Tag Archives: Tragedy

An event shakes the character’s world apart. Often coupled with Melancholy, but not mutually inclusive.

Mushi-shi – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mushishi

 

Related: Mushishi –Next Passage- (sequel – included in review)

Similar: Kino’s Journey

Natsume’s Book of Friends

Mononoke

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Mystery

Length: 46 episodes (3 seasons), 3 specials

 

Positives:

  • Perfect execution of tone and theme.
  • Varied and original stories.
  • Unpredictable mysteries.

Negatives:

  • Art is on a tight budget.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Piece of advice if you ever intend to review anime: don’t give yourself two weeks to watch an anime that you should space out over months. Not watching it while you’re on a Star Trek: TNG binge and finishing Game of Thrones (I don’t wanna talk about it) would also help. Honestly, I haven’t even finished all of Mushishi yet (few episodes and the specials to go), but the review has already been delayed and I don’t wish to do so again. And I already know what to say.

Mushishi is an excellent anime. You should all watch it.

There, done. That was worth the delay. Onto the next one!

In all seriousness, I feel I need to explain why Mushishi is a must watch, as it isn’t so obvious on the surface. I can’t imagine one could make a trailer for Mushishi that would entice many people into watching it (at least not without lying about its tone and feel). A large part of this is the art problem – getting to that in a moment – and the absence of exciting clips one could use to advertise the anime.

Mushishi is an anthology of supernatural mysteries. We follow Ginko, a Mushi Master, as he wanders Japan in pursuit of mysterious whisperings pertaining to “mushi”. These lifeforms transcend the bindings of reality. They take many forms from diseases to plants to the air itself. They are neither good nor evil. They simply are.

To ordinary citizens however, they can be the cause of strife or a great blessing. One mushi disguises itself by wearing the skin of a woman’s child. Another lives in people’s ears and “eats” the sound they’re meant to hear. This is where Ginko’s expertise comes in. As a Mushi Master, he dedicates his life to helping people affected them, yet does so without killing mushi, unlike his peers.

It helps to know, going in, what type of a series Mushishi is. If you just watch the first episode, it probably won’t grab you because it doesn’t establish a grander story or end on some hook to keep you going. I didn’t know what it was about, so it wasn’t until a few episodes in that I caught on a realised I was meant to focus on one episode at a time. Once I did, it hooked me.

The brilliance of Mushishi is in these short stories (one episode each). They tend to focus on an individual and their surrounding community affected by mushi. Each episode establishes the characters, presents the conundrum, and takes us down measured and winding path of twists to create a complete story. Every time. No episode is rushed or incomplete. Some are better than others, of course, but every episode is a full arc and an engaging one at that. This is the core brilliance of Mushishi. It makes you care for these characters and their story within minutes. Mwah, perfection.

Furthermore, it isn’t predictable. One can never be certain of the outcome of any given episode. Sometimes it’s a happy end, other times it’s a negative, and often it’s somewhere in between. The tone matches this unpredictability as well, evoking an air of the unknown – we know little of the mushi as we know little of the story’s destination. Ethereal, like the mushi, is how I describe it. Mushishi is what I wanted from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

The other thing I like is how it doesn’t use the same old Japanese myths that you see everywhere. These tales still feel like those fables you would tell around a campfire at night, yet they aren’t a repeat of what came before.

Mushishi’s one real flaw – the aspect most likely to turn people away – is the art. It isn’t impressive in any way.

How can you tell investors had little confidence in the success of a series, even one based on an award-winning manga (Kino’s Journey, anyone)? By allocating such a small art budget. When an anime has so little animation, a studio usually makes up for it with gorgeous stills of beautiful environments and detailed characters. Mushishi has none of that. It doesn’t have the surreal imagery it deserves either. When Ginko performs a ritual to cleanse a mushi or when one finally reveals its true purpose, weird things start happening (gushing silver from a kid’s eyes, for example), but the art hasn’t the strength to covey what the author is saying. The art simply isn’t vivid enough. You know the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle when the witch has her power extracted? That’s what Mushishi needs.

Thankfully, as the ponderous and ethereal anime that it is, Mushishi doesn’t need the best art to succeed and it gets a little better after the first season. (If an action series had this art, it would be dead on arrival.) Do not let the art get in the way of you watching Mushishi. I cannot recommend this anime enough.

Art – Low

There isn’t much in the way of animation nor are the still shots gorgeous to make up for it. They could have put more effort in character designs, at least – too many peasants look the same across episodes. Improves in season 2.

Sound – High

The OP is in English – interesting choice. It works in establishing tone. You can watch this in either Japanese or English (love the narrator’s voice) accompanied by a strong script, though note that only season 1 has a dub. The understated and mysterious soundtrack is great too.

