Tag Archives: Seinen

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X-Men – Anime Review

Japanese Title: X-Men

 

Similar: Wolverine

Tiger & Bunny

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Best of the Marvel anime.
  • Strong drama episode between Cyclops and Emma Frost.
  • Good casting in English.

Negatives:

  • Japanese girl’s power is uninteresting.
  • Weak music.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So here we are at the final Marvel anime series and by pure coincidence, I saved the best for last. X-Men is the first of the Marvel line up that I would consider good. Iron Man was almost average, Wolverine was nothing but shallow action, and Blade just plain sucked.

This X-men adventure follows the team after the death of Jean Grey as Phoenix, its members dispersed in mourning until Professor X summons them on a mission to Japan in search of missing mutant girl Hisako Ichiki. A cult known as the U-Men has been kidnapping mutants to harvest their organs for enhancement experiments. The X-Men soon run into Emma Frost, former White Queen of the villainous Hellfire Club, who also claims to be in search of the girl, though the X-Men have their doubts, Cyclops in particular.

The structure is the same as the other Marvel anime – meet new character, help with small problem, uncover bigger conspiracy, fight the mid-tier enemies, prepare for final plan, climax – but X-men stands above the others because it pauses to let characters develop, to let the drama sink in. Jean’s death hit Cyclops especially hard and his head isn’t in the game, snapping at his teammates. Help comes from the unlikeliest source (unless you’ve read the comics) – Emma. One episode has little more than Cyclops and Emma talking, like a therapy session, and it is great. It’s good to see a complex character like Emma receive focus and to meet a broken Cyclops, which makes him more interesting than the usual stoic leader. This single episode has me wishing the X-Men could receive another, superior anime. There is much potential.

X-Men isn’t all success, however. The new girl, Hisako, is forgettable. I can’t remember her personality as of this review, two weeks after finishing the series, and her power is lame. She can create psionic armour to look like a mech, which seems awfully cliché for the Japanese mutant. I know this power is from the comics – still lame. They also allow her onto the team too quickly. She’s not a tag-along either, but a proper member, making me question how desperate the X-Men must be for new members.

Outside of this, there isn’t much to discuss. The action is decent – brutal Wolverine is always a pleasure – and the overall story works. To fit the Japanese setting, they modified the story of Moira MacTaggert by having her reside in middle-of-nowhere Japan instead of a European island (if I recall the comics I read over a decade ago correctly). It’s a nice bit of mystery and tension.

After the disappointments that were the other Marvel offerings, I am surprised I finally enjoyed one – pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying it’s great or that Fullmetal Alchemist will have to watch its back, but I am saying that, for once, Marvel didn’t waste my time with an anime.

Art – High

The art is closer to the Western style and is the best looking of the Marvel anime. They changed the look of Wolverine compared to his anime, oddly enough.

Sound – Medium

Well cast in English, while a few characters aren’t quite right in Japanese. The music is weak.

Story – Medium

The X-Men travel to Japan in search of a missing local mutant girl as Cyclops copes with the death of Jean Grey. Thanks an injection of drama and less tropiness, X-Men is a solid watch and the best of Marvel anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The classic X-Men Animated Series and X-Men: Evolution may be far superior, but the X-Men anime is still good. It’s the one Marvel offering worth watching.

(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

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Joker Game – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Joker Game

 

Similar: 91 Days

Rainbow

ACCA: 13-Territory Investigation Department

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The spymaster.
  • Improves in the second half.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t know what to do with itself.
  • First episode is one of anime’s worst.
  • Lacks tension half the time.
  • The accents.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The world is on the brink of collapse. World War II is imminent. Sensing the danger and realising the importance of an intelligence network, Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki sets up Japan’s “D Agency” for spies. His eight agents are to spy on enemy and ally nations alike, using their training in manipulation and infiltration to gather intel for Japan.

Accompanying the request, my reader informed me of Joker Game’s divisive reception – liked in Japan, disliked in the West – which had me intrigued. The first episode seemed to make it easy to see which side I would fall on. What a mess of an episode!

