Tag Archives: Seinen

Adult Men as the target audience.

March Comes in Like a Lion – Anime Review

Japanese Title: 3-gatsu no Lion

 

Related: March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 (release: 2017)

Similar: Your Lie in April

Ping Pong the Animation

Barakamon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Slice of Life Drama

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The protagonist.
  • Portrayal of depression.
  • So many gorgeous scenes.
  • OPs and EDs.

Negatives:

  • Facial close-ups.
  • Could do with compacting.
  • The talking animals.

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Depression, an all-powerful force that colours our world in bleakness. Hope doesn’t exist in this world, nor does happiness. So why do those around us seem happy? How can they be happy when there is nothing to be happy about in life? Because depression is in our heads alone. Despite what we perceive, depression doesn’t bleed beyond the confines of one’s brain. The happiness of others is safe. March Comes in Like a Lion shows us this mental phenomenon through the eyes of Rei, a 17-year-old orphan and shogi professional.

I must first commend this anime for its portrayal of depression, which is often mischaracterised as a synonym for sadness. Sadness is losing your pet to old age and moving on after a period of mourning. Depression is losing your pet to old age and seeing this as to end of everything in your life. Sadness stops at a point; depression spirals ever downwards into a pit that exploits your greatest fears and most taut emotions. This is all in your head, of course, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When Rei is alone with no more than his mind for company, we see his descent. The loss of his family, the hatred from his adopted sister, and the lack of friends has morphed into a beast way beyond grief.

However, the moment others are around him, happiness bursts into life. The three sisters that live nearby are happy, despite their own loss, and their happiness infects him like an extended family. So what if he’s depressed? The world doesn’t stop spinning. Others don’t stop smiling. These are lessons Rei needs to learn if he is to grow out of his present state. As for friends, who says he has none? His self-proclaimed rival, Harunobu, regularly barges into his life and home to keep Rei company as his best friend – also self-proclaimed. Studio Shaft handled the balance between light and dark with deft mastery, thanks in no small part to the art, which conveys more emotion than the words.

Rei’s backstory is riveting as well. After losing his parents, his father’s friend and shogi rival takes him in to raise as a shogi professional like his own kids. However, when he surpasses those kids, the animosity reaches breaking point and he moves to his own place before the daughter can strangle him. You want to know the kicker? He didn’t even like shogi. He said what he had to. This backstory is what I would use to teach how to write conflict in a character’s past.

Where March Comes in Like a Lion falters is largely in two areas. The first is the shogi. Don’t watch this for the sport like you would Haikyuu and its brethren. The story does little to teach you the game as a newcomer, while also doing little to engage veterans. Shogi scenes serve to present mental conflicts only, which would be acceptable if there weren’t so much shogi. The best way I can put it is that the writer knows little about shogi – at least, that’s how it feels. I imagine the script read, “and then they played shogi,” for each shogi scene.

The second fault is with tangents. Several episodes abandon the protagonist and plot in favour of side characters – not particularly important ones at that either. These episodes should have waited for the OVAs, you know, the optional content that interrupts the flow of the main story. Thankfully, these faults don’t lessen my recommendation to watch at least half of the season. Oh yeah, there’s those creepy talking cats, who explain their jokes each scene. Maybe they are reason enough to skip this… No, even with Satan’s pets, March Comes in Like a Lion earns your attention.

Art – High

Studio Shaft did an incredible job with some of the scenes in March Comes in Like a Lion – the OPs and EDs are so gorgeous. The animation is a far cry from the static that was Honey and Clover. However, adherence to the mangaka’s art style has kept those dead eyes and ugly mouths, regularly highlighted by overused close ups of the faces.

Sound – High

The voice work is strong, except for those creepy cats and the little girl, who doesn’t sound like a little girl. I can see several music tracks being added to my playlist in future.

Story – High

A young man deals with depression punctuated by the happiness of those around him as he competes in shogi. Even if too long and off on a few tangents too many, March Comes in Like a Lion’s depiction of depression is top tier and balanced well by the humour.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for slice of life fans. March Comes in Like a Lion manages to convey the effects of depression in a relatable manner to those who have experienced it, and an understandable manner for those that haven’t. For this reason, it warrants at least a few episodes of your time, if not enough for the whole season. The first half is stronger than the second half.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Psycho-Pass 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Psycho-Pass 2

 

Related: Psycho-Pass (prequel)

Psycho-Pass Movie (sequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Action

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The villain’s lore.

