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An air of the unknown, a puzzle to solve…

Stupidity, Secrets, and Salacity – October 2020 Manga

Astra Lost in Space

Japanese Title: Kanato no Astra

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 49 chapters

As I read manga by the truckload these days, I think it best to review some of them in quickfire batches. I won’t be reviewing all that I read. These won’t be the best, most likely not even good. I simply have a little to say about them. This is a selection of my October reads.

Astra Lost in Space caught me with the cover image and title. A sci-fi story about people lost in space? That’s my kind of story. It does deliver on that promise, but I don’t remember anywhere in the contract that said it would include asinine characters and misplaced dialogue.

The story follows a group of teens sent off to space camp on another planet free of adult supervision. When they arrive on this planet, however, a sphere of light swallows them up and transports them into distant space with only an abandoned spaceship nearby (they survive the teleport by having space suits on from the previous journey). These teens must operate this ship and survive the unknown journey home.

I love this premise. It should give me that “cosy” feeling of a crew on a long journey through a harsh environment, but with a safe home base. Astra Lost in Space couldn’t be further from.

In past reviews, I’ve talked of how if you see errors in the first episode / first chapter of a story, those errors will echo through to the finale. Astra Lost in Space is a perfect example of this and one people could use as a case study. For example, the first chapter has an instance of misplaced dialogue. The instructor tells the kids, before their trip, that they will have one more student than normal with them and that their special task (every group has one) is to teach a little girl. He tells them this and then immediately, a student asks, “Hang on, didn’t you mention something about an extra member?” (paraphrasing) as if it had been said a while ago and everyone had forgotten. It’s very jarring, akin to taking censorship edits of Hollywood films in foreign countries, where they do a hard cut mid-scene spliced with dialogue a few sentences later. Except this doesn’t have the excuse! A few chapters later, a second line that doesn’t fit what came prior.

Another example of error echo is with the characters. The opening scene is of protagonist guy coming to the rescue of love interest girl. Within the same volume, after they teleport, he once again has to rescue her (just her) out in space. Is her role to remain as the rescue baggage for protagonist? Research into later volumes reveals that this is indeed the case. Her personality is dumb anime girl. Her purpose is to be rescued all of the time.

Possibly the worst moment of volume one involves the “high IQ” guy of the team. They’re on this ship, in the middle literal nowhere, with seemingly no way of getting home since none of them can pilot the thing. Except, one person does question if Mr High IQ is a pilot, no? Yes, he is. Why didn’t he say it sooner in this life or death scenario? “It was too troublesome.” Please jettison yourself from the airlock. Look, just because Shikamaru managed to pull off the lazy genius, doesn’t mean you should go copying it. The type has become such a cliché amongst bad writers.

This manga (and the inexplicable anime adaptation) is nothing but asinine characters living behind a premise to draw suckers in. Art is weak too.

Overall Quality – Dropped

Result: Dropped in one volume. Garbage.

*     *     *     *     *

A Fool and a Girl

Korean Title: Babogaewa Agassi

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Length: 35 chapters

I’ll keep this short. A Fool and a Girl is a bad ℌệ𝔫𝔱ằ𝔦 masquerading as romance. It’s about a virgin woman and a wolf boy (?) who fall into lust then into love.

This story is actually about rape. The only question is, “Who is the rapist?” Either he is the rapist for never taking “no” for an answer and forcing himself upon her, or she is the rapist for taking advantage of a guy with the mind of a three-year-old.

It tries to sell this as romantic, but it is vile. The attempts at romantic dialogue make one want to throw up.

The art is okay for a full colour strip, though has zero creativity.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Result: Finished. Wasted my time.

*     *     *     *     *

6000: The Deep Sea of Madness

Japanese Title: 6000: The Deep Sea of Madness

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Length: 22 chapters (4 volumes)

6000: The Deep Sea of Madness is a horror manga about a group of scientists and engineers sent to a deep-sea facility to investigate a past disaster that left many dead. It’s The Thing meets Dead Space underwater.

For most of these 22 chapters, the horror is of the “was that real or my imagination” variety as the claustrophobic and isolated location begins to drive people mad. Claims of monster sightings start and the sounds of past horrors echo in the dark. I am making 6000 sound better than it is, for in truth, this is one boring horror series.

