Tag Archives: Post-Apocalyptic

Set after the world has been ravaged by calamity.

Now and Then, Here and There – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku

 

Similar: Grave of the Fireflies

Vision of Escaflowne

Future Boy Conan

Bokurano

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Drama Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Grim environments.

Negatives:

  • Little world building.
  • Doesn’t go far enough.
  • Uninspired and cheap character art.
  • Protagonist isn’t quite right.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When you set your story in a dystopian world where children kill each other, you must have your child characters kill each other. It is not enough to say that it happens in the world, yet somehow doesn’t happen around your characters. If you say the world is cruel, that is how cruel you must be as a writer. Now and Then, Here and There fails in this regard.

Our story starts in Japan with ordinary boy Shu going through an ordinary day, until he sees a blue-haired girl by the name of Lala-Ru. While defending her from attack, he is transported to another world, where water is most precious and drives war. That girl he was with, she can unleash water from her pendant and control it, making her priceless, especially to the mad king Hamdo. Shu meets another girl while imprisoned. She is Sara, who also teleported from Earth and is trapped in this desolate world. It’s not long before Shu’s captors conscript him into a child soldier army, whose primary job is pillaging villages for women to force into breeding more soldiers for Hamdo’s army.

As you can see above, Now and Then seems like a suitably grim tale, so how does it fail? Well, for a story about child soldiers, they don’t kill much.

Take a moment with me to imagine that everything in the blurb above described an adult male joining an army of adults in a world war. How much killing would you expect in such a story? Tons – you wouldn’t even have to think about it. Every WW1/2 movie on the frontlines kills people by the hundreds in a single scene. Now think of a child soldier army in WW1 – would the killing be any less? No. Of course, Now and Then’s world has a small population, but you can use relative scaling. The fundamental problem with this anime finds its roots in how lenient it is on its characters. Yes, even with one of them being raped (she has the arc that matches the premise most).

In the Warhammer 40k universe – the grimmest of all fiction universes – you don’t get stories of peace, of happy times, of paradise. “In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war,” is its tagline and therefore, paradise has no place in Warhammer 40k stories. If Now and Then’s author wasn’t willing to kill paradise and its children, he shouldn’t have written this story.

If I may divert towards Shu for a moment, I want to talk of his problems in this story. He isn’t a good fit, which is an odd thing to say, for he is by design an outsider to this foreign world. His starting point as an eternal optimist (read: every battle shounen protagonist) is fine and juxtaposes the grimness. Unfortunately, he doesn’t change with the experiences in this world, unlike Sara, the superior character. Shu’s reactions to this world are too…normal.

His obsession with Lala-Ru also makes it difficult to find emotional resonance. She has no personality. The author may as well have removed her and had just the pendant as the maguffin – wouldn’t have removed any emotion.

The war and the world suffer similar fates. Despite the widespread conflict, Hamdo’s flying fortress, and all the characters, this world doesn’t feel lived in. I can best describe it as a bunch of actor on stage with naught save a nice backdrop. You never get the sense that they are in the world of that backdrop. This all ties back to my earlier criticism of the characters. Without an emotional connection to the characters, the world, and the conflict, it all ends with a void, a void filled by niceties that shouldn’t be here.

Now and Then is halfway there. Some events are horrific and a reveal at the end of a supporting character’s arc is perfect for the genre. But where Now and Then fails, is in showing us the gravity of these moments. When a child shoots someone, it doesn’t feel like a traumatic event. When someone dies, it has the same impact as a throwaway character from the likes of Aldnoah.Zero or any ‘kids in war’ anime. And if this were pitched as a story like those action shounen, it could get away with a lower emotional ceiling. Now and Then, Here and There should be heart-wrenching.

It isn’t.

Art – Very Low

No detail to the poorly designed characters. The colouring is flat. They used the least animation they could get away with. While the backgrounds look great, everything else is cheap.

Sound – Medium

The main kid has an annoying voice in either language – trying too hard. Other voice work is fine. Watch it in Japanese.

Story – Medium

A boy finds himself transported to a world where water means everything, and beside him is a girl that can control water. Now and Then, Here and There’s dystopian tale of child soldiers and war doesn’t go far enough to earn the premise it presents.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. You have to be a fan of the genre to find your time worthwhile with Now and Then, Here and There. See Grave of the Fireflies for how far it should have gone.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World Building

Attack on Titan Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2

 

Related: Attack on Titan Season 1

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – Medium

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

Story – Low

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

Overall Quality – Low

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

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Deus Ex MachinaNo Development

School-Live! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakkougurashi!

