Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Technology and civilisation have advanced beyond our current situation.

No. 6 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: No. 6

 

Similar: Ergo Proxy

Psycho-Pass

Towards the Terra

Banana Fish

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Quality art and animation.
  • Good start.

Negatives:

  • Wheel spinning second act.
  • Protagonists lack involvement.
  • Mismatched music.

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In an odd coincidence, I have completed three anime that open with a similar premise – Toward the Terra, Xam’d: Lost Memories, and No.6. They are each about a late teen living a good life, free of worries, when an outsider tells him it’s all a lie and his life turns upside down.

In No.6, Shion lives in the sixth of humanity’s utopian cities. Everything is perfect – no poverty, no crime, no conflict. He was one of the city’s elite residents with every luxury paid for in exchange for contributing to society in an area of expertise – ecology, in Shion’s case. He lost all such privileges at 12 years old when he helped one of society’s rejects take shelter. Years later, he now oversee No.6’s trash bots.

When a disease hits the city that causes rapid aging, the authorities arrest Shion. Of course, he’s as clueless as the rest, but he dared question The Man and for that, he must die. However, the same boy from all those years back who goes by the name Nezumi, meaning “rat”, scurries to the rescue and breaks him free of society’s shackles. The adventure begins.

I love this type of opening that upends the protagonist’s world. It raises so many questions at once, generating immense conflict for the protagonist torn between the world they once knew and the new reality, and I can’t want to see it all unravel. How did society erect the façade in the first place? How does it control the populace? Why? What’s the protagonist’s involvement in its history (there is always something)? How have the Outsiders survived all this time?

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

No.6 doesn’t make an effort in any of these questions.

Damn. What a shame.

Once out of the city, marking the end of act 1, the plot just stalls like a novice driver confusing the clutch and accelerator pedals. Each episode of act 2 goes as follows: Nezumi saying he hates the city, Shion asking why, Nezumi saying he’ll tell him later, and repeat. Characters don’t take action. There are minor moments – just not enough to drive the plot forward.

The next real event is at the end of act 2, leading into act 3. It’s as though the writer set in stone that “When the characters meet this guy over here, act 3 starts.” She refused to bring this event forward and come up with something else to start act 3 when act 2 had nothing going on (or write new events to lift the drought). I see this occur a lot in Korean dramas. The studio mandates a certain number of episodes to fill the TV schedule – usually 16 1-hour episodes, yet their romantic comedies are rarely complex enough to fill 16 hours. Acts 1 and 3 have stricter lengths in a story than 2 does. A slow first act turns the audience off and they won’t return. A slow third act leaves a bad aftertaste. Therefore, the filler slumps into the second act (“will they, won’t they,” and “problem of the episode” scenarios).

Unlike those drawn out K-dramas, a fictional world with a grand conflict like No. 6 has plenty of material to tap into. Why didn’t we explore more of the city and its utopian society? The idea of each citizen focused on one specialty with everything paid for isn’t relevant after the opening. This world has but a fraction of Psycho-Pass’s depth.

Act 2 instead focuses on the main couple, which doesn’t work either. There is too much focus on Shion and Nezumi’s relationship, yet not enough because it doesn’t move anywhere during this middle section. Again, I suspect the writer refused to allow their development to progress, “Keeping the good bits for the end.” The one positive I can say about their relationship is that it isn’t a shounen ai tease. It commits.

Even when the plot does get off the recliner, our protagonists aren’t driving agents to lead the story. Their allies do more work than they do in resolving the grand conflict. It feels as if the writer had an idea for a couple but no story to accompany them, and an idea of a story but no characters to lead it. Since they were lacking each other in the technical sense, she brought them together like the final two pieces of a puzzle. She didn’t realise they weren’t meant for the same puzzle. At least not without further work.

None of the backstory mysteries involving Shion’s mother, the city’s origin, and the rebels amount to anything meaningful. The writer knew mysteries should be there to entice the audience, but didn’t go back to flesh them out and tie them to the plot in a meaningful way.

You can look to several other anime for this idea executed expertly. Start with Psycho-Pass. No. 6 isn’t a terrible anime. Though when others have already shown you how to do it right, it’s difficult not see all the problems despite any positives.

Art – High

No. 6’s strongest quality is the art, particularly the animation. Episode 9 has a Ghibli quality scene. I also like the visual contrast between the clean city and dirty slums.

Sound – Medium

The acting is good and most music works well. The OP and ED songs have no life in them and sound so weird. I’m unsure of what they are trying to convey in relation to the narrative.

Story – Low

A boy has his utopian life upended when he helps an outsider, who later helps him escape the authorities in return. A good start isn’t enough to keep one going to through a stalled second act and poorly fleshed out finale.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. With the likes of Psycho-Pass, RahXephon, and Towards the Terra, to name a few, using the same setup to greater results, there is little reason to knock at No. 6.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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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.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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?

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Great MusicStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None