Tag Archives: Post-Apocalyptic

Set after the world has been ravaged by calamity.

Future Boy Conan – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mirai Shounen Conan

 

Related: Future Boy Conan 2: River Adventure (sequel)

Similar: Castle in the Sky

Now and Then, Here and There

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Art holds up.
  • High-energy adventure.

Negatives:

  • Beyond suspension of disbelief.
  • Several bad performances.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So as it turns out, Future Boy Conan isn’t related to Detective Conan. When the dear reader that requested this informed me this was Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut, my first thought was, “Huh, I didn’t know he worked on Detective Conan. Then again, it’s such a long series – nearing 1000 episodes and over two-dozen movies – that everyone probably worked on it at some point.” The mistake isn’t isolated to me apparently, as some wikis will mention, “Not to be confused with Detective Conan.” So…my bad?

Future Boy Conan is near as un-detective-like a story as you can imagine. It takes place in the post-apocalypse of WW3 after a mega-weapon wiped half the planet, sunk several continents, and shifted Earth’s axis. Attempts at fleeing into space failed. One such rocket crash-landed on an island, which the survivors called home as they waited for inevitable extinction. However, a baby boy was born that would soon discover they weren’t as alone as originally thought.

A chance encounter with the girl Lana fleeing from Industria, the last evil corporation, leads the boy Conan off his island and onto a grand adventure, sailing from island to island with a colourful cast of characters to meet along the way.

This is anime firmly made for kids as dictated by Miyazaki when he changed the tone of the source material. In the original novel, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key, the world is one of pessimism with little hope for the characters. Miyazaki didn’t want to inflict this on children, so flipped it to optimism, dropped Conan’s age by a demographic and gave him ten times the energy and enthusiasm. With Miyazaki’s goal in mind, it was the correct choice. I can’t imagine many kids would have enjoyed the original grimness aimed at teenagers.

However, I do feel he went a little too far. Conan is so energetic that he borderlines on annoying – made worse by the acting performance – and goes far beyond the boundaries of suspension of disbelief. Conan is freakishly strong. He has the strength of 20 men, able to throw boulders, haul great white sharks, leap 50 metres to an aircraft taking off, and hold onto the wings at speed. All fiction requires some measure of lenience if you wish to enjoy anything ever created, but this too much without some plausible explanation. Lana’s psychic ability to communicate with seagulls and see through their eyes is more believable.

I don’t imagine kids would have a problem with this. Looking back on some of the shows I loved as a kid but wouldn’t watch anymore, it’s shocking how much I bought into the action they sold us.

I would be able to look past this, with effort, if the story and other characters appealed to me. But much like the two leads, everything here is tailored for kids. The environmental message is black and white, Industria is a Big Bad with little nuance, and the story prioritises adventure over characters and plotting. It’s for kids, so of course! It’s natural.

I’m not suggesting that any who enjoy this anime are children. Rather, I’m saying it’s unlikely to have adult appeal unless you watched it as a child, already bonded to the series, or you are in it for the intellectual curiosity of seeing Miyazaki’s directorial debut.

That latter angle does have appeal to me. You can see the roots of his future films growing here, not least of which is the environmentalism, a theme he has since overused through several stories that feel like iterations of each other. The captain of an enemy ship, and my favourite character, feels the most Ghibli-like of the cast. Your ability to love him despite being a villain is a studio trademark. And of course, you will find many “kid moments” that make the younger cast feel more like real kids. It’s not as perfected as later seen in the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away, but that charm is there.

The least Miyazaki element comes in the form of the caveman child Jimsy, who has a tobacco addiction and gets drunk. After Miyazaki’s objection to pessimism for children, he is a surprising addition. Not a bad character, though unexpected from a director so squeaky clean.

Future Boy Conan was alright for me in the end. I am glad to have marked it off my list, but I have no inclination to watch the sequel.

Art – High

For its year of 1978, Future Boy Conan’s art was an achievement. It isn’t anything special compared to today or to anime movies, but to have plenty of animation, detailed environments, and consistency throughout is impressive for an old series. The only major flaw is the lack of lighting and shadows on characters (it multiplies cel painting times to accomplish), which makes them standout more from the background than they should.

Sound – Medium

The acting is a mixed bag. Some are great, like the captain and Lana, while others aren’t easy on the ears. Conan himself has the worst performance – more screeching than acting.