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Higurashi: When They Cry

High School of the Dead

Perfect Blue

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Mystery Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good contrast.
  • The opening sequence.

Negatives:

  • Moe over world building.
  • Beach episode.
  • Unexplored psychosis.

(Request an anime for review here.)

NOTE: In order to review School-Live, I must spoil an early point in the series. If you want to go in blind, do not read further.

Though the ‘moe gone dark’ genre is a congregation of mediocrity, whenever a new one releases, I can’t help but give it a shot. I try to ignore it, but it keeps nudging me, “Hey, I might be as good as Madoka Magica. You won’t know until you watch me. Eh? Eh?Yeaaaargh…alright. School-Live, show me what you got.

Four girls and a teacher find themselves trapped inside their school after a zombie outbreak. As the last survivors in the area, they hole up and do their best to make school a home, going out on excursions for supplies. School-Live’s angle to stand out lies in its protagonist, Yuki. She has no idea they live in a zombie apocalypse. The ruined school is still whole, the zombies are still her classmates, and the foraging excursions are merely class trips or ‘Tests of Courage’. Well, you’ve hooked me.

Unlike other psychosis stories where the mental breakdown is the climactic twist, School-Live reveals the secret in the first episode. It instead focuses on how the characters around Yuki deal with her psychosis. Everyone plays along with her idea that all is normal, which creates great contrast between her happy world and the tragic reality. I felt sorry for her.

And School-Live almost nails it.

Alas, we now turn to the ‘moe’ part of the ‘moe gone dark’ genre. Unlike Madoka, where moe is just the outer shell, the style, School-Live’s moe is the focus. When given the choice to show girls doing moe things or girls developing character, this anime chooses moe nine times out of ten. School-Live is the perfect example of what I mean when I say that moe ruins shows – it’s not the ugly character design or the terrible voices, but the story focus.

Imagine you are on episode 9 out of 12 and so far the series hasn’t given much in the way of backstory or world building, and instead of realising the climax is fast approaching, it gives us a beach episode. Are you serious? You haven’t shown how the world got into this state or how the zombies overcame everything Japan threw at them! If these girls kept the zombies out by stacking a few desks and if they are so slow, so easily distracted, so easily killed, how did anyone fall to them to begin with? It’s not as though these are the Nazi vampires from Hellsing Ultimate – these don’t wield rocket launchers. Zombie apocalypses are flimsy premises to begin with, but School-Live does nothing to suspend our disbelief. Instead, we get a beach episode. Yay…

Inner-character – motivations, secrets, psyche – has toe-deep exploration. Even Yuki, who is so far broken from reality, has little airtime to unravel her psychology. Give us more to believe such a mental block would occur and in this way. School-Live strays close to having this psychosis for shock value only.

The most glaring absence is the lack of development for the students-turned-zombies. When one girl has to kill a former classmate, I do not care because they were never people to begin with as far as story is concerned. They are faceless zombies included to fill the space. No one outside of the main five and one other girl have any story or personality to them. Again, cut a few moe sequences in favour of showing us life pre-outbreak.

Fans of Higurashi will also find some disappointment in how tame School-Live’s horror is. When things should go from 0 to 100 in a split second – like HigurashiSchool-Live reaches 50 before it’s distracted by more moe. I don’t recall a single scary moment. Tension, sure, plenty of that, but no real horror.

School-Live is still a decent anime. Its greatest tragedy comes from how obvious its faults are throughout the story. The manga apparently has many differences, so may be a better use of your time.

Art – Medium

The colourful palette works well contrasted with the ruined environment. Could do without the auras around the zombies – looks silly.

Sound – High

The cutesy VO, mainly for the protagonist, could have been worse for a moe anime. The cheerful OP is so damn catchy. I like how the sequence grows darker each episode, happy scenes replaced by their current state of ruination.

Story – Medium

Four schoolgirls and an airheaded teacher survive a zombie apocalypse inside their high school. School-Live’s great idea does not live up to its potential – less focus on moe next time, please.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For moe-gone-dark fans. If you love the contrast between moe girls and a dark world, then School-Live is another to add to your library. Others will likely feel disappointed by this anime’s shortcomings.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World Building

Log Horizon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Log Horizon

 

Related: Log Horizon 2nd Season

Similar: Sword Art Online

No Game No Life

Overlord

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: MMO Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The politics are interesting.
  • Easy to enjoy.
  • Main party chemistry.

Negatives:

  • So much explaining!
  • Bland action.
  • The kid side characters.

