Tag Archives: Shounen

Young Adult boys as the target audience.

Trigun – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Trigun

 

Related: Trigun: Badlands Rumble (movie side story, included in the review)

Similar: Cowboy Bebop

Black Lagoon

Trinity Blood

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes & a movie

 

Positives:

  • Hilarious for a good portion of the series.
  • Art that holds up well, despite the age. (1998!)
  • The episodic arcs have believable characters with interesting stories to tell.
  • A savage, lawless world.

Negatives:

  • Consequences of pacifism ideology don’t go far enough.
  • Narrative wimps out at the end for convenience when on the brink.
  • Lack of humour in the last third makes for a deceptive setup.

It feels like only yesterday I watched Trigun, laughing with a friend at Vash’s hysterics all those years ago. One of the first anime I watched, actually. Even back then, Trigun was considered old. Trigun comes from an era that dropped the hippie hairstyles and knew audiences could handle adult themes in a medium saturated with ‘he’s-not-really-dead’ narratives. Ironic, considering the pacifist theme in Trigun.

Vash the Stampede is the man with a sixty-billion dollar bounty on his needly-haired head, for everywhere he goes, nothing but destruction follows. He’s said to be a womaniser and the worst man ever. In reality, he’s a coward and a pacifist who feels queasy at the sight of blood. The destruction is a result of bounty hunters doing whatever it takes to claim the prize. So really, he does leave cities in rubble wherever he goes, just not by his own hand. Tailing him are Meryl and Milly, two insurance agents investigating monetary claims for damages caused by Vash. Meryl, serious about damage control, acts as a foil to Vash’s idiocy, whereas Milly provides extra muscle with the minigun she keeps stashed under her coat.

Vash’s policy is one of non-violence where possible and absolutely no killing, even to the point of stupidity. He gets by on skill and plenty of luck. With only rumours to go on, bounty hunters often miss Vash as he cowers behind the bar. Vash is so pathetic in person that no one believes he’s the human typhoon when they meet him, making for easy escapes.

For the first third of Trigun, Vash switches between charm and absolute silliness where comedy takes most of the screen time. Come the middle, we see a serious side to Vash, as bounty hunters get more dangerous and his past catches up to him. By the final third, humour has all but evaporated along with Vash’s lighter side. He still clings to his idealistic views, but has little to joke about. My problem is with the third section. Starting Trigun, one gets the impression of a hilarious action-comedy with a hint of seriousness; however, the later it goes, the drearier it gets. Blind turns in storytelling are great as long as what’s around the corner is awesome. In Trigun’s case, not so much. The narrative builds, showing the consequences of his naïve pacifism, and builds further towards Vash confronting his past, facing his choices. Until the final episode, Trigun is pulling back for that knockout out punch, but when it comes to delivery, it’s no more than a flick to the nose, Vash let off easy for convenience. No sacrifice made. No lesson learned.

That is not to say Trigun is bad, but it does suffer a lot because of an unwillingness to push a character over the edge. It makes me wish they had kept the comedy for longer since the seriousness delivered a let-down. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed Trigun’s world of bounty hunters, gunfights, and shady business.

Trigun: Badlands Rumble

Badlands Rumble is a non-canon movie, akin to an extended episode. It follows notorious robber Gasback on a mission of revenge against his former crew for stabbing him in the back. Hundreds of bounty hunters gather in Macca City, Gasback’s next target to claim the three-hundred million reward. Vash is caught up in the affair, as always, and so are the regulars from Trigun.

Both visual and audio quality show great improvement, which is to be expected twelve years later. Even though Trigun still looks great, seeing it updated in Badlands Rumble makes a great case for remaking all art and sound in the original. As far as story goes, this won’t appeal to those who aren’t already Trigun fans. It still has the weak pacifism that castrates any lasting consequences throughout the movie.

Art – High

While the visuals look their age, they hold up because the artists put effort into the animation and Wild West style of Trigun. The remastered edition touches it up a little. Badlands Rumble shows the excellent visuals if remade.

Sound – High

Voice work is good in both languages; however, some lines in English are rushed to fit the lip flaps. A soundtrack of rock and electric guitar riffs for the action and sax solos when it relaxes. Sound effects are underwhelming, especially given the amount of gunfire. Ending theme sounds awful, like a Walkman running out of batteries or a drunkard drowning in the city fountain.