First issue, the art. It is too messy, often difficult to discern (I’m sure this was intended to emulate unknown shapes in the dark), and has the equivalent in movies of making the set and lighting so dark that you can’t see anything. When you don’t have the sound of a movie to terrify the audience in pitch-blackness, you need to compensate with horror art. A black comic panel isn’t scary!

Author Nokuto Koike had a horrible time conveying a sense of space and location. Even with pictures, we have no idea of what this place is really like. Apart from a couple of rooms, it is hard to know where anyone is in a given scene.

One could still have a good manga, albeit not a frightening one, if the story and characters were good. This story is standard for the premise and the characters have no personality. None. The one character with a hint of it is the douche manager, who is as complex as the douche manager stereotype.

Though I finished 6000: The Deep Sea of Madness (it was short), I didn’t care for it.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Made me want to play Dead Space instead.

*     *     *     *     *

 

Ayeshah’s Secret

Chinese Title: Ayeshah’s Secret

Genre: Drama Horror

Length: 11 chapters (2 volumes)

For a different kind of horror, we have Ayeshah’s Secret, a dark take on the classic Cinderella. A girl’s father remarries to a nasty woman with three sons and as is of the fairy tale, the mother and children torment the girl, even turning her into a servant after the father dies. Where Ayeshah’s Secret differs from the norm is in what occurs after that point.

There is no fairy godmother, magical ball, or glass slipper. Ayeshah’s Secret turns into a story of murder and revenge. I’m going to have to spoil a little here to talk further, so skip to the next review below if you want to read this manhua (I don’t recommend it). So, a lawyer comes to visit soon after the father’s death with his will, which the mother reads to discover that his vast estate and fortune are to go to Ayeshah. Before the lawyer can reveal this truth, however, the mother kills him and buries him in the woods. This one act cascades into further atrocities, including the mother taking an axe to Ayeshah’s throat and burying her as well.

At this stage of the story, I am interested and eager to turn the page (I read all chapters in one sitting). The art is good, suitably creepy for this domestic horror, and the twist on Cinderella has me hooked, especially when Ayeshah stumbles back into the mansion – alive – with a wound sealing on her throat. She begins her revenge.

Then the final act arrives and everything goes down the toilet. The reveal of Ayeshah’s backstory? Absolute nonsense. The shoehorned romance? Worse than Domestic Girlfriend. The big twist? Undoes everything good about this story.

I have to talk about these points, so if you still don’t want to have the finale spoiled, skip to the next review.

Alright, the three twists are that Ayeshah is actually an identical twin; the sisters would swap places with one living in a shack by the woods and no one came back from the dead (the kinder sister did die); and that she ends up with the eldest and nastiest of the three brothers. (The mother accidentally kills the other two in trying to kill her.) The explanation for keeping the twins a secret is that it was their mother’s dying wish. It’s so stupid. This pathetic idea exists solely to setup the twist. There is no logic. This is clearly a case of someone having an idea for a twist with no clue how to set it up.

The reveal that nothing supernatural was at work is a classic twist of domestic crime (Agatha Christie used it several times), but when the reveal is this twin situation, it would have been better to keep it supernatural. And lastly, the romance, the dumbest of them all. This guy is an abusive twat without a moment of kindness for her, yet a few clichéd lines later – “We aren’t so different, you and I” and the like – she falls for him and the series ends on scenes of them living happily ever after. There isn’t even an attempt to make us believe that while we may see him for a monster, she sees him as a saviour in this messed up world she’s endured. Romantic, we are to find them. Never mind that he’s barely a character until the end.

This is a romance for the YA Twilight, Mortal Instruments crowd with the tragic protagonist meets handsome boy who is actually an abusive brute.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Volume two takes a nosedive into awful.

*     *     *     *     *

Doctor Du Ming

Chinese Title: Yisheng du Ming

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 15 chapters (1 volume)

Now a manhua that never showed any promise beyond the front cover, I present to you Doctor Du Ming. Don’t be fooled by the nice cover – the art inside is ugly. The writing is even uglier.

