Tag Archives: Monsters

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Wonder Egg Priority – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wonder Egg Priority

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Digimon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Great animation
  • The backstory

Negatives:

  • The egg girls have no presence
  • Overstuffed with trauma ideas
  • Doesn’t feel sure about its narrative tone

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Wonder Egg Priority is a story of suicide and its causes amongst young girls. While an admirable effort, it ultimately attempts too much in too little time.

Ai Ohto has been a lonely depressed girl for a long while. The one ray of sunshine she had was her best friend, who recently committed suicide by jumping off the school roof. This leaves Ai a wreck. Then, in a surreal twist of fate, she finds an egg in her dream and talking toilet paper tells her to smash it. She does so and out hatches a girl her age. That’s weird. Then come the murder goblins crashing through the school halls of this dreamscape, splattering paint wherever they go. They paint with blood, however. Behind these “Seeno Evil” monsters is a puppet master, a “Wonder Killer” monster that seems made of sacks of paint. Killing the master with Ai’s pen-turned-Keyblade frees the egg girl and she can leave this limbo.

Ai then meets the two people, er, dolls (?) behind these wonder eggs, who tell her that if she helps enough girls, she can revive her dead friend (represented by a statue in the dream world). Furthermore, she isn’t the only one cracking eggs. She teams up with three other girls of varying archetypes (quiet studious girl, pretty tomboy, and the bad girl) and they become friends.

Wonder Egg Priority may sound abstract and odd from my description above, but it is rather straightforward by the second episode. In fact, I’m not sure if it intended abstraction and failed or the creator just thought it was cool. If you’ve seen Madoka Magica (or played Persona) this anime will seem familiar, only not as grim, which is an odd thing to say considering Wonder Egg tackles suicide, abuse, rape, self-harm, bullying, and more (catalysts for the suicides). See, Wonder Egg is overstuffed with these trauma elements that it barely manages to dedicate enough time for more than a couple. In fact, there are so many instances – some character have multiple traumas – that you’d be forgiven for missing a few. I don’t suggest the execution is awful. It’s undercooked.

This isn’t an example like having a happy romance for 90% of the story before someone rapes the lead female in the finale for shock value. Trauma permeates Wonder Egg, so it isn’t out of place when we meet another abuse victim. However, it rarely has the intended impact.

Most egregious are the egg girls. Ai or a friend will hatch one, the enemies will spawn, a chase ensues, and during a moment of downtime before the Wonder Killer confrontation, Ai will get to know the girl and what lead her to suicide. Then they kill the monster and the girl is gone. You can’t expect the audience to feel invested, or truly care, when a character’s trauma boils down to a two-minute scene ahead of her departure for another girl to enter next episode.

The story does spend more time on the four main girls though, yet even then it’s too much for too few episodes. I compare this to Madoka Magica because that anime accomplishes – in terms of tragedy – what this tried to do. Madoka focused on the core character elements, boiled it down to the essentials and gave them the appropriate amount of screen time. Less is more once again.

The best episodes are in the final act when it goes into the backstory for this wonder egg experiment and the two scientists behind it. I’m sorry to say though that it has little to do with Ai and is far more engaging than her story. I wonder if they should have been the mains instead.

Where Wonder Egg succeeds most is in the visual department. This is a beautiful anime with masterful understanding of colour theory, light, and shade. Compositions often remind of the Monogatari franchise. The animation is great, never relying on those slow pans I hate so much, and is at its most fluid during the action scenes, which are more intense than expected for such a bright and colourful anime.

My only visual quibble is with the dream world. Yes, the gremlins and big goobers are imaginative, but the school setting is as generic as any anime school. Think of how Persona 5 turns ordinary locations into crazy realities representing a villain’s psyche. Or how Madoka has that witch magic everywhere. Do something creative. You’re in a dream; you can do anything you want and it can enhance theme and reinforce messages.

Overall, Wonder Egg Priority is a goodish anime, more enjoyable as a visual experience over a narrative one that could appeal to a decent amount of viewers. Do note that the heavy emphasis on trauma may put off some people.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Wonder Egg Priority looks beautiful and is different from other anime this season.

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Blame! – Manga Review

Japanese Title: BLAME!

