Tag Archives: Magic

Expect spellcasting. Spoon bending doesn’t count.

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.

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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

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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

GATE – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri

 

Similar: Log Horizon

KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!

Overlord

Re:Zero

The Saga of Tanya the Evil

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • An easy watch.

Negatives:

  • Why is this guy protagonist?
  • No fantasy world building.
  • Fantasy characters act too modern; present day characters are too calm.
  • Female iris designs.

(Request an anime for review here.)

First it was one person transported to a fantasy world; then it was a city; then a country; nowadays they just let anyone in.

A portal opens in Tokyo, connecting our world to one of fantasy and an army of warriors and all manner of creatures spills out onto the streets of Ginza. They slaughter anyone in sight. Worst of all, the invasion has cancelled the doujin convention, which Youji was so looking forward to – he is an otaku after all, as he told us in scene one. The modern military pushes back the fantasy horde and ventures through the portal soon after to understand the source of this calamity. Youji finds himself leading a recon team – not that he wants to, or anything, because he is an otaku above all else. They will have to negotiate peace and broker truces if they mean to survive their adventure of elves, dragons, knights, and catgirls. Most of all, everyone must remember that Youji is an otaku.

I forgot one detail: Youji wants me to tell you that his is an otaku. Don’t forget it.

This dimwit has to remind us every scene. He doesn’t stop. Considering an otaku wrote this, you’d imagine the one character he would depict correctly would be the otaku. Self-inserts are rarely good, however. Best part? Him being an otaku has no bearing on the story in the end. Come. On!

Like this hollow protagonist, GATE puts no thought into building its world, societies, monsters, and magic. The writer took the base template of ‘fantasy world’ and added nothing to it, resulting in a world no one would care to learn more about. Why would you when there are no secrets to uncover, cultures to learn, or dynamics to understand? All the fantasy characters act too modern as well. They may not know what a gun is, but their behaviours and morals don’t differ from ours.

On the opposing side, the modern people are far too sane about crossing a portal to a fantasy world. Do none of them realise what this truly means?

The first episode is a deception, leveraging the idea of all-out war between modern and fantasy societies, when in actuality, GATE is more comedy than action and the two sides are at peace most of the time. Again, the fantasy people are too modern, accepting the army with ease, and Youji learns their language in about two seconds (you thought a dozen races would have different languages, didn’t you?) A lack of action is no loss in this case with how little thought went into it. Prepare to put an equal amount of thought into GATE if you mean to enjoy it.

Basic, very basic, politics contribute the most to conflict with one king wanting to seize power, while a group in the Japanese government considers sealing access to the gate from other countries to secure the new world resources, resources that the fantasy residents are oblivious to.

The comedy is fairly good among the main group, which teams up with an elf, a mage, a death oracle, and more before long. A soldier with the catgirl fetish loses it when he meets one. If you can’t make meaningful tension, then amusing humour is better than nothing for a modicum of enjoyment.

Art – Medium

The art is your decent modern quality. Though why do most girls have lines across their irises? It makes them look full of tears.

Sound – Low

Voices are average in a weak script.

Story – Low

A portal connecting our world to one of fantasy initiates a new type of conflict. GATE would greatly benefit from world building and a different protagonist to engage the audience.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For bored fantasy fans only. GATE’s sole merit is its ease of consumption for anyone who doesn’t want to think about it. This is trash, but it might be your sort of trash.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionRubbish Major Characters

Fate/Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fate/Zero

 

Related: Fate/Zero 2nd Season (included in review)

Fate/stay night (sequel)

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (alternate sequel)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (alternate sequel)

Similar: The Future Diary

Re:Creators

Basilisk

Psycho-Pass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 25 episodes (two seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Breaks many ties with Fate/stay night.
  • Main characters have complexity.
  • ‘Banquet of Kings’ episode.
  • More substance to the action.

Negatives:

  • Some jarring CG.
  • Still can’t handle exposition.
  • One-note minor villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Fate/Zero is the prequel to the Fate/stay night visual novel and created by a different team, which can only mean good things.

