Take the Red Ranger from Power Rangers, make him an arse leeching off his girlfriend and surround him with a muscled chicken, two Team Rocket grunts, a werewolf, the creature from the black lagoon, mecha rabbit, and Galactus. With all this combined, you have Astro Fighter Sunred. It’s the humour of One-Punch Man mixed with the Justice Friends from Dexter’s Laboratory, and structured as poorly (or as brilliantly) as Pop Team Epic.
What an odd anime.
Astro Fighter Sunred is a retired superhero story in the vein of One-Punch Man and The Incredibles, only more vulgar and animated far more poorly. Sunred is a bum, while the evil villain is really a grandmother whose greatest worries are about cleaning up after his minions.
Each episode consists of several shorts of varying lengths. As alluded to by the Pop Team Epic comparison, anything goes. Sometimes it’s a cooking show with the lamest recipes, at other times it’s a slapstick cartoon.
I don’t have much to say on this one. It’s one of those anime where you need to see it to understand what I mean. (You can find it on YouTube, I believe.)
This is a peculiar kind of humour for a much older generation. It’s parodying anime most of us have barely heard of. If you are part of the target audience, this may be the most hilarious thing you have ever seen. For everyone else though, I think it takes too much “effort” to figure out the references for a show meant to be dumb simple fun.
Art – Low
Technically, the art sucks. However, it does save itself from the pits by working with the style of humour, similar to how King of the Hill is a fit to its sensibilities. It’s clear many characters weak masks to avoid mouth animations.
Sound – Medium
The acting is quite good – nothing great, but serviceable to the script, which itself is snappy as it rolls from one joke into the next.
Story – Medium
A superhero bickers with his arch nemesis, a motherly fellow surrounded by his sensitive minions, as they stave off everyday life. The overall story lacks direction, but the episodic scenarios are a humorous little exploits.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. One episode. One episode – less even – is all you need to know if Astro Fighter Sunred’s peculiar humour is to your taste. It probably won’t be, yet you won’t know until you try.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is infuriating from the very first episode. Should you embark on this isekai journey, know that you will want to pluck your eyes out at the stupidity of the characters before long.
Like all MMO isekai, this story is about an ordinary guy transported into a fantasy world that follows the rules of a video game. The difference here, however, it that he is one of four summoned to save this world from the impending apocalypse against their will. Each hero wields a legendary item – sword, spear, bow, or shield. For some reason, seemingly everyone in this world hates whoever wields the shield. So, of course, Naofumi is bestowed with the power of the Shield Hero.
Matters immediately turn against him when the king ignores him before the court, the one woman who joins his party (fighters flock to the other heroes) robs him like the sucker he is and falsely accuses him of rape. No one believes his denial.
See, this setup sounds good on paper – much of the story sounds good on paper – but the execution doesn’t just fail, it infuriates. Let’s take the trial, where the king and the other heroes determine what to do with the Shield Hero for “raping” the woman. First, everyone believes her without question as if they are dumbest people to have ever lived. No, not as if – they are the dumbest people to have ever lived. Furthermore, Shield Hero can’t even remain consistent. One second he’s accused of rape, which holds an instant death penalty, with the other heroes saying he’s scum and should die, but when he demands to be sent back home, some dipshit says he’s giving up at first sign of trouble? Ah yes, facing death is just “a sign of trouble”. What kind of garbage dialogue is this?
You want to know what happens next? Do they kill him? Do they at least lock him up? Nope, he just walks out.
The purpose of this incident was to strip him of all allies and resources, starting him at the lowest point for maximum conflict in the story. This is good. Executing it in this manner is not. And as I said, Shield Hero can’t keep its story straight. It forgets he’s supposed to be put to death. Yes, word does spread of his “actions” and people shun him at every turn, including merchants ripping him off, but the fact that he supposedly raped a princess (the woman was a princess) may as well have been as serious a crime as pissing on a postman everyone liked.
Let me talk about the whole “the Shield Hero always sucks” device for a moment. We never receive an explanation for why everyone thinks the Shield sucks. The king holds a personal grudge against all Shield Heroes, sure, but why would anyone else go along with it? The peasantry doesn’t give a toss about a king’s feelings.
