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|Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: The Afterglow of Zeon (movie)||Worst ever||It didn't seem it would be possible but something was made that was even worse than Gundam 0083 -- this compilation movie. I counted four major characters whose deaths were cut out of this movie; they simply stopped showing up. The other big problem here is that the narrative progresses in a really awkward way at the beginning that causes them to basically have to backtrack and repeat some stuff later on. It's total nonsense, and it's probably the sloppiest production I've ever seen. Other than those problems, which themselves are pretty major already, all the same complaints that I had with the OVA hold true here.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Bio-Broly (movie 11)||Awful||This is is easily one of the worst DBZ movies, which is saying quite a bit, since DBZ movies aren't known for being terribly wonderful in the first place. Brolly comes back for a third go at it, which on its own is pretty bad, since Brolly's not that interesting a character and he's been beaten twice already. Follow standard DBZ movie format, then throw in far and away the worst resolution to any of the hundreds of battles throughout DB/Z/GT and its spinoffs, and you've got a recipe for disaster. DBZ fan or not, stay far away.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (OAV)||Awful||A horrific cast of characters and a continuity-busting story give us the worst UC series ever made. Not a single one of the major characters is interesting or worth watching. Uraki is incompetent, Nina's an idiot with her priorities in entirely the wrong place, Gato is unable to think for himself, Delaz is committed to a dead genocidal psycho, Cima's totally out of her mind... Some of the supporting cast is decent, but that's not even close to being enough to save this train wreck.|
|G-Saviour (live-action TV movie)||Bad||I came into this with an open mind. I had read some of the reviews that claimed it wasn't as bad as its rep. It is at least as bad as its rep.
The problems are myriad. To capture the headlines in a nutshell, the acting, writing, special effects, and overall production values are bad. In some respects, maybe this isn't surprising. It is a TV movie, after all, and a TV movie that was made in the late 90s at that. By 2003, Battlestar Galactica had pretty good space warfare special effects, but even Firefly a year or two earlier was noticeably worse, and G-Saviour is much worse even than that. The CG mobile suits look terrible, and the G-Saviour in particular looks like a clunky and impractical machine compared to its animated predecessors of more than a hundred years earlier. The space colonies look barely acceptable at best from far away, while the CG zoom across the skyline of "New Manhattan" looks like it was ripped from an early 90s PC game. And in general, aside from the presence of mobile suits and space colonies, there's little in the movie technologically to suggest that it takes place about 300 years in the future. Even TV broadcasts are ordinary SD, 1.33 aspect ratio, despite the fact that in 1999 we already knew that widescreen HD was in the near future, was even already broadcast on a limited basis (and had been in Japan for ten years!). There was very little effort (or, maybe more accurately, very little budget) to show a world plausibly several centuries in the future. And even the G-Saviour itself appears to be a technological step backward from its forebears -- for instance, rather than the 360 degree cockpits of post-0083 suits, the G-Saviour features a very cramped cockpit with only a forward facing screen. It's obvious why this is the case, but if you can't afford to do a project right, why do it at all? (I'm referring, of course, to the movie, not to the in-story creation of the G-Saviour mecha.)
The general plotting isn't much better, but unfortunately, probably could have been. In the broadest strokes, the general premise might have actually been quite interesting in the hands of a more capable writer. It's very different from the typical Gundam story and might have been pretty refreshing. In reality, it captures nothing of "Gundam," which even I find surprising to say, given the breadth of shows that have claimed that mantle. This just feels like your run of the mill low budget sci-fi TV movie -- which, ultimately, is what it is. That it's a "Gundam" movie is almost inconsequential (somewhat like how I would contend that Alien 3 is a fairly decent movie if you pretend that it isn't part of the Alien franchise, except that G-Saviour still isn't really "decent" anyway). This is pure western sci-fi, and not done especially well.
To be honest, I'm not sure that Gundam would survive the jump to live action even with an adequate budget and a capable staff. I find, as a general principle, that the closer you bring anime to "real life," the harder it is to tolerate. I don't even like to watch dubs because hearing the dialogue in my native language removes some of the distance that you get from merely reading subtitles and makes it harder to swallow (that's assuming the dub is good, which they so often aren't). I remember pirating a cam rip of the Cowboy Bebop movie when it first premiered in Japan and enjoying it considerably more than when I saw it in a real move theatre with an English dub (and the Cowboy Bebop dub is, of course, well regarded -- even widely considered better than the sub). But actually hearing the dialogue spoken in English makes its deficiencies more apparent, and this problem is dramatically worse for a movie that is not only in English, but is not even animated either. I won't go so far as to say that nobody could make a good live action Gundam movie, but I will say that I'll believe it when I see it -- and I haven't seen it yet.
|Ghost in the Shell (movie)||Bad||Really overrated. I never understood the appeal of this one; I found it really boring.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (OAV)||Bad||Not very fun to watch, severely overrated. The RX-79[G] Gundam Ground-types are kind of ugly and none of the characters are particularly memorable. It was a cool idea to show us the One Year War from a grunt soldier's perspective, but it was poorly executed here. And while this show's story isn't quite as bad as that of Gundam 0083, it's still pretty good at destroying continuity as well.|
|Pilot Candidate (TV)||Bad|
|Tenchi in Tokyo (TV)||Bad||Among the worst installments in the Tenchi franchise. The good thing about Tenchi Universe was it still kept most of the actual character roles intact, simply altering the story to create an original show. Tenchi in Tokyo just changed things around too much, diminishing whatever it was that made the previous shows so enjoyable. The result was an overall pretty boring show that still managed a few sporadic high points. All that is to say nothing of the new character designs, which simply don't look right at all after years of the OVA/Universe designs. They're like pouring salt on an open wound, but on their own aren't bad enough to seriously damage the show, as evidenced by the outstanding quality of Tenchi Muyo in Love 2, which used the same designs. The real issue is just that the show isn't that fun to watch, due in large part to the large departure it took from previous Tenchi shows. Change can be refreshing, but change just for the sake of change can lead to problems, as we saw here. Tenchi fans might like the handful of good episodes, but probably not the rest of the show. Non-Tenchi fans probably shouldn't bother. Then again, most of ANN seems to have liked it a lot more than I did, so maybe I'm just missing something.|
|Dragon Ball GT (TV)||Weak||This show really was pretty disappointing after Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. It has its moments, but they're few and far between -- although I do have to admit that the ending was the perfect way to close out the Dragon Ball saga. Still, most of GT just reeks of recycled ideas. We saw a biological machine that grows stronger by harvesting the energy of other people (Bebi) in Cell. We saw old enemies escape from hell (Super 17 arc) in the twelfth DBZ movie. We saw enemies that merge together to gain power (Super 17) in Cell and Buu. The Ii Shenlon arc was a decent idea, I guess, although not without some problems (for instance, how exactly do wishes made without evil intentions leave an evil residue inside the Dragon Balls?). But, whatever. DBZ fans might want to check it out, if for no other reason than for something new to watch. Otherwise, it's not really worth seeing.|
|Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might (movie 3)||Weak||This one introduces a few other plotholes and story threads that are never picked up in the actual series. The introduction of Haiya Dragon, who appears in some later episodes of the TV series, would seem to imply that this one actually happened, but at the point when it would have had to have taken place, that's somewhat impossible. Once again, Vegeta is absent, but otherwise we get some screen time for the whole cast. Not a great movie, but DBZ fans might want to see it. There are worse DBZ movies out there; this one's really just average.|
|Escaflowne: The Movie||Weak||The movie falls far short of the excellent TV series. The modified character designs have nothing on the original show's, and the story here is not nearly as good as that of the TV series. The Folken character is pretty much ruined here. Where in the original TV series he was torn between his brother and the man who saved his life, where he was a complex character with some real issues, here he's just an asshole of a villain who's doing terrible things for terrible reasons. If you're going to watch this, make sure that you watch it BEFORE the TV series. I would suggest just not watching this, though.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny (TV)||Weak||This show had perhaps the most promising beginning for any Gundam show. It started off really well; I came into it not expecting much after finding Gundam SEED to be nothing special, and the first seven or so episodes of Destiny turned out to really be pretty incredible. Unfortunately, it's downhill after that. After episode 12 or so, the remaining members of the cast of the first show begin to play a more prominent role in the series, and the show is forced to balance two separate casts -- one whose story has already been told, and one brand new cast that needs more screentime than it ends up getting. The result is that very little character development actually takes place during the series, because there's not really anywhere to take the original cast, and the new cast doesn't get enough attention to really develop into anything. Not only that, but the plot sort of stagnates in the late teen episodes and doesn't move a whole lot until the show is winding down again. All in all, just horrible pacing throughout the series after the spectacular beginning. And yet, if you want to just kick back and watch some action scenes, derive only superficial entertainment from the show while ignoring the flat characters and train wreck plot, you can still enjoy the show on that level for a while, but even that runs out. The late episodes of the series just show a complete lack of story planning or common sense on the part of the creative staff (although "creative" is a term used generously here), as they throw in unnecessary recap episodes and begin trying to salvage the cast with some character development episodes -- except, the characters they choose to develop are some of the least important in the show. Late episodes in the middle and late-40s, where this 50-episode series should be reaching a boiling point, show a complete lack of focus toward the show as a whole and are, quite simply, intensely boring. The result is that Shinn Asuka -- ostensibly the main character of this farce -- really never changes or develops throughout the entire series. At the end of the show, he's been physically defeated, but there's no sense that he actually learned anything or changed as a person. I can only assume they're setting him up to be the villain in another sequel, but I'm probably giving them too much credit.|
|Muromi-san (TV)||Weak||This didn't seem like my cup of tea, but I checked it out based on the recommendation of someone whose taste I'm not even familiar with, and I learned a valuable lesson in the first place: sometimes I should just trust my own instincts. This show really just didn't click with me on any level at all. It's less a show and more a fanservice delivery vessel. And, well, I won't begrudge those who are into fanservice, but cartoon girls have just never quite done it for me. There's no overarching plot here, so you can throw out the possibility of a good story. The characters are basically just vehicles for flat jokes and well-worn anime tropes. There is just nothing about this show that appeals to me.
That said, I've rated it merely "weak" instead of more harshly to reflect an important consideration: I am quite simply not this show's target demographic. I can't rate it any more highly than this, having derived such little enjoyment from watching it, but I don't know if I can go as far as saying that the show is outright bad. It's just pure fanservice in bite-size quarter hour segments. If that premise sounds like your thing, by all means, check this show out, you might enjoy it. But that's not really the type of show I'm into and, having already known that all along, I probably should have just ignored the recommendation to check this show out in the first place.
|Angelic Layer (TV)||Not really good||I can't tell you why I watched this show to the end. Looking back on it now, the show wasn't really all that good. Even at the time I was watching it, I was less than impressed for the most part. I'm not usually a huge fan of shows about middle school kids doing middle school kid things, but something about it kept me entertained well enough that I watched it all the way through.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Broly - Second Coming (movie 10)||Not really good||I guess this movie was about as good as it could hope to be. I don't personally see much appeal in Brolly, and DBZ movies in general are obviously kind of weak. The movie basically follows the same format as every DBZ movie, so there's not a whole lot to say. If you like DBZ, and particularly Brolly, you might enjoy this. Otherwise, don't bother.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan (movie 8)||Not really good||Brolly's not a terribly engaging character, so I'm not a huge fan of any of his films. Still, this is by far the best of the three, perhaps good enough to be considered average as far as DBZ movies go. It has all the pitfalls that mar any DBZ movie -- formulaic format, boring plot, no real character development to speak of, etc. -- and has a pretty uninteresting main villain. But if you're into DBZ, you might still like it, and if you're going to watch any Brolly movie, this should be the one.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Cooler's Revenge (movie 5)||Not really good||This movie marks the first theatrical appearance of the Super Saiya-jin. Other than that, it's just your run of the mill DBZ movie. The introduction of Coola, Freeza's brother, helps tie this one into the TV series a bit and actually gives this movie some semblance of a logical story. As a DBZ movie, it's maybe a little above average, but on its own merits it's a lackluster anime. The usual line applies here: DBZ fans might like it, others won't.|
|Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest (movie 2)||Not really good||This was a middle-of-the-pack movie, pretty average as DBZ movies go. Most of the important characters from the early part of DBZ appear (notably absent is Vegeta), so chances are your favorite character will get some screen time. One of the good things about this movie is it takes place early enough that all of the characters still play some factor. Not even Muten Roshi is completely irrelevant yet. Otherwise, there's not much of note here. Even with DBZ movies, you could do worse...but then, even with DBZ movies, you could also do better.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (TV)||Not really good||
I recently rewatched this on a whim and found it better than I remembered. Or perhaps "better" isn't the right word, but at least, more entertaining. I don't know what compelled me to watch a show that I was pretty sure I would hate, but I did, and I didn't hate it. That said, it suffers from a number of glaring flaws that make it one of the worst TV shows to bear the Gundam name.
For starters, there are serious issues with the characters. Heero, Trowa, and Wu Fei are all pretty wooden characters, and for the most part very similar to each other, all quiet, brooding, unsociable guys. Duo as the gregarious, laid back pilot and Quatre as the soft hearted, empathizing pilot were acceptably different from the other three, though. However, no character in the show is very well developed throughout the course of the story. Duo is essentially the same guy in episode 49 that he was in episode 1. Trowa, Quatre, and Wu Fei each undergo ordeals at some point in the series (each lasting only a few episodes) that temporarily shakes their character, but then they return to their old ways and are also pretty much the same. Heero changes a bit, but it's somewhat difficult to see how. At some point along the way he just kind of changes from hardened soldier to warrior fighting for peace; I would like to be able to say it was just a successfully subtle execution, but the truth is that there really isn't any apparent reason for him to change the way he does. Other characters similarly change for no good reason. Relena abruptly goes from ordinary teenage girl to staunchly pacifistic queen of the entire world, and the only reasonable way to read it is that she learned what she was "supposed" to believe based on her lineage and just kind of went with it; because her character is handled so clumsily, you never get the sense that she's any more mature than she was at the very beginning, she just seems like a child fulfilling a role. The development of other characters is just as haphazard. How did the Zechs of episode 1 become the Milliardo of episode 49? How did Treize go from traditionalist military leader at the beginning to pacifist at the end? These are changes that happen, but why they happen is a bit of a mystery.
And then there are a lot of things throughout the course of the show that just simply don't make much sense. Why, for instance, are Gundams so special when they can apparently be built by just about anyone? Wing and Sandrock are both destroyed and rebuilt by people who had nothing to do with their original construction. Wing Zero, the ultimate Gundam (in fact, the ultimate mobile suit), is built by a kid who just finds the plans (nevermind where he managed to get all the material, or how he built the Zero System into it without understanding what it was or even knowing it was there). Treize, while in exile for defying the Romefeller Foundation, and with no known engineering background, constructs Epyon, a mobile suit on par with Wing Zero. How exactly did he get all the materials to build it while under house arrest as a rebel against the organization? How the hell did he know how to build it in the first place? Gundams are regularly constructed and reconstructed right under the noses of the enemy military forces, even in their very own bases. If Gundams can be built even under these circumstances, then how can they be so much better than the mobile suits built and operated by legitimate military organizations? It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and these are only a handful of the problems in the story.
Overall it's just a very haphazardly thrown together show. It has its entertaining moments, but it's thoroughly mediocre. I guess I can see where it appeals to people unfamiliar with the Gundam franchise and how it can draw them into it, but the story is just very poorly constructed. It's not a total waste of time to watch it or anything, but it is riddled with flaws unmatched by most other Gundam shows.
|Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (OAV)||Not really good||I had previously complained that Gundam Wing had issues with its character development. Endless Waltz attempts to rectify that by offering some insight into the backgrounds of each Gundam pilot. Unfortunately, there's only so much that a three episode OVA can do to correct such a glaring oversight of the 49 episode TV series that preceded it. Not only that, but some of the flashbacks actually create apparent continuity problems. For instance, Heero's flashback shows him accidentally killing a little girl while carrying out a mission prior to the Wing TV series. The remorse he feels over this incident is supposed to be why he wishes so badly for peace; I'll give Endless Waltz points for offering us a reason for Heero's change from ice cold soldier to pragmatic pacifist, but the trouble is that the event that apparently drives this change takes place even before we were introduced to the ice cold soldier incarnation of Heero. It's difficult to believe that this event is what drives Heero to peace when, in the early episodes of Wing, which take place after this incident, we see him laugh as he ruthlessly kills Alliance and OZ soldiers. A little bit of a delayed reaction, to say the least. On top of that, the entire story sounds like something ripped straight out of a fanfic. The heretofore unknown daughter of Treize (who must have been born when he was about ten years old) shows up exactly a year later to try to take over the world, and oh, she's also sort of connected to Trowa, just for good measure. And then Wu Fei joins up with them, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense except to add some drama. And Relena speaks out in favor of fighting for peace, so at some point during this year of total pacifism she apparently decided fighting was okay under some circumstances -- not that her transformation into complete pacifist in the TV series was handled in a particularly believable way to begin with, so maybe it was just her true nature revealed? I don't know. It's just sort of a stupid, sloppy story. Still, for what it is, it's relatively entertaining, I guess.|
|Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse (TV)||Not really good||I was in a mood for sci-fi, space, robots, etc, so when I heard about this show, it seemed worth a shot -- it probably wasn't. I don't have much to say about it at this point, since I actually finished watching it some months ago, but only just realized I forgot to ever review it. Much of it has already been wiped from my memory. I can only really speak about it in broad terms now. I remember, first, that it felt very hollow. It seemed to be a show that expected to get by on its premise. The characters, representing various genre archetypes, were not very interesting or well-developed and their character arcs progressed really predictably. The story itself wasn't much better. I guess this is based on a hentai game, and you can sort of see where they want to put in fan service while at the same time sticking to a standard sci-fi robot premise. So the show basically is just a confluence of things that I hate -- cliches, flat characters, etc. After the first few episodes, I had slotted this into my "will not finish," but I was bored and I have this weird loyalty to shows such that I will usually stick with them far past their shelf-life (as of right now, I have 115 shows in my "will not finish," but I only watched the first episode of the vast majority of those, and of the rest, I lost access to episodes and then ultimately lost interest in finding them -- on the other hand I sat through Lost for all six grueling, awful seasons because the first eleven or so episodes hooked me; this is the kind of TV viewer I am), and I ended up not dropping it -- not even briefly, by the time the next episode aired I had already opted to keep going. I wasn't really rewarded for my perseverance. Loyalty is a useless virtue.|
|Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (movie)||Not really good||Severely weakened by the fact that it's the sequel to a weak show, but it was a pretty decent ending I guess.|
|No. 6 (TV)||Not really good||Not really much to say about this one. Started off sort of promising (not like it was gonna be stellar or anything, but at least worth a look), but the characters never really became very interesting, the premise developed pretty generically, and the story was handled pretty poorly. What starts off as a dystopian sci-fi setting ends up with a bunch of elements of fantasy and magic that don't really seem to square with what we've already seen. It just comes off feeling sloppily constructed; with only eleven episodes, it might be fair to say it feels rushed, but as the characters and story become progressively more boring, I don't really know how much more of it I'd have stomached watching anyway. I mean at the end of the day the very premise of the show just ends up being far less intriguing than you might have hoped at the beginning, which didn't exactly look like an all-time classic in the first place (but, like I said, at least looked like it would be entertaining enough). There are certainly worse shows out there, but I'm really hard pressed to come up with any reason to recommend this to anyone.|
|Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie||Not really good||Standard shounen fare, just kind of whatever. It's only a half hour long, so it's even lighter on characters and plot than most shounen spinoff movies. Unfortunately, the action scenes aren't really anything special either. It's not completely awful or anything, but it's just utterly forgettable. YYH fans might want to check it out, but it's not especially worth seeing.|
|After War Gundam X (TV)||So-so||Gundam X really isn't that bad, and it certainly doesn't deserve the distinction of being the first Gundam series since the original to be cancelled. No, it wasn't great. But it was better than its predecessor, Gundam Wing, and better than the OVAs that were being released at the same time it was airing, Endless Waltz and the 08th MS Team. The cast was pretty good and the story about what would have happened if the One Year War had ended differently was fairly interesting. Plus, even as an alternate universe, Gundam X effectively put the Newtype issue to rest once and for all. The show is worth watching, even if it's not quite on par with the best that Gundam has to offer.|
|Aura Battler Dunbine (TV)||So-so||I first started watching this years and years ago, but never got around to finishing it. After plowing through Gundam ZZ on a random whim a few months ago and surprisingly enjoying it much more than I had the last time I saw it, I suddenly found myself in the mood for more 80s Tomino and finishing Dunbine seemed like the best option, so I collected the whole series and started again from the beginning. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the show just never quite captured my interest. I plowed through the whole thing over the course of a couple months, usually just catching an episode during my lunch break from work. It was a decent enough diversion, but I can't help but feel I would have just dropped it entirely if it didn't fit so snugly into my daily schedule like that. I can't really level any specific complaints against the show. I don't honestly have any idea what the problem with it was. For whatever reason, it just didn't click with me. I suspect that it should still satisfy just about any fan of Tomino's work or 80s mecha in general -- apparently, that just doesn't include me quite like I used to think it did. Oh well.|
|Black Bullet (TV)||So-so||I don't have much to say about this -- I forgot to even review it for like a month after it finished. It's a really run of the mill post-apocalyptic sci-fi show. Tokyo (what's left of it) is surrounded by a bunch of monoliths that protect it from the monster threat that lurks beyond, and a bunch of little girls with monster blood in them have supernatural powers to help protect the city, with the help of their typically much older, typically male partners. The premise is mundane, the characters are forgettable (I don't remember any of their names, not even the two leads). It's short enough and will hold your attention (or held mine at least) just enough to get through it, but what's the point?
Well, the ending credits song is pretty catchy, at least.
|Bleach the Movie: Fade to Black||So-so||Movie was all right, not great. Probably the weakest of the Bleach movies thus far. It just kind of felt like it was missing something throughout. Maybe it's because you never really get to see Ichigo let loose -- he only wears his hollow mask once, for a minute near the beginning. Maybe it's because none of the non-Shinigami supporting cast makes even the briefest cameo. Maybe some combination thereof. The characters all felt a little bit off, too. Maybe you can just chalk that up to their having no memories of Ichigo or Rukia, but, for instance, Byakuya seemed less gruff than usual. Something just didn't feel right about the entire movie. Still, it is what it is, so if you liked the earlier Bleach movies, this one's probably worth watching too. I just didn't think it was quite on par -- not that the others are high art or anything either.|
|Blue Seed (TV)||So-so||Blue Seed didn't have a terribly interesting story or a particularly great cast, but somehow it kept me entertained enough to finish it. I must admit that I did try renting it years ago and never bothered to watch past the first volume. But when Encore Action showed the entire series over the summer, it was decent enough for me to tune in then and check it out. I suppose I would say, if it's on TV where you are, you might as well check it out. If you have to go to anymore trouble than changing the channel to see it, it might not be worth it.|
|Buddy Complex (TV)||So-so||Basically another robot anime about a war between two fictitious countries loosely based on Cold War military blocs, with the twist that the right pilots in specially designed machines can "couple" (which in this case evidently does not refer to sex, although you wonder a bit whether the writers were wholly oblivious to the meaning of the word) but rather some kind of neural link that dramatically boosts their machine's abilities (and also their own, to the extent that the more skilled pilot's abilities can be shared by the less skilled as well). I suppose it's a decent gimmick, but it's not enough to really set the show apart. There's, uhh, also another twist involving time travel, as our main character enters this futuristic war after being brought there by a classmate in the present day.
Buddy Complex isn't bad, exactly. It's decently entertaining, to be honest. But it never feels like there's much depth here. The characters feel pretty paint-by-numbers and you just never care all that much what really happens to them. Main character Aoba is a boring nice guy without any particularly interesting qualities to him. His "buddy," Dio, is a walking cliche -- a moody but skilled pilot with daddy issues masking an actual good guy deep down. Revolutionary. The rest of the crew members are even shallower than that. I want to call them likable, and I guess they more or less are, but more than being likable, they're just sort of boring people.
Hina, Aoba's love interest on the other side, is not particularly better. She's as much a cliche, albeit a different one, as Dio, although to explain any further would require spoilers -- I'm not sure that's really the worst thing in the world in this case, but I'll play it safe. The relationship between Hina and Aoba is a little bit of a headscratcher, too. It's easy enough to see why Aoba would be interested in her early on -- Hina being the classmate that brought Aoba to the future, she would seem to be his only link back to his own time. Yet future Hina makes it clear from the outset that she doesn't know who Aoba is or what he wants. It may be hard for Aoba to accept this at first, but it appears that he ultimately does accept it in any case, and so his one real connection to Hina is gone, and yet he's still hung up on her anyway. This in itself isn't inexcusable, of course -- you can love somebody for more reasons than just that you used to go to school with them before they brought you seventy years into the future -- but they don't actually spend that much time together on screen or communicate with each other that much, and it never feels like there's much more foundation for their relationship except for her having brought Aoba to the future, and then I guess Aoba just being a "nice guy" when some other bad stuff happens to her. This feels like a pretty shallow treatment of interpersonal relationships, although maybe that's appropriate for a show that demonstrates a pretty shallow treatment of people themselves.
In the last episode, the show skirts dangerously close to doing something really interesting with the time travel angle, somewhat reminiscent of the movie Primer (I've got mixed feelings about that movie overall, but its handling of time travel is at least fascinating). Striving for mediocrity to the very end, the show introduces this really interesting angle that might have been the basis of the entire second season, but instead cuts it off and wraps it up all in about three minutes to deliver a more standard happy ending immediately. This, too, was a big disappointment.
I realize I sound pretty harsh on this show, but I still finished it and found it to be, on balance, entertaining enough. I'm not going to look back on it with any particular fondness, or probably at all, and if you need a robot fix there are better ways to get it, but there are worse ways too. The second season is teased at the end, and it will almost certainly not be as interesting as it could have been if they had fully explored the time travel element in it, but I might watch it anyway.
|Buddy Complex: Into the Skies of Tomorrow (special)||So-so||This is basically just a two episode epilogue to the main TV show, so I won't say much about it -- for the most part my review of that show still holds here. I thought the show's climax blew a good chance to do something interesting in the potential second season, but it turns out to be even worse than I expected here. Not only does the show take a much more generic path, but it crams what should have probably been another season into two episodes. It trusts us to fill in the blanks, and we easily can, because the story it's telling is nothing new after all, but it nonetheless feels extremely rushed. A whatever ending to a whatever show.|
|Chaika - The Coffin Princess Avenging Battle (TV)||So-so||I watched this pretty much just because I watched the first season, but when I say I "watched" this, I mainly mean I threw it on in the background and often wasn't paying much attention to it. My review of the first season basically applies here too and I don't really have much else to say about it.|
|Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth - The Animation (TV)||So-so||When I first heard about this show, I was pretty intrigued. It was sort of slice of life -- I like slice of life. But it had a twist, specifically little Japanese girl brought to 19th century Paris. Well I like Paris quite a bit too, so this is looking good so far, right? Unfortunately it never really ended up clicking with me. I never really developed much affection for the characters or much interest in their interaction. Yune comes across as though she's meant to stand in for all of Japan -- unceasingly polite and thoughtful and selfless and so on -- while the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Westerners like Claude and Alice, although they mean well, can be brusque and thoughtless (Claude) or egocentric and oblivious (Alice). As a result the characters end up feeling less like flesh and blood people and more like cardboard representations of ideas (and stereotypes). Yune, for instance, can do virtually no wrong -- when people around her (most frequently Claude) blow up at her, it's virtually always due to misunderstanding or to their own failure to consider Yune's thoughts and position. It all rings a little bit hollow.
In a similar vein, the show tends to rely far too much on "culture clash," and not even particularly interesting culture clash, but more like general stereotypes. It's not just in this show, of course, but in many, many anime, that a foreigner witnesses dogeza and completely freaks out -- it's virtually an anime cliche at this point. I'm not exactly sure why the Japanese think that Westerners don't understand bowing. It's true that Japan has far more extensive bowing customs and etiquette than the West, that dogeza in particular is not really something Westerners would do, but bowing is something that exists in Western cultures as well and Claude's freak-out when Yune does it just doesn't make a ton of sense. This is by far the worst offender, but various other "culture clash" moments throughout the show range from the fairly reasonable (Yune not liking cheese, Yune not knowing how to wear a crinoline) to the somewhat questionable (Claude's reaction to soy sauce being as strong as Yune's reaction to cheese, Alice having utterly zero clue how to put on a kimono -- I don't expect her to actually get it right, but she doesn't even close it in the front as if she were wearing a regular robe, it's like she's completely incompetent).
Overall, it's not a bad show, but it just wasn't what I had hoped for. If the characters don't get your attention, a slice of life show can't really work, and the hook here (the culture clash) was sort of bungled here in my opinion. Seems like a lot of people do like this show though, so if the premise sounds interesting, give it a shot. It just didn't really work for me.
|Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (movie)||So-so||I was excited to check this out, so I have to admit to having been a bit disappointed by the first new DBZ movie to hit theatres in almost twenty years. Obviously with these movies, you never expect too much -- the original thirteen movies aren't even feature-length and strip down the already-thin level of plot seen in a typical DBZ story arc to the bare minimum -- but at their best they can be pretty entertaining. I suppose Battle of Gods is kind of entertaining too, but it has some major flaws even if you try to accept it on its own terms, as a one-shot DBZ movie.
Toriyama was evidently heavily involved in the movie, but I'm not sure exactly to what extent or in what capacity. I'm left to feel like either he wasn't involved in the right ways or he himself has lost touch with his own story, because much about this movie doesn't feel right. The characters are not themselves, and it shows from the very outset. Goku, for instance, is cocky (sure, this happens to Super Saiya-jin, but still) and even worse, totally underestimates his opponent in his first encounter with Bills. It feels not Goku-like at all -- in fact it's the sort of behavior that DBZ villains typically engage in instead. Later on, at Bulma's birthday party, the entire team gangs up on Bills at basically the drop of a hat. Granted, Bills inadvertently started the altercation by trying to interact with Buu as though Buu were not severely autistic, but everyone seems unusually belligerent and it doesn't feel right at all. It may have been meant to particularly illuminate Vegeta's uncharacteristic (but sufficiently well explained) cautiousness, but it still doesn't work. Even Shenlong is weird, and that's supposed to illustrate how terrifying Bills is, but even the way they use Shenlong is weird -- suddenly instead of being a mere granter of wishes, he's a library, offering up information that he has no reason to have known in the first place.
The plot itself is also weak in a way that's different from the typical DBZ movie. The character issues mentioned above could probably be best summed up as feeling very fanfic-ish, and the same goes for the story. The whole "Saiya-jin God" thing and the process for becoming one is really poorly contrived. What's more, and going back to people acting out of character too, but Goku being so vocally upset about how he had to rely on everyone else to gain the God power is really weird considering that is literally how his Genki Dama works and he uses that all the time. Aside from this, because Bills is literally a god, acknowledged as Kaioshin's counterpart, it feels weirdly like there are no stakes in this movie. Bills says he's going to destroy Earth and we're led to believe he acts capriciously, but at the same time he's not set up as any sort of evil character. He fights with Goku because they're both interested in gauging the other's power, not because Goku realizes he's some grave threat that must be countered. Even though we know he'll destroy Earth if he beats Goku -- because he said he would and we don't have any reason to doubt his words -- it feels oddly like there's nothing really on the line, because ultimately Goku and Bills are still kind of chummy through the whole thing. It gives the movie a very odd vibe.
It's not a wholly bad experience, but the movie definitely leaves a lot to be desired. The problems are not just in story or character, although those are the most important and therefore the most glaring. Even the animation -- specifically the CGI -- is subpar, with the same very plasticky look that you'd have expected to see ten or fifteen years ago. Nonetheless and despite all of these things, it's still reasonably entertaining for what it is. You come into a DBZ movie, you have to know where to set your expectations. This, unfortunately, still failed to meet mine, but at least I wasn't bored, and that's really the most important thing with a movie like this.
|Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone (movie 1)||So-so||This is actually a pretty decent DBZ movie, helping to bridge the gap between Dragon Ball and DBZ. It's not without its problems -- it introduces some major plotholes, for instance, and incorporating its villain into the TV series later implies that this movie should be taken as a canon part of the Dragon Ball timeline (most of the other movies would introduce plenty of plotholes if it were possible for them to exist in the first place, but they can't, so it doesn't matter). Still, this is as close to the original Dragon Ball as DBZ ever really gets, and it's not that awful.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Super Android 13! (movie 7)||So-so||Another above-average DBZ movie. Continuing the trend set by the Coola movies, this one tries to connect to the TV series by tying in with villains from the main storyline, in this case the Artificial Humans. Trunks gets in on the action for this one, which should appeal to his legions of fans. The best part in this movie is probably the ending, since they decided to go in a little different direction than usual and had Goku perform a move unique to this film. You know what you're getting when you watch a DBZ movie, though, and if you don't like the rest of the franchise, obviously you're not going to find anything redeeming in this.|
|Dragon Ball Z: The Return of Cooler (movie 6)||So-so||Movie 6 was the first DBZ movie to be a "sequel" to a previous movie, with Coola returning rebuilt as an even more powerful robot. It's actually a more entertaining movie than its predecessor and in the upper tier of DBZ movies. It features some nice cooperation between Goku and Vegeta and gives other characters the opportunity to be a little relevant from time to time. At its heart, it's still just a DBZ movie, but you could do worse.|
|Dragon Ball: Episode of Bardock (special)||So-so||I'll always have a bit of a soft spot for the DB franchise, so if they're putting out new animation, of course I'll have to check it out. This special seems to be a sequel to Bardock Story, although I have no idea if this is to be considered canon or not since I really haven't kept up with that in years. It doesn't feel canon to me. Even by DB standards, it feels very compressed and side story-ish. The original two TV specials (Bardock Story and Trunks Story) both tied in closely with the mainstream story, but this has more of a promotional feel to it, not like it's actually meant to advance the Dragon Ball universe or really develop Bardock as a character.
Taken on its own merits, this is otherwise fine. There's not a ton of story here, and what story there is feels a little rushed (even compared to a standard DB movie, where a villain is introduced and the entire story unfolds in ~40 minutes), but it's entertaining enough and it's kind of cool to get more new DB animation. Taken as part of the overall franchise, though, it's a little bit lacking, in particular because it retcons the end of Bardock Story so that Bardock no longer sacrifices himself in a futile struggle against Freeza, which greatly undermines the significance of the showdown between Goku and Freeza in the story proper. I'll say that much because I don't feel like it's a significant spoiler -- Bardock Story is twenty years old and if you're a Dragon Ball fan at all you've probably seen it and even if you haven't, you at least should know how the story ends. I won't spoil something else that happens in this special though, something that also has ramifications for the main story (in a retconning, explaining something that didn't need to be explained sort of way). Suffice to say I don't really love this development, and when you watch the special, you'll know precisely what development I'm referring to.
Anyway, those are my complaints, but the truth is it's hard to get terribly worked up about this in any case. I didn't come in with high expectations, I didn't leave with great disappointment, it just...is. DB fans might want to check it out, non-DB fans probably didn't read this far in the first place.
|Hanayamata (TV)||So-so||I have no idea why I watched this, except poooooooossibly because it is a slice of life that examines a unique aspect of Japanese culture (that description will usually catch my attention). But in this case, it is a show about middle school girls who are into yosakoi, a Japanese dance style. Given those extra details, this seems like the kind of show I'd have passed on, but I didn't.
That should not be taken as some kind of ringing endorsement. I don't really hate this show or anything, but it should come as no surprise at all that something I wouldn't expect to interest me in fact didn't interest me. The story and the character interactions are all a little bit paint by numbers, and the idea of a platinum blonde American teenager who speaks fluent Japanese and is super into yosakoi is -- well, there are 300 million people in America so it's not impossible, but it's a little bit implausible. I'm not sure what inspired me to watch this show, but if I had passed on it I don't think I would have missed much.
|Happy World! (OAV)||So-so||Not awful, but not that good either. Probably wouldn't have bothered to finish it if it were any longer than it is, but it's not a total waste of time.|
|Humanity Has Declined (TV)||So-so||I really wanted to like this show, but it just never quite clicked with me. I found that I never really knew what was going on because I kept losing interest and missing large chunks of each episode while paying attention to other things. The wackiness (particularly of the first few episodes) felt overplayed -- when a show like FLCL works, it's because it strikes a very delicate balance, even if Gainax makes it seem effortless -- while the "meta" aspects (eg the episodes that took place inside a manga) never seemed to go anywhere. Were the writers trying to do or say something with that, or did they just think it would be funny and fresh? I sound like I'm being overly harsh on the show, which isn't fair -- I "dropped" it two episodes in (even listed it on here as a "will not finish") and then found myself continuing to watch it anyway. So clearly there's something there, it's not all bad by a long shot. But it just never quite worked for me on any level. It's over now and in two weeks I doubt I'll even remember it anymore.|
|Inuyasha the Movie: Affections Touching Across Time||So-so||I'm not a huge Inuyasha fan, but I happened to catch this when it was on Cartoon Network. It was an all right movie, but I wasn't terribly impressed. It kind of seemed like a Dragon Ball Z movie -- ie, it just plays out like a story from the TV series, except compressed into a single movie. Inuyasha fans will probably enjoy it, but I felt the same way about it as I do about the rest of the show -- it's not bad, but it's merely okay.|
|(The) Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior (TV)||So-so||Not really sure why I checked this out. To its credit, it at least is not really a harem series, even though the setting surely demands that it become one. It's basically a slice of life show about a high school kid who moves into a shared house with a wacky (of course they're wacky) group plus a straight-laced upperclasswoman from his school that he of course develops an unrequited crush on.
This isn't a particularly fresh formula, but the show more or less holds its own, I guess. Not all of the jokes land, but some of them do, and while the cast is basically a who's who of anime tropes, they're still ultimately likable people. There's some decent chemistry among the various residents, who have a lot of fun teasing each other but never cross a line into outright meanness.
Besides the decent cast, there's something about this show that just looks really good. I can't quite put my finger on it. The art style isn't particularly innovative or unusual. There are just very sharp lines and vibrant colors that stood out for me in this show in particular. Who knows, your mileage may vary, but I found it pleasing to the eye.
Ultimately you couldn't be blamed for skipping this one, and honestly you probably won't miss much of if you do, but if the premise intrigues you, you probably won't be disappointed. It's a decent, if unremarkable, show.
|Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing (TV)||So-so||For whatever reason, this show just didn't really do it for me. I watched and enjoyed the original series; I didn't love it, but I liked it, certainly enough to check out its sequel here. I can't even really put my finger on what didn't click. The characters were all right, not my favorite cast or anything, but likable enough. The story was fine, although not far off from a simple retread of the original. It had the production value. It just...didn't work. This is going to be an uncharacteristically short review for me because that's really all I can say. I got through the whole thing, but it felt like a chore. I would miss three or four weeks at a time and the only thing that bothered me was the knowledge that I was going to have to plow through three or four episodes in succession to catch up. I didn't hate the show, not by any stretch, but I was just never quite able to get into it. Reaching the end didn't feel like torture, but it did feel like some grim obligation that I had taken on and then come to regret. Fans of the original show will probably enjoy this, but for some reason I just didn't really. Maybe I should revisit it in a few years and see if the switch flips for me.|
|M3 the dark metal (TV)||So-so||I saw Shoji Kawamori's name attached and I got a little excited -- that was my fault, I shouldn't necessarily have expected as much as I did, given that he was only responsible for mecha designs. So if you haven't noticed yet, I was not super enamored of this show.
Let's be clear, this isn't a bad show. The story is about as original as anime ever gets these days, so it's not wholly disinteresting. But I never cared that much about the characters or what they were trying to do, I never really bought what the show was selling. Sometimes it's really easy to look at a show and say this is what I hated, this is what didn't work, this was really stupid, etc. I'm not really able to do that with M3. There weren't especially glaring problems with it that put me off. It just didn't ever click with me. And sometimes I feel a little bit like a show that didn't click with me this time might later on. I don't really get that feeling here. That's not to say I would never, ever give it the opportunity -- maybe in a few years I will be struck with the sudden and inexplicable urge to revisit this show, which would not be the strangest thing that's ever happened. As it stands right now, Shoji Kawamori designed mecha for a show that I never really got into. That's not the strangest thing that's ever happened either.
|Mars Daybreak (TV)||So-so||I first started watching this show back during its original run, up until some point in the middle when it was licensed and the fansubbing group who was releasing it dutifully stopped. I never ended up picking up the DVDs -- actually my interest in anime in general began to wane for a while and I pretty much forgot about this show until I found an old MP3 of the ending theme on one of my hard drives a few weeks ago and remembered how much I enjoyed the song, which spurred me to give the show another chance.
There's more or less nothing special about this show; it's a pretty generic sci-fi anime that hits each major paint-by-numbers point. Nonetheless, I liked it more than I'd expect to based on how I myself would describe the show. I think this largely goes back to the surprisingly likable cast, and especially to Tomokazu Seki's solid performance as the show's lead, Gram River. I'm a big fan of Seki from a lot of other shows, chiefly G Gundam and Escaflowne. I tend to associate him with well meaning but tortured characters, like Domon and Van from those shows, or with hotheads like Yzak from Gundam SEED or Kyo from Fruits Basket, so it's cool to see him in this show as Gram, where he plays a generally upbeat and sociable guy and fits the role just as well -- maybe even better -- than in those roles I more typically see him in (side note: scrolling through his credits now, I realize I've actually seen very few of his shows, he just seems to pop up in tons of the shows I do watch, so maybe this sort of character isn't actually that unusual for him). Alongside Gram, the rest of the cast is filled out by conventional but lively characters who give the show a bit more of a spark than perhaps it deserves to have, given how by the book the storyline and setting feel. This is by no means an all-time great cast of characters -- if it were, I'd have rated this series better than so-so -- but they're likable enough to elevate what could have been a downright bad show into something that is worth a shot.
