Tag Archives: Supernatural

Contains elements beyond the means of reality and science, yet still in our world.

Hand Shakers – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hand Shakers

 

Similar: Kiddy Grade

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Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • None that I can imagine.

Negatives:

  • The CG. That awful, awful
  • Camera won’t keep still.
  • Meaningless action.
  • Predictable in every way.
  • The music loops.
  • The whole handholding gimmick.
  • Amounts to nothing.

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Jesus. Christ. Welcome to CG hell.

Hand Shakers doesn’t even try to ease you into its septic tank; it shoves you in with the opening scene, where a kid ties a girl in bondage with the worst CG chains as he demands more power of her (by stomping on her crotch), unleashing more hideous chains across the duel arena. Maybe if they spent less time on the boob physics and more on the animation, it wouldn’t haunt the audience for life. One scene, that’s all it takes to know you are in for some grade-A slop.

In the world of Hand Shakers, designated couples can summon powers known as Nimrods by holding hands to duel other such ‘Hand Shakers’ in the alternate plane, Ziggurat. The couple that defeats all others will earn a meeting with God to have a single wish granted.

Where these powers come from exactly, how they work, why God would have this absurd tournament, or how these people got chosen, aren’t questions for which you should be seeking answers. Hand Shakers will give you nothing. Its true desire is to shove that CG down your throat until you’re gagging out of every orifice.

People think Berserk 2016’s CG is bad – it is – but it has nothing on Hand Shakers. Why do these CG-heavy shows treat the camera like a dog toy, throwing it about everywhere as though angles, shot composition, and timing don’t matter? Hand Shakers’ camera cannot seem to keep still. Just because you don’t have to redraw characters when changing angles, does not mean you have to swing the camera around like a drunk. One early scene has Protagonist Kid talking to some girl in class and out of nowhere, the camera circles around the pair (now in full CG) in a sweeping motion as if to suggest something grand is happening. You want to know what they’re talking about? How much he concentrates when tinkering with electronics. Woah, easy there! There’s no need to leap out of your seat with excitement. I know this camera just blew your mind, but keep it in your pants, please.

When filming the action of meaningless nonsense, the camera is jittery, flying all over the place with no rhyme or reason. The artist’s graphics card also needs an upgrade to hit more than 15FPS. Hand Shakers looks even better with the random use of fish eye lens and this screen filter that darkens the bottom of every shot. Is the ground supposed to be darker? Who cares!

The greatest, the crowning glory of this eyesore graces our eyes in episode six. Now, those chains looked bad, Protagonist Kid’s cogs (yes, his power is controlling cogs) are eye cancer made manifest, and characters changing to CG on the fly is as jarring as pickles in a sealed glass container, yet none of these come close to episode six. In this episode, Protagonist Kid and his dead-loli partner fight against the Children’s Card Game Kid and his big sister (she wants to bang that shota dingle-dangle – what a shocker). Card Kid’s power is summoning monsters from his TCG. When he summoned that Flame Emperor Dragon, I pissed myself with laughter. My expectations were already at the bottom of the cliff – I couldn’t go any lower, and then Hand Shakers proved me wrong. My expectations were now falling towards Earth’s core.

All the ugliness could be tolerable if the story and characters were good. No. None of this anime is good. The entire gimmick is that the main couple must hold hands for everything – the girl will die for some reason if he lets go. Could you be any lamer? I swear this is the author’s fetish, expressed by self-inserting into this nonsense. It’s the only explanation for this handholding obsession. Oh, you know those powers called Nimrods? Nimrod is an archaic insult, meaning idiot. Fitting.

Hand Shakers is also predictable. See two people together – one male, one female – in an episode? They will be the next opponents. (Do try to act surprised when they reveal themselves.)

None of the dialogue says anything throughout this story and the characters are equally empty, no more so than the loli girl Protagonist Kid enjoys going to the bathroom with (“The rules say we must hold hands at all times, so you must let me watch you tinkle!”). She has no personality. Like with all characters in this rubbish trope, this is by design because it makes her “mysterious” and “deep.” When she does show emotion later on, it makes no difference.

Remember the ‘never let go’ rule? Well, it doesn’t matter, for he does let go several times to no consequence. In one instance, he’s so distracted by a conveyer system at a restaurant that he doesn’t realise she’s gone, somehow vanished in an open area with few people around. The writer was too lazy to include a crowd to add some believability to this shallow conflict.

So, like every aspect of Hand Shakers, it all amounts to nothing in the end.

Art – Very Low

Ugly CG permeates every scene. The camera swings about wildly because it can. Fish eye lens. Shading filters. More boob physics than any other animation. Jittery camera. Some imagery is nice, but the list of artistic problems never ends in Hand Shakers.

Sound – Very Low

Was this truly successful enough to warrant localisation? No actor could make this script sound good. I swear to you that each track loops the same twenty seconds of music.

Story – Very Low

People who gain power by holding hands as a couple fight each other to gain a wish from God. Hand Shakers is a predictable mess that results in nothing.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Hand Shakers is only for those with a morbid curiosity of the worst CG anime can offer. Not even ‘so bad it’s good.’

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Awful DialogueHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionIncoherentMary SueNo DevelopmentRepetitiveRubbish Major CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

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The Boy and the Beast – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bakemono no Ko

 

Similar: Wolf Children

Sword of the Stranger

Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 58 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Good humoured fun.
  • Fluid animation.

Negatives:

  • Main antagonist out of nowhere.
  • Feeble setup.
  • Characters are rather shallow.
  • World left unexplored.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So far, Mamoru Hosoda has been two for two with me on his films, Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt through Time. Can he hit the hat-trick?

Nope.

At its core, The Boy and the Beast is a story of two externally different people that share the same internal strengths and weaknesses. One is a boy, the other a beast.

Kumatetsu is in line for the throne after the current beast lord ascends to godhood. Kumatetsu’s chances don’t look good, however, with his anti-social behaviour and being weaker than his rival, who is loved by all beasts. He sets out into the human world to find an apprentice and prove he is worthy. For no real reason, he chooses runaway Ren, who lost his mother in an accident and whose father has dropped all responsibility, and renames him Kyuuta. They return to the beast world and begin living together as dysfunctional roommates while one tries to teach the other to fight.

A lack of thought shows itself early in The Boy and the Beast. Our first introduction to Ren/Kyuuta is of him wandering around Shibuya, angry at the world and everyone in it. He yells in the middle of the street about hating everyone. ‘Cringelord’ comes to mind. There is no subtlety to the conveyance of his emotions and personality. This introduction screams of a writer trying too hard to tell us what we should think of his character.

What follows is the pairing between Kyuuta and Kumatetsu, which has no ground to stand on. We never see reason as to why Kumatetsu chose Kyuuta. Yes, later it shows us that both share much in common, feeling like outcasts from their societies and without much to be proud of. However, Kumatetsu knows none of this on first meeting. For all he knows, Kyuuta could be a kid separated from his mother while shopping. He just declares Kyuuta as the best candidate for apprenticeship.

After this bad start, the story improves greatly with its chemistry between the boy and the beast. Now is where I can see the Mamoru Hosoda that made his previous films great. The constant back and forth, balance-counterbalance dynamic of two delinquents getting on each other’s nerves, yet still feeling camaraderie works perfectly. It’s believable, engaging, and funny. A highlight is the first sword-training lesson from Kumatetsu. “You grip it and bang! That’s it.” Instant swordsmaster! “What?” Great lesson there, mate.

The Boy and the Beast is a tricky beast – pardon the pun – for its faults aren’t clear until the film is almost over. You start with these questions and unresolved threads, which is to be expected of course, assuming the story’s direction is to answer these questions and resolve those threads. Not until the finale do you realise none of those questions had answers and the threads they started aren’t the ones they ended. The worst of this is the villain. He comes out of nowhere in the finale. When he popped up, I thought he would be a throwaway before the real threat takes the stage. But no, he is the villain. That’s what you were building up to all this time? He is irrelevant.

The third act retroactively crushes The Boy and the Beast. Other than the villain, you realise Kumatetsu and Kyuuta have no payoffs to their arcs, missing that seal to justify all that came before. Oh yeah, whatever happened to that girl back in the human world? Then you realise we saw little of the beast world and how its society works. Why do these kings need an apprentice to claim the throne? If it’s a test to cure Kumatetsu of his anti-social behaviour unfit for a king, why is that necessary? He would be king, not your best bud. How does any of the beast world operate? Why does the lord need to retire? Not all of these questions need answers, but you do need to give something for the audience to latch onto.

In the end, The Boy and the Beast leaves me with nothing. I will forget this film in a week.

Art – High

The animation is fluid and the environments gorgeous, but the characters’ lack of shading is a noticeable during day scenes.

Sound – High

Solid music and acting. The dub doesn’t shove in celebrities, much like other Mamoru Hosoda works, so it’s good in either language.

Story – Low

A beastman takes in a runaway boy to raise him as a warrior in a fight for the throne. The story sadly doesn’t dive deep enough into its world or characters to create a meaningful connection with the audience.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The Boy and the Beast isn’t good enough to be necessary viewing, nor is it bad enough not to warrant a chance. You may find more value its good qualities than I did.

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

Positive: 

Fluid Animation

Negative: 

Hollow World Building

Noragami – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Noragami

 

Related: Noragami Aragato (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Kamisama Kiss

Soul Eater

Bleach

Ah! My Goddess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Good fun.
  • Solid all-round.

Negatives:

  • Nothing stands out.
  • First season has little plot.
  • Lots of side tracking.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Japan’s Shinto religion, which Noragami borrows from, has hundreds of gods across all levels, from the goddess Amaterasu to your dead granny. With so many gods, some of them, surely, must be trash. Yato is one such trash god. The toilet god gets shrines, but this God of Calamity Yato doesn’t even have a birdhouse for people to pray at.

On a quest to build a shrine of his own, he takes odd jobs – bathroom cleaner, babysitting, etc. – for 5-yen payments at a time. Maybe his problem is that he’s so bad at business. Who knows…? High school girl Hiyori saves him from becoming road kill on one such odd job to find a lost cat. Alas, she takes the truck hit in his place, but instead of meeting death, it kicks her spirit from her body. While she can re-enter her body, she now periodically falls asleep and separates again to roam as a spirit with Yato.

Noragami tells us its main goal is to fix Hiyori’s predicament. However, it quickly abandons this direction to focus on Yato’s predicament as a trash god and his dark past that led him here. Before this, he needs a new spirit weapon after his previous weapon demanded release from serving such a trash god. Weapons in Noragami are born of human-like spirits, who transform into a weapon at their master’s command. Yato finds Yukine, a nubile spirit with potential that first needs human discipline. The weapons being people with emotions and a consciousness raises several interesting questions about the morality of their servitude. Either way you shake it, these spirits are slaves to the gods. One god may claim all her weapons are family, yet it doesn’t erase that their will is bound to her whims. This element, which many anime would have forgotten, is Noragami’s strongest and a thoughtful addition to character-with-monsters-for-weapons anime.

Once Yukine establishes himself as Yato’s new weapon, the plot moves onto another god and her obsession with killing Yato for a past crime. This is when the plot gets going and largely takes place in season 2. The first season is a lot of meandering and side tracking. Yukine as the focus isn’t interesting enough to warrant stalling the main plot for so long, more so because he’s the weakest of the cast. Noragami has a problem with being side tracked. If it’s not Yukine’s problem, it’s some other supporting character than needs help in a way that doesn’t influence the main plot. Season 1 comes down to a monster-of-the-week formula.

This chain of side tracking reminds of old point and click games. Alright, your goal is to open that door, so you need a key, but to get that key you need to help the hag on the hill, yet to help the hag, you must learn to cook, though cooking requires a journey to Nepal, where a monk will talk to you about the weather. Only then can you go all the way back to get the key (if you read the manga that is, for the anime doesn’t advance the first thread). Noragami’s threads at least relate to each other more than the nonsense I’ve just spouted, though their disconnected feel stems from each side quest eclipsing the main. It doesn’t feel as though Yato searches for a new weapon while helping Hiyori. Instead, one erases the other from existence until resolved, only for it to face erasure again when a new side quest pops up. This isn’t a serious issue, yet was an easy fix in the draft stage.

The saving grace among side quests is the humour. Noragami is consistently funny. Yato is a comedy machine when paired with Hiyori, whose narcolepsy jokes never get old. That said, a joke seems to act as a full stop to any serious scene, as if the writers were afraid of allowing the story to be serious for a moment.

I haven’t much to say about Noragami, for it doesn’t stand out in any aspect nor does it fail miserably in any either. My above criticisms aren’t experience-breaking issues while at the same time, the parts I like – people becoming weapons, the humour, the morality – don’t carry Noragami beyond the ‘solid’ realm. That’s it – Noragami is a solid show from characters to action. If you’re a fan of the genre and need your fix before the next greatness, Noragami will tide you over in solid fashion.

Art – High

Like the recently reviewed Hyouka, the little movements in Noragami’s animation, such as clothes shifting rather than staying stiff when walking, are a pleasant surprise. Creepy spirit designs – many eyeballs (don’t watch if eyeballs sprouting from human bodies makes you vomit).

Sound – High

Great energy in both languages – pick either – but I preferred the Japanese for having a crazier protagonist. It’s unusual to have legit English songs – it works.

Story – Medium

A low-rent god accompanied by a girl in limbo and his spirit weapon fight off spirits and gods alike, as he escapes his past to become a legitimate god. Noragami’s story is solid in most aspects, with no outstanding problems yet no strengths to stand out.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For contemporary supernatural fans. If you like the high-school-kids-do-supernatural-things-in-our-world anime type, you will enjoy Noragami. Do note that you may have to continue on to the manga for a conclusion to Hiyori’s arc (it truly hasn’t advanced in the anime), as a third season isn’t confirmed.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Darker Than Black – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha

 

Related: Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Psycho-Pass

RahXephon

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Mystery

Length: 25 episodes (season 1), 5 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Complex lore.
  • Creative powers and restrictions.
  • The comedic tangents are hilarious.
  • Character designs.

Negatives:

  • Lacks finality and answers.
  • Season 2 becomes oversimplified.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Darker than Black is an anime of malicious compliance. When I told it that it coveys lore in a vague manner, it responded with, “You don’t like my lore?” “That’s not wh—” “Fine, then I won’t give you any. If all you like is action, then that’s what I’ll give. Happy, are you!?” “…”

Before that moment in history, let’s go back to the start of Darker than Black. Ever since two gates appeared in Tokyo and Brazil, a fake sky replaced the real one and select people gained paranormal abilities at the cost of their humanity. These supernaturals known as Contractors became weapons for various governments and a group called the Syndicate. Officer Misaki has her investigatory skills put to the test when the Syndicate’s best agent, Hei the Black Reaper, is spotted in Tokyo. Hei and his associates have designs to uncover a mystery surrounding Hell’s Gate that threatens Contractors. Other Contractor division won’t let the Syndicate go unanswered either. Tokyo is a dangerous place to be.

First, I love the powers. Think of them as X-Men, but with a payment required after each use. The payment differs per character and ranges from smoking a cigarette to revealing a secret of yours to the next person you see. The cost tends to be something the Contractor hates. One Contractor, a magician, has to give away the technique to a magic trick every time he uses his illusion power. Bummer. Hei’s power is the ability to generate electricity, a favourite of mine. The writer could have merely copied the X-Men and been fine, but I appreciate the thought put into differentiating these powers by adding the payments.

Darker than Black also has artificial beings called Dolls that pass for human, but are dead inside and have scouting powers to aid their Contractor unit. Hei has one such doll with him as well as a Contractor whose power is to possess animals. Unfortunately for him, someone destroyed his human body during possession so he’s stuck as an animal for life. This makes him a tad grumpy.

Then we come to the larger world, where I find plenty interesting. I love that the police use an old woman known as the Stargazer, who can track when Contractors use powers by observing the fake stars above. Each Contractor is represented in a star – another great lore detail. Misaki has a telescope locked on Hei’s star, BK-201, which is how she knows he’s in town.

Most of the lore I have shared with you so far is presented in a decent manner. However, when it comes to the Gates, the lore behind Contractors, and even world history, Darker than Black takes serious issue with giving us this information. When it does present these aspects, it seems hesitant, as if the anime is worried about you finding out. “Does it or does it not work this way?” was a recurring question I had. This compounded with the fact that there is a lot of lore can make Darker than Black a headache for those who aren’t big fans of lore. It doesn’t help that much remains unanswered by the end, no thanks to season 2.

Here we arrive at the malicious compliance. If season 1 suffered from too much vague lore, season 2 suffers from having none whatsoever (the backstory threads are good, though). I said illuminate the lore, not eradicate it! In season 2, we follow two young siblings, one of which is a Contractor, and their escape from capture in Russia. It amounts to twelve episodes of action – good action, sure, but it no longer stands out like Darker than Black. I am particularly annoyed that Misaki is barely in season 2.

This does not lessen my recommendation for sci-fi/supernatural fans to watch the first season – likely twice to catch everything. If you worry about it being too heavy, the story occasionally diverts for some levity. The private eyes who narrates to himself noir-style and his cosplay girl assistant are the perfect change of pace. Even with several questions left unanswered, the lore we do get and the characters make Darker than Black an engaging experience.

Art – High

Darker than Black manages to have a large cast of characters, each distinct from the last, and yet doesn’t resort to lazy design techniques such as hair colour being the only distinguishing feature. The dark palette suits the story. Season 2 sees a noticeable dip in character and animation quality.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either Japanese or English voices. Nice soundtrack – the main singer is bilingual and mixes English with Japanese better than most. The script could do with tighter exposition.

Story – High

Super powered humans called Contractors work jobs for the nefarious Syndicate while uncovering the mystery that threatens Contractors worldwide. Darker than Black’s super powers and interesting characters deliver a great anime, but its complexities can alienate.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for science fiction fans. Darker than Black has everything a sci-fi fan could want – lore, depth, sociology, philosophy. Non-fans (maybe even fans) will find the lack of concreteness tedious, especially since it leaves much unanswered. Season 2 is optional viewing.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Natsume’s Book of Friends – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Natsume Yujincho

 

Related: Natsume’s Book of Friends Season 5 (starts October 2016)

Similar: Mushishi

xxxHOLiC

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

Cardcaptors

My Neighbor Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • More substance than most slice of life.
  • The cat sidekick.
  • Good-natured feel.

Negatives:

  • Becomes invariable after a while.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I kept putting this review off in the hopes I would find more within Natsume’s Book of Friends. “I’ll get to it next review. No, the one after,” I kept telling myself for three months. This time, I have to finish it. I wanted to find what it is that the fans love so dearly about this anime. I found the quality they love, but not why they love it this much.

Think of Natsume’s Book of Friends as a reverse Cardcaptor Sakura. Instead of capturing spirits like Sakura, Natsume works to release all spirits bound to the magical book he inherited from his grandmother. Until he does so, the spirits will follow him everywhere. Alongside him is a cat that claims to be an almighty spirit, yet why does he fall for every cat trap in the book? Tsk, tsk. More competent is the Okami-like wolf companion (voiced by Kakashi), who can transform into a tough high school girl.

The difficulty I have with Book of Friends is its laid back, easy-going nature. It’s too easy going, too laid back. It follows a ‘spirit of the week’ structure that feels repetitive before the first season is over. Each episode, a spirit follows Natsume, we flashback to when the grandmother bested them, they show a tragic backstory, and he gives the spirit peace. I have enjoyed many ‘of the week’ shows before, so why the difficulty here? The tone never changes. The episodic stories are always light, even when they should have intensity. Some stories are touching, yes – they’re dead, after all – but it feels so tame, so catered for children, as though afraid to cause heartache. Have light-hearted as the primary tone by all means, but some variance would keep the stupor at bay.

The best change would be to have fewer spirits, yet give each more time to develop – make some nastier, give proper arcs that twist left and right. Surprise me!

The spirit design and lore could also use work. Ninety percent of the spirits look like throwaway enemies from a generic JRPG or monster collect game. When looking at Doctor Who and all the creative monsters it comes up with (and the variance in tone), I expect more from Book of Friends in a medium that doesn’t have the limitations of live action. Now, if you’ve never seen these designs before, like the target audience, it won’t be much of a problem.

When not helping spirits, Natsume’s life consists of covering up the strange things that happen around him, inexplicable to all but himself. The overarching plot sees Natsume progress through the stages of school, which I like; however, this is far in the background. The episodic spirits take most attention.

Having light-hearted anime on occasion is a good thing – anime of any type can be a good thing – as long as it’s good. I don’t want to turn Natsume’s Book of Friends into a different anime. I want it to be a more interesting version of itself.

Art – Medium

Average if nice art that could use more animation and greater creature creativity. None of the creature’s surprised me in their design. With possibilities boundless, it’s disappointing they stuck to an unvarying design folio.

Sound – High

Good acting, especially the cat’s old man voice. I love the folk ED song from season one – listened to it every time. The music in general is nice.

Story – Medium

A boy releases the spirits from his ‘Book of Friends’ one by one so that they will leave him alone for once. A pleasant show about ‘reverse’ monster hunting each episode, but it plateaus quickly.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Those looking for an easy-going supernatural anime to watch one episode at a time will find pleasure in Natsume’s Book of Friends.

(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: None

Negative: None