Then we come to the idea that the Legendary Shield itself is weak. Has this guy not seen 300? It quickly becomes apparent that the Shield has great power, including the ability to summon an iron maiden to crush opponents in a spiked tomb. Furthermore, he’s not the first Shield Hero, which means previous incarnations would have demonstrated its power. Do I need to explain further?
Another weird point is how blasé the four guys are about suddenly teleporting to a fantasy world. The story tries to explain it by saying that three of them played an MMO matching this setting in their alternate versions of Japan (Naofumi read about it in a book). Look, if I ended up in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars one day, it would still be a shock regardless of how many hours daysmonthsyears I put into those games. It’s as if the isekai genre has become so overdone, so trite that there’s no point trying to sell the premise – the audience will eat it up either way.
Anyway, after the rape trial that everyone forgets, Shield Hero buys himself a slave tanuki-girl called Raphtalia to be his sword since the Legendary Heroes cannot wield other weapons. Raphtalia is probably the best character of the series. After a training curve and going from loli to adult overnight (“game mechanics”), she’s tough, competent, and justifies her presence. I wouldn’t call her great, but it’s a surprise to have a female character of her quality in an isekai harem.
One point of conflict arises when Bitch Princess learns of Raphtalia. She yells about how the Shield Hero is reprehensible for keeping a slave. To nobody’s surprise, everyone sides with her in wanting to lynch him. Doesn’t this kingdom have rampant slavery of demi-humans without checks and don’t all humans, royal family included, treat demi-humans like trash? Why would any of them care he has a slave?
You want to know what happens next? The Spear Hero challenges him to a duel, where the princess cheats for him (everyone sees this, but she says she didn’t cheat, so they believe her [just kill me]), the conflict is explained away by someone finally agreeing that she cheated, and then forgotten like the rape before it.
The presence of these two characters in particular, Spear Hero and princess, tanks the quality of Shield Hero.
A big chicken/loli girl joins Naofumi next in an episode that defies belief. Dipshit Spear Hero and his Bitch Princess are extorting a village with ludicrous taxes that will starve the people. When the Shield Hero objects, they challenge him to a chocobo race for ownership of the village. Naturally, Bitch Princess cheats the whole time. This episode makes Shield Hero feel like the comical Wacky Racers rather than the grim fantasy it so desperately wants to portray. He wins, they bugger off.
Do their actions give them a bad reputation? Take a guess.
It’s like this over and over again. When not on a filler grinding episode (obviously the most interesting part of an MMO…), someone – usually the princess or Spear Hero – accuses him of a crime that warrants death (or equivalent), everyone believes the accuser, he defends himself miserably, the situation resolves because someone says so, and there are no lasting consequences. The only consistency is that everyone hates the Shield Hero. Yet even that only continues by raising idiotic scenario after even more idiotic scenario to have everyone hate him. He saves the world? Doesn’t matter – someone said I should hate him, therefore I do. The way they treat him, even during the apocalyptic waves, you’d think they didn’t want saving.
The stupidest of all conflict points has to be the brainwashing shield. Later in the series, a third loli girl joins Shield Hero’s harem, who turns out to be the other princess and first in line for the throne. Bitch Princess is on her trail to kill the competition. When she catches up to the Shield Hero’s group and sees loli princess with him, what can she do to separate sister from protector? I know! How about accuse him of kidnapping the girl? What? She’s saying she wants to be with him? Hmm, what to do…what to do? That’s right! His shield has a brainwashing power. Does it really? Yes, because I say so. And with that evidence to go on, everyone believes her. (Just tear my eyes out and feed them to the chickens already!)
Execution is wrong at every turn. For instance, the other heroes are more interested in feeding their egos with glory and adoration of the masses. They will sweep into town, solve whatever problem the people are facing, and ride off like champions without consideration for the larger problems created. This is an interesting idea, to have heroes be the cause of problems. Poor execution sadly saps potential. Naofumi rocks up and solves the problem in an episode or two with no lasting effects on the story. Instead of using the “monster of the week” formula, it’s a “problem of the week” structure and just as disposable. Action scenes also follow the “you made me use my trump card” battle structure, which rarely performs well at the best of times. When the trump card does come out, there’s no reason they couldn’t have used it right away to end the fight without injury.
