Tag Archives: Shounen

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Sword Art Online – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sword Art Online

Related: Sword Art Online 2 (sequel)

Sword Art Offline (spin-off)

 

Similar: Log Horizon

Re:Zero

Accel World

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon?

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy Game Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Strong concept.
  • Nice music.

Negatives:

  • Hacking protagonist.
  • Twitchy story structure.
  • World lacks creativity.
  • Abandons strong concept before long.
  • An ending that would make Bleach pitch a tent.
  • Poor exposition for vague rules in the game.

A long time ago, I watched .hack//Sign, the story of a player trapped in an MMO – cool premise – but the execution resulted in a dull disappointment. Over a decade later, I hear of Sword Art Online, a similar premise with a greater focus on action, and I was thrilled. This could be the anime I desired. Heh, how wrong was I?

Ten thousand players manage to get into the first fully immersive virtual reality MMO at launch; however, the game master traps them inside with no escape until someone clears all hundred floors. The problem? Death in the game means death in real life.

And that’s about as far as SAO gets before the quality declines. The first few episodes are decent despite the bland exposition on the game’s mechanics – an early warning. Each episode seems to bring a new fault to light. First, it’s the mechanics, then it’s the timeskips, where months pass between episodes, skipping over important events, – SAO seems desperate to reach the end – and then it’s the protagonist, Kirito. Within four episodes, thousands have died, the top guild has cleared half the floors, and Kirito is level seventy-eight. We never see how he accomplishes this feat, a feat they swore was impossible a couple of episodes ago. Instead, we have to endure some new character, usually a girl, fawning over how amazing Kirito is before either they die off or we never see them again. The cycle repeats several times. The character dynamics never go full harem, as nothing really happens with these girls, but it is pathetic.

Where is the drama and politics of the world? Everyone faces death, yet after a few episodes, this feels like a bunch of kids at a LAN party – and one of them is a hacker.

I swear to you, Kirito is a hacker. There is no other explanation for how he gains power and has so many abilities. Kirito is just another Goku pulling shit out of his arse, deus ex machina after deus ex machina when convenient. The action is filled with false tension, as it quickly becomes apparent that Kirito will hack his way to victory each time – not before someone dies first, of course. It would make too much sense for Kirito to open with his winning abilities, wouldn’t it? There’s overpowered and then there’s Kirito.

Let’s say you don’t mind an OP character (I have received dozens of such recommendation requests before), is SAO still worth it? No. Kirito is only one of a dozen problems. Not far into the series, a romance plot takes over, which is decent for itself, but comes at the cost of the main plot – the writer had not the skill to weave both. Go a few episodes further, they reach a ‘new game mode,’ shall we call it, and it is terrible. The death IRL mechanic is gone, the plot devolves into mindless action – even less engaging than before – and the new characters provide nothing of value. They rushed for this? The first part wasn’t irredeemable. I cannot fathom why they didn’t extend the first part to flesh out the characters and events. Maybe while they’re at it, show us from where Kirito gets all these super-secret-special-awesome abilities. Kirito also has these melodrama monologues that have nothing to do with anything, but at this point, it’s the least of SAO’s problems.

The ending is lame. A reset to all stats? Really? This is worse than Bleach’s power resets.

As an MMO fan, another irksome fault is the lack of an MMO feel. I had hopes at the start when they made the G.I.R.L. joke (Guy In Real Life). Alas, we don’t get much more than that. Yes, they have dungeons, bosses, equipment, levels, NPCs, yet they don’t feel as they would in a game, even a VR one. SAO seems constructed for a shounen demographic first, art second (ironic, considering the title). And how did no one make a “Can I have your stuff?” joke when someone dies?

With such a furore surrounding this anime, I expected something good, not the greatest, mind you, but certainly better than this. Look, Sword Art Online starts well, gradually decreases in quality, and I like several side characters and how the romance has progression to it; however, with the advent of the new game mode, the quality tanks to atrocious levels. The disappointment hurts.

Art – Medium

Good, clean art; however, most establishing shots, such as when entering a new town, are complete stills – frozen characters with interchangeable faces. An overall lack of creativity to world design and abilities; little in Sword Art Online is visually memorable. This is a game where they could have had anything they wanted – anything! Pick any MMO today (one that doesn’t suck) and it boasts greater creativity.