Story – Medium

A boy’s encounter with a girl propels him into a conflict against the last corporation of evil in this post-apocalyptic world. An adventure story through and through, Future Boy Conan’s appeal towards children likely won’t attract older viewers beyond the director’s pedigree.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Miyazaki fans only. I can only recommend this to those looking to see Miyazaki is his first directorial role (and to kids, but I don’t think they read these reviews). If you want a shorter version, see Castle in the Sky.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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High School of the Dead – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakuen Mokushiroku: High School of the Dead

 

Similar: High School DxD

Gantz

School Live!

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Harem Supernatural Action Horror

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The otaku.

Negatives:

  • Every other character.
  • Takes itself too seriously.
  • Zombies aren’t a real threat.
  • No effort fan service.
  • Episode 4 recap in a 12-episode series.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I watch a trashy anime expecting silly fan service and dumb action against zombies, but all I get is trash? What is this nonsense? High School of the Dead should have made for a great terrible anime that has you laugh at its ludicrousity. What it presents us instead is trash that takes itself too seriously and fails to understand everything about its genre.

A sudden zombie attack on the high school leaves a group of teenagers and a few staff members as survivors in a society descended into madness. It’s a fight for survival as they flee in search of loved ones.

 

The main group consists of Mr Bland the usual harem protagonist, useless main girl, a kendo girl (obviously), a fat otaku, some screeching wench, and the dumbest nurse alive (perhaps literally, at this point). Of this group, the otaku is the only passable character. He represents a glimpse at what High School of the Dead should have been.

You see, every other character is taken seriously. I don’t mean a joke played with a straight face. Rather, the series expects us to take the kendo girl choosing to fight with a wooden training sword for her life, wearing nothing but an apron and panties, as serious. It demands that we pay attention to teenage whining about which nobody cares (reason enough to take your own life after listening to them). The screeching wench, a totally serious character, has the defining trait of yelling at everyone that she is smarter than the rest. If High School of the Dead understood itself, it would have killed her in the first episode for doing something stupid. And finally, how can anyone take the zombies seriously when they can neither see nor smell people? No one would die to these things. You need skill on the level of Shaun of the Dead to make this work.

 

The otaku stands alone as he has some fun and cracks jokes in this borefest of an anime. He finally has opportunity to put his gun obsession to use when the world goes to hell, relishing in shoving a nail gun up zombie arse. He’s also – seemingly – the one character to acknowledge the ecchi. It isn’t some running joke that everyone is blind to it either. Again, we are meant to take it seriously.

The ecchi and fan service in general is garbage, even by the standards of a fan service anime. (Don’t you have to be a fan for it to be a service, and who would be a fan of High School of the Dead?) The camera does all it can to focus on the flailing boobs and pantie shots. Every movement has to have jiggle that puts Dead or Alive to shame. If there is no jiggle, the world will end. It doesn’t try to do anything clever with the ecchi, surprise you with a sudden angle change, or make a joke of it. I cannot recall an ecchi joke save one – the sniper rifle support. Mr Bland uses a girl’s chest as a rest to steady his rifle in one scene. Naturally, because they take the scene seriously, it loses the humour anyway. It was genuinely funnier when I saw that scene as an out of context gif.

 

I guess there is the recurring joke of the school nurse with boobs so big she uses them as pillows when asleep at her desk, but the joke is just that she’s a bimbo every episode. If I were a fan service otaku, I would feel insulted by the laziness with which High School of the Dead treats the sacred art. This is Boobs the anime and they couldn’t even get that right. Did I mention episode 4 is a recap in this single-cour anime? The lazy is almost impressive.

If you want to see the “raunchy + undead” concept done right, look to the movie Lesbian Vampire Killers, which is not only hilarious but also far less safe for work. It knows how to make humour of fan service.

 

Art – Medium

The entire budget went into the jiggle physics and the action, which has plenty of animation, though is a bit jerky at times – needs more in-between frames.

Sound – Low

The acting and music are so-so. Certainly not the worst things about this anime.

Story – Very Low

A group of slutty high school kids and their bimbo school nurse try to survive the zombie outbreak with their jiggle and panties. High School of the Dead is trash that fails to understand fan service, comedy, and zombies.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. There must better fan service anime out there than High School of the Dead. I do recommend the movie Lesbian Vampire Killers instead, and Shaun of the Dead of course.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous ActionInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersUseless Side Cast

Samurai Jack – Cartoon Review

Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 62 episodes (5 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Incredible style from top to bottom.
  • Balance of humour, action, and emotion.
  • AKU!
  • Less is more to perfection.

Negatives:

  • I can’t think of anything notable.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Samurai Jack is a unique show. I wager you won’t find its likeness just anywhere. From its striking visual style to its storytelling through sound and silence with little dialogue, this cartoon is a once every few generations type of art piece.