Story – Very High

An expert on supernatural entities known as mushi travels around Japan investigating their wonderful and dangerous appearances. This anthology of fables is engaging from start to finish.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Mushishi is an anime I recommend to everyone. However, I caution you against binging it. Watch a few episodes at a time and allow them to sink in before you start the next.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

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Toward the Terra – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Terra e… (TV)

 

Related: Terra e… (Movie – old version)

Similar: RahXephon

Gundam SEED

No. 6

Xam’d Lost Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Grand scope with proper closure.
  • Intriguing open.
  • The sci-fi elements make for an engaging story.

Negatives:

  • Needs stronger key villains.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In another anime with the premise of a protagonist realising his world is a lie, we have Toward the Terra. Where No. 6 setup an ordinary world for the protagonist to exit from, Terra echoes events closer to the likes of The Island or Logan’s Run with a dash of RahXephon and Battlestar Galactica.

In Jomy’s world, talented people join the elites of humanity on the day they reach adulthood. This is an exciting occasion. Who wouldn’t want their child to lead humanity to greatness? This is also a lie. The test of adulthood is actually to identify any potential “Mu” among the populace. They are an evolved race of humans possessing psychic abilities that strike fear in the government. All Mu are executed.

Jomy’s birthday takes a turn for the weird when a mouse starts talking to him telepathically at an amusement park. It’s not long before he’s on the run as one of the Mu and the lie that is his world tears at the seams. Not only is there a race of psychics that live on a ship among the clouds, their leader Soldier Blue has fallen into a coma and wants Jomy to inherit his power and the burden of leading the Mu to a brighter future.

Toward the Terra immediately differentiates itself from the pack of like-minded stories by going off in a wild direction. This story spans years and ventures to places I didn’t predict. One could watch the first episode of Terra followed by the final episode and have no idea how it got from A to Z. No character is the same by the end of this series.

The first act sets up so many questions about this world and its characters. Where did the Mu come from? How blind is the average human to reality? Did Jomy’s human parents really love him? Is it possible for Jomy to undo the brainwashing on society? Who is leading the humans? Why are they so insistent on killing the Mu that aren’t a part of their society? Unlike No. 6, which setup many question but either forgot to answer them or gave meaningless payoffs, Terra delivers some great arcs and story conclusions.

This is my kind of sci-fi anime.

That said, it doesn’t reach greatness when looked at as a whole. There are moments of greatness – the setup episodes and other key events I won’t give away – but the problems are intrusive. The one that has stuck with me since having finished Terra months ago is the switch from Jomy’s perspective to one of the human elites in training.

We follow Keith, a Spock-like character except boring and with no personality. Furthermore, we have no clear idea why the focus is on him for so many episodes (turns out, he’s a major villain – no spoiler, they should have alluded as much from the start). Even furthermore, we don’t see Jomy during this section. It all makes sense in the end, of course, yet the structure of this early second act feels so disconnected from the plot that instead of enjoying the story, I’m asking, “Why does any of this matter?” for too long. It needed a back and forth of perspectives.

Oh yes, almost forgot – Keith’s main rival at the academy is a smiley evil guy. A laughable character. No one would just stand there and take his sneering for more than a day before removing all his teeth. When at this stage of the story, I thought all the good the premise had setup was going down a black hole. Thankfully, it picks up again once Jomy re-enters the scene and Keith’s role matters – he even becomes interesting after the academy years are over. The villains in general are on the weaker side.

Several other moments also standout as blots in the story. I can’t go into detail without revealing too much (as I said, this story goes in such unexpected directions), but they are in the vein of characters doing stupid things for the sake of forced conflict.

There is also a minor annoyance where each episode starts with several minutes from the previous episode. This isn’t a “last time on Terra…” bit, but a straight repeat of scenes. Could do without it, though not a deal breaker.

In all, the good outweigh the bad with the premise being a story type I love accompanied by strong sci-fi elements. I enjoyed Toward the Terra and may even rewatch it in future.

Art – Medium

The technical quality is average, but the creativity of the sci-fi world is good old retro-futurism. Beautiful skies. There is this one character, an alien scientist with the dumbest and most out of place design, like a stick figure in a scene of elfin people. I laughed every time she came on.

Sound – Medium

Solid acting and the soundtrack is suitable to the anime, though you won’t remember the details.

Story – Medium

On the cusp of adulthood, a boy learns he is an alien linked to the first of his race, which makes him an enemy of society and all humanity. This grand space voyage has a lot in it that works for the most part.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For sci-fi fans. Toward the Terra’s sci-fi elements will make it a pleasure to fans of the genre, but those same elements will alienate others. And the characters aren’t strong enough to carry interest if sci-fi the premise doesn’t hook you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam 0080: Pocket no Naka no Sensou

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam (prequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Drama

Length: 6 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Moral greyness.
  • Great self-contained story with a satisfying end.
  • Quality animation without sacrificing visual detail.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t start strong.

