What the hell happened here? I watched the first season of The Promised Neverland a year ago, which I quite liked, and now I come back to this…this… What do you even call this? Did an intern carrying the script trip over and have most of the pages fall into a shredder, collect what was left, rewrite the page numbers at the bottom, and then hand it to the animation department?
I had heard rumblings that viewers were discontent with the cutting of material. I did not realise just how bad it was until I read the manga. This review was to come out weeks ago, but less than halfway through the season, I could already feel something missing, so I turned to the manga, you know, to read the 30-50 chapters that went into this season. Little did I realise that this adapted all remaining chapters.
The Promised Neverland, at first, is about children living in an innocent orphanage before they learn that this is a farm and they are the livestock for demons. Season two follows them after the escape and on the run, guided by a series of clues left by the mysterious “William Minerva” to get back to the human world.
Season one adapts 37 chapters of the 181 total. Season two “covers” the rest. That’s right, 144 chapters in 11 episodes. And Horimiya fans reckoned they had it bad. I don’t know why studio CloverWorks thought that Promised Neverland – this anime, of all anime – would work with such truncation. I’m not certain (and I don’t have time to do the research right now), but this may just be the worst case of cut content in anime history. We’ve had incomplete adaptations of manga epics in the past or ones that created a new ending to finish what they had available, yes, though I can’t recall any finished adaptations with such massive holes. Unlike Horimiya, which worked alright without those chapters, Promised Neverland doesn’t work without 50% – at minimum – of what they removed. Why even bother with a second season if it’s going to lack all substance and make little sense? The first season worked fine as a standalone anime with suggestions to read the manga if you want the rest.
It hurts the brain to comprehend.
It’s particularly strange because season one was such a good adaption. In fact, I found it improved upon the manga by cutting back on inner monologues that over explain proceedings to the audience and made it darker. The manga is more light-hearted and has more playful moments, whereas the anime pushed the thriller angle to much success. A quick side note, however, is that the tone for the Grace Field arc in the manga better matches the rest the series. The manga isn’t anywhere near as dark as the premise would imply. The anime would have needed to make a few changes to the rest to match season one, which makes the abundance of “happy kids” moments, as I refer to them, more glaring and irritating in the second season. They work in the manga because they are tonally consistent and only take a page rather than a scene. Of course, they are also further apart with all content present.
Season two initially matches the manga well enough when the kids meet two demons that don’t eat humans and learn more of the world. We learn that demons eat meat to maintain their form and intelligence. Without feeding, they would devolve into ravenous savages. I love this world building detail. However, a few episodes in, they reach the hideout provided by Minerva and it all flies out the window. So butchered is this one section alone that there is no purpose to leaving it in. In the manga, it turns out there is someone living in the hideout already, a crazy man. He is the whole point of that section, so to remove him but leave the rest is simply stupid.
Then comes the time skip. Around 90 chapters ignored, gone, including the best action arc of the series, where some kids find themselves in a demon duke’s hunting ground for sport. Worse still is the effect on what they do adapt from the final arc. Without the setup that comes before, the finale is limp. Everything revolves around a grand plan, which already requires a fair suspension of disbelief in the manga, yet now demands a total leave of logic. The plan only works if all antagonists are absolute idiots.
See, this season’s failure isn’t that it cut material. I don’t inherently care about cut material. Its failure is being a bad anime, adaptation or not. Again, why did they bother?
This season isn’t worth your time. Instead, look at the manga.
The manga isn’t without its faults. I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t dark enough because there isn’t enough death, especially considering the pre-schoolers in the group (I have the impression the author grew too attached to the characters). The answer and eventual solution to the demon and human world divide is so lame. Magic? Really? While the final arc is a great finish to the ride, the epilogue chapters are just contrived nonsense (again, author is too attached). Contrivances and coincidences to solve non-action problems are a recurring issue with this author. Minerva’s pen, for instance, is a wonder machine that solves any plot puzzle for which the author couldn’t think of an idea, providing the next clue on the trail. I would have also liked to see more of the mother and the important demons to give them more impact in the end. The mother especially needed more chapters.
Contrary to my machine gun of negatives, The Promised Neverland is a good manga I recommend to anyone unless you didn’t care for the first season. It’s a page-turner, the demon culture is interesting, you feel for the main characters (the cast is too big to care for the rest), and the action is solid. Oh, nice art too – love the full-page illustrations before each chapter. Meanwhile, the only good element of The Promised Neverland Season 2 is the opening song.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. Read The Promised Neverland manga instead.
Ghost Stories is a rubbish anime. The characters are forgettable, the horror is laughable, the mysteries put one to sleep, and the art is crap. Watch it in English, however, and Ghost Stories is a great anime. If you haven’t heard of this gem, Ghost Stories was a flop in Japan (shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with eyes and ears) and the studio said that ADV, the dubbing company, could do whatever they wanted to the show as long as they followed three rules. Don’t change names, don’t change how the ghosts die (part of the Japanese folklore), and don’t change the meaning of each episode. Other than that, fair game. And they were merciless.
What resulted was one of the most hilarious anime ever made in the style of an “abridged” parody series, before abridged anime were all the rage. Almost all dialogue was improvised, and since they record dubs one actor at a time (to match the visual timing), whoever got in the booth first for a scene, set the improv direction and the rest played off it. They just had to follow the purpose of the scene.