It introduces us to D Agency through the eyes of Sakuma, a military police officer that liaises with them for the army. One evening, the spies invite him to join a poker game and he loses. However, they reveal that he didn’t lose. They had cheated by way of having observers to the game signalling the contents of his hand. It goes into this long explanation about cheating techniques, courting allies to your side of the game, and how this “Joker Game” is some elaborate metaphor for international politics. A load of nonsense.

For one, the metaphor doesn’t fit if you think about it for but a moment. One spy reveals that he converted an observer to his side by giving him a cigarette when in need, which is supposed to equate to flipping a political ally in Washington. Except, people don’t flip that easily. This oversimplification of politics, intelligence, and spies undermines the complexity of their work. I cannot stress enough how dumb it is.

Even with the incompetent metaphor, this could have been a great episode had we, the audience, had opportunity to get in on the game. You see, none of these spy tricks and cheats they talk of can we see during the game itself. There’s no opportunity for us to figure it out. They play an ordinary looking game followed by an explanation telling us everything. Why not show us? It couldn’t be less interesting. And you want the cyanide-laced cherry on top? The “Joker Game” is irrelevant to the rest of the plot. Yep, the whole affair doesn’t matter.

The larger series is an anthology, to my surprise, chronicling the spies’ assignments in various countries. Joker Game improves after the opening two-part story, but not by much.

Episode 3 has us travel to France to join a spy among the French Resistance. His plan, as it turns out, is idiotic and relied on sheer luck to succeed. Not the elite spy games promised, is it? Next we move to Shanghai, where a police officer investigates a possible terrorist bombing of his captain’s home. This is a decent episode, but it doesn’t have enough time to get into the details – details that invest the audience in the narrative. Joker Game tries to cram the entirety of Chinatown into 20 minutes.

That’s a core issue with this. The anthological nature doesn’t give a story time to breathe in a single 20-minute episode. Just when it feels like we’re getting started, the episode is over!

Joker Game only works when it focuses on a small event. The best instance of this occurs in episode 11 when a German officer investigates the corpse of a Japanese man, suspecting that Yuuki is somehow involved. The spymaster had escaped his clutches decades ago when Japan and Germany were at war in World War I. The entire episode is about the German trying to find one piece of evidence to confirm his fears.

I liked this episode so much that I feel the story should have been about the conflict between Yuuki and the German. It could have still had subplots spotlighting other spies (episode 12 is a great look at love in a spy’s life) while keeping the focus on the spymaster, Joker Game’s best character. He has such presence, thanks in no small part to his actors in either Japanese or English, that he could carry a series.

By the end, I found several things to like about Joker Game – really, that first episode is such a bad first impression that I could understand if most viewers dropped the anime on the spot. Many of the scenario ideas have potential, but the overall execution makes Joker Game feel as though it doesn’t know what to do with itself. There is too much in this anime. The second half is an improvement, though not enough to redeem the series. So as it turns out, I fall in the middle between Japan’s praise and the West’s rejection of Joker Game.

Spy stories are a rarity in this medium, so you will be seeing something different, at minimum, which for me is often reason enough to try something.

Art – Medium

Good art as always from Production I.G., but this has little animation – expect many slow pans of characters thinking. A few episodes have superior shot composition, cinematography, and lighting than others such that you could be visually bored one episode and engaged the next.

Sound – Medium

Oof, what a mixed bag we have here. In Japanese, you have the least American sounding Americans in existence, whereas the dub has actors who can’t do accents. Episode 3’s French accents are awful – most sound more German than French! (Unless they’re meant to be German spies… Oh. My. God. What a twist!) The actual German accents are better, though one strays into Russian territory. Yuuki the spymaster has the standout performances in both versions.

Story – Low

Japan’s spy agency sends its agents around the world in preparation for World War II. After a terrible opening episode, matters slowly improve for Joker Game to conclude with a decent finish.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For spy fans only. I can’t see Joker Game going over well with most viewers, especially if starting from the beginning. I do recommend episode 11 to all for a nice tension piece.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

House of Five Leaves

Joker Game

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • And now for something completely different.
  • The grander plot.
  • Mauve is gorgeous.

