Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Technology and civilisation have advanced beyond our current situation.

Darker Than Black – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha

 

Related: Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Psycho-Pass

RahXephon

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Mystery

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 5 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Complex lore.
  • Creative powers and restrictions.
  • The comedic tangents are hilarious.
  • Character designs.

Negatives:

  • Lacks finality and answers.
  • Season 2 becomes oversimplified.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Darker than Black is an anime of malicious compliance. When I told it that it coveys lore in a vague manner, it responded with, “You don’t like my lore?” “That’s not wh—” “Fine, then I won’t give you any. If all you like is action, then that’s what I’ll give. Happy, are you!?” “…”

Before that moment in history, let’s go back to the start of Darker than Black. Ever since two gates appeared in Tokyo and Brazil, a fake sky replaced the real one and select people gained paranormal abilities at the cost of their humanity. These supernaturals known as Contractors became weapons for various governments and a group called the Syndicate. Officer Misaki has her investigatory skills put to the test when the Syndicate’s best agent, Hei the Black Reaper, is spotted in Tokyo. Hei and his associates have designs to uncover a mystery surrounding Hell’s Gate that threatens Contractors. Other Contractor division won’t let the Syndicate go unanswered either. Tokyo is a dangerous place to be.

First, I love the powers. Think of them as X-Men, but with a payment required after each use. The payment differs per character and ranges from smoking a cigarette to revealing a secret of yours to the next person you see. The cost tends to be something the Contractor hates. One Contractor, a magician, has to give away the technique to a magic trick every time he uses his illusion power. Bummer. Hei’s power is the ability to generate electricity, a favourite of mine. The writer could have merely copied the X-Men and been fine, but I appreciate the thought put into differentiating these powers by adding the payments.

Darker than Black also has artificial beings called Dolls that pass for human, but are dead inside and have scouting powers to aid their Contractor unit. Hei has one such doll with him as well as a Contractor whose power is to possess animals. Unfortunately for him, someone destroyed his human body during possession so he’s stuck as an animal for life. This makes him a tad grumpy.

Then we come to the larger world, where I find plenty interesting. I love that the police use an old woman known as the Stargazer, who can track when Contractors use powers by observing the fake stars above. Each Contractor is represented in a star – another great lore detail. Misaki has a telescope locked on Hei’s star, BK-201, which is how she knows he’s in town.

Most of the lore I have shared with you so far is presented in a decent manner. However, when it comes to the Gates, the lore behind Contractors, and even world history, Darker than Black takes serious issue with giving us this information. When it does present these aspects, it seems hesitant, as if the anime is worried about you finding out. “Does it or does it not work this way?” was a recurring question I had. This compounded with the fact that there is a lot of lore can make Darker than Black a headache for those who aren’t big fans of lore. It doesn’t help that much remains unanswered by the end, no thanks to season 2.

Here we arrive at the malicious compliance. If season 1 suffered from too much vague lore, season 2 suffers from having none whatsoever (the backstory threads are good, though). I said illuminate the lore, not eradicate it! In season 2, we follow two young siblings, one of which is a Contractor, and their escape from capture in Russia. It amounts to twelve episodes of action – good action, sure, but it no longer stands out like Darker than Black. I am particularly annoyed that Misaki is barely in season 2.

This does not lessen my recommendation for sci-fi/supernatural fans to watch the first season – likely twice to catch everything. If you worry about it being too heavy, the story occasionally diverts for some levity. The private eyes who narrates to himself noir-style and his cosplay girl assistant are the perfect change of pace. Even with several questions left unanswered, the lore we do get and the characters make Darker than Black an engaging experience.

Art – High

Darker than Black manages to have a large cast of characters, each distinct from the last, and yet doesn’t resort to lazy design techniques such as hair colour being the only distinguishing feature. The dark palette suits the story. Season 2 sees a noticeable dip in character and animation quality.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either Japanese or English voices. Nice soundtrack – the main singer is bilingual and mixes English with Japanese better than most. The script could do with tighter exposition.

