Tag Archives: Seinen

Adult Men as the target audience.

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.

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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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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.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Disappointing

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

Maison Ikkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Maison Ikkoku

 

Related: Maison Ikkoku: Final Chapter (sequel movie)

Similar: Kimagure Orange Road

Ah! My Goddess

Ai Yori Aoshi

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Comedy

Length: 96 episodes, 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Supporting cast is better than the main.
  • Occasional good comedy.

Negatives:

  • One season of content stretched across four.
  • Side relationships amount to nothing.
  • So repetitive.
  • That dog’s eyes…

(Request an anime for review here.)

Maison Ikkoku is a classic of anime romance. Does this timeless classic endure, appreciable by anyone whether watched at release or 30 years later?

It follows 20-year-old Godai, a failed student looking to pass his exams this year, who finds himself unable to study when surrounded by the rowdiest tenants imaginable in his boarding house. A greater distraction arrives in the form of the beautiful Kyoko, new manager at Maison Ikkoku, but Godai’s feelings of instant love look forever unrequited when he learns she is a widow clinging to her dead husband.

I like this premise for three reasons. One: she’s a young widow, a rarity amid a sea of “first love only” anime teen romance. Her experience promises a more mature relationship. Two: the challenge Godai faces in her husband’s shadow is ripe for conflict and emotion. Three: the cosy nature of having everyone under one roof makes it an intimate affair.

Maison Ikkoku doesn’t take advantage of this potential.

On the first point, Godai and Kyoko’s coupling is anything but mature. Godai is a child. This would be good as the starting point of Godai’s character arc, but we never see him mature into a man. He is ever the child in love and life. My big problem with Maison Ikkoku, regardless of any other issues I cover, is the lack of chemistry between these two and how poor of a job it does at convincing us that this is a real relationship. You could count on one hand the number of meaningful moments between these two – with fingers to spare. His first romantic act is trying to kiss her while she’s napping on the roof. We have a Casanova over here!

Their relationship is “cockblocking the anime.” The first few episodes consist of Godai trying to tell her how he feels and to give her a present, only to have someone or a random event stop him. This isn’t story. It is no adversity. It’s just distraction after distraction thrown at him by the writer.

You might imagine that this is just the slow start to a 96-episode series. Except, this is the series. Their first truly romantic moment is in episodes 39 & 40, only to have it regress into meaningless distractions afterwards.

The story has a love polygon for the two leads, yet even these are just cockblockers instead of opportunities at character development. For Kyoko, we have her handsome tennis coach that falls for her charms against his parents’ wishes, who have arranged a marriage with the woman of peak meekness. You know the type – eyes always downcast as if it is an offence to look at others, hands clasped in prayer to her chest, and not a bone in her spine. Godai, on the other hand, has a headstrong and naïve teenage stalker. I thought she would be a one-off character for a few episodes, a gimmick to create misunderstandings with Kyoko, but she returns. And for longer!

I must reiterate that the problem isn’t with the ideas and slice of life episodes. Execution is the culprit. When Godai and the coach compete for affection, it isn’t through conflict that promotes growth. They’re petty squabbles made worse by the fact that they go nowhere. Honestly, Maison Ikkoku has barely enough content for 24 episodes and stretches it to 96 with every fake-out and anti-climax in the book. The dead husband element also doesn’t feel like a source of turmoil for Kyoko. Instead, it comes across as a crutch by the writer to keep the couple apart. “She would kiss him, but she’s still not over the dead guy. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have them kiss next episode. Stay tuned to find out!”

It’s not as though it’s a slow burn building and building to this great romance where you cheer for the couple when united, your heart lifted with joy. If the romance was worth it in the end, that would be the quality to make it a lasting classic. The fact that it’s slow and rather repetitive would be fine when threaded by a great relationship. We would criticise it for these issues but always add on, “It’s worth it for the romance.” I sadly cannot say that here.

 

Look, this anime isn’t bad. It’s bloated and hard to recommend when you could complete three to six other romances in the same time. If you have a love for old anime and go in knowing not to care about relationship growth, you could enjoy Maison Ikkoku. The comedy is decent thanks to the eccentric support cast (except the ever-annoying kids). My favourite is the tenant that dresses like an old FBI agent. He comes and goes from the house to escapades unknown and infiltrates other people’s rooms when at home. (No respect for privacy.) The older lady looks for any excuse to throw an alcohol-fuelled party and leads the charge in disrupting Godai’s studies. There’s a lot more fun when it spotlights them.

