Tag Archives: Shounen

Young Adult boys as the target audience.

One Piece: Grand Line & Chopper Arcs (seasons 2 & 3) – Anime Review

Related: One Piece: East Blue Arc (Season 1)

Length: 16 episodes (season 2), 15 episodes (season 3)

 

Positives:

  • Chopper is a good introduction
  • More creative locations and ideas, like the giants

Negatives:

  • Luffy is still uninteresting
  • Still in the introduction

(Request an anime for review here.)

This time in One Piece, we look at two seasons: Grand Line Inrush arc and Chopper on Winter Island arc.

The Grand Line Inrush arc takes Luffy and his crew along the Grand Line, a volatile band of water that divides the oceans and where the laws of nature take a vacation. One could be on a desert island in the morning only to hit a land of perpetual rain by evening. Monsters are a common sight in these parts. After a brief encounter with a lonely giant whale, Luffy arrives at an island of bounty hunters that want that sweet, sweet mullah on his head. This is a mere pit stop in the story to introduce us to Princess Vivi of Alabasta. She employs the talents of the Straw Hats to transport her to safety back to her country, where a rebellion threatens.

Matters become more interesting on the next island. Two giants have been stuck in a duel for 100 years, evenly matched for eternity. The giants turn out to be rather friendly. However, a dastardly organisation called Baroque Works – responsible for the troubles in Alabasta – has plans for the giants and their new friends. Agent “Mr 3” wants to turn everyone into a giant wax wedding cake. Our heroes are to remain as cake toppers for all time!

What an unusual power. Similar to Gaara’s sand tomb, it’s a terrifying ability to imagine as it would suffocate you to death. One Piece, of course, tempers it with humour. These quirky villains are a riot. The guy literally has his hair styled into a 3 with the end lit like a candle!

The story gets a little more serious in the Chopper on Winter Island arc, where the team need to find a witch to cure Nami’s illness. The island, as the arc title would indicate, is in perpetual winter. And what is synonymous with winter? Reindeer. The witch’s small reindeer assistant is Chopper. Of all the character backstories so far, I like his the most. He was assistant to a crazy doctor reminiscent of a good Rick from Rick & Morty until his death, wish unfulfilled. It’s a touching story of regret, powerlessness, and ambition. He becomes the Straw Hats’ doctor after they help him fulfil his old teacher’s dying wish. This cute reindeer is the show’s mascot. Just don’t make him angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry. I want to see more of him, though I hope he isn’t relegated to mere comedy relief.

One Piece’s adventurous feel continues to be its greatest asset, aided by a good pace on a micro level wherein no story lasts too long. However, we still seem to be in the introduction stage. On a macro level, these 92 episodes haven’t gone far in the grand scheme and I wonder how long it will take a real plot to develop.

There isn’t much more to say about these seasons. They continue in much the same vein as what came before. See you in the next season.

Quality so far – Medium (still)

Current Thoughts: I like the addition of Hulk the Reindeer to the team. It is also great to see the continued feel of adventure with the locations and cultures. Two giants stuck in an eternal battle – why not? An island covered in snow in the middle of the ocean? Let’s do it.

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

One Piece: East Blue Arc (season 1) – Anime Review

Related: One Piece: Grand Line Inrush (season 2)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 61 episodes (season 1)

 

Positives:

  • Textured art holds up in the remastered version
  • A brilliant variety of character
  • The world is already full of adventure and promises so much more

Negatives:

  • Shouting = dialogue
  • Luffy hasn’t done much so far

(Request an anime for review here.)

Never has the saying “better late than never” been more applicable to my anime viewing timeline. At over 900 episodes as of this writing, One Piece has reached proportions that seem impossible to tackle (read all about my recurring nightmare here, in One Piece and the Curse of the Backlog). However, I shall take this one episode at a time and finally conquer the seas! (Or until I no longer find it entertaining. Whichever comes first.)

