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Naruto: Shippuden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Naruto: Shippuden

 

Related: Naruto

Similar: One Piece

Hunter x Hunter

Basilisk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 500 episodes (296 without filler)

 

Positives:

  • Conclusions to plot lines established in Naruto classic
  • Several excellent fights

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is less important in favour of convoluted lore
  • New plot lines feel like filler
  • The Great Ninja War
  • Way, way too long

(Request an anime for review here.)

It is finally done. Naruto Shippuden (and The Last Movie) is no longer on my backlog. It gives me a mix of emotions – relief at having such a giant off my back, nostalgia from thinking 16 years into the past, and a tinge of sadness that it is over. It wasn’t an easy journey to reach this point. 500 episodes of Shippuden – after 220 episodes of Naruto – isn’t an afternoon’s viewing experience, especially once you hit The Wall that is the Great Ninja War. More on that later. Let’s go back. There is a lot to talk about here, so forgive the ramble and tangents.

Naruto ended with two central threads: Sasuke has betrayed the village to seek out the arch villain Orochimaru’s help and the criminal organisation Akatsuki has revealed itself to the ninja world. Shippuden jumps ahead two and a half years as Naruto returns to the hidden leaf village after a long training adventure with his perverted teacher Jiraya. The anime (unedited version) opens with a flashforward of Naruto and Sakura finally catching up to Sasuke in Orochimaru’s lair, giving the audience a taste of the major event to come. It fails to mention that we don’t reach this until Shippuden episode 51 and that it’s the most anti-climactic moment in the entire franchise. Not a great start.

Shippuden also disappoints in how it handles filler. Where Naruto padded the episode count after the main story concluded while we waited for the sequel, Shippuden inserts extensive filler arcs every second or third season.

To drag out the series further, canon episodes regularly have artificial lengthening techniques. Battle anime are notorious for static pans across a battlefield or characters’ faces. Shippuden takes it to another extreme of time wasted. I particularly remember an episode where Naruto confronts Orochimaru and only a minute of real content occurs between dramatic pauses, slow pans, and repeated lines. Replaying scenes from the previous episode is more rampant that ever, unjustified in their presence. They often repeat within the same episode in case we have Alzheimer’s. The absolute worst padding you will ever see is when Naruto’s allies remove the seals on Akatsuki’s hideout.

Let me set the scene. Akatsuki have sealed themselves inside a cave while they perform a ritual to extract a powerful demon beast from within a ninja. Outside, several of Naruto’s allies split up to remove five seals scattered around the area. Before that however, a trap summons an exact clone in ability and strength of each ninja, which they have to 1v1 before they can proceed (I thought this was the dumbest fan service idea only for it to be outdone later). These fights are just moronic. It’s repetitive and devoid of any depth – don’t forget stretching out every single shot. So, if they are fighting their exact equals, how can they win? Well, by fighting harder than themselves from before! What…? This makes one facepalm so hard that my friends and I still bring it up each time Naruto is mentioned.

Anyways, after that comes the seal removal. Each character grabs one and counts down to pull them in sync. What begins is the longest countdown in cinema history. It takes several minutes off the end of an episode, ending in a cliffhanger, only to repeat from the beginning of the next episode and take forever again.

You know what it’s like? Daytime soap operas. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Passions, Days of Our Lives, or the likes of The Bold & the Beautiful then you will know exactly what I mean.

With how much Shippuden wanted to waste my time, I opted for the “Kai” edit this rewatch. When originally watching this while current, I made it early into the Great Ninja War (Shippuden episode ~250), so I had plenty of experience with the broadcast edition. No way was I sitting through all of that unedited. Little did I know the worst was still to come.

From here on, I will be reviewing Naruto Shippuden under the assumption of the Kai edit, which follows the manga closer [almost] free of filler. There’s not much to say about the filler. It’s trash – don’t watch it.

So, Naruto Shippuden proper, how is it? I can best summarise it thusly: old is good while new is bad.

In essence, the direct continuation of story threads from the original series is successful, while new elements introduced are just crap. Interestingly, the story structure almost alternates between old and new threads, throwing you from one end of the engagement spectrum to the other.

