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Banana Fish – Anime Review

Japanese Title: BANANA FISH

 

Similar: Rainbow

Black Lagoon

91 Days

No. 6

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Strong protagonist.
  • Great visuals.
  • Doesn’t cringe from the subject matter.

Negatives:

  • Weak villains.
  • Humour doesn’t work.
  • Could use more brains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Banana Fish is an adaptation of a manga by the same name that ended 24 years ago. Once a manga reaches a certain age, it’s often deemed outdated and financially unviable. Should one receive an anime adaptation, even then it could become “old news” and have no second season in favour of a gamble at the next big hit. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see something as old as Banana Fish on the slate. And when a studio does go out of its way for an old licence, they will put the full production effort behind it, as is the case here.

The story centres on young Ash Lynx, a handsome boy adopted by New York City Mafia Don Dino Golzine, who declares that Ash should inherit his empire. The boy is ruthless, resourceful, and charismatic – all the qualities he desires in an heir (and it helps that Ash is just his type). Unfortunately for the Don, the boy is also rebellious and despises him like the devil. Ash becomes hell-bent on destroying his father and abuser, especially once suspicion arises of his involvement in the death of Ash’s brother and a mind control drug called Banana Fish. This dangerous game becomes more personal when he meets Japanese photographer Eiji, with whom he makes fast friends. Eiji has just entered a world of abuse, drugs, and death.

Ash is an interesting character and the strongest element of the story. He is a mix of violence and pain as he hates just about everything in his life, yet has these moments of intense vulnerability like a lost child that has no idea of the world. As a child, people sexually abused him, particularly in the mafia including Dino, which taught him that his most valuable asset to these monsters is his body. He’s so damaged by this, one isn’t sure if he’s actually gay or if he’s willing to use his asset to gain the upper hand. It’s messed up, but it makes for an interesting protagonist.

Banana Fish opens on a song to hype you up for the action and ends on a ballad of sadness to remind you of Ash’s pain. That is the heart of Banana Fish.

Eiji is the opposite: sweet, innocent, doesn’t know how to handle gun, and hasn’t even kissed someone. He’s the only good in Ash’s life. Nothing was free in Ash’s world, until he made a friend.

The rest of the cast is a motley crew of gangsters, street urchins, and forgotten soldiers. They work fine in their roles. Where Banana Fish fails its characters is with the villains. Not one of them is interesting or has any depth. Dino is just a creep obsessed with getting Ash to come back as his heir. His plan to accomplish this? What plan? The Chinese guy with long hair, said to be a master manipulator, only succeeds through plot convenience and his ultimate desire for death is just nonsensical. He’s more whiny cartoon child than evil genius. The rest are run-of-the-mill thugs and henchmen, as normal.

The focus on action over character does lessen the impact of weak villains, since this isn’t a battle of ideologies or wits. However, the action-dominated story does dampen the initial setup with Ash’s background and his friendship with Eiji. It doesn’t stop long enough for us to absorb these characters.

To compound problems further (it’s chain of problems, at this point, one leading into the next), the action isn’t smart like Code Geass or stylised like John Wick or Mad Max: Fury Road, so I don’t feel the action alone can carry the series to greatness. People take life-threatening injuries only to stand up a minute later as if they won’t die of blood loss any moment now. Also, Ash is supposed to have an IQ of 180, yet his plans are far from genius. One hit on Dino involves standing atop a truck to take the shot while speeding past. Really, that’s your plan? Nothing in Banana Fish lends credence to his genius label. If they simply hadn’t mentioned it in that one episode, it would have been irrelevant. He’s of average intelligence with high charisma, which is perfectly fine.

My other problem with Ash is the overuse of certain tropes. For instance, I lost count the number of times he wiled his way out of captivity by seducing his captor/guard. It’s awfully convenient that every single one of them is gay and falls for the oldest trick in the book. It made sense the first time when his captor was a past abuser that still craved him. After that is pushing it. Even the humour, which is often jarringly out of place, uses this trope in a light-hearted manner.

Banana Fish has a much stronger first half than second. The first has all the tension, tough choices, harsh losses, and less to do with weak villains. It’s still a decent anime in the second half, though you have to love it for the action more than anything else. And if you make it to the end, the final scene is the best in the series.

