The city once stood grand, an industrious marvel that reached for the skies and bustled with life. Now, the only life you will find, apart from the howling blizzard, is the low rumble of a tread bike as it grinds over rubble and under fallen girders. Listen carefully and you may even catch the sound of laughter from two girls. Chi and Yuu might be the last people alive.
By all indications, Girls’ Last Tour shouldn’t have worked with me. I don’t like those plot-light ‘do nothing’ anime that use the excuse of “It’s meant to be like that!” for the utter lack of depth, purpose, or interesting characters. Girls’ Last Tour succeeds by having those three elements. Who would have guessed that was the secret.
The series works, at its core, thanks to the two girls, whom are a delight to be around. Chi is the brain, focused and prepared, while Yuu is the brawn, asleep and hungry, and the two complement each other well. If you’re going to have two characters together all the time, they had better work. These two are adorable.
Each episode has the girls travelling to a new place as they search for supplies and explore the fallen city. The content is light – one episode is about them making music with the sound of rain falling on tin cans. Another centres on them learning to use a digital camera. You know, wholesome stuff. These may sound dull – they do to me – but the pacing sells it. These episodes don’t drag. The story doesn’t force itself to extend the girls crafting a makeshift hot bath in an abandoned factory for 20 minutes just because that’s an episode’s runtime. The stories vary in length, often paired together to fit the length of an episode. When a story does take longer, it makes the effort to include more drama – not too heavy, mind you – that deserves the minutes.
A curse of plot-light anime is the feeling that they aren’t going anywhere, particularly when they are set in one location. Each new episode feels more and more like a repeat. Girls’ Last Tour is always on the move and showing us something new each episode. As I came to realise this, I found myself looking forward to the next episode because I trusted the show not to waste my time. I relaxed.
The world has good ambiance. It reminds me of a collapsed Soviet Russia blanketed in perpetual snow. There’s a story to it, a mystery. However, it doesn’t make enough use of environmental storytelling. For example, in the game The Last of Us, you come across animals from the African savannah among city ruins in America. Without a word, this tells us a story of what happened to the zoo when society collapsed. Girls’ Last Tour should have used this technique more. It gives titbits – no more.
The atmosphere is in a similar situation. There is enough of it to say Girls’ Last Tour has an atmosphere, yet with room for so much more. It covers the basics of blizzards, rain, and silence. Why not go deeper? What about that specific sound of wind howling through damaged pipes? How does it sound through a collapsed high rise with shattered windows? Are there any insects around? Can one hear the slow creaking of a bridge on the verge of collapse? A greater atmosphere remains hidden in there somewhere.
Girls’ Last Tour is a surprise success nonetheless. It doesn’t overdo the cuteness, it keeps moving, and the girls a bundle of wholesome fun.
Art – Medium
The character designs are adorable. I’m not one for moe designs, as my regular readers know, but these work. Their heads look like mochi! The artists must have had fun designing the world, desolate and mysterious. However, they could have worked in more environmental storytelling.
Sound – High
The two actresses for the girls work great together. Good thing they do, for there isn’t much more beyond them. I like the angelic music, one of the few atmosphere-contributing elements of the series.
Story – Medium
Two girls tour the ruins of their once thriving city in a quest for fun and hope. A lack of drag and the inclusion of mystery on the move lifts Girls’ Last Tour among other plot-light anime.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For fans of calm anime. Girls’ Last Tour won’t blow your socks off, but its fun characters and light mystery will make you feel wholesome by the end.
After you read the following blurb, I want you to guess what Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is about:
Yuuko has haunted Seikyou Private Academy ever since her death in the basement 60 years ago. Her memories of life lost, she establishes the Paranormal Investigations Club, where she meets Niiya, a boy who somehow has the ability to see her, Momoe, a girl afraid of ghosts, and the distrustful Kirie. They investigate the various mysteries surrounding the school to figure out which one relates to Yuuko’s death.
You’re thinking this is a horror mystery, yes? Well, you’d be wrong. I was wrong. This is a romance with a dash of horror mystery on the side – a romance with as much substance as a ghost.
Any romance with such a wet noodle of a guy as Niiya is doomed to fail. He’s a nobody. I don’t know what personality he’s meant to have. The idea of a ghost with several possibilities pointing to her identity and death is an interesting one. It hooked me. The mechanics of Yuuko’s appearance are interesting, for one.
When Niiya looks at her, he sees a sexy girl, voluptuous and well endowed in the right places, always flirting with him and craving his touch. But in the eyes of Kirie, she’s a monster, an onryo with long, matted black hair and black blood leaking from her skin. Her seductions aren’t for love. They are to ensnare Niiya and do who knows what to his soul. This is a great idea. The romance is obvious from the start and I thought its inclusion was to heighten tension, create uncertainty about whether she wants his love or his life. Unfortunately, this tension doesn’t last.