The conflict owes its stupidity to the characters above all. I’ve talked a lot of Bitch Princess (the resolution to her arc is so moronic that you’ll want to blow your brains out to forget it), but she is just the start. Spear Hero, dipshit supreme and useful idiot-in-chief; the other heroes, may as well delete them for how much they bring to the table; loli princess, complains that Shield Hero doesn’t get along with her father, demanding he apologise to the king; the king, why is he king; the populace, none should be saved; and worst of all, Queen Chicken.
Late in the series, the queen of chocoboschickens filolials comes to the Shield Hero and says that if the four heroes don’t learn to work together, they won’t be strong enough to conquer later waves of the apocalypse. She will kill them to summon four new heroes who can do better, should it come to that. Remember how I said that all conflict resolves through hand waving? This threat resolves the hatred from other heroes – never mind the stupidity of not making this clear from the beginning, you absolute. incompetent. imbeciles!
That’s not the worst of it. She says the following to him, in regards to his conflict with other heroes: “Did you every try to get along with them? Did you ever try to defend yourself? If you don’t defend yourself, it will be seen as an admission of guilt.”
Not only was he the friendliest on arrival and not only did he try to defend himself from the very beginning, this logic is utterly moronic. For one, they want him to be guilty. This logic reminds me of those teachers who say to a bullied kid, “Have you tried being nicer [to your bullies]?”
Stupidity just doesn’t stop. Look, just because you make fun of light novel tropes in your first scene, doesn’t make you any better than the rest of them. In fact, you turned out worse! The season ends with consequences for some of the biggest idiots. However, as I said at the start, the execution is wrong every step of the way. The story can’t decide if it’s a grim fantasy, one hero against the world, or some dumb loli harem for idiots. It’s certainly not the former with its inability to kill characters for good.
The Rising of the Shield Hero was the biggest isekai in the first half of 2019. If this is the best the genre has to offer these days, then there is no hope.
Art – Medium
The animation, though inconsistent at times, is good and the world has plenty of texture. Early episodes show promise of high production values, but they drop over time to a decent level.
Sound – Low
I like the OPs with their electro vocals and the acting is good (except the Japanese loli voice, as always), but the writing is another story. It is just so moronic. Every episode brings your head into your hands as you question the mentality of these characters.
Story – Very Low
A guy summoned to a fantasy land unfortunately receives the power of the weakest hero weapon – the shield – and faces endless discrimination as he tries to protect the world that hates him. Good on paper, bad in execution, The Rising of the Shield Hero is a painful train wreck.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. The Rising of the Shield Hero is an infuriating experience I don’t recommend to anyone.
Nobuyuki Fukumoto has spoiled me. He pioneered a manga genre (later adapted into anime) that manages to take the ridiculous and turn it into a tense battle unlike any battle anime. Oh, he has nothing to do with No Game No Life – just wanted to start on something positive about the genre of extreme gambling.
No-life virgin siblings Sora and Shiro find themselves sucked into another world when they accept a challenge online. In this new world called Disboard, games rule everything. Everyone settles disputes – no matter how petty – through games, which can vary from something as minor as rock-paper-scissors to as grand as VR showdowns in a stadium. Ten rules govern these games. These rules are law, bindings created by the God of Games. The genius gaming duo accept the god’s trial and set out to conquer this bizarre world and challenge his might.
No Game No Life is another isekai with a gamer protagonist sent into a world where their seemingly useless skills IRL are the ultimate talent. This anime takes it to an extreme. These two are apparently unbeatable at games. The opening scene has them taking out thousands of players in an MMO using just their four characters. Yes, they can control more than one character at a time and still beat anyone without a sweat – Sora even controls all four at one point (uses two mice with his feet) when Shiro passes out.
Of course, this level of skill is ridiculous. However, with an intention to go big, to go ludicrous with the comedy, it works…for a time. With the ten commandments of Disboard laid out, one expects nonsensical contests in this idiotic world. And you get that…for a time. A game of rock-paper-scissors just about determines a kingdom’s monarch. According to the rules, it is binding! Even cheating is permitted, as long as you’re not caught.
The first cracks in the narrative appear when you see how basic the games are in these challenges. Poker, chess, blackjack – is that the best you can do?
