Tag Archives: Post-Apocalyptic

Set after the world has been ravaged by calamity.

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.

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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.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Induces Stupidity

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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.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Terrible StartUseless Side Cast