Tag Archives: Seinen

Adult Men as the target audience.

Jormungand – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jormungand

 

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Strong production values.
  • Knows it’s weapons.

Negatives:

  • Unmemorable for the genre.
  • Tries too hard with some characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Jormungand was pitched to me as the Black Lagoon of its year. I can see why, for the similarities are obvious – an action series with a ragtag bunch of misfits circumventing the law to fight bad guys around the world. I am sad to report however, that Jormungand isn’t in the same league as Black Lagoon. That doesn’t mean we can’t look at this title as a lesson in the difference between an okay series and a great series.

The story follows international arms dealer Koko and her band of bodyguards made up of former soldiers. The latest addition to her team is child soldier Jonah, who doesn’t really want to be there. Her mission is to bring world peace by breaking every law seemingly possible while escaping intelligence agencies and other outlaw organisations.

The core of any story is its characters. In Black Lagoon, the characters had personalities larger than life, injecting the narrative with a constant stream of humour and energy. Importantly, they didn’t have gimmicks; they had personalities. Jormungand, on the other hand, uses gimmicks to define its characters. When one relies on gimmicks, each encounter with those characters starts to become repetitive with little room for growth because the writer didn’t establish their foundations. For instance, one woman’s gimmick is that she doesn’t wear panties in battle because it “increases accuracy”. This joke repeats for every scene with a focus on her. The first time, it says, “Hey, I’m not wearing panties – aren’t I quirky?” Next scene: “Hey, I’m still not wearing panties – quirky, right?” And the next: “Still nothing down there – bet you love how quirky I am.” Another woman’s quirk is her lustful crush on Koko, which also rears up every time she sees her.

You can’t do this to a character that’s supposed to matter. That’s throwaway character material. Jormungand tries too hard to make these people wacky. Without the personalities to back them up like in Black Lagoon, the quirks come across as annoying and random because they don’t tie to characters through a personality. Keep the panty-less gunslinger joke if you find it sidesplittingly hilarious, but it should be no more than the garnish to well-rounded attributes. Koko is the only character I would consider to have depth among the cast.

On the flipside, you have the problem of Jonah. He’s the “man of few words” archetype that, as I’ve said many times before, isn’t an easy one to make interesting because of how little there is to work with. One would think that having less pieces to construct a character is easier, when in reality every piece must be perfect. It’s like a chef trying to make a Michelin star dish of only three ingredients. Jonah’s counterpart in Black Lagoon is “Rock”, an ordinary salaryman who also didn’t want to join the pirates at the start. Comparing the two, you can see the difference it makes when you have a dull mute in one case and guy in over his head in a gunfight yet still dignified enough to do up his tie on the other.

As for the action, which is why most would attend this screening, it is rather good. Studio White Fox brought strong production values to the table to pump the action full of energy and explosions. As it tries to do with the quirky characters, Jormungand goes over the top with action. If your one interest is action, more action and crazier action, you won’t be disappointed. And the writer knows his weapons to impart authenticity.

Perhaps if I had not seen several such similar anime already, I would have liked it more – I suppose it’s the curse of happening to start at the top before working your way down. It’s hard to settle for something around the middle of the pack, where the plot doesn’t stick with me and I can’t remember anyone’s names except the two listed above.

Art – High

The art is sharp and clean with good animation and effort in the cinematography. It’s a seinen action series – it’s as expected.

Sound – Medium

The acting is alright, but with a script that lacks room for the actors to play like in Black Lagoon, it doesn’t reach greatness. It’s similar with the music – alright, though doesn’t go as crazy as it should.

Story – Medium

An arms dealer takes a child soldier under her wing to show him the ropes as a merchant of war. Jormungand doesn’t push itself far enough to become memorable in the competitive modern action genre.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans only. Jormungand is there for those who can’t get enough action and have exhausted the likes of Black Lagoon, Requiem for the Phantom, and Cowboy Bebop.

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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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Kemonozume – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kemonozume

 

Similar: Devilman Crybaby

Basilisk

Parasyte –the maxim-

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stands out.
  • Great romantic conflict.
  • Fast pace.
  • Satisfying conclusion.

Negatives:

  • Third act focuses too much on action.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen this anime. Nor would I blame you. It doesn’t look the most appealing. I only watched it after seeing the following scene (and it’s not even representative of the story):

Kemonozume is a Romeo & Juliet story that pits a monster slayer against the monster he loves. In this world, a species of monsters slinks through society disguised as humans, consuming people to survive in plain sight. The samurai-like Kifuuken clan has one purpose: killing Flesh Eaters. Toshihiko is their leader’s son and an expert slayer who falls in love with beautiful Yuka at first sight. She shows him that there is more to life than the warrior’s code – she even takes him tandem skydiving – and he gives her love she had been taught didn’t exist in return. Their whirlwind romance derails when he discovers her to be a Flesh Eater. Toshihiko must now choose between love and duty.

