Tag Archives: Psychological

The narrative incorporates elements of the mind to skew reality and perceptions of both characters and audience alike.

Bokurano – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bokura no

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Fafner of the Blue Sky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great opening song
  • Easy premise

Negatives:

  • Every male is evil
  • Every female is meek
  • The structure preceding each death lowers drama and mystery

(Request an anime for review here.)

Bokurano is an easy anime to sell with a premise such as this. A giant machine is the only thing that stands between the monsters and Earth. However, each use of the weapon requires a blood sacrifice. The life of a child. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Alas, here we have a perfect example in the importance of character over premise.

These 15 children don’t have the qualities to make an audience care for their fates and ultimate demises. The boys – bar one – are evil, one of them even forcing himself on a girl. The first episode has one guy slap the life out of the smallest girl and no one does anything about it. “Stop it,” they say with as much energy as a sloth. He will do this again in future, many times. Are we to feel sorry that these kids will die? The girls are all meek, spineless. It takes attempted rape for one to fight back. These kids don’t make sense as friends. I don’t see the point of having 15 kids, other than to give more sacrifices for more episodes, when they are all so similar. For such a group, the logical direction would be to have a variety of personalities. Go for the sentai archetypes. That might come across as generic, but killing them off one at a time is different.

Fewer characters would also help, as it gives more time for development. The structure of Bokurano is to dedicate a couple of episodes leading up to someone’s sacrifice. We see their entire sob story in this time to make us care for the death. This structure has three problems. This first issue is that it lowers the drama and mystery when you already know who will die. The second is that two episodes isn’t enough to kill off what essentially becomes the protagonist for that short time. Two episodes is what you dedicate to the old lady in the village that helped our adventuring party before the villain kills her for information on their whereabouts. The writing also needs a more subtle hand at characterisation. And lastly, most kids disappear from the story until it nears their time to die.

I have the impression that the author had the wrong approach in thinking about this story. Instead of planning for, “Alright, I need to kill someone every second episode or so, because that’s the premise,” one should think of it free from the premise for a second (and cut down the character count). Let’s say you had a party of seven friends and your story idea was to see what it would be like to kill each off one at a time (no special mechanic to kill them), rather than the usual story of everyone surviving to the end with the power of BFF friendship. How would you plot that? Would you kill them off at equal intervals or keep the audience on their toes about who will die and when? Bokurano uses the former method.

It’s hard to describe the boredom in the face of imminent death when a story tells you everything that is yet to pass. Add in the not-so-subtle yet flat characters and I am on cruise control from start to finish. And what’s with all the rapists?

Bokurano isn’t a bad anime. This is a case where every element except for the music (love the OP song) has an obvious flaw weighing it down. Confining everything within this predictable structure just to fit the initial idea of the premise means Bokurano can never be more than average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of Evangelion-like anime. You have to be in it for the premise, as the execution isn’t up to scratch.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Kasane – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Kasane

 

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 126 chapters (14 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • An actually ugly protagonist
  • Compelling page-turner
  • Makes good use of the art of acting
  • Psychologically harrowing

Negatives:

  • Scarce with the subplots

This is why I like to browse manga by random. Sure, I read a lot of crap, but it’s worth it for when I discover a gem that I’ve never heard of before. I love receiving great recommendations. However, there is a different sort of excitement when you realise an art piece is great as you are consuming it. With Kasane by Daruma Matsuura, the cover of the first volume caught my eye for how weird one of the women looked. I considered it was bad art, yet the other woman looked normal. Then I read the blurb and added it to the list.

Kasane is about an ugly girl who loves to act in theatre. When I say ugly, I don’t mean ugly in the film world sense, where a shower, a comb of the hair, and a little make up could turn a girl into a knockout. Kasane is the sort of ugly that no makeover can fix. Her skull misshapen, her mouth too broad and uneven, and her eyes oversized and in the wrong place, Kasane scares people with her appearance. This ugliness is at the heart of what shapes her character and if she could simply powder it away, this story wouldn’t work (more on that later). The first hint that I was in for a great manga was seeing the author’s commitment to the ugliness. How condescending is it when Hollywood tries to pass a gorgeous actress as “the ugly one”?