To say that this show could have been downright bad maybe overstates it a little, though -- it's not that the story or anything else about it actually is bad, it's just that it's pretty generic and predictable, such that it might have combined to be even less than the sum of its parts. There are few moments of general tension in the story, and when they do occur it's thanks to liking this or that character (this, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing -- good fiction is built on good characters, not plot), not because the story itself is so interesting that you want to know what's going to happen next. It's usually easy enough to predict what's going to happen next if you've ever watched this genre before. All the same, it's on balance an entertaining show, and if you're into pirates or sci-fi or sci-fi pirates, it might be worth your time to give it a chance.
|Mobile Suit Gundam AGE (TV)||So-so||(note: I usually try to avoid spoilers but this review has some extraordinarily minor "spoilers," ie it discusses things that are arguably plot twists but occur very early in the show; no late series spoilers are included)
I have some sort of sick compulsion that drives me to watch any new Gundam property although the results are usually disappointing. Somehow I never learn my lesson -- or maybe, deep down, I just still believe experiencing the highs of a Turn A Gundam are worth enduring the dreadful lows of a Gundam SEED Destiny. So I came into Gundam AGE with some trepidation, but even so there was never really any question about whether or not I'd watch the show through to completion.
And so I did.
Let's start with the "good." A so-so rating may not look like a particularly ringing endorsement, but I must admit that a year ago when the show was just starting I'd have been very surprised to find that I would think even that, erm, "highly" of it. There are some things to like here. For one thing, I enjoy a lot (not all) of the character designs. True, they look a little cartoony, and probably this was a conscious decision for a show primarily aimed for a younger demographic, but many of the designs to me seem to recall the character designs of classic shows of the 70s. To call those shows "cartoonish" in style isn't exactly fair, but they undoubtedly predated the more recent trend toward sharper, more angular features and a heightened (but let's not go too wild here) sense of "realism," for want of a better term (there probably is one, but I'm not going to spend thirty seconds here thinking about it to come up with it). Many of AGE's designs feel, to me, like they hearken back to those old shows, although some go overboard on the goofiness and break the delicate balance. Nonetheless, on average I'm positive on AGE's character designs.
I also think AGE made a very smart decision early in the show when the identity of the "UE" was revealed. I suspected (maybe more like desperately hoped) that they wouldn't be aliens, which really don't fit in with the Gundam universe (if we merely felt this before, we had it definitively confirmed by the Gundam 00 movie). The decision to reveal the UE as humans from a failed Mars colonization project was not only the right call by eliminating the possibility of aliens, but it also does some interesting things within the context of the Gundam metaverse. Firstly, although this doesn't merit extended discussion, I will simply point out the similarity here to the backstory of Turn A Gundam as revealed in the novels (which I am utterly incapable of reading, so I only know the details that have been shared with me by others): specifically, that the Turn X was created by space colonists who left the solar system, returned later, and were regarded as "aliens" by the humans who remained on Earth. I find this little tidbit utterly fascinating and want to know a lot more; since I can't read the Japanese-language Turn A novelization, I'll settle for Gundam AGE, which riffs on a sort of similar idea.
More significantly, I really enjoy how AGE appears to fit into the "Turn A Bang" scenario, which I suspect was not even intentional on the part of its creators (do we think Sunrise really gives a damn about this? Gundam 00 clearly doesn't fit at all, so probably not). AGE slots in really well as a quasi-sequel to Gundam Wing, based on two major points: the Mars colonization (a project that was just getting underway at the end of Wing) and the fact that it takes place in a future where major weapons were evidently abolished years ago. As a huge Turn A fan, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fit together the different shows; that AGE is so readily cooperative (and let's be honest, on a thousands of years timescale, you don't need a ton of connections between shows to make it work) really pleases me.
And so we come to the bad. To start with, I never found that I particularly cared about any of the characters. Flit comes from this tragic background (part backstory, part shown over the course of the first story arc) that leads him to bitterly hate the Vagan, but I've got to say that Flit, his feelings, his motives, none of it ever really mattered to me. Asemu came from a (comparatively) more mundane background -- what a stunner that he's also a mundane character. Kio was probably the most compelling of the three, but even he never really rose above the level of being just a cardboard cutout Gundam hero -- two parts Usso Evin, one part Kira Yamato, a dash of Judau Ashta et voila. The villains -- Zeheart, Ezelcant, etc -- were no more compelling as antagonists than the heroes were as protagonists.
I think in large part this can be ascribed to the format of the series. Specifically, attempting to cram in three generations over the course of 49 episodes just doesn't work that well. Both Flit's and Asemu's stories, although they aren't quite "complete" at the end of their arcs, nonetheless feel incredibly rushed. That Kio comes out the best of the three is probably a function of the fact that his arc is by far the longest. I'll grant to Sunrise that this was a fresh (if not necessarily interesting) conceit, but I'd call this experiment a failure.
Aside from the boring cast of characters, I don't feel like the plot was particularly interesting, except for the points I previously noted above. It unfolds basically as expected, never taking any chances or trying anything interesting. Given that the show was aimed at a young demographic (even moreso than the rest of the franchise), I didn't expect a particularly dark ending, but I still couldn't help but see the contours of one potentially taking shape in the final episodes; not surprisingly, the show ultimately veered hard away from this and played it safe with typical boilerplate happy resolution. Specifically, what might have happened were this show in the hands of early-80s Tomino, is that Flit never comes to see that his naked hatred of the Vagans is wrong despite Kio's protestations, until ultimately that hatred in some way costs Kio his life. Through Kio's death, Flit finally learns the error of his ways and truly develops as a character. This, not surprisingly, is not even close to what actually happened.
If you're a Gundam fan who compulsively watches every new addition to the franchise like I do, I suppose you don't really have any choice but to slog through this show -- and you'll be "rewarded" by a show that's not nearly as bad as it could have been, a show that developed a surprising amount of potential (that it nonetheless ultimately failed to reach). If you don't share this compulsion, you're probably best off skipping Gundam AGE.
|Mobile Suit Gundam Seed C.E.73: Stargazer (ONA)||So-so||I just watched this last week and I already don't remember almost anything about it. There's a Gundam that's designed for deep space exploration rather than battle, which sort of makes you wonder why it's a Gundam instead of, like, a spaceship or something, and your typical Naturals vs. Coordinators conflict where we ultimately manage to find a little common ground and it's all very nice. All of this is set against the backdrop of the Junius 7 drop and its aftermath at the beginning of SEED Destiny. That setting could have been really interesting. The deep space exploration angle could have been really interesting (I still believe a sequel to SEED should have dealt with deep space exploration, the space whale, etc, instead of being the pile of garbage that Destiny was). This show wasn't terrible, I just don't really know why it exists. Then again, I don't know why Destiny exists either. SEED itself notwithstanding, the SEED franchise is a mystery to me.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz Special Edition (movie)||So-so||Slightly better than the OVA series. A few extra scenes and some rearranged scenes make for better pacing and a decent enough overall experience. Unfortunately, the lackluster TV series doomed the cast to mediocrity, but the OVA and movie did what they could to try to further develop some of the characters into somewhat interesting people. The results were mixed, but it at least made for a better show than the TV series was. Full thoughts on the story are laid out in my mini-review of the OVA.|
|Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (TV)||So-so||I don't actually remember what got me to watch this. The premise is not something that necessarily would have grabbed my attention. I probably heard something good about it and gave it a chance. I don't really know. Anyway, this wasn't an especially bad show (actually I wouldn't call it bad at all), but it wasn't exactly my kind of show and never really got my attention. It's a comedy, and anime comedies don't tend to make me laugh that often, so it's an uphill struggle from the start. Even so, the cast is likable enough and the interaction between Sakura and Nozaki -- and particularly Nozaki's obliviousness to her feelings -- is generally entertaining. If this sounds like your kind of show, you'll probably enjoy it. I certainly didn't dislike it, but it rapidly became something I just threw on in the background and didn't pay much attention to. Not quite my thing. So it goes.|
|Nanana's Buried Treasure (TV)||So-so||I don't have much to say about this show because it was one that I mostly just put on in the background. That in itself may be saying something though. I didn't start watching it from the outset expecting to put it on in the background, but it gradually relegated itself to that role as it fell into that zone where it was decent enough not to turn it off, but not interesting enough to consistently hold my attention. The basic premise isn't horrible (treasure searching, solving a murder, etc) and the characters are kind of likable I guess, but the show never really manages to truly hook you, and the treasure hunts tend to feel very "story of the week" without sufficient overarching threads. This is a show that wasn't bad, but just didn't do it for me.|
|Natsuiro Kiseki (TV)||So-so||I don't actually know why I watched this show, I must have been misinformed about the premise or something because there's nothing about it that should have caught my attention. But inertia is a big thing with me and once I watch a couple episodes of something I'll usually just push on through until I get to the end, unless it's really, really, really bad. Natsuiro Kiseki isn't especially bad, but a show about a bunch of middle school girls wishing upon a big rock and trying to become pop idols and so on, it's not really the type of show I typically would watch. But I did watch it and there's really not much else to say. If the premise catches your fancy, maybe you should watch it. If your taste more closely aligns with mine, there isn't any particular reason to check this out, which makes it all the more inexplicable that I did.|
|Ninja Scroll (movie)||So-so||Found it to be mildly entertaining but really overrated. If it's ever on TV again and I've got nothing else to do, I might watch some of it, but I doubt I'll ever see it again otherwise.|
|Oreshura (TV)||So-so||Given my (apparently errant) belief that I like high school romantic comedies as a genre, I gave yet another one a shot here with OreShura. As all these shows do, this one has its own little hook to try to set it apart from the rest: in this case, the romance itself is fake, a beautiful girl's ploy to get all her obsessive teen classmates off her back with the help of an accomplice who, like her, doesn't believe in love (you will be shocked, shocked, by how the story ends, I assure you). Complicating the picture are his childhood friend who is not-so-secretly in love with him, plus a couple other girls with their own situations with him. As it turns out, OreShura is not so much a high school romcom as it is a high school harem.
As with all these shows I've been watching lately, I wasn't especially taken with OreShura. As I mentioned in my recent comment on Kotoura-san, I think I'm realizing that I don't actually like high school romcoms, I really just loved Kare Kano enough to make myself think I do. That said, OreShura isn't all bad or anything. I got through the whole show and although my rating for it is on par with what I gave Kotoura-san ("So-so" in both cases), I think I liked OreShura just a little more. It had its funny moments (not enough for a comedy, but I think part of my problem is that anime comedy has, with few exceptions, never really done it for me in the first place) and the characters were mostly likable enough. Unlike Kotoura-san, the hook in this show also didn't take it into the supernatural, which doesn't mesh particularly well with this genre. Most importantly, OreShura wisely decided not to include a pedophilic/incestuous grandfather character, which was a huge step up from Kotoura-san. All the same, this is ultimately a pretty forgettable, conventional genre show. I watched the whole thing and I don't suspect that I will ever think about it again.
|(The) Pilot's Love Song (TV)||So-so||Like Buddy Complex from the same season, this is another show that isn't especially bad, but feels very much like a shallow mad libs of a show. In (very) broad strokes, it reminds me vaguely of Last Exile, with the boy and girl friends who fly together and whatever. The problem here is none of the characters, including our stars, are especially engaging. In a good show, you're made to feel like strong characters are driving the events you're seeing, but of course, this isn't entirely true -- in real life the writers are developing their characters and their storylines in tandem with give and take between both. In weaker shows, this relationship shows through more plainly.
The Pilot's Love Song feels like worldbuilding in search of a story in search of characters. I won't pin this on Koroku Inumura, the author of the light novel series on which the show is based, because I haven't read the books so I don't know if they do a better job. It may be Inumura's fault, or something may have been lost in the translation to anime. This show just feels like it's much more interested in its setting than in anything else, though. Perhaps Inumura dreamt up a setting, liked it a lot, and wanted really badly to put some stories in it, but wasn't so strong on that front. Or maybe someone at the studio was just particularly enamored of the world Inumura's stories were set in and focused too much on portraying that world. It's tough to say. But the story here feels like something of a second thought (maybe I was too bored and missed it, or maybe they really never gave much explanation, but is there any particular reason Isla's even on its journey? Do they just want to go to the End of the Sky to see if it really exists or something?). And then the characters themselves feel like a third thought. Their most significant characteristics are less about their personalities and would be better characterized as plot points in their own right. The characters seem to exist primarily in service of the plot, rather than the other way around, and the plot in turn is just a vessel to portray Inumura's world. And that world is fine, I guess, but it's not especially engrossing or impressive in its own right.
I started out by comparing this show to Buddy Complex, and like Buddy Complex, I nonetheless found it entertaining enough to watch it in spite of its flaws. It's easy to to focus on drawbacks, which stick out so prominently, while the main strength of the show is just that "meh, despite that, it didn't completely lose me." I didn't love this show, I suspect it will fade from my memory in pretty short order, but there are worse ways to spend 13 episodes, I guess.
|Ping Pong (TV)||So-so||I picked this up after hearing that it was pretty good, but it never quite clicked with me. It became a background show that I would put on without necessarily paying attention, so I don't feel qualified to speak in great depth about it, except to say that the fact that I wasn't paying attention should, in and of itself, tell you something about the show.
It does have at least two things going for it though (and maybe more that I'd have caught if I were more interested). The art style is pretty cool and I think works really well to establish a certain tone. The opening song (and the credits sequence itself) is also really great. Credits songs are something I don't tend to pay that much attention to, but I thought this one was really outstanding. So it's got those things going for it.
Honestly, the cool art style is almost enough to get me to give the show another chance, and at some point maybe I will. For now I remain unimpressed.
|Ring of Gundam (special)||So-so||I don't mean my "so-so" rating to come off as though this isn't very good, but it's just a five minute short so there really isn't much to say about it. I guess it's a little fun to watch if you're a Gundam fan but there's not much to take away from it.|
|Space Runaway Ideon: Be Invoked (movie)||So-so||I had high hopes for this movie to properly end the show after the rush job of the final several episodes, so I was somewhat disappointed that it still ended up feeling more like a compilation in its own right than an independent movie. It's somewhat better than the final few episodes, but surprisingly not by much. In many ways it feels like a bunch of unaired episodes were just pared down a little bit and then strung together, and from what I understand that might be essentially what happened. The result is a movie that moves at a weird pace and has a weird structure to it, and everything just kind of feels a little bit off. Frankly this isn't, on its own merits, any worse than the preceding compilation movie, but that was just a straight compilation, and not especially good or bad as a compilation, so I just gave it the same rating that I gave the TV show. My score for this movie reflects my disappointment that it wasn't a little more thoughtfully plotted and did essentially nothing to make up for the rushing of the final few episodes, except to jettison the last couple minutes of the very last episode and replace it with an hour of new material. I think Ideon had great potential, and I can totally understand why it has the place it does in anime and robot history, but it could have been so much more than it is, too.|
|Super Dimensional Fortress Macross II: The Movie (OAV)||So-so||I don't know if Macross II is as bad as its reputation, but it's not very good -- it's definitely the weakest link in the Macross franchise and deservedly the black sheep. The biggest problem with it is a decided lack of imagination. It's basically the same plot as the original show -- mysterious alien army suddenly appears in overwhelming numbers and Earth is all but doomed in a standup fight. The twist? Last time we beat them with music, and this time...they have their own music? Yet it all unfolds all too predictably, following faithfully in the tracks of its predecessor without much deviation. Anyone who has seen the canon sequels to Macross knows that the franchise ultimately became about emigration and colonization, not just new space monsters attacking Earth ad nauseam. The groundwork for this was already laid in the final episodes of the original series (in fact, the launch of the Megaroad, seen in Flashback 2012 six years before this OVA came out, was initially meant to occur in the TV series finale), yet in the world of Macross II, no such colonization appears ever to have occurred (in fact in the final episode Hibiki even laments that we've never looked outside beyond our own planet -- what? Hikaru, Misa, and Minmay clearly departed on a colony ship decades ago in the canon that existed when this show came out!). I don't mean this to come across as though "man, this show would be so much better if it did exactly what the later shows actually ended up doing." It would be, but that's not the point. Macross II didn't necessarily have to be about space colonization, it just should have been about something a little more interesting than more unimaginably powerful aliens showing up and threatening to destroy the world, only to be foiled by the power of human culture at the last moment. We've seen that show before.
On a side note, I feel like even taken on its own terms the show falls short. This, most likely, is largely due to the compressed nature of an OVA. Plot developments, particularly in the last couple episodes (particularly in the last episode) feel very rushed. It unfolds essentially the same way the original series did, but the original series had the benefit of developing over the course of 36 episodes. In some instances, Macross II fails to show its work, and it weakens the show.
I'm being pretty harsh. I've still watched Macross II quite a few times (particularly back when it used to be on Encore Action all the time, years ago), and I just rewatched it again for the first time in probably at least ten years (the last step in a complete rewatch of the whole Macross franchise, in canon order), prompting me to rewrite this new review. I kind of like the character of Ishtar. Actually, I don't really dislike any of the characters in it, but the best I can say for them is that they're "likable" -- they're not that interesting, they're not that memorable, they're not much of anything, but they're easy to watch.
Ultimately, this show is what it is -- a glaring misstep for the franchise, but one that was promptly righted when Kawamori and Studio Nue returned a couple years later with Macross Plus and began pumping out new material. Macross fans may want to check it out as a historical curiosity. Maybe some will even like it. It's not the worst show in the world, it's just the worst show to carry the Macross name.
|Tenchi The Movie 2 - The Daughter of Darkness||So-so|
|Tokyo ESP (TV)||So-so||I hadn't been interested in this, but I heard it compared to Zankyou no Terror, and frankly I'm not really sure why. That's not to say this is a bad show -- it was better than I'd have expected when I wasn't interested in it, I just struggle to see the connection to Zankyou no Terror, which, fine, there are plenty of good shows that are not similar to that one. I will say, although the show is better than expected, it's still not especially interesting. Our plot here is essentially X-Men, although the tone is admittedly different, so the show has a different feel to it. Even so, if you're looking for originality, you'll want to keep looking. The characters I guess are likable enough but I was never really that interested in their cause. All in all this was a pretty forgettable show. I don't even really want to write about it, but I'm going to leave at least this fragment of a review. I didn't hate it, but I'm probably never going to think about it again after this. Take that as you will, I guess.|
|(The) Troubled Life of Miss Kotoura (TV)||So-so||I'm starting to realize now that all those years ago, I liked Kare Kano so much that it made me think I liked the entire high school romcom genre, which may not necessarily be the case. It's not that Kotoura-san -- or any of the other shows of this genre, for that matter -- are bad per se, but none has ever really caught my attention the way Kare Kano did. You would think if I had a thing for the genre as a whole, I'd be able to appreciate more than one other show in it.
Kotoura-san, of course, is not just a high school romcom. Like so many of the shows in this genre, the main character has always had trouble socially, and only now that she's in high school is she finally starting to learn to connect to other people. The gimmick in this show is the reason for her social problems -- she's a psychic with apparently no internal filter, constantly blurting out secrets of other people she's inadvertently learned from reading their minds, and this has alienated almost everyone she knows, including her own parents. It's only now that she's in high school that she's made friends who don't mind her power and still like her anyway, for their own various reasons. This actually could have been a pretty good hook for a really interesting show, but the series ultimately does very little with it. For the most part, Kotoura's power is basically just the MacGuffin that sets the rest of the story (an otherwise pretty generic high school romcom) in motion. Toward the end there is one very brief plot thread that develops out of her power, and while it's still not amazing, it is probably the strongest part of the show.
Nonetheless, Kotoura-san had just enough redeeming qualities that I couldn't quite stop watching it, although I considered it at multiple points. If you're into this genre, which I apparently am not, you may enjoy it more than I did. I just think most of these shows tend to be a little too juvenile for my taste (sort of related: all the jokes surrounding Kotoura's grandfather being sexually interested in her, while certainly not unprecedented in anime comedy, are nonetheless really fucking creepy and not at all funny). Maybe that's appropriate, since high schoolers are pretty juvenile themselves, but it would be nice for a new show to attempt to address the genre with the same blend of comedy and maturity as Kare Kano did.
|Turn A Gundam: Earth Light (movie 1)||So-so||Unlike the First Gundam movie trilogy, the Turn A Gundam movies are *not* a suitable substitute for the TV series. I had a good enough time watching this movie, but that's only because I had already seen the TV series, so I could mentally fill in the enormous gaps that exist in the story as it's told here. Turn A Gundam was a wonderful TV series, and the movies are fine for someone who's already seen it and just wants a quick refresher. But if you haven't seen the TV series, do NOT watch these movies.|
|Turn A Gundam: Moon Butterfly (movie 2)||So-so||This movie was substantially better than its predecessor, but it still wasn't great. Again, for someone who's seen the TV series, it's fine. You can fill in whatever is missed yourself, because you already know what happens. But if you're watching this in lieu of the TV series, you're going to be totally lost, particularly because a span of the series that ran about ten episodes is totally absent between these two movies. Having already seen the show, I enjoyed this movie just fine, but it is *not* something to be watched by someone who hasn't seen the TV series.|
|When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace (TV)||So-so||I watched the whole thing, but it never held my interest such that I actually paid attention. I have some shows that I actually watch and others that I just put on in the background (and the rest that I stop watching all together for one reason or another). This was solidly in the "background" category, and as such I can't speak about it in much detail. The best I can say about it is that it wasn't so bad that I gave up on it. The worst I can say about it is that it didn't demand my attention. It's probably perfectly adequate, and if the premise sounds like something you'd be into, maybe you should give it a shot. It just didn't grab me. It happens.|
|(The) World Is Still Beautiful (TV)||So-so||The basic setting of this, in the "Sun Kingdom" on some unknown world, reminded me of Trigun or Now and Then, Here and There (two shows that admittedly aren't especially similar except for their settings) and I guess that was enough to get me to check it out. What I found is a show that is nothing like either of those and not nearly on the same level quality-wise, either.
Don't get me wrong, this show's not terrible. I just never cared that much about the characters. We've got Livius, the tyrannical child king who actually just needs someone to understand him; Nike, just the princess for that role; and I don't know, a bunch of other people who come and go as the story requires.
There isn't a whole lot of a story, which might be fine if the characters were more engaging, but alas, they aren't. The lynchpin of the story is the interaction and relationship between Livius and Nike. Since they aren't especially interesting people, it's not an especially interesting show. After I enjoyed the first episode of this, my interest rapidly began to wane. I got through the whole thing, but at what cost??? Not horrible, but I'm glad it's over and my compulsive completionism won't force me to keep watching.
|Ai Tenchi Muyo! (TV)||Decent||Tenchi was one of the first shows I watched (or maybe more accurately, Tenchi Muyo in Love was one of the first movies I watched) after I started getting into anime, and although I haven't revisited it much in the past fifteen or so years, I still have a little bit of a soft spot for it, so obviously I checked this out. Unfortunately, I think that the format really hurt it. In addition to the actual recap episodes, there is a lot of repetition in each episode to remind you where the last one left off. Of course, most anime -- and in fact, most TV shows with serial storylines in general -- do this, but the problem here is that these episodes are only five minutes each, so there isn't much time to waste. If you work out the total runtime of the show, it's about 12 episodes at 25 minutes each, but then a full two of those episodes are devoted to recaps, and then the remaining ten can be cut down further by some amount of time by cutting out all the repetition. In the end there isn't nearly as much meat on the bone as you might have thought at first. Not only that, but because the repetitiveness hinders the story, you also never really get to know the new characters, so you have little investment in what story there is.
That being said, it's still reasonably entertaining, as far as it goes, but this is a very poor format for telling a serial story. I'd have much rather seen a real TV show here.
|Arpeggio of Blue Steel - Ars Nova (TV)||Decent||Something about this show's premise had a sort of 90s throwback feel to me -- maybe that's just because there's a major gap in my 2000s anime viewing owing to a general loss of interest after about 2003 or so until a bit of a revival in the past year or two, so maybe shows like this have actually never gone out of vogue. That was, whether appropriately or not, the initial appeal to me, that it felt like a bit of a throwback. Aesthetically you would never mistake it for a 90s show, with all of its shiny computer animation and all, but if you simply told me the premise -- a mysterious and overwhelmingly powerful naval force of sentient ships has blockaded the world's oceans to cut off intercontinental contact -- I'd say that sounds like a show that would have been right at home paired up next to Blue Sub 6 on Toonami or something. Where am I going with this? I don't even really know.
Arpeggio's basic premise is original enough, and the storyline has just enough to keep you interested for its short length. I have to say, though, that the cast is serviceable at best, which is a major blow. After Gunzou and Iona, I literally can't name another crewmember on the sub off the top of my head, although I could still name some (not all) of the other members of their Blue Steel fleet. Gunzou and Iona themselves aren't especially interesting, their names stick only because, as the main characters, they get a ton of screen time. You can see what they're going for with Iona, who is meant to be learning what it is to be human, or something, but it feels more than a bit like they're mailing it in. Maybe this would all be excusable if the action scenes were top notch, but they're ultimately pretty forgettable, although they're entertaining enough in the moment (that is to say, I was never bored during the episode, but now, a few days after watching the last episode, I have a hard time recalling in any detail how any battle in the show went down, except I could probably still tell you in broad strokes what happens in the final showdown of the last episode).
I don't want to sound overly harsh. I still had fun watching the show, after all. The door is left, if not wide open, then certainly at least ajar for a sequel, which I would probably watch, for whatever that's worth. Unless that sequel materializes though I think it's very likely that I won't really think about this show again.
|Beyond the Boundary (TV)||Decent||I'm not sure what enticed me to check this show out in the first place, and in the end I have to admit it never fully connected with me, but that being said, I still had some fun with it. The story is not entirely unfamiliar if you've ever watched anime before -- outwardly regular people living in modern day Japan, except some of them have magic powers that allow them to see and interact with usually docile but occasionally dangerous supernatural creatures, etc. The show isn't going to sink or swim on the strength of its story, so the real question is its cast. Our main characters are Kanbara, a basically likable high school kid notable for being half human/half usually invisible supernatural creature (occasionally his youmu half takes over when his human half is sufficiently weakened -- it is unclear if he in turn vanishes from the view of any non-magically-awakened regular humans who happen to be present). The new kid on the block, his soon to be love interest, Kuriyama, is a little bit annoying early on, although as her story is told and her personality develops, she softens and becomes more likable. The other characters? I'm already having a tough time remembering their names, and in only a couple cases can I really even remember any notable discerning characteristics. They're just sort of there because a story needs more than two people in it if it takes place in a high school in a modern city, and they do what the story needs, and the story moves forward because of it. That's...pretty much it.
I still liked this show enough, don't get me wrong. But like I said at the outset, it never quite connected with me. Much of this season feels like stuff that didn't really waste my time, but that is not going to stay with me going forward either. Kyoukai no Kanata is no exception.
|Bleach (TV)||Decent||I've got kind of a soft spot for fun shounen action that doesn't try to get too excessively intellectual. It still took some convincing for me to check out Bleach, but after a friend had kept pressing me on it for months, one summer when I was between jobs and hopelessly bored anyway, I finally took the plunge and caught up (at that time, about 165 episodes or so) over the course of a couple weeks. The show's not high art or anything, but when you've got nothing but time on your hands, it can be surprisingly addictive. That said, it suffers from a number of glaring drawbacks that probably keep it from ever entering the pantheon of great shounen sagas.
First of all, there's just not much fresh or new here. Actually, it's worse than that even -- it's not just that it's not very fresh, it's that many elements of the story appear to have been lifted directly from Yu Yu Hakusho. I hesitate to go into too much detail here for fear of spoiling either show, but any viewer who's seen both will know exactly what I'm talking about. Some of these elements are merely ancillary anyway, but others are pretty central to the story and characters. It's disappointing, given how entertaining the show can be anyway, that it couldn't show a little more originality.
I've got some major issues with the ending as well. Here I can't really help but discuss some spoilers, so I'm going to just dive right in. Kubo had written himself right into a perfect ending for the show during the Aizen story arc, and somehow he was either totally oblivious to this or just didn't care. It would have been a very predictable ending, but in this case I don't think that's a bad thing -- there's predictability born from a lack of imagination, and there's "predictability" that results from a perfectly structured story plodding inexorably toward the right ending, and in my opinion this would have been the latter. How the story should have ended is with Ichigo finally overcoming his inner struggle and combining his Shinigami and Hollow powers into one complete entity, which would give him the power to defeat Aizen and then bam, end of the show. Kubo instead decides to go with this mystifying "final Getsuga Tenshou" nonsense that leaves the Hollow thread totally unresolved. Even this wasn't beyond salvaging, though -- the final Getsuga would strip Ichigo of his Shinigami powers, providing some sense of closure (awkward and clunky though it may be) to the story. Instead of going that route, Kubo instead launches immediately into some lackluster story arc all about Ichigo getting his powers back. Not only does this ruin that closure, but it also pushes the story into a completely new direction, after every individual story arc (anime-only filler arcs excepted) thus far had actually tied into the overall narrative about Aizen. For all its faults, Bleach still had a fairly elegantly constructed plot -- apparently just by accident, given how Kubo handled basically everything toward the end. Granted, there's meant to be one more story arc in the manga, so maybe Kubo will ultimately redeem himself (not holding my breath, and since I don't read manga I'm not likely to find out anyway), but that doesn't change anything about the anime.
These are the biggest complaints, but there are myriad smaller ones. Kubo's clumsiness with the story was evident in smaller bits far earlier on. For example, the Shinigami plan to transport the real Karakuracho to Soul Society and replace it with an exact replica in the real world to prevent Aizen from acquiring the King's Key is too silly, in a way I've never quite been able to express in words but which has bugged me from the very moment it was introduced. In contrast to what still appeared to be the elegantly-constructed plot I mentioned above, this feels like an incredibly inelegant solution to the problem of "how do I have an urban battle in this show?"
Like most shounen shows, Bleach also has to put up with its share of filler arcs. Most of these are passable, but let's be honest, nobody wants to be right in the middle of a major battle in the real storyline and then have the next episode preview tell you that we're going to be taking a break for a year. Luckily now that the show is over, anyone who wants to plow through can skip these filler arcs -- and if, at the end, they're hungry for more Bleach, maybe just watch the filler arcs on their own. They aren't terrible, they're far better than the filler at the end of Rurouni Kenshin, for example, but they're distracting.
I don't want to sound overly harsh on the show, though. I did rate it "decent" and I did sit through all 366 episodes of it over the course of several years, so clearly something was working there. Overall the characters are fairly likable, and that's a big help. Nobody is written terribly deeply, and their motivations tend to cover well-worn shounen territory of "protecting friends" and so on, but they're likable enough not to turn you off and they're written well enough to push the story along, and in a show like this, that's all you really need. As in most shows, the overly serious bunch (Hitsugaya, Byakuya, etc) tend to be the weak links, the jovial/boisterous ones (Urahara) are the best, and everyone else kind of falls on a spectrum in between.
Of course, this is a shounen action show, so what's the most important part? The action sequences are generally well done and entertaining, with all the epic battles and cliffhangers you'd expect. The characters' individual abilities are imaginative and generally unique (with some exceptions, eg Rukia and Hitsugaya both being ice-types). In this respect it can sometimes feel like there are too many characters in the show, as there are some who you barely even get to see use their abilities. It's sort of a Catch-22, I suppose, because we're never going to want to watch someone other than Ichigo for very long, yet at the same time it would have been nice to see more of the various other Zanpakutos. I'm still disappointed, for example, that we've never even seen Urahara's Bankai.
Overall, a decent show and worth a watch for any shounen fan who's looking to get into something for the long haul. As there's supposed to be a final arc in the manga, I hold out some hope that it'll provide a better ending to the story than we currently have and maybe get animated eventually as well. For now, we have what we have, a deeply flawed but still usually pretty entertaining show.
|Bleach the Movie: Memories of Nobody||Decent||Not bad, but pretty much what you'd expect from a shounen series spin-off movie. Obviously these kinds of shows are not too heavy on plot, but they give you just enough of a story to keep you interested and then they draw the whole thing out with long fights and constant escalation (which drives some people crazy, but I think it's an endearing element of the shounen genre). Obviously this formula, perfectly suited for story arcs spanning dozens of episodes, is not ideal for a 90 minute movie. The already-thin characterization of the TV series is virtually absent for all of the movie-specific characters, with only Senna receiving any real hint of development and the villains basically just having their scheme narrated to us by other good guys who have figured it out. All the same, it's not an awful movie by any stretch. Like I said, it's basically what you'd expect from a movie spun off from a long-running shounen show. Come in knowing what you're going to see and don't expect Studio Ghibli work or something and you'll have a pretty good time with it. It's not on the same level as any of the real story arcs, not even as good as the filler arcs, but there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half. Pretty fun movie.|
|Bleach: Memories in the Rain (OAV)||Decent|
|Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion (movie)||Decent||An entertaining, albeit not outstanding movie. Pretty much the same stuff I said about the first Bleach movie apply here too. Just pretty standard shounen fare, not much time to truly develop any fresh characters with the same kind of depth the regular cast already has, but they handle the villain here decently enough in limited screen time. They also do a pretty good job getting everyone into the movie in some capacity or another, although the non-Shinigami characters mostly receive little more than cameo appearances and Hinamori is absent too. Still, a fun enough movie and worth checking out for Bleach fans. Like the first Bleach movie, this isn't really groundbreaking stuff here, but it's a decent enough way to spend an hour and a half. My one big complaint was that the character models looked pretty off at times. That's pretty common and expected in some episodes of a long-running TV show, but you'd expect a little bit higher quality for a movie. The animation itself is generally pretty solid, but the characters themselves, especially Ichigo, don't always look so great. I consider this flaw relatively minor (though I know it bugs some people a lot more than it does me), but it is still an issue.|
|Bleach: The Sealed Sword Frenzy (OAV)||Decent|
|Captain Earth (TV)||Decent||I was skeptical of this show, but thanks to Gundam and Macross I'm pretty much willing to at least try most mecha-in-space type shows. Captain Earth never really rises above the sum of its parts, but it is for the most part a surprisingly competently built show, although it suffers -- particularly in the middle -- from a formulaic monster of the week structure. Nonetheless, the protagonists are a likable enough bunch, the show's got decent production values, and the story does enough not to lose you along the way. It didn't make a huge impression on me, which is why I'm not going to write very much at all about it, but it was entertaining enough.|
|Chaika - The Coffin Princess (TV)||Decent||The main reason I watched this is that the ANN first/second/etc episode review described it as clearly competently made, which meant it probably had some potential. I guess this isn't completely unfair, but in only a couple episodes you can only attempt to assess whether potential might exist -- you have no idea whether it'll be fulfilled.
Hitsugi no Chaika isn't a bad show, not at all. It's just not especially interesting either. It was probably accurate when ANN described it as competently crafted, but it's more accurate to say it was competently phoned in. Nothing about the story is particularly fresh or new -- it's essentially a journey story with two siblings accompanying/protecting a young girl who is being sought by the government. Which is to say, it's basically Scrapped Princess and god knows how many other shows. It's entertaining enough in the moment, but it's ultimately not very interesting. Aside from Chaika, I don't remember any of the characters' names. Not the siblings who are the main character, not the dragoon that they meet, not any of the villains, not even the magic emperor whose remains Chaika wants to collect. The show may have been crafted by competent hands, but they weren't at the top of their game. There are plenty of worse shows out there, but this one is utterly forgettable.
|Chronicles of the Going Home Club (TV)||Decent||I haven't got a ton to say about this show, so I'll keep it brief. It's a slice of life/gag show centered on a first year high school student who eschews more traditional clubs like the tennis club and jokes that she intends to join the Going Home Club, only to find that such a club actually exists (although why it's called that is not entirely clear to me -- the club has no obvious purpose, but go home they do not). The slice of life aspect of the show is going to live or die on the strength of its characters, while for the gag part the crucial component is, of course, the jokes.
In both respects, the show starts off a bit rocky but does improve as it goes on. Perhaps the main problem on both points, though, is our main character, Natsuki. The three second year members of the club are all zany in their own ways, the other first year is an oddball herself, and Natsuki is essentially the straight man (girl) against all their antics. The problem that arises is that Natsuki's shtick is to cry foul -- usually quite loudly -- at anything unusual. This has two negative effects: first, it just makes Natsuki a little bit annoying, and second, it basically serves to shine a harsh spotlight on every gag and joke. It's not unlike the use of laugh tracks in older (and still some current) American sitcoms -- it's almost as if the writers don't expect you to have "gotten" the joke, no matter how obvious it might have been, and so they flag it for you with this. When one of the other girls does something absurd, that is the gag, and if it's funny (in this show, it often is), it will succeed on its own merits. We don't need Natsuki to point out the joke by screaming that it doesn't make sense.
By about the halfway point though I was coming around on this show, and I'm not sure if that's because the writers actually toned Natsuki down a bit or if I just got used to it and tuned her out or what. To some degree it's certainly because the rest of the cast actually is quite likable (and I mean, I shouldn't be too harsh toward Natsuki, as she can be likable herself when she isn't freaking out over every little thing). The club president, Sakura, is, in my opinion, the strongest character. She's silly but rarely completely over the top (unlike, say, Botan, whose thing is apparently to travel the world wrestling bears), which helps to keep the show somewhat grounded, and thus makes the most surreal and absurd gags more effective. She's definitely goofy in her own ways, she in no way doubles as another straight man alongside Natsuki, but this just adds to her charm. The other two second years (the aforementioned Botan and the incalculably wealthy Claire) are frequently funny themselves, and other first year Karin, who is a little bit boring through most of the show, nonetheless has moments in her own right and at least serves as a focal point for the second years' gags the rest of the time.
So in the end a show that I got off to a rocky start with ended up turning itself around. This is a fun, although probably ultimately forgettable (we'll see if I still remember it a month from now) show that's won't waste your time if you take a shot on it.
|Code Geass: Nunnally in Wonderland (OAV)||Decent||There's really very little to say about this -- a one off OVA episode in which the cast of Code Geass adapts the story of Alice in Wonderland, with Nunnally in the starring role. It's kind of entertaining and it's nice to get reacquainted with the characters from the show, but it has nothing to do with the original series, its storylines, etc, so it's basically just a superfluous bit of fun. Worth checking out if you're a Code Geass fan, but now that I've seen it once I suspect that I won't ever watch it again.|
|Coppelion (TV)||Decent||I've got a soft spot for post-apocalyptic, and although the apocalypse has only hit Tokyo in Coppelion, that's enough for me to check it out. The story here feels a little like a not-so-subtle take on the environmental disaster that has unfolded over the past few years in Fukushima, but I understand that the manga actually predates the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami by about three years, which I suppose makes it more prescient than obvious. Following a major nuclear accident in Tokyo Bay that has left the city uninhabitable, genetically engineered teenagers are sent into the ruins of the city to search for survivors, where they run into their share of obstacles. It's a decent enough premise to launch a story from.
Our three main characters are all pretty likable, but aside from our main main character, Naruse, the other two are a little flat, particularly Taeko. Naruse, as the leader of the three, is clearly also the lead on the show. She fits one of the pretty standard molds for an anime character -- warm, friendly, just wants to save lives, etc. She's certainly nothing new or innovative, but she carries the show well enough. Aoi is the insecure crybaby of the bunch, but of course as the show goes on she gradually finds her footing and grows up. Taeko, on the other hand, feels like she's just kind of there. She doesn't take charge like Naruse and she doesn't really have to grow up or otherwise change as a person like Aoi. I don't hate her or anything, she's likable as a person (all three are), she just doesn't particularly elevate the show (she doesn't really hurt it either, though). The supporting cast is fine, made up of various people the girls help, plus some of their Coppelion allies (Haruto is a pretty all right character) and various villains (spoiler alert: some of the obstacles they encounter in the irradiated husk of Tokyo are evil people doing evil things!).
I think the show's big missed opportunity is that, given the nature of the Coppelion as, essentially, a genetically-engineered tool to fix a problem man wrought on itself, it could have done more with questions of humanity, whether we're net positive and worth saving, etc, than it actually did. Some of the Coppelion pose the question, but none of them ever really attempt to answer it. I guess this might count as an actual spoiler but it must be said, virtually all of the villains on the show are defeated not by managing to kill them but by eventually persuading them to stop being villains -- but it frequently feels too easy, like maybe if these kinds of questions were actually addressed and answers proposed you could buy the change of heart, but as it is it feels like the series isn't really showing its work.