Story – High

Super powered humans called Contractors work jobs for the nefarious Syndicate while uncovering the mystery that threatens Contractors worldwide. Darker than Black’s super powers and interesting characters deliver a great anime, but its complexities can alienate.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for science fiction fans. Darker than Black has everything a sci-fi fan could want – lore, depth, sociology, philosophy. Non-fans (maybe even fans) will find the lack of concreteness tedious, especially since it leaves much unanswered. Season 2 is optional viewing.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Orange – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Orange

 

Related: Orange: Mirai (alternative perspective + extended ending)

Similar: Erased

AnoHana

Blue Spring Ride

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Drama Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colouring and animation.
  • Some sweet moments.

Negatives:

  • Forgettable characters.
  • One of the weakest, most non-committal endings.
  • Needs to be smarter.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The more I think of Orange, the dumber it gets. Okay, you receive a letter from your future self warning of the death of a friend. Included are a list of events and instructions on how to save your friend. Do you: a) Read the whole letter to know what’s to come or b) Leave the letter and read each event at the last moment or better yet, after the crucial event. Now imagine you’re the future self, do you: a) Tell your past self exactly what happens or b) Keep events vague so the story isn’t spoiled. You know, I’m not convinced you care about saving your friend.

This scenario is where Naho finds herself. The letter from her future warns that the new transfer student, Kakeru, who joins her circle of friends, will die soon. The letter laments Naho’s many regrets in life, such as not playing in a school baseball game, sharing an umbrella with Kakeru… Wait, these are the crucial regrets that will save Kakeru’s life? Furthermore, the ultimate plan save to Kakeru is to get him together with Naho. It’s not that he has deep psychological issues because of his unstable mother and her suicide. No, he needs a date. The goals are so menial, so petty that despite the consequence being someone’s death, it doesn’t feel as though the story has anything at stake. Orange is a slice of life anime trying to convince us it’s a drama.

I can’t even talk of what happens during spoiler moments (‘spoiler’ is too strong a word here). There is a twist of sorts in act 2 that makes Naho’s decision not to read the whole letter seem genius. Turns out, Naho doesn’t get smarter with age.

Look, the premise is interesting, but such a timid approach isn’t viable. Compare Orange to Erased. Both feature abuse, parental problems, warnings from the future, and death as the consequence, yet feel nothing alike. Where Erased has tension, Orange worries about playing sports. Erased has its many faults and I appreciate that it’s easier to pull off this story when you have a murderer to confront, but at least it understood the weight of its consequence. The only time Orange bothers to have any weight is in the final episode. And you know what caps it off? One of those non-committal, insipid endings that doesn’t want to make the tough choices with its characters. The live-action film deviates from the source material in this one aspect, to better results, which is something.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the explanation for how the letters travelled back in time is…idiotic. This is fiction, where you can do whatever you want and you went with the science fiction equivalent of ‘pulled out of the arse’? I would show no surprise if I learnt that Orange took a day to write. No effort went into any part of this story.

I have enjoyed many mediocre or bad stories because of good characters. Orange does not have these. Naho is too dim-witted to find endearing. Apart from not reading the whole letter like a logical person, one point of “conflict” has her not understand what Kakeru means by holding out his hand. “A guy I’m dating (sorta) reaches for my hand several times. What could he possibly want? What does it mean!?” No joke, she has to consult her friends for an answer. I really hope no one’s relying on Naho to save a life…

The other friends are forgettable. I honestly forgot the nerd friend until past the mid-point, thinking he was a background filler student until then. These friends lack those moments that endear the reader to the group. The first scene that tries in episode one has them hanging out, eating bread from one friend’s family bakery. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but eating bread isn’t enough to make me love characters. They have some joke about one girl’s nickname related to a shinkansen, which they find hilarious…for some reason. Think back to your favourite group of fictional friends and how quickly you loved them. The TV show Friends is my go to example – one scene and I want to see more of them. Orange’s friends can barely fill a test tube with their chemistry.