Another problem is the hollowness of the world. These four characters seem to be the entire population of this school. You see the occasional background character, but they may as well be cardboard cutouts. Imagine if there were more characters, each with a different perception of Yuuko and no one knows her true version.
We have this romance with no ground to stand on instead. Forcibly tripping over to grab both her breasts is supposed to be a heartfelt moment of their relationship (kill me…). Not joking. He’s a harem protagonist without a harem.
Even if Niiya were a great character, the meshing of romance and mystery needs work. The story progresses through a series of cases, investigating phantoms in mirrors, bodies buried under the school, an old myth about a curse on the last kid to leave school each day, and the like. All these mysteries lack layers without time to develop because the romance takes precedence.
Hell, there’s almost more comedy than mystery in this horror mystery. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia opens on a great scene of Momoe in the clubroom writing notes as various objects float around. She freaks out but explains everything away to keep her sanity. Niiya enters and can seemingly read her mind. Then the whole scene plays again, only to reveal Yuuko this time, responsible for moving the objects, drinking Momoe’s tea, and the mind reading is a coincidence. Niiya’s answers to Yuuko’s questions happened to fit Momoe’s thoughts. Great use of a ghost, I must say.
So what we have here is a horror mystery with more comedy and even more romance than either horror or mystery. Did I put in the wrong disc?
Art – Medium
The environments are grim and grungy, reminiscent of a noir detective game, but the characters look too clean, too ‘nice’ for the setting. Some shots have such gorgeous colours that I paused to admire them.
Sound – Low
What is with this dub? How did they make such a bad dub in 2012? This sounds out of the 90s before professionals did the job. Not everyone is bad, of course. That protagonist though…bloody hell. Thankfully, the Japanese is fine, so stick to it. Even so, don’t expect anything above average. The best friend’s freakouts are the best.
Story – Low
The Paranormal Investigations Club unravels their school’s mysteries to recover the memories of the girl that haunts the halls. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia made the grave mistake of focusing on romance with a soggy protagonist instead of the mysteries it had set up.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. Even horror fans won’t find something of worth in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia because of the romantic focus.
Post-war Japan was a harsh place. For the poor, the abused, life was rough as the country tried to rebuild. In 1955, six teens find themselves on the wrong side of the law and sent to a correctional school, where they meet Sakuragi, their new cellmate. The events that follow will push them to the limits, punish them for daring to live, and test their resolve for survival until their sentences in hell are over.
Rainbow is brutal, not for the faint of heart. The production team warns you as much each episode with a disclaimer that the brutality, the depravity you will see is accurate of the time and it would be a disrespect to hide it. The first experience in prison is to have the doctor violate one of the boys in front of his friends. The doctor has a faux-gentle voice that makes one’s skin crawl. We witness a child rape not long after. It won’t be the last.
Rainbow never relents with either the characters or the audience. If you are to start this journey, know that peace never truly arrives.
Day one in the cell, Sakuragi beats the ego out of the other six to teach humility. Survival of the fittest is the only natural law that matters in this “school” and reckless bravado will get you killed. He becomes a role model to the others, uniting the group in friendship that even hell will have a tough time breaking. This chemistry between the boys not only makes Rainbow engaging but also loaded with emotion. When all of them put themselves on the line to allow Joe to see his little sister and save her from the rapist that adopted them, you feel a genuine bond tying these guys together.
Each brings something to the group with a distinct personality. The short but business savvy ‘Turtle’ has an endearing cockiness about him. ‘Cabbage’ is a friendly giant, ‘Soldier’ is disciplined, ‘Uncovered’ may be a bit of a prick but he’s got a plan to cover your back, and Mario is loyal to his own detriment. Every character in Rainbow is memorable thanks to a complete backstory and complex characteristics. It’s evident within an episode or two that the creator didn’t take any shortcuts when planning his characters.
As I watch these characters grow, I want nothing but the best for them. I want to protect these guys. I want them to be happy. Why can’t they catch a break? Why can’t they just be happy? It’s rare for a story to have me care so much for so many of its characters.
Their camaraderie evokes emotional moments. The most emotional scene for me doesn’t involve any violence or tragedy; it’s just everyone being there for one in the group when he needs them most.