We follow Jack, a samurai thrown from his time into the future by the shape-shifting master of darkness, Aku. Jack must find a way back to the past to finish the job he started and stop Aku. His journey will take him to the far corners of the world, where Aku’s evil weighs heavily on all. This isn’t Jack’s world anymore. Robots, aliens, and all manner of beasts roam the world now.

Samurai Jack’s brilliance is in the cohesion of its every facet, each unique in style, yet brought together to perfection. The animation fluidity is low, for instance, but it’s sharp execution combined with precise editing gives it weight and impact, so much so that to improve the fluidity to the level of, say, a Ghibli film wouldn’t look right anymore. In fact, increasing the quality as they did for the final season could have been a disaster. Not the case, thankfully.

Genndy Tartakovsky has a style to his cartoons that extracts every grain of quality from a limited budget. It wouldn’t work without all elements uniting as one. Had the editing been off, the limited animation would stand out. It would have felt cluttered had there been more dialogue and sound. Genndy likes to give his scenes breathing time with subtle visual and auditory humour. When Jack meets a trio of talking dogs, everything stops for a long time to allow Jack’s awkwardness in this new world to sink in. It’s nothing but Jack looking left and right as club music pounds outside the booth. Less is more seems to be Genndy’s life motto.

Then when the action starts, the gear shifts into overdrive. Quick cuts, multi-panel shots, and single sound actions take over to give us the most tightly edited action scenes in animation. Samurai Jack never ever wastes your time. Watch the following video of a fight between Jack and a ninja to see what I mean.

It draws inspiration from many styles cinema and world culture. You will find influence from Kurosawa films, anime (Jack fights in a mecha samurai one episode), noir, cyberpunk, Ghibli, silent film, Star Wars, comic books, aboriginal art, and the list goes on. It would take several viewings to find them all. More importantly, this show succeeds in making them work together.

The future Earth in Samurai Jack is a post-apocalyptic melting pot that allows the series to bring you something new each episode. One episode could be in a city out of Blade Runner and the next could have Jack meeting a caveman. The overarching story is to defeat Aku, while the episodic plot is about Jack helping the many peoples and societies affect by Aku’s tyranny. This episodic structure allowed you to watch any episode back in the days when we were slaves to the TV schedule. Only the final season weaves ongoing narrative each episode, required in the build up to the finale.

This plethora of locations and characters to choose from also gives us great variety in the types of episodes. One has Jack polymorphed into a chicken, where he is kidnapped and forced into cock fighting. Sounds weird? It works. I imagine the production team kept thinking of crazier and weirder ideas for the series just to see if they could make it work. How about an episode that breaks the mould of minimal dialogue? Jack encounters a Scotsman that has the longest insults you’ve ever had the fortune to hear. He’s loud, brusque, and aggressive – Jack’s opposite. Hey, it works. Can we get Jack to join the mafia? Sure, let’s do it.

One of my favourite episodes has to be the season one finale, where Aku recites fairy tales to children with him featured as the hero or Jack as the evil villain. “Once upon a time there was a little girl with an adorable red cape, and great flaaaming eyebrows!

Aku is a brilliant villain. He may be the all-powerful evil of the universe, but he is so much fun! Every scene with the guy is a riot. He is a villain that loves being evil, but he has his share of problems too. His inability to catch Jack has him depressed at times, so he sees a therapist. It’s a clone of himself… Perfect.

Think about this: they managed to have a villain that kills indiscriminately in a kid’s cartoon. It should traumatise kids, but due to the careful balance with humour, it succeeds. Samurai Jack is full of humour, and yet full of emotion. It reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist in how it balanced both ends.

And here we arrive at Jack himself. He could have easily been a standard protagonist surrounded by a brilliant series, someone we would remember for the series not for the character. Genndy could have gotten away with the cultural encounters and odd scenarios to keep us engaged. Most cartoon protagonists for kids don’t have much depth to them. It’s about the whole package of the cartoon rather than the character. However, Jack has the qualities of a character worthy of any drama series. He breaks, he falls, he thinks it all too much, especially when he arrives so close to success and it slips through his fingers. It is in his effort to stand back up that we see a complete character.

Samurai Jack adapts Bushido culture better than most anime. The final season in particular draws on the earthly and the mystical aspects of the samurai legend. His culture is at the core of his character, yet he is a character out of his time where such a culture no longer exists. The internal conflict that arises is fantastic. As I said – could have gotten away without it, but that extra effort elevates this show into the hall of excellence and makes it one worth remembering.

