I had wanted to watch Violet Evergarden ever since the release of the stunning trailer (above) two years ago. There was no indication as to the contents of the story, but if the series had art and animation half as good as the trailer, then I’d be interested.
I am pleased to say that the art and animation are better than half as good as the trailer, while the story is unexpected. It tells of Violet Evergarden, a former child soldier with mechanical arms in a post-WWI-esque setting, who has to find a new purpose in life now that she has no orders to follow, enemies to kill, or someone to protect. Her life thus far has left her emotionally void. She receives opportunity to fix that when she meets the “Auto Memory Dolls” – letter typists that transcribe a customer’s emotions to the page. Perhaps, given enough time through learning from the emotions of others, she may come to understand the meaning of her major’s final words: “I love you.”
Violet is a blunt girl, unaware of the feelings of others, as is understandable. She writes without heart. When someone confides in her, such as an emotional problem, she doesn’t hesitate to tell others when asked, not realising it should remain private without instruction. She is also rather one note and the weakest element of the series. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Violet Evergarden weren’t an entirely character driven story. Despite the war backstory, expect little action outside two or three episodes. Everything else is about Violet and her interactions with colleagues at the postal service, clients, and a few auxiliary characters.
Her description should remind Full Metal Panic viewers of Sargent Sagara, a child soldier also of little emotion. My readers will know too that I love that character. So why not Violet? She lacks the counterbalance that makes Sagara such a great protagonist. Sagara is deathly serious (often literally) yet unexpectedly hilarious. Violet is just serious.
Now, comedy on the level of FMP wouldn’t fit the tone of Evergarden, so that isn’t the right solution (though a little more levity wouldn’t have gone amiss). Instead, other characters should have shown more emotion and humour in response to her serious behaviour. Her colleagues and clients take her actions too normally. People don’t display enough shock or laughter at some of the things she does. At most, a few clients get angry because she translates their feelings too literally onto paper, such as not getting the hint that one woman wants to play coy with her suitor before accepting his proposal. If done, this would allow Violet to react (and develop) at the reception of her actions. In improvisational acting/comedy, a scene works when one actor initiates for the other to react, which allows the first actor to react in turn, followed by the other again, and back and forth it goes until they have extracted all material. But imagine if one started the scene, only for the other to give a response that doesn’t facilitate further reaction. The scene would end there with nothing worthwhile. Violet is that full stop in interactions all too often.
She does develop by the end and show emotion – enough to avoid the label of a bad or boring character, certainly – but it’s not at a level to make a compelling protagonist.
Where Evergarden finds success is in the supporting cast, particularly the clients. Dolls will travel to wherever the client should require them, allowing us to see much of the country in which she lives and giving the art team an excuse to create more wondrous environments. The clients range from a princess in love to an astronomer that needs help copying rare books. Then there’s her colleagues, such as Iris the country girl whose family wants her to return to the village, quit her job, and get married, much to her protestations. Each of their stories tie into Violet’s theme, as it should be in every story, of understanding emotion. A highlight is episode 10 when she writes letters for a mother and daughter. I truly enjoyed these episodic arcs.
They, alongside the visuals and music, made Violet Evergarden an easy series to finish. I love everything about Violet Evergarden except for Violet herself. Hell, I even love the idea of Violet. Her execution is the problem. This good anime contained potential for greatness, had Violet received slight tweaks that would have opened her up to movement and depth.
Art – Very High
Disgustingly beautiful art and animation in many scenes. Violet Evergarden is not quite movie level consistence, as it does resort to static characters at times, though it never lingers. I love the character designs and attention given to the fashion.
Sound – High
Strong acting and a lovely instrumental soundtrack complement the story and visuals.
Story – Medium
A child soldier learns the meaning of emotion through writing letters on behalf of clients. The supporting cast and their sub plots help prop up a mediocre protagonist in Violet Evergarden.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Try it. Violet Evergarden is worth a shot for the art alone – could be enough to carry you to the end. However, Violet as a character may cause some viewers to lose interest after a few episodes. Watch episode 10 if you only have time for one.
Hunter x Hunter is purported to be different from other shounen battle anime. Let’s start by dispelling this notion, as it only sets up false expectations and ultimate disappointment.
