Tag Archives: Seinen

Adult Men as the target audience.

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.

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

Advertisements

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

Paranoia Agent – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mousou Dairinin

 

Similar: Perfect Blue

Paprika

Monster

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Mystery Thriller

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Unnerving.
  • Great music.
  • One wild ride.

Negatives:

  • Wacky at the expense of clarity at times.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Finishing Paranoia Agent is a bittersweet experience for me with Satoshi Kon being one of my favourite anime directors. He was one of the few directors whose anime I could be sure to watch on his name alone. Ironically, my experience with Kon’s work started in disgust as he disturbed me for years with the psychological horror Perfect Blue. I put off watching Paranoia Agent for the longest time since it would mean I have none of his filmography left to watch. However, when a dear reader requested it, I couldn’t make any more excuses.

I can best describe Paranoia Agent as an amalgamation of all his work. It has bits of everything. The psychological unease of Perfect Blue, the mind-bending trip of Paprika, the endearing adventure of Tokyo Godfathers, and the visual storytelling of Millennium Actress are all present. To gather so many varied elements in one place and have them work together is no easy task, so how does Paranoia Agent fare?

It follows the case of Lil’ Slugger, a boy who zips around town on rollerblades beating people with a bent baseball bat. The detectives’ task seems an impossible one with the kid appearing and disappearing at what feels like random. He makes no sense.

As soon as you start Paranoia Agent, you know it is Kon’s work. That opening sequence of the cast laughing uncontrollably with soulless eyes, ethereal vocals blasting behind them, is just the right levels of insane and unnerving to set the tone (see video above if you haven’t). The plot seems to start normal enough when Lil’ Slugger attacks the creator of a beloved animal mascot, but once people question if there really was an attack – did she make it all up for attention? – a plushie of the mascot comes to life to comfort her. All in her head, of course. Simple enough to explain.

Then we move onto episode 2, where a popular kid doesn’t like that the fat kid he kept around to make himself feel better starts getting more attention than him. He wishes Lil’ Slugger would attack his “friend” so that he could save him and be hailed a hero by all. He daydreams of the applause. His wish comes true, except everyone thinks he’s the attacker. With the world turned against him, his reality distorts and life begins to melt away. Further and further we, the audience, descend into a world of madness that is difficult to describe and follow. Episode 3 enters full Perfect Blue territory that I won’t give away. Another episode has a student sneezing out his math knowledge. Literal formulas expelled from nose and mouth. And wait until you see what a kid, a middle-aged man, and a geriatric get up to.

For a while, the series feels like an anthology of short stories as it focuses on a different victim each episode. One must wait until the end for it to come together and make sense – well, for the most part. So if you feel lost along the way, don’t worry too much.

That said, Kon could have put more work into making the audience understand what is going on in the moment. I’ll use an early example. During an interrogation, a suspect believes they’re on some fantasy adventure and any questions the detective asks make no sense because they don’t fit the fantasy. The co-detective has the idea to roleplay as a party member to extract bits and pieces within the context of the fantasy world. The lead detective finds this ridiculous, of course, growing increasingly frustrated as they have to humour these delusions. However, when he reacts, it is as though he is a participant of the fantasy world, which doesn’t quite make sense, since he is a non-believer. In short, the fantasy exaggerations go too far and just cause confusion.

Instead of having him in the fantasy, cutting back to the detective should have shown him sitting there irked in boring reality while others play pretend like weirdos next to him. It feels like Kon overindulged in the fantasy element that would become central to Paprika, where it works better, two years later.

Kon truly knows how to make the audience uncomfortable at every turn. His use of creepy imagery and minimal audio makes for tension that grips to breaking point. Even the way a character animates puts one on edge. The journalist hounding the mascot artist has an ordinary enough design, but when he’s looking into the camera at the perspective character and you in the audience by extension, his every mouth movement feels as if he’s about kiss you in the most horrid manner. You want to get away from him – just like the woman does.

Only upon reaching the end of the anime can you receive any relief from all the madness. It’s a wild ride. Paranoia Agent isn’t as good as his more focused films, but it is still a Satoshi Kon work all the way through.

Art – High

Sporting Kon’s realistic art style and creative visuals, Paranoia Agent is a great looking anime. There is a downgrade in animation and detail compared to his movies.

