Tag Archives: Science Fiction

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Super Dimension Fortress Macross – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Macross

 

Related: Macross Zero (prequel)

Macross Plus (sequel)

Macross: Do You Remember Love? (alternate version)

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam

Martian Successor Nadesico

Terra e…

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Romance Science Fiction

Length: 36 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Weaponised culture
  • A real sense of adventure through space
  • Full of unconventional ideas
  • That kissing demonstration

Negatives:

  • The art and animation has plenty of jank
  • Minmay is too annoying for a love interest

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Macross, often known as Robotech in the West (more on that saga later), is a classic of mecha sci-fi anime. A cursory glance at the series paints a picture of a Gundam clone. As a fan of Gundam, I had no problem should that be the case. However, the differences are significant.

They make Macross worthwhile.

Today, we focus specifically on the first entry of this long running franchise, Super Dimension Fortress Macross (like the first Mobile Suit Gundam, they needed to change the name to differentiate from other entries). Shortly before the new millennium, an alien spaceship crash-landed on Earth. A united humanity worked for a decade to reverse-engineer this technology in anticipation of the aliens’ return. They succeed in creating SDF-1 Macross, a city sized spaceship, but its maiden voyage also alerts the Zentradi aliens out in space, bringing them back to Earth. An attempt to escape and draw alien attention goes awry and the Macross teleports deep into space, taking the nearby water and town with it.

A hasty salvage mission brings much of these surroundings – civilians included – on board the gargantuan ship. They must now make their way home while establishing a normal life inside and fighting off threats outside. Amongst the crew is Hikaru, a young pilot, and Lynn Minmay, a flighty singer and the target of his affections.

Macross’s first hook into me is the teleportation of the town alongside the ship. Bringing an entire town aboard a ship is something different indeed and is a clever way of having ordinary civilian life within a grand space journey. In long journey Gundam series – a much more serious and realistic franchise – you can’t get away with this. The most Gundam can sell to the audience is bringing a few civilians aboard the main ship, while cutting away to other characters elsewhere amongst the populace. Macross can go from dogfights in space one episode to a walk in the park next episode for the same characters. This completely changes the tone of the series. I love the cosy feel and balance offered by this dynamic. It’s more fun than Gundam. Not to suggest it lacks dramatic moments, of course.

The alien Zentradi are humanoid giants obsessed with war. Everything in their society revolves around combat. And this is where Macross’s greatest difference and best selling point compared to its peers comes into play. What starts as a war of weapons and bodies soon turns into a war of culture. Culture is humanity’s secret weapon.

One of the first major social events aboard the Macross, in an effort to create a normal life, is the Miss Macross contest. Minmay wins, which launches her off to stardom as the most famous person in Macross “city”, netting music, film, and sponsorship deals. Her music inspires the people. She will even perform live to calm everyone as war rages outside. The Zentradi intercept her broadcast and have no idea what’s going on. They’ve never heard music before. This launches infiltration missions to figure out what’s going on and perhaps capture some of this…whatever this is! The more they encounter human culture, the more bleeds out to the aliens. “I like this ‘music’ thing,” some think to themselves. “Why are we trying to destroy it again…?” A song called Lili Marleen inspired Minmay’s character, as it was popular by both the Allies and Axis during WW2.

This very much mirrors accounts of North Korean defectors. Most North Koreans would swear up and down that their country is great, superior to other countries, but they don’t know any more of the real world than what the government propaganda feeds them. However, there are leaks. South Korean TV dramas are a favourite with North Koreans, surreptitiously watched on smuggled discs with the threat of eternal labour or death hanging over their heads. In these k-dramas, they see a version of life beyond the border and begin to long for it. (I recommend Crash Landing on You on Netflix if you want a great k-drama involving North Korea.)

Needless to say, this aspect of Macross is excellent. It also leads to the most hilarious kissing scene in anime history in the third act. One of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen. Pure gold.