Negatives:

  • The new girl.
  • So much stupid.
  • Mishandled parallels to season one.
  • Script written for robots.

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I can’t hold back my curiosity any longer; I have to know what everyone means by saying Psycho-Pass 2 is terrible when compared to season one, Psycho-Pass. How can one create a terrible product when given such a strong and established series to work from? Well, dear readers, this is how.

Psycho-Pass 2 starts not long after the last season with a new girl, Shimotsuki, joining veteran Akane on a case reminiscent of Akane’s first day in Division 1. However, this time, Akane finds a way to lower the target’s Crime Coefficient out of the “execute him now” range. Shimotsuki disagrees with Akane’s decision to give him a chance. Get used to Shimotsuki disagreeing with everything Akane does, for that’s her only purpose in Psycho-Pass 2 when she’s not being the stupidest character I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.

The villain, just like last time, has found a way to cheat the all-powerful Sybil system and keep his Crime Coefficient at “saintly” levels while killing people. Similarity is another aspect you should get used to. Psycho-Pass 2 is a near-carbon copy of Psycho-Pass. I don’t just mean that the villain’s method is the same or that themes carried over. I’m referring to scene for scene, shot for shot similarities, as if paying tribute. (Who pays tribute in a continuation of the same story? What are you? Slow?) Characters find themselves in the same situations, with the same dilemmas and decisions to tackle as before. There are too many such similarities to list. Think of it as giving two ghostwriters the same book outline to flesh out, yet one of the ghostwriters sucks.

Apart from being lazy, this “poetry” (“Again, it’s sort of like poetry; they rhyme.” – that guy who made the Star of the Rings prequels) fails because of the emotional aspects, not the technical. When a character has to make a difficult decision, the weight comes from the emotional context. If your protagonist has to choose between saving his mother or his girlfriend, it doesn’t matter if we never get the sense that he cares about either. They may as well be cannon fodder. You can transplant the same rules to psychological dilemmas. Do I sacrifice part of my soul to kill the villain? If sacrificing part of the soul won’t change anything in the character, then who cares? Psycho-Pass 2 is a context-less failure without the masterful psychology.

Worse than this problem, however, is the new character, Shimotsuki, whose role in this poetry is to replace the “by-the-book” character from season one. Where the original guy had a solid point on occasion, Shimotsuki is a threat to society with her stupidity. She’s a pretentious, one-note rookie that thinks she knows best despite being inexperienced in every department. For example, episode 4 has a hostage situation where the team knows an officer is in danger alongside civilians. So what does this rookie genius do? (Oh yeah, she’s supposed to be a genius. Bloody hell…) She does nothing – just waits for the captured officer to contact them. That’s right, an officer who’s probably on the verge of death has to lead the hostage rescue, while the equipped team outside should “just wait.” There’s stupid characters, then there’s this bimbo. And she’s surprised when the chief has another team take over the scene… You’re testing my tolerance, Psycho-Pass 2.

For a supporting character, she certainly takes plenty of space with her idiocy. Her position after the story’s main twist is idiotic. She must be mentally deficient to be the way she is in the end, as we receive the flimsiest justification for why she makes several of the stupidest decisions I have seen in anime. Not to mention, they’re inconsistent with her preachy nonsense from earlier. Psycho-Pass 2 likes to preach a lot. The original did explain character ideology to the audience more than necessary, but it succeeded most times. If you recall, the original’s first episode had a great scene that showed its themes through a rape victim wanting revenge, thus elevating her Crime Coefficient. This time, they added a scene to preach about how the Orwellian Sybil system isn’t so bad because you can still be a good person by yourself. What nonsense is this?

Psycho-Pass 2 doesn’t even feel connected to the previous season. They didn’t need to make this. They had nothing to say, nothing new to add, no extra world to develop, and none of the new characters are interesting. Kogami’s absence is noticeable. The only good I can say about this anime is that the villain’s secret is excellent, and therefore a travesty to see squandered in this piece.

Psycho-Pass 2 is the perfect example of the same idea poorly executed. Ideas are worthless without proper execution – it’s why no paid for that guy from high school with ideas he swore were better than the best filmmakers’ and game designers’ works.

