Tag Archives: Romance

One or more romantic relationships play an important role. Not applied to tacked-on or minor romances.

Weathering With You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tenki no Ko

 

Similar: Your Name

Patema Inverted

The World is Still Beautiful

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 1 hr. 54 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Stunning art, particularly the weather
  • Great cast of characters
  • Unconventional story direction
  • Beautiful music complements the emotional moments

Negatives:

  • Minor animation shortcuts

(Request an anime for review here.)

For a man who loves the weather as much as Makoto Shinkai does, it was inevitable that he would release a movie about weather itself. After missing the opportunity to see this in theatres, I finally have access to the blu-ray of Weathering With You. Was it worth the anticipation?

Look, I love Shinkai’s visual style so much that even with a mediocre story it would still be worth the wait. He builds such atmosphere, such ambiance in his films that I simply like being in them. However, having a great story as well never hurts.

Weathering With You opens with a teenaged boy called Hodaka on his way to Tokyo. He’s on the run to what he assumes will be a better life. Little does he know that Tokyo has few favours in store for him, gives no pity. Someone takes advantage of him before he even arrives! Then there’s the rain. An eternal torrent of rain has settled over Tokyo and it shows no signs of abating.

Wandering the streets and starving after some horrendous financial planning (why go to McDonalds when low on funds? If you can’t cook, at least choose the convenience store), he finds a job at a small publishing house, where he becomes the jack-of-all-trades. Assistant, note taker, cleaner, cook, shopper, and writer, he does it all. It’s rough, but the people are nice. Things are looking up! All of this changes – for better and worse – when he meets Hina, a desperate girl about to make a horrible career decision with some shady dudes and he yanks her out of there. Somehow, she has the ability to “pray” the rain away and bring out the sun. Hodaka and Hina have the idea to sell her services as the “Sunshine Girl” for your event, where it’s a market, a wedding, or meteor shower viewing party.

One will immediately feel similarities to Shinkai’s previous film, Your Name, when watching Weathering With You – and will appeal to the same fans. No works of his have been more similar than these two films. However, Weathering With You is much simpler in premise and execution. You don’t have to ask yourself, “Wait, when he was doing this, she was doing that, yeah? And this lines up with that other thing?” It’s much more straightforward and refined here. The concept of Weathering With You is not as initially gripping as Your Name was. It doesn’t summarise itself in that one neat sentence that can sell the idea without further explanation.

As such, Weathering With You does not grab me from the outset – storywise, of course; visually, amazing from the first frame. It isn’t until the first downward turn in Hodaka and Hina’s relationship when we realise there is a cost to her power that I get that, “Yes, now I’m really in,” feeling. Once the story hits that point, I love every moment of the tumultuous ride we go on as they struggle with her destiny and the past catches up with them. What, you thought being a runway kid with a gun wouldn’t have consequences? And what of her, an underage girl with a small brother in her care?

Most of Shinkai’s protagonists have this element of deep-seated sadness that drives so much of what they do. The characteristic has recurred so often, that I wonder what Shinkai experienced himself to compel him to write such protagonists. All characters in Weathering With You are believable and relatable on some level, from the publisher trying to visit his daughter against the objections of his ex-mother in law to Hina’s surprisingly mature little brother in affairs of the heart (my favourite character).

This is a delightful film.

If you were to ask for some negatives though, apart from that slightly weaker start, I wouldn’t have much to say. It is noticeable that the subplot of his job at the publisher stops about halfway, its purpose being to discover the cost of Hina’s power. There should have been a little something to keep it going, though thankfully the two characters from his job are always relevant. The lyrical music can be a bit much at times as well. There are a few little things here and there, but nothing is a big enough problem to detract from the overall experience.

Some people may take issue with the magic element of Hina’s power, but I don’t see it as a problem. Not everything needs encyclopaedic explanation. It all depends on how prevalent the magic is. The main reason we have explanations for magic systems is to avoid things like deus ex machina or general confusion. A writer needs to strike that balance of explaining enough to sell the audience on the premise without drowning them in exposition. Weathering With You gets it just right.