Sound – Medium

Good acting in both languages – a matter of preference. The music is likely the strongest aspect, which sounds fitting for a fantasy MMO.

Story – Very Low

Sword Art Online is the story of a writer with a great idea he had no idea how to execute and who favoured his protagonist too much. Disappointing.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Not worth your time unless you have a desire for mindless entertainment. I cannot think of an anime that squandered its premise more than Sword Art Online – that honour used to belong to .hack//Sign, interestingly enough.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Deus Ex MachinaDissapointingHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionMary SueMisleadingPoor Pacing

Claymore – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Claymore

 

Similar: Berserk

Attack on Titan

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brutal action with interesting abilities and monsters.
  • Unnerving soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Bloody hell, will someone kill that kid already?
  • Poor exposition techniques.
  • Animation shortcuts in the action.
  • Unfinished threads.

Claymore is set in a world of bloodthirsty youma and warrior women who roam the land hunting these demons. Clare is the newest and lowest ranked of these warriors called Claymores – named after the giant swords they wield. Claymores are half-youma themselves; they live in constant danger of the youma half taking control, though it always happens eventually, at which point another Claymore sister will hunt them down.

The Claymore lore is the most interesting element of this anime. Claymores follow a strict code. They have little human about them and are cold by nature, which makes it unusual when Clare picks up orphaned boy Raki on a mission after a youma ate his family. That was her first mistake. Her second mistake was not running him through in the first episode. I hate that kid. He is a whiny, useless brat, who claims to be her cook, but he only cooks once, and most ironic of all, Claymores barely need to eat. His true purpose is to question Clare’s every action and motivation as if that is any of his business. Clare should decapitate that brat and put his head on a pike as a warning to other writers on what happens when you write such a terrible character.

Clare has a relentless determination as she carves demons, each fight a challenge for any Claymore – limb dismemberment and bifurcation is a common sight here. Meanwhile, Raki, a human who can’t fight to save his life, fancies himself Clare’s saviour. I almost forgot, another Raki irritation: exposition. The plot finds contrived ways to get Raki into a conversation that exposits lore – why tell that kid anything anyway?

I like the freaky monster designs. Even the Claymores turn demonic in combat when they access their youma side to grotesquely augment strength and regenerate damage. The women don’t suffer from the Beauty Is Never Tarnished trope.

Claymore is all about action, in the end, and you can expect to find plenty throughout Clare’s adventure. She encounters many other Claymores to learn from in her quest to avenge her figurative mother, Teresa (my favourite character), defeated by a former Claymore turned full youma. Each Claymore has a specialty in how they fight and sport some cool abilities, even if the animation quality can’t always supply the illustrations they deserve.

If you search for deep characters, you won’t find them here. If you desire a multi-layered plot, Claymore won’t deliver it to you. However, if you want brutal action accompanied by dark lore and powerful women with just enough to make an engaging tale, then look no further. Sometimes, action is enough for entertainment.

Art – Medium

Claymore has a nice, grim art style, but its battle anime budget resulted in too many animation shortcuts – repeated blur attacks, action flashes, cutaways before impact. Not as bad as the likes of Dragon Ball Z, and the action events are engaging, but a higher production could have gone a long way. Cool, sallow, hardened character designs for the Claymores (they must pluck their eyebrows a lot).

Sound – High

Good acting in either language, though, like most anime of this kind, Claymore doesn’t have the script for greatness. Love the Gothic horror metal (is that a genre?) soundtrack – ED song akin to Attack on Titan’s OP is great.

Story – Medium

Warrior women roaming the land to hunt demons; that is Claymore. Not the deepest premise, but it makes for an engaging action series. I do want to murder Raki, however. Stab him right in the face.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans only. Claymore sports better fights than most action anime, so if that sounds good to you, then have at it. I watched it start to end without regret.

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

 

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Weak End

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam 00

 

Related: Gundam 00 Season 2 (included in review)

Gundam 00 The Movie – A Wakening of the Trailblazer (conclusion – included in review)

Similar: Code Geass

Full Metal Panic!