After the series, I threw on the movie in hopes of something better after hearing it was made by the A team while the B team worked on Psycho-Pass 2. The movie takes us out of Japan to see how the world fared without the Sybil system. It’s okay – too black and white for my tastes. If you do want to watch it, find the dual-mix version, which takes half the audio track from the Japanese version and mixes it with half of the English, as characters speak different languages. Without the dual-mix, you have to either bear a lot of horrid Engrish in Japanese, or have confusing scenes in English as people pretend to speak different languages while speaking the same language. The dual-mix still has some Engrish, but it makes sense, for it comes from the Japanese characters. I love this dual-mix idea and hope to see more of it in future.

Art – Medium

Season 2 looks worse. It has that over-smoothed shading from cheap flash animation in many scenes, though the animation quality itself is good. The cinematography and imagery has none of the passion from before. Even the world doesn’t look as interesting despite being the same setting!

Sound – Medium

Robotic script in the face of fine acting. Music is nice.

Story – Low

A new girl joins seasoned Akane as they investigate the case of someone who can manipulate his crime coefficient to pass unseen by society’s judge. Psycho-Pass 2 copies everything from season one except for good story, good characters, logic, and world building.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For intellectual curiosity only. Psycho-Pass 2 is worse in every way. Even seen on its own, it has nothing to recommend itself. However, if you want to study a great example of the same idea executed twice to polarising results, Psycho-Pass 2 has plenty to teach.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingInduces Stupidity

Moonlight Mile – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Moonlight Mile: Lift Off

 

Similar: Space Brothers

Planetes

Armageddon (Hollywood movie)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Adventure Drama

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Science and engineering detail.
  • Some tense dilemmas.

Negatives:

  • Disjointed storytelling.
  • Characters don’t have time to develop amidst the dilemmas.
  • Junk animation and CG.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What made me curious to watch this anime? Was it a) space, b) the engineering, c) premise, or d) sex? The answer is a), of course – I love space! Alright, I admit, it was the sex, okay. Happy? But no, in all seriousness, when I was at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, they had an exhibition spotlighting civil engineering in manga – infrastructure, architecture, development, etc. – as the Japanese take great pride in their civil engineers (when you watch them build a house in a day, you can see why [turn on captions for subtitles]). I picked up Moonlight Mile because it had an astronaut on the cover (I am serious about the loving space part), but was struck by how sexually graphic the opening scene was. If I hadn’t seen the cover first, I would have assumed this belonged in the section you wouldn’t mention to your parents. This scene is so graphic that I was curious if they got away with it in the anime adaptation. Spoiler: they don’t.

But first, the story. Two climbing buddies, Gorou from Japan and Jack “Lostman” Woodbridge from the US, make a pact atop Mount Everest to see each other in space as they look to the sky above. They soon part and set about achieving this goal in their own manner. Gorou takes the path of an engineer, while Lostman goes the air force route (two-thirds of US astronauts come from the military). Becoming an astronaut is no easy journey and each will face trials and setbacks, even more so than real astronauts, for Moonlight Mile loves to throw one disaster after another at the protagonists.

Now, you know me, I love conflict – it’s the engine of fiction – but there comes a point where you need to allow characters to grow. In fiction, scenes follow the rough pattern of action and reaction. Something happens in a scene (action) and the characters react/reflect on this action in the next scene (reaction). Moonlight Mile rarely stops for the reaction. All space movies have those disasters – oxygen leak, broken thruster, power failure, etc. – for the astronauts to solve. These moments are exciting edge-of-your-seat tense, yet if you have nothing but this, as Moonlight Mile does, the tension wanes. The characters, while decent, feel like mere nuts and bolts to this story, rather than driving agents.

The first episode is nothing but a disastrous climb up Everest to establish the characters. This should have taken a few minutes. Well, there is Gorou’s butt as well.

As for my initial curiosity, while most episodes have a sex scene, it isn’t graphic. Still certainly not for kids, though is a far cry from the manga. It also doesn’t add to character, for Gorou falls in love with a new girl faster than a shooting star. This wouldn’t be an issue if he grew from each relationship. Alas, a new girl means a clean slate of development, so what’s the point?

In regards to the engineering, Moonlight Mile succeeds in taking care to do the math and science in a disaster. I’m not a rocket scientist, so someone more qualified may find great flaws here, but Moonlight Mile doesn’t try to convince us that training oil drillers to become astronauts is easier than training astronauts to operate a drill.