To talk of the characters, there isn’t too much to say. Most are solid, decent characters for their roles. If you are familiar with the casts of old Gundam series, you will see similarities, which is fine. An all-round decent cast. The only one to stand out is Minmay and I wouldn’t say for good reasons. The kinda romance between her and Hikaru isn’t engaging. First, she’s far too flaky and meek for someone like him. Young guy sees pretty girl, his brain shuts off, he “falls in love”, yes, but I don’t buy that he would keep chasing after another more mature woman shows interest. Minmay is the sort of woman that would have men leaving her every few months as her fans cry, “Are they crazy? How could they leave someone as kind, attractive, and famous as her!?”

Yet others would say, “No matter how hot she is, someone out there is sick of dealing with her shit.” Discussing the series with friends after finishing it revealed that I am not alone in my sentiments towards her. She is a divisive one. Her role in the story is great, don’t misunderstand me, but her character is irritating.

Before I leave you with my recommendation for Macross, I must talk of its release in the West and why you may have never heard of it before, despite a new release every few years. Macross first came out in English as Robotech in 1985, combing three different series and not even from the same franchise – Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. The explanation was that one series alone was too short for American TV at the time (required 65+ episodes), so they decided to combine three and make a new story. It doesn’t end there!

 

Macross wouldn’t receive an unedited, clean release with a dub until 2006, almost 24 years after creation. Interestingly, Minmay has the same voice actress and singer in both Japanese and English. Her voice stands out amongst the Americans, though it is authentic. The distribution rights are still a nightmare. The US distributor only has rights to SDF Macross as a legal battle over the Japanese rights has circled back to throw the English rights into question. The other series, as far as I’m aware, have never had foreign release. Absolute mess!

This dub comes with the advantage of remastered audio, should Macross’s age be a turn off, and it is a good dub. The animation is a bit jank, a far cry from what the likes of Gundam was putting out at the time, though it has charm.

I thoroughly enjoyed Super Dimension Fortress Macross and I will be going onto the next series.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For classic anime fans. It may be a little rough around the edges, yet Macross still holds up as a worthwhile anime today.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Bokurano – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bokura no

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Fafner of the Blue Sky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great opening song
  • Easy premise

Negatives:

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

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Quality – Medium

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

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Deca-Dence – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Deca-Dence

 

Similar: Gurren Lagann

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Zegapain

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Adventure Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good animation
  • The contrast between the two realities makes for something different

Negatives:

  • Story has a negative gradient of engagement
  • The end is particularly flat and convenient

(Request an anime for review here.)

Deca-Dence is an anime original series that hooks readers with an unusual, easy to grasp premise. The last of humanity lives on a mobile fortress called Deca-dence that roams the land in search of monsters to hunt, their blood a valuable resource. Warriors that fight these monsters are the Gears, most of them alien. Humans, for the large part, work as maintenance and hospitality crew referred to as Tankers. Tanker girl Natsume dreams of rising up to become a Gear, but the system seems stacked against her and denies her at every turn.

Little does she know that the system is in fact against her. Against all humans. Deca-dence and its adventures are actually a playground for cyborgs to fight monsters via humanoid avatars like some video game. The monster blood is worth points and extends cyborg life. High rankers receive handsome rewards. Furthermore, the whole “game” and every human within it belong to a giant corporation. This is Mortal Engines meets The Truman Show.

The reveal of the second reality with cyborgs is jarring if going in blind, as I did, for the visual styles of the two worlds are vastly different. The game world looks normal, albeit barren and grimy, whereas the cyborg world is out of a children’s morning cartoon. We don’t see the latter until episode two. I thought I had changed anime.

This is a good hook for the story and offers many questions that the audience wants answered. Who are these cyborgs? What do they really want? How did the world get this way? Is Deca-dence the only fortress? What’s with the mega corporation? Natsume is found to be a bug in the system, unaccounted for in the corporation records – but how? Will her exterminator friend delete this bug? And of course, we have the usual questions surrounding a dystopian world and its society. So many questions. So many possibilities.

