Tag Archives: Supernatural

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

Durarara!! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Durarara!!

 

Related: Durarara!!x2 Shou, Ten, and Ketsu (sequels)

Similar: Baccano!

K

Darker than Black

Death Note

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • High visual and audio production values.

Negatives:

  • Excess dialogue.
  • Get to the point already!
  • Poor structure and storytelling.
  • Many characters have no purpose.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Durarara is Baccano, but bad. I consider few anime that I’ve finished as a waste of time. Even the worst anime has value to me, for it gives something to discuss and lessons to learn in character and storytelling. This is one of the few exceptions. A chore to finish, an effort to enjoy, and with little to discuss or learn, Durarara was a waste of time.

The story focuses on the legend of the Black Rider, a headless motorbike rider that prowls the streets of Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district amid increasing gang activity. Mikado is caught up in the commotion when he witnesses the Black Rider on his first day in Tokyo. He will rely on friend and failed flirt Masaomi to guide him through the supernatural events and all manner of strange characters.

Durarara doesn’t open with great promise that derails later on. This is a case of never showing any promise to begin with, leaving us waiting for when it will get to the point, show us it purpose. It seems to do everything it can to avoid showing us its story, as if under the misapprehension that by doing this, it will make the final revelation a masterstroke.

Durarara wants to be character driven with its large cast, each exhibiting grey qualities, which is one of the elements that made Baccano a success. However, it wastes far too much time repeating conversations where characters explain their motivations. Because so little time is spent on events to drive story, characters don’t have much opportunity to show us who they are. As a result, they have to tell us and then repeat it again later. This is only for major characters. Minor characters, on the other hand, don’t even exposit or discuss events. They chat about random nonsense that tests one’s patience. There is so much excess dialogue.

All of this makes Durarara comes across as more slice of life than action.

Most story is end loaded in the final few episodes. When the big revelations about character identities and gang power plays come out, the series goes, “While all those useless characters where chatting about whatever, these other characters were secretly manoeuvring behind the scenes. Surprised you, didn’t I?” Yes, I’m surprised – surprised that you managed to squeeze out any story at all.

I had wanted to watch Durarara for the longest time after Baccano, one of my first reviews, hoping to find a similar experience. What a letdown. Had the characters been close to the level of Baccano’s cast, I likely would have enjoyed it despite the poor story, but these aren’t interesting. One guy’s gimmick is getting angry at the slightest provocation. It’s funny the first time, sure, but it’s the same joke every episode. Grow some dimension! The black Russian advertising his sushi restaurant on a street corner is also amusing, yet that joke too grows old.

Everyone is forgettable save for perhaps the Black Rider searching of her head. Bringing the Dullahan myth to modern Tokyo on a bike instead of a horse is a cool idea. Her story is decent as well, though she only has material for a few episodes – not enough to carry the team.

This anime was a personal choice I wanted to watch amidst the reader requests. I was certain this would be a hit. I don’t blame the production crew – Durarara looks and sounds great. The source light novel is a mess to begin with, as are the Baccano light novels, incidentally, which make me more impressed with the latter’s anime adaptation.

The first season wraps up its plot, so I have no attraction to watch the sequels. I usually finish every direct sequel for my reviews, but I won’t bother with Durarara.

Art – High

Durarara uses the same style as Baccano, crazy opening included (without the great song, though), has great animation, and with normal yet distinct character designs. However, background characters are often greyed out – budget or style?

Sound – Medium

The acting is great, in either language, but the script is so damn bloated. Characters repeat themselves often and minor character dialogues are a waste of time. The ED is catchy.

Story – Low

The new kid in Tokyo finds himself mixed up in gang wars amidst events involving the mysterious Black Rider, a supernatural biker in search of her head. A single strand of good story resides among the tangle of threads that is the mess called Durarara.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Durarara takes such effort to enjoy that I would recommend almost any other anime instead.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Poor PacingShallow

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s-CRY-ed – Anime Review

Japanese Title: s.CRY.ed

 

Similar: GetBackers

Canaan

Code Geass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The definition of hot-blooded anime.
  • Straight Cougar character.
  • Creative powers.

Negatives:

  • Younger sister isn’t of much use.
  • The Japanese acting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Writing up my ‘Watched but Not Reviewed’ list – which I have since realised is missing many titles – gave me the urge to revisit s-CRY-ed, or Scryed for simplicity’s sake. I had watched Scryed several times within a year – I had access to less than ten titles at the time, so pickins were slim. As I mentioned in the list, I remembered this series as wall-to-wall action and similar to Marvel’s Civil War. Is it as I remember? Let’s find out.