Nonetheless, it does at least acknowledge that those questions are out there, which can provoke the viewer to reflect on them, even if the show ducks answering them. One question it does fail to ever pose is where technological progress might prove more trouble than it's worth, particularly in the context of energy (the background of the show is a major nuclear disaster, and you would think with Fukushima occurring a few years into the manga/a couple years before the anime began, there might be some rumination over the role of nuclear power in society, but there's not much of that). Even so, it's an entertaining watch anyway. It doesn't rewrite the post-apocalyptic genre or anything, but it's enjoyable. The manga, I believe, is still ongoing, so although the anime works pretty well as a self-contained story, I suspect there are more adventures to be had in old Tokyo, and I liked this well enough that I'd probably check out a sequel in the future.
|Cowboy Bebop (TV)||Decent||*Severely* overrated. I'll grant that the whole atmosphere of the show is pretty cool. But that's all it really has going for it. Except for in a handful of episodes scattered throughout the series, there really isn't much of a story to speak of. The characters are all right, but I can think of plenty of better casts. The show benefits from good animation and great music, and like I said, a really cool atmosphere. It's worth watching through once, but it's definitely not deserving of all the praise it gets.|
|CROSS ANGE Rondo of Angel and Dragon (TV)||Decent||I started with this purely for the scifi/robot/fantasy angle and expected not to like it very much, as overly fanservicey things just don't really do it for me (call me old fashioned, but I like my women to be real, not cartoons, and also I find blatant objectification a little bit offputting anyway). That being said, while the fanservice was often a distraction, it never ruined what turned out to be a surprisingly fun and entertaining, if not necessarily groundbreaking, show. Ange is a solid lead anchoring a cast that you can work with, the action scenes are entertaining enough, and although the story doesn't really do anything new, it doesn't really do anything badly either. I can't blame you if the show's overpowering male gaze puts you off of it, but unlike most shows that share that same flaw, there's a little bit more to recommend this one.|
|Danganronpa The Animation (TV)||Decent||I think I sort of misunderstood what this show was going to be. I came in expecting more of a standard murder mystery angle, that there would probably be one murder that the rest of the show would be about solving -- an anime Twin Peaks, set in a Japanese high school. Anyone familiar with the game (obviously I was not) knows that's not what Danganronpa is. So I can't say that I got out of this show what I was hoping to get when I started watching it.
The premise here is less anime Twin Peaks, more anime Saw (well I must confess that all I know about the Saw series, I learned from commercials, so if this comparison isn't really apt, I'm sorry). A bunch of students, chosen for their various unique abilities/characteristics (except our hero, Naegi, who just lucked out) show up for their first day at their new, very prestigious high school -- only to learn that in fact they're imprisoned within its walls and will not be allowed to leave unless they can murder one of their classmates and get away with it. So in the early episodes there's a fairly high body count, with a classroom trial to determine the culprit. The latter half of the show shifts gears a bit as the survivors try to crack the mystery of the school and figure out who is the mastermind behind the entire scheme.
So you can see that this is not quite Murder on the Orient Express, although if you're looking for a murder mystery you get a little bit of one in most of the early episodes. Nonetheless, on balance I had a pretty good time with the show. The cast is very silly, but for the most part it works. I compared the premise to Saw above, but it's only the premise that's similar, not the genre. This is not a gruesome horror gore-porn, it's a goofy mystery that tries to import a sort of videogame style (as it is, after all, based on a videogame) into the anime medium, and it mostly succeeds in doing so. In the early going, because this was not what I had been going for when I started watching the show, I was a little cool to it, but it was entertaining enough to ultimately keep my attention anyway. There's more games out there, so there's more story to tell if they want to -- if there's a sequel I'll probably check it out.
|Dragon Ball GT: A Hero's Legacy (special)||Decent||Taking place a century into the future, the DBGT TV special catches us up on the non-adventures of Goku Jr, the great-great-great-grandchild of Son Goku. It's a little sad to see Pan, the last of the original characters, so old and in such bad shape. Unlike the heroes of years past, Goku Jr. lacks confidence and isn't terribly strong, so it's kind of fun to see the difference between Goku's descendant (who looks just like him) and Goku himself. This special turns out to be a nice addition to the Dragon Ball story, and much better than the DBGT TV series. Worth seeing for DB/Z/GT fans.|
|Dragon Ball Super: Broly (movie)||Decent||Well into my 30s, I somehow remain a sucker for this thoroughly children's show, so I was a little bummed when they ended Super and was glad to have another movie come out to keep it going (and given that this movie has pulled in more than $100M as of my writing this, I'm sure there will be more yet to come). Super is a little bit weird in that, at least to me, in some ways it kind of feels less like a real continuation of the show and more like a victory lap, like you see long-running, beloved shows pull in truncated final seasons. Of course, Super wasn't a truncated final season, it came twenty years after the end of GT and ran for over a hundred episodes, but it still kinda had that feeling for me. Part of it, I think, is all the fan service -- not in the T&A sense here (hey, it's a kid's show, after all), but in a more "playing the hits" sense. We get new story arcs with Freeza, with Future Trunks, a prominent turn with Number 17, etc. So maybe it shouldn't come as any big surprise that the third Super movie dips into the Broli well.
Yet at the same time that Super manages to work old characters back into the story, it also simultaneously continues a trend that was established fairly early in Z, where the story gradually came to be focused more and more on the Saiyajin characters, while the others got sort of left behind. Super carries this even further, having even discarded most of the Saiyajin characters in favor of focusing specifically on Goku and Vegeta. And this movie doesn't even bother to include any human characters at all (except for Bulma). They're not the only ones left out -- Gohan doesn't make a single appearance, and Goten, Trunks, and Piccolo get little more than brief cameos. I realize that Dragon Ball has a fairly sprawling cast, especially as Goku keeps managing to make new friends of his old enemies, but most of the Z movies still did a decent job of spreading the facetime around a bit. It's a little bit disappointing that, in a feature length runtime (unlike the old Z movies), they can't manage to include anybody except the two leads.
That, of course, takes for granted that feature length runtime would give you enough time to get everybody into the movie, which is another issue. This movie has really weird pacing. It begins with an extended flashback that takes up fully a quarter of the movie. The flashback simultaneously covers a lot of ground we've already covered before (the destruction of Planet Vegeta by Freeza) and yet also manages to step on existing canon's toes a bit (for instance, Bardock is portrayed as just kind of putting the pieces together enough to feel suspicious about Freeza's motives, where previous canon had him actually seeing the future, an ability he was cursed with by a race whose planet he helped take; Goku also looks closer to Gohan's age at the beginning of Z -- that is, around 4, although we're also told he can't talk yet, so maybe he isn't meant to be that old, even though that's how old he definitely looks -- when in previous canon he had been an infant when he was sent to Earth).
The pacing issues aren't really resolved once we return to the present day. Although the battle with Broli gets plenty of screentime, it feels weirdly rushed. It begins with Vegeta vs. Broli, but then Goku taps in without even a reaction shot of Vegeta, much less the protest we've come to expect. Vegeta eventually jumps back in to make it a 2v1, which is out of character for both Vegeta and Goku and typically doesn't happen in other fights until the stakes are more dire than they appear in this one. I'm well aware that all of this kind of sounds like nitpicking -- "Goku and Vegeta are supposed to protest a little bit more before they team up!" -- but it really does feel a little bit off as you're watching the movie. And it's not just that. The fight just feels, in general, like it escalates more rapidly than is typical for the franchise, like they wanted to do more than they really had time for. Like I said, it feels rushed.
The animation is mostly gorgeous, which is great -- but at times, the 3D CG effects overpower the rest of the image and become very intrusive. This only happens a handful of times, and doesn't last for very long, so it's not a huge issue, but it is noticeable and unfortunate. I also think that, as nice as the animation looks, it actually gets too quick at times. I have not historically had trouble following what was happening in Dragon Ball fights, but there were moments in this movie where everything was happening too fast to really tell who was hitting whom or what was going on. This only happened a couple times, so also not a very big deal, but worth pointing out. With a show like this, fast, fluid animation is a must, but don't go so overboard that it's hard to see what's even happening.
That said, it's still an entertaining movie. The fights are fun, even if rushed. The animation is beautiful, even if with those above caveats. I'm a fan of the reworking of Broli's character. In his original appearances in the three Z movies, he's basically a psychotic maniac. I guess for an hour long movie where runtime is at a premium and you have to choose between developing your characters or showing a good fight, you can cut a few corners and just make your villain a psychopath, but this movie does a great job of giving Broli a bit of depth and making him a much better character. Z Broli just had some kind of weird grudge against Goku for having cried as a baby, while Super Broli is a pure soul and the victim of abuse at the hands of a father who seemed to more or less mean well but still fell far short in the most fundamental ways that a father can. As a result, the Broli of the Z movies wore out his welcome pretty quickly, but I wouldn't mind revisiting this Broli (and good thing, since the movie seems to be setting him up to return in some capacity in the future).
|Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound (movie 9)||Decent||One of the top three DBZ movies. Since it features a martial arts tournament, every character (except Muten Roshi, who by this point has pretty much hung it up and no longer practices martial arts) gets some screen time, and even Trunks appears despite not really fitting in here according to the TV series timeline. This movie came out during the brief period when the plan was still to shift Gohan into the main character role, so he's the real star of the movie, and that's a nice change of pace from always having Goku save the day. This is one of the strongest DBZ movies, but it's still a DBZ movie, so if you aren't already a DBZ fan, don't bother with this.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn (movie 12)||Decent||As far as DBZ movies go, this one's actually pretty good. Pretty much every character who played any importance during the later parts of the DBZ TV series gets some face time, and there's some nice comic relief. The whole "bringing back old enemies" angle isn't really new to DBZ, but it was still executed well enough here. DBZ fans will probably enjoy this, non-fans probably won't care. It's one of the top few DBZ movies though, so it might be worth checking out.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon (movie 13)||Decent||This might be the best of the DBZ movies. It tries to offer some sort of answer as to the origins of Trunks' sword (even if it actually creates a huge plothole), it has a fairly interesting story (as interesting as DBZ movies get, anyhow), just about everyone gets some screen time, and it introduces probably the best of the movie-only characters, Tapion. Make no mistake, this is still just a DBZ movie; but within that context, when judged only against other DBZ movies, it's excellent. As usual, it's worth looking at for DBZ fans, and probably is a waste of time for those who aren't fans.|
|E's Otherwise (TV)||Decent||The first few episodes seemed like an X-Men knockoff, but it eventually starts to kind of get away from that. I don't think there was anything outstanding here, but it was a solid enough show to hold my attention for the full 26 episodes. It was a completely average show in terms of characters, plot, and pretty much every other respect, but it wasn't terrible.|
|(The) Eccentric Family (TV)||Decent||I hoped I'd really like this show, but for some reason it didn't really click with me through most of its run. Over the last four or five episodes, as a story starts to come together and it builds to its climax, it began to hook me, but it was a little too late at that point. There's nothing wrong with the show, per se, and I couldn't fault somebody who enjoyed it a lot more than I did, but it just didn't have that certain something that really drew me in. Until those final few episodes, most of the show felt like a bit of a chore, like I was just getting through it for the sake of doing it.
That being said, I did finish it, for a couple reasons. First, I really enjoy the art style (particularly the backgrounds -- the character designs, not as much, although they certainly have their own flare). Making a show aesthetically interesting can carry it a long way (I had a similar experience with Flowers of Evil, which also failed to really click with me on a personal level but was at least interesting to look at). The other thing that kept me coming back to this show was its surprisingly rich portrayal of Kyoto. Where the show itself lacked that intangible quality to draw me in fully, its Kyoto had that other intangible quality that really makes a place feel real. Plenty of shows take place in "Tokyo" -- or even in "Kyoto" -- and you wouldn't really know it but for the characters telling you. I've been to Kyoto, and it's a great place, and somehow this show has the distinct ability to convey a certain "Kyoto-ness." It's more than simply throwing in images of a few famous locations or name-dropping a few streets or neighborhoods, although the show does that too. This extremely fictitious version of Kyoto nonetheless manages to feel real, to evoke the real place, in its essential elements. If you want to hold my interest in something, a solid strategy is to engage my nostalgia for places I particularly liked visiting -- Japan (and Kyoto) being an especially good candidate.
This show is probably strong on its own merits, given how well liked it is in general -- it didn't grab me, but I'm just one person. Still, even I didn't feel as though I'd wasted my time with it. Between its attractive visual style and its wonderfully evocative setting, it's still worth a watch in any case.
|Eureka Seven (TV)||Decent||I don't know quite what to make of this show. On the one hand, over the past several years, I've really lost interest in anime in general. In large part that's because I eventually came to realize that the vast majority of new anime is really pretentious and overstylized but lacking in any real depth, and that most anime (new and old) relies heavily on a handful of cliches and plot devices that repeat themselves endlessly in show after show after show. And as I was watching Eureka 7, it was easy to see all of these complaints at work in this show as well. Like many anime shows, especially ones that tell epic stories dealing with the fate of the world, Eureka 7 tries way too hard to be deep and meaningful, and for the most part it falls flat. The thing is, I could say that about countless other shows, and there's an important distinction to make between those and this: for some reason I still felt compelled to finish this show. Even as I was witnessing all the very things that make me hate most anime now, I kept watching. I didn't love it, but I liked it, at least enough to put in my time and watch all fifty episodes. I guess that's got to say something. And so although this show has everything I hate about anime -- it's pretentious, overstylized, too serious, and full of cliches -- and although its ending reached and very nearly attained G Gundam-levels of cheesiness (except that in G Gundam it was charming and here it was just kind of weird), I still somehow had a good time with the show. Take that as you will.|
|Eyeshield 21: The Phantom Golden Bowl (movie)||Decent||As a big fan of football, I was more than willing to give this show a shot, and it wasn't terrible. It's just a 30 minute film based on a much longer manga, so we don't have much time for backstory or character development. The movie basically assumes you're already familiar with the characters and everything. I'm not, really, except for a few episodes of the TV series, but that wasn't really an obstacle to watching the movie. It was fairly entertaining, although the whole thing is pretty compressed to fit the whole story into such a short timeframe. The view of football is relatively simplistic, but that could be simply because there's so little time to show much of the game. Fans of the sport might want to watch it. If you hate football, though, you might want to pass.|
|Flowers of Evil (TV)||Decent||I think I should have liked this show more than I did. It's definitely well done in many ways, but it never fully hooked me. I didn't dislike watching it, but neither was I ever hotly anticipating each new episode, and on a few occasions I fell a few weeks behind on it. What I like: the art style is different and really interesting, and the treatment of the situation, the characters, etc is refreshing. In the past few years it seems like anime in general has started to become a little more grownup in its treatment of more mature topics -- it's sort of a cliche for anime characters to completely freak out over something as minor as a kiss on the cheek, which seems unrealistic to me (granted, Japanese and Western cultures aren't precisely in alignment on these issues, but you're telling me that where teenagers in America and Europe are having sex with each other, in Japan they're embarrassed to the point of speechlessness over a little peck? Please). The entire premise here revolves around sexual desire, and the show treats it with a refreshing frankness, particularly given the age of the characters.
That's not to say the treatment itself is entirely positive. It's fine that Kasuga is embarrassed about stealing Saeki's gym uniform. Frankly he probably should be, it's definitely weird. But in a broader sense, Nakamura tries to convince him that he's a pervert, and Kasuga in turn retreats and insists that his love for Saeki is "pure" -- free of any sexual component. Whatever you think of teenagers having sex, total sex-shaming is not healthy. Moreover, I'm no psychologist, but I could pretty easily buy an argument that such attitudes are what lead to behavior like Kasuga's (stealing the gym clothes) in the first place -- if you feel there's something wrong with you for experiencing sexual desire, maybe you'll try to find outlets for those feelings in other places, eg by using the most personal belongings of the object of your desire rather than approaching her directly. It's sometimes easy to draw a line between what a "show" (or the storyteller, or whatever) is advocating vs. what the actual characters do (eg a show is not necessarily racist if it features a racist character, provided that character's racism isn't portrayed positively), but there isn't really a counterweight to Nakamura's sex-shaming here, except to the extent that Nakamura herself is a force for misery in Kasuga's life. Nonetheless, Kasuga tries to reach out to her, rather than being driven away. The closest we get to any sort of notion that maybe Kasuga's "perversion" isn't so disgusting is in Nakamura's insistence that the entire world is perverts and shitheads, but that most certainly isn't meant in any sort of "well, we're all a little screwed up, aren't we?" acceptance; rather, she rejects the world and seems to hate everybody. So the show's message is muddled at best; at worst it's genuinely sex-negative and retrogressive.
That's not the entire reason it didn't hook me, though. On a simpler level, I just never really connected with these characters. Kasuga is our protagonist, but he's hard to sympathize with. I can go with him as far as I remember what high school was like, I remember the sexual frustration, I remember the general confusion, and so on, but Kasuga is one of those characters who just keeps doing things that you want to scream at him not to do. At virtually every step of the way he does pretty much the opposite of what I would do if I were in his shoes. That's not necessarily to say that my way would have been any more right than his, but it does make him a frustratingly alienating character, which in turn makes it difficult to get invested in him. I mean, setting aside for a moment that stealing the gym clothes in the first place is weird, let's say you do it anyway. Then the whole story turns on apparently failing to recognize that Nakamura is already a social pariah and nobody cares what she says. In real life I steal Saeki's gym uniform and Nakamura rats me out, my response: she's making it up. This for whatever reason never even occurred to Kasuga. It's her word against his with no proof on either side, and while Kasuga may be a little weird, he's at least got buddies and a social circle. Nakamura's an outcast and nobody's going to take her side or care what she says. Boom, I just condensed this 13 episode (probably more, the door's open for another season) TV series into a 30 minute OVA that comprises the first episode plus five minutes at school the next day, and my story is more realistic (although far less satisfying for story-telling purposes, I suppose I must concede).
All that said, Aku no Hana is still a decent show worth watching. The show ends on an open note, and I think the manga is still ongoing, so I suspect there'll be a second season, and I'll probably still watch it. There's a lot of interesting material here, it just hasn't fully clicked with me. I'm willing to continue to give it that chance if the story continues.
|From the New World (TV)||Decent||The premise of this show sounded interesting, so I thought I'd give it a shot, but I had a hard time connecting with it in the early going. I sort of diligently kept watching even as I was often too bored to really pay much attention, and so frequently was only vaguely aware of what was going on. Because of this, I don't have that much to say about it. But I will say that my interest level really bumped up in the last part of the show (since I typically keep these spoiler-free, I won't say why), so much so that there's an outside chance I may even revisit it sometime in the future, with the hope that the strength of the ending will be sufficient to keep me more interested in the early part of the show too. I usually like to explain my views in greater detail, but for this show, I really can't -- it just boils down to, I was pretty bored early on and pretty into it late. If you think the premise sounds interesting, maybe give it a shot. You may like it right off the bat far more than I did, in which case, good for you. Even if you don't, maybe you'll be satisfied by the payoff at the end if you stick it out (or you can always just stop watching, that is an option, albeit one that I take advantage of far too infrequently).|
|Galilei Donna (TV)||Decent||I already said this about Arpeggio of Blue Steel as well, but this show from the same season also has a distinct 90s throwback feeling for me, actually even moreso than Arpeggio did. Mainly I think that something about this show reminds me specifically of Nadia (uhh, but don't hold me to that, I don't remember the last time I actually saw that show and there is a better than zero possibility that I'm misremembering it and thinking of a different show entirely). The idea here is that a trio of sisters, descendants of Galileo Galilei, are being chased by an evil corporation controlling (and artificially restricting) the world's energy supply for its own ends. Why are they being chased? Because, of course, they alone hold the key to Galileo's greatest -- and, unfortunately, lost -- invention, the Tesoro ("treasure" in Italian and, perhaps only coincidentally, the name of a large petroleum refining company in the real world). And so they go globe trotting (mostly just Europe trotting, although with some excursions elsewhere) to track down the secrets of the Tesoro for themselves. I feel like I heard this story twenty years ago.
I'm not complaining. The throwback feel is what drew me to the show in the first place. It's the sort of goofy premise that, if well-executed, could turn into something really special. Unfortunately that doesn't happen here. Galilei Donna is fun enough, don't get me wrong, but it never really transcends its goofy premise. The main problem is that the characters are mostly not that interesting and the plot, while serviceable in its own right, is too straight forward and by the numbers to make up for the cast issues. The main character is the youngest sister, who is apparently a brilliant inventor/mechanic/something like her ancestor Galileo before her. She's your standard cute young anime girl with the high voice and pure as driven snow personality. She's likable, she's just not interesting. Her older sisters (particularly the middle child) hold more potential, but it is ultimately unrealized as they get less screen time and for the most part don't end up doing much in the time they do have. And maybe I can be forgiven for not really remembering their names since they're all three very similar, but on the other hand, what does it tell you that I can't really remember their names?
Nonetheless, Galilei Donna does at least have that goofy premise going for it, and even if it isn't a worldbeater, it's strong enough to carry the show for eleven episodes. It's nothing special, but it's still a good time.
|Gatchaman Crowds (TV)||Decent||This was a show that I just put on in the background and didn't pay much attention to. I think I might regret that, though, so it may be one for me to revisit in the not too distant future. Mainly, from what I did see I really liked main character Hajime. Her energy and carefree attitude make her immediately likable and her manner of speaking is really endearing. It's basically this alone that makes me feel like I should have given the show a better chance than I did -- nothing else that I saw particularly grabbed me, although nothing particularly put me off, either. I'm going to give it a very tentative rating for now, and maybe in a few months I'll give it a more serious watch, perhaps before the second season gets underway.|
|Gingitsune (TV)||Decent||The main reason I checked this show out is that the ties to Japanese mythology and supernatural whatever, set in a shrine with the girl who lives there as the main character, bore obvious resemblances to Red Data Girl, a show that I had unexpectedly really enjoyed. Beyond that very basic connect, however, the similarities promptly end. Gingitsune is essentially a slice of life show -- albeit a slice of a life that doesn't quite exist for anybody in the real world (unless Japanese mythology was real all along). That's not necessarily a bad thing, I rather enjoy a good slice of life show, but it's obviously not quite what I was looking for when I decided to watch this show (that's probably my fault, of course -- it's not like any great care was taken to conceal from me what genre the show belonged to). Ultimately I think Gingitsune falls a little flat in any case, though. Certainly it isn't a [i]bad[/i] show by any stretch, but neither does it ever quite connect in a way that will remain with you after the show is over (or at least, it didn't connect with me that way). The characters are mostly likable enough (Haru can get a bit annoying) but there isn't a lot of substance to them. Main character Makoto grapples a bit with her future, what she wants to be when she grows up, etc, but this is a well worn theme of fiction in general and nothing particularly interesting is done with it here. There's an intriguing angle to be explored between the heralds, who live for hundreds of years, and the very few humans who can see and interact with them who will live much shorter lives, but this is only addressed a few times and it never feels like the characters really engage it on any deep level. It seems like a missed opportunity.
That being said, Gingitsune is still a competently-crafted slice of life show with a hook that may be of interest, particularly if you're into Japanese mythology (disclaimer: I don't actually know how much of the show is based on actual mythology and how much was made up by the manga author). I liked the show and don't regret watching it, I just don't imagine that I'll ever feel compelled to revisit it either.
|GLASSLIP (TV)||Decent||When I started watching this show, I actually had no idea about the supernatural hook in the story. I like slice of life stuff so I thought I was getting a slice of life show about a girl at a glassworks. While I didn't by any means dislike this show, it ultimately didn't hold my interest nearly as much as I had hoped it would. I'm not sure if that's because of the unexpected supernatural thing, although I kind of doubt it, since I don't shy away from supernatural shows just on that basis. Sometimes, something about a show just doesn't quite work. I can't even say what that something was here. The cast seemed likable enough as I was watching, but then were ultimately a fairly forgettable bunch -- so forgettable that I struggle to think of much to say at all here. That's as close as I can get to articulating what didn't work for me. To be honest, though, this feels a little bit like a show that might click with me on a rewatch, so I will probably let it marinate for a while and maybe give it another shot a couple years down the line. For now, I'm a little disappointed.|
|Gunbuster 2: Diebuster (OAV)||Decent|
|Gundam Reconguista in G (TV)||Decent||It's 2019 as I write this and I finally finished watching Reconguista. Twenty years ago I'd have been aghast at the thought that Tomino could return to Gundam and it would take me more than four years to get around to finishing the show. I'd been watching it as it aired, to start with -- but I ended up falling off, not seeing it through to the end. That wasn't really an intentional decision so much as something that just kind of happened, but it's easy to read a lot just into the mere fact that I let it happen. And then I became aware that it was getting thrashed by other fans, and it became pretty easy to file it away as something I would get to at some point, but when? Who cares?
So now I've finally finished it, and the verdict is, surprisingly, that it's not bad. The headline on this show seems to be that the plot doesn't make any sense -- even Tomino himself has apologized for it. But I think that's overstating the problem. For the most part, I didn't find the plot all that difficult to follow. I think some of the show's rep for nonsense might be attributable to the fact that it's generally more chaotic than other Gundam shows, but I think there's a strict distinction between chaos and nonsense. Most Gundam shows depict a straightforward conflict between, typically, two pretty clear-cut sides. There are some occasional exceptions to that characterization -- the arrival of Axis turns the end of Zeta Gundam into a three-way battle, for instance, and likewise the emergence of Orb/the Clyne Faction in the SEED shows -- but even then, the appearance of the third faction in these shows doesn't really shake up the dynamics of the central conflict all that much. Meanwhile, even a show like G Gundam, which is ostensibly a free-for-all between every country on the planet, ultimately collapses into Shuffle Alliance and friends vs. Devil Gundam crew. So I do get how Reconguista might come across as "confusing," given that it is, more or less, a genuine free-for-all between at least six different factions, who form and break alliances with each other frequently as circumstances warrant. But if you can keep the factions, and their individual goals, straight in your head as you're watching the show, it's not all that challenging to follow the action. (I would also point out, as an aside, that the poor review the show received on account of its supposedly nonsensical plot on this very website includes a number of factual errors that may, on the one hand, be very fairly described as nitpicking, but on the other, indicate that the reviewer may not have been paying especially close attention to what she was watching -- examples include the claim that the word "Newtype" is never used in the show except in an episode title, and the suggestion that the "Mask" character doesn't have a real name.)
I think a lot of seeming weirdness (and chaos) can be legitimately ascribed to the premise, and makes sense in that context. The sudden truces (ANN's review notes a scene in which all the combatants ride an elevator together, for example) make a lot of sense in the context of a society that is bound together primarily by religion and the shadow of humanity's destructive history. The various "taboos" exist for a reason (a reason that long-time Gundam watchers are all too aware of, having seen, in the UC, how we got to this point, and in Turn A Gundam, how it will all eventually shake out), and although leadership on each side is keen to discard them in pursuit of greater objectives, the same can't be said for the rank and file. Moreover, the structure of human society, in which the space pope receives, and then passes on, the energy that all of Earth relies on, grants powerful leverage to him (whether you believe in the taboos or not) and to those he receives the energy from. So none of that stuff -- the truces, the deference to the "taboos" and the religious places, etc -- seemed especially out of place in the show. I also think the general chaos works well in light of the fact that the Earthlings are kind of feeling this whole space warfare thing out as they go -- they're making use of forbidden technology that they aren't familiar with, going to places they had previously been forbidden or otherwise unable to visit, fighting against countries they have just learned exist, etc. I don't expect this to proceed as cleanly as a fight between the Earth Federation and the rebellious space colony du jour.
Now, that's not to say the plotting is perfect. A hallmark of Tomino's shows is characters taking actions that are not literally inexplicable -- the show will offer some kind of explanation for them -- but that nonetheless don't really track for you, the viewer who is familiar with the behavior of human beings. One of the key turning points in the show that sets the future development of the story in motion, Bellri choosing to go with Aida and fight with the Megafauna against his ostensible comrades from the Capital Territory, is a great example. But Reconguista isn't unique in these kinds of bizarre events, nor does it, in my estimation, have more (or more egregious) examples of it than other Tomino shows. This is just kind of what you're signing up for when you watch Tomino. To me it's one of those things that helps to put Tomino's unique stamp on a show, it's something that I probably wouldn't excuse for anybody else but that I actually, on some level, enjoy in Tomino's work. That doesn't excuse it if it doesn't mesh with your standards for good storytelling, but I wouldn't single out Reconguista against the rest of Tomino's oeuvre on this.
The story also becomes notably more chaotic as the show winds down. That's funny since, in acknowledging the story's supposed shortcomings himself, Tomino claimed that they tightened it up around episode 19, but that it was just too little too late at that point. I'd say, on the other hand, that the last few episodes are where the different factions and their shifting alliances become hardest to keep track of, and where it becomes less clear whether they are all still set on the same goals they had earlier on (I'm especially not sure what the Capital Army was aiming for anymore by the end, aside from Mask's quest to defeat Bellri). The ending itself is very abrupt -- Bellri convinces one foe to stop fighting, fights another to more or less a stalemate, and then everybody just kind of stops fighting. I think the entire show could have benefited from more time to flesh out the characters, the factions, their motivations, their goals, etc (not to mention the fact that Ameria is fighting an intercontinental war against a whole other country that is never seen, but only acknowledged in dialogue -- where exactly is "Gondwan"/Europe in all this?), but the ending in particular feels very compressed. This is where I think the complaints about the show not making any sense, while still overblown, start to have a little bit more validity. And on a totally separate plot-related note, I still have no idea what makes the G-Self so much more special than the Arcane. Maybe there was a line of dialogue that I missed that explained this. Or maybe there wasn't. Who knows.
There's not much criticism to level toward the rest of the show. It's visually gorgeous, as ANN's own review noted. The Universal Century is all well and good, but I'm much more interested in the worlds Tomino imagines that are less recognizable as our own, as here or in Turn A Gundam. The world of Reconguista is fascinating, and one of my great regrets about the show is that we don't get enough time to see it all. This show, much like the original Gundam series, is ultimately, basically, a long road trip punctuated by robot fights. Yet we end up seeing relatively little of this lushly imagined world, probably due to the low episode count (half as long as a typical Gundam TV series). I'm also a big fan of the expressive character designs and the unique mecha. I love the G-Self in particular, with its vaguely bug-eyed face and a design that is simple and attractive, not overdone with bulky flourishes (so many latter day Gundam series think you make a Gundam look cooler by slapping more superfluous junk on it -- give me a G-Self or an Exia over a Freedom or a Wing Zero any day).
Overall, this was a surprisingly decent series that fell far short of what it could have been with a longer running time and more development, but that I'm not sure deserves the poor rep it has developed. Tomino seems to start to lose the thread toward the end, perhaps in a rush to wrap everything up in a shorter-than-usual run time for a Gundam TV series, but prior to that the show is marked by an unusually messy, but by no means nonsensical, story. I haven't walked away from this one feeling, as others have, that it's time for Tomino to hang it up, but I do hope that if he makes another Gundam series, it'll be with a full ~50 episode count again.
|Gundam: Mission to the Rise (special)||Decent||A three minute short that supposes that faster than light travel was developed during the One Year War. Just a quick battle sequence as Zeon forces attack the Fed installation where the research was taking place. Entertaining enough I guess, but how much can you really say about a three minute video?|
|Gunsmith Cats (OAV)||Decent||I suppose this show managed to do what it wanted to do pretty well, and for a girls with guns anime, it came out pretty well. It's not outstanding, by any stretch, but it's a pretty entertaining OVA. The story's kind of cool, in part because it's not completely unrealistic. There's nothing particularly special about the characters, but they weren't terrible. What I liked most about this show was the attention that went into capturing its setting, Chicago. Plenty of anime claim to take place outside Japan, but aside from maybe showing off a famous landmark here or there, the animators pretty much wing it. The staff here did a good job realistically portraying the city of Chicago, including details like accurate skyline shots. It was a pretty impressive effort.|
|Gurren Lagann (TV)||Decent||An entertaining, but sort of overrated show. I think that for two story arcs, it probably should have been longer than 27 episodes. The first arc is almost over as soon as it begins -- the leap from Simon and Kamina getting to the surface at the beginning to raising an army and overthrowing the existing world order in the span of 15 episodes is a little tough to swallow. I wasn't trying to apply excessive logic to it, but it was hard to overlook.
The second arc jumps ahead a few years, and somehow it doesn't take too long for the whole world to hate Simon and equate him with their former oppressor. Uh....what? And then Simon saves them again and he's just as quickly back in their good graces. The show just kind of gives us this stuff and expects us to just take it on its face. We're probably supposed to, but I just can't. I want to. But I can't.
Stylistically, the show is just rife with anime cliches. This is probably intentional. It's a Gainax show and I tend to give Gainax the benefit of the doubt here -- Gainax doesn't usually churn out the same old crap that everyone else does, and if they're infusing it with the cliches, it's probably intentional. I kept trying to tell myself this, but ultimately it didn't really matter. It was a little annoying, regardless what Gainax's intentions may have been.
But let's not go too far here. I did find the show pretty entertaining, at least enough so to plow through the whole thing, and I'll probably go ahead and watch the movies too. It's plenty entertaining, even in spite of its drawbacks. I can't really put it in the pantheon of great Gainax shows -- FLCL, Kare Kano, Gunbuster -- but as I've said time and time again, Gainax's worst work is still better than most of what's out there. The show has a certain visual flare, as Gainax shows tend to, and a fairly original and interesting plot. The characters aren't so memorable that they're going to stick with me long after I've finished the show, but they were entertaining and engaging enough to push the show along instead of weighing it down. And although I feel that the show would have done well to build its story over a longer period and not appear to make wild and illogical jumps, the story as it's presented is fairly well-paced and escalates well. I do think there's a bit of a disconnect between the amount of praise the show receives and its actual level of quality, but you could do a lot worse than Gurren Lagann. Still a pretty entertaining, worthwhile show.
|Hozuki's Coolheadedness (TV)||Decent||I don't have a lot to say about this show. It's decent entertainment but never connected with me on any particularly deep level -- but I don't think it was trying to in the first place. This is just a comedy with no overarching plot, relying largely on gags based on Japanese pop culture and traditional mythology. It can be funny, and presumably there are jokes that flew over my head that would have made it funnier. It can also be educational, both in the show itself when they explain elements of Japanese mythology you might not be familiar with, and also when they introduce things that you feel compelled to read about on your own later. So it's got that going for it.
The cast is mostly pretty likable, starting with main character Hozuki, Enma's no-nonsense deputy. Western emissaries like Satan, Beelzebub, etc make occasional appearances. Enma himself is presented as a soft, portly, friendly guy who really needs a straight shooter like Hozuki to keep him on task. Various other characters from Japanese(/Chinese) mythology pop up throughout, some in relatively big supporting roles, like Momotarou and Hakutaku. It's an interesting melange.
Overall, not a bad show, but it sort of depends on what you're looking for in a show (I guess that goes for all shows, really). This is a show that's more about gags than anything else -- episodes have self-contained plots (sometimes more than one), but there's not a lot of overarching story or on-going character development, which is typically what I'm more interested in. Nonetheless, it's a fun show and you might learn something, if you want to.
|Lupin III: Episode 0 'First Contact' (special)||Decent|
|Macross Dynamite 7 (OAV)||Decent||Not as good as the TV series or movie, but still not too bad. Elma was, surprisingly, not an annoying character. I do have to say that while Fire Bomber's original songs weren't particularly good, they were at least better than the ones we heard in this OVA, so it would have been nice for Basara to perform a few of the "classics" instead of all the new songs. His little impromptu jam session about whales was kind of amusing, though. All in all, not a terrible show, but it's not exactly required viewing either. Fans of Macross 7 might like to catch up with the characters a year on, but most other people probably won't find this to be anything too special.|
|Macross Frontier: Itsuwari no Utahime (movie)||Decent||Generally speaking, I like the Macross movie style from Do You Remember Love and now found here as well, where the story is completely retooled rather than trying to cram the entire TV series story into a compilation movie. The First Gundam trilogy is pretty much the only compilation that has managed to do that successfully, aside from some OVA compilations that have much less material to account for; there's just too much happening in a long TV show and things are inevitably left out, to the movie's loss. Distilling the show down into a few key points and reworking the story from the ground up around those points is generally a far better way to put together a coherent, entertaining two hour movie out of something that originally ran 26 episodes. The fact that you end up with something fresh rather than a true compilation also makes the movie more watchable than a strict rehash.
That said, Itsuwari no Utahime, while a decent, entertaining movie, is significantly weaker than the Macross Frontier TV series, which I adore. The main flaw is in the story itself, which is not nearly as tightly scripted as the TV series was. Lots of things seem to be happening for little or no reason, and there are definitely hints that we're supposed to just take things that happened in the TV show and assume they apply here too, even though it's a different story. For instance, near the end of the movie it's suggested that Klan has the same romantic feelings for Michel that she did in the TV show -- but this is never addressed at all before that point and actually Klan is barely in the movie at all. The main plot also misses a pretty crucial piece of information, but I'm hesitant to go into too much detail because I generally try not to spoil anything in my reviews. Essentially there's a lot of distrust between the Galaxy and Frontier fleets, which would be fine if only there were some reason for it. The root of this distrust is never explained or even vaguely alluded to, and since there was no similar subplot in the TV series, you can't even turn to that for clarification. Things like this give the movie a general air of sloppiness that the TV show's story just didn't have.
On a more subjective note, I just prefer the way the TV show's story unfolded over the various changes that were made in the movie. Sloppiness aside, it's otherwise hard to say that this version or that was objectively "better" or "worse," and maybe I like the TV show's version more just because I saw it first and already loved it, or maybe it's just the ill effects of the sloppiness bleeding over into other aspects of the story, or maybe I just would rather see a story closer to the TV show's than the movie's, or maybe it's some combination of these and/or other factors. I don't know and frankly it doesn't really matter -- the fact remains that I just like the TV series storyline better than the new story in the movie.
Otherwise, the movie is as visually stunning as you'd expect, especially given the high quality of the TV show. I don't think anything has benefited as much from the advent of 1080p than anime (and animation in general, I suppose); the more sharply defined edges and more uniform coloring of a drawn image compared to live action leave you with a really crisp and vibrant picture. 1080p live action may look great in its own right, but there's just nothing that compares to high def animation. While that's a blanket statement that applies to animation in general, this movie in particular looks really gorgeous. The battles are just as fast paced but just as fluid and perfectly rendered as in the TV show. I did find them somewhat less exciting than in the show, but I don't really ascribe that to any problem with the animation, I think it's more that I just felt less invested because of the weaker story.
Most (but not all) of the songs from the TV show reappear here, plus a handful of new ones. I'm not really a huge fan of J-Pop in general, but I have always thought that the songs of the various Macross shows tend to work very well within the context of the show, and the new songs here are no exception. I suspect the handful of no-shows will probably make an appearance (most likely alongside a bunch more new songs) in the next movie.
Not much else to say. A beautiful and entertaining movie that's hindered by a weaker story than the show that spawned it, but certainly worth a viewing all the same. I have some other story issues I haven't touched on yet, particularly with the ending, but given that another movie is on the way and the story isn't actually supposed to be closed yet, I don't know that it's fair to hold that against the movie. I'm looking forward to the next one to see how they ultimately wrap everything up.
|Macross Frontier: Sayonara no Tsubasa (movie)||Decent||Pretty much everything I said about Itsuwari no Utahime applies here too, so I'll be brief. The story here doesn't improve a whole lot over what we got in the first movie. It's still kind of sloppy and it's very blunt. I suspect some of this is due to the fact that a two hour movie (or in this case, even a pair of two hour movies) just doesn't really have the liberty to unfold at a nice, easy pace like a longer television series. Nonetheless, it is still problematic. A lot of stuff in this movie just kind of happens and even if there is ostensibly motivation behind it, it's not always the most believable or realistic explanation. Some of the story issues seem pretty clearly due to some reliance on what happened in the TV show, even though the story here is basically new. For instance, Ranka's song Aimo, which is a key point in the TV series, is sort of suggested to be a big deal in these two movies, but ultimately it just ends up being sort of a minor plot point and it doesn't play any special role (actually, if memory serves, it doesn't play any role at all) in the resolution of the story. Problems like this aren't the only ones the movie has to grapple with. For instance, the "big reveal" (that's my way of pointing out that this might be considered a spoiler, albeit not a bad enough one for me to observe my usual policy of just dancing vaguely around spoilers) that Alto and Sheryl met before, the suggestion that Sheryl may have sparked Alto's interest in flying and the much more obvious point that Alto inspired Sheryl to become a pop superstar, is some next level Star Warsy bullshit. It pretty much adds nothing to the story, and it feels so ridiculously contrived that it's actually basically a liability, it takes something away from the movie. Suffice it to say, I don't love the story in these movies.
There are other somewhat baffling stylistic choices in the movie too. For instance, the reveal that the captain is a surfer is fine -- the part where he makes the Macross Quarter literally surf on a sheet of metal through the sky is a bit much. It's not funny, it's not cool, it's just really over the top, and not in the fan boy geek out way that the TV series finale was over the top. It just makes the movie really hard to take seriously even on its own terms. You have a moment where you're sitting there asking yourself if you're really watching this. "Is this really how I'm spending my hangover Saturday, watching a gigantic space battleship sky-surf?" And it goes on and on. I probably sound like I'm nitpicking this point but it really bugged me.
The movie's not all bad though. In sum it's still entertaining, not something I see myself rewatching more than maybe once or twice and probably not until the passage of several years has more or less demolished any distinct memories of it, but I had enough fun with it anyway. As much as I loved Macross Frontier, it's nice to reunite with the characters for a little while, even if it is a weaker effort than the TV series was. Plus it's gorgeous to look at, just pure eye candy from start to finish, and even if that's not the most important thing, it certainly doesn't hurt. Macross fans will probably want to give this a look, everyone else could probably take it or leave it.
|Majestic Prince (TV)||Decent||It's funny, I wouldn't really characterize myself as a science fiction fan, since I've never been particularly into eg Star Trek, and other scifi stuff that I do enjoy (for instance Alien) is for reasons apart from the fact that it takes place in space. On the other hand, I do have a major soft spot for both Gundam and Macross, which makes me more open to science fiction in anime than I typically am in Western media. So I checked out Majestic Prince mainly on the basis of the premise, and I wasn't too disappointed.
