Tag Archives: Swords

En garde! Swashbuckling, duels, and stabbing.

Katanagatari – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Katanagatari

 

Similar: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Dororo

Mononoke

Samurai Jack

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Romance

Length: 12 episodes (double length)

 

Positives:

  • Storybook art
  • Whimsical score
  • Fairy tale stories
  • Fun main duo

Negatives:

  • Drags at times

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Katanagatari is a series of fairy tale-like stories about a woman collecting the twelve “Deviant Blades” across Edo-era Japan (unaffiliated with the Bakemonogatari series – “gatari” means “story” in Japanese, so “Sword Story” in this case). This is based on real events from history, where a Japanese ruler would declare a “sword hunt” to confiscate all swords possessed by those not native to his territory, believing it would prevent them having the means to overthrow him. Togame, strategist to the shogunate, employs the help of Shichika, current master of the Kyotouryuu style that fights barehanded and turns the body itself into a blade.

The storybook art style is immediately striking and the only selling point I needed to try this anime (several readers have since requested it). One may think it cartoonish or that this is a small children’s anime, but children would find Katanagatari unbearably dull in truth. This is for a slightly older audience and the style fits the tone.

Despite the action sounding title, dialogue is the dominant form of this anime. Each episode is double length to fit the story associated with each sword in a single uninterrupted session. While I like this idea, I don’t feel each episode justifies the extra screen time, as it does drag often for a mere 12 episodes. A variable episode length would be better – I wish all series would do this, just like the variable length of book chapters. It took me a long time to finish this series (to be fair, life keeps getting in the way too). I recommend one episode per session. However, outside of that, I can’t present any other barriers to finishing the series. Katanagatari is a good anime.

First, the main duo is tons of fun. Shichika is muscle over brains taken to an almost extreme. “I’m bad at thinking” – his words. He’s also oblivious to how to treat Togame, the woman he claims to love. He’s humorously embarrassing. By contrast, Togame is all brains and no brawn. She’s a proper lady of good upbringing, unlike this hick country fella. Yet she trips on first meeting him. She talks too much, too many big words, is carried away with her monologues, and assumes other people’s answers only to realise she misheard a minute later. A perfect contrast to Shichika.

The meeting of this art style, whimsical score, and mystical stories reminds of fairy tales, as mentioned earlier, for which you need the right mindset. Each episode is about confronting an owner of one of these swords. Naturally, they are reluctant to relinquish their powerful weapons, so a conflict ensues. Sometimes it’s a typical action scene, though often there’s more thought to it, like a moral quandary or a puzzle to solve – as seen in fairy tales.

For example, one wielder is the last swordsman in a fallen kingdom swallowed by sand. He sits in a room in the castle with his sword at the ready, capable of slashing faster than light at anyone who dares enter. If you think logically, this falls apart. How does he eat? Go to the bathroom? Why don’t they fire a cannon from outside behind him? Those aren’t questions for this type of story. In Little Red Riding Hood, you don’t worry about how the hell a wolf could ever pass for an old granny. Approach Katanagatari with that mindset and you will have a good time. I mean, one guy punches with his guns. Need I say more?

Why is it okay to ignore those questions here but not in, say, Sword Art Online 2, you may ask? No story can encompass everything, account for every possibility, or factor in every detail from reality. Would make for rather boring stories. Instead, stories choose what focus on and the style in which to deliver the message, the morality, the character study, the action – whatever. Weak stories will either execute this vision poorly or sometimes not account for something that within the logic of its world breaks the story. Sword Art Online is garbage for many reasons, but the sword versus guns problem is idiotic because if a sword is so effective and bullets are so slow, why would anyone ever choose a gun in competitive play? By the logic established within that world, no one would use a gun.

Thankfully, Katanagatari isn’t Sword Art Online.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Katanagatari is unexpected in style and execution and I recommend it taken one episode per session. Cheerio!

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Castlevania – Full Series Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1 review (old)

Castlevania Season 2 review (old)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Action Fantasy Horror

Length: 32 episodes (4 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Vampire majesty
  • Faithful adaptation without getting bogged down by the source material
  • Brutally gothic in action and tone
  • Political intrigue amongst excellent villains
  • Great lore and magic

Negatives:

  • Give me more, please

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With the conclusion of the fourth season, Netflix’s Castlevania comes to a great end. Rather than do a review for the final season only, I thought I would go back and cover the full series in one place, give my overall thoughts on this triumph (no need to read the other reviews either).