After the colossal dump that was Sword Art Online, I sought an anime that would fulfil the potential of the ‘players stuck in an MMO’ concept. Enter Log Horizon, a highly rated MMO anime. Having completed it, I am convinced its high rating stems largely from the fact that it isn’t as awful as SAO. Now, Log Horizon isn’t bad – it’s decent – but the relief at it not being awful was palpable in the praise I had heard.

Log Horizon opens with hundreds of thousands of players worldwide trapped in the MMO Elder Tale. To these players, the game becomes the real world. We focus on veteran players Shiroe the enchanter and leader, Naotsugu the guardian and self-proclaimed ‘Warrior of Panties,’ Akatsuki the assassin and forced Loli, and eventually Nyanta the swashbuckler cat and chef. They seek a purpose in their new reality.

Although we repeatedly hear of an entire world in this MMO, the story only takes place in a small section of Japan – a missed opportunity to have an expansive world. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my time with Log Horizon if it weren’t for these characters; they aren’t particularly deep or complex, but they are fun to hang around thanks to their natural banter and camaraderie. They aren’t obnoxious or a bloody harem.

Log Horizon’s flaws hit hard and fast. The first few episodes (and regularly beyond), are mired in exposition dumps of no consequence and explanations on how every little thing works in Elder Tale. You have not experienced a swamp of explanations until you watch Log Horizon. A dozen times per fight, the action pauses for Shiroe (usually) to read the ability tooltips.

“Those vines you see tying the opponent to the ground, they restrict player movement!” Oh really? I thought it made players fly. “The big guy with the shield and all that armour is called a ‘Tank,’ okay?” I never would have guessed.

Even someone who has never played an RPG before wouldn’t need the terminology this dumbed down. For a group of top-level players, they speak like noobs.

This swamp results in dull episodes – first third of the season, really. The writers couldn’t stay away from the swamp for long, mind you, as they bring it back several times, just to make the action as bland as possible. Looking past the poor execution of world building, however, and it feels more than an MMO than SAO did. The characters also don’t hack for convenience.

Log Horizon’s differentiating world rules are interesting, most notably, exploration of the game’s mechanics and the surrounding politics. For example, anyone can make food, but it’s flavourless; however, a high-level chef can unlock the recipes and techniques to cook tasty food, which brings pleasure even in the game. It introduces the practice of spending money for pleasure – remember, if one can’t die (no perma-death), the motivation to fight for survival diminishes. Now, players have something to do, build an economy. It sounds meaningless, but it’s actually quite clever, rather than basing every motivation around combat.

Conflict flows from two areas: combat and politics. The combat conflict is generic. Shiroe’s group regularly fights player killers and bullies – rather dull. The politics, on the other hand, bring Log Horizon’s most engaging plot lines. This is a world with no laws or game masters to regulate play, so anything goes as long as it doesn’t break the source code. Of course, this leads to an unfocused, mess of a society, something Shiroe seeks to remedy. Problem is, how do you convince selfish players to care about society? I won’t give the solution away, but it is Log Horizon’s best plotline. The exploration of NPC rights is also fascinating (they always forget the NPCs in anime).

One baffling sub-plot involves the low-level players, the kids. We meet then trapped in a terrible guild that extorts Yakuza “protection fees” in the form of exp-boosting items given to newbies. Shiroe must rescue them, which is interesting if a little illogical. That’s fine, but why keep them around? After the rescue (no surprise), they share near equal time with the main characters. Why? They have nothing to contribute to the plot or the world building. Their episodes are little more than pep talks – so many pep talks! I don’t know if the writer ever played an MMO, but noobs don’t act like that. Perhaps he should have listened in a novice guild’s TeamSpeak (hilarious activity, by the way).

Overall, Log Horizon is an enjoyable anime, an easy experience not requiring much thought. The MMO anime genre still has a long way to go, much of the potential buried under laziness. Hopefully, a talented writer will elevate it to max level someday.

Art – Medium

Log Horizon has a standard art style – these MMO anime look lazily alike. Many still shots, not the most detailed, and ability effects leave more to be desired.

Sound – High

The acting is good, though not particularly interesting outside the political dialogue. The localisers did a great job, substituting Asian MMO terms for phrases familiar to the West. Some good music, particularly OP and ED.

Story – Medium

Hundreds of thousands of players become trapped in an MMO. Log Horizon follows an elite group and their attempts to find purpose in their new lives. Run of the mill MMO anime – better than Sword Art Online.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Log Horizon is one of the better MMO anime (not saying much) and a good place to start if interested in the genre. Those seeking a great MMO anime must wait longer.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Terrible StartUseless Side Cast

Gurren Lagann – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

 

Similar: Kill la Kill

Eureka Seven

Martian Successor Nadesico

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 27 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Energetic in concept and delivery.
  • Kamina is great.
  • Good art and animation, most of the time.
  • Progression.
  • The sexual humour.