I do think the show walks a fairly fine line and I'm pleased that it manages not to fall off the tightrope. The premise itself is fine, but the core cast is so close to going over the edge, and yet somehow they don't. In the abstract I think I should find most of these characters pretty annoying, but in practice I liked them. Izuru's drive to become a hero is silly, but it's played up just enough to keep him enjoyable rather than irritating. Asagi and, in particular, Tamaki should have both been a lot more annoying than they were, but they got precisely the right amount of screen time to maintain their roles within the story without overdosing the viewer. If those two might be considered overbearing, Kei and Suruga have the opposite problem, and if they were given too much more attention without developing stronger personalities they might have been boring to watch. Instead you get them in just the right increments. I'm not sure the cast here is large enough to really describe it as an "ensemble," but to whatever extent it is, the writers have done a good job of balancing everybody's exposure so you get just enough to maximize whatever it is each one brings to the table, but not too much. As a result, what could have been a disastrously irritating show ends up being actually pretty entertaining.
|Megazone 23 (OAV)||Decent|
|Megazone 23 Part II (OAV)||Decent|
|Megazone 23 Part III (OAV)||Decent|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (TV)||Decent||This was basically what I expected out of a new Gundam series -- lots of eye candy, a bunch of emotionless pilots, superpowered machines, a silly plot, etc. If I'm going to be fair, I've got to acknowledge that it does gradually improve as it goes on. Some early episodes are downright silly -- for instance, the completely self-contained episode in which Celestial Being identifies, locates, and totally destroys a terrorist network. The very premise of Celestial Being seems kind of insulting at the outset -- these guys just show up, without necessarily needing any particular understanding of the conflict they're trying to defray, use brute force to calm everyone down, and it's supposed to stick? Celestial Being's plan is revealed to be more complex as the series wears on, so this wouldn't be such a huge problem, except even on this level, it actually works from time to time, like in the episode where it's revealed that after hundreds of years of fighting in Northern Ireland, the IRA has decided to sue for peace as a result of Celestial Being's interventions. Really? Japan is certainly no stranger to foreign interventions (and, uh, brutal conquest) and is a notoriously racist and xenophobic country, albeit masked by extreme politeness. It's really hard not to see some element of a Japanese cultural superiority complex here, even though the members of Celestial Being have very diverse national/cultural backgrounds. Though you may tell us that Setsuna is from the Middle East or Lockon is Irish, you're still building a story on the premise that some enlightened group of people can exist totally outside of human conflict and have the ability to show the rest of the world a better way. There are almost shades of the old White Man's Burden here, albeit adapted by non-white Japanese to a very particular context (that is, a Gundam show). I certainly don't think any of this was intentional, but on the other hand it's really more telling that it slipped in accidentally.
Then you've got the same problems with the main characters that you had in Wing -- three gruff, joyless cardboard cutouts and the obligatory laid back, fun guy (the whiny Quatre-type is missing, at least). I'll give 00 credit for one thing, though, which is that each of these guys begins to develop a third dimension far, far sooner than happens in Wing. They're not a great lot in this season, but they become tolerable.
Visually, the show is pretty stunning as the first Gundam to be produced in HD. I actually went back and rewatched an episode of SEED after watching 00 and couldn't believe how blurry everything looked. Animation is really the perfect medium to see the difference between SD and HD, with more uniform colors and sharper, starker boundaries between objects than in live-action. If Gundam 00 is nothing else, it's at least beautiful. It does continue the Wing and SEED tradition of bishounen pilots, which is getting a little bit tiresome, but the character designs aren't terrible. The mecha designs are actually a pretty pleasant surprise. Exia in particular is a sort of back to basics design without a whole bunch of unnecessary clutter, and a nice sharp, angular look to it. Nadleeh is a little bit silly with its "hair" but not nearly as bad as you'd expect just from hearing that. Overall a far better bunch of mecha designs than I would have expected out of a latter day alternate universe Gundam series.
One thing I do really appreciate is the attention paid to developing the general world of the show. I'm not really sure how many viewers are aware that the space colonies of the original Gundam (and, by extension, the rest of the UC universe) are based on real world science and were conceived by a Princeton University physicist back in the 70s (maybe this is actually common knowledge, I'm just pretty out of the loop on the anime-watching community so I don't know). Their depiction is not perfect, but they are a real thing. Most of the AUs stray from the realism of the UC colonies (except when they also use the UC's Island Three design). Gundam 00 presents a nice update thirty years after First Gundam. Gigantic space colonies aren't really in vogue anymore, but space elevators and renewable energy both are. Like the original Gundam, Gundam 00 takes a big element of "realistic sci-fi" and makes it the centerpiece of a more or less believable world. None of the other AUs can claim to have given this much thought to the world in which the shows take place -- even Tomino's own Turn A Gundam rests entirely on the supposition that people living on the moon for thousands of years would be physically indistinguishable from people on Earth and could return on a whim (a notion dispelled by Planetes' much more accurate depiction of a "Lunarian"). Something like this definitely isn't critical to enjoyment of a show (after all, I hold Turn A in very high esteem), but it helps. It's cool when the show's technobabble isn't really all technobabble, but has at least some grounding in reality. "GN particles" and all that may be every bit as much nonsense as Minovsky physics, but space colonies and orbital elevators are something we very realistically might see in the coming centuries.
All in all, a not-great-but-better-than-expected entry in the Gundam canon. The first eight or ten episodes in particular are a bit of a grind, as the story is silly and the characters aren't very interesting. About the time the Trinitys are introduced, it starts to pick up a bit of steam, and although the ridiculously superpowered Gundams (arguably even more extreme than in Wing or SEED) make it hard to ever take the show super seriously, it does have its pretty entertaining moments, particularly in the last five or so episodes.
|Mobile Suit Gundam 00 the Movie: A Wakening of the Trailblazer||Decent||I'm not entirely sure what to make of this movie. I had a lot of trouble getting into it early on; I felt the TV series ended on an upswing so it was nice to catch up with some familiar characters again, but the movie started off pretty haphazard. The plot is pretty silly, the pacing wasn't really great, it was feeling a lot like they dropped the ball pretty big. And then it kind of started to improve for a while. The story never fully stopped being silly, but in the middle part of the movie it was at least pretty exciting and entertaining for a while. Then you get to the end, and after a big climactic fight the actual end might be one of the most abrupt endings you'll ever see. There's a little extra resolution post-credits, but only some. It's still a head scratcher, to be sure -- not so much because it's confusing what happened (it's not) as because it's confusing why they decided to just suddenly end it right where they did.
On top of that, the story definitely feels like a bumbling attempt to rip off Macross Frontier. The enemy here shares a lot in common with the Vajra of that show, the means of confronting them is very similar, and the ultimate resolution is pretty much exactly the same. As you're watching this movie you just can't help but feel like you've seen this exact story already done better elsewhere. The enemy itself strays surprisingly from the semi-hard scifi that you generally expect out of Gundam. Granted, "GN particles" and all that stuff is pure BS, but at least there is clearly defined and internally consistent "science" within the realm of the show -- as with the UC's Minovsky physics, you essentially feel like all of this could actually happen in the real world if you just assume the existence of GN particles and all that they entail. The ELS are quite a bit more fanciful, much like the Vajra were (but Macross has never tried nearly as hard to be "hard" scifi in the first place, ascribing downright magical powers to music and whatnot), and seem kind of out of place in the Gundan canon (albeit probably no more out of place than G Gundam, but that show despite carrying the Gundam name never aspired to be realistic in any way, unlike Gundam 00). It's not a huge problem, it kind of bugged me early on and I got over it as the movie went on, but it's still a departure from the general feel and atmosphere and philosophy of most Gundam, including the 00 TV series.
One other thing: I think the show's whole idea that war is caused by failing to understand each other is extremely naive, though. Marina has this idea that if people just "understood" one another, they wouldn't fight, and the way the show and then movie play out seems to prove her right, but that seems pretty silly to me. I'd say on the contrary, wars happen because people understand each other, at least well enough to realize that their mutually incompatible goals won't be resolved without violence. The crucial difference in my mind between Innovation and Newtype theory is that, while Newtypes do make strong connections individually (Amuro and Lalah, Kamille and Four, etc), Newtype theory as a whole is never borne out to prevent war through mutual understanding -- exactly the opposite, actually, as Newtypes become just another tool of war for decades after they first emerged. Innovators on the other hand appear to actually use their power to understand each other to end humanity's history of warfare, and the idea that people only fight each other because they don't "understand" one another seems way too simplistic. What exactly is there to understand? In the case here it's essentially that humanity and the ELS both just want to survive -- well fine, but a) that's obvious and doesn't require magical powers to understand and b) it's just a happy coincidence that these goals aren't mutually exclusive with each other. The movie's plea for peace is just too simplistic and unrealistic.
Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the movie on the whole. I will probably watch it again sometime when I'm feeling bored. It's not wonderful by any means, and it is a bit of a letdown after the surprisingly strong second season of the TV show, but despite its faults it's still fairly entertaining.
|Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative (movie)||Decent||Gundam Narrative is a pretty decent, entertaining, but not earth-shattering movie. I think, as far as Gundam goes, it has one of the more interesting stories, as, rather than being about whichever new faction or Zeon remnant declaring war on Earth for reasons, it dives into a heretofore unexplored -- and intriguing -- implication of the Newtype phenomenon that we have seen in other shows, which is that people (or, at the very least, Newtypes) seem to continue to exist in some form after death. Frankly it's kind of surprising that it took so long for somebody in-universe to decide to explore this (although one could ask how they necessarily found out about it -- did Amuro and Char ever really talk about Lalah's ghost to anyone but each other? We know Camille didn't tell anybody anything after Scirocco fried his brain), but it's a neat hook that feels fresher than your typical Gundam story (it is also nice to have a Newtype whose powers weren't awakened by piloting a mobile suit).
But the movie suffers because the main villain is entirely underdeveloped. This being Gundam, they apparently felt obliged to imperil the entire world so that our heroes could save the day, but the way they reach this crisis feels forced and underexplained, and Zoltan's (horrible name, incidentally) destructive impulse doesn't really hang together. As far as I can tell, he's just meant to be mentally unstable in the first place, as a result of his being apparently a failed experiment to capture Char's soul in a living person (Full Frontal having been a successful attempt at the same), and he fully snaps when he learns about the politician's machinations that would include killing him off. "Insane because of experiments" is well-worn territory in Gundam (in anime in general, really), and feels lazy and insufficient here. Was this really all there was to this guy? Did I miss something? In a longer story, maybe they could have fleshed him out more and made him more convincing. In this movie, he falls flat.
This is also a somewhat more minor quibble, but there are several scenes in the movie that flash back to prior stories, and they simply reuse the existing animation. This movie is by no means the only offender, this is common practice throughout the anime industry and the Zeta Gundam movie trilogy was far worse for this, but it's still a little bit frustrating because the visual look of this movie differs from the earlier animation (even when the animation itself is of high quality), so the transitions are jarring. Moreover, the Zeta trilogy was a compilation, so on some level it makes sense to reuse the old footage, because newly animating it is going to blow up your budget. But in this movie, the flashbacks were brief, and it's hard to imagine they couldn't budget for just redoing them here.
One other thought struck me as I was watching this, but again, this movie is far from the only offender in the Gundam universe. The whole point of mobile suits is supposed to be their mobility, their ability to zip around, evade fire from capital ships, hit their weak points, etc. It's strange, then, when the baddies develop a mobile armor that can wipe out entire mobile suit squads on their own. Sure, there are in-universe explanations -- an I-Field provides impenetrable defense, the pilot is typically a Newtype with preternatural talent, etc -- but it ultimately raises the question, why don't you just equip an I-Field on your capital ships and hand over fire control to these Newtypes? How is a hulking mobile armor so much more effective than a ship, and how are the advantages that mobile suits have against ships somehow neutralized against a mobile armor? Narrative did not invent this trope and is probably not even the most egregious example of it, but it's a thought that nagged at me more during this movie than it usually does.
All that said, I did enjoy the movie. I will probably watch it again sometime. I rated it only "decent" here, which feels perhaps overly harsh, but I couldn't quite get on board with "Good." I might be convinced to reconsider in the future. Gundam fans should watch it.
|Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (OAV)||Decent||I'm not really interested in writing long reviews on here anymore -- I used to try to write something about every show I watched, but I don't care that much anymore, so I'm going to keep this one brief.
It's worth mentioning that, as a Gundam fan, it is really cool to see a lot of this backstory animated, and with very high production values to boot. This is a really pretty show that brings to life details that once existed only in print (and print that hasn't always been all that easy to find in the English-speaking world). So that's great. That being said, that's just about all that this show feels like -- backstory. It has very weird pacing and structure and races through years of story at a rapid pace, aided along by lots of narration. It ends up feeling, at times, like it's just a series of vignettes of important moments in Char's life, rather than one cohesive story. And the fact that it serves as prequel to the entire UC mythology weighs heavily on it. Taking place before everything else, it should be able to stand on its own. Maybe to the uninitiated, it actually does. But as I watch it I feel like I'd get very little out of it if I hadn't seen everything that has come before it. That in and of itself doesn't stop me from enjoying the show, because I have seen everything that has come before it. But it feels too much like somebody excitedly filling me in on exposition, rather than telling an independent story. I've never read the manga, so I don't know if it's written and structured in the same way. Ultimately you're getting a lot of interesting information but it's being presented in a distinctly disinteresting way -- not so much as to fully cancel out the value of the information itself, but I definitely enjoy this show less than I would have expected to.
|My Little Monster (TV)||Decent||I'm sort of a sucker for slice of life, romcom, etc, so I gave this a shot. I don't actually have much to say about it, as it's more or less fairly run of the mill, but not bad. It's your typical high school students awkwardly fumbling with their emotions story. It's not exactly Kare Kano, but it's fun. Say I Love You, from the same season, is a superior treatment of the same sort of material, but that's more drama than comedy, so choose according to your preferences (or hell, watch both). This is not a show that really sticks with you, and so I find myself struggling to even fill out a basic review of it, but it's not a bad show and if you're into this genre, you could do a lot worse.|
|Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water (TV)||Decent||I wanted to like this show a lot more than I did. If you look through a lot of my old reviews, you'll find that I once had a great deal of affection for Gainax. I haven't rewatched many of those shows in the intervening ten or twelve years since I reviewed them, but the love affair has cooled to such an extent that I'm not sure how I would view them now (I did rewatch Kare Kano a couple years ago and still loved it; I watched Gunbuster a couple months ago and still enjoyed it, but would probably not review it as glowingly as before). Nonetheless, I watched this anyway primarily because of the Gainax/Anno connections. I figure that's enough to make something worth viewing, whether or not you actually end up liking it. I had started this years and years and years ago and never finished it, but now it's on blu-ray and that got me.
I had two main problems with the show. First is the plotting and pacing. In the abstract the show actually has a pretty interesting story, but it probably should have been condensed into fewer than 39 episodes. It just drags and meanders a lot. In the early going, I pushed through expecting it to get more interesting. By the early/mid-teen episodes, it was really a slog. It begins to pick up a little bit from there, but only in fits and starts. At one point Jean and Nadia become stranded on an island for far too many episodes. This ultimately leads to both some character and plot development, and that's important, but it also could have been done much more swiftly. The island part of the story is just one example. Basically everything that happens in this show takes far too long and most of it isn't interesting enough to make up for the lazy pace.
The other big problem I had is with the characters, and most specifically with Nadia herself. Anno (well, I'm going to lay it at his feet as the show's director) comes across more than a little bit, if not misogynistic, then at least unable to relate to women. Nadia is ostensibly our main character (not just because the show is named after her, but the plot itself is also centered totally on her), but the show evokes a distinct sympathy for Jean. He's portrayed as a friendly, cheerful, eternally gracious boy. He is practically without fault. Nadia, on the other hand, comes across as abrasive, rude, and inconsiderate much of the time. In some fairness, she often becomes supportive of Jean, as if to make up for her earlier behavior, but she's really kind of a jerk, which puts her in stark contrast to Jean's perfect little angel character. Taken on her own, Nadia might seem like a decently-written teenage girl, unsure of herself and her feelings and so not necessarily internally consistent. Taking the two of them together, though, it feels like Nadia's character was developed by somebody with a bone to pick with women. Maybe that's unfair, but that's how it feels.
The other characters are mostly fine. Marie and King are pretty likable and are a good source of levity. Same for the Grandis gang. Much of the Nautilus crew, aside from Nemo and Electra, just sort of hang around in the background, so there's not much to say about them. Nemo and Electra themselves are fine, although Nemo's a bit of a cliche, the mysterious, cold captain of the ship (on the other hand, this show is 24 years old -- maybe not old enough to have pioneered that character type, but certainly old enough to have influenced many of the later shows that have turned it into a cliche).
I'm being negative because it's easier to pick out what you didn't like than what you did, but overall I still at least liked the show enough not to drop it. The story is interesting, even if it might have been more tightly plotted, and Nadia is not without her redeeming qualities and the rest of the cast is decent. I sort of doubt I'll be watching this again, but I don't regret having come back to it after so many years to finally finish it for a first time, at least.
|Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth (movie)||Decent||A fine companion to the TV show, but the way that it's edited together, I think it would be impossible to follow for anyone who hasn't seen the series yet. But except for a little new footage here and there, it doesn't really offer anything that the TV series didn't, so it's just kind of an unnecessary movie -- there's not much point in seeing it if you've watched the show, but it's probably impossible to understand if you haven't. Still, it's entertaining enough for what it is.|
|Nobunaga The Fool (TV)||Decent||Put Shoji Kawamori's name on something and I'm in. This is a frankly goofy story that views East and West as literally separate worlds, albeit in close proximity. Our cast is made up of a bunch of actual historical figures, and if you know your history then you have a decent idea about what's going to happen between Mitsuhide and Nobunaga by the end of the show.
Nobunaga the Fool is fun on some level but is ultimately a little underwhelming. Maybe I expect too much out of Kawamori basically just on the strength of Macross and Escaflowne (on the other hand, that's a hell of a resume). With its quasi-medieval setting, this show has a bit of an Escaflowne flavor, but only the smallest bit -- it's heavily infused with high-tech and/or magic (as they say, one might not be discernible from the other), so the setting isn't really all that similar, nor are the story beats or characters, except maybe vaguely, in the broadest of strokes. Nobunaga is brash, but also supremely confident -- Escaflowne's Van may be hotheaded, but he's also vulnerable in a way that Nobunaga isn't. This might be one reason the show underwhelms -- not specifically that Nobunaga isn't a carbon copy of Van (that would be no fun, we've already seen Van's story), but that Nobunaga never really feels like he needs to grow or develop. He's already strong and confident -- maybe not strong enough to beat all those who would challenge him, but that's just a matter of physical strength, not of personal growth. He might be a fun character to watch, he might even be easier to buy as a natural leader than Van was, but he's not nearly as interesting. He's the keystone that should hold the show together and he's just a little weak.
The story also starts to plod a bit in the second half. I don't necessarily mean that the pacing slows down or that the plotting loses focus, but the show has just sort of worn out its welcome and becomes gradually less engrossing. I stuck through to the end, but I cared less and less what was happening from week to week. I think if the story could have been cut down and compressed to 12 or 13 episodes, I'd have been more into it. It just goes from intriguing early on to taxing later. That being said, it's still entertaining enough on balance to finish. It's not a bad show, it's just not an especially good one either.
|Nobunagun (TV)||Decent||A goofy show in which an invasion of insectoid aliens can only be fought off by those who possess "e-genes," the special abilities of important historical figures that have been passed down genetically. Main character Sio is an awkward Japanese high schooler without many friends and with a strong interest in military history and technology who awakens as an e-gene holder on a class trip to Taiwan with powers inherited from Oda Nobunaga. She eventually joins the organization fighting off the aliens alongside Jack the Ripper, Gandhi, Galileo, and a bunch of other historical figures.
Aside from the silly but entertaining premise, the thing that stuck out to me most about this show is how anachronistic it feels. Everything about this show seems like it should have come out in the mid-1990s -- the story itself, the production design (even down to the episode title cards, which feel very 90sish), the art style, everything (although the actual production values and animation quality are modern enough). I'm not sure whether this is especially good, but it's certainly not bad. It gives the show a feeling of quasi-nostalgia, like you're watching something you once enjoyed twenty years ago, although obviously you are not.
So for those reasons I had a good time with Nobunagun. It's not an amazing show, not really more than the sum of its parts, but those parts are nonetheless entertaining and fun.
|One Week Friends (TV)||Decent||Pretty straightforward slice of life high school show, with two twists: a) the female lead loses all her memories of all her friends at the end of each week, and b) the male lead actually does not (apparently) hope to get into her pants. We'll take these one at a time.
The memory thing is a little silly, but the show does a decent job of balancing the absurdity of it against the otherwise realness of the story and setting. To its credit, it doesn't just tell you that "hey, she can't remember, who cares why?" There's some back story, some explanation, even an attempt at "we don't really know how the brain works and sometimes amnesia can manifest in weird ways." Which, I guess, is true. I'm not sure the medical literature has any stories of people losing their memories of their friends -- but nobody and nothing else -- like clockwork at the same time each week, but I'll bite, I guess.
The fact that Hase just wants to be friends with Fujimiya is simultaneously refreshing and frustrating. On the one hand, if he were romantically interested in her, this might be a much more run of the mill high school romance (albeit still with the memory thing). On the other hand, it's so hard to buy that a high school boy just randomly wants to be friends with the pretty girl in his class with no other motives. We don't actually know for sure that he doesn't have such motives, I guess -- other characters certainly ask him about it and his awkward flailing is less convincing than an incredulous "of course not!" would have been -- but if he has romantic interest in Fujimiya he tries very hard not to indulge it, although they might have come close toward the end of the show.
It's otherwise a nice, adequate show. The art style is very soft, reminiscent of Usagi Drop, which suits the atmosphere well. The other cast members are likable enough, but they never outshine Hase and Fujimiya. If you're into slice of life stuff, this isn't a bad show to check out.
|Pale Cocoon (OAV)||Decent||Interesting concept, might have been better as a movie instead of a single episode OVA. I checked it out based on a description I'd heard and walked away feeling like the premise was stronger than the final product. I still thought it was fine but I think there was a lot of promise that the format made impossible to deliver.|
|Penguindrum (TV)||Decent||I've got to confess, I've only ever seen the first episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena. It's perpetually on "the list," sometime before I die I will go ahead and watch the whole thing, but so far I haven't gotten around to it. Nonetheless, on reputation alone, I figured I should check out Mawaru Penguindrum. And on reputation alone, I was a little underwhelmed.
Don't get me wrong, I watched a few other shows that season too, and this was probably the best one of them all. I don't know that there was anything in particular wrong with it. It has an inventive premise, a pretty good cast, great visuals, etc etc etc. But it just never quite held me. Very rarely did I finish an episode and really need to know what was going to happen next. For some reason I just never quite cared about this show. I saw it through to the end, and maybe I'll watch it again sometime to see if something clicks on the second run through, but for the first viewing at least, it just didn't quite do it for me. The elements were there, but somehow it failed to be more than the sum of its parts -- maybe it was even a little less than the sum of its parts. To be honest, this hasn't gotten me any more eager to finally sit down and watch Utena either.
|Polar Bear's Café (TV)||Decent||This is a weird show, or maybe more accurately, I had a weird relationship with this show. I never really liked it per se, but I couldn't stop watching it either. Like most anime comedy, it rarely actually made me laugh, yet it has this sort of charm to it that makes it hard to drop. I eventually reached an uneasy truce with it wherein I would dutifully keep up with new episodes, but only by having it on in the background while I did other things. It's a perfect show for that. It's very episodic, there is no overarching plot to keep up with. The characters (a cast largely made up of talking animals who are named after whatever they are -- Polar Bear-san, Panda-kun, Penguin-san, etc) are a likable bunch, but their interaction consists largely of banter that you can come in and out of as you please. It's a wonderful background show. I think if I were more into anime comedy, it could be a wonderful show in general. The eponymous Polar Bear is the strongest character in this regard, with a number of regular gags, some of which are occasionally genuinely funny (my personal favorite: probably his shtick during the next episode previews). I don't really know what else to make of my feelings about this show, but it may be due for a second watch and reconsideration in a few years.|
|RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio (movie)||Decent||I want to keep this one brief. This is sort of a weird movie, not exactly straight compilation (a la most Gundam movies), but also not completely an original retelling (a la most Macross movies). Instead it sits in some weird limbo, a movie made up largely (not entirely) of recycled footage from the TV show, but in many places edited together differently (and/or with dialogue altered) to change some of the major story elements around.
This in and of itself isn't problematic at all. I'm a big fan of the Macross approach that reworks the story into something fresh, which gives you more incentive to watch beyond a mere completionist impulse. I think the main problem is that this movie tries to sort of have it both ways and it hasn't got enough space to breathe. The major strength of the Macross approach is that it acknowledges the impracticality of compressing a story that took 25 or 36 or however many episodes to tell on television into a coherent 90-120 minute movie. Gundam actually pulled the feat off, sort of (is it cheating to use three movies instead of just one?), but it's rare -- most of the Gundam compilations (notably the 0083, and to a slightly -- only slightly -- lesser extent, the Turn A movies) are basically incomprehensible if you haven't already seen the TV show. I get the feeling that's probably the case here, too. While the plot is reworked to some extent, the movie proceeds at breakneck speed and covers a lot of ground very rapidly. Many of the new parts of the story are explicitly described in dialogue or depicted in the animation (new scenes or drastically recut TV footage), but in reflecting on it now, it's hard for me to really tell how much of the rest was genuinely present in the movie itself and how much was filling in the blanks using the TV story. I feel like it was a lot of the latter, which makes for a pretty weak standalone movie.
Despite the story issues, I still had fun with it. I liked the TV show and the movie gives you an extra two hours to reconnect with the characters, with enough new story to keep it interesting. I would definitely not recommend this to someone who hasn't already seen the show, but any RahXephon fan should think about checking it out.
|Read or Die (OAV)||Decent|
|(il) sole penetra le illusioni ~ Day Break Illusion (TV)||Decent||I'm not typically into magical girl stuff and I didn't get around to watching this until I'd already collected a lot of the episodes, so I couldn't tell you now why I had decided to give it a shot. But it turns out to be a relatively entertaining affair. It's pretty easy to see from early on that this is going to be a "dark" show (as dark as magical girl shows get, in any case), but that's fine. Protagonist Akari is likable enough, although she brings nothing new to a table already crowded with cute, earnest, well-meaning girls in this and similar genres. The supporting cast is similarly paint-by-numbers, but well-executed for what they are. I really just don't have much to say about this show. I watched it all, I got a little bit of fun out of it, it ended, and I'm probably going to forget about it now. I will say though, I actually really like the opening theme song and have been listening to it a lot lately. So there's that.|
|Sound! Euphonium (TV)||Decent||This was probably a better show than I can give it credit for. By that I mean, there are basically two tracks of show that I watch -- shows that I'm really invested in, and shows that I throw on in the background and don't necessarily pay much attention to. I have this vaguely formed impression that this show might have deserved to be the former, but it somehow fell into a trap of becoming the latter. I don't know how it happened, maybe just pure happenstance, like something drew my attention away for a while in an early episode and I never allowed myself to get back into it or something. Or maybe nothing in particular happened, but it just failed to connect with me quickly enough for some reason. I don't know. But if you like slice of life shows about kids in school, or if you're into music, or whatever, this is actually probably a pretty good show, or at least for some reason I feel like it is. That's all I can really say about it.|
|Space Battleship Yamato (movie)||Decent||This is just a straight compilation of the TV show, so I don't have much to add above what I already said in my review of that. One of my issues with the TV show was that the pacing was a little bit weird and meandered a lot. I had hoped that the movie might be able to take care of some of this by just cutting out a lot of the BS and speeding things up. Instead it tried to retain as much as it could and pushed the story along with narration to fill in the inevitable gaps that arise when you compress 26 episodes into two and a half hours. It works well enough for what it is, but it not only fails to correct the show's only particularly notable weakness, it's actually even worse for trying to cover all of this stuff that received too much time in the TV show to begin with. Nonetheless, still a decent movie, definitely a solid effort as far as compilation movies go, and it's Yamato so I can't look too harshly upon it in any case.|
|Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage (movie)||Decent||I'm marathoning through the whole Yamato franchise right now, seeing everything for the first time. Overall, I enjoy it a lot, but I do have to admit that the formula is starting to get a little bit tired by the time of this movie. We're now on our third interstellar empire that has come out of nowhere to pose a grave threat that the Yamato crew must confront. I guess there's a slight twist this time -- the threat is to Gamilas and Iscandar, rather than to Earth itself -- but this isn't groundbreaking stuff.
I have to wonder if the repetitive stories went down a little easier for Japanese audiences who saw the various TV shows and movies over a period of several years instead of, like me, several weeks. I mean, obviously even in those circumstances the similarity between stories would be apparent, but at least the time gap between releases might impart a bit of freshness that you don't really get when you seamlessly run through each part of the saga like this.
Nonetheless, I don't want to complain too much. I'm actually rather enjoying the whole Yamato franchise, and this movie was no exception. Taken on its own, in a vacuum, I might have rated this higher than merely "decent." I probably enjoyed it on a higher level than simply "decent." But I have trouble bringing myself to actually rate it any higher than I have just because there are diminishing returns each time you see basically the same story again. I'm tempted to draw a parallel to Gundam here, and I've definitely highly-rated repetitive Gundam stories in spite of their repetitiveness, but I guess I actually did watch those shows years, even decades apart, so the repetition doesn't always strike me as forcefully -- on top of which, even Gundam is arguably less repetitive than this.
In any case, I highly recommend the Yamato franchise to any anime fan, and I recommend checking out the whole thing, this movie included. I hope the remaining movies/TV show will get a little bit more innovative, but I like the cast, I like the aesthetic -- I like Yamato, repetitiveness or not.
|Space Brothers (TV)||Decent||I'm a little on the fence about how to rate this -- "decent" feels a little harsh, "good" a little generous. I started watching this based just on the basic premise, hoping for something like Planetes. In terms of "hard scifi," set in the near future dealing with realistic issues in space exploration, this is much like Planetes -- in fact, being set in the nearer future, and with a somewhat less ambitious vision of future space settlement (well, that's not completely fair; given the decades that separate the settings of the two shows, maybe Space Brothers would still envision a Planetes-like future by the time the era of Planetes came around), Space Brothers is arguably even more realistic than Planetes was.
However, the tone of these two shows is decidedly different. Planetes, while it still indulges in typical anime-style silliness from time to time, feels on balance much more adult. Space Brothers, while certainly not inaccessible to adults (I am an adult, or at least that's what my drivers license says, and I watched all 99 episodes), strikes a decidedly more kiddy tone. And that's objectively fine, in fact it might even be preferable, if it can introduce young children to science and get them actively interested and engaged in space exploration from an early age, which seems to be one goal of the show. But it can make it a little bit harder to click with older audiences if it doesn't find the right balance of straight storytelling vs. goofiness, and I think Space Brothers does skew, if only ever so slightly, a little bit too goofy. This is the main reason I was never able to settle into a real groove with this show.
I do have a few comments -- I'm not sure if they're necessarily complaints (they're nitpicky if so) or perhaps more neutral observations. I don't know how closely NASA and JAXA cooperated in the production of the show (or it's based on a manga, so I don't know how closely they cooperated in the writing of that, or how closely the show follows its source material), so it may actually be a very accurate depiction of the astronaut selection and training process. If it isn't, I think a lot of the things that happen on the show, which (if they aren't real) were clearly added for dramatic flair, don't actually make a lot of sense. NASA being NASA, I'm certainly willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that there's method to their madness if these are actual strategies they employ in training, but I have a really hard time understanding how, eg, the "green cards" would be all that effective in real life. Even worse, Mutta undergoes another training period later in the show in which he teams up with another trainee but learns midway through that only one of them will be chosen to go to the moon. What exactly does this accomplish? If NASA hasn't chosen which is going yet, it seems rash for them to decide they absolutely won't take both of them -- maybe these two will each prove to be the best qualified out of their training class, but only one of them is going to be allowed to go because they had the misfortune of being paired together on this training exercise. Worse than that, it's easy to see how this sort of restriction could foster mistrust and competition rather than cooperation and teamwork, and it's very difficult to see how that advances any of NASA's presumptive goals (unless the goal is to weed out those who would turn competitive under these circumstances, but nobody gets kicked out of the astronaut corps in this training, so that doesn't seem to be the case). You can see how introducing things like this makes the story more dramatic, but it just doesn't make much sense. This, probably, is an actual complaint, rather than a neutral observation.
But something more along the lines of a neutral observation is to bring up the portrayal of America in the show. Countries always have a bit distorted view of other cultures, and Japan's views frequently shine through in anime set in foreign lands. A great deal, probably the majority, of Space Brothers takes place in Houston, and the America you see on this show is silly and at times baffling. Like I said, this isn't really a complaint -- I'm not petty (or "patriotic") enough to take offense at an errant but ultimately benign portrayal of America in foreign media (I won't even take offense at a critical portrayal, if it's accurate). It's just interesting to glimpse America through the lens of Japan. It's a bizarre but not all together unfamiliar place and contributes to the show's overall atmosphere and tone.
To move on to genuine complaints, though, there was one other thing that really bothered me in this show. After Hibito goes to the moon, a children's anime is made about him and his friends, and we're treated to clips of the show at the end of many episodes. Hibito is portrayed as a rabbit and his various astronaut friends and colleagues as other kinds of animals. Black astronaut Buddy, who is already a little bit of a hulking stereotype in his "real" human form, is portrayed as a literal knuckle-dragging ape. It's truly stunning and extremely offputting. Obviously these are just little clips that are tacked on at the end, completely ancillary to the rest of the show, but it's definitely not a good look. And it may seem a little nitpicky to call the show out on this next point, but at about the same time these clips began, Mutta was assigned to work with a bunch of engineers who were a not-so-subtle reference to the Ghostbusters. That's all well and good, but "Winston" had, if memory serves, exactly zero lines in any of his appearances across various episodes. Maybe I'm forgetting one or two, I didn't meticulously note each character's actions, but I don't remember him ever speaking. These kinds of things (particularly the first point about Buddy Gorilla) give the show a disconcerting veneer of overt racism that can be difficult to sit through. Nonetheless, I did manage to sit through it, which tells you either that it's not that bad or that my tolerance for racism is too high. Take your pick.
These issues aside, the show is still watchable enough that I, well, watched it -- all 99 episodes of it. I'm not sure I'd have made it through if I were to start the show now, I must admit. But having watched it week to week for the past two years, I was able to get through it, and I mostly enjoyed it, at least enough to keep watching. It can certainly drag at times (it would be nice if some of Mutta's training arcs went by a little faster), but other parts of the story are genuinely engrossing (eg Hibito on the moon). And while the "kiddiness" I discussed above can veer a little too far into goofiness, it is still nice to have a little bit of levity. Honestly, I didn't realize the show was ending on episode 99. Even as I was watching the episode, I didn't realize this was the last one, but in the last few minutes it abruptly took on a very "final" feel to it. When the credits finished, there was no next week preview. Wikipedia claims that this was the end, while I haven't found any other source that disputes that. And despite whatever complaints I might have about the show, I am a little bummed that there, apparently, is not going to be another episode next week. But the manga remains ongoing, so hopefully this isn't the last we'll see of Mutta and Hibito on television either.
|Space Runaway Ideon (TV)||Decent||I'd been meaning to watch this for literally like fifteen years before I finally actually got around to it. Now that I've finally seen it, my verdict is mixed, and I'm thinking the delay in watching it didn't do the show any favors for me. The basic premise, and the ideas around the Ide power, the Ideon itself, etc are all engaging and have great potential to be really interesting if handled properly, but the format of these 80s robot shows, where there's actually not that much real story and a lot of the show is just the good guys fighting off another one of the bad guys' schemes, is something that I have trouble staying interested in nowadays. I finally sat down and watched L-Gaim a couple years ago and had the same experience, and even as far back as eight or nine years ago when I went through Dunbine, it didn't get me like I had hoped it would. It makes me wonder whether I could actually sit through Gundam again either -- there's a show that I haven't watched from start to finish in maybe fifteen years (although I've seen the movie trilogy a few times during that span), and in my mind I regard it (and the franchise in general) as one of my favorites, but if I try to watch it again now, am I going to find it a chore?
In any case, I appreciate what Ideon did bring to the table, thematically and story-wise. There's a lot of overlap in the basic premise with Turn A Gundam, another favorite of mine, and of course Ideon famously inspired a lot of the ideas behind Evangelion as well. It's certainly not a bad show by any stretch, and if you enjoy the general format of shows of this genre and era, I think you'll find a lot to like here. I think I just would have enjoyed it more if I'd watched it back when I was a teenager, rather than in my thirties. I'm not interested in buying the toys or anything, so fights for fights' sake don't do it for me. I need episodes that advance the plot or develop the characters, and while Ideon and shows like it do have their share of episodes that fit the bill, they've also got plenty of fluff that I'm not as willing to sit through as I once was. I'd be really interested to see Tomino revisit this and retool it in a shorter and more streamlined format (although, to some extent, he already did that in Turn A Gundam), though -- and hopefully without having to rush the ending, as he did here (it's weird and frustrating that after so many earlier episodes felt like throwaways, the last several advance the story at a sloppily breakneck pace due to the show's cancellation).
|Space Runaway Ideon: Contact (movie)||Decent||I don't have much to say about this. It's just a compilation movie (and not a notably good or bad one in terms of telling a coherent story that doesn't require you to see the source material first), so my comments on the main show more or less stand here as well. I will say that although my big complaint about the show was the amount of unnecessary episodes that didn't advance the plot, I don't feel that this movie effectively streamlined the story all that much in a way that would address that complaint. It's better, definitely, but I think Tomino should have taken a Do You Remember Love-type strategy (although maybe weird to call it that in light of the fact that this movie preceded DYRL by several years) and totally retooled the story to fit the feature film format, rather than simply condensing the material from the TV show. I suppose a compilation movie of a show that was canceled probably doesn't have that kind of budget, though.|
|Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3 (TV)||Decent||There's not a ton I can say about this show. I don't think I gave it a fair shake in the end. I came in expecting something very different based on an offhand remark I'd heard about it, so when it turned out to be about an airsoft club, I was already a little bit predisposed against it, not because I have anything against that particular subject, but just because it wasn't why I had been interested in the show in the first place. As a result, I missed a lot of the show as I would just leave it on in the background and do other things while it was on.
I regret that to some extent, because as I started paying a little more attention to it later on, it became clear that there might be an unexpected bit of depth, at least to the two main characters. The supporting cast feel a little more like archetypes, although they fill their roles capably (and maybe they're more fleshed out than just archetypes, if I give the show more of a chance).
I found the later parts of this show, to the extent that I was paying attention to them, to be pretty okay, so I'll probably give it another chance at some point. For now consider my rating and review tentative.
|Suisei no Gargantia: Meguru Kōro, Haruka (OAV)||Decent||I don't have much to say about this. It was fairly entertaining in the same ways that the TV show was but it failed to improve on the show in any particular way or to recapture any of that promise that I vaguely felt the show lost as it progressed. If you liked the show and want to catch up with the characters again, this isn't bad. If you didn't care for the show, you shouldn't be reading this in the first place.|
|Summer Wars (movie)||Decent||I should preface by saying that I watched this movie while nursing a fairly severe hangover and my attention was kind of split, so it probably deserves another viewing sometime when I am willing to focus on what I'm watching. In any case, I thought it was all right, but not amazing and I'm a little perplexed by the enthusiastic praise the movie's gotten. I obviously find something entertaining about anime or I wouldn't watch at all, but aside from Ghibli stuff, I really strain to point toward any anime that I'd consider genuinely great cinema. When I hear guys called "the next Miyazaki" or movies compared to Ghibli, I tend to take it with a grain of salt, and so far I haven't been wrong. Movies like Summer Wars and 5 Centimeters per Second are fine and all, but Miyazaki they are not, despite what the hype claims.
The thing about Miyazaki that works, at least for me, is a certain universality in his movies that most anime lacks. There are a lot of very well-worn anime tropes out there that Miyazaki just does not tend to parrot, to his benefit. Summer Wars, on the other hand, is still thoroughly "anime" in some of anime's sillier respects. It still ultimately appeals to that specific demographic that so much anime is targeted toward -- math/science/tech geeks who have trouble with girls, etc. There's just a certain, uhhh, nerdiness to the whole thing, which isn't wrong in and of itself, but in typical anime fantasy fashion, it unrealistically applies to everyone -- it's all right for kids to have Second Life accounts if that's what they're into, but it's kind of silly to imagine that middle aged women all have accounts too, or that the US president has one (that, according to one character, could potentially be used to launch nukes because of the interconnectivity between the virtual world and real world infrastructure). Obviously even in real life internet and infrastructure are closely tied together these days and cyberterrorism has been the subject of quite a few other movies, TV shows, books, etc. But Summer Wars makes it look like people are being issued Second Life accounts instead of Social Security numbers in the future and that's just a bridge too far for me. I'm kind of predisposed to dislike things that take place in virtual worlds because it's much harder to give the action serious consequences in the real world; most movies try to correct this somehow, and that's what Summer Wars tries to do in connecting the network to real infrastructure -- but the problem is that if the solution is too silly to believe, then the problem isn't only unsolved, but magnified. When the climax rolls around and kids around the world are putting up their accounts in the grand final battle, which is actually just a virtual card game, it's not intense and exciting, it's just kind of dumb.
