Tag Archives: Magic

Expect spellcasting. Spoon bending doesn’t count.

Little Witch Academia – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Little Witch Academia

 

Related: Little Witch Academia (original movie – included in review)

Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (sequel movie – included in review)

Little Witch Academia TV (alternate series – included in review)

Similar: My Hero Academia

Cardcaptor Sakura

Orphen

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Comedy Adventure

Length: 2 short films, 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • So much fun!
  • Consistently funny.
  • Gorgeous colours and animation.
  • Excellent dub.

Negatives:

  • Movies rendered redundant by series and lack of originality.
  • Weak overarching plot.
  • Sub-par Japanese track.

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Little Witch Academia started out as a short film project made possible through a government grant to have veterans train young animators. Its massive success led to a Kickstarter for a sequel film and funding for a full TV series after that.

It follows the adventures of Akko, a girl with big dreams of becoming like her performing witch idol, Shiny Chariot, as she attends Luna Nova Academy for training. Alongside her are Sucy, the diabolical apothecary, and Lotte, a witch that can talk to…old junk? Let us not forget the queen ego, Diana, who has the audacity of being great at magic and focusing on school. Disgusting. In her quest for greatness and answers on what happened to Chariot, Akko must unlock the seven secrets of Chariot’s old weapon, the Shiny Rod.

I want to start with the short film before we dive into the heart of the series.

I had always heard of Little Witch Academia as ‘Harry Potter for girls’, which I can confirm is absolutely true of the first film. There is no denying the inspiration drawn from Harry Potter book one, The Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US). The schools are similar with the same quirky magic, have a boring History of Magic class, broom flying with the same teacher and someone showing off, a snooty blonde rival from a ‘pure’ bloodline, a Forbidden Forest, a rampaging monster from the dungeons, a sorcerer’s stone of importance, and the list goes on. The main differences are with Akko, who is more like Neville with her levels of incompetence (and secret greatness), and that Little Witch Academia is all about fun instead of a serious plot.

I don’t begrudge it for the similarities – the tone makes a big enough difference – but the story isn’t of particular interest. The sequel movie is about setting up a parade and utterly unmemorable. I only recommend the movies for completion’s sake or the visual spectacle, nothing more.

Here we come to the series, which keeps the same premise and characters, though otherwise goes back to the start to give us more depth in every aspect. Many of the Harry Potter similarities beyond the magic school leave the stage as well.

Each episode is a mini adventure with Akko and friends trying to overcome some task, such as learning to speak to fish. Akko is so disaster prone that nothing ever goes according to plan. After accidentally flushing the fish, who happens to be the professor, down the drain, she must enter the sewers to mount a rescue. She is so much fun and bursting with such energy that I can’t help but smile at everything she does. However, my favourite character has to be Sucy. She’s always concocting potions and growing special mushrooms, which she gives to her friends as guinea pigs in dire situations, just to see what happens. Her bored monotone voice matches her dry wit perfectly. Imagine a young Snape if he weren’t a total prat.

Little Witch Academia’s humour is a smash hit in general. I particularly enjoy the humour that pokes fun at the magic society. Why don’t witches use cell phones? It sure would help. In this world, humans are aware of witches and don’t have a high opinion of them. A sub plot involves improving relations with humans and has the girls attend a ball with human guys. The dynamic between the pretentious guy and Akko is great, for he can’t resist her energy despite his disdain for magic.

The one significant problem with Little Witch Academia is in the overarching story about reactivating the Shiny Rod and uncovering what happened to Shiny Chariot. It isn’t engaging. I couldn’t care less about this thread because it doesn’t feel as though it matters much. For one final Harry Potter comparison, think of Voldemort’s story and all the conflict he brings. We are looking at opposing ends of the same scale for engagement. Now, Little Witch Academia is a light-hearted series and such a dark plot wouldn’t fit the tone, but there is still no reason they couldn’t have made the Shiny Chariot history more relevant and interwoven with the rest of the narrative. It feels almost tacked-on simply to have some overall story. As a result, the final few episodes that resolve this plot are the weakest. The conflict lacks a real villain as well. There is one of sorts, but again, she’s so minor in the grand scheme that she feels added in just to fill the villain slot.

It’s a testament to the quality of the episodic content that this is great anime in the face of the overall story problems.

The ‘Harry Potter for girls’ label is misleading, as this is an anime for everyone. It doesn’t have most shoujo tropes, such as the crush on an older man or the endless “what do I do?” staring at her feet weak characters. Anyone can love Little Witch Academia and it is my favourite Studio Trigger anime. Akko may be terrible in class, but she gets an A+ from me. I love that girl.