Kasane is the daughter of a celebrated late actress for both her acting talent and beauty. Her mother left behind a tube of lipstick with instructions that she should apply it and kiss that which she desires. Should Kasane wear the lipstick and kiss another person, they will swap faces and voices for some hours. After a few tastes of what it is to be beautiful, Kasane meets stage actress Nina, a woman with little talent, a lot of pressure to succeed, and stunning beauty (no one gave her the part because she could act). She also suffers from Sleeping Beauty syndrome (can randomly sleep for months on end). So, she makes a deal with Kasane.

“Swap with me when I need to perform and you will live out your dream of a being beautiful actress. In exchange, I get the credit.”

This seems a match made in heaven. However, pretence can never match the real thing, and both women simmer with dark thoughts about the other, especially where it concerns a man they love. The face swap doesn’t require both people to be awake either.

The destructive dependence between these two makes for gripping drama.

The story spirals and the drama rises. I couldn’t stop turning the pages well into the AMs. Kasane starts strong with a brilliant premise that I thought could last a few volumes, so I grew concerned when I saw that it was in fact 14 volumes. You know me, I hate padding and stories that drag. Just when Kasane seems to have run its course, the author adds another layer, and then another. Her mother’s past comes to the fore. Twisted actions perpetuate more twisted behaviour, continuing the cycle of pain, desperation, and loneliness. Other characters become embroiled in this twisted secret and I had to force myself to stop each night.

The best writing has to be Kasane herself. She is both villain and tragic heroine of this tale. I feel both sorry for her and disgusted by her actions. Matsuura presents this deep character with a complex psychology and leaves it to us to agree or disagree with her.

The one area for improvement is in subplots. Kasane’s subplots bar one are quite bare. More subplots wouldn’t have gone amiss either, such as involving law enforcement and the wider world of acting. The story is a little too insular. That said, the main thread is excellent.

One other positive I want to touch on is the use of acting to reinforce the theme of one’s outward appearance contrasted with the inner self. The story wouldn’t have worked near as well to the theme if this centred on something other than acting. They could have had much the same story with an office job, but then you weaken the theme. Matsuura certainly knows a thing a two about acting, incorporating it neatly into Kasane’s plight (whenever an anime/manga involves acting, I fear another Glass Mask).

In the afterword of later volumes, there is mention of a Japanese film adaptation, so once done reading the series, I gave it a gander with one question in mind, “How will they pull off Kasane herself?” The film builds up to the face reveal (Kasane has lank black hair over her face all the time like in the manga) and I nearly died of disappointment. They went full “movie ugly”. The actress has pretty eyes, a perfect jawline, delicate cheekbones, and sculpted lips. A Joker-like scar from the corner of her mouth and up her cheek is all the ugliness she possesses. How are we to believe that Kasane could have such mental damage over her appearance (remember, she repulses everyone) when a bit of theatre makeup could cover a single scar? It undermines the essence that makes this a story. They should have hired the makeup artist from The Elephant Man. An anime adaptation with exaggerated art – preferably directed by Masaaki Yuasa – could do Kasane justice.

Art – High

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. This tragic page-turner of a psychological drama is a hidden gem I recommend to all (except children).

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: MEMORIES

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Perfect Blue

Akira

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 50 min. (3 short films)

 

Positives:

  • Magnetic Rose’s atmosphere and horror
  • Stink Bomb’s dark humour
  • Beautiful, grim art

Negatives:

  • Cannon Fodder has little to it

(Request an anime for review here.)

Memories is an anthology of three short films that brings together several big talents of the anime industry. All three are based on manga works from executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo (director of Akira), however are directed by three different directors.

Magnetic Rose, first of the three, comes from director Koji Morimoto (animator of Akira, Kiki’s Delivery Service) and writer Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue). This follows a pair of engineers working for a salvage company sent to investigate a distress call from an abandoned space station. Inside, they find a residence of such opulence that it would match European palaces of old. It isn’t abandoned either. The opera singer who once lived here seems alive in the very bolts that keep this place together. Hologram or hallucination, the two men can’t differentiate as she pulls them deeper into her tragic past.

Of the three, Magnetic Rose is easily the best in all regards. Whether talking story, art, music or atmosphere, this is a level above the rest. You immediately feel the styles of Morimoto and Kon. The measured pace, the emphasis on atmosphere and emotion over dialogue, the attention to detail in all of the art, and the psychological tension are telltale signatures. I get strong Dead Space vibes. The madder things get, the more it draws me in. I love it. The only area for improvement is in giving depth to the characters. There is enough here to work, but more wouldn’t have gone awry.