I’m going to tell you everything that happens because one of Doctor Du Ming’s failings is lack of clarity. The first half of the series seems entirely pointless because there is no direction to the story, obfuscated by a nonsensical non-linear narrative that jumps between past and present (maybe future as well – not sure). At first, you think it’s about a doctor struggling with the pressure of work, but that’s irrelevant. It turns out to be a revenge story over the suicide of a woman this guy had a crush on. Her roommate, bribed by a group of men, left her alone to be raped. The shame circus that followed led her to suicide. (The rape is the twist used to explain his murderous actions and finally tell us what the hell is going on.)

Doctor Du Ming is too vague at the beginning and remains dull throughout that even when he kills a seemingly innocent woman, you don’t care. It also uses one of my most hated writing techniques of Eastern media: the cut away in the middle of scenes (often mid-sentence) to add artificial “mystery”.

The idea could have worked with better structure and more character development to make the audience give a gram of a damn.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Fooled by the cover.

*     *     *     *     *

Beloved

Chinese Title: Beloved

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 16 chapters (1 volume)

Now for another Chinese manhua – one that has good qualities.

Before I even touch on the story, I must praise the art. This long strip comic painted in gorgeous watercolours evokes a strong sense of place and emotion. It isn’t just beautiful. It amplifies the story. Shame then that the story doesn’t live up to the art.

Beloved is a story of taboo love between a 34-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl. The older woman, a doctor, met the girl at a bar she had no place being in and didn’t know she was so young. The doctor tries to get rid of the girl and pretends it never happened, but the girl is clingy and does several stupid things to get her attention. Before long, the doctor realises she can’t get the girl out of her head and must decide what to do.

Do note that this take place in China, where the age of consent is 14 (there are no consent “brackets” either, so as long as both people are over 14 and consenting, it’s legal [there has been a recent push to up the age]). However, just because something is legal, it doesn’t make it morally acceptable (morality will vary by the individual of course), so this woman still faces a tough decision and my following opinion of the story would be the same if the girl was 20 in university and the doctor was 40.

Beloved is a drama that sits in the doctor’s head most of the time. We have many point of view shots, vivid memories of hers, and swirling thoughts as she tries to grapple with her feelings. There is a bit of humour, but this is serious drama for the most part. Additional drama stems from her former first love, who also works with her at the hospital and plays a voice of reason, in a sense.

This drama, despite being quite depressing and all about the mental, doesn’t push far enough. Too optimistic. Even though this takes place where the relationship is legal, there are many tough questions and challenges to face, which it does offer to the story, but then ends on, “It will all be okay.”

Beloved could do with more depth and exploring the dicey content on more levels. This manhua is only half way there.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Love the art! Story needed another few layers.

ID: Invaded – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ID:Invaded

 

Similar: Psycho Pass

Real Drive

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great concept
  • A nice blend of “hype” and “mystery” music
  • Weirdly awesome mental landscape

Negatives:

  • The abstract mind makes the mysteries unsolvable ahead of time

(Request an anime for review here.)

Every great crime mystery has three components to success. The first is an interesting crime that generates plenty of questions and mystery. This doesn’t mean it has to be something crazy like a dead clown hanging from a chandelier with foam sword in one hand and nuclear detonator in the other. It can be something as simple as a shot to head during lunchtime, dead body in the apartment, yet the neighbours heard nothing. The second component is engaging characters, most notably for the detective protagonist and the main suspects. You want to look forward to these characters parrying words. And lastly, to engage the audience fully, the crime must be solvable before the big reveal. You don’t want to make it obvious – keep them guessing, unsure of their theories – but the pieces must be present.

In this third component, ID: Invaded fails.

ID: Invaded is about a detective agency that can investigate cases by diving into the unconscious minds of criminals by using a machine called Mizuhanome. Our main detective, Sakaido, is a murder himself after avenging the death of his family, for only a killer can safely enter into the mind of another killer. While he investigates on the mental plane, rookie detective Hondomachi hits the streets to interview witnesses and suspects.

The look of the virtual world in the target’s unconscious is cool. The opening scene has Sakaido in pieces with digital cube particles instead of blood. After he pulls himself together, he needs to reconstruct the scene physically from the fragmented reality that is the human mind. It recalls games like Ghost Trick and Remember Me. I love this representation. There is no denying the visual engagement. It’s weirdly awesome. However, this very concept is also ID: Invaded’s greatest flaw.