Art – Very High

The art adds so much fun and energy to the series through its colour and animation. Little animation details make every episode visually engaging and an absolute delight to witness.

Sound – High

I am thankful for the excellent dub, as the original Japanese is sub-par, particularly for the main trio. Sucy in English is perfect and bad in Japanese, while Japanese Akko doesn’t have enough energy. The music reminds me of Disney’s Cinderella – never a bad thing.

Story – High

A young girl attends witch school in the hopes of becoming as adept in magic as her idol was, and to do so, must activate the many secrets of a magic rod. Little Witch Academia’s episodic content and boundless fun makes up for the weak overarching plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Little Witch Academia the series is for all ages and an anime to be loved by all. I would be surprised if you didn’t enjoy it, even a little.

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

Positive:

CharmFluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

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Outlaw Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Seihou Bukyou Outlaw Star

 

Related: Angel Links (spin-off)

Similar: Cowboy Bebop

Trigun

Space Dandy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Creative art.
  • Surprisingly good dub.
  • Sense of fun.

Negatives:

  • Melfina is empty.
  • The catgirl is irritating.
  • Never hits a high note.

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Combine Trigun with Cowboy Bebop and you have Outlaw Star. While not as good as either, it is not without merit. Nostalgic art and a mix of samurai, cat girls, sorcerers, pirates, bounty hunters, gunslingers, cowboys, and cyborgs make for an unusual universe.

Gene Starwind, sufferer of space sickness, wants to become a space pilot but remains earthbound as a gun-for-hire with partner James Hawking. They take the simple job of escorting a beautiful woman with a suitcase, only to get more than they bargained for. The woman isn’t an innocent dame – she’s a grizzled outlaw – and the suitcase doesn’t contain her clothes and unmentionables. Inside is a girl called Melfina, asleep, naked, and hunted by several factions. They escape together aboard the advanced Outlaw Star to survive and find the mysterious ‘Galactic Leyline’.

For the most part, Outlaw Star pits Gene and company against one of the aforementioned groups each episode. Races, heists, a wrestling tournament, and space battles are a mere sample of the adventures on which they embark. Early on, they clash with the cat people of the Ctarl-Ctarl Empire and find themselves burdened with the company of the most annoying character in the universe, Aisha Clan-Clan (yes, everything in cat society has a duplicated word name. Yes, it does get annoying). Even her introduction is idiotic. She argues with Gene over right of way in space! She knows that space is an infinite nothingness, right? After failing in her mission, she seeks revenge against Gene, which she reminds us every episode with her screeching voice, before joining the team in search of the Leyline.

I suppose that her high-energy personality was to counteract Melfina, who has no personality. Melfina is yet another example of a writer believing that quiet plus introverted must be boring. At least she has a purpose in the story. That’s something, I guess?

Characters and the Leyline, which I will get to in a moment, are the primary components holding Outlaw Star back. Gene is too much your typical space gunslinger (the space sickness gag lasts a couple of episodes), James is little more than his babysitter (most of his dialogue is warning Gene not to do something), and the samurai woman that joins later is as you would imagine on first impression. None are bad – except Aisha and the empty Melfina – but when you have Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, or Firefly in the live-action realm sitting right next to this anime, it’s hard to compete. Throw in the original Star Wars, Gundam SEED, Star Trek if you want something more measured, and you realise that great sci-fi with everyone on a single ship needs a great crew.

As for the Galactic Leyline, said to hold the knowledge of the universe, it isn’t an interesting goal. For one, it doesn’t fit into the rest of the series. You have this adventure series of gunfights and space battles for 23 episodes and then it turns into an exploration of the existential. The story never cared about themes of knowledge or existentialism before this. It doesn’t fit.

Outlaw Star plays its best cards during self-contained adventures over an episode or two. It’s worth your time for a few such adventures. If you want to go for the long haul, select one of the other titles I’ve mentioned in this review. Except Firefly because that was cancelled. Kidding, great show, wish it had more.

Art – High

Outlaw Star looks great, particularly in action scenes. I love the old school feel of its hand drawn art and world design.

Sound – Medium

The first ED may be one of my favourites of all time. I love the gentle song accompanied by gorgeous single-colour art sketches. The dub is surprisingly good for the era.