Art – Low

The 2D animation is junk, whereas the 3D sees overuse for vehicles and sweeping shots. Even the ground is CG in these scenes – so distracting.

Sound – Medium

The Japanese script is a bit dry, so go with the English, which added more banter and a natural flow to the dialogue.

Story – Medium

Two friends and rivals vow to meet each other as astronauts in space. This is their journeys to meet that goal. Moonlight Mile suffocates its characters in disaster after disaster for them to resolve, giving little room to develop. At least the disasters are tense.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For space fans. Did you like Armageddon? If yes, then Moonlight Mile is the anime version. If you thought that movie needed better science, Moonlight Mile will also satisfy in that regard.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Darker Than Black – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha

 

Related: Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Psycho-Pass

RahXephon

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Mystery

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 5 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Complex lore.
  • Creative powers and restrictions.
  • The comedic tangents are hilarious.
  • Character designs.

Negatives:

  • Lacks finality and answers.
  • Season 2 becomes oversimplified.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Darker than Black is an anime of malicious compliance. When I told it that it coveys lore in a vague manner, it responded with, “You don’t like my lore?” “That’s not wh—” “Fine, then I won’t give you any. If all you like is action, then that’s what I’ll give. Happy, are you!?” “…”

Before that moment in history, let’s go back to the start of Darker than Black. Ever since two gates appeared in Tokyo and Brazil, a fake sky replaced the real one and select people gained paranormal abilities at the cost of their humanity. These supernaturals known as Contractors became weapons for various governments and a group called the Syndicate. Officer Misaki has her investigatory skills put to the test when the Syndicate’s best agent, Hei the Black Reaper, is spotted in Tokyo. Hei and his associates have designs to uncover a mystery surrounding Hell’s Gate that threatens Contractors. Other Contractor division won’t let the Syndicate go unanswered either. Tokyo is a dangerous place to be.

First, I love the powers. Think of them as X-Men, but with a payment required after each use. The payment differs per character and ranges from smoking a cigarette to revealing a secret of yours to the next person you see. The cost tends to be something the Contractor hates. One Contractor, a magician, has to give away the technique to a magic trick every time he uses his illusion power. Bummer. Hei’s power is the ability to generate electricity, a favourite of mine. The writer could have merely copied the X-Men and been fine, but I appreciate the thought put into differentiating these powers by adding the payments.

Darker than Black also has artificial beings called Dolls that pass for human, but are dead inside and have scouting powers to aid their Contractor unit. Hei has one such doll with him as well as a Contractor whose power is to possess animals. Unfortunately for him, someone destroyed his human body during possession so he’s stuck as an animal for life. This makes him a tad grumpy.

Then we come to the larger world, where I find plenty interesting. I love that the police use an old woman known as the Stargazer, who can track when Contractors use powers by observing the fake stars above. Each Contractor is represented in a star – another great lore detail. Misaki has a telescope locked on Hei’s star, BK-201, which is how she knows he’s in town.

Most of the lore I have shared with you so far is presented in a decent manner. However, when it comes to the Gates, the lore behind Contractors, and even world history, Darker than Black takes serious issue with giving us this information. When it does present these aspects, it seems hesitant, as if the anime is worried about you finding out. “Does it or does it not work this way?” was a recurring question I had. This compounded with the fact that there is a lot of lore can make Darker than Black a headache for those who aren’t big fans of lore. It doesn’t help that much remains unanswered by the end, no thanks to season 2.

Here we arrive at the malicious compliance. If season 1 suffered from too much vague lore, season 2 suffers from having none whatsoever (the backstory threads are good, though). I said illuminate the lore, not eradicate it! In season 2, we follow two young siblings, one of which is a Contractor, and their escape from capture in Russia. It amounts to twelve episodes of action – good action, sure, but it no longer stands out like Darker than Black. I am particularly annoyed that Misaki is barely in season 2.

This does not lessen my recommendation for sci-fi/supernatural fans to watch the first season – likely twice to catch everything. If you worry about it being too heavy, the story occasionally diverts for some levity. The private eyes who narrates to himself noir-style and his cosplay girl assistant are the perfect change of pace. Even with several questions left unanswered, the lore we do get and the characters make Darker than Black an engaging experience.