Gundam SEED

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action Drama

Length: 25 episodes (S1), 25 Episodes (S2), 2 hr. movie

 

Positives:

  • A catalyst that grips from the get-go.
  • Sharp visuals and battle animations.
  • Varied and interesting Gundam designs.
  • Excellent acting in both languages.

Negatives:

  • Bland as bricks protagonist.
  • Ludicrous end to season 1, act 2.
  • Could do with more relationship conflict.
  • Several side characters receive far too much screen time before they become relevant.
  • Ultimate ending in the movie forgets why the story started.

In the year 2307, fossil fuels have depleted and the world has turned to solar power by building three orbital elevators to a ring of solar arrays in space. The world’s three alliances control an elevator each – Union (Americas), Human Reform League (most of Asia), and the AEU (Europe). However, smaller nations such as those of the Middle East don’t benefit from the arrays, forcing them into war for energy. Furthermore, the alliances secretly increase their military strength in defiance of the treaties. An independent group known as Celestial Being appears, intervening in wars and crushes all sides with the goal to end all conflict. They have the most powerful mechs the world has seen, allowing four Gundam Meisters to take on armies.

One of the best story pitches ever. Gundam 00 engaged me within minutes and kept the frames turning until the very end, despite its flaws.

We have a bloated cast here, but the focus is on the Meisters, Tieria, Allelujah, Lockon, and Setsuna, who receives the most screen time due to his Middle Eastern history. It’s a shame that he’s the dullest character. He barely says anything nor does he emote at all. He’s supposed to be the strong silent type, but delivers the bland nothing type. His archetype has a fine line between great and rubbish – I never find anyone in between. See Full Metal Panic’s Sagara (similar backstory to Setsuna, interestingly enough) for how it’s done.

The other pilots are good, Allelujah in particular with his split personality; however, while each pilot does have a short arc to illustrate their motivations, outside of those arcs, they lack interpersonal conflict, except Setsuna, for his birth country is at the centre of the main conflict. His plotline looking at child soldiers, religious fanaticism, and political conflict in a war-torn nation is interesting, but he isn’t.

Much of the cast bloating comes from a Chinese celebrity who helps fund Celestial Being, which the camera cuts to every episode, but all she does is sit there with a servant and make innocuous comments. Similar situation with uni student Saji and his girlfriend Louise; they serve to show the conflict from a civilian perspective without any effect on the plot until season two. Saji’s sister, a journalist reporting on Celestial Being, is more interesting and her investigations have conflict and tension that adds to the narrative. Saji and Louise should have been peripheral to her thread until needed.

Some dialogue made me cringe as well. Saji has to ask all the stupid questions on the audience’s behalf, though no one watching is that dumb. Setsuna (yet again) repeats barf-inducing line such as ‘I am a Gundam’ a dozen times throughout. I also hate the telekinetically linked dialogue thing they do – several people from different corners of the world, in no contact, finishing each other’s sentences by coincidence. Trying way too hard to be dramatic.

So, with these problems, how did Gundam 00 keep me watching? It’s because of the overall conflict. No faction misses the irony of using war to prevent war; the whole premise would have fallen flat if everyone had accepted Celestial Being as a great idea. In fact, a superpower uses Celestial Being to defeat an opponent, knowing they would have to interfere according to their own doctrine. Celestial Being has to intervene, always, regardless of which faction is in the wrong. The political game of RISK and its effects on the world economy and power is great to watch, and the best part of Gundam 00, coupled with intense action and a perfect pace.

Gundam 00 has its share of flaws, I grant you, and yet I have no qualms about recommending it anyone. Of course, if Gundam in general isn’t for you, this won’t be the series to convince you. For everyone else, get ready for an intense conflict that begs a marathon.

Movie: A Wakening of the Trailblazer – I get the impression the writers had no idea how to conclude such a strong opening premise. How does one end a story about achieving world peace? Well, world peace is out, since it isn’t realistic in any universe, but if it ends with more war, the audience won’t feel satisfied. So, what does one do? I’m not sure, but it certainly isn’t what A Wakening of the Trailblazer went with. The movie is rubbish. If the character names were changed and you didn’t know this was a sequel to Gundam 00, you wouldn’t guess they were related. Not required viewing. Movie Quality – Low

Art – High

Beautiful art, especially with those particle effects. Battles boast great choreography without resorting to repetition of animations. I love the mech designs, possibly my favourite in all of Gundam. Improves with season 2.

Sound – High

Really, the Gundam series in general has excellent acting in English from Ocean Production studio (Black Lagoon, Death Note, most Gundam dubs). No exception here. I enjoyed the OPs, and the music in general is good, but it doesn’t live up to the likes of Gundam SEED.

Story – Medium

An incredible start to a global conflict, unfortunately, distracted from by side characters brought in too soon and an episode that nukes the fridge in the second act. Too little character conflict and a one-note protagonist weakened my engagement to the individuals.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for fans of Gundam action. Even with a few weak aspects, I found Gundam 00 thoroughly enjoyable for its sharp action and production quality. I watched all episodes within a few days.

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

Positive:

Stellar Voice ActingStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Weak End

Midori Days – Review

Japanese Title: Midori no Hibi

 

Similar: Please Teacher

Toradora!

Hand Maid May

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The premise of a girlfriend as a right hand is hilarious.
  • Both voice tracks bring a good level of cute energy and hot-headedness to the narrative.

Negatives:

  • Structure is as generic as possible for the genre.
  • Attempts at drama fail miserably – another trait in common with other anime of this type.
  • Introduces the obligatory third wheel love interest of the genre, who does nothing but annoy, and is frankly creepy.

Imagine if you woke up one day and a miniaturised girl replaced your right hand. Well, that’s what happened to seventeen-year-old Seiji, a regular school tough guy, who now has to deal with a girlfriend of the overly attached variety. Seiji never had a girlfriend, for despite being the toughest guy in school, he’s too scary for the girls and keeps striking out. (I guess girls don’t love a bad boy in this world.) She is Midori, a girl who had a secret crush on him and one day wished that she could be his girlfriend. Treguna mekoides trecorum satis dee and swoosh, she’s now his right hand.

Of course, he rebels at first, desperate to undo the change, panicking at what this will do to his gangster rep if others find out. He resorts to bandaging her up and feigning injury. She isn’t powerless however, capable of pulling him by the hand wherever she pleases. After much protest, he accepts his hand’s fate, and they start to work together as hand and host. She does her best to help around the house, cooking and knitting for him, which leads to much hilarity, especially when going out with friends and shopping. Midori Days will make you laugh.

It’s a shame that the drama subplot interferes with the humour. The main drama thread is Midori’s real body; she’s in coma back at her family estate where her mother weeps over her body. This leads to nothing of importance and feels as though it was included to have something there to explain her side of the story, which is passable at least. On the other hand (heh heh), the rest of the drama is just rubbish. There’s a throwaway sub-plot about why he’s a tough guy and how it affects his friends. Worst of all is the drama involving a ten-year-old girl from the neighbourhood. This is where Midori Days enters into creepy territory and not because of the girlfriend for a hand, as I am sure everyone imagines upon hearing the premise. Despite a dozen or so moments of nudity, the core relationship never gets weird, focusing on the comedy rather than the ‘sex’ factor. This ten-year-old however, wants nothing more than to get into pants while she whines endlessly about her stepmother. Shut. Up!

If you enjoyed the likes of Please Teacher then Midori Days is for you. Yes, you will notice the same narrative beats found everywhere in this anime type (sudden appearance; adaptation; little girl crush; high school crush; separation; reconciliation) and it suffers from the same forced drama, but it does have a good amount of humour. Not for kids, of course.

Art – Medium

Standard visuals and animation with nothing terribly bad, and that’s okay for anime of this type.

Sound – Medium

Like the art, the audio is stock standard, except for the protagonists’ voice work. Midori’s voice enhances her cuteness, delivered equally well in both English and Japanese. Seiji’s voice actors are also good, bringing the right energy and hot-tempered attitude to the character. The rest of the cast is adequate (the little girl is an annoying $%&#).

Story – Medium

While the premise is unique and filled with laughs, the rubbish drama can’t help but wrap its hideous tendrils around the narrative.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch Midori Days if you are looking for an enjoyable romantic comedy with an interesting premise. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed.

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

Positive:

Charm

Negative: 

ShallowUseless Side Cast

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – Anime Review

Japanese Title: JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken (2012)

 

Related: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (sequel)

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (old version)

Similar: Fist of the North Star

Gurren Lagann

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Action Adventure

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Humorous melodrama from over the top characters, particularly the villain, Dio.
  • Such MANLINESS.
  • Stylish retro throwback art.
  • Great opening theme for part one.

Negatives:

  • The comedic melodrama lessens the impact of serious moments.
  • The second half is weaker mainly due to a duller villain than the first half.
  • The rules of the supernatural power ‘Hamon’ are poorly established.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure may just be the manliest tale— No, it’s MANLIEST; if your beard doesn’t grow an inch when you say it, then you’re doing it wrong. So, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure may just be the MANLIEST tale ever told in anime. It follows Jonathan Joestar, JoJo for short, and his aristocratic lineage’s fight against a cursed mask that turns humans into vampires, MANLY vampires. 19th century England invaded by manga logic of blocking blades with bare hands, powering up, and sculpted arse cheeks, best sums up JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

The adventure starts with the arrival of Dio, the son of a thief, who helped JoJo’s father years ago. Dio is a douche, a MANLY douche intent on taking over JoJo’s life of luxury. In public, he acts a gentleMAN, but is aggressive and cruel behind the scenes – he burns JoJo’s dog alive – and will do anything for power. Once Dio dons the cursed mask, turning vampire, JoJo makes it his mission to defeat Dio. You really aren’t prepared for the levels of MAN involved in the conflict between JoJo and Dio. Even draining blood is MANLY; rather than the sexy bite to the neck, vampires sink their fingers into one’s flesh like hoses to extract blood. This anime is Gears of War if it embraced its homoeroticism.

They get into fights and have over the top rivalries with smack talk. It works well here because the anime makes its style clear and that you should not take it too seriously. The, let’s be honest, cheerleader of the group, Speedwagon, delivers lines of melodrama even Shakespeare couldn’t dream of. (He and the narrator could do with less telling of the action that we can already see.) Even the tragic moments are overly melodramatic on purpose. This does lessen the impact of serious and emotional scenes, however, which may bother some viewers.

To counter vampirism, heroes can harness the power of ‘Hamon,’ which seems to invent its rules as it goes along. Hamon starts as a Qi-like power that sends out energy waves, but later has magnetic properties and the power of foresight. Huh? This gives the impression that the writer didn’t plan the parameters of the power early in the series. Adding new effects at later stages is fine, but it needs to make sense. If you establish that a character’s superpower is ice control, you can’t add telekinesis out of nowhere. That said, this wasn’t a serious issue, just jarring each time.

My other complaint is the weaker second half when the story jumps two generations to JoJo’s grandson, Joseph Joestar – so, still JoJo – where the new villain isn’t as interesting as Dio. Without the personal connection between hero and villain, I found my engagement slipping, particularly when the narrative beats are so similar between parts one and two. It was still enjoyable, though I would advise against a marathon of both parts in succession. Have a break in between.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is such a campy series that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. Before I started, I didn’t know much about this anime beyond the supernatural premise in England. I expected a Brothers Grimm sort of adventure; instead, I got the MANLIEST anime in existence.

Art – High

JoJo uses a vibrant colour pallet that changes with the mood and tone of the scene. With turquoise, violet, scarlet, and many more, this anime has more colours than a Mardi Gras parade, suiting its campy style perfectly. The action is heavily stylised through texture, colour blocks, background streaks that don’t look awful (if you can believe it) and audio text, 60s Batman style. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is how you do a retro throwback without looking dated. My only real complaint is the inconsistency of animation; in calm scenes, the animation can be jerky, while it’s much smoother during action.

Sound – High

The audio quality is high in all departments. Of note are the first opening theme and the melodramatic voice acting.

Story – High

A multi-generational story of MANLY MEN fighting the undead with power of MANLINESS. The heroes and first villain are hilarious to watch, flexing at each other in the middle of a fight with more homoeroticism than a Mr Universe contest. I found the first half more engaging than the second.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it unless you dislike exaggerated characters and campiness. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a fun, retro anime that doesn’t take itself too seriously as it flexes its biceps the size of Britain in your face.

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

 

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

Positive: 

Great OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None