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Log Horizon 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Log Horizon 2

 

Related: Log Horizon (season 1)

Similar: Overlord

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions

Spice and Wolf

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Expands on the game’s mechanics
  • More economy and social dynamics

Negatives:

  • Disappointing look at the larger world
  • Kids are still around
  • Rather padded due to incomplete source material

(Request an anime for review here.)

Log Horizon’s first season left me on a positive note. I loved the focus on the mechanics and social aspects of an MMO world, rather than championing action above all else like we see in most of the genre. My primary criticisms were the child characters, who contributed nothing to the story, the small scope of the world despite claims of it spanning the globe, and the clunky action bogged down by overexplanations. So, what does the second season bring to the table? Let’s find out.

With governance and society settled in the virtual district of Akiba, Shiroe and his guild look to explore further out into the world of Elder Tale, especially as other regions gain power. His greatest struggle now is figuring out how to keep Akiba going with funds running low. He comes up with the plan of forming a raid to plunder a mountain of riches guarded by raid bosses. However, plans go awry when the players realise that there are in fact consequences to dying and respawning in game.

First, I like this exploration of death mechanics. It adds a new level of consequences to an area once thought inconsequential. Death in Elder Tale comes at the expense of your real life memories, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until the players remember that they don’t know if they’re trapped in here or not. There may still be a way out of the game. This is interesting. Much like the food mechanics and importance of NPCs in season 1, this demonstrates effort on the author’s part in the creation of his MMO world. When you look at the likes of Sword Art Online or .hack//Sign, you don’t feel any sense that the author spent more than a day creating their worlds. They just slapped together less than the basics of a fantasy world and called it a masterpiece. These mechanics are Log Horizon’s greatest strength.

We also receive more exploration of economy – other great element of the series – with Akiba’s financial struggles. This invites new allies and other guilds to the mix on the path to the gold trove. Shiroe is still a great character as well with diabolical plans and cunning stratagems.

You may notice that all the positives I have to say are more of what was already strong in Log Horizon. Unfortunately, that’s the case. Log Horizon 2 doesn’t fix anything.

The larger world exploration, for instance, is a massive disappointment. They go to a new region across the water – equivalent of China in game, I believe – and it’s just bland. Most MMOs put in a ton of effort in making their zones distinct and varied, knowing that players will spend countless hours in these places and should be as appealing as possible. Such a disappointment.

Then we have the issue of the kids. I had hoped that season 1 would be the end of their arc; alas, we are to suffer further in boredom through their pep talks and lack of contribution to the plot. At least they’re episodes are funnier this time with the entrance of a new character that looks suspiciously like a female Shiroe…

Look, the kids are inoffensive, but they are symptom of a larger problem this season: padding. This season feels like 12 episodes stretched out to fill 25 episodes. I suspect that the source material was running out at the time (light novels still aren’t complete, by the way) and they had to pad for time. More episodes have diversions to “fun” moments that don’t advance story. More dialogue sequences slow to a crawl to hit that runtime. And more action scenes drag out with the trademark of pausing every few seconds to explain abilities. Watching Log Horizon makes me realise that smooth anime action not bogged down in exposition takes real talent.

None of this content is truly bad, by any means, but one can easily see the gears wearing out before reaching halfway down the track. Log Horizon is one of the few good MMO isekai and I hope for a third season. Still can’t help wishing it was so much better though.

Art – Medium

The art is the same as the first season: rather generic style for the genre, though decent, and could use more animation.

Sound – High

The same great OP song is back (I wish more shows stuck to their best theme song rather than changing it every cour) and the acting is good. The localisation is still great as well.

Story – Medium

The guild faces financial pressures as their city becomes unsustainable, so it’s up to their cunning guild leader to find a way past raid bosses to a mountain of gold. Log Horizon 2 adds more of the good from the previous series without addressing any of the issues.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Log Horizon fans only. Since Log Horizon 2 doesn’t fix any of season 1’s problems, this will only appeals to fans of the first.

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Overlord – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Overlord

 

Related: Overlord II & III (sequels – included in review)

Similar: Log Horizon

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Drifters

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length: 39 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Mighty protagonist
  • Old school MMO knowledge

Negatives:

  • Much of the side cast lacks depth
  • Plans could use more cunning
  • Art keeps getting worse

(Request an anime for review here.)