 

Related: NOiSE (prequel)

 

Genre: Action Horror Science Fiction

Length: 66 chapters (10 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • It’s different
  • Art has a grim, chaotic quality

Negatives:

  • Lack of dialogue translates to lack of context and emotion
  • Character faces

Blame takes readers into a cyberpunk hellscape far beneath the ground – or is it a tower above ground? Who knows… All sense of direction and sanity has no point of reference in this labyrinth haunted by creatures out of Hellraiser and Warhammer 40k. Killy, seemingly the one man in this place with a functional gun, fights his way through one dangerous floor after the other in search of someone with the “Net Gene,” a genetic marker that can access the central control network of this technological wasteland.

Blame (pronounced “Blam” like a gunshot) sports minimal dialogue as its unique selling point. Art conveys most of the narrative, told in chaotic, messy lines dripping with grim cyberpunk aesthetics. I like the look of this world. I’m a big cyberpunk fan, so this should come as no surprise. The enemies look great too, drawing inspiration from several sources of which I am already a supporter. One could make a great sci-fi horror film with their kind. A notable visual irritant is the human faces, which look sketched on as the manga went to print. It’s like artists that have excellent skill at drawing people except the hands are always munted (fingers are frustrating to draw!).

Anyways, this is an atmospheric piece more than anything. The world and this environment must have a special draw to you should you want to enjoy Blame. The characters aren’t anything to boast about, so with minimal dialogue there is a singular appeal here.

In between blasting enemies with his gun, Killy does meet various characters from isolated groups trying to survive against the cybernetic monsters. Most dialogue is in these encounters. Scenes of dialogue are moments of rest in the dangerous City.

I haven’t much to say about any character in this manga, for there isn’t much too any of them. The most personality comes from the main enemy in how threatening it is. The mute story translates into muted character depth. There is plenty of background and environmental story work though little foreground and central storytelling.

Some may recommend Blame as some secret masterpiece, so daring and avant-garde in its decision to forgo most dialogue and let the world around speak for itself. However, if you step back and examine it once the feeling of reading something different has worn off, you realise there isn’t much to the story and the lack of dialogue often feels like the author didn’t know what or how to write a scene. It would have been too difficult for him. I’m not saying he couldn’t have done it, but it feels like it.

If you’ve never seen a dialogue-free story before, Blame will be a fresh experience and worth your time. It’s a quick read by virtue of the minimal dialogue. Don’t go expecting this to sit amongst the greats. This is no opening scene from Up or Clarice hunting Buffalo Bill.

Art – High

Story – Medium

Recommendation: For those after something different. Blame is from a unusual crop and won’t be to everyone’s taste.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid / Blend S / Ranma ½ – Quick Review

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Japanese Title: Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 13 episodes

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is about a drunk office lady who accidentally invites a dragon to live with her. It isn’t long before other dragons crash in as well.

There are five dragons: main dragon, little dragon, male dragon, rival dragon, and pedo dragon. Main dragon is the titular maid to Miss Kobayashi. Comedy largely comes from her incompetent but earnest attempts at being a useful maid to Kobayashi – and a strange obsession with serving her own dragon tail meat for dinner. This is typical fish out of water humour from a slice of life anime. Little dragon is just there for the cute factor.

Most characters have no point to this story. I know this is slice of life, a genre thin on purpose, yet even so, most of these characters serve little purpose. The worst character in both purpose and personality is pedo dragon. The old dragon whose job is carrying two massive jugs around answers the summons of a little magician boy. Her purpose becomes to molest him at every possible opportunity. They even called him Shouta… So obsessed is Dragon Maid with this “joke” that it will cut away from unrelated scenes to show her sleeping with this child and using him as a grinding pillow. Furthermore, she is completely pointless.

The other surprisingly pointless aspect is the whole dragon bit. Having these characters be dragons doesn’t play much of a factor outside of a shoehorned bit of plot involving the dragon emperor in the final episode. I think of Hinamatsuri with its alien girls. Sure, Hina’s character designs were uninspired but being aliens made a difference. The dragon aspect is just a gimmick.

Not pulling a “she’s actually a thousand years old” on little dragon was Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’s greatest surprise.

The two main characters are decent fun and I like the colours and animation. Other than that, it’s a run of the mill moe slice of life comedy and those are never great.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For moe slice of life fans only.