The best arc in Rainbow belongs to Sakuragi, however, because of the conflict between him and the prison guard, a man who will stop at nothing to ruin his life. The guard tries to sow dissent among the friends, tortures the guys, and is complicit in the doctor’s vile acts as long as he can continue to torment Sakuragi. Their arc is fantastic and unexpected in direction. Rainbow as a whole makes several unexpected turns – not twists exactly. Rather, you don’t expect the outcomes of certain threads and events. The writer took bold decisions with the plot.
If I haven’t made it clear already, Rainbow is an anime worthy among the best. Yet, nothing is without fault and the major one with this anime is that the second half isn’t as strong as the first, owing to a lack of cohesion between arcs. The second half is closer to a series of short stories for each of the guys. While these stories are great, the writer didn’t weave them together. It would have been better to run several stories in unison, leaping frogging each other through interwoven events. For example, Joe’s story is about wishing to sing while Mario’s is about his boxing. There is no reason these couldn’t have had connected events and a little shared conflict. Weaving arcs together deepens the connection and raises stakes further when more characters have something on the line. Even so, Rainbow is still excellent throughout.
I don’t know how this anime stayed off my radar until requested for review. I had the horrid thought the other day that I may never have seen Rainbow if not for one dear reader… Even though I’m certain I have every great (or said to be great) anime on my list already, I am going to go through the databases again, just to be sure another Rainbow doesn’t slip past me. Such great anime deserves to be watched by all.
Art – High
The animation is only above average, but the visual style has atmosphere and the painterly stills during key moments are gorgeous, full of emotion.
Sound – Very High
You need great performances to pull off an anime of Rainbow’s weight, and they did it. I love the OP and ED, which stay the same throughout, unable to skip them each time they started. The only audio flaw is with some of the American characters likely played by expats in Japan with mixed acting expertise.
Story – Very High
Seven cellmates in a juvenile reform school cling to hope and friendship during a harsh post-war Japan. Rainbow’s uncompromising conflict will have you engaged and cheering for these boys to the end.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t like the brutal subject matter. Rainbow is a top tier anime that deserves a larger audience.
I used to hate Neon Genesis Evangelion – hate with a burning passion, which I alluded to in my ‘Former Favourites’ list. The hatred was so strong that it was part of my core as an anime fan. When I brought up Evangelion to my friend the other day, the first thing he mentioned was my hatred of the series all those years ago.
Why the hatred? Well, it was my teenage mindset. I used to have a problem whereby one significant fault in a series I otherwise enjoyed could ruin the whole thing. My reaction was disproportionate to the fault itself. Evangelion’s fault was with the ending, and nothing has more negative impact on a viewer than a bad ending because it’s the last impression you leave with, the bad aftertaste of a banquet. It takes effort to override the feeling of a bad ending to remember your enjoyment before that moment. That was my weakness, to the point of venom.
To understand the significance of this ending, let’s go back to the start.
The world is nearing its end as Angels are descending from above to wipe out humanity. It has suffered two cataclysms already; it cannot withstand a third. The last hope lies with Nerv, a military agency in Tokyo 3 with only one weapon: the Evangelions, giant robots that can match the Angels. To unlock their full potential, they need pilots, 14-year-olds to be precise, capable of maximum synchronisation between human and machine. Shinji Ikari has been chosen to pilot EVA Unit-01, tearing him from his ordinary life to the frontlines where is father, who hasn’t cared for him in years, leads Nerv. He joins Rei, pilot of Unit-00, and Asuka of Unit-02 later.
Neon Genesis Evangelion has a perfect first episode, showcasing ‘in medias res’ (in the middle of things) with Shinji’s arrival in Tokyo 3. Misato, his guardian, is late as an Angel attacks, almost killing him, then a mine intended for the Angel detonates and rolls Misato’s car with him inside, ending the episode in him having to pilot the EVA. Rough first day. When you watch it, note how you understand the world and the situation without feeling lost, despite having zero lines of exposition. This episode and the three that follow are so strong that I watched the first DVD several times within a week as I waited to borrow the remainder from a friend at school. It sucked me into the world and I had to see more.
The first element that grabs me is the visual design. Evangelion wouldn’t have been so iconic without the unique look and feel to its world and mech designs. Everything was Gundam or a pale Gundam imitation at the time, so to see something so human and monstrous infused with mecha was revolutionary. The designs alone aren’t the reason for success. The use of the Evangelions cements them into memory. How often do you see a mech or vehicle so flashy, so overdesigned never justified by the anime? (“Why does that mech have giant spikes everywhere if it never uses them?”) Evangelions look the way they do for a reason and when that full potential blooms, it makes for the anime’s most memorable moments. That is to say, copying a Gundam design but keeping every Evangelion event the same wouldn’t have had half the impact than what we have here.
