Tag Archives: Science Fiction

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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.

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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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Darling in the FranXX – Anime Review

 

Japanese Title: Darling in the FranXX

Similar: Gurren Lagann

Neon Genesis Evangelion

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

Positives:

  • Well animated.

Negatives:

  • Studio Trigger is stuck on repeat.
  • Lore and world is trash.
  • Ass piloting.
  • Empty relationships.

(Request an anime for review here.)

“Is Darling in the FranXX better than Evangelion?” someone asked me. “Studio Trigger is Gainax 2.0, so have they finally surpassed their past?” Better than Eva? Darling in the FranXX isn’t even better than Guilty Crown – forget Evangelion.

Darling in the FranXX feels like Trigger’s attempt at stepping out of Gainax’s shadow. That’s not how you distinguish yourself from your predecessors. You do so by forging your own path, your own identity, which they were well in the process of doing with the likes of Kill la Kill and the great Little Witch Academia. Now, people will start thinking that Trigger is possibly stuck in the past.

This story, like all others of its kind, is about humanity on the brink of extinction and the only thing saving them from the evil Klaxosaur is a bunch of inexperienced teenagers piloting mechs – or FranXX, as they are known here. Each FranXX requires one boy and one girl in harmony to function. Hiro is part of the latest batch to become pilots, when he fails in his tests and looks set to return to the lab, that is, until the half-human half-Klaxosaur Zero Two invites him to join her on the battlefield in humanity’s last stand. Though she is the best pilot, she also has a reputation for killing her partners after a mere three fights. How long will Hiro last?

Before I dissect the story and characters, let’s address the fan service. I make no secret of my dislike for fan service, as it often comes at the expense of other, better elements. However, most fan service in good anime doesn’t much matter. It’s generally reserved for the low end of the scale.

FranXX was made for fan service first, everything else second. Seemingly every scene has an eye for titillation. When characters get dressed, which is before each fight, they have to wear special underwear (why?) and the camera has to give a close up every time. The “ass shot” camera angle is the director’s favourite. Girls fondle each other despite having no knowledge of anything sex-related (even kissing is alien to them). Zero Two is fan service cancer. Her introduction has her get naked for a swim in front of Hiro, catch a fish with her mouth, and then leap out of the water like a dolphin, boobs almost slapping him in the chin. Does this serve any purpose? No.

The beach episode makes an appearance, of course. One would imagine that a beach episode in a series about sheltered and repressed children would be different, but it isn’t.

Worst of all is the piloting. The boys control the FranXX by steering the girls arse (right after she orgasms from the connection “going in”). I don’t know why Trigger stopped there. Why not just be honest and have them naked in doggy-style for fights? The boys already come equipped with a gear stick.

A key point to remember throughout this is that unlike Kill la Kill where the titillation served some satirical and comedic purposes, Darling in the FranXX wants you to take all of this seriously. And to make it even worse, if you can imagine, it thinks itself clever.

Zero Two is wish fulfilment for sad otaku when she falls in love and drapes herself over a guy of no talent or interesting quality. Every line out of her is “Darling” this and “Darling” that. Far from endearing, this quickly grows irritating. It’s akin to “onii-chan” and all that guff from harem anime.

Relationships and romance are a core theme of FranXX. However, these are the shallowest elements of the series. Society forces these kids to couple up, which makes the relationships inorganic though not a problem just yet, if as a mere starting point. But the organic relationship growth never blooms. When one couple swears undying love, all I hear is the order from above to be “in love”. There is an attempt at relationship drama with the inclusion of another girl that likes Hiro (don’t ask me what she sees in him), but her involvement is irrelevant.

It tries by having love mechanics in the cockpit, whereby a couple’s combat prowess turns flaccid if they don’t trust and “love” each other. This just doesn’t succeed.

The cast consists on an equally bland assortment of characters. The tsundere, the bro, the one fat guy (in a dying world), the shy girl, the reserved chick, the childhood friendzone girl – you know them all already. I keep waiting for a reason to care about any of these people (see the relationship problems above for why). I never get the sense that thought went into developing them. It’s almost as if they knew viewers would draw parallels between them and their counterparts in Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, doing the work for the writers. The closest I got to caring for these characters was when the boys and girls declared war on each other in their dormitory, reminiscent and accurate to boarding school life shenanigans. Wish there was more elsewhere.

The world building is similar – zero effort. Humanity lives in mobile fortresses called Plantations, hinting at a full society, yet we barely glimpse it. The most we have is a quick pass through a city and the grand council sitting around expositing. SEELE was dull in Evangelion and is duller here. The world doesn’t justify itself for being this way because we never explore it. You want the audience to be asking questions, to know more as you unveil the world and characters piece by piece until the big finish (don’t answer every little thing, mind you – leave them pondering small mysteries). FranXX never made me ask the right questions because it never cared enough to show me something worth investigating.