Instead of a harem protagonist, Fate/Zero selects Kiritsugu the ‘Mage Killer’, hired by one of the noble families, and married to their heir, to crush the competition with his servant Saber (the same one from Fate) in the war for the Holy Grail. His opponents are a mixed cast of mages, noble and common, as well as different iterations of Archer, Rider, Assassin, Lancer, Caster, and Berserker. Kiritsugu displays greater depth than Shirou within moments. First, by having a plan, and second, by showing smarts in his method of attack. One of my issues with Fate/stay night was having kids instead of adults when the latter make for mages that are obviously more powerful. Kiritsugu isn’t an idiot kid, nor are his opponents save one that I’ll talk of later.

As if by magic, the servants also have complexity of character. Saber is no longer a good character solely due to her backstory. She has convictions, motivations, and opinions – all the important servants do. One episode in particular has a scene called ‘The Banquet of Kings’ with Saber, Archer, and Rider – three kings – sitting down to discuss their views on what makes a great king. They challenge each other’s ideologies, Saber’s in particular. The dialogue is something the old author could never dream of. The strength of character writing is no surprise coming from Gen Urobuchi, writer of Psycho-Pass and Madoka Magica. (He also wrote Aldnoah.Zero, though we won’t speak of it here.)

Not everything is gold and diamonds. The first episode has several minutes of two geezers walking around in a circle expositing the world and their plan for the war. Truly a masterclass of bad expository writing. And someone has to explain the whole Fate franchise concept, yet again, in the usual clumsy fashion. The writing is smoother once you clear those reeds. Oh, except for two awkwardly placed episodes of backstory for Kiritsugu – they’re interesting, but don’t seem to know where to go in the story, so occur in the middle of an event.

As for characters, one of the mages is a serial killer to match his sadistic Caster servant, which is a thrilling addition to the war. Unfortunately, both master and servant alike are flat. What you see upon introduction is the same throughout. Now, they do at least have major impact on the story, but they could have had more to their characters. In a series where identity is everything, Caster’s identity doesn’t matter. Missed opportunity.

For a pleasant surprise, we turn to Waver, a young mage in over his head trying to prove himself equal to “pure” bloodlines when he joins the war, summoning Rider. He’s the one kid and justified in his inclusion. Furthermore, Rider doesn’t respect him and flicks Waver for all the stupid commands, nor should he as a great king from history who conquered much of the world. This is what I mean by taking a moment of thought to justify why your story/character/conflict is the way it is. The original author wouldn’t have thought of this disagreement. Far from being mean, Rider is a boisterous character, a lion of a man that brings needed comic relief alongside Waver. Rider is my favourite of the servants.

The action sees improvements, even if it doesn’t look as nice as Unlimited Blade Works, and while you could point to a couple dozen better anime for action, the stronger characters and smarter plans increase the tension, placing value on who lives and dies.

I wish I hadn’t followed the Fate watch order guide and listened to my instinct to start with Fate/Zero. I would have enjoyed this anime even more if I didn’t know certain details that carry over to the main series. Fate/Zero stands as the only Fate series worth your time unless you really want to see the Holy Grail War repeated ad nauseam.

Art – High

Fate/Zero still looks good without the flash of Unlimited Blade Works thanks to vibrant colours, better character design, and tighter choreography since that they don’t have cram in as many effects as possible. Now, some of the CG…ouch. Berserker looks hideous – a CG knight surrounded by a particle shroud, also in CG.

Sound – High

The VO is equally good in both languages; just needs a tighter script. Electric guitar action music, softer classical pieces, and ethereal vocals make for a solid soundtrack.

Story – High

Ten years before Fate/stay night, another Grail War raged between mages and their servants of myth and legend. Fate/Zero abandons most of the garbage from the original series in favour of complex characters and meaningful action.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Defying the franchise, Fate/Zero stands above the swamp from whence its predecessors came. Start with Fate/Zero to avoid lesser series from spoiling anything.

(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