Tag Archives: Supernatural

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

Elfen Lied – Review

Japanese Title: Elfen Lied

 

Similar: When They Cry

Mirai Nikki

Deadman Wonderland

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Action Romance

Length: 13 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • An unsettling atmosphere crafted by contrasting the innocence of children with hyper-violent gore.
  • Haunting opening theme and soundtrack inspired by Gregorian chant.
  • The telekinetic protagonist’s volatile nature creates plenty of tension.

Negatives:

  • The clichéd humour doesn’t ever lighten the mood, which can make the constant tension exhausting.
  • The male love interest is a weak character that serves little purpose to the core.
  • In trying to imitate the Japanese voice track too closely, the English voices sound awful despite the skilled actors. The Japanese isn’t ideal either.
  • Outside of action scenes, most animation ceases.

A severed arm twitching in a pool of blood. Decapitated heads sail across the room, blood sprays the walls. Screams fill the air. At the centre of the carnage, a young girl, naked. Don’t be fooled by the innocent looking girl; Elfen Lied is violent and bathed in gore, not an anime for the faint of heart.

In the world of Elfen Lied (German for ‘Elven Song’) exists a race known as Diclonius. Human in appearance other than small horns protruding from the skull, Diclonii control telekinetic arms called vectors capable of tearing people in two with a flick. Their purpose is to eliminate humanity and spawn a population of their own. Lucy, the protagonist, is one such Diclonius, who escapes from the laboratory, massacring guards and researchers on the way out. She ends up on a beach in front of Kouta, the male love interest, and his friend Yuka. Her mind traumatised by a gunshot, Lucy now lies dormant, replaced by Nyuu, an innocent alter-personality with the mental development of a child. The laboratory dispatches other Diclonii and a mercenary to hunt Lucy down.

Elfen Lied is an anime of tension. It juxtaposes the young innocence of the characters with the violent nature of their telekinetic powers. How can something so small be so psychotic? Every scene with Nyuu is tense, for she could snap at any moment. A mere second of lost control and a character loses a limb or their head. A Diclonius doesn’t discriminate. Man, woman, child – all die in Elfen Lied. Elfen Lied is brutal and gory, contains child and animal abuse on physical and emotional levels. Do not watch this if you are prone to nightmares.

Nyuu/Lucy duality brings an interesting dynamic to the story. While her innocence is what keeps the power at bay, it is also her greatest weakness, as she is too naïve to control her power. It reminds of the 1931 Frankenstein film (which I highly recommend, by the way) where the monster doesn’t comprehend that actions have consequences, especially when those actions can be so destructive. Elfen Lied explores the nature of humanity, and what can come from it when a child is isolated, abused, and pushed to the limit. It accomplishes this goal rather well.

Music enhances these moments where a character’s psyche breaks and violence paints the screen. The opening is a tragic Latin opera called ‘Lilium,’ set to bizarre symbolist art inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The hymn unsettles, a warning for what is to come. Several versions of ‘Lilium’ play throughout the series and are an important role in the narrative.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Outside of the Diclonii, the rest of the characters are either underdeveloped or dull. Kouta in particular is weak. While his backstory is good and ties with Lucy’s plot line, as a character he has no purpose other than to serve as a romantic device. He is just so dull. A street lamp with a blown bulb would be more interesting. Yuka is even more useless. She is nothing more than the third point for a love triangle. The writers could have cut her from the series with no effect on the plot. The romance between her and Kouta is lame, filled with generic misunderstandings and anime romance tropes. What little humour Elfen Lied has is trite, seen in every anime teen romance – trip over each other, grabbing the breast, up-skirts, etc.

The average voice acting doesn’t help either. Even though Japan records all actors at once, here they sound stilted with no interactions off each other. The dub is even worse. Kouta’s voice actor is as deadpan as the character, and the female actors tried too hard to imitate their Japanese counterparts, resulting in these awful squeaky voices. No child sounds like that! What’s strange is that the English cast has done great work elsewhere (same team as Full Metal Panic and RahXephon, both great English tracks), but here they sound like amateurs.

Despite all Elfen Lied does wrong, I enjoyed the story. It’s a great example of using gore to enhance the narrative surrounding innocent characters.

