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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri

 

Similar: Attack on Titan

Parasyte -the maxim-

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good art and environmental lighting.
  • Steampunk feudal Japan.

Negatives:

  • Almost everything is clichéd in execution.
  • Idiot plot.
  • No meaningful threats.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress starts at full steam ahead with an intense scene of an armoured train under attack by undead Corpses. One soldier detonates his own heart after a Corpse bites him in front of his comrades.

Once the train arrives in the safety of the city walls for some downtime, the problems come hard and fast. For example, the exposition. Every crewmember has to strip for inspection of bites from Corpses, as they would infect the whole city if gone unchecked. Despite seeing this before us, Ikoma and his sidekick explain this to each other as if they’ve never seen it before, which is a clumsy way of telling the audience. Why do writers keep writing themselves into bad exposition when the visuals do the job?

What follows is a tedious scene for conflict when soldiers shoot an innocent man under suspicion of infection. Its purpose is to give Ikoma a moment to grandstand and play the hero. The problem is that there was no threat and the situation would have resolved by inspection, which they were just doing! An actual threat would serve better – say, a stowaway Corpse.

I pushed this clumsiness aside in the hope that once past introductions and back to the action, Kabaneri would become good again. This hope is dashed with the introduction of Mumei, a cutesy princess-looking girl that feels out of place. She not the right sort of ray-of-sunshine-in-a-grim-world character. To worsen matters, she can kick off a Corpse’s head with her bladed shoe in one swipe. I thought that was ridiculous until episode two had her parkouring through the streets, felling Corpses like zombies out of Left 4 Dead. Why is humanity afraid when one person can take on hundreds? She also has that annoying “I guess I’m strong, whatever…” trait to make her insufferable. The revelation behind her ability is that she’s half Corpse – a Kabaneri. This transformation also occurs to Ikoma.

All the danger presented in the opening scene with Corpses stronger than humans? Gone. Tension? Evaporated.

Not even a train full of Corpses crashing through the city gate can revive the dead intensity. You would imagine that the potential conflict of mistrust from having two Kabaneri on your train of human survivors would be great, but you’d be wrong. The commander locks them up, which is a good start, yet this confinement resolves itself with little effort. Instead, the story focuses on some useless old people that want to stop the train for a funeral for the city’s fallen. Never mind that Corpses are on their trail and that they don’t have enough food to reach the next city at full steam. What is this, a population of idiots?

Everyone foams at the mouth to kill the Kabaneri, but two seconds later, when Mumei kills a Corpse amongst them, they bray for her blood because the Corpse was pregnant, despite the foetus being tainted already. Make up your minds! That’s when I understood this plot: Conflict only exists in this world because the people are all idiots.

The story has no point of redemption. Yes, they introduce stronger undead and a human villain, but no audience would care when it’s all so generic. It’s not clichéd in the right way – it’s not the cliché people pay for when buying a Harlequin Romance. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress cobbles together every mistake that comes from the predictable. You can predict the bad conflict and weak scenarios it will present.

People fight off the undead from fortress trains in a steampunk feudal Japan – sounds awesome, right? I’m not the only one who thinks so, yes? How do you make this so uninteresting? If not great, such a premise should guarantee an entertaining anime, at least, and yet, they didn’t even manage that.

Art – High

Wit Studios’ art style is immediately recognisable, as shared by Attack on Titan. Though Kabaneri doesn’t have all the flash of that anime, it is more consistent in quality, particularly when it comes to the CG. The art evokes strong atmosphere.

Sound – Medium

The music may not be to everyone’s taste, combining orchestral with electronic, which I enjoyed. The voice work is fine, but serves shallows dialogue and characters.

Story – Low

In a steampunk feudal Japan, humanity fights off Corpses from the safety of their mobile rail fortresses. After an intense start, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress derails into a story and characters with no thought beyond the clichés.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress should be great on the premise alone, but its execution is so predictable and banal that you’ll feel like you’ve seen it before.

(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: 

Induces Stupidity

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Castlevania – Anime Review

Related: Castlevania Season 2 (TBA)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the games.
  • Looks and sounds great.
  • Deeper than expected.
  • Unflinchingly brutal.