I have no notable complaints with Samurai Jack. At most, I could say some episodes aren’t as good as others, though that’s an occasional drop to 95% quality. Not a real complaint, is it? There was a time when I could bemoan its incomplete state, but after a 13-year wait, Genndy gave us the conclusion to the samurai’s journey. It was everything I had hoped for.

Art – Very High

Samurai Jack needs to be seen to appreciate the quality of its visuals, thanks in no small part to the sharp animation, pinpoint editing, and cinematic flair. I love the character designs – identifiable, distinct silhouettes, and it all fits together, from the caveman to the robot assassin.

Sound – Very High

Phil LaMarr as Jack and the late Mako as Aku – a perfect match. The stellar sound mixing matches the editing style. Minimalist, restrained, and flawless.

Story – Very High

A samurai searches for a way back to the past to save the ruined future from a master of darkness. You could watch any episode of Samurai Jack and have a great time. Why do that though, when you can watch all of them?

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. There is nothing else like Samurai Jack.

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

Positive:

CharmExtensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPhenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Ergo Proxy – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ergo Proxy

 

Similar: Psycho-Pass

Serial Experiments Lain

Texhnolyze

Ghost in the Shell

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 23 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Delightfully grim art.
  • The side story episodes.
  • Moments of brilliance.

Negatives:

  • Muddle storytelling obfuscates greatness.
  • Several useless episodes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

One of humanity’s last civilisations resides within the domed city of Romdo, where robots called AutoReivs supplement the low population on the path to humanity’s recovery. When a virus begins to infect these robots, Re-l Mayer gets on the case with her AutoReiv Iggy, but the case grows beyond her imagination and out of her control when a sentient and independent robot confronts her at home.

Despite what the setup may tell you, Ergo Proxy isn’t a crime series along the lines of Psycho-Pass and Ghost in the Shell. This focuses on the psychological, taking Re-l, Iggy, and AutoReiv engineer Vincent on a mind-altering adventure into the heart of Romdo and beyond its walls.

A favourite old movie of mine is Logan’s Run, which also uses the premise of escaping humanity’s last bastion, a domed city where the rulers justify the control they exert over the people. Such a similarity had me excited for Ergo Proxy, as did the dark style. I love the AutoReiv designs – they recall Jhin from League of Legends. Their masks give the feeling that they’re hiding something, made even more suspicious by their “natural” personalities. Iggy follows the rules to the letter, though will bend if you present a loophole.

The story starts strong with plenty of intrigue. No one believes Re-l’s story of the demonic ‘Proxy’ AutoReiv and someone has modified Iggy’s memory. The journey beyond the dome continues the intrigue. However, it isn’t long before the story takes a backseat to psychology. Rather than weave it into story, Ergo Proxy pauses to dump psychology through a jumble of mind-numbing scenes.

Have you ever watched two similar stories, found one engaging and the other boring or difficult to finish, and couldn’t put your finger on what made the difference? They were both well made and had good actors, so why weren’t they of equal quality? It’s in the storytelling techniques. You often see this distinction between great crime serials and the mediocre. The better series will show you the criminal mind and the detective’s process, whereas the other will sit you down and tell you what you should take away from the drama. Ergo Proxy has this problem with its psychology.

It’s hard to convey without showing the series, so I will use an example. One character suffers from an identity crisis with possible split-personality disorder. Instead of showing us this condition, this character has another character over the shoulder saying, “This is not your true self. The other you is your reality. Search your feelings; you know it be true,” (or something similar). For two episodes! It is nonsensical babbling, unneeded because later episodes gives us the relevant information again. This isn’t the only instance.

Ergo Proxy strikes at mind-bending scenarios about mistaken identities, existential crises, and philosophy, but it often gets lost in itself at the expense of cohesion. This results from being ‘too close’ to the art as the creator. When you write a story, you become the worst person to check if it makes sense, for the complete, sensible story in your mind automatically fixes any problems on the page before you have a chance to notice them.

Oddly enough, side episodes with no direct story relevance are my favourite. One episode has Vincent participate in a quiz show with the questions revealing lore and history about the world. A later episode is set in a bizzaro Disneyland, where the animal mascots are real, as made by a tyrannical Walt Disney. These episodes are refreshing in their clarity and fast pace. Yes, they are allegories about the society in which they live and they still have undercurrents of psychology, just without the drudgery.

I heard someone say that to “get” Ergo Proxy you must understand all of its symbolism and metaphors, which isn’t true. The core plot is a simple one of identity crisis – the symbolism is mere fluff that impedes more than it assists.