What Sakaido is looking at, these pieces to a murder mystery, are abstract. Even the faces on the people in the unconscious realm aren’t accurate. They are an amalgamation of faces remembered from one’s life, just as it is in your dreams. This means that the clues don’t mean much until we see the answers. It’s like solving a 1000-piece puzzle of pure white that doesn’t reveal the picture until all pieces are in place. The audience doesn’t have the opportunity to solve the case ahead of time – as you would in an Agatha Christie novel – without relying almost exclusively on guesswork, and in a crime story, this drops audience engagement to a level no author wants.

Now, the visuals do make up some of the loss, as mentioned earlier, as do the unusual characters on both the law enforcement and criminal sides. One of the criminals, called “The Perforator”, likes to drill holes in people’s skulls. Always delightful. Sakaido is also an interesting protagonist with his status as both criminal (still in jail) and detective. Sorry, “brilliant detective” as the mind detectives call themselves. Side note: it took me a while to realise that brilliant detective refers to their job title and not a token of praise. Poor choice of name.

I’m not sold on Hondomachi. She feels like a character design first (adult that looks like a teenager) and personality second, though her role in the story is interesting. The Inception-like system of her in the real world on the job while Sakaido is in the brain finding clues works well. It adds a nice dose of tension when everything is parallel in real time. Incorporating the Mizuhanome in the crimes itself is another good choice that heightens the stakes. It isn’t just a tool. One could almost call it evidence in the grander story, similar to the PreCrime unit in Minority Report or the Sibyl System in Psycho Pass. I like it when wild science fiction concepts go all in on the unique selling point.

ID: Invaded is a good anime, all aspects considered, and its unique nature means you aren’t looking at “more of the usual”. So I do recommend it if you liked any of the titles that I referred to throughout the review. It’s a story I would like to see the author take another crack at to elevate it to greatness.

Art – High

ID: Invaded has one of the most distinct art styles for faces, notably in the eyes. Oddly successful. The abstract design of the unconscious is great.

Sound – High

Several solid tracks accompany the series – I’ll be listening to the OP & ED beyond the final episode. The mystery music of ethereal piano notes and sinister violin adds much to the scene. The acting is strong too and you can go with either language to suit your preference.

Story – Medium

A former detective turned criminal investigates cases by diving into the minds of criminals via a machine. This cool concept is a little too abstract for its own good, as it doesn’t give the audience the information needed to solve the case until the big reveal.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. I recommend ID: Invaded to fans of Psycho Pass and Ghost in the Shell for its unique take on the exploration of the criminal mind to solve mysteries.

(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

The Promised Neverland – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yakusoku no Neverland

 

Related: The Promised Neverland 2nd Season (2021)

Similar: Now and Then, Here and There

Made in Abyss

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Tense atmosphere
  • Good animation
  • Shows the workings

Negatives:

  • Gives away the mystery too early
  • Villains are comical

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Promised Neverland should be an anime that you want to go in blind for, as I did, but its great mystery comes out within the first episode, so that magic is gone. Does make it easier to talk about in review.

This story takes place in an orphanage where children await adoption while under the loving gaze of Mother Isabella. The children live a peaceful life studying, helping around the house, and playing together within the safety of the walls. One day, they receive the bittersweet news that a family has selected one among them. Two of the oldest kids run after her to return her stuffed bunny, only to find horror instead as demons drop her lifeless body into a jar. She’ll keep for later.

The orphanage turns out to be nothing more than a child farm and Isabella is the shepherd. The three smartest, Emma, Norman, and Ray, begin to plot their escape. Can they take everyone?

As alluded to in my opener, I am disappointed that The Promised Neverland reveals the truth behind the orphanage in the first episode. It could have held onto that secret for another episode or two. This isn’t a case like Death Note, where seeing the story from both sides enhances the conflict and drama. See, a major problem – really, the core problem – of this anime is the bad villains. Improving this single area would alleviate several other problems, such as the too-brief mystery, which itself isn’t automatically a problem. As I said, Death Note gives it away and it works in favour of the story. Seeing the villains’ perspectives here adds little of value.

