We may have done it. We may have found the worst anime, dear readers. I don’t want to make a definitive statement without seeing a few other candidates first, but Angel Sanctuary may be the slurry of the septic tank.
This is a story of a guy, Setsuna, who may really be a woman – an angel woman called Alexiel – in love with his sister. Every supernatural entity seems interested in him, for reasons that aren’t made too clear. One character – a princess, apparently – wants him because his previous angel incarnation saved her life. Alexiel’s brother, who looks more like her sister, wants Setsuna to revert to his angel self so they can fight, for some reason. The story throws in random thugs to fight Setsuna as well, as if this wasn’t bloated enough already. And of course there’s the “romance” with his sister.
The immediate problem you notice with Angel Sanctuary, after supressing the bile in your throat at the animation, is the muddled nature of the story. It never bothers to let events sink in – it is one scene, one concept to the next, one after the other in a ratatatat, each said to be of great importance, yet not treated as such. The manga is 20 volumes long, which I imagine expands upon proceedings and likely lessens the ridiculousness of having everyone chase Setsuna at once by spreading out events. I haven’t mentioned several sub-stories either. It’s a mess.
Some guy’s father “has a premonition” that turns him around to see his son before he dies. Where did he gain this power? Why are you asking me?
The writing is something else. The credits for the edition I watched had behind the scenes of the VO recording and Crispin Freeman, the one good dub performance, is reading one of the lines but stops, asking what it even means. “The only thing of beauty to come out of God’s refuse that I am…” You’ll often find yourself asking that same question.
Angel Sanctuary loves its weird lore, dumping specialist terms you will never remember and fantasy names you won’t care about at a dozen per scene. You can’t overload three episodes like this and expect the audience to remember.
Giving the characters actual character and personality to associate with the lore would help. No one develops throughout this story. The development is so bad that I expected the incest sub-plot (or is it the main plot? Never clear) to have no conflict, but to my surprise, it had some. Now, don’t mistake this for praise – I would never praise Angel Sanctuary. The conflict is terrible. “I’m so conflicted about my feelings. It’s tearing me apart [Lisa]!” Two seconds later: “Oh hey, I’m no longer conflicted.”
The romance is, predictably at this point, one of no substance. Why do these two love each other? Haven’t the foggiest. I suspect that with the angel versus demon battle alluding to Christian mythology, the incest romance is just to complete the theme. Like everything in Angel Sanctuary, it doesn’t make sense or work towards the overall cohesion of the narrative.
You would have to see this anime for yourself to believe how bad it is. Too difficult to put into words.
How did Angel Sanctuary even get on my list when it is so obviously bad? It was advertised in one of the first anime DVDs I bought ages ago and I, for some reason, had to watch it at some point, on principle. It’s worse than I could have ever hoped for.
Art – Very Low
This low key frame animations, inconsistent anatomy, digital light effect using, no cinematography, eyesore of an anime is painful to witness.
Sound – Very Low
No level of acting could make this awful writing work. The dub is something special.
Story – Very Low
A guy with a supernatural secret grapples with feelings for his sister as angels and demons want a piece of him. What is this story trying to show?
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: So baffling that you have to see it to believe it. Angel Sanctuary is garbage – the sort of garbage that is fascinating to watch, like a fireworks factory on fire.
When Nagasumi drowns one summer, he considers himself fortunate to be saved by the mermaid Sun. However, according to the laws of Yakuza mermaids, once a human catches sight of a mermaid, he must swim with the fishes – either by death or by marriage. Nagasumi has no choice. He becomes engaged to Sun and she joins his school to be close to her beloved, against her Yakuza family’s wishes. So not only does he have to contend with a sea dwelling gang after his hide, he must also keep Sun’s true nature secret from classmates.
Yakuza mermaids, a ridiculous concept to be sure, but an effective one. Sun’s father sends his best henchmen to kill Nagasumi and free his daughter from the shackles of marriage to such a loser. His enforcer can morph into a shark – he does this a lot in the heat of the moment. My Bride is a Mermaid is unexpectedly hilarious. The art gives an impression of mid 2000s harem with lame comedy.
Instead of turning into a full harem, as one would expect, the other girls must either kill or protect him. A tiny girl that lives in a conch has the job of assassinating the guy while pretending to be sweet and innocent in front of Sun. The disciplinarian girl from his class with a crush on him acts the police officer role, like her father, making her the perfect rival to the mermaids.
