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Steins;Gate 0 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Steins;Gate 0

 

Related: Steins;Gate (prequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Length: 23 episodes

 

Positives:

  • You don’t have to watch this.

Negatives:

  • Unrecognisable characters.
  • Pointless.
  • Padded through obfuscation.
  • Fan fiction.
  • Bad plotting.

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Note: Implied spoilers for the original Steins;Gate ahead.

The best thing I can say about Steins;Gate 0 is that you don’t have to watch this anime. It’s pointless. It presents the “what if” scenario of Okabe failing to save Christina, his love, at the end of the original Steins;Gate. This isn’t a bad idea, by any means, to give us the “bad ending” and show how the hero would cope with loss and failure. What if Superman failed to save the day? What if the murderer was cleared of all charges and got away? These are interesting scenarios. Steins;Gate 0 couldn’t have executed this any worse than it did.

Okabe’s experiences of seeing a loved one die repeatedly across many timelines has left him drained, a far cry from the cheerful mad scientist we knew from the previous series. This presents an immediate challenge, though not necessarily a problem if compensated right. Okabe’s larger than life personality and lovable insanity is one of the driving forces in Steins;Gate, and to remove this elements means leaving a void. A writer can alleviate this by either bringing a similar replacement character (not the best solution, as it often feels copycat-ish) or by ramping up the dramatic tension. We would miss Mr Mad Scientist, yes, but the story would grip us while his sombre changes make sense. Steins;Gate 0 does neither.

There is no replacement for Okabe’s presence and the tension has never been flatter in this franchise. The first two acts have so little going on that it makes the creatively bankrupt nature of this anime too obvious to ignore.

Without Okabe driving the plot, as he did in the original with his time travel research, Steins;Gate 0’s hook is the introduction of an AI so advanced that it can replicate the human brain. In this case, Christina’s former research colleagues managed to copy her brain to a machine and it is up to Okabe to test the veracity of her humanity. She appears as a digital avatar of herself on a smartphone. (Imagine the movie Her but without the creativity, good writing, and satisfaction). This gimmick doesn’t amount to much in the end nor does the series explore a tenth of its potential – ramifications of such technology, possibility of hacking the AI, it going beyond the programming, emotion, and so on. It’s just an excuse to have Christina in the story while also keeping her dead. Furthermore, she isn’t half the great character we remember.

This leads to the next problem – characters. The characters here are garbage. If you have just finished Steins;Gate, it can be difficult to comprehend how such a great cast of characters could become so pathetic in the next series. Let me summarise it simply: If the characters didn’t still have their signature quirks such as Mayuri’s “Tuturuuuu”, Faris’s catgirl cosplay and meows, Daru’s net-speak, and the like, one wouldn’t recognise these people by personality.

They feel like fan fiction versions of their former selves, written by a fan that didn’t quite grasp what made these characters them. The surface is there, but none of the soul. (Let’s not even get into the useless Christina-looking clone character they added to no purpose.)

In fact, this entire series feels like fan fiction, which is even more baffling when I saw that it came from the same creator. Gone is the intricate plotting. Gone is the tension. Gone is the dialogue. Gone is Steins;Gate.

The core problem goes back to Okabe. The story lacks a driving force, resulting in much standing around and talking about the story rather than acting through it. Characters withhold information from others for inexplicable reasons, purely as a means to stretch out the plot. And the red herrings are some of the worst misdirection anyone could dream of. The new villain is so nonsensical that I could spoil it and be doing you a favour. Had the characters received the same respect here as they had in Steins;Gate, this would be over in five episodes. Most characters have no place anywhere in the series, crammed into scenes for fan service. Even characters with a point are forced into scenes where they don’t belong just to maximise exposure (read: “Buy the merchandise for all these characters”). I laughed when several of the most innocuous characters are transformed into killer soldiers just to include them more. We can’t forget the fan service!

Fan service made sense in the original. It was always a little out there, but it fit the otaku-centric culture and didn’t undermine the tone outside the rare occasion. Here, it couldn’t be clearer that the team cared about fan service first with oh so “hilarious” sexual mishaps and otaku mannerisms that sap all drama from the air at the worst times.

Look no further than breasts for answers. Compared to the original, every female character has jumped up a dozen bust sizes to defy gravity and maximise profits on erotic merchandise.

If you look at this anime on its own, which you can, it’s below average and boring. Add in the pedigree of Steins;Gate and you have yourself one of the worst franchise continuations in anime history. Steins;Gate 0 reminds me of the Terminator movie franchise in how pointless the releases have become. At least Terminator took until the third film to run out of creativity.