Art – High

One of the better-looking series of the year, Banana Fish has a colourful style with plenty of detail, nice animation, and consistent quality. Distant characters lack detail though.

Sound – High

From OP to ED, main character to supporting, all the audio is great.

Story – Medium

An heir to a criminal empire rebels against the predator that raised him and finds friendship in an unexpected place. Banana Fish has a strong first half, fluctuates up and down for the rest of the way, but ends on a great moment.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans. Banana Fish looks great and has plenty of action to keep the crowd busy. Not for children.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Related: Phantom The Animation (old OVA)

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Darker than Black

Jormungand

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Suitably grim atmosphere.
  • Follows through with the brutality.

Negatives:

  • What is with act 3?
  • Too much expository dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ever watch an anime that has something about it, something that makes you swear it’s great and yet, there is something equally wrong with it in every aspect that makes you swear it’s bad as well? Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is one such anime.

Let’s start with the beginning. A Japanese man wakes up one day in a dingy room with no idea of how he got there or memory of who he is. Excellent start – we are straight into a moment of high conflict that generates many questions for the audience. Unfortunately, this man has to spell out all of these questions, as if the audience is too dumb to figure out the predicament he’s in. The monologue doesn’t stop. All the scene needed was to have him look around confused, not recognising himself in the mirror, and then just as it feels this is going for too long, the masked assassin woman attacks him and we’re off into tense action.

Less is more, as always.

The man soon learns that a mafia organisation called Inferno has kidnapped him and intends to brainwash him into another killing machine, an assassin like the masked woman. This is my kind of premise. My mind conjures up scenes of psychological torture, clever manipulation, and emotional tearing as the protagonist struggles to hold onto the scraps of his identity. And Phantom does deliver that, but not without a side dish of problems each time.

The way we learn of this premise is through an excess of expository dialogue similar to the man’s monologue, a recurring problem particularly in the first act. What makes it so blatant is the simplicity of the fix. Just cut it. There doesn’t need to be anything in its place. We can see what they’re doing to him by, oddly enough, seeing what they do to him.

This isn’t an anime for toddlers. Things don’t need to be spelt out like an instruction manual. Extra subtlety of character wouldn’t hurt either. When one of the brainwashing scientists doesn’t like how his superior treats him, he says as she walks off, “Such arrogance. How much longer do you think you will be giving me such orders?” Why did the writers have so little faith in the audience to read the air?

Let’s pause the negatives for a moment and focus on positives. I love the execution of the brainwashing, of how they train some guy to kill people for a living and become the assassin “Zwei” alongside the woman “Ein” (two and one in German, respectively). They don’t strap him down and force him to watch random images with his eyes held open. Instead, they make him believe that he made the choice to kill. “If you don’t kill this bad man first, he will kill you. You don’t want that, do you now?” So of course it was his choice. Right? Coupled with how they take advantage of his weakness for Ein, his change works well.

The other major point Phantom has in its favour is the follow through on its premise. For a story about assassins in the darkest corner of society, it delivers on the brutality. No one, no matter the age or level of innocence, is off limits from sudden murder. Too often, I see stories with brutal premises yet spineless executions. There’s no point starting a story about murder and bloody violence if one is going to water it down into this puddle cranberry juice.

Phantom isn’t all violence, however – explosive gunfights aren’t common, honestly. The story moves at a good clip and changes things before matters grow stale, though this doesn’t always succeed.

The second half introduces a little girl who doesn’t fit the series. She feels token, as if Phantom would fail without a small girl, for some reason. I get that they want to create a stronger connection by introducing someone that isn’t drained emotionally, someone normal, but she goes against the tone. It isn’t a major issue though, unlike the final act.

While I won’t spoil the details of act 3, don’t read further if you do intend to try Phantom, which I recommend, as it will infer spoilers.

Still reading? Alright.

Act 3 goes off the funking rails. This grim, psychological thriller turns into a high school drama, wacky high school OP included. I have never been so confused by a time skip before. One of the weirdest things I’ve seen in anime. It feels like a prank.

Furthermore, the [Bee] train never gets back on the rails properly once it explains everything. One scene has a character running through a hail of bullets, which goes against the rules established earlier. Before, even a few bullets meant death. Now, it strays into action cliché. The most annoying part of the final act is the use of the “friend sent to execute an ally, while the ally yells the friend’s name as they’re shot” trope not once, not twice, but thrice. We see the same trope three times in short sequence! At least the main characters’ story concludes well.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is almost an anime I love. If you mention just the good parts, it’s the anime for me, but the problems are a hindrance. I’ve had my eye on it for years ever since it came in an ad flyer for a DVD I bought way back when. Though it isn’t as great as I had hoped for, it is certainly an interesting ride.