The Yakuza take up positions in the school to accomplish their mission, including the boss as a class teacher, while the bookkeeper teaches maths through criminal means. This black man with curly hair is considered so charming and attractive that the mere sight of him renders everyone enamoured. This recurring joke never failed to make me laugh. It reaches a new level when Nagasumi drinks a charm potion and becomes the apple of everyone’s eye (and loins).
Some of the gang aren’t so successful. The giant octopus teaches cooking, though often includes bits of his tentacles in the process. It isn’t long before a rival gang joins the fun to take the humour to yet greater heights. Their leader, a Terminator of a man, is a riot. He doesn’t understand his daughter at all, so plays gal games and re-enacts them as the girl to get closer to his daughter.
Mermaid has a ton of visual humour in the facial expressions, reminiscent of Great Teacher Onizuka, which alleviates the subpar art quality. One classmate is called “chimp”, but he acts like a real chimp, face included. Does anyone realise this?
The jokes come fast and they come often in this one. It is comedic beat after comedic beat, sharply timed with barely a dull moment in between. Just about every joke lands. These aren’t the greatest jokes of all time – it’s no Fumoffu – but they are fun.
My Bride is a Mermaid fails, however, in the tradition of most comedy from that era, when it attempts to inject drama in a place where it doesn’t belong. All drama fails here. Unlike Ah! My Goddess, one of the few light-hearted comedies to manage a little drama, which worked it in slowly without compromising the identity of the anime, Mermaid’s drama comes out of nowhere and contributes nothing of value.
The drama is at its worst in the final two episodes with the introduction of a new villain that goes against the tone thanks to his persistent rape vibes. Why did all of these comedies just have to finish with drama? Is comedy alone never enough? I like a story that can manage both of course, but I equally love others that stick to comedy. In the end, quality matters. Was it studio mandate at the time to have a dramatic finish, much like how every drama this decade must end in a tragic death to extract fake tears from you? Or that every fantasy has to be inside a game?
I’ve said it before, but bad final episodes leave the strongest impressions on a dissatisfied audience. My Bride is a Mermaid isn’t one of the greats. Even so, it didn’t deserve such a careless end. I went in with no expectations and came out having had a good time thanks to the comedy. Don’t let the garbage drama stop you from enjoying a laugh.
Art – Low
This cheap-looking, budget-animated, too-cutesy anime’s visuals are partially redeemed by great use of visual humour, particularly with the faces.
Sound – Medium
The acting is just as silly as the script, which it should be. I prefer the dub, for the Japanese made several poor casting choices that turn funny characters into annoyances.
Story – Low
A guy agrees to marry a mermaid to avoid death at the hands of her yakuza merman father, later bringing her to school for endless hijinks. My Bride is a Mermaid’s comedy far outshines the feeble drama.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: A must for anime comedy fans. The story may go nowhere and the drama may fall flat on every occasion, but the comedy in My Bride is a Mermaid is certainly worth sticking around for.
The original Full Metal Panic concluded without need for a sequel, followed by the pure comedy spin-off Fumoffu, until Full Metal Panic:The Second Raid reopened the story a few years later with the introduction of new villain Leonard, brother to Tessa, young captain of the anti-terrorist Mithril organisation. TSR took a darker tone as it pushed Sargent Sagara of Mithril to the edge in a satisfying conflict. However, Leonard evaded capture and it seemed the franchise would stop there, leaving us in limbo for 13 years.
Full Metal Panic is a franchise I never expected to see more of (please, Twelve Kingdoms, please come back). After a few years of silence, the finality of the situation sets in and there’s no point wasting hope anymore.
So, it’s back! And what a letdown it is.
Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory isn’t bad – in fact, it’s rather decent, when seen from a distance. Sadly, we return to that old enemy of art, disappointment, the worst enemy, perhaps only second to that other evil called boring. As a continuation of the series, Invisible Victory brings so little to the table.
It picks up shortly after TSR, with Mithril in conflict against Amalgam, Leonard’s organisation, as it launches an attack on Mithril HQ. The start is strong with a series of high stakes conflicts and added tension by being much closer to home than usual. Sagara’s work has caught up with his personal life.
