Tag Archives: Tragedy

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

The Promised Neverland – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yakusoku no Neverland

 

Related: The Promised Neverland 2nd Season (2021)

Similar: Now and Then, Here and There

Made in Abyss

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Tense atmosphere
  • Good animation
  • Shows the workings

Negatives:

  • Gives away the mystery too early
  • Villains are comical

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The Promised Neverland should be an anime that you want to go in blind for, as I did, but its great mystery comes out within the first episode, so that magic is gone. Does make it easier to talk about in review.

This story takes place in an orphanage where children await adoption while under the loving gaze of Mother Isabella. The children live a peaceful life studying, helping around the house, and playing together within the safety of the walls. One day, they receive the bittersweet news that a family has selected one among them. Two of the oldest kids run after her to return her stuffed bunny, only to find horror instead as demons drop her lifeless body into a jar. She’ll keep for later.

The orphanage turns out to be nothing more than a child farm and Isabella is the shepherd. The three smartest, Emma, Norman, and Ray, begin to plot their escape. Can they take everyone?

As alluded to in my opener, I am disappointed that The Promised Neverland reveals the truth behind the orphanage in the first episode. It could have held onto that secret for another episode or two. This isn’t a case like Death Note, where seeing the story from both sides enhances the conflict and drama. See, a major problem – really, the core problem – of this anime is the bad villains. Improving this single area would alleviate several other problems, such as the too-brief mystery, which itself isn’t automatically a problem. As I said, Death Note gives it away and it works in favour of the story. Seeing the villains’ perspectives here adds little of value.

The Promised Neverland has three villains: Isabella, Sister Krone, and the demons. The demons are a shadowy entity in the background with scant minutes of airtime across the series and don’t matter beyond the catalyst for child farming. They don’t need explanation. The two women, however, are central to the plot. Isabella is the quiet, measured, plotting type who knows more than she lets on. With each passing episode, I expect some deeper revelation to her character that will explain who she is, why she is. All we get is a few seconds of backstory that barely explain anything. She is flat. Nor do we see her cunning actions enough to become a smart antagonist.

Worse is Sister Krone (subtle name, you got there). She comes in to assist Isabella, but harbours ambitions of becoming a Mother herself. She is comically bad. The performance, both in English and Japanese, is horrendous on a level up there with Jared Leto’s Joker. I don’t blame the actors for this. No performance could save her writing. It’s so over the top and manic, meant to be frightening (akin to the Joker pretending to be a loving nun) that it elicits only laughter. Her impact on the story is negligible as well. I image later seasons will bring he back for some ungodly reason.

Speaking of, I think this story would have worked better as a single season narrative. Despite remaining engaged from start to finish, I have no motivation to watch the next season unless I hear great things from a trusted source. I get the impression that future arcs will focus on the demons and the unresolved issues at the orphanage. The demons, I don’t need an explanation; the resolution of the orphanage, I expect to find repetitive.

If a single season of 12 episodes was it, complete story start to finish, I can’t imagine we would have wasted time on Krone or had Isabella remain puddle deep (one can see they are “saving her for later”). Restrictions often increase creativity and quality because there are only so many minutes on screen, so many words on the page that when the editing starts, the weak links hit the cutting room floor. If you have any familiarity with multi-season American TV shows, you will know what it’s like to see weak content added for the sake of extending the story to a fifth, sixth, seventh season when the studio renews.

So, I have vehement criticisms, yet I stay engaged to the end – why? Well, the main characters, primarily. Emma, Norman, and Ray work great. Upon first seeing their designs, I predicted their roles and arcs in the story (the energetic yet naïve one, the clever yet emotionless one, and the emo yet ruthless one, respectively). They surprise me though. Yes, they are the archetypes I predicted, but they aren’t the stereotypes I expected. Emma is naïve and idealistic, saying she would even take snitches when they escape (they suspect some kids feed information to Isabella), which is a truly dumb idea when many lives are on the line. However, she also displays moments of brilliance in both mind and heart. Remember, these three kids are supposed to be the smartest. Unlike most anime with “genius” characters that are actually dumb as bricks and only win because the author says so, these three show real brains (not in the way the demons would prefer, of course). It helps that they aren’t pitched as reality altering geniuses.

My favourite element of this story is seeing the kids figure it all out. How does Isabella know where they are at all times? Who is snitching on them? Is someone snitching? How can they escape with kids who still pick their noses and eat it? Why do the demons want them and what determines the next “adopted” child? How do they train for escape with Isabella surveying their every move? Seeing them work through this systematically is most engaging. It would have been that much better if the villains were equally engaging obstacles to the goal though.

The Promised Neverland, in the face my criticisms, receives my easy recommendation. The core of the story and its characters are sound, pulling you from one episode to the next with fast pacing and clever cliffhangers. You will want to watch just one more episode.

