Tag Archives: Magic

Expect spellcasting. Spoon bending doesn’t count.

Castlevania – Anime Review

Related: Castlevania Season 2 (TBA)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the games.
  • Looks and sounds great.
  • Deeper than expected.
  • Unflinchingly brutal.

Negatives:

  • Too early to gauge full quality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In the same way that game-to-film (or vice versa) adaptations bring the worst out of art, game-to-anime conversions are mind-numbing experiences that contain none of the game’s magic. When Netflix announced a Castlevania series, I didn’t even bother adding it to my ‘might, perhaps, one day if there is no more anime, eventually’ list. The series releases and the strangest comment reaches my ears… It’s good. What unspeakable pact did the creators enter into?

While not an anime, Castlevania adopts plenty from the likes of Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D in its adaptation of the game franchise of the same name. More specifically, this uses Castlevania III as a launching point with some Symphony of the Night elements.

The first episode introduces us to the human Lisa as she enters Dracula’s castle and meets the vampire lord of Wallachia himself. Rather than throw her out – or worse, drain her – he is endeared by her desire to learn science and spread such enlightenment across mankind. She doesn’t run away like the others. He teaches her chemistry to help the villagers and marriage is not far behind. However, the Church grows suspicious of her newfound curative abilities and finds heathenistic devices in her house, such as instruments of glass too thin to be of human creation. They burn her at the stake.

Oh what a grave mistake.

Dracula’s wrath unleashes a demon horde across Wallachia. The land is now a place of death. At a small inn still untouched by the horde, Trevor Belmont is drunk and getting drunker. His family of demon slayers fell from grace since their excommunication by the Church, so there’s little to do but drink these days. Even a horde of game doesn’t interest him. A human plea will soon change this.

So, the story starts like a Castlevania game, and it does well by setting the stakes as high as Dracula’s castle and giving a flawed yet likeable protagonist. Then there’s Dracula, exuding majesty and awe-inspiring power. They didn’t tone him down. I was prepared for something like the Devil May Cry anime, where the characters, especially protagonist Dante, have none of the personality that makes them enjoyable. Instead, Castlevania added more than what was to be found in the games.

These four episodes serve as the setup to a grander series. They establish Dracula, Trevor and his allies, and the subplot of the Church, which added the story depth to turn this from good to great. I hope to see the Church subplot throughout the series.

The action is no wet skeleton either. It’s gory and brutal, as it should be for the franchise, and the choreography has thought behind it. Duels are especially satisfying.

With all this praise, what’s the downside? Well, it’s hard to say at this point, as I am reviewing the start of a series. I have no complaints right now, but elements could become problems. For example, Trevor’s bravado will turn annoying if overused and he trash talks instead of fighting, like a bad villain monologue. The inside of Dracula’s castle may also have little story, with all interesting plot occurring outside under the Church’s influence. Who knows? It’s too early to say. Still, it looks right, sounds right, and feels right.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for Castlevania.

Art – High

The art feels like the games turned animated, dripping with gothic atmosphere. Some animation is jittery, but good overall.

Sound – High

The accents work well in English. The Japanese is good enough if you prefer that. Music complements the dark atmosphere.

Story – High

A son in the long line of once-noble Belmonts prepares to fight the Lord of Darkness, Dracula. Castlevania is a great start to adapting such a venerable franchise.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Unless you can’t stand gore, Castlevania’s four episodes give a good taste of whether you should look forward to more.

(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:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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Akame ga Kill – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akame ga Kill!

 

Similar: Kill la Kill

The Seven Deadly Sins

Attack on Titan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • It ends.

Negatives:

  • The characters.
  • The story.
  • The writing.
  • The art.
  • The action.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I read Akame ga Kill pitched as anime’s Game of Thrones. Either the recommender hasn’t seen Game of Thrones or hasn’t seen Akame ga Kill­. My sides will never recover.

From the first scene, Akame ga Kill is an obnoxious anime. I fail to recall a time I hated a protagonist quicker than here. A cocky hero with forced-cool dialogue? Yeah, I hope he dies. He’s so stupid that a large-breasted girl cons him for all him money on his first day in the capitol. She just about asks for it and he hands it over. He’s that stupid. Then a noble girl happens to be passing in the next scene to take him to her estate. Why make him lose all his money if it amounts to nothing? The purpose is to acquaint him with the nobles, but it’s so clumsy that they may as well have typed the script directions on screen.

We then meet the main plot. A group of assassins called Night Raid aim to kill the sinful elite of the kingdom, chief of which is the emperor and his minister for oppressing the populace. Busty Girl is a member of Night Raid, as it happens. So that’s why she was in the useless scene earlier.

