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KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

 

Similar: No Game No Life

Ixion Saga DT

Slayers

Log Horizon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 20 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny characters.
  • Fun, colourful style.
  • Great parody of otherworld anime.

Negatives:

  • Weak story lacks progression.
  • World could do with greater exploration.

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Kazuma is useless. Darkness is useless. Megumin is also useless. Aqua is especially useless. Everyone is useless in the world of KonoSuba! And it is great.

After an embarrassing death, high schooler Kazuma has the chance at another life in a fantasy world. A nerd’s dream come true! Unfortunately, he spawns as the worst class in the game and Aqua, the goddess that granted the new life, is a companion without talents to speak of. They soon recruit descendant from a powerful magical bloodline, arch wizard Megumin, master of explosion magic. At last, some strength to the group!

Nope. She can only cast one spell before collapsing. Well, at least they have a resilient tank in the form of paladin Darkness. She will save them! Nope. She’s has zero accuracy in combat and is a masochist that loves taking a beating from monsters – the more people that watch her sweet arse and bountiful breasts get beat the better.

KonoSuba is a refreshing change after trudging through the endless mire of isekai (otherworld) anime. This parody is better and funnier than the vast majority of titles in the genre, not to suggest there is stiff competition.

Everything works and make sense in this take on the genre, Kazuma being utter trash most of all. His team starting out at the bottom doing menial quests such as slaying killer cabbages and painting houses that barely pay enough for living expenses (note how most isekai forget expenses), just like in any MMO, makes sense. Every isekai fan believes that if they woke up in a fantasy world, they would be a powerful knight or wizard at the top of the food chain (just like how advocates for communism think they would be part of the small ruling class and not one of a billion peasants at the bottom). Who knew that being an otaku NEET doesn’t train you for life in a dangerous fantasy world? KonoSuba shows the reality of how garbage everyone would be and leans into it for great comedic effect.

The characters in particular bring this series together. They are such fun, such a riot to hang out with that they overshadow problems. I did think there was a risk of repetition at the start. For example, Darkness’s love of masochism could have quickly become her running into the fray to get smashed, we laugh at the joke and repeat next episode. However, the joke stays fresh because it isn’t about having her armour stripped off each battle. Instead, it’s about the ridiculous lengths she will go to for arousal and how much more desperate she is each time. Just when I thought it wouldn’t be funny anymore, she surprised me next episode.

The big problem with KonoSuba is the story, or lack thereof. The main goal is to defeat the Demon King, something I forgot about a few episodes in since they ignore this in favour of episodic stories. Now, these small stories work well in facilitating the characters and comedy, but they don’t progress the plot. Watching these episodes in the moment wasn’t a problem until it cares about the Demon King again, where it reminds you of how little the plot has moved. The overarching story feels like an afterthought. “Oh damn, I wrote all these great jokes but forgot the story. Quick, make something up – kill bad guy…big monster…demon…yes, demon king! All done. Phew.”

As such, if you are going to watch KonoSuba, you have to do so for the characters and humour. The world itself lacks depth, having used the generic fantasy template, and the story is just as straightforward as can be. If after you meet the whole team you don’t find it funny, then don’t proceed further.

Art – Medium

I like the colours and character designs. It’s a shame little effort went into making the environments anything but generic. If you removed characters from the shot, you wouldn’t know which anime the environment was from. The animation is strong, particularly in the spell effects that took the largest portion of the budget.

Sound – High

The acting is strong, though it may take a little getting used to Kazuma’s voice, as he sounds too old for a teen, but hey, at least it’s something different from the usual forgettable isekai protagonists. (Note: There is a dub on the way, for those interested.)

