Tag Archives: Post-Apocalyptic

Set after the world has been ravaged by calamity.

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

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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.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Humanity has Declined – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

 

Similar: Yurikuma Arashi

Penguindrum

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei

Arakawa Under the Bridge

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Post-apocalyptic Fantasy Comedy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Bright and colourful.
  • The manga episodes.
  • Surprisingly good protagonist.

Negatives:

  • Lacks focus.

(Request an anime for review here.)

You know that you’re in for a weird one when a robot loaf of bread ends a tour of the bread factory by telling guests to eat him, and when they refuse, he tears himself apart in agony and blood sprays everywhere. Except, it’s not blood. It’s carrot juice for the kids.

That wasn’t even the first weird moment of Humanity has Declined. In episode 1, the nameless protagonist has to show a village how to do butcher meat because no one can do it anymore in this post-apocalyptic society. For their convenience, an already plucked and headless chicken appears. But first, they have to catch it. Her investigation of where the chicken came from leads to the bread factory, where she meets the lovely loaf mentioned earlier.

Humanity has Declined’s speculation of our future is certainly one of the more unusual versions. Don’t expect much sense – there is no logical leap from our world to the one presented here. It’s a mix of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In this future, miniature fairies run everything with their advanced technology, which humanity relies on due to incompetence and lack of self-sufficiency. The protagonist works as an arbiter for the UN and must be the link between humans and fairies. She knows their secret. Candy is one hell of a drug. It’s stronger than crack to these ever-smiling keychain charm-looking things.

The story’s themes are commentaries on society and culture – the factory arc satires consumerism, for example. The best episodes succeed the factory arc with the resurgence of yaoi manga after a woman called Y discovers an ancient disk of BL material. She “invents” the yaoi serial magazine, taking the world by storm. The first yaoi convention has a queue to the horizon. Unfortunately for her, others get in on the craze and make magazines of their own – satire on the spread of culture. Her love of yaoi gets her and the protagonist trapped inside a manga. What follows is a great meta episode where reality follows the rules of manga, including space confined to the size of panels. The only way out is to become a bestseller by hooking readers for many volumes.

This episode – 4 – is the best, no contest. I love how they use clickbait and the usual nonsense that long running manga resort to for sales numbers. As odd as the manga concept may sound, it’s saner than earlier events. It goes back to crazy afterwards and then to more normal again for the final two episodes at a girls’ boarding school filled with secrets. Humanity has Declined has consistency problems. Half the time it’s random weird thing after the next, leaping from one gag to another. The other half picks a theme to the jokes and sticks to it for a couple of episodes at a time, which allows development of the jokes and the sub-plots. I enjoyed the latter version and could have passed on the former.

Another aspect that doesn’t work for me is the fairies. I enjoy them best in the background, brought out when needed. Episodes that focus on them aren’t interesting because the fairies have the one joke about candy obsession (and their voices drive you insane after a while – explains that scene in the opening sequence).

Humanity has Declined isn’t a long series and the episodes I enjoyed made it worth my time, thanks in no small part to the protagonist. She could have easily been a moe girl enamoured by the fairies and all the weirdness. Instead, it presents this cynical and witty girl that provides a degree of sanity to the audience. You’re going to need it.

Art – High

The colourful pastel art gives a storybook feel – a weird storybook, sure, but a colourful one.

Sound – Medium

The OP is nuts. Expect lots of cutesy VO.

Story – Medium

A girl investigates the candy-obsessed fairies and their technology that makes this post-apocalyptic world go round. Half good and half unfocused, Humanity has Declined is one odd anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the weird and wonderful. You don’t even need to watch an episode to know if Humanity has Declined is for you – the opening sequence will suffice. I recommend episodes 3 & 4 to lovers of meta humour.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Zegapain – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Zegapain

 

Similar: RahXephon

Fafner of the Blue Sky

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A premise worth watching for.

Negatives:

  • Just about everything else.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Look at any poster, video or screenshot of Zegapain. It looks like trash. It requires effort to make characters this generic and to have mecha designs this ugly. This doesn’t happen by accident. The dialogue is just as you imagine accompanying that art. So why would a reader recommend I review Zegapain, likening it to RahXephon in the process? I was even more confused after the first episode – one of anime’s worst starts.

It opens on protagonist Kyo having to kiss a guy disguised as a girl for a student film by his friend Ryoko. He refuses, notices a buxom babe on the high dive outside, strips to his Speedos, and charges off to meet her. (Does he always wear swimmers instead of underwear?) His enthusiasm comes from finding a new recruit to his dying swim club. Next thing he knows, he’s part of a conference call with the military. The girl, Misaki, puts his hand on her boob, pulls him into her chest, and they teleport aboard a mech. (Right…) She tells him to treat the battle like a VR game. I laughed when the mech warns of incoming enemies, but Misaki praises Kyo for spotting them so quickly – girl, he didn’t do anything! He fights perfectly without training. Though there is more to his story, it’s still a cataclysmically stupid idea to bring him to the front line. A better writer would sell the situation.

Before first episode’s end, it is evident that the characters have no depth – I imagine the brainstorm session took five minutes. Only a couple have goals and motivations. The battle tech is a bunch of ‘stuff’ doing ‘things’ cobbled together without thought of how this works or how it came to be.

Needless to say, but Zegapain seems like a bottom-dwelling anime at this point.

However, after a few more battles of floaty CG and meaningless action, Kyo finds a glitch on the battlefield. A message tells him not to believe his world. And that’s where things start to get interesting. We have a Matrix situation here, except he can’t be sure of which world is reality. If his high school is virtual, then who are all these people? And how did the outside world turn to ruin? More and more mysteries unfold as the plot develops, resulting in an intriguing storyline. I’m as astonished as you are.

