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Naruto: Shippuden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Naruto: Shippuden

 

Related: Naruto

Similar: One Piece

Hunter x Hunter

Basilisk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 500 episodes (296 without filler)

 

Positives:

  • Conclusions to plot lines established in Naruto classic
  • Several excellent fights

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is less important in favour of convoluted lore
  • New plot lines feel like filler
  • The Great Ninja War
  • Way, way too long

(Request an anime for review here.)

It is finally done. Naruto Shippuden (and The Last Movie) is no longer on my backlog. It gives me a mix of emotions – relief at having such a giant off my back, nostalgia from thinking 16 years into the past, and a tinge of sadness that it is over. It wasn’t an easy journey to reach this point. 500 episodes of Shippuden – after 220 episodes of Naruto – isn’t an afternoon’s viewing experience, especially once you hit The Wall that is the Great Ninja War. More on that later. Let’s go back. There is a lot to talk about here, so forgive the ramble and tangents.

Naruto ended with two central threads: Sasuke has betrayed the village to seek out the arch villain Orochimaru’s help and the criminal organisation Akatsuki has revealed itself to the ninja world. Shippuden jumps ahead two and a half years as Naruto returns to the hidden leaf village after a long training adventure with his perverted teacher Jiraya. The anime (unedited version) opens with a flashforward of Naruto and Sakura finally catching up to Sasuke in Orochimaru’s lair, giving the audience a taste of the major event to come. It fails to mention that we don’t reach this until Shippuden episode 51 and that it’s the most anti-climactic moment in the entire franchise. Not a great start.

Shippuden also disappoints in how it handles filler. Where Naruto padded the episode count after the main story concluded while we waited for the sequel, Shippuden inserts extensive filler arcs every second or third season.

To drag out the series further, canon episodes regularly have artificial lengthening techniques. Battle anime are notorious for static pans across a battlefield or characters’ faces. Shippuden takes it to another extreme of time wasted. I particularly remember an episode where Naruto confronts Orochimaru and only a minute of real content occurs between dramatic pauses, slow pans, and repeated lines. Replaying scenes from the previous episode is more rampant that ever, unjustified in their presence. They often repeat within the same episode in case we have Alzheimer’s. The absolute worst padding you will ever see is when Naruto’s allies remove the seals on Akatsuki’s hideout.

Let me set the scene. Akatsuki have sealed themselves inside a cave while they perform a ritual to extract a powerful demon beast from within a ninja. Outside, several of Naruto’s allies split up to remove five seals scattered around the area. Before that however, a trap summons an exact clone in ability and strength of each ninja, which they have to 1v1 before they can proceed (I thought this was the dumbest fan service idea only for it to be outdone later). These fights are just moronic. It’s repetitive and devoid of any depth – don’t forget stretching out every single shot. So, if they are fighting their exact equals, how can they win? Well, by fighting harder than themselves from before! What…? This makes one facepalm so hard that my friends and I still bring it up each time Naruto is mentioned.

Anyways, after that comes the seal removal. Each character grabs one and counts down to pull them in sync. What begins is the longest countdown in cinema history. It takes several minutes off the end of an episode, ending in a cliffhanger, only to repeat from the beginning of the next episode and take forever again.

You know what it’s like? Daytime soap operas. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Passions, Days of Our Lives, or the likes of The Bold & the Beautiful then you will know exactly what I mean.

With how much Shippuden wanted to waste my time, I opted for the “Kai” edit this rewatch. When originally watching this while current, I made it early into the Great Ninja War (Shippuden episode ~250), so I had plenty of experience with the broadcast edition. No way was I sitting through all of that unedited. Little did I know the worst was still to come.

From here on, I will be reviewing Naruto Shippuden under the assumption of the Kai edit, which follows the manga closer [almost] free of filler. There’s not much to say about the filler. It’s trash – don’t watch it.

So, Naruto Shippuden proper, how is it? I can best summarise it thusly: old is good while new is bad.

In essence, the direct continuation of story threads from the original series is successful, while new elements introduced are just crap. Interestingly, the story structure almost alternates between old and new threads, throwing you from one end of the engagement spectrum to the other.

The first arc sees Akatsuki venture into sand country to capture Gaara for the demon beast within him (their goal is a combine the power of all demon beasts). We get to meet a couple of new members, including former sand ninja and puppet master Sasori. Naruto loves to have villains that are former citizens of the place they’re attacking to add that extra emotional connection. Sasori works here, not only for giving us a great fight between three generations of puppeteers – and the only good fight involving Sakura – but also in emphasising the damage ninja life can have on oneself. It’s a good complement to Gaara’s story arc. Where Gaara fell through maltreatment from his family, Sasori lost himself when his parents died. Both grew twisted because of ninja society. A little care and consideration saved one from evil, while the other could never be human again.

Naruto’s execution of theming and tying heroes to villains is among the best in shounen anime and it makes you care for the conflict. Sure, they have a variety of interesting powers and fighting styles that make for great action – action is important to keep it exciting – yet without that emotional core, it wouldn’t stay with the audience once the battle is over. We see this time and time again. Think Lee vs. Gaara (untalented hardworking nobody vs. effortless prodigy gifted with immense power) or Naruto vs. Neji (unloved yet free outsider vs. popular and powerful slave). There are many such examples in Naruto that pack an emotional punch. The same is true for Shippuden in the better fights. The perfect example of the opposite is in the grand finale, but let’s not jump ahead just yet. My rant has some way to go.

Sasori’s partner – Akatsuki always travel in pairs – is Deidara, a loudmouth with mouths in his hands that chew special explosive clay. I hate this character. His backstory is so lame, likely thrown in place at the last minute when the author had to hit a deadline (it doesn’t come up until much later, when his story is already over, by the way). His backstory is the edgy teen who wasn’t allowed to blow things up so he went and joined Al Qaeda in protest. That’s it. And he never shuts up. Plus he ends each sentence with a “yeah” or “hm” grunt. I understand that with such a large cast you need to get creative with differentiating characters, yet you don’t need their quirk in every. god. damn. sentence. The actor never makes it sound natural by the end.

His fight with Gaara is quite good though. More of a visual spectacle. It works by contrast to Sasori’s fight, which has more story and is on a smaller scale in a confined environment. Keeping Deidara going after this arc was the mistake.

Overall, this arc is a good start and gives the [false] impression that Shippuden will maintain the same qualities that made the original series good.

Next arc introduces Sai, the replacement for Sasuke on Naruto’s team. Here we have the first example of “new” failure. His trait is being socially barren. Raised as a spy and assassin since infancy, he has no understanding of emotion or relationships. It’s a classic sad Naruto backstory, which is fine, but his arc doesn’t contribute much. He was forced into the team by the head of ninja CIA with the secret mission of killing Sasuke once found, rather than bringing him back alive. This doesn’t lead to anything. He grows a heart by becoming friends with the others before they find Sasuke, pre-empting the conflict before it starts. To top him off, the story forgets about him a third of the way through. If you were watching this week to week, his return would come as a surprise. “Oh hey, I remember that guy! What was his name again?”

That said, Sai is one of the better new additions. Most newcomers are indistinguishable from filler episode characters. The story leads Naruto to the other ninja nations, each presenting their own crew, none of which is interesting. The most important of the lot is another demon beast ninja who speaks only in rap. It is as annoying as it sounds.

After my praise for Naruto’s supporting cast in the original, it saddens to have to report on how forgettable the new guys are. Worse still, the original cast are little more than background images. Why bother creating new characters when you had such a strong cast to work with already?

This arc concludes in that flashforward I mentioned earlier. They find Sasuke, he leaves, and we are back to square one. Pointless.

Next arc shifts focus back to Akatsuki on the hunt for the next beast, two different members taking helm. Here we have one of the best fights in Shippuden: Shikamaru vs. Hidan with the scythe. I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t seen it and there isn’t much in the way of story to dissect. Any fight with Shikamaru on stage is great for the focus on strategy over flashy abilities.

By contrast, we have the fight against his partner Kakuzu, who is a Frankenstein’s monster-style ninja with the power to stitch himself back to life. Here we see a major crack in the walls caused by one of battle anime’s worst tropes: protagonist power progression. Battle anime need to keep going bigger and more powerful to avoid stagnation with the audience. I don’t think that is necessary, if done right, though the core audience does. The only time you can deescalate is by starting a new series. A power reset each arc, like Bleach, isn’t enough. The audience still wants something bigger.

Dragon Ball Z is the classic example of why this is such a problem. Remember how when they were fighting Frieza the story impressed upon you his power and importance? Now remember how when the next villain came along, making him look like a joke, and the heroes had to grow so much stronger to beat the new guy that they could now kill Frieza with a single flick? And remember how this power was concentrated in a few main characters, making most of the allies useless in the process? Well, Naruto reaches that point. The fight against Kakuzu, which was a struggle for the team fighting him, ends with the arrival of Naruto, fresh off his latest mind-numbing training arc, who takes him out with ease. Because he’s the protagonist, the genre dictates that he must be the one to do this.

It’s not as bad as Dragon Ball Z’s issue, but it doesn’t prevent the groan-worthy ending to a fight, especially off the back of the intelligent fight against Hidan.

Next, we switch to Sasuke’s perspective as he assembles a new team. When I say new, I mean the bad new of Shippuden. He recruits a Jekyll & Hyde sort with no personality, shark boy, and yet another Sasuke fangirl. Sasuke manages to get away from his fangirls back home only for the author to go back to the same overdrawn well and give us another. You want to know the real kick in the nuts? She’s the worst of them all. Her only gimmick is being a fangirl, something the “comedy” reminds us of in every scene with her. She will have a fangirl moment (and another sort of moment, if you catch my drift) any time she sees Sasuke, even in the middle of a dramatic scene. Anyone with her as a groupie would want to shoot themselves.

Everything with these three characters is just a waste of time in the lead up to an event we’ve all been waiting for: the reuniting of Sasuke and Itachi. We can’t have this happen right away, er…125 episodes in, of course. We need another arc first.

Regardless, once it does come to a head, what can I say – it’s fantastic. Built up from the early episodes of the original, the conclusion to Itachi’s story is excellent. Surrounded by filler and padding, it is noticeable that this story was likely planned from the beginning. Its emphasis on character and emotion to deliver the final piece of the puzzle is the polar opposite of The Great Ninja War. (We’ll get to that. We’ll get to that.) This is the best of all Shippuden to me.

This great conclusion leads into another strong arc where the heroes must face the leader of Akatsuki, Pain. Similar to other great Naruto villains, Pain and his close companions follow the theme of how harsh ninja life truly is and how it can break even the nicest kid. An accident from the “good guys” created one of the most powerful villains. While a moment of love almost saved him, as it did with Gaara, it wasn’t enough to keep him from the path of pain.

He makes for a great villain. Not as good as Orochimaru or Itachi, in my books, but great nonetheless. His abilities and those of his companions are interesting. We have action, story, character, and emotion rolled into a satisfying package.

This should have been the end of it, barring the resolution of Naruto and Sasuke’s arc as a capstone. However, if you looked away from your screen at this moment and checked the episode count, you would realise we are only halfway through Shippuden.

Welcome to the Great Ninja War.

Where to begin with this one. It could warrant an entire review of its own. You know what? Let’s do it. I’m on a roll, so what’s another 1000 words?

After Pain. comes the revelation that there was another bad guy behind everything all along. (It hurts just writing that sentence. That’s the real pain.) This new villain was mentioned a few times as a backstory, though never as a relevant character to the current day. After a rubbish politicking plot that I won’t bore you with, the great nations decide to set aside their differences to team up and defeat this villain and his army of Power Rangers putty monsters. Toss aside character-focused storytelling and engaging combat in favour of two masses of bodies throwing themselves at each other.

When you think it can’t get any less interesting, the author pulls out the ultimate fan service card and episode count extender. He brings back every known character from the dead using the Reanimation Technique rediscovered by Orochimaru in the original series. A technique that barely managed two reincarnations can now summon a hundred of the best ninja with ease (remember what I said about power escalation earlier).

It was fine the first time to have two Hokage from history return to give us some lore and a bit of the “rule of cool” factor. This time, however, is just ludicrous. Outside of two or three cases, all it does is stage rematches for fan service. Even the Akatsuki members that just died come back. My level of bafflement at this entire arc is difficult to put into words. I can’t believe any self-respecting author would be okay with this.

The Great Ninja War makes up one-third of all Naruto episodes and feels like filler at least 75% of the time. This is canon filler. Even when watching this in the Kai edit, it feels as if there is no end. I get the sense that whoever was making this fan edit was also losing interest, only finishing the project out of obligation. The editing gets sloppier as you go – one episode has a scene repeat in succession (was the end of one episode and the start of the next in the broadcast release). More and more pointless flashbacks make it in. Don’t get me started on how much Shippuden uses flashbacks to pad runtime. Flashbacks should be banned from anime. The fan editor no longer bothered cutting down those slow dragged out scenes most of the time anymore. I don’t blame them. I would have given up long ago.

The Great Ninja War reaches almost Dragon Ball Z levels of terrible. As if in homage to Goku’s idiocy, Naruto also has a “Don’t interfere with my fight!” moment. Never mind that thousands of lives are on the line.

There are some good moments in this abomination. Kakashi has a good episode against a villain relevant to him, Naruto’s emotional moment meeting that character is quite touching, and Itachi is good, as always. Don’t let that give you hope though. It is small consolation for what you have to sit through.

So, despite all indications, the war does eventually come to end. And just when it seems the chute has no crap left to expel, it squeezes out one final turd. The reincarnations are dead, the masses of fights are over – surely, there is nothing left. The plumbing can’t take anymore.

Wrong!

How do I put this? Shippuden starts to become Evangelion – specifically, the End of Evangelion. Character and story is thrown aside for end-of-the-world lore and a ninja origin story. Naruto becomes the Child of Prophecy (barf); the goddess of chakra revives to wipe out the world. At one point, even the moon gets involved. A character you never cared about reveals himself as the true villain behind everything. Yeah, the guy I mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the true true villain.

What the hell does any of this have to do with anything?

Naruto loses focus, going from character driven conflicts to lore vomit with bigger and bigger abilities, constantly escalating, merely dragging it out. The supporting cast, new additions included, are relegated for bad lore.

The reasoning for any of this crap to be a part of the narrative is so flimsy you can see tape barely holding it together. It is utter shite.

Once that’s over, it wraps with the finale of Naruto and Sasuke’s conflict. After the Great Ninja War and the End of Evaruto, it’s a bloody blessing that this doesn’t fail. It’s not great, though it’s not bad either. The finale is of much better quality, particularly in visuals, though it feels weird coming after so much filler and in how it ignores much of what just happened.

Some might say that The Last Naruto Movie is the true end to the series. It isn’t. The movie’s sole purpose is to sell you on the idea of the Naruto and Hinata relationship. Remember when that was a thing they never developed at any point? Naruto goes from ignoring Hinata like always to suddenly confessing undying love after a stint through this extended filler episode they call a movie. There is no foundation to this relationship. I don’t care for it whatsoever.

And that’s it. That’s Naruto concluded with my far too long tirade, a few thousand words over the limit. What do I think of it overall? Well, the parts I like are great, notably the original series. It has some of anime’s greatest fights, most complex villains, and best supporting characters. But there is also a lot of baggage weighing it down. Shippuden should have just been a conclusion to Itachi, Orochimaru, Sasuke, and Akatsuki (as first established, not what it became to justify the Great War). 150 episodes, maximum, to cover the golden content in this 720-episode bloat.

I don’t regret my time with this series. I do wish I could recommend it though, but in its current state, I can’t ignore the problems that come at the end. At most, I would recommend watching from the original series until the conclusion of Pain’s arc, in the Kai edit. No one should have to go beyond that.

The real question is whether finishing Shippuden has motivated me to start on Boruto. No. The answer is no. Naruto is done in my life.

Art – Medium

Like most long-running shounen anime, Naruto: Shippuden is inconsistent in its art. You can have episodes with brilliant, fluid animation and proper cinematography. You can also have episodes filled with static shots and character cutouts sliding across the screen. Character designs have lost detail to make them easier to draw and animate.

Sound – Medium

The music still shines as one of the best collections amongst shounen anime. The dub isn’t much of an improvement over Naruto classic. Those that were great before are still great – Naruto’s English voice is still bad to me. The writing has taken a serious dive, particularly in the new plots.

Story – Medium

Naruto and co. continue their search for Sasuke as they fight foes old and new. The old ongoing threads are good, while new introductions to the story are filler.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Naruto classic fans only. Even if you watch the Naruto Kai edit, this is still a gargantuan anime that I can’t recommend to anyone not already invested from the original series. There are several satisfying conclusions for fans, however.

(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:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor PacingWeak End

Sword Art Online 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sword Art Online 2

 

Related: Sword Art Online (1st season)

Similar: Log Horizon

No Game No Life

Zegapain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Makes the first season seem amazing

Negatives:

  • Kirito is more Mary Sue than ever
  • New girl’s backstory is hysterical
  • Act 3 is filler, yet again!
  • Exposition dumps everywhere
  • The garbage keeps piling up

(Request an anime for review here.)

I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to make Sword Art Online look like a masterpiece. Sword Art Online 2 is such trash that you’re going to need a hazmat suit to sit through all the cancer this anime jabs into your eyeballs.

Shortly after the events of the first season, where thousands died trapped in a virtual MMO, everyone has forgotten about the incident and nothing came of the disaster. Utterly incompetent at everything, the government hires Mary “Kirito” Sue to enter the latest virtual MMO craze, Gun Gale Online, and figure out how a player can kill people in real life by shooting them in game with a “Death Gun” (not kidding). He teams up with the useless sniper Plumber’s “Sinon” Crack, who has the tragic backstory of being terrified of finger guns (not kidding). Meanwhile, Mary Sue’s harem of useless women (including his sister and “daughter”) are stuck in last year’s game, some fantasy trash no one cares about anymore, while they circlejill about how amazing Mary Sue is. They don’t matter, their game doesn’t matter, so let’s forget them there.

Where to begin?

The exposition dumps! I lost count of the amount of time spent with characters sitting down – often in a diner – just vomiting exposition. The first episode alone spends over half of its time on one such scene. I get that Sword Art Online is made for the lowest tier, but have some respect for their intelligence. When it isn’t farting exposition in your mouth after having eaten five too many spicy burritos the night before, Sword Art Online 2 graces you with filler dialogue and some of the dumbest lines in anime history. Mary Sue acts like a dimwit before the show’s big tournament just so the girl can explain everything. The narrative dumps everything beforehand rather than showing it to the audience along the way. Let’s not forget the repetition. It repeats a flashback of a fight with the villain group from SAO four times!

Then we have the new game of the season, Gun Gale Online. This game is reason enough to slam this anime in the dumpster. First, they advertise it as the only game with pro players (what?), then the way they talk about character builds and the metagame doesn’t make sense for a shooter (even one with RPG elements). The system for getting paid – converting virtual currency to real money – is also illegal yet never questioned (remember, the government sent Mary Sue into this game, so wouldn’t they do something?) Once inside the game, it only gets worse. You know what would be better than an empty shell of a new world each season? One fully developed world instead.

How do players not die in a single hit if everyone uses guns? Well, in Gun Gale Online, you can see the trajectory of a bullet before it fires. Did the author put any thought into this? Look, if I pointed a gun at you and told you where I was aiming, you still wouldn’t dodge in time. The only way this works is if the bullets are as slow as molasses, in which case, why bother with guns at all? It’s so stupid it hurts.

Apparently, the character creator is random. Mary Sue has a female avatar generated for him (oh the sweet irony), which is just an excuse to have him be a girl this season – a girl, by the way, that looks just like him, though that may be down to A-1 Pictures’ inability to draw more than one face. Yeah, “random”.

You know SAO 2 is going to be shite in episode 4 – well, from the first scene really, but episode 4 cements it at the bottom of the ocean. Mary Sue needs money as a new player and sees a gambling game where one has to reach a gunslinger down the street while dodging his bullets. No one has ever won, adding to the prize pool with each failure. After seeing only one person’s attempt, Mary Sue breezes through it as easy as a stroll down the street. Of course. He gives us some nonsense about “predicting the prediction” to dodge bullets. So you’re telling that in the most hardcore, competitive PvP VRMMO, none of these professional players ever did the same? What sort of an idiot wrote this?

What does he do with this instant jackpot? He buys a Lightsaber. Yes, in a game about guns, where all swords are known to be useless, they conveniently have Lightsabers – sound effects included (and the villain is a Darth Vader rip-off) – just so Mary Sue can wield a sword like he did in other games. And to nobody’s surprise, he is amazing with it right away. He is so good that he can cut down every bullet from full auto machine gun fire. The author is so bad that he forced a FPS game upon the audience, yet couldn’t even commit and had to give Mary Sue an invincible sword. He can also drive motorbikes instantly and better than anyone else, having learnt this skill from playing racing games in the past. You know, regular racers on screen… (“Is it possible to learn this laziness?” “Not from a good writer.”) There is no attempt at hiding his power.

You have one guess on who wins the big tournament with Sinon.

Speaking of Plumber’s Crack (her character designer made sure she had her crack visible at all times for Mary Sue’s convenience, for we all know he wants to eat that ass), allow me to present to you the worst female character ever written. Her first introduction gives the impression of a sniper at the highest tier of play. As soon as Ass Muncher enters the game, however, she becomes useless all so that he can save and grope her at every turn. It goes so far that the climax has Ass Muncher telling her exactly what to do because she now has the skill of a noob. Every girl, no matter how strong, becomes a puddle of piss around this guy.

The funniest part is her backstory. During an armed robbery in her childhood, Plumber’s Crack managed to get the robber’s gun and shot him dead. This event left her traumatised of everything gun related (did you catch the subtle theming with the new MMO, did ya, well, DID YA?) to such a degree that even finger guns reduces her to a sobbing mess. Yes, pointing is her weakness. This idiotic writing is hands down one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Finally, we come to the villain (full spoilers ahead; I don’t recommend this anime). The big twist is that the Death Gun can’t actually kill people IRL. A second person would break into the target’s house while they’re strapped into the VR set and poison them in time with the virtual accomplice shooting them in game, thus giving the impression that the player could kill for real. (Let’s not forget that an autopsy would reveal it wasn’t some magical death from the beginning.) The villain turns out to be one of Plumber’s Crack’s clingy IRL friends, who believes she owes him love for caring for her during her previous depression. What is it with every SAO villain being a rapist?

I forgot to mention: Ass Muncher figures out everything about the villain, right down to his psychology and the fact that he’s in the room with Plumber’s Crack right now by merely thinking about him.

What a pathetic anime. I have barely scratched the surface with this travesty. I did not even cover how bad Ass Muncher is at handling the case he’s hired for, not passing on information just so he can play the hero. One could go through every single scene and point out why that is the worst scene ever put to anime. And like SAO, the story ends in act 2 and act 3 is filler in another MMO. Again! Sword Art Online 2 rapes anime.

Art – Low

There is a significant quality drop on the previous Sword Art Online. Less animation, less effects, more reliance on mediocre CG, and there’s less effort in character and world design – naturally.

Sound – Very Low

The acting is bad and the script is utter trash. All exposition and backstory is in the wrong place and much of the dialogue is filler. Good music from the same composer as .hack//SIGN, but it can’t save the show.

Story – Very Low

A girl faces her fear of guns by playing a shooter MMO, until she needs rescuing by a boy called Kiri Sue. Bloody hell…what shit.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Sword Art Online 2 is so bad that it makes Sword Art Online seem like a masterpiece.

(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:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueDeus Ex MachinaHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityMary SueNo DevelopmentPoor PacingRepetitiveRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast

Blood Blockade Battlefront – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kekkai Sensen

 

Related: Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Baccano!

Jormungand

Tiger & Bunny

Trigun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • NYC looks great.
  • Character focused standalone episodes.

Negatives:

  • Shounen protagonist doesn’t fit.
  • Lacks focus for the first act.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t help but wonder if Blood Blockade Battlefront wasn’t intended for an older audience originally, until an editor/studio said it couldn’t succeed without the shounen demographic and so the protagonist lost a few years to meet that new audience. I say this because Leonardo, our protagonist, doesn’t fit with the rest of the cast.

Leonardo is a teenager who recently acquired the “All-seeing Eyes of the Gods”, which gives him immense power beyond his comprehension, so he heads to Hellsalem’s Lot (New York City) where the supernatural is an everyday part of life to look for help. There, he unexpectedly joins Libra, a crime-fighting organisation that deals with the supernatural and the mundane through use of powers of their own and modern technology.

Libra is a group of adults. While the focus is on the supernatural action with a comedy slant, when it does focus on characters, these Libra members have adult problems, which doesn’t gel with the themes of Leonardo’s character. Furthermore, there are too many episodes where he feels like a tagalong to the plot (or isn’t present at all), as if the author couldn’t figure out how to use his shounen protagonist in a seinen series. The adults are just more interesting in Blood Blockade Battlefront.

There is one episode where Leonardo works – the mushroom guy episode. He meets this mushroom guy (no better way to put it) with an appetite for burgers, who has spores that can erase memories. Criminals prize his spores. Imagine you could commit a crime and wipe everyone’s memory of the event – free money. Unfortunately, the spores affect mushroom guy as much as anyone else, which means he doesn’t know anyone because he forgets after each mugging. The standalone episode regarding his and Leonardo’s friendship is a good one. In fact, I find the standalone episodes to be the best of the series.

Another one that comes to mind deals with the work/family balance that many career adults face. A woman in Libra needs to assist with an important mission to intercept a drug shipment, but the day of the mission happens to coincide with parents’ day at her son’s school – a day she has missed for several years already due to work. The episode has a great moment on parenting when her husband explains to the son that it hurts her more than it does him when she can’t keep her promises. The humour works too (same author as Trigun). When she tries to get off the mission roster, her boss guilts her into staying by laying out the consequences of mission failure on other children – in a comedic way. In the end, she has to do both concurrently.

As I said, Leonardo is a side character to most missions, so he doesn’t drag down the series too much. He’s okay. The unclear motives and goals for early episodes are a bigger problem. The start is too hectic for its own good.

I do love the feel of this city matched with the tone of the characters. Mermaids, vampires, werewolves, monkeys, and aliens living alongside humans in a towering metropolis gives me a Baccano meets Tiger & Bunny meets The Fifth Element with a dash of One Punch Man vibe. The creative visuals and light humour, yet balanced by some heart, make Blood Blockade Battlefront an easy anime to watch once you clear the initial hurdle of not knowing what the hell is going on.

Art – High

It’s Studio Bones, so the art has a good minimum quality. I particularly like the look of New York City – fantastic colour depth and detail. The notable flaws are moments of repeated animation and the protagonist’s eye effect looks slapped in the scene.

Sound – Medium

Can’t stand the protagonist’s voice in English, so I switch to Japanese and he sounds the same! Don’t like either of their nasal voices. Other than that, the acting is good, though there is a missed opportunity in not having accents from New York’s various boroughs akin to Baccano.

Story – Medium

A kid with magic eyes joins a crime-fighting organisation in the big city populated by human and supernatural denizens alike. Blood Blockade Battlefront works best when following individual characters and is in need of a more adult protagonist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action comedy fans only. Blood Blockade Battlefront isn’t a remarkable anime, but it has enough to entertain fans of the contemporary action genre. (Still can’t say Blood Blockade Battlefront quickly without fumbling my words.)

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru

 

Similar: Toradora

Bakemonogatari

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Second season looks better.

Negatives:

  • Unlikeable protagonist throughout.
  • “Deep” thoughts.
  • The drama isn’t really drama.
  • Hard to care.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I only watched this anime because of the title (“What is a snafu…?”) and came out wishing I hadn’t bothered. There is a subreddit called r/im14andthisisdeep that collects “deep” thoughts that are actually basic to the average person. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is that subreddit in anime form.

It follows the nihilistic high school years of Hachiman, who is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club as punishment for imposing his “deep” worldview on everyone. This club, which includes the ice queen Yukino, has the sole purpose of helping students in need achieve their goals. It’s a club about helping people, in short, with the hope of making Hachiman less of a douche.

As an example of the club’s activities, the first case is helping a girl who can’t cook, where the real lesson is that it’s the thought and effort that counts among friends. She soon joins the duo along with several others to create the typical group of high school friends.

SNAFU presents itself as a meta anime on the “high school friendships” genre, commenting on how much the genre overblows high school and how it doesn’t define your life, but ends up eating its own tail to become a pretentious, overblown high school friendship anime. It goes through the usual episodes – beach, summer festival, sports day, etc. However, instead of thinking, “You’re right, it is really stupid how big of a deal they make out of these events,” I just see SNAFU doing the same as the anime on which it comments.

The one differentiating factor is that the characters aren’t cheerful. Hachiman is anti-social, Yukino is anti-social, another girl is bad at socialising, and even the popular girl doesn’t have anyone who cares for her. Despite this difference, the story and characters play out much the same way as your average anime from this genre.

Initially, I thought that Hachiman’s musings were meant to be taken as the pretentious ramblings of some kid who thinks he has the world figured out, that we were meant to see him as unlikable before the story turns our opinion of him. He does grow less unlikeable, sure, but I don’t know anyone who would want to hang around such a boring person.

I considered the idea that the author was trying to emulate the deep (read: stupid) thoughts we all had as teenagers, and that this nonsense was accurate for a kid his age, but it never calls him out on it. Hachiman doesn’t sound like a teenager in over his head; he sounds like an adult failing to write a teenager. No one with any life experience would believe this author’s life lessons and witty advice – and by any, I mean any, even a few months out of high school would dissolve such notions. It’s weak.

The drama isn’t really drama either. It’s just students interacting lightly in a slice of life way to resolve petty affairs. It’s hard to care about such minor problems. Oh, your life hinges on being elected class president? Oh wow, so rough. It takes a council of 40 students to organise the same sports day as every year and if it fails, all is lost? What a tough life. Perhaps this is meant as satire, though if the case, then it flops.

It also bothers me that there is seemingly only one teacher in this school, who acts like one of the students and barely looks older than they do. This world, this anime feels so empty.

SNAFU isn’t funny enough to recommend as a comedy, doesn’t have enough tension for a drama, and shouldn’t even have the romance label. The worst thing about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is to see studio Brain’s Base, responsible for unconventional greats like Baccano and Princess Jellyfish, forced to make an anime so visually and narratively bland.

Art – Medium

Average art, indistinguishable for other anime of the era, until a different studio takes over in season 2 and does a better job. Cinematography is still stock.

Sound – Medium

Acting is average as well. Not bad, though nothing memorable.

Story – Low

A nihilistic student is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club, which helps other students achieve their goals. This story and its unlikable protagonist won’t appeal to anyone with a drop of life experience.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For 14-year-olds only. If you are above that age, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU’s deep messages will be laughable.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow

Toward the Terra – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Terra e… (TV)

 

Related: Terra e… (Movie – old version)

Similar: RahXephon

Gundam SEED

No. 6

Xam’d Lost Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Grand scope with proper closure.
  • Intriguing open.
  • The sci-fi elements make for an engaging story.

Negatives:

  • Needs stronger key villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In another anime with the premise of a protagonist realising his world is a lie, we have Toward the Terra. Where No. 6 setup an ordinary world for the protagonist to exit from, Terra echoes events closer to the likes of The Island or Logan’s Run with a dash of RahXephon and Battlestar Galactica.

In Jomy’s world, talented people join the elites of humanity on the day they reach adulthood. This is an exciting occasion. Who wouldn’t want their child to lead humanity to greatness? This is also a lie. The test of adulthood is actually to identify any potential “Mu” among the populace. They are an evolved race of humans possessing psychic abilities that strike fear in the government. All Mu are executed.

Jomy’s birthday takes a turn for the weird when a mouse starts talking to him telepathically at an amusement park. It’s not long before he’s on the run as one of the Mu and the lie that is his world tears at the seams. Not only is there a race of psychics that live on a ship among the clouds, their leader Soldier Blue has fallen into a coma and wants Jomy to inherit his power and the burden of leading the Mu to a brighter future.

Toward the Terra immediately differentiates itself from the pack of like-minded stories by going off in a wild direction. This story spans years and ventures to places I didn’t predict. One could watch the first episode of Terra followed by the final episode and have no idea how it got from A to Z. No character is the same by the end of this series.

The first act sets up so many questions about this world and its characters. Where did the Mu come from? How blind is the average human to reality? Did Jomy’s human parents really love him? Is it possible for Jomy to undo the brainwashing on society? Who is leading the humans? Why are they so insistent on killing the Mu that aren’t a part of their society? Unlike No. 6, which setup many question but either forgot to answer them or gave meaningless payoffs, Terra delivers some great arcs and story conclusions.

This is my kind of sci-fi anime.

That said, it doesn’t reach greatness when looked at as a whole. There are moments of greatness – the setup episodes and other key events I won’t give away – but the problems are intrusive. The one that has stuck with me since having finished Terra months ago is the switch from Jomy’s perspective to one of the human elites in training.

We follow Keith, a Spock-like character except boring and with no personality. Furthermore, we have no clear idea why the focus is on him for so many episodes (turns out, he’s a major villain – no spoiler, they should have alluded as much from the start). Even furthermore, we don’t see Jomy during this section. It all makes sense in the end, of course, yet the structure of this early second act feels so disconnected from the plot that instead of enjoying the story, I’m asking, “Why does any of this matter?” for too long. It needed a back and forth of perspectives.

Oh yes, almost forgot – Keith’s main rival at the academy is a smiley evil guy. A laughable character. No one would just stand there and take his sneering for more than a day before removing all his teeth. When at this stage of the story, I thought all the good the premise had setup was going down a black hole. Thankfully, it picks up again once Jomy re-enters the scene and Keith’s role matters – he even becomes interesting after the academy years are over. The villains in general are on the weaker side.

Several other moments also standout as blots in the story. I can’t go into detail without revealing too much (as I said, this story goes in such unexpected directions), but they are in the vein of characters doing stupid things for the sake of forced conflict.

There is also a minor annoyance where each episode starts with several minutes from the previous episode. This isn’t a “last time on Terra…” bit, but a straight repeat of scenes. Could do without it, though not a deal breaker.

In all, the good outweigh the bad with the premise being a story type I love accompanied by strong sci-fi elements. I enjoyed Toward the Terra and may even rewatch it in future.

Art – Medium

The technical quality is average, but the creativity of the sci-fi world is good old retro-futurism. Beautiful skies. There is this one character, an alien scientist with the dumbest and most out of place design, like a stick figure in a scene of elfin people. I laughed every time she came on.

Sound – Medium

Solid acting and the soundtrack is suitable to the anime, though you won’t remember the details.

Story – Medium

On the cusp of adulthood, a boy learns he is an alien linked to the first of his race, which makes him an enemy of society and all humanity. This grand space voyage has a lot in it that works for the most part.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. Toward the Terra’s sci-fi elements will make it a pleasure to fans of the genre, but those same elements will alienate others. And the characters aren’t strong enough to carry interest if sci-fi the premise doesn’t hook you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None