I don't want to sound like I hated the movie or anything, because I didn't -- as the rating indicates, I thought it was decent. It was fairly entertaining and it looks really gorgeous (I know I say this in basically all of my recent reviews but high def has been a godsend for anime). It trots out well-worn anime tropes, but it handles them effectively -- Kenji's not an unfamiliar character if you've watched any anime before, but he's not some one dimensional cliche or anything. The trouble is I watched this back to back with Kiki's Delivery Service, a movie I utterly adore, and the Miyazaki comparisons are just untenable. This isn't a bad movie, but this isn't a movie people are still going to be talking about in fifty years, either. Japan's made a lot of impressive contributions to film history and the next Miyazaki surely is out there somewhere, but Summer Wars isn't the movie where he introduced himself to audiences.
|(The) Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Flash Back 2012 (OAV)||Decent||It's not really much of an anime. Just Minmay putting on a concert while we're treated to alternating video of her performing that concert and various clips from the Macross TV series and movie. I guess there are better ways for me to spend a half hour, but it's still not bad. And at the end, we get to see the launch of the Megaroad-01, which had to be cut from the final episode of the Macross TV series, so that's pretty cool I guess.|
|Tales from Earthsea (movie)||Decent||This was the last Ghibli movie I saw (not counting those yet to be released in America -- although actually, Kaguya juuuuuuust began its run in US theatres when I finally watched this, so maybe it's a wash -- also it doesn't matter anyway, whatever). It doesn't enjoy the strongest reputation, so it hadn't been a high priority. Nevertheless, I still intended ultimately to check out all of Ghibli's output, so eventually Earthsea's number came up. Its reputation might be deserved vis-a-vis other Ghibli works, but overall it's a better movie than many seem to give it credit for.
At the very least, it boasts the same beautiful production values that we've come to expect from Ghibli. If nothing else, it's very nice to look at. In all other facets, it is competently crafted, but it's otherwise not really more than the sum of its parts. Most notably, it simply doesn't resonate emotionally the way many Ghibli movies do. That, of course, is intensely personal, so your mileage may vary, but my experience was that this was an entertaining enough movie that failed to connect with me on any deeper level. That's all I can really say. This movie isn't unworthy of the Ghibli name, but it is among the weakest in their oeuvre.
|Tenchi Muyo! Mihoshi Special||Decent|
|Tenchi Universe (TV)||Decent|
|Trigun: Badlands Rumble (movie)||Decent||This is basically like the Cowboy Bebop movie, in that it plays like an extended episode that could fit somewhere in the middle of the TV series. There isn't really a ton to say about it -- Vash, Wolfwood, Meryl, and Milly all show up and do their thing and the new character, Amelia, is as well developed as you could hope for in a 90 minute movie. The whole thing feels pretty similar to the sand steamer mini arc with Brilliant Dynamite Neon. Entertaining enough, worth watching I guess -- if it were four episodes in the middle of the show, I'd probably skip them over when subsequently rewatching the series, but it's fun to see once at least.|
|Twilight Q (OAV)||Decent||I grabbed this on someone's recommendation, without knowing much about it. I had read a synopsis of the first episode, which I assumed was actually a synopsis of the whole series. The basic hook sounded interesting -- girl finds a camera with a picture of herself and someone she doesn't recognize on it, later finds out the camera itself is a model that hasn't even been released yet. Could be an interesting, entertaining mystery. But actually, it's more of a Twilight Zone-style show, so that's only the first episode, and the second episode is some completely separate story. There's nothing wrong with that per se, just not what I had expected and not what I was looking for, so predictably I ended up enjoying it less than I thought I would.
That said, for what it is, it's still a decent show. Even though it goes a little bit more weird for the sake of weird than compelling mystery, it handles itself pretty well and both episodes are pretty entertaining. Because it's only two episodes long, and both episodes are their own self-contained stories, I don't really know that there's a whole lot more to say about it. Check it out if the premise sounds interesting to you, skip it if it doesn't, that's pretty much it.
|Waiting in the Summer (TV)||Decent||This show is basically Super 8 reimagined as a romantic comedy, and there's nothing wrong with that. Frankly if you described this show to me, I'd probably think it sounds awful, so I'm not really sure what compelled me to give it a try, beyond simple boredom (even so, there are other ways to take care of that). In any case, I'm glad I did, as this is a charming little story about a group of school friends trying to film a movie during their summer break, with a little help from their beautiful new friend who's secretly an alien.
I think what works here is just that the characters are all really likable, and while they all more or less fit into standard anime high school romcom archetypes, they handle those roles well and never feel too stale. I'm not sure any one character merits being singled out as particularly strong here, but the whole ensemble is a good deal of fun. Moreover, the various friendships and love stories proceed in a more or less believable way, with the possible exception of everyone being totally cool when they find out Ichika's really an alien (but hey, what do I know, none of my friends have ever admitted to me that they're actually from outer space).
Anyway, there's nothing especially groundbreaking about this show, but it's a pretty good time for anyone who enjoys a lighthearted romantic comedy every once in a while.
|Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl (TV)||Decent||I've got really mixed feelings about Yawara. I first started watching it back in 2003 when a fansubbing group started putting out episodes, and it grabbed me pretty much right off the bat and I was loving it a lot. Then it got licensed by AnimEigo, so the fansubbers did their ethical duty and stopped fansubbing it -- and then AnimEigo eventually dropped it before even getting as far into it as the fansubbers had. So I put it away and forgot about it, until eight years later I had a sudden urge to revisit it. It's never been relicensed, and the fansubbers never picked it back up again, so to the best of my knowledge there is no complete subtitled version out there, but I did manage to get ahold of the complete series in Japanese, and so I gave it another go.
It turns out the fansubbers, basically by coincidence of the license's timing, dropped the show at pretty much the perfect moment (somewhere in the mid-50s, I think). The show hits a midpoint mini-climax here with Yawara participating in a big judo tournament and it's great up to this point, and then the next stretch of episodes takes a huge step backward and the show is suddenly a lot less compelling. Around the 90s or so, the show hits another mini-climax and I got really into it again, and then it steps back again. The actual climax over the last few episodes is all right, but not amazing. This may sound elementary -- of course a show can't maintain a climactic pace across 124 episodes. I'd say though that it feels like this show crashes harder than most, and the episodes legitimately become kind of a slog to get through. This might be at least in part because my Japanese isn't perfect -- I can get by on a show like this (where most of the dialogue isn't terribly complex, and most of the specialized terms just relate to the sport, so you don't really need to know what they mean anyway), but I definitely miss things. I won't deny that watching this show raw probably hurt my enjoyment of it to some extent.
But I think the bigger problem is that most of the characters aren't actually that likable when you get down to it. I think Jigoro is supposed to be a lovable rascal or something, but in many ways he's actually an awful man. It's pretty clear that he cares very little about Yawara's happiness. At every step of the way, he tries to stop her from getting what she actually wants, and it's never, you know, "for her own good but she just can't understand that right now" or anything, it's literally just because he's foisted upon her all his dreams of winning gold at the Olympics and reaching the top of the judo world. Yawara's friends, like Hanazono and Fujiko, aren't as nefarious as her grandfather, but they're complicit in his schemes all the same: they see Yawara as wasting her gift and they try to push and prod her to stick with judo, regardless of her reasons for wanting to give it up. Kazamatsuri, though his feelings for Yawara may be genuine, sort of falls into that category as well, on top of which he's kind of a skeazy dude who plays both Yawara and Sayaka to maximize his own position. Sayaka herself merits little discussion, she's not even supposed to be likable, so whatever. Yawara herself can be absolutely infuriating. At times she can be just dumb as rocks, for instance whenever Kazamatsuri effortlessly convinces her that Matsuda's not trying to have a real conversation with her, just "interviewing" her for the paper. At other times she gets herself or others into trouble because she's utterly incapable of speaking out or standing up for herself to basically anybody except her grandfather (for instance, there's one part where she promised to watch insecurity-riddled Fujiko's big match, and instead she lets herself get hounded by a bunch of guys to the point that she nearly misses it and Fujiko, without the moral support, nearly loses). I don't exactly hate her, but she can be just maddening to observe.
I think Matsuda is basically the only character who on balance is purely likable in the show. Between his job as a sportswriter and his interest in Yawara personally, he's got a clear conflict of interests, yet he never tries to force Yawara into sticking with judo. He certainly tries to persuade her, but he consistently considers her own position and what she wants out of her life and he never actively works against her. Very early on he even offers her a plan (that she ultimately fails to execute properly) to sabotage her own judo career so she can quit for good. All this and his obvious feelings for her notwithstanding, she's still stupid enough to buy into Kazamatsuri's twisted narrative in which Matsuda's only looking for a scoop. He seems like the only person in the show who genuinely has a heart of gold and he constantly gets shat on.
All that said, on the whole I still liked the show (clearly, I mean I watched all 124 episodes). There are stretches that feel like chores, but the good episodes are really, really good. Even though Yawara can be an irritating girl, the moments she has with Matsuda can be legitimately touching, and on rare occasions even Jigoro relents and lets her go her own way (of course, only after he receives assurance that it won't hinder her judo career, so let's not give him too much credit here). I knew absolutely nothing about judo before watching the show (and still basically only know what I've picked up from it), but it's easy to follow and the matches are generally pretty exciting, particularly when the stakes get really high in these various national and international tournaments. I think it's worth it to give the show a shot, and if you understand Japanese (or Catalan, there is a Catalan dub floating around out there too) or somebody finishes subtitling it, you may get more out of it than I did and consequently like it more than I did. Overall I found it to be a decent show that occasionally touched greatness but never managed to sustain it for very long.
|Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou: Quiet Country Cafe (OAV)||Decent||Very slow paced, just kind of lazily drags along. I don't know what it was really about, or if it was about anything, to be honest. Still, after watching the first episode, something about it compelled me to finish it off, and I don't regret doing so. I can't say what was good about it because it really beats the hell out of me; I shouldn't have liked this, but for some reason I did.|
|5 Centimeters Per Second (movie)||Good||I don't really keep up with the anime world much anymore, so probably would never have even heard of this (despite the high esteem it is apparently held in) if not for a friend who recommended it to me telling me the director was the "next Miyazaki." I kind of assumed that was a bit of hyperbole, so I expected a good movie but not necessarily the game changer it was made out to be. My expectations, as it turned out, were just about right on the mark. This is a good movie, but it's not a cinematic touchstone or anything like that. It benefits from a more mature, realistic view of the world than most anime have. The slow, deliberate pace and quiet, atmospheric tone are exactly what I'm always looking for when I decide to pop in a Japanese movie, anime or otherwise. The artwork here is just outstanding, some of the most beautiful anime I've ever seen. Watching it in 1080p is just breathtaking. The score serves as a perfect complement.
So what didn't work? Truthfully, I don't know. When I say it was merely good, I'm going with my gut here, not with any extended analysis. I think it's mostly that I never felt connected with any of the characters or truly invested in their situations. I don't know exactly why. It's entirely possible it's just something that will click with me upon review, but not the first time. For now, I just feel like I was a passive observer of a beautifully depicted world populated by strangers -- and while that's reality of any movie, the truly great ones make you forget it.
|Ace of Diamond (TV)||Good||A pretty solid baseball anime, but I have a general policy against reviewing shows I haven't finished watching yet (except to note why I may have decided not to finish something). While this show is technically "complete," it proceeds seamlessly into its "sequel" and wasn't even a split season -- the second season literally started the next week after this "ended." So I'm going to withhold any full review until the whole show is over. If you enjoy sports anime or baseball though, you might like this one.|
|Ajimu - Kaigan Monogatari (ONA)||Good||The story isn't exactly original -- average guy sees a beautiful girl and instantly falls in love with her, then has to figure out how to confess his feelings. And, of course, as they get to know each other, she falls for him too, but neither one can say it. So, don't come in here expecting something new. You've heard this story before. But the characters were charming and entertaining, and maybe it was just me, but at times it seemed like the show wasn't actually trying to use all those old storytelling cliches for the sake of using them; rather, it seemed like it was incorporating them into the show as a way of poking fun at them. Particularly in the final episode, things will come up and you'll be able to predict exactly what's about to happen because it's happened so many times before, but...well, maybe it was just me, but here it didn't seem like the show was serious. Whether that was intentional or not on the creator's part, I don't know, but either way, it made the show more enjoyable to me. Worth checking out, particularly since it's only four episodes long.|
|Akame ga KILL! (TV)||Good||I finished this show months and months ago, but unfortunately I fell off my reviewing game and am only just writing it up now. Consequently, I can tell you that I liked it, but I can't tell you a whole lot more. It had a fun cast, Akame was a pleasant surprise as your stereotypical dark, expert killer who actually is very warm and friendly and so on. The whole cast is pretty likable, enough that when someone is killed off (and, spoiler alert -- lots of someones are killed off in the course of this story), it carries a little bit of weight. I'll probably revisit this again at some point in the next couple months or years (and if I'm not feeling too lazy, maybe I'll give it a proper review), but in the meantime all I can really tell you is that if a violent action series set in a quasi-medieval setting with characters who possess distinctive special abilities thanks to pseudo-magical technology sounds interesting to you, then, well, I just described this show.|
|Android Kikaider - The Animation (TV)||Good|
|Arata The Legend (TV)||Good||Decided to check this out based on the premise, which seemed kind of vaguely Escaflowne-like, and hey, I like Escaflowne. Of course, Escaflowne works not because the premise is kind of interesting but because the execution was excellent. I can't put Arata on that level -- at least not yet, after one season -- but I still had a pretty good time with it. Really, I compare it to Escaflowne because that's probably the biggest title in this "genre" (of, like, regular world teenagers who are mysteriously transported to a parallel quasi-medieval world where they have special powers that they didn't have back home and consequently get caught up in a global power struggle in that world), but its a genre I sort of enjoy in general.
This is a pretty fun show over all. We've got a simple but solid plot backed by a generally likable cast. The parallelism between the two worlds -- the rivalry between Hinohara and Kadowaki, which in the "real world" is basically just stupid high school stuff founded on Kadowaki's pettiness and Hinohara's spinelessness, and which in Amawakuni actually implicates the fate of the entire world (and yet as far as they're concerned that's ancillary to how much they hate each other just over the high school BS) -- is a little silly, and when you take a step back to really consider it, it might weaken the show a little bit, but as you're watching each episode, it's entertaining enough that you just sort of go with it. Aside from that, Hinohara and Arata (who we see very little of, all things considered) are both pretty likable guys, Kadowaki is sort of an obnoxious little bastard (counterpoint to the silliness of their feud, though: if the show ultimately ends with Hinohara changing Kadowaki and redeeming him, it will be considerably more believable than it often is when the evil villain is made to see the error of his ways), and the background cast is solid.
The world building is also well done so far, which is obviously important in a show that takes place in a completely new world. Amawakuni seems like an interesting place and we have so far explored only a little bit of it. There's a lot going on here, including the politics at work between the Twelve Shinsho and the Six Sho, which can still be explored more deeply. We basically understand how hayagami work and what sho are, but we're probably not done learning about why Tsukuyo has chosen Hinohara and getting more backstory in that department. It should all be interesting.
It's sort of tough to say much more about this show at this stage though, when the story is obviously very incomplete. My understanding is the manga is still ongoing, and the anime itself seems to expect a second season (though I'm not sure if this has actually been announced yet). Further seasons could turn this one into a winner; on the other hand if this is all we ever get, it may not even deserve a "good" rating, unfinished as it is. For now I'm hopeful that the story will continue in a few months.
|Be Forever Yamato (movie)||Good||I just complained that the same story repeated over and over again was starting to get a little stale in The New Voyage and then I have this, the immediate sequel of that movie that continues with Earth's fight against the Black Nebula. Be Forever Yamato starts out very familiarly, with an alien empire striking at Earth and Yamato setting off to the enemy's homeworld to confront the threat. What they find there almost disrupts the formula and goes off in an interesting new direction, but then it...doesn't. Ah well.
I still like these shows and movies even though they do largely recycle the same story beats again and again, but this repetition does make it hard for me to rate them as highly as I otherwise might. In just the past few weeks that I've been marathoning through it I've already developed a great deal of affection for the franchise and its characters. I think all anime fans should check out Yamato and ideally should see it all. That being said, if you've seen the fight against Gamilas, then you've seen the fight against the White Comet, and in turn, against the Black Nebula. I gave The New Voyage a "decent" and I'm giving this a "good," which should probably be taken less as absolute ratings of either one and more as a reflection of my ambivalence as I waffle back and forth between "I liked this" and "this was the same as what I liked last week." Time to move on now to the third TV series, and hopefully the story will do something a little fresher this time.
|Blood Lad (TV)||Good||This sat on my list of stuff to watch for so long before I got around to watching it that I don't really remember how it got there in the first place. At first blush vampire stories are not the kind of shows I typically go for, but evidently I must have heard something about this show that piqued my interest, although I no longer have any idea what. It doesn't matter in any case. Blood Lad is a surprisingly fun and entertaining show with a solid cast to carry its fairly run of the mill plot. Staz and his friends have a certain charisma, and Fuyumi, although not a terribly interesting character in her own right, fills her role capably to get the story rolling. If I've got one complaint here, it's that the show ends fairly abruptly and without having wrapped up all its loose ends. This is all the weirder given the unusual episode count here, 10 instead of the usual 12 or 13. I'm sure they could find enough story for another season if they wanted to, but this feels like it could have been wrapped up in just one more episode, so it's curious to me that it didn't have one (although I think there's an OVA episode coming out in a few months, perhaps that will be the end of it). Even so, it's a fun show while it lasts -- if that second season is made, I suspect I'll tune in.|
|Conan, the Boy in Future (TV)||Good|
|(The) Devil is a Part-Timer! (TV)||Good||This show turned out to be a surprising delight. The premise sounded just interesting enough that I decided to give it a try, but I wasn't really expecting much out of it, I thought it would just be a run of the mill fish out of water comedy. Instead it takes that premise and executes wonderfully. The show's real strength lies in its incredibly likable cast. Not a single character feels wasted or unnecessary, and their interactions with each other are always entertaining.
I would say the one weakness of the show is that we seem to have skipped a lot of character development. We know what Maou's reputation was before he came to Earth, and we know how he is now, but there's not much of a bridge between the two. There are some loose ends left explicitly hanging at the end of the show. Perhaps this is because it's based on an on-going series of light novels, where maybe all these questions haven't been answered yet. Alternatively maybe they're planning a second season. If so, I would definitely give it a watch. As the current 13 episode run stands, it's a very entertaining show that nonetheless feels as though it's missing something. Even so, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
|Dragon Ball (TV)||Good||The whole Dragon Ball franchise tends to take a lot of flak from anime fans who think that it, for some reason, gives anime a bad name. Why? Because it's not bleeding with the pseudo-philosophical pretensions of such "masterpieces" as Evangelion? I don't know. I'll grant that they're kids shows, that they don't have the deepest or most complex storylines, that they don't even attempt to tackle some of the more "adult" issues that many anime try, and most fail, to adequately address. But I don't really mind that. In fact, I appreciate it. Dragon Ball, like all children's stories, doesn't needlessly complicate itself. It deals in simple but universal themes of self-improvement, teamwork, selflessness, doing the right thing, and so on. It's got a wonderful, charming cast of characters who go through various adventures. Even the filler problem that so plagued Dragon Ball Z isn't as bad here. I suppose if I had one complaint, it would be that the story just drags a little at times. I won't lie -- I'm more a fan of the action than the comedy here. Anime comedy in general rarely amuses me; just not really my thing. And Dragon Ball started as a gag manga with lots of action, and I find the comedy stuff to be hit or miss and the action to be pretty entertaining. It's a bit of a roller coaster for a while -- the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai and various parts of the Red Ribbon Army story arc are pretty good, other parts are a little dull. The show finally hits its stride for good just before the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai, a little more than halfway through, as it begins to establish itself more firmly as a shounen action anime. From there on out, the whole thing is pretty solid. Wonderful show that will probably never get the respect it deserves.|
|Dragon Ball Z (TV)||Good||Really underrated; it's popular to hate because it serves as an entry level series for so many Cartoon Network viewers, I guess. Most of the comments I made with regard to Dragon Ball still hold true for this series, as well. Its biggest weakness is the filler, and if you can stand to sit through it in the real episodes and you just skip the episodes that are entirely filler, you should be able to get by and enjoy it on some level.|
|Dragon Ball Z Kai (TV 2)||Good||I know a lot of DB fans are down on the Buu saga, particularly because of the fusion gimmick, but I've always kind of enjoyed it. It starts with a few almost slice-of-life episodes where you see things like Gohan playing baseball, then you get a (truncated) Tenkaichi Budokai (our first since Dragon Ball), and most of the characters get to play some role at some point, even if it's just Kuririn and Yamcha attempting to fight Buu for all of thirty seconds on Dai Kaiousei or Tenshinhan showing up just long enough to get knocked out by Buu's severed lower half. But that's more than most of these guys have participated since the Saiyajin fight (unless you count the Cell Juniors, I guess). So it's something. And of course, during Goku's Genki Dama we get to revisit past characters stretching all the way to the beginning of Dragon Ball. I'm a sucker for dumb stuff like that, so the Buu saga hits some of my spots. Because of that, I was pretty bummed when the initial Kai run ended with Cell's death and I'm pleased that they ultimately brought it back to finish Z's story. There's really not much else to say about this, though -- like the first run of Kai, this is just the existing Z story (and the existing Z animation), with a new soundtrack, remastered high def video, and a lot of filler excised (although it feels to me like the cuts were not quite as extensive as in the first Kai -- the initial run cut 199 episodes down to 98, this one cut 92 episodes down to 61). The faster pace is mostly appreciated and the remastered HD is great. I do miss the old soundtrack, but I suppose you can't have it all. If you want to get through DBZ's story in half the time it would take you to get through DBZ, the Kais aren't a bad way to do it.|
|Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks (special)||Good||This one's not quite as good as the Bardock TV special, but it's still worlds better than any of the theatrical DBZ movies. This special tells a story that we only got glimpses of during the TV series, the story of Trunks' hellish future in which he and Gohan are the last of the Z Senshi and the Artificial Humans are terrorizing the world. The relationship between Gohan and Trunks is handled pretty well, and it's interesting to see this alternate Gohan and how he develops to be much more like his father than he did in the TV series. As this is a supplement to the TV series story, if you aren't a DBZ fan, you should probably not bother with this, but otherwise it's a pretty good addition to the franchise.|
|Dragon Drive (TV)||Good||I'm kind of surprised that I liked this show, to be honest. In retrospect, there was nothing terribly special about it. But it had an entertaining, if fairly simplistic story and fun characters. I'm not sure it's worth buying, particularly since it checks in at 38 episodes, but it would make a good rental. You won't lose your time checking it out.|
|Eden of the East (TV)||Good||
I hardly even watch anime anymore, but I had gotten really sick, didn't really get out of bed for a few days, and just had a strong urge to watch something while convalescing. On a friend's suggestion, this is what I chose. All in all, not a bad show. To be truthful, it didn't quite grab me and pull me in the way anime or other TV shows that I really love tend to do, but it was an intriguing story that managed to maintain my interest, even if it was a somewhat detached interest. I was never really dying to jump right into the next episode, but I was still curious what was going to happen next. On top of that, the production values are quite good and the opening episode, with actual English-language voice actors hired to voice American characters, was impressive. The show ultimately ends by addressing the immediate issues but leaving the story open-ended, which makes sense with the upcoming movies. But the skill with which the story is simultaneously tied up and left open is also pretty impressive. It's a difficult thing to do, to offer a satisfying conclusion while explicitly setting up the sequel, and they pulled it off here.
In the end, I did have to dock the show some points because it didn't connect with me on that really basic level that my favorite shows/anime do. I think it's just a matter of taste, because the show is undoubtedly well-crafted, but for whatever reason it just wasn't fully my cup of tea. Still a solid show and I am looking forward to the movies. This franchise officially has my attention. That's saying a lot, I think, since I watch about one new anime a year these days.
|EUREKA SEVEN AO (TV)||Good||A lot of my reviews of the past several years note that I haven't watched much anime in a while -- here, I'm going to start off by mentioning that over the past nine months or so, I've actually experienced a considerable upswing in my viewing (although the amount I watch now is still incredibly modest compared to, say, back when I was in high school). I watched the first Eureka Seven around the time it first came out, which was deep into my otherwise not watching much anime phase, and I remembered it being moderately entertaining, but in a lot of ways also a little bit grating. That's virtually all I remember about it at this point. Nonetheless, when I saw that a sequel was coming, I gave it a shot -- maybe because of the "moderately entertaining" part, maybe out of some completionist compulsion that I definitely do suffer from, whatever.
I liked AO more than I liked the original, but I'm not sure if that's because it's actually a better show or if I'm just more receptive now than I was six or seven or however many years ago it was that the first show came out. I didn't like it enough that I'm interested in revisiting the original (at least for the foreseeable future), but I stuck with it and had a good time. The plot takes some interesting turns, the characters are generally likable, etc. (honestly I'm losing interest in actually writing a review so I'm just abruptly wrapping this up now) If you liked the first show, I suspect you'll like this one too -- maybe not more than the first, like I did, but you won't lose your time with it.
|Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (movie)||Good||The story here more or less closely follows the TV series, so there isn't really a ton to say. The new animation looks really beautiful, but it ends up feeling essentially like a run of the mill compilation movie, which means that by normal movie standards the pacing and story structure are pretty weird -- TV shows' plots just aren't constructed the same way movies' are and that always becomes extremely clear when watching a compilation movie. But given the particularly episodic nature of Evangelion, which follows an essentially monster-of-the-week format, it's all the more obvious here. Given that they're reworking the show from the ground up anyway, you'd think they might have tweaked the story a little bit more to give it a cleaner feel to it instead of just reanimating the TV show.
Nonetheless, it's entertaining enough and, again, looks very very good. I'm not a huge Eva fan but I enjoy it enough and I had a pretty good time with this movie. Not my new favorite movie or anything but pretty worthwhile.
|Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (movie)||Good||Here we start getting substantial changes from the TV series, so this is less of a straight compilation movie than the first one was. I guess the main question I've got at this stage is, what's the point of these changes? We've got a whole new character, new Evas, etc, and right now it more or less seems like these changes were made just for the sake of doing something fresh. The TV story is certainly not, in my mind, sacred or untouchable -- I don't mind changes that bring something interesting to the table. I just have yet to see what that something interesting is here. I do feel like I'm coming across far too negatively here, though. I don't necessarily dislike anything that happened in this movie, I just don't know why it happened. There are two more movies to go, so the seeds that have been planted here may bear substantial fruit in the second half of the story. Although a lot of the major points of the TV show are still hit in this movie (which means that, for all the changes made, it still has the same kind of episodic compilation feel that the first one had, albeit not quite as badly), there were some major tweaks and adjustments within those points (particularly the way this movie ends) to set the story on a substantially different course from here on out than the TV show followed from the same point. All in all, I still liked the movie a fair amount and I'm definitely looking forward to the next one.|
|Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (movie)||Good||While the first movie was essentially straight compilation, and the second was many of the same TV series story beats with some (granted, sometimes significant) alterations, this movie marks the point where the new movie series completely and fully departs from the TV show. It's also, probably not coincidentally, my favorite of the new movies so far. That's not just because it's "new," although that does help -- the first two movies are fun, but for the most part (especially in the case of the first one) they're just a rehash of what we've seen before. What makes this one my favorite, though, isn't just the new storyline, but the new tone. While the TV show went from playful and fun early on to relentlessly grim in the later episodes (with its infamously weird rebound in the final two episodes, but back to bleak in End of Evangelion), the new movies seem to be running in reverse -- despite all the talk of Third, Fourth, and Final Impact, however many millions of deaths, the world in ruins, and so on, this movie has a lot of goofy fun in it (which isn't to say it's not serious at all, just that it's mercifully not steadfastly morose).
We're also starting to see why some of the changes in the second movie were made. As expected, although the purpose of these changes wasn't intrinsically clear in the second movie, they were necessary to set the stage for this one. The new character who felt essentially shoehorned into movie 2 plays a more central role here, and the multiplicity of Evas also makes more sense. There are other changes here that are also welcome, most notably the development of Asuka into a genuinely likable character. In the TV show I don't think you ever hate her quite as much as the other characters do, but it's not because she actually has any redeeming qualities, it's just because Anno gives you enough background info that the other characters don't have about her to really pity her. She starts off full of energy -- obnoxious energy, but even so -- and in the late episodes takes a truly crushing slide. What happens to her in the next movie is anybody's guess, but for now Anno seems to be signaling that Shikinami is going to develop in a different direction from Soryuu, and it's not a bad change (it's not even necessarily incompatible with TV show Asuka either, for reasons that may qualify as a movie spoiler and so I won't explain further).
All in all, a fun movie. If I had one complaint -- I'm not sure it's actually really a complaint, per se, but maybe more of a general comment -- it's that this movie, despite being completely new material compared to the earlier ones, still has a sort of weird pacing and structure to it. It doesn't have the same episodic, compilation feel of the earlier movies, but it somehow just feels like it never fully gets going. Even by the end, you feel like we're still just getting underway. This may be because Anno made this with an eye conspicuously on the next movie, but if he wants them to essentially play like one long movie, perhaps he should have followed through on his original plan to release them simultaneously. Instead, the "simultaneous" summer 2008 release has turned into movie 3 in fall 2012 and movie 4...???? I've most recently read "winter 2015," but who knows? While this movie does contain its own climax and everything, it still mostly feels like just the first half of something longer, and it seems like it's going to be at least three years (well, a little more than two years from the time I've written this) before we get to see the second half.
|Farewell Space Battleship Yamato (movie)||Good||Man, this movie is surprisingly dark. It's good to catch up with the cast again not long after the events of the TV series. With a new threat facing the Earth, the crew comes together to confront it aboard the trusty Yamato, which the top brass are already preparing to mothball. In some respects this is little more than a retread of the original show: blonde woman from another world sends a message to Earth prompting the Yamato to come find her on her planet, etc. Of course, in the TV show the voyage to Iscandar basically was the show, while in this movie traveling to Telezart is just an early event to establish the rest of the story. Overall it's pretty entertaining and, although it's long, it doesn't feel quite as long as it is, which is always a positive. It's a fairly grim movie with a bittersweet tinge of hope, but it's definitely worth a watch.|
|Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club (TV)||Good||I think a good sports anime appeals to me for pretty much the same reasons a good shounen show does. You're never going to have a very deep or complicated stories, the characters are rarely going to be especially complex or layered, and the plot is typically extremely predictable, but somehow these shows still work. I think the main thing they do right is to put together a solid cast of characters who, if they aren't going to be multidimensional to intrigue you, are at least likable and fun to keep your attention. When you're watching Dragon Ball Z you know that, although there may be some setbacks along the way, Goku and his friends will ultimately win, and when you're watching Free, you know that again there may be some setbacks along the way, but Haru and the Iwatobi swim club are eventually gonna come out on top. As with a good shounen show, what keeps you watching (whether it's Free or Kuroko's Basketball or Whistle, two other sports shows I enjoyed a lot) is really the solid cast, whose interactions are expressed through the sport in question, not the sport itself. Free isn't the best show I've ever seen, it's probably not even the best show of the season that it came out, but it's a solid genre show that does its genre right. The final episode ends with "See you next summer," and if that literally means that next summer there'll be a second season, I'll be there to check it out.|
|Free! Eternal Summer (TV)||Good||I watched this after enjoying the first season. I don't really have a lot more to add after my review of that show. This season continues the solid work of the first, and if you're into the sports genre, both seasons of this show will hit the right buttons for you. If you're not, then I obviously cannot really recommend a sports show to you.|
|Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (TV)||Good||I'm not sure what specifically drew me to this show except that I was in sort of a general scifi mood when it started, so I gave it a shot. I was hooked pretty much right away, really enjoyed the early episodes. The Gargantia crew is a likable bunch and Ledo's plight as basically a latter day marooned sailor (on Waterworld, no less) who has to make his way with them is nice. The fish out of water (uh, I swear no pun intended, but I'm not going to try to reword it either) aspect of the story is something that usually pushes my buttons, and Chamber's overwhelming power compared to any of the technology available to Gargantia or the other fleets provides a sort of balance between the lone Ledo and everybody else in this unfamiliar world. In a way it also represents a sort of crossing of the real and super robot genres, to the extent that Chamber is probably more real robot than super robot (although, let's be clear, this show is more Macross and less Gundam -- a show with mecha, not a show about mecha, so we don't really get a ton of info about the technology underlying Chamber), but the technology is so far beyond everything else in the show that it's essentially a super robot as far as the other characters are concerned; that aspect of it is kind of interesting if you allow yourself to dwell on it.
That said, Gargantia sort of feels like a show that hit the ground running and then got winded a little too quickly. Honestly, I'm not sure what direction I'd have rather seen it go in, and frankly I don't especially dislike anything in particular that it did, but my interest nonetheless gradually declined as the show progressed. I don't want to say it had a lot of early promise that it failed to fulfill, because it's hard to identify "promise" without some clearly formed idea about what should have happened versus what actually did happen. I also don't want to imply that I was bored of the show by the end or anything like that. Let's say for the first three or four episodes my interest was at a 9 and by the end it was more like a 6.5 or so. It went from great to pretty good, that's all. As the story develops, some of the revelations are extremely predictable, but I'm not really sure what they should have done instead, and the story wasn't what really hooked me on the show anyway. And maybe that's the real answer -- maybe the growing focus on a story vs. just letting Ledo interact with the Gargantia crew is where the show started to decline a bit. Probably something had to happen, you can't just have a guy in a quasi-super robot fall out of the sky and turn it into a slice of life story about people on a sea-bound convoy (actually anime studios should consider that a challenge and make it happen), but the plot took a little too much of the focus in the later episodes, to the show's overall detriment.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed Gargantia quite a bit, and as far as I'm concerned it was one of the better shows of the season. I just wish I could have been as into the last episode as I was the first.
|Howl's Moving Castle (movie)||Good|
|Kikaider-01: The Animation (OAV)||Good|
|Knights of Sidonia (TV)||Good||In a post-apocalyptic future the survivors of humanity drift through space aboard a seed ship and occasionally fight skirmishes against the unstoppable aliens that put them there. Of course I'm in. And the good news is, for the most part, Knights of Sidonia actually delivers.
The show's definitely not perfect, for sure. The main character, Nagate, has a somewhat interesting backstory that I'm sure will be further fleshed out in season 2, but many of the other characters he tries to connect with are killed off before anything worthwhile can develop out of their relationships. That said, he does have a couple friends who make it through to the end, but they actually interest me less than a lot of the people who died.
The show has solid production values, but the art style and character designs are almost a little bit too austere -- I can't always tell everybody apart. That being said, the austerity is befitting of a show about future humans adrift in space who have to develop the ability to photosynthesize to cope with a food shortage. The show's atmosphere is appropriately heavy for the gravity of the situation our characters face. And for what it's worth, it's not unrelentingly bleak. The overall situation may be grim, but in the end this ship is still full of people trying to live their lives, and the show does a good job of keeping its eye on the ball in that respect -- a lot of shows would really lay it on thick with the darkness and brooding, but in real life people manage to carry on. It feels like Sidonia manages that and does a solid job of balancing the bleakness against the fact that people will still seek out relationships and try to have fun and enjoy themselves and so on as long as they're alive.
Ultimately Knights of Sidonia doesn't knock it out of the park or anything, but it's pretty much precisely what I expected it to be: it's a competently-told story built on an interesting premise that doesn't make any major missteps but doesn't take any big risks either. There'll be a season 2 in a few months and I'll watch it.
|Kuroko's Basketball (TV)||Good||I've stopped trying to figure out what the magic ingredient is in sports anime that determines whether I like them or not. I've watched a handful now, not too many, but some (Whistle and Ginga e Kickoff for soccer, Eyeshield 21 for football, now Kuroko for basketball), and they're all pretty formulaic, they all show a simplistic understanding of the sport in question, and they all seem to be aimed primarily at children. These are the three most damning deficiencies in the two of these shows that I ultimately ended up dropping (Ginga and Eyeshield), but they hold equally true for Whistle and Kuroko, which I nonetheless enjoyed. So who knows. I can't tell you what it is that I enjoyed about Kuroko that I didn't like in Ginga, all I can tell you is that I did enjoy it. If you're a basketball fan, you'll probably find its treatment of the sport itself leaves something to be desired, but it remains entertaining in spite of that. Disappointed to see it end, particularly when it feels like it could have kept going on for a long time.|
|Last Exile (TV)||Good||I checked out the first episode of this back when it first aired and fell asleep in the middle, which is something that virtually never happens to me. The truth is that I was probably just exhausted, but this was what, back in 2003? I was some dumb college kid and contrarianism equaled selectivity and rejection seemed like a marker for refined taste, so when this hugely popular new show put me to sleep my conceited reaction was that I must just not be as easily impressed as the unwashed masses and I for one would not be wasting my time on this meaningless drivel.
Well I got over that attitude well before I got out of college but the truth was I hadn't seen enough of Last Exile to impress me, so I still never had any compulsion to return to it, and so I didn't. Still, years went by and people would continue to throw its name around, and I understood it was supposed to be quite good, and what little I knew of the plot sounded like it might be, at the very least, moderately entertaining, and quite possibly more than that. So fast forward eight years and I get bored one day and finally decide to check it out.
Now that I've finished watching it, I'm still not exactly sure where I've landed on Last Exile. It didn't quite click with me in that inexplicable way that my very favorite shows do, and so I really couldn't rate it any higher than "good." Yet at the same time it was clearly a well-crafted show that seemed to meet most or all of my specific requirements for a positive viewing experience, most importantly likable, well developed, well drawn characters, and an entertaining storyline, among others. I can't say it was merely "decent" (or worse), when it definitely was better than that. I think if I had my druthers I would probably rate it somewhere between "Good" and "Very Good," as the former seems a little too low but the latter feels as though it's the lowest level reserved for those shows that have that certain indescribable spark that I just didn't feel here -- but that I do think I might potentially feel on a rewatch a few years down the line, and that I might have felt had I stuck with the show in the first place back in 2003.
I did really like the art style in the show. The character designs were solid, the vanship designs were appropriately utilitarian but with sufficient stylistic flare to catch the eye all the same, the capital ships were well designed, and the world and environment were well imagined and well realized. Guild designs were a little bit exotic to the point of seeming out of place, but given the nature of the Guild and its role in the story, that was certainly intentional.
The characters were also all pretty likable and well-developed, even those who feel at first like standard cardboard anime stereotypes (like brooding captain Alex and stoic navi Alis). Villains aside (you're supposed to hate them, after all), there really isn't a character in the show that I didn't like; there aren't any characters who are annoying or who consistently act in maddeningly irrational ways. That's fairly unusual and a breath of fresh air.
This isn't really a complaint per se, but more of an observation, but the story (in broad strokes, at least) reminded me a lot of Xenogears. Xenogears of course draws in turn from its own sources, and it may be more accurate to say that both Xenogears and Last Exile were inspired by the same things, but there are certainly some strong parallels in any case. I spent most of my high school years playing and replaying Xenogears and it still holds a special place in my heart (even though I probably wouldn't be able to stand it if I were to play it for the first time right now), so I don't really mind the similarities, but the general feeling of familiarity did undercut the excitement a little bit.
That said, this was still a solid show. I've only rated it as low as I have because, as I said before, it just didn't quite click with me the way my most favorite things do. But I think it has that potential, and maybe I'm just not in the right place to fully appreciate the show right now. This might get a bump up on a future rewatch, but for now, I'm going to settle on calling it merely "good." If, like me, you've vacillated on whether or not to watch it, give it a shot. I didn't regret finally doing it and you probably won't either.
|Love Hina (TV)||Good||Despite the popularity of this show, I didn't really expect it to be very good. I enjoyed the Tenchi series because it had a fun, charming cast, but in general I kind of shy away from harem shows because they seem to rely too much on beautiful girls and dopey guys creating cliche comedy. In some ways, Love Hina is no different. But somehow, it was still better than average, and something about it kept me watching. Some of the stuff in the show makes so little sense that it almost seems like it's intended to spoof harem -- for instance, how the hell could Keitarou forget the name of this girl that he made a promise to, if the promise itself is so important that he still remembers it all these years later? It's not just him, either. The amount of memory loss displayed in this show is absolutely breathtaking. I also don't really know what Keitarou sees in Narusegawa. She's a total bitch. A more accurate name for the show would have been "Narusegawa Beats the Crap out of Keitarou Either Because She Misunderstood Something or More Likely Just for No Reason at All," but I guess that doesn't quite roll off the tongue like "Love Hina." The show is at its best when completely random stuff is happening for no reason at all, even when it's just really small things (for reasons even I can't really explain, I just about died when Kaolla whipped a little scooter out of nowhere and got on it with her friend at school). It is, as you may have guessed, at its worst when Keitarou is getting wrecked for no reason other than cheap laughs. It's still a good enough show to check out if you have the chance, but if you hate harem, this probably isn't going to change your mind.|
|Love Hina Again (OAV)||Good||Love Hina Again kind of strayed from what made the TV series great by somewhat minimizing the roles of everyone except Keitarou, Narusegawa, and the new character, Keitarou's adopted younger sister, Kanako. In some ways, that's not good, because the TV series has a relatively strong cast, and we don't get to see as much of that here. Make no mistake, absolutely every character of any importance in the show will make some appearance, but they just don't play the prominent role they did in the show. This is Keitarou's and Narusegawa's story, and perhaps it should be, since the last special left off with Narusegawa only finally admitting her feelings for the first time, but not even to Keitarou. But it would be nice to see a little more of everyone else. However, Narusegawa's character has become much more bearable; the bitchiness has diminished greatly and she's a bit more of a sympathetic character now, so she was able to pick up a lot of the slack left by the reduced roles of the other characters. Not to mention, Kanako is introduced as an even worse bitch than Narusegawa ever was, which makes it easier to take Narusegawa's side. There is a little bit more of the cheap laughs violence that hurt the TV series than there was in the two specials (and at one point, Keitarou even mentions that he hasn't done anything wrong), but it's still at bearable levels. Overall, it was a pretty good OVA, and a fitting end to an above-average TV series. I wouldn't complain if they wanted to make another sequel at some point, perhaps more of a "slice of life" instead of harem (since Keitarou's taken now) that picks up with our characters a year or two down the line, although I wouldn't hold my breath on that.|
|Love Hina Spring Special - I Wish Your Dream||Good||Most of what I said about the Christmas special can also apply here, with one major exception. For the first time, Narusegawa is no longer much of a bitch. There's still some unnecessary violence against Keitarou for cheap laughs -- even a little more than in the Christmas special -- but it's not at the level it was in the TV series; in both specials, it's closer to the normal level of random violence in these types of shows, so it's not quite as overdone. The whole cast is back in this one, and again they're all pretty fun to watch. The randomness of the whole turtle storyline is pretty good; I know it was actually started in the TV series, but it plays a prominent role in this special. And the ending was nice, since they finally quit beating around the bush and Narusegawa just says what we've all already known since a long time ago, that she likes Keitarou just as he likes her. Again, if you liked the TV show, you'll like this. If you didn't, I don't know why you've even bothered to read any of this.|
|Love Hina X'mas Special - Silent Eve||Good||I thought the Christmas special was a little better than the regular Love Hina TV series because it got a little bit more to the point, without lots of Keitarou-beating for cheap laughs. Narusegawa still sucks; she treated Keitarou like crap, then when he thought she was confessing to Seta, she just walks out instead of telling him the truth, opening the door for him to go through a lot of grief to finally meet up with her later. I don't know what Keitarou could possibly see in her, but whatever. Accepting that, for whatever bizarre reason, he does love her, I thought it was a pretty good story. The ending was a little outrageous, though. She goes on the PA system up on all the screens in Shibuya, confessing to Keitarou in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and then the next day she still insists they're just friends? In any case, the main cast (including Narusegawa, when she's not being a total bitch to Keitarou) grew on me throughout the course of the TV series, and they're all in top form for this special, so it was pretty worthwhile. If you liked Love Hina, I'm sure you'll like this too; if you hated Love Hina, obviously this is going to just be more of the same, so I'd stay away.|
|A Lull in the Sea (TV)||Good||This one started off rough for me, but rebounded to become one of my favorite shows of the season. I was initially drawn in by the connection to Red Data Girl (same studio, director, etc), which I unexpectedly really enjoyed last summer. Nagi no Asukara starts out introducing us to a bunch of middle school kids who live under the sea, with an initially not-very-compelling backstory about how sea humans and land humans split off and so on. I found the first few episodes to be a slog and I thought about dropping it, it just didn't interest me at all. But as the show progresses, the story starts to go in some interesting directions as the show turns a little bit apocalyptic. To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to go any farther than that. It just gets a lot more intriguing, let's leave it at that.