It saddens me to report that the setup is the high point of the series and the story only declines in quality by the episode. The ending, most of all, is weak. For this sort of world, this sort of story with these themes you can’t settle on a utopian conclusion. Since I don’t want to spoil any more, I’ll use a parallel. This ending is like making a WW2 film, but once the Nazis are defeated, there is no other conflict to resolve or logistics to deal with (such as assisting all the homeless civilians). I’m not suggesting your story has to deal with them, yet you can’t pretend they don’t exist. Solving one problem doesn’t magically fix everything.

It’s more than that, however. The answers to those aforementioned questions – what questions they do answer – are frankly predictable and too normal. Deca-Dence is a slowly deflating balloon.

The characters are quite good, Natsume being a fun underdog easy to cheer for. Even so, the story doesn’t take them to interesting places as the themes dwindle to embers.

Deca-Dence never reaches a bad point. At no stage do I think, “This is so stupid.” It’s simply…mediocre.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it, though I am hesitant to suggest even that since the start is the best part of Deca-Dence and doesn’t follow through.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

All You Need is Kill – Manga Review

Japanese Title: All You Need is Kill

 

Related: Edge of Tomorrow / Live Die Repeat (live action)

 

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 2 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Gritty, brutal art
  • Engaging concept and execution

Negatives:

  • A little limited

Since having heard several years ago that the Hollywood movie Edge of Tomorrow came from a manga, I’ve wanted to read it. After all, manga to film adaptations don’t have a reputation for quality, yet Edge of Tomorrow is great. It turns out we have quite a lot different between the manga All You Need is Kill and the movie, with each being good in their own rights. Both versions understand their mediums.

All You Need is Kill isn’t a spectacular manga. It’s a simple though interesting concept: human soldier finds himself trapped in a loop in the fight against aliens invading Earth. He goes to battle, dies, wakes up in his bunk again, and repeat. With each loop, he trains harder, studies the enemy further, and lives a few minutes longer. Key among the soldiers is a woman, a war hero known as the “Full Metal Bitch”. No one kills aliens better than she does.

The manga characters are on the younger side, him as a new recruit and her age used to contrast her combat prowess. The movie ages up the characters and employs Tom Cruise as the protagonist and Emily Blunt as the woman that trains him. The protagonist isn’t a new recruit either, in the movie, instead coming from a non-combat division and he runs from duty. This gives him more dimension as a reluctant hero. Conversely, manga protagonist goes down the trauma route harder with each death eating away at him.

The most notable difference between the two is the alien design. Movie version has them as this undulating mass of tentacles/cables on four legs tearing across the battlefield. The manga aliens are floating balls of teeth, a.k.a. Langoliers. If you’ve seen the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Langoliers, you know they don’t translate well, something I’m sure the Edge of Tomorrow team was are of. I agree with the change. They’re fine in the manga, as you don’t need to animate them and the art illustrates them in gruesome detail.

The increased realism in the movie also extends to the power suit designs. The manga versions are very “anime” in design, akin to Bubblegum Crisis, whereas the movie employs exoskeletons similar to what the military is developing today. Could anime battle suits work in live action? Sure. Greater risk of cocking it up though.

If I have one notable complaint of the manga, it is the limited scope. I wish the story were at least one volume longer to give it more time to develop the relationship and to explore the aliens further. The two volumes we have are solid and work as they are, but I’m left wanting more. That’s where the movie improves upon the source. The couple get together sooner (keep in mind that she forgets everything each reset) and there is more to the aliens with a concrete end to the story. Movie version is a little more satisfying.

Forced to pick one or the other, I think the movie is better though the manga certainly has its merits. As I said at the beginning, they both succeed in their mediums.

Art – High

There is a nice contrast between the “softness” and youth of the characters paired against the gritty art used in the action. It evokes the trauma of these young people on the battlefield.

Story – High

A soldier relives the same battle repeatedly, progressing further each time. All You Need is Kill’s engaging hook and strict script makes for an easy page-turner.

Recommendation: Read All You Need is Kill and watch Edge of Tomorrow (also referred to as Live Die Repeat in some territories). Both are great.

ID: Invaded – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ID:Invaded

 

Similar: Psycho Pass

Real Drive

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great concept
  • A nice blend of “hype” and “mystery” music
  • Weirdly awesome mental landscape

Negatives:

  • The abstract mind makes the mysteries unsolvable ahead of time

(Request an anime for review here.)