I didn’t even cover a fraction of the details wrong with Steins;Gate 0 – we’d be here all night otherwise. This isn’t the worst anime ever made, but boy do I hate it.

Art – Medium

The women have become more homogenised and the new characters are uninspired. The cinematography, though still decent, is down on the original.

Sound – Low

Mind-meltingly dull script lacking in personality and the actors don’t have the room to flex as they used to. The music is forgettable, unexpectedly.

Story – Low

Steins;Gate 0 is the “what if” scenario had the hero failed to save his lover. This pointless continuation of the franchise is fan faction with a big budget.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Steins;Gate 0 should have stayed lost in time.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DisappointingIncoherentPoor PacingUseless Side Cast

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Future Boy Conan – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mirai Shounen Conan

 

Related: Future Boy Conan 2: River Adventure (sequel)

Similar: Castle in the Sky

Now and Then, Here and There

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Art holds up.
  • High-energy adventure.

Negatives:

  • Beyond suspension of disbelief.
  • Several bad performances.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So as it turns out, Future Boy Conan isn’t related to Detective Conan. When the dear reader that requested this informed me this was Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut, my first thought was, “Huh, I didn’t know he worked on Detective Conan. Then again, it’s such a long series – nearing 1000 episodes and over two-dozen movies – that everyone probably worked on it at some point.” The mistake isn’t isolated to me apparently, as some wikis will mention, “Not to be confused with Detective Conan.” So…my bad?

Future Boy Conan is near as un-detective-like a story as you can imagine. It takes place in the post-apocalypse of WW3 after a mega-weapon wiped half the planet, sunk several continents, and shifted Earth’s axis. Attempts at fleeing into space failed. One such rocket crash-landed on an island, which the survivors called home as they waited for inevitable extinction. However, a baby boy was born that would soon discover they weren’t as alone as originally thought.

A chance encounter with the girl Lana fleeing from Industria, the last evil corporation, leads the boy Conan off his island and onto a grand adventure, sailing from island to island with a colourful cast of characters to meet along the way.

This is anime firmly made for kids as dictated by Miyazaki when he changed the tone of the source material. In the original novel, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key, the world is one of pessimism with little hope for the characters. Miyazaki didn’t want to inflict this on children, so flipped it to optimism, dropped Conan’s age by a demographic and gave him ten times the energy and enthusiasm. With Miyazaki’s goal in mind, it was the correct choice. I can’t imagine many kids would have enjoyed the original grimness aimed at teenagers.

However, I do feel he went a little too far. Conan is so energetic that he borderlines on annoying – made worse by the acting performance – and goes far beyond the boundaries of suspension of disbelief. Conan is freakishly strong. He has the strength of 20 men, able to throw boulders, haul great white sharks, leap 50 metres to an aircraft taking off, and hold onto the wings at speed. All fiction requires some measure of lenience if you wish to enjoy anything ever created, but this too much without some plausible explanation. Lana’s psychic ability to communicate with seagulls and see through their eyes is more believable.

I don’t imagine kids would have a problem with this. Looking back on some of the shows I loved as a kid but wouldn’t watch anymore, it’s shocking how much I bought into the action they sold us.

I would be able to look past this, with effort, if the story and other characters appealed to me. But much like the two leads, everything here is tailored for kids. The environmental message is black and white, Industria is a Big Bad with little nuance, and the story prioritises adventure over characters and plotting. It’s for kids, so of course! It’s natural.

I’m not suggesting that any who enjoy this anime are children. Rather, I’m saying it’s unlikely to have adult appeal unless you watched it as a child, already bonded to the series, or you are in it for the intellectual curiosity of seeing Miyazaki’s directorial debut.

That latter angle does have appeal to me. You can see the roots of his future films growing here, not least of which is the environmentalism, a theme he has since overused through several stories that feel like iterations of each other. The captain of an enemy ship, and my favourite character, feels the most Ghibli-like of the cast. Your ability to love him despite being a villain is a studio trademark. And of course, you will find many “kid moments” that make the younger cast feel more like real kids. It’s not as perfected as later seen in the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away, but that charm is there.

The least Miyazaki element comes in the form of the caveman child Jimsy, who has a tobacco addiction and gets drunk. After Miyazaki’s objection to pessimism for children, he is a surprising addition. Not a bad character, though unexpected from a director so squeaky clean.