Art – Medium

Mouth movements comprise all the animation in most non-action scenes; sometimes, even the mouth doesn’t bother, too exhausted it seems. Other than the action scenes, visual details are low. The manga creator intentionally chose a ‘moe’ artist for the anime to enhance the contrast between innocence and violence. However, this style doesn’t look the greatest, especially on Kouta. Gore and action is great.

Sound – Medium

A great Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack and tension music brought down by an average Japanese voice track, and an even worse English one.

Story – Medium

Protagonist Lucy carries the violent narrative with her dual personas and volatile nature. Shame then that the other pieces of her love triangle are worthless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Elfen Lied is a worthwhile anime for fans of uncensored violence. Watch in doses of three episodes at a time to avoid exhaustion from the constant tension.

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

 

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***

Negative:

Useless Side Cast

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Blade – Review

Japanese Title: Blade

 

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Blood: The Last Vampire

X-Men

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Action

Length: 12 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Visual style is nice with decent atmospheric colouring; good screenshots, essentially.

Negatives:

  • So many action clichés: Locked swords that wouldn’t lock, simultaneous jump slash followed by silence before the damage appears on both, etc.
  • When the vampires burn in death, the fire looks photoshopped over the top, which is strange since the environmental fire looks good.
  • High action moments experience a drop in frame rate, even going so far as to have static characters merely drift across the screen.
  • The vampires are weak. A sneeze means death.
  • Despite the narrative focus on the death of Blade’s mother, we get no emotional exploration.
  • Squandered use of Blade.

An exasperated hiss, that is my reaction at the end of Blade. Madhouse did a poor job here in translating the Blade comics into anime. Blade is the fourth on Marvel’s anime slate, and after four attempts, they don’t seem to have learnt much, if anything at all. Here we have shallow narrative, noticeable animation shortcuts, and every action cliché imaginable.

Blade is on a mission to kill Deacon Frost, a regular villain from the comics, and his Japanese based ‘Existence’ organisation of vampires as vengeance for the death of his mother. From then on, the plot is as linear as can be, with no twists all the way. Blade teams up with another vampire hunter, Makoto, out for revenge for the death of her father. Together, they carve their way through hordes of vampires…with ease. Immediately, we have a problem. The vampires are weak! They die to a sneeze. Blade gets more resistance from the wind than from the vampires as he slices through. He could slash at the air for more of a challenge than these vampires. Deacon Frost and a couple of others are the only real vampiric challenge; however, they never explain why they are more powerful than the others. The story never explores anything beneath the surface. Blade finally confronts his mother’s killer? Meh, just another bad guy. What are the villains’ motivations? Eh, who cares; it’s not like depth matters. Instead, they waste time on calling out ability names.

This laziness is prevalent in every facet of Blade. The animation for instance, loses much of its frame rate during action sequences, even to the point where the animation stops altogether and the characters just slide across the screen. When Blade executes a flurry of attacks, half the time, rather than show off this fluid animation of him dancing between enemies, carving them to shreds, they chose to have still shots flash in sequence minimal detail. Only in the finale does anything interesting happen on the visual spectrum.

Blade is a dull anime and a squandered opportunity with the comic lore. Even after all said above, it still feels worse than that, worse than the sum of its parts from the disappointment at this anime.

Art – Medium

Nice style ruined by low frame rate action and so many static shots.

Sound – Low

Mere passable voice work lacking in nuance of better anime. Generic action music.

Story – Low

A bog standard action plot of a vampire hunter hunting a vampire that looks no deeper than the surface.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Read the comics instead. Wasted chance to create an alternative take on Blade mythos.

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

Positive: Nothing

Negative:

 DissapointingHollow World BuildingNo DevelopmentShallow

Bakemonogatari – Review

Japanese Title: Bakemonogatari

 

Related: Nisemonogatari (sequel)

Similar: Katanagatari

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 13 episodes (12 is the finale; 13 is a bonus)

 

Positives:

  • Fantastic art style and animation to create a vibrant, yet haunting world.
  • Well-suited music to the dialogue heavy plot.
  • Strong male and female protagonists.
  • Solid voice work to accompany the varied dialogue.
  • Dark humour from lead female is a pleasant change of pace.