Night Raid’s signature – and by extension, Akame ga Kill’s – is gratuitous violence. It’s so meaningless, so overwrought and in a story littered with unfunny humour of poor timing that it didn’t faze me in the slightest to see a noblewoman sliced in two at the waist, her hands spiralling away from her body. Akame ga Kill has so much edge that Gillette has its engineers working around the clock to unlock its secrets. I mean, each episode is titled ‘Kill something’ – ‘Kill the Darkness,’ ‘Kill the Grudge,’ ‘Kill the Audience’s Sanity and Tolerance to Atrocious Writing.’

Episode one’s key action scene has Busty Girl comment how Hero Guy is good because he’s lasted longer than usual against Emo Girl. In reality, Emo Girl mostly stood around and when she does attack, he survives through luck. Her sword that bifurcates people like butter can’t pierce a wooden statuette in his shirt pocket when convenient. Wow, so impressive, Hero Guy. They’ll fall in love over nothing, of course.

Night Raid reveals to Hero Guy that the noble girl and her family torture commoners for amusement, including his friends whose names I can’t remember. Much like the violence, there is no build up to this revelation so it leaves no impact. It does foreshadow how shallow the villains will be, however. “Are you shocked? Are you shocked yet?” The show keeps asking. Yes, I am shocked at how someone can write a story and characters this bad. I can’t believe this is making Aldnoah.Zero look like quality.

I am unsure of the target audience for this anime. It’s too violent for children, yet too immature for adults. Hell, it’s too immature for children.

By the way, I wrote this review after watching a single episode, and with the final episode complete, I have nothing to change except to say it only becomes worse. Here are a few highlights to come:

  • The strongest villain falls in love with Hero Guy for no valid reason.
  • Emo Girl and her sister want to kill each other for edginess.
  • Fights devolve into characters playing their Trump Cards – they literally call their best abilities Trump Cards (how subtle) – creating a binary flow to fights. It also makes no sense why they don’t open with their ‘I Win’ buttons.

Akame ga Kill has no redeeming quality.

Art – Very Low

While some of the backgrounds look decent, nothing can make up for poor animation, bad choreography, generic style, and dissonant character designs. The character design is so lazy that half of them dress in everyday modern clothes in a fantasy world. The creator couldn’t be bothered to design clothes.

Sound – Very Low

Every character sounds like the typecast of their archetype in an atrocious script. The music is as forgettable and generic as the art.

Story – Very Low

A group of assassins kill the corrupt elite of the kingdom one villain at a time. With some of anime’s worst characters, shoddy action, expository dialogue, and cringe-to-the-edge, Akame ga Kill will kill your brain before the end.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Akame ga Kill has likely made it into the ten worst anime I have seen, and I go out of my way to watch some bad anime for the ‘so bad it’s good’ joy. Akame ga Kill cannot even boast that quality.

(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:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityNo DevelopmentRubbish Major CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica

 

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

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

Similar: Steins;Gate

School-Live!

Princess Tutu

Neon Genesis Evangelion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – High

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

Story – Very High

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

Overall Quality – Very High

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

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

 

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

Positive:

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

Negative:

Terrible Start

Children Who Chase Lost Voices – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo

 

Similar: Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Princess Mononoke

Spirited Away

The Place Promised in Our Early Days

Brave Story

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Fantasy Romance

Length: 1 hr. 56 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.
  • Creative environments and creatures.

Negatives:

  • No foundations.
  • Never gets going.
  • Flimsy ideological conflicts.

(Request an anime for review here.)

After watching Your Name in the cinema recently, I went back to Makoto Shinkai’s previous feature-length film, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, to complete the collection. With his ability to distil human emotion into the magic of animation, it comes as a surprise to receive such a dull story and ultimately disappointing film from him.

Asuna hears strange sounds and unearthly music on her crystal radio. In her eagerness to decipher these phenomena, she stumbles into an adventure of monsters, a handsome stranger, and a lost civilisation. A school professor shows her how to reach the magical land underground.

This premise sounds very Indiana Jones, yes? Well, to best summarise Lost Voices, imagine Indiana Jones without any of the charm, wit, and action that made those films great – more importantly, fun. For a story with so many magical elements, Lost Voices has no magic to it.

I want to step back to the start for a moment. We open on Asuna in her ordinary life – as is expected for the genre – doing ordinary activities like eating food and cleaning the house, but we don’t see much of a hint at the magic in her future. In these ‘ordinary person thrust into supernatural world’ stories, great writers will include out-of-place details to draw the eye and foreshadow what’s to come, even if the character doesn’t notice. The best example of this is in Harry Potter’s first chapter.

Harry’s uncle Vernon Dursley is off to work for another ordinary day – Rowling even emphasises how ordinary the day should be in the opening line: ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’ However, after only a paragraph cementing their normality, the hints of extraordinary begin to drop – the never-mentioned Potter relatives, an owl in broad daylight, odd people in robes, more owls, a stranger mentioning a Potter boy, yet more owls, etc. We, the audience, stand in the realm of ordinary with Vernon yet catch glimpses of the extraordinary realm to come. This technique prevents boring the audience in the first chapter.