For those of you marooned on an island in the South Pacific since 1999, One Piece follows the adventures of Luffy, a boy with ambitions of becoming king of the pirates and who has the power to stretch his body like Mr Fantastic. First, he needs a crew if he means to survive all that the ocean and other pirates have to throw at him. Much of this first season is travelling to various locations, where he meets and recruits crewmates. Among them, we have Zoro the three-sword pirate, Sanji the chef, Nami the cartographer, and Usopp the best pirate to have ever lived.

I had tried One Piece many years ago – a few times, in fact, but had given up within an episode or two. Revisiting it now hasn’t changed my mind on those opening few. They give a terrible first impression. What is with the shouting? Of the approximately 190 lines of dialogue in the first episodes, over 100 are shouted – that doesn’t even include the action/reaction yells and one-word screams. Some pink-haired kid yells just about every line he has! Yelling for dialogue is a trait of cartoons for little kids, as it holds their attention better. This coupled with Luffy’s laissez-faire attitude to the most dangerous situations (more on him later) makes One Piece feels so bloody juvenile. Is this for five-year-olds? Thankfully, this only holds true for the first few episodes. Once they reach the Usopp recruitment story (starts episode nine), the tone jumps up two age demographics.

I think back to the start of Naruto, which also had a weak few episodes. Who can forget the second episode where Naruto hangs out with that brat Konohamaru? However, Naruto was clever enough to include the scene when a teacher betrays him and shows him how life isn’t friendly or fair. This is a promise from the author that despite the juvenile tone of the early episodes, this isn’t a “happy go lucky” anime. One Piece needed that moment.

It’s obvious One Piece isn’t for small children with all the guns, alcohol, and smoking, which leads me into an aside about the original 4Kids dub, having gone down in infamy. I watched the new Funimation dub, which is unedited and matches the original Japanese, but I also looked into the 4Kids atrocity that removed blood, replaced all the guns with…something, swapped Sanji’s cigarette for a lollipop, skipped entire episodes, and cut the alcohol, amongst many other changes. This was their most censored import. Why bother bringing it over at all if they’re going to change everything, you ask? As I’ve discovered, the decision makers at 4Kids did not watch One Piece before acquiring the licence. It was a package deal with other anime, likely for a younger audience than One Piece. So when it came time to dub it, they realised it didn’t fit their target demographic and thus began the massacre. Funimation, thankfully, took over the project years later and undid all of the changes to release it remastered in HD.

This HD re-release was a fantastic idea. When I thought back to One Piece’s art style before this viewing, all I could remember was those giant mouths. I still hate them of course (they add to the screaming as well). However, outside of this pet peeve, One Piece’s art holds up well because of the textured environments and the character designs. Imagine if it had gone for the standard style of the day with those flat colours, two-tone shading/lighting, and shallow backgrounds. It wouldn’t have aged well at all! As for the character designs, I find some great examples here. I love the fish people from the octopus guy to the sawfish captain. The fat pirate queen in episode one and her look later in the season (plus her perfect skin power) has me laughing. Best design award has to go to Captain Smoker, a marine in pursuit of Luffy who smokes not one but two cigars at all times and has belts of cigars strapped across his massive biceps and chest. Bloody hilarious! More than having good individual designs, there is strong cohesion for such a large cast.

By contrast, I find audio to be One Piece’s weakest department. The original Japanese performances are a mixed bag, as is often the case in battle shounen, while the dub is quite good (the new one). The lack of great music so far most surprises me. I think back to how many iconic tracks Naruto already had by this point, though that is probably a genre exception. For many battle anime, the OPs are all people remember, sometimes just the songs created by the dub studio such as Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.

As for story, I am mixed so far. It is better than my past impressions had led me to believe, there is no doubt here. This is very much a romanticised view of pirates and is rather tame, despite all of the “not safe 4Kids” content. Almost all story arcs so far have been about recruiting someone to Luffy’s crew and/or giving us their backstory. We have Zoro the edgelord with a sword in his mouth (I don’t like this design) who kept losing to a girl, Nami and the death of her mother at the hands of the fishmen she works for, Usopp the greatest pirate to have sailed the four seas and his tissue of lies, and so on. These are fine stories, some better (Nami) than others (Zoro). However, when I think of what Naruto and Bleach have accomplished by the 60-episode mark, they far outshine One Piece. Naruto has completed the Zabuza arc and is mid-chunin exam, while Bleach is at the climax of the Soul Society Arc. That said, anyone who has seen Bleach would tell you that one good arc doesn’t make for a great anime. One Piece has plenty more to show off, so I hope it delivers something great.