Every great crime mystery has three components to success. The first is an interesting crime that generates plenty of questions and mystery. This doesn’t mean it has to be something crazy like a dead clown hanging from a chandelier with foam sword in one hand and nuclear detonator in the other. It can be something as simple as a shot to head during lunchtime, dead body in the apartment, yet the neighbours heard nothing. The second component is engaging characters, most notably for the detective protagonist and the main suspects. You want to look forward to these characters parrying words. And lastly, to engage the audience fully, the crime must be solvable before the big reveal. You don’t want to make it obvious – keep them guessing, unsure of their theories – but the pieces must be present.

In this third component, ID: Invaded fails.

ID: Invaded is about a detective agency that can investigate cases by diving into the unconscious minds of criminals by using a machine called Mizuhanome. Our main detective, Sakaido, is a murder himself after avenging the death of his family, for only a killer can safely enter into the mind of another killer. While he investigates on the mental plane, rookie detective Hondomachi hits the streets to interview witnesses and suspects.

The look of the virtual world in the target’s unconscious is cool. The opening scene has Sakaido in pieces with digital cube particles instead of blood. After he pulls himself together, he needs to reconstruct the scene physically from the fragmented reality that is the human mind. It recalls games like Ghost Trick and Remember Me. I love this representation. There is no denying the visual engagement. It’s weirdly awesome. However, this very concept is also ID: Invaded’s greatest flaw.

What Sakaido is looking at, these pieces to a murder mystery, are abstract. Even the faces on the people in the unconscious realm aren’t accurate. They are an amalgamation of faces remembered from one’s life, just as it is in your dreams. This means that the clues don’t mean much until we see the answers. It’s like solving a 1000-piece puzzle of pure white that doesn’t reveal the picture until all pieces are in place. The audience doesn’t have the opportunity to solve the case ahead of time – as you would in an Agatha Christie novel – without relying almost exclusively on guesswork, and in a crime story, this drops audience engagement to a level no author wants.

Now, the visuals do make up some of the loss, as mentioned earlier, as do the unusual characters on both the law enforcement and criminal sides. One of the criminals, called “The Perforator”, likes to drill holes in people’s skulls. Always delightful. Sakaido is also an interesting protagonist with his status as both criminal (still in jail) and detective. Sorry, “brilliant detective” as the mind detectives call themselves. Side note: it took me a while to realise that brilliant detective refers to their job title and not a token of praise. Poor choice of name.

I’m not sold on Hondomachi. She feels like a character design first (adult that looks like a teenager) and personality second, though her role in the story is interesting. The Inception-like system of her in the real world on the job while Sakaido is in the brain finding clues works well. It adds a nice dose of tension when everything is parallel in real time. Incorporating the Mizuhanome in the crimes itself is another good choice that heightens the stakes. It isn’t just a tool. One could almost call it evidence in the grander story, similar to the PreCrime unit in Minority Report or the Sibyl System in Psycho Pass. I like it when wild science fiction concepts go all in on the unique selling point.

ID: Invaded is a good anime, all aspects considered, and its unique nature means you aren’t looking at “more of the usual”. So I do recommend it if you liked any of the titles that I referred to throughout the review. It’s a story I would like to see the author take another crack at to elevate it to greatness.

Art – High

ID: Invaded has one of the most distinct art styles for faces, notably in the eyes. Oddly successful. The abstract design of the unconscious is great.

Sound – High

Several solid tracks accompany the series – I’ll be listening to the OP & ED beyond the final episode. The mystery music of ethereal piano notes and sinister violin adds much to the scene. The acting is strong too and you can go with either language to suit your preference.

Story – Medium

A former detective turned criminal investigates cases by diving into the minds of criminals via a machine. This cool concept is a little too abstract for its own good, as it doesn’t give the audience the information needed to solve the case until the big reveal.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. I recommend ID: Invaded to fans of Psycho Pass and Ghost in the Shell for its unique take on the exploration of the criminal mind to solve mysteries.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None