Tag Archives: Mature

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Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

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There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.

In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.

The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.

Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.

In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.

Art – Very High

Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.

Sound – High

The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.

Story – Medium

A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Psycho-Pass 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Psycho-Pass 2

 

Related: Psycho-Pass (prequel)

Psycho-Pass Movie (sequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Action

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The villain’s lore.

Negatives:

  • The new girl.
  • So much stupid.
  • Mishandled parallels to season one.
  • Script written for robots.

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I can’t hold back my curiosity any longer; I have to know what everyone means by saying Psycho-Pass 2 is terrible when compared to season one, Psycho-Pass. How can one create a terrible product when given such a strong and established series to work from? Well, dear readers, this is how.

Psycho-Pass 2 starts not long after the last season with a new girl, Shimotsuki, joining veteran Akane on a case reminiscent of Akane’s first day in Division 1. However, this time, Akane finds a way to lower the target’s Crime Coefficient out of the “execute him now” range. Shimotsuki disagrees with Akane’s decision to give him a chance. Get used to Shimotsuki disagreeing with everything Akane does, for that’s her only purpose in Psycho-Pass 2 when she’s not being the stupidest character I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.

The villain, just like last time, has found a way to cheat the all-powerful Sybil system and keep his Crime Coefficient at “saintly” levels while killing people. Similarity is another aspect you should get used to. Psycho-Pass 2 is a near-carbon copy of Psycho-Pass. I don’t just mean that the villain’s method is the same or that themes carried over. I’m referring to scene for scene, shot for shot similarities, as if paying tribute. (Who pays tribute in a continuation of the same story? What are you? Slow?) Characters find themselves in the same situations, with the same dilemmas and decisions to tackle as before. There are too many such similarities to list. Think of it as giving two ghostwriters the same book outline to flesh out, yet one of the ghostwriters sucks.

Apart from being lazy, this “poetry” (“Again, it’s sort of like poetry; they rhyme.” – that guy who made the Star of the Rings prequels) fails because of the emotional aspects, not the technical. When a character has to make a difficult decision, the weight comes from the emotional context. If your protagonist has to choose between saving his mother or his girlfriend, it doesn’t matter if we never get the sense that he cares about either. They may as well be cannon fodder. You can transplant the same rules to psychological dilemmas. Do I sacrifice part of my soul to kill the villain? If sacrificing part of the soul won’t change anything in the character, then who cares? Psycho-Pass 2 is a context-less failure without the masterful psychology.

Worse than this problem, however, is the new character, Shimotsuki, whose role in this poetry is to replace the “by-the-book” character from season one. Where the original guy had a solid point on occasion, Shimotsuki is a threat to society with her stupidity. She’s a pretentious, one-note rookie that thinks she knows best despite being inexperienced in every department. For example, episode 4 has a hostage situation where the team knows an officer is in danger alongside civilians. So what does this rookie genius do? (Oh yeah, she’s supposed to be a genius. Bloody hell…) She does nothing – just waits for the captured officer to contact them. That’s right, an officer who’s probably on the verge of death has to lead the hostage rescue, while the equipped team outside should “just wait.” There’s stupid characters, then there’s this bimbo. And she’s surprised when the chief has another team take over the scene… You’re testing my tolerance, Psycho-Pass 2.

For a supporting character, she certainly takes plenty of space with her idiocy. Her position after the story’s main twist is idiotic. She must be mentally deficient to be the way she is in the end, as we receive the flimsiest justification for why she makes several of the stupidest decisions I have seen in anime. Not to mention, they’re inconsistent with her preachy nonsense from earlier. Psycho-Pass 2 likes to preach a lot. The original did explain character ideology to the audience more than necessary, but it succeeded most times. If you recall, the original’s first episode had a great scene that showed its themes through a rape victim wanting revenge, thus elevating her Crime Coefficient. This time, they added a scene to preach about how the Orwellian Sybil system isn’t so bad because you can still be a good person by yourself. What nonsense is this?

Psycho-Pass 2 doesn’t even feel connected to the previous season. They didn’t need to make this. They had nothing to say, nothing new to add, no extra world to develop, and none of the new characters are interesting. Kogami’s absence is noticeable. The only good I can say about this anime is that the villain’s secret is excellent, and therefore a travesty to see squandered in this piece.

Psycho-Pass 2 is the perfect example of the same idea poorly executed. Ideas are worthless without proper execution – it’s why no paid for that guy from high school with ideas he swore were better than the best filmmakers’ and game designers’ works.