*     *     *     *     *

Blend S

Japanese Title: Blend S

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

If you’ve heard of Blend S it’s because of the meme opening (“Smile! Sweet! Sadistic!”). It’s also the only entertaining part. This isn’t a good anime.

Blend S is a workplace slice of life series – of which there are many – filled with a cast of generic characters. The main girl struggles to find a job because despite being small and cute, her smile looks menacing. Anime, seriously, there are only so many times you can use this trope. Please, something else.

The scenarios are typical and crammed to the brim with gags, which gives the feeling that the writers don’t want you to stop and think about how nothing is happening. I don’t find it funny, so this doesn’t work for me. And the sexualisation is creepy, though not that prevalent.

You ever discover an older anime and wonder how it faded into obscurity, forgotten by everyone after the season ended? Watching Blend S reminds me of that. This anime is so dull in the face of such high energy.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Skip it. A new anime of its kind will be out every season anyway.

*     *     *     *     *

Ranma ½

Japanese Title: Ranma ½

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 161 episodes

Today we end on a classic of slice of life comedy, an anime from a time when broadcasters wanted 161 episodes from a story that goes nowhere.

Ranma ½ is about a guy called Ranma who turns into a girl when splashed with cold water. Hot water turns him back again. His father arranges for him to marry the daughter from a long running dojo family. Akane plays the main love interest and foil to Ranma.

Episodes of Ranma ½ follow a rather repetitive theme of Ranma fighting someone with martial arts over some misunderstanding or jealousy, a lover spat with Akane, and some gender swapping hijinks. It doesn’t go much of anywhere. The core premise is alright – I have no particular objections there – but episode after episode of mid-level comedy, repetition, and a story that makes one step of progress per twenty episodes is dull. As mentioned earlier, Ranma ½ comes from a time when stations wanted longer anime. They try out a few, find the ones that stick, and play them forever. If you could get the audience interested, you expect their return to your station every week. This anime isn’t meant for the binge viewer. That is true of many older anime. However, many still have reason to watch them today amongst the modern series. Ranma ½ doesn’t hold up.

One final note – avoid the dub. It’s not from a time of quality dubs, but worst of all is the fact that one actress didn’t record using the same equipment. Background noise accompanies her every time she speaks. It’s like teeth against a chalkboard.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For classic slice of life fans only. At 161 episodes long, Ranma ½ is only for the diehard.

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Beastars Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars Season 2

 

Related: Beastars (Season 1)

Beastars (manga)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves on the manga
  • The snake
  • The unusual tone in the main conflict
  • Music continues to be great

Negatives:

  • The CG animation still has room for improvement

(Request an anime for review here.)

Note: Mild and implied spoilers for season one.

Beastars was a surprising hit for many people, including myself, back in 2019. Who would have thought “that CG furry anime” could have such great characters, killer music, and non-horrible CG? It’s back again for a second season and I am very intrigued, even more so because I have read the manga to conclusion. Those who have done so as well will know what I’m hinting at.

Legosi of Cherryton Academy for herbivores and carnivores continues his search for the killer of his friend, a sweet alpaca. Meanwhile, star of the academy and leading candidate for the prestigious Beastar position, the red deer Louis, has fallen in with a back alley gang of lions after killing their leader. They don’t want to eat him, however – they want him to lead.

The story picks up where season one left off, but there are immediate and noticeable changes from the source material. If you haven’t read the manga but have seen season one, the only notable change there was in cutting down that finale’s action scene from a typical shounen anime brawl into something that fit the tone more. It was a great change. Season two changes far more and for the better.

A new character to the series is the school security guard, a giant snake, who had a tiny presence in the manga (one or two chapters?) after an impactful introduction. We never saw her again (a problem to discuss in tomorrow’s manga review). The anime gives her the time she deserves and delivers a couple of great horror episodes with a feel of high school myths told around a torch late at night. Let’s hope the anime further fixes the manga’s mistake and brings the snake back in future. Also, Haru (the white bunny and Legosi’s love interest) gets more screen time of importance, which is better treatment given to her than by the manga.