The psychological focus over crime wasn’t a mistake – I love psychology – but the narrative techniques to convey this psychology were a mistake. Some would have you believe that Ergo Proxy is a truly mind boggling experience requiring a very high IQ and a solid grasp in theoretical physics to appreciate its subtle genius. Is it pretentious? No, I wouldn’t say so. You don’t get the sense that Studio Manglobe wanted to come across as artsy. They tried something different and it simply didn’t work as well as they had hoped. They were too caught up in the process to step back and see what worked.

Art – High

The dark and grim visual style is perfect for Ergo Proxy and it has great cinematography.

Sound – Medium

I love the choir music. The acting is good in either language – needs a tighter script.

Story – Medium

In a domed city of people and robots, a routine investigation leads a woman to question her world and venture beyond the city walls. Ergo Proxy’s good ideas lie behind walls of unsound storytelling techniques that make it an effort to finish.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Ergo Proxy has limited appeal, but this psychological tale’s strange world and style will enrapture a select few.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Girls’ Last Tour – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

Made in Abyss

Mushishi

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction Mystery Adventure

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Adorable characters with a great dynamic.
  • Angelic music.
  • Doesn’t drag.

Negatives:

  • Needs more atmosphere.
  • Little environmental storytelling.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The city once stood grand, an industrious marvel that reached for the skies and bustled with life. Now, the only life you will find, apart from the howling blizzard, is the low rumble of a tread bike as it grinds over rubble and under fallen girders. Listen carefully and you may even catch the sound of laughter from two girls. Chi and Yuu might be the last people alive.

By all indications, Girls’ Last Tour shouldn’t have worked with me. I don’t like those plot-light ‘do nothing’ anime that use the excuse of “It’s meant to be like that!” for the utter lack of depth, purpose, or interesting characters. Girls’ Last Tour succeeds by having those three elements. Who would have guessed that was the secret.

The series works, at its core, thanks to the two girls, whom are a delight to be around. Chi is the brain, focused and prepared, while Yuu is the brawn, asleep and hungry, and the two complement each other well. If you’re going to have two characters together all the time, they had better work. These two are adorable.

Each episode has the girls travelling to a new place as they search for supplies and explore the fallen city. The content is light – one episode is about them making music with the sound of rain falling on tin cans. Another centres on them learning to use a digital camera. You know, wholesome stuff. These may sound dull – they do to me – but the pacing sells it. These episodes don’t drag. The story doesn’t force itself to extend the girls crafting a makeshift hot bath in an abandoned factory for 20 minutes just because that’s an episode’s runtime. The stories vary in length, often paired together to fit the length of an episode. When a story does take longer, it makes the effort to include more drama – not too heavy, mind you – that deserves the minutes.

A curse of plot-light anime is the feeling that they aren’t going anywhere, particularly when they are set in one location. Each new episode feels more and more like a repeat. Girls’ Last Tour is always on the move and showing us something new each episode. As I came to realise this, I found myself looking forward to the next episode because I trusted the show not to waste my time. I relaxed.

The world has good ambiance. It reminds me of a collapsed Soviet Russia blanketed in perpetual snow. There’s a story to it, a mystery. However, it doesn’t make enough use of environmental storytelling. For example, in the game The Last of Us, you come across animals from the African savannah among city ruins in America. Without a word, this tells us a story of what happened to the zoo when society collapsed. Girls’ Last Tour should have used this technique more. It gives titbits – no more.

The atmosphere is in a similar situation. There is enough of it to say Girls’ Last Tour has an atmosphere, yet with room for so much more. It covers the basics of blizzards, rain, and silence. Why not go deeper? What about that specific sound of wind howling through damaged pipes? How does it sound through a collapsed high rise with shattered windows? Are there any insects around? Can one hear the slow creaking of a bridge on the verge of collapse? A greater atmosphere remains hidden in there somewhere.

Girls’ Last Tour is a surprise success nonetheless. It doesn’t overdo the cuteness, it keeps moving, and the girls a bundle of wholesome fun.

Art – Medium

The character designs are adorable. I’m not one for moe designs, as my regular readers know, but these work. Their heads look like mochi! The artists must have had fun designing the world, desolate and mysterious. However, they could have worked in more environmental storytelling.

Sound – High

The two actresses for the girls work great together. Good thing they do, for there isn’t much more beyond them. I like the angelic music, one of the few atmosphere-contributing elements of the series.

Story – Medium

Two girls tour the ruins of their once thriving city in a quest for fun and hope. A lack of drag and the inclusion of mystery on the move lifts Girls’ Last Tour among other plot-light anime.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For fans of calm anime. Girls’ Last Tour won’t blow your socks off, but its fun characters and light mystery will make you feel wholesome by the end.

(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