Art – Very High

You have never seen animated weather look as good as this. The other elements are great too. The only visual flaws are a few CG assets – wouldn’t have been much more work to do them normally, so they must have been pressed for time, but these are minor problems.

Sound – High

The soundtrack is beautiful, though a little overpowering at times with some lyrical tracks, as if there were product placement requirements in place that mandated a minimum runtime and volume to make sure the audience picks it up. Acting is good.

Story – Very High

A runaway teen meets a “Sunshine Girl” amid a dark and rainy Tokyo. Though it has a slow start, Weathering With You soon ramps up to become a dramatic journey of love, sacrifice, and eternal rain.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Weathering With You is perfect for Shinkai fans and will even appeal to non-anime fans with its simple premise into great execution.

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Beastars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Similar: Land of the Lustrous

Aggretsuko

Shiki

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Successful CG
  • Engaging characters
  • A different setting and focus than usual

Negatives:

  • Needs more world building

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t believe I am saying this – I mean, it would have happened eventually – but I still can’t believe there is a great looking CG anime. Not only that, it has a great story too.

Beastars is Zootopia meets high school anime drama. In this world, all animals live together in a passable sense of harmony. We focus on Cherryton Academy where a drama club prepares for a grand performance before the school. Our protagonist, Legosi the grey wolf, hides in the shadows behind the stage lights. His shyness is nothing like the red deer Louis, who commands enormous respect driven by ambitions of becoming a Beastar, the highest possible honour for any animal, achieved only by demonstrating excellence for the betterment of society.

The story kicks off when a carnivore kills Legosi’s friend, an alpaca. In a twist of world building for the premise, carnivores are the discriminated group in this world. They have the presumption of guilt against them – “Most kills are by carnivores, therefore all carnivores are killers.” Legosi does everything he can to go unnoticed at school. Even so, everyone finds his large stature and sombre tones intimidating. He must be up to something! On the opposite end, you have Louis, a deer that desperately wants to be a carnivore. He wants that strength, that power, that intimidation and though he is friends with Legosi (or is he?), he resents the wolf’s efforts to throw all his gifts away. I love these two characters. They by far and away are the stars of the show. The complexity of character versus their place in the world and the dynamic with those around them is compelling. You want to see what they’ll do next.

Supporting them are other members of the drama club, including a tiger jealous of Louis’s popularity, and a slutty bunny called Haru. There’s no other way to put it. She will jump anything with an extra leg. She is a small creature, often taken advantage of or treated as a fragile thing, so she uses her sexuality to take control. Another good character. She doesn’t deserve my boy Legosi, but a good character nevertheless.

Their relationship begins when he catches her scent one night and almost kills her. The next day, he sees her at the garden club when tasked with collecting flowers for the stage play. She assumes he’s like the others and does her thing on him. Legosi manages to escape her evil clutches (you go, Legosi, stay away!) but can’t stop thinking of her. This unconventional relationship works well to complement Legosi’s theme of fighting against his nature, as any good subplot should do.

This is a good time to talk about the world building. Beastars has good social world building – the “speciesism” against carnivores, Louis craving for strength he can’t have, Legosi’s personality through environment, to name a few. However, it lacks physical world building. How does this world operate? How is it that all of these different animals can live in the same place? How does anything work?

To put it simply, think of how our world accommodates people with different disabilities. Imagine there was a story focusing on a paraplegic. And in that story, we are told that he lives a rather normal life considering his circumstances. The paraplegic travels a lot, yet the story never shows us how he manages this (also imagine you don’t know how this works in real life, so you can’t fill in the gaps). They would need to show the wheelchair, the mechanisms of an accessible home, and the ramps and lifts around the world. Go into detail.