The end of an MMO’s life can be a sad event for those who spent years living in that world. To outsiders, it’s just another game they never heard of. To the players, to those who formed lasting friendships and created countless memories, it can be tough to let go. For Momonga, it’s a time of heartbreak when the MMO Yggdrassil reaches the end of its life, outstripped by newer and grander games. The Great Tomb of Nazarick, once home to a mighty guild only has NPCs, artefacts, and memories to fill it vast caverns. He sits in the guild hall, alone, his last guildmate logged out already, as the timer counts to midnight marking the final shutdown. He falls asleep.

When he awakens sometime later, he’s still logged in. Not only that, it becomes apparent that he has become his character, an almighty necromancer, and that the NPCs have come to life around him. They follow their initial character profiles, yes, but they are as real as anyone else is now. He takes on the name of his guild, Ainz Ooal Gown, and decrees it his objective in this new life to take his guild to greater heights and conquer the world of Yggdrassil.

I love this premise and the angle it took of making him more of a villain, commanding the non-human races in conflict against the humans. (My understanding is that in the game itself, there were two faction with the non-humans seen as the “evil” side.) He isn’t truly evil – you aren’t watching Voldemort and his minions – but he does feel like a player seeing this world as a mere game, where the victory condition is to conquer everything like in the Civilisation series.

Unfortunately, he’s the only memorable character. His guild headquarters are like the ultimate challenge tower of an old school MMO with powerful monsters guarding each floor. These monsters are the new guild members. Each is a rather one-note character. We have the brawny guy, the smart guy, the naïve yet powerful child, the loli vampire, the succubus in love with Ainz (he reprogrammed her profile as a joke before the shutdown, only for it to carry over), and several others. They are as you would expect from their one-line descriptions. They should have been more akin to the homunculi from Fullmetal Alchemist instead of these unimposing cast fillers. Ainz truly carries the series.

That said, he doesn’t carry it enough to elevate Overlord to greatness. For one, his masterful plans aren’t as cunning as I would like them to be. One would hope for something on the level of Code Geass when you have such an anti-hero protagonist. What we have is okay.

The last great flaw with Overlord is the art. First, all the design effort went into Ainz, who looks great as an undead sorcerer, leaving the monsters that surround him and the humans they face as generic (the succubus has a little more effort than the rest). Much worse, however, is the reliance on CG as a Tour-de-France cyclist relies on drugs.

The first scene to greet you is an army of CG skeletons that look just awful. We don’t see them again for a while, which made me think it was a temporary matter and Overlord II does see an improvement, but lo and behold, the CG soon returns in full force like an endless horde of ugly. Overlord III’s climactic few episodes are a showcase of the worst CG you will see in any full production in the last 10 years of anime. The archers, knights, goblins, horses, demons, everything – all CG 90% of the time, even in close ups. I cannot believe Madhouse output this work. The studio behind One-Punch Man and many of anime’s greatest looking films did this? How? I could understand if it came from the folk responsible for Hand Shakers, but Madhouse!?

To end on a positive though, I do enjoy that Overlord draws from more old school MMO sensibilities, with its ridiculously overpowered items and lack of structure to the game design. It speaks to a time when balance wasn’t much of a concern. Of all the MMOs I mastered, this reminds me most of the Norse mythology themed Ragnarok Online (perhaps that’s why the author called his game Yggdrassil?) It makes for a nice change from other isekai that lean modern.

Whether Overlord grabs you will depend entirely on how much you like the protagonist and your level of tolerance for the art. It’s one of the better MMO isekai in a field of weak competitors.

Art – Low

No animation on the protagonist when he talks feels incredibly lazy – they could have at least given him some sort of psychic effect. The monster designs aren’t half as good as the protagonist’s design. Lots of still shots, dull photography, and repeating animation. It gets worse in season 3 when the big climatic battle almost all CG.

Sound – Medium

The protagonist has the best performance in either language, effortlessly switching between the nerdy inner voice and imposing outer overlord. Good acting elsewhere. I like some of the OP and ED songs.

Story – Medium

A player falls asleep in game at the end of an MMO’s life only to wake up as his character, an undead overlord. The unique perspective of playing the villain is interesting enough to make up for its shortcomings.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For video game fans. Overlord’s best features all relate to games, yet doesn’t do enough to appeal beyond the core. However, it is something different for the genre.

(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:

Ugly Artistic Design

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

 

Similar: Log Horizon

KonoSuba

The Rising of the Shield Hero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful watercolours
  • A realistic approach to MMO isekai

Negatives:

  • Random fan service humour
  • Thoroughly incomplete

(Request an anime for review here.)