The characters themselves become more interesting in step with the story. Early on they're just annoying, sometimes cloying middle school kids. As the show goes on and they have to grapple with what's happening around them, they develop a great deal more depth. The characters themselves, as well as the relationships between them, all become much more interesting. The first half of the show, which I had a little trouble getting through, turns out to have been an excellent place-setter to get you ready for the payoffs in the second half. Viewed that way, the first half itself isn't even weak -- it just requires a little patience, with an eye on the long game.
I've seen plenty of decent enough shows in the past few seasons that I enjoyed in the moment, but will ultimately forget (in most cases, already have forgotten within days or weeks of finishing them). I'm not sure I liked Nagi no Asukara more than Red Data Girl, but it certainly came on strong in the end and both shows are right up there. Unlike most of those forgettable shows of the past few seasons, I definitely think I'll be revisiting this again at some point in the future.
|Lunar Legend Tsukihime (TV)||Good||I'm not normally a huge fan of vampire shows, but this one was recommended to me and I really enjoyed it. The story wasn't bad and the characters were actually pretty entertaining. Definitely worth checking out.|
|Lupin III: Part II (TV)||Good||There aren't many anime shows from which I derive the same kind of entertainment that I get from a lot of American shows. In general, I like an anime because it has a charming cast, or some good combination of decent cast and good story, or I don't like it at all. So it's something like, either I'm pretty into this show or I hate it all together. Lupin doesn't have much of an overarching plot and its characters aren't particularly endearing (not that there's anything wrong with them). But it's the kind of good, light-hearted fun you can get from a good American or British comedy, although Lupin isn't really laugh out loud funny. It's a great show to just turn on and watch, but I don't think I'll ever feel any special attachment to it like I do to my favorite movies or other anime shows. It has all the ingredients of a good show, it just doesn't have that special something to endear itself to you, and so although it's an obvious classic and a fun show to watch, I'll never be able to truly call it great.|
|Macross 7 (TV)||Good||Mylene whines way too much. Gamlin is way too uptight. Sometimes it seems like Basara is being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. Fire Bomber's music really isn't that good, but unlike Minmay, they're the focus of the *entire* series. So why the good rating? These complaints only matter through the first half of the show. In the second half, Mylene stops whining so much, Gamlin loosens up, and Basara isn't quite such a bastard anymore. In the second half, the show improves tremendously. The first part of the show was something of a chore to watch, but it was Macross, so I figured I'd fight it out to the end. The payoff was worth it. No, the fantastic second half couldn't completely save the show. The first half isn't very good, and there's no way around that. But the second half made the overall experience much better, enough to earn the show a good rating. The show is definitely worth checking out, but those who have little patience for shows that start off on the wrong foot will probably not like this one too much.|
|Macross 7 Encore (OAV)||Good||Three self-contained episodes that take place roughly concurrent with the TV series, two of which are just plain old entertainment and another one that gives an explanation (that may or may not be correct) of Fire Bomber's past. The episodes were definitely entertaining and worth watching, but I do agree with the decision to cover this material outside the TV series proper, because inserting these episodes into the show would have disrupted the flow of the rest of the series. Still, if you've already watched Macross 7, I'd suggest checking this out. It's really not too bad.|
|Macross 7 the Movie: The Galaxy's Calling Me!||Good||We'd kind of been led to believe at the end of Macross 7 that the Protodeviln wouldn't be bothering people anymore, so I guess this doesn't mesh terribly well with the TV series. But ignoring that, it's a fairly entertaining "movie" (more like episode, since it's only a half hour long). Basara's doing his usual thing, and Emilia, a Meltrandi trying to become a better singer than the legendary Lynn Minmay, is a pretty cool character too. Worth seeing, particularly if you were a fan of Macross 7.|
|Macross Plus (OAV)||Good||Beautiful animation aside, I think that Macross Plus is a little bit overrated. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, because I definitely did. But it seems to get a lot of praise that could be reserved for better Macross works like the original TV series and DYRL, which featured more interesting stories and a better cast than this OVA. Still, it's definitely worth checking out. If you have your pick of the OVA or movie version, I think the movie edges the OVA slightly, but there's not that much difference between them, so either way is fine. Worth checking out, just not quite worthy of all the praise it gets.|
|Macross Plus Movie Edition||Good||Unlike some OVA to movie adaptations, this one worked pretty well, with relatively seamless transitions between each OVA episode. There was a little extra footage thrown in, but overall the Macross Plus movie was very similar to the OVA. One really strong point here, though, is that the ending has a bit more closure. The OVA ending was terribly abrupt, and that was addressed in the movie version. However, if you've already got the OVA, then checking out the movie isn't really all that necessary.|
|Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (TV)||Good||It started off a little slow, but got much better in later episodes. It's still one of Gainax's weaker shows, but Gainax's weakest work is better than a lot of what's floating around out there. I'd recommend FLCL or Kare Kano over this as better Gainax shows, but this one is still worth checking out.|
|Medaka Box (TV)||Good||I could probably live the rest of my life without watching another anime about kids at school, but at least this one was Gainax and the premise was a little more original than just daily school life, so I gave it a shot anyway. It was as entertaining as I'd expect from Gainax, with fair measures each of comedy and action. But it feels somehow hollow. Looking back to the vintage Gainax that made originally made them my favorite studio -- Gunbuster, Kare Kano, FLCL, etc -- it seems like these characters lack the depth that you had in the old shows. I'm rewatching Kare Kano right now for the nth time and of course there's a lot of trouble with the end of the show, but I'm finding that the parts that were great to begin with still hold up as well as they ever did. I can't really imagine rewatching Medaka Box in 14 years, I don't get the feeling there will be anything new to take away from it like there is with Kare Kano (or Gunbuster, which I'm planning to watch again after I get through Kare Kano). It's fun entertainment but I don't know if it's anything more than that.|
|Medaka Box Abnormal (TV)||Good||I watched the first season of this show principally just because it was a Gainax series. It was fun and entertaining and didn't disappoint, but it was certainly nothing transcendent. This season picks up where that one left off and fills its predecessor's shoes capably. Most of what I said about the first season goes for this one as well, so I'm going to be brief. I think, given a little more time with the characters, they filled out a little bit here, although there's still far less here than in those Gainax shows of yore. The structure of this season is a little off putting, given that the entire season consists of Medaka and her crew pushing deeper into essentially a fortress, and each episode is just another battle with the foe in the next room, which gives it a sort of monster of the week flavor, but it works well enough anyway. The final episode breaks from this format, as the main story wraps up in the penultimate episode, and sets up what could be a fun villain for the third season, if there is one (maybe it's already confirmed, I don't know, I'm not keeping up on the news). If you like Gainax in general, you'll probably like this. If you liked the first season, there's no reason you won't like the second.|
|Mizuiro (OAV 2)||Good|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Second Season (TV)||Good||I didn't really come into the second season of Gundam 00 with terribly high expectations. Like I said, first season was all right, nothing special but a little better than expected. The second season actually ends up presenting a pretty respectable improvement over the first. By now, the character development that was set in motion in the first season has ripened into a legitimately likable cast. From the very beginning, Setsuna's fully developed into the sort of character we're supposed to believe Heero has become at the end of Wing except we barely see it until the last couple episodes. Tieria's transformation since the beginning of season 1 is similarly refreshing. In order to minimize spoilers, all I'll say about the handling of Lockon is that it seems questionable at first but actually becomes fairly interesting. Saji gets kind of annoying at times (and in some ways kind of fills the Quatre role that was absent in the first show), but he's not terrible and he gets better. The mecha designs are still pretty nice, too -- only incremental changes over the previous season, for the most part. The 00 is a nice design and even the 00-Raiser, which would generally fit the bill of mecha with lots of stupid shit tacked on, actually looks pretty decent. I also really love that they manage to get Exia a couple cameo appearances, sort of flying in the face of Gundam tradition that typically mandates that the machines must get more outlandishly strong as the show progresses.
There's not really a ton else to say -- for the most part it's the same as season one, just better. It's got some really fun setpieces (such as one set around the African orbital elevator) that are about as entertaining as anything else in the Gundam canon, although the series as a whole falls short of the greatest Gundam series. Still, I'm pretty surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.
|Mobile Suit Gundam Seed MSV Astray (OAV Promo)||Good||This is just a couple of little animated shorts. They don't really tell a story and they kind of assume that you're already familiar with the characters. Still, they're fun to watch. The Gundam Astray units look very nice in animation, much nicer than their mass produced counterparts or any of the Gundams in SEED. Fans of Gundam SEED or of the Astray manga stories might want to check this out.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack (movie)||Good||It's not bad, but it's just not as entertaining as some other shows/movies. Still, a great end to a legendary rivalry. Most of the old characters are still as good as they were before, but most of the new characters are pretty irritating. Quess just whines and whines about Char, and so she's annoying. Gyunei is jealous over this little girl, and so he's annoying. Hathaway for whatever reason likes Quess, and just by aligning himself with her he becomes more annoying. I recently rewatched this and it was better than I remembered, but still not as good as some other Gundam shows or movies.|
|Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation (movies)||Good||
A good but not great adaptation of a great show. The big problem is that it feels a lot less focused than the First Gundam compilation trilogy, and if you watch the two trilogies back to back (as I have over the past few days), the difference is especially pronounced. First Gundam flows together very well and in my opinion is actually better than the TV series. Zeta, on the other hand, feels like it was given a lot less attention, like Tomino just plotted out the major points he wanted to hit in the movie and shoehorned them all in without necessarily worrying too much about transitioning from one scene to the next. The result is a story that feels a little incoherent even to someone as familiar with the TV series as I am, though still a great deal better than the messes that are the Gundam 0083 and Turn A Gundam compilations.
The other big issue I have is with the new animation, which generally sticks out like a sore thumb against the original TV animation. Ideally they would have just reanimated the entire thing, or failing that, they would have tried to make the new animation look a little bit closer to the old. The switch is abrupt and jarring and it happens frequently as each movie has quite a bit of new animation in it. It's not a huge problem, but the patchwork of old and new certainly doesn't work that well. Use all original, all new, or at least make the new look like the old. Don't do it this way.
It's not all bad, though. I do actually rather like the new ending, though it seems to have broad implications not just for Gundam ZZ, but really for the UC continuity as a whole. The new ending certainly doesn't preclude Char's Counterattack, and it doesn't even necessarily have to eject ZZ from the canon, but it certainly makes both stories a little bit less likely to follow up this one and raises questions about how exactly they fit in now. Having rewatched ZZ about a year ago and finding it far better than I remembered, I wouldn't actually mind a ZZ compilation to try to resolve the discrepancies, but it'll be a cold day in hell before that happens.
Overall, one of the better compilations to come out of the Gundam metaseries, but certainly not flawless. It's a nice way to get through Zeta without having to sit through fifty episodes (which is why I finally got around to watching it), but if you've got the time for those episodes, the TV series is still the way to go.
|My Neighbors the Yamadas (movie)||Good||A funny, touching look at a slightly dysfunctional Japanese family. The art style here is really interesting because it stands in sharp contrast to most Ghibli movies. Where Ghibli is usually known for lush environments and incredible detail, the style here is decidedly different: a very stripped down watercolor look with as little detail as possible. But it works really well, because that's sort of the tone of the movie itself, too. There isn't really an overarching story to speak of; the movie is instead just a "slice of life" of the Yamada family, presented in a series of more or less unrelated vignettes showing various aspects of their daily lives. Thus, the movie itself leaves large holes in what it does and doesn't choose to present to us, and it seems fitting that it would be portrayed in a unique art style that does the same thing visually. Not Ghibli's best work, but an interesting, entertaining movie all the same. The wedding speech scene in particular is hilarious.|
|Noragami (TV)||Good||Fun but unremarkable little show crossing Japanese folklore with modern life (a familiar formula). Our main character Hiyori is a typical Japanese teenager until she catches a glimpse of Yato about to be hit by a bus and pushes him out of the way, only to be hit herself. Turns out Yato is a god who doesn't need her help and in fact is rarely even noticed (although, strictly speaking, he is not invisible) by most people. Though Hiyori survives, her soul begins to randomly leave her body, a problem she demands Yato help her solve. So that's our setup.
The show succeeds largely on the strength of its characters. Hiyori, Yato, and the rest of the cast are likable enough. The supernatural element adds a bit of drama and helps with world-building, as strange things are frequently happening and someone is always there to explain it to us in a way that adds depth to the setting. I'd say my one notable complaint about the show is that it builds to a somewhat underwhelming climax, a typical shounen anime fight against a character who had only just been introduced a couple episodes prior. The fight itself wasn't bad or anything, it's just never quite as easy to get invested in a villain who just appeared on the scene seemingly in order to facilitate the fight to come.
Nonetheless, Noragami was one of the stronger shows of this season. A lot of threads are left hanging, minor enough that the show can stand on its own but numerous enough that there could be more material to mine in future seasons, which I would happily watch.
|Only Yesterday (movie)||Good||Don't get me wrong, of course I love Miyazaki to death, but I've definitely got a soft spot for Ghibli with a little less whimsy too, which Takahata is great for. Only Yesterday is intensely nostalgic, the story of an adult woman figuring out her present problems while reminiscing on her childhood, and it will make you feel nostalgia for a life you didn't even live, for this fictional character's life. This is because it, like other Ghibli works, is so great at capturing the essence of the human experience. You aren't Taeko, and you might not even have gone through exactly what Taeko did as a child, but there's something nonetheless universal about her experiences. This remains true of present day Taeko, with whom you feel not so much nostalgia as self-identification, because if you are or once were in your late 20s, you face or have faced the same issues she's grappling with. And while the ending is maybe a bit too saccharine, you still can't help but feel good for Taeko. All in all, a solid effort from Takahata and Ghibli.|
|(The) Order to Stop Construction (movie)||Good|
|Outlaw Star (TV)||Good||This show is in some ways similar to Cowboy Bebop in that two friends in business together go cruising through space in their own ship and pick up a few new passengers along the way. Sometimes the jobs they take on even include bounty hunting. That's about where the similarities end, but lots of people like to lump this together with Cowboy Bebop as two shows of the same type. If that's the case, this one is undoubtedly superior. A more interesting cast, more entertaining dialogue, and a much tighter story. Just make sure you see it unedited for the whole experience.|
|Ozma (TV)||Good||I went into this without even knowing much about what it was about, just because the name "Leiji Matsumoto" was attached to it. There's a lot to like here, but one huge, glaring disappointment: that it's so short. I love the art style, which harkens back to a more classic 70s aesthetic (not too surprising). The characters, for what little screen time they can really get over six episodes, are likable and have well-developed personalities. The setting and story are interesting and show a lot of promise.
Which leads me back to that one big complaint. This show certainly starts out as if it's merely the beginning of a standard half or even full year long series. It feels like there's a lot to explore here and it feels like there's going to be plenty of time to explore it. And then, suddenly...you're at the end. In just six episodes we've got it all wrapped up here. It doesn't feel rushed, per se. It doesn't feel like Matsumoto thought he was going to have a lot longer than he did. It just feels like there should have been more for these characters to say and do in this world he created. If you'll forgive the clumsy analogy, it's almost like a Mad magazine fold-in, where he took the first few episodes and last few episodes of a much longer show and found a way to cut out thirty or forty episodes in the middle and still line them up seamlessly together. I liked all six episodes of Ozuma, I just wish there had been more than six.
|Patlabor 2: The Movie||Good|
|Patlabor the Mobile Police (TV)||Good|
|Patlabor: The Movie||Good|
|Peacemaker (TV)||Good||Not quite as good as Rurouni Kenshin, which takes place in roughly the same time period, about a decade later. Still, a good show that deals with the Bakumatsu from the Shinsengumi perspective. Apparently there's a sequel manga and I'd be very interested in seeing it animated, too.|
|Pom Poko (movie)||Good||One of Ghibli's weaker offerings, I think, but Ghibli's worst would still be better than virtually any other anime out there. My biggest problem is with the presentation. In general, I am just not really a big fan of excessive narration except in a handful of cases (most notably, I do love film noir); this movie is narrated extensively, and it tends to make the story feel denser than it truly is. They also lay it on a little thick with the environmentalism, too. Don't get me wrong, it's a good message to have, but I prefer more subtle or passive themes. For instance, Grave of the Fireflies, another Takahata film, could certainly be considered to be an anti-war movie, but at no point in the movie does anyone explicitly say "war is bad." You're shown the effects of war and left to draw your own conclusions, however obvious they may turn out to be. Pom Poko, on the other hand, is pretty blunt. It's not necessarily a huge problem, but it's not really my personal preference and so I enjoyed the movie less for it. Still an overall pretty solid movie, though -- what else would you expect from Ghibli? And it's also an interesting film for students of Japanese culture, as it extensively treats the tanuki myth and will introduce viewers to something they might otherwise be largely unaware of. Not a truly great movie, especially by Ghibli standards, but worth a watch all the same.|
|Porco Rosso (movie)||Good||Probably my least favorite Miyazaki movie, which isn't to say it's by any means a bad movie. Porco Rosso is actually a pretty interesting, entertaining movie, beautifully animated and wonderfully imaginative. That I call it my least favorite Miyazaki movie isn't so much a knock against it as it is a testament to the strength of Miyazaki's body of work.|
|R.O.D -The TV-||Good|
|RahXephon (TV)||Good||This is one of those shows that I remember when it came out, it was something I probably should have been interested in given my tastes, but I just never bothered to watch it. It's been listed in my "will not finish" for god knows how long, but I actually have absolutely no recollection of having ever seen it. For some reason I always kind of confuse it with Arjuna, which I affirmatively recall seeing the first episode of, but that's also already in my "will not finish," so that's probably not the reason it was listed. I ramble. In any case, something made me think of this show again a couple months ago, now that it's eleven years old; I realized I didn't really know anything about it except that it was a mecha show that had drawn comparisons to Evangelion back when it was new, but a quick look at Wikipedia made it sound interesting, so I grabbed it and finally got around to watching it.
In the early going, I had a little trouble keeping up with the show. I'm not sure if the first few episodes are genuinely kind of boring and couldn't hold my attention or if it was just because I happened to be severely jetlagged when I watched them. I already basically don't remember much of the first few episodes, and at some point in the early/mid part of the show, I sort of realized I didn't really know what was even going on. I have to explain all of this because it may (or may not, who knows) play a large role in my merely rating the show "good." I got myself up to speed again reading the brief episode recaps on Wikipedia and plowed on with the show, enjoying it more and more as it progressed. Maybe the early episodes were legitimately kind of boring and couldn't hold my attention, and in that case, the rating is deserved; on the other hand, maybe those episodes deserved more attention than I was capable of giving them immediately after a transatlantic flight, in which case I might have consistently enjoyed the show at the same level I did the later episodes, and might have given it a "very good" or "excellent" instead. I suspect I'll rewatch it at some point in the future, which may put these questions to rest.
In any case, that essentially covers my major complaints about the show -- that for quite a while I basically had no idea what was going on, which made it hard to care what was going on, and by extension quite difficult to develop any attachment to the characters. My only other real qualm was with the character Isshiki Makoto, whose story never really struck a chord with me. The flashback episode to his childhood with Itsuki and Helena felt out of place at the time and ultimately served only to set up character development that I didn't really care about. I feel like if you completely excised him from the story, the show wouldn't suffer at all. As it is, he isn't a major problem either, he just sort of feels like a waste of time when he's the focus. Whatever.
The good: despite my early issues, I did eventually come around and like most of the characters. The relationship between Ayato and Haruka is handled pretty well, and most of the surrounding cast is solid. Although I thought Ayato was likable enough as a main character, I have to admit being a little perplexed by the small quasi-harem he managed to assemble (with both Hiroko and Megumi apparently being pretty into him...for some reason), but this is more of an observation than a complaint or anything. Otherwise, and without getting into any spoilers, the cast worked: the good guys were likable, the bad guys were appropriately annoying, and we got some nice curveballs along the way as characters that could have been shoved into flat, two-dimensional archetypes developed surprising complexity and depth.
I mostly enjoyed the story, too. I say mostly because, well, without rewatching the show now, I still don't know how much of it was actually incomprehensible and how much I just blacked out when the show was laying its early groundwork. Still, I'm sort of a sucker for these kinds of shows that adapt ancient mythology and blend it into an original story (for example, I've always been a big fan of the Atlantis angle in Escaflowne as well, and for that matter even the far more indistinct Protoculture ruins of Macross, which don't even reference any particular real-world mythology), and RahXephon handles its Mesoamerican (and various other) influences adeptly in crafting an entertaining and engrossing story. Moreover, while I have just described the story as at least partially "incomprehensible," I have more or less put it together at this point, so it's not as if it's completely opaque, even if you have lost the first several episodes to the sands of time, as I have. It's a fun story that draws from a lot of sources to give you something that, if it can't be genuinely called "original" in its own right, is at least an original mix.
I guess I would be remiss if I were the only person in the world not to comment on the obvious Evangelion connections (I've heard Megazone 23 a lot too, but alas, I haven't seen that, although perhaps I should). The similarities are pretty obvious -- mecha that aren't really "mecha," NERV/TERRA, Misato/Haruka, character parallels between Shinji and Ayato, and well, I'm already getting bored listing them, but there are plenty more. If you're familiar with Eva, you'll be struck by the similarities here, but I don't think they're strong enough that they detract from the show. In particular, I think that complaints that RahXephon is worse for having "aped" Eva are unfounded. If you want a wholly original, never-before-told story, you're on the wrong planet, but plenty of capable storytellers wear their influences on their sleeve and this is not ipso facto a bad thing. The similarities to Eva, although numerous, are basically superficial. That, to me, is where the line is -- if RahXephon were lifting major plot elements wholesale, we might need to talk, but that's not happening here, so let's just let it go. It's an entertaining show with its own personality, telling its own story, and Eva itself didn't exactly hide its own inspirations. My two cents on an eleven year old conversation.
All told, I liked RahXephon. I'm sort of surprised myself that I've rated it merely "good," but my gut is telling me it doesn't deserve to go higher. In a couple years, I'll probably give it another watch, and perhaps a fresh evaluation. For now, all I can say is it's a pretty good show and I'm glad I finally gave it a shot.
|Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection (OAV)||Good||It really shouldn't have been made. It kind of ruins what we had been led to believe throughout the TV series would be a happy future for Kenshin and Kaoru. Kenshin's story would have greatly benefited from this having never been made. That said, since someone *did* erroneously decide that they should create a final OVA to end the show, this is pretty much the only appropriate way they could have done it. Failing an animated version of the Revenge Arc, this was really the only way they could have gone with a new show; so the final verdict: shouldn't have been made, but since it was, it's the best it could have been.|
|Rurouni Kenshin: The Motion Picture||Good||The story and the new characters introduced here weren't quite up to par with the TV series and the first OVA, but thsi was still a pretty entertaining movie. Not a terrible way to kill an hour and a half.|
|Samurai Flamenco (TV)||Good||A man who grew up loving superheroes tries to become one, initially by meting out vigilante justice on mostly petty crimes, but eventually becoming a real superhero when real supervillains begin to appear. The premise is a little bit silly but as the show goes on it gets further and further unhinged -- and it works beautifully.
Part of the reason the show is able to succeed is that the cast really makes it work. Our main character, the eponymous Samurai Flamenco, aka Hazama Masayoshi, is naive but likable. Unwilling to tolerate any evil, he's always ready to lecture rulebreakers and right wrongs. He develops a close friendship with policeman Goto, a more grounded straight man to stand next to Samurai Flamenco's goofy superheroics, and is joined by Mari Maya, a fellow vigilante and pop idol who has a little bit too much fun brutally beating criminals, and the Flamenco Girls, the other members of her pop idol/superhero group. Mari's sadistic streak plays well against her saccharine pop idol persona and she develops a bit of genuine depth as the show progresses, guided by Mizuki and Moe, her partners in singing and crime-fighting. As the show goes on, Samurai Flamenco is joined by more allies and faces greater foes, all of whom bring various things to the table in their own right.
The show works because it so thoroughly commits to its schtick. It seems like most shows that want to do something sort of silly ultimately feel compelled to pump the brakes at some point, and that doesn't really help anybody. When you wink and nod at your audience and become aware of your silliness, the whole thing falls apart. Samurai Flamenco hangs together by treating its goofy subject matter with the gravity it would actually deserve were it happening in real life. At the same time, it avoids taking itself too seriously and becoming too somber and overwrought (if only this show had come out before Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, he might have learned some useful lessons). I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this show going in, but coming out I can only say that I had a great time with it.
|Say "I love you." (TV)||Good||I liked this show, although not as much as I had hoped I would coming in. It's not that I particularly disliked anything about it, just that it never really connected with me on a deeper level. Kare Kano is sort of my gold standard for romantic anime, I genuinely really like all the characters on that show and I rewatch it every few years and always feel a sort of connection there. This was a competent, by the book show that was well put together and hit the necessary genre points and then was over. It's like finishing a meal before you're full. It's good but it never managed to elevate its game to the next level. Kare Kano turns 15 years old this year and I still think about it a lot and, like I said, rewatch it periodically. I'll be very surprised if I have anything but vague memories of this show in 15 years. That's not because it's a bad show, but there's a lot else out there and I suspect it's going to fade into the background just like 98% of everything else.|
|Scrapped Princess (TV)||Good|
|Servant × Service (TV)||Good||Didn't have super high expectations for this show, but I'm typically down to check out a slice of life story, and particularly one that breaks the typical anime habit of focusing on children. While Servant x Service may not be the greatest show I've ever seen or anything, it definitely came in above my expectations for it.
There isn't really a ton to say about a short show that's essentially just about people living life. In a show like this, the most important ingredient is obviously the cast, and Servant x Service is populated by a pretty likable bunch. Main character Lucy is flawed in the typical way that many anime characters are, hypersensitive to and easily embarrassed about something that, at her age, she should probably be working past now (her ridiculous name). Her entire motivation for joining the ward office is to ultimately find out who approved her name and confront them, but it's not entirely clear why you have to become a civil servant to do that. More than that, she's extremely insecure in general. This part is somewhat easier to believe, particularly given her background (all-girls schools since junior high, so it makes some sense that she's awkward and doesn't know how to handle Hasebe's advances), but you still wonder how somebody gets to be her age without having any idea how to interact with the opposite sex.
Hasebe, her slacker coworker whose playful teasing rapidly develops into genuine feelings for her, turns out to be a surprisingly well drawn character, typically projecting a happy-go-lucky facade that only Lucy herself is consistently incapable of seeing through. The rest of the ward office staff members are generally strong in their supporting roles, with the subplot relationship between Ichimiya and Chihaya particularly entertaining (although much as Lucy's insecurity is a little bit puzzling, it's also not entirely clear why Ichimiya has so much trouble telling sister Toko that he has a girlfriend -- I mean, I know what the show's explanation is, but if you pretend for a second that these are real people who you personally know, it's bizarre). One minor misstep, where the show goes a little bit too far toward wackiness, is the section chief, who, due to "shyness," appears only in the form of a surrogate robotic rabbit. This is a joke that just doesn't quite work for me, but it's not a big problem.
Overall, a fun show. I do think it will probably ultimately prove to be forgettable, there's not a lot here that I see really sticking with me going forward, but an enjoyable twelve episodes nonetheless. If you're into slice of life comedies or maybe would like to see an anime about adults for once, Servant x Service might be right up your alley.
|Silver Spoon (TV)||Good||I'm a big fan of slice of life stuff, so of course I'm in on a show like this. While it's not particularly excellent, it does its job well and hits all the right buttons. There are two main critical factors in a slice of life show: you need a likable cast, because not a ton is going to happen on the plot front, and you need to sell your setting, because the world your characters inhabit is going to have a more significant, if subtle, role than in most shows. Gin no Saji hits in both respects. Hachiken is actually a great main character for this type of show because he's not a scene-stealer. He's not a boring character per se, but he's not the kind of guy who can put a show on his back and carry it all on his own. And that's fine, because in a show like this you want the supporting cast to shine through, and it does. Hachiken's school is populated by a wide variety of personalities who all have just one thing in common: to Hachiken's eye, they all seem to be far surer of what they're doing now and what they're going to do in the future than he is. This allows various characters to take center stage for brief parts of the story to teach Hachiken valuable lessons about life and so on. This is how the story should be constructed, but the reason it works is that the supporting cast is all very likable in its own right. What Hachiken lacks in personal charisma, he makes up for in friends whose interactions with him and with each other are both fun to watch and give the setting extra depth. And that's important because the setting, as noted above, is the other important pillar in a slice of life show. The setting here is at an agricultural school in rural Hokkaido, which is cool because it's a side of Japan that isn't frequently seen in anime, by tourists, or, I'd wager, even by many native Japanese people (it's the same way in the West, of course -- if you didn't grow up in a rural community, how likely is it that you've ever spent much time on a farm? I've been on a farm like once ever in my life). The setting is well-imagined and richly drawn, which leads me to believe that Hiromu Arakawa either grew up in rural Hokkaido herself or did a hell of a lot of research to develop a convincing world. The show has a particularly strong effect for me, because I spent a fair amount of time in the Japanese countryside (granted, not Hokkaido and not on a farm) and shows like this make me nostalgic (even more than I otherwise am) and sort of help take me back there. It might be said that this gives Gin no Saji a certain advantage over other slice of life shows in winning my heart, but I think it's just as likely that a poorly-portrayed setting could feel even more alien than it otherwise would have. That Gin no Saji works is a testament to the skill with which Arakawa has drawn her setting. I understand that a second season is supposed to be coming in a few months, and I eagerly look forward to it.|
|Silver Spoon (TV 2)||Good||I don't have much to add to this beyond what I said about the first season. Now that we're acquainted with the characters and setting, season 2 took a slightly more "plot"-based approach, to the extent that a show like this even has much of a plot -- we see the relationship between Hachiken and Mikage develop further, there's a subplot about the financial struggles that confront farms in modern Japan, and some characters who are less important to these threads see their screen time reduced some compared to season one. Nonetheless, the show remains strong in the same ways that it was before, with the cast remaining strong in the screen time that it gets and the slack being picked up by some of the (mild) drama surrounding the story developments. Still a solid show, looking forward to season three, whenever that comes.|
|Star Blazers: The Comet Empire (TV)||Good||A bit of a step down from the first season, but Yamato II is still pretty entertaining. It basically adapts the story of the second Yamato movie, with some major changes -- additional subplots, a somewhat happier ending (admittedly still darker than I expected), etc. The trip to Telezart, which is a somewhat less significant part of the movie, takes a more central role here, although it's still not as long or central as the first season's trip to Iscandar. In the movie Teresa is from a race of otherwise humanoid-looking people who are made of anti-matter, which is kind of a cool, interesting twist (if you don't think too hard about it, of course) that is taken out of the TV show. But, in return, Teresa features a little bit more prominently in the TV story and they do a bit more with her character, so it's ultimately probably a fair trade off.
I'm not sure how much more I really have to say. Although there are some big changes, the story is still basically the same as the movie. If you like Yamato, it's a good show -- not as good as the first, arguably not even as good as the movie it adapts, but still good.
|Stink Bomb (movie)||Good||Funny short about a hapless corporate employee who mistakes an experimental bioweapon for cold medicine and begins emitting a stench that knocks everyone around him unconscious. It's a clever premise and well-executed here with solid production values as well. For a 40 minute movie, you could do a lot worse.|
|Tenchi Muyo! The Night Before The Carnival (OAV)||Good|
|Tenshi na Konamaiki (TV)||Good||When I first started watching this, I had no idea what it would be about. As soon as I realized it was another "girl who used to be a guy" story, I thought I would hate it. But I ended up sticking with it, and I didn't regret it. Tenshi na Konamaiki is a really entertaining show with a charming and endearing cast. I found it really addictive in the early going, but my interest started to tail off later in the show. I think that may be partially because, lacking a domestic release, the series was only really available to me in the digisubs that a single group was periodically releasing. I started watching the show after about half of it had been released, and I burned through those eps quickly, but the latter half took almost two years to finish coming out, and in the meantime my interest waned. When I have a little free time, I plan to rewatch it over the course of a week or two, and when I do that its rating might get bumped up. But I think the time between episodes was only part of the problem. In the later episodes, the show really shifts its focus away from the original plot premise -- that is, Megumi's past as a boy and her desire to become a man again -- and starts moving into other areas. The episodes are still entertaining enough on their own because the characters are so much fun, but as a whole this lack of focus weakens the show a bit. Still, it's a wonderfully entertaining show, and I'd highly recommend it. And yes, after a few episodes you'll get used to the unique art style and it won't really be a bother.|
|Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (TV)||Good||I just recently heard about this show, like a month after the actual earthquake that hit Sendai, and I was kind of morbidly curious to see how they handled the subject -- on top of which, a well-done disaster story is always a good time (and I've always been fascinated by earthquakes anyway). Truth be told, I didn't actually expect much out of it, I actually thought it wouldn't be a very good show, but the premise was enough for me to check it out despite the low expectations. As it turned out, those expectations were far off the mark.
This show isn't amazing or anything, but it's pretty good and seems like a fairly levelheaded examination of an actual threat. The characters are down to earth and realistically drawn and the depiction of the disaster and its aftermath is plausible (but I'm not personally qualified to say whether or not it's realistic -- as far as whether or not the show itself is good, it doesn't really matter anyway). Mirai is a little bit annoying in the early going, but of course she is -- she's a spoiled, snotty seventh grader. By the end of the show, she's grown considerably, and it happens so gradually over the course of the show that you never have any particular moment when you realize she's not annoying anymore, you just kind of get to the end of the show and you like her. The rest of the cast that surrounds her is similarly likable and well-written, although nobody's transformation is as great as hers.
Nonetheless, the show isn't perfect. For one thing, the middle episodes certainly feel like they drag a little bit. The earthquake itself and the first few big aftershocks, which are when we get most of the destruction sequences, are pretty good, and the payoff at the end of the show is satisfying, but parts of the journey in the middle are less interesting. It's never outright boring, of course, but I can't help but feel like the show didn't need to run eleven episodes, except for the fact that drawing out the length of the show is the most effective way to make the viewer feel the length of the characters' journey, a 15 or 20 kilometer walk through the ruins of Tokyo over the course of a few days.
One other complaint I had is with the final couple episodes, when the show introduces a surreal element (can't really go into detail without a major spoiler). Until this point, it had more or less been a straightforward, realistic portrayal. When it becomes obvious what direction they're going, it's a little disappointing. In fairness, though, they handle it very well, so the complaint is only a minor one.
Overall, a good, plausible disaster show that has unfortunately become all too relevant in the past few months. While it's not perfect, it hits on most of the right notes and is definitely worth checking out.
|Valvrave the Liberator (TV)||Good||I'm going to be honest here, I had very low expectations for Valvrave, checking it out only because it sounded like basically a Gundam clone (and maybe more specifically a Gundam SEED clone), and I figured I'd watch an episode or two and probably hate it and then forget about it. While it is about a war between two superpowers in space more or less around Earth and involving mecha, there's not much more "Gundam" in there than that. The Valvraves are basically super robots, both in terms of their own abilities but also the, well, basically, magic, that they utilize. Gundam of course has a little bit of "magic" of its own with Newtypes, but Valvrave is a whole other level. This isn't a criticism, just another point to show that my assumption of a Gundam clone was off the mark here.
In the early episodes I was kind of enjoying it but not super into it. When a new episode came out, I watched it, I liked it enough, but that was that. This one gradually picked up steam as it progressed, though, and the late episodes included a few genuinely dark moments (interspersed with some welcome levity as well). The cast is mostly pretty good here; the developing relationship between L-Elf and Haruto (most specifically Haruto's growing trust in L-Elf, and L-Elf seeming to, little by little, see him as a bit more than a simple tool to wield) was a strong point, while Rukino is probably the most interesting individual character, and the rest of the cast is pretty likable as well. The setting is mostly boilerplate space war, but the story surrounding the Valvraves is more intriguing.
I don't have much else to say about the show yet; another season is coming in a few months, so right now I regard it as an unfinished product. The first season started all right and ended genuinely pretty good, so I'm looking forward to more, but I can't truly judge the story until I've seen the whole thing. Still, this is one to keep an eye on going forward.
|Whisper of the Heart (movie)||Good||Another solid entry to the Ghibli library, with the same gorgeous animation and attention to detail that you'd expect from the studio. It treads ground that is not exactly unfamiliar in anime, a story of high school kids falling in love, the awkward fumbling that occurs at first, the self-discovery that takes place along the way, finally culminating with them getting together like you know they're going to. But as Studio Ghibli does in all their films, Whisper of the Heart treats this well-worn subject with a poingancy that is usually lacking in most other anime. Moreover, the concurrent story, not just of the budding romance between Shizuku and Seiji, but also of their own efforts to develop their talents and figure out what their futures are going to be, adds another layer of realism to the story and depth to their characters. Anyone who has been a teenager should be able to relate to this movie on a pretty personal level. If I had one complaint, it would have to be with the ending, which I feel goes just a step too far. Sorry for spoiling it (actually, that should serve as your warning to stop reading right now if you really care that much), but the movie ends with Seiji proposing to Shizuku and she accepting. Now, in fairness to the movie, it's a "will you marry me someday?" proposal, not a concrete "let's get married!" But still, these kids are 14 years old with their whole lives still ahead of them, and frankly they barely know each other anyway. I suppose it's not necessarily unrealistic that they would be so idealistic as to talk about getting married, but if they were real kids, I'd tell them they were making a mistake, so the whole thing leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. It's supposed to be a happy ending, but it closes things up so concretely -- Seiji could have just said "will you wait for me when I'm in Italy?" or something, and that's acceptable, but "will you marry me?" is just...too much. Still, it's a fairly minor complaint in the grand scheme of things. A solid movie all the same.|
|Young Black Jack (TV)||Good||I'm not really that familiar with Black Jack, except that I know it exists, so I came into this with essentially no background or expectations and ultimately found it pretty entertaining. I've come to realize that one dumb thing that I really enjoy that happens all the time in anime is the trope with the otherworldly talented guy who stuns everybody with his abilities, and it doesn't really matter whether that's an athlete hitting an impossible shot, somebody finding a new level of Super Saiyajin, or a kid who can pilot a robot with no training, so in this case a medical student who magically is better than any licensed surgeon hits the same spot. It helps that Hazama (aka young Black Jack) seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He's not some boring golden boy, but he always does The Right Thing, which is basically to work his medical magic on his patient of the week. This is a fairly entertaining show and may be of interest to fans of the older Black Jack stuff (or maybe not, I dunno whether the Black Jack fan community considers this an abomination or something, fans can be weird). Overall, worth watching. If you're into the Trauma Center videogames, it's kinda like a loose adaptation of those.|
|Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files (TV)||Good||Pretty entertaining shounen show. That is to say, there's a lot of action and fighting, a lot of wasted time with powering up or showing off special attacks or what have you, and not a whole lot of story. But it's competently constructed, with a fun cast. I've got a bit of a soft spot for shounen, provided it's properly done, and YYH fits the bill. My biggest complaint, and the main reason it gets merely a "good" rating, is with the final story arc, which seems a little bit rushed at the end. The early episodes of the show can be hit or miss, which I think is largely true for any show like this (I'd say the same about Rurouni Kenshin, for example) as it finds its footing. The mini-arcs within the first arc, such as the Saint Beasts story, are entertaining enough. Then you hit the Dark Tournament, which is a genuinely cool arc, and the Black Chapters arc is even better. But the Three Kings arc at the end...they spend a lot of episodes laying the groundwork for it and after they've built up to it, they haven't left enough time for the payoff. The climax takes the form of another tournament, which is annoying because we just saw the Dark Tournament like 30 episodes earlier -- I'll grant that Dragon Ball and DBZ have lots of tournaments too, but they're spaced out a bit so as to avoid feeling repetitive. But then the tournament is only given a few episodes to play through, too. We're given all this peripheral information to inform us of the epic nature of the tournament, but we only get to see a handful of fights, and the climactic fight of the series only lasts two episodes and isn't even the championship round of the tournament (which we never actually see). Several more episodes devoted to the tournament would have been nice, preferably by condensing the earlier expository episodes instead of adding more episodes to the end of the show. Still, all in all, YYH is a pretty entertaining show if you enjoy the occasional shounen romp.|
|Aldnoah.Zero (TV)||Very good||Probably my favorite show of the season, a good concept that was well executed. This is a split season show -- usually I just review it anyway, and when the second season comes out my review of that one says something like "blah blah blah everything I said before still holds here, with these additional thoughts." In this case, I'm going to instead wait for the second season before reviewing.|
|Barakamon (TV)||Very good||I'm a sucker for a good slice of life show, especially one that touches on some specific part of the culture, so of course I had to watch Barakamon, about a skilled calligrapher who has a bit of a breakdown and moves to a remote island to clear his head.