Beastars, for the moment (it will eventually go into detail, surely), assumes too much of the audience’s suspension of disbelief. “What do you mean you don’t see how you can have a city that works for both the elephant and the mouse – isn’t it obvious?” No, it isn’t. I’m not asking for the Encyclopaedia Beastarica. But I do want something. Keep in mind that this isn’t the same as classic Disney films with animals instead of humans, like Robin Hood, where these details don’t matter. Beastars is going for a serious take, made all the more important when the conflict centres on the dynamics of this world.

One can’t help but draw comparisons to Zootopia with its brilliantly realised world. That film managed to create a world easily five times more complex than Beastars did and in less than half the minutes. First to mind is the detail of how a street vendor sells to a rodent class animal by dropping the drink down a chute to collect at the ground. Beastars has glimpses of great world building. In fact, the best episode is all about expanding this world through the illegal meat market and Legosi’s reaction to it. This episode elevates Beastars beyond an interesting premise. The goat with price tags hanging off his fingers for sale is one of the most unsettling moments in anime. Give me more.

Finally, I can’t end without going into the art, specifically the CG. Like all of you, I imagine, hearing the term CG in any relation to anime makes me uneasy to the stomach. Good CG doesn’t exist on a budget and the reason they use it for anime is budget. An association with CG characters alone put Beastars on my “not interested” list. It wasn’t until a friend raved about it that I moved it to the watch list, yet with a sense that it would be an endurance test. Imagine my surprise when I open Beastars and it isn’t just better than other CG anime, it is great. Studio Orange did a fantastic job at making the 3D look like anime 2D. The trick is in the lighting, colouring, and outlines to mask the 3D coupled with 2D for environments where suitable. Look at the screenshots in this review. They seem 95% made in 2D. It is a truly impressive job.

It isn’t perfect. The 3D stands out much more in motion, particularly in mouth movements. In traditional animation, one’s mouth jumps from position to position with perhaps extra frames in between for the larger movements. CG however, is smooth from one position to the next – like reality. The increased smoothness of CG animation makes it look worse when trying to be 2D. You need the mouth to jump frames for it to work. Smooth animation works when aiming for a high quality CG scene, such as a game cutscene or trailer. Such quality is expensive though. Beastars needs to, ironically, lower the animation in parts to improve the final effect.

I am excited for more of Beastars. I’ve started on the manga at a friend’s request, as he doesn’t have the patience to wait for spoiler discussions. Don’t miss out on this one either.

Art – High

The CG is great in Beastars, as unbelievable as this sounds. This CG is a success with real effort in texture, lighting, and a mix of 2D. Only the unnatural smoothness of the animation really stands out as a problem. I love the stop motion opening.

Sound – High

The original Japanese track is superior here. The dub is fine, if that’s what you always go for, but the Japanese casting and energy is notably better. Great opening song to go with the stop motion. The rest of the music isn’t memorable, however. The script is solid and better written than the manga – more dramatic.

Story – High

A wolf deals with school drama as he develops feelings for a rabbit, his prey. With great characters, high conflict interspecies drama, and an engaging premise, Beastars is a hit. That said, it needs more in the world-building department.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Even those averse to CG anime should watch Beastars.

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

Positive:

Great OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Snow White with the Red Hair – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime

 

Similar: Yona of the Dawn

The Story of Saiunkoku

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Protagonist has purpose and agency
  • World feels cosy and lived in

Negatives:

  • Not enough intensity
  • Needs more romantic conflict

(Request an anime for review here.)

Of the shoujo story types, I tend to like the “ordinary girl draws the attention of an important guy (or the reverse)” type the most, especially in a fantasy setting. I like how it gives a clear coupling to the romance. I never hide my dislike for harems (inc. reverse harems) due to the lack of direction in relationship developments – doesn’t help that the characters are often atrocious. By giving me an indication of where the story intends to go, I don’t feel like I am wasting my time before things even begin. The fantasy setting is an added bonus, as it requires more effort in world building.

Snow White with the Red Hair follows a young herbalist in training called Shirayuki with shockingly red hair that draws much attention, including the unwanted infatuation of her nation’s prince. She only manages to escape life as a concubine when Prince Zen of the neighbouring country of Clarines comes to her rescue. Her new ally also opens the opportunity to become a palace herbalist. Passing the exam – and curing the prince from a poisoned apple – sets her on a path to success she could only dream of in her sheltered life.

Seeing this premise of a girl with [insert profession here] meeting [insert rich handsome guy here], I assumed her skill with herbs would be irrelevant. This is a common failing of shoujo anime and rom-com films. How often is the protagonist a journalist/architect/ad executive/author/etc. and it never plays a part in the story? You know it’s only there because it would be weird if she didn’t have a job. I assumed the same of Shirayuki. When a scoundrel kidnaps her, the expectation is that someone rescues her or she lucks her way out. To my surprise, however, she uses her knowledge to burn the right herbs together for a paralysing effect on her attacker. Alright! That’s what I want to see. She still needs some help in the end, but she did something and used her brain. I like an active protagonist with intelligence. Shirayuki endeared herself to me with that single action.

Further on, her studies and career as a herbalist continue to hold relevance throughout the story. We see her studying new mixtures, experimenting with ideas, researching plants, and taking exams. Probably my favourite element of the story. It adds depth to the world and makes her environment lived in.

The romance with Prince Zen is typical shoujo fare and works, for the most part. You do have to suspend your disbelief that a prince of the realm can have a public relationship with a commoner against little opposition, but that’s the way of the genre. They do make for a good couple and complement each other’s qualities.

Where Snow White with the Red Hair fails is in the UTTER LACK OF DWARVES! WHERE ARE THE DWARVES?! I kid, I kid. No, the problems are in the lack of escalation. Conflict starts well with Shirayuki’s sudden move to a new country, a new life, and while we do have some political, physical, and romantic conflicts afterwards, none of them hit a high-tension point. For instance, one romantic conflict arises when Zen has to “interview” a prospective wife for a royal marriage. Shirayuki isn’t bothered by this, and why would she be when nothing comes of it. When you have a cross-class romance, there should be a question of “Will they end up together despite the difference in status?”

The big finale of the series sees Shirayuki kidnapped by pirates. This is disappointing on three counts. First, it’s another kidnapping. Second, the pirate queen is a flat character unworthy of a finale. Third, this conflict doesn’t relate to the core themes of the story or offer any resonance (repeated kidnappings don’t count as resonance). It feels like a side story on the way to the next step of the main story. There is no intensity.

These failings ultimately leave me a little disappointed in how Snow White with the Red Hair turns out. I love the world, find the characters endearing, and had a great time in the first half, but when the “big” romantic, political, and physical conflicts flop like a dead fish on the cutting board, it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm. I think continuing with the manga is in order – another season is unlikely after four years.

Art – High

A great thing about the shoujo market is a higher demand for good-looking art compared to the shounen market. If Snow White with the Red Hair was an isekai for the shounen demographic, it wouldn’t have these beautiful colours and attention to palette.

Sound – High

The acting is good and the music is nice, suited to a fantasy shoujo. Not much to say here.

Story – Medium

A herbalist in training finds the opportunity of lifetime (and a beau to match) when she catches the eye of a prince. This typical shoujo fantasy has all the right ingredients to satisfy the core, though it could do with turning the drama up a level or two.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans. Snow White with the Red Hair won’t be dramatic enough for general fantasy fans, but those looking for something fun with that light-hearted shoujo romance will enjoy this anime.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

ef – A Tale of Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ef – A Tale of Memories.

 

Related: ef: A Tale of Melodies (sequel)

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

Sola

Bakemonogatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Not as bad as it could be…I suppose?

Negatives:

  • Actually pretentious
  • Vomit-inducing character designs
  • No one develops
  • The dub is a special kind of awful

(Request an anime for review here.)