Story – High

Vash as a character is interesting, bolstered by a robust, even if at times underdeveloped, side cast. His journey fleeing from his past and his power is a mix of humorous and emotional elements. Shame the author didn’t push reality far enough.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Highly recommended to those who like emotion layered on top of action-comedy. Trigun starts hilarious before it transitions into seriousness as Vash faces the consequences of his choices, which, outside of a few stumbles, is well worth your time.

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

Positive:

Charm

Negative: 

Weak End

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ZOIDS New Century Zero – Review

Japanese Title: Zoids Shin Seiki/Zero

 

Related: Zoids (same setting)

Zoids Genesis (same setting)

Similar: Mobile Fighter G Gundam

IGPX Immortal Grand Prix

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • The mecha Zoids are cool in design.
  • Fights are interesting and varied.
  • The English voice work is great.
  • Plenty of humour.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t explore character and narrative as much as it could have.
  • A couple of reused attack and transformation animations.
  • Dumb luck and contrivance wins some fights.

I first watched Zoids New Century during its release stint in English. My younger sibling was obsessed with the show, which inadvertently got me interested in the series – not that I had a choice with only one TV in the house as a teen. Watching it again a decade later for review, I wasn’t expecting much. I theorised that any positive opinion I had regarding the anime was likely nothing more than nostalgia. Battle anime aimed at a young audience don’t incite high hopes. However, it turns out that Zoids NC is a good show, far better than anticipated.

Zoids New Century is set 4000 years after the classic Zoids series, and other than the use of robot Zoids, the two series have little in common. Where the classic had an adventure narrative, New Century is closer to traditional battle anime with fights lasting an episode or two – this is one of Zoids’s strengths; the fights don’t drag on for a dozen episodes each. In its twenty-six episodes, Zoids has more battles than Dragon Ball Z does in a hundred. These battles centre on protagonist Bit Cloud, pilot of the Liger Zero, and his supporting pilots Brad the mercenary, Leena the rage machine, Jamie the timid tactician, and Doc Toros the Zoid engineer. Together, they make the Blitz Team.

The premise is simple. Teams fight against each other in sanctioned battles, usually 3 vs. 3, though it varies on occasion. Bit infiltrates the Blitz Team and steals the Liger Zero, a temperamental Zoid that refused to allow anyone to pilot it due to its stubborn and impetuous AI. After winning a battle for them, the team allows him aboard (not before Leena rages at him for taking the spotlight in the battle).

The battles have good variety with each opponent bringing their own strengths to overcome that shape the battle’s theme. While not overly strategic, each battle has good back and forth, and not the typical smash faces together until someone wins. The main flaw is that dumb luck wins a few fights early on, but this isn’t a big problem. It also helps that the characters are fun. Sure, they may not have incredible emotional depth or tortured souls, but they bring life and enthusiasm to the narrative, especially in the English voice track, and don’t have anything stupid about them.

The narrative never gets heavy handed, keeping its focus on the battles. Even when the villainous Backdraft Group comes in (similar to Team Rocket – not Jesse and James) humour remains with their focus on cheating to win, even so far as to bring in their own snarky robot judge to favour the villains. Harry Champ, a man destined to be king, is a hilarious antagonist, who keeps trying to defeat Bit with his expensive Zoids because he thinks Leena is Bit’s girlfriend, and Harry has the hots for her.

The creators knew what made for an engaging battle anime and stuck to it. While Zoids is safe, it works and is an enjoyable watch.

Art – Medium

Zoids makes great use of CG for the mechs, blending them into the standard art, one of the early examples to do so successfully, even if repeated on occasion. At first, you may notice the CG, but it doesn’t take long to fade.

Sound – High

Battle sounds and Zoid roars work well. Ocean Group (Vancouver studio known for Black Lagoon and Gundam) did a great job with a strong cast of actors that brought out their personalities much more than the Japanese had. Bit and Leena in particular have much greater range and emotion.

Story – Medium

Though safe, the characters are good enough to carry the show and bring life to the narrative.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A good show for anyone looking to have fun with a fast-paced battle anime about dinosaur robots beating the snot out of each other.

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

Positive:

Positive Recommended English Voice Track

Negative: None

Bakuman – Review

Japanese Title: Bakuman.