Art – Medium

Phantom has the most mature visual style of the studio Bee Train anime. The problem is that is still looks too similar to so many of these shows from the era that it can be difficult to differentiate. It could have used better cinematography to be visually stimulating – see Black Lagoon.

Sound – Medium

Japanese or English is fine – the Hollywood movie references such as “You talkin’ to me?” work better in English. I like the opening song.

Story – Medium

A man wakes up in an unknown location and without memory, unaware of what awaits him on the path to mould him into an assassin. Requiem for the Phantom has a solid layer of quality covered by another layer of mistakes holding it down. And that third act…

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. They don’t really make anime like Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom anymore. If you are into the serious, methodical action with a focus on psychology, this could be for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

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

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Rainbow – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin

 

Similar: Tomorrow’s Joe

Gungrave

Grave of the Fireflies

Banana Fish

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brutal depiction of post-war Japan.
  • Chemistry between the boys.
  • Sakuragi vs. prison guard dynamic.
  • Top-notch acting.
  • Unexpected outcomes.

Negatives:

  • Second half doesn’t tie together as well as it should.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Post-war Japan was a harsh place. For the poor, the abused, life was rough as the country tried to rebuild. In 1955, six teens find themselves on the wrong side of the law and sent to a correctional school, where they meet Sakuragi, their new cellmate. The events that follow will push them to the limits, punish them for daring to live, and test their resolve for survival until their sentences in hell are over.

Rainbow is brutal, not for the faint of heart. The production team warns you as much each episode with a disclaimer that the brutality, the depravity you will see is accurate of the time and it would be a disrespect to hide it. The first experience in prison is to have the doctor violate one of the boys in front of his friends. The doctor has a faux-gentle voice that makes one’s skin crawl. We witness a child rape not long after. It won’t be the last.

Rainbow never relents with either the characters or the audience. If you are to start this journey, know that peace never truly arrives.

Day one in the cell, Sakuragi beats the ego out of the other six to teach humility. Survival of the fittest is the only natural law that matters in this “school” and reckless bravado will get you killed. He becomes a role model to the others, uniting the group in friendship that even hell will have a tough time breaking. This chemistry between the boys not only makes Rainbow engaging but also loaded with emotion. When all of them put themselves on the line to allow Joe to see his little sister and save her from the rapist that adopted them, you feel a genuine bond tying these guys together.

Each brings something to the group with a distinct personality. The short but business savvy ‘Turtle’ has an endearing cockiness about him. ‘Cabbage’ is a friendly giant, ‘Soldier’ is disciplined, ‘Uncovered’ may be a bit of a prick but he’s got a plan to cover your back, and Mario is loyal to his own detriment. Every character in Rainbow is memorable thanks to a complete backstory and complex characteristics. It’s evident within an episode or two that the creator didn’t take any shortcuts when planning his characters.

As I watch these characters grow, I want nothing but the best for them. I want to protect these guys. I want them to be happy. Why can’t they catch a break? Why can’t they just be happy? It’s rare for a story to have me care so much for so many of its characters.

Their camaraderie evokes emotional moments. The most emotional scene for me doesn’t involve any violence or tragedy; it’s just everyone being there for one in the group when he needs them most.

The best arc in Rainbow belongs to Sakuragi, however, because of the conflict between him and the prison guard, a man who will stop at nothing to ruin his life. The guard tries to sow dissent among the friends, tortures the guys, and is complicit in the doctor’s vile acts as long as he can continue to torment Sakuragi. Their arc is fantastic and unexpected in direction. Rainbow as a whole makes several unexpected turns – not twists exactly. Rather, you don’t expect the outcomes of certain threads and events. The writer took bold decisions with the plot.

