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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

 

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

 

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

Scum’s Wish – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kuzu no Honkai

 

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

White Album

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Romance Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and shot composition.

Negatives:

  • Immature view of sex, masquerading as maturity.
  • So much ‘almost sex.’
  • Boring lead.
  • Everything is a few beats slow.

(Request an anime for review here.)

You want a messed up love polygon? Hanabi is in love with her brother and teacher, but he’s interested in another teacher. Meanwhile, Hanabi’s classmate is in love with that other female teacher. To cope with the heartache of unrequited, forbidden love, Hanabi and the guy date each other for sexual and emotional comfort. They are each other’s replacements. However, another girl is in love with Hanabi, while the pretend boyfriend’s loli sister is also in love with him. Got all that? Lesbian -> Hanabi -> brother/teacher -> co-worker/teacher <- pretend boyfriend <- little sister.

Despite the messed up premise, my first thought was to question if Scum’s Wish would go far enough. The crueller the setup, the more likely an anime drama will chicken out before the end and not deliver the promise. When Scum’s Wish revealed that the brother wasn’t Hanabi’s real brother, I knew how this would end.

Scum’s Wish engaged me with its beautiful cinematography and emotional weight. Hanabi latched onto her brother and father figure, thinking they’d be together forever after the lack of a real father left her with emotional issues. It’s tragic.

Then the classmate’s little sister enters the picture, breaking the tone. She feels like a character from a trashy harem, not a tragic romance. Throw in the lesbian best friend with the hots for Hanabi, and the love polygon goes from tragic to comical. The teachers and students were enough. These extras comes across as characters meant to distract you from the shallowness of the main threads.

The ‘doesn’t go far enough’ problem is no more prevalent than in sex scenes. There’s a lot of almost sex. The artists put their all into animating each sex scene with smoothness and detail to maximise sensuality and eroticism. (Just imagine One Punch Man’s action scene animations, but for characters feeling each other up.) Yet, someone always backs out at the last moment.

Scum’s Wish was pitched to me as “the anime most mature about sex in years.” Now I don’t know what to think of the people who told me this – they were adults, too. Look, just because you censor less than a shoujo romance, it doesn’t make the sex any more mature. Almost every sex scene is “Gyaaah! Not there! Don’t look at me. Nyaaah!” They sure use the ‘one character on top of another, when the top starts crying and tears fall on the other’s face’ scene five times too many. It’s no different from any other immature relationship anime.

The villain of this story is the female teacher, surprisingly enough. She is aware of Hanabi’s desire, as well as all those who are after her, and she loves it. The teacher thrives on how much people want her – if she’s taking away someone’s crush in the process, then all the better. A unique villain, to be sure. Sadly, even she doesn’t go far enough. Her arc – hell, everyone’s arcs – resolves with the tension of wet toilet paper. Scum’s Wish simultaneously puts its characters in cruel scenarios while treating them like fragile ornaments that can’t suffer the slightest nudge, lest they break.

The fragility also weakens any emotional impact. March Comes in Like a Lion conveys emotion much more effectively, all while using a quarter of the words – silence instead of the excessive internal monologue found in Scum’s Wish.

The story has nothing beyond the relationship drama – no one feels like a real person with a life, even if a miserable one. Hanabi is worst of all. She is a passive, feeble character that rarely takes action. The plot doesn’t move forward at her behest. Someone else takes charge while she lies there going, “Gyaah! No…”

Maturity? Look elsewhere.

Art – High

The art is gorgeous, soft and elegant – I love the eyes. The shot composition is great at conveying multiple perspectives and emotions at once. Editing could be quicker. Character heights are oddly inconsistent – in the first scene, Hanabi bumps into a guy, coming up to his chin, but then two shots later, she is half a head taller than before!

Sound – Medium

Decent acting and calm music.

Story – Low

A love polygon of ridiculous dimensions messes with the emotions of every student and teacher involved. Scum’s Wish tries to be mature about sex, but devolves into immature melodrama that stretches reason beyond intrigue.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Scum’s Wish won’t be for you unless you love sexual melodrama.

(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:

Shallow

Castlevania – Anime Review

Related: Castlevania Season 2

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