Story – Medium

An odd bunch of space farers gather aboard the Outlaw Star as they get up to all sorts of adventures against catgirls, mercenaries, and assassins. Outlaw Star is a space adventure of fun and action that doesn’t go for the high notes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of older anime. Outlaw Star won’t entice among all the glitz and glam of modern anime, but if you want to return to a simpler time, a time of space ships and space babes, then try this.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Bayonetta: Bloody Fate – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bayonetta: Bloody Fate

 

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Trinity Blood

Castlevania

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Japanese & English

Length: Fantasy Action

 

Positives:

  • Looks great.
  • Bayonetta looks even better.
  • Flashy and stylish, but…

Negatives:

  • …nothing compared to the games.
  • Clumsy use of exposition.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Bayonetta 1 & 2 are the flashiest, most stylish, and greatest spectacle action games of all time, starring the sexiest lady in gaming. These games are fast and crazy, so Bayonetta: Bloody Fate has much to live up to.

Umbra Witch Bayonetta searches for her memories assisted by bartending weaponsmith Robin, dogged by journalist Luka, challenged by rival witch Jeanne, and attacked on all fronts by forces of Light. The journey twists when she meets a little girl also chased by hordes of Angels.

Much like Neon Genesis Evangelion, this franchise takes the biblical End Times view of heaven and angels, giving us some of the most weird and twisted angel designs ever created. Just look at Fortitudo below (yes, he is the right way up). The Angel boss fights are epic in the games and though you do feel some sense of that in the anime, it simply isn’t the same. That’s the problem with Bloody Fate: despite being flashy, stylish, and crazy, it is nothing compared to the games.

Even so, this isn’t a bad game-to-anime adaptation – a hell of a lot better than Devil May Cry of the same genre. Bloody Fate goes through the story of the first Bayonetta game, almost exactly – they even incorporate the motorbike level reworked for story flow. This feels as though it came from a team that actually played the game first, but had time limitations to contend with and made the best of it. What we do receive is plenty of fun.

However, the anime lacks the sense of lore and myth, for lack of better terms, that the games used to convey story. These shortcuts are the curse of any game-to-anime adaptation. As such, you need to have played the game to understand the Angels and Witches fully. The other glaring issue, one I don’t recall being in the game, is the exposition. Heavens above! Ninety percent of exposition is one character telling another character what they both already know. What makes this particularly strange is that other characters who don’t know the information could be used instead.

If your interest is the action, then there are no problems. Bayonetta still tears it up in her usual sexy manner.

I’m not sure for whom this is intended. Fans will prefer the game in every way, while new viewers will miss much of the context from not having played the game. I enjoyed it as a piece of nostalgia taking me back to the game, which I haven’t played in years but now want to revisit. Perhaps that is the true purpose of Bayonetta: Bloody Fate

Art – High

Looks great with stylish action and sexy characters. A faithful recreation of the source material.

Sound – Medium

This Japanese track is fine, but nothing beats Bayonetta’s voice in English. Boy does the script need work though – an amateurclass in exposition. I wish more of the game’s songs made it to the anime.

Story – Low

The sexiest witch in Heaven and Earth hunts down divinity’s minions in the search for her past. The characters still have the fun from the games, yet the truncated story and lack of ‘gameplay story’ is noticeable.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of Bayonetta or flashy action. Without background context from the first game, the anime adaption is a bit vague unless all you care about is the action.

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

Positive:

Negative: None

Black Butler – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kuroshitsuji

 

Related: Black Butler II (included in review)

Black Butler III: Book of Circus (included in review)

Black Butler: Book of Murder (included in review)

Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic (included in review)

Similar: Pandora Hearts

Gosick

Hellsing Ultimate

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 46 episodes (3 seasons), 1 movie, 9 OVA

 

Positives:

  • That’s one hell of a butler.
  • Dub’s goofiness is fun.
  • The ‘Making of Black Butler’ episode.
  • Book of Murder OVA.

Negatives:

  • Ciel is a bore.
  • Every Britain-set anime cliché.
  • Keeps retconning itself with each season.
  • Season 2. All of it.

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Black Butler is a bit of a mess. Its production is rife with uncertainty, changes of story, and confused accents.

It follows the story of Ciel Phantomhive, young noble of his name and Queen Victoria’s ‘Guard Dog’ aided by his trusty butler, Sebastian Michaelis, a demon with whom he made a contract – service in exchange for Ciel’s soul once his goal is finished. Despite the dark pitch, Black Butler is more comedy than anything as Sebastian deals with all manner of problems caused by guests and even his own staff. Not that any of this is a challenge for him. He is one hell of a butler, after all.

When the Italian Mafia tries to do the naughty in Her Majesty’s land, it’s up to Ciel to give them a good kick up the backside. Well, Sebastian will do the kicking – after offering some wine, of course. It would be insupportable for a butler to lose his manners even with the most trying of guests. Even a con-noble receives a meal before the gothic mansion eats him alive.