 

I don’t mean to say an anime such as this needs to turn dark right away as Naruto did. What I want is depth. Even if it’s just a few promises of what is to come. The biggest disappointment has to be Luffy. Battle protagonists are rarely the most interesting of the cast since they have little flexibility in demographic marketing, yet even by those standards, Luffy is a thumbs down from me at the moment. I hate how he doesn’t care about anything or how he laughs at every predicament. In a more serious setting, they would all be dead because of him. Not to keep drawing comparisons to Naruto, but when the orange ninja laughs and brushes off dangerous situations, there are consequences. Most of all, I hate how half of Luffy’s dialogue is yelling about how he’s going to be “king of the pirates”. We get it!

The action is quite good. Standard shounen content on the positive side of the scale. It doesn’t have the flashiness of Bleach or the strategy of Naruto or the brisk pacing in Yu Yu Hakusho. However, it doesn’t have any glaring problems either. One Piece hasn’t had the action drag for ages (Bleach, Naruto) or power reset (Bleach) or repeated some trope to death (there is always a bigger fish in Yu Yu Hakusho). I will want something more soon though or I’ll stop paying attention when a fight starts.

To end on a positive, I want to discuss One Piece’s greatest promise for the future of the series – the world. There is such variety and limitless possibilities for a world where you can sail to a new island, meet a new culture, a new species of person. It reminds me of a simpler classic Star Trek (one of my favourite franchises) and that is always a plus. I love the restaurant ship that roams the seas to feed one and all in a scrumptious experience. There are rules (“more what you’d call guidelines”) that vary by location. One gets a strong sense of character and personality at each destination. When the crew gets on that ship and hits the open blue, I want to see what island they will discover next. One Piece delivers a true feeling of adventure.

Quality so far – Medium

Current thoughts: The early episodes don’t give a good first impression, but once the longer story begins, One Piece stretches it’s creativity to give a good opening season with promises of so much more adventure. Luffy needs to grow up and do something. See you in the next season.

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

Mysterious Girlfriend X / Domestic Girlfriend / After the Rain – Quick Thoughts

Mysterious Girlfriend X

Japanese Title: Nazo no Kanojo X

Genre: Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 1 OVA

Today we look at a trio of romance anime with a taboo or socially repugnant theme, all requested by readers like you (some to torture me. I am a glutton for sufferring after all). First up is Mysterious Girlfriend X, about a boy who falls in love with a girl after tasting her drool. This drool once tasted creates an unbreakable dependency.

Is it as disgusting as it sounds? No, it’s worse. Off the desk, out of a test tube, and off her finger are but a few ways in which he consumes drool. If you don’t have a drool fetish, you will likely find this disgusting.

Magic drool is the only unique selling point of Mysterious Girlfriend X, for what we have here on closer inspection, once past the urge to vomit, is a boring high school romance. This is a perfect example of why a unique premise is the least important part of a great story. I’ve certainly never seen a story about a guy addicted to drool, and yet this is one of the worst romances in existence. It tries to sell you on the idea of how “mysterious” the girl is, both in the title of the show and the pitch – the guy even repeats how mysterious his girlfriend is to close off several episodes (“Did you notice him mention the title? Did you get it!?”)

The drool is a metaphor for love – when he’s sick, he’s actually lovesick, for example – and lust comes in the form of another girl’s drool for a forced love triangle at the last minute. Until that “twist”, nothing happens. It’s just the same events each episode. The characters are insufferably dull. He’s the clichéd shy guy and she is as mysterious as an open, empty box. Her other defining characteristic is carrying a pair of scissors in her panties and her inability to hold hands or accept a hug from the guy she feeds drool to. (Kill me slowly, why don’t you.)

The drool is an immediate putoff, but I hoped that at least there would be something more to it such as absurd comedy (think Chunibyo). Mysterious Girlfriend X can’t even be funny.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Even if you have a drool fetish, surely you want a better story and characters than this?