You can tell the author has no understanding of the likes of poker or chess because he never makes use of their rules and metagame, not even in a creative way. During the chess match, the only similarity with chess is the names and number of pieces. There is nothing chess-like about the contest. May as well not even call it chess.
I wager that he picked chess at random because chess is something everyone has heard of, requires less work explaining the game and he hoped no one would notice the chess reference is irrelevant. It would have been more logical and more engaging to come up with something original that drew inspiration from chess. Or better yet, since these kids just play video games all day, why not draw on some popular real time strategy game? (Answer: The author knows even less about RTS.) If Nobuyuki Fukumoto were here, there would be some actual tension, perhaps even a few missing fingers? (Please?) Sora could do with a few life-threatening games of mahjong. I’m just sayin’.
No Game No Life thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is, which is to say, extremely dim. It only succeeds on a prayer that the audience doesn’t ask questions.
I return to my earlier point though, that this would be fine if it all served the comedy. It wouldn’t matter that this chess game has no chess in it or that this FPS match is moronic if it were all a means to great jokes. Lamentably, No Game No Life begins to huff its own farts and think the games are of genius-level strategy, refocusing on the serious rather than the humour. Making the characters overpowered to a laughable degree works for comedy, but once you do that, you can’t go back. You write yourself into a hole. You can’t expect people to take it seriously when you want to be dramatic and serious all of a sudden.
As you have likely guessed as well, the “genius” of these characters only stems from the author saying so, not because we ever see any actual genius strategy on screen. The rules bend in convenient service to these geniuses and worst of all, their opponents are all idiots (by author decree, naturally). The author also made little effort with the characters. For instance, why is it that two socially inept kids, as labelled by their introductions, face no social problems except when an ecchi gag calls for it?
No Game No Life is at its best in the first few episodes, when you don’t know that the author has nothing up his sleeve, when the outlandish world is all about delivering jokes, when the coronation of the cheating queen is a parody of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with the archbishop as the judge and Sora plays the game’s theme tune on his phone. I genuinely laughed for the first act.
After that, it goes downhill. The premise dies when it thinks it’s actually clever. The humour dies when excessive fan service takes over after running out of jokes. The once funny-in-a-creepy way relationship between Sora and Shiro becomes plain creepy.
With how No Game No Life ends up, I’m surprised there was anything good at all in the beginning.
Art – Medium
Colourful and vibrant, the art style suits a game world created by a childish god. That said, it lacks creativity in design. For a world run on games, it doesn’t look like a world of games. And no, plonking down giant chess pieces on the landscape doesn’t count. Like the chess event itself, this was done at random, it seems.
Sound – Medium
I cannot stand forced moe voices, so the original Japanese track is torture to me. I find the dub does a much better job with comedic timing and even tightens up some of the jokes. The ex-princess is particularly better in English. This is a preference, so go with whichever suits.
Story – Low
Genius gamer siblings must rise up in a fantasy world run on games to unite the people and challenge the God of Games himself. After an entertaining start, No Game No Life loses track of what works – the comedy – and begins to take itself too seriously.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For isekai fans only. No Game No Life runs on its premise and no one asking questions. If you can do that, you may enjoy it. But if you want to see what could have been instead, watch Kaiji or Akagi.
The end of an MMO’s life can be a sad event for those who spent years living in that world. To outsiders, it’s just another game they never heard of. To the players, to those who formed lasting friendships and created countless memories, it can be tough to let go. For Momonga, it’s a time of heartbreak when the MMO Yggdrassil reaches the end of its life, outstripped by newer and grander games. The Great Tomb of Nazarick, once home to a mighty guild only has NPCs, artefacts, and memories to fill it vast caverns. He sits in the guild hall, alone, his last guildmate logged out already, as the timer counts to midnight marking the final shutdown. He falls asleep.
When he awakens sometime later, he’s still logged in. Not only that, it becomes apparent that he has become his character, an almighty necromancer, and that the NPCs have come to life around him. They follow their initial character profiles, yes, but they are as real as anyone else is now. He takes on the name of his guild, Ainz Ooal Gown, and decrees it his objective in this new life to take his guild to greater heights and conquer the world of Yggdrassil.