The relationship between Ciel and Sebastian has a good dynamic – similar to Integra and Alucard of Hellsing, though Sebastian will offer to resolve conflict with a spot of tea and cake first. Hopefully he won’t need to use the finest silverware on the guest’s throat. He’s a great character and the key selling point of Black Butler. Without him, there wouldn’t be much of worth here, for Ciel is a bore, always dour and he just sits there giving orders most of the time.

The mansion staff are incompetent – except for Tanaka, who’s fine as is – and would be fired in any other scenario, generating much of the comedy, even more so in English. Here we come to a key decision when watching Black Butler – Japanese or English? The Japanese is quite standard, solid even, but without accents, whereas the English is full of accents – British of varying classes, Irish, Indian – many of them not particularly great, but that’s part of the fun. The mansion staff in particular are a riot in English. A joke about being a posh Victorian also works better when the character sounds like a posh Victorian.

Black Butler’s serious elements are where the inconsistencies manifest. It starts with an encounter against the Ripper (featured in every Britain-set anime, along with Indian royalty), who turns out to be a weirdo and sort of a good guy. Then season one ends with a major event on which you could conclude the anime, only to have it reversed for season two, as though they didn’t know they had a green light for a sequel until too late.

Now, season two is rubbish. The antagonist is a mirror to Ciel, another young noble with a demon butler contracted. The poncey kid is obnoxious and the endless allegiance switching is a trial in tedium. That arc too ends on a major event, only to have it yet again retconned by season three. You could count the erasure of season two as a blessing considering how bad it is, but you know what would be better? Not needing to wipe it in the first place. My understanding is that these major events aren’t from the manga, which would lend to the idea that each season ended as though it were the last to avoid the common problem of incomplete anime. Black Butler now has three seasons and a movie with more likely on the way. I liked the end of season one – lots of tension, Ciel finally challenged – but not in the grander context of other seasons. It’s a real mess, I tell you.

A surprising success of Black Butler is in the OVAs. These are often throwaway episodes that waste your time, but the OVAs for season two are a ton of fun, the best of which is the ‘behind the scenes’ episode that pretends all the characters are mere Victorian actors starring in a TV show. Season three’s OVA, Book of Murder, is a great standalone Holmesian mystery around a dinner party of eclectic characters.

Black Butler’s messy nature makes it difficult to recommend in the face of countless other superior anime. Even so, its appeal will come to those looking for an anime that isn’t set in Japan or high school. This may be a case where the manga is better.

Art – Medium

Black Butler looks like anime from the era, such as Ouran High School Host Club, Emma, and Spice & Wolf, though with a gothic slant. Not much in the way of animation.

Sound – Medium

You have two choices: the better yet standard Japanese or the inconsistent yet far more entertaining dub. I much prefer the latter. The haunting Gregorian choir is great while most of the theme songs are unsuited to the gothic Victorian atmosphere.

Story – Medium

A young Victorian noble and his trusty butler dispatch the queen’s enemies in between a spot of tea. Black Butler fluctuates wildly in quality and engagement because of poor planning for future seasons and odd changes from the manga.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Black Butler is dated by today’s standards and has its issues, but it can be fun for those seeking something a little different. I recommend the dub. You can watch the two Book of Murder OVAs for a good standalone experience.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Re:Creators – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Re:Creators

 

Similar: Fate/Zero

Shirobako

Durarara!!

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Action Fantasy

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Cool concept.
  • The music.

Negatives:

  • Untold wasted potential.
  • Pointless action scenes.
  • No sense of urgency.
  • The fictional characters don’t act like they come from fiction.
  • Background protagonist.
  • Not thought out enough in pre-production.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Never has there been such a difference between my interest of the premise in an anime versus the struggle it took to finish the series. Re:Creators may make the number one spot of my most disappointing anime list.

Aspiring light novel author Sota finds himself taken into the anime he’s watching, only to jump back out moments later with that anime’s fiery protagonist, Selesia Upitiria, by his side. He soon realises that other fictional characters – nine in total – have stepped off screen and page, some with ill intent and all with questions about their worlds and ours. The conflict of their stories has not left them whole. Altair, the woman in military regalia, seems to know too much of the real world for an anime character.

How did they take such a fantastic premise and do nothing of worth with it? Well, strap in. My heart breaks to do this.

It quickly becomes apparent that something is wrong with the fictional characters – not their conflicts, but their design and personalities. They each adjust to the real world in one scene flat. Selesia can immediately drive a car better than any stunt drive. The magical girl’s scene has here thinking that damage isn’t permanent, like in her shoujo anime, which is a good scene, but that’s all she receives. What’s the point of a fish out of water scenario when you don’t use it? If I showed you the episode after a character’s introduction, you wouldn’t guess that they aren’t from our world. Look at it in reverse, when a character goes from our world to one of fantasy, like Youko in The Twelve Kingdoms, and the obvious need for an adjustment period. Even GATE executed this better. Re:Creators’ characters are closer to cosplayers than to characters of fantasy and science fiction, which is ironic because that’s what everyone assumes they are when seen in public.