Art – High

The art is good, notably in animation. The demon designs are freaky, though the world itself could do with more creativity.

Sound – High

You can go with either language here. The music infuses a creepy atmosphere and I like the OP song – will probably add it to my playlist.

Story – High

A group of orphans realise that the promised land of a family is a one-way trip down a demon’s gullet in reality and the orphanage is a farm. Other than revealing the mystery too soon, The Promised Neverland delivers a tense thriller that captures your attention to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. The Promised Neverland is an easy recommendation from me to anyone unless child abuse in any form is too much for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Fruits Basket – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fruits Basket

 

Related: Fruits Basket 2001 (old version)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Kamisama Kiss

Kobato.

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Drama Slice of Life

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant and good natured
  • Improved over the 2001 version

Negatives:

  • Protagonist is unflinchingly nice and upbeat
  • Comical antagonists
  • Desperate to make you feel sad

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I have known of Fruits Basket for a long time. It was a big deal shortly into the new millennium and I’ve never had the urge to watch. A reader requested it, so I guess I have to give it try at least. To my surprise, it isn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I did stick to the new 2019 edition where the art isn’t hideous like the 2001 version, which made all the difference (goes back to the higher standards in art demanded by the core demographic, as I mentioned in Snow White with the Red Hair).

Tohru Honda is a girl down on her luck. She lost both parents, her grandfather can’t keep her any longer, the rest of the extended family hates her, and her tent barely holds it together in the woods. All of that changes when, one day, she stumbles upon the house of Shigure and Yuki, a popular boy from her school. Alongside Kyo and others, they make up the Souma family. However, should any of them hug the opposite sex, it would reveal their true form as an animal of the Chinese zodiac. Seeing her pitiable state, they agree to take her in on condition that she never reveal their secret.

Young girl surrounded by handsome boys, each one fitting an archetype of the reverse harem as they obsess over her. This is as classic shoujo as you can get!

Fruits Basket was an influential manga of the genre in the 90s & 00s, which can be a curse, especially if it is so easy to imitate and, more importantly, outdo. There is no complexity here, whether of story or of character. The reverse harem shoujo formula is as plug and play as the shounen battle anime. This isn’t like Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist, or Death Note, where you can copy them, change a little, still expecting to have something decent of your own. It takes more than the formula. Every successful anime has galleries of imitators, but the best anime have few that come within arm’s reach of competing in quality.

As such, if you have any familiarity with shoujo anime/manga, nothing – and I mean nothing – will be of surprise in Fruits Basket. It doesn’t feel outdated after the polished remake, yet it doesn’t feel new.

However, let’s look at it for what it is or for the uninitiated.

The protagonist Tohru, I am not a fan. She is too nice. She’s nice it that annoying sort of way, where if she were a real person, you’d suspect it’s all a façade to cover the truth that she abuses animals in private. I exaggerate of course. She is impossibly happy and unbeatable in life to the point that conflict doesn’t matter. The story is structured as a collection of subplots for each character, as seen through the eyes of Tohru. We go through several of the zodiac boys with their tragic backstories and her school friends. Throughout this, nothing makes Tohru flinch. She is an upbeat, sunshine-filled, empty vessel to navigate the subplots. Fruits Basket desperately want you to feel sad for her, from the endless tragedy in her life down to the opening ballad carefully crafted to tug at your heartstrings. When you have a character as unrelatable as Tohru, none of this moves me a millimetre.

The supporting cast is more interesting and the reason the core demographic is here. Each boy fits a type, so one can pick a favourite. It’s unrealistic to have a teenaged girl surrounded by guys like this, but fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s yaoi baiting, naturally – wouldn’t be shoujo otherwise.

The boys’ conflicts centre on the zodiac “curse”. The curse is simply the transformation, but it is enough to wreck their relationships and their lives. The shouta kid (he’s older than he looks, they swear) transformed into a rabbit when his mother held him, which filled her with disgust and anger, driving her to attempted suicide. In the end, the Dragon of the zodiac erased her memory of him to give peace. This is a common story with the members of the zodiac. Some fall in love, their partner can’t handle the truth and have their mind’s modified, while the zodiac has to live with the memories and broken heart. The stories are simple and as I said earlier, done to death. You should see it all coming.

As for the antagonists – if you could even call them that – they are comical. They are the flattest characters of them all. The head of the Souma family just leers at everyone and makes threats. I don’t know how anyone can keep a straight face at the things she utters. The most hilarious villains have to be Tohru’s extended family. Her cousin, who is supposed to be respectable and wants to be an officer, goes on a rant about how she’s a slut for staying with boys. How comically flat can you get? These people are funny, not threatening.