Leonard points out that Sagara has killed over 100 people so far, yet pretends to live life as though he isn’t a killer. Sagara’s reaction to this fact reflected against him is perfect. I love this wrinkle to his arc. It is ripe with conflict opportunities and consequences that could cost him everything. For instance, while dragging Chidori out of harm’s way from Amalgam, he uses a grenade to destroy a pursuing robot, but injures a passing student in the process. Sagara coldly abandons the kid against Chidori’s protests.
The problem with the story is what happens next.
A few episodes in after a devastating attack, we find Sagara on his own in a foreign land partaking in mech pit fights. For two episodes, we have no idea what he’s doing and it takes too long to get to the point, unengaging all the while. Furthermore, it introduces us to an entirely new cast of characters, none of which are memorable and at the expense of the core cast, who don’t do much this series. FMP did this before in season one with the four-part arc in Helmajistan, Sagara’s home country, to stop the sale of a nuke. The difference there was three fold. One: it didn’t waste our time wondering why he was there, away from the regular team. Two: the new characters were interesting for their short stay. Three: it was four episodes and not the focus of the season. To see that scenario imitated in Invisible Victory and done without excitement is disappointing. Some may argue that I shouldn’t compare it so much to the old, that this should be judged on its own. That’s not how direct sequels work, especially if one were to watch all seasons in succession now without the 13-year gap.
The most irritating fact of IV is how little it matters by the end. Leonard, who was the only incomplete thread from TSR, is still at large after having done little to nothing yet again. We are on the hook yet again to wait for another season, of which we have no confirmation.
One final aspect I must touch on is the use of CG for mechs and vehicles. It is undeniably rushed. FMP has used CG on occasion successfully – one of the few series to manage it. So to see Invisible Victory look worse than The Second Raid from thirteen years ago is baffling. It’s particularly noticeable when switching from a 2D close-up, detailed with battle wear, dents, and minor plays on light and shadow, to a CG long shot where the mechs no longer have detail. The models are too smooth, too clean. I understand why they resorted to CG. IV has a lot of mecha action, which would take time and effort to animate, and these fights have excellent choreography. The action is fast, fluid, and to the point. Sagara executes his opponents with the efficiency befitting his reputation. One skirmish in the suburbs between Sagara and several enemy mechs is particularly good.
I understand why. Yet, other series have managed to deliver a better product in similar situations – Studio Trigger regularly puts out great animation and Production I.G. often nails the CG used for vehicles in its titles. Full Metal Panic isn’t some small, untested franchise that can’t risk a larger budget. Why did this go to Xebec, a quick-and-cheap studio? It feels as though whoever was in charge didn’t care enough about the series, as if he had this forced upon him and just wanted it done, out of the way.
Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory is a wasted opportunity above all else. The good elements of Sagara’s emotional arc, the fight choreography, and moments of surprising grit pale under the weight of disappointment.
Art – Medium
Looks fine, outside of the CG during action scenes.
Sound – High
The voice acting and music is still strong. Go with the original Japanese like in past seasons.
Story – Medium
Sagara’s story continues as the enemy attacks and takes Chidori. With little progress made in the plot and a dull second act, Invisible Victory doesn’t carry the momentum of its predecessor.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For Full Metal Panic fans only. You will feel lost if you haven’t seen the other series, though I highly recommend starting this franchise. Invisible Victory wasn’t worth the wait, however.
“Is Darling in the FranXX better than Evangelion?” someone asked me. “Studio Trigger is Gainax 2.0, so have they finally surpassed their past?” Better than Eva? Darling in the FranXX isn’t even better than Guilty Crown – forget Evangelion.
Darling in the FranXX feels like Trigger’s attempt at stepping out of Gainax’s shadow. That’s not how you distinguish yourself from your predecessors. You do so by forging your own path, your own identity, which they were well in the process of doing with the likes of Kill la Kill and the great Little Witch Academia. Now, people will start thinking that Trigger is possibly stuck in the past.
This story, like all others of its kind, is about humanity on the brink of extinction and the only thing saving them from the evil Klaxosaur is a bunch of inexperienced teenagers piloting mechs – or FranXX, as they are known here. Each FranXX requires one boy and one girl in harmony to function. Hiro is part of the latest batch to become pilots, when he fails in his tests and looks set to return to the lab, that is, until the half-human half-Klaxosaur Zero Two invites him to join her on the battlefield in humanity’s last stand. Though she is the best pilot, she also has a reputation for killing her partners after a mere three fights. How long will Hiro last?