Like all battle anime, Hunter x Hunter (don’t pronounce the x) is about a kid with big dreams. This time, we follow Gon Freecss, a boy in search of the father that abandoned him and his mother. To that end, he must become a hunter like his father before him in the belief that the profession will open new avenues of investigation.
Naturally, the story starts with Gon taking the exam to become a hunter. And here we hit the first brick wall. The Hunter Exam is tunnel-through-the-mountain boring! The exam is just one fake out after another.
Gon lives on an island, so must travel by ship to the mainland. Little does he know that the crossing is part of the test. Once ashore, he asks for directions to the exam, except the false directions are also part of the test. Then it’s an old lady with riddles, followed by a secret password into the exam site. But wait, that isn’t the site. We have to run a marathon first to get there! Watching people run, how riveting. Alright, are we done yet? No, we need to cook some barbeque. (Just kill me now.) And on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, (did I mention the recap episode halfway?), and on, and on…and on it goes for 21 episodes of boring task after boring task. This exam is every idea the author came up with dragged on for eternity. Why not pick the best three ideas and make something engaging of them? It serves no purpose other than to introduce characters, which could have happened naturally later had the exam be removed (and most introductions don’t matter anyway – more on that later).
Could a 21-episode exam work? Certainly, if interesting. Narutomanaged it with the chunin exam using secret ninja techniques called “character development”, “meaningful conflict”, and “story progression”. Had the first episode of HxH been after this arc, all we would need is the narrator telling us, “This is Gon. He’s a hunter.” Twenty-one episodes saved. It’s the worst start to a shounen anime I’ve seen, barring the ones that had no potential to begin with. The arc isn’t filler, but it may as well be.
The plot next moves into a tournament arc, another common element of the genre. Gon and Killua have to fight to the top of a battle tower with hundreds of floors and millions in prize money. Matters get serious from the 200th floor onwards. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch all 200 floors – good performance leapfrogs contestants up faster.
The downfall of the tournament arc is the training sessions that eat up too much time between fights. HxH has a massive problem with over explaining its concepts and making them unnecessarily convoluted. This anime uses auras. If you’ve seen anything with aura powers before, you’ll get the point in a minute. HxH deems you too stupid to grasp it in less than hours of lectures. You can bet your savings that it will pause every fight for some long-winded explanation of X character’s power and strategy.
Training episodes suck because they have no plot nor any internal character growth. It isn’t a problem exclusive to this anime, yet these are particularly boring. Off the top of my head, only Bleach does them worse.
The first great moment occurs in episode 31 when Gon faces Hisoka, an interesting Pierrot-like villain, who values the challenge above all else and will go to extreme lengths for the greatest challenges, such as saving heroes with potential to contest him in future. He takes a keen interest in Gon. The exam introduced us to him and his villainy, but it all repeats here anyway. His power is a malleable aura compared to bubblegum that can manipulate targets with puppet strings, among other magician-type tricks. He’s a theatrical fighter that loves to put on a show.
Hisoka belongs to a villain group known as the Phantom Troupe, which leads into the next and best arc of the series. Gon and friends head to the big city to earn big bucks so they may buy a video game that will lead to his father. The Phantom Troupe arc succeeds where the others fail because it is all plot relevant and gives all main characters something to do, rather than forgetting half the team (more on that later). It also helps to have several interesting villains that pose a real threat. A highlight is the fight between Kurapika, the guy I confused for a girl in the artwork, and a villain. He is the revenge guy of the series, as there must be one in every shounen. Despite sharing much with others of his archetype, he works thanks to an interesting ability that cleverly explains how he can hope to match such powerful villains, but without overpowering him for the rest of the series. Shounens usually have to pull some convoluted nonsense to backpedal the power, such as Bleach with its moronic power resets.
At the end of this arc, 58 episodes in, I’m not blown away, yet it has been on an upward trajectory and I am convinced it’s only the good stuff from here.
Boy was I wrong.
The Greed Island arc that follows is somehow worse than the exam. Greed Island is the video game Gon seeks on his father’s trail. Players enter the game world and fight using cards with abilities. That’s right, we are in Yu-Gi-Oh now! It’s as dumb as it sounds. This arc was just an excuse for the author to cram in more convoluted mechanics and hours of idiots explaining how they work. If you want to see some of the worst pacing and exposition anime has to offer, watch the dodgeball game in this arc. Only masters of Zen can handle such trash.