What good is there to say of Orange? Well, it isn’t atrocious, more sigh-worthy when logic jumps out the window, and the visuals and audio are pleasant. They fit perfectly to the slice of life Orange wishes it could be. In essence, everything taken from the manga is lazy while the rest is good.

Art – High

Nice colours and a good amount of animation found here, but some of it looks strange, such as the way a couple of characters smile – coat hangers in their lips.

Sound – Medium

The voice work is good in Japanese and English, though the script doesn’t allow for much. I like the OP and ED for being different from other anime in the genre.

Story – Low

A schoolgirl receives a letter from her future self to save a friend from death. Orange is a slice of life masquerading as a drama that needed more thought before the first draft.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Orange makes no effort to recommend itself. Watch Erased if the premise entices you or the recently reviewed Your Lie in April if you want a romance about avoiding regrets.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Induces Stupidity

LOGH: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Waga Yuku wa Hoshi no Taikai

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (main series)

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War (sequel side story)

Similar: Code Geass

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 59 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Visually engaging and strategic battles.
  • Upgraded art from the series.
  • More micro world building.

Negatives:

  • Little new information from the main series.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Just a short review today of My Conquest is the Sea of Stars, prequel to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. This movie describes the first conflict between the two legends of the series, Yang and Reinhard.

We open on a battle above a Jupiter-like planet, and immediately the high budget and art quality shine to show us a visually engaging conflict. Yang is only an adviser at this stage, having to work under an incompetent commander. In typical Yang fashion, he and his best friend Attenborough are far too relaxed about the commander not taking the advice to avoid the planet’s volatile atmosphere.

For Reinhard’s part, he has to contend with a superior who takes issue with how fast Reinhard has risen up the ranks, especially with Reinhard’s relation to the king’s wife. The admiral plots to get him out of his hands at the Iserlohn Fortress as soon as possible. Commanders loathe this young upstart, intertwining politics and strategy in the same battle.

Being back in this universe amongst these characters makes me comfortable, like going home for the holidays and relaxing with loved ones after a busy year. The nostalgia of seeing several major characters at the start, before all the changes the series puts them through tempts me to start the series again (No! Have to get through unwatched series first!).

Sea of Stars changes things up by giving us a perspective from an ordinary Imperial soldier. He isn’t anyone important nor will he have a notable impact on the war, but that’s what makes his perspective so interesting, oddly enough. Throughout Legend of the Galactic Heroes, we see Yang and Reinhard’s grandeur, yet to the ordinary person, these heroic achievements aren’t the biggest deal when trying to live life day to day. Politics don’t really matter to a grunt in the cockpit. It’s fascinating to hear what he and fellow soldiers think of the people at the top. He doesn’t care about Reinhard’s controversial background, just whether Reinhard can keep him alive to get home tomorrow.

This lower level perspective also allows for more world building, as we follow soldiers on the streets during downtime. Sea of Stars doesn’t feel like a waste. The team took the opportunity to add more to the already rich franchise, rather than take the lazy route and rehash all we already know.

My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is a must watch – the climactic battle where music tells the entire story earns your time alone. No words, no sound effects – just the action and music weaving an emotional conflict.

Art – High

This takes the art from the main series up a notch with more animation and colour depth, thus allowing for visually engaging battles.

Sound – Very High

Same quality acting, writing, and orchestra as Legend of the Galactic Heroes. I loved the use of nothing but music for the finale’s atmosphere and emotions.

Story – Very High

My Conquest is the Sea of Stars details the first encounter between those two heroes who would become legendary. With focus on a superb strategic battle and world building from the soldiers’ perspective, this prequel is a great addition to the epic series.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch after Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While you can watch My Conquest is the Sea of Stars standalone, as it doesn’t spoil anything, its significance and much of the larger context comes from the parent series.

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

Positive: N/A

Negative: N/A

Mobile Police Patlabor TV – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mobile Police Patlabor: On Television

 

Related: Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie (sequel)

Mobile Police Patlabor: Early Days (shorter alternative version)

Similar: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Full Metal Panic!

Dai-Guard

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Mecha Science Fiction Comedy

Length: 47 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Well aged visually.
  • Mech designs.