A geological phenomenon splintered a part of Japan, creating an isolated area called ‘The Lost Ground’ where people known as Alters have started to develop the ability to summon weapons. Kazuma is one such Alter working as a mercenary to care for himself and his sister in this lawless land. The mainland government to bring the law, however, and have recruited Alters looking for a better life in exchange for their services in capturing ‘Native Alters’. Kazuma soon meets Ryuho, elite member of the mainland order HOLY, igniting a rivalry for the history books.

The rivalry is the heart of Scryed. You’re probably thinking this is a rivalry like Naruto versus Sasuke, Ash versus Gary, or Yugi versus Seto ‘I have Money’ Kaiba. No, no, no, you don’t understand. Kazuma versus Ryuho is on another level. Nothing takes precedence. These guys hate each other by mere mention of the other’s name. It’s never quite clear why. When one tries to help the other, that help is refused with prejudice because you never, ever accept anything from your rival. A starving Kazuma would tell Ryuho to kill himself if he offered food. When these two are on screen, each line of dialogue from one is met by derision or anger from the other like a bitter couple that has been married for too long, yet have to see each other every day. Ryuho would rather murder a puppy than accept help from Kazuma. This rivalry sounds absurd, but it is so absurd that it loops back around to greatness and it gives us the most ridiculous final episode of any show I have ever seen. Only this rivalry could give us such insanity.

You need to be into the rivalry to enjoy Scryed fully. However, beyond that, the action is good, thanks in most part to creative powers. I like that the author didn’t simply give them pliable powers and call them mutants. Each power is a physical construct. Instead of super strength, for example, Kazuma materialises a power gauntlet with thrusters around his right arm. Ryuho’s Alter is a humanoid in a strait jacket that kills with the straps. The most creative power has to be from the guy who can manipulate people by writing a script in his book, which is a different take on classic mind control. These differentiating factors make Scryed feel fresh, even today. Wait until you meet the guy with the gun.

The characters are a mixed bag. Kazuma is a hooligan while Ryuho is a snooty highborn – fitting for the rivalry. My favourite character is Straight Cougar, who can transform any vehicle into a super car out of Wacky Racers or Redline in addition to operating at a faster level than everyone else. His philosophy is speed, because the faster you do things, the more time you save and thus the more you can accomplish in life. That’s my kind of philosophy. He has this running gag of mispronouncing people’s names by one letter. Even after hearing this joke several times an episode, every episode, it still makes me laugh because it’s sharp and timed perfectly amidst regular dialogue. I love this character. His interactions with Minori Mimori, a researcher of Alters in love with Ryuho, are a delight.

Mimori is a serviceable character. The fact that her purpose isn’t just to be a love interest makes her more interesting. Where the cast falters is in some of the lesser Alters, who are merely filling bodies, and in Kazuma’s younger sister, Kanami. She is the narrator, of sorts, with her power to read the thoughts and emotions of others while dreaming. All she does is tell us Kazuma’s emotions that we can already see on screen… Pointless. Her inclusion is to give Kazuma something to protect, which is fine, but she has too much screen time for a clichéd younger-but-is-the-adult-in-the-house girl.

The story is where my memory went most wrong. I thought it was akin to Civil War, when its arc is the opposite, really. The Alters start divided between the lawless and HOLY. HOLD (owners of HOLY) treats the Lost Ground citizens like trash, arrested and tortured with no hesitation, eventually leading some to question if they are on the correct side. Real estate moguls want to develop the area, but the natives are a problem. I recalled Scryed as consisting of 90% action as well. In truth, though there is plenty of action, the story has much more to it than I remembered with character development, changing motives, and conflict to keep thing interesting.

A revisit of Scryed was a pleasant surprise. I expected nothing but nostalgia to keep me going. Instead, I finished the series and enjoyed every episode. That ending…

Art – Medium

The style is the same as the later released Gundam SEED though lacks visual depth and the animation is wonky at times. Interesting designs for the powers.

Sound – Medium

Clumsy exposition. The first line to the research scientist is someone telling her that she graduated seven years early. The acting is serviceable for the content, with a few great performances, but the Japanese acting for Kazuma and Ryuho is terrible. I like the ED – brings back memories.