Negatives:

  • Second acts of most episodes are dull.
  • The comic office staff are out of place.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What an unusual anime. When a dear reader requested ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department for review, I wasn’t really looking forward to it, if I can be brutally honest for a moment. A bureaucrat goes around the states of a peaceful nation to audit the peace? What…? Where’s the conflict if everything is peaceful? I had to force myself to start it for the sake of the review.

The first episode didn’t impress me beyond the visuals. We learn that the kingdom of Dowa has known peace for a century thanks to a government initiative called ACCA that cares for the needs of citizens. Rumours have started stirring, however, of a coup d’état against the king. Jean Otus of ACCA now has the job of auditing the Dowa’s 13 territories to see how peace suits them and to uncover the truth of these rumours.

The slow start and lightweight feel, for lack of a better word, to the mystery of the rumours didn’t compel me to keep watching. If not for the “peace” in the blurb, one would expect ACCA to be in the vein of Bridge of Spies and similar Cold War films, where tension holds the very fabric of reality at peace. But because Dowa is at peace and the storytelling slant is tranquil, I found myself questioning why this story needed telling. I don’t joke when I tell you that only my love for the visuals kept me going. (If I’m not feeling an anime for review, I will often take forever to get through it.)

By the second episode, I’m starting to love the opening song (I wouldn’t skip it from here on) and the protagonist Jean is growing on me. Let’s not forget Mauve, one of anime’s most gorgeous women and her role in the plot. She has a mysterious air about her and this sultry confidence that made me unsure if she truly was Jean’s ally. Then we learn of someone spying on Jean, who himself is acting like a spy in his tour of the states. The layers of spying go all the way to the top. I’m not hooked, but I’m no longer dreading it.

The problem with ACCA is the overrepresentation of daily life. I understand that this is a country at peace and peace breeds routine, monotony in society. But! They should have worked in more spying as an undercurrent to the ordinary events, extracting bits of information during chitchat, and everyone suspicious of something, all with a fun angle like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Kingsman. From the outside, it would seem like daily life, but underneath that is spy work. The existing second acts of most episode are boring. Most third acts of episodes interested me enough to keep going.

The second issue I have with ACCA relates to the territories. Each territory has a specialty – one is agriculture, another makes all the movies, and so on – yet most of them don’t feel much different and aren’t interesting, unlike Kino’s Journey where every location brought something new. It wasn’t until Jean visits the territory that lives akin to 17th century France, with electronics such as mobile phones banned, that my interest piqued. Alright, some variety!

The core of the plot also comes to light soon. As the coup builds, Jean needs to learn which side each district will fall on, should a power play occur – with the crown or the conspirators.

ACCA had slowly built my interest until the third act, where it delivers its best episodes as all the secrets come tumbling out. If anything, its story is too end-loaded and could have measured it out more to boost engagement earlier. Still, the strong finish left me with a good impression.

ACCA’s aversion to anime tropes also helps its case. In fact, the one notable trope it does use – goofy co-workers from Jean’s home office – is an eyesore. Their comedic relief isn’t funny and doesn’t fit the tone of the show. Their inclusion was to counterbalance the drama, though the fun spy work I mention above would have been more fitting. It could have done without them.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department isn’t going to blow you away nor is it a great anime, and yet, because it’s something different, you don’t have the feeling of “same old, same old” when watching it. I urge you to give it a chance.

Art – High

ACCA looks different yet familiar to anime. I love the colours and character designs. This anime adores animating things fluttering in the wind. It also uses small visual techniques you rarely see in anime, such as characters fading into view as the camera reverse dollies through them.

Sound – High

The OP is great and went on my playlist before I finished the series. The woman’s vocals struck me. As for the acting, it’s good in either language, so go with your default preference.

