Tag Archives: Swords

En garde! Swashbuckling, duels, and stabbing.

Outlaw Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Seihou Bukyou Outlaw Star

 

Related: Angel Links (spin-off)

Similar: Cowboy Bebop

Trigun

Space Dandy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Creative art.
  • Surprisingly good dub.
  • Sense of fun.

Negatives:

  • Melfina is empty.
  • The catgirl is irritating.
  • Never hits a high note.

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Combine Trigun with Cowboy Bebop and you have Outlaw Star. While not as good as either, it is not without merit. Nostalgic art and a mix of samurai, cat girls, sorcerers, pirates, bounty hunters, gunslingers, cowboys, and cyborgs make for an unusual universe.

Gene Starwind, sufferer of space sickness, wants to become a space pilot but remains earthbound as a gun-for-hire with partner James Hawking. They take the simple job of escorting a beautiful woman with a suitcase, only to get more than they bargained for. The woman isn’t an innocent dame – she’s a grizzled outlaw – and the suitcase doesn’t contain her clothes and unmentionables. Inside is a girl called Melfina, asleep, naked, and hunted by several factions. They escape together aboard the advanced Outlaw Star to survive and find the mysterious ‘Galactic Leyline’.

For the most part, Outlaw Star pits Gene and company against one of the aforementioned groups each episode. Races, heists, a wrestling tournament, and space battles are a mere sample of the adventures on which they embark. Early on, they clash with the cat people of the Ctarl-Ctarl Empire and find themselves burdened with the company of the most annoying character in the universe, Aisha Clan-Clan (yes, everything in cat society has a duplicated word name. Yes, it does get annoying). Even her introduction is idiotic. She argues with Gene over right of way in space! She knows that space is an infinite nothingness, right? After failing in her mission, she seeks revenge against Gene, which she reminds us every episode with her screeching voice, before joining the team in search of the Leyline.

I suppose that her high-energy personality was to counteract Melfina, who has no personality. Melfina is yet another example of a writer believing that quiet plus introverted must be boring. At least she has a purpose in the story. That’s something, I guess?

Characters and the Leyline, which I will get to in a moment, are the primary components holding Outlaw Star back. Gene is too much your typical space gunslinger (the space sickness gag lasts a couple of episodes), James is little more than his babysitter (most of his dialogue is warning Gene not to do something), and the samurai woman that joins later is as you would imagine on first impression. None are bad – except Aisha and the empty Melfina – but when you have Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, or Firefly in the live-action realm sitting right next to this anime, it’s hard to compete. Throw in the original Star Wars, Gundam SEED, Star Trek if you want something more measured, and you realise that great sci-fi with everyone on a single ship needs a great crew.

As for the Galactic Leyline, said to hold the knowledge of the universe, it isn’t an interesting goal. For one, it doesn’t fit into the rest of the series. You have this adventure series of gunfights and space battles for 23 episodes and then it turns into an exploration of the existential. The story never cared about themes of knowledge or existentialism before this. It doesn’t fit.

Outlaw Star plays its best cards during self-contained adventures over an episode or two. It’s worth your time for a few such adventures. If you want to go for the long haul, select one of the other titles I’ve mentioned in this review. Except Firefly because that was cancelled. Kidding, great show, wish it had more.

Art – High

Outlaw Star looks great, particularly in action scenes. I love the old school feel of its hand drawn art and world design.

Sound – Medium

The first ED may be one of my favourites of all time. I love the gentle song accompanied by gorgeous single-colour art sketches. The dub is surprisingly good for the era.

Story – Medium

An odd bunch of space farers gather aboard the Outlaw Star as they get up to all sorts of adventures against catgirls, mercenaries, and assassins. Outlaw Star is a space adventure of fun and action that doesn’t go for the high notes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of older anime. Outlaw Star won’t entice among all the glitz and glam of modern anime, but if you want to return to a simpler time, a time of space ships and space babes, then try this.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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Re:Creators – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Re:Creators

 

Similar: Fate/Zero

Shirobako

Durarara!!

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Action Fantasy

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Cool concept.
  • The music.

Negatives:

  • Untold wasted potential.
  • Pointless action scenes.
  • No sense of urgency.
  • The fictional characters don’t act like they come from fiction.
  • Background protagonist.
  • Not thought out enough in pre-production.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Never has there been such a difference between my interest of the premise in an anime versus the struggle it took to finish the series. Re:Creators may make the number one spot of my most disappointing anime list.