Sound – High

Kon uses one of his (and my) favourite composers, Susumu Hirasawa, having worked previously on Millennium Actress and later in Paprika with him to make a damn weird OP sequence. (Hirasawa is also responsible for the superb Berserk soundtrack). Despite the great tracks, Kon allows a lack of music to unnerve the audience in key scenes.

Story – High

A rollerblading kid with a baseball bat terrorises residents, prompting an investigation by the police that takes a turn for the mental. Not all pieces quite fit together, but Paranoia Agent is a thrill ride nonetheless.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Paranoia Agent will be too weird for many, yet I still recommend it to all but the faintest of heart. Its strangeness is worth experiencing at least once.

(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: 

Fluid AnimationStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Related: Phantom The Animation (old OVA)

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Darker than Black

Jormungand

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Suitably grim atmosphere.
  • Follows through with the brutality.

Negatives:

  • What is with act 3?
  • Too much expository dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ever watch an anime that has something about it, something that makes you swear it’s great and yet, there is something equally wrong with it in every aspect that makes you swear it’s bad as well? Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is one such anime.

Let’s start with the beginning. A Japanese man wakes up one day in a dingy room with no idea of how he got there or memory of who he is. Excellent start – we are straight into a moment of high conflict that generates many questions for the audience. Unfortunately, this man has to spell out all of these questions, as if the audience is too dumb to figure out the predicament he’s in. The monologue doesn’t stop. All the scene needed was to have him look around confused, not recognising himself in the mirror, and then just as it feels this is going for too long, the masked assassin woman attacks him and we’re off into tense action.

Less is more, as always.

The man soon learns that a mafia organisation called Inferno has kidnapped him and intends to brainwash him into another killing machine, an assassin like the masked woman. This is my kind of premise. My mind conjures up scenes of psychological torture, clever manipulation, and emotional tearing as the protagonist struggles to hold onto the scraps of his identity. And Phantom does deliver that, but not without a side dish of problems each time.

The way we learn of this premise is through an excess of expository dialogue similar to the man’s monologue, a recurring problem particularly in the first act. What makes it so blatant is the simplicity of the fix. Just cut it. There doesn’t need to be anything in its place. We can see what they’re doing to him by, oddly enough, seeing what they do to him.

This isn’t an anime for toddlers. Things don’t need to be spelt out like an instruction manual. Extra subtlety of character wouldn’t hurt either. When one of the brainwashing scientists doesn’t like how his superior treats him, he says as she walks off, “Such arrogance. How much longer do you think you will be giving me such orders?” Why did the writers have so little faith in the audience to read the air?

Let’s pause the negatives for a moment and focus on positives. I love the execution of the brainwashing, of how they train some guy to kill people for a living and become the assassin “Zwei” alongside the woman “Ein” (two and one in German, respectively). They don’t strap him down and force him to watch random images with his eyes held open. Instead, they make him believe that he made the choice to kill. “If you don’t kill this bad man first, he will kill you. You don’t want that, do you now?” So of course it was his choice. Right? Coupled with how they take advantage of his weakness for Ein, his change works well.

The other major point Phantom has in its favour is the follow through on its premise. For a story about assassins in the darkest corner of society, it delivers on the brutality. No one, no matter the age or level of innocence, is off limits from sudden murder. Too often, I see stories with brutal premises yet spineless executions. There’s no point starting a story about murder and bloody violence if one is going to water it down into this puddle cranberry juice.

Phantom isn’t all violence, however – explosive gunfights aren’t common, honestly. The story moves at a good clip and changes things before matters grow stale, though this doesn’t always succeed.

The second half introduces a little girl who doesn’t fit the series. She feels token, as if Phantom would fail without a small girl, for some reason. I get that they want to create a stronger connection by introducing someone that isn’t drained emotionally, someone normal, but she goes against the tone. It isn’t a major issue though, unlike the final act.

While I won’t spoil the details of act 3, don’t read further if you do intend to try Phantom, which I recommend, as it will infer spoilers.

Still reading? Alright.

Act 3 goes off the funking rails. This grim, psychological thriller turns into a high school drama, wacky high school OP included. I have never been so confused by a time skip before. One of the weirdest things I’ve seen in anime. It feels like a prank.