There's not actually a whole lot to say about Barakamon. I pretty much just told you the entire plot already. There are no twists, no surprises. That's not what kind of show this is. This is just a show about a guy living his life with the people around him, so it's going to succeed or fail based on the strength of its characters. Happily, the cast here is really strong. Main character Handa has juuuuuuuust the right amount of crotchetyness (like a big deal guy from the big city trying to adjust to rural life in the sticks would be) without compromising his ultimate likability -- he's basically a good guy whose arc in this story is to find his place after he's been a fish out of water. It's not groundbreaking stuff by any stretch, but it's well done for sure. The townsfolk are all equally likable and, importantly, maintain distinct personalities so that their various roles and interactions with Handa don't become simply interchangeable. Young Naru shines in the most significant supporting role -- it's really easy to make a little girl too cute and use her as a crutch that way, but Naru is really lovable and boasts surprising depth.
And that's pretty much what this show is. A guy on an island, making friends. If that's not your thing, I suppose you won't like the show, but it really should probably be your thing.
|Castle in the Sky (movie)||Very good||It's Miyazaki; what more can I really say about it? A great, fun movie, probably accurately described as a "children's movie," but a great movie is great no matter how old you are. Beautiful animation, an endearing cast, and a surprisingly engrossing story. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli always do fine work and Laputa doesn't disappoint.|
|(The) Cat Returns (movie)||Very good||Probably the funniest Studio Ghibli movie. It has the same gorgeous animation, beautiful landscapes, and high production values that you've come to expect out of Ghibli, with a characteristically simple, fantastic plot, endearing characters, and touching poignancy. I came into this with somewhat mixed feelings, since it's not a Miyazaki or Takahata movie and it's just a spin off of another movie, but it far surpassed my expectations. I've seen some complain that it's too short, but I think the length is perfect for it. Great movie.|
|Cowboy Bebop: The Movie||Very good||Much better than the TV show. I wonder if this may be because it's like a long, stand-alone episode. Individual episodes of Cowboy Bebop might be all right, but for the most part they didn't mesh well into one cohesive unit because the show was so episodic. None of the characters were charming enough that I really CARED about them, so that really only left the story, and...what story was there, throughout most of the show? The movie, on the other hand, doesn't really need to connect to anything else. You can sit back and enjoy the movie on its own, and so its own story, which has nothing to do with Vicious or the mafia or anything else, can carry the movie, unlike in the TV show where episodes like Cowboy Funk, while entertaining on their own, detract from the whole of the series. A cast that's entertaining, but not terribly interesting, like that of Cowboy Bebop, works well in this kind of situation. The movie is basically what the series should have been. Hell, I guess the movie is what the TV show _was_, but it just works better in this format.|
|Dragon Ball Z Kai (TV)||Very good||What can I say? It's basically Dragon Ball Z, remastered in gorgeous 1080p, and without a ton of the annoying filler that was the main drawback of the original show. Kai maintains the same great, likable, endearing cast of characters, the same story, the same everything, but cuts out a huge chunk of wasted time, and looks great doing it. Two drawbacks? The soundtrack fiasco (it came out that much of the new soundtrack had been plagiarized; the final two episodes hastily incorporated the original soundtrack instead, and while I like that soundtrack a lot, its use wasn't great here and the change is kind of jarring) and the fact that they chose not to do the Buu saga. I love the Buu saga and the show just feels incomplete without it. It doesn't change the fact that we still got 97 episodes of Kai, but it would have been nice to see them finish the story.|
|Getbackers (TV)||Very good||An absolutely marvelous show and my favorite series of 2002. The character designs are, in my opinion, a big improvement over their manga counterparts. The animation is pretty good, and the music's not bad either. More importantly, the story is entertaining and engaging and the cast is just fantastic. The show only really has three parts that might be called "story arcs," and each one only lasts for a handful of episodes, so the rest of it is a fairly episodic chronicle of the various missions the Getbackers -- Amano Ginji, Midou Ban, and if the situation warrants, any of a number of their interesting and colorful friends -- undertake. Overall, Getbackers is an extremely enjoyable show and highly, highly recommended. I've only read a bit of the manga, but I understand that there's still plenty of material that hasn't been animated yet, so here's hoping for a sequel.|
|HYOUKA (TV)||Very good||Honestly I'm not really sure what it was about this show that earned a "very good" from me. Nothing in particular about it ever really leapt out and grabbed me, but as the show progressed I just found myself consistently enjoying it and looking forward to the next episode. The mysteries, many spanning several episodes, were fun to watch but never truly engrossing -- I didn't tend to find myself actually caring that much about how they were resolved. The cast was quite likable, but not notably so. I guess that somehow this show is just the very definition of "greater than the sum of its parts." It probably also helps that I'm on a bit of a Japan kick in general lately; if you scroll through my reviews, you'll probably find that virtually all of them from the past four or five years lead off by noting that "I don't really watch much anime anymore," but after finally visiting Japan several months ago I am just deeply in love with the whole country. This hasn't, for the most part, translated to a renewed interest in anime (god knows I've tried, though -- I've watched more over the past few months than at any point since I was in high school, but very little of it is clicking with me), with the exception that a well done slice of life show like Hyouka really puts me back there again in the most wonderful way. I can't pretend that watching this show didn't frequently give me that sense of quasi-nostalgia, and maybe that's what truly boosted this for me. I guess it doesn't much matter in any case. The important point here is, I really enjoyed Hyouka and I was disappointed to see it end.|
|Kill la Kill (TV)||Very good||This was one of my favorite shows of the year. The basic premise -- girl seeks out her father's murderer -- is straightforward enough, and although the story obviously develops greater complexity than that, the show nevertheless manages to retain a certain feeling of "cleanliness" throughout. I think this probably has less to do with any sort of faithfulness to the original concept (considering the directions the story goes off in, I don't know how I could champion this show as more "faithful" than any other in that respect) than with the relative lack of pretension here, something that a great many anime shows ultimately fall victim to. Even as the story develops to the point that the very fate of the world and the human race hangs in the balance, we never get lofty speeches waxing philosophic, except within the context of the silly world the characters inhabit. Most anime writers don't have nearly as much to say as they think they do, so it's a bit of a breath of fresh air for a show not to fall into that trap. The show's story ends up being a goofy tale of sentient clothing trying to take over the universe, and the show, to its credit, never loses sight of just how goofy that is (luckily, it also avoids actively playing the goofiness up either -- the characters act "seriously" [for want of a better term] within that setting and aren't in on the "joke" like the producers and audience are).
The other thing that's great about this show is its throwback production design. The art style has a very retro early 80s look to it and the image itself has a certain quality to it that I can't really describe other than as "gritty," although I'm not even sure exactly what I mean by that (it doesn't look grainy or anything, it's just not as "clean" and shiny as so much modern anime is). You're never tricked into thinking you're watching something thirty years old, and the show isn't trying to trick you into that, it's more of an homage than anything else, but it's really nice. Modern anime often looks a little bit soulless (of course it doesn't have to, it just frequently does), and aping the style of a bygone era is an easy way to address that.
I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the show's most glaring problem, though. I find fan service to be troubling in most instances in which it occurs. The brazen objectification of women is bad enough, but even worse is that anime characters are often teenagers -- we're not even objectifying women, we're objectifying children. It's very disconcerting. Kill la Kill, as a show about evil clothing, features quite a bit of nudity. In some instances this isn't so bad, when there are just large crowds of incidentally naked people hanging around (this happens with some frequency in the later parts of the show). On the other hand there are also a lot of sequences of tight clothing snapping into place, squeezing breasts in the process, etc, and a lot of the clothing (for instance, Ryuko's uniform, Senketsu) is very revealing. Ryuko is a 16 year old girl and this is weird, that's really all there is to it. The show's defenders on this point often try to rationalize that the show is actually making light of fan service tendencies in other shows by doing this. I don't think that's really true, I think the overall silliness of the show just helps you tell yourself that if it's tongue-in-cheek as a whole, it's tongue-in-cheek about this particular thing too, which is not necessarily the case. Moreover, even accepting that it is true, so what? No matter what point the show is trying to make with its gratuitous fan service, the fact remains that it is bursting at the seams with gratuitous fan service.
Nonetheless, this is not nearly a big enough issue for me to dock the show major points. Fan service is a frequent and major problem of anime in general, and so within the context of judging anime, it makes little sense to be overly harsh on one particular show about it. That's probably just a rationalization itself, but whether it's a cogent argument or I'm just a misogynist myself, the fact remains that I still had a lot of fun watching Kill la Kill, even despite being made uncomfortable by a lot of the fan service. This was, in spite of that hiccup, a really great show, and I hope Trigger's next series will live up the same standard.
|Kuroko's Basketball (TV 2)||Very good||I liked the first season of Kuroko plenty, but this season was just on a whole new level. I said in my original review of the first season that I wasn't sure what it was that I liked about sports shows that I like, and what was missing from those I don't. I've come to realize, and I think I have probably made this observation in other reviews by now, that sports shows work (or don't) for the same fundamental reasons as shounen shows. You're following the same basic pattern in both cases: you've got a main character who is special in some way (in sports shows, he tends to be special but also flawed, which is certainly true of Kuroko) who guts his way through the various challenges that confront him to become stronger and ultimately succeed. In shounen stories, these challenges are typically battles, and in sports shows they're games (or races or whatever, depending on the sport in question), but the underlying mechanics of the story are the same.
What makes Kuroko such a great show, in addition to its solid cast, is that it hits the same buttons as a good shouen show, with characters digging deep, giving more than they thought they had, and even spontaneously developing new abilities that are fairly analogous to, eg, Dragon Ball's Super Saiyajin or Bleach's bankai. If you aren't into that kind of stuff, Kuroko's Basketball (and other sports anime) probably don't appeal to you for the same reason those shounen shows don't. For whatever reason, I've always eaten that stuff up.
One other area in which this season even improved on the first as well is character development. I mentioned before that these types of shows don't tend to have complex, multilayered characters, and that's just a given that you accept and whatever. Maybe saying that our characters here have become "complex" or "multilayered" is a bridge too far, but they have developed a bit more depth than they had before. The friendship between Kuroko and Kagami has really come along well, and Kagami himself has grown a lot -- even as he becomes an exceptional player worthy of challenging the "Generation of Miracles," he's becoming a less selfish, more team-oriented player, who can put Seirin on his back when the situation demands it but who doesn't play basketball by himself anymore. At the same time, we also get some background on some of the other characters, especially Kiyoshi and Hyuga, which helps to flesh out some of our supporting cast as well. And particularly with Seirin's two big games of this season, against Touou and Yosen, we get a little more exposure to Aomine, as well as to Murasakibara, who I don't remember having much of a role at all in the first season. The relationship between Kagami and Himuro (who, if memory serves, is a complete newcomer this season) adds yet another dimension. These types of shows are not exactly thoughtful character studies, but it certainly makes them more enjoyable when you get to know the characters a little bit better, and this season does a great job on that front.
Overall a really great show. I liked the first season, but the second season has elevated it to one of my favorite shows of the year. I'm not sure when season 3 is coming, but the answer is, in any case, not soon enough.
|Macross Zero (OAV)||Very good||This prequel OVA to the original Macross TV series is pretty good. At times it managed to reach Macross 7 levels of weirdness, which always put me off just a bit but not so much as to damage the show. The plot here doesn't do a whole lot to expand the overall Macross universe, instead fitting together with the well-established story that has already existed since being fleshed out in Macross 7, but it's interesting enough to watch as long as you're not hoping for anymore revelations about the nature of Zentradi, Protodeviln, Protoculture, etc. The cast, too, was pretty good. But I'm going to be honest here. This is one of the few shows that I could see myself watching over eye candy alone. Usually a good fight scene is nice and all, but if the rest of the show is boring, it's boring. The number one best reason to watch Macross Zero is to see some beautifully animated dogfighting sequences between the UN and Anti-UN forces and their respective variable fighters. I've heard lots of hype about Yukikaze, which I have yet to see, but Macross Zero stands head and shoulders above any show that I have seen in the battles department. Even if you're not a huge Macross fan, anyone who wants to see some fantastic dogfighting can't go wrong with this show.|
|Mobile Fighter G Gundam (TV)||Very good||The supposedly "dark" Zeta Gundam has nothing on this show in some of its key moments. The series starts off somewhat corny and stupid, and the only real reason to watch is for the novelty of the whole Gundam meets super robot thing. An actual story starts to develop around episode six, and the cast really starts to shine shortly thereafter. As the show reaches the final twelve episodes, it *really* gets good, and it's this part of the show that catapults it from a midlevel Gundam series to one of the best. This final cour contains some of the best character moments in all of Gundam as the show plunges into a depressing darkness that rivals Tomino's old UC shows and then rockets back up to become one of the most uplifting additions to the Gundam franchise. Most people who hate this show didn't watch too much of it, and most people who gave it a fair chance became fans. Don't be put off by the decidedly un-Gundam-like atmosphere. This show is really spectacular.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam F91 (movie)||Very good||Though it suffers from pacing problems and would have been better as the TV series it was originally meant to be, it still proves to be quite enjoyable. Personally, I prefer it over Char's Counterattack as far as Gundam movies go. The cast is fairly entertaining and the story, if it had been continued in a full TV series, would have been promising. The sequel manga, Crossbone Gundam, which takes place ten years later, will have to suffice I suppose.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Seed (TV)||Very good||
I first watched this show as it was airing back in 2002 and 2003. At the time, I was unimpressed. I was probably at the peak of my Gundam fandom. I had recently finished watching the stunning Turn A Gundam, as well as Victory Gundam, which I liked even more. SEED felt like a blatant ripoff of the old UC storylines and it just didn't click with me. I went to great lengths to stress that I wasn't a UC elitist -- "look, I consider Turn A one of my favorite shows and I think Zeta is overrated!" -- but I still kind of was, and that clouded my judgment as much as anything. And so it went for upwards of five years, until last week I got a random inexplicable urge to watch SEED again. I rarely watch anime at all anymore, much less anime that I decided long ago was not very good, but for some reason I just felt compelled to watch the first couple episodes of SEED. And from there, unexpectedly, I blew through the entire show in a few days' time and enjoyed it quite a bit more than I ever thought I would.
Certainly, it's not perfect. The character designs are not great, the mecha designs are even worse, animation is recycled and reused far more than it should be, and a lot of the computer animation looks kind of awkward and ugly. But these are minor quibbles, aesthetic flaws that may detract from the show a bit, but definitely don't ruin it. It would seem a bit hypocritical of me to consider a show like Macross a masterpiece, when it at times relies on still frames because the budget was so low that they couldn't properly animate a scene, and then hate SEED for a comparatively minor aesthetic issue. The story has a couple flaws, too. Some loose ends are left unaddressed at the end, but nothing critically important. And I feel that Rau Le Crueset, as the story's main villain, has some pretty weak justification and operates on questionable logic. But upon rewatching, that just doesn't really bother me as much as it used to. Of course, the biggest problem with the show is the gratuitous use of flashbacks and recap episodes. I simply skipped the recap episodes in my most recent viewing of the show, and it drastically improved the viewing experience.
My biggest problem with the show five years ago was its supposed unoriginality. I don't care anymore. True, it apes certain plot points from the UC and particularly First Gundam, but by and large it just takes a few cues here and there to construct its own story. Whatever plagiarism exists in the show is not nearly as flagrant as I once believed, and certainly no worse than what other Gundam shows have done in the past. In fairness to Sunrise, the two biggest departures in the Gundam franchise, G Gundam and Turn A Gundam, were both met with a fair measure of hostility from some pockets of the fandom; you really can't blame them for mining the tried and true and that's no reason to write the show off without a second thought. Besides, the show introduces a lot of new and interesting elements. For instance, Newtypes are replaced by Coordinators, who present a much more intriguing set of problems, not to mention themes relevant to the real world, such as racism, the ethics of genetic engineering, etc. The show also explores themes of cooperation and compromise that are also touched on in Turn A Gundam but are largely absent from much of the rest of the Gundam franchise. Basically, there is originality there if you're willing to see it.
For the life of me, I have no idea what compelled me to give the show another shot, but I'm glad that I did. It is far better than I once gave it credit for. Is this Gundam at its best? No. But it's still pretty good. It has become probably my second or third favorite alternate universe Gundam series (behind Turn A and possibly G), and among UC TV shows I would rank it behind only First Gundam. It's just a shame that Destiny was such a poor sequel. I've started pushing through it again too, but given its myriad faults much more serious than those I once found with SEED, I don't imagine that I will have a similar change of heart. Hopefully the SEED movie will right the ship and pave the way for more CE-era stories.
|Mobile Suit Gundam UC (OAV)||Very good||And after four years it's finally over. There's a lot to like here: a new UC story, outstanding production values, mostly a solid story, interesting characters, etc. There's a fair amount of fan service, but it is generally very gracefully folded into the show and often actually strengthens it rather than distracting the viewer. And, of course, there are some drawbacks -- perhaps the largest, but least specific, is that, for whatever reason, this show never quite transcends itself, it is basically just the sum of its parts. Those parts are exceptionally well put together, but the show subtly lacks that certain spark, that heart that the truly best shows have. Make no mistake, I enjoyed Unicorn a lot and I suspect I'll rewatch it quite a lot in the future (to some extent, I already have -- with the long gap between episodes, I developed a routine of rewatching all the old episodes before a new one, which means I've seen the first episode at least seven times now, the second one six, the third one five, etc, and episode seven is the only one I've only seen once), but I'm not sure Unicorn is ever going to invade my idle thoughts when I'm occupied with something completely unrelated, the way I might start randomly thinking about Turn A when I'm at work or something.
Even so, Unicorn is a lot of fun. It seems weird, but this is actually the only animated UC side story that heavily features Newtypes. None of the OYW OVAs have them. Some of the AU stories feature explicit (Gundam X, although different from the UC conception) or implicit Newtypes, or at least characters with Newtype-like abilities, but except in Gundam X these are typically not central to the story in any way. This is worth noting just because I am a sucker for the whole Newtype thing, and the more weird and exotic their powers get, the more I enjoy it. We don't see anything especially new from our Newtypes here, and in that respect the story plays it a little bit safe, someone who is not Tomino treads lightly on actually expanding the range of "Newtypism" -- basically Banagher just shows off the same sorts of powers that Amuro already displayed in Char's Counterattack (perhaps this is because there is no new Newtype technology here, just further extensions of what was developed in that movie). Even so, the Newtype BS is a lot of fun to watch.
I mentioned at the beginning that the show has a lot of fan service, and it does, but this mostly appears in brief nods to other shows, with a few exceptions. One is (spoiler alert) Marida and her backstory. I don't have anything against including "Puru Twelve" here, though. It doesn't feel too self-indulgent. The remnants of Neo Zeon make use of the remnants of Neo Zeon's might -- it makes enough sense. Actually, I think if anything the mainline Tomino stories are guilty of containing too few connections to each other (it's a little bit absurd that by Gundam F91, a mere thirty years after Char's Counterattack, people regard both the Gundam and Newtypes as legend, for example), so the survival and growth of a Puru beyond the Gundam ZZ story actually enriches the greater UC world a bit by connecting the various events of the past seventeen years in deeper ways than just the high level politics of who's fighting a war and why. That Marida is ultimately killed is a more surprisingly bold choice on the part of writer Fukui Harutoshi than most Gundam deaths, although I don't know whether he really thought it through that deeply. As we see in Gundam ZZ, the Purus invariably meet grim and depressing fates (I've remarked before that it's all the more depressing that, for the most part, everybody seems to forget about Puru right after she's killed -- I know some fans think she's annoying, but I find her really sympathetic). The survival of Puru Twelve beyond this chapter of UC history, outliving the various Neo Zeons, would have been profoundly optimistic. That Marida is ultimately killed, closing the loop on the Purus, is much bleaker -- perhaps this is appropriate, since we already know this isn't the end of UC history, but it's also at odds with the optimism that Banagher reaches for in his confrontation with Full Frontal, which is why I wonder a little bit whether Fukui fully thought it through or just killed Marida because this is Gundam and people die (on the flip side, there's no reason the story needs to be unambiguously optimistic or pessimistic anyway). There's other bits of fan service too, for instance I'd regard the reappearance of a lot of old models of mobile suit as somewhat fan servicey, but this also works to the show's benefit. One thing that's always bothered me about Gundam just on a realistic level is how rapidly both sides are pumping out new mobile suit technology. In a matter of months the machines from the beginning of the series have become obsolete. But in real life we know this doesn't happen. True, during actual war, development seems to accelerate, or at least countries are more willing to try everything they've got and see what works (the Nazis in particular developed a lot of exotic technologies in WW2), but otherwise we see in the real world that things like fighter jets and tanks have lifespans on the order of decades, not weeks and months. So it's a little refreshing to see, for instance, Kapools participating in Neo Zeon attacks, to hear the Kshatriya described as a leftover from the CCA era (which, of course, was only three years earlier), etc. It feels much more realistic than to see a whole wave of new mobile suit designs just because the title of the show isn't still "Char's Counterattack." Other bits of fan service, for instance the relatively minor roles of old characters, also works well because, knowing their statuses within the UC universe, their participation here actually makes sense, rather than feeling like a bone has been thrown to fans.
One thing I want to complain about a little bit is Laplace's Box (spoiler alert again). It was probably to be expected that the reveal was going to be a little underwhelming no matter what. You build it up as some secret thing that could destroy the Federation, whatever it ends up being is going to be a tough sell (especially since we know the Federation doesn't get destroyed). In principle, the nature of the box actually threads this needle with some (not complete) efficacy -- it is indeed something that could plausibly undermine the Federation, but that also need not necessarily do so. Yet there are some glaring problems here. The most important problem -- maybe this one just struck me because I am literally a lawyer with a background in international law -- is how unrealistic the secrecy of the box turns out to be. You already got your spoiler warning, so here it is: Laplace's Box is the original UC charter, guaranteeing representation in the government for Newtypes/spacenoids. The Vist Foundation and the Federation had the first prime minister assassinated (by destroying his entire space colony, as we see at the very beginning of the first episode) and removed this provision from the charter. It's easy enough to see how this knowledge could destabilize the Federation -- it's not so easy to see how they could pull it off in the first place. The Charter wasn't written in secret, to be revealed during the speech when Laplace is destroyed. That's not how these things work. The Charter would have been the product of years of probably grueling negotiations between the various countries. Everybody would have known what was going into it. It's not going to just disappear because the monument it's inscribed on has gone missing (and that's another thing -- a monument as the legally-effective document is far-fetched at best). I don't think you even need to have any particular background in international law to shoot holes in this. If the article was there in the first place, it's because somebody wanted it there. After the "terrorist" attack on Laplace, maybe the anti-article side has some momentum to take it out, but everybody who wanted it there is going to remember it was there and there's going to be a debate. This doesn't all just get swept under the rug. This bothered me some as I was watching the show but as I am writing about it here it feels even less and less plausible.
I remember having a lot more thoughts about this as I was watching it, but this is getting quite long already and I'm running out of steam. Despite some flaws here and there -- I'd say the last one I discussed there is even a relatively significant flaw -- I still liked Unicorn quite a bit. It's tough to keep shoehorning new stories into the UC chronology, particularly when there is a sort of fatalism inherent in knowing that no matter how this ends, it's not going to upset the balance to such an extent that Gundam F91 can't still happen. Even so, this was a solid entry to the UC canon. I'm a little bummed that it's finally over, but I look forward to revisiting it again in the future.
|Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (TV)||Very good||I recently watched this show again for the first time in many years. I don't know what compelled me to watch it again -- lately it seems like I'm just working my way through all the Gundam shows again, both the ones I already liked (Turn A) and those I didn't (SEED and Destiny). Watching SEED again changed my opinion of it for the better. The same happened with ZZ. I originally rated this show "weak" and complained that the new cast was just composed of "annoying kids" who failed to live up to Zeta's cast. I'm not so sure I was being fair then. Judau is perhaps the most interesting of Tomino's UC protagonists. Tomino doesn't take the standard sullen, moody teenager approach for the third time here, he gives Judau some real life. Judau doesn't fight just because it falls into his lap, he fights for a very real and tangible reason, to protect his sister. That Judau is a happier, more laidback character makes his interaction with the other characters much more entertaining too. I can't even imagine how Puru would have interacted with Amuro or Kamille, just for one example. Judau is more than just "entertaining" to watch, though; his character arc is handled quite gracefully as he develops as a person, rather than just as a soldier (as Amuro and Kamille arguably did); it is perhaps fitting that the final image of Amuro in Gundam was of him riding the corefighter, and the final image of Kamille in Zeta had him still sitting in Zeta's cockpit, and the final image of Judau has him embarking on an expedition to Jupiter to mine helium. I don't mean to sell short the development of Amuro and Kamille; there's nothing wrong with what happened in those shows. It's just interesting to see Tomino use a war story to develop Judau's character in civilian life, instead of cementing his future role as a warrior as he did with Amuro.
The other new kids are strong characters, too. Beecha and Mondo get a little annoying at times, especially when they run off to join Axis for a few episodes, but that's about the extent of it. Roux steals ZZ's core fighter for a few episodes in the middle of the show and kind of makes you hate her briefly, but she rebounds. Elle is great. Iino hangs around in the background too much to really offend or impress. Since all of the kids are fairly upbeat and normal, it's actually kind of difficult to compare this cast to others. I'd say it's most similar to Victory Gundam's, and probably more entertaining than that show's. I don't really know whether the ZZ crew is better or worse than Zeta's or First Gundam's, it's just different. I didn't really respect that the first time I saw the show, but I do now. People complain about the first half of the show being more comedy-oriented. I was once one of those people. When I started watching it again recently, I found myself plowing through even those episodes in bunches. It is a very different tone from the Gundam you're used to, but this shockingly likable cast makes it work. The change in tone midway through the series proceeds smoothly and the kids never miss a beat.
That's not to say the show doesn't still have its faults. The planning in general just feels kind of sloppy. For instance, Judau experiences two significant deaths during the show. The first one affects him a bit for the next couple episodes, but then it just seems to go away. The second one causes his Newtype powers to briefly erupt, but then he doesn't really seem to dwell on it again after that. I'm not saying I want to see him constantly moping over his fallen comrades, but it's a little troubling to see him back to normal, happy Judau without a second thought. Maybe he's just really good at compartmentalizing.
The other big issue I had with it is that there's never a proper sense of the scale of the conflict involved. Zeta followed the Argama, but we saw other AEUG ships, we glimpsed the AEUG leadership, etc. In ZZ, it almost feels like AEUG has been reduced to just the Argama. True, there's a brief story arc on Earth that involves Karaba, so I guess Argama isn't completely on its own, but in space it seems like they may as well be. And that's fine, I guess, if Axis/Neo Zeon is a relatively small force that Argama and the Gundam Team can handle on their own. But if that's the case, why is the Earth Federation just rolling over for Haman? Some of the confusion probably arises from the fact that AEUG sort of got assimilated into the Federation, so the Argama might really be on its own as a strictly "AEUG" vessel -- but we never really see the Federation do anything either. Is Argama really fighting the space front of this war all on its own? It's difficult to tell, but it kind of feels that way.
Still, these complaints are relatively minor. Overall, it's a really entertaining show. The cast is fun, the mecha are nice (Zeta Gundam remains one of my favorite Gundams, and I enjoy ZZ Gundam more than I used to after rewatching this), the battles are good, and the show includes some of my favorite instances of bizarre Newtype abilities. The show's got a poor reputation among Gundam fans, and I guess I can see why since I used to agree, but my eyes have been opened now and I just think it's a far better show than it's given credit for. If you're a Zeta diehard (in which case, you and I have never quite seen eye to eye), I guess I can see how you'd hate ZZ. Otherwise, any mecha fan and particularly any Gundam fan should check it out. Quality show.
|My Neighbor Totoro (movie)||Very good||Probably Ghibli's most achingly cute movie. Like all Miyazaki work, Totoro is beautifully imaginative and masterfully realized. It's basically just a simple story about childhood and the lens of wonder through which children view the world around them. It's probably the slowest Miyazaki movie that I've seen, but that's not a problem -- it's slow, but well paced to convey the proper atmosphere. Not Miyazaki's best, but a great movie all the same. I can't even imagine what it must have been like, though, to see this in theatres on a double bill with Grave of the Fireflies.|
|Neon Genesis Evangelion (TV)||Very good||
For a long time, I was kind of swept up in the anti-Evangelion backlash. I had remembered enjoying it a bit when I watched it, but thought it was extremely overrated and not worthy of the praise that it gets. To a certain extent, I guess I still feel that way, but I have learned not to hold it against the show that its fans can get obnoxious. I recently had the inexplicable urge to watch it again; it was the first time I'd seen it in many years and I wasn't really sure how I would feel about it. Overall, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The early episodes are really entertaining, with a nice mix of lighthearted and darker moments that allows the show to feel serious without seeming overwrought. As the show passes its midpoint and begins building toward the climax, the introspective metaphysical stuff begins to take center stage, and where I feel the show begins to lose its footing a little bit. It remains interesting enough, but for all the attention that anime fans give it, you'd expect a little more depth than what you'd encounter in any high school psychology class, but that's all you really get here. However, though it's a little lacking in substance, it is stylistically interesting, and you can see where later shows (particularly later Gainax shows) have taken their cues from Eva, particularly Kare Kano (a show that I feel uses a similar style to much greater effect). For what it's worth, I don't find much fault with the final two episodes, at least no more than with the rest of the series. The Angel story was already resolved with the death of the seventeenth Angel, but Shinji's inner turmoil and the Human Complement Project still remained and were effectively wrapped up together in those episodes. They aren't exactly my favorite episodes, but I don't have the same problems with them that many other fans do.
Incidentally, though this does not really figure into my overall opinion of a show, I do think that Evangelion has probably the greatest opening credits sequence of any anime. I don't have any strong feelings about the song itself, but it has an appropriate sound for the show and it works very well with the animation; together I think they really capture the atmosphere of the show very well, much better than any other credit sequence I've ever seen. It's not something that's terribly important, but I felt that it was worth mentioning all the same, since it struck me each time I saw it as I was rewatching the series recently.
|Overman King Gainer (TV)||Very good||In some ways, this show kind of reminds me of Tomino's latest Gundam effort, Turn A Gundam, and that's definitely not a bad thing. I found this show quite enjoyable. Somehow it manages to maintain something of a "real robot" feel to it even when the Overman robots it portrays are quite clearly not "real" at all. An interesting story, some very likable characters, and unusual -- but not in a bad way -- mecha designs. Overall, a show that's very much worth watching.|
|Red Data Girl (TV)||Very good||The basic premise of this show didn't sound bad or anything, but it wasn't something that would ordinarily grab me. Nonetheless, based on the positive word of mouth it was receiving, I decided to check it out, and I'm definitely glad that I did. This is quite possibly my favorite show of the season, one that for most of its run is firing on all cylinders and only narrowly falls short of reaching its full potential. The basic story turns out to be very interesting (with some caveats, below) and I really like the cast. The characters themselves are likable as people, but their interactions with each other (particularly, of course, between Miyuki and Izumiko) are probably the show's strongest point.
Unfortunately it's not a perfect show and there are a couple missteps. The early episodes show a great deal of promise that is never fully realized. For one thing, in one of the mid-late episodes (8? 9? I don't remember for sure) we start to learn a little bit more about the Himegami, and the show veers a little more toward science fiction and away from fantasy and mysticism. I've got nothing against scifi, but it feels like the wrong play here. These revelations end up not actually mattering that much anyway, though -- which on the one hand limits whatever negative impact it might have on the rest of the show, but on the other hand makes you wonder why the writers even bothered going that direction in the first place if they weren't going to further develop it?
This brings me to the other problem, probably the show's single biggest flaw, which is that it simply feels rushed in the end. The climax seems to come on sort of suddenly, before the story has fully cooked. This is not quite as bad as it could be, because a lot of the things that have to happen at the end are things you know are going to happen earlier on (note: this may sound like I'm calling the show predictable, but I would draw a fine line between "predictable" in a boring sense, and a well-constructed story that sort of highlights its blueprints through effective foreshadowing; RDG is definitely the latter), so there's less a feeling of "what the hell is going on now" but more just a feeling that maybe we skipped a step somewhere. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel like this could have been an even better show if it had just been a little longer and had a bit more space to breathe.
I highlight these complaints because, frankly, it's easier to zero in on what doesn't work than on what does. I don't want two paragraphs of complaining to obscure the fact that I really, really enjoyed this show, though. The story ends up being really strong and the cast is wonderful. It should tell you something that my biggest complaint about the show basically boils down to "there wasn't enough of it."
|Serial Experiments Lain (TV)||Very good||A really strange show, but very much worth watching. However, I've only watched it once, and it seems to me to be the kind of show that would be difficult to watch a second time through, although a second viewing may be necessary to fully take from it what the creators want you to.|
|Star Blazers (TV)||Very good||Having previously only seen the first couple Galaxy Express movies, I pretty much only knew Leiji Matsumoto by reputation until he released Ozma in 2012. As a heavyweight of the industry, he had always been on my radar, but I hadn't been in a huge rush to check him out -- "some day, but not today." With the one-two punch of Ozma and the Yamato remake dropping in 2012, "some day" finally came. I watched both the original Yamato and the 2199 remake back to back in the span of a week and I'm writing my reviews for both of them at the same time here, so you'll have to forgive me if I make tons of comparisons. People have been watching this show for forty years with no remake to compare it to, but I am not one of those people.
I'm going to skip all the foreplay and get it out right from the beginning: surprisingly, I think I actually prefer the remake to the original overall. That being said, the original is still a great show and it's easy to see how it could have such an enduring impact on the industry. To a large extent, I think what I liked less here than in the remake has a lot to do with when the show came out. Yamato was a trailblazer in the field of more serious, less kiddy works, but it's still a product of its time and has some cartoonish qualities about it (much the same way that at the same time Mobile Suit Gundam founded the real robot subgenre it still had a lot in common with its super robot predecessors). These kiddish tendencies manifest, for instance, in somewhat unnatural character behavior and interaction -- for instance, when Kodai learns at the beginning of the show that his brother has been killed, he's explicitly upset about it but he doesn't actually seem very upset. In another instance a character nonchalantly mentions that Kodai's brother had been killed in the battle at Pluto and then just as nonchalantly apologizes to him for having brought it up. I'm not saying I necessarily want the pendulum to swing all the way back in the other direction -- the morose, brooding hero is a staple of modern anime and is certainly one way that people might deal with tragedy, but not necessarily the only way. However, Kodai himself and the characters around him tend to treat his brother's death less like, well, his brother's death, and more like his favorite baseball team lost a game or something. There are other, similar examples throughout the show, not all necessarily involving death, but this is just an easy, spoiler-free (if it seems like a spoiler, it's not -- the death occurs in the opening scene of the first episode) example.
More broadly, the show's pacing also doesn't feel quite right. It covers in the first ten episodes what the remake covers in about seven. It seems to meander a bit, and in the middle it can feel a little "monster of the week"-ish (well, maybe not monster, perhaps "ordeal" is a better word) and it doesn't feel like the plot is always necessarily advancing. This, however, is probably also largely a product of the era when it came out, as plenty of shows did follow a monster of the week format. On an individual level the episodes typically remain entertaining and the show isn't boring, so I shouldn't overstate this "complaint." The remake has much tighter pacing, though, and it benefits a lot from it.
I think I also like the overall cast more in the remake than in the original. Some characters, for instance Okita, are basically unchanged in the remake. Kodai, the main character, feels more hotheaded and less mature in the original than in the remake, and it can sometimes make him a little bit annoying. Kodai in both shows feels obvious antipathy to Gamilas, but he holds himself together much more effectively in the remake, whereas in the original he's basically always itching for a fight. His best friend Shima is somewhat the opposite, although not as extremely -- he seems a little more hotheaded (only a little) in the remake, while he's mostly pretty calm and cool in the original. Shima's not as different between the two as Kodai is though, and I don't really have a particular preference on him. Beyond nitpicking the differences between individual characters, I think where the remake outperforms the original is in its ensemble. The original has a lot of background characters who get little screen time except when necessary to advance the overall story, and many of these characters are fleshed out much better in the remake -- which even adds yet more characters, and handles them well too. Don't misunderstand me here, the original still has a solid cast in its own right -- it couldn't be the great show that it is without one. The remake just does a better job, which says more about how good the remake is than anything else.
Without getting into any spoilers, I've got to say a couple things about the story. First, I think the remake has a more interesting backstory/motivation behind the war itself. This is only personal preference and unless I speak about it in such vague terms as to not even really say anything substantive, I can't explain any further without spoilers, so I won't bother explaining myself. Second, the ending of the remake is also far more satisfying than the ending of the original. In broad strokes they end very similarly, but the specific climax in the original is actually very anticlimactic, an essentially deus ex machina appears to settle everything once and for all and we get a two sentence throwaway explanation and that's that. The remake's climax is not itself especially innovative or shocking, but it makes more sense than the original's, at least.
The original does have a really interesting take on the Gamilas home world, which is a more ordinary planet in the remake. I'm not sure whether I prefer the original's Gamilas -- it's not especially consequential to the story either way. But it's a very interesting sort of planet, not like any I recall seeing in other scifi stories.
By virtue of my preference for the remake, I'm afraid this review has taken an overall negative tone, but I don't want to convey excessive negativity about the show. The original Space Battleship Yamato is still a spectacular show, well deserving of its place in anime history. Every anime fan should watch it at some point -- just, watch the remake afterward.
|(The) Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? (movie)||Very good||I didn't find DYRL to be as good as the Macross TV series, but it was still a really great movie for the most part. There were some changes made that I didn't like so much, and I wish Max had more screentime, since he barely made more than a cameo appearance here, but overall it was an interesting spin on the TV series story that's not quite as different as it seems at first glance. I definitely enjoyed it, but if I had to choose one, I'd probably take the TV show over this.|
|Tenchi Muyo! (OAV 1/1992)||Very good|
|Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki (OAV 2/1994)||Very good|
|Tenchi the Movie - Tenchi Muyo in Love||Very good|
|Terror in Resonance (TV)||Very good||Watanabe + Kanno is kind of a no brainer, when those two get together you're going to watch the show, that's just how it is. I've never actually been as enamored of Cowboy Bebop as many people are (although, disclaimer: I haven't watched it in ages and my complaints at the time might not hold now as my tastes have changed), but I've never denied the quality of the show, and I'm a big fan of a lot of their other work together (most notably Macross Plus and Kids on the Slope). So I watched Space Dandy and I watched this. This was the better of the two, I would say.
It's an interesting show. We follow the perspective of the "terrorists" rather than the ordinary "good guys." These, of course, are not your ordinary terrorists. They've got a bone to pick with the government, but they don't hurt anybody. Much of their character derives from tried and true anime formulas, but the show is arguably about their "accomplice" and the detective hunting them more than it's about them anyway. Both are richer and more interesting (not to mention more realistic) characters than either of our two terrorists, who seem more like vessels to advance a story that has a lot of Things To Say about Japan's current constitutional debates about pacifism and multilateral self-defense. Fans of Cowboy Bebop or Space Dandy might in fact be surprised by just how political this show is, and fans of Shinzo Abe might find themselves somewhat critical of the message here. Yet, agree or disagree with the message, it definitely adds another dimension to the show (or maybe I'm just so open to it because I oppose Japan's rearming), and all in all this is more standout work from Watanabe.
|Trigun (TV)||Very good||This one often gets paired up with Cowboy Bebop, but the two shows are really very different. If you're going to compare them, this one is much better. Vash, Milly, Meryl, and Wolfwood are a much more enjoyable set of protagonists than the Bebop crew and Trigun, unlike Cowboy Bebop, doesn't forget about its plot for several episodes of disjointed and unrelated events throughout the series. If, for some reason, you're going to group together Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, and Trigun, as many fans do, this is the best of the three shows.|
|WATAMOTE (TV)||Very good||This show is a brutal examination of social anxiety masquerading as a silly comedy. It's tempting to ask whether that's really ethical, to make a comedy about somebody's crippling social anxiety issues, but I'm guessing (without having read anything that confirms or denies) that mangaka Nico Tanigawa is writing from some personal experience, which makes it far more acceptable in my mind, if Tomoko is really a stand-in for Tanigawa, than if the show is simply trying to make fun of weirdos or something.