The next problem with these characters is the total lack of effort that went into making a connection with the audience. I could not care if they lived or died. Re:Creators doesn’t take the time to establish them and make us connect. They pop into the world, fight, chat about the fight, fight some more, meet their makers, fight, chat about the fight, and some meet their makers for the last time. Of the 22 episodes, about 10 minutes went towards character development.

You have two options to fix this: either you spend time in the fictional worlds first as the characters follow their ‘anime’ story or you put extra effort to show us who they are in the real world story. Ideally, do both. The time Sota has in Selesia’s world is one scene. And that’s all we see of the fictional worlds. Yep, that’s it.

It isn’t necessary – or advised – to give every character time in their respective worlds. Start with the important ones, Selesia at minimum, and unveil the rest as you go, holding back the villain worlds as part of their mystery. In the meantime, develop them in the real world – start with the fish out of water problem above. Character growth occurs in the face of adversity. Therefore, you would imagine that the adversity of being in a strange land and realising that your life, your entire existence is scripted would push you to grow. Why not use this opportunity?

Furthermore, this lack of individual stories makes them feel too similar, as though they don’t come from nine different anime but from the same anime, one called Re:Creators. Imagine if Van from Escaflowne, Light from Death Note, Sakura from Cardcaptors, Saber from Fate/Zero, Kira from Gundam SEED, Johan from Monster, and Byakuya from Bleach came together in a massive crossover series. Would they for even a moment feel as if they come from the same anime? The writer for Re:Creators should have created his characters with the mentality that he was making nine different anime, independent of one another, and then brought them together regardless of how unlikely a mecha pilot would meet a mage – the more different, the better.

As for the real world characters, they aren’t any better. Sota is a blank slate. He only exists because the writer felt a need to have a real world protagonist. A Creator would have been a better choice – Creator is the name for the author of a fictional character. Creators suffer the same problem as their creations. They adjust to their characters come to life in a single scene. Forget a character of your creation – if any character you loved came to life, wouldn’t you be full of questions and excitement?

The only interesting moments are when Creator and character go head to head. The knight Alicetaria, for example, cannot believe her Creator wrote her dark fantasy world full of pain and suffering for mere entertainment. Seen from her perspective, he’s a sadistic, cruel man. For others, such as the mecha pilot, it adds comedy. His Creator has trouble convincing him to do things because he’s a prat, just as written. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t go far enough with any of these.

If not growth and conflict, what fills Re:Creators’ screen time? Pointless action. You could count on one hand the number of meaningful or engaging action sequences. Again, think about this: you have nine powerful characters come together for a massive crossover series and the action. is. boring!

Most engaging action-related content happens prior when rewriting a character to have new powers. The Creator can’t simply write that Selesia is now immortal – the public wouldn’t have any of it! Fans must embrace a believable evolution to the character for it to take effect. I like this mechanic. Not used enough, I’m afraid. More meta mechanics would help too. I’m a broken record at this point, but yet again, Re:Creators doesn’t take advantage of its premise.

There is a k-drama called W – Two Worlds about a woman who finds herself dragged into her father’s manhwa when the hero faces death. The series is full of meta mechanics. She can only return to the real world when ‘To be continued’ physically appears in the air, marking the end of the volume on a juicy cliffhanger. The passage of time is also off, which emulates cutting from one scene to the next between panels. I don’t want to give away anymore as you must watch W, but my point is that Re:Creators is surface deep.

Re:Creators did not receive the effort required for such a concept. The creator only went halfway, delivering a halfway anime. Remember, this isn’t adapted from manga – this is an original anime unbound from prior canon. They could have done anything they wanted. Another creator could use the same concept and craft something truly great.

Art – Medium

Re:Creators’ art meets the modern industry standard and the CG works, though I am disappointed with the character designs. Why do all the characters look created by the same artist when they’re supposed to come from several artists?

Sound – Medium

The acting is average with no room to flex. I like the music, first title song in particular, which I have listened to a dozen times this past week.

Story – Low

Fictional characters come out of their worlds and into modern Japan as some among them cause havoc our world and their creators. A lack of thought and planning turned the great potential of Re:Creators into a bore.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. This is a Very Low in terms of potential vs. actual. I hope to recommend the same idea executed better in the future. Re:Creators is the Great Disappointment.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DisappointingShallow