When told they could change anything except for the above three rules, they took that to heart. None of the original feel or tone of Ghost Stories remains in the dub, much to everyone’s delight.
The most notable change is personalities. Gone are the clichéd and bland school kids. In are the most offensive twerps since South Park. The protagonist has a mouth to make a sailor blush, a true hatred for lesbians, and is obsessed with her body. Her younger brother is retarded (literally) mumbling gibberish that gets more incomprehensible as he grows upset. Only she can decipher his speech. The love interest is a degenerate perv, while the nerd is even more stereotyped and Jewish, thus the butt of Jew jokes (like South Park). My favourite is the prim and proper girl turned into a fanatical born again Christian, calling everything a sin and reminding you every second of every day that you must find Jesus. Each line out of her mouth cracks me up.
The humour is more than offensive jokes. There are pop culture references, social commentaries, mocking of anime clichés, and meta humour on the atrocious animation quality of Ghost Stories. The mockery of the lip flaps always gets me. The animation was clearly a rush job and is perfect fodder for the actors. Lip flap matching is far superior in the improvised dub than it is in the structured original.
Looking at the Japanese version, Ghost Stories is a total snooze fest. The structure is that of a “monster of the week” type, with a new haunting for the kids to investigate each episode and it couldn’t be more paint-by-numbers. This isn’t a case where the original is “so bad it’s good” and the dub parodies it. No, the original is mind numbing – certainly not helped by the art either. Character faces aren’t even consistent from scene to scene. I’m not convinced they had an art director on staff. What truly baffles me though is the ending theme song. I first thought it was part of the parody with lyrics like, “I miss you, I miss you. I need you, I need you. Sexy, sexy!” Lost my mind when I discovered it’s the original song. Whose idea was that!? Keeping it for the dub only makes it better.
Ghost Stories is a wild ride. Even if the humour isn’t to your taste, it’s still an interesting study for a few episodes in how it changed between versions. A few “best of” clip compilations are also available on YouTube if you don’t want to watch the full 19 episodes.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A must watch in dub. Ghost Stories is legendary in anime circles for a reason.
Captures the feel of noir, spy thrillers, and supernatural mysteries
High quailty art
Before you go any further, just read Billy Bat. This is a manga best experienced with no prior knowledge of the ride – don’t even read the blurb. Do I recommend it? Absolutely. However, should you be someone who doesn’t take a recommendation on blind faith, then read on. I won’t be spoiling anything outside of a normal review.
Billy Bat blends reality with fiction, narrative with meta, and delivers a riveting story. The first chapter (seriously, don’t read further if you want to go in blind) opens on a bat detective called Billy answering the request of a gruff dog to tail his flirtatious poodle wife, a dame with too much beauty for her own good. Little does Billy know, he isn’t the only one on the case. A grander conspiracy unfolds until…the art loses colour? The line work turns to sketches. We zoom out of Billy’s world and into a messy artist’s studio in America, where a man hunches over his drafting table as he desperately tries to conclude the latest chapter of his comic book series, Billy Bat. This artist is Kevin Yamagata.
As if his deadline wasn’t enough, two police officers come knocking and commandeer his studio for a stake out, observing a supposed Russian spy in the next building. The Red Scare is in full effect. Furthermore, one officer claims to have seen Billy Bat’s logo scratched on a wall in Japan, years before the start of the comic. How is that possible? Kevin flies to Japan to investigate. He has no idea what he’s in for.
I didn’t know what I was in for with Billy Bat. Coming from Naoki Urasawa, the mind behind Monster and Pluto, I had high expectations yet no idea what to expect. I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what wild turn this ride would take next.
This story draws on real world conspiracies from the assassination of JFK to the moon landing, including real people from history as key characters in the tale. The conspiracies go far deeper than you know! Importantly, Urasawa doesn’t just take the events and people from history in lazy manner, doing no work for himself. The way they incorporate into the greater Billy Bat mystery is compelling. Familiarity with the true stories makes it even better, as you know what is going to happen, yet you don’t, not really, because you have to account for Billy.
The mystery is so winding that if you read the first volume then jumped to the middle of the story, you would have no idea how it got there. I haven’t even mentioned the parallel stories across time. On paper, Billy Bat may sound overwhelming with so many characters across a dozen plot threads in different timelines, but Urasawa handles this many-pieced puzzle with such deftness that it’s easy to keep up. There are only a couple of moments of confusion.
If you’re familiar with the author’s other works, you already know to what I refer. Hell, you probably aren’t reading this because you took my advice to skip this review and go for the manga. For newcomers to his work, Monster is an easier place to start, though it is much darker (and quite different) or you could go for Pluto, a shorter manga but again, quite different.
There isn’t much more I can say about Billy Bat without giving it all away. The art is top notch, of course, as expected from Urasawa. It’s a pleasure to read his work every time. Hope you enjoy this or one of his other works as much as I do.
Art – Very High
Story – Very High
Recommendation: Must read. Unless you don’t like mind-bending stories whatsoever, I see no reason not to read Billy Bat.
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.
* * * * *
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.
* * * * *
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.
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.