Before I dissect the story and characters, let’s address the fan service. I make no secret of my dislike for fan service, as it often comes at the expense of other, better elements. However, most fan service in good anime doesn’t much matter. It’s generally reserved for the low end of the scale.
FranXX was made for fan service first, everything else second. Seemingly every scene has an eye for titillation. When characters get dressed, which is before each fight, they have to wear special underwear (why?) and the camera has to give a close up every time. The “ass shot” camera angle is the director’s favourite. Girls fondle each other despite having no knowledge of anything sex-related (even kissing is alien to them). Zero Two is fan service cancer. Her introduction has her get naked for a swim in front of Hiro, catch a fish with her mouth, and then leap out of the water like a dolphin, boobs almost slapping him in the chin. Does this serve any purpose? No.
The beach episode makes an appearance, of course. One would imagine that a beach episode in a series about sheltered and repressed children would be different, but it isn’t.
Worst of all is the piloting. The boys control the FranXX by steering the girls arse (right after she orgasms from the connection “going in”). I don’t know why Trigger stopped there. Why not just be honest and have them naked in doggy-style for fights? The boys already come equipped with a gear stick.
A key point to remember throughout this is that unlike Kill la Kill where the titillation served some satirical and comedic purposes, Darling in the FranXX wants you to take all of this seriously. And to make it even worse, if you can imagine, it thinks itself clever.
Zero Two is wish fulfilment for sad otaku when she falls in love and drapes herself over a guy of no talent or interesting quality. Every line out of her is “Darling” this and “Darling” that. Far from endearing, this quickly grows irritating. It’s akin to “onii-chan” and all that guff from harem anime.
Relationships and romance are a core theme of FranXX. However, these are the shallowest elements of the series. Society forces these kids to couple up, which makes the relationships inorganic though not a problem just yet, if as a mere starting point. But the organic relationship growth never blooms. When one couple swears undying love, all I hear is the order from above to be “in love”. There is an attempt at relationship drama with the inclusion of another girl that likes Hiro (don’t ask me what she sees in him), but her involvement is irrelevant.
It tries by having love mechanics in the cockpit, whereby a couple’s combat prowess turns flaccid if they don’t trust and “love” each other. This just doesn’t succeed.
The cast consists on an equally bland assortment of characters. The tsundere, the bro, the one fat guy (in a dying world), the shy girl, the reserved chick, the childhood friendzone girl – you know them all already. I keep waiting for a reason to care about any of these people (see the relationship problems above for why). I never get the sense that thought went into developing them. It’s almost as if they knew viewers would draw parallels between them and their counterparts in Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, doing the work for the writers. The closest I got to caring for these characters was when the boys and girls declared war on each other in their dormitory, reminiscent and accurate to boarding school life shenanigans. Wish there was more elsewhere.
The world building is similar – zero effort. Humanity lives in mobile fortresses called Plantations, hinting at a full society, yet we barely glimpse it. The most we have is a quick pass through a city and the grand council sitting around expositing. SEELE was dull in Evangelion and is duller here. The world doesn’t justify itself for being this way because we never explore it. You want the audience to be asking questions, to know more as you unveil the world and characters piece by piece until the big finish (don’t answer every little thing, mind you – leave them pondering small mysteries). FranXX never made me ask the right questions because it never cared enough to show me something worth investigating.
Even the Klaxosaurs aren’t compelling. Yes, there is a little story behind them, but as enemies, they have no character.
Lastly, we come to the story. Well, take Eva but give it Gurren Lagann’s third act, ending included, and you have FranXX’s full story. Oh, and remove anything engaging you may find in those other anime, of course.
For much of the series, the action goes like this: Klaxosaur spotted, send out the FranXX except for Zero Two because she’s a loose cannon and dangerous to her partner, scrub pilots get stomped, forced to send Zero Two and darling Hiro, they annihilate the enemy with ease, Hiro comes back wounded though without lasting damage, other kids hate Zero Two, and repeat. Why even bother with a team of pilots?
Zero Two monopolises the action. Her weakness is supposed to be that she will consume a trained pilot after every three fights, and these pilots don’t just grow on trees, yet once Hiro enters the picture, that weakness become irrelevant. When he reaches the point of death, he magically gets better and that’s that, problem solved. With such little effort I am astonished, astonished I tell you, they even bothered to include the weakness at all.