Story – Medium

A teen revives in a fantasy world, but has no talents and is surrounded by others with no talent either. Characters and humour hold up this rather barebones story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for comedy fans. KonoSuba is greater than the sum of its parts thanks to its characters and hilarious comedy. This is an easy anime to watch and recommend.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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The Garden of Sinners – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kara no Kyoukai

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Darker than Black

Ghost Hunt

Key the Metal Idol

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery Thriller

Length: 9 movies (35 min. to 2 hrs. each)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful environments.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Dead eyes syndrome.
  • Atrocious editing and pacing.
  • No one has a personality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Garden of Sinners is an unusual anime series. I’m not sure if you can refer to it as a series, in the standard sense, for it is nine movies of vastly varying length – 35 minutes to 2 hours long. Furthermore, the movies aren’t connected much beyond the main characters and subject matter. It’s akin to older British detective serials like Poirot, where little of the story carries from one episode to the next, which allows the audience to join any week in the series on TV without feeling lost.

Using this series structure, The Garden of Sinners tells of a detective agency that takes on cases involving the supernatural – spirits, curses, and the like. The agency has three members: the sorceress Touko, able to create human-like dolls, the ordinary human Kokutou, and part-doll protagonist Shiki. She has the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, a power that allows her to see a target’s “lifelines” that will kill them when cut. (That’s how they deal with the supernatural entities.)

The first movie follows a string of suicides by schoolgirls all leaping from the same skyscraper set for demolishment. On paper, this is an interesting anime, just my sort of thing. I love contemporary supernatural stories and I am a ravenous consumer of detective serials. This should be a direct feed of serotonin to my brain injected via a syringe of intriguing mystery, complex characters, fascinating mysticism, and unpredictable story. The Garden of Sinners has none of that.

The most glaring issue is that none of these characters has a personality. This should come as no surprise from the same author who brought us the worse-than-Twilight of anime that is Fate/stay night. Shiki is, by intention, an emotionally repressed person. However, once again, like a bloody broken record, I must stress that emotionally repressed does not equate to zero personality, never mind the other characters who are meant to be real people. I can’t imagine what the authors of these soulless characters think mute people must be like in real life. Do they think that mutes will have no personality because they can’t speak?

This lack of soul bleeds into the mysteries themselves. The narrative never makes an effort to have the audience care for the answers to its questions. It assumes that because it hasn’t given us an answer, we must therefore care to know the answer. I hear my neighbour arguing with her daughter in Mandarin on occasion. I’m not interested to translate what they are saying (daughter probably stays out too late). Have the police turn up to cart away a third person I never knew was there and then you have my attention.

The Garden of Sinners tries to con the audience into thinking it has an intricate plot full of hidden details and deeper meaning, when in fact, it is poor structure and storytelling. “This is really complicated – it must be good!”

To compound problems, the editing is a slog. Many shots hold for too long. It’s just a few seconds here and there, but it doesn’t feel right and adds up over time. Directors and editors don’t have to follow set rules for how long a shot should be. Breaking the rules can create an effect. One can let the camera linger for a few seconds to make the audience feel awkward. An extreme close-up, right in a character’s face as they’re talking creates extreme discomfort in the viewer as desired. However, when breaking the rules, it must be with care. Should the effect backfire, it makes the editing seem amateur, as is often the case in The Garden of Sinners. This isn’t deal breaking, but these long shots do allow us to ponder on the fact that the story and characters are empty.

The exception is the fifth movie about a double homicide that never happened. The visuals take a hit in quality, though do get more consistent, and the editing is much tighter. It feels like a different studio’s production. Despite it being nearly 2 hours long, it’s much easier to get through than the movies half its length because things are happening at pace. There is more energy, more life to it all. Doesn’t magically turn into a great movie, mind you, but it shows how much of a difference editing makes.

Before I leave you, I must touch upon the most forced product placement I have seen in anime. The first movie opens on Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream, drawing some equation between it and Shiki’s personality. And it returns to the ice cream again later. It is…fascinatingly shocking how blatant this advertising is. I don’t know what to make of it.

Art – High

The good old “dead eyes” syndrome studio ufotable is known for makes a return. The editing needs a lot of work, except in movie five. The animation is a mix of long stills broken up by shots of high animation, some in first person. The environments and atmospherics are beautiful.

Sound – Medium

The one and only thing I will take away from this is the soundtrack. I love the melodies and I am a sucker for ethereal vocals. As for the acting, it seems the actors were told to never have emotion in their voice, and under no circumstances are they to have any range. No talent allowed here!