After the series, I threw on the movie in hopes of something better after hearing it was made by the A team while the B team worked on Psycho-Pass 2. The movie takes us out of Japan to see how the world fared without the Sybil system. It’s okay – too black and white for my tastes. If you do want to watch it, find the dual-mix version, which takes half the audio track from the Japanese version and mixes it with half of the English, as characters speak different languages. Without the dual-mix, you have to either bear a lot of horrid Engrish in Japanese, or have confusing scenes in English as people pretend to speak different languages while speaking the same language. The dual-mix still has some Engrish, but it makes sense, for it comes from the Japanese characters. I love this dual-mix idea and hope to see more of it in future.

Art – Medium

Season 2 looks worse. It has that over-smoothed shading from cheap flash animation in many scenes, though the animation quality itself is good. The cinematography and imagery has none of the passion from before. Even the world doesn’t look as interesting despite being the same setting!

Sound – Medium

Robotic script in the face of fine acting. Music is nice.

Story – Low

A new girl joins seasoned Akane as they investigate the case of someone who can manipulate his crime coefficient to pass unseen by society’s judge. Psycho-Pass 2 copies everything from season one except for good story, good characters, logic, and world building.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For intellectual curiosity only. Psycho-Pass 2 is worse in every way. Even seen on its own, it has nothing to recommend itself. However, if you want to study a great example of the same idea executed twice to polarising results, Psycho-Pass 2 has plenty to teach.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingInduces Stupidity

Moonlight Mile – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Moonlight Mile: Lift Off

 

Similar: Space Brothers

Planetes

Armageddon (Hollywood movie)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Adventure Drama

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Science and engineering detail.
  • Some tense dilemmas.

Negatives:

  • Disjointed storytelling.
  • Characters don’t have time to develop amidst the dilemmas.
  • Junk animation and CG.

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What made me curious to watch this anime? Was it a) space, b) the engineering, c) premise, or d) sex? The answer is a), of course – I love space! Alright, I admit, it was the sex, okay. Happy? But no, in all seriousness, when I was at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, they had an exhibition spotlighting civil engineering in manga – infrastructure, architecture, development, etc. – as the Japanese take great pride in their civil engineers (when you watch them build a house in a day, you can see why [turn on captions for subtitles]). I picked up Moonlight Mile because it had an astronaut on the cover (I am serious about the loving space part), but was struck by how sexually graphic the opening scene was. If I hadn’t seen the cover first, I would have assumed this belonged in the section you wouldn’t mention to your parents. This scene is so graphic that I was curious if they got away with it in the anime adaptation. Spoiler: they don’t.

But first, the story. Two climbing buddies, Gorou from Japan and Jack “Lostman” Woodbridge from the US, make a pact atop Mount Everest to see each other in space as they look to the sky above. They soon part and set about achieving this goal in their own manner. Gorou takes the path of an engineer, while Lostman goes the air force route (two-thirds of US astronauts come from the military). Becoming an astronaut is no easy journey and each will face trials and setbacks, even more so than real astronauts, for Moonlight Mile loves to throw one disaster after another at the protagonists.

Now, you know me, I love conflict – it’s the engine of fiction – but there comes a point where you need to allow characters to grow. In fiction, scenes follow the rough pattern of action and reaction. Something happens in a scene (action) and the characters react/reflect on this action in the next scene (reaction). Moonlight Mile rarely stops for the reaction. All space movies have those disasters – oxygen leak, broken thruster, power failure, etc. – for the astronauts to solve. These moments are exciting edge-of-your-seat tense, yet if you have nothing but this, as Moonlight Mile does, the tension wanes. The characters, while decent, feel like mere nuts and bolts to this story, rather than driving agents.

The first episode is nothing but a disastrous climb up Everest to establish the characters. This should have taken a few minutes. Well, there is Gorou’s butt as well.

As for my initial curiosity, while most episodes have a sex scene, it isn’t graphic. Still certainly not for kids, though is a far cry from the manga. It also doesn’t add to character, for Gorou falls in love with a new girl faster than a shooting star. This wouldn’t be an issue if he grew from each relationship. Alas, a new girl means a clean slate of development, so what’s the point?

In regards to the engineering, Moonlight Mile succeeds in taking care to do the math and science in a disaster. I’m not a rocket scientist, so someone more qualified may find great flaws here, but Moonlight Mile doesn’t try to convince us that training oil drillers to become astronauts is easier than training astronauts to operate a drill.