*     *     *     *     *

Domestic Girlfriend

Japanese Title: Domestic na Kanojo

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

Now for a change of pace, we have a taboo relationship fetish. It follows Natsuo, a guy who just lost his virginity to some girl called Rui that he met at a party, as consolation for not believing he could sleep with his teacher, Hina (why such little faith?) Things take a shocking – shocking, I tell you – turn when his father announces that he is remarrying to a woman with two daughters. And who should those daughters be that step through the door? His first time girl Rui and his teacher Hina. And they’re all going to live together! Awwwkwaaaard

Well, it would be awkward if Rui didn’t keep trying to gobble his flight stick in the bath (he barely objects) and if he wouldn’t keep kissing his teacher (she objects by climbing on top of him for a bit of frottage). He may be a pervert as a teenager, but his teacher wouldn’t behave like this. If nothing else, she wouldn’t move in with the family. It certainly doesn’t gel.

Inconsistency is a serious issue of Domestic Girlfriend. Tone is all over the place. The love triangle (yes, it is serious about the idea) tries to be mature at times, but when no one truly objects to what is going on (even the authorities hand wave it clean), this feels written by a teenager who has never seen an adult relationship and self-inserted into a story. The next episode, it tries to play for comedy, such as when Natsuo and Rui stalk the teacher after work to uncover who she is in an affair with. Oh yes, there is an affair in this triangle as well. And I’ll give you one guess how the man knows Hina… He was her teacher! Such masterful plotting.

That’s not all. When Natsuo goes to the library one time, he sees what he thinks is the literature teacher kissing a student from the literature club. Turns out it was a misunderstanding from his viewing angle (she was getting an eyelash off his face – still inappropriate, by the way). But get this turn of events no one saw coming: the girl does have a thing for him and it is implied that she will make a move and the teacher would reciprocate. Hell, the literature teacher has a yaoi bait moment with Natsuo when they first meet.

Whenever I think Domestic Girlfriend can’t get any worse, it takes my expectations and does to them what Roy Mustang did to Lust, revealing even greater levels of idiocy. This is worse than a daytime soap opera. At least those are consistent and know how to play up the cheesy drama.

During the confrontation between Natsuo and the married man, we have the restaurant staff (friends to Natsuo) playing the overreacting comedic audience. Am I supposed to take this seriously or not? In case you were wondering, no, Natsuo isn’t presented as hypocritical.

The premise, as I reiterate often, doesn’t automatically make the story a failure. It’s about the execution. If a premise could sink a story before it begins, we would never be able to have protagonists that are murderers, for instance. What if such a situation did happen? What if the girl you slept with the other day did turn out to be your new stepsister? (Let’s keep the teacher out of this for the moment – would have been better cut it down to one character anyway.) You can’t blame the guy for what happened at the start. How was he to know, right? The question is what happens next. One would look at the psychology of it, the social connotations, and how people would react. Domestic Girlfriend merely pretends to do this. As for the teacher relationship, the idea isn’t unthinkable. It does happen, after all. So what if it did to this guy? Well, we ask the same questions as we did with the younger sister. Even if he were an adult, it wouldn’t be as simple as presented here. There is a reason any good university doesn’t allow relationship between professors and their students or why doctors can’t date patients. Asking the question, “What if?” isn’t a problem. How you go about answering that question is what matters.

Maybe Domestic Girlfriend isn’t trying to tackle this subject matter seriously, you ponder. What if it’s just smut? You would have a case to make if not for the novel subplot. Natsuo’s dream is of becoming an author like one of the Japanese dramatic greats, and he finds help in achieving this through the literature teacher. At the end of the series, his first novel, which he shits out in a few months, wins first prize at a contest and is celebrated by all. And what is this novel about? A student in love with his teacher.

I’m not sure I have seen a more pathetic anime than Domestic Girlfriend.

Given that the manga has far more volumes than what could fit in 12 episodes, I gave the final two volumes a gander only to find quite a different scenario, as expected, and a far worse ending, which didn’t go over well with fans, as I understand it. So you can’t even go to the source for a good version of this story.