Negatives:

  • Incoherent story overall marred by throwaway side characters.
  • Random screens of text flashing every few seconds.
  • Sexually creepy at times.
  • Too little character development, even from the protagonists.
  • No world building despite the incredible visual design.

Bakemonogatari is one weird anime. You don’t get many as weird as this one. This anime has people with spaghetti for brains and staplers as weapons. Probably the most normal thing here, as far as anime goes, is starting with a pantie-shot. From then on, it goes to a whole different dimension. The question we ask ourselves: Is this weirdness good? It does create greatness, but unfortunately, it brings several poor decisions along for the ride.

Immediately, I was struck by the vivid art of Bakemonogatari. Its brilliant use of light, shade, and colour is gorgeous. There is style here, plenty of it. Gradients give backgrounds depth on top of the multi-layering. All colour choice is deliberate, intended to match the mood and atmosphere of the characters and their situations, even at the cost of continuity – a room could be bright one moment and change to dark if the situation called for it, regardless of realism.

It is a shame then that poor choices mar these visuals. Bakemonogatari use a mix of live-action, stop-motion, collage pages, and text for metaphors and similes. At times, the change in art is both hilarious and clever, the rest, tedious and forced. The worst offenders are the screens of text; they flash at random intervals for no purpose. Every instance broke my immersion. Get used to seeing a flat colour with Japanese lettering and the subtitle ‘unidentified cut’ underneath. A dozen times. Per episode. Every episode. Unbelievably stupid decision to kill the atmosphere. It feels as though they had a great idea to use live-action, collages, and so on, and found them to work so well that they thought, ‘why not add more?!’ only to kill it all by going too far. Such a shame.

The plot swims in much the same ocean as the alternative art styles: greatness weighed by poor decisions. We start with protagonist, Araragi, running up a grand spiral staircase in what you can assume is his high-school (most expensive high-school I have ever seen, especially considering no one goes there – more later). He looks up to see a girl falling down the hundred-meter tower. He catches her (don’t question how she drifts twenty meters from the central axis into the stairs) only to find she weighs five kilos (still enough that it should have broken his arms from that height, however). With Senjougahara’s secret revealed, she cannot let him go; she attacks armed with a box cutter and a stapler. After she staples the inside of his cheek for the fun of it, he pulls open his mouth to show no wound. Turns out Araragi recently reverted to human after a stint as a vampire. They become tenuous allies to return Senjougahara’s stolen weight (from a giant ghost crab that also took her memories) with the help of his acquaintance who cured his vampirism.

This initial premise captured my interest; unfortunate then that it lasted but a few episodes before it took a tangent about a little girl with another supernatural problem. The tangent itself wasn’t poor, but lacked development of the main plot and romance. When yet another girl with a paranormal issue enters afterwards, one realises this show is on a formulaic cycle and has little to do with the initial promise. His former life as a vampire has no bearing on the plot. Senjougahara’s backstory seems forgotten, and the relationship development stalls until episode twelve – a fantastic episode, admittedly.

In all, five girls partake, including the lead female, which is why you see Bakemonogatari categorised as a harem anime, yet this isn’t one. Yes, creepy sexualisation exists with a side character or two, but nothing that constitutes a relationship or even a crush required by harem anime. At least they made the correct decision in that aspect.

One of the strangest factors is how the entire world’s population is nine: protagonist, five girls, mystic, minor vampire girl, and Senjougahara’s father. That’s it. No background characters at all, not even in a school big enough to have a glass tower of no purpose, and parking for a thousand bicycles. Is this a problem though? Not really, but it did reduce world depth. This brings me to another negative: no world building. Why is this ghost crab after her? Where do all these supernatural elements come from? Where is the lore, the backstory? You get nothing. The world feels empty despite the visual depth.