Even the Klaxosaurs aren’t compelling. Yes, there is a little story behind them, but as enemies, they have no character.

Lastly, we come to the story. Well, take Eva but give it Gurren Lagann’s third act, ending included, and you have FranXX’s full story. Oh, and remove anything engaging you may find in those other anime, of course.

For much of the series, the action goes like this: Klaxosaur spotted, send out the FranXX except for Zero Two because she’s a loose cannon and dangerous to her partner, scrub pilots get stomped, forced to send Zero Two and darling Hiro, they annihilate the enemy with ease, Hiro comes back wounded though without lasting damage, other kids hate Zero Two, and repeat. Why even bother with a team of pilots?

Zero Two monopolises the action. Her weakness is supposed to be that she will consume a trained pilot after every three fights, and these pilots don’t just grow on trees, yet once Hiro enters the picture, that weakness become irrelevant. When he reaches the point of death, he magically gets better and that’s that, problem solved. With such little effort I am astonished, astonished I tell you, they even bothered to include the weakness at all.

Also, she can’t go anywhere without an armed guard due to her rogue nature, yet they give her an all access key to go where the other kids can’t? It bites them an episode later. Shocker.

What cracks me up are the commanders. Despite humanity’s existence hanging in the balance, the command crew consists of two or three people. That’s it? I thought we were all about to die.

By now, I am asking myself if there is anything good about Darling in the FranXX. The art is good, as usual from Trigger. It’s likely what’s stopping me from dumping this anime straight into the bottom tier. I don’t want to rely on impulse with this viewing so fresh in my mind, so I will err on the side of caution for now and ruminate on it. And it all could be worse, even in the face of so many faults. Some of the small character moments and interactions are fun, as seen in the dormitory war, for example. The mobile fortresses as humanity’s last homes is also an interesting idea – if only they had explored them!

If only they had explored anything.

Art – High

You can rely on Studio Trigger to do a good job with the art and animation, though this isn’t on the level of Kill la Kill or Little Witch Academia. FranXX designs are so damn silly.

Sound – Medium

The voice acting is fine, as is the music. The protagonist in English sounds like a middle-aged man.

Story – Low

Boys and girls paired as couples fight in mechs to protect humanity from Dinobots. The boy pilots by manoeuvring the girl’s arse – that is the least of this anime’s problems.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. The memes are better than Darling in the FranXX.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingRubbish Major CharactersShallow

Tiger & Bunny – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tiger & Bunny

 

Similar: My Hero Academia

S-CRY-ed

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Comedy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fun premise.
  • Late act 2.
  • More below the surface.

Negatives:

  • Sticks to “heroes doing hero things” for too long.
  • Finale fizzles out.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Now for a completely different take on superheroes, Tiger & Bunny is here! To succeed as a superhero in the city of Stern Bild City, a hero needs sponsors. After all, who’s going to pay for all the damage from a battle? The channel Hero TV follows these superheroes on the streets as they fight crime, everything filmed and performed with an eye for entertainment and, above all, a responsibility to the sponsors. You thought superhero work was about catching bad guys? Amateur.

This is a brilliant premise (and a clever way to insert the anime’s sponsors into the series). If you think about it, should a superhero ever exist in the real world, sponsors would be on their doorstep within the hour. Can you imagine how much Coca Cola would pay to have the superhero take a sip of Coke after a successful arrest broadcast to the world?

Our principal corporate patsy in this case is Kotetsu a.k.a. Wild Tiger, a has-been hero that fails to score arrests for points on Hero TV, outstripped by the popular heroes such as the flying Sky High and the young idol Blue Rose (sponsored by Pepsi). The Wild Tiger trading card is worthless. He can’t even give it away! He hits rock bottom when a larger corporation buys out his contract and pairs him with the newer, shinier hero model sponsored by Amazon and Bandai in Barnaby, who has the same power as Tiger – five minutes of super strength and speed. Together, they are Tiger & Bunny (named by Kotetsu).

This anime immediately reminded of a favourite old movie of mine called Mystery Men, which spoofed superheroes to an extreme degree. One hero’s superpower was the ability to shovel very well. The strongest hero was Captain Amazing, plastered with sponsor patches like an F1 driver. There is a strong Western influence in Tiger & Bunny, including a Joker and Harley Quinn-like villain duo.

When Tiger is about to catch a criminal fleeing aboard the monorail, Hero TV’s showrunner tells him to hold off on the capture as they must cut to commercial on a cliffhanger. Tiger & Bunny had me from that moment. As evident by the premise, this is a fun anime. I love the makeup of the world with its reality TV obsession and the un-super superheroes.