If one were of the core demographic for Fruits Basket, a tween girl, there would be stars in her eyes as she dreams of her best boy and yadi yada lovey dovey stuff. For everyone else, there is plenty better shoujo anime out there. If you want a comedy that parodies the genre, I can’t recommend Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun enough, or you’ve got Little Witch Academia and Kodocha.

Art – Medium

The production across the board is much improved over the original, though it isn’t anything to write home about. The art is pleasant enough to match the story’s tone. Could do with less full screen bloom. Go easy on my eyes, please.

Sound – Medium

The acting and the script is fine middle-of-the-road quality that gets the job done but won’t stick with you. All that stands out is the extra mountains of sugar. The first opening song is a little much in forcing you to feel sad for Tohru.

Story – Medium

An orphaned yet upbeat girl finds lodging with a group of handsome boys that turn into the animals of the zodiac when hugged. She grows close to them as she unravels their mysterious pasts. Each character gets their time in Tohru’s arms for her to learn their backstories. None of them rises above average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans only. You have to be a shoujo fan to enjoy Fruits Basket. It is as typical shoujo anime as you can get.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Kurozuka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kurozuka

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Ergo Proxy

Blade of the Immortal

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy Horror Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Intriguing start

Negatives:

  • Leaps to the future too soon
  • Laughing maniac villain is ineffective
  • Most interesting character isn’t in the story enough
  • Visuals show their age

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It pains me – it pains me to report how disappointed I am with Kurozuka. This is my type of story. Historical fact woven into in a fantasy narrative with vampires, romance, unflinching action, and cyberpunk – what’s not to love? Maybe the fact that we are missing the middle of the story.

Kurozuka opens in feudal Japan with Minamoto no Yoshitsune (a real historical figure, also known as Kurou) and his closest ally as they flee into the mountains after the fall of Kurou’s brother, first ruling shogun of Japan. The real historical account says that he committed suicide here. Kurozuka postulates that idea of him meeting a stunning woman, Kuromitsu (based on a fable), whom he soon discovers is a vampire and rather than fight her, falls in love. He falters while defending her, but she turns him into an immortal to save his life. Thus a romance set to span over a millennium is born.

I love this setup, particularly in the presentation. It doesn’t hold back on the gore and dark fantasy. His conversion to vampire is the perfect illustration of this, where the norm would be to have him die and then wake up as a vampire or show a sanitised transformation at most. Kurozuka has him alive as a dismembered head while Kuromitsu prepares a new body for him. It’s gruesome and just right (narratively relevant in future as well). The tone of the romance is clear from the start. I am in!

Then episode 3 leaps a thousand years into a dystopian cyberpunk future with Kurou having no idea how he got there. A chance encounter has him join the resistance to combat the Red Imperial Army sporting the same emblem as the clan that tried to kill him and Kuromitsu all those generations ago. The resistance promises they can help him find the one person he knows.

And here is where you lose me.

The setup promises a twisted romance through the ages, Kurou and Kuromitsu forever entwined in a love story painted in blood and guts. I wouldn’t be wrong in expecting to see these two appearing in various eras throughout history, perpetuating the unhealthy cycle of their relationship, one of those affairs where the best decision would be to end it now, in a moment of happiness, but they can’t help themselves from trying again, slaves to their love.

Instead, the story plants itself in the future city with extensive use of flashbacks to dole out bits of the past, of the “middle” of the story for us to figure out. This does not succeed. At all.

The structure is disjointed as all hell. When we flashback, we aren’t sure of which period we are in half the time. This is intentional, as revealed later. Worst of all, the idea of having an amnesiac Kurou on a quest to find Kuromitsu removes her, the most interesting character, from much of the story and turns him into a blank slate. I’ve said it many times: be careful of using amnesia as a plot device. The two most important characters have the least agency. The resistance fighters feel more important to the day-to-day of the story and the main villain, a Joker-like laughing maniac, grates one’s nerves within a single scene. (I would be remiss in mentioning that the horror goes down as the sci-fi goes up too.)

So, why structure the story in such a manner? It is all for the twist that reveals why he has amnesia, why he doesn’t wake up in the future beside her and why the Red Army wants him. The writer sacrificed everything to deliver such a mediocre twist. Worse yet, the twist is a fine piece of vampire lore that could have created plenty of great conflict along the way, if we could have seen it throughout time. I can’t wrap my brain around the insistence upon nailing this twist. It just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to give it away, in case you do watch Kurozuka, so allow me to craft an example instead. Imagine if you took Code Geass, as is, but you hid the fact that Lelouch had the power of mind control (don’t worry, Kurozuka’s twist isn’t mind control). You therefore removed any scene that shows his power because it would give away the twist. Sure, it’s an interesting reveal that he was mind controlling people all along (only once per person as well, to further the twist), but at what cost? You’ve now removed most of the compelling scenes and conflict, all because you wanted a big surprise.