The first arc sees Akatsuki venture into sand country to capture Gaara for the demon beast within him (their goal is a combine the power of all demon beasts). We get to meet a couple of new members, including former sand ninja and puppet master Sasori. Naruto loves to have villains that are former citizens of the place they’re attacking to add that extra emotional connection. Sasori works here, not only for giving us a great fight between three generations of puppeteers – and the only good fight involving Sakura – but also in emphasising the damage ninja life can have on oneself. It’s a good complement to Gaara’s story arc. Where Gaara fell through maltreatment from his family, Sasori lost himself when his parents died. Both grew twisted because of ninja society. A little care and consideration saved one from evil, while the other could never be human again.

Naruto’s execution of theming and tying heroes to villains is among the best in shounen anime and it makes you care for the conflict. Sure, they have a variety of interesting powers and fighting styles that make for great action – action is important to keep it exciting – yet without that emotional core, it wouldn’t stay with the audience once the battle is over. We see this time and time again. Think Lee vs. Gaara (untalented hardworking nobody vs. effortless prodigy gifted with immense power) or Naruto vs. Neji (unloved yet free outsider vs. popular and powerful slave). There are many such examples in Naruto that pack an emotional punch. The same is true for Shippuden in the better fights. The perfect example of the opposite is in the grand finale, but let’s not jump ahead just yet. My rant has some way to go.

Sasori’s partner – Akatsuki always travel in pairs – is Deidara, a loudmouth with mouths in his hands that chew special explosive clay. I hate this character. His backstory is so lame, likely thrown in place at the last minute when the author had to hit a deadline (it doesn’t come up until much later, when his story is already over, by the way). His backstory is the edgy teen who wasn’t allowed to blow things up so he went and joined Al Qaeda in protest. That’s it. And he never shuts up. Plus he ends each sentence with a “yeah” or “hm” grunt. I understand that with such a large cast you need to get creative with differentiating characters, yet you don’t need their quirk in every. god. damn. sentence. The actor never makes it sound natural by the end.

His fight with Gaara is quite good though. More of a visual spectacle. It works by contrast to Sasori’s fight, which has more story and is on a smaller scale in a confined environment. Keeping Deidara going after this arc was the mistake.

Overall, this arc is a good start and gives the [false] impression that Shippuden will maintain the same qualities that made the original series good.

Next arc introduces Sai, the replacement for Sasuke on Naruto’s team. Here we have the first example of “new” failure. His trait is being socially barren. Raised as a spy and assassin since infancy, he has no understanding of emotion or relationships. It’s a classic sad Naruto backstory, which is fine, but his arc doesn’t contribute much. He was forced into the team by the head of ninja CIA with the secret mission of killing Sasuke once found, rather than bringing him back alive. This doesn’t lead to anything. He grows a heart by becoming friends with the others before they find Sasuke, pre-empting the conflict before it starts. To top him off, the story forgets about him a third of the way through. If you were watching this week to week, his return would come as a surprise. “Oh hey, I remember that guy! What was his name again?”

That said, Sai is one of the better new additions. Most newcomers are indistinguishable from filler episode characters. The story leads Naruto to the other ninja nations, each presenting their own crew, none of which is interesting. The most important of the lot is another demon beast ninja who speaks only in rap. It is as annoying as it sounds.

After my praise for Naruto’s supporting cast in the original, it saddens to have to report on how forgettable the new guys are. Worse still, the original cast are little more than background images. Why bother creating new characters when you had such a strong cast to work with already?

This arc concludes in that flashforward I mentioned earlier. They find Sasuke, he leaves, and we are back to square one. Pointless.

Next arc shifts focus back to Akatsuki on the hunt for the next beast, two different members taking helm. Here we have one of the best fights in Shippuden: Shikamaru vs. Hidan with the scythe. I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t seen it and there isn’t much in the way of story to dissect. Any fight with Shikamaru on stage is great for the focus on strategy over flashy abilities.

By contrast, we have the fight against his partner Kakuzu, who is a Frankenstein’s monster-style ninja with the power to stitch himself back to life. Here we see a major crack in the walls caused by one of battle anime’s worst tropes: protagonist power progression. Battle anime need to keep going bigger and more powerful to avoid stagnation with the audience. I don’t think that is necessary, if done right, though the core audience does. The only time you can deescalate is by starting a new series. A power reset each arc, like Bleach, isn’t enough. The audience still wants something bigger.