Tackling such a difficult topic requires great skill and understanding of the human condition. You have three avenues to take that can turn out well – go serious and make a gripping drama, go full comedy and laugh at the absurd, or go maximum cheese like a soap opera. Failing those leaves you in this middle ground of nonsense. There is always the fourth option, of course. Go full lewd.

Domestic Girlfriend doesn’t have the balls to be hentai.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Domestic Girlfriend has nothing to recommend about itself and plenty to keep you away. I would have dropped this at episode one if not for review. Wait, I do have a positive. The opening song is great, far too good for this.

*     *     *     *     *

After the Rain

Japanese Title: Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

Genre: Romance

Length: 12 episodes

Lastly, we have After the Rain, also about a taboo potential relationship. Tachibana is a high school girl that keeps to herself as she works at a restaurant ever since a crippling injury knocked her out of the track team. Her manager, Kondo, is seen as quite the weakling for how much he apologises to everyone and puts the customers above himself, even when they are in the wrong. He’s 45 years old and unfortunately for Tachibana, she has feelings for him.

Now unlike Domestic Girlfriend, After the Rain doesn’t dive head first into the mire of taboo. It asks the “What if” question and then seriously considers it in a light drama way. He shuts her down when she confesses, but due to his weak and caring nature, he also can’t push her away outright.

At its heart, this story isn’t about the “romance” (it remains platonic). Every important character in a story should have a want and a need. The want is what they think will bring them success/happiness/whatever. The need is what will actually do it, unknown to them. She wants to be in a relationship with him to make herself happy. She needs to get back out there and stop using her injury as an excuse to hide. He wants to feel young again. He needs to grow a spine and take charge, do something for himself for once. The taboo is almost bait. They find comfort in each other (doesn’t cross the line) as they slowly discover these truths.

I say slowly because After the Rain is as slow as swimming in a honey lake. It could have handled the story in half the episodes and still not felt like a fast show. If one were to keep to 12 episodes, then we need more development, particularly from side characters. Tachibana’s best friend and running partner, who plays an integral role in her need, is barely a character considering her importance. The closest thing to an antagonist is a chef at the restaurant, who figures out Tachibana’s secret and blackmails her into a date. There is mixed messaging around the guy, as he is the one to truly point out how bad of an idea a serious relationship would be with the manager, yet the way it is presented with him as villain, makes it sound as if we are meant to disagree with him. Then the story drops him after the confrontation.

After the Rain ends up being a whole lot of nothing. The characters do have arcs, there is change by the end, yes, but those arcs are so small that I wonder if it was worth experiencing. Without the visual department working some absolute magic in the atmosphere, this anime wouldn’t have much going for it.

Artistically, there are some beautiful shots in After the Rain. Whoever did those clouds deserves a raise! The OP and ED songs are lovely as well.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it if you are an unrequited romance fan. After the Rain doesn’t have anything crippling against it, yet doesn’t much going for it either. You may be in the mood for something light with pretty colours.

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

Yowamushi Pedal – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yowamushi Pedal

 

Related: Yowamushi Pedal: Grande Road (sequel)

Similar: Haikyuu!!

Initial D

Baby Steps

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Sports

Length: 38 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Strong acting.
  • Loveable protagonist.
  • Good at teaching the mechanics of cycling as a sport.

Negatives:

  • Heavy reliance on CG environments.
  • Main antagonist is a nightmare.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Onoda is the type of kid who cycles four hours each way to Akihabara instead of taking the train because it’s free. A train fare worth less than an hour’s work saved at the expense of eight hours cycling? I love this kid’s dumb innocence. Seeing Onoda tackle the incline to school with ease, cycle club member Imaizumi challenges him to a race and soon ropes him into joining the club.

I was going to watch just a few episodes of Yowamushi Pedal before dropping it, but I ended up finishing the season. The protagonist is so likeable and the technical explanations do a good job of engaging you in cycling as a sport. Onoda makes an outgoing friend in Akiba, Naruko, who teaches him how to gearshift like a pro and draft while chasing a punk in a car that threw his trash out the window. It’s a tad unrealistic, of course, but it’s good fun.