At times this show is really hard to sit through, but that's not because it's bad, it's because of the subject matter. I can't claim to have social anxiety issues anywhere near Tomoko's, but I can relate to her on some basic level, and I have good friends who have grappled with much more serious anxiety than I have (probably still not on Tomoko's level, but I suppose I can't say that for sure without having been in their heads). Tomoko does a lot of things that you want to scream at her not to do, that are only going to make her situation worse, and in a lot of shows that's kind of frustrating (I've even made that complaint about other shows), but in Tomoko's case, you can see how her thought process has led her to this twisted conclusion and there's almost a certain fatalism to it -- she shouldn't do this, it's only going to backfire and humiliate her, but there is no way it can be stopped. And often, when it finally happens, you can't help but laugh, because it is a comedy, and perhaps the best way to get over anxiety is to find the humor in your own humiliations (it's definitely there). But even as you're laughing, it's also devastating.
This is a really good show for what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do makes it intrinsically difficult to watch. I often complain that a show was mostly entertaining but ultimately forgettable, and with better shows I often note that I will probably watch them again sometime. Watamote is a good show, but one that I'm not sure I'll be able to revisit for a long time, if ever.
|Whistle! (TV)||Very good||I hate soccer, and watching this show, I get the strong sense that it's aimed at children significantly younger than I am. And yet, I couldn't stop watching. It's just such a great show with such likable characters. Very much worth watching. My only complaint is it should have been LONGER. Only 39 episodes when it could have gone on so much longer.|
|Yowamushi Pedal (TV)||Very good||I'm a little bit of a sucker for a good sports anime. As I've mused before, I think it's because sports anime are essentially shounen anime in different clothes -- they hit the same beats on self-improvement, digging deep, trusting your comrades/teammates, etc etc etc. And I guess that stuff either scratches your itch or it doesn't, and for me it does.
Our main character here is an unabashed otaku, Onoda, who starts high school and is dismayed to realize that there is no anime club and no interest (besides his) in starting one. However, Onoda apparently has a preternatural talent for cycling that he didn't even realize. Classmates who take notice urge him to join the bike team and he eventually does, and of course he comes to realize that he loves it, as he must if we're going to have a story.
There's not much specific to say -- this is just a sports anime that hits on all cylinders. Our cast is great, Onoda is very likable, his two closest buddies on the team are interesting guys, the upperclassmen and coaching staff and so on are all solid, it's a good group. We get to know members of a few other bike teams as well -- most specifically Hakone, which is positioned as Sohoku's honorable rival, and Kyoto Fushimi, the story's villains to this point. Midousuji, Kyoto Fushimi's captain, is viscerally disgusting, as the show's creators clearly intended. The first season of the show ends in the middle of a story arc, so I'm not sure if anyone ever rises up to replace Midousuji as the show's main villain, but he's certainly effective in the role so far.
I guess that's my only complaint about the show though -- that it ends in the middle of a story arc. Other sports shows have pulled the same thing (eg Kuroko's Basketball ending in the middle of the tournament), but YowaPeda leaves us in the middle of day two of a three day race. Weird choice. The good news is season 2 should start in October, while Kuroko is probably on hiatus for at least a year. I can wait a few months to see how the race shakes out, but I'd rather not have had to.
|Bunny Drop (TV)||Excellent||Really charming little slice of life show about a single Japanese guy in his early 30s whose grandfather dies, leaving behind a heretofore unknown young daughter born out of wedlock. When the family prepares to just toss her into an orphanage and forget about her, he steps up to take her in. There isn't really a ton to say about the show. It feels like a more or less realistic portrayal of the subject matter (but I guess I wouldn't really know, having never taken in a child before) and it relies on strong, likable characters rather than any gimmicks (I mean Rin, for instance, is cute, but in the way that a six year old child is cute, she's not overboard anime cutesploitation). The plot is mostly mundane and the show stays very grounded, with a slow, deliberate pace not unlike a lot of live-action Japanese movies. The art style complements the atmosphere well: each episode starts out with a watercolor look to it that really fits the mood of the show (my only complaint is I kind of wish they had kept it up all episode long).
Having heard from the very beginning that the manga had some crazy outrageous ending, I was eager to see exactly what happened. The anime's ending is not the same as the manga's; from what I understand, at the point where the anime ends, the manga time skips and begins a new story arc several years later. Having read on Wikipedia now how the manga ends, I have to say I'm thrilled the anime ended where it did. I really can't see any route to the manga's conclusion (which I won't spoil, if you want to know how it ends then go check Wikipedia) that wouldn't ruin everything I loved about this story, so this is the very rare case in which I loved a show to bits and I absolutely hope that they don't continue it under any circumstances. This was a great show that ended on a perfect note.
|Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (TV)||Excellent||I watched both seasons back to back long after they came out, so full thoughts (if anyone is even reading this at all) are in my review for season 2. I will at least say here that I cannot believe the cliffhanger they ended season 1 on, and having seen it, I'm really glad I wasn't watching at the time -- I can't even imagine having to wait so long for the next episode.|
|Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 (TV)||Excellent||As I've mentioned in a bunch of my reviews on here (almost makes it seem not actually very true), I don't really watch a ton of anime anymore these days. That said, the itch does still randomly strike me from time to time. Usually I just rewatch something I already enjoyed, and many of my reviews on here are rewrites after I've reevaluated something I'd already seen before. Sometimes I watch something new based on someone's recommendation, even if I wasn't actually all that interested. In the case of Code Geass, though, I just had a sudden compulsion to watch something new. Actually, I wanted to watch something scifi (which is weird because, aside from my love of Gundam and Macross, I don't really have any particular affinity for scifi) and particularly something set in space. I knew nothing, absolutely nothing at all, about Code Geass, but I remembered from a few years ago when everyone was gaga over it and for some reason I had it in my mind that it fit these criteria. I wiki'ed it, saw that I was wrong, but went for it anyway. Can't say I'm disappointed.
Really both seasons of Code Geass are a pretty remarkable example of how to create something that on paper I should hate and in practice I love. Basically every step the show takes, I have an initial gut reaction against. Even in the very first episode when Lelouch gets his Geass power, the ability to give people orders they can't refuse, I was put off. This might be partially because the first order he gives is for some soldiers to kill themselves, and uncontrollable suicide just gave me shades of the Happening, which is just an utterly awful movie that I don't want other shows/movies to remind me of. I would be tempted to say that it was the imposition of limits on Lelouch's power that brought me around, but honestly I was already into the show by the time his limits were revealed, so I think it was really just good writing and clever storytelling that grabbed me. Despite my initial revulsion, I warmed up to Lelouch's power very quickly. And that's basically how it went with lots of things that happened during the show (which I won't describe here, as I don't want to spoil things). There are tons of things that happened on here that I shouldn't like, they just aren't the kinds of things I want to see in shows, but they always ended up working in the end. Can there really be any higher compliment for storytelling than to say that it constantly pushed the bounds of what was acceptable and never alienated itself from the viewer?
The primary strength of the show is its ability to keep surprising you. Lelouch is positively Machiavellian, which leads directly to many of those things that I *shouldn't* have liked about the show. Yet for some reason, I never really hold it against Lelouch himself. I'm always behind him, I always like him. Maybe it's because I know that his motives are ultimately pure, but then doesn't that make me Machiavelli's accomplice, allowing the ends to justify the often horrific means? I don't know, and since it's just an anime and not a real life atrocity, I don't think it really matters. All that's really important here is that we have a character of unusual depth for an anime (or really for any TV show) and it makes for a really excellent viewing experience.
The rest of the cast is also strong. I think my only qualm with Suzaku is that he is not a perfect foil for Lelouch as he wavers in his convictions far more than Lelouch does. He's set up as the answer to Lelouch, a guy for whom the ends never justify the means, but where Lelouch only seems to stumble when he doesn't reach his goal or when some unforeseen variable blocks his path, Suzaku grapples considerably more with whether or not his philosophy is even correct. That's good for character depth but, like I said, hurts him as a foil for Lelouch.
The supporting cast is mostly great. To be honest, the whole paradigm of high school kids who are something more has become a ridiculous anime cliche that is rarely executed well. It's tough to even watch at this point. Code Geass does it very well, maybe because it doesn't try to play up this aspect. It was somewhere in the middle of the season, actually in the later part of it, where it struck me on its own that even though Kallen and Suzaku were fighting in robots here, tomorrow they'd be together on the student council again, none the wiser to each other. Most shows try to squeeze as much humor or drama or whatever as they can out of that dynamic, but Code Geass just lets it develop on its own. As a result, nothing ever feels forced, and all the characters, whether they participate in the military action or not, add something to each scene and are a joy to watch.
Mainly though, like I said, the show just never stops surprising you. It's far more willing to become genuinely pretty brutal, whereas most anime shows, sure they'll get bloody, sure they'll get gory, but in the end all the characters we're supposed to care about come out of it clean, except maybe a few killed along the way to advance the story. With Code Geass, really, all bets are off. And because you don't come into it expecting that, it's all the more shocking when major things happen. I necessarily have to speak vaguely here unless I'm going to spoil stuff, but if you've seen the show before, you know what I mean, and if you watch it later, you will know what I mean. It lets things happen that just would not happen in most anime. The pursuit of a happy ending prevents it. And the thing is, it's pretty debatable whether or not Code Geass's ending isn't happy itself. I'd say at worst it's bittersweet. So really, it just goes to show that you can take far more chances than anime usually do.
I guess the best thing I can say about the show is in a matter of a few days I blew through all fifty episodes and I wish there was more for me to watch right now -- and as I said at the outset, this is from someone who doesn't even watch much anime anymore. I know I'm really late to the party on this show, I remember when everyone else was talking about it a few years ago, but if someone is actually reading this and if you happen to be even later than I am, don't wait around any longer -- both seasons of Code Geass are absolutely worth watching. Season 2 has a lesser reputation than season 1, I've noticed, and perhaps rightfully so. The story does get a little sloppy, the pacing toward the end gets out of whack, and I can see where some people take issue with the ending. Despite all that, I felt that the characters themselves more or less remained true to their established personae, and the characters are the most important part for me. I really loved this cast and was sad to see it end. I wish I hadn't finished the show already so I could still be watching it now for the first time.
|D.N.Angel (TV)||Excellent||This show is just absolutely wonderful. If you had described it to me, I probably wouldn't have thought I'd like it, but I went into it not knowing a thing about it and I really, really enjoyed it. All of the characters were fantastic, and I was really glad that it didn't devolve into episode after episode of Dark vs. Krad. In actuality, after playing a fairly prominent role in early episodes, the whole thief thing was almost relegated to a side story role later on, while the real story -- Daisuke, how he deals with Dark, who he loves, how he interacts with his friends, etc -- played out beautifully. I very highly recommend this show.|
|Dragon Ball Z: Bardock - The Father of Goku (special)||Excellent||Perhaps the crowning moment of the Dragon Ball saga. The special does a great job of capturing the hopelessness that Bardock must feel with the whole situation. It's an emotional and touching addition to the story, and if I have one complaint with it, it's simply that seeing this will make you wish that Goku, instead of Trunks, had killed Freeza. Otherwise, this TV special is close to flawless.|
|Gunbuster (OAV)||Excellent||Perhaps not their very best, but among Gainax's finest work. The somewhat serious tone of this early show is quite a bit different from Gainax's later productions (Kare Kano, FLCL, Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai, etc), but they've shown they can handle serious just as well as they can handle comedy. Like Gainax's other shows, this one relies primarily on a wonderful cast to create a wonderful show. The story, of a young girl hoping to find her lost father somewhere in the reaches of space, is also pretty good, but the people are where this one really shines. I'm disappointed, though not surprised (based on how this one ended), that the sequel will feature a different cast, but I look forward to Gainax producing another winner there.|
|Kids on the Slope (TV)||Excellent||I came into this show more with a feeling of obligation than anticipation. Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno teaming up is something you just have to check out. But I'll be honest, I like Cowboy Bebop, but I don't looooooove Cowboy Bebop like so many people do. When I hear that Watanabe is doing a show about jazz in the 60s, there are a lot of red flags there and I sort of expected this to be a whatever show that leans heavily on these elements for the "cool" factor. Why even bother watching, then? Like I said, basically, obligation -- and hey, Cowboy Bebop is still pretty good, and Macross Plus is great, so let's not get too dour here, right?
Well, I was wrong. From the very first episode this show really grabbed me. Loved the cast right from the start, especially Sentaro, who is one of those great, fun-loving characters that can really liven a show up when the main character is a little gloomier figure like Nishimi. And the jazz plays really well here, used more as a vehicle for character development than as the central crux of the story itself. The fact that the story takes place in the 60s is virtually a complete afterthought, it makes the characters' jazz fandom more current, but at no point is the setting ever manipulated for cheap cultural nostalgia points (maybe the fascination with the 60s is more of a Western thing?)
As much as I loved this show, it still somehow fell a little short of "masterpiece" status, and I haven't even been able to put together why. I've just got to go with my gut when I rate things, and my gut tells me this show was great, but it was lacking something to elevate it to masterpiece level. I'm sure I'll be rewatching it before too long, and a second viewing may be all it needs to vault into the pantheon. It's still the best new anime I've seen in years, either way.
|Macross Frontier (TV)||Excellent||I liked this show enough to watch the whole damn thing again just a month or two after it was over. I'm pretty much a sucker for Macross anyway, but this was a great entry to a great franchise. My interest in anime has admittedly dwindled to almost zero, but I'm willing to watch a Gundam or a Macross based on name alone. I came into this with fairly low expectations -- I think this is probably because Gundam hasn't rewarded me for my loyalty lately, so I just expected to get burned by Macross as well. Although I collected the episodes from the start, I didn't even get around to watching any of the show until ten episodes in -- and then I flew through all ten episodes in just a few days and could hardly wait for more.
Really, what isn't there to like about this show? It looks gorgeous, particularly in HD. Yoko Kanno provides a strong background soundtrack, and as with other Macross shows, the excessively saccharine Jpop that is so irritating at first just somehow grows on you by the end of the show. The myriad references to prior shows add a nice touch, particularly when the show just goes totally over the top in the finale, truly a Macross fan's wet dream.
The characters are well drawn and the love triangle is one of the more compelling in the Macross canon. Alto is a bit of a traditional anime hero, quiet, moody, but fiercely protective. He doesn't really tread any new ground, but he's well handled for what he is. Ranka and Sheryl, the shy girl and the outgoing, assertive woman, respectively, counterbalance each other well as his potential love interests. While I was rooting for Sheryl the entire time for a variety of reasons (her confident and more grown up persona seemed better suited to Alto, her playfulness was more entertaining than Ranka's awkwardness, and she just seemed to fit better with him), it's still hard to root against Ranka either. And unlike, say, Macross Plus, where the writing is kind of on the wall from the beginning, it's never entirely clear which direction Alto's going to go (I still say when this all gets resolved in the movie, he's picking Sheryl, but only time will tell). The supporting cast is similarly solid, with Michel and Luca as Alto's wingmen, Ozma standing in for Roy Fokker, and the standard Macross complement of bridge bunnies and grizzled old captain.
The first time I watched the show, I thought it was probably the second best entry in the Macross canon, but that the original show still had a stranglehold on first place. Upon second viewing, I'm not so sure anymore. The original Macross maintains a special place in my heart, but although it may not surpass it, Macross Frontier certainly gives it a run for its money. Can't wait to see the movie. A great show for any fan of mecha, romantic melodrama, sugary pop music, any combination thereof, or really just fun storytelling in general. I do wonder if I might be reading too much into it to draw parallels between the "us or them" mentality, the monolithic nature of the Vajra, the scheming politicians with ulterior motives, etc, and the "clash of civilizations" theory currently playing out between the Western and Muslim worlds...or maybe Kawamori is an even more compelling storyteller than he might seem at first glance.
|Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (OAV)||Excellent||Light on the action but heavy on the characters. A unique story within the Gundam continuity that looks at war primarily from a civilian perspective. Some are put off by the relative lack of mobile suit fights, but if you're just watching Gundam to see two giant robots beat the crap out of each other, I think you're watching for the wrong reason. Others are put off by the bratty main character, but those people are missing the point -- Al is SUPPOSED to be an irritating little bastard. That's the definition of an eleven year old boy, people. They're obnoxious and annoying as hell. Al, unlike his friends, is personally touched by the war and grows as a result. And at the end, we see that Al is no longer the bratty eleven year old that he once was, that while his friends still just think about how cool war is, he knows what's really up. That's what makes this show so good.|
|Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (TV)||Excellent||It tends to be overrated by some fans, but it's still a solid series -- just not the best. The cast is pretty good, but not as good as those of some other shows. The story, too, puts a fresh new spin on the politics of the Earth sphere. Plus, the Zeta Gundam is one of the best mecha designs to grace a Gundam series.|
|Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (movie)||Excellent||A great proto-Ghibli movie, beautifully animated with an engrossing story and great characters. You can see in this movie some of the environmental themes that Miyazaki would pursue again in later films, most notably Mononoke, as well as elements that influenced tons of later non-Miyazaki anime. If I had one complaint with the movie, it would be that at times the soundtrack is just a little bit too 80s and doesn't actually fit the feel of the movie, but it's only an issue infrequently, and certainly not a major one at that. Fabulous film.|
|Otaku no Video (OAV)||Excellent|
|Princess Mononoke (movie)||Excellent|
|(The) Secret World of Arrietty (movie)||Excellent||Another home run from Studio Ghibli, following their tried and true formula: a simple but engaging premise, executed to perfection. Every character was wonderfully likable (except quasi-villain Haru) and the interaction between Sho and Arrietty is really a joy to watch. You keep expecting Sho to get overeager trying to make friends with Arrietty, but he never pushes it too hard; and for her part, Arrietty's slow, gradual development from fear/distrust to friendship is handled gracefully and realistically. The movie is just heartwarming to the nth degree. I usually like to give somewhat comprehensive reviews and I tend to ramble a lot, but somehow Ghibli movies tend to be so good that there isn't much for me to say. Arrietty is just the latest in a long line of such movies. I want to gush about it but I don't even know where to start. Just a wonderful movie all around.|
|Star Blazers 2199 (TV)||Excellent||As I mentioned in my review of the original, the release of this show finally prompted me to watch that one as well, and I did them both back to back. My review of the original includes a lot of comparisons to this one, so I will be brief here.
The Cliffs Notes: I like the remake even more than the original, for various reasons that I covered more in depth in my review of that show. I think the remake has a more tightly paced plot, handles its cast better, and to the extent that their stories and climaxes differ, I think the remake is superior.
The plot is the one thing I feel like expanding on further here. I mentioned in my review of the original show that I felt it had a tendency to meander at times in the middle. What makes the remake so strong is that, even as it progresses more rapidly through the same story beats that the two shows share (eg I pointed out in my review of the first show that it accomplishes in ten episodes what the remake does in its first seven), the extra time this frees up isn't wasted with more meandering. Instead, the remake adds a number of interesting subplots. Some of these are hinted at or even haphazardly executed in the original show, while others are entirely new. These add a lot of depth to the story, help it develop stronger realism (within the bounds of the genre, of course), and provide more time to flesh out and humanize the supporting (and even the leading) cast. As I am very spoilerphobic in my reviews, I won't explain what I mean in any further detail, but the result is that the remake packs a lot more into an identical overall run time than the original did.
I understand a movie is due out eventually, and I look forward to seeing it. Nonetheless, I do hope that ends the 2199 line. This is a great show, I'm glad it exists and I'm glad I watched it, but I'd rather see it as a standalone remake than as the beginning of a full on reboot. If there's life left in the Yamato franchise, let it be expressed in the original continuity. At the very least, if 2199 is to spawn further sequels, I hope their stories will diverge from the sequels of the original show. As a general matter, I am not in favor of repackaging the classics with a glossy new veneer. 2199 sidesteps this concern by genuinely improving on the original's story and characters, but I'd like to believe that the creative well hasn't run so dry that we're left to just tweak what we already have to sell it again. This is the rare case in which I loved a show a lot but hope it doesn't continue -- but, I have to admit, I loved it enough to keep watching, if it does, so I guess I'm as much a part of the problem as anyone.
|Tenchi Forever!: The Movie||Excellent|
|(The) Vision of Escaflowne (TV)||Excellent|
|(The) Wind Rises (movie)||Excellent||I've seen this movie three times now -- once during its Oscar eligibility run back in November, and twice more during its "wide" (as wide as it'll get, I guess) theatrical release. With each viewing I've liked it more -- it may be top tier Miyazaki for me at this point.
What I really love about this movie is its overall tone. I'm not sure its characters are actually 100% the focus of the movie -- certainly at its core its a (highly fictionalized) biopic about Jiro Horikoshi, and the story between him and Nahoko is simple and straightforward but nonetheless deeply touching in that way that Ghibli -- and particularly Miyazaki -- movies invariably are. Miyazaki captures and conveys elements of the human experience like few filmmakers, often focusing on children's coming of age stories, but here engaging in an adult love story instead, nevertheless with his same delicate touch. This side of the movie is great and very moving.
But like I said, that's not the best part of the movie. Rather, like I said, it's the general tone. The movie plays a lot like an elegy to pre-war Japan. There's a distinct tinge of melancholy underlying the entire story. Characters ruminate over the state of contemporary Japan -- its poverty, its technological backwardness -- and grope for answers. Jiro gradually comes to realize explicitly what destruction his creation will wreak, but it's clear even early in the movie that he's already grappling with the tension between his pure-hearted dream and its militaristic applications. Indeed, the opening scene of the movie has Jiro dreaming of flying over the verdant countryside, only to encounter a squadron of bombers that destroy his plane and send him plummeting back to the ground. Contrary to all the negative press the movie received, if anything, in reaching back to a Japan that no longer exists, it conveys a deep regret for the destruction that was to come, which it overtly acknowledges as having been brought on by Japan's own actions.
It warrants less discussion in large part because it should go without saying, but it's also worth pointing out that the movie has outstanding production value, as all Ghibli movies do. The Great Kanto Earthquake in particular is an outstanding scene, but the entire movie is beautiful, and the fact that the setting is so gorgeously rendered only further heightens the tragedy that we know will follow the events of the movie (and in fact are already glimpsed in the movie's closing scene). The credits song, Hikouki-gumo, captures the movie's mood perfectly and abstractly sums up the entire experience of the movie.
The Wind Rises was my favorite movie of 2013, hands down. Not just my favorite anime, my favorite movie. It's an excellent addition to Miyazaki's oeuvre, but sadly the last one.
|You're Under Arrest (OAV)||Excellent||This really is a great show. There's not a whole lot of an overarching plot because it's more of an episodic "slice of life" type story -- except, that slice is from the lives of a few Tokyo police officers -- but the individual episode stories are still pretty good. The cast is where the show really shines, though. The characters are wonderful. I know I use a lot of the same words to describe my favorite casts in various shows: "charming" or "endearing" or "fun" or whatever else. For the YUA cast, all I can really say is, "all of the above." The show is just a joy to watch because of the amazing characters. If you just look at the sum of its parts, the animation is all right and the music is fine and the plot is passable, but the show just has that special "something" that not many shows do. It's just...utterly fantastic. Having come out in 1994, it's still fairly recent, but let it age a few more years and this is a classic for sure.|
|Attack on Titan (TV)||Masterpiece||I don't really know where to begin. The headline is, I am in love with this show. When it was initially airing I was in a bit of transition, so I put off watching it until a couple months after it finished, which means I was able to just marathon straight through it -- 26 episodes (I even watched the recap in proper order, just because) in three days, which is something I haven't done in a really long time, but I couldn't turn it off. This show is really the complete package.
The core of any show is its cast, and Attack on Titan's got a great one. The main trio of Eren, Mikasa, and Armin all work really well together and the Eren/Mikasa backstory that you get a few episodes in is chilling and powerful. The supporting cast is where so many shows slip up though, and this one doesn't -- the other characters are outstanding as well. Eren's classmates during his military training are all either well developed as real characters, or at least are given adequate screentime to make their deaths meaningful when they occur (but I must say, it isn't super difficult to guess who's going to die based just on how much attention they get -- the show is much better than most about elevating characters who are destined to become Titan food into something a little more, but it doesn't quite reach that level of equal attention and development for all characters, where it feels like anybody at all could die at any time). Pretty much every character on the show, though, meets at least the standard of being superficially likable, and the great majority far surpass that as genuinely interesting and engaging people.
The story is also really fresh and engrossing. The world here is really well-imagined and the show does a great job of telling you only what you really need to know for the story to proceed, which helps to evoke a sense that you're just seeing a slice of a much bigger world, and this in turn leaves you wanting to learn more and more. The Titans, basically giant, schlubby, pasty white guys, are more goofy than terrifying in the abstract, but their comically disarming appearance only heightens the sense of terror as they traipse virtually unimpeded through human settlements, picking up and devouring those unable to hide or escape. From the very beginning the show does an excellent job of establishing its atmosphere and setting its tone, keying off the initial appearance of the Titans in the first episode. The plot itself, although some of its twists are a little predictable (maybe not completely so -- more like you've got an inkling about what's coming, not total certainty), remains interesting and is very well paced. Moreover, as the manga is still ongoing, many mysteries remain unsolved at the end of the show, leaving the door open for another season that would be most welcome.
If I had to nitpick at anything to mar this otherwise glowing review, I guess I could point to two things, which in fact are probably connected. The first is that, while the production values are frequently very high, for instance during battles (watching characters zip around on maneuver gears is really fun), you can see, particularly in early episodes, where they dipped into the budget to accomplish that, as quieter scenes are sometimes handled with still frames rather than animation. I don't remember this happening frequently, but I did notice it. It didn't particularly bother me, maybe it was even a conscious stylistic choice, but it feels more like they blew their budget on the action scenes and skimped on the others (given how well done the action scenes are, I'm not sure I'd prefer for them to have done differently with the budget they had, but maybe it would have been nice if they'd just had a higher budget all together). The other, probably related, nitpick is the frequency with which the show uses the overlapping endpoints trick. What I mean by that is when the beginning of an episode or the return from commercial starts by replaying the last minute or two of the last episode or the part leading into the commercial. This happens very frequently in Attack on Titan and I tend to assume it's used primarily as a cost-cutting measure. It didn't actually bother me much since I marathoned through the whole show at once anyway, but when you watch a show week to week that does it, it can be frustrating. I'm also not a fan of the use of recap episodes, particularly not in relatively short shows. I know that Attack on Titan ran for six months, that if you were watching week to week the recap appeared three months after you'd seen the first episode, but plenty of shows run longer than that without ever resorting to a full episode to show you again what you've already seen (perhaps the purpose is to allow new viewers to jump in halfway through, but personally I would never replace 13 episodes of story with a one episode recap so it's hard for me to imagine this -- but certainly others might not be so inflexible as I am, and perhaps this is actually a useful strategy). In the context of a long-running manga that has been adapted to a TV show that had to pick a particular endpoint in the story to leave off on, I suppose one episode doesn't actually make a difference -- unless they want to explicitly and overtly set up a sequel season by using the 26th episode to show the aftermath of the climax, you're not likely to get any more actual story by using that recap episode for something else, but all the same it hurts to like a show so much and know that one entire episode of it was basically wasted, that there could have been more. This, too, I suspect is primarily a cost-cutting measure. If you do a recap episode, you barely have to pay for any new animation for that episode and you probably don't even have to pay much for voiceovers either, except for new narration to guide the recap.
Nonetheless, I started that paragraph by calling those complaints nitpicks, and nitpicks they are. I really loved Attack on Titan. It's the kind of show that makes you not want to watch anything else afterward, because how could anything else even compare? Even my most favorite shows, although I may end up holding them in higher regard after I've sufficiently digested this, don't interest me right this minute, because though they might prove to be better overall, they are already familiar and this has been fresh. As far as I know there have not yet been any rumblings about another season, but I dearly hope there will be. There's certainly story enough for it, and an excellent cast to populate it. This was, without doubt, and by a wide margin, the best show of 2013 -- and probably of the past few years, even.
|FLCL (OAV)||Masterpiece||One of Gainax's best shows and perhaps the best OVA ever made. The animation is beautiful, the story entertaining, the characters charming, the soundtrack amazing. The entire show is littered with references to movies, anime, Japanese pop culture, and a slew of other things, and just catching the references is part of the fun of watching it. This right here is one of the reasons Gainax is my favorite production studio in the anime industry. The show is just absolutely fantastic, and the only complaint I ever hear from anyone is that it's too weird. To me, that's not a problem, but if you're intimidated by innovation and strangeness, this might be too much for you. Otherwise, definitely, definitely check it out.|
|Fruits Basket (TV)||Masterpiece||This is another show that, had I known ahead of time what it was about, I probably would have just assumed I'd hate and then not bother to watch. Thank god I didn't know ahead of time what it was about. The show is set around an interesting and amusing premise that the cursed Souma family will turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac when embraced by a member of the opposite sex. The cast here is just absolutely charming. I enjoyed the show enough the first time I saw it, but when I rewatched it a couple years later, I fell in love with it all over again. As I write this now, I'm in the middle of watching it for the third time through. I hadn't planned on watching it, I just had a sudden urge to watch the first episode again, and I couldn't stop after that. This show just never fails to bring a smile to my face. It seems to get better and better each time I watch it. If you haven't seen it, it really needs to be near the top of your list.|
|Grave of the Fireflies (movie)||Masterpiece||Far and away the greatest anime ever. Of course, Studio Ghibli always does great work, but with Grave of the Fireflies they set the bar so high that neither they nor any other anime production company is likely to ever reach it again. Given the subject matter, it is decidedly darker than other Ghibli movies, but Isao Takahata proves every bit as capable of handling serious drama as his colleague, Hayao Miyazaki, is at handling lighter children's fare. The movie presents a startlingly bleak portrait of Japan at the end of World War 2, a viewpoint that is not commonly available in the US. But it doesn't demonize the US warplanes that have reduced the country to ruin -- in truth, the war is practically an afterthought throughout the movie, acknowledged in passing but rarely directly referenced. The real story is not one of war but of survival, or at least the attempt to survive, and the increasingly desperate situation that a couple children are confronted with, surrounded by a society that can't or won't help them. It is by far the most human, the most emotional anime I've ever seen, and its real success lies in the fact that it is not heavy handed at all. Most anime are sorely lacking in any sort of subtlety, but Grave of the Fireflies is just a simple, tragic story, and Takahata allows it to unfold in front of us without forcing anything. A masterfully crafted movie head and shoulders above any other anime.|
|His and Her Circumstances (TV)||Masterpiece||Another one of GAINAX's best. This is perhaps the best cast they've featured yet, although to be fair, this one is based on a manga, so they didn't create these characters themselves. Still, they put their own spin on the story and characters which, in my opinion, is what made the show great, but which apparently didn't go over so well with the manga author. It's unfortunate that this show had to end like it did. A second season would be most welcome, but chances of that are nil to less than nil.|
|Kiki's Delivery Service (movie)||Masterpiece||Probably my favorite Miyazaki movie, just a tender, touching story about growing up. As usual, Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki manage to create a lush and beautiful world in which to set their story, populated by a wonderful, lovable cast of characters. This is the kind of movie that has an amazing ability to just make you happier for having watched it. The only better Ghibli movie is the completely opposite but every bit as incredible Grave of the Fireflies.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam (TV)||Masterpiece||A close second behind Victory Gundam for "best Gundam series" title. The original show that started arguably the most influential mecha series of all time still has perhaps the best cast that Gundam has to offer, and its story of a devastating war between disgruntled space colonists and the government on Earth has been copied numerous times by its successors. Some (shallow) people are put off by the dated look of the show, but I still contend that Yoshikazu Yasuhiko is one of the most gifted character designers ever to grace the Gundam franchise with his talent, and even if Kunio Okawara's mecha designs weren't as flashy and gimmicky as his more recent work, at least they were original and unique. If the show has one weakness, it's that some of the episodes are utterly pointless and just disrupt the flow of the series (how about that episode where Zeon soldiers put bombs all over the Gundam?). Otherwise, you'd be hard pressed to find something wrong here.|
|Mobile Suit Gundam - The Movie Trilogy||Masterpiece||A condensed version of the Mobile Suit Gundam TV series. Tomino managed to tighten the story without sacrificing character development, and the result is a set of movies with the same great cast and the same great story that solves the TV series' most glaring problem: pointless filler episodes. This trilogy is even better than the TV series that preceded it.|
|Mobile Suit Victory Gundam (TV)||Masterpiece||Hands down the best Gundam series to date. This show succeeds where Gundam ZZ failed, in creating an interesting and charming cast largely out of little kids. The cast here rivals that of First Gundam for the best Gundam cast ever. The story is also pretty good, with some interesting religious and historical elements thrown in for some added uniqueness, since one can only watch space colonies fight Earth so many times before it starts getting tired. Perhaps the most obscure Gundam series out there is the one that is most worth watching.|
|Now and Then, Here and There (TV)||Masterpiece|
|Planetes (TV)||Masterpiece||I'd previously rated this merely "very good," but I felt a recent urge to rewatch it and the rewatch has caused me to reevaluate my rating of it as well. To be honest, I don't even watch anime much anymore. I've mostly lost interest in the medium as a whole -- I guess there's nothing inherently wrong with "anime" as a mode of storytelling, but, with precious few exceptions, it's just been a really long time since I saw a new show that I really enjoyed, or even since I felt compelled to even look for a show that I might enjoy. That may be hard to believe given that I've got a few hundred titles listed on here, but as of this writing (May 2010) it's been years since I added most of these and at this point as I scroll through my list, I have to honestly say if I hadn't six or seven years ago added some of these shows to my list, I would think I'd never even heard of them at this point.
That's a lot of unnecessary exposition to get to the point I really want to make here. I've just finished rewatching Planetes and I've decided I just can't in good conscience leave it with a "very good" rating. Planetes, in my freshly reconsidered opinion, is not "very good." Despite my overall lack of interest in anime in general these days, I have to say Planetes is extraordinary. The first few episodes, actually, left me a little bit cold this time, to be honest. I was afraid this was just another show that wasn't going to live up to my fond memories of it. Yet I pushed through, an episode here, an episode there, over the course of a few weeks. And while it didn't catch me from the outset like it had in my previous viewings (the first time I saw this show, it took only the first episode to convince me I needed to finish the entire thing), it gradually grew on me all over again. There are minor things about it that do bug me, sure, but they are just minor quibbles, things so insignificant that the specific examples no longer even stick out in my mind as I'm writing this, I just have a vague notion that there were some things that bothered me particularly at the beginning of the series (ok, here's one thing I do remember, the space ninjas on the moon were kind of a dumb idea, although it's hard to fault the show too much since the characters were still really likable). The most important element in storytelling is the characters and in that aspect, Planetes is just absolutely lights out. The cast is so lovable, the individual characters so richly textured compared to most anime. Somehow, maybe just because each one is so endearing in his own way, Planetes manages to take on the existentialist angle and the psychological trauma that so many other shows flirt with, and yet it avoids falling into the trap of pretension that catches all those other shows. It doesn't come across like the writers are trying to make profound philosophical statements about the human condition, more like they've successfully given life to their characters and they're going where those characters lead them, which many other shows utterly fail to do.
There's more to like here -- the story is slow to develop, but does become pretty compelling in the second half of the show; the attention to detail and scientific realism is a breath of fresh air (and this comes from someone who isn't a big physics geek or anything, doesn't hold it against movies when they have loud explosions in space or anything, but just appreciates the markedly different atmosphere and tone that only silence can convey); the political and social themes are relevant and rather competently presented (much more than you can say for most anime); and I could go on. But it isn't necessary. Those things are just icing. I'd love this show all the same if you got rid of all that. In the end, it's the cast that makes it. The cast and the earnestly optimistic vision of the future, certainly not without its blemishes, but one where we'll continue working together to overcome whatever obstacles present themselves. If this show can't make you smile, I can't help but wonder what's pumping blood through your body since you clearly don't have a heart.
|Rurouni Kenshin (TV)||Masterpiece||One of my favorite TV shows ever. True, when the series deviates from the manga, the quality takes a serious dip, but even the much maligned third arc isn't THAT bad (for the most part...), so it's not enough to ruin the show. Yeah, the revenge arc is just absolutely awesome and I would have loved to see it animated, but the show is still pretty good. The cast is charming and their interaction together is great to watch. As someone with a casual interest in history, I rather like the story and the time period it's set in. Overall, it's just a great show.|
|Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal (OAV)||Masterpiece||The perfectly executed story of Kenshin's past puts a whole new spin on the character; being told in the TV series, or seeing in very brief flashbacks, that he was "Hitokiri Battousai" is nothing like seeing him in action. And that's just Kenshin. The rest of the cast here is great as well, and it helps contribute to a really good story. Brief appearances by several characters from the TV series were also pretty cool.|
|Spirited Away (movie)||Masterpiece||It's been decried by some as one of Miyazaki's weakest works, but I just really, really enjoyed it. I would have to agree with one of the primary complaints, that it was a bit slow, but I would disagree with the notion that it was boring or dragged on too long because of that.|
|(The) Super Dimension Fortress Macross (TV)||Masterpiece||One of the best shows ever; highly recommended even to those who think they don't like mecha shows. The cast is absolutely fantastic, and the story, with its themes of culture clash and the power of music, is pretty interesting and quite original. The character designs are great, the mecha designs are great, the music is great...the low budget shows through in the animation occasionally, but that's only problematic if you're too shallow to enjoy all the other things this show has going for it. An utterly wonderful show.|
|Turn A Gundam (TV)||Masterpiece||Third place on the "best Gundam" list trailing not far behind Victory and First Gundam. I don't care what anyone says, the mecha designs are great. So are the character designs, so is the story, so is the music, so is the animation...everything about this show is great. Anyone who refuses to watch it because the star Gundam has a mustache has no business watching Gundam in the first place. Besides, the Turn A looks wonderful in animation.|
|Ace of Diamond: Second Season (TV)|
|Active Raid (TV)|
|Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (movie)|
|Aldnoah.Zero (TV 2)|
|Armitage III: Poly-Matrix (movie)|
|Armitage: Dual-Matrix (movie)|
|Birdy the Mighty (OAV)|
|Black Magic M-66 (OAV)|
|Demon City Shinjuku (OAV)|
|Dimension W (TV)|
|Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' (movie)|
|(The) Final Flight of the Osiris (OAV)|
|Final Yamato (movie)|
|Galaxy Express 999 (movie)|
|Gatchaman Crowds insight (TV)|
|Gundam Build Fighters Try (TV)|
|Heavy Metal L-Gaim (TV)|
|(The) Heroic Legend of Arslan (TV)|
|Kuroko's Basketball (TV 3)|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (ONA)|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (TV)|
|Mobile Suit SD Gundam (OAV/movie)|
|Mobile Suit SD Gundam Mk II (OAV)|
|Mobile Suit SD Gundam's Counterattack (movie)|
|My Love Story!! (TV)|
|Noragami Aragoto (TV)|
|Odin - Starlight Mutiny (movie)|
|Parasyte -the maxim- (TV)|
|Plastic Memories (TV)|
|Project A-Ko (movie)|
|Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (TV)|
|Ronja the Robber's Daughter (TV)|
|Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū (TV)|
|Star Blazers: The Bolar Wars (TV)|
|Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki (OAV 3/2003)|
|Tokyo Babylon (OAV)|
|Valvrave the Liberator (TV 2)||I initially checked out the first season of Valvrave because it sounded like basically just a Gundam knockoff. I like Gundam, so it stands to reason that I would like something in the same vein, as long as it's well done (not that I necessarily expected Valvrave to be well done -- on the contrary, I figured I'd drop it soon in, but then at least I'd know for sure that it was bad instead of merely assuming). Of course, it becomes apparent fairly early on that Valvrave is not much like Gundam, beyond the presence of the quasi-super robot Valvrave amid the real robots of the various armies of a space war around Earth. Sure, Gundam has its supernatural element in the form of Newtypes, but the Valvraves take supernatural stuff to a whole other level that Gundam never approaches, and frankly the shows don't feel all that similar as you're actually watching them.
I say all this merely to preface that if the first season of Valvrave was surprisingly un-Gundam-like, the second season takes an even harder turn away from that sort of show. The next episode previews, even in season 1, described the Valvraves as machines that would expose the lies of the world, and in season 2 we finally learn what that means. While the story can be broken down into various elements of which it is basically a hodgepodge, the sum total of those parts feels fairly fresh and original, and new revelations take the story in surprisingly dark directions.
The promising bits of character development from the first season are also carried through here. The growing friendship between L-Elf and Haruto is a strong point, as is L-Elf's relationships with the rest of the Module 77 kids in general and his integration with them. His counterparts in the Dorssia military get more attention this time around than they did in the first series as well, fleshing them out far more than I expected. For the most part the other Valvrave pilots take a backseat to Haruto (not surprising, he is the main character and all), and it feels like even Rukino plays a smaller role in this season than in the first, but while perhaps a bit more screentime and development for them would have been welcome, they do their parts well enough here.
Overall I really enjoyed this show. Right now I'm calling it "good," but I would not be surprised to find myself rating it more highly in the future after rewatching both seasons in one go. If you're into mecha and space and whatever, Valvrave is a solid choice.
|Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (movie)||Only saw it because it happened to be playing in a theatre not far from where I live. I wasn't terribly impressed, but if it were in theatres again, I might think about seeing it. If it were on TV, it'd have to be a pretty slow day for me to bother watching it. And I don't intend to ever own it on DVD. Vampire anime in general doesn't really appeal to me.|
|When Marnie Was There (movie)|
|Yamato 2520 (OAV)|
|Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road (TV 2)|