“This isn’t a video game,” he says, not knowing what a video game is. Hal and friends are living in a world of swords and sorcery with no memory of how they got there or where they came from. Odd words like “phone” and “game” issue from them on occasion, yet without idea of their meaning. They awoke in this foreign land one day and a local suggested they volunteer as soldiers, ridding the region around town of monsters in exchange for little coin. What other options did they have but to accept?

Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions takes the MMO isekai genre down a peg to offer something more measured and slower paced than your usual action-focused fare. It still follows the standard rules of an MMO – pick a class (warrior, mage, priest, thief, archer, etc.), join a guild, kill monsters, sell their parts – but considers the world from the perspective of “What if this were reality?” The conveniences of an MMO to make them fun to play aren’t present. If you want to craft something or learn a skill, an NPC won’t do it for you at the click of a button. Monsters don’t merely evaporate upon slaughter, leaving behind the items you need in a convenient package – warrior or mage must get their hands bloody to extract the loot. Death comes easily in the world of Grimgar. And players don’t respawn.

These players – no, these people now must strategize and fight together to win even the smallest victories. A mere goblin that a novice class character could 2-shot in any MMO demands everything they have. I like this, that it isn’t a breeze. Reminds a little of Log Horizon, where figuring out the basics matters and adjusting to this life requires work.

This realistic approach coupled with the beautiful watercolour art make for a refreshing change of pace from other isekai (do wish the character art was more watercolour though). Grimgar handles the world even more seriously than Log Horizon does. However, before you leap at the opportunity to watch this anime, I must impart upon you the negatives that await.

This is an anime where you can see the 100-episode plan from the beginning. You can see the intention to burn fuel slowly as it builds up the world and story piece by piece, giving the audience no more than what the characters learn for themselves. It’s unfortunate then that it only got 12 episodes with no signs of another season. Furthermore, should you want to continue in the source material, know that it comes from light novels (incomplete too), a medium infamous for having no standards. Nothing but disappointment may follow. I haven’t read them, so don’t take my word for their quality.

So, is it worth spending 12 episodes of your time in the world of Grimgar at all? Well, if it were 12 of the greatest fantasy anime episodes, then sure, but they aren’t what I would call great.

For one, when I said slow burn earlier, I meant it. These episodes are roughly three episodes of progress in another MMO anime. For two, the story and characters cannot escape their light novel roots. Despite the serious approach to the world, we still have a cast that would fit right at home in the goofy KonoSuba. They don’t feel built enough for this type of isekai. Yes, I know the purpose is (likely) to break them in bone and spirit later. What I refer to is tone. Let’s make an extreme example: If we put the cast of KonoSuba into the world of Game of Thrones, sure, we could unleash all the brutality the Thrones world has to offer upon them, yet it wouldn’t feel right from the beginning. Grimgar is not this extreme, of course. It is noticeable enough to be a detraction, however.

No scene leaps to mind more than when the party is on a break in the forest, where the dread knight of the group randomly goes on a tirade about big boobs after a girl slights him. It’s as forced as a magician knowing which card you will pick from the deck. How does one screw this up? The correct method was simple – have them running from a monster, they try to escape by sliding under a fallen tree but her big boobs stop her. Queue big boob rant for fan service and comedy.

Grimgar wants to be serious. At the same time, it can’t resist cramming in the usual junk from other light novels. That said, the balance leans more towards the serious, enough that it keeps Grimgar on the good quality side…for what little story it progressed through. You can’t escape the incomplete state. As such, I can only recommend Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions (should have called it Grimgar: Fantasy and Ash) for intellectual curiosity if you are – like me – someone interested in seeing different ideas for MMO anime. It’s a shame the better ones are abandoned like this.

Art – High

Love the style and colour palette – so vibrant and almost ethereal in quality, especially at night. If only the characters had this quality. You can thank A-1 Pictures for stripping the original artist’s creativity and replacing it with the “A-1 face”.

Sound – Medium

The music is good (there’s a lovely piano piece), as is the acting in either language you prefer. No major complaints here, though no major strengths either.

Story – Medium

A band of people wakes up in a fantasy world with no memory of how they got there and must learn to adapt to this dangerous life. With only 12 episodes, Grimgar doesn’t have opportunity to show more than a solid start to a story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For MMO anime fans only. Given that Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is so incomplete, I only recommend it to curious genre fans.

(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:

Incomplete

Devilman: Crybaby – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Devilman: Crybaby

 

Related: Devilman (alternative version)

Similar: Kemonozume

Parasyte –the maxim-

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror

Length: 10 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Doesn’t hold back. At all.
  • Perfect match of art and narrative.
  • Pacing pulls you from one episode to the next.