Story – Medium

An inspector from ACCA, the government department responsible for the country’s peace, travels to the 13 states after rumours of a coup d’état surface. ACCA overcomes its dull segments with an unusual concept executed through interesting characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it, I urge you. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department won’t be for everyone. In fact, this little-known anime will interest very few among us, but it’s worth trying in case you are one of those few. I wouldn’t want you to miss out.

(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

Durarara!! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Durarara!!

 

Related: Durarara!!x2 Shou, Ten, and Ketsu (sequels)

Similar: Baccano!

K

Darker than Black

Death Note

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • High visual and audio production values.

Negatives:

  • Excess dialogue.
  • Get to the point already!
  • Poor structure and storytelling.
  • Many characters have no purpose.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Durarara is Baccano, but bad. I consider few anime that I’ve finished as a waste of time. Even the worst anime has value to me, for it gives something to discuss and lessons to learn in character and storytelling. This is one of the few exceptions. A chore to finish, an effort to enjoy, and with little to discuss or learn, Durarara was a waste of time.

The story focuses on the legend of the Black Rider, a headless motorbike rider that prowls the streets of Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district amid increasing gang activity. Mikado is caught up in the commotion when he witnesses the Black Rider on his first day in Tokyo. He will rely on friend and failed flirt Masaomi to guide him through the supernatural events and all manner of strange characters.

Durarara doesn’t open with great promise that derails later on. This is a case of never showing any promise to begin with, leaving us waiting for when it will get to the point, show us it purpose. It seems to do everything it can to avoid showing us its story, as if under the misapprehension that by doing this, it will make the final revelation a masterstroke.

Durarara wants to be character driven with its large cast, each exhibiting grey qualities, which is one of the elements that made Baccano a success. However, it wastes far too much time repeating conversations where characters explain their motivations. Because so little time is spent on events to drive story, characters don’t have much opportunity to show us who they are. As a result, they have to tell us and then repeat it again later. This is only for major characters. Minor characters, on the other hand, don’t even exposit or discuss events. They chat about random nonsense that tests one’s patience. There is so much excess dialogue.

All of this makes Durarara comes across as more slice of life than action.

Most story is end loaded in the final few episodes. When the big revelations about character identities and gang power plays come out, the series goes, “While all those useless characters where chatting about whatever, these other characters were secretly manoeuvring behind the scenes. Surprised you, didn’t I?” Yes, I’m surprised – surprised that you managed to squeeze out any story at all.

I had wanted to watch Durarara for the longest time after Baccano, one of my first reviews, hoping to find a similar experience. What a letdown. Had the characters been close to the level of Baccano’s cast, I likely would have enjoyed it despite the poor story, but these aren’t interesting. One guy’s gimmick is getting angry at the slightest provocation. It’s funny the first time, sure, but it’s the same joke every episode. Grow some dimension! The black Russian advertising his sushi restaurant on a street corner is also amusing, yet that joke too grows old.

Everyone is forgettable save for perhaps the Black Rider searching of her head. Bringing the Dullahan myth to modern Tokyo on a bike instead of a horse is a cool idea. Her story is decent as well, though she only has material for a few episodes – not enough to carry the team.

This anime was a personal choice I wanted to watch amidst the reader requests. I was certain this would be a hit. I don’t blame the production crew – Durarara looks and sounds great. The source light novel is a mess to begin with, as are the Baccano light novels, incidentally, which make me more impressed with the latter’s anime adaptation.

The first season wraps up its plot, so I have no attraction to watch the sequels. I usually finish every direct sequel for my reviews, but I won’t bother with Durarara.

Art – High

Durarara uses the same style as Baccano, crazy opening included (without the great song, though), has great animation, and with normal yet distinct character designs. However, background characters are often greyed out – budget or style?

Sound – Medium

The acting is great, in either language, but the script is so damn bloated. Characters repeat themselves often and minor character dialogues are a waste of time. The ED is catchy.

Story – Low

The new kid in Tokyo finds himself mixed up in gang wars amidst events involving the mysterious Black Rider, a supernatural biker in search of her head. A single strand of good story resides among the tangle of threads that is the mess called Durarara.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Durarara takes such effort to enjoy that I would recommend almost any other anime instead.

