Tag Archives: Shounen

Young Adult boys as the target audience.

Zegapain – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Zegapain

 

Similar: RahXephon

Fafner of the Blue Sky

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A premise worth watching for.

Negatives:

  • Just about everything else.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Look at any poster, video or screenshot of Zegapain. It looks like trash. It requires effort to make characters this generic and to have mecha designs this ugly. This doesn’t happen by accident. The dialogue is just as you imagine accompanying that art. So why would a reader recommend I review Zegapain, likening it to RahXephon in the process? I was even more confused after the first episode – one of anime’s worst starts.

It opens on protagonist Kyo having to kiss a guy disguised as a girl for a student film by his friend Ryoko. He refuses, notices a buxom babe on the high dive outside, strips to his Speedos, and charges off to meet her. (Does he always wear swimmers instead of underwear?) His enthusiasm comes from finding a new recruit to his dying swim club. Next thing he knows, he’s part of a conference call with the military. The girl, Misaki, puts his hand on her boob, pulls him into her chest, and they teleport aboard a mech. (Right…) She tells him to treat the battle like a VR game. I laughed when the mech warns of incoming enemies, but Misaki praises Kyo for spotting them so quickly – girl, he didn’t do anything! He fights perfectly without training. Though there is more to his story, it’s still a cataclysmically stupid idea to bring him to the front line. A better writer would sell the situation.

Before first episode’s end, it is evident that the characters have no depth – I imagine the brainstorm session took five minutes. Only a couple have goals and motivations. The battle tech is a bunch of ‘stuff’ doing ‘things’ cobbled together without thought of how this works or how it came to be.

Needless to say, but Zegapain seems like a bottom-dwelling anime at this point.

However, after a few more battles of floaty CG and meaningless action, Kyo finds a glitch on the battlefield. A message tells him not to believe his world. And that’s where things start to get interesting. We have a Matrix situation here, except he can’t be sure of which world is reality. If his high school is virtual, then who are all these people? And how did the outside world turn to ruin? More and more mysteries unfold as the plot develops, resulting in an intriguing storyline. I’m as astonished as you are.

Of course, it doesn’t erase the fact that the script seems randomly generated or that the characters are surface deep, but this one strength is enough for me to enjoy Zegapain to the end.

Kyo is still a bad protagonist. He’s far too accepting of everything for the convenience of the writer’s laziness. He teleports suddenly from school to the battleship thanks to a gizmo in his forehead, is about to ask where the gizmo came from and how he got it, when he says, “Ah, whatever, it got me here after all.” Even more reason to question it, you idiot! And what is the obsession with returning to this swim club subplot every episode? It doesn’t matter! Hell, why swimming? It isn’t realistic that a swim club in the heat of Japan’s summer would struggle for members. It’s for Misaki in the swimsuit, isn’t it?

Several episodes that lean more slice of life are a waste of time as well and the antagonists are as weak as the heroes. Despite all these faults, something about the reality versus virtual reality plot gets me. It just gets me.

Zegapain is a hidden gem— well, gem is a bit much. More like a peculiar stone on the riverbank with an unusual texture that a few will find interesting.

Art – Very Low

Zegapain approaches Hand Shakers level of CG with its mechs. Furthermore, why make them CG if you aren’t going to take advantage of the easier animation tools? What was the point? The regular art has zero creativity and even randomly drops in quality on occasion.

Sound –Low

The voice actors do the best they can with this bad script. I think the music came royalty free.

Story – Medium

A teen has to distinguish between reality and the virtual world amidst an alien occupation and high school troubles. The characters and action may have no merit, but the plots works well.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Give it a chance. Zegapain is most engaging if you can enjoy a good story in the face of weak characters and ugly art.

(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:

Horrendous ActionUgly Artistic Design

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Metropolis – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Metropolis

 

Similar: Akira

Ghost in the Shell

Steamboy

Casshern Sins

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Drama Science Fiction Romance

Length: 1 hr. 49 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Some truly magnificent art.
  • City design.

Negatives:

  • Character motivations and personalities aren’t interesting.
  • Art over story.
  • Plodding pace.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Metropolis adapts the 1949 manga of the same name from the creator of Astro Boy (hence the character designs), Osamu Tezuka, who based this story on a single image of the famous 1927 Metropolis silent film. As such, despite sharing a name and setting, the two versions have little in common.