 

Related: Bakuman – season 2

Similar: Shirobako

Space Brothers

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Art Slice of Life

Length: 25 episodes (Season 1)

 

Positives:

  • Good pacing that details the manga creation process.
  • Real characters with ordinary problems.

Negatives:

  • Low tension reduces engagement over long sessions.
  • Doesn’t hit the needed emotional peak.
  • Romance lacks conflict.
  • Poor antagonist that never feels threatening.

For fans of manga, which I assume would be most anime fans, Bakuman is a dramatized behind-the-scenes look at the process of publication and serialisation of your favourite works.

One day, Saiko, a depressed and unambitious teen, returns to class after school’s end to retrieve a forgotten notebook, only to find it in the hands of classmate Takagi. He panics, his mind jumping to the sketches of his secret crush contained within the notebook. Takagi tells him not to look so worried; after all, it’s not as though it is a Death Note. In exchange for Takagi’s silence about the unrequited love, Saiko must join him in becoming full-fledged manga creators – Takagi as the writer, Saiko the artist. And so begins their journey on the road to publication.

This is an anime for those who read manga, preferably Shounen Jump, where Bakuman was first serialised. For anyone unfamiliar, Shounen Jump (also known as ‘Jack’) is a weekly publication in Japan with a variety of manga including Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, and many other popular works. Having your work serialised in such a magazine, and for it to be a hit with fans, is a big deal. In Bakuman, you will spot many manga – unfortunately, it all seems to be work published in Jump, which makes Bakuman look like an advertisement reel.

Following the new partnership, Takagi drags Saiko to the house of his crush, Azuki, who reveals she wants to be a voice actor and agrees to play the heroine of their series when turned into anime. Things don’t go as expected when Saiko yells out that he wants to marry her once they achieve their goals (remember, they are only fourteen at this point) and what do you know, she agrees. While this is a ridiculous setup to the relationship, it doesn’t continue in such a manner, instead walking a more subdued path for the show’s remainder; so subdued in fact, that there really is little conflict in this romance. The secondary relationship of Takagi and his girlfriend has far more screen time. In a way, you get the feeling that the romance was an afterthought to increase the number of plotlines from one to…two.

Saiko now has something to achieve. However, things aren’t as easy as imagined since voice actors become successful at a younger age than mangaka, meaning she may be gone by the time he amounts to anything. He must succeed before completion of high school. These are solid, well-rounded characters with goals like everyone else, and I appreciated that. For the most part, this show keeps the character development and interactions within the realm of realism.

Bakuman is more of a feel-good show than one that explores the emotional intensity of aiming for stardom. While, yes, it does have moments of failure, setbacks, and disappointment, it never portrays the turmoil quite as it could have and should have. Anyone who has had to go through that journey of trying to become a successful artist of any medium on talent alone – no help, no family inheritance, no connections – will tell you that it isn’t easy, that emotions run high, and at the best of times, you feel like the best you can do is tread water. I would go so far as to say that they should have included the emotional intensity of a show like Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien to capture that internal struggle. With that, Bakuman could have been one of my favourite anime.

The main antagonist offers little in the form of adversity. He is a manga prodigy, set for serialisation in his mid-teens and in competition for the same publication spots as them. My problem with this character is that we’re told he is great, never shown a reason why. He’s weird in your stereotypical young genius way, making constant sound effect noises with the behaviour of a two-year-old. Bakuman plays things too nice.

The best aspect of the show is the detail they put into the manga creation process from idea to print, the writers disguising it within an anime to prevent it feeling documentary-like. To top it off, you also get a taste of the manga they design. You aren’t just told about their work without ever seeing the results, as most career shows will do. One even hopes that some of their stories become real manga. Money & Intelligence, a one-shot set in a world where people can sell their intelligence directly into another’s mind, sounds great. I want to read it!

Bakuman is a worthwhile anime, particularly if you are a fan of manga. It doesn’t suffer from anything inherently awful, and yet never hits that greatness it could have. Still, I do recommend Bakuman to anyone who wants an enjoyable viewing experience.

Art – High

The art style is nothing special, but is neat and varied from your typical anime. Seeing them draw a variety of manga styles in one show is a treat.

Sound – Medium

Sound falls into much the same area as art: good, though not remarkable. None of the voice work is poor or irritating, except the antagonist, and the music is pleasant enough. The good opening song sounds like Japan’s version of the Backstreet Boys with that one song you thought was decent, but would never ever admit to.