The main villain for this period, a punk that blows people up with the power of cards, is pathetically dull. Much like the exam, this arc amounts to little more than wasting 17 episodes of your time. If I didn’t know better, I would believe this to be a filler arc.
Finally we come to the Chimera Ant arc, the longest at 61 episodes long, which tells of a species of dangerous human-creature hybrids that soon develop aura powers. The Hunter Association dispatches many hunters to deal with the threat.
The story has now gone from a big city, to a video game, and reached a monster slaying fantasy. Hunter x Hunter lacks focus. This review is so long because I feel as though I am reviewing three different anime at once. Watching this series gives the impression that the author had too many ideas and wanted them all to be in one story, jumping impatiently from one to the next. Remember the Big Bad Phantom Troupe? They’re barely relevant after their arc. That Yu-Gi-Oh garbage? Forget it ever existed. Arc after arc seems to wipe the relevance of the story that came previous. None suffer more than HxH’s characters.
Each arc dumps a boatload of new character on your lap for you to care about, only to take them away as soon as the arc ends. “What happened to that guy?” I kept asking myself. At the start, HxH presents a core group of four characters. Remember Kurapika of central importance against the Troupe? He’s barely in this. Oh yeah, there’s some guy called Leorio – you’ll know him as the tall guy you see on most cover art who receives enough attention for a major character. Well, he has as much screen time as a minor character. Only Killua with the white hair has the screen time to match his relevance alongside Gon.
So when we come to the Chimera Ant arc, it is no surprise to have over 50 – yes, 50 – new characters thrown at the story. A story, I might add, that isn’t directly relevant to the main plot even with 61 episodes. Interestingly, however, it’s a good arc. It starts slow (could have fit in half the number of episodes), though once the main villain emerges in act two it shows promise, until it finishes with a strong third act. The heart of the story is the Chimera King villain that questions life, morality, and meaning.
This arc gives fans a reason to call HxH dark, “the darkest shounen anime”. It isn’t really. It’s only dark if you haven’t seen what a proper dark story looks like. A villain killing random civilians isn’t dark – it’s just meaningless. There are a couple of dark moments, but it’s nowhere near enough to call the series dark. What Itachi does in Naruto is darker, yet I wouldn’t call that anime dark either. That said, a false reputation doesn’t take away from the strength of its third act. It’s a shame the arc has to be part of this anime. Both this arc and HxH would have benefited from separation. The Chimera Ant arc works as a standalone story similar to From the New World and with its removal, HxH can refocus on the plot. There is a main story consequence resulting from the Ants, but that could have come just as easily from the Phantom Troupe.
What HxH boasts in the end is two good arcs, which still need work, and a mixture of decent and utter trash for the remainder of the time. I haven’t covered half the problems with HxH in this already too-long review.
A common note you will hear of this anime is that it is the best of the battle shounen. It has the smartest fights, greatest characters, best villains, and most complex stories, they will tell you. Does it? Not really. There are smarter fights, greater characters, and better villains in other shounen anime. Nor is HxH different from the norm. You have the same types of arcs, the same cast of characters, yelling for power, energy attacks, poor explanations, and there is even a Super Saiyan mode (I won’t give it away, but it is the goofiest super mode I have ever witnessed). It does do one better than the rest – no unofficial filler, though that doesn’t save it from other pacing issues, including a narrator that repeats everything we just saw.
Many of these problems are common to most entries in the genre though. Would I recommend another battle anime over this? I don’t know. No matter which you pick, you have to tolerate a lot of garbage.
Is HxH better than most of the genre? Sure, why not. With such a low bar, it isn’t difficult to hit single digit ranks, though that is still low when looking at anime as a whole. If coming from Dragon Ball Z, as this did with the 90s manga release, it would seem mind blowing to have any strategy to fights, character development, and a story that’s more than “punch the bad guy”.
The difficulty I have with justifying a recommendation to watch Hunter x Hunter is in its 148-episode length. Consider how many other better anime you could finish in that time. And you have to factor in that no one has any idea when or even if this will ever receive a conclusion. If you love shounen, you will love this – I don’t doubt it. But if you don’t love shounen, then I can’t recommend it.