I do not enjoy Romeo & Juliet. Like every other poor unfortunate soul, I had to study it at school. Hated it then. Hate it now. So to see this anime, with its ragged art and surreal palette that intrigued me, reveal itself as a Romeo & Juliet romance, I braced for stupid. However, Kemonozume did two things that rallied my spirits. First, they are a threat to each other just as much as their respective sides are a threat to them. And secondly, the romance isn’t chaste. This couple doesn’t shy away from sex, from lust, from passion.

I maintain that sex scenes (or risqué fan service, if we’re talking teen anime) are often the biggest waste of screen time in any medium. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, could benefit from removing 90% of the sex scenes. Such scenes rarely add anything to the story.

Kemonozume differs because much of this couple’s personal story occurs during the sex scenes. See, Yuka’s true form is at greatest risk of coming out during moments of heightened sexual ecstasy, a problem made worse by how much these two adore and crave each other. The theme of rebelling against what they were born to be isn’t just seen in them running away from home to go on an adventure. We see it in their most intimate moments. The sex doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s always a justification for making that scene a sex scene rather than something else. It also helps that the weird art makes these moments something you’ve probably never seen before, visually, and the exaggerated lines amplify the emotions they feel.

Another strength of Kemonozume is its humour. For instance, after encountering Yuka for the first time, falling for her instantly, he starts to see her face on everyone else’s heads in this hilarious scene. Like the rest of this anime, it exaggerates the joke three steps beyond the norm, but it works here. Distracting Flesh Eaters with holograms of dancing nude women is also a good laugh. I will concede that some humorous moments could do with better timing.

Sadly, Kemonozume falls short of excellence with a third act that contains too much action. It’s not that action has no place in this romance. Rather, the action become a bit too shounen, so to speak, albeit surreal shounen action – like the sex, this looks different from other action scenes. Without this third act, it wouldn’t be fitting to give this anime the “Action” label. On the positive side, it’s only a few episodes (being a short, fast-paced anime helps here) and the conclusion is satisfying. If the end weren’t satisfying, I would leave Kemonozume bitterly disappointed. I can thankfully say the opposite.

Now, despite my praises, do keep in mind that this is wildly different from “normal” anime. Should Kemonozume not grab your interest within one episode, you most likely won’t change your mind by the end. Don’t force yourself to watch it on my account – on anyone’s account.

Art – Medium

Visually unusual art – highly stylised on a budget. It’s clear they didn’t have much money to work with, but made the most of it to create something distinct. Allows for plenty of animation, but the art itself is very rough. This style could be a deal breaker for some.

Sound – Medium

The nice jazz soundtrack is stronger than the decent voice acting.

Story – High

The son and heir of a monster hunting clan falls in love with one of the very maneating women he’s born to kill. Fast, savage, and racy, Kemonozume is a unique take on the forbidden love romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I greatly enjoyed Kemonozume, but I know it won’t appeal to many, so give it a try and see if you feel as I did.

(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: None

Negative: None

Mushi-shi – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mushishi

 

Related: Mushishi –Next Passage- (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Kino’s Journey

Natsume’s Book of Friends

Mononoke

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Mystery

Length: 46 episodes (3 seasons), 3 specials

 

Positives:

  • Perfect execution of tone and theme.
  • Varied and original stories.
  • Unpredictable mysteries.

Negatives:

  • Art is on a tight budget.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Piece of advice if you ever intend to review anime: don’t give yourself two weeks to watch an anime that you should space out over months. Not watching it while you’re on a Star Trek: TNG binge and finishing Game of Thrones (I don’t wanna talk about it) would also help. Honestly, I haven’t even finished all of Mushishi yet (few episodes and the specials to go), but the review has already been delayed and I don’t wish to do so again. And I already know what to say.

Mushishi is an excellent anime. You should all watch it.

There, done. That was worth the delay. Onto the next one!

In all seriousness, I feel I need to explain why Mushishi is a must watch, as it isn’t so obvious on the surface. I can’t imagine one could make a trailer for Mushishi that would entice many people into watching it (at least not without lying about its tone and feel). A large part of this is the art problem – getting to that in a moment – and the absence of exciting clips one could use to advertise the anime.

Mushishi is an anthology of supernatural mysteries. We follow Ginko, a Mushi Master, as he wanders Japan in pursuit of mysterious whisperings pertaining to “mushi”. These lifeforms transcend the bindings of reality. They take many forms from diseases to plants to the air itself. They are neither good nor evil. They simply are.