Kurozuka is this hypothetical version of Code Geass. It has the components for a fantastic story. I can point to several elements I love, yet leaves much to be desired once brought together. Forget the twist. I want their relationship. Give me their turmoil, damn it!

I am more positive than negative over Kurozuka, though this has much to do with it being the type of story and aesthetic that I like. The ideas and possibilities that made me ponder interesting questions captivated me more than the product itself. As such, if you aren’t into vampires or cyberpunk, it is unlikely to work for you in the face of its structural and character issues.

Art – Medium

In its heyday, Kurozuka would have looked great. Age hasn’t been kind, ironically, as certain animation techniques and elements like CG blood do not hold up. The visual tone, however, is still strong in conveying atmosphere and several action scenes have great animation.

Sound – Medium

I like that they kept the kabuki narration in Japanese even for the English dub – not the sort of thing that works in another language. The acting is good, probably the strongest element of the entire production. The soundtrack is an intense electro death metal collection that, though not to my taste, is a perfect fit to the cyberpunk tragedy when you think about it.

Story – Medium

A samurai falls in love with a vampire woman, sparking a romance destined to last over a thousand years. A brilliant start filled with promises of a dark romance through the ages soon falters with a leap to the future, all in favour of an unsatisfying twist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. I was going to suggest trying Kurozuka, but as the opening few episodes are deceptive to the overall experience, I can’t do so. The paranormal dystopian aspect is the draw.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Disappointing

Naruto: Shippuden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Naruto: Shippuden

 

Related: Naruto

Similar: One Piece

Hunter x Hunter

Basilisk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 500 episodes (296 without filler)

 

Positives:

  • Conclusions to plot lines established in Naruto classic
  • Several excellent fights

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is less important in favour of convoluted lore
  • New plot lines feel like filler
  • The Great Ninja War
  • Way, way too long

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It is finally done. Naruto Shippuden (and The Last Movie) is no longer on my backlog. It gives me a mix of emotions – relief at having such a giant off my back, nostalgia from thinking 16 years into the past, and a tinge of sadness that it is over. It wasn’t an easy journey to reach this point. 500 episodes of Shippuden – after 220 episodes of Naruto – isn’t an afternoon’s viewing experience, especially once you hit The Wall that is the Great Ninja War. More on that later. Let’s go back. There is a lot to talk about here, so forgive the ramble and tangents.

Naruto ended with two central threads: Sasuke has betrayed the village to seek out the arch villain Orochimaru’s help and the criminal organisation Akatsuki has revealed itself to the ninja world. Shippuden jumps ahead two and a half years as Naruto returns to the hidden leaf village after a long training adventure with his perverted teacher Jiraya. The anime (unedited version) opens with a flashforward of Naruto and Sakura finally catching up to Sasuke in Orochimaru’s lair, giving the audience a taste of the major event to come. It fails to mention that we don’t reach this until Shippuden episode 51 and that it’s the most anti-climactic moment in the entire franchise. Not a great start.

Shippuden also disappoints in how it handles filler. Where Naruto padded the episode count after the main story concluded while we waited for the sequel, Shippuden inserts extensive filler arcs every second or third season.

To drag out the series further, canon episodes regularly have artificial lengthening techniques. Battle anime are notorious for static pans across a battlefield or characters’ faces. Shippuden takes it to another extreme of time wasted. I particularly remember an episode where Naruto confronts Orochimaru and only a minute of real content occurs between dramatic pauses, slow pans, and repeated lines. Replaying scenes from the previous episode is more rampant that ever, unjustified in their presence. They often repeat within the same episode in case we have Alzheimer’s. The absolute worst padding you will ever see is when Naruto’s allies remove the seals on Akatsuki’s hideout.

Let me set the scene. Akatsuki have sealed themselves inside a cave while they perform a ritual to extract a powerful demon beast from within a ninja. Outside, several of Naruto’s allies split up to remove five seals scattered around the area. Before that however, a trap summons an exact clone in ability and strength of each ninja, which they have to 1v1 before they can proceed (I thought this was the dumbest fan service idea only for it to be outdone later). These fights are just moronic. It’s repetitive and devoid of any depth – don’t forget stretching out every single shot. So, if they are fighting their exact equals, how can they win? Well, by fighting harder than themselves from before! What…? This makes one facepalm so hard that my friends and I still bring it up each time Naruto is mentioned.

Anyways, after that comes the seal removal. Each character grabs one and counts down to pull them in sync. What begins is the longest countdown in cinema history. It takes several minutes off the end of an episode, ending in a cliffhanger, only to repeat from the beginning of the next episode and take forever again.