The second element of notice is the action and Angels. The action doesn’t simply look great; it’s creative. Hideaki Anno could have made the Angels straightforward Godzilla monsters that rampage about and take many shots to kill without effect on the grand plot. Instead, each Angel is creative in both design and threat. One Angel splits in two upon death only to regenerate a moment later, requiring both halves to die at the same moment, while another Angel is a nanoscopic virus that hacks Nerv’s central brains. Each encounter brings something new for the viewer and the characters. When Angels go after the mind or allies, Evangelion is at its best.
The human conflict adds a dozen layers of depth to humanity’s end. Shinji is a kid who just wants to feel needed, particularly by his arsehole of a father, though he is saving humanity, to be fair. His father has the weight of the world in his decisions. Not making him straight evil was a good choice.
Misato is another great character. She’s a total slob, drinks more beer than water and is a little pervy, but she has a good heart and cares for the kids – one of the few who does – making her the most human element of the series. Each supporting character receives enough attention for depth without breaking the hierarchy of importance to the plot.
I had it in memory that each DVD was worse than the previous until the final one nosedived. Rewatching Evangelion now though, I loved every episode until the 24th (rushed despite an amazing finale) because I can appreciate the points of view and purposes of characters I once didn’t like. For instance, I used to find Asuka annoying. She still is annoying, but I can see that she is a well-designed annoying. Perhaps it was Anno’s intent for teenage boys to find her annoying, much as Shinji does.
What turned me around on the majority of episodes was the craft that went into the mysteries that make the reader want to know more. As a teenager, I couldn’t perceive how the story metered out bits and pieces of information, foreshadowing greater reveals in the final act. Where did the technology for EVAs come from? What happened to Shinji’s mother? Who is Rei? So many questions. Study Evangelion if you want to learn the importance of mystery in narrative.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is well known for its psychological brutality and insane imagery, but there is a good amount of levity to stop the audience from wanting to completely blow their brains out quitting. Much of the humour revolves around Misato or takes place at school. She has this penguin living with her, not as a pet – maybe? More like a roommate. Who is this penguin? The strategic censorship is also funny and when Asuka moves in with Misato and Shinji, we get one of the greatest lines. Asuka wants to make-out with Shinji, you know, for fun, ‘cause that’s what girls do (?), but he hesitates and she mocks him. “I’m not afraid – pucker up!” he yells in retaliation.
Humour is important even to the darkest narratives, as it keeps the audience sustained and gives the dark moments more impact through contrast.
Evangelion reaches its darkest point in the two-episode finale, both in real life and in fiction. The original episodes 25 & 26 I still find terrible, if not worse because I can see more writing problems than before. The budget and time ran out, leaving almost no animation. Without going into spoilers, these episodes are mostly still shots of text, real life photos, and characters vomiting expository dialogue. Most attribute the poor quality to the visuals. Had the team had the budget, the episodes would have been great, they say. This isn’t true. Everything about these episodes is trash. The dialogue, the writing, the ideas, the imagery, the characterisation – all trash.
I hunted and bought The End of Evangelion after my school friends had mentioned a remake, though they hadn’t seen it. I eagerly booted it up and all seemed fixed. The visuals were back better than ever with spectacular action. The bad dialogue was gone. Each episode was double length. This was the ending Evangelion deserved. Then the climax began and threw all that the series had worked for, which to teenage me was a deal breaker, a ruiner of all good things. I hated the series since.
The climax is 20-minutes of imagery with a minute’s worth of plot. The visuals are nice and certainly better than the original version, but it’s too much when you don’t have the story to accompany it. The issue is build-up. It escalates and escalates, creating expectations that all will end in spectacular fashion. Instead…nothing. Now, a negative ending is fine but after such build-up, this just wastes the audience’s time. Five minutes of the best shots would have sufficed.
What do I think of the ending now? I don’t mind it as much. It’s still no good for the last 20 minutes, yet it no longer affects my opinion of the series prior. Simple compression would fix most problems.
And that’s where I stand today, at the end of a long journey of hate and love with a mere anime. I have debated at length with myself about where to score Neon Genesis Evangelion (one of the reasons for the review’s delay). I am still unsure. Who knows; perhaps I will change my thoughts again in fifteen years.
Art – Very High
It is incredible to think that we had such good-looking anime series in the 90s, drawn by hand. Evangelion doesn’t have the consistent animation of Cowboy Bebop, but its creative design drips with grit and atmosphere. Of course, this quality took a toll on the final two episodes. This rating assumes End of Evangelion replaces the original ending.
