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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.

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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

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

Blood Blockade Battlefront – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kekkai Sensen

 

Related: Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Baccano!

Jormungand

Tiger & Bunny

Trigun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • NYC looks great.
  • Character focused standalone episodes.

Negatives:

  • Shounen protagonist doesn’t fit.
  • Lacks focus for the first act.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t help but wonder if Blood Blockade Battlefront wasn’t intended for an older audience originally, until an editor/studio said it couldn’t succeed without the shounen demographic and so the protagonist lost a few years to meet that new audience. I say this because Leonardo, our protagonist, doesn’t fit with the rest of the cast.

Leonardo is a teenager who recently acquired the “All-seeing Eyes of the Gods”, which gives him immense power beyond his comprehension, so he heads to Hellsalem’s Lot (New York City) where the supernatural is an everyday part of life to look for help. There, he unexpectedly joins Libra, a crime-fighting organisation that deals with the supernatural and the mundane through use of powers of their own and modern technology.

Libra is a group of adults. While the focus is on the supernatural action with a comedy slant, when it does focus on characters, these Libra members have adult problems, which doesn’t gel with the themes of Leonardo’s character. Furthermore, there are too many episodes where he feels like a tagalong to the plot (or isn’t present at all), as if the author couldn’t figure out how to use his shounen protagonist in a seinen series. The adults are just more interesting in Blood Blockade Battlefront.

There is one episode where Leonardo works – the mushroom guy episode. He meets this mushroom guy (no better way to put it) with an appetite for burgers, who has spores that can erase memories. Criminals prize his spores. Imagine you could commit a crime and wipe everyone’s memory of the event – free money. Unfortunately, the spores affect mushroom guy as much as anyone else, which means he doesn’t know anyone because he forgets after each mugging. The standalone episode regarding his and Leonardo’s friendship is a good one. In fact, I find the standalone episodes to be the best of the series.

Another one that comes to mind deals with the work/family balance that many career adults face. A woman in Libra needs to assist with an important mission to intercept a drug shipment, but the day of the mission happens to coincide with parents’ day at her son’s school – a day she has missed for several years already due to work. The episode has a great moment on parenting when her husband explains to the son that it hurts her more than it does him when she can’t keep her promises. The humour works too (same author as Trigun). When she tries to get off the mission roster, her boss guilts her into staying by laying out the consequences of mission failure on other children – in a comedic way. In the end, she has to do both concurrently.

As I said, Leonardo is a side character to most missions, so he doesn’t drag down the series too much. He’s okay. The unclear motives and goals for early episodes are a bigger problem. The start is too hectic for its own good.

I do love the feel of this city matched with the tone of the characters. Mermaids, vampires, werewolves, monkeys, and aliens living alongside humans in a towering metropolis gives me a Baccano meets Tiger & Bunny meets The Fifth Element with a dash of One Punch Man vibe. The creative visuals and light humour, yet balanced by some heart, make Blood Blockade Battlefront an easy anime to watch once you clear the initial hurdle of not knowing what the hell is going on.

Art – High

It’s Studio Bones, so the art has a good minimum quality. I particularly like the look of New York City – fantastic colour depth and detail. The notable flaws are moments of repeated animation and the protagonist’s eye effect looks slapped in the scene.

Sound – Medium

Can’t stand the protagonist’s voice in English, so I switch to Japanese and he sounds the same! Don’t like either of their nasal voices. Other than that, the acting is good, though there is a missed opportunity in not having accents from New York’s various boroughs akin to Baccano.

Story – Medium

A kid with magic eyes joins a crime-fighting organisation in the big city populated by human and supernatural denizens alike. Blood Blockade Battlefront works best when following individual characters and is in need of a more adult protagonist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action comedy fans only. Blood Blockade Battlefront isn’t a remarkable anime, but it has enough to entertain fans of the contemporary action genre. (Still can’t say Blood Blockade Battlefront quickly without fumbling my words.)

(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