Bakemonogatari is heavily dialogue driven. You have to pay attention, as it moves at a brisk pace while you extrapolate what is relevant from the random junk littered throughout. Episodes tend to diverge halfway through into some long-winded tangent before they return on track – medium success rate. The camera likes to cut away to different angles during dialogue. Focus on someone’s feet, then their hands, the corner of the table, the wall, a badly framed shot of the face. Prepare for irrelevance as well. The side of a building, some grass, a window, dirt, more grass…

Allow me to stress that this isn’t for children, and not because of the nudity. Topics of discussion range from Araragi’s virginity to Senjougahara’s choice of clothing and even to some specific types of incest-like fetishes. Honestly, I didn’t even know those were actual fetishes… Anyway, they deal with deep psychological issues caused by broken families and assault on loved ones. Dialogues are largely between the two lead characters, where Bakemonogatari is at its best. The dynamic between these two is a pleasure to watch. I find it hilarious how her attempts to help him with problems (she’s the more mature of the two), end up abusing him instead, making things worse, except, she honestly believes she’s helping. The humour is along those lines: serious in delivery, ironic in reception. His stray lock of hair being a symbol for his arousal level is clever too.

Despite the negatives, Bakemonogatari is still an anime worth watching. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend you watch no more than three episodes at a time to avoid overload and to maintain your focus throughout. Marvel at the art, focus on the lead characters, and you will end with a positive opinion.

Art – Very High

Truly spectacular. From the light to the shade, marvellous work here. However, it is brought down by some obnoxious screen flashes that occur far too often.

Sound – High

The right actors to match the great dialogue. Music is enjoyable too, outside of the opening and closing sequences.

Story – High

Moments of greatness distracted by random elements thrown in for the sake of being random. Three of the five story arcs fall flat.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch this for what it does right. Take Bakemonogatari in small doses to stave off what it does wrong.

(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:

Engaging DialogueStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingIncoherentMisleading

Asura Cryin’ – Review

Japanese Title: Asura Cryin’

 

Similar: A Certain Magical Index

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 13 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • The spell effects and mech summonings look nice.
  • Well-designed and animated mechs.
  • Good opening and closing sequences (that likely setup false expectations).

Negatives:

  • Frame rate drop in character animation.
  • A poorly setup start that quickly loses focus, ending in a weak finale.
  • Generic high school side plots.
  • Several androgynous characters, while pretending that they aren’t.
  • Muddled lore rules.
  • Many useless side characters, particularly the harem.

Asura Cryin’ is one of those shows you know is incomplete. It feels like they had a good idea and some general framework around it, but in the end too much was missing to have a solid final product. Rather than waste their time designing too many side characters, shoehorning in generic scenarios and random sleaze, they should have focused on the core concept.

Three different groups battle over a mech known as Asura Machina owned by Tomo, a wimpy high-school student. The mech is bound to him because of spirit girl Misao, who follows him around like a lost puppy. She’s still obsessed with fashion, even though she’s dead. So, Dark Society, the Divine Guards, and a demon faction all require this mech, ready to fight to the death. That is, until three episodes in where they’re all chums going on picnics, having casual chats while taking a leak…you know, the uje… Then the focus is on preventing Tomo and a demon girl Kanade (human in every way except with large fun-bags – how creative – and can use fire magic) from…getting busy…because the resulting contract plus his mech would create some powerful evil. More characters are introduced at this point – all of them female – until…they become ‘best buds’ and all’s cool despite having just tried to kill each other. Don’t confuse this with development, as no event changes these allegiances; it just happens.

More useless and irrelevant side characters enter to fill time, all the while, anyone who is relevant breaks the rules established by the world. A character’s powers seem selected at random. One has the ability to drain ‘luck’ from something by biting it (with no comprehension of how probability works); another can somehow fight these supposedly all-powerful mechs with nothing more than a sword; there’s even a guy who invents powers as he goes, and yet, somehow forgets he has them the next battle where it would be a free win. This plot doesn’t take itself seriously enough and is all over the place in its tone.

The concept and acquisition of the mechs is interesting, along with the idea of various factions vying for control over them, but beneath that, it’s just weak. For example, the demon’s mention they control the city, but this translates to nothing in the plot. Similarly, the Divine Guards work for the douchebag pope to eradicate demons; however, this too is worthless as they’re chums like no other. And Dark Society? You never see them, nor hear about them, or anything useful.

On the character front, it’s no better. Tomo and the ghost are decent enough. The Dark Society woman with glasses is a cyborg with the ability to pull guns out of nowhere (ones even bigger than her) and is a sleaze to a creepy degree. Sleaze is a common trope in this show – not to the extent that most straight up harem anime have. Kanade’s sole purpose is to pitch Tomo’s tent several times an episode; oh yes, she does fight…once.