The city of Metropolis rose to greatness thanks to leaps and bounds in technological advancements. Robots have replaced much of the manual labour and menial tasks. However, what should have been a utopia of man and machine, has turned into a class war. Robots are second-class citizens, attacked and destroyed by rioters on a daily basis. They cannot venture beyond their designated zones. Japanese detective Shunsaku and his nephew Kenichi arrive in town on the trail of an organ trafficking case, but the master of Metropolis, Duke Red, has plans involving a robot girl of his creation that throws them off track.

Metropolis draws you in with its city design. Life bustles and clanks along on every corner and in every alley, creating a sense of wonder and a desire to see more. But a film is about story, and it’s not long before you start to ask where this elusive feature has gone. Every character moves in every scene – it never stops to sit down and show us motion within characters. More scenes go towards showing us the world and all the fancy art techniques used than towards developing characters. Art came over story.

The plodding pace of the first act is manageable thanks to the world, though once in the second act and the pace is still like gears grinding together, it becomes difficult to pay attention. The heroes are your standard good guys, which is obviously not ideal, yet I believe the true problem lies with the antagonists. The Duke is your typical Big Boss Villain atop the Tower, residing in the background for the most part (why does he look like a cockatoo?). The other is his adopted son, Rock. He goes after the robot girl, intent on destroying her out of jealousy. The Duke lost his daughter and would rather create an artificial replacement over accepting Rock. His daddy issues aren’t interesting because they lack a foundation to make us care or see them as a problem. We have a few brief interactions between father and son that serve to advance plot, not deepen character. One could say the same for much of the cast. They are tools to the story, nothing more.

The third act finally gets it together to give us action atop the highest skyscraper, which makes for a spectacular and tense set piece. Emotion and character enter the spotlight as the truth behind the robot girl comes out. The Duke reached for the sun in his beloved city and it went beyond his control. He constructed his tower too high and it fell so far. You may notice this as an adaptation of the Tower of Babel, and you’d be right – Metropolis outright states this. Some subtlety would be nice.

I love art as much as anyone does, but story is more important. Metropolis has plenty of the former and mere morsels of the latter.

Art – Very High

Tezuka’s Astro Boy character art of Popeye biceps and effeminate curls on everyone has never looked good to me. It doesn’t hold up, nor does the once spectacular CG for several scenes. I was going to give the art a High rating, until the finale blew me away. It’s magnificent.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine in either language, while the music is serviceable. The finale song is the only standout.

Story – Low

A detective and his nephew become involved in the plight of a robot girl amidst a technologically advanced city. Metropolis put nine out of ten energy cells into the art, leaving a blinking check engine light for the characters and plot.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For art fans. Metropolis is an engaging time if great art alone can sustain your enjoyment.

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative:

No Development

Fate/Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fate/Zero

 

Related: Fate/Zero 2nd Season (included in review)

Fate/stay night (sequel)

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (alternate sequel)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (alternate sequel)

Similar: The Future Diary

Basilisk

Psycho-Pass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 25 episodes (two seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Breaks many ties with Fate/stay night.
  • Main characters have complexity.
  • ‘Banquet of Kings’ episode.
  • More substance to the action.

Negatives:

  • Some jarring CG.
  • Still can’t handle exposition.
  • One-note minor villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Fate/Zero is the prequel to the Fate/stay night visual novel and created by a different team, which can only mean good things.

Instead of a harem protagonist, Fate/Zero selects Kiritsugu the ‘Mage Killer’, hired by one of the noble families, and married to their heir, to crush the competition with his servant Saber (the same one from Fate) in the war for the Holy Grail. His opponents are a mixed cast of mages, noble and common, as well as different iterations of Archer, Rider, Assassin, Lancer, Caster, and Berserker. Kiritsugu displays greater depth than Shirou within moments. First, by having a plan, and second, by showing smarts in his method of attack. One of my issues with Fate/stay night was having kids instead of adults when the latter make for mages that are obviously more powerful. Kiritsugu isn’t an idiot kid, nor are his opponents save one that I’ll talk of later.

As if by magic, the servants also have complexity of character. Saber is no longer a good character solely due to her backstory. She has convictions, motivations, and opinions – all the important servants do. One episode in particular has a scene called ‘The Banquet of Kings’ with Saber, Archer, and Rider – three kings – sitting down to discuss their views on what makes a great king. They challenge each other’s ideologies, Saber’s in particular. The dialogue is something the old author could never dream of. The strength of character writing is no surprise coming from Gen Urobuchi, writer of Psycho-Pass and Madoka Magica. (He also wrote Aldnoah.Zero, though we won’t speak of it here.)

Not everything is gold and diamonds. The first episode has several minutes of two geezers walking around in a circle expositing the world and their plan for the war. Truly a masterclass of bad expository writing. And someone has to explain the whole Fate franchise concept, yet again, in the usual clumsy fashion. The writing is smoother once you clear those reeds. Oh, except for two awkwardly placed episodes of backstory for Kiritsugu – they’re interesting, but don’t seem to know where to go in the story, so occur in the middle of an event.

As for characters, one of the mages is a serial killer to match his sadistic Caster servant, which is a thrilling addition to the war. Unfortunately, both master and servant alike are flat. What you see upon introduction is the same throughout. Now, they do at least have major impact on the story, but they could have had more to their characters. In a series where identity is everything, Caster’s identity doesn’t matter. Missed opportunity.

For a pleasant surprise, we turn to Waver, a young mage in over his head trying to prove himself equal to “pure” bloodlines when he joins the war, summoning Rider. He’s the one kid and justified in his inclusion. Furthermore, Rider doesn’t respect him and flicks Waver for all the stupid commands, nor should he as a great king from history who conquered much of the world. This is what I mean by taking a moment of thought to justify why your story/character/conflict is the way it is. The original author wouldn’t have thought of this disagreement. Far from being mean, Rider is a boisterous character, a lion of a man that brings needed comic relief alongside Waver. Rider is my favourite of the servants.

The action sees improvements, even if it doesn’t look as nice as Unlimited Blade Works, and while you could point to a couple dozen better anime for action, the stronger characters and smarter plans increase the tension, placing value on who lives and dies.

I wish I hadn’t followed the Fate watch order guide and listened to my instinct to start with Fate/Zero. I would have enjoyed this anime even more if I didn’t know certain details that carry over to the main series. Fate/Zero stands as the only Fate series worth your time unless you really want to see the Holy Grail War repeated ad nauseam.

Art – High

Fate/Zero still looks good without the flash of Unlimited Blade Works thanks to vibrant colours, better character design, and tighter choreography since that they don’t have cram in as many effects as possible. Now, some of the CG…ouch. Berserker looks hideous – a CG knight surrounded by a particle shroud, also in CG.

Sound – High

The VO is equally good in both languages; just needs a tighter script. Electric guitar action music, softer classical pieces, and ethereal vocals make for a solid soundtrack.

Story – High

Ten years before Fate/stay night, another Grail War raged between mages and their servants of myth and legend. Fate/Zero abandons most of the garbage from the original series in favour of complex characters and meaningful action.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Defying the franchise, Fate/Zero stands above the swamp from whence its predecessors came. Start with Fate/Zero to avoid lesser series from spoiling anything.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works]

Note: Not to be confused with the old Unlimited Blade Works movie

 

Related: Fate/stay night (source – visual novel)

Fate/stay night (anime – alternate 1st arc)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (alternate 3rd arc)

Fate/Zero (prequel)

Similar: The Future Diary

Basilisk

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Stylish action.
  • Huge improvement over the visual novel.
  • Heroic Spirits have interesting backstories.

Negatives:

  • Fights lack substance.
  • Still has exposition and explanations in excess.
  • Villains let heroes live on a whim.
  • Doesn’t stick to its own rules.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left the franchise in the Fate/stay night visual novel, a mess of an artwork mired in exposition, sloppy writing, and worse sex. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works adapts the second arc of the visual novel, with Rin instead of Saber as the romance option and Archer taking the Heroic Spirit spotlight.

Protagonist Shirou summons Saber to participate in the Holy Grail War against other magi and their servants. By a matter of convenience, he teams up with Rin and her servant Archer.

The genericity of Shirou hasn’t changed. He’s your goody two-shoes harem protagonist but with a hero complex to make him an action harem protagonist. His plot armour from arc one makes less sense this time, and he becomes instantly powerful before the end – I believe they call this an ‘ass pull’ – and as such, is the worst holdover from the source material.

Thanks to a dramatic cut in exposition and filler scenes, Rin doesn’t wear out her welcome, though she is still an average tsundere with more stereotype than brains. She whines too much. The romance with her, though irrelevant to the plot, has no foundation (the horrendous sex scenes were seamlessly cut). Unlimited Blade Works is actually about Archer and his backstory, as Fate was Saber and her history.

Like before, the suspense comes from the Heroic Spirit’s identity, even more so with Archer because of his amnesia. I am torn on the result. On one hand, the backstory itself is a great idea, yet on the other, the present day component – the consequence of the backstory, if you will – is garbage. I can’t help but feel that Unlimited Blade Works would have been superior if it only had to take inspiration from the source, not the beat-for-beat story.

That said, this anime is an improvement in every area. Yes, it could do with less explaining of mechanics when it shows them later anyway, and moments of describing actions before doing them drool off the visual novel, but this is still so much better. You can’t imagine without having played the game.

With all the visual improvements, I am disappointed that the fights aren’t smarter. This anime often receives the name ‘Unlimited Budget Works’ for all the animation and effects it has, but as anyone who’s watched a Michael Bay film will tell you, effects don’t make great action. Fights look good, sure, but they aren’t smart. How rarely anyone kills a weak mage while their servant is away in battle. Villains allow good guys to walk away despite impressing upon us the victory condition of killing all other mages. It isn’t just one villain – several villains do this. It’s as though the author couldn’t think for more than two seconds about plausible scenarios for characters to escape. How many times now has it been, in anime, where the premise is about fighting to the death, yet doesn’t happen?

Each subsequent fight is less interesting than the previous. The tension wanes when you realise consequences aren’t what they promised. The hype lies. Rin tells us that Berserker will wreck everyone in a fight, yet the fight against him is incongruent with her words. The author again didn’t spare a thought to finding a creative solution in beating a seemingly invincible opponent. I mentioned inconsistencies between arcs in the VN review, which we can see in effect here, as Berserker was conveniently stronger in the first arc when the author needed to kill another character. The rule breaking is still alive and well.

Why are the masters kids when an adult mage would crush them? It’s also convenient that all the mages connect to Shirou in some way – another source material problem. Honestly, 90% of the problems in Unlimited Blade Works stem from the visual novel. With a little extra thought, a little extra planning, a little better dialogue, this could have been a great anime.

What does Fate/stay night look like without the lead weight of the visual novel? Find out next time in the Fate/Zero review.

Art – High

I love the triadic colour palette of red, blue, and bright yellow. Its vibrancy pops in motion – gone is the ‘OC, don’t steal’ character art. Great looking fights use CG and particle effects, though often at the expense of substance. Occasional bad CG such as the skeletons slaps your eyes.

Sound – High

The voice work is good, but I’m not a fan of several casting choices in English. The music complements proceedings, except OPs and EDs seem out of place.

Story – Medium

Seven mages summon seven Heroic Spirits of myth and history to fight for the Holy Grail. This is arc two of Fate/stay night, focused on Rin and Archer instead of Saber. Unlimited Blade Works salvages the best parts of the visual novel to create an entertaining, if not deep, action anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime action fans. If you love anime’s signature action of one-on-one fights then you will love Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, when able to overlook the story and writing problems. It isn’t necessary to watch the first arc unless you’re interested in Saber. Watch Fate/Zero first.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

No DevelopmentWeak End

A Silent Voice – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koe no Katachi

 

Similar: Your Name.

The Anthem of the Heart

Your Lie in April

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama

Length: 2 hr. 10 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The girl is adorable.
  • Great lead characters.
  • Top-notch voice acting.
  • Narrative symmetry.

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is so bloated.
  • Untapped potential.

(Request an anime for review here.)

A Silent Voice has the marks of an Oscar bait movie. Handicapped character, attempted suicide, depression, someone different, love, heartbreak, and moody directing – make the girl Jewish with dreams of becoming an actress and the golden statue is yours! Surprisingly, it doesn’t fall into the traps that often characterise those sorts of films.

The story focuses on Ishida, a bully, and Shouko, the deaf girl he bullies. When she first joins primary school, the kids are receptive, helpful, taking class notes for her, and correcting her where needed. But they soon grow tired of her and the preferential treatment by teachers, even though she needs it. So, they start to bully her. Ishida likes the attention he gets from the bullying, so leads the gang. He suddenly yells at her, thinking it won’t matter to a deaf girl, writes things on the blackboard, and steals her cochlear implants. It goes without saying, but he’s an arsehole – they all are. He goes too far one incident and the administration finally intervenes. However, Ishida’s friends dodge responsibility, blaming him for everything.

You see, the thing about bullies who don’t learn their lesson is that they find another target. A bully must have a victim. Ishida becomes that victim.

We jump to high school, where Ishida has lived in depression for years, shutting out the rest of the world. Having suffered as a victim of bullying, he feels compelled to make it up to his victim, Shouko.

A Silent Voice is a story of symmetry.

The setup of the bully becoming the bullied and making amends with his target is a powerful one. It’s unrealistic for a victim to want anything to do with someone who brought her so much pain. But A Silent Voice succeeds in this respect by dragging Ishida into the deepest pit of despair, which coupled with some kindness from Shouko, creates a believable path to redemption. You wouldn’t imagine that you’d have any sympathy for Ishida after his cruelty, but against all odds, this film succeeds.

The dynamic between Ishida and Shouko is a fantastic one with heartbreak, humour, and everything in between. She’s such a sweet girl. I love the moment when she says she loves him (‘suki’), yet he interprets her as talking about the moon (‘tsuki’) because of her impaired speech. Her frustration is adorable.

Now, where A Silent Voice fails story-wise is just about everywhere else. The main couple: excellent. The supporting cast: ehhhh… Line up the characters – remove half of them. It’s evident that this film comes from a manga with more characters than usable in a two-hour movie. We have a half-dozen kids from primary school, Ishida’s family, Shouko’s family, and two new kids in high school. The story gives them too much time for an incidental, yet not enough for a proper support.

When one of them returns to the plot in high school, I thought she was a new character. I can’t remember most of their names or their purposes. Other than the families, there are only two notable characters. The first is Ishida’s one friend in high school who serves as comic relief (he “smokes” French fries), though even he needs work. The other is the nastiest of the children, Ueno.

In a move that baffles me, A Silent Voice reconciles her and Shouko. Where Ishida and Shouko’s reconciliation is a brilliant weave of drama and turmoil, Ueno and Shouko resolve their problems with no effort. Keep in mind that when things are good between Ishida and Shouko, Ueno still bullies her in high school. And we are supposed to believe that Shouko would be okay with having her around?

This is where the manga-to-film adaptation problem is most evident. In fact, we get a taste of what’s missing in translation. One scene has Ueno express her frustration at Shouko for always apologising when she is the victim. Obviously, that is supposed be the culmination of their reconciliatory arc – Ueno toughens Shouko up a little – but we don’t see the steps that came before. The story is trying to cram too many character arcs into so little time. This ultimately results in a great main story surrounded by excess that accomplishes nothing. It disappoints me because every ingredient for greatness was already on the counter. The production team needs at least 12 episodes to flesh out the supporting arcs.

Supporting cast aside, A Silent Voice is a good film well directed with beautiful imagery that conveys Ishida’s turmoil and Shouko’s vulnerability. The visual and auditory components outdo the manga, though you will need to read the source material if you want full satisfaction from the unneeded elements of the film.

Art – High

Nice art, but I wish it didn’t have this chromatic aberration that blurs the periphery of every scene. It’s distracting, low res. They didn’t apply depth of field either – everything is equally blurry – so it looks even worse. Beautiful otherwise.

Sound – Very High

The acting is great, particularly from Saori Hayami, who nails deaf speech. The music too is a success – love the stutter of ‘My Generation’ by The Who.

Story – High

A former bully becomes the bullied. Years later, he tries to reconcile with his victim, a deaf girl, to escape torment. Great leads, bloated supports, strong drama, and untapped potential characterise A Silent Voice’s touching story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for drama fans. If you focus on the main characters, A Silent Voice is a rollercoaster ride. It has its problems, but it’s still worth your time if you love drama.

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

Positive:

Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative:

Dissapointing