Dragon Ball Z is the classic example of why this is such a problem. Remember how when they were fighting Frieza the story impressed upon you his power and importance? Now remember how when the next villain came along, making him look like a joke, and the heroes had to grow so much stronger to beat the new guy that they could now kill Frieza with a single flick? And remember how this power was concentrated in a few main characters, making most of the allies useless in the process? Well, Naruto reaches that point. The fight against Kakuzu, which was a struggle for the team fighting him, ends with the arrival of Naruto, fresh off his latest mind-numbing training arc, who takes him out with ease. Because he’s the protagonist, the genre dictates that he must be the one to do this.

It’s not as bad as Dragon Ball Z’s issue, but it doesn’t prevent the groan-worthy ending to a fight, especially off the back of the intelligent fight against Hidan.

Next, we switch to Sasuke’s perspective as he assembles a new team. When I say new, I mean the bad new of Shippuden. He recruits a Jekyll & Hyde sort with no personality, shark boy, and yet another Sasuke fangirl. Sasuke manages to get away from his fangirls back home only for the author to go back to the same overdrawn well and give us another. You want to know the real kick in the nuts? She’s the worst of them all. Her only gimmick is being a fangirl, something the “comedy” reminds us of in every scene with her. She will have a fangirl moment (and another sort of moment, if you catch my drift) any time she sees Sasuke, even in the middle of a dramatic scene. Anyone with her as a groupie would want to shoot themselves.

Everything with these three characters is just a waste of time in the lead up to an event we’ve all been waiting for: the reuniting of Sasuke and Itachi. We can’t have this happen right away, er…125 episodes in, of course. We need another arc first.

Regardless, once it does come to a head, what can I say – it’s fantastic. Built up from the early episodes of the original, the conclusion to Itachi’s story is excellent. Surrounded by filler and padding, it is noticeable that this story was likely planned from the beginning. Its emphasis on character and emotion to deliver the final piece of the puzzle is the polar opposite of The Great Ninja War. (We’ll get to that. We’ll get to that.) This is the best of all Shippuden to me.

This great conclusion leads into another strong arc where the heroes must face the leader of Akatsuki, Pain. Similar to other great Naruto villains, Pain and his close companions follow the theme of how harsh ninja life truly is and how it can break even the nicest kid. An accident from the “good guys” created one of the most powerful villains. While a moment of love almost saved him, as it did with Gaara, it wasn’t enough to keep him from the path of pain.

He makes for a great villain. Not as good as Orochimaru or Itachi, in my books, but great nonetheless. His abilities and those of his companions are interesting. We have action, story, character, and emotion rolled into a satisfying package.

This should have been the end of it, barring the resolution of Naruto and Sasuke’s arc as a capstone. However, if you looked away from your screen at this moment and checked the episode count, you would realise we are only halfway through Shippuden.

Welcome to the Great Ninja War.

Where to begin with this one. It could warrant an entire review of its own. You know what? Let’s do it. I’m on a roll, so what’s another 1000 words?

After Pain. comes the revelation that there was another bad guy behind everything all along. (It hurts just writing that sentence. That’s the real pain.) This new villain was mentioned a few times as a backstory, though never as a relevant character to the current day. After a rubbish politicking plot that I won’t bore you with, the great nations decide to set aside their differences to team up and defeat this villain and his army of Power Rangers putty monsters. Toss aside character-focused storytelling and engaging combat in favour of two masses of bodies throwing themselves at each other.

When you think it can’t get any less interesting, the author pulls out the ultimate fan service card and episode count extender. He brings back every known character from the dead using the Reanimation Technique rediscovered by Orochimaru in the original series. A technique that barely managed two reincarnations can now summon a hundred of the best ninja with ease (remember what I said about power escalation earlier).

It was fine the first time to have two Hokage from history return to give us some lore and a bit of the “rule of cool” factor. This time, however, is just ludicrous. Outside of two or three cases, all it does is stage rematches for fan service. Even the Akatsuki members that just died come back. My level of bafflement at this entire arc is difficult to put into words. I can’t believe any self-respecting author would be okay with this.