Negatives:

  • Main characters are on the weak side.
  • No light and shadow on characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Akira has been a crybaby throughout his life. His friend Ryou was always the leader and daredevil. Akira’s willingness to follow Ryou on whatever adventure leads him into a world of devils and derangement. A devil even inhabits his body. With the power of a devil and the heart of a man, he becomes Devilman and joins Ryou in killing other devils. However, the devil inside has an insatiable appetite for food and pleasure. Akira has gone in way over his head.

Alongside Christianity (so much Christian imagery throughout), sex is a big theme of Devilman Crybaby. Akira always has sex on his mind, made worse by trying to fight it. All villains, whether human or devil, have a sexual component to them. One rich devil woman is after Akira for having the devil Amon inside him – he was the best she’d ever had. Miki – Akira’s foster sister that he tries not to perv on – is unknowingly a model for a peddler of underage nude imagery.

Now, unlike Kemonozume, where the sex scenes are about passion and character conflict, Devilman Crybaby’s sex is just about violence. Gory, monstrous, violent sex. In the first episode, we see a woman’s breasts grow like worms and mutate mouths from the nipples to bite someone’s head off during an orgy. Another’s vagina tears open in a shark-like mouth for her to consume sex fiends. Nightmare fuel, I believe they call it.

This is probably the most sexually violent series I’ve ever seen. If this were live action, I don’t imagine they could get away with it in most countries. Furthermore, the art and animation styles are perfect at delivering the intended violence, the debauchery, the delirium of these scenes. It’s disgusting in an artistic way even with the cinematography – how the camera flies up crotches to show precisely where a character is looking, or the way Akira is practically eating the camera when gorging himself on food. It wouldn’t have worked with a “standard” anime style. These scenes aren’t mere shock value either. They allow you to feel the mental state of the characters, allow you to feel the horror of others with the purpose of immersing you in just how messed up the situation is. It recalls Berserk’s climactic scene except it appears throughout the series.

So, if after reading all of that, the thought of such sexual violence seems like too much, then don’t put yourself through it. This could give nightmares. It’s well done, but not to everyone’s taste. I’ve had a few friends put off from watching it after I described this. It’s lucky I’m used to all levels of content, as I went in blind with no idea any of this was coming.

There is humour to give a little balance (though it does diminish in later episodes). The funniest moments have to be the first day at school after Akira’s transformation. He’s suddenly tall, muscular (large package included) with bad boy good looks and all the girls tripping over each other to get near him. They even give him all of their lunches since he can now eat a metric ton in one sitting. It’s like thirsty fans giving a Twitch streamer endless donations. And let’s not forget the way he runs on the track (another good example of the art augmenting the otherworldly nature of the characters and story). Priceless.

What stops Devilman Crybaby from reaching my highest tier is the main characters though. They don’t get enough exploration. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first because I thought the story successful. It can be hard to notice weaker characters in a great story. A good story can carry mediocre characters. The simple way to figure it out is to take your characters and put them in another story, then think of whether you would still want to follow them. If I put Akira and Ryou in Death Note, for example, adapting the story to fit their characters, would it make an interesting story? Well, no, because Akira doesn’t have the layers or nuance required and Ryou isn’t smart, only getting away with the things he does in Devilman Crybaby thanks to the author’s pen.

The first episode is a perfect example. After a trio of street rappers stop Miki to bust a rhyme for her (she’s popular and a known model) and Akira is too weak to help, Ryou arrives on the scene and brandishes a semi-automatic rifle, firing at their feet. Do any consequences come of this? Nope. He does whatever he wants and no one questions it. When hunting devils, he has no problems with collateral damage, which does bother Akira but doesn’t translate into consequences. At first, I thought it was just this anime’s weird style, yet this rule doesn’t apply to anyone else.

As for Akira, he doesn’t get to “flex” his character enough for us to know him fully. There isn’t much more than the soft heart in a devil’s body dichotomy. The story still works in the end with how much it ramps up conflict to biblical proportions, but you are scratching your head a few times too many along the way, wondering if they couldn’t have executed the characters better.

Regardless, I was engaged from start to finish and I love that this is only 10 episodes. Devilman Crybaby went for exactly as long as it needed to.

Art – High

The animation and character designs remind a lot of Kemonozume, allowing for fluidity and extreme distortion that leans into the nightmare imagery. It’s heavily stylised, even in the cinematography and use of light and shadow. However, the lack of highlights and shadows on characters bothers me to the point where it pulls me out of scenes too often.