Art – Medium
What is with these character designs? Everyone looks like a bootleg knock off from other anime with no thought to theme or cohesion. There’s a reason these characters feature so little in aesthetic contests. Like all long anime, the budget has to cover too much ground. However, unlike other battle anime, HxH doesn’t drop in quality for action scenes – quite the opposite. A pleasant surprise.
Sound – High
The acting is the strongest area of HxH and the music is solid, though lacks variety for such a long series.
Story – Medium
A kid becomes a hunter in a quest to find his father, but will have to overcome many trials and foes before the end. The short version: Phantom Troupe and Chimera Ant arcs are good, and I wouldn’t bother with the rest.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For battle shounen fans only. Hunter x Hunter doesn’t have the crossover appeal to go beyond its demographic. For those who do start, note that the series is incomplete with no continuation in sight.
Guilty Crown’s visuals don’t match the audience reception. When I look at a poster or trailer for this anime, I expect higher ratings from your general viewer. Guilty Crown has all the marks of anime destined for popularity – it looks good, has the popular art style of the age, and a young protagonist with a big sword and a girl hanging onto him. Yet, people don’t like it. This discrepancy is the sole reason I watched Guilty Crown.
After a virus crippled Japan, reliance on foreign aid allowed an independent military company called GHQ to control the nation. The guerrilla group Funeral Parlour has fought back for years, finding new hope for victory with the acquisition of a super power – the ability to draw weapons out of people’s souls. However, a failed operation forces the power’s carrier, singer Inori, to bestow it on high schooler Shuu instead of Gai the leader of Funeral Parlour. Shuu becomes an unwilling participant in the fight to reclaim Japan’s freedom.
This setup should sound familiar to any who have seen Code Geass. In fact, most of Guilty Crown feels inspired by that much-loved series – oppressed Japan, rebel force, unique power with dire consequences later on, and given by a girl. The problem with taking such obvious elements from a great story is that it increases expectations and thus the pressure to succeed. “You took a leg up from that giant and yet you still failed?”
Sadly, this feels closer to Aldnoah.Zero in quality. The protagonist even has “anti-social” as his defining trait, though is not as brain-dead as Aldnoah’s counterpart (and they share a villain whose personality is being disgusted at the dirty lower class). Just like that guy, Shuu isn’t actually anti-social – he’s boring, which the lazy writer shoved under the anti-social blanket as a defence.
Shuu’s introduction presents him as a kid with no power, no spine, and no purpose in life, allowing for plenty of growth, as is typical for a character of this story type. Minutes later, a girl with more cleavage than anything else says to this horny kid, “Take me, Shuu. You can use me!” and all of the character setup evaporates. Giving him instant power with little learning curve and no real competition undermines the position he started in. It shortcuts him out of his personal conflict. Look at Code Geassinstead, where Lelouch has to experiment with the limitations of his power and find clever strategies to maximise his ability within its limitations. Shuu simply draws a giant sword from Inori’s chest and destroys everything.
Oh, I almost forgot, they do try having a learning curve, but that’s just an excuse to have the most forced boob grab in anime history as Shuu tries to draw a weapon from his classmate. Silly me for forgetting this crucial story point!
Remember how annoying Anakin is in the prequels, always whining about how Obi-Wan didn’t let him do whatever he wanted? That best describes Shuu. Most of his dialogue is whining. With no likeable quality, no girl would be after this guy, let alone three. Speaking of girls, Inori has no personality. Her job is arm candy, submissive to every guy around her. Pathetic character.
Why didn’t these writers put more effort into creating layered characters? When the plot shifts the landscape dramatically for the third act, Shuu has to make difficult decisions (just like Lelouch), but because he’s such a flat character, you don’t root for him to succeed. When supporting characters hate him, you agree with them. A better writer would have you feel sorry for him or understand his perspective even if you don’t agree with him. In Guilty Crown, I didn’t care who the hero was or who’s in charge as long as they got this series over with.
Guilty Crown has the elements for a great story – see Code Geass for it done correctly – but it just happens to have executed every one of those elements incorrectly. Production I.G.’s quality art was wasted on this anime.
Art – High
Production I.G. of Psycho Pass fame always puts effort in the visuals, regardless of story quality. Good animation, beautiful lighting, and vibrant effects made me want to watch Guilty Crown in spite of the negative buzz.