The second film is Stink Bomb under the direction of Tensai Okamura (creator of Darker Than Black). This one is more of a black comedy around a horror scenario. A lab tech tries his company’s experimental cold medicine and takes a nap at work. He awakens to find everyone dead. Turns out this wasn’t cold medicine at all. He has become a living gas bomb, only he doesn’t realise this as he makes his way back to Tokyo with the secret formula.

Stink Bomb feels like it would be a perfect fit as an episode to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It’s all about the ridiculous scenario – equal parts comedy and horror – without much to the characters or the story beyond that. The more the death toll rises, the funnier it gets. The visuals are great here, particularly in the animation.

Otomo himself directs the last of these films, Cannon Fodder. This is a simple story set in a steampunk city that revolves around firing cannons in an endless war. There are cannons everywhere. Instead of skylights, buildings simply have more cannons. We follow a cannon loader as he goes about a day on the job.

While the most unique visually, Cannon Fodder is the shallowest and least interesting of the three. It’s more of a presentation for a world concept than it is a complete story. I take this an allegory on Japan’s “salary man” work life, where one is slave to the company, no matter the abuse received from higher up, living each day to work so you can pay the bills to live, stuck in this endless “war”. We even have the contrast of the child who wants to become the cannon officer (orders when to fire cannons), as children often do when idolising what their parents do for work (parents haven’t the heart to tell them of reality). An interesting concept, but not the most memorable.

Overall, I highly recommend Magnetic Rose (the worst thing about this film is reminding me that Satoshi Kon isn’t around anymore to share more of his genius with us). Try Stink Bomb if you want to continue, and then you may as well finish Cannon Fodder to complete the anthology. You might want to end on Magnetic Rose to close with the best.

Art – Very High

All three films feature a different style – Cannon Fodder especially – under the guidance of different art directors, all of which succeed in augmenting the tone of their respective stories. The animation is beautiful too.

Sound – High

The voice work is good for the most part. Standouts of the audio department are the sound design of Cannon Fodder and everything audio in Magnetic Rose, which delivers a haunting atmosphere.

Story – High

Three short stories: engineers investigate a haunted space station in Magnetic Rose; a hapless chemist becomes walking death in Stink Bomb; a look at a day in the life of citizens living in a city all about firing cannons in Cannon Fodder. The order of appearance happens to be the descending order of quality.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch Magnetic Rose, try Stink Bomb, then finish with Cannon Fodder if you want to complete the set. Memories is also good for showing to those who aren’t usually interested in anime.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Devilman: Crybaby – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Devilman: Crybaby

 

Related: Devilman (alternative version)

Similar: Kemonozume

Parasyte –the maxim-

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror

Length: 10 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Doesn’t hold back. At all.
  • Perfect match of art and narrative.
  • Pacing pulls you from one episode to the next.

Negatives:

  • Main characters are on the weak side.
  • No light and shadow on characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Akira has been a crybaby throughout his life. His friend Ryou was always the leader and daredevil. Akira’s willingness to follow Ryou on whatever adventure leads him into a world of devils and derangement. A devil even inhabits his body. With the power of a devil and the heart of a man, he becomes Devilman and joins Ryou in killing other devils. However, the devil inside has an insatiable appetite for food and pleasure. Akira has gone in way over his head.

Alongside Christianity (so much Christian imagery throughout), sex is a big theme of Devilman Crybaby. Akira always has sex on his mind, made worse by trying to fight it. All villains, whether human or devil, have a sexual component to them. One rich devil woman is after Akira for having the devil Amon inside him – he was the best she’d ever had. Miki – Akira’s foster sister that he tries not to perv on – is unknowingly a model for a peddler of underage nude imagery.

Now, unlike Kemonozume, where the sex scenes are about passion and character conflict, Devilman Crybaby’s sex is just about violence. Gory, monstrous, violent sex. In the first episode, we see a woman’s breasts grow like worms and mutate mouths from the nipples to bite someone’s head off during an orgy. Another’s vagina tears open in a shark-like mouth for her to consume sex fiends. Nightmare fuel, I believe they call it.