Yowamushi Pedal gives off similar vibes to Haikyuu (not as good though), so if you liked that, you will enjoy this. Where Yowamushi differs is in the protagonist, Onoda. What personality type do you think of when someone says “boys’ sports anime”? Most would imagine an energetic, hot-blooded guy with endless determination to be the best, always the centre of attention. Onoda is the opposite (he’s almost Mob from Mob Psycho 100 levels of opposite). He’s timid, introverted, doesn’t like having the spotlight, barely speaks up for any reason, and has confidence in the negatives. He’s not someone you’d cast as a shounen sports protagonist.

However, he works as lead in Yowamushi because one, the explanation for his sporting ability makes sense (they didn’t have him scale the mountain the first time on a bike after some ancient master “saw something special” in him), and two, his evolution from this starting point is believable. The supporting cast works on his aforementioned weaknesses.

Naruko teaching him how to cycle properly and not just on sheer determination is perfect. He justifies his place as a support character and it establishes who he is (he’s the sort to help a newbie in need). Great way of inserting shounen “ability exposition” in a natural manner, by the way. Onada’s cycling team is a good make up of characters. You have some of your usual archetypes here, though an unusual one is Makishima, a creepy looking dude with long green hair and a bizarre notion of what can pass for fashion. On first introduction, he’s a bit of douche with his bluntness, made worse by his attitude and appearance, but as time goes on, you learn why he is this way, and how he cares about the team even when rude to them. He provides a balance to an otherwise “good guys” team.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the antagonists. The competing racers aren’t interesting or memorable. Well, one guy is memorable, yet for all of the wrong reasons. The antagonist focus goes to (I had to look up his name) Midousuji, a design mix of the Cheshire cat meets Orochimaru. He has a broad grin of grinding teeth, bulging eyes, a reptile’s tongue, and a personality that transcends human limits into the comical realm. With a personality so over the top and played up to a grotesque degree, you can’t take him seriously, even when he strangles teammates. He’s so ridiculous that I think he walked into the wrong anime. He does not fit. At all.

Worse still, he just doesn’t stop with the cackling, the grinding teeth, the leering, and the lolloping tongue. Terrible antagonist. I find myself more interested in the small rivalries within the team than the main conflicts against this guy.

As for the cycling itself, you know, the core of the show, it’s solid. You won’t feel lost if you have no idea how it works at a professional level. I dare say, you may even find the intricacies of working as a team and pushing the man and machine symbiosis to the limit surprisingly interesting. It isn’t about pedalling as hard as you can.

Yowamushi Pedal is still a sports anime for sports anime fans at the end of the day. It’s a good one at that, though I don’t imagine it will draw in many outsiders. Want a lesser featured sport in anime? Yowamushi Pedal has you covered.

Art – Medium

Yowamushi Pedal has a good amount of animation, but as a sport that’s constantly in motion, they had to rely on CG roads and environments when cycling, so you will need to get used to it. Animations repeat often as well, but seeing as cycling is a repeated motion, it isn’t a notable problem and the camerawork mixes things up. I like the character designs, reminding me of Haikyuu with the easy distinction among the cast.

Sound – High

Strong acting. Honestly, even if you aren’t into cycling, the characters keep you entertained. The background music is solid as well, though the OP and ED aren’t hype enough for a sports anime.

Story – Medium

An otaku who cycles long distance to save money has his arm twisted into joining the school racing team. Yowamushi Pedal follows the standard sports formula, not that this is a bad thing, but it doesn’t take any risks.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sports fans. Yowamushi Pedal is the perfect example of a sports anime that delivers every aspect to a good standard without excelling in any way either. Good for sports anime beginners.

(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

GetBackers / Kiddy Grade / Witchblade – Quick Thoughts

GetBackers

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 49 episodes

Today theme of quick reviews is action anime I liked at one point, yet haven’t seen in a long time and haven’t reviewed. When I did my “Watched but Not Reviewed” list (missing quite a few titles, in hindsight), it brought many anime back to my attention that simmered to the surface until I had the urge to check them out again. Are they as I remember?