Of course, it doesn’t erase the fact that the script seems randomly generated or that the characters are surface deep, but this one strength is enough for me to enjoy Zegapain to the end.

Kyo is still a bad protagonist. He’s far too accepting of everything for the convenience of the writer’s laziness. He teleports suddenly from school to the battleship thanks to a gizmo in his forehead, is about to ask where the gizmo came from and how he got it, when he says, “Ah, whatever, it got me here after all.” Even more reason to question it, you idiot! And what is the obsession with returning to this swim club subplot every episode? It doesn’t matter! Hell, why swimming? It isn’t realistic that a swim club in the heat of Japan’s summer would struggle for members. It’s for Misaki in the swimsuit, isn’t it?

Several episodes that lean more slice of life are a waste of time as well and the antagonists are as weak as the heroes. Despite all these faults, something about the reality versus virtual reality plot gets me. It just gets me.

Zegapain is a hidden gem— well, gem is a bit much. More like a peculiar stone on the riverbank with an unusual texture that a few will find interesting.

Art – Very Low

Zegapain approaches Hand Shakers level of CG with its mechs. Furthermore, why make them CG if you aren’t going to take advantage of the easier animation tools? What was the point? The regular art has zero creativity and even randomly drops in quality on occasion.

Sound –Low

The voice actors do the best they can with this bad script. I think the music came royalty free.

Story – Medium

A teen has to distinguish between reality and the virtual world amidst an alien occupation and high school troubles. The characters and action may have no merit, but the plots works well.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Give it a chance. Zegapain is most engaging if you can enjoy a good story in the face of weak characters and ugly art.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous ActionUgly Artistic Design

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri

 

Similar: Attack on Titan

Parasyte -the maxim-

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good art and environmental lighting.
  • Steampunk feudal Japan.

Negatives:

  • Almost everything is clichéd in execution.
  • Idiot plot.
  • No meaningful threats.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress starts at full steam ahead with an intense scene of an armoured train under attack by undead Corpses. One soldier detonates his own heart after a Corpse bites him in front of his comrades.

Once the train arrives in the safety of the city walls for some downtime, the problems come hard and fast. For example, the exposition. Every crewmember has to strip for inspection of bites from Corpses, as they would infect the whole city if gone unchecked. Despite seeing this before us, Ikoma and his sidekick explain this to each other as if they’ve never seen it before, which is a clumsy way of telling the audience. Why do writers keep writing themselves into bad exposition when the visuals do the job?

What follows is a tedious scene for conflict when soldiers shoot an innocent man under suspicion of infection. Its purpose is to give Ikoma a moment to grandstand and play the hero. The problem is that there was no threat and the situation would have resolved by inspection, which they were just doing! An actual threat would serve better – say, a stowaway Corpse.

I pushed this clumsiness aside in the hope that once past introductions and back to the action, Kabaneri would become good again. This hope is dashed with the introduction of Mumei, a cutesy princess-looking girl that feels out of place. She not the right sort of ray-of-sunshine-in-a-grim-world character. To worsen matters, she can kick off a Corpse’s head with her bladed shoe in one swipe. I thought that was ridiculous until episode two had her parkouring through the streets, felling Corpses like zombies out of Left 4 Dead. Why is humanity afraid when one person can take on hundreds? She also has that annoying “I guess I’m strong, whatever…” trait to make her insufferable. The revelation behind her ability is that she’s half Corpse – a Kabaneri. This transformation also occurs to Ikoma.

All the danger presented in the opening scene with Corpses stronger than humans? Gone. Tension? Evaporated.

Not even a train full of Corpses crashing through the city gate can revive the dead intensity. You would imagine that the potential conflict of mistrust from having two Kabaneri on your train of human survivors would be great, but you’d be wrong. The commander locks them up, which is a good start, yet this confinement resolves itself with little effort. Instead, the story focuses on some useless old people that want to stop the train for a funeral for the city’s fallen. Never mind that Corpses are on their trail and that they don’t have enough food to reach the next city at full steam. What is this, a population of idiots?

Everyone foams at the mouth to kill the Kabaneri, but two seconds later, when Mumei kills a Corpse amongst them, they bray for her blood because the Corpse was pregnant, despite the foetus being tainted already. Make up your minds! That’s when I understood this plot: Conflict only exists in this world because the people are all idiots.

The story has no point of redemption. Yes, they introduce stronger undead and a human villain, but no audience would care when it’s all so generic. It’s not clichéd in the right way – it’s not the cliché people pay for when buying a Harlequin Romance. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress cobbles together every mistake that comes from the predictable. You can predict the bad conflict and weak scenarios it will present.

People fight off the undead from fortress trains in a steampunk feudal Japan – sounds awesome, right? I’m not the only one who thinks so, yes? How do you make this so uninteresting? If not great, such a premise should guarantee an entertaining anime, at least, and yet, they didn’t even manage that.

Art – High

Wit Studios’ art style is immediately recognisable, as shared by Attack on Titan. Though Kabaneri doesn’t have all the flash of that anime, it is more consistent in quality, particularly when it comes to the CG. The art evokes strong atmosphere.

Sound – Medium

The music may not be to everyone’s taste, combining orchestral with electronic, which I enjoyed. The voice work is fine, but serves shallows dialogue and characters.

Story – Low

In a steampunk feudal Japan, humanity fights off Corpses from the safety of their mobile rail fortresses. After an intense start, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress derails into a story and characters with no thought beyond the clichés.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress should be great on the premise alone, but its execution is so predictable and banal that you’ll feel like you’ve seen it before.

(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: 

Induces Stupidity