This is probably the most sexually violent series I’ve ever seen. If this were live action, I don’t imagine they could get away with it in most countries. Furthermore, the art and animation styles are perfect at delivering the intended violence, the debauchery, the delirium of these scenes. It’s disgusting in an artistic way even with the cinematography – how the camera flies up crotches to show precisely where a character is looking, or the way Akira is practically eating the camera when gorging himself on food. It wouldn’t have worked with a “standard” anime style. These scenes aren’t mere shock value either. They allow you to feel the mental state of the characters, allow you to feel the horror of others with the purpose of immersing you in just how messed up the situation is. It recalls Berserk’s climactic scene except it appears throughout the series.

So, if after reading all of that, the thought of such sexual violence seems like too much, then don’t put yourself through it. This could give nightmares. It’s well done, but not to everyone’s taste. I’ve had a few friends put off from watching it after I described this. It’s lucky I’m used to all levels of content, as I went in blind with no idea any of this was coming.

There is humour to give a little balance (though it does diminish in later episodes). The funniest moments have to be the first day at school after Akira’s transformation. He’s suddenly tall, muscular (large package included) with bad boy good looks and all the girls tripping over each other to get near him. They even give him all of their lunches since he can now eat a metric ton in one sitting. It’s like thirsty fans giving a Twitch streamer endless donations. And let’s not forget the way he runs on the track (another good example of the art augmenting the otherworldly nature of the characters and story). Priceless.

What stops Devilman Crybaby from reaching my highest tier is the main characters though. They don’t get enough exploration. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first because I thought the story successful. It can be hard to notice weaker characters in a great story. A good story can carry mediocre characters. The simple way to figure it out is to take your characters and put them in another story, then think of whether you would still want to follow them. If I put Akira and Ryou in Death Note, for example, adapting the story to fit their characters, would it make an interesting story? Well, no, because Akira doesn’t have the layers or nuance required and Ryou isn’t smart, only getting away with the things he does in Devilman Crybaby thanks to the author’s pen.

The first episode is a perfect example. After a trio of street rappers stop Miki to bust a rhyme for her (she’s popular and a known model) and Akira is too weak to help, Ryou arrives on the scene and brandishes a semi-automatic rifle, firing at their feet. Do any consequences come of this? Nope. He does whatever he wants and no one questions it. When hunting devils, he has no problems with collateral damage, which does bother Akira but doesn’t translate into consequences. At first, I thought it was just this anime’s weird style, yet this rule doesn’t apply to anyone else.

As for Akira, he doesn’t get to “flex” his character enough for us to know him fully. There isn’t much more than the soft heart in a devil’s body dichotomy. The story still works in the end with how much it ramps up conflict to biblical proportions, but you are scratching your head a few times too many along the way, wondering if they couldn’t have executed the characters better.

Regardless, I was engaged from start to finish and I love that this is only 10 episodes. Devilman Crybaby went for exactly as long as it needed to.

Art – High

The animation and character designs remind a lot of Kemonozume, allowing for fluidity and extreme distortion that leans into the nightmare imagery. It’s heavily stylised, even in the cinematography and use of light and shadow. However, the lack of highlights and shadows on characters bothers me to the point where it pulls me out of scenes too often.

Sound – High

Devilman Crybaby is available in many languages, thanks to Netflix, so take your pick. I preferred the English for handling the foreign language segments better than the Japanese did. Biblically epic soundtrack – the ED paired with the cliffhangers urges you onto the next episode right away.

Story – High

A weak kid inhabited by a devil works with his best friend to fight devils infiltrating humanity as the situations escalates. A good story carries weaker characters to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I think Devilman Crybaby is a good anime, but its content is so uncensored and nightmarish that I can’t recommend it to everyone. If it sounds like your sort of anime, then go for it.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationHoly S***

Negative: None

The Garden of Sinners – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kara no Kyoukai

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Darker than Black

Ghost Hunt

Key the Metal Idol

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery Thriller

Length: 9 movies (35 min. to 2 hrs. each)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful environments.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Dead eyes syndrome.
  • Atrocious editing and pacing.
  • No one has a personality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Garden of Sinners is an unusual anime series. I’m not sure if you can refer to it as a series, in the standard sense, for it is nine movies of vastly varying length – 35 minutes to 2 hours long. Furthermore, the movies aren’t connected much beyond the main characters and subject matter. It’s akin to older British detective serials like Poirot, where little of the story carries from one episode to the next, which allows the audience to join any week in the series on TV without feeling lost.