Story – Low

A detective agency dealing with the supernatural investigates a series of mysterious cases. There is no adequate reason The Garden of Sinners needed to be so long and so slow, nor is there a reason to have such soulless characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. The Garden of Sinners isn’t the worst anime – rather average, all things considered – but it is certainly one of the dullest. I can’t recommend anyone waste their time. If you must, then just watch the fifth entry as a standalone movie.

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

The Devil Is a Part-Timer – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hataraku Maou-sama!

 

Similar: The World God Only Knows

Noragami

Maoyu: Archenemy & Hero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Funny for a few episodes.

Negatives:

  • Initial setup is barely relevant.
  • Satan starts as a generic good guy.
  • The extra girls.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The premise of The Devil is a Part-Timer is straightforward. Satan, ruler of darkness, snuffer of light, finds himself torn from his world of magic and thrust into modern Tokyo, where he must get a part-time job at “MgRonald’s” to pay for life in the big city.

This premise also has almost nothing to do with The Devil is a Part-Timer.

One would imagine that the master of evil, as depicted in the prologue, would be, well, you know, evil. Instead, we have a generic good guy protagonist with no defining traits. Satan starts out good!

There is no point to him being the devil. I am not exaggerating when I say that he does nothing evil whatsoever. He starts as a good guy; he ends as a good guy. No arc, no development, no point. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, as plenty of stories invert the roles – angels and nuns are evil, while devils and gangsters are good. Nothing new there. But the problem by doing this in The Devil is a Part-Timer, beyond going against the setup, is that the series leads nowhere. When a protagonist starts at the end of his arc, he has nowhere to go. His story is already over, so why is he protagonist? I expected some “twist” to reveal that the prologue was a lie, that Satan had been trying to save the world and the angels were evil from the start, at least. The actual plot events, which have a little action, feel so irrelevant because there is no lasting effect.

Furthermore, this leads to stale humour. Satan runs into Emi in the first episode, one of the angels that followed through the portal hunt him down. She works in a call centre now. Predictably, she uses the good ol’ “I must stay close by to kill you when I can” excuse to hang around the guy she’s secretly falling for. It’s funny, at first. However, since he doesn’t change and she’s already friendly with him in that tsundere sort of way, the scenario doesn’t evolve to generate new humour.

Change in this series arrives in the form of more characters – Satan’s generals and the other angels. Much like Emi, these join the good guys under one low-rent roof almost immediately. The Devil is a Part-Timer becomes borderline harem. Only two girls throw themselves at Satan – Emi and his little co-worker – but the vibe and social dynamics are reminiscent of a tame harem. They don’t shift the status quo.

It is funny for a few episodes – I laughed at these fish out of water figuring out how to open a bank account and managing a budget – and it isn’t awful like most harem anime, but the lack of relevance to the setup and absence of direction wears thin before long. If you go in knowing the title matters little and want an easy comedy, requiring no effort, there might be enough for you here. And the 13-episode length isn’t demanding. It just needed more effort to be anything beyond that.

Art – Medium

The opening scenes of backstory that paint a dark fantasy picture are far better than the rest of the series, which is average.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine. However, the fictional language akin to a mix of English and Latin makes it tough to watch in Japanese, where the actors aren’t even in the ballpark of pronunciation. I suppose, as a fictional language, you technically can’t get it wrong. It’s mostly in the first episode, so once past that, go with whichever language you prefer.

Story – Low

Ripped through a portal into modern Tokyo, Satan must find part-time work to earn a living with his general as angels and other demons seek him out. It starts funny, but the choice to make Satan a good guy immediately and to have several girls around him, turns The Devil Is a Part-Timer into a rather bland comedy.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For anime comedy fans only. The Devil Is a Part-Timer is for fans of the “anime version” of a common premise. Its execution isn’t good enough for most.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

No Development

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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Pokémon: The Movie 2000 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Pokémon: Maboroshi no Pokémon Lugia Bakutan

 

Related: Pokémon: The First Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 20 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The legendary Pokémon feel legendary.
  • High tension.