I wanted Maison Ikkoku to be great. Imagine, 96 episodes of romantic goodness. Anime could do with more romance series, as much of the best romantic relationships are subplots to other genres, like an action series. Or they’re in heavy dramas, which I love of course, but it’s good to balance it with a wholesome romance. My search continues.

Art – Medium

This is 80s anime art at its most classic – poufy hair included. What is with that dog’s eyes though? Are they mouths!? The animation is decent for the time and the exterior establishing shots are nice at setting mood.

Sound – Medium

It sounds old in Japanese, as expected, though the dub doesn’t sound much better either, which is odd considering how much later it released in the West. I’m not fond of either version. That has more to do with my lack of character interest, however.

Story – Low

A failed student joins a boarding house to focus on his studies, where he falls in love with a young widow chained to the past. Maison Ikkoku’s suffers from constant delays, setbacks, and side relationships that go nowhere to drag out the main relationship, which in itself is rather shallow.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For vintage anime fans only. I can’t imagine many people will want to sit through a romance as drawn out as Maison Ikkoku when we have so much choice today.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Repetitive

Lucky Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Lucky Star

 

Similar: K-On!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Nichijou – An Ordinary Life

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The smug.

Negatives:

  • Moe over substance.
  • Writing isn’t witty enough.
  • Mundane humour.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Lucky Star is known for its moe characters, dance routine, and smug memes. At least, that’s what I knew it for. It follows the daily happenings of four girls at high school (yes, high school) and outside, with a commentary on mundane life led by lazy otaku Konata. School, food, video games, anime, and daily hygiene are but a sample of the fields these girls discuss to no end.

This is an anime about nothing. The first conversation covers how to eat certain food. Do you eat a cream cone from the thin and easy end or from the large end where the cream can ooze out? This discussion goes at length. And to be honest, I don’t find it funny. Where is the punch line? I’m clearly not the target audience of this comedy.

Even if you look at the humour with a critical eye, it can be hard to find the jokes. Most of the time, I am unsure about whether any of this is supposed to be funny, or is this designed to be humorous though not laugh-out-loud funny? I laughed perhaps once or twice (it was the smugness). If these are meant to have you laugh, then they drag on for too long to succeed. What should be a two-minute skit takes half an episode.

It’s hard to convey the emptiness of Lucky Star, for there is little to discuss. One scene pauses for a girl to talk about another girl’s pyjamas. Is this funny? No. Does it lead anywhere? No.

The gags lack punch and wit. You know what this reminds me of? Puppies and kittens. When a puppy trips over while going down a step, it’s both funny and cute. You laugh as your heart aches with cuteness. When an adult trips over, you recoil with pain instead. It just isn’t the same. I suppose you must love moe that I don’t to find this interesting. Lucky Star masks the dullness of the conversations with cute art, which is likely the point, and there must be an audience for it to have had 24 episodes.

As I tried my best to watch Lucky Star, I recalled Seinfeld, of all shows. That sitcom too is about “nothing” (it isn’t really, but as close as you can get without having anything but a white wall for nine seasons). It took me several attempts over a decade to get into Seinfeld. But once I was in, I would finish a season every few days. It has wit and precision that Lucky Star lacks and its observations are far cleverer than this anime. When Seinfeld points out some daily oddity through comedy, it makes me think, “Huh, I never saw that way.” When Lucky Star does it, I don’t care and it isn’t something I haven’t heard before.

The catchy dance number you’ve seen online, if nothing else, is more popular than Lucky Star itself. Being a meme machine doesn’t age well. Incidentally, the lines used for memes are funnier online than in context of the anime, as they are to the point in a panel or three.

Lucky Star didn’t bother me, by any means, so don’t let me put you off if it sounds like your thing. It was simply…nothing.

Art – Medium

The most moe of moe art. It’s not to my taste, though it is very expressive and conveys character.

Sound – Low

The acting could have been worse by overdoing the moe voices, like in the post-credit Lucky Channel TV segments. Thankfully, they showed restraint. The dub sharpens up the script a little, less reliant on the “cuteness” to make the jokes, but the casting isn’t as good. Music is mostly small loops, seemingly generated by a moe music algorithm.

Story – Low

Follow a group of girls as they go about their comedic daily lives in high school. This moe comedy is an acquired taste with its story about the mundane.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it. An episode or even a single scene will say if Lucky Star’s humour is 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