Art – Low

The 2D animation is junk, whereas the 3D sees overuse for vehicles and sweeping shots. Even the ground is CG in these scenes – so distracting.

Sound – Medium

The Japanese script is a bit dry, so go with the English, which added more banter and a natural flow to the dialogue.

Story – Medium

Two friends and rivals vow to meet each other as astronauts in space. This is their journeys to meet that goal. Moonlight Mile suffocates its characters in disaster after disaster for them to resolve, giving little room to develop. At least the disasters are tense.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For space fans. Did you like Armageddon? If yes, then Moonlight Mile is the anime version. If you thought that movie needed better science, Moonlight Mile will also satisfy in that regard.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Paradise Kiss – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Paradise Kiss

 

Related: Neighbourhood Stories (loose prequel)

Similar: Princess Jellyfish

Nana

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Better second half.
  • Strong finish.
  • Perfect match of art to theme.

Negatives:

  • First act needs an overhaul.
  • Rushed in key moments.
  • Deceptive opening scenes for each episode.

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You know you are in for a weird one when the anime opens to still images of the real world with an animated Godzilla wearing sunglasses in the background. Wait, no, this odd sequence and the ones for each episode have nothing to do with anything. Why start with something irrelevant and deceptive? Paradise Kiss is still on the weirder side, but this theme of starting poorly permeates the series.

Yukari is a hard-working student under pressure from her parents to be the best. She doesn’t care; she just wants to get away from it all. Opportunity strikes when some bleached guy with a safety pin for a lip piercing drags her into his fashion group. Apparently, she’d be perfect for their final project on the runway. Parental pressure and a desire for independence clash as Yukari finds her own goals in life.

Reading this start on paper, sounds solid, right? What could be wrong with it? Well, let’s go right to the first scene when she meets the blond guy. Their interaction as strangers goes beyond suspension. The idea was to show how ‘screw the social norms’ and persistent he is by having him stalk some poor girl to be his “model.” They overdid it. He’s so exuberant, so demanding that he doesn’t feel like a person. Asking a stranger on the street to be your model is beyond social norms already, especially in Japan, so there’s no need to yell it. To show his persistence, a simple forcing of his number onto her after insisting she’s the perfect model a couple of times would suffice. The version they went with is a case of trying too hard to show his character.

The same applies to meeting George, the love interest. He’s a douche from the start and has this forced confrontation with Yukari. Again, the idea was to show that he believes she should be independent and not allow her parents to dictate her life, just as his parents have no say in his life. Unfortunately, what we see is a writer who doesn’t know how to have characters with little connection clash. Once the characters have a proper connection, the confrontations are great because they have a platform to leap from. Before that, it feels like, “Er…these two need them to fight…er…let’s just have them get upset over something trivial. Next scene, I’ll get them back to normal anyway.”

The bad starts don’t end there. Yukari falls for George at near first sight, despite his douchiness. I’ve said this many times in my romance reviews, but falling for the douche is perfectly fine. However, to sustain the relationship beyond just wanting to jump his bone, you need something more. Now, – and here’s the baffling part – Paradise Kiss does give that something more, but only after they’ve moved beyond the honeymoon. Argh! It’s supposed to be the key that moves it from honeymoon to long-term relationship! Without this key, every honeymoon period ends in breakup. We see hints of this to spark the initial attraction, but it needs to escalate to become the key to long term. Damn it, Paradise Kiss, why is all your goodness in the second half without any of it present in the first half? This structuring frustrates me more than it should.

There are other such examples of ‘bad start but is much better later’ – almost every character introduction, conflict with Yukari’s mother, Yukari’s crush on a classmate, etc. – but I need to mention the good before this review is over. George’s good qualities, under the doucheterior, are great. His fashion skill is exemplary, – highly desirable to a model – he knows what to make that will please her, and he never holds her back like her mother does. He embodies the independence she craves. (Of course, we see all of this an act late!) The relationship moves at a faster than usual pace, which is refreshing in anime, and doesn’t stall through contrivances. As alluded to earlier, the second half is much better, for the story no longer needs to set up conflict or characters, leading to natural drama.

Possibly my favourite part of Paradise Kiss is the final scene, the epilogue that shows us where the characters end up. I hate to sound so childish, but it’s a very ‘grown up’ ending. It isn’t glitzy or glamorous, contrary to the fashion theme. It’s real. This ending left me satisfied despite all preceding faults and made me appreciate Paradise Kiss more over the days that followed.