(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:

Poor PacingShallow

Outlaw Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Seihou Bukyou Outlaw Star

 

Related: Angel Links (spin-off)

Similar: Cowboy Bebop

Trigun

Space Dandy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Creative art.
  • Surprisingly good dub.
  • Sense of fun.

Negatives:

  • Melfina is empty.
  • The catgirl is irritating.
  • Never hits a high note.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Combine Trigun with Cowboy Bebop and you have Outlaw Star. While not as good as either, it is not without merit. Nostalgic art and a mix of samurai, cat girls, sorcerers, pirates, bounty hunters, gunslingers, cowboys, and cyborgs make for an unusual universe.

Gene Starwind, sufferer of space sickness, wants to become a space pilot but remains earthbound as a gun-for-hire with partner James Hawking. They take the simple job of escorting a beautiful woman with a suitcase, only to get more than they bargained for. The woman isn’t an innocent dame – she’s a grizzled outlaw – and the suitcase doesn’t contain her clothes and unmentionables. Inside is a girl called Melfina, asleep, naked, and hunted by several factions. They escape together aboard the advanced Outlaw Star to survive and find the mysterious ‘Galactic Leyline’.

For the most part, Outlaw Star pits Gene and company against one of the aforementioned groups each episode. Races, heists, a wrestling tournament, and space battles are a mere sample of the adventures on which they embark. Early on, they clash with the cat people of the Ctarl-Ctarl Empire and find themselves burdened with the company of the most annoying character in the universe, Aisha Clan-Clan (yes, everything in cat society has a duplicated word name. Yes, it does get annoying). Even her introduction is idiotic. She argues with Gene over right of way in space! She knows that space is an infinite nothingness, right? After failing in her mission, she seeks revenge against Gene, which she reminds us every episode with her screeching voice, before joining the team in search of the Leyline.

I suppose that her high-energy personality was to counteract Melfina, who has no personality. Melfina is yet another example of a writer believing that quiet plus introverted must be boring. At least she has a purpose in the story. That’s something, I guess?

Characters and the Leyline, which I will get to in a moment, are the primary components holding Outlaw Star back. Gene is too much your typical space gunslinger (the space sickness gag lasts a couple of episodes), James is little more than his babysitter (most of his dialogue is warning Gene not to do something), and the samurai woman that joins later is as you would imagine on first impression. None are bad – except Aisha and the empty Melfina – but when you have Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, or Firefly in the live-action realm sitting right next to this anime, it’s hard to compete. Throw in the original Star Wars, Gundam SEED, Star Trek if you want something more measured, and you realise that great sci-fi with everyone on a single ship needs a great crew.

As for the Galactic Leyline, said to hold the knowledge of the universe, it isn’t an interesting goal. For one, it doesn’t fit into the rest of the series. You have this adventure series of gunfights and space battles for 23 episodes and then it turns into an exploration of the existential. The story never cared about themes of knowledge or existentialism before this. It doesn’t fit.

Outlaw Star plays its best cards during self-contained adventures over an episode or two. It’s worth your time for a few such adventures. If you want to go for the long haul, select one of the other titles I’ve mentioned in this review. Except Firefly because that was cancelled. Kidding, great show, wish it had more.

Art – High

Outlaw Star looks great, particularly in action scenes. I love the old school feel of its hand drawn art and world design.

Sound – Medium

The first ED may be one of my favourites of all time. I love the gentle song accompanied by gorgeous single-colour art sketches. The dub is surprisingly good for the era.

Story – Medium

An odd bunch of space farers gather aboard the Outlaw Star as they get up to all sorts of adventures against catgirls, mercenaries, and assassins. Outlaw Star is a space adventure of fun and action that doesn’t go for the high notes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of older anime. Outlaw Star won’t entice among all the glitz and glam of modern anime, but if you want to return to a simpler time, a time of space ships and space babes, then try this.

(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