Sound – Low
I love that the girl, whose profession is singer, can and does sing. I wish they had used similar music for the theme songs. The script needs a top-to-bottom rework including character edits to succeed.
Story – Low
A teen gains the power to draw weapons from people’s souls and must fight to reclaim his country from external forces. Guilty Crown feels like any light novel anime, despite coming from a manga. Less clichés and more effort at originality would have gone a long way.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. Guilty Crown tempts you with its visuals, but don’t fall for it. There is nothing for you here.
Oh wow, an anime set in an underwater town. Look at those colours, those fish! I love the sea and marine life, so this is going to be good. I’m excited!
Aaaand it’s gone.
That’s how long my excitement lasted for A Lull in the Sea. It starts with beautiful colours in this magical underwater town teeming with life and detail, but not five minutes later, you see that the sea people move underwater no differently than someone on land. Everything has the same weight as on land, people stroll down the streets like on land, they speak the same as with surface air, and they even watch TV like on land. On land, on land, ON LAND! What is the point of setting it underwater if everything functions the same as on land? All they show is one scene of a guy doing a floaty jump with the aid of water and characters swimming on occasion – no faster than ordinary humans! Argh, if they swim the same as we do, then why doesn’t the water affect all else that they do? How lazy can one be in creating a world? Effort went into figuring out how they can survive on land without salt water – take regular salt baths – so why not put a day’s work into the rest of the lore? And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.
Right, after presenting us with this lazy world, we learn that the teens from the sea must start attending school on the surface, as their high school closed down due to dwindling birth rates. Hikari and his friends have trouble fitting in with the surface kids, for a deep-seated hatred simmers between the two societies. However, when the fisherman’s son Tsumugu accidentally catches the sea girl Manaka, there may be a chance at bridging the gap before the sea people hibernate.
The story isn’t much better than the world building. Hikari is a shouty protagonist – always annoying – and his first character moment is yelling at Manaka for wearing the surface school uniform, instead of their old one like the rest of the group has. She makes friends with Tsumugu and all Hikari does is spew bigotry at the guy. He’s the most bigoted of the lot. This is obviously to set him up for change later on, but you have to give us something to like about the character from the start. No, he’s just a prick – doesn’t come around to be likeable or interesting either.
The rest are the usual forgettable players in slice-of-life-turned-melodrama anime. People butt heads here and there, some fall in love, others fall out of it, people grow jealous, all dragged out for too long. Everyone loves someone who doesn’t love them, creating this massive love circle. It’s tedious.
With the way these kids act about romance and relationships, you would imagine they have been through the most brutal hardships in love. But no, they’re immature kids and this is garbage melodrama.
There are some good moments, however. I like the conflict stemming from banishment should a sea person marry a surface human. The local fisherman have nice stories to tell as well. In fact, the less important a character seems to be, the more interesting their story.
What really knocked this anime down an entire tier was the pacing in the second half. These 26 episodes could have fit into 13 had one character’s amnesia arc not gone on forever for no good reason. Just end already! I cannot impress upon you how much this play reeks of desperation to extend the story and heighten the stakes. Since these stakes don’t matter relative to the rest, it only weakens the overall effect.
A Lull in the Sea is a standard high school drama that goes for the heart with a supernatural twist. I wager it would have affected me a decade ago, but my heart has since turned to ice. In all seriousness, you’ve seen this all before, which coupled with the padded second half and lazy world building makes this a no from me. Don’t waste your time.
Art – Medium
The underwater environment looks gorgeous with light refraction, Greek architecture, and the abundance of fish, though they should have put more effort into the submerged physics. Sadly, we spend little time underwater. Land scenes are still rather good. Character faces are munted with eyes melting and some profile shots don’t look human.
Sound – Medium
The first ED song is gorgeous (going on my playlist) while the rest of the music is good and the acting is fine. However, the script needs a trim and more punch.
Story – Low
A group of friends from the underwater city must get along with other students at their new land school, but the impending hibernation threatens all they have worked for. A Lull in the Sea overindulges in melodrama, dragging out a good concept into a chore to complete, and the world building is lazy.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. A Lull in the Sea is a waste of time unless you love overwrought melodrama. A better-realised water world would have been enough for me. They failed.
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.