Negatives:

  • Too early to gauge full quality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In the same way that game-to-film (or vice versa) adaptations bring the worst out of art, game-to-anime conversions are mind-numbing experiences that contain none of the game’s magic. When Netflix announced a Castlevania series, I didn’t even bother adding it to my ‘might, perhaps, one day if there is no more anime, eventually’ list. The series releases and the strangest comment reaches my ears… It’s good. What unspeakable pact did the creators enter into?

While not an anime, Castlevania adopts plenty from the likes of Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D in its adaptation of the game franchise of the same name. More specifically, this uses Castlevania III as a launching point with some Symphony of the Night elements.

The first episode introduces us to the human Lisa as she enters Dracula’s castle and meets the vampire lord of Wallachia himself. Rather than throw her out – or worse, drain her – he is endeared by her desire to learn science and spread such enlightenment across mankind. She doesn’t run away like the others. He teaches her chemistry to help the villagers and marriage is not far behind. However, the Church grows suspicious of her newfound curative abilities and finds heathenistic devices in her house, such as instruments of glass too thin to be of human creation. They burn her at the stake.

Oh what a grave mistake.

Dracula’s wrath unleashes a demon horde across Wallachia. The land is now a place of death. At a small inn still untouched by the horde, Trevor Belmont is drunk and getting drunker. His family of demon slayers fell from grace since their excommunication by the Church, so there’s little to do but drink these days. Even a horde of game doesn’t interest him. A human plea will soon change this.

So, the story starts like a Castlevania game, and it does well by setting the stakes as high as Dracula’s castle and giving a flawed yet likeable protagonist. Then there’s Dracula, exuding majesty and awe-inspiring power. They didn’t tone him down. I was prepared for something like the Devil May Cry anime, where the characters, especially protagonist Dante, have none of the personality that makes them enjoyable. Instead, Castlevania added more than what was to be found in the games.

These four episodes serve as the setup to a grander series. They establish Dracula, Trevor and his allies, and the subplot of the Church, which added the story depth to turn this from good to great. I hope to see the Church subplot throughout the series.

The action is no wet skeleton either. It’s gory and brutal, as it should be for the franchise, and the choreography has thought behind it. Duels are especially satisfying.

With all this praise, what’s the downside? Well, it’s hard to say at this point, as I am reviewing the start of a series. I have no complaints right now, but elements could become problems. For example, Trevor’s bravado will turn annoying if overused and he trash talks instead of fighting, like a bad villain monologue. The inside of Dracula’s castle may also have little story, with all interesting plot occurring outside under the Church’s influence. Who knows? It’s too early to say. Still, it looks right, sounds right, and feels right.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for Castlevania.

Art – High

The art feels like the games turned animated, dripping with gothic atmosphere. Some animation is jittery, but good overall.

Sound – High

The accents work well in English. The Japanese is good enough if you prefer that. Music complements the dark atmosphere.

Story – High

A son in the long line of once-noble Belmonts prepares to fight the Lord of Darkness, Dracula. Castlevania is a great start to adapting such a venerable franchise.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Unless you can’t stand gore, Castlevania’s four episodes give a good taste of whether you should look forward to more.

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

 

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Akame ga Kill – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akame ga Kill!

 

Similar: Kill la Kill

The Seven Deadly Sins

Attack on Titan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • It ends.

Negatives:

  • The characters.
  • The story.
  • The writing.
  • The art.
  • The action.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I read Akame ga Kill pitched as anime’s Game of Thrones. Either the recommender hasn’t seen Game of Thrones or hasn’t seen Akame ga Kill­. My sides will never recover.

From the first scene, Akame ga Kill is an obnoxious anime. I fail to recall a time I hated a protagonist quicker than here. A cocky hero with forced-cool dialogue? Yeah, I hope he dies. He’s so stupid that a large-breasted girl cons him for all him money on his first day in the capitol. She just about asks for it and he hands it over. He’s that stupid. Then a noble girl happens to be passing in the next scene to take him to her estate. Why make him lose all his money if it amounts to nothing? The purpose is to acquaint him with the nobles, but it’s so clumsy that they may as well have typed the script directions on screen.

