Tag Archives: Tragedy

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

Rumbling Hearts – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kimi ga Nozomu Eien

 

Related: Rumbling Hearts: Next Season (alternative ending)

Akane Maniax (spin-off)

Similar: ef: A Tale of Memories

Clannad: After Story

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 14 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Superb, crushing drama.
  • Powerful and emotional acting.
  • Mature handling of relationships, sex, and consequences.
  • Lamentable music.

Negatives:

  • Visual aesthetic doesn’t match the drama.
  • The comic relief side story has no effect on the main plot.

Note: No trailer since I feel it gives away too much.

As a teen new to the medium, I had no expectations of serious drama without fantasy or science fiction since anime had teens as the core market. After watching what my friends had recommended, I went to a database for their highest rated anime and noticed Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (no dub at the time) towards the top, but with that art, I doubted its worth. I saw the visuals as a challenge – ‘Go ahead; I dare you to watch this cheesy-looking anime.’ I accepted.

The story starts in high school. Swim champ Mitsuki introduces her best friend Haruka to Takayuki, a guy in her class. Haruka, a shy and sweet girl, confesses to Takayuki and at first, he is hesitant, but does agree to date her to avoid hurting her feelings, for he is a well-meaning and good-natured guy. His thoughts stay with Mitsuki and hers with him. As time goes on, Takayuki develops feelings for Haruka and they grow intimate. So far, all was as I expected – sappy, a bit mushy, first-world teen problems. Then, everything comes crashing down when tragedy strikes.

This is where the teen romance dies, replaced by darkness and depression. We enter a narrative of broken dreams, missed opportunities and facing reality. Rumbling Hearts is harsh and cruel, as is life. I do not envy the soul crushing guilt felt by Takayuki, that all-consuming emotion capable of shutting down one’s life. Seriously, just punch me in the heart, why don’t you. Take my emotions and make them dance on glass while you’re at it.

The story spans a few years with the characters entered into the workforce, flashing back to high school on occasion. It’s great to see the juxtaposition between the happier past and sombre present. You may not like these characters. You may hate the selfishness, the cowardice, or the timidity, but that raw truth to the characters is what it means to be human, it’s what brings them to life and makes this more than a teen romance. This isn’t a series for those who like their heroes to be selfless paragons.

Furthermore, the mature approach to sex is refreshing. No ‘tee-hee-hee’ behind the hand, no ‘omg, he’s like, so hawt,’ and no pretending that sex is something only born of love. Relationships aren’t restrained in Rumbling Hearts.

Other than the dissonant art, my complaint is with the comedic side plot of Takayuki working at a restaurant with two waitresses, one rowdy and the other unfortunately roped into her antics. I understand that the audience needs moments to breathe amid the drama – I wouldn’t recommend a one evening binge – but the side thread has no effect on the core. With all restaurant scenes cut, Takayuki would simply need to infer that he works and nothing would be lost from the plot. Yes, the humour is decent, and yet I can’t imagine it being difficult to have a relevant and engaging thread instead. Of course, since these moments have no effect, they don’t weaken the drama either.

Don’t be fooled by the factory farmed visual novel aesthetic; Rumbling Hearts is a heavy drama that doesn’t hold anything back. I have kept several plot details hidden, ones you would likely find in other reviews, to avoid any spoilers so that you may experience it as I did. If only western TV had drama of this level for a young audience.

Note: Rumbling Hearts: Next Season is an alternate ending to the series. Despite two hours of content, Next Season has nothing of worth. Each episode focuses on a different character, but really, flashbacks to the series cover most of the screen time. However, the worst part is the alternate ending, as it decapitates all the effort and drama built up in the series. Next Season is what a bad version of Rumbling Hearts would look like.

Art – Medium

Rumbling Hearts is deceptive in its choice of art. Looking at a screenshot, you could be forgiven for confusing this with a dozen cheesy high school romances. This means the character detail is a little flat, mainly due to the single tone shading. The backgrounds are pretty. One could argue that the pleasant art increases dramatic impact through contrast.

Sound – High

The actors for Takayuki and Mitsuki deliver powerful performances in Japanese, my recommended track. Sorrowful piano enhances the emotion.

Story – High

A mature story of growth and facing tragedy filled with honest, human characters. Irrelevant comedy side plot, however.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Unless you hate depressing drama, Rumbling Hearts is a must watch. Prepare for the feels train. And remember, if you hate the characters’ choices, it’s okay.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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Basilisk – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou

 

Similar: Ninja Scroll the Movie

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal

Romeo x Juliet

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Dark Fantasy Action Adventure Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Creative powers make for strategic encounters.
  • Both ninja clans have good and evil.
  • No character feels safe.
  • Tragedy of the premise makes you feel for the characters.

Negatives:

  • With such a large cast, some characters don’t get the development and screen time they deserve.
  • The English voice track doesn’t work well with so many Japanese nouns and honorifics read in heavy American accents.

Two ninja clans have feuded for the last four-hundred years, only held at bay by a royal pact prohibiting conflict in the last few generations. In this time of tenuous peace, Gennosuke, grandson of the Kouga clan leader, and Oboro, granddaughter of the Iga clan leader, have fallen in love and their marriage is to create a binding peace between the clans. However, the current shogun decides to use the clans to determine the successor from his two sons. Each clan must select its ten best ninja to annihilate each other. The winning clan will receive the support of the shogun for the next thousand years and rule over the defeated. The pact is broken.

Basilisk is a brutal story as both sides cut each other down to the last. You quickly learn that no one is safe in this conflict; no character wears unkillable ‘plot armour.’ This creates great tension in every moment of conflict, for you never know what will happen, who will die. Basilisk makes great use of the ninja theme with every aspect shrouded in deception and brutality. Each ninja has a special power such as a spider-man who spits glue-like phlegm, and a woman can use her blood to mark the target and create a red mist she can vanish into. To reveal any more would constitute spoilers since the powers themselves are kept hidden for use as twists in the plot. I love strategic use of character abilities and talents.

The writers did a great job with the characters. Neither clan is the good or bad side. Both have characters with shades of grey, beautiful and ugly, calm and angry, kind and cruel. Having these complex characters on both sides makes it all the harder to see them die.

It is clear Basilisk drew much inspiration from Ninja Scroll the Movie with the unique ninja powers and action style. In my review of Ninja Scroll, I noted the lack of character development as a core issue. Thankfully, Basilisk uses its longer screen time to develop the characters through flashbacks and during downtime. Even then, a few characters don’t get the screen time they deserve in such a large cast.

Basilisk excels at character design, each ninja’s look based on their powers – they even have a ninja with no arms or legs. The action is suitably gory and uncensored as a man cuts off his own head. I do wish the visual style in general had more grit like Ninja Scroll the Movie and BerserkBasilisk looks too clean by comparison.

Finally, we come to the audio. Don’t use the English track. With so many archaic Japanese names and locations coupled with honorifics –dono and –sama spoken in American accents (some rather heavy, see: character Okoi), the English voice work sounds strange. If they insisted on using the honorifics with these voices, they should have use titles like ‘lord’ and ‘lady’ instead. Stick to the Japanese original with its well-matched voices to the characters.

I highly recommend Basilisk to anyone who isn’t averse to a little gore. The ninjas and their powers make for an engaging narrative of action and tragedy.

Art – High

A variety of character designs that fit their creative powers. Gore and violence worthy of the brutal premise. I would have liked more grit in the general art.

Sound – High

In Japanese, each character has the right voice, well executed. In English, however, the heavy use of Japanese words doesn’t sound right. Outside of the forgettable title tracks, the music is nice. I particularly liked what I refer to as ‘mountain monk’ music (I have no idea what it’s called) – flutes, chimes, ethereal vocals, etc.

Story – High

A tragic tale of two ninja clans willing to fight to the last warrior if it means wiping out the opposing clan. Add in the forbidden romance, and you have a great story to hear.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Can’t go wrong watching this. Basilisk manages to deliver great action coupled with complex characters in a dark tale of love and hate.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Holy S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStrategic

Negative: None

Elfen Lied – Review

Japanese Title: Elfen Lied

 

Similar: When They Cry

Mirai Nikki

Deadman Wonderland

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Action Romance

Length: 13 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • An unsettling atmosphere crafted by contrasting the innocence of children with hyper-violent gore.
  • Haunting opening theme and soundtrack inspired by Gregorian chant.
  • The telekinetic protagonist’s volatile nature creates plenty of tension.

Negatives:

  • The clichéd humour doesn’t ever lighten the mood, which can make the constant tension exhausting.
  • The male love interest is a weak character that serves little purpose to the core.
  • In trying to imitate the Japanese voice track too closely, the English voices sound awful despite the skilled actors. The Japanese isn’t ideal either.
  • Outside of action scenes, most animation ceases.

A severed arm twitching in a pool of blood. Decapitated heads sail across the room, blood sprays the walls. Screams fill the air. At the centre of the carnage, a young girl, naked. Don’t be fooled by the innocent looking girl; Elfen Lied is violent and bathed in gore, not an anime for the faint of heart.

In the world of Elfen Lied (German for ‘Elven Song’) exists a race known as Diclonius. Human in appearance other than small horns protruding from the skull, Diclonii control telekinetic arms called vectors capable of tearing people in two with a flick. Their purpose is to eliminate humanity and spawn a population of their own. Lucy, the protagonist, is one such Diclonius, who escapes from the laboratory, massacring guards and researchers on the way out. She ends up on a beach in front of Kouta, the male love interest, and his friend Yuka. Her mind traumatised by a gunshot, Lucy now lies dormant, replaced by Nyuu, an innocent alter-personality with the mental development of a child. The laboratory dispatches other Diclonii and a mercenary to hunt Lucy down.

Elfen Lied is an anime of tension. It juxtaposes the young innocence of the characters with the violent nature of their telekinetic powers. How can something so small be so psychotic? Every scene with Nyuu is tense, for she could snap at any moment. A mere second of lost control and a character loses a limb or their head. A Diclonius doesn’t discriminate. Man, woman, child – all die in Elfen Lied. Elfen Lied is brutal and gory, contains child and animal abuse on physical and emotional levels. Do not watch this if you are prone to nightmares.

Nyuu/Lucy duality brings an interesting dynamic to the story. While her innocence is what keeps the power at bay, it is also her greatest weakness, as she is too naïve to control her power. It reminds of the 1931 Frankenstein film (which I highly recommend, by the way) where the monster doesn’t comprehend that actions have consequences, especially when those actions can be so destructive. Elfen Lied explores the nature of humanity, and what can come from it when a child is isolated, abused, and pushed to the limit. It accomplishes this goal rather well.

Music enhances these moments where a character’s psyche breaks and violence paints the screen. The opening is a tragic Latin opera called ‘Lilium,’ set to bizarre symbolist art inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The hymn unsettles, a warning for what is to come. Several versions of ‘Lilium’ play throughout the series and are an important role in the narrative.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Outside of the Diclonii, the rest of the characters are either underdeveloped or dull. Kouta in particular is weak. While his backstory is good and ties with Lucy’s plot line, as a character he has no purpose other than to serve as a romantic device. He is just so dull. A street lamp with a blown bulb would be more interesting. Yuka is even more useless. She is nothing more than the third point for a love triangle. The writers could have cut her from the series with no effect on the plot. The romance between her and Kouta is lame, filled with generic misunderstandings and anime romance tropes. What little humour Elfen Lied has is trite, seen in every anime teen romance – trip over each other, grabbing the breast, up-skirts, etc.

The average voice acting doesn’t help either. Even though Japan records all actors at once, here they sound stilted with no interactions off each other. The dub is even worse. Kouta’s voice actor is as deadpan as the character, and the female actors tried too hard to imitate their Japanese counterparts, resulting in these awful squeaky voices. No child sounds like that! What’s strange is that the English cast has done great work elsewhere (same team as Full Metal Panic and RahXephon, both great English tracks), but here they sound like amateurs.

Despite all Elfen Lied does wrong, I enjoyed the story. It’s a great example of using gore to enhance the narrative surrounding innocent characters.

Art – Medium

Mouth movements comprise all the animation in most non-action scenes; sometimes, even the mouth doesn’t bother, too exhausted it seems. Other than the action scenes, visual details are low. The manga creator intentionally chose a ‘moe’ artist for the anime to enhance the contrast between innocence and violence. However, this style doesn’t look the greatest, especially on Kouta. Gore and action is great.

Sound – Medium

A great Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack and tension music brought down by an average Japanese voice track, and an even worse English one.

Story – Medium

Protagonist Lucy carries the violent narrative with her dual personas and volatile nature. Shame then that the other pieces of her love triangle are worthless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Elfen Lied is a worthwhile anime for fans of uncensored violence. Watch in doses of three episodes at a time to avoid exhaustion from the constant tension.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***

Negative:

Useless Side Cast

Berserk – Review

Japanese Title: Kenpuu Denki Berserk

 

Related: Berserk: The Golden Age (remake)

Similar: Claymore

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Horror Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good animation, especially considering the show’s age.
  • Guts is a great lead character that portrays a more believable muscle-bound character than most other anime.
  • English voice track is well done for the most part.
  • Properly used horror in an interesting plot.
  • ‘Forces’ music track fills one with epicness.

Negatives:

  • Incomplete, cliffhanger ending.
  • First episode is deceptive due to the incomplete ending, and the next few episodes are slow to start.
  • Opening and closing sequences will leave you horror-struck with lacklustre quality.
  • Poor use of what little music there is.

Berserk came out during a time when anime in the West was marketed towards a broader audience, even going so far as to censor elements or tone down language to reach the young demographic. Outside of films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, you had to search high and low for mature anime that wasn’t terrible. Then Berserk came along with its dark themes, unadulterated horror and violence to show us just how adult anime could be.

Berserk centres on Guts, the orphan swordsman, and Griffith, leader of a mercenary band, as they fight for their country of Midland. However, Griffith has ambitions beyond just fighting for a king; he wants to be king. Griffith’s plans test the loyalties of Guts and his mercenaries to the limit. Berserk focuses on themes of loyalty, isolation, and the fundamentals of humanity, the nature of good and evil innate with us. Be forewarned, this anime gets dark, very dark, contains nudity, plenty of violence, and gore everywhere. These aspects are not thrown in at random. No violence for the sake of violence. Gore for the sake of gore. Each use is relevant, an uncensored view of the scene.

Guts is a fantastic protagonist, a badass anti-hero, who wields a giant sword that can cut horses in half. Normally, wielding a giant sword is indicative of a terrible character, one that the creators put no thought into, especially when it comes to physics. With Guts however, he has the look and ferocity of a man who can wield such a weapon. The animators made the effort to show the heft of swinging such a heavy weapon; Guts doesn’t twirl it around like a baton as seen in other anime and games. As a character, Guts goes through a range of emotional and physical trials, exemplifying his depth. When designing a brawny character, look to Guts for the archetype done right.

Griffith too is a suitably complex character with his own strengths and weaknesses, exploring the price of ambition, but to elaborate further would constitute spoilers, so I shall stop there. The supporting cast of mercenaries is a mixed bag of quality, but they are good when it counts, Casca in particular who struggles with her identity as a women in a band of men. Villains, ranging from generals to nobles, are despicably evil, sick and twisted, some with magic elements thrown in.

There are two major narrative faults. The first episode can confuse viewers, being a flash-forward that we never return to because of the second fault, the finale. Berserk is incomplete; after an awesome adventure that keeps getting better and a horrifying finale, the series ends on a cliffhanger. It is clear they intended to have a sequel series, but never got around to it. (They did go back to the beginning again with the recent release of Berserk: The Golden Age; however, that’s a new take on the manga, so you won’t get closure on this version.)

Berserk comes highly recommended. Just don’t watch it if you can’t handle the thought of an incomplete anime. You could read the manga afterwards, however. Also, not for children – can’t stress this enough.

Art – High

You will find higher quality anime these days, of course, but Berserk’s gritty medieval style doesn’t feel dated beyond the use of action lines and slow motion to hide the occasional low frame rate.

Sound – Medium

Has one of the best tracks in anime: ‘Forces.’ Even so, the soundtrack is limited and hardly used. Many battles have no music for some reason, not for added effect. The opening and ending themes are awful, sung in terrible English and don’t fit the series – just…awful. The acting is good in either language, though I found the English suited the characters better, except for Griffith; his English actor can’t command the scene as Griffith should.

Story – High

An excellent fantasy tale of corruption and loyalty with a good cast of characters brought to a halt by a cliffhanger ending and no continuation.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of dark fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the realities of battle and horror. No incomplete anime deserved a conclusion more than Berserk.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Riveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

 

AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day – Review

Japanese Title: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai.

 

Related: AnoHana: The Movie (sequel)

Similar: Angel Beats!

Waiting in the Summer

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Young Adult Drama

Length: 11 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Emotionally powerful story surrounding a strong cast of characters with development.
  • Proper opening and closing.
  • Good animation with an attention to character movement details.
  • Great voice acting that conveys the characters’ emotions.
  • Oozes charm.

Negatives:

  • Characters’ side plots needed more time.
  • Visual character detail drops at times.
  • Too few music tracks.

Ano Hana, or the excessively long name above, is a show I went into not knowing what to expect. By the end of its eleven episodes, I was impressed at its ability to weave charm, emotion, character, humour, and conflict into one. This is an anime not to be missed.

We arrive as high school student Jintan is shadowed by the ghost of his childhood friend, the late Menma. She pesters him non-stop and eats his food. As kids, they were part of a group of six friends called the ‘Super Peace Busters.’ Since the death of Menma, they drifted apart, venturing down different paths in life. Jintan fell into a state of depression, failing exams, avoiding school, all the while attributing the hallucination of Menma to stress. The adorable Menma tries her best to cheer him up with her loony antics; she’s a cute character with the heart of a child and innocence to match. She isn’t overdone either, keeping her from becoming an irritation, as is often the case with her character archetype.

Jintan soon realises she will move on if he completes her wish, only, she can’t remember what it is, the scatterbrain. They figure it involves getting the old group back together. This is harder than thought since everyone has changed after so many years, and only Jintan can see Menma. Former friends have turned either pretentious like the black-haired girl, Tsuruko, or callous and heartless as Yukiatsu, the light-haired boy. Only Poppo, the boisterous traveller believes Jintan that Menma has returned. Lastly, there’s Anaru, who has joined the trendy girls out of low self-esteem despite being little like them. The acting is fantastic, particularly for Anaru.

The struggle is on for Jintan, with Menma’s well-meaning help, to rekindle their friendships. Even Pokémon games are used (or Nokémon as they retitled it here) to bring back the memories – they incorporated it accurately from the three starters, trading to evolve, hunting in grass, and even using a link cable for Gold Version!

Conflict is interspersed with light-hearted humour that never overpowers the emotion of the show. An adorable charm complements the heavy moments, creating a good balance where no single aspect becomes too much. With a well-crafted plot built on a foundation of believable, three-dimensional characters, you feel the emotions, the trials and triumphs of everyone. The side plots are relevant, as they have to deal with problems like any other teenager; often, writers will forget that problems don’t go away just because another arises. We still see jealousy, selfish motives in relationships, and doubt at capabilities. Jintan especially has to overcome great adversity before the end. Looking at a poster or screenshot doesn’t do this anime’s depth justice.

Warning: if you are the sort who shows emotion in times of sadness for a show or movie, prepare for rivers here.

My one complaint in terms of plot is how little time some of the side stories get to develop. Another episode or two could have satisfied every thread.

You won’t go wrong in watching Ano Hana. You will feel joy and sorrow simultaneously for deep characters brought to life by the right voices, leaving no reason not to spend time with the Super Peace Busters.

Art – High

The art leans towards charm rather than the emotion. That’s not to say the emotion won’t come through their expressions – the opposite in fact. Menma’s cute design enhances the sorrow you feel for her, while making her more adorable during her wacky moments. No compromises were made with the environmental art; however, the same can’t be said for the characters. There are times when the quality slips, in particular regards to light and shadow.

Sound – High

An aspect I rarely comment on, for it is usually unremarkable either way is the opening and ending sequences. Ano Hana manages to do both beautifully, music and art matching the story well. It is unfortunate the same can’t be said for the background tracks, which are lacking. At first, I thought the acting was nothing special outside of Menma – who sounds adorable – but was pleased to concede defeat when the emotions hit their high notes, delivered with skill by the actors. Anaru the trendy girl is especially good.

Story – High

A coming-of-age story that looks to the past filled with depth, emotion, and conflict. Brilliant.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Ano Hana surprised me with the quality of its narrative, delivering mature drama rarely found in teen stories.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

CharmExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequenceStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None