Story – Medium

A mysterious phenomenon gifted select people with Alter powers, which has ignited a conflict for control over this ‘Lost Ground’ with free mercenaries on one side and organised Alters on the other. Scryed’s embodiment of testosterone in an eternal rivalry is entertaining and varied enough to warrant interest.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For action fans. If you want hyper-action, yelling out names, bitter rivalry, and cool powers, look no further than Scryed.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Black Butler – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kuroshitsuji

 

Related: Black Butler II (included in review)

Black Butler III: Book of Circus (included in review)

Black Butler: Book of Murder (included in review)

Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic (included in review)

Similar: Pandora Hearts

Gosick

Hellsing Ultimate

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 46 episodes (3 seasons), 1 movie, 9 OVA

 

Positives:

  • That’s one hell of a butler.
  • Dub’s goofiness is fun.
  • The ‘Making of Black Butler’ episode.
  • Book of Murder OVA.

Negatives:

  • Ciel is a bore.
  • Every Britain-set anime cliché.
  • Keeps retconning itself with each season.
  • Season 2. All of it.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Black Butler is a bit of a mess. Its production is rife with uncertainty, changes of story, and confused accents.

It follows the story of Ciel Phantomhive, young noble of his name and Queen Victoria’s ‘Guard Dog’ aided by his trusty butler, Sebastian Michaelis, a demon with whom he made a contract – service in exchange for Ciel’s soul once his goal is finished. Despite the dark pitch, Black Butler is more comedy than anything as Sebastian deals with all manner of problems caused by guests and even his own staff. Not that any of this is a challenge for him. He is one hell of a butler, after all.

When the Italian Mafia tries to do the naughty in Her Majesty’s land, it’s up to Ciel to give them a good kick up the backside. Well, Sebastian will do the kicking – after offering some wine, of course. It would be insupportable for a butler to lose his manners even with the most trying of guests. Even a con-noble receives a meal before the gothic mansion eats him alive.

The relationship between Ciel and Sebastian has a good dynamic – similar to Integra and Alucard of Hellsing, though Sebastian will offer to resolve conflict with a spot of tea and cake first. Hopefully he won’t need to use the finest silverware on the guest’s throat. He’s a great character and the key selling point of Black Butler. Without him, there wouldn’t be much of worth here, for Ciel is a bore, always dour and he just sits there giving orders most of the time.

The mansion staff are incompetent – except for Tanaka, who’s fine as is – and would be fired in any other scenario, generating much of the comedy, even more so in English. Here we come to a key decision when watching Black Butler – Japanese or English? The Japanese is quite standard, solid even, but without accents, whereas the English is full of accents – British of varying classes, Irish, Indian – many of them not particularly great, but that’s part of the fun. The mansion staff in particular are a riot in English. A joke about being a posh Victorian also works better when the character sounds like a posh Victorian.

Black Butler’s serious elements are where the inconsistencies manifest. It starts with an encounter against the Ripper (featured in every Britain-set anime, along with Indian royalty), who turns out to be a weirdo and sort of a good guy. Then season one ends with a major event on which you could conclude the anime, only to have it reversed for season two, as though they didn’t know they had a green light for a sequel until too late.

Now, season two is rubbish. The antagonist is a mirror to Ciel, another young noble with a demon butler contracted. The poncey kid is obnoxious and the endless allegiance switching is a trial in tedium. That arc too ends on a major event, only to have it yet again retconned by season three. You could count the erasure of season two as a blessing considering how bad it is, but you know what would be better? Not needing to wipe it in the first place. My understanding is that these major events aren’t from the manga, which would lend to the idea that each season ended as though it were the last to avoid the common problem of incomplete anime. Black Butler now has three seasons and a movie with more likely on the way. I liked the end of season one – lots of tension, Ciel finally challenged – but not in the grander context of other seasons. It’s a real mess, I tell you.

A surprising success of Black Butler is in the OVAs. These are often throwaway episodes that waste your time, but the OVAs for season two are a ton of fun, the best of which is the ‘behind the scenes’ episode that pretends all the characters are mere Victorian actors starring in a TV show. Season three’s OVA, Book of Murder, is a great standalone Holmesian mystery around a dinner party of eclectic characters.