To ordinary citizens however, they can be the cause of strife or a great blessing. One mushi disguises itself by wearing the skin of a woman’s child. Another lives in people’s ears and “eats” the sound they’re meant to hear. This is where Ginko’s expertise comes in. As a Mushi Master, he dedicates his life to helping people affected them, yet does so without killing mushi, unlike his peers.

It helps to know, going in, what type of a series Mushishi is. If you just watch the first episode, it probably won’t grab you because it doesn’t establish a grander story or end on some hook to keep you going. I didn’t know what it was about, so it wasn’t until a few episodes in that I caught on a realised I was meant to focus on one episode at a time. Once I did, it hooked me.

The brilliance of Mushishi is in these short stories (one episode each). They tend to focus on an individual and their surrounding community affected by mushi. Each episode establishes the characters, presents the conundrum, and takes us down measured and winding path of twists to create a complete story. Every time. No episode is rushed or incomplete. Some are better than others, of course, but every episode is a full arc and an engaging one at that. This is the core brilliance of Mushishi. It makes you care for these characters and their story within minutes. Mwah, perfection.

Furthermore, it isn’t predictable. One can never be certain of the outcome of any given episode. Sometimes it’s a happy end, other times it’s a negative, and often it’s somewhere in between. The tone matches this unpredictability as well, evoking an air of the unknown – we know little of the mushi as we know little of the story’s destination. Ethereal, like the mushi, is how I describe it. Mushishi is what I wanted from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

The other thing I like is how it doesn’t use the same old Japanese myths that you see everywhere. These tales still feel like those fables you would tell around a campfire at night, yet they aren’t a repeat of what came before.

Mushishi’s one real flaw – the aspect most likely to turn people away – is the art. It isn’t impressive in any way.

How can you tell investors had little confidence in the success of a series, even one based on an award-winning manga (Kino’s Journey, anyone)? By allocating such a small art budget. When an anime has so little animation, a studio usually makes up for it with gorgeous stills of beautiful environments and detailed characters. Mushishi has none of that. It doesn’t have the surreal imagery it deserves either. When Ginko performs a ritual to cleanse a mushi or when one finally reveals its true purpose, weird things start happening (gushing silver from a kid’s eyes, for example), but the art hasn’t the strength to covey what the author is saying. The art simply isn’t vivid enough. You know the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle when the witch has her power extracted? That’s what Mushishi needs.

Thankfully, as the ponderous and ethereal anime that it is, Mushishi doesn’t need the best art to succeed and it gets a little better after the first season. (If an action series had this art, it would be dead on arrival.) Do not let the art get in the way of you watching Mushishi. I cannot recommend this anime enough.

Art – Low

There isn’t much in the way of animation nor are the still shots gorgeous to make up for it. They could have put more effort in character designs, at least – too many peasants look the same across episodes. Improves in season 2.

Sound – High

The OP is in English – interesting choice. It works in establishing tone. You can watch this in either Japanese or English (love the narrator’s voice) accompanied by a strong script, though note that only season 1 has a dub. The understated and mysterious soundtrack is great too.

Story – Very High

An expert on supernatural entities known as mushi travels around Japan investigating their wonderful and dangerous appearances. This anthology of fables is engaging from start to finish.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Mushishi is an anime I recommend to everyone. However, I caution you against binging it. Watch a few episodes at a time and allow them to sink in before you start the next.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Battle Angel Alita – Anime Review

Japanese Title: GUNNM

 

Related: Alita: Battle Angel (live-action movie – included in review)

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Texhnolyze

Metropolis

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 2 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good art and animation.
  • Grimy cyberpunk world.

Negatives:

  • Severely clipped version of the full story.
  • Little connection with the characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Having seen the recent Hollywood release of Alita: Battle Angel in cinema and received a reader request, I thought it fitting to visit the anime version of Battle Angel Alita. This will be a combined review of sorts for the anime and movie.

Based on the nine-volume manga Gunnm from the 90s, this franchise is a classic of sci-fi. It follows Dr Ido and the cyborg Alita (or “Gally”) he reconstructed from a severed head found in the scrapyard. With no memory of her origins, Alita explores this cyberpunk city of bounty hunters and criminals as she learns to live and love.

Two episodes for nine volumes of content? It should come as no surprise to you when I say that Battle Angel Alita is an emaciated anime adaptation. Even if we ignore the manga for the moment and look at this on its own merits, there are notable issues. The story hops from key scene to key scene without the “in between” scenes where the non-crucial moments happen, yet these in betweens are often what bring a story to life and make us connect to characters.