Using this series structure, The Garden of Sinners tells of a detective agency that takes on cases involving the supernatural – spirits, curses, and the like. The agency has three members: the sorceress Touko, able to create human-like dolls, the ordinary human Kokutou, and part-doll protagonist Shiki. She has the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, a power that allows her to see a target’s “lifelines” that will kill them when cut. (That’s how they deal with the supernatural entities.)

The first movie follows a string of suicides by schoolgirls all leaping from the same skyscraper set for demolishment. On paper, this is an interesting anime, just my sort of thing. I love contemporary supernatural stories and I am a ravenous consumer of detective serials. This should be a direct feed of serotonin to my brain injected via a syringe of intriguing mystery, complex characters, fascinating mysticism, and unpredictable story. The Garden of Sinners has none of that.

The most glaring issue is that none of these characters has a personality. This should come as no surprise from the same author who brought us the worse-than-Twilight of anime that is Fate/stay night. Shiki is, by intention, an emotionally repressed person. However, once again, like a bloody broken record, I must stress that emotionally repressed does not equate to zero personality, never mind the other characters who are meant to be real people. I can’t imagine what the authors of these soulless characters think mute people must be like in real life. Do they think that mutes will have no personality because they can’t speak?

This lack of soul bleeds into the mysteries themselves. The narrative never makes an effort to have the audience care for the answers to its questions. It assumes that because it hasn’t given us an answer, we must therefore care to know the answer. I hear my neighbour arguing with her daughter in Mandarin on occasion. I’m not interested to translate what they are saying (daughter probably stays out too late). Have the police turn up to cart away a third person I never knew was there and then you have my attention.

The Garden of Sinners tries to con the audience into thinking it has an intricate plot full of hidden details and deeper meaning, when in fact, it is poor structure and storytelling. “This is really complicated – it must be good!”

To compound problems, the editing is a slog. Many shots hold for too long. It’s just a few seconds here and there, but it doesn’t feel right and adds up over time. Directors and editors don’t have to follow set rules for how long a shot should be. Breaking the rules can create an effect. One can let the camera linger for a few seconds to make the audience feel awkward. An extreme close-up, right in a character’s face as they’re talking creates extreme discomfort in the viewer as desired. However, when breaking the rules, it must be with care. Should the effect backfire, it makes the editing seem amateur, as is often the case in The Garden of Sinners. This isn’t deal breaking, but these long shots do allow us to ponder on the fact that the story and characters are empty.

The exception is the fifth movie about a double homicide that never happened. The visuals take a hit in quality, though do get more consistent, and the editing is much tighter. It feels like a different studio’s production. Despite it being nearly 2 hours long, it’s much easier to get through than the movies half its length because things are happening at pace. There is more energy, more life to it all. Doesn’t magically turn into a great movie, mind you, but it shows how much of a difference editing makes.

Before I leave you, I must touch upon the most forced product placement I have seen in anime. The first movie opens on Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream, drawing some equation between it and Shiki’s personality. And it returns to the ice cream again later. It is…fascinatingly shocking how blatant this advertising is. I don’t know what to make of it.

Art – High

The good old “dead eyes” syndrome studio ufotable is known for makes a return. The editing needs a lot of work, except in movie five. The animation is a mix of long stills broken up by shots of high animation, some in first person. The environments and atmospherics are beautiful.

Sound – Medium

The one and only thing I will take away from this is the soundtrack. I love the melodies and I am a sucker for ethereal vocals. As for the acting, it seems the actors were told to never have emotion in their voice, and under no circumstances are they to have any range. No talent allowed here!

Story – Low

A detective agency dealing with the supernatural investigates a series of mysterious cases. There is no adequate reason The Garden of Sinners needed to be so long and so slow, nor is there a reason to have such soulless characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. The Garden of Sinners isn’t the worst anime – rather average, all things considered – but it is certainly one of the dullest. I can’t recommend anyone waste their time. If you must, then just watch the fifth entry as a standalone movie.

(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:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing