Tag Archives: Shounen

Young Adult boys as the target audience.

The Promised Neverland Season 2 – Holy Truncation Batman!

Japanese Title: Yakusoku no Neverland 2nd Season

 

Related: The Promised Neverland Season 1

The Promised Neverland manga (partially included in this review)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Mystery Thriller

Length: 11 episodes (season 2), 181 chapters (manga)

 

Positives:

  • Opening song

Negatives:

  • Most egregious truncation of the source material in anime history?
  • Doesn’t succeed on its own either
  • Recycled animation
  • Some bad acting amongst new characters

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Contains spoilers for season one – unavoidable.

What the hell happened here? I watched the first season of The Promised Neverland a year ago, which I quite liked, and now I come back to this…this… What do you even call this? Did an intern carrying the script trip over and have most of the pages fall into a shredder, collect what was left, rewrite the page numbers at the bottom, and then hand it to the animation department?

I had heard rumblings that viewers were discontent with the cutting of material. I did not realise just how bad it was until I read the manga. This review was to come out weeks ago, but less than halfway through the season, I could already feel something missing, so I turned to the manga, you know, to read the 30-50 chapters that went into this season. Little did I realise that this adapted all remaining chapters.

The Promised Neverland, at first, is about children living in an innocent orphanage before they learn that this is a farm and they are the livestock for demons. Season two follows them after the escape and on the run, guided by a series of clues left by the mysterious “William Minerva” to get back to the human world.

Season one adapts 37 chapters of the 181 total. Season two “covers” the rest. That’s right, 144 chapters in 11 episodes. And Horimiya fans reckoned they had it bad. I don’t know why studio CloverWorks thought that Promised Neverland – this anime, of all anime – would work with such truncation. I’m not certain (and I don’t have time to do the research right now), but this may just be the worst case of cut content in anime history. We’ve had incomplete adaptations of manga epics in the past or ones that created a new ending to finish what they had available, yes, though I can’t recall any finished adaptations with such massive holes. Unlike Horimiya, which worked alright without those chapters, Promised Neverland doesn’t work without 50% – at minimum – of what they removed. Why even bother with a second season if it’s going to lack all substance and make little sense? The first season worked fine as a standalone anime with suggestions to read the manga if you want the rest.

It hurts the brain to comprehend.

It’s particularly strange because season one was such a good adaption. In fact, I found it improved upon the manga by cutting back on inner monologues that over explain proceedings to the audience and made it darker. The manga is more light-hearted and has more playful moments, whereas the anime pushed the thriller angle to much success. A quick side note, however, is that the tone for the Grace Field arc in the manga better matches the rest the series. The manga isn’t anywhere near as dark as the premise would imply. The anime would have needed to make a few changes to the rest to match season one, which makes the abundance of “happy kids” moments, as I refer to them, more glaring and irritating in the second season. They work in the manga because they are tonally consistent and only take a page rather than a scene. Of course, they are also further apart with all content present.

Season two initially matches the manga well enough when the kids meet two demons that don’t eat humans and learn more of the world. We learn that demons eat meat to maintain their form and intelligence. Without feeding, they would devolve into ravenous savages. I love this world building detail. However, a few episodes in, they reach the hideout provided by Minerva and it all flies out the window. So butchered is this one section alone that there is no purpose to leaving it in. In the manga, it turns out there is someone living in the hideout already, a crazy man. He is the whole point of that section, so to remove him but leave the rest is simply stupid.

Then comes the time skip. Around 90 chapters ignored, gone, including the best action arc of the series, where some kids find themselves in a demon duke’s hunting ground for sport. Worse still is the effect on what they do adapt from the final arc. Without the setup that comes before, the finale is limp. Everything revolves around a grand plan, which already requires a fair suspension of disbelief in the manga, yet now demands a total leave of logic. The plan only works if all antagonists are absolute idiots.

See, this season’s failure isn’t that it cut material. I don’t inherently care about cut material. Its failure is being a bad anime, adaptation or not. Again, why did they bother?

This season isn’t worth your time. Instead, look at the manga.

The manga isn’t without its faults. I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t dark enough because there isn’t enough death, especially considering the pre-schoolers in the group (I have the impression the author grew too attached to the characters). The answer and eventual solution to the demon and human world divide is so lame. Magic? Really? While the final arc is a great finish to the ride, the epilogue chapters are just contrived nonsense (again, author is too attached). Contrivances and coincidences to solve non-action problems are a recurring issue with this author. Minerva’s pen, for instance, is a wonder machine that solves any plot puzzle for which the author couldn’t think of an idea, providing the next clue on the trail. I would have also liked to see more of the mother and the important demons to give them more impact in the end. The mother especially needed more chapters.

Contrary to my machine gun of negatives, The Promised Neverland is a good manga I recommend to anyone unless you didn’t care for the first season. It’s a page-turner, the demon culture is interesting, you feel for the main characters (the cast is too big to care for the rest), and the action is solid. Oh, nice art too – love the full-page illustrations before each chapter. Meanwhile, the only good element of The Promised Neverland Season 2 is the opening song.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Read The Promised Neverland manga instead.

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Jujutsu Kaisen – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jujutsu Kaisen

 

Similar: Naruto

Bleach

Demon Slayer

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Slick animation for great action
  • Grotesque enemies
  • Interesting powers

Negatives:

  • Serious power creep
  • Main characters lack mystery and story

(Request an anime for review here.)

As the penultimate review of the 30 Reviews in 30 Days challenge, this one for Jujutsu Kaisen is two days late, as I needed more time than I thought to ruminate on it. I can’t quite decide how good I think this is. Let’s lay out the good and the bad and see where we get.

Jujutsu Kaisen is the latest big thing in the battle shounen space, having made waves with slick animation from the studio behind the goodness of Dororo and Yuri on Ice. It follows Yuji, a high school student turned “Jujutsu sorcerer” after he eats the finger of a cursed being, granting him extraordinary power. This power does come at the cost of having the finger’s owner, Sukuna, taking residence inside him and threatening to take control at any moment. He now studies at the Tokyo Jujutsu High School to hunt for the rest of the cursed fingers and so the teachers can keep an eye on him. He teams up with the stoic Fushiguro and brash Nobara under the tutelage of Satoru Gojo.

I want to start with the good points since they caught my attention initially. First, the animation. Fantastic! What ever happened to the good old days of battle anime having the most static animation in the industry? The best of times! All kidding aside about nostalgia blindness, Jujutsu Kaisen has excellent action animation. More than fluid, the choreography draws in the viewer and shows attention to the camera work as well. On top of this, the abilities have visual variety. A signature move of Jujutsu sorcerers is the Domain Expansion, allowing them to envelop the nearby area in an environment to enhance their power. Think of it as a home turf advantage. The look of this domain will vary by character and match their personality or power type. For example, a villain who fights with lava powers and has a volcano for a head will transform the environment in a lava hell. The variety in techniques changes up the setting on a regular basis. A concern with an ordinary modern Tokyo setting for a supernatural action series is a lack of interesting settings in which to stage fights. Domain Expansion nicely solves this.

There are plenty of other great abilities too. One guy claps and swaps positions with the target, another creates dogs from the shadows, and a girl harms enemies by hammering nails into straw dolls. An old geezer even fights with an electric guitar that generates energy!

If action is your priority in battle anime, then Jiujutsu Kaisen has you covered. It would be tough to decide what would go into a “best of” highlight reel since there is so much good-looking action.

The next great element is the grotesqueness of the villains and certain abilities. Jujutsu Kaisen isn’t a horror anime, but it feature plenty of body horror. When Sukuna awakens, an extra pair of eye open on Yuji’s cheekbones and a second mouth grows on his cheek. Disgusting. And fantastic. One villain has a row of arms inside his mouth. Another grows a plant that shoots buds of biting teeth. Just about every enemy is disgusting is some way and it works! You won’t forget these freaks anytime soon.

The third notable positive is how this anime distinguishes itself from its inspirator, Naruto. The similarities are obvious – protagonist has demon inside of him that grants great power but also takes over on occasion; second main guy is from a special clan bloodline with a unique technique; the girl of the trio is the strong aggressive type; the teacher has magic eyes he keeps covered except in combat (his Domain is akin to the Sharingan’s Tsukuyomi illusion) and is goofy during downtime. That’s just a few of the similarities. However, it sounds a lot more similar on paper than in practice, as this brings more than enough of its own spin on the common elements to feel fresh. My Hero Academia, another Naruto inspired battle shounen, often just feels like Naruto in a superhero skin. With Ninjutsu Kaisen, I don’t find myself thinking, “This is just like Naruto.” Instead, I think, “Reminds me of Naruto, but I like how they did that differently.”

Now we get into the negatives.

While I said the action is great, this is more so in the moment (much owed to the animation). When you step back and look at the fights in terms of story and arcs, the quality wanes in large part to the odd power creep. There is a hint of this problem from the very first episode, before Yuji eats the finger. He already has immense strength and speed for a human. Then he grows stronger in the middle of fights after nothing more than a pep talk or a “I just need to be stronger” thought. Eh? The power curve also ramps at a random rate with little explanation behind the progression. Some characters are so powerful that they could seemingly deal with all villains alone. Spinjutsu Kaisen also does that thing where it tells you someone is a mega genius, yet has nothing to show for it, or some guy can pull of some feat so miraculous it would render all challenge meaningless if used at the start of the fight.

The second season focuses a new set of students from the sister school in Kyoto and they have a show match with the Tokyo kids, like a mini, mini Chunin exam. This is the perfect opportunity to develop characters and give a sense of power progression. Think of Naruto season one when Kakashi uses a few Sharingan techniques. This makes you wonder what else can it do and when will Sasuke learn those moves. Give us a taste of future power. Or it’s like the opening of any Metroid game, where you start with a full arsenal of equipment only to have an incident break your gear at the end of the first area. Now you have something to look forward to without being overpowered right away. Doesn’t reveal all the upcoming power though; that’s for you to discover as you progress.

In Jujutsu Kaisen, a teacher demonstrates the technique and then the character of focus learns it or develops some other power to deal with the situation too quickly. It feels as if the action writing goes, “What power would make this fight look awesome?” and then just puts it in with little thought to how he gains/masters this power. Flashy fights will only hold my interest for so long.

The sister school leads me into the other significant failing – the main characters. They simply aren’t interesting (yet?). The power creep disconnects you from them on an action level, while the personalities and backstories disconnect on a personal level. Yuji’s motivation is the death of his grandfather, who passed away peacefully but alone. He wants to avoid the same sad end. This leads him to value his friends and protect them at all costs, just like any shounen protagonist. There isn’t much beyond that.

Main characters need mystery and sub plots. Sasuke’s backstory with the Uchiha Clan or Killua’s story in HxH, are some examples. Even Bleach, when it was good for a couple of seasons, had Rukia’s relationship with Byakuya. Why is her brother of all people so adamant on imprisoning her? Fushiguro has a hint of story (in the vein of Sasuke’s), but why do they introduce it so late? As for Nobara, she doesn’t have anything. I’m sure her story will enter later – it would be madness otherwise – but you have to give something on main characters early to make the audience care. Doesn’t have to be the full saga. In fact, it’s better to hold answers back for later. Still, the more important the character, the more impactful their hook should be. It can be the little things, doled out over time. Let’s stick to the Kakashi example. He’s an important character, though not a main. How does he have the Sharingan when he isn’t of the correct bloodline? Why does he teach the kids that protecting teammates is more important than anything else, which goes against the ninja code? What is under his mask!?

On the other hand, the minor characters from the other school are far more interesting. Granted, they don’t have the pressure to grip the audience like main characters do, but I’d rather see them over the main students. Todo, a wrestler-looking dude and Itadori’s self-proclaimed best friend, is hilarious with his eccentric personality and way of judging others based on their answer to the question, “What’s kind of girls do you like?” and he has a simple though effective backstory as a delinquent too strong for his own good. And that’s just one of them.

I want to be clear that none of the characters are bad. None make me clutch my temples in frustration at yet another moronic decision. The main ones simply aren’t compelling enough to carry the series.

I know more of this review went to negatives over positives, but my overall experience with Jujutsu Kaisen is positive, on reflection. I didn’t mention the great music and quality acting either. It’s simply that I value story and characters above all and when those are your weakest elements – made more disappointing amid high production values – I become concerned. And yet, no problem is unfixable in future seasons.

My concerns going forward are the lack of mystery, in both story and main characters, and power creep with everyone already so powerful. I want to keep watching Blingjutsu Kaisen, but I do not want a Bleach situation where it’s one fight after the other and Domain Expansions go down the route of Bankai – “Oh look, the new ability is an even bigger Bankai. How exciting…” Don’t disappoint me.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for battle anime fans. The core demographic will almost certainly love Jujutsu Kaisen, while others may find that a lack of mystery dampens long-term engagement.

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat OP or ED Sequence

Negative: None

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

(Request an anime for review here.)

Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

 

Related: Magi: The Kingdom of Magic (2nd season – included in review)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

The Twelve Kingdoms

Fairy Tail

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 50 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Arabian setting is a little different

Negatives:

  • Arabian setting is superficial
  • First year university understanding of politics and economy
  • Sleazy

(Request an anime for review here.)

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic takes the typical action adventure fantasy of anime and wraps it in an Arabian skin. Before every fantasy was isekai, they were of the swords and sorcery variety, with authors taking the formula but applying one twist to make it different. Much like the many isekai skins of today, the Arabian theme here is superficial at best.

Scattered throughout the world of Magi are towers that dominate the landscape, each containing labyrinths of danger with untold treasures at the end. It is said these are the works of djinns, magical beings that grant the power of kings to those found worthy. Aladdin is a young magician in possession of a magic flute that can summon one such djinn. He teams up with Alibaba, a street rat with the daring required to delve deep into the labyrinths, and Morgiana, a slave girl turned warrior.

I said the Arabian theme is superficial because Magi still feels very Japanese. I don’t mean this is too much of an anime – that is self-evident and expected. There is little to no Arabian culture in the series beyond the aesthetics and character names. If you re-skinned the art to a Japanese setting and changed the names, you wouldn’t know it was once Magi. Even the music has little Arabian influence. It feels as though the author saw a couple of cartoon films in this setting and then set about writing the series. When using a different setting and culture, the most appealing aspect and what should be a unique selling point is how it will stand out from its peers. Ultimately, Magi feels the same as most fantasy anime from its time.

So, what about the rest of it? How does it fare as a fantasy anime?

The characters are of mixed quality. Alibaba is decent and works as the adventurous hero, though his arc and power curve flies off the tracks in the second season (more of a story issue, however). Morgiana is decent as well in the role of tough girl, as informed by her rough backstory, but with a good heart that cares for her friends.

The worst character is Aladdin. When he isn’t the stereotypical “genki” kid, he’s groping women, something that happens every second episode. I think it’s meant to be hilarious and “cute.” “Oh look, he’s grabbing my breasts. Isn’t that adorable?” says the adult woman about a child. It’s so sleazy. Doesn’t add anything either and goes out of its way to waste cels. The one time it works is in the first episode when he motorboats a fat guy’s moobs, thinking they belong to a woman. But they open with that joke, so there’s nowhere to go.

On an action front, expect the usual anime adventure fantasy. The magic system is straightforward and forgettable, though not a hindrance to the overall experience. Going back to the flimsy Arabian inspiration issue, they could have done so much more to make the magic and monsters engaging. I can’t imagine most anime fans have seen much Arabian mythology, so this would be an easy opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Think of something like Yokai Watch, which draws on an insane amount of Japanese monster lore to create its Yokai. And that’s a show for young children. If only Magi had a tenth the effort in use of lore.

Similarly, the story also follows a typical anime adventure fantasy, not that this is inherently a negative. It’s all in the execution. Unfortunately, Magi doesn’t deliver with wit and cunning. Expect some Picard facepalm-inducing moments. I’ll mention one that made not just single facepalm, but pull out the double Picard. At some point, a character abolishes a monarchy in this world in a few minutes with promises to distribute all wealth as if that will solve everything. No, this isn’t some populist ploy to cajole the citizenry into doing what he wants. The writing presents this as a genius move. Why haven’t we done this in real life? It’s so obvious! I usually find this sort of nonsense in YA fantasy with a lowborn female protagonist (she’s secretly special, of course) that has two princes chasing after her skirt. The politics and social side of Magi is far weaker than the action side.

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is fine, but a little too stupid to appeal beyond the core. Fullmetal Alchemist was clearly an inspiration and Magi could have learned a thing or two from it.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fantasy fans only. Unless you have exhausted the long list of superior fantasy anime above Magi, then give this one a miss.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Wave!! Let’s Go Surfing!! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wave!! Surfing Yappe!!

 

Similar: Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club

Haikyuu!!

Yuri on Ice

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Sports

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Has a corgi

Negatives:

  • Instant pro
  • Overused slow-mo
  • CG surfing
  • Shallow relationships
  • Teaches nothing about surfing

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An anime about surfing – I haven’t seen one before, so why not give it a shot?

.

.

.

Well, this was the wrong place to start.

Wave!! Let’s Go Surfing!! is the dullest sports anime I’ve ever seen. It commits almost every narrative sin, though not in that gouge-your-eyes-out manner of the typical bad anime.

The story opens with a flashforward of a surfing competition in progress, introducing us to a half-dozen surfers with the same slow motion shot of each mid-trick atop a wave, and then does nothing with these characters. Is this the worst opening scene of anime? I’d have to go back through the hundreds that I’ve seen to be sure, but it may just be. These characters don’t enter the narrative for a few episodes. You’ll likely forget you’ve seen them before. There’s no story, no personality, and not even a spectacle in this scene thanks to that rubbish slow-mo effect (expect to see it a lot). It’s hard to describe how limp this scene is.

The story proper start when protagonist Masaki goes for a run on the beach at dawn, where he sees Sho, a handsome surfer who mesmerises him with his talent. Masaki suddenly wants to become a surfer.

Let’s pause for another stupefying moment. They establish Masaki runs on the beach regularly, a location popular with surfers, and he never had an interest before? His best friend is a pro surfer, for heaven’s sake, and yet he never showed interest (the friend even points this out). And it’s not as if Sho does something particular to inspire such obsession. This all leads to a weird infatuation on Masaki’s part – very homoerotic, though I’m not sure if intentional. Could be bad characterisation.

Anyway, we move on. So Masaki gets his first surfing lesson from Sho.

Alright, let’s pause again. He instantly succeeds like a pro. I don’t mean he learns in a week. No, he stands up on the board and rides a wave perfectly on his first attempt. I burst out laughing! The writer tries to excuse this by first have Sho and the friend say that it could take months of practice just to stand on the board, never mind surf a wave. Ah, that classic “If I point it out myself, then no one can criticise me for it” move. It only makes this more pathetic because it shows that the writer knew the reality yet chose to bend it beyond belief.

But we move on.

Next thing you know, Masaki the wunderkind of surfing goes out in a storm to catch a wave even though he know it will likely kill him. He does this because…? So he start to drown, but then Sho dives in out of nowhere and rescues him.

Sorry, let’s pause. How is Sho capable of this in what looks like hurricane conditions? The reason for having him specifically come to the rescue is to setup a twist for later, yet it’s dumb as hell. Everyone glosses over the fact that Masaki just about committed suicide as well.

We continue.

Now it’s Sho’s turn to hit the waves in a storm for whatever reason, even after having told Masaki not to, and in the most shocking twist with the impact of a drop of water in a desert, he dies. I actually missed this moment when it happened. I got up to make some lunch and left the series running, only to come back and not realise the guy had died until an episode later. I had to rewind. Watching the event didn’t improve the effect any.

Honestly, I was simply bored from start to finish with Wave. After Sho’s death, there is less story and even less effort with the surfing, if you can somehow imagine that. Now that I think about it, I don’t believe there is a single good surfing scene throughout. Each is ruined by this slow-mo shot, almost freeze frame, when a rider executes a trick. It does this every time. And when it isn’t slow-mo, it’s poorly animated CG characters. Then there’s the music. Are any of these instruments real? It wouldn’t surprise me to learn all music (outside of OP and ED) comes from a stock library of digital notes. Even the music is boring!

Don’t watch this anime. Sure, it’s inoffensive and won’t infuriate even the most short-tempered viewer, but by Poseidon is this dull.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Skip it. I can’t imagine Wave holding interest for even a surfing fan.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Lacks ConflictPoor PacingShallow