Aspiring light novel author Sota finds himself taken into the anime he’s watching, only to jump back out moments later with that anime’s fiery protagonist, Selesia Upitiria, by his side. He soon realises that other fictional characters – nine in total – have stepped off screen and page, some with ill intent and all with questions about their worlds and ours. The conflict of their stories has not left them whole. Altair, the woman in military regalia, seems to know too much of the real world for an anime character.

How did they take such a fantastic premise and do nothing of worth with it? Well, strap in. My heart breaks to do this.

It quickly becomes apparent that something is wrong with the fictional characters – not their conflicts, but their design and personalities. They each adjust to the real world in one scene flat. Selesia can immediately drive a car better than any stunt drive. The magical girl’s scene has here thinking that damage isn’t permanent, like in her shoujo anime, which is a good scene, but that’s all she receives. What’s the point of a fish out of water scenario when you don’t use it? If I showed you the episode after a character’s introduction, you wouldn’t guess that they aren’t from our world. Look at it in reverse, when a character goes from our world to one of fantasy, like Youko in The Twelve Kingdoms, and the obvious need for an adjustment period. Even GATE executed this better. Re:Creators’ characters are closer to cosplayers than to characters of fantasy and science fiction, which is ironic because that’s what everyone assumes they are when seen in public.

The next problem with these characters is the total lack of effort that went into making a connection with the audience. I could not care if they lived or died. Re:Creators doesn’t take the time to establish them and make us connect. They pop into the world, fight, chat about the fight, fight some more, meet their makers, fight, chat about the fight, and some meet their makers for the last time. Of the 22 episodes, about 10 minutes went towards character development.

You have two options to fix this: either you spend time in the fictional worlds first as the characters follow their ‘anime’ story or you put extra effort to show us who they are in the real world story. Ideally, do both. The time Sota has in Selesia’s world is one scene. And that’s all we see of the fictional worlds. Yep, that’s it.

It isn’t necessary – or advised – to give every character time in their respective worlds. Start with the important ones, Selesia at minimum, and unveil the rest as you go, holding back the villain worlds as part of their mystery. In the meantime, develop them in the real world – start with the fish out of water problem above. Character growth occurs in the face of adversity. Therefore, you would imagine that the adversity of being in a strange land and realising that your life, your entire existence is scripted would push you to grow. Why not use this opportunity?

Furthermore, this lack of individual stories makes them feel too similar, as though they don’t come from nine different anime but from the same anime, one called Re:Creators. Imagine if Van from Escaflowne, Light from Death Note, Sakura from Cardcaptors, Saber from Fate/Zero, Kira from Gundam SEED, Johan from Monster, and Byakuya from Bleach came together in a massive crossover series. Would they for even a moment feel as if they come from the same anime? The writer for Re:Creators should have created his characters with the mentality that he was making nine different anime, independent of one another, and then brought them together regardless of how unlikely a mecha pilot would meet a mage – the more different, the better.

As for the real world characters, they aren’t any better. Sota is a blank slate. He only exists because the writer felt a need to have a real world protagonist. A Creator would have been a better choice – Creator is the name for the author of a fictional character. Creators suffer the same problem as their creations. They adjust to their characters come to life in a single scene. Forget a character of your creation – if any character you loved came to life, wouldn’t you be full of questions and excitement?

The only interesting moments are when Creator and character go head to head. The knight Alicetaria, for example, cannot believe her Creator wrote her dark fantasy world full of pain and suffering for mere entertainment. Seen from her perspective, he’s a sadistic, cruel man. For others, such as the mecha pilot, it adds comedy. His Creator has trouble convincing him to do things because he’s a prat, just as written. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t go far enough with any of these.

If not growth and conflict, what fills Re:Creators’ screen time? Pointless action. You could count on one hand the number of meaningful or engaging action sequences. Again, think about this: you have nine powerful characters come together for a massive crossover series and the action. is. boring!

Most engaging action-related content happens prior when rewriting a character to have new powers. The Creator can’t simply write that Selesia is now immortal – the public wouldn’t have any of it! Fans must embrace a believable evolution to the character for it to take effect. I like this mechanic. Not used enough, I’m afraid. More meta mechanics would help too. I’m a broken record at this point, but yet again, Re:Creators doesn’t take advantage of its premise.

There is a k-drama called W – Two Worlds about a woman who finds herself dragged into her father’s manhwa when the hero faces death. The series is full of meta mechanics. She can only return to the real world when ‘To be continued’ physically appears in the air, marking the end of the volume on a juicy cliffhanger. The passage of time is also off, which emulates cutting from one scene to the next between panels. I don’t want to give away anymore as you must watch W, but my point is that Re:Creators is surface deep.