Dialogue is hilariously bad: “It’s a forbidden existence that shouldn’t exist” – you know they were trying to be deep but failed miserably. Some forgettable girl says, “The world was created from an explosion once, correct? Well then, that means that an explosion carries with it the entirety of the world.”

Asura Cryin’ does have some redeeming qualities. The music is good, especially the opening and closing themes, accompanied by nice visuals in a heavy palette of purples and greens – this scheme translates to much of the show.

Asura Cryin’ can’t seem to avoid a dozen awful things for every one good choice in the same field. A sequel season is out for this, but I doubt I will get around to it unless requested, since I don’t see improvements on the horizon. What a waste.

Art – Medium

Animation and visual design is a mixed bag. Environments, mechs and spells look great using dark colours when necessary. The mechs remind of Warmachine’s Cygnar Warjacks, which is nothing but praise from me. A character’s shadow turning to dark matter from which the mech grows is a particularly cool effect. Where it falls is with the characters. Every male has girlish attachments to their hair, and styles are inflated. While the mechs have great animation (though at times you see more CG than anime) the characters suffer from a low frame rate in action.

Sound – Medium

I don’t know why I enjoy the opening song’s techno and ethereal lyrics – catchy. Background music consists mostly of brass instruments and violin with the occasional pipe organ, with electronic added for the action sequences. Rubbish acting.

Story – Very Low

Doesn’t know what to do with all the magic lore, supernatural factions and mecha it created. Pathetic characters.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Not worth your time unless you’re desperate. Asura Cryin’ needed a few more months’ incubation before being ready for production.

(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:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueIncoherentUseless Side Cast

Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings – Review

Japanese Title: Aa! Megami-sama! Tatakau Tsubasa

 

Related: Ah! My Goddess TV (main story)

Ah! My Goddess: The Movie

 

Genre: Fantasy Romance Comedy

Watched in: Japanese & English.

Length: 2 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and effects.

Negatives:

  • Poor resolution to the narrative with a feeble climax.
  • There is not much here unless you are familiar with the main Oh My Goddess! series.

Fighting Wings is a two-episode special of the celebrated Ah! My Goddess series. It fits in somewhere after the second season, though there isn’t a direct link between the stories beyond the general premise of the show: university student Keiichi accidentally called the Goddess Hotline, summoning the goddess Belldandy, who has been his girlfriend since.

For those wanting this special to further the main plot, you will be disappointed as this focuses instead on side character, Lind a Valkyrie warrior goddess, who made a few appearances in earlier shows. When a phantom known as the Angel Eater goes on a rampage in Yggdrassil (heaven), Lind descends to Earth, the next target, where Keiichi and the goddesses reside. The plot moves at an improved pace from the second season, and sports a good amount of action with cool magic enhanced by the clean and beautiful art you can expect from the Ah! My Goddess series. The symbiotic angels of the goddesses are of particular beauty. If only the new angels didn’t have names like Cool Mint (spoken in poor English by the Japanese voice actors).

Cheesiness is Fighting Wings’s biggest flaw. With humour thrown into the middle of serious scenes, it makes you wonder if comedy wasn’t an afterthought once they realised that there was going to be none in this romantic comedy. To exacerbate matters, the humour isn’t a success, falling far short of the main series.

The turnabout for the heroines is also rather lame, far too convenient without much of a struggle or conflict. Suffering in a similar manner is the side plot of Skuld, the youngest goddess, unable to summon her angel, resolved with zero effort. With a lack of resolution against the villainy, I was unsatisfied and questioned why they bothered. Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t hate these episodes – Lind’s story has closure at least – they are merely disappointing. Yes, the voice acting is good with the regular voices from the series, and the music matches the Celtic and Nordic tunes of norm, but none of these live up to the equivalent in the first season, and more particularly, the movie.

It has left me with one positive though; I do want to see more of Lind’s story and hope she does make a return in future.

 

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For fans of Ah! My Goddess only. You aren’t missing out on much if you choose to skip Fighting Wings.

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

Positive: N/A

Negative: N/A