I find this most notable in the first act, where Alita awakens with a new body and familiarises herself with the world around her. In the movie, we stay with her as she learns to control her body, wanders the city and makes friends. This is effective at endearing us to her so that when the action and suffering starts, we care about what happens to her. In the anime however, she wakes up and has no adjustment period. It skips over the first act character development. Furthermore, the movie’s take ingrains within us that she is a cyborg, whereas anime Alita just feels like a regular girl, which is rather important as a core theme is an exploration of what it means to be human.

The anime’s real focus is on the action and main events from the first half of the manga (the movie covers almost the same portion of story, though expanded upon). And when it comes to action, the anime delivers gory goodness. There are several brutal scenes.

Surprisingly, the movie doesn’t tone the violence down as much as one would imagine. Tearing the arms off a machine gets you a lower age rating than if they were flesh, so there’s plenty of brutality to go around. There is even one scene involving a severed head that is more unsettling in the movie than in the anime. I am surprised by some of the things they got away with.

The main plot events are similar across the manga, anime, and movie. The manga will of course have the most detail, but the movie isn’t short on story. It doesn’t feel like a time lapse of a longer story, unlike much of the anime.

I enjoy the story of Alita: Battle Angel. It has an endearing protagonist, some nasty villains, good exploration of theme, and a few turns I didn’t expect it to take. I greatly appreciate a story that claims it lives in a brutal world and delivers on that promise by making characters vulnerable at all times.

Something interesting I learnt after the fact was that the character of Chiren was a creation for the anime, which the movie took and expanded upon further. She is Dr Ido’s ex-wife (works as a cyberphysician like him) and a villain willing to do whatever it takes to return to the city in the sky for the elite. She is a good addition in giving more to Ido’s personal story. And she’s involved in two of the most disturbing scenes in the movie, which I won’t give away here.

A significant element of the movie and manga that is absent in the anime is the fictional sport of motorball. Imagine high-speed rollerblade racing mixed with basketball where anything goes, including shattering opponents to pieces. As long as your head survives, you can comeback back next time. Alita discovers an early passion for the sport thanks to the film’s love interest and it continues to play an important role throughout. The movie brings the visceral sport to life.

Lastly, I want to talk of the visuals. All three versions look great. Though the film version has more colour and visual variety, all versions paint a harsh world full of details. I am a huge cyberpunk fan and setting alone can often make or break my interest. The setting was the best of all elements in the movie for me. It’s rich with life and society. One gets a sense of how people would live in such a place, of how things work in this world. The bounty hunters (called “hunter-warriors”) in particular are great representations of the city with their rough personalities, rough morals, and equally rough cyborg bodies. They also generate good action in all mediums.

As for Alita herself in the movie, you will immediately notice how strange she looks with her large anime eyes. Interestingly, the director didn’t do this to make her look more anime-like. If that were the case, why was no one else given that look? It was a conscious decision to have Alita in full CG that gives an uncanny valley effect to remind the audience that she isn’t human. For myself, the eyes didn’t bother me after a while. What gets me is her smile. I don’t know why, but every time she smiles, it hits me with the uncanny valley. Whether you like the look or not, it does succeed in that regard, so don’t let it put you off watching the movie if the premise interests you.

So, to summarise: the manga is the fullest and most in depth version, while the movie is a good experience that doesn’t feel incomplete (barring the future sequel). The anime, unfortunately, is only worth watching after you have gone through one of the other versions, for it will lack any emotional weight otherwise. The anime is good supplementary material when you can fill in the gaps.

Overall Quality (for the anime) – Medium

Recommendation: Read the manga or watch the movie instead. While Battle Angel Alita is a nice looking OVA, the clipped story and lack of character moments makes it more of an ad for the manga. The live action film is also a better alternative for those who don’t want to read nine volumes.

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The King’s Avatar – Anime Review

Chinese Title: Quanzhi Gaoshou

 

Related: The King’s Avatar Season 2 (TBR)

Similar: Log Horizon

Overlord

No Game No Life

 

Watched in: Chinese

Genre: Action Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good character designs.
  • True to MMO vernacular and mannerisms.

Negatives:

  • Low tension since protagonist never loses.
  • Some shocking CG.
  • Acting and audio placement is sub-par.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ye Xiu is a legend on the esports scene of the MMO game Glory. He’s a 10-year veteran, having contributed numerous guides to the game, pioneered gameplay techniques, and won several championships. However, his skills aren’t a match for the current crop and his organisation forces him to retire from the team and hand over his account.