Re:Creators did not receive the effort required for such a concept. The creator only went halfway, delivering a halfway anime. Remember, this isn’t adapted from manga – this is an original anime unbound from prior canon. They could have done anything they wanted. Another creator could use the same concept and craft something truly great.

Art – Medium

Re:Creators’ art meets the modern industry standard and the CG works, though I am disappointed with the character designs. Why do all the characters look created by the same artist when they’re supposed to come from several artists?

Sound – Medium

The acting is average with no room to flex. I like the music, first title song in particular, which I have listened to a dozen times this past week.

Story – Low

Fictional characters come out of their worlds and into modern Japan as some among them cause havoc our world and their creators. A lack of thought and planning turned the great potential of Re:Creators into a bore.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. This is a Very Low in terms of potential vs. actual. I hope to recommend the same idea executed better in the future. Re:Creators is the Great Disappointment.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DisappointingShallow

GATE – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri

 

Similar: Log Horizon

KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!

Overlord

Re:Zero

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • An easy watch.

Negatives:

  • Why is this guy protagonist?
  • No fantasy world building.
  • Fantasy characters act too modern; present day characters are too calm.
  • Female iris designs.

(Request an anime for review here.)

First it was one person transported to a fantasy world; then it was a city; then a country; nowadays they just let anyone in.

A portal opens in Tokyo, connecting our world to one of fantasy and an army of warriors and all manner of creatures spills out onto the streets of Ginza. They slaughter anyone in sight. Worst of all, the invasion has cancelled the doujin convention, which Youji was so looking forward to – he is an otaku after all, as he told us in scene one. The modern military pushes back the fantasy horde and ventures through the portal soon after to understand the source of this calamity. Youji finds himself leading a recon team – not that he wants to, or anything, because he is an otaku above all else. They will have to negotiate peace and broker truces if they mean to survive their adventure of elves, dragons, knights, and catgirls. Most of all, everyone must remember that Youji is an otaku.

I forgot one detail: Youji wants me to tell you that his is an otaku. Don’t forget it.

This dimwit has to remind us every scene. He doesn’t stop. Considering an otaku wrote this, you’d imagine the one character he would depict correctly would be the otaku. Self-inserts are rarely good, however. Best part? Him being an otaku has no bearing on the story in the end. Come. On!

Like this hollow protagonist, GATE puts no thought into building its world, societies, monsters, and magic. The writer took the base template of ‘fantasy world’ and added nothing to it, resulting in a world no one would care to learn more about. Why would you when there are no secrets to uncover, cultures to learn, or dynamics to understand? All the fantasy characters act too modern as well. They may not know what a gun is, but their behaviours and morals don’t differ from ours.

On the opposing side, the modern people are far too sane about crossing a portal to a fantasy world. Do none of them realise what this truly means?

The first episode is a deception, leveraging the idea of all-out war between modern and fantasy societies, when in actuality, GATE is more comedy than action and the two sides are at peace most of the time. Again, the fantasy people are too modern, accepting the army with ease, and Youji learns their language in about two seconds (you thought a dozen races would have different languages, didn’t you?) A lack of action is no loss in this case with how little thought went into it. Prepare to put an equal amount of thought into GATE if you mean to enjoy it.

Basic, very basic, politics contribute the most to conflict with one king wanting to seize power, while a group in the Japanese government considers sealing access to the gate from other countries to secure the new world resources, resources that the fantasy residents are oblivious to.

The comedy is fairly good among the main group, which teams up with an elf, a mage, a death oracle, and more before long. A soldier with the catgirl fetish loses it when he meets one. If you can’t make meaningful tension, then amusing humour is better than nothing for a modicum of enjoyment.

Art – Medium

The art is your decent modern quality. Though why do most girls have lines across their irises? It makes them look full of tears.

Sound – Low

Voices are average in a weak script.

Story – Low

A portal connecting our world to one of fantasy initiates a new type of conflict. GATE would greatly benefit from world building and a different protagonist to engage the audience.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For bored fantasy fans only. GATE’s sole merit is its ease of consumption for anyone who doesn’t want to think about it. This is trash, but it might be your sort of trash.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionRubbish Major Characters

Fate/Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fate/Zero

 

Related: Fate/Zero 2nd Season (included in review)

Fate/stay night (sequel)

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (alternate sequel)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (alternate sequel)

Similar: The Future Diary

Re:Creators

Basilisk

Psycho-Pass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 25 episodes (two seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Breaks many ties with Fate/stay night.
  • Main characters have complexity.
  • ‘Banquet of Kings’ episode.
  • More substance to the action.