Art – High

Darker than Black manages to have a large cast of characters, each distinct from the last, and yet doesn’t resort to lazy design techniques such as hair colour being the only distinguishing feature. The dark palette suits the story. Season 2 sees a noticeable dip in character and animation quality.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either Japanese or English voices. Nice soundtrack – the main singer is bilingual and mixes English with Japanese better than most. The script could do with tighter exposition.

Story – High

Super powered humans called Contractors work jobs for the nefarious Syndicate while uncovering the mystery that threatens Contractors worldwide. Darker than Black’s super powers and interesting characters deliver a great anime, but its complexities can alienate.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for science fiction fans. Darker than Black has everything a sci-fi fan could want – lore, depth, sociology, philosophy. Non-fans (maybe even fans) will find the lack of concreteness tedious, especially since it leaves much unanswered. Season 2 is optional viewing.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Samurai Champloo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Samurai Champloo

 

Similar: Afro Samurai

Michiko and Hatchin

Rurouni Kenshin

Katanagatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stylised art and animation.
  • Great dub.

Negatives:

  • Bit boring.
  • No reason to care for main goal.
  • Plateaus early.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I have overheard this exchange many times: “I haven’t seen much anime. Mainly just what everyone has watched – Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, you know.” “Oh man, you should totally watch Samurai Champloo! It’s like Bebop. You’ll love it.” I thought it finally time to test this oft-mentioned recommendation.

Well, it’s little like Cowboy Bebop. For one, Bebop is excellent; Samurai Champloo is not. The two series share a director and similar music…and that’s about it. Bebop too didn’t have a stellar overarching story, but its self-contained arcs each episode had depth to engage the viewer. Champloo’s episode arcs are half trying to move the feeble plot while not giving enough in its mini stories.

The adventure kicks off when ditzy waitress Fuu saves Mugen, a wild warrior, and Jin, the well-mannered ronin, from execution. In exchange, the two samurai agree to help her find a samurai “who smells of sunflowers.”

Things seem fine at first. The setup is solid, the character quirks play well off each other, and they had direction. Several episodes later though, with no progression in sight, my engagement swan dived off a cliff into the blistering barnacles below. If this were like Cowboy Bebop, where the creators could rest everything on each individual episode’s story, it would work. I would conclude with “The overall story is average, but the smaller stories are worth your time.” Unfortunately, Champloo’s smaller stories are mediocre alternations between dealing with someone trying to kill the heroes or them helping a local in exchange for food. A few episodes are better, even pretty good, but none even comes close to the Bebop’s weakest episode.

As for the overarching story, it’s Champloo’s weakest element. The story never gives a reason to care for finding the sunflower samurai and it turns out weak at the resolution – a goal for the sake of having a goal. It lacks the gravitas to drive a story.

This weakness similarly bleeds into the characters. Each of the trio has a secret, as most characters do in fiction, but since the writers didn’t weave these secrets throughout the story, they have no impact when illuminated at the end. If Edward Elric’s big secret were that he wanted to be a flamenco dancer all along, the audience wouldn’t see this as some amazing twist. Was Ed liking flamenco a recurring element in the story? No. So why the big reveal? Champloo’s secrets aren’t as bad as a Flamenco Ed, by any means. They do leave a lot to be desired though. It goes get a bit better in the second half – certainly funnier.

What I wish for most here is an increased intensity, both in comedy and drama. What you see in the opening episodes is what you get throughout, save for a few good fights in the finale. It frustrates me to see a project with potential that needed one person to say, “Make it more intense.” Samurai Champloo doesn’t have bad ideas, just weak execution.

Art – High

Samurai Champloo’s stylised art reminiscent of Afro Samurai and The World Ends With You DS game has good animation. I like the ‘knobbly’ character design. Mugen looks an inch from starvation, which is fitting.

Sound – High

Modern DJ scratches and jazz replace the traditional music for a medieval setting. This works with the story style. Great dub.

Story – Medium

Two polarising samurai help a ditzy waitress find a mysterious samurai “who smells of sunflowers.” Reaching its peak within a few episodes, Samurai Champloo doesn’t escalate the comedy or action enough to overcome the weak motivations.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Perhaps you may find Samurai Champloo more interesting than I did – the three-episode rule is all you need to know if it is so. The modern art/music meets samurai dichotomy may be off putting, whereas its very unusualness will be its appeal to others.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None