I love this premise and the angle it took of making him more of a villain, commanding the non-human races in conflict against the humans. (My understanding is that in the game itself, there were two faction with the non-humans seen as the “evil” side.) He isn’t truly evil – you aren’t watching Voldemort and his minions – but he does feel like a player seeing this world as a mere game, where the victory condition is to conquer everything like in the Civilisation series.
Unfortunately, he’s the only memorable character. His guild headquarters are like the ultimate challenge tower of an old school MMO with powerful monsters guarding each floor. These monsters are the new guild members. Each is a rather one-note character. We have the brawny guy, the smart guy, the naïve yet powerful child, the loli vampire, the succubus in love with Ainz (he reprogrammed her profile as a joke before the shutdown, only for it to carry over), and several others. They are as you would expect from their one-line descriptions. They should have been more akin to the homunculi from Fullmetal Alchemist instead of these unimposing cast fillers. Ainz truly carries the series.
That said, he doesn’t carry it enough to elevate Overlord to greatness. For one, his masterful plans aren’t as cunning as I would like them to be. One would hope for something on the level of Code Geass when you have such an anti-hero protagonist. What we have is okay.
The last great flaw with Overlord is the art. First, all the design effort went into Ainz, who looks great as an undead sorcerer, leaving the monsters that surround him and the humans they face as generic (the succubus has a little more effort than the rest). Much worse, however, is the reliance on CG as a Tour-de-France cyclist relies on drugs.
The first scene to greet you is an army of CG skeletons that look just awful. We don’t see them again for a while, which made me think it was a temporary matter and Overlord II does see an improvement, but lo and behold, the CG soon returns in full force like an endless horde of ugly. Overlord III’s climactic few episodes are a showcase of the worst CG you will see in any full production in the last 10 years of anime. The archers, knights, goblins, horses, demons, everything – all CG 90% of the time, even in close ups. I cannot believe Madhouse output this work. The studio behind One-Punch Man and many of anime’s greatest looking films did this? How? I could understand if it came from the folk responsible for Hand Shakers, but Madhouse!?
To end on a positive though, I do enjoy that Overlord draws from more old school MMO sensibilities, with its ridiculously overpowered items and lack of structure to the game design. It speaks to a time when balance wasn’t much of a concern. Of all the MMOs I mastered, this reminds me most of the Norse mythology themed Ragnarok Online (perhaps that’s why the author called his game Yggdrassil?) It makes for a nice change from other isekai that lean modern.
Whether Overlord grabs you will depend entirely on how much you like the protagonist and your level of tolerance for the art. It’s one of the better MMO isekai in a field of weak competitors.
Art – Low
No animation on the protagonist when he talks feels incredibly lazy – they could have at least given him some sort of psychic effect. The monster designs aren’t half as good as the protagonist’s design. Lots of still shots, dull photography, and repeating animation. It gets worse in season 3 when the big climatic battle almost all CG.
Sound – Medium
The protagonist has the best performance in either language, effortlessly switching between the nerdy inner voice and imposing outer overlord. Good acting elsewhere. I like some of the OP and ED songs.
Story – Medium
A player falls asleep in game at the end of an MMO’s life only to wake up as his character, an undead overlord. The unique perspective of playing the villain is interesting enough to make up for its shortcomings.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For video game fans. Overlord’s best features all relate to games, yet doesn’t do enough to appeal beyond the core. However, it is something different for the genre.
A decade before MMO isekai became a big deal there was .hack//Sign. If you’re wondering why the genre didn’t take off back then, let me enlighten you.
Whereas the popular isekai premise of today is to trap everyone inside an MMO, Hack Sign only traps an individual, a teenager called Tsukasa who wakes up in a dungeon with no memories and soon discovers he can’t log out. Furthermore, he begins to taste and feel this virtual world on his skin. When other adventurers hear of his predicament, some look to help him while others fear him, particularly for the Guardian artefact that protects him, able to fell players in a single strike.
So, this premise sounds intriguing, especially if it’s the first of its kind for you, right? It has mystery, a vast world, monsters, player versus player combat, and a pitiable protagonist. What could go wrong?
Never have you seen an anime more boring than Hack Sign. For a story set in a game about exploration and fighting monsters, there is very little exploration and next to no action. And what action we do see is so poorly animated that you’re grateful there isn’t more of it.