Negatives:

  • New abilities spring out of nowhere and get out of control.
  • Bit too much stating the obvious.
  • Dissonance between the serious violence and comedic violence.
  • The action drags.

Alright, take four. I keep hearing of how great this anime is, how funny, how touching, and how developed the characters are, so it’s time to finish this. Gurren Lagann has not been an easy series for me to get into. I have watched the first few episodes three times already, and yet never had the urge to go further. Was it goofy mech designs? Or the flat protagonist? Perhaps the lack of context and reason to care? A combination of all three, I suspect, made Gurren Lagann a challenge. Now that I have finished it for review, what do I think? It’s good…not great, but good.

In a desert world where mankind lives underground, shy kid Simon works as a digger, trusty drill ever-turning in search of treasure. Life is simple, too simple for the likes of Kamina, who ropes Simon into drilling for the surface, where promises of adventure and excitement await. However, a mech-like Beastman attacks their underground village. With the help of their trusty midget mech Lagann and surface dwelling sniper Yoko, they fight of the creature. So begins their fight to regain control of the surface.

I must pause to address the early episodes. The first episode itself is fine – establishes the characters, their situation, and has the call to adventure – but what follows put me to sleep several times. Little but action occupies the show’s first third (could even say two thirds), Now, action isn’t a problem – I love action; however, it needs motive beyond ‘to win/kill the enemy’ – that motive is a given in any action sequence. What lies beyond that base motive? Is an answer at stake? Will a mystery see resolution? Where’s the urgency? These fights become so repetitive in stake, strategy, and execution – enemy appears, they butt heads; enemy appears, they butt heads; and repeat. It doesn’t help that Simon has no dimension to begin with. I get that the hero’s journey starts with a weak hero, but the hero should be interesting and worth cheering for. He’s not annoying or any such thing; he’s just nothing, not a protagonist until the turning point. After that, he’s a good character, yet there were no traces of this early on.

Kamina, on the other hand, carries the early episodes. He’s also weak, a young man chasing his father’s shadow, but makes up for it with humour, overconfidence, and “advice” on being a man in combat. I see they wanted contrast between Kamina and Simon, though unfortunately gave all characterisation to one party. I didn’t buy his romance with Yoko, however. It felt like a Hollywood action film where they get together simply because they are the main male and female. Delete a few scenes, and I wouldn’t have known it was romance instead of friendship.

The humour suffers from a similar imbalance to characterisation. On one side, the non-action humour is hilarious, particularly when pertaining to sex; to the other side, the Looney Tunes action humour doesn’t mesh well with the serious violence – Tom & Jerry humour in Mad Max. The further Gurren Lagann progresses, the less this is a problem.

That could be said about everything in this anime, whether referring to characters, action, mech design, antagonists, or humour. Gurren Lagann’s acts go from low to medium to high in story/character quality. Sadly, one issue that persists is the tendency to make up new rules as it goes along – “this mech can suddenly use this new power,” and such. Working outside the established rules only weakens the impact of victories. Before long, I found myself expecting some newly invented rule to solve the latest dilemma. I wasn’t wrong.

In the end, it boils down to one simple fact: Gurren Lagann is for a younger audience. This is the shounen for those younger viewers who don’t want to suffer hundreds of episodes in a tedious battle anime. Gurren Lagann is of a higher quality than those as well. For myself, I have seen so many anime/TV series/films/games at this point, that if the action is too straightforward, I can’t maintain interest. If I didn’t watch Gurren Lagann for review, I would have left it at a few episodes and not felt like I was missing much.

Art – High

Jarring inconsistency is the art’s greatest problem. At times, the animation is plentiful, fluid, and colourful; other times, the frame rate halves and characters lose all detail. It’s either great or terrible.

Sound – High

Both languages bring the same level of energy and character to the performances. I wish the non-lyrical music weren’t quite so generic like your average action-adventure anime. Characters talk to the camera to state the obvious too often.

Story – High

Dwellers from below ground come to the surface to fight against monsters, unaware much greater threats lurk beyond the horizon. While Gurren Lagann falters several times, it is an overall fun and energetic adventure.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For action fans. With Gurren Lagann aimed at a younger audience, it may not hook older viewers. Give it 3-5 episodes; if the characters don’t make you stay, then it won’t be for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Terrible Start