You know what it’s like? Daytime soap operas. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Passions, Days of Our Lives, or the likes of The Bold & the Beautiful then you will know exactly what I mean.

With how much Shippuden wanted to waste my time, I opted for the “Kai” edit this rewatch. When originally watching this while current, I made it early into the Great Ninja War (Shippuden episode ~250), so I had plenty of experience with the broadcast edition. No way was I sitting through all of that unedited. Little did I know the worst was still to come.

From here on, I will be reviewing Naruto Shippuden under the assumption of the Kai edit, which follows the manga closer [almost] free of filler. There’s not much to say about the filler. It’s trash – don’t watch it.

So, Naruto Shippuden proper, how is it? I can best summarise it thusly: old is good while new is bad.

In essence, the direct continuation of story threads from the original series is successful, while new elements introduced are just crap. Interestingly, the story structure almost alternates between old and new threads, throwing you from one end of the engagement spectrum to the other.

The first arc sees Akatsuki venture into sand country to capture Gaara for the demon beast within him (their goal is a combine the power of all demon beasts). We get to meet a couple of new members, including former sand ninja and puppet master Sasori. Naruto loves to have villains that are former citizens of the place they’re attacking to add that extra emotional connection. Sasori works here, not only for giving us a great fight between three generations of puppeteers – and the only good fight involving Sakura – but also in emphasising the damage ninja life can have on oneself. It’s a good complement to Gaara’s story arc. Where Gaara fell through maltreatment from his family, Sasori lost himself when his parents died. Both grew twisted because of ninja society. A little care and consideration saved one from evil, while the other could never be human again.

Naruto’s execution of theming and tying heroes to villains is among the best in shounen anime and it makes you care for the conflict. Sure, they have a variety of interesting powers and fighting styles that make for great action – action is important to keep it exciting – yet without that emotional core, it wouldn’t stay with the audience once the battle is over. We see this time and time again. Think Lee vs. Gaara (untalented hardworking nobody vs. effortless prodigy gifted with immense power) or Naruto vs. Neji (unloved yet free outsider vs. popular and powerful slave). There are many such examples in Naruto that pack an emotional punch. The same is true for Shippuden in the better fights. The perfect example of the opposite is in the grand finale, but let’s not jump ahead just yet. My rant has some way to go.

Sasori’s partner – Akatsuki always travel in pairs – is Deidara, a loudmouth with mouths in his hands that chew special explosive clay. I hate this character. His backstory is so lame, likely thrown in place at the last minute when the author had to hit a deadline (it doesn’t come up until much later, when his story is already over, by the way). His backstory is the edgy teen who wasn’t allowed to blow things up so he went and joined Al Qaeda in protest. That’s it. And he never shuts up. Plus he ends each sentence with a “yeah” or “hm” grunt. I understand that with such a large cast you need to get creative with differentiating characters, yet you don’t need their quirk in every. god. damn. sentence. The actor never makes it sound natural by the end.

His fight with Gaara is quite good though. More of a visual spectacle. It works by contrast to Sasori’s fight, which has more story and is on a smaller scale in a confined environment. Keeping Deidara going after this arc was the mistake.

Overall, this arc is a good start and gives the [false] impression that Shippuden will maintain the same qualities that made the original series good.

Next arc introduces Sai, the replacement for Sasuke on Naruto’s team. Here we have the first example of “new” failure. His trait is being socially barren. Raised as a spy and assassin since infancy, he has no understanding of emotion or relationships. It’s a classic sad Naruto backstory, which is fine, but his arc doesn’t contribute much. He was forced into the team by the head of ninja CIA with the secret mission of killing Sasuke once found, rather than bringing him back alive. This doesn’t lead to anything. He grows a heart by becoming friends with the others before they find Sasuke, pre-empting the conflict before it starts. To top him off, the story forgets about him a third of the way through. If you were watching this week to week, his return would come as a surprise. “Oh hey, I remember that guy! What was his name again?”

That said, Sai is one of the better new additions. Most newcomers are indistinguishable from filler episode characters. The story leads Naruto to the other ninja nations, each presenting their own crew, none of which is interesting. The most important of the lot is another demon beast ninja who speaks only in rap. It is as annoying as it sounds.

After my praise for Naruto’s supporting cast in the original, it saddens to have to report on how forgettable the new guys are. Worse still, the original cast are little more than background images. Why bother creating new characters when you had such a strong cast to work with already?

This arc concludes in that flashforward I mentioned earlier. They find Sasuke, he leaves, and we are back to square one. Pointless.

Next arc shifts focus back to Akatsuki on the hunt for the next beast, two different members taking helm. Here we have one of the best fights in Shippuden: Shikamaru vs. Hidan with the scythe. I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t seen it and there isn’t much in the way of story to dissect. Any fight with Shikamaru on stage is great for the focus on strategy over flashy abilities.