Story – Medium

Better than most journey-to-career-success anime. Lacks emotional intensity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Bakuman is more enjoyable than its individual qualities let on, in particular for those who want to see the manga creation process.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingLacks Conflict

Angel Heart – Review

Japanese Title: Angel Heart

 

Related: City Hunter (main series)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Noir

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Comedy

Length: 50 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Has a good sense of humour, particularly involving City Hunter.
  • City Hunter is a great character with an equally good voice actor.
  • Haunting music enhances the sombre moments.
  • Starts strong, but…

Negatives:

  • …the plot wanes after thirteen episodes and goes on too long.
  • Start isn’t indicative of the remainder of the series.
  • The few supernatural elements are vague.

Ever watched a show that starts about one thing, only to change direction part way in? Angel Heart is one such show.

Angel Heart starts regarding an accelerated growth fourteen-year-old assassin, codename Glass Heart, who has a sudden moral crisis after killing a little girl’s father. Glass Heart kills herself by leaping off a tall building. However, the organisation she worked for revives her using advanced medical technology and transplanting a new heart into her. This heart belonged to recent accident victim, Kaori, and causes problems for Glass Heart, as she recalls memories and emotions of its original owner.

We are plunged into two minds: the killer instinct of Glass Heart and the kind mercy of Kaori. As Kaori’s thoughts seek out her fiancé, City Hunter – a former assassin turned good guy for hire – police officer Saeko investigates the theft of the donor heart alongside City Hunter, who swears to kill whoever has it. Memories flash through Glass Heart’s mind, conflicting opinions of what she feels for people, and which sentiments are truly hers.

Thirteen episodes in, all this changes as the psychological conflict is no more, the serious tone dropped for a lighter-hearted atmosphere, and the show loses any central plot. It becomes a case-by-case serial where City Hunter takes on various clients. For the most part these individual cases are interesting in their own few-episode stories, but with no overarching plot, there’s nothing to keep me going. Unless it’s a comedy or a near movie-length detective serial (think Poirot), one simply can’t follow this format – yes, one could have a few individual stories peppered throughout, just not as a basis for the show. The arcs themselves also linger for an episode after resolution. The intricate web of X is related to Y, but Y works for Z, while Z wants to kill X, however, A is spying on Y, yet A isn’t what he seems, etc. from the first arc is swept away.

There are a few other minor story related problems; the occasional supernatural elements are poorly explained or vague. The blind barman for example, can know who people are by simply being near them. In fact, this show has that whole ridiculous ‘sense someone’s aura’ to know what sort of a person they are – assassins identify each other this way. Fortunately, this doesn’t amount to much as no conflict is solved through this, meaning it could be removed without effect. There is also that common action trope where bullets seem incapable of hitting a target when convenient, despite being surrounded.

It’s all a real shame, as the characters are quite good: Glass Heart with her dual mind, Mochi the sissy son of a Yakuza boss who has to do whatever people can rope him into, and the blind barman who knocks sense into City Hunter when needed. City Hunter himself is the strongest of the lot, equal parts comedic perv and action man; he’s a good character with plenty of diversity to him. His voice actor does an exceptional job of transitioning from his serious tone to his comedic idiolect. The humour of this show is well executed, even during its occasional presence in the first thirteen episodes, yet it still isn’t enough to carry like in other anime – FMP: Fumoffu, Trigun, etc.

Angel Heart could have been a great show if it had stuck to its original idea of exploring the morality of an assassin. Instead, we are left with many tacked on episodes. It should have been no more than thirteen to sixteen episodes like the original series, City Hunter ’91.

Art – Medium

The art matches the tone of the show’s first thirteen episodes with a mature style found in films such as Perfect Blue and Ghost in the Shell. There is some creative psychedelic imagery at the start, but along with the tone change, such creativity is lost, leaving the unimaginative behind.

Sound – High

The acting is great, even for side characters, and I was pleased to see use of other languages (Chinese, Korean) not just Japanese – in anime, everyone tends to speak Japanese as a first language regardless of what country they hail from. The music is good, ranging from mystery to pop to electro.

Story – Medium

Strong start with the story of a conflicted assassin that unfortunately wanes too soon and stretches too far.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch the first thirteen episodes, rest at your own discretion.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingMisleadingWeak End