Tag Archives: Supernatural

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

The Garden of Sinners – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kara no Kyoukai

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Darker than Black

Ghost Hunt

Key the Metal Idol

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery Thriller

Length: 9 movies (35 min. to 2 hrs. each)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful environments.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Dead eyes syndrome.
  • Atrocious editing and pacing.
  • No one has a personality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The Garden of Sinners is an unusual anime series. I’m not sure if you can refer to it as a series, in the standard sense, for it is nine movies of vastly varying length – 35 minutes to 2 hours long. Furthermore, the movies aren’t connected much beyond the main characters and subject matter. It’s akin to older British detective serials like Poirot, where little of the story carries from one episode to the next, which allows the audience to join any week in the series on TV without feeling lost.

Using this series structure, The Garden of Sinners tells of a detective agency that takes on cases involving the supernatural – spirits, curses, and the like. The agency has three members: the sorceress Touko, able to create human-like dolls, the ordinary human Kokutou, and part-doll protagonist Shiki. She has the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, a power that allows her to see a target’s “lifelines” that will kill them when cut. (That’s how they deal with the supernatural entities.)

The first movie follows a string of suicides by schoolgirls all leaping from the same skyscraper set for demolishment. On paper, this is an interesting anime, just my sort of thing. I love contemporary supernatural stories and I am a ravenous consumer of detective serials. This should be a direct feed of serotonin to my brain injected via a syringe of intriguing mystery, complex characters, fascinating mysticism, and unpredictable story. The Garden of Sinners has none of that.

The most glaring issue is that none of these characters has a personality. This should come as no surprise from the same author who brought us the worse-than-Twilight of anime that is Fate/stay night. Shiki is, by intention, an emotionally repressed person. However, once again, like a bloody broken record, I must stress that emotionally repressed does not equate to zero personality, never mind the other characters who are meant to be real people. I can’t imagine what the authors of these soulless characters think mute people must be like in real life. Do they think that mutes will have no personality because they can’t speak?

This lack of soul bleeds into the mysteries themselves. The narrative never makes an effort to have the audience care for the answers to its questions. It assumes that because it hasn’t given us an answer, we must therefore care to know the answer. I hear my neighbour arguing with her daughter in Mandarin on occasion. I’m not interested to translate what they are saying (daughter probably stays out too late). Have the police turn up to cart away a third person I never knew was there and then you have my attention.

The Garden of Sinners tries to con the audience into thinking it has an intricate plot full of hidden details and deeper meaning, when in fact, it is poor structure and storytelling. “This is really complicated – it must be good!”

To compound problems, the editing is a slog. Many shots hold for too long. It’s just a few seconds here and there, but it doesn’t feel right and adds up over time. Directors and editors don’t have to follow set rules for how long a shot should be. Breaking the rules can create an effect. One can let the camera linger for a few seconds to make the audience feel awkward. An extreme close-up, right in a character’s face as they’re talking creates extreme discomfort in the viewer as desired. However, when breaking the rules, it must be with care. Should the effect backfire, it makes the editing seem amateur, as is often the case in The Garden of Sinners. This isn’t deal breaking, but these long shots do allow us to ponder on the fact that the story and characters are empty.

The exception is the fifth movie about a double homicide that never happened. The visuals take a hit in quality, though do get more consistent, and the editing is much tighter. It feels like a different studio’s production. Despite it being nearly 2 hours long, it’s much easier to get through than the movies half its length because things are happening at pace. There is more energy, more life to it all. Doesn’t magically turn into a great movie, mind you, but it shows how much of a difference editing makes.

Before I leave you, I must touch upon the most forced product placement I have seen in anime. The first movie opens on Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream, drawing some equation between it and Shiki’s personality. And it returns to the ice cream again later. It is…fascinatingly shocking how blatant this advertising is. I don’t know what to make of it.

Art – High

The good old “dead eyes” syndrome studio ufotable is known for makes a return. The editing needs a lot of work, except in movie five. The animation is a mix of long stills broken up by shots of high animation, some in first person. The environments and atmospherics are beautiful.

Sound – Medium

The one and only thing I will take away from this is the soundtrack. I love the melodies and I am a sucker for ethereal vocals. As for the acting, it seems the actors were told to never have emotion in their voice, and under no circumstances are they to have any range. No talent allowed here!

Story – Low

A detective agency dealing with the supernatural investigates a series of mysterious cases. There is no adequate reason The Garden of Sinners needed to be so long and so slow, nor is there a reason to have such soulless characters.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Don’t bother. The Garden of Sinners isn’t the worst anime – rather average, all things considered – but it is certainly one of the dullest. I can’t recommend anyone waste their time. If you must, then just watch the fifth entry as a standalone movie.

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

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

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Ghost Hunt – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost Hunt

 

Similar: Psychic Detective Yakumo

Ghost Stories

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Horror Mystery

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good fun.
  • Everyone is a fraud.
  • Isn’t predictable.
  • The Australian accent.

Negatives:

  • The Australian accent.
  • Low production values.
  • Not scary at all.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ghost Hunt looks like arse, the performances are half-arsed, and these ghost hunters couldn’t tell the difference between a gust of wind and their arses. And that’s what makes this anime fun.

For reasons that could never see justification, Mai is forced to work as the assistant to 17-year-old Kazuya, sceptical ghost hunter of the Shibuya Psychic Research Company. Their slave-master relationship begins at her school with the case of the abandoned school building, but soon goes on tour to other haunted locations in Japan. They are joined – rather coincidentally – at each site by a rock star Buddhist monk, vain Shinto priestess, TV spirit medium, and (my favourite) an Australian Catholic priest.

The poor visuals and near absence of animation turned me off the series until the full cast of characters assembled at school. Unable to handle the bad PR of having a haunted building on campus, the principal hired someone from every religion he could think of to assist Kazuya. They are great together. I love that they each think everyone else is a fraud. It brings a good level of humour to the story, especially coupled with the inspiration taken from those fake American ghost-hunting series. A chair falls over and everyone freaks out!

However, nothing is funnier than the Catholic priest in the English dub. His accent is so bad that it transcends hilarity, so much so that I recommend watching Ghost Hunt in English. I couldn’t stop laughing every time he spoke.

The other strength of Ghost Hunt is in how they handle the mysteries. Each case takes three to four episodes, building layers to the backstory and throwing twists at the investigators. It isn’t as predictable as I anticipated. I like how Kazuya is a sceptic who doesn’t jump straight to the supernatural answer, instead checking if there is an earthly explanation for the weird occurrences first. Just when you’re sure it’s a phantom, he unveils a logical explanation or vice-versa. Furthermore, these aren’t generic urban myths you see in every horror series. The mysteries are good enough to keep you on the hook, wanting to know what happened, and the group dynamic among these hack frauds maintains decent tension and humour.

In an effort to dispel any notions that Ghost Hunt is a great series after all that praise, let us go through the problems. First, Mai isn’t a useful character. She is your typical audience stand-in – an ordinary person thrust into a paranormal world surrounded by experts (“experts”) that do all the work. Second, there is no need to waste time reintroducing the other exorcists each new case. And third, Ghost Hunt isn’t scary. At all. It could have made more effort with the horror side of being a comedy horror series.

I went in with zero expectations, which dropped further upon seeing the art and hearing the performances, but I came to embrace the goof once the cast gathered and the mysteries developed.

Art – Low

There isn’t much animation (no high detail to compensate either) and the shattering glass is so obviously CG. What else do you need to know?

Sound – Low

You have to watch this in English for the Australian accent. He does have oddities in his Japanese dialect as well, but you won’t notice them if you don’t understand Japanese. The spooky OP is effective, though I wonder if the lack of lyrics was a budget constraint (made the best of what they had, regardless).

Story – Medium

A high school girl becomes assistant to a ghost hunter to pay off a debt. With some possibly unintentional comedy and unpredictable mysteries, Ghost Hunt has enough to be good fun for cheesy horror fans.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Ghost Hunt’s slim budget and cut corners only add to the fun. This is a horror series for those who prefer mystery over gore (see Another for the gore).

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

The Devil Is a Part-Timer – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hataraku Maou-sama!

 

Similar: The World God Only Knows

Noragami

Maoyu: Archenemy & Hero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Funny for a few episodes.

Negatives:

  • Initial setup is barely relevant.
  • Satan starts as a generic good guy.
  • The extra girls.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The premise of The Devil is a Part-Timer is straightforward. Satan, ruler of darkness, snuffer of light, finds himself torn from his world of magic and thrust into modern Tokyo, where he must get a part-time job at “MgRonald’s” to pay for life in the big city.

This premise also has almost nothing to do with The Devil is a Part-Timer.

One would imagine that the master of evil, as depicted in the prologue, would be, well, you know, evil. Instead, we have a generic good guy protagonist with no defining traits. Satan starts out good!

There is no point to him being the devil. I am not exaggerating when I say that he does nothing evil whatsoever. He starts as a good guy; he ends as a good guy. No arc, no development, no point. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, as plenty of stories invert the roles – angels and nuns are evil, while devils and gangsters are good. Nothing new there. But the problem by doing this in The Devil is a Part-Timer, beyond going against the setup, is that the series leads nowhere. When a protagonist starts at the end of his arc, he has nowhere to go. His story is already over, so why is he protagonist? I expected some “twist” to reveal that the prologue was a lie, that Satan had been trying to save the world and the angels were evil from the start, at least. The actual plot events, which have a little action, feel so irrelevant because there is no lasting effect.

Furthermore, this leads to stale humour. Satan runs into Emi in the first episode, one of the angels that followed through the portal hunt him down. She works in a call centre now. Predictably, she uses the good ol’ “I must stay close by to kill you when I can” excuse to hang around the guy she’s secretly falling for. It’s funny, at first. However, since he doesn’t change and she’s already friendly with him in that tsundere sort of way, the scenario doesn’t evolve to generate new humour.

Change in this series arrives in the form of more characters – Satan’s generals and the other angels. Much like Emi, these join the good guys under one low-rent roof almost immediately. The Devil is a Part-Timer becomes borderline harem. Only two girls throw themselves at Satan – Emi and his little co-worker – but the vibe and social dynamics are reminiscent of a tame harem. They don’t shift the status quo.

It is funny for a few episodes – I laughed at these fish out of water figuring out how to open a bank account and managing a budget – and it isn’t awful like most harem anime, but the lack of relevance to the setup and absence of direction wears thin before long. If you go in knowing the title matters little and want an easy comedy, requiring no effort, there might be enough for you here. And the 13-episode length isn’t demanding. It just needed more effort to be anything beyond that.

Art – Medium

The opening scenes of backstory that paint a dark fantasy picture are far better than the rest of the series, which is average.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine. However, the fictional language akin to a mix of English and Latin makes it tough to watch in Japanese, where the actors aren’t even in the ballpark of pronunciation. I suppose, as a fictional language, you technically can’t get it wrong. It’s mostly in the first episode, so once past that, go with whichever language you prefer.

Story – Low

Ripped through a portal into modern Tokyo, Satan must find part-time work to earn a living with his general as angels and other demons seek him out. It starts funny, but the choice to make Satan a good guy immediately and to have several girls around him, turns The Devil Is a Part-Timer into a rather bland comedy.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For anime comedy fans only. The Devil Is a Part-Timer is for fans of the “anime version” of a common premise. Its execution isn’t good enough for most.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

No Development

Hinamatsuri – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hinamatsuri

 

Similar: The Disastrous Life of Saiki K

Mob Psycho 100

Barakamon

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Damn funny.
  • Surprising heart for a comedy.
  • Incorporates drama and conflict without compromise.

Negatives:

  • Protagonist has weak arc.
  • Shading looks auto-filled.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Nitta is your average yakuza member until a large metal egg comes through a portal and cracks him over the head. This metal egg has a human face, one that talks and asks him to push the release button, which reveals her as a young girl. As if the whole “metal egg with naked girl out of nowhere” bit wasn’t weird enough, she also has incredible psychic power and not the slightest notion of responsibility or restraint. Her powers start turning on him and wreck his life – or worse, his vase collection. However, Nitta can take advantage of his new minion, Hina, to do dirty Yakuza work.

I put off Hinamatsuri until the day before this review, as I had no inclination for it (I usually start a series a month ahead of time in case something external comes up, such as the packed work schedule I’ve had for two months now). I had judged it by the cover: generic loli/moe girls – check; whimsical art – check; slice of life – check. This is going to be another of those anime about a group of girls finding their way through life with naïve idealism that has no foundation in reality, isn’t it?

Imagine my utter astonishment when the above blurb occurred in the first episode. It cracked me up and all my prejudice went out the window (as did all of Nitta’s possessions). Hinamatsuri is funny, yes, but it gets better.

Another psychic girl called Anzu soon enters the fray, tasked with retrieving Hina for the lab from which they were hatched. Sadly for Anzu, her psychic ability is nothing compared to Hina’s might (their duel is amazing, by the way). Her mission a failure, Anzu ends up homeless and must survive by scavenging on the streets, where she ends up joining a homeless group.

Where Hinamatsuri truly nailed it was with Anzu’s story arc. Not only are her antics of having no idea how society functions hilarious, the depiction of homelessness is realistic within the bounds of comedy. The other homeless people teach her the tricks of trade, such as gathering cans to exchange at recycling depots and checking around vending machines for fallen change. When she does have a cash windfall and wastes it all on food indulgences, it’s simultaneously hilarious and creating conflict. Her actions have consequences that matter, yet without getting so dramatic that it would no longer be comedy. Later in her arc, as she works to better herself, you care for her because of the meaningful struggle that came earlier. Again, not too dramatic either.

How many times have I reviewed comedy anime like Please Teacher and said that the biggest failing was in forcing drama for the finale, at the total expense of comedy, in an attempt at “deep” emotion? I didn’t even expect Hinamatsuri to have that type of ending  – it doesn’t come across that way at all for the first half. It surprised me both by the inclusion of such drama and the success of its execution. This does me good to see.

Where Hinamatsuri does fail, unfortunately, is in Anzu’s counterpart, Hina. While her bum-like lifestyle despite living the rich life with Nitta and her monotone expression are humorous, she has no real arc to speak of. She does learn to stop taking Nitta’s caregiving for granted, but that occurs early on, after which she just sits around like the bum she is. She is so dumb that when Anzu tells her that discarded TVs are worth decent change, Hina begs Nitta for money and buys a new flat screen for thousands, just so Anzu can pawn it off to a dealer for a little cash. Palm, meet forehead. (I love it.)

She brings good laughs, certainly, but I wonder if Hinamatsuri would have been better with Anzu as protagonist. I’m not sure this time, as the funniest character rarely makes for the best protagonist. Still, a good arc is most important.

This anime has even more on offer than what I covered here, such as the sub-plot of Hina’s middle school classmate working as a bartender because she can mix drinks like no other (incidentally, she also has a stronger arc than Hina does). Suffice it say, I recommend Hinamatsuri.

Art – Medium

I am not a fan of the “auto fill” looking style of shading and highlights you see these days. It lacks artistry, as if generated by a software plugin. And as in most cases, moe/loli character designs aren’t to my taste, though these ones seem plugin generated as well. The animation and environments, however, are quite good.

Sound – High

The acting is strong and works well in English, especially in the casting of Hina as a monotone bore. That said, the original Japanese is better overall. I don’t understand the choice of OP and ED songs. They are suited for slice of life drama like A Place Further than the Universe, not a comedy.

Story – Medium

A yakuza has his life thrown sideways when a psychic girl falls into his apartment and wrecks everything. Funnier than expected, Hinamatsuri is a surprise success, though the protagonist has the weakest of the plots.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Hinamatsuri is a very “anime” comedy, which won’t be to everyone’s taste – I often pass over these types myself – but this is one of the better ones, so give it a go. An episode or two is all you need to test.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Ga-Rei-Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ga-Rei: Zero

 

Similar: Canaan

Blood+

Elfen Lied

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Music is rather good.

Negatives:

  • Lacks weight.
  • Fails at connecting us to characters.
  • Meaningless yuri bait.
  • Narrative doesn’t resonate.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ga-Rei-Zero is the prequel anime to the manga Ga-Rei, following the tale of Kagura and the fate that forced her to fight her sister Yomi. They are agents of the Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division (SDCD) to slay monsters.

I love a good tragedy, especially one that pits ally against ally before the end. The key to a tragic tale, such as this one, is to make the audience care about the characters and their relationship before they must kill each other. This is especially true when you know events are going to turn for the worse and you’re pleading for them to stay allies, stay happy, but nothing you say can change the inevitable. So tragic. So good!

I’m sad to say that Ga-Rei-Zero doesn’t succeed in that respect. These girls are too boring, too clichéd to care an ounce about. The have the typical dynamic of yuri bait anime, with one as the strong katana girl, the other as timid and weak. To be fair, as a slight defence of Yomi, the generic katana girl type wasn’t as oversaturated at time of release in 2008.