Negatives:

  • Some jarring CG.
  • Still can’t handle exposition.
  • One-note minor villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Fate/Zero is the prequel to the Fate/stay night visual novel and created by a different team, which can only mean good things.

Instead of a harem protagonist, Fate/Zero selects Kiritsugu the ‘Mage Killer’, hired by one of the noble families, and married to their heir, to crush the competition with his servant Saber (the same one from Fate) in the war for the Holy Grail. His opponents are a mixed cast of mages, noble and common, as well as different iterations of Archer, Rider, Assassin, Lancer, Caster, and Berserker. Kiritsugu displays greater depth than Shirou within moments. First, by having a plan, and second, by showing smarts in his method of attack. One of my issues with Fate/stay night was having kids instead of adults when the latter make for mages that are obviously more powerful. Kiritsugu isn’t an idiot kid, nor are his opponents save one that I’ll talk of later.

As if by magic, the servants also have complexity of character. Saber is no longer a good character solely due to her backstory. She has convictions, motivations, and opinions – all the important servants do. One episode in particular has a scene called ‘The Banquet of Kings’ with Saber, Archer, and Rider – three kings – sitting down to discuss their views on what makes a great king. They challenge each other’s ideologies, Saber’s in particular. The dialogue is something the old author could never dream of. The strength of character writing is no surprise coming from Gen Urobuchi, writer of Psycho-Pass and Madoka Magica. (He also wrote Aldnoah.Zero, though we won’t speak of it here.)

Not everything is gold and diamonds. The first episode has several minutes of two geezers walking around in a circle expositing the world and their plan for the war. Truly a masterclass of bad expository writing. And someone has to explain the whole Fate franchise concept, yet again, in the usual clumsy fashion. The writing is smoother once you clear those reeds. Oh, except for two awkwardly placed episodes of backstory for Kiritsugu – they’re interesting, but don’t seem to know where to go in the story, so occur in the middle of an event.

As for characters, one of the mages is a serial killer to match his sadistic Caster servant, which is a thrilling addition to the war. Unfortunately, both master and servant alike are flat. What you see upon introduction is the same throughout. Now, they do at least have major impact on the story, but they could have had more to their characters. In a series where identity is everything, Caster’s identity doesn’t matter. Missed opportunity.

For a pleasant surprise, we turn to Waver, a young mage in over his head trying to prove himself equal to “pure” bloodlines when he joins the war, summoning Rider. He’s the one kid and justified in his inclusion. Furthermore, Rider doesn’t respect him and flicks Waver for all the stupid commands, nor should he as a great king from history who conquered much of the world. This is what I mean by taking a moment of thought to justify why your story/character/conflict is the way it is. The original author wouldn’t have thought of this disagreement. Far from being mean, Rider is a boisterous character, a lion of a man that brings needed comic relief alongside Waver. Rider is my favourite of the servants.

The action sees improvements, even if it doesn’t look as nice as Unlimited Blade Works, and while you could point to a couple dozen better anime for action, the stronger characters and smarter plans increase the tension, placing value on who lives and dies.

I wish I hadn’t followed the Fate watch order guide and listened to my instinct to start with Fate/Zero. I would have enjoyed this anime even more if I didn’t know certain details that carry over to the main series. Fate/Zero stands as the only Fate series worth your time unless you really want to see the Holy Grail War repeated ad nauseam.

Art – High

Fate/Zero still looks good without the flash of Unlimited Blade Works thanks to vibrant colours, better character design, and tighter choreography since that they don’t have cram in as many effects as possible. Now, some of the CG…ouch. Berserker looks hideous – a CG knight surrounded by a particle shroud, also in CG.

Sound – High

The VO is equally good in both languages; just needs a tighter script. Electric guitar action music, softer classical pieces, and ethereal vocals make for a solid soundtrack.

Story – High

Ten years before Fate/stay night, another Grail War raged between mages and their servants of myth and legend. Fate/Zero abandons most of the garbage from the original series in favour of complex characters and meaningful action.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Defying the franchise, Fate/Zero stands above the swamp from whence its predecessors came. Start with Fate/Zero to avoid lesser series from spoiling anything.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works]

Note: Not to be confused with the old Unlimited Blade Works movie

 

Related: Fate/stay night (source – visual novel)

Fate/stay night (anime – alternate 1st arc)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (alternate 3rd arc)

Fate/Zero (prequel)

Similar: The Future Diary

Basilisk

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Stylish action.
  • Huge improvement over the visual novel.
  • Heroic Spirits have interesting backstories.

Negatives:

  • Fights lack substance.
  • Still has exposition and explanations in excess.
  • Villains let heroes live on a whim.
  • Doesn’t stick to its own rules.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left the franchise in the Fate/stay night visual novel, a mess of an artwork mired in exposition, sloppy writing, and worse sex. Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works adapts the second arc of the visual novel, with Rin instead of Saber as the romance option and Archer taking the Heroic Spirit spotlight.

Protagonist Shirou summons Saber to participate in the Holy Grail War against other magi and their servants. By a matter of convenience, he teams up with Rin and her servant Archer.

The genericity of Shirou hasn’t changed. He’s your goody two-shoes harem protagonist but with a hero complex to make him an action harem protagonist. His plot armour from arc one makes less sense this time, and he becomes instantly powerful before the end – I believe they call this an ‘ass pull’ – and as such, is the worst holdover from the source material.

Thanks to a dramatic cut in exposition and filler scenes, Rin doesn’t wear out her welcome, though she is still an average tsundere with more stereotype than brains. She whines too much. The romance with her, though irrelevant to the plot, has no foundation (the horrendous sex scenes were seamlessly cut). Unlimited Blade Works is actually about Archer and his backstory, as Fate was Saber and her history.

Like before, the suspense comes from the Heroic Spirit’s identity, even more so with Archer because of his amnesia. I am torn on the result. On one hand, the backstory itself is a great idea, yet on the other, the present day component – the consequence of the backstory, if you will – is garbage. I can’t help but feel that Unlimited Blade Works would have been superior if it only had to take inspiration from the source, not the beat-for-beat story.

That said, this anime is an improvement in every area. Yes, it could do with less explaining of mechanics when it shows them later anyway, and moments of describing actions before doing them drool off the visual novel, but this is still so much better. You can’t imagine without having played the game.

With all the visual improvements, I am disappointed that the fights aren’t smarter. This anime often receives the name ‘Unlimited Budget Works’ for all the animation and effects it has, but as anyone who’s watched a Michael Bay film will tell you, effects don’t make great action. Fights look good, sure, but they aren’t smart. How rarely anyone kills a weak mage while their servant is away in battle. Villains allow good guys to walk away despite impressing upon us the victory condition of killing all other mages. It isn’t just one villain – several villains do this. It’s as though the author couldn’t think for more than two seconds about plausible scenarios for characters to escape. How many times now has it been, in anime, where the premise is about fighting to the death, yet doesn’t happen?

Each subsequent fight is less interesting than the previous. The tension wanes when you realise consequences aren’t what they promised. The hype lies. Rin tells us that Berserker will wreck everyone in a fight, yet the fight against him is incongruent with her words. The author again didn’t spare a thought to finding a creative solution in beating a seemingly invincible opponent. I mentioned inconsistencies between arcs in the VN review, which we can see in effect here, as Berserker was conveniently stronger in the first arc when the author needed to kill another character. The rule breaking is still alive and well.

Why are the masters kids when an adult mage would crush them? It’s also convenient that all the mages connect to Shirou in some way – another source material problem. Honestly, 90% of the problems in Unlimited Blade Works stem from the visual novel. With a little extra thought, a little extra planning, a little better dialogue, this could have been a great anime.

What does Fate/stay night look like without the lead weight of the visual novel? Find out next time in the Fate/Zero review.

Art – High

I love the triadic colour palette of red, blue, and bright yellow. Its vibrancy pops in motion – gone is the ‘OC, don’t steal’ character art. Great looking fights use CG and particle effects, though often at the expense of substance. Occasional bad CG such as the skeletons slaps your eyes.

Sound – High

The voice work is good, but I’m not a fan of several casting choices in English. The music complements proceedings, except OPs and EDs seem out of place.

Story – Medium

Seven mages summon seven Heroic Spirits of myth and history to fight for the Holy Grail. This is arc two of Fate/stay night, focused on Rin and Archer instead of Saber. Unlimited Blade Works salvages the best parts of the visual novel to create an entertaining, if not deep, action anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime action fans. If you love anime’s signature action of one-on-one fights then you will love Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, when able to overlook the story and writing problems. It isn’t necessary to watch the first arc unless you’re interested in Saber. Watch Fate/Zero first.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

No DevelopmentWeak End