Tiger & Bunny does do more than comedy by expanding the major characters. Kotetsu is trying to balance hero life with his responsibilities as the single father to a daughter, who doesn’t know of his alter ego. He makes promises he can’t keep. It goes into lives of washed up heroes, saviours fallen from grace. What happens in retirement? What if forced to retire? Blue Rose, on the other hand, hates doing hero work when she just wishes to be a singer.

The most conflict goes to Barnaby, though. Despite outward appearances of a young hero on top of life, the death of his parents during childhood torments him to this day. His thread, which properly kicks in during the second half, is the best of the series. Until the midpoint, episodes are just “heroes doing hero things” without much story. Fun, sure, but lacking depth. Barnaby’s story and the villain he confronts elevated the anime.

It’s a shame then that the quality slouches back to basic hero vs. villain for the finale. Tiger & Bunny doesn’t quite grab all of its potential and run with it. Greatest fumble of all is the handling of the vigilante Lunatic that incinerates heroes and villains alike he deems unworthy. He comes into the story early on and makes several appearances that both aid and hinder the protagonists, but by the end, his story arc goes unexplored except for his origin story. You could suppose that they saved him for a sequel series, if meant for anything at all, yet even so, you can’t bring in such a significant element and seemingly forget about him by the end. It would be akin to forgetting Two-Face’s story in The Dark Knight. I need a little more of that conflict sauce. Give it to me!

Despite the fumbles, I had a blast with Tiger & Bunny and I can easily recommend it to anyone. The premise alone is worth your time. Let’s hope My Hero Academia, which I am watching at a snail’s pace, is at least half as inventive as this anime.

Art – Medium

The glitzy metropolis design is a pleasure, as are the sponsor-plastered heroes. CG for several of the armoured characters isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Sound – Medium

The acting is strong in Japanese and English. They managed to capture the goofiness of the heroes in this weird world quite well. The music, however, isn’t “superhero” enough. It doesn’t have the fanfare you would expect (WWE wrestlers get it right).

Story – Medium

In a world of superheroes sponsored by big corporations for profits, a has-been hero finds himself paired with the new, handsome hero to perform for the crowd while catching criminals. The fun concept of Tiger & Bunny elevates it above a generic superhero anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Tiger & Bunny has such a wacky idea that even if you have grown tired of superhero stories, this could refresh your interest. Do note that most episodes have an after credit scene that is necessary viewing to avoid small confusion.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Vandread – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Vandread

 

Related: Vandread: The Second Stage (included in review)

Similar: Martian Successor Nadesico

A Certain Magical Index

Gurren Lagann

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Science Fiction Action Comedy

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • So ridiculous it’s entertaining.

Negatives:

  • Ugly as sin.
  • Don’t expect quality anywhere.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Vandread was the other anime from my ‘Watched but Not Reviewed’ list that I was tempted to revisit. Though unlike Scryed, which I surmised would still be good, Vandread was certain to be trash. But is it glorious trash?

In the future as presented by Vandread, men and women live on separate planets, able to reproduce through cloning to fuel the endless war between the two. Women are monsters who eat men, say the men! Men are savage barbarians, say the women! Generations of no in-person contact have led to the growth of demonising myths about the opposing sides. At the launch of the men’s new Vanguard battleship, low-class labourer Hibiki sneaks aboard to steal a mech, but finds himself captured by pirate women in a surprise attack. Oh no, they’re going to eat him! However, the battle created a wormhole, sucking the Vanguard and pirate ship into distant space, where the men and women must work together to survive.

These women aren’t part of female society anymore. The vanity war between women on their home planet made them strike out on their own to become something better. As for the men, Hibiki had no status on his world, the doctor wants to help others regardless of faction, and the Vanguard pilot finally has a purpose. An easy bond forms between the groups. The core theme of becoming something greater than your birth persists throughout every character arc.

Vandread is light-hearted – I mean, an episode is all about setting up the Christmas party – so set expectations to low.

The screen time alternates between space battles and comedy. The battles are terrible – don’t just mean the visuals – and aren’t worth paying attention to. The comedy largely plays on basic gender stereotypes in a fun manner. Main girl Dita is obsessed by aliens and calls Hibiki ‘Alien-san’ as she stalks him around the ship – she wants to confirm if rumours about men having a hose between their legs is true. Conveniently for her, his mech functions better with both of them inside yet has a single seat, forcing her to sit on his lap.

This isn’t a harem, surprisingly. I am amazed they resisted the temptation with a 5-to-1 ratio of men to women in the cast all aboard a single ship. That one choice makes Vandread much more enjoyable as a bad anime.

Vandread is as silly as it sounds. I used to like this show when I had seen a handful of anime. Now? The silliness is still fun in a bad way, but I find myself unable to care once the second season starts. A single season is enough. It looks like arse too, which tests the tolerance of your eyes.

Art – Very Low

All the CG for the ships and mechs looks awful. Character designs suck – the protagonist is a walking cliché of the era. He has many shounen anime clones.

Sound – Low

The script is rubbish and the voice work is average, yet is fun because no one takes the material seriously.

Story – Very Low

In a universe where men and women live on different planets, female space pirates capture three men and find themselves teaming up to combat forces from all sides. Vandread is stupid in every facet in the right way to make it fun.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: For fans of bad anime. If you don’t want to think and need to veg out, Vandread is the perfect remedy with its silliness.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Giant Robo the Animation: Chikyuu ga Seishi Suru Hi

 

Related: GR: Giant Robo (new version)

Similar: Mobile Fighter G Gundam

Heroman

Tetsujin 28

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Drama

Length: 7 episodes (49 min. each)

 

Positives:

  • High production values in animation and music.

Negatives:

  • Misleading advertising and OP.
  • Protagonist is useless.
  • Little depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When a reader requested Giant Robo for review, I made a joke about how on the nose the title was. Easy to guess what that anime is about! Well guess what? It ain’t about a giant robot! What…?

Yeah, the robot is barely in it and even when on screen, usually does nothing. Oh sure, the robot can cry, but need it to fight more than a few times in six hours of film? No robot for you!

Not only is the robot barely in Giant Robo, the robot isn’t even needed! (Don’t even mention the other robots teased in the introduction.)

An evil organisation called Big Fire (…) wants to destroy the source of Earth’s renewable energy, Shizuma Drives, and return humanity to the dark ages. The International Police Force fights back with special warriors from around the globe, capable of immense feats and super powers, alongside Daisaku, the 12-year-old kid in control of Giant Robo.

The warriors are the reason for Giant Robo’s superfluous nature. They are so powerful – super strength, teleportation, god weapons, immortality, and more – that I have to question why there are giant robots at all. Characters often describe Giant Robo as a trump card against Big Fire, but these warriors don’t need the help and certainly not from a kid. Daisaku is more useless than his robot. Each episode opens to an introduction of the story, pressing us with the importance of Giant Robo and its amazing young pilot, Daisuke! He has no combat abilities, though conveniently for his purpose in the plot has the watch that controls Robo.

Normally I would chalk Daisuke up to the need for a kid protagonist in a story for kids. However, my understanding is that Giant Robo is a loose adaptation of the source material that tries bringing pieces from every corner of the mangaka’s work, so I assume Daisuke feels more a protagonist in his manga.

The production team had two options to make this work. They either cut Daisuke (or make him a side character if they have to keep him) or give him something to do and lower the strength of the warriors. Currently, his job is to ask whiny questions while waiting for his cue on the next Robo appearance.

As for the warriors, the stars of the show, they aren’t memorable owing to their lack of distinction. They don’t have personalities as much as they have a thing. One’s thing is to be cool and brooding. Another’s is be a joker. You remember these people by power, not by character. Most of Giant Robo is action. When it isn’t action, it’s talking about the previous plot point and getting to the next plot point. Little time passes on character development. We don’t see character moments. Because this is for kids, characters spend too much time telling about their motivations, about the lessons they learned, and making sure that the kids get it.

Seen in the context of an old anime, there is enjoyment to find in Giant Robo. It looks great, even today, and the orchestral soundtrack is beautiful. The classic feel and maniacal villains that remind of Tin Tin’s foes are fun, but you cannot divorce Giant Robo from the modern day and the advancements in anime that come with it. This story hasn’t aged well. If you don’t have the nostalgia bug, these story problems will get in the way.

Art – High

The visuals are a mix of Metropolis and Lupin the Third and still hold up today. I like the style and the attention to detail with the parallax scrolling backgrounds.

Sound – Medium

Giant Robo has two dubs – one by Manga Entertainment and the other by Media Blasters. The latter is better, though Daisaku’s voice sounds too much like a girl, so the Japanese might be a better choice. The orchestral soundtrack is suitably world ending.

Story – Low

An international group of super powered warriors fight against an evil that wants to return humanity to the dark ages. A show called Giant Robo that isn’t about a giant robot, which has an extraneous protagonist, and an ending revelation that beggars belief doesn’t make for great story.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For old anime fans only. I can only see enjoyment for those going into Giant Robo as a nostalgia trip. For the love of anime, don’t believe the title!

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

Misleading