The art in Kei has lost the sharpness and style that made season 1 look unique.
Theme of addiction and deeper philosophies largely lost.
Most humour is gone.
(Note: this review assumes you have either watched xxxHOLiC season 1 or read the review. Still spoiler-free, however.)
What happened? Where did the heart of xxxHOLiC go? In its transition to xxxHOLiC Kei and the OVAs that followed (xxxHOLiC Shunmuki & xxxHOLiC Rou), the franchise lost its greatest quality: the exploration of addiction and its consequences. While I appreciate the inclusion of an on-going plot to connect the episodes, the creators overbalanced the structure and narrative, eschewing the heart of the original.
xxxHOLiC Kei picks up after season one with Watanuki still working for Yuuko to clear his curse. Cases span a few episodes per customer, allowing for more backstory, but without the depth of the life lessons, these extended cases aren’t as engaging. Much of the humour is gone in Kei, and even more so in the OVAs, replaced with rather drab gloom at times where it isn’t needed. Only Mokona, the adorable ball of fluff, brings any laughter to the scene. The constant gloomy atmosphere didn’t hold my attention like the first season. The art in Kei also lost what made xxxHOLiC visually striking. Yes, the characters have the same hyper-stretched style, but the backgrounds are blurry as though the artists used softer brush strokes and didn’t bother with the detailing stage. That unique quality is no more. Shunmuki and Rou do bring back sharpness with the jump to HD; however, there is something more…generic about the art, though the OVAs do look nice.
Not all is worse. Kei feels like a more important story to Watanuki as a character. Where in the original, Watanuki was more of a Good Samaritan helping people with their addictions; in Kei, he has a greater personal stake in the narrative. Several of the lessons learned are for his benefit rather than the customer. Similarly, in the final OVA Rou, Doumeki is a focus character. We get a chance to see past xxxHOLiC events through his eyes and his backstory. I never say no to good backstory. There are also guest appearances from CLAMP’s other franchise, Tsubasa Chronicles, in xxxHOLiC Shunmuki.
Overall, xxxHOLiC Kei & Shunmuki & Rou are certainly not bad. Fans of the original series will likely enjoy this, unless the humour and theme of addiction were the draw, as they were for me.
Art – Medium
xxxHOLiC Kei looks like someone overused the blur tool; however, the OVAs bring back the sharp quality.
Sound – Medium
Without the English track and the constant gloom, the voice work has less to offer than the original. The ending theme to xxxHOLiC Kei is catchy and adorable, though.
Story – Medium
Without the focus on addiction (the series’ namesake), consequences, and lessons learned, the heart of xxxHOLiC is diminished.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Only for those who want to see more of the characters. Be aware that the tone is more serious than the first.
The sultry and seductive Yuuko is a great character shrouded in mystery.
A great English voice track that brings out the protagonists’ nuances.
Insightful looks into life morals and philosophies regarding addiction.
Enjoyable and light-hearted humour.
A sharp art style that accentuates Yuuko’s personality and power.
Lacks direction in the episodic format without an overarching plot.
You have to like the CLAMP hyper-stretched art style, especially here.
The majority of ambient characters are no more than sketches filled white.
Fluctuation in character proportions breaks immersion.
(Note: The film xxxHOLiC: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is included in this review, as its qualities are the same as season 1 of xxxHOLiC.)
Watanuki spends his days chased by spirits only he can see. One afternoon, while dealing with a particularly troublesome horde of spirits, he stumbles into a shop run by the mysterious and seductive Yuuko, a sorceress who grants wishes in exchange for payment equal to the wish – usually an object precious to the customer. In exchange for his servitude, she agrees to work on removing his curse. And so begins his servitude as her personal chef, errand boy and chore slave.
The title refers to addiction, xxxHOLiC’s theme. The ‘x’s are Japan’s version of blank spaces, just as we use ___. So the title is a multi-purpose term for addictions like alcoholic, workaholic, or even chocoholic. Despite the supernatural slant on the narrative, each case is interesting because xxxHOLiC portrays the addiction and resulting struggles in a realistic way. xxxHOLiC’s acknowledgement that people will lie and deny any problem with their addictions, and the reality that some addictions have long-lasting consequences, is the key that turned the series from something forgettable to an anime worth my time. Many customers end up in the shop without meaning to, without realising that they need help – a great metaphor for reality. Not all cases have a happy end.
The life lessons Yuuko brings to the table have actual depth rather than being “philosophical” one-liners. The shop’s first customer since Watanuki, for example, is losing the use of her arm and can’t understand why. Watanuki investigates to find that she is a serial liar, concocting falsehoods in conversations with friends and acquaintances to make herself look better in their eyes. While these lies seem innocent, the supernatural is using her addiction as an opening to infect her. Watanuki asks Yuuko why they didn’t just tell the woman to stop lying. Yuuko explains that the woman lies for her own sake and nobody else’s. It wouldn’t make a difference if told of the consequences; she would still lie, addicted to the feeling of looking good in front of others, until she experienced the consequences for herself. I appreciated this more realistic view on the problem rather than waving a magic wand to fix fundamental issues within a person’s character.
Yuuko steals the show. She is an inter-dimensional sorceress with great fashion sense, an insatiable appetite, confidence, and isn’t afraid to be seductive when needed, reminding me of Bayonetta. Actress Colleen Clinkenbeard brings her to life especially well in English with a sultriness and nuance to her voice not found in Japanese.
Another great character is Doumeki – popular, talented, good looking, better at soccer than Watanuki – a guy too aloof to be scared by spirits, which infuriates Watanuki. He has this great deadpan voice at all times (the similarity in voice for both languages is uncanny).
xxxHOLiC’s main potential turn off, outside of the CLAMP’s stretched art style (full Jack Skelington here), is the episodic format. The lack of overarching plot to the series makes the show lack direction, even if each individual episode is interesting. If you accidentally skipped a few episodes, you wouldn’t notice.
Regarding the movie, there isn’t much to say. It is essentially an extended episode with a bigger budget allowing for grander animation, more variety in environments, and a larger cast of characters. The overall quality is similar with the same strengths and weaknesses as the series. Watch it after the season for full context. xxxHOLiC is an enjoyable, fun show. It is a pleasure to watch the dynamic between the calm Yuuko and Watanuki’s hysteria.
Art – Medium
xxxHOLiC uses CLAMPS’s iconic thin art style to the extreme here. It may turn some away. Crowds could use detailing.
Sound – High
A solid Japanese track with a better English one accompanied by pleasant and mysterious instrumental music. Plenty of violin.
Story – Medium
xxxHOLiC’s supernatural angle on the exploration of addiction is interesting and unique. However, the lack of continual plot between episodes can reduce compulsion to keep watching. (Is that the show’s way of telling you not to get addicted to anime…?)
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Great for anyone who likes humour undercoated by deep morals with an air of mystery about it. Worth watching for sorceress Yuuko alone.
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.
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.
Visual style is nice with decent atmospheric colouring; good screenshots, essentially.
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.
Length: 13 episodes (12 is the finale; 13 is a bonus)
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.
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.