I was meant to review Weathering With You, but as I missed my opportunity to watch it, that will have to wait. Instead, I felt like covering something trashy – an anime I had almost forgotten I had seen.

ef – A Tale of Memories comes from studio Shaft before they were a creator of good anime. You can see hints here of what Shaft would become, particularly in their artistic styling. Thankfully, they abandoned these stories and characters for something more fun.

This story follows six characters that eventually become three couples as they overcome their obstacles along the way. The first couple is the most vanilla of the three, between an aspiring manga artist (or is it hentai?) and an energetic girl with unorthodox interests. The second couple uses the childhood friend + love triangle cliché who eventually realises she’s in love with this photographer kid instead. The third and honestly main couple of Renji and Chihiro (you’ll recognise them by his douche hair and her abhorrent eye patch) face the issue of her constant memory loss. Think 50 First Dates with moe. They work on this by writing a novel together, something she can’t forget.

Barring the third with memory loss, there is nothing too unusual about these romances. Frankly, they are as shallow as can be. However, the studio tries to distract you with “fancy” camera work and visual motifs. I commend people for trying to do something different, but everything in Tale of Memories from the quick cuts to the avant-garde shot compositions feel like difference for the sake of being different. And when they run out of ideas, we have stretches of blandness – still shots, no animation, no style. These stand out badly by contrast. To see this style don’t correctly, one need look no further than Shaft’s own Bakemonogatari.

The dialogue is like the cinematography. It alternates between artsy nonsense for the sake of it and stock dialogue that comes with Microsoft Script Writer 2006. If I haven’t made it clear yet, ef – A Tale of Memories is pretentious garbage. These characters don’t develop. They don’t grow as people discovering true love for the first time. No, they spout nonsense and confess feelings in a mire of melodrama. At least it isn’t insulting.

If you don’t like the idea of 50 First Dates gone moe teen melodrama, humour subtracted, then stay far away from ef – A Tale of Memories. I am so glad Shaft moved onto better projects.

Art – Very Low

Some shots are interesting, others are boring, but the majority are nonsense for the sake of being different. Hate the character designs. That douche’s hair! They are one step away from Clannad and one should never stray that close to cancer. Obnoxious – that is how best to describe the art overall.

Sound – Low

If you want to watch ef – A Tale of Memories, do not go with the dub. The problems range far and wide, though the worst has to be the use of honorifics. They use them, yet don’t speak like the Japanese is any other way, which makes it come across as a weeaboo fan dub. The script sounds better the less you understand the characters.

Story – Low

Three teen couples deal with circumstances that stand in the way of love. The ideas aren’t bad. A less pretentious script and presentation was needed if these couples had any chance at success, however.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. It isn’t as bad as Kanon’s romances. Still doesn’t make ef – A Tale of Memories worth a minute of your time.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Awful DialogueNo Development

Kurozuka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kurozuka

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Ergo Proxy

Blade of the Immortal

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy Horror Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Intriguing start

Negatives:

  • Leaps to the future too soon
  • Laughing maniac villain is ineffective
  • Most interesting character isn’t in the story enough
  • Visuals show their age

(Request an anime for review here.)

It pains me – it pains me to report how disappointed I am with Kurozuka. This is my type of story. Historical fact woven into in a fantasy narrative with vampires, romance, unflinching action, and cyberpunk – what’s not to love? Maybe the fact that we are missing the middle of the story.

Kurozuka opens in feudal Japan with Minamoto no Yoshitsune (a real historical figure, also known as Kurou) and his closest ally as they flee into the mountains after the fall of Kurou’s brother, first ruling shogun of Japan. The real historical account says that he committed suicide here. Kurozuka postulates that idea of him meeting a stunning woman, Kuromitsu (based on a fable), whom he soon discovers is a vampire and rather than fight her, falls in love. He falters while defending her, but she turns him into an immortal to save his life. Thus a romance set to span over a millennium is born.

I love this setup, particularly in the presentation. It doesn’t hold back on the gore and dark fantasy. His conversion to vampire is the perfect illustration of this, where the norm would be to have him die and then wake up as a vampire or show a sanitised transformation at most. Kurozuka has him alive as a dismembered head while Kuromitsu prepares a new body for him. It’s gruesome and just right (narratively relevant in future as well). The tone of the romance is clear from the start. I am in!

