Category Archives: Animu

Winter 2016 Anime

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ERASED 

Ever felt like you were stuck in a rut? Satoru, the main character of ERASED, sympathises. At 29 his ambitions toward becoming a manga author haven’t gone anywhere, and he works a dead-end job delivering pizza alongside fresh-faced teenagers. Consumed by a profound apathy that doesn’t even leave room for regret, the only thing that can stir him to action these days are the momentary bouts of time travel that hit him out of the blue.

Satoru has a strange affliction: whenever something bad happens around him he flashes back several minutes into the past, giving him a brief window of time to stop the event from occurring. Why can he do this? He doesn’t know, but maybe it has something to do with the traumatic event from his childhood. Twenty years ago a girl named Kayo was murdered by a man who Satoru believed was his friend, and he’s haunted by the idea that he could have prevented the tragedy. Well, he might get a chance to try: after the past comes roaring back in a particularly traumatic way he finds himself transported to 1988, shortly before Kayo’s murder. Maybe he can save her. In fact, maybe he can turn his whole life around…

Right off the bat ERASED hooked me with its effortless portrayal of Satoru’s ennui and sense of listlessness. Admittedly, this is partially because as a 28 year old who’s had an inordinately prolonged college experience I can empathise with the occasional feeling of frustration at the pace your life is moving at and the realization that you’re not getting any younger but don’t have as much to show for it as you’d like (although I’m nowhere near as bad as Satoru– seriously dude, your life isn’t going to end the moment you hit 30). That the series managed to communicate these ideas in a way that instantly rang true and felt authentic is testament to some powerful writing and direction.

I think everyone, no matter how young or old, has wondered at some point if their dream is going to come true or if they’re going to drift through life unfulfilled; at those times it’s all too easy to dig through the past and wonder if things might be different if you had only done this or avoided that or stopped  whatever event from happening, and Satoru’s story is a very neat way of putting that feeling into practical reality. Of course, real life isn’t nearly that straightforward or deterministic, and people’s lives are influenced by all sorts of random circumstances and events that they have no control over. I suspect that at the end of the story Satoru is going to find that whether or not Kayo lives will have far less of an impact on his future than he believes, and that the reason his dreams haven’t come true lies much closer to home.

Even if that somewhat predictable conclusion ends up playing out, I’m still interested in seeing how Satoru reaches that conclusion. A big part of the reason why is that he’s an eminently likeable protagonist in a relatable situation, and the sort of person you can’t help but root for. He might complain about his ability and insist that he needs to stop getting involved in other people’s problems, but the way he instantly springs into action the second a flashback hits says a lot more about his character than his grousing does.

The other reason is that this first episode of ERASED is really damn good, with top-notch direction (I particularly loved the way Satoru’s awakening in 1988 was portrayed) and characterisation buoyed by very naturalistic voice acting performances. A very intriguing mystery is being laid out here, and I’m itching to see where it goes next.

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BBK/BRNK

BBK/BRNK (which is apparently pronounced “Bubuki Buranki”) opens with two adorable tykes in startlingly hideous outfits finding an abandoned giant robot in the woods, and one of them can use magic or something, and they’re looking for the robot so they can get “that” from their mother but they don’t explain right away what “that” is and the robot smells like their mom and

This is a style of anime storytelling that’s become increasingly common, where the first episode cold-opens without telling you jack shit about the plot or characters (the other extreme, where the episode starts with a massive long-winded infodump, is unfortunately just as common). I think the idea is to rope the viewer into the story through a sense of mystery, but instead it just leaves me feeling confused and vaguely irritated, and the fact that BBK/BRNK starts out this way didn’t endear me to it.

Anyway after that the two kids fall into the robot, then we cut to a dude in yet another hideous outfit who’s fishing, and a big purple light or something comes out of the lake but he isn’t really surprised by it, then he goes home and the two kids from earlier jump on him and there’s some wholesome family shenanigans that reminded me way too much of this and all this sweeping orchestral music plays for some reason, and then

After that I just started skipping around randomly because fuck it. From what I can gather there are giant robots and evil giant robots and lots of flashy super powers and I think a time skip. Some of it looked kind of cool, but not enough to make up for how aggravating the first few minutes were.

This series joins a recent trend of shows opting for all-CG character work over 2D digital animation. This is probably the best I’ve seen it done, in that it’s frequently difficult to tell that the characters aren’t drawn the usual way, but some of the animation still has this awkward stiffness to it. The really action-packed scenes like when the girl jumps onto the giant robot actually look more fluid and energetic than you tend to get normally, but whenever characters are just walking around slowly or displaying ordinary body language it’s like you’re watching a cut-scene from a Dreamcast-era video game.

None of this is helped by the fact that the show’s visual style seems to veer wildly between “striking” and “holy shit what the fuck”. In particular, the clothes these characters are dressed in are eye-searingly ugly– a group of shadowy villains show up later and they’re all wearing the most ludicrous outfits I’ve ever seen. It’s like the character designer was mainlining Lady Gaga music videos or something.

All in all, probably not something I’m going to keep up with.

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Dimension W

This series has quite a large amount of anticipation built up around it for one reason and one reason only: Funimation, the biggest anime licensor in the US and one of the most influential international companies in the business, is co-producing it.

This isn’t the first time American distributors have pitched in to help finance new shows, but most of the previous examples occurred during the heady days of wild fiscal irresponsibility that characterised the early to mid 2000s anime bubble; since Funimation is the only major player to survive the bubble bursting and has become a poster child for how to run an anime licensee in the 21st century, a lot of people are curious about what sort of show they’d give their money to.