(Request an anime for review here.)

If there are two things you can rely on with this franchise, it’s that a Gundam will be the centre of all attention and there will be an annoying kid. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket manages to defy expectations by omitting the latter.

10-year-old Alfred lives on a neutral colony in space, where little much happens with the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon rampaging in distant locations. Nevertheless, Alfred has a keen interest in the war, particularly in relation to the mobile suits. Excitement strikes when a skirmish bursts into the colony and a Zaku mobile suit crash lands in the woods nearby. Alfred befriends the pilot Bernie. In exchange for learning all about the war and mobile suits, Alfred provides local knowledge of the land to locate a secret Gundam developed by the Federation in the colony. What starts as a naïve child looking for adventure, will soon turn dire when destruction of the entire colony isn’t beyond reason if it means stopping the Gundam.

The first episode does little to capture your attention. The peaceful start focused on Alfred’s mundane life arguing with friends at school about mobile suits and playing light gun games at home isn’t interesting. It makes you wonder what the aim of the story is. No good stuff mentioned above starts until the final scene of the episode. Setting the scene and ordinary life is worthwhile before upheaval, but it didn’t need to take so long. And it isn’t until episode 3 when we near the mid-point that matters kick into gear and the tension has weight.

Bernie is part of cell embedded in the colony disguised as service workers while they search for the Gundam. It’s interesting how one can’t quite decide on whether they are villains looking to attack the colony, made more difficult by the fact that the Gundam’s pilot is a friend of Alfred’s (unbeknownst to anyone), or heroes acting in preemptive self-defence. This moral greyness is a large contributor to War in the Pocket’s engagement.

Gundam stood out at the time as a shounen anime by, apart from putting effort in the functionality of its mechs, enforcing consequences on its characters. Shounen of the era rarely had death. Whether it was through a dragon ball wish or returning from the dead without explanation, people rarely died. It was too violent for children. Gundam, on the other hand, knew that war had casualties and that a bullet to the head meant death. This realistic approach is well present in War in the Pocket and makes it satisfying. The conflict is meaningful because the consequences matter.

My greatest disappointment with this short series is the lack of screen time for the woman next door, Christina. It’s evident that as the pilot of the Gundam Bernie and Alfred are searching for, she is to generate conflict for the two. A crush/friend is one of the enemy, which will give them pause once unveiled. Because she doesn’t have much screen time, we don’t feel this moment of revelation as strongly as the writer intends. That said, this thread isn’t core to the story, so it doesn’t collapse the house.

The core is Bernie and Alfred. Like the greyness of the infiltration cel, Bernie and Alfred’s friendship also has nuance to it. Is Bernie truly friends with Alfred or just taking advantage of some dumb kid? This thread plays out well.

To top it off, Alfred isn’t annoying like the usual Gundam brats. Yes, he does start annoying, particularly when interacting with some girl at school, but kids are like that. Be around kids for a few hours and they are bound to do something annoying – you know, kids being kids (I used to teach them). What makes Gundam kids so insufferable is that they are never not annoying while also contributing nothing to the story. Alfred becomes endearing over time and proves his purpose in the story. And for that, this anime receives my praise.

War in the Pocket is an unrelated side story of the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Apart from the general war from the original, nothing really carries over to here. This is a short story apart from the main conflict of the Gundam universe, which one can enjoy without prior knowledge of the franchise. As such, I would recommend this series to those who have an interest in Gundam yet feel daunted by its scale (for a modern recommendation with easy access, look to Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin).

Art – High

War in the Pocket uses a more realistic art style to draw in an older audience. It succeeds in having quality animation throughout the series without sacrificing character and environmental detail.

Sound – Medium

The music is that classic old anime style. As for the acting, stick to the Japanese since the dub is so-so at best.

Story – High

A boy helps a mobile suit pilot uncover the secret of the Gundam project on his space colony. What starts as an unlikely pairing between a rather annoying mobile suit otaku and a pilot ends up as a satisfying Gundam short story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. For Gundam fans, this is an easy recommendation. For non-Gundam fans, War in the Pocket is ideal if you are looking for a taste of the franchise, as it requires no prior knowledge.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

 

Related: Phantom The Animation (old OVA)

Similar: Black Lagoon

Canaan

Darker than Black

Jormungand

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Thriller

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Suitably grim atmosphere.
  • Follows through with the brutality.