My astonishment at the quality of a video game to film adaptation has been the greatest surprise throughout Castlevania’s run. I’m hoping this is the turning point where adaptations are things to look forward to rather than dread, similar to when comic books became good films more often than not. Superhero film fans are spoilt for choice these days. They don’t know of the Affleck Daredevil and Elektra days. Watching a good adaptation can sometimes make you forget the bad – the atrocious – such as Far Cry (anything by Uwe Boll, honestly), Dead or Alive, and the notorious Super Mario Bros. It’s hard to stress how weird it feels to see quality when the expectation is absolute ass.

For the newcomers, Castlevania is a long-running franchise of loosely connected games about a bloodline of vampire hunters from the Belmont family battling against creatures of the night, usually led by Dracula. The Netflix series roughly follows the third game, Dracula’s Curse, though pulls from several entries and brings much of its own material to the canvas. That last point is a key to Castlevania the animation’s success. Most adaptations fail because they don’t realise that gameplay comes first in [good] video games and trying to translate this to a cinematic only experience doesn’t work. There’s a reason the “princess is in another castle” trope is a common ailment of game stories (the recent God of War, for example), yet not often seen in film. Games use it to tack on another 5-hour gameplay world before, of course, the princess is again in another castle and you have another world to explore. It’s fine to want to be faithful to the source material, but there’s no point if it makes for a garbage film. Character, theme, tone, and style matter when adapting, not the gameplay mechanics or exact plot.

In terms of story, what makes Castlevania? Vampire hunters, vampires, monsters, magic, gothic, horror, religion, and labyrinthine castles. Your story isn’t a failure if your vampire hunter doesn’t jump and whip, jump and whip, jump and whip. It’s like those movies based on FPS games, where they think that because they have a scene in first person as a guy mows down fools with a gun, they’ve nailed it.

This series understands what makes for an engaging story in the world of Castlevania.

Enough preamble already, onto the review proper! This story opens on the meeting and courtship between the human Lisa and the vampire lord himself, Dracula. He teaches her science and medicine to help the local humans, which doesn’t please the Church, who see science as heathen magic and burn her at the stake. Dracula’s fury in response knows no equal and he unleashes a horde of demons upon the nation. Hell reigns.

Trevor Belmont, the last in his line of vampire hunters, drinks his way to the end of his days unmoved by the massacres nearby. A plea from some humans wakes him from his drunken haze and he finally does what he was born to do. He soon meets the magician Sypha.

Hearing this premise and knowing the video game origin, expectations are for little more than good guy fights series of bad guys to get to big bad guy in terms of story. However, Castlevania is so much more. In fact, there is enough material just amongst the villains to make a full series. Dracula’s court consists of vampires and humans, each with their own motivations and purpose in this story. Politics plays a larger part than action does in the conflict. They aren’t evil for the sake of evil. Dracula is the most powerful being on Earth, yet the death of his wife broke him. Isaac, one of Dracula’s Forgemasters (demon constructors), is waging a war against his own kind, whereas the other Forgemaster is a tad hesitant though no less involved. Some amongst the vampire “sisters” question their existence as vampires. Are they truly to rule for all eternity? Over everyone? The nuance to these villains (are they all villains?) particularly in later seasons had me glued to the screen.

A recurring problem in stories featuring secret societies of the supernatural is homogony within the society. The Underworld films (a guilty pleasure of mine), The Mortal Instruments, and Blade are but a few examples. How many stories have you seen where all the vampires (except maybe one) or werewolves or whatever supernatural race are the same? Where they have no lives saves for waiting around to drop from above in groups when someone walks down a back alley? They may as well be the clone troopers from Attack of the Clones for all the difference between them. This cliché stems from how people imagine other cultures. They see people in their own country are as varied as the plants and animals of the world, yet everyone in a distant country is one homogenous blob of whatever stereotype they know and not just as varied. Or the writers are just lazy. Of course, one story doesn’t have room for thousands of different personalities, but variety in what characters you do have goes a long way, even the villains.

On a hero front, Trevor’s “I’m so over this” attitude combined with his family duty makes for a fitting hero, a better choice than a typical “hero” in this gothic tale, and his chemistry with Sypha brings a touch of levity. Alucard is a more unusual character. Like his father, he’s powerful yet amongst the most mentally weak after having lived a sheltered life. I love the way he talks as well. His vocal mannerisms alone inform much of his experiences and mental state. And let’s not forget the charismatic has-been Saint Germain. What is he up to?

Even the minor characters are memorable, from the religious fanatics to the sentient demons. My only complaint with the characters is that we don’t get to see more of them. I could easily do with twice as many episodes of character interactions and vampire politics.

If action is more to your taste, Castlevania is excellent there as well. Apart from a few rough cuts, the animation is great and the action never feels generic. It’s always interesting to watch and improves with each season. Gory too, as it should be for a horror series. The massacre in episode one sets the tone perfectly.