Negatives:

  • Out done in every way by contemporaries.
  • Protagonist’s immaturity.
  • Flat dub.
  • Not particularly interesting nor funny enough.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I’m not sure if I am disappointed with Mobile Police Patlabor TV. On one hand, I was looking forward to it. On the other, it wasn’t bad nor did it have anything of particular annoyance. I don’t know how to describe how much nothing there is to this cult classic anime.

Mobile Police Patlabor TV focuses on Izumi and her motley police crew, who use mechs called Patlabors to fight crime and protect the people. Labors – heavy mechanised robots – are everywhere in society from construction to military, so it’s important for law enforcement to know how to handle them.

Izumi is the feisty new girl assigned to piloting the latest ‘patrol labor’ under the mentorship of a veteran from the LAPD. Izumi is also the first and main reason for Patlabor’s nothingness. She is too immature to be believable as such an important member of the police. Her immaturity isn’t the kind to make you beg for a merciful death within a few episodes – it’s simply results in a whole lot of nothing in terms of conflict, development, or anything really.

It’s common to have the protagonist of a comedy be a goofy character, even when in a demanding job. The key, however, to sell us on the goofiness plus the professionalism is to have a professional quality that makes us believe they can do the job. An example that leaps to mind is Jake Peralta, protagonist from TV comedy Brooklyn-Nine-Nine, who puts Izumi’s goofiness to shame. No matter the hijinks he gets up to, the one thing he is good at is being an officer. Yes, Izumi gets the job done (because the author wrote it that way). I still never bought that she was the right choice or even qualified to be a part of the mobile unit. She doesn’t have a professional quality to compensate. As a result, the conflict doesn’t feel serious because the writer didn’t send a serious character to face it.

Most episodes feel like daily life at the police station, goofing around with little conflict and mostly training. For the comedy, Patlabor has its fair share of good jokes, reminiscent of the Police Academy movies, though none had me in pain from laughter. Most jokes tend to be amusing but not ‘lough out loud’ funny, and yet not eye-gougingly bad either. Again, mostly nothing. Full Metal Panic executes all this comedy better.

For an alternative take, Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie has Izumi as a mature character and the conflict has more weight, both at the expense of humour, which does remove much of Patlabor TV’s identity. Even so, I found the movie more engaging (the shorter length didn’t hurt either). I almost feel bad for not recommending Mobile Police Patlabor TV due to its friendly nature.

Art – Medium

Patlabor looks good for its age thanks to a remaster. I like the mech designs.

Sound – Medium

The dub is flat (“Why you!” – listen to Izumi’s delivery on that line), owed in part to the middling script, but the Japanese actors worked much better with the given material.

Story – Medium

A mobile police unit uses mechs to fight crime and try to live a normal life. A bit too ‘normal’ to excite much interest, yet not exactly disagreeable either.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Skip it. Mobile Police Patlabor TV is remarkably unmemorable, which is in itself quite memorable. Watch Full Metal Panic if you want the better comedy side or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for the serious side.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Eureka Seven – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Eureka Seven

 

Related: Eureka Seven AO (sequel)

Eureka Seven – Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (alternative version)

Similar: Gundam SEED

Xam’d: Lost Memories

Gurren Lagann

Guilty Crown

Neon Genesis Evangelion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance Action Adventure Drama

Length: 50 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Art is quite nice.
  • Some cool mechs.

Negatives:

  • Keeps changing its identity.
  • A chore to finish.
  • “Eh-oo-wreck-ah”
  • Romance lacks believability.
  • Crying!

(Request an anime for review here.)

Eureka Seven, what a ch— Sorry, Ehoowrecka Seven, what a chore to sit through. How can an anime about air surfing mechs be this tedious?

Our arduous journey starts when a mech known as Nirvash typeZERO crashes in 14-year-old Renton’s small town of Bellforest. A girl called Ehoowrecka Eureka pilots Nirvash, a unique mech capable of controlling Trapar waves like no other machine, and being the first girl he has probably ever seen, Renton falls in love with her. Infatuated and desperate to escape his small town life, he joins her in Gekkostate against the military.