Negatives:

  • What is with act 3?
  • Too much expository dialogue.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ever watch an anime that has something about it, something that makes you swear it’s great and yet, there is something equally wrong with it in every aspect that makes you swear it’s bad as well? Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is one such anime.

Let’s start with the beginning. A Japanese man wakes up one day in a dingy room with no idea of how he got there or memory of who he is. Excellent start – we are straight into a moment of high conflict that generates many questions for the audience. Unfortunately, this man has to spell out all of these questions, as if the audience is too dumb to figure out the predicament he’s in. The monologue doesn’t stop. All the scene needed was to have him look around confused, not recognising himself in the mirror, and then just as it feels this is going for too long, the masked assassin woman attacks him and we’re off into tense action.

Less is more, as always.

The man soon learns that a mafia organisation called Inferno has kidnapped him and intends to brainwash him into another killing machine, an assassin like the masked woman. This is my kind of premise. My mind conjures up scenes of psychological torture, clever manipulation, and emotional tearing as the protagonist struggles to hold onto the scraps of his identity. And Phantom does deliver that, but not without a side dish of problems each time.

The way we learn of this premise is through an excess of expository dialogue similar to the man’s monologue, a recurring problem particularly in the first act. What makes it so blatant is the simplicity of the fix. Just cut it. There doesn’t need to be anything in its place. We can see what they’re doing to him by, oddly enough, seeing what they do to him.

This isn’t an anime for toddlers. Things don’t need to be spelt out like an instruction manual. Extra subtlety of character wouldn’t hurt either. When one of the brainwashing scientists doesn’t like how his superior treats him, he says as she walks off, “Such arrogance. How much longer do you think you will be giving me such orders?” Why did the writers have so little faith in the audience to read the air?

Let’s pause the negatives for a moment and focus on positives. I love the execution of the brainwashing, of how they train some guy to kill people for a living and become the assassin “Zwei” alongside the woman “Ein” (two and one in German, respectively). They don’t strap him down and force him to watch random images with his eyes held open. Instead, they make him believe that he made the choice to kill. “If you don’t kill this bad man first, he will kill you. You don’t want that, do you now?” So of course it was his choice. Right? Coupled with how they take advantage of his weakness for Ein, his change works well.

The other major point Phantom has in its favour is the follow through on its premise. For a story about assassins in the darkest corner of society, it delivers on the brutality. No one, no matter the age or level of innocence, is off limits from sudden murder. Too often, I see stories with brutal premises yet spineless executions. There’s no point starting a story about murder and bloody violence if one is going to water it down into this puddle cranberry juice.

Phantom isn’t all violence, however – explosive gunfights aren’t common, honestly. The story moves at a good clip and changes things before matters grow stale, though this doesn’t always succeed.

The second half introduces a little girl who doesn’t fit the series. She feels token, as if Phantom would fail without a small girl, for some reason. I get that they want to create a stronger connection by introducing someone that isn’t drained emotionally, someone normal, but she goes against the tone. It isn’t a major issue though, unlike the final act.

While I won’t spoil the details of act 3, don’t read further if you do intend to try Phantom, which I recommend, as it will infer spoilers.

Still reading? Alright.

Act 3 goes off the funking rails. This grim, psychological thriller turns into a high school drama, wacky high school OP included. I have never been so confused by a time skip before. One of the weirdest things I’ve seen in anime. It feels like a prank.

Furthermore, the [Bee] train never gets back on the rails properly once it explains everything. One scene has a character running through a hail of bullets, which goes against the rules established earlier. Before, even a few bullets meant death. Now, it strays into action cliché. The most annoying part of the final act is the use of the “friend sent to execute an ally, while the ally yells the friend’s name as they’re shot” trope not once, not twice, but thrice. We see the same trope three times in short sequence! At least the main characters’ story concludes well.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is almost an anime I love. If you mention just the good parts, it’s the anime for me, but the problems are a hindrance. I’ve had my eye on it for years ever since it came in an ad flyer for a DVD I bought way back when. Though it isn’t as great as I had hoped for, it is certainly an interesting ride.

Art – Medium

Phantom has the most mature visual style of the studio Bee Train anime. The problem is that is still looks too similar to so many of these shows from the era that it can be difficult to differentiate. It could have used better cinematography to be visually stimulating – see Black Lagoon.

Sound – Medium

Japanese or English is fine – the Hollywood movie references such as “You talkin’ to me?” work better in English. I like the opening song.

Story – Medium

A man wakes up in an unknown location and without memory, unaware of what awaits him on the path to mould him into an assassin. Requiem for the Phantom has a solid layer of quality covered by another layer of mistakes holding it down. And that third act…

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. They don’t really make anime like Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom anymore. If you are into the serious, methodical action with a focus on psychology, this could be for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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