Then episode 3 leaps a thousand years into a dystopian cyberpunk future with Kurou having no idea how he got there. A chance encounter has him join the resistance to combat the Red Imperial Army sporting the same emblem as the clan that tried to kill him and Kuromitsu all those generations ago. The resistance promises they can help him find the one person he knows.

And here is where you lose me.

The setup promises a twisted romance through the ages, Kurou and Kuromitsu forever entwined in a love story painted in blood and guts. I wouldn’t be wrong in expecting to see these two appearing in various eras throughout history, perpetuating the unhealthy cycle of their relationship, one of those affairs where the best decision would be to end it now, in a moment of happiness, but they can’t help themselves from trying again, slaves to their love.

Instead, the story plants itself in the future city with extensive use of flashbacks to dole out bits of the past, of the “middle” of the story for us to figure out. This does not succeed. At all.

The structure is disjointed as all hell. When we flashback, we aren’t sure of which period we are in half the time. This is intentional, as revealed later. Worst of all, the idea of having an amnesiac Kurou on a quest to find Kuromitsu removes her, the most interesting character, from much of the story and turns him into a blank slate. I’ve said it many times: be careful of using amnesia as a plot device. The two most important characters have the least agency. The resistance fighters feel more important to the day-to-day of the story and the main villain, a Joker-like laughing maniac, grates one’s nerves within a single scene. (I would be remiss in mentioning that the horror goes down as the sci-fi goes up too.)

So, why structure the story in such a manner? It is all for the twist that reveals why he has amnesia, why he doesn’t wake up in the future beside her and why the Red Army wants him. The writer sacrificed everything to deliver such a mediocre twist. Worse yet, the twist is a fine piece of vampire lore that could have created plenty of great conflict along the way, if we could have seen it throughout time. I can’t wrap my brain around the insistence upon nailing this twist. It just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to give it away, in case you do watch Kurozuka, so allow me to craft an example instead. Imagine if you took Code Geass, as is, but you hid the fact that Lelouch had the power of mind control (don’t worry, Kurozuka’s twist isn’t mind control). You therefore removed any scene that shows his power because it would give away the twist. Sure, it’s an interesting reveal that he was mind controlling people all along (only once per person as well, to further the twist), but at what cost? You’ve now removed most of the compelling scenes and conflict, all because you wanted a big surprise.

Kurozuka is this hypothetical version of Code Geass. It has the components for a fantastic story. I can point to several elements I love, yet leaves much to be desired once brought together. Forget the twist. I want their relationship. Give me their turmoil, damn it!

I am more positive than negative over Kurozuka, though this has much to do with it being the type of story and aesthetic that I like. The ideas and possibilities that made me ponder interesting questions captivated me more than the product itself. As such, if you aren’t into vampires or cyberpunk, it is unlikely to work for you in the face of its structural and character issues.

Art – Medium

In its heyday, Kurozuka would have looked great. Age hasn’t been kind, ironically, as certain animation techniques and elements like CG blood do not hold up. The visual tone, however, is still strong in conveying atmosphere and several action scenes have great animation.

Sound – Medium

I like that they kept the kabuki narration in Japanese even for the English dub – not the sort of thing that works in another language. The acting is good, probably the strongest element of the entire production. The soundtrack is an intense electro death metal collection that, though not to my taste, is a perfect fit to the cyberpunk tragedy when you think about it.

Story – Medium

A samurai falls in love with a vampire woman, sparking a romance destined to last over a thousand years. A brilliant start filled with promises of a dark romance through the ages soon falters with a leap to the future, all in favour of an unsatisfying twist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. I was going to suggest trying Kurozuka, but as the opening few episodes are deceptive to the overall experience, I can’t do so. The paranormal dystopian aspect is the draw.

(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: 

Disappointing