Furthermore, the [Bee] train never gets back on the rails properly once it explains everything. One scene has a character running through a hail of bullets, which goes against the rules established earlier. Before, even a few bullets meant death. Now, it strays into action cliché. The most annoying part of the final act is the use of the “friend sent to execute an ally, while the ally yells the friend’s name as they’re shot” trope not once, not twice, but thrice. We see the same trope three times in short sequence! At least the main characters’ story concludes well.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is almost an anime I love. If you mention just the good parts, it’s the anime for me, but the problems are a hindrance. I’ve had my eye on it for years ever since it came in an ad flyer for a DVD I bought way back when. Though it isn’t as great as I had hoped for, it is certainly an interesting ride.

Art – Medium

Phantom has the most mature visual style of the studio Bee Train anime. The problem is that is still looks too similar to so many of these shows from the era that it can be difficult to differentiate. It could have used better cinematography to be visually stimulating – see Black Lagoon.

Sound – Medium

Japanese or English is fine – the Hollywood movie references such as “You talkin’ to me?” work better in English. I like the opening song.

Story – Medium

A man wakes up in an unknown location and without memory, unaware of what awaits him on the path to mould him into an assassin. Requiem for the Phantom has a solid layer of quality covered by another layer of mistakes holding it down. And that third act…

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. They don’t really make anime like Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom anymore. If you are into the serious, methodical action with a focus on psychology, this could be for you.

(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

Back Street Girls: Gokudolls – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Back Street Girls – Gokudolls

 

Similar: Detroit Metal City

Aggretsuko

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Ecchi Comedy

Length: 10 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Occasionally funny.

Negatives:

  • Comedy drags.
  • Too many extra skits.
  • So disappointing.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The idea of three yakuza men forced to have sex reassignment surgery to become pop idols after messing up an important job should be hilarious. I am crushed – utterly crushed, I tell you, that Back Street Girls: Gokudolls is a failure. Such a dumb premise had me laughing at the mere thought, but the final product isn’t anywhere near as funny as the premise lead me to imagine.

Skits that drag the jokes for too long and an excessive number of outright unfunny scenes (some unrelated to the idols) made just 10 episodes a chore to complete. Even with each episode split into several mini episodes for separate skits it felt too long.

Watch one minute of Back Street Girls and it will remind you of the great Detroit Metal City. So how is it that with such similar styles and humour, Detroit succeeded where Back Street Girls failed? The key, as ever with comedy, is in the timing. Detroit kept it sharp with ~10-minute episodes (excluding OP and ED). Everyone has experienced the difference when hearing two people tell the same joke – one person knows the flow, where to put emphasis, when to pause for effect and the other person doesn’t. Great comedians are also great storytellers.

Back Street Girls, ideally, should have had the order from up high to cut half the material, keeping only the best skits and trimming them down to bullets of comedy. Some skits barely relate to the idol “girls”, leaving me wondering why they are in the anime.

The best material relates to the yakuza boss dealing with the idols. He realised how much money idols make and wanted that for his gang, but no idol would willing join the yakuza, so he put his wimps to use. See, this boss is an idol fanatic that knows every minute detail of the idol lifestyle. Idols are in bed by 9 p.m. Idols don’t play mahjong (it isn’t cute). Idols don’t drink alcohol or even water – only cute drinks like juice allowed!

While these skits had me laughing, they aren’t enough to carry the series. It is also difficult to watch the screen when the art is so poor. The art style, which is similar to Detroit, is suitable in that intentionally ugly way. However, the lack of animation and overuse of shaky cam with action lines grows old fast. It’s one of those anime where it being specifically an anime doesn’t seem to matter.

I was adamant on watching and reviewing Back Street Girls based on the premise alone. What a disappointment. Absolutely crushed. If I were a drinker, I would be drinking my sorrows away like these lads.

Art – Low

Back Street Girls relies on texture and expressive stills instead of animation. The most animation is in the lip flaps, which is motionless at times. If a character needs to move, it jumps to the end frame. (e.g. When someone stands up, they will be sitting one shot and then be standing the next.)

Sound – Medium

The best audio is the early 2000s style idol J-pop opening. The overacting and screaming matches the series tone, though lives and dies on the quality of the skit.

Story – Low

Three yakuza men become teen girl J-pop stars as repentance to their boss. The occasional funny skit isn’t what this wonderfully silly premise deserved.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. At most, I would recommend watching a few of the best skits on YouTube or somewhere if available. Back Street Girls: Gokudolls isn’t worth more.

(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:

Disappointing