Sound – High
I didn’t notice until this viewing – because you often skip the ED after a few times – that the ending song changes each DVD to a different cover of Bart Howard’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ (popularised by Frank Sinatra). Some of these covers don’t work though I like the variety. Everyone knows the theme song ‘Cruel Angel Thesis’, which has become famous beyond its original use. Still a classic. The acting is where quality doesn’t quite hold up, in either language. A few examples: Asuka’s German in Japanese is…what Unit-01 does to the 13th Angel; several supporting English characters are a regular earsore; Japanese Shinji needed a male actor to pull off some scenes.
Story – Very High
Humanity faces the End Times and must place its hopes on three psychologically damaged teenagers and their mechs. Neon Genesis Evangelion never relents in punishing its characters, evoking a sense of hopeless that grips you until the finale disappoints. This rating assumes End of Evangelion replaces the original ending.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Regardless of how you feel in the end, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a must for any anime fan due to its importance and impact on the medium. Watch the original series with the director’s cut of episodes 21 to 24 (I insist) followed by The End of Evangelion. Return to the original ending for intellectual curiosity afterwards, if you wish (the remake reversed several decisions). Death & Rebirth can be ignored as a recap movie and the new scenes went into the director’s cut of the aforementioned episodes.
Look at any poster, video or screenshot of Zegapain. It looks like trash. It requires effort to make characters this generic and to have mecha designs this ugly. This doesn’t happen by accident. The dialogue is just as you imagine accompanying that art. So why would a reader recommend I review Zegapain, likening it to RahXephon in the process? I was even more confused after the first episode – one of anime’s worst starts.
It opens on protagonist Kyo having to kiss a guy disguised as a girl for a student film by his friend Ryoko. He refuses, notices a buxom babe on the high dive outside, strips to his Speedos, and charges off to meet her. (Does he always wear swimmers instead of underwear?) His enthusiasm comes from finding a new recruit to his dying swim club. Next thing he knows, he’s part of a conference call with the military. The girl, Misaki, puts his hand on her boob, pulls him into her chest, and they teleport aboard a mech. (Right…) She tells him to treat the battle like a VR game. I laughed when the mech warns of incoming enemies, but Misaki praises Kyo for spotting them so quickly – girl, he didn’t do anything! He fights perfectly without training. Though there is more to his story, it’s still a cataclysmically stupid idea to bring him to the front line. A better writer would sell the situation.
Before first episode’s end, it is evident that the characters have no depth – I imagine the brainstorm session took five minutes. Only a couple have goals and motivations. The battle tech is a bunch of ‘stuff’ doing ‘things’ cobbled together without thought of how this works or how it came to be.
Needless to say, but Zegapain seems like a bottom-dwelling anime at this point.
However, after a few more battles of floaty CG and meaningless action, Kyo finds a glitch on the battlefield. A message tells him not to believe his world. And that’s where things start to get interesting. We have a Matrix situation here, except he can’t be sure of which world is reality. If his high school is virtual, then who are all these people? And how did the outside world turn to ruin? More and more mysteries unfold as the plot develops, resulting in an intriguing storyline. I’m as astonished as you are.
Of course, it doesn’t erase the fact that the script seems randomly generated or that the characters are surface deep, but this one strength is enough for me to enjoy Zegapain to the end.
Kyo is still a bad protagonist. He’s far too accepting of everything for the convenience of the writer’s laziness. He teleports suddenly from school to the battleship thanks to a gizmo in his forehead, is about to ask where the gizmo came from and how he got it, when he says, “Ah, whatever, it got me here after all.” Even more reason to question it, you idiot! And what is the obsession with returning to this swim club subplot every episode? It doesn’t matter! Hell, why swimming? It isn’t realistic that a swim club in the heat of Japan’s summer would struggle for members. It’s for Misaki in the swimsuit, isn’t it?
Several episodes that lean more slice of life are a waste of time as well and the antagonists are as weak as the heroes. Despite all these faults, something about the reality versus virtual reality plot gets me. It just gets me.
Zegapain is a hidden gem— well, gem is a bit much. More like a peculiar stone on the riverbank with an unusual texture that a few will find interesting.
Art – Very Low
Zegapain approaches Hand Shakers level of CG with its mechs. Furthermore, why make them CG if you aren’t going to take advantage of the easier animation tools? What was the point? The regular art has zero creativity and even randomly drops in quality on occasion.
The voice actors do the best they can with this bad script. I think the music came royalty free.
Story – Medium
A teen has to distinguish between reality and the virtual world amidst an alien occupation and high school troubles. The characters and action may have no merit, but the plots works well.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Give it a chance. Zegapain is most engaging if you can enjoy a good story in the face of weak characters and ugly art.