Castlevania started as an animation to which I paid no attention. Now, I love it. It has a great start with four episodes as a proof of concept followed by a second season that brings the cast to strength, and then a third season elevates it to excellence with nuance before a final season delivers an explosive action finish. This is one of the best fantasy series I’ve seen in a long time. I can only hope future video game adaptations receive even half the care and effort as Castlevania has received.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania is a triumph of an adaptation and a fantasy series. I heartily recommend it.

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

Positive:

Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

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Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building

Redo of Healer – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kaifuku Jutsushi no Yarinaoshi

 

Similar: The Rising of the Shield Hero

Goblin Slayer

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Fantasy Harem

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Negatives:

  • Everyone is a rapist
  • Presents a rapist and sadistic protagonist as the good guy
  • Garbage animation and visuals
  • Moronic character logic
  • Mary-Sue protagonist and deus ex machina every episode
  • Bad acting
  • Inciting plot makes no sense

(Request an anime for review here.)

Imagine taking The Rising of the Shield Hero and somehow making it ten times worse than it already is. Your result is Redo of Healer. Where to start?

Redo of Healer follows the incomprehensibly stupid story of Keyaru, a healing Hero who somehow gains the ability to time travel. He goes back to before the princess recruited him into her party to heal other Heroes and her powerful allies. Healing someone in this world causes the healer to experience the patient’s mental pain in seconds, so he refused to use his power again. However, the princess couldn’t accept this and locked him in the dungeon, where she turned him into a drug addict, sex slave for anyone in her circle, and torture victim. He would heal in exchange for drugs.

Right, so now that you have the backstory, let me describe what happens after he time travels. He goes back to before the princess recruits him into her party to heal other Heroes and her powerful allies. He accepts the invitation. Healing someone in this world causes the healer to experience the patient’s mental pain in seconds, so he refuses to use his power again. However, the princess doesn’t accept this and locks him in the dungeon, where she turns him into a drug addict, sex slave for anyone in her circle, and torture victim. He heals in exchange for drugs. Am I repeating myself?

That’s correct, he time travels only to choose to go through the same slavery and torture. Now, listen to this galaxy brain explanation. He repeats the same ordeal so that he can somehow absorb people’s memories, talents, and powers with a second of contact via his healing…

Yes, he refuses to do the job for which he’s hired…so that he can be tortured into doing the job…which he needs to do to steal everyone’s minds and abilities. If you can steal with one second of healing, why not go along with the job and steal what you need within a few days? Don’t even need to heal – just shake hands! And to think this stupid is just the first two episodes.

The actual reason for this repeat (apart from the author’s utter incompetence, of course, which we’ll take as a given throughout) is so that you can see what they do to him as a means of justifying all of the depraved things Keyaru will carry out in return, presenting him as some sort of good guy.

After he somehow breaks free of the addiction, he somehow shapeshifts himself to look like a royal guard and for the royal guard to look like him. This gets him close to the princess, after which he rapes and tortures her before changing her face, somehow erasing her memory, giving her a new personality, and having her “willingly” become his sex slave. He sets out with her on a quest to rape and torture everyone who wronged him. Our hero, everybody. And yes, Redo of Healer genuinely tells you that he’s a good guy and you are expected to agree with him.

Next he buys an underage wolf-girl slave, who he somehow strengthens with his semen (I’m not making a joke) and turns her into a sex slave. You may be noticing my overuse of the word “somehow” in this review. That’s because there is no explanation in relation to this guy’s endless powers. He can time travel, heal any injury in a split second (includes full regeneration), steal powers, steal talents, read minds, erase minds, rewrite personalities, shoot magic cream, move so fast it seems like teleportation, resist any poison, display strength beyond anyone, shapeshift himself, shapeshift others, copy any voice, give anyone any voice,  perform “alchemy” (it’s nothing like alchemy; they just call it that), make any potion, change his blood into magic, and mind control others, to name a few. He has whatever dumb power the author wants for the idiotic scene we are about to witness.

All of the girls he enslaves, rapes, or tricks throw themselves at him, fulfilling the fantasy of a rape victim falling in love with her rapist. It’s weird to see someone write self-insert fantasy with them as a rapist (of innocent people as well).

Oh god, I just recalled his “genius” strategies. This tries to present them as grand plans you’ll never see coming as he grins like a cocky mastermind, but they’re so obvious that you don’t realise you’re meant to show shock at the big reveal. Redo of Healer so desperately wants to be fantasy Code Geass.