The Promised Neverland has three villains: Isabella, Sister Krone, and the demons. The demons are a shadowy entity in the background with scant minutes of airtime across the series and don’t matter beyond the catalyst for child farming. They don’t need explanation. The two women, however, are central to the plot. Isabella is the quiet, measured, plotting type who knows more than she lets on. With each passing episode, I expect some deeper revelation to her character that will explain who she is, why she is. All we get is a few seconds of backstory that barely explain anything. She is flat. Nor do we see her cunning actions enough to become a smart antagonist.

Worse is Sister Krone (subtle name, you got there). She comes in to assist Isabella, but harbours ambitions of becoming a Mother herself. She is comically bad. The performance, both in English and Japanese, is horrendous on a level up there with Jared Leto’s Joker. I don’t blame the actors for this. No performance could save her writing. It’s so over the top and manic, meant to be frightening (akin to the Joker pretending to be a loving nun) that it elicits only laughter. Her impact on the story is negligible as well. I image later seasons will bring he back for some ungodly reason.

Speaking of, I think this story would have worked better as a single season narrative. Despite remaining engaged from start to finish, I have no motivation to watch the next season unless I hear great things from a trusted source. I get the impression that future arcs will focus on the demons and the unresolved issues at the orphanage. The demons, I don’t need an explanation; the resolution of the orphanage, I expect to find repetitive.

If a single season of 12 episodes was it, complete story start to finish, I can’t imagine we would have wasted time on Krone or had Isabella remain puddle deep (one can see they are “saving her for later”). Restrictions often increase creativity and quality because there are only so many minutes on screen, so many words on the page that when the editing starts, the weak links hit the cutting room floor. If you have any familiarity with multi-season American TV shows, you will know what it’s like to see weak content added for the sake of extending the story to a fifth, sixth, seventh season when the studio renews.

So, I have vehement criticisms, yet I stay engaged to the end – why? Well, the main characters, primarily. Emma, Norman, and Ray work great. Upon first seeing their designs, I predicted their roles and arcs in the story (the energetic yet naïve one, the clever yet emotionless one, and the emo yet ruthless one, respectively). They surprise me though. Yes, they are the archetypes I predicted, but they aren’t the stereotypes I expected. Emma is naïve and idealistic, saying she would even take snitches when they escape (they suspect some kids feed information to Isabella), which is a truly dumb idea when many lives are on the line. However, she also displays moments of brilliance in both mind and heart. Remember, these three kids are supposed to be the smartest. Unlike most anime with “genius” characters that are actually dumb as bricks and only win because the author says so, these three show real brains (not in the way the demons would prefer, of course). It helps that they aren’t pitched as reality altering geniuses.

My favourite element of this story is seeing the kids figure it all out. How does Isabella know where they are at all times? Who is snitching on them? Is someone snitching? How can they escape with kids who still pick their noses and eat it? Why do the demons want them and what determines the next “adopted” child? How do they train for escape with Isabella surveying their every move? Seeing them work through this systematically is most engaging. It would have been that much better if the villains were equally engaging obstacles to the goal though.

The Promised Neverland, in the face my criticisms, receives my easy recommendation. The core of the story and its characters are sound, pulling you from one episode to the next with fast pacing and clever cliffhangers. You will want to watch just one more episode.

Art – High

The art is good, notably in animation. The demon designs are freaky, though the world itself could do with more creativity.

Sound – High

You can go with either language here. The music infuses a creepy atmosphere and I like the OP song – will probably add it to my playlist.

Story – High

A group of orphans realise that the promised land of a family is a one-way trip down a demon’s gullet in reality and the orphanage is a farm. Other than revealing the mystery too soon, The Promised Neverland delivers a tense thriller that captures your attention to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. The Promised Neverland is an easy recommendation from me to anyone unless child abuse in any form is too much for you.

(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

Bobobo / House of Five Leaves / Bungo Stray Dogs – Quick Thoughts

Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo

Japanese Title: Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo

Genre: Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 76 episodes

Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo was the final review that prompted this new format. I struggled for three weeks trying to get a review out the door. Twice I had to delay it and whip up another review for the week in its place. Why? There is both too much and too little to say.

Bobobo is an insane anime. I mean that in the literal sense. Episodes barely string together as the most random events flash across the screen. At first, it seems like a comedy battle anime following a disco protagonist that can control his nose hair to deadly results. He’s a hairbender, if you will. (I’m here all night! Tip your waitresses.) But the plot – ha, plot! – goes off the rails with the introduction of a…a…sun mascot? I don’t know what Don Patch is.

