I hate the moe casting choice for Japanese Tanya) – pick you preference – and the writing is solid apart from the occasional clunks. Excellent sound effects. The magic impacts are so satisfying.

Story – Medium

A man reincarnated as a magical girl of evil will lead the Empire to victory in a World War. An eviler protagonist and less comedy would have helped the war story meet the gritty tone it desired.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a little different and easy to watch, so give a go. I hope the sequel does better.

(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