Also, she can’t go anywhere without an armed guard due to her rogue nature, yet they give her an all access key to go where the other kids can’t? It bites them an episode later. Shocker.
What cracks me up are the commanders. Despite humanity’s existence hanging in the balance, the command crew consists of two or three people. That’s it? I thought we were all about to die.
By now, I am asking myself if there is anything good about Darling in the FranXX. The art is good, as usual from Trigger. It’s likely what’s stopping me from dumping this anime straight into the bottom tier. I don’t want to rely on impulse with this viewing so fresh in my mind, so I will err on the side of caution for now and ruminate on it. And it all could be worse, even in the face of so many faults. Some of the small character moments and interactions are fun, as seen in the dormitory war, for example. The mobile fortresses as humanity’s last homes is also an interesting idea – if only they had explored them!
If only they had explored anything.
Art – High
You can rely on Studio Trigger to do a good job with the art and animation, though this isn’t on the level of Kill la Kill or Little Witch Academia. FranXX designs are so damn silly.
Sound – Medium
The voice acting is fine, as is the music. The protagonist in English sounds like a middle-aged man.
Story – Low
Boys and girls paired as couples fight in mechs to protect humanity from Dinobots. The boy pilots by manoeuvring the girl’s arse – that is the least of this anime’s problems.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. The memes are better than Darling in the FranXX.
Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san, which roughly translates to “Skilled Teaser Takagi” with no official English title, is about middle schooler Nishikata who tries his utmost to embarrass his next-seat neighbour Takagi in class. He attempts this by pulling pranks to catch her out in moments of humiliation. Trouble is, she’s too skilled and always manages to turn the tables on him.
This innocent anime harkens back to the childhood days of boys and girls teasing the ones they secretly like. Nishikata and Takagi obviously like each other, though he doesn’t realise it and she’s too inexperienced to know what to do with these feelings. Karakai very much succeeds in capturing that age of innocence. Those of you looking for something light and sweet are in the right place.
The first episode has him making a paper jack-in-the-box (alternate folding two strips of paper to make a spring) when she interrupts by saying she can’t open her pencil case. It must be stuck. She asks if he can try. He does and it opens easily, only to have a paper jack-in-the-box spring out and surprise him. Drat! She got him first. And so this pattern goes each episode. It stays in the classroom for a few episodes before it goes beyond to places like the walk home and out in town.
My first issue in Karakai lies with Takagi. She’s too infallible, never losing to Nishikata. Once you catch on that she will always flip the script, it loses some of the engagement and makes the story’s core loop grow old before long. Having him win occasionally would pleasantly surprise the audience. The 20-minute episodes exacerbate this issue, as they drag for so little content. Ten minutes an episode would have sufficed. Three to five “skits” from the manga go into each episode, yet it still feels too thin.
However, the chemistry between the two leads goes a long way towards redeeming this situation. They have more chemistry than most couples do in romance anime.
With each failed stunt, his frustration grows and he must spend more time with her outside of school for any opportunity to beat her. He always overthinks it, stressed, and seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown over being embarrassed each time. Her underlying agenda is to get to know him better and though she may not admit it, you can see that enjoys his pranks. It’s sweet.
Now when it comes to the supporting cast, I haven’t anything positive to say. Most are forgettable, in the background, which is fine for a small series focused on its principal couple, but these three girls are an annoyance.
I don’t know why they have a sub-plot, why the camera ever cuts to them, or why they are even in this anime. As I understand it, they come from another manga by the same author as Karakai – an unpopular manga at that – but why are they here? They add nothing to the main couple or the theme. Cutting them would have gone a long way to tightening the pace of the whole series. Even so, they aren’t an issue serious enough to make you drop the anime.
I didn’t love Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san. It isn’t the right sort of series for me to love. But I enjoyed the first few and the last few episodes enough for me to recommend that you try this niche title. It has a good heart.
Art – Medium
The big heads and even bigger foreheads are the perfect art style for this innocent middle school comedy.
Sound – Medium
The acting from the two leads is serviceable, while the other characters don’t do enough to matter – except those three girls who sound annoying, though that may be as directed. The Pink Panther-esque mischief music is fun.
Story – Low
A middle school boy keeps trying to get one over on the girl next to him in class with his pranks. Though the scenario is a tad repetitive and goes for too long, the innocence of Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is quite refreshing.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is better than the sum of its parts, but it will only take one episode to know if it’s for you.