By contrast, we have the fight against his partner Kakuzu, who is a Frankenstein’s monster-style ninja with the power to stitch himself back to life. Here we see a major crack in the walls caused by one of battle anime’s worst tropes: protagonist power progression. Battle anime need to keep going bigger and more powerful to avoid stagnation with the audience. I don’t think that is necessary, if done right, though the core audience does. The only time you can deescalate is by starting a new series. A power reset each arc, like Bleach, isn’t enough. The audience still wants something bigger.

Dragon Ball Z is the classic example of why this is such a problem. Remember how when they were fighting Frieza the story impressed upon you his power and importance? Now remember how when the next villain came along, making him look like a joke, and the heroes had to grow so much stronger to beat the new guy that they could now kill Frieza with a single flick? And remember how this power was concentrated in a few main characters, making most of the allies useless in the process? Well, Naruto reaches that point. The fight against Kakuzu, which was a struggle for the team fighting him, ends with the arrival of Naruto, fresh off his latest mind-numbing training arc, who takes him out with ease. Because he’s the protagonist, the genre dictates that he must be the one to do this.

It’s not as bad as Dragon Ball Z’s issue, but it doesn’t prevent the groan-worthy ending to a fight, especially off the back of the intelligent fight against Hidan.

Next, we switch to Sasuke’s perspective as he assembles a new team. When I say new, I mean the bad new of Shippuden. He recruits a Jekyll & Hyde sort with no personality, shark boy, and yet another Sasuke fangirl. Sasuke manages to get away from his fangirls back home only for the author to go back to the same overdrawn well and give us another. You want to know the real kick in the nuts? She’s the worst of them all. Her only gimmick is being a fangirl, something the “comedy” reminds us of in every scene with her. She will have a fangirl moment (and another sort of moment, if you catch my drift) any time she sees Sasuke, even in the middle of a dramatic scene. Anyone with her as a groupie would want to shoot themselves.

Everything with these three characters is just a waste of time in the lead up to an event we’ve all been waiting for: the reuniting of Sasuke and Itachi. We can’t have this happen right away, er…125 episodes in, of course. We need another arc first.

Regardless, once it does come to a head, what can I say – it’s fantastic. Built up from the early episodes of the original, the conclusion to Itachi’s story is excellent. Surrounded by filler and padding, it is noticeable that this story was likely planned from the beginning. Its emphasis on character and emotion to deliver the final piece of the puzzle is the polar opposite of The Great Ninja War. (We’ll get to that. We’ll get to that.) This is the best of all Shippuden to me.

This great conclusion leads into another strong arc where the heroes must face the leader of Akatsuki, Pain. Similar to other great Naruto villains, Pain and his close companions follow the theme of how harsh ninja life truly is and how it can break even the nicest kid. An accident from the “good guys” created one of the most powerful villains. While a moment of love almost saved him, as it did with Gaara, it wasn’t enough to keep him from the path of pain.

He makes for a great villain. Not as good as Orochimaru or Itachi, in my books, but great nonetheless. His abilities and those of his companions are interesting. We have action, story, character, and emotion rolled into a satisfying package.

This should have been the end of it, barring the resolution of Naruto and Sasuke’s arc as a capstone. However, if you looked away from your screen at this moment and checked the episode count, you would realise we are only halfway through Shippuden.

Welcome to the Great Ninja War.

Where to begin with this one. It could warrant an entire review of its own. You know what? Let’s do it. I’m on a roll, so what’s another 1000 words?

After Pain. comes the revelation that there was another bad guy behind everything all along. (It hurts just writing that sentence. That’s the real pain.) This new villain was mentioned a few times as a backstory, though never as a relevant character to the current day. After a rubbish politicking plot that I won’t bore you with, the great nations decide to set aside their differences to team up and defeat this villain and his army of Power Rangers putty monsters. Toss aside character-focused storytelling and engaging combat in favour of two masses of bodies throwing themselves at each other.

When you think it can’t get any less interesting, the author pulls out the ultimate fan service card and episode count extender. He brings back every known character from the dead using the Reanimation Technique rediscovered by Orochimaru in the original series. A technique that barely managed two reincarnations can now summon a hundred of the best ninja with ease (remember what I said about power escalation earlier).

It was fine the first time to have two Hokage from history return to give us some lore and a bit of the “rule of cool” factor. This time, however, is just ludicrous. Outside of two or three cases, all it does is stage rematches for fan service. Even the Akatsuki members that just died come back. My level of bafflement at this entire arc is difficult to put into words. I can’t believe any self-respecting author would be okay with this.

The Great Ninja War makes up one-third of all Naruto episodes and feels like filler at least 75% of the time. This is canon filler. Even when watching this in the Kai edit, it feels as if there is no end. I get the sense that whoever was making this fan edit was also losing interest, only finishing the project out of obligation. The editing gets sloppier as you go – one episode has a scene repeat in succession (was the end of one episode and the start of the next in the broadcast release). More and more pointless flashbacks make it in. Don’t get me started on how much Shippuden uses flashbacks to pad runtime. Flashbacks should be banned from anime. The fan editor no longer bothered cutting down those slow dragged out scenes most of the time anymore. I don’t blame them. I would have given up long ago.

The Great Ninja War reaches almost Dragon Ball Z levels of terrible. As if in homage to Goku’s idiocy, Naruto also has a “Don’t interfere with my fight!” moment. Never mind that thousands of lives are on the line.

There are some good moments in this abomination. Kakashi has a good episode against a villain relevant to him, Naruto’s emotional moment meeting that character is quite touching, and Itachi is good, as always. Don’t let that give you hope though. It is small consolation for what you have to sit through.

So, despite all indications, the war does eventually come to end. And just when it seems the chute has no crap left to expel, it squeezes out one final turd. The reincarnations are dead, the masses of fights are over – surely, there is nothing left. The plumbing can’t take anymore.

Wrong!

How do I put this? Shippuden starts to become Evangelion – specifically, the End of Evangelion. Character and story is thrown aside for end-of-the-world lore and a ninja origin story. Naruto becomes the Child of Prophecy (barf); the goddess of chakra revives to wipe out the world. At one point, even the moon gets involved. A character you never cared about reveals himself as the true villain behind everything. Yeah, the guy I mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the true true villain.

What the hell does any of this have to do with anything?

Naruto loses focus, going from character driven conflicts to lore vomit with bigger and bigger abilities, constantly escalating, merely dragging it out. The supporting cast, new additions included, are relegated for bad lore.

The reasoning for any of this crap to be a part of the narrative is so flimsy you can see tape barely holding it together. It is utter shite.

Once that’s over, it wraps with the finale of Naruto and Sasuke’s conflict. After the Great Ninja War and the End of Evaruto, it’s a bloody blessing that this doesn’t fail. It’s not great, though it’s not bad either. The finale is of much better quality, particularly in visuals, though it feels weird coming after so much filler and in how it ignores much of what just happened.

Some might say that The Last Naruto Movie is the true end to the series. It isn’t. The movie’s sole purpose is to sell you on the idea of the Naruto and Hinata relationship. Remember when that was a thing they never developed at any point? Naruto goes from ignoring Hinata like always to suddenly confessing undying love after a stint through this extended filler episode they call a movie. There is no foundation to this relationship. I don’t care for it whatsoever.

And that’s it. That’s Naruto concluded with my far too long tirade, a few thousand words over the limit. What do I think of it overall? Well, the parts I like are great, notably the original series. It has some of anime’s greatest fights, most complex villains, and best supporting characters. But there is also a lot of baggage weighing it down. Shippuden should have just been a conclusion to Itachi, Orochimaru, Sasuke, and Akatsuki (as first established, not what it became to justify the Great War). 150 episodes, maximum, to cover the golden content in this 720-episode bloat.

I don’t regret my time with this series. I do wish I could recommend it though, but in its current state, I can’t ignore the problems that come at the end. At most, I would recommend watching from the original series until the conclusion of Pain’s arc, in the Kai edit. No one should have to go beyond that.

The real question is whether finishing Shippuden has motivated me to start on Boruto. No. The answer is no. Naruto is done in my life.

Art – Medium

Like most long-running shounen anime, Naruto: Shippuden is inconsistent in its art. You can have episodes with brilliant, fluid animation and proper cinematography. You can also have episodes filled with static shots and character cutouts sliding across the screen. Character designs have lost detail to make them easier to draw and animate.

Sound – Medium

The music still shines as one of the best collections amongst shounen anime. The dub isn’t much of an improvement over Naruto classic. Those that were great before are still great – Naruto’s English voice is still bad to me. The writing has taken a serious dive, particularly in the new plots.

Story – Medium

Naruto and co. continue their search for Sasuke as they fight foes old and new. The old ongoing threads are good, while new introductions to the story are filler.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Naruto classic fans only. Even if you watch the Naruto Kai edit, this is still a gargantuan anime that I can’t recommend to anyone not already invested from the original series. There are several satisfying conclusions for fans, however.

(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:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor PacingWeak End

Angel Beats! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Angel Beats!

 

Similar: Death Parade

Plastic Memories

Haibane Renmei

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy Drama

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Occasionally funny.
  • No space for rent.