Black Butler’s messy nature makes it difficult to recommend in the face of countless other superior anime. Even so, its appeal will come to those looking for an anime that isn’t set in Japan or high school. This may be a case where the manga is better.

Art – Medium

Black Butler looks like anime from the era, such as Ouran High School Host Club, Emma, and Spice & Wolf, though with a gothic slant. Not much in the way of animation.

Sound – Medium

You have two choices: the better yet standard Japanese or the inconsistent yet far more entertaining dub. I much prefer the latter. The haunting Gregorian choir is great while most of the theme songs are unsuited to the gothic Victorian atmosphere.

Story – Medium

A young Victorian noble and his trusty butler dispatch the queen’s enemies in between a spot of tea. Black Butler fluctuates wildly in quality and engagement because of poor planning for future seasons and odd changes from the manga.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Black Butler is dated by today’s standards and has its issues, but it can be fun for those seeking something a little different. I recommend the dub. You can watch the two Book of Murder OVAs for a good standalone experience.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tasogare Otome x Amnesia

 

Similar: Another

Ghost Hunt

AnoHana

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Romance

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Some gorgeous colours.
  • The humour succeeds.

Negatives:

  • The protagonist is as dull as the grave.
  • One of the worst dubs ever made.
  • Empty world.
  • The romance.

(Request an anime for review here.)

After you read the following blurb, I want you to guess what Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is about:

Yuuko has haunted Seikyou Private Academy ever since her death in the basement 60 years ago. Her memories of life lost, she establishes the Paranormal Investigations Club, where she meets Niiya, a boy who somehow has the ability to see her, Momoe, a girl afraid of ghosts, and the distrustful Kirie. They investigate the various mysteries surrounding the school to figure out which one relates to Yuuko’s death.

You’re thinking this is a horror mystery, yes? Well, you’d be wrong. I was wrong. This is a romance with a dash of horror mystery on the side – a romance with as much substance as a ghost.

Any romance with such a wet noodle of a guy as Niiya is doomed to fail. He’s a nobody. I don’t know what personality he’s meant to have. The idea of a ghost with several possibilities pointing to her identity and death is an interesting one. It hooked me. The mechanics of Yuuko’s appearance are interesting, for one.

When Niiya looks at her, he sees a sexy girl, voluptuous and well endowed in the right places, always flirting with him and craving his touch. But in the eyes of Kirie, she’s a monster, an onryo with long, matted black hair and black blood leaking from her skin. Her seductions aren’t for love. They are to ensnare Niiya and do who knows what to his soul. This is a great idea. The romance is obvious from the start and I thought its inclusion was to heighten tension, create uncertainty about whether she wants his love or his life. Unfortunately, this tension doesn’t last.

Another problem is the hollowness of the world. These four characters seem to be the entire population of this school. You see the occasional background character, but they may as well be cardboard cutouts. Imagine if there were more characters, each with a different perception of Yuuko and no one knows her true version.

We have this romance with no ground to stand on instead. Forcibly tripping over to grab both her breasts is supposed to be a heartfelt moment of their relationship (kill me…). Not joking. He’s a harem protagonist without a harem.

Even if Niiya were a great character, the meshing of romance and mystery needs work. The story progresses through a series of cases, investigating phantoms in mirrors, bodies buried under the school, an old myth about a curse on the last kid to leave school each day, and the like. All these mysteries lack layers without time to develop because the romance takes precedence.

Hell, there’s almost more comedy than mystery in this horror mystery. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia opens on a great scene of Momoe in the clubroom writing notes as various objects float around. She freaks out but explains everything away to keep her sanity. Niiya enters and can seemingly read her mind. Then the whole scene plays again, only to reveal Yuuko this time, responsible for moving the objects, drinking Momoe’s tea, and the mind reading is a coincidence. Niiya’s answers to Yuuko’s questions happened to fit Momoe’s thoughts. Great use of a ghost, I must say.

So what we have here is a horror mystery with more comedy and even more romance than either horror or mystery. Did I put in the wrong disc?

Art – Medium

The environments are grim and grungy, reminiscent of a noir detective game, but the characters look too clean, too ‘nice’ for the setting. Some shots have such gorgeous colours that I paused to admire them.

Sound – Low

What is with this dub? How did they make such a bad dub in 2012? This sounds out of the 90s before professionals did the job. Not everyone is bad, of course. That protagonist though…bloody hell. Thankfully, the Japanese is fine, so stick to it. Even so, don’t expect anything above average. The best friend’s freakouts are the best.

Story – Low

The Paranormal Investigations Club unravels their school’s mysteries to recover the memories of the girl that haunts the halls. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia made the grave mistake of focusing on romance with a soggy protagonist instead of the mysteries it had set up.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Even horror fans won’t find something of worth in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia because of the romantic focus.

(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:

Shallow

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Saiki Kusuo no Ψ-nan

 

Related: The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. 2 (TBR)

Similar: Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto

Gintama

Daily Lives of High School Boys

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy

Length: 120 episodes, 5 min. each grouped into 24 episodes on disc

 

Positives:

  • Bloody hilarious!
  • Saiki is perfect.
  • The most absurd world rules.
  • Excellent acting.

Negatives:

  • Room for escalation.
  • Budget art and animation.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Saiki is such a powerful psychic that it has made life tedious. Nothing surprises one who can hear thoughts from hundreds of metres away. Going to the cinema is an exercise in futility when everyone spoils the twist in their minds. The only person on Earth that can surprise him is his “best friend” with a mind so moronic that it’s blank. Life has devolved into doing everything in his immense, yet seemingly still insufficient power to avoid his peers at all costs.

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is one hilarious anime. I didn’t expect as much when looking at the cover art, particularly with Saiki’s goofy design of pink hair with alien antennae. However, his character design is perfect once you hear the explanation for it. Because pink hair would look weird, – yes, one of few anime to question it – he used his power to alter reality and made coloured hair perfectly common. Finally an explanation for anime hair! The meta humour is my favourite part of Disastrous Life. I lost it when Saiki explains that the reason your crotch always retains a piece of “strategic censorship” cloth in action scenes is thanks to his will. Karate chops knock people out in one hit? Thank Saiki. I love it!

From meta humour to visual gags to witty comments, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. packs so many jokes in each of its mini 120 episodes. Saiki himself is a non-stop joke machine. Not by his intent, mind you. His inner monologue and telepathic speech provide a constant stream of humour as he reacts in monotone to all the bothersome people around him. His face rarely changes from the blank stare.

At first, I thought this would grow old – each episode would have a monotone Saiki with a blank face foiling some plan by a classmate to hang out with him. Disastrous Life is the opposite, always trying the same types of jokes in a different way, building upon a gag from several episodes ago, and it never drags. The decision to go with 5-minute episodes was spot on. It makes this so consumable and, oddly enough, had me watching more episodes at a time because “It’s just five more minutes for another.” That another soon turned into several, which in turn became hours. Furthermore, he isn’t a cool or arrogant character, as you would expect of the premise. He’s just some overpowered guy that does his best to solve problems of daily life.

The show owes much of this engagement to the side cast, an odd and varied group including the moronic “best friend”, a guy who believes he’s a superhero, Saiki’s nutty parents (his mother cooks his father a shoe for dinner when mad), and many more. My favourite has to be the Kokomi, the prettiest and most popular girl in school. She hits on him, but he ignores her, which she takes as a mark of his shyness and in her magnanimity, she keeps flirting with him. Again. And again. It is so generous, so benevolent of the hottest girl in school to flirt with the shy dork, after all. You know, because she’s so nice and giving. I chuckle recalling their scenes.

There are too many great characters and great jokes to cover them all in a mere review. Needless to say, this anime entertained me to the end.

However, room for improvement exists in escalation, as the locations and scenarios play it a little safe at times. There is the possibility that such material is for the second season. Even so, many existing scenarios could have gone up a level. They could have made more use of Saiki’s reality altering powers to take his classmates to crazy places, for instance. Here’s hoping season two pushes matters further.

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is such an entertaining easy anime to watch that you have no reason not to try it.

Art – Medium

Great visual and character design redeem this otherwise low budget production. There is little animation or detail here.

Sound – Very High

This sharp script packed with witty humour works in either Japanese or English. I applaud the translator for making every joke work. You can go with either language and receive the full experience.

Story – High

A teenager of immense psychic power does his utmost to avoid his fangirl, his moronic best friend, a wannabe superhero classmate, his parents, and everyone in general really. Always hilarious and full of memorable characters, Saiki’s disastrous life could only get better by escalating further into crazier scenarios.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is hilarious and its bite-sized structure makes it easy to pick up and watch at any time.

(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:

HilariousStellar Voice Acting

Negative: None