These foster sisters have no development. Their relationship grows by way of fan service for character “building” – naked baths with boobs squished against the other’s back, making out randomly, and other yuri bait that is incongruous to the tone they try to convey. Emotional development comes in the form of staring off into space accompanied by a slow pan. That’s another problem. The cinematography is so boring. Every composition is stock standard with a slow pan. Moving manga, as they call it. There’s no detail, no art to anything in the visuals.

The writing is similar, though it’s not so bad that makes it to the ranks of Vampire Knight. It’s just so dull, without any creativity. And the exposition. The first time these girls meet, Yomi dumps the full backstory for Kagura, her father, and herself. Wow! If you told me they made Ga-Rei-Zero by plugging parameters into an anime-creating AI to generate a series, I’d believe you.

The world building lacks artistry. The powers are vague, they try mixing things up with new weapons, such as a gun sword and combat wheelchair, but there’s no cohesion to any of these. (That AI theory is sounding more plausible by the minute.)

Ga-Rei-Zero also needs better narrative resonance – the tying up of a story from start to finish. It opens with an SDCD squad called to fight monsters and dying, followed by the reveal of Yomi as the evil sister to Kagura. They went for a “flashforward” opening, wherein we see an event later in the story with dramatic implications before we rewind back to the start in happier times. Flashforwards elicit one question: “What happened to make things go so wrong?” The mistake they made was having such a long flashforward. They didn’t need to introduce the SDCD. We could get to that later. All we needed to know is the following: monsters are attacking, led by protagonist’s sister, and the good guys are fighting back. The relevant information is in the last few minutes of episode 2 – first episode isn’t needed.

What this does is set the wrong expectations. For the entire series, we are wondering when the SDCD will become a major part of the narrative. It would be as if you opened an Avengers movie on a team fight, but 20 minutes in, you focus solely on Captain America for the rest of the narrative. The longer it goes, the more the audience expects and questions why the rest of the Avengers haven’t joined. If you’d called the film Captain America and had a cameo scene featuring the Avengers at some point in act one, then the expectation isn’t there. It’s all about that initial presentation. I suspect they started this way to have a ton of gore and death immediately, which can be effective shock value, but rings hollow when superfluous.

One defence of this you’ll here is that Ga-Rei-Zero is a prequel to the manga and that the narrative will resonate if you finish the story. But we aren’t here for a manga. Furthermore, it was a simple fix. Cut episodes 1 and 2 save for the last few minutes and play that before the opening credits.

Even if you ignore this poor opening, you can feel that lack of synergy between elements of the series. For instance, the theme of the battle against monsters doesn’t complement the conflict theme between Kagura and Yomi except in the one case where Kagura has to kill a mind-controlled civilian she liked. Good theming has the sub-plots/conflicts support the main theme.

Then we have Yomi’s engagement to the heir of another important family. It doesn’t contribute much, nor does it lend to the theme. Once again, that AI thought, “Every story has a romance, therefore I must put one in.”

What I dislike most about Ga-Rei-Zero is how Yomi’s turn to evil happens. She doesn’t descend into evil like in Gungrave or fall to greed as seen in Madoka Magica. No poor decisions, no character conflict, no slow creeping corruption that seduces her. Nope, mind control does it. The ultimate sin with a tragedy like this is to have an ally turn foe by anything other than their own choices and actions.

All of this dullness and lack of synergy results in a boring anime. There is far worse out there – Ga-Rei-Zero isn’t that bad – but let’s just say that I have more fun with worse anime than this.

Art – Very Low

The CG is hideous for the special vision that allows agents to see spectres and the monsters look even worse. It doesn’t even justify the CG with complex animation. On top of that, the cinematography, character designs, and environments have no creativity whatsoever.

Sound – Low

The music and acting are quite good, but the script has no weight to it, dragging down everything around it. Also, the music doesn’t sync with the action as it should, often going too long as if they have to play the entire track.

Story – Low

Two sisters that slay monsters must eventually fight each other. The story doesn’t do enough to create an emotional connection to the characters for us to care about their fates.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Ga-Rei-Zero is one of those anime that only select fans will remember as the years go by.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

No Development