Tag Archives: Tragedy

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

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

 

Similar: March Comes in Like a Lion

Millennium Actress

Aoi Bungaku

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Drama

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • The Rakugo acting.
  • Strong drama and characters.
  • Alignment of art, tone, and theme.

Negatives:

  • Full performances each episode isn’t necessary.

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Rakugo is a traditional Japanese style of storytelling, a mix of stand-up comedy and one-man theatre. The performer stays knelt on a cushion and depicts several characters in conversation, using only a fan and cloth as props. If you’ve ever recounted a story to friends, imitating multiple people by slightly changing your voice and shifting your head back and forth, you will have an idea of Rakugo. The stories are comical in nature, though a performer does like to throw in an occasional drama to throw off the audience.

Steeped in tradition and inflexible, Rakugo is a dying art form in the face of modern entertainment such as television. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is the story of Rakugo – how it used to be and how it struggles to keep up with the times, as told across two generations. It starts in the modern day with former yakuza member Kyoji released from prison, aspiring to perform Rakugo and turn his life around. He goes to the revered Yakumo, who had performed at the prison during Kyoji’s incarceration. The young man’s enthusiasm triggers a flood of memories in Yakumo. We flash back to his days as an apprentice and the rivalry he had with Sukeroku.

This is a classic talent versus hard work type of career story. Yakumo is the perfectionist – dedicated and hardworking despite his crippled leg. Sukeroku is his opposite – gifted, lazy, freestyling, and charismatic enough to hold the audience in his every word. I like these types of rivalries. However, the trap I often see writers fall into is showing too much favouritism to one over the other. Some will unrealistically depict natural talent as the sole ingredient to be the best, when that is obviously untrue (lazy writing, as it doesn’t take effort to show why the character is so accomplished). On the other hand, stories with hardworking protagonists will discard the power of innate talent, ignoring how much of an advantage it gives in the early and middle stages of mastery.

Rakugo strikes the perfect balance. Talent goes as far as it should and hard work accomplishes what is realistically possible. Furthermore, it depicts the cost of dedication and the trap of talent. Neither character is free of sacrifice for their approach to the art.

At first, these characters weren’t of particular interest, but they grew on my over time when I got to see how they lived and the conflict they dealt with. Yakumo puts the career, the dream above all else. I appreciate characters with conviction to be the best and not take opportunities for granted, as I have mentioned elsewhere. But what sells it is the cost that comes with this mind set. I cannot stand it when there are no consequences, no matter how noble the aspirations. Writers sometimes forget that accomplishments cost time, time that is no longer available to spend on other part of life, such as friends or hobbies.

It starts slow, though by the end of season one, it had me hooked to the drama. Season two spotlights the next generation of Rakugo storytellers with Kyoji as the lead, which, while still a good season, isn’t really necessary. The first ends in a strong place, so don’t feel compelled to watch season two for completion’s sake if already satisfied.

Enough about the characters, let’s talk of the art itself, of Rakugo. The performances are fantastic. The first episode has a complete Rakugo act on stage about a thief stealing from a conman, who is making a claim for stolen property that doesn’t exist with the police. It’s a gripping performance – not just in anime, but also by the voice actor, Tomokazu Seki. This scene will let you know if Rakugo is for you.

By contrast, episode two shows us a bad performance and it is striking. The lines fall flat, the delivery has no emotion, and no one laughs at the routine. You feel just like the audience watching this – bored. And it is perfect. A good actor intentionally acting badly is a challenging feat.

My favourite detail in the performances is the cinematography, the show don’t tell of how the scenes are shot. When a performer is making everyone laugh, the audience in the palm of his hand, we see close ups of his neck beaded with sweat, arm straining to hold the pose, and his eye twitching on the verge of losing the act at any moment. We learn so much by seeing so little. If this were a shounen anime, we would cut away to another character, the background darkened as we go into his head for a dramatic monologue explaining everything about the performance, accompanied by a shocked expression one would expect from hearing that your mother was the villain the entire time. Had Rakugo been done that way, I would have given up paying attention.

The one fault of the Rakugo, as great as these performances are, is the insistence on a full routine each episode, which for the most part don’t contribute to the story outside of key moments. It would be equivalent to showing every minute of every game in a sports anime. Because of their nature, each episode is like attending the theatre yourself and you don’t want to go to the theatre 25 times in a day. As such, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju isn’t a show for binge watchers. My recommendation is to do an episode or two a day at most for maximum enjoyment.

Art – High

The characters have delightfully expressive faces that allow for vibrancy in the performances, yet without turning into a cartoony art style. I like the attention to backgrounds and textures.

Sound – Very High

All of the major actors in Rakugo are excellent, as they need to be for performances that require a dozen different voices alternating on the fly. The actors must have had a blast with these roles that didn’t just have the one voice throughout.

Story – High

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju chronicles the art of Rakugo across generations and the artists it inhabited. This methodical anime weaves art and drama that draws in the audience to satisfying results.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it, I urge you. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju has limited appeal, as evidenced by its niche success. However, give it a try – an episode is all you need – for you are missing out otherwise.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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Future Diary – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mirai Nikki

 

Similar: Deadman Wonderland

Death Note

Another

Eden of the East

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Supernatural Action Horror Thriller

Length: 26 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Interesting premise.

Negatives:

  • No smart characters.
  • Alliance flip-flopping.
  • Inconsistent powers.
  • Yuno’s obsessiveness is weak.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Everyone knows of Mirai Nikki, or Future Diary in English, if not by name then by the yandere character of Yuno and her repeated pronouncements of “Yuki”. What I didn’t know, despite having heard of this series in 2011, was the premise of Future Diary. I always thought it was about an obsessive girl (Yuno) trying to kill the guy she loved. There is far more to the story than that, though not necessarily to its benefit.

Yuki has a cellphone diary that tells him the future, forewarning him of the many possible eventualities from his competitors in the battle royale. However, it doesn’t reveal his future unless tied to someone else. He teams up with his stalker Yuno, who also possesses a “future diary”, except hers only reports on Yuki’s status every ten minutes. When paired with his diary, it makes her the perfect guardian in this battle. What is the prize for victory? Godhood.

I was disappointed when they introduced the battle royale angle. I had hoped for a smaller scale story with the duo avoiding one fatality after the other, delaying the inevitable, akin to The Time Machine and Steins;Gate. The battle royale turned this into generic shounen horror, pointless ecchi included. Not that it couldn’t have succeeded, but the writer evidently could not handle the complexity of a story with so many possible outcomes and 12 time altering powers to track. Each diary is different and creates a 12-pointed rock-paper-scissors game.

Juggling all of these elements is Future Diary’s greatest failing. For one, the diaries for each character conveniently don’t forewarn of something or don’t function as they should when the plot needs a character to die. Comparing to the similar Death Note, the rules there are set and don’t waver, which makes it all the smarter when one player outsmarts the other. Bending the rules when convenient makes the audience lose trust in the author.

This also extends to the inherent supernatural abilities of some characters. A character can have the strength to break out of a bind one moment, and then be rendered useless the next in a similar situation. I’m not even sure if they are meant to have superpowers, but some characters defy human boundaries of ability.

Future Diary also has an overreliance on crazy over smarts. None of these contestants are smart. Instead, just about everyone is “lol I’m a crazy psycho, aren’t I interesting?” There’s little variety in the showdowns against the various competitors, lasting 2-3 episodes a kill, and it makes much of it feel like padding. Future Diary is like taking the Batman versus Joker story but with 11 different Jokers and one of them is on Batman’s side (sort of). The more copies of “the psycho” you include, the more it dilutes the strength of the individual. I thought that the battle royale direction would be about producing a variety of opponents with some clever trick to besting them. The only real difference between them is their diary’s ability, which even then isn’t that varied.

Then we have the allegiance switching every other episode. “You know these two allies? Let’s have them fight each other next episode.” “But, sir, that doesn’t make sen—” “Who cares – it will surprise the audience!” It reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, where Jack Sparrow and company flip-flopped allegiances every few minutes because the producers heard the audience liked Jack’s triple cross in the first movie. Future Diary does the same to generate dumb conflict.

Lastly, we come to the main couple, the one thing that gave Future Diary any popularity. Yuno’s obsession with Yuki doesn’t work for me. I don’t buy into her reason for being so possessive of him, even once the story provides an explanation later on. The best psychotic characters, as unhinged as they are, have a well-defined reason for their behaviour that we can understand, from their perspective, without agreeing with them. Yuno is just psychotic because that’s what the story needed.

And Yuki? You won’t remember him before the series is over.

I was rather bored with Future Diary for the most part. It doesn’t have that quality reminiscent of bad horror, where you can enjoy the silliness of the violence regardless of story quality (a bad story likely enhances the experience). The deaths needed to be more ridiculous like in Another, an anime that I didn’t find great either but had advantage of over the top deaths. It’s strange that Future Diary, so full of psychos, has such tame kills. I guess being generic shounen horror will do that to you.

Art – Medium

The visuals are rather good, though needs more atmosphere for this type of series. Scenes don’t feel as frightening as they should as a result.

Sound – Low

The Japanese and English acting is roughly the same. English Yuno is less annoying, but you may want her more psychotic Japanese counterpart. Regardless of language track, the writing sucks.

Story – Low

A boy with a mobile phone that tells the future enters a battle royale against others with similar devices, as a psycho chick protects him against everything except herself. Future Diary’s good idea crumbles under bad writing, incoherent storytelling, and shallow characters.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Future Diary is too much of a mess for me to recommend and the deaths aren’t inventive or ridiculous enough to enjoy with friends.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incoherent

Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory

 

Related: Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (prequel)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Mecha Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fight choreography.
  • Sagara’s emotional arc.

Negatives:

  • Main villain still hasn’t done anything.
  • Dull second act.
  • CG scenes are noticeable.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The original Full Metal Panic concluded without need for a sequel, followed by the pure comedy spin-off Fumoffu, until Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid reopened the story a few years later with the introduction of new villain Leonard, brother to Tessa, young captain of the anti-terrorist Mithril organisation. TSR took a darker tone as it pushed Sargent Sagara of Mithril to the edge in a satisfying conflict. However, Leonard evaded capture and it seemed the franchise would stop there, leaving us in limbo for 13 years.

Full Metal Panic is a franchise I never expected to see more of (please, Twelve Kingdoms, please come back). After a few years of silence, the finality of the situation sets in and there’s no point wasting hope anymore.

So, it’s back! And what a letdown it is.

Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory isn’t bad – in fact, it’s rather decent, when seen from a distance. Sadly, we return to that old enemy of art, disappointment, the worst enemy, perhaps only second to that other evil called boring. As a continuation of the series, Invisible Victory brings so little to the table.

It picks up shortly after TSR, with Mithril in conflict against Amalgam, Leonard’s organisation, as it launches an attack on Mithril HQ. The start is strong with a series of high stakes conflicts and added tension by being much closer to home than usual. Sagara’s work has caught up with his personal life.

Leonard points out that Sagara has killed over 100 people so far, yet pretends to live life as though he isn’t a killer. Sagara’s reaction to this fact reflected against him is perfect. I love this wrinkle to his arc. It is ripe with conflict opportunities and consequences that could cost him everything. For instance, while dragging Chidori out of harm’s way from Amalgam, he uses a grenade to destroy a pursuing robot, but injures a passing student in the process. Sagara coldly abandons the kid against Chidori’s protests.

The problem with the story is what happens next.

A few episodes in after a devastating attack, we find Sagara on his own in a foreign land partaking in mech pit fights. For two episodes, we have no idea what he’s doing and it takes too long to get to the point, unengaging all the while. Furthermore, it introduces us to an entirely new cast of characters, none of which are memorable and at the expense of the core cast, who don’t do much this series. FMP did this before in season one with the four-part arc in Helmajistan, Sagara’s home country, to stop the sale of a nuke. The difference there was three fold. One: it didn’t waste our time wondering why he was there, away from the regular team. Two: the new characters were interesting for their short stay. Three: it was four episodes and not the focus of the season. To see that scenario imitated in Invisible Victory and done without excitement is disappointing. Some may argue that I shouldn’t compare it so much to the old, that this should be judged on its own. That’s not how direct sequels work, especially if one were to watch all seasons in succession now without the 13-year gap.

The most irritating fact of IV is how little it matters by the end. Leonard, who was the only incomplete thread from TSR, is still at large after having done little to nothing yet again. We are on the hook yet again to wait for another season, of which we have no confirmation.

One final aspect I must touch on is the use of CG for mechs and vehicles. It is undeniably rushed. FMP has used CG on occasion successfully – one of the few series to manage it. So to see Invisible Victory look worse than The Second Raid from thirteen years ago is baffling. It’s particularly noticeable when switching from a 2D close-up, detailed with battle wear, dents, and minor plays on light and shadow, to a CG long shot where the mechs no longer have detail. The models are too smooth, too clean. I understand why they resorted to CG. IV has a lot of mecha action, which would take time and effort to animate, and these fights have excellent choreography. The action is fast, fluid, and to the point. Sagara executes his opponents with the efficiency befitting his reputation. One skirmish in the suburbs between Sagara and several enemy mechs is particularly good.

I understand why. Yet, other series have managed to deliver a better product in similar situations – Studio Trigger regularly puts out great animation and Production I.G. often nails the CG used for vehicles in its titles. Full Metal Panic isn’t some small, untested franchise that can’t risk a larger budget. Why did this go to Xebec, a quick-and-cheap studio? It feels as though whoever was in charge didn’t care enough about the series, as if he had this forced upon him and just wanted it done, out of the way.

Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory is a wasted opportunity above all else. The good elements of Sagara’s emotional arc, the fight choreography, and moments of surprising grit pale under the weight of disappointment.

Art – Medium

Looks fine, outside of the CG during action scenes.

Sound – High

The voice acting and music is still strong. Go with the original Japanese like in past seasons.

Story – Medium

Sagara’s story continues as the enemy attacks and takes Chidori. With little progress made in the plot and a dull second act, Invisible Victory doesn’t carry the momentum of its predecessor.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Full Metal Panic fans only. You will feel lost if you haven’t seen the other series, though I highly recommend starting this franchise. Invisible Victory wasn’t worth the wait, however.

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X-Men – Anime Review

Japanese Title: X-Men

 

Similar: Wolverine

Tiger & Bunny

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Best of the Marvel anime.
  • Strong drama episode between Cyclops and Emma Frost.
  • Good casting in English.

Negatives:

  • Japanese girl’s power is uninteresting.
  • Weak music.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So here we are at the final Marvel anime series and by pure coincidence, I saved the best for last. X-Men is the first of the Marvel line up that I would consider good. Iron Man was almost average, Wolverine was nothing but shallow action, and Blade just plain sucked.

This X-men adventure follows the team after the death of Jean Grey as Phoenix, its members dispersed in mourning until Professor X summons them on a mission to Japan in search of missing mutant girl Hisako Ichiki. A cult known as the U-Men has been kidnapping mutants to harvest their organs for enhancement experiments. The X-Men soon run into Emma Frost, former White Queen of the villainous Hellfire Club, who also claims to be in search of the girl, though the X-Men have their doubts, Cyclops in particular.

The structure is the same as the other Marvel anime – meet new character, help with small problem, uncover bigger conspiracy, fight the mid-tier enemies, prepare for final plan, climax – but X-men stands above the others because it pauses to let characters develop, to let the drama sink in. Jean’s death hit Cyclops especially hard and his head isn’t in the game, snapping at his teammates. Help comes from the unlikeliest source (unless you’ve read the comics) – Emma. One episode has little more than Cyclops and Emma talking, like a therapy session, and it is great. It’s good to see a complex character like Emma receive focus and to meet a broken Cyclops, which makes him more interesting than the usual stoic leader. This single episode has me wishing the X-Men could receive another, superior anime. There is much potential.

X-Men isn’t all success, however. The new girl, Hisako, is forgettable. I can’t remember her personality as of this review, two weeks after finishing the series, and her power is lame. She can create psionic armour to look like a mech, which seems awfully cliché for the Japanese mutant. I know this power is from the comics – still lame. They also allow her onto the team too quickly. She’s not a tag-along either, but a proper member, making me question how desperate the X-Men must be for new members.

Outside of this, there isn’t much to discuss. The action is decent – brutal Wolverine is always a pleasure – and the overall story works. To fit the Japanese setting, they modified the story of Moira MacTaggert by having her reside in middle-of-nowhere Japan instead of a European island (if I recall the comics I read over a decade ago correctly). It’s a nice bit of mystery and tension.

After the disappointments that were the other Marvel offerings, I am surprised I finally enjoyed one – pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying it’s great or that Fullmetal Alchemist will have to watch its back, but I am saying that, for once, Marvel didn’t waste my time with an anime.

Art – High

The art is closer to the Western style and is the best looking of the Marvel anime. They changed the look of Wolverine compared to his anime, oddly enough.

Sound – Medium

Well cast in English, while a few characters aren’t quite right in Japanese. The music is weak.

Story – Medium

The X-Men travel to Japan in search of a missing local mutant girl as Cyclops copes with the death of Jean Grey. Thanks an injection of drama and less tropiness, X-Men is a solid watch and the best of Marvel anime.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The classic X-Men Animated Series and X-Men: Evolution may be far superior, but the X-Men anime is still good. It’s the one Marvel offering worth watching.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Violet Evergarden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Violet Evergarden

 

Similar: The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Kobato.

Plastic Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Slice of Life Drama

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.
  • Elegant character designs.
  • Touching sub-stories.
  • The instrumental soundtrack and great acting.

Negatives:

  • Violet is the weakest part.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None