The last time I watched Hack Sign was all the way back in early 2003 and I didn’t realise until this rewatch for review that I had never finished it. Even with my love for MMOs, I couldn’t continue. I didn’t consciously drop it. It just faded away. I’d wager that the only reason I even made it to a few episodes from the end was the soundtrack, which I place as one of anime’s greatest. In fact, I like this soundtrack so much that I managed to finish this rewatch by passively enjoying the music.
Alright, that’s enough praise. Time for the juice.
I mentioned the lack of action earlier, so you must be wondering what fills the time instead. If I said “Nothing,” I wouldn’t be far off the mark. Most scenes are of characters just sitting around talking about Tsukasa’s predicament. Legends speak of an item called the “Key of Twilight” that can break the rules of the game and perhaps free Tsukasa. In itself, this wouldn’t be bad – I’d like to see an MMO isekai focused on socialising over action. However, when coupled with the amount of repetition, the same characters going over the same talking points, your eyes will roll back as you pass out.
A group of players roleplay as an unofficial “police” force called the Crimson Knights, led by a small woman with wings called Subaru. I really don’t get this character. All the Knights revere her, treat her like royalty combined with the respect commanded by the greatest leaders, and I don’t know why. At no point does she demonstrate great cunning, strength, power, leadership, or wisdom. Forget the story; this is Hack Sign’s greatest mystery.
Much like the circular conversations of Tsukasa’s acquaintances, the Crimson Knights scenes are repetitive to a baffling degree. Count the number of times Subaru’s top knight says that they should get rid of Tsukasa and witness how often other players offend him for not showing her enough respect. We’re just going in circles here.
Oh god, I just remembered the flashbacks! As if each scene going nowhere wasn’t bad enough, they have to replay them in the next episode! These aren’t your usual flashbacks either, glimpsing a past scene to draw attention to some detail. No, these will replay entire scenes for your brain-leaking pleasure.
Characters are the one element that can salvage a story crawling in circles. KonoSuba doesn’t really go much of anywhere, yet those characters are so fun that you could watch them for a long while. Sadly, Hack Sign doesn’t have that luxury.
Take Tsukasa, protagonist, most important of the cast – he’s anti-social, always running away, and quite the dick to everyone. Unlikable to the very end. Even with the tragic backstory. The Crimson Knights are one-note and the only real villain is a sleazy assassin searching for the Key (his real identity reveal is rather funny and exactly who you would expect if you’ve played MMOs before).
You can see the author tried to go for depth with the cast. This one character called BT (named after the Bacon Lettuce Tomato sandwich, minus the lettuce because she hates it) is part of the group helping Tsukasa, yet we see that she has ulterior motives as she uses both good and bad people, never quite sure which side she will fall on. Due to the execution, however, it has no impact. You wouldn’t want to hang out with any of these characters in an MMO.
I appreciate that the script doesn’t bog down with massive exposition and mechanic dumps (unlike Log Horizon), but Hack Sign goes too far in the other direction. There is so little substance that we have nothing left. A bit more focus and direction would help engage the audience.
Unless you want an unusual anime with great music to watch while you slowly sink into the couch, .hack//Sign isn’t for you (or me). If I knew it was so dull, why did I bother again? I wanted to see if it is as boring as I remember.
Art – Low
The character and world designs remind me of the Suikoden games, which is nice, but the animation sucks and there is so little variety for an MMO world in 26 episodes. Even the dangerous Guardian is a weak design – golden testicles floating around a bracelet, really?
Sound – Medium
Look, Hack Sign has one of the best anime soundtracks ever. I have had a few of its songs on my playlist for over 16 years. The acting is quite good as well – go for the Japanese, as this is from the era when the Japanese was usually the better track all round. Bear, for example, sounds much better with a deeper voice. However! No soundtrack or acting talent can save this mind-numbing script.
Story – Low
A kid wakes up one day as the sole player trapped in an MMO, where a magical artefact becomes his deadly guardian. One would imagine that such a premise would be full of mystery, suspense, and adventure. One would also be wrong.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. Unless you are so intensely curious to see what the deal is with anime’s most boring series, avoid .hack//Sign.