The focus of this season is the murder mystery. Who killed the alpaca? I love this story thread. The hunt for the killer and the several scenes with said killer have great tension and the snap between killer situation and ordinary school life works perfectly here and are some of my favourite scenes. The way Beastars handles juxtaposition of carnivore versus herbivore, fight to the death versus living ordinary life is simply brilliant (done better than in the manga too). This isn’t just an anime with “furry” characters.

Not all changes are for the better. The story falters in the finale at the apex of Louis’s arc, cutting a pivotal moment short and lessening the impact. If you haven’t read the manga, then this will still be noticeable, though you won’t have the source to fill in what the director was trying to do. Should you feel dissatisfied, watch this excellent extended ED video only after you have watched episode 12 (spoilers). A deer leading a gang of lions sounds ludicrous if you haven’t seen Beastars, but man does it work and make for a compelling subplot. The mirroring of Legosi’s and Louis’s arcs continues to impress.

The visuals are the same as the first time around, so if you couldn’t stand it then, you won’t handle it now. Despite some slippery animation issues, I still find that it works. The compositions and visual metaphors sometimes have me forgetting the CG.

Acting, still just as good. Love Orochimaru’s voice actor for the snake! The music has a tough act to follow after that quality season one soundtrack, and while few could match that original stop motion OP, every new song in season two is excellent.

In all, Beastars delivers another quality season. Now, season three – should they announce it – promises some excellent content, particularly in the world-building department as we explore wider society. However, to avoid the downward trajectory brought on by the manga, it would need even more changes than this season. What downward trajectory? That’s for tomorrow’s review.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Keep watching. And if you haven’t started Beastars, then what are you waiting for?

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

Bokurano – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bokura no

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Fafner of the Blue Sky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great opening song
  • Easy premise

Negatives:

  • Every male is evil
  • Every female is meek
  • The structure preceding each death lowers drama and mystery

(Request an anime for review here.)

Bokurano is an easy anime to sell with a premise such as this. A giant machine is the only thing that stands between the monsters and Earth. However, each use of the weapon requires a blood sacrifice. The life of a child. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Alas, here we have a perfect example in the importance of character over premise.

These 15 children don’t have the qualities to make an audience care for their fates and ultimate demises. The boys – bar one – are evil, one of them even forcing himself on a girl. The first episode has one guy slap the life out of the smallest girl and no one does anything about it. “Stop it,” they say with as much energy as a sloth. He will do this again in future, many times. Are we to feel sorry that these kids will die? The girls are all meek, spineless. It takes attempted rape for one to fight back. These kids don’t make sense as friends. I don’t see the point of having 15 kids, other than to give more sacrifices for more episodes, when they are all so similar. For such a group, the logical direction would be to have a variety of personalities. Go for the sentai archetypes. That might come across as generic, but killing them off one at a time is different.

Fewer characters would also help, as it gives more time for development. The structure of Bokurano is to dedicate a couple of episodes leading up to someone’s sacrifice. We see their entire sob story in this time to make us care for the death. This structure has three problems. This first issue is that it lowers the drama and mystery when you already know who will die. The second is that two episodes isn’t enough to kill off what essentially becomes the protagonist for that short time. Two episodes is what you dedicate to the old lady in the village that helped our adventuring party before the villain kills her for information on their whereabouts. The writing also needs a more subtle hand at characterisation. And lastly, most kids disappear from the story until it nears their time to die.

I have the impression that the author had the wrong approach in thinking about this story. Instead of planning for, “Alright, I need to kill someone every second episode or so, because that’s the premise,” one should think of it free from the premise for a second (and cut down the character count). Let’s say you had a party of seven friends and your story idea was to see what it would be like to kill each off one at a time (no special mechanic to kill them), rather than the usual story of everyone surviving to the end with the power of BFF friendship. How would you plot that? Would you kill them off at equal intervals or keep the audience on their toes about who will die and when? Bokurano uses the former method.

It’s hard to describe the boredom in the face of imminent death when a story tells you everything that is yet to pass. Add in the not-so-subtle yet flat characters and I am on cruise control from start to finish. And what’s with all the rapists?

Bokurano isn’t a bad anime. This is a case where every element except for the music (love the OP song) has an obvious flaw weighing it down. Confining everything within this predictable structure just to fit the initial idea of the premise means Bokurano can never be more than average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of Evangelion-like anime. You have to be in it for the premise, as the execution isn’t up to scratch.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None