Negatives:

  • Most forgettable villain.
  • Romance between Ash and Misty?

(Request an anime for review here.)

I had watched Pokémon: The Movie 2000 so many times as a child, even more than the Pokémon: The First Movie, that I lost count. It is perhaps third behind Disney’s The Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians for my most watched kids’ movies. It was a perfect storm of factors to make me love it. It was a Pokémon movie released at the height of my Pokémon mania, it featured Pokémon from Gold & Silver games, which are still my favourites, while also incorporating the legendary birds of the three elements at the centre, and gave it epic an scope to threaten the world. It’s as if Nintendo had asked little me what kind of Pokémon movie I wanted. It goes without saying, but I bloody loved this movie.

I hadn’t seen it in over a decade until I rewatched it for this review. So many memories came back to me, recalling a simpler time when I didn’t even know this was called anime, when I had no responsibilities and could waste time as though it wasn’t a limited resource. Fond memories.

Unfortunately, I doesn’t hold up as well as The First Movie. But before I get into why, let me cover the scenario in brief.

Lawrence, a man with more money than sense, likes to collect the rarest Pokémon in his gigantic flying fortress. On his crosshairs are the three legendary birds of ice, lightning, and fire – Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres – which, when disturbed according to the prophecy, will summon the ultimate prize: Lugia. Disturbance of these legendary birds results in climate change that Al Gore can only dream of and is the reason for Lugia’s awakening. Ash Ketchum and company find themselves washed into this conflict when a storm carries their boat off course. Only Lugia and “the chosen one” (spoiler: it’s Ash) can restore balance to the elements and save the world.

I’ll go over a few positives first. I like that no one takes the prophecy seriously at first, that it’s just a story for the tourists to add character to this holiday island they end up on. By the end, it isn’t even clear if the “chosen one” aspect of the prophecy was true or if Ash just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help. As mentioned before, I love the legendary birds and their world-ending conflict feels appropriate to hype they receive in Pokémon lore. Later legendaries would power creep them to the point where one Pokémon is the God and still not feel as cool. The tension is also high from the moment the first storm hits.

Where The Movie 2000 falls flat is in the villain. Think about how many times I have seen this movie and know that I still can’t remember any of Lawrence’s character (even forgot his name). He is utterly forgettable. You compare him to Mewtwo from the previous movie and it’s night and day. Mewtwo has a clear motivation, with reasoning, a complete arc, and memorable lines. Lawrence has nothing to recommend himself as the star villain of your movie. The only positive I can give is that he’s not from Team Rocket, which is something different.

When you have a villain who isn’t a personal threat to the protagonist, it weakens the villain-hero conflict, which you need to make up for in other areas. For instance, you can have more conflict between allies to heighten the emotional drama. Looking at the previous movie once more, Mewtwo threatened Ash’s Pokémon and made them fight to the death. Now that’s heavy conflict. This apocalyptic scenario, while a tense rollercoaster, requires no emotional investment from the heroes.

As a kid, you’re first priority in a movie is the cool factor and the fun factor. Who cares about baby stuff like emotions and drama? Pokémon: The Movie 2000 is certainly cool and fun, but as an adult, it no longer contains the factors I desire most.

Before I go, I want to touch on something I didn’t properly notice when I was but a wee lad. Did they try to push a romance between Ash and Misty? The story introduces a new girl who tells them the prophecy and teases Misty about her feelings for Ash. I never got that sense from the series. Perhaps this was a test ground. Either way, it isn’t particularly relevant nor affect enjoyment. It’s just odd.

Art – Medium

The art is a little better than The First Movie, except in the case of the CG fortress, though that isn’t a serious issue. I like the texture of the environments.

Sound – Medium

I have no comment on the Japanese. No matter what I do, I can’t get used to it. Meowth, as always, is the best. There is another cover song of the main theme like before.

Story – Medium

A storm will destroy the world unless Ash can restore balance between ice, lightning and fire with the aid of an ancient Pokémon. This is a fun Pokémon side adventure, albeit one that needs a better villain.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Pokémon fans only. Not only is this tailored to Pokémon fans, most references won’t make sense without prior knowledge.

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