Less than a minute into Dimension W’s opening credits the answer becomes abundantly clear, as the show trots out imagery reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star and other series that became hits in the US as anime fandom was coming into its own. Which is actually a pretty smart move on paper– the industry conditions and creative trends that produced those shows largely don’t exist today, so if anything like that is going to get made it will be because someone stateside is financing it. But can Dimension W actually capture that lightning in a bottle quality?

The plot: it’s The Future and there are holographic advertisements and elevated monorails (that’s how you can tell it’s The Future). Humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels has been all but eliminated and a worldwide golden age has dawned thanks to the discovery of a fourth dimension, from which unlimited free energy can be drawn using devices called coils.

Our main character is Some Dude who for unknown reasons lives off the system, eschewing coils entirely and relying on gasoline for his energy needs. Unfortunately the stuff is getting increasingly expensive and hard to find as it’s phased out of use around the world, so he procures it by taking jobs from a shady underworld figure. Said jobs involve tracking down and “liberating” illegal coils from the even more shady criminals and gang members who trade in them, a job that by necessity requires Dude to be a huge badass. During one particular job he meets a cute android girl owned by the elderly discoverer of Dimension W, they end up fighting crime or whatever.

This one gets a big shrug from me. There’a absolutely nothing wrong with it– it seems like a decent story, the production values are high, the action is good– but it’s nothing in terms of plot or setting or characters that hasn’t been done a billion times before. The main character is a totally flat “gruff badass with a mysterious dark past” cliche and while the visual style is mostly pretty good (I like how the world still looks grimy and lived in despite being in the middle of a rapid technological ascension) some elements like the robot girl are embarrassingly reminiscent of the kind of shit that was prevalent in the early 2000s. Hell, it even parachutes in a pretty-boy rival character who makes vaguely homoerotic remarks about the protagonist, as if to say “HEY FANGIRLS, YOU LIKED SHIPPING THE GUNDAM WING BOYS BACK IN THE DAY, RIGHT? WELL HERE, SHIP THESE DUDES.”

I have to wonder if that’s why Funimation decided to co-produce this show: not because it’s particularly good or remarkable, but because it has some elements that vaguely resemble things that were popular more than a decade ago. I’m going to guess that strategy won’t light the world on fire.

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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Okay so stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s a fantasy MMO that a bunch of teens play, and

Yeah, you know where this is going, although Fantasy of Grimgar and Whatever tries to obfuscate things a bit by giving all of the characters amnesia. Once upon a time a series about radical teens trapped in a deadly fantasy game called Sword Art Online got really popular even though it’s fucking awful, and now studios are crapping out derivative knock-offs at a dispiriting rate. The only thing this particular example has going for it is that it features the stupidest character design in anime history, in the form of the dude above.

Other than that move along, nothing to see here.

 

 

 

Spring 2015 anime

Anime blogging continues! It’s a short post this time because I really struggled to find anything interesting this season- I watched about twice as many first episodes as I blogged, but didn’t finish most of them. The one show I was kind of curious about (Digimon Tri) looks like it’s getting pushed back to summer, so let’s just throw this up here now.

Remember to check back in three days (yes, three days!) for the beginning of our exciting new Let’s Read.

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Winter 2015 Anime

It is time once again for my sporadic habit of blogging about the first episodes of new anime series. As usual, I’ll only be looking at shows that catch my eye either because they look promising or really bad.

Before we begin though I have a proposition for you all: I’ve been thinking about starting up a series of very infrequent posts (we’re talking one every few months) on some of my favourite anime series and movies; these would be less reviews and more like what I did with Silent Hill last year- in-depth analyses and commentary. The thing is, I’m not sure how much interest there actually is in the topic, hence why I don’t blog about anime more often even though I watch it quite frequently.

Anyway, let me know in the comments if that sounds like something you’d be interested in reading.

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2013 Autumn Anime

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Kill La Kill

In a dystopian future/alternate history/fantasy world/whatever the fuck there’s a high school in the middle of a squalid, crime-infested urban mass called Hannoji Academy that’s ruled with an iron fist by a council consisting of students granted superhuman abilities by “ultima uniforms”, which are ranked on a three-star scale depending on the level of power they give the wearer. Led by the fearsome Satsuki Kiryuin, the council enforces its draconian will on the school to create a brutal Orwellian social order where “fear is freedom, control is liberty and contradiction is truth” and student executions take place on a more or less daily basis. Into this bizarre environment steps transfer student Ryuko Matoi, wielding a sword made out of half of a giant pair of scissors that was left at the scene of her father’s murder and on a mission to track down the other half- which she believes Satsuki has. Before she can land a hit on Satsuki she gets her ass handed to her by one of Satsuki’s super-powered underlings, causing her to retreat to the ruins of her childhood home where she discovers a sentient uniform that bonds with her. As it turns out the uniform is insanely powerful and her scissor blade was designed specifically to destroy Ultima uniforms, meaning Ryuko is now fully kitted out to take on the student council and seek VENGEANCE against Satsuki for killing her father.

So this is a full series from Studio Trigger, creators of Little Witch Academia, and as you may have gathered from that synopsis it is completely fucking bonkers. From literally the moment the episode starts over the top hyper-powered characters are jumping off buildings and kicking each other through walls while giant red text flashes on-screen to spell out the names of special attacks. Absolutely no attempt is made to explain or justify the absurdity of the world or the story. Either you accept Kill La Kill on its own terms or you don’t.

I thought I did, at first. This episode wastes absolutely no time getting to the point, which is a refreshing change from a lot of anime series that tend to waffle around and pad out the runtime. I really like Ryuko and Satsuki as characters and the show has an immediately striking visual style.

But as the epsiode went on cracks started to appear in the facade. The artistry on display is phenomenal but the actual animation is quite poor most of the time, which combined with the frenetic and busy visual style makes some fight scenes all but impossible to follow. The over the top style goes from cool and eye catching at the start to just way too over the top by the episode’s end, