Tag Archives: Tragedy

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

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.

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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.

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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

 

Air TV (& Movie) – Review

Japanese Title: AIR & Gekijouban Air (Movie)

 

Related: Air Movie (included below in review)

Similar: Kanon

Clannad

 

Genre: Melancholic Romance.

Watched in: Japanese.

Length: 13 episodes, 2-episode special & a movie (retelling of the series).

 

Positives:

  • Has nice environmental art.

Negatives:

  • Dopiest character design in anime.
  • Vague story.
  • Moments meant to be deep are laughable.
  • Weak characters, most notably the lead female, surrounded by a glut of stereotypes that develop poorly.

You have not seen bad character art until you watch Air, an anime about…something – there isn’t much of a story. But first we have to talk about the characters. A hamster riding a t-rex in a tutu wielding a turnip is less ridiculous than this! You will either fall out of your chair with laughter or vomit with disgust at how terrible the characters are designed, more specifically the females.

Now we all know that your typical anime facial proportions are a little skewed, but as it is animation, it looks fine. Here we have what can only be described as caricatures of anime characters. The eyes are bigger than your fist, while the mouth is so minuscule it is often no more than a dot. Seriously, if the eyes were out of their sockets, they would be the size of American footballs. The girls look permanently drugged; hell, one of them even sounds it.

And that’s just the start of the problems. The characters themselves are just as dopey. Lead female Misuzu is supposed to be cute, but with the tripping, squeaky voice, clumsiness, overused ‘cute’ noises, cutesy honorifics, and drug-addled face, it’s a wonder they didn’t make her hiccough rainbows, shoot love hearts out of her chest, and have candy floss for snot since they had already overdone every cliché. Closing my eyes whenever I talk makes me cute! (Every girl does this, jealous of Brock from Pokémon.) The creators have never heard of ‘less is more.’

Even the dog, Potato, who was cute enough being small and fluffy has to say ‘piko’ constantly as if that is a must or he just won’t be cute. Instead, it’s irritating and tiresome. If that isn’t enough, we have her friends, Kano – also drugged – and Minagi, who looks and sounds drugged. She’s meant to be gentile and smart, but you really don’t see it – unless being more addled than the rest counts. The I’m-aggressive-but-it’s-cute slot is filled by Michiru, the youngest of the girls with obligatory cutesy noises added to everything, and to top it off, is played by the same voice actress who does all characters of that stereotype.

Okay, you may ask, they look and sound stupid, but if the story is good, it’s still worth my time, right? I am forever and truly sorry; the plot is utter nonsense. See, one of the problems is that to tell you what it’s about, I would have to spoil some for you as the story doesn’t begin till episode nine. What, nothing happens for eight episodes in a thirteen episode series? Oh, stuff does happen, it is simply irrelevant to the larger plot. Even lead male Yukito is irrelevant throughout this, as he does nothing until episode ten. Friend Kano gets magically possessed (her eyes were vacant enough already) by something, but that goes nowhere. Minagi the Addled is so far gone that her imaginary friend is real, which is also immaterial. And the small things that do matter are in fact retold in episode ten! Even the two-episode special is simply a stupidity-padded version of the flashback episode nine.

So, the plot, the plot…where did it go… I have no choice but to start at episode nine.

A princess in the past had the ability to fly with cursed wings and is hunted for it. Her ability is passed down through someone else’s line because of “willpower,” but it kills the descendants through dreams as kids. (How they get old enough to bear offspring for the bloodline, I don’t know – don’t think about it. The only answer is too twisted.) And, that’s it.

No character development either. To develop, you need a catalyst (usually an event or conflict), a reaction from the character, and then overcome the conflict (failure to overcome can also be growth), but in Air, there is no catalyst; characters cry or get angry out of nowhere, subsequently it dissolves without effort, and is forgotten. The only growth comes from the lead female’s mother (who looks eighteen – also vacant) starting as an irresponsible drunk before learning to care for her adopted daughter. Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect the main plot either. What moments intend to be poignant and heartfelt are empty since the characters aren’t developed enough and I couldn’t imagine anyone caring for them.

So can anything good that can be said for AIR? The art outside of the characters is quite nice, I guess, plenty of colour. That’s pretty much it. The series isn’t terrible in the sense that everything is outright bad; it’s just that nothing is developed, no relevant plot goes anywhere, and it all-round feels…empty.

Art – Very Low

Can anything else be said about this drug-addled character design? The environments are passable.

Sound – Medium

Some decent tunes and acting, except for the little girl and the cutesy noises.

Story – Very Low

The plot doesn’t begin until the ninth episode, at which point you can expect one of the most empty and underdeveloped stories in anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid this at all cost. Hit the random button in an anime database and you will likely find something better than AIR.

(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: None.

Negative:

Atrocious PlotNo DevelopmentRubbish CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

 

AIR the Movie – Review

AIR the Movie came out during the series (they are both based on a game of the same name and tell the same story) and is better in every way. Now, don’t get excited, I’m not saying it’s amazing; it simply has much of the rubbish removed from the series. For one, the characters don’t look so addled – it makes you wonder why they made the ridiculous art style choice for the series in the first place. The level of detail in the visuals is much higher overall.

At an hour and a half long, there isn’t the gargantuan amount of padding from the episodes. The story is also better told with much clearer dialogue and scenes. The relationship of the two lead characters is far more believable since it isn’t forced here, and the characters actually look closer in age (not twelve and twenty like the series). All the trash side characters, particularly her drugged friends, are non-existent in this. ‘Willpower’ also doesn’t carry on the curse and what triggers it also makes sense here (and you don’t have to wonder how they get old enough for children).

Unfortunately, Misuzu’s cuteness is still overdone, though as she is the only young girl this time, it feels lessened. The finer details of the plot are still a little vague, with plot holes, and a distinct lack of twists. I don’t think it achieved the intended depth. Still better than the series.

Overall Movie Quality – Medium