Future Boy Conan was alright for me in the end. I am glad to have marked it off my list, but I have no inclination to watch the sequel.

Art – High

For its year of 1978, Future Boy Conan’s art was an achievement. It isn’t anything special compared to today or to anime movies, but to have plenty of animation, detailed environments, and consistency throughout is impressive for an old series. The only major flaw is the lack of lighting and shadows on characters (it multiplies cel painting times to accomplish), which makes them standout more from the background than they should.

Sound – Medium

The acting is a mixed bag. Some are great, like the captain and Lana, while others aren’t easy on the ears. Conan himself has the worst performance – more screeching than acting.

Story – Medium

A boy’s encounter with a girl propels him into a conflict against the last corporation of evil in this post-apocalyptic world. An adventure story through and through, Future Boy Conan’s appeal towards children likely won’t attract older viewers beyond the director’s pedigree.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Miyazaki fans only. I can only recommend this to those looking to see Miyazaki is his first directorial role (and to kids, but I don’t think they read these reviews). If you want a shorter version, see Castle in the Sky.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher

 

Related: Marvel Future Avengers

Similar: Iron Man

Canaan

Spriggan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 22 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Animated well.

Negatives:

  • Action is repetitive.
  • No mystery or suspense.
  • Generic scientist villain.
  • Royalty-free rock music?

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I just watched this out of curiosity to see what they would do with a Marvel anime film instead of a series. I shouldn’t have bothered.

After the Punisher disrupts a secret S.H.I.E.L.D mission, the agency forces him to team up with Black Widow to fight Leviathan, a terrorist organisation selling stolen S.H.I.E.L.D tech. The vigilante and hero will have to put their differences aside to save the world.

Action, action, and more action constitute Avengers Confidential’s runtime. There’s a fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against some thugs, another fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against the generic weapons scientist enemy, and, of course, yet more combat between the two leads. Honestly, these two fight each other more than they do enemies.

The action is so repetitive as well. How many times do they hit fist to fist? It must be at least once per fight. Avengers Confidential has no mystery or suspense to keep you watching. It has as much content as an episode from the Marvel series anime. There is no substance here, no character and little story to speak of. I wonder how this anime would look from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about these characters. Would such an audience have any sense for whom these characters are and for what they are meant to stand?

There’s nothing more to say other than don’t waste your time as I did with this incredibly boring film. It’s made to look even worse should you come at it from Marvel’s Hollywood movies.

And with that, I am done with Marvel’s foray into anime, unless they try again with something better at a later date. Overall, I am not impressed with these Marvel anime. X-Men had good qualities, but the rest…I doubt people will even remember which characters received adaptations in a few years.

Art – Medium

Avengers Confidential is well animated, though the anatomy looks off at times, particularly faces, as if two studios worked on separate scenes independently.

Sound – Low

The acting is decent with little to say while the music sounds like royalty-free rock.

Story – Low

The Punisher and Black Widow team up to defeat Leviathan, a terrorist organisation looking to sell S.H.I.E.L.D technology to super villains. You need more than straightforward action to have a good story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Watch any Avengers animated series instead, or you have a hundred more engaging action anime than Avenger Confidential.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

RepetitiveShallow

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (original series)

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin

Code Geass

Rose of Versailles

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the original’s ideas.
  • Beautiful.
  • Great music.

Negatives:

  • Too condensed.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I didn’t expect this. In this season of revivals and forgotten sequels, I didn’t expect Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These to be one of the better titles. I am amazed this reboot didn’t try to cram 110 episodes into 12. No lies, my expectations were barely above the quality of The Last Airbender movie. Imagine my surprise when Die Neue These (German: The New Thesis) got me with that grand opening, a fleet of ships soaring to the heavens as a spine-tingling aria lifts hope itself.

Even after that good impression, my expectations remained tepid. It looked and sounded good, but story and character matter above all else to me – and when it involves some of my favourite characters in the best story anime has created, no amount of visual flair and evocative music can distract me from what matters.

Like the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the story is about a clash of ideologies. Democracy stands on one side – chaotic, corrupt, and idealistic, but free and with great potential. On the other side stands an absolute monarchy, where the people’s quality of life is dependent on the decisions of a single person – prosperity one generation doesn’t prevent utter despair the next. We follow Reinhard, a young commander in the Galactic Empire’s fleet on a steep upward trajectory to greatness, and the thorn in his side, Yang Wen Li, master tactician of the Free Planets Alliance.