As I told the dear reader that requested this review, I almost dropped Paradise Kiss. I was going to give it three episodes to grab me, which it would have failed to do. The request, however, forced me to watch to the end, for which I am glad.

Art – High

The glamorous art fits the fashion and the animation is good, but the camera really needs to back up. Just back up! There’s no need to have every shot be up the subject’s nose.

Sound – Medium

I like the OP. It’s catchy – groovy, even. Though the voice work is good, the script lacks lines to create early connections between characters, replacing them with characters stating the obvious on moral lessons.

Story – Medium

A girl with no direction save for the next exam has her life changed when an eccentric fashion group drags her into being their model for a fashion show. Starting weak and ending strong, Paradise Kiss is a bit of a mess in structure, but an interesting anime nonetheless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If you like fashion or stories about characters seeking independence too early in life, Paradise Kiss has you covered.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Terrible Start

Welcome to the NHK – Anime Review

Japanese Title: NHK ni Youkoso!

 

Similar: Princess Jellyfish

The Tatami Galaxy

Genshiken

Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Comedy Romance Drama

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Immediately hilarious.
  • Good use of psychology to deepen characters.
  • Solid acting.

Negatives:

  • Some unsatisfactory thread endings.
  • Art could do with work.

(Request an anime for review here.)

“What’s wrong with running from reality if it sucks!?” I’m sure each of us has had moments where we wished to shut off reality, at least for a short time. Well, Satou took the opportunity to escape reality over three years ago and hasn’t come out since. He now lives as a hikikomori/NEET (if he ever says otherwise, don’t believe him).

This NEET supposes everything wrong in his life, from his fear of getting a job to allergy to responsibility, stems from a conspiracy by the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (Japanese Hikikomori Association) to create more hikikomori. In fact, the NHK invented anime as a means to keep otaku glued to the TV, which is indoors, thus creating more hikikomori. How has no one realised this before!? Or so he tells me. His neighbour blasts the theme song to the latest anime sensation nonstop every day.

The mental block represented by the NHK conspiracy is a great metaphor for those in life struggling to reach full potential. Welcome to the NHK taps into many relatable problems through excellent use of humour.

One day, a nosy missionary on a holy quest to weed NEETs out of society leads Satou to meet a pretty girl, who takes an interest in him. Misaki works at a local manga café and offers him a job, helping him escape the NEET lifestyle dubbed “her project.” However, he has to sign a contract first with a 100k yen termination fee. Rather than say no to the contract, he keeps making up more and more elaborate lies about how he isn’t a NEET – hilarious segments. He goes so far to prove he isn’t a loser that he even teams up with friend his Yamazaki to make a video game. Or, he could just say no.

Since he has no skills and there’s just two of them on the project, the only game they can make is an erotic visual novel (eroge). I lost it at this part. The research for the eroge is hilarious. Creepy, no doubt, but this anime knows what it takes to make an eroge for adoring fans and describes it to us in detail. This is not a show for kids. Really not for kids.

Later on, the story brings in other hilarious subplots such as a pyramid scheme and cybering a girl in an MMO. The subplots don’t always end satisfactorily, however. The eroge game development in particular concludes on a rather dud note, which is a shame after how well it starts.

NHK is not all comedy. As I mentioned earlier, it understands psychological problems, particularly in regards to a fear of reality. Satou is so paranoid that he can’t believe a girl would be interested in him. She must have ulterior motives.

The further the story progresses, the more serious it becomes until the final few episodes have but a drop of humour. While the drama side is strong, I am not particularly fond of this shift. It bothers me when a story presents itself as a comedy but ends with little comedy in sight. NHK should have had a better balance. Focus on the heavier elements, by all means, yet keep some humour going. Great writers manage this without one side undermining the other.

Nonetheless, Welcome to the NHK is a great anime. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the similar Princess Jellyfish (oh no, a Stylish!), but any who enjoy one will enjoy the other.

Art – Low

Has some weird imagery, but largely average on an artistic sense. Some episodes get downright bad in technical quality.

Sound – High

Good acting in both languages. Weird as tripping balls ED.

Story – High

A NEET, who believes everything wrong in his life is part of some conspiracy, has his world shaken when a girl decides to cure him of the NEET lifestyle. Funny and psychological.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. Welcome to the NHK is weird, yes, but the right sort of weird to bring much humour and a touch of heart to your life.

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

Positive:

Hilarious

Negative: None