Even if you remove the depravity – let’s suppose they only imprisoned him and forced him to heal, and his heal power just turned deadly instead – it is still a garbage anime. Why would the princess treat the most important person on her team this way? How can she be surprised when he betrays them in the big battle? The antagonists are laughable. They are evil for evil’s sake and like to make others suffer for whatever reason. No depth. With such evil people in charge, the kingdom would have collapsed decades ago.

The harem girls are vapid morons and useless when he can use any power he wants. The dialogue is as well written as this anime’s title. There are also random video game elements – as if the clichés couldn’t stop coming – like RPG stat wheels when he scans someone (another power). This author wanted you to know this series is garbage.

Now that I think about it, what was the point of the time travel? He puts himself through the same thing again, so why bother with the time travel angle. Could just have him learn this corrupted healing out of spite brewing in the dark damp of the dungeon and then he takes his revenge. It isn’t like Erased or Steins;Gate, where knowing the timeline matters to the plot.

Lastly, it goes without saying, but this anime looks and animates terribly, the performances are poor and the only above bottom tier music is the OP and ED, which don’t fit the tone anyway.

I don’t object to Redo of Healer for the depravity or incel-like thinking. There are far more depraved “connoisseur animations & Japan comics” out there for those interested. I don’t advocate banning it either. It’s just shit no matter how you slice this turd.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Redo of Healer is a school shooter’s manifesto.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueDeus Ex MachinaHollow World BuildingHorrendous ActionInduces StupidityMary SueRubbish Major CharactersUseless Side Cast

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Seirei no Moribito

 

Similar: The Twelve Kingdoms

Sword of the Stranger

Yona of the Dawn

Dororo

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Slick action scenes
  • Great acting in Japanese
  • Real depth to the lore and world
  • Balsa is one of anime best female protagonist’s

Negatives:

  • Environments aren’t the best

(Request an anime for review here.)

The kingdom of New Yogo is under the grip of an eternal drought believed to be caused by a water spirit living within Chagum, prince of the realm. Ancient scriptures say that the first emperor ended a drought by slaying the water spirit. The current emperor has no choice – Prince Chagum must die. In a desperate attempt to save her son, Chagum’s mother implores the spear-wielding mercenary known as Balsa to take her son and flee.

Balsa is a woman of considerable skill and great honour. What starts as an assignment to protect an inept child soon turns into a quest of a spiritual and personal nature. Chagum is the learn more about the people that funded his lavish lifestyle, while Balsa will repay an old debt and open her heart to life. These two are the core of Moribito, so I’m pleased to find depth here. Balsa in particular is a stand out as one of the best female leads in anime. She strikes a good balance of toughness and wisdom without losing identity as a woman, which plays into her almost motherly role to Chagum.

People tell us she’s a skilled warrior and the animators made sure we knew it. The action in Moribito is up close and personal, a flurry of attacks illustrated with beautiful animation. It’s sharp, weighty, to the point and doesn’t drag. I just wish there was more of it. We see a great fight early on, giving the false hope that such scenes will continue throughout the series, but it’s a half dozen at most.

Not that I’m complaining about what comes instead. There are two primary threads – Balsa and her mission to protect the prince while figuring out this water spirit (Mushishi-esque magic), and Chagum’s evolution from a useless royal to someone with a purpose. I like the scenes of him with the resourceful street rat and his friend as they roam among the people.

Moribito, like any good Japanese period piece, is steeped in “way of the warrior” mythology, deeply spiritual and philosophical. My favourite episode takes place in a swordsmith’s workshop. Balsa needs her spear fixed but must hide in the back room when the emperor’s men arrive to have their weapons fixed from the same fight. While he finishes a job, the smith tells the soldiers of the ultimate sword being one that doesn’t kill and a story of a warrior protecting a child at all costs, even when his friends have orders to kill him. Compelling.

I was surprised to learn after finishing this anime that it is an adaptation of only the first novel in a 12-part series. I say surprised because this doesn’t feel incomplete. It certainly builds a world with possibilities beyond what we see though doesn’t leave us hanging. Much appreciated.

Art – High

The action visuals are beautiful. Whoever key animated those fights did an excellent job. The character designs strikes that ideal balance of anime meets realistic with a layer of fantasy. The grander environments, however, with sweeping camera movements or long shots in use show their age. One can see this is at the threshold of CG modelling to shortcut large environments.

Sound – High

For a period piece such as this, you have to watch it in Japanese even if the English acting is fine. It sounds a little weird in any other language. Good music.

Story – High

A prince set for death to cleanse a curse plaguing his kingdom finds a second lease on life when a lone warrior woman take him under her protection. With a protagonist as engaging as Balsa and an interesting world, Moribito is an easy watch from start to finish. I do wish there was more of that action.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is something a little different that you don’t see much of anymore. There is also a live action series if that is your preference.

(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:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None