We then meet the main plot. A group of assassins called Night Raid aim to kill the sinful elite of the kingdom, chief of which is the emperor and his minister for oppressing the populace. Busty Girl is a member of Night Raid, as it happens. So that’s why she was in the useless scene earlier.

Night Raid’s signature – and by extension, Akame ga Kill’s – is gratuitous violence. It’s so meaningless, so overwrought and in a story littered with unfunny humour of poor timing that it didn’t faze me in the slightest to see a noblewoman sliced in two at the waist, her hands spiralling away from her body. Akame ga Kill has so much edge that Gillette has its engineers working around the clock to unlock its secrets. I mean, each episode is titled ‘Kill something’ – ‘Kill the Darkness,’ ‘Kill the Grudge,’ ‘Kill the Audience’s Sanity and Tolerance to Atrocious Writing.’

Episode one’s key action scene has Busty Girl comment how Hero Guy is good because he’s lasted longer than usual against Emo Girl. In reality, Emo Girl mostly stood around and when she does attack, he survives through luck. Her sword that bifurcates people like butter can’t pierce a wooden statuette in his shirt pocket when convenient. Wow, so impressive, Hero Guy. They’ll fall in love over nothing, of course.

Night Raid reveals to Hero Guy that the noble girl and her family torture commoners for amusement, including his friends whose names I can’t remember. Much like the violence, there is no build up to this revelation so it leaves no impact. It does foreshadow how shallow the villains will be, however. “Are you shocked? Are you shocked yet?” The show keeps asking. Yes, I am shocked at how someone can write a story and characters this bad. I can’t believe this is making Aldnoah.Zero look like quality.

I am unsure of the target audience for this anime. It’s too violent for children, yet too immature for adults. Hell, it’s too immature for children.

By the way, I wrote this review after watching a single episode, and with the final episode complete, I have nothing to change except to say it only becomes worse. Here are a few highlights to come:

  • The strongest villain falls in love with Hero Guy for no valid reason.
  • Emo Girl and her sister want to kill each other for edginess.
  • Fights devolve into characters playing their Trump Cards – they literally call their best abilities Trump Cards (how subtle) – creating a binary flow to fights. It also makes no sense why they don’t open with their ‘I Win’ buttons.

Akame ga Kill has no redeeming quality.

Art – Very Low

While some of the backgrounds look decent, nothing can make up for poor animation, bad choreography, generic style, and dissonant character designs. The character design is so lazy that half of them dress in everyday modern clothes in a fantasy world. The creator couldn’t be bothered to design clothes.

Sound – Very Low

Every character sounds like the typecast of their archetype in an atrocious script. The music is as forgettable and generic as the art.

Story – Very Low

A group of assassins kill the corrupt elite of the kingdom one villain at a time. With some of anime’s worst characters, shoddy action, expository dialogue, and cringe-to-the-edge, Akame ga Kill will kill your brain before the end.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Akame ga Kill has likely made it into the ten worst anime I have seen, and I go out of my way to watch some bad anime for the ‘so bad it’s good’ joy. Akame ga Kill cannot even boast that quality.

(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:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityNo DevelopmentRubbish Major CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

The Boy and the Beast – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bakemono no Ko

 

Similar: Wolf Children

Sword of the Stranger

Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 58 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Good humoured fun.
  • Fluid animation.

Negatives:

  • Main antagonist out of nowhere.
  • Feeble setup.
  • Characters are rather shallow.
  • World left unexplored.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So far, Mamoru Hosoda has been two for two with me on his films, Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt through Time. Can he hit the hat-trick?

Nope.

At its core, The Boy and the Beast is a story of two externally different people that share the same internal strengths and weaknesses. One is a boy, the other a beast.

Kumatetsu is in line for the throne after the current beast lord ascends to godhood. Kumatetsu’s chances don’t look good, however, with his anti-social behaviour and being weaker than his rival, who is loved by all beasts. He sets out into the human world to find an apprentice and prove he is worthy. For no real reason, he chooses runaway Ren, who lost his mother in an accident and whose father has dropped all responsibility, and renames him Kyuuta. They return to the beast world and begin living together as dysfunctional roommates while one tries to teach the other to fight.

A lack of thought shows itself early in The Boy and the Beast. Our first introduction to Ren/Kyuuta is of him wandering around Shibuya, angry at the world and everyone in it. He yells in the middle of the street about hating everyone. ‘Cringelord’ comes to mind. There is no subtlety to the conveyance of his emotions and personality. This introduction screams of a writer trying too hard to tell us what we should think of his character.

What follows is the pairing between Kyuuta and Kumatetsu, which has no ground to stand on. We never see reason as to why Kumatetsu chose Kyuuta. Yes, later it shows us that both share much in common, feeling like outcasts from their societies and without much to be proud of. However, Kumatetsu knows none of this on first meeting. For all he knows, Kyuuta could be a kid separated from his mother while shopping. He just declares Kyuuta as the best candidate for apprenticeship.

After this bad start, the story improves greatly with its chemistry between the boy and the beast. Now is where I can see the Mamoru Hosoda that made his previous films great. The constant back and forth, balance-counterbalance dynamic of two delinquents getting on each other’s nerves, yet still feeling camaraderie works perfectly. It’s believable, engaging, and funny. A highlight is the first sword-training lesson from Kumatetsu. “You grip it and bang! That’s it.” Instant swordsmaster! “What?” Great lesson there, mate.

The Boy and the Beast is a tricky beast – pardon the pun – for its faults aren’t clear until the film is almost over. You start with these questions and unresolved threads, which is to be expected of course, assuming the story’s direction is to answer these questions and resolve those threads. Not until the finale do you realise none of those questions had answers and the threads they started aren’t the ones they ended. The worst of this is the villain. He comes out of nowhere in the finale. When he popped up, I thought he would be a throwaway before the real threat takes the stage. But no, he is the villain. That’s what you were building up to all this time? He is irrelevant.

The third act retroactively crushes The Boy and the Beast. Other than the villain, you realise Kumatetsu and Kyuuta have no payoffs to their arcs, missing that seal to justify all that came before. Oh yeah, whatever happened to that girl back in the human world? Then you realise we saw little of the beast world and how its society works. Why do these kings need an apprentice to claim the throne? If it’s a test to cure Kumatetsu of his anti-social behaviour unfit for a king, why is that necessary? He would be king, not your best bud. How does any of the beast world operate? Why does the lord need to retire? Not all of these questions need answers, but you do need to give something for the audience to latch onto.

In the end, The Boy and the Beast leaves me with nothing. I will forget this film in a week.

Art – High

The animation is fluid and the environments gorgeous, but the characters’ lack of shading is a noticeable during day scenes.

Sound – High

Solid music and acting. The dub doesn’t shove in celebrities, much like other Mamoru Hosoda works, so it’s good in either language.

Story – Low

A beastman takes in a runaway boy to raise him as a warrior in a fight for the throne. The story sadly doesn’t dive deep enough into its world or characters to create a meaningful connection with the audience.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The Boy and the Beast isn’t good enough to be necessary viewing, nor is it bad enough not to warrant a chance. You may find more value its good qualities than 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: 

Fluid Animation

Negative: 

Hollow World Building

Attack on Titan Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2

 

Related: Attack on Titan Season 1

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • New Titan type.
  • Some solid art and audio.

Negatives:

  • Too much CG.
  • Atrocious twists.
  • No tension.
  • Characters are still flat.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Get your hype pants on; we are here for season 2 of Attack on Titan! Feeling all nice and comfortable? Right, now take them off and prepare for boredom as you sink further and further into the couch, until all we can see of you is two dead eyes staring at the screen. Attack on Titan Season 2 is bad.

The first problem should become obvious after you finish episode one. Where are the main characters? Where’s the main story? Instead, we follow the B team as they search for a breach in the wall that let a dozens of Titans inside. The purpose of this point of view is to give us the backstories for a few characters, which is fine in concept, but it takes near half the season and isn’t engaging.