Alone and on the street, he finds lodgings in a net café’s dusty backroom in exchange for work as a night manager, which is perfect as this gives him opportunity to hit the grind hard on Glory’s newest server. As the newly created Lord Grim, he uses his extensive knowledge and talents to achieve server first kills, soon drawing the attention of other hardcore players to the server.

If you haven’t heard or noticed already, The King’s Avatar is a Chinese anime (or “donghua”). I love MMOs and I love esports, so this is the perfect first anime for my foray into this burgeoning market.

Before I level my criticisms, I want to talk of the positives. First, the author knows his online RPGs. Unlike most isekai anime claiming to be in an MMO world, The King’s Avatar actually has the feel of a true MMO community. The social aspect is authentic from the way they talk to the rivalries that form over first dungeon kills and PvP skirmishes. I like the inclusion of competitive PvE, instead of taking the easy route of focusing only on duels. There’s good MMO humour as well, such as doing menial tasks no matter how great you are and on the overcrowding of server launches.

I also like the in game character designs. The gear looks great, though it is inaccurate for low-level armour to be so coherent, as any MMO player will tell you, but it’s understandable to make characters easily identifiable.

You will have to suspend your disbelief in how the gameplay translates to drama. The King’s Avatar places too much value on player skill at the expense of mathematical limitations found in an MMO. Because of stats, gear, and all the RPG mechanics of an MMO, skill can only get you so far. The best player in the world on a level 1 character isn’t going to solo a level 30 boss monster. The mechanics don’t allow it. It makes sense that a veteran would accomplish much on a new server, though not to such an extent. Take it as creative licencing.

Furthermore, they make a big deal about Grim’s high APM (actions per minute), which isn’t relevant to an action bar MMO since you only control one character limited by animations and cooldowns (reaction time matters more). In StarCraft, APM is of huge importance because it allows a player to micromanage every unit in their army simultaneously, while also managing economy and construction. None of that matters in an MMO. That said, it isn’t a big deal. There’s only so many ways one can “dramatise” gameplay.

Now for the real problems.

When Grim first starts on this new server, he’s just dunking on scrubs before other pros join. Sadly, they don’t bring a challenge. There is no tension after a few episodes once you realise he’s so much better than everyone else. It isn’t the Mary-Sue problem of “protagonist beats the supposedly unkillable enemy with a sneeze”. Rather, the best players aren’t on this server to challenge him. He’s like a League of Legends pro player smurfing on an alt account but still in Silver tier on his climb to Masters. It’s fine at first, but we never see it become more difficult. Some organised teams do join, though it isn’t clear how good they are meant to be – amateur is my impression. Even if later seasons escalate (I hope they do), it wouldn’t change how easy this season is and I would skip most episodes on a re-watch as a result. They should have made him someone fallen far from the throne determined to climb back up with tough opponents along the way. The first scene should have been him costing his team a tournament win.

The other notable problem is one found in Chinese cinema in general – poor overdubbing. Overdubbing happens when an actor’s dialogue isn’t clear, due to things like explosions in an action scene, which requires the actor the re-record the line in character during post-production. Most films need some overdubbing these days, though Hollywood has managed it so well that you can’t tell where it occurs. China, on the other hand, has to overdub so much of its dialogue, even in scenes that shouldn’t need it, and they do such a poor job that it’s not uncommon for voices to sound separate (and out of sync) from the actor on screen. The King’s Avatar doesn’t have it so bad, though you can see elements carry over. It has the feel of a janky production.

In all, The King’s Avatar didn’t give the greatest first impression of donghua. However, it was better than I expected and next week I’ll be looking at Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, which is shaping up to be far superior.

Art – Medium

The King’s Avatar is simultaneously beautiful and ugly. We have well-drawn characters, slick action, and dazzling atmospherics on one hand, yet we also have scenes with dozens of the worst CG characters tapping away on their CG keyboards in front of CG monitors in a CG net café. The environments are similar. We have gorgeous fantasy vistas mixed in with blocky CG building interiors.

Sound – Low

The acting isn’t quite refined to the level of Japan and the West when it comes to voice work for animation. Audio compression prevents the voices from following the characters. It’s as though you can hear the recording studio behind the screen.

Story – Low

A pro esports player forced to retire plots his return to the top on a new server for a fantasy MMO. The idea is an interesting one that could pay off in the end, but as far as this season goes, having an unbeatable protagonist makes for a tensionless story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For MMO action fans. If you’re a fan of those numerous MMO anime, The King’s Avatar will please you. I just hope it gets more challenging. I’ll likely revisit this series in future. There is also a live action drama on the way, which looks to have more of an esports focus according to the trailer.

(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: None

Negative: None