Sound – High

Devilman Crybaby is available in many languages, thanks to Netflix, so take your pick. I preferred the English for handling the foreign language segments better than the Japanese did. Biblically epic soundtrack – the ED paired with the cliffhangers urges you onto the next episode right away.

Story – High

A weak kid inhabited by a devil works with his best friend to fight devils infiltrating humanity as the situations escalates. A good story carries weaker characters to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I think Devilman Crybaby is a good anime, but its content is so uncensored and nightmarish that I can’t recommend it to everyone. If it sounds like your sort of anime, then go for it.

(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:

Fluid AnimationHoly S***

Negative: None

Kemonozume – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kemonozume

 

Similar: Devilman Crybaby

Basilisk

Parasyte –the maxim-

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stands out.
  • Great romantic conflict.
  • Fast pace.
  • Satisfying conclusion.

Negatives:

  • Third act focuses too much on action.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen this anime. Nor would I blame you. It doesn’t look the most appealing. I only watched it after seeing the following scene (and it’s not even representative of the story):

Kemonozume is a Romeo & Juliet story that pits a monster slayer against the monster he loves. In this world, a species of monsters slinks through society disguised as humans, consuming people to survive in plain sight. The samurai-like Kifuuken clan has one purpose: killing Flesh Eaters. Toshihiko is their leader’s son and an expert slayer who falls in love with beautiful Yuka at first sight. She shows him that there is more to life than the warrior’s code – she even takes him tandem skydiving – and he gives her love she had been taught didn’t exist in return. Their whirlwind romance derails when he discovers her to be a Flesh Eater. Toshihiko must now choose between love and duty.

I do not enjoy Romeo & Juliet. Like every other poor unfortunate soul, I had to study it at school. Hated it then. Hate it now. So to see this anime, with its ragged art and surreal palette that intrigued me, reveal itself as a Romeo & Juliet romance, I braced for stupid. However, Kemonozume did two things that rallied my spirits. First, they are a threat to each other just as much as their respective sides are a threat to them. And secondly, the romance isn’t chaste. This couple doesn’t shy away from sex, from lust, from passion.

I maintain that sex scenes (or risqué fan service, if we’re talking teen anime) are often the biggest waste of screen time in any medium. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, could benefit from removing 90% of the sex scenes. Such scenes rarely add anything to the story.

Kemonozume differs because much of this couple’s personal story occurs during the sex scenes. See, Yuka’s true form is at greatest risk of coming out during moments of heightened sexual ecstasy, a problem made worse by how much these two adore and crave each other. The theme of rebelling against what they were born to be isn’t just seen in them running away from home to go on an adventure. We see it in their most intimate moments. The sex doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s always a justification for making that scene a sex scene rather than something else. It also helps that the weird art makes these moments something you’ve probably never seen before, visually, and the exaggerated lines amplify the emotions they feel.

Another strength of Kemonozume is its humour. For instance, after encountering Yuka for the first time, falling for her instantly, he starts to see her face on everyone else’s heads in this hilarious scene. Like the rest of this anime, it exaggerates the joke three steps beyond the norm, but it works here. Distracting Flesh Eaters with holograms of dancing nude women is also a good laugh. I will concede that some humorous moments could do with better timing.

Sadly, Kemonozume falls short of excellence with a third act that contains too much action. It’s not that action has no place in this romance. Rather, the action become a bit too shounen, so to speak, albeit surreal shounen action – like the sex, this looks different from other action scenes. Without this third act, it wouldn’t be fitting to give this anime the “Action” label. On the positive side, it’s only a few episodes (being a short, fast-paced anime helps here) and the conclusion is satisfying. If the end weren’t satisfying, I would leave Kemonozume bitterly disappointed. I can thankfully say the opposite.

Now, despite my praises, do keep in mind that this is wildly different from “normal” anime. Should Kemonozume not grab your interest within one episode, you most likely won’t change your mind by the end. Don’t force yourself to watch it on my account – on anyone’s account.

Art – Medium

Visually unusual art – highly stylised on a budget. It’s clear they didn’t have much money to work with, but made the most of it to create something distinct. Allows for plenty of animation, but the art itself is very rough. This style could be a deal breaker for some.

Sound – Medium

The nice jazz soundtrack is stronger than the decent voice acting.

Story – High

The son and heir of a monster hunting clan falls in love with one of the very maneating women he’s born to kill. Fast, savage, and racy, Kemonozume is a unique take on the forbidden love romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I greatly enjoyed Kemonozume, but I know it won’t appeal to many, so give it a try and see if you feel as I did.

(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: None