Shinkai did not employ this technique well.

The only real oddities in Lost Voices’ opening are the noises on the crystal radio, though since they have no meaning for some time and are distant to the protagonist, they aren’t enough to grip you. My attention faded before even reaching the Inciting Incident.

Most shocking of faults is with the…romance, if you could call it that, between Asuna and the mysterious stranger that saves her from a monster attack (not as exciting as it sounds). If there’s one aspect Shinkai knows how to do it is emotion. And yet, here we have a girl fall instantly in love – not a crush or fling – with this stranger and would do anything for him with nary a conversation between them. Did I miss a scene that established the relationship? The setup is so weak that I spent thirty minutes trying to figure out if a romance was the intention. Even with later developments, it has zero impact.

So the first act is boring, the romance is as empty as the Bebop’s bank account, which leaves us with the adventure of no charm or fun. Children Who Chase Lost Voices settles itself comfortably in the worst category of all: boring. We need characters and story to engage us below the pretty surface. This anime is better left unplundered.

 

Art – Very High

Gorgeous art and animation from Makoto Shinkai, as usual – those colours!

Sound – High

The acting is good, but better in Japanese for some characters. Pleasant music.

Story – Medium

A girl hears the sounds of a strange creature from below and investigates the legend of a lost civilisation. Lacking foundation, Children Who Chase Lost Voices gives little reason for engagement in its rather standard adventure narrative.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is gorgeous to look at, certainly, but the story is too uninteresting to be worth seeing over other anime of similar premise. I would recommend worse yet more engaging anime before this.

(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:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Kiki’s Delivery Service – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Majo no Takkyuubin

 

Similar: Spirited Away

Little Witch Academia

Flying Witch

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Adventure Comedy Drama

Length: 1 hr. 45 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Sweet depiction of teenage growth.
  • Charming little details.
  • Natural characters.

Negatives:

  • Not enough ‘witchy’ stuff.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Every witch, once at a certain age, must leave her hometown and fly on her own to find a place in the world. Most witches don’t stray far from home, but a mishap sends witch Kiki from countryside burrow to seaside city, where a witch hasn’t set broom in a long time. No flying in town! Accompanied by her cynical black cat, she drifts in this alien world until a kindly baker offers a place to stay in exchange for work. Kiki soon has the idea for a delivery service of baked goods and private parcels.

Okay, Miyazaki, this is, what, the thirtieth time you open a story with moving house to a distant place? Is this some recurring nightmare of yours? Or are you trying to signal us that you’re trapped and wish to move from your current location? Is it Yubaba? Does she have your name? Wait! Are you not actually named Miyazaki? Dun, dun, DUN!

While we uncover Miyazaki’s curse/dream, let’s discuss Kiki’s Delivery Service. I like it, but not as much as I could have.

First, the scene when she leaves home is perfect. “You grew up so fast.” “You can always come back if you don’t like it.” “—as a failure, euch!” It’s like the team saw my departure from home – minus the witchery, of course. Miyazaki’s ability to capture these small moments brings his stories to life.

Similarly, I love how Kiki bumps into buildings and has to kick off walls when flying with a heavy package. They could have had her fly normally and it wouldn’t change the story at all, yet with these details, it instantly connects us to the situation, for we believe that’s how it would happen as though we have flown brooms with heavy packages. The detail of her landing at the front gate and knocking rather than flying straight into the garden is charming as well – highly Japanese.

Kiki’s challenges are light-hearted, for the most part, such as recovering a dropped toy from a murder of crows – her cat has to act toy-like for the customer until then, to humorous results. When she faces her greatest challenge, involving stress and boy from the city, it lacks gravitas. For one, the boy isn’t a particularly interesting character and a stranger could replace his involvement, but more importantly, the incident doesn’t seem personal enough to Kiki. If you look at My Neighbor Totoro’s equivalent high-stress scene for the climax, it has impact because it hits the protagonist’s core. Extreme emotion isn’t compulsory. However, when the incident has a personal connection, the audience can feel its importance.

My words make it sound as though I am laying into Kiki’s Delivery Service, when really, the finale is fine and the growth it brings is valuable. It’s just that when you have Studio Ghibli, you know they can elevate it further. Also, there isn’t enough witchiness in this adventure beyond the broom flying and talking cat.

Art – Very High

Ghibli quality – detail, animation, colour, you know the drill by now, all excellent.

Sound – High

Good acting in both Japanese and English. I love the pleasant music and ambient sounds such as birds chirping in the morning and rain falling outside.

Story – High

A young witch ventures out on her own for the first time to face life’s trials and tribulations. Kiki’s Delivery Service delivers a great coming-of-age story, but it could do with a little more ‘witch’ in it.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Though not a must watch, especially if familiar with Studio Ghibli’s other works, Kiki’s Delivery Service is easy to recommend for all ages. Kiki’s character arc and charm are reason enough.

(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:

CharmFluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None