Not that the main characters are of any interest either. Eren is still your ever-angry teen, Mikasa still has no personality to speak of (the last episode gives a glimmer – yay…), and Armin is still useless. I have yet to comprehend how Armin is supposed to fill the role of the ‘smart’ character. If he is smart, it’s because everyone else is an idiot. In a fight against the Armoured Titan, do you attack the armour or go for the exposed muscles? Go for the armour of course! Just keep slashing at that impenetrable plate until every blade breaks. You’ll get through it eventually, I’m sure. And then – I kid you not – one character has this incredible epiphany, recalling full plate knights with no armour on the back of joints to allow movement and how the Titan must have the same weakness. Did you not see the exposed muscle everywhere until now? You. Idiots.

If this series doesn’t end with humanity wiped out, I will feel cheated.

Now I must talk about the twists. The midpoint twist is one of anime’s worst. It’s the sort of twist that was thought of at the last moment, the writer running to print room to stop the presses for his last second addition. Or he planned the twist but executed it this poorly. I’m not sure which reality is worse. The story tries to explain it by flashing back to the moments of foreshadowing, yet ignores all the aspects that break the twist. And the end twist, what else can it be but a deus ex machina to crown the cake in a red bollock trying to pass for a cherry?

Oh man, don’t forget the unbelievable overuse of the flashforward narrative structure. Almost every episode starts with the characters in a dire situation before it flashes back to the present for us to wonder how they get to that situation. I hate to break it to you, writer, but this is Attack on Titan – everyone is in a dire situation at all times. It isn’t shocking to show these scenes to us. More than that, it is lazy. Lazy, the perfect word to summarise the writing this season.

The laziness should have been obvious from season 1, seen no more clearly than in the author’s misunderstanding of how big an area a 480 km radius covers. This lack of basic research comes to a head in season 2 with the main goal of finding the hole in the wall. The scouts on horseback cover a vast distance in a day or two that should take weeks. The world of Attack on Titan feels the size of a city, not the size of the large country it purports to be.

Alright, the story is garbage. What of the action, the real reason everyone attends class?

A few scenes are exciting with that same quality animation, the most interesting of which introduces the new yeti-looking Titan with intelligence above the rest. However, the action Attack on Titan is known for – Spidermaning with swords versus giants – is scarcer this time around. I don’t know if it was time or budget, but action scenes seem designed to require as little of the webslinging as possible. On the other hand, I have praised many action series that didn’t have half the spectacle of Attack on Titan. But those series used the action to develop characters, since they knew that they couldn’t rely on flashiness to engage the audience.

Attack on Titan does not do this with its characters, main or otherwise. Action development is a pacifist having to make the decision to kill someone to save another he cares about. In Attack on Titan, we know how everyone will act and how they will fight, so there’s no excitement. Mute the action and you miss nothing.

All these problems combined manage to kill Attack on Titan’s other strength – atmosphere. The increasing plot armour for important characters coupled with having a Titan on the heroes’ side means the tension is low. Yep, humanity is on the brink of extinction and the tension is still low. Just great. That oppressive feeling, the sense of impending doom, the idea that it could all end today is gone.

Art – High

Season 2 has few of the amazing action sequences from before, with more static shots and ‘left to right’ animations taking their place. There is CG everywhere now. CG horses running across CG ground, the Colossal Titan in full CG, and more CG horses stand out like ink blots on paper. The art is still good overall, but doesn’t have the impressiveness of season 1.

Sound – Medium

Take all the music of Attack on Titan and lower the hype. You now have this soundtrack. The script hasn’t much to say.

Story – Low

Scouts investigate a breach in the wall that allowed a swarm of Titans inside human territory. An overuse of the flashforward story structure, flat characters, and twists conjured out of thin air saps all engagement for the story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For diehard Attack on Titan fans only. If you are a fan, you’ve already seen season 2, so my recommendation doesn’t matter. But for those unsure after the first season, this isn’t worth your time. Attack on Titan Season 2 has almost none of the qualities that made the first engaging.

(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:

Deus Ex MachinaNo Development