Gekkostate? Trapar? Nirvash typeZERO? Ehoowrecka? Lore is the first of Eureka Seven’s problems. As is evident, it bombards the viewer with specialist terms (nouns often made up for lore) within the first episode, never giving a chance to let them sink in. All these terms featured in the official blurb – a bad sign (Tip: the best blurbs mention no names). On top of half the characters having made up names, every sci-fi object has an unintuitive sci-fi name that if looked at on paper, you wouldn’t guess its purpose. This world didn’t have questions I wanted to explore further – I just wanted to get out.

Sci-fi/fantasy often invents specialist terms, but it is crucial to introduce these elements with memorable impact. If you call a fire spell ‘Schinezarcher’ and don’t introduce (and repeat) it in the right way, the viewer will simply say, ‘what’s it called? You know, that big fire spell.’

Think of Star Wars and how not confused you are in that film. It doesn’t throw Jedi, Midi-chlorians (shudder), Ewoks, Endor, Lando, and the like at you within five minutes. Star Wars uses a mix of intuitive terms (Lightsaber, Death Star) and unintuitive terms with proper introduction. When they threaten to destroy Alderaan, we see the planet Alderaan on the screen. You don’t want Alderaan confused for a battleship. They don’t have to point and say, “That’s Alderaan!” We get it through context. Eureka Seven will have two characters talking as a new term enters the lexicon – no visual aids, no context assist. Not all words need immediate explanation, of course, but there should be a point soon after that cements the meaning. The more unintuitive a term the more emphasis required. Gekkostate is the name of the mercenary/terrorist group they are a part of, by the way. At least the anime ingrains Eureka’s name by kicking you out of the experience each time someone uses it. Elements that are supposed to be cool or significant leave no impact because we don’t have groundwork to stand on first.

Why is this hater rambling on and on about bloody lore, you ask? Well, dear reader, this problem with the lore applies to everything in Eureka Seven. The sudden romance between…Renton (took a moment to remember his name) and Eureka has no establishment. Sudden infatuation from a teen boy towards a teen girl? Happens more than you know. A lasting romance we are told is profound? That requires foundations and work to build up. Why are these two kids so into each other? They have nothing to love about each other. If he wanted to bang that receding hairline, biology suffices as explanation, but life changing love? Sure thing, mate.

Renton spends most of the series crying while Eureka looks after a batch of kids. These kids! Bloody hell, I have never hoped more for child characters to die off each episode (not even Carl from The Walking Dead demands such loathing). And it almost happened too. Eureka’s backstory is that she was a mindless soldier and killed the parents of these kids before she snapped out of it, which raises yet another poorly established point. These kids love the woman that killed their parents without any story selling us on the idea. Maybe it’s just me, but loving my parents’ murderer would take more than ‘just because’. Show us this backstory instead of a recap in episode fourteen (!).

Eureka Seven just throws stuff into the story and hopes you care on instinct rather than merit. Dislike an element anyway? Don’t worry, the show veers off in a random direction every dozen episodes to haphazardly grab your interest again. The final villain’s plan when the whole shebang comes out is a good idea, but that don’t matta’ cause Renton gotta get his bone on.

Eureka Seven does not respect your time as a viewer. It’s like that person we all know who asks for a lift, is late to the pickup, and then expects you to have known they would be late. Screw that guy.

Art – High

Good art and animation – I like the mechs. Why does every character have a receding hairline?

Sound – Medium

The acting is good, but the music is forgettable and the script leaves a lot to be desired. Renton’s every line seems to be in question form. Also, the naming scheme is arse.

Story – Low

The sudden appearance of a girl and her mech sweeps a boy on board a mercenary group’s adventure. With an empty romance, a whiny protagonist, annoying kids, and an identity that changes every arc, Eureka Seven takes iron concentration to finish.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Fifty episodes is a lot to ask of your time for such an unremarkable series. The likes of Gundam SEED and Gurren Lagann use your time better than Eureka Seven does.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

DissapointingUseless Side Cast