The humour is almost random. There is consistency in the overall style and a running theme in any given arc, but once it moves to a new story, the rollercoaster derails into Wonderland. Earlier, I said there is too much to say about Bobobo. This isn’t due to depth or complexity – Bobobo is neither of those. There is too much because to give an idea of this anime is nearly impossible without doing a line-by-line retelling. And that doesn’t make for a good review, so I have too little to say. It’s too weird for words. You just have to watch an episode for yourself.

My thoughts on it? It is amusing and the commitment from the actors is insane enough for this series. The two big issues I have with Bobobo: the art is garbage (barely animated, overreliance on repeated frames, background smears) and it is too long. I made it 50 episodes. I would have stopped earlier, but I kept going while waiting for inspiration to strike for the review. Never happened. I prefer the shorter and snappier style of Pop Team Epic when in the realm of weird anime comedy.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try an episode for yourself if you like random anime humour.

*     *     *     *     *

House of Five Leaves

Japanese Title: Saraiya Goyou

Genre: Historical Drama Mystery

Length: 12 episodes

House of Five Leaves caught my eye for the unusual faces on these characters. Behold, the faces of depression! And boy, let me tell you, these aliens wearing human skin don’t make for an engaging story. This didn’t get a full review due to my absolute boredom, which unfortunately isn’t the sort of boring you can dissect at length. Little happens Five Leaves’ 12 episodes. (Only 12 episodes!? Took me three months to get through this!)

The plot. I should mention it. A skilled yet sheepish ronin can’t find employment until a gang led by an enigmatic man takes him in as a bodyguard. Former samurai turned gangsters sit around looking glum. They mutter some mundane conversations on nothing anyone cares about until the final two episodes, where it finally feels like a samurai western (I think they were going for that genre?). Funnily enough, the protagonist barely participates in these final episodes. Whole thing should have been about the gang boss and his past.

The positives I can admit for Five Leaves are the nice music (often a single melancholic instrument) and the acting even for this stilted script. I suppose one could enjoy it as a laid back, low-tension piece to veg out to.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: If you aren’t interested within 10 minutes, House of Five Leaves isn’t for you and I wouldn’t blame you either.

*     *     *     *     *

Bungo Stray Dogs

Japanese Title: Bungou Stray Dogs

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Mystery

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

Of these three anime, Bungo Stray Dogs is the best and one I enjoyed most. Don’t take this as a recommendation though. It follows a ragtag group of misfits with superpowers that fancy themselves a detective agency. We have episodic stories that blend detective and gang narratives together in the vein of Blood Blockade Battlefront and Baccano. The protagonist is an orphan of the spineless type. You know the one – always has that worried expression, voice cracks every second sentence, can’t say no to anyone. Not my favourite.

Each character has a unique superpower that they have to announce and explain each time we see it. The issue permeates every element of the story. Characters over exposit everything when it comes to conveying story, all told at face value. Bungo Stray Dogs suffers a severe lack of subtlety. The writers have no faith in the audience’s ability to read subtext or to understand anything unless beating one’s face.

The character clichés also wear thin. Everyone talks in brooding tones, trying to be cool. One guy is obsessed with killing himself alongside a beautiful woman. If you’re going for whimsy at least try making sense within story context. Another guy is a Mafioso who doesn’t kill… Stop laying your desperation to be cool out for the world to see.

Stray Dogs would have worked better with a noir leaning, à la Darker Than Black but more comedic. The tone is an issue. The blend of comedy and drama doesn’t quite flow well here.

None of the problems are deal breakers, mind you. I can imagine having a higher opinion of this had I not seen so many similar but better anime already. If I have nothing new to say, I don’t find a series interesting to analyse. It’s why I didn’t give it a full review.

I did finish Bungo Stray Dogs, however, which is saying something, for it is an easy watch and the dub allowed me to consume the series passively as I completed other work. The art is nice too – beautiful colours.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch Blood Blockade Battlefront or Baccano instead.

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

Gosick – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gosick

 

Similar: Black Butler

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Heaven’s Memo Pad

Ghost Hunt

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pretty environments.
  • Good acting.