If I haven’t made it clear already, Rainbow is an anime worthy among the best. Yet, nothing is without fault and the major one with this anime is that the second half isn’t as strong as the first, owing to a lack of cohesion between arcs. The second half is closer to a series of short stories for each of the guys. While these stories are great, the writer didn’t weave them together. It would have been better to run several stories in unison, leaping frogging each other through interwoven events. For example, Joe’s story is about wishing to sing while Mario’s is about his boxing. There is no reason these couldn’t have had connected events and a little shared conflict. Weaving arcs together deepens the connection and raises stakes further when more characters have something on the line. Even so, Rainbow is still excellent throughout.

I don’t know how this anime stayed off my radar until requested for review. I had the horrid thought the other day that I may never have seen Rainbow if not for one dear reader… Even though I’m certain I have every great (or said to be great) anime on my list already, I am going to go through the databases again, just to be sure another Rainbow doesn’t slip past me. Such great anime deserves to be watched by all.

Art – High

The animation is only above average, but the visual style has atmosphere and the painterly stills during key moments are gorgeous, full of emotion.

Sound – Very High

You need great performances to pull off an anime of Rainbow’s weight, and they did it. I love the OP and ED, which stay the same throughout, unable to skip them each time they started. The only audio flaw is with some of the American characters likely played by expats in Japan with mixed acting expertise.

Story – Very High

Seven cellmates in a juvenile reform school cling to hope and friendship during a harsh post-war Japan. Rainbow’s uncompromising conflict will have you engaged and cheering for these boys to the end.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t like the brutal subject matter. Rainbow is a top tier anime that deserves a larger audience.

(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 DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequencePhenomenal VillainStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Detroit Metal City – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Detroit Metal City

 

Similar: Aggretsuko

Legend of Black Heaven

Beck

The Tatami Galaxy

Back Street Girls: Gokudolls

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Music Dark Comedy

Length: 12 episodes (half length each)

 

Positives:

  • Vulgar hilarity.
  • The premise is perfect.
  • Fast talking matches the humour’s pace and half-length episodes.

Negatives:

  • Visual creativity doesn’t always work.

(Request an anime for review here.)

College graduate Souichi dreams of becoming a wholesome popstar. Shame then he became a death metal frontman so vulgar that Satan himself would evict him from Hell. Johannes Krauser II of Detroit Metal City (DMC) is said to have killed his own parents and then raped them. Or was it other way round? Either way, he can vocalise ten rapes a second! He killed his parents and so should you.

Detroit Metal City has one of the most absurd premises I have ever seen and it is hilarious! The shift back and forth from meek-mannered Souichi to indecency incarnated Krauser had me laughing every episode.

Problems most often arise when Souichi tries to put the moves on his crush, only to have Krauser’s crazed fans enter the scene and bring out his inner Demon King. He can’t supress his alter ego at the sound of DMC’s music, and pity any fool that dares challenge his might. In the first episode, DMC fans attack him for badmouthing the band to his crush after she says death metal is horrid. As a defence, he must air guitar Krauser’s moves to prove that he didn’t really mean it. This turn into a head banging, air banding romp and blurts out a line from his song – to do unsavoury things to the girl. She runs off in tears. Each episode’s scenario is funny. The rap battle may be the best. When Krauser raps, he destroys your life with shameful facts about your past.

Possibly my favourite character would be the band manager, who gauges how well a performance went by how wet she is and how many orgasms the music gave her. If she’s as dry as sandpaper, then the performance was trash!

This dark humour won’t be for everyone. Certainly not. Out of context, this all sounds horrid. Fans of the darker side will be in pain, however. One of the best decisions the team made with Detroit Metal City was to have half-length episodes (excluding OP and ED) with accelerated dialogue. It keeps the pace quick and the jokes rolling.

I had a ton of fun with the hidden gem that is Detroit Metal City. And don’t worry; Souichi’s parents are alive and well living peacefully in the countryside.

Art – Medium

Like South Park, Detroit Metal City uses intentionally jank art and seems recorded by someone holding their phone vertically at times. Shame! SHAME! But seriously, the art adds to the humour, though more visual variety and quirky animation would be better.

Sound – Very High

The acting is sharp, fast, and hilarious – the manager’s random English swearing is great. The music sucks in the perfect way.

Story – High

A soft-spoken boy dreams of singing innocent pop music, but transforms into the Demon King of death metal against his will when inconvenient. This premise works far better than expected to hilarious results.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for dark humour fans. Detroit Metal City’s compact size packed with vulgarity of ludicrous proportions is a hilarious watch.

(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:

Hilarious

Negative: None