We start with GetBackers, my favourite of the three in the past. It even featured an honourable mention in my “Former Favourite Anime” list, so this was important to me. I need to say this right away though: GetBackers does not live up to my memory whatsoever. The art is super budget for this super powered series. The animation is far more of a slideshow than I remember and the characters have little detail, though their designs are unique so clarity isn’t an issue. I swear it looked better in my head.

GetBackers is set in an alternate Earth where some people have superpowers akin to The X-Men (each can do their one thing) and most of these superhumans work as either Retrievers, Transporters, or Bodyguards at odds with one another. It’s like John Wick – you have to accept this is how the world works or we aren’t going anywhere. Main duo Ban and Ginji work as Retrievers, the GetBackers, guaranteeing satisfaction no matter how small or impossible the request. Unfortunately, they are horrendous with money even after a big payday and so live in squalor.

To give a few positives, the main duo is good fun and the humour is successful, for the most part. GetBackers also feature the best – the best – use of chibification in all of anime. If I will forever remember one element of GetBackers for the rest of my life, it will be the chibification perfection. I still laugh whenever Ginji turns into a scared chibi after realising he’s alone with Dr Jackal.

Now for a dose of memory versus reality. I remember GetBackers as an awesome action series with cool powers, varied characters, and a mysterious plot. In reality, we have repetitive action, cool though limited powers, varied but one-note characters, and puddle-deep mystery. It astonishes me how different this is from memory.

GetBackers was in the early years of when I really got into anime and when one is at that early stage, everything is so much more impressive. I believe this was my first super power variety anime (saw Scryed later). I can imagine past me having a conversation with present me, gushing about how cool the powers are and how there are so many, how unique it is, only for present me to pull out 30 anime that do the same and often better. Conversation over.

It’s why I don’t blame newcomers for thinking everything is amazing. Everyone has been there. Every anime is a 10 when you have only seen seven of them. As one’s mental library builds, the flaws start to come out when a superior example is available.

A key detail I never noticed was the repetition. Nowadays, repetition almost guarantees to kill my interest, never mind rewatching the series, as I did several times with GetBackers in its heyday. Ban has the power to make people see illusions for one minute after eye contact. Let me tell you, no word of a lie, that this resolves every case. I love illusion powers and I thought this was the coolest thing ever, but man is it the same resolution every time. A common scene is to have the villain kill the heroes, immediately vocalise his plan/list of compatriots, and then for Ban to say “Just one minute”, revealing it was all an illusion. This is no Sharingan level of cool.

On rewatch now, GetBackers was okay for the first few cases. Once they enter the Infinite Fortress – a labyrinthine slum filled with superpowers – it loses the fun. The anime also didn’t adapt the biggest reveal of the story, which would have explained why people have these powers and why the Infinite Fortress matters. Knowing the twist, however, I’m not sure I entirely disagree with cutting it.

I tried the dub for the first time (none of these anime had a dub at the time) and holy Pokéballs, Shinji, is it not good. It isn’t “they recorded random people on the street” levels of bad. These are clearly actors, just not voice actors. This is a great example of a professional dub that studios thought were fine once upon a time, which thankfully doesn’t fly anymore (at least, I hope not). The lack of energy in the voices, the stiff reads, the monotones, bloody hell, what a disaster. The acting starts bad and only gets worse with each new character introduced. It’s hard to believe the likes of Cowboy Bebop managed a perfect dub when this was normal.

Almost forgot – the OP song may just be the worst I’ve heard in anime. If you want to know my taste in music, then take this and imagine the opposite.

*     *     *     *     *

 

Kiddy Grade

Genre: Ecchi Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

Next we have Kiddy Grade, an anime similar to GetBackers with a variety of super powered pairs facing off, but in a heavy sci-fi setting. Our leading ladies are Éclair and Lumière, agents of the Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs. While the organisation’s name implies involvement only in commerce, it actually has fingers in every space pie (everything comes back to money if you look far enough).

This is a spy thriller with Éclair donning a number of disguises, undercover missions, and gadgets for every conundrum. It explores several “what if” questions from the setting and sci-fi concepts for drama. Even the powers have sci-fi roots. Lumière can talk to computers, for example, and Éclair’s strength comes from body modification. There is effort in the world building.

After the stark difference between memory and reality with GetBackers, Kiddy Grade is about as I recall. I should note that this anime came to me later in the experience track and that I didn’t love it at the time, just enjoyed it enough for a rewatch (when you didn’t have much variety, rewatches were common). My opinion of it has fallen – I lost interest by the end of act one this time – as this is a case where once you’ve seen so many better versions of this story, this setting, this idea, you can’t help but wish for something else. Also, my distaste for lolis has only increased, of which there are too many here.

The similarities between Kiddy Grade and the previous anime are uncanny, right down to espousing the same basic morality lessons – “Being evil is bad.” “Don’t kick puppies.” I never put the two together until this rewatch.

However, Kiddy Grade works better than GetBackers by having more variety, more effort in the narrative through line, and significantly better art. Without looking it up, I want you to guess how far apart these anime released.

Five years? Three years? Three months? Try five days apart. Kiddy Grade is better representative of how standard anime looked in the early 2000s. The production holds up from studio GONZO and the dub is so much better than GetBackers that you’d never guess they came from the same year. It’s fascinating to see.

*     *     *     *     *

Witchblade

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

And finally, we have Witchblade, based on the American comic series of the same name and the anime I had watched last of the three. By the time I got to this, I had seen plenty of anime, so I was under no illusions towards its quality. The question is whether my slightly favourable memories are too kind or too harsh.

This is a more mature series than the other two. A sci-fi action series like the others, except hyper sexualised in the ass kicking. Kiddy Grade has panty shots; Witchblade has death by snu snu. If the shot in the OP of the protagonist wiping streaks of blood across her bare arse, vagina blade in full view, isn’t enough to tell you what this anime is going for, then no one can help. Witchblade is about tall, leggy, busty women in scant armour beating the life out of one another (toned down from the comics, if you can believe it). The Witchblade lusts for battle – literally – as combat turns it on to orgasmic peaks.

And if it were in the hands of a worse team, that’s all Witchblade would be. However, this anime has more to it, for at its heart is the story of Masane doing everything she can to give her daughter Rihoko a better life. Their relationship, not the action, is the spine of Witchblade. In fact, of these three anime, Witchblade has the least action with far more time spent on character and relationships. Furthermore, despite being more sexual than the others by leagues, it is the most mature (and certainly less creepy than Kiddy Grade). It has a surprising romance that doesn’t forget Masane’s status as a single mother. Long before the end of the story, I care for this woman and her daughter. I feel for the struggles they go through as a child welfare agency wants to separate them. And I appreciate how grown up the romance is without changing the tone into a heavy drama.

Should action be your main draw, then Witchblade also delivers. It isn’t repetitive, unlike the other two, nor does it drag beyond its welcome and doesn’t pause to exposit on how the powers work every fight. This isn’t some spectacular anime, of course – more lore, a darker mystery, and more development to the antagonists wouldn’t have gone amiss. It engaged me to the end, however, and that is worth something.

I also like the scientific approach to the Witchblade. If you supposed this device and its power was real, how would scientists approach it? Masane ends up working for a corporation doing such research (they pay her to kill rabid mutants and machines on the streets) and the antagonists come from a rival corporation developing other Witchblades, exploring the genetics of it all. They are trying to make it work with men as well (the device only functions on women).

So much to my surprise after this trio revisit, Witchblade turns out to be the best of the three, no contest. The production quality is also the highest, though it is newest. When considering my opinion of these three at the time I first watched them, Witchblade was the lowest. Now, it’s the best.

Recommendation: I recommend Witchblade – I give it a medium rating, with a low for the other two, which I don’t recommend. GetBackers is too dated, too repetitive, and too long for me to justify, while Kiddy Grade is somewhere in the middle. There is simply so much better these days. If you do want similar from that era, go with Scryed. Witchblade’s focus on a much older protagonist than usual with an older relationship too makes it stand out from the crowd.

(Request reviews here.)