Negatives:

  • Omnipotent detective.
  • Whiny guy and tantrum girl don’t make for great leads.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I love how anime schools are beyond reality. Some go so grand, so outlandish that no real school would ever look like this. I think of Bakemonogatari’s school often, with its sky-scraping glass tower that serves no purpose other than great cinematography. Only anime can abuse the “rule of cool” so much for a mere school. Gosick has one such school. It’s a grand gothic and Victorian mix with an indoor botanical garden large enough to fit another school. And I love it. Not particularly relevant to this review – just thought I’d mention it!

As for the story proper, Gosick is about a 13-year-old Kazuya, who happens upon a doll-like girl around his age called Victorique de Blois in the school’s grand library. She’s an odd girl, keeping to herself and not possessing particularly keen manners, despite her prim appearance. Kazuya intrigues her, however, and she decrees that he is to be her plaything to entertain her with stories in the garden atop the school, when not joining her in solving mysteries, of course. She throws tantrums when bored, but switches on her genius when summoned for a case.

Contrary to the goth loli design, she isn’t lewded to sinful heaven like most of her archetype. Frankly, I consider this a miracle. There is a mild explanation for her petite stature in her backstory, but I think the artist just liked the look. She truly is a dress-up doll. I’m still not a fan of the type, though I do appreciate some effort went into incorporating her design into the rest of the art.

The story, for the most part, is Sherlock Holmes & Watson style crime mysteries. Now that, I love. They start with a few small cases, including a ghost ship, that last a few episodes each before it delves into a grander story about her origins and the tale of her cursed mother. More on this later.

I’m sorry to report, however, that these mysteries aren’t going to impress anyone with a modicum of experience in the genre. The major issue is Victorique’s omnipotence. She will say exactly what happened in some cases without ever going to the scene. It’s not as though she makes an educated guess, which she adjusts and confirms later on through investigation. No, she says exactly how it transpired. Furthermore, the audience can’t solve these mysteries ahead of time by catching clues. I don’t know if this was intentional by the writer to make her seem smarter or if the writer didn’t have the skill.

This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if it had something else going for it, such as strong characters you want to join in the adventure. Here too we have a problem. Kazuya is weak – too wimpy for a Watson substitute. I don’t get his personality choice. The dynamic between him and Victorique is for him to be her pet, her plaything, yet he doesn’t have a strength to counterbalance this weakness. He’s loyal and kind to her, but that just makes him a better servant. The original Watson is a good sidekick to Holmes, yes, but he also brings common sense and a clarity Holmes lacks when tunnel-visioned on a case. Watson must take charge at times. Kazuya doesn’t feel like an independent character who would exist without her.

As for Victorique, her tantrums are annoying. I assume (correctly) that it’s meant to endear her towards us and fit her child-like design. I just find it tiresome. They don’t make sense with her otherwise “mature” persona – not played as some flaw, like a mature outward façade covering a vulnerable inner core either. It comes across as an excuse to have a loli throwing tantrums because that’s what the writer likes. It doesn’t mesh.

Humour arrives in the form of her brother, who has hair that could pierce the heavens. He also works as a detective, but with his inferior skills, he often resorts to taking credit for his reclusive sister’s work. He’s a bit on the weird side for a gothic mystery, though is more memorable and focused than the other two.

Back to the story, once the opening cases are over with, the main story is more interesting, yet becomes less of a crime mystery. Gosick ends up losing its genre focus halfway through. More interesting on one hand – loses the genre on the other. It’s leans action over mystery by the end, which I take as a positive after the mediocre cases in the early game.

I want to be clear: Gosick never becomes bad. This is simply an example where once you’ve seen better, it is difficult to go backwards. I could see myself recommending this had I watched it a decade ago.

Art – High

I wouldn’t expect a series reliant on a goth loli to put any effort in the art. Gosick has surprisingly high production values. The environments look particularly good.

Sound – High

The music is appropriately gothic and the acting is good. No notable complaints here.

Story – Medium

A boy helps a doll-like girl with her hobby of playing detective – then the cases get personal. The mysteries are good enough to hold one’s attention, but if you’ve seen better, you’ll crave something more.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For mystery beginners. Gosick is an easy enough anime to watch unless you are used to more captivating mysteries.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None