One fascinating thing about seeing the same story – any good story – adapted multiple times, is in how it demonstrates that idea and premise alone aren’t enough, that execution matters most. Pride & Prejudice is my favourite classic story, with numerous adaptions over decades of cinema. Despite my love of the story, most of these adaptations aren’t good. Not because they aren’t faithful, but because they aren’t engaging. Give 10 directors the same book to adapt and you will likely see 10 different stories of varying quality.

In the case of Die Neue These, it does a good job of creating an engaging story with interesting characters and tense action. The execution is solid, in essence. However, this anime is in a precarious situation, for it is reinventing one of the giants. Comparisons to the original are inevitable, just as everyone will compare any version of Pride & Prejudice to the BBC’s 1995 miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

Die Neue These does have the advantage of releasing two decades after the original’s conclusion. This is long enough for it to have a potential new audience, particularly one that has no interest (at their own loss) of visiting such an old anime. Legend of the Galactic Heroes looks old to the new anime generation. Die Neue These took the idea of the original and brought it forward with all new bodywork and shiny paint, slick against the wind.

Storywise, the largest change is a streamlining of the dialogue-heavy scenes of old and the significant increase in action shots (I suspect the original would have had more action had they the budget for animation). When I talked of execution earlier, the dialogue was one of the original’s key elements to success, so to have it lessened should spell doom for the series.

It doesn’t.

At its core, this is the same story full of scheming, smart strategy, questionable decisions, grey characters, and losses on both sides. Yang is still Yang and Reinhard is still Reinhard. Sure, it’s not as good – not even in the same planetary system – yet it isn’t a disaster. Able to let go of comparisons to the original, I enjoyed this. Honestly, I think the fact that it wasn’t terrible allowed me to relax and go along for the ride. I looked forward to my nightly episode.

Die Neue These does have its share of problems, even on its own merits. The most glaring issue is the speed at which some scenarios resolve. I’m not talking of how the original took its time to go in depth with every character and every thread of its complex political web, while the new trims that down to focus only on major characters. No – you get the sense that an extra episode on a conflict here or there could have fleshed out the strategies and politics employed. And it’s not as though they were rushing to hit a perfect story beat for episode 12, the season finale. Episode 12 doesn’t feel like a point where one would think to leave the audience wanting more. A “down swing” episode is an odd choice on which to end.

I won’t pretend that I love Die Neue These. Most of the great experiences I had towards this series were reminders of watching the original for the first time. I cannot erase the original in my mind.

But this isn’t an anime for fans of the old series, like me. Do you know what people like me do when we want Legend of the Galactic Heroes? We go to the original. I’ve said it many times before: there’s no point in doing the exact same thing again. Look at Psycho’s remake. Take a risk. It probably won’t be as good, but who knows, it may provide something different and interesting. An adaptation doesn’t affect the original either.

I need more seasons (story’s barely started at 12 episodes) before I can give final judgement on Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These. I’ve enjoyed it so far. Pleasantly surprised.

Art – High

Die Neue These can do the one thing the original could not – animate everything. As such, we have a lot more action scenes this time. They look good, the spaceships’ CG blends in almost all the time, and the scenes fit the younger, higher energy of this series. I still prefer the refined character designs and classic look of the original, though I have little problem with the art direction here.

Sound – High

With many of the original actors no longer with us or retired, the team decided to go with a completely new cast. I am too used to the originals to prefer the new, but they do a good job. Different this time around is the inclusion of a dub (the original never crossed the ocean). I could get used to a dub easier than I could a changed Japanese cast, as it would be a new experience. However, I can’t say I agree with several of the casting choices. Reinhard in particular doesn’t sound right in English without that calm commanding presence befitting his character. I suppose that if the dub is your first viewing it may be fine. Love the music!

Story – High

An alliance of free planets battles to hold onto their freedom against the Galactic Empire as ideologies clash and heroes rise. This streamlined adaptation of a classic has nothing on the original, but seen on its own targeted at a new generation makes for a solid anime.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: If you don’t find the original series engaging because of its dialogue-heavy nature and old visuals, then I do recommend Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These. You’ll be missing several key qualities, but you won’t know what they are, so no harm there.

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

Positive:

Great MusicStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory

 

Related: Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (prequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Mecha Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fight choreography.
  • Sagara’s emotional arc.

Negatives:

  • Main villain still hasn’t done anything.
  • Dull second act.
  • CG scenes are noticeable.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

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