Negatives:

  • Too many characters for 13 episodes.
  • Emotions don’t land.
  • Weak art.
  • Script often makes you cringe.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Until I committed to watching Angel Beats (after a reader requested it for review), I had thought it was another adaptation of Key Visual’s awful visual novels, owing to the similarity in character design (I had attributed the reduced real estate between the eyes to someone finally pointing out how ugly Key characters were). Much to my delight, I discovered that it only involved one notable staff member from those past projects and it wasn’t someone from the art department. The composer wrote this story as an original with no visual novel relations. Thank Thor; Angel Beats isn’t doomed before the first frame!

With that happy thought in mind, I dove right in.

Angel Beats is a “trapped in limbo” story with video game rules, where each of the “player characters” cannot escape the confines of a high school until they undo a past regret and move on in death. Otonashi is the newest student in this strange world of the in-between. He awakens with no memories and next to a girl hunched over a sniper rifle. She’s aiming at a silver-haired girl in the school’s soccer field. He doesn’t see the girl as a threat and rightfully so, for she is as dulcet as a puppy. He soon learns otherwise when he talks to her and she kills him.

He’s fine the next morning, of course, since no one dies in this limbo high school of NPCs. The silver girl or “angel” is just there to enforce the rules as student body president. Meanwhile, Otonashi joins sniper girl’s club of player characters. They have one mission – defeat the angel and get out of here.

The first few episodes are fine overall as they explain the rules and the story focuses more on comedy, like a group of high school friends taking their military LARP most seriously. The second episode has them breaking into their own secret underground base when the traps meant for the angel turn on them. The team members drop like flies to video game traps and it’s funny.

The quality falls as you progress further into the story, figuring out the goal is to give each character an emotional send off before they depart limbo. They can only pass on once they make up for a regret in life, which means a shoehorned tragic backstory for each person is imminent (sniper girl’s is laughable, even with dead kids involved). It gets worse when you remember the episode count and calculate that there is no way to accommodate so many characters. You don’t care about anyone before they leave. You see the ending coming eight episodes away and yet it’s still ham-fisted.

No emotional moment in Angel Beats worked for me. The story is a metaphor about moving on from high school and having to say goodbye to friends – possibly for the last time – which is relatable to just about everyone in the audience (if you’re still in high school, you can relate to leaving primary/middle school friends behind). Even with such a relatable theme, these scenes extracted nothing from me.

The writer needed to cut down on characters. Have more characters than the core group, by all means, but don’t make them all matter. By trying to make everyone matter, no one matters.

Moreover, Angel Beats needs a stronger script to pull off the drama. Half of the script consists of Otonashi asking questions on behalf of the audience (oh, what convenient amnesia), so that others can explain everything. His dialogue in some scenes will be no more than one question after the other. Then we have what can only be described as the “anime” dialogue. That first scene when he awakens near sniper girl has the following cringe worthy exchange.

After seeing no threat from the small silver-haired girl, he says, “Listen, how about I go down there?”

Sniper girl whirls around and quickly yells, “What? Why? Why the hell go down there? That doesn’t make any sense! What the hell made you say that? Are you an idiot or what? Go die!”

“…”

“That’s something we say here all the time since no one dies here,” she adds, now speaking normally. “What ya think? Funny?”

“Not so much, but what do I know?”

This dialogue is meant to convey her personality, but is so forced that it’s just obnoxious. I can see someone turning this off at that moment, 3 minutes in. Don’t forget, this dialogue comes after she rambles about her club’s name with no context, which is also obnoxious. The way these characters talk and behave doesn’t convey the sense of people trapped in limbo. It feels like any other high school action anime cast.

Once the school concert is over a few episodes in (the music is the strongest element) and drama replaces comedy, Angel Beats becomes rather bland and predictable. Not to give away too much, but the angel adversary plot resolves shortly as well to lessen conflict further.

Angel Beats is an alright anime if you go in knowing not to expect much from the drama. Honestly though, there are so many better anime you could spend your time on and this one’s been forgotten by now, so there’s no conversation waiting either.

Art – Low

Characters have zero design originality, though thankfully they aren’t landlords. CG background characters and CG environments don’t blend well with principal objects. Lights and shadows are inconsistent to the characters. Look at the screenshot above with the sniper rifle – note how sharp the shadows are on the characters, gun and bush (drawn in by a person digitally) against the fuzzy shading on the building and the lack of shadow beneath the rifle (calculated by computer graphics). The only complement I can offer is for the skies.

Sound – Low

Average acting, no matter the language, and the script is several tiers below what’s needed for the drama. The music is nice.

Story – Low

A group of students try to escape limbo high school by killing the angel that enforces the rules. Too many characters, quick drama, and a lack focus don’t make for a great story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. If you haven’t seen Angel Beats yet, you aren’t missing out. It has nothing recommending itself these days, though it isn’t a bad anime.

(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: None

Negative:

Poor Pacing