The Great Ninja War makes up one-third of all Naruto episodes and feels like filler at least 75% of the time. This is canon filler. Even when watching this in the Kai edit, it feels as if there is no end. I get the sense that whoever was making this fan edit was also losing interest, only finishing the project out of obligation. The editing gets sloppier as you go – one episode has a scene repeat in succession (was the end of one episode and the start of the next in the broadcast release). More and more pointless flashbacks make it in. Don’t get me started on how much Shippuden uses flashbacks to pad runtime. Flashbacks should be banned from anime. The fan editor no longer bothered cutting down those slow dragged out scenes most of the time anymore. I don’t blame them. I would have given up long ago.

The Great Ninja War reaches almost Dragon Ball Z levels of terrible. As if in homage to Goku’s idiocy, Naruto also has a “Don’t interfere with my fight!” moment. Never mind that thousands of lives are on the line.

There are some good moments in this abomination. Kakashi has a good episode against a villain relevant to him, Naruto’s emotional moment meeting that character is quite touching, and Itachi is good, as always. Don’t let that give you hope though. It is small consolation for what you have to sit through.

So, despite all indications, the war does eventually come to end. And just when it seems the chute has no crap left to expel, it squeezes out one final turd. The reincarnations are dead, the masses of fights are over – surely, there is nothing left. The plumbing can’t take anymore.

Wrong!

How do I put this? Shippuden starts to become Evangelion – specifically, the End of Evangelion. Character and story is thrown aside for end-of-the-world lore and a ninja origin story. Naruto becomes the Child of Prophecy (barf); the goddess of chakra revives to wipe out the world. At one point, even the moon gets involved. A character you never cared about reveals himself as the true villain behind everything. Yeah, the guy I mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the true true villain.

What the hell does any of this have to do with anything?

Naruto loses focus, going from character driven conflicts to lore vomit with bigger and bigger abilities, constantly escalating, merely dragging it out. The supporting cast, new additions included, are relegated for bad lore.

The reasoning for any of this crap to be a part of the narrative is so flimsy you can see tape barely holding it together. It is utter shite.

Once that’s over, it wraps with the finale of Naruto and Sasuke’s conflict. After the Great Ninja War and the End of Evaruto, it’s a bloody blessing that this doesn’t fail. It’s not great, though it’s not bad either. The finale is of much better quality, particularly in visuals, though it feels weird coming after so much filler and in how it ignores much of what just happened.

Some might say that The Last Naruto Movie is the true end to the series. It isn’t. The movie’s sole purpose is to sell you on the idea of the Naruto and Hinata relationship. Remember when that was a thing they never developed at any point? Naruto goes from ignoring Hinata like always to suddenly confessing undying love after a stint through this extended filler episode they call a movie. There is no foundation to this relationship. I don’t care for it whatsoever.

And that’s it. That’s Naruto concluded with my far too long tirade, a few thousand words over the limit. What do I think of it overall? Well, the parts I like are great, notably the original series. It has some of anime’s greatest fights, most complex villains, and best supporting characters. But there is also a lot of baggage weighing it down. Shippuden should have just been a conclusion to Itachi, Orochimaru, Sasuke, and Akatsuki (as first established, not what it became to justify the Great War). 150 episodes, maximum, to cover the golden content in this 720-episode bloat.

I don’t regret my time with this series. I do wish I could recommend it though, but in its current state, I can’t ignore the problems that come at the end. At most, I would recommend watching from the original series until the conclusion of Pain’s arc, in the Kai edit. No one should have to go beyond that.

The real question is whether finishing Shippuden has motivated me to start on Boruto. No. The answer is no. Naruto is done in my life.

Art – Medium

Like most long-running shounen anime, Naruto: Shippuden is inconsistent in its art. You can have episodes with brilliant, fluid animation and proper cinematography. You can also have episodes filled with static shots and character cutouts sliding across the screen. Character designs have lost detail to make them easier to draw and animate.

Sound – Medium

The music still shines as one of the best collections amongst shounen anime. The dub isn’t much of an improvement over Naruto classic. Those that were great before are still great – Naruto’s English voice is still bad to me. The writing has taken a serious dive, particularly in the new plots.

Story – Medium

Naruto and co. continue their search for Sasuke as they fight foes old and new. The old ongoing threads are good, while new introductions to the story are filler.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Naruto classic fans only. Even if you watch the Naruto Kai edit, this is still a gargantuan anime that I can’t recommend to anyone not already invested from the original series. There are several satisfying conclusions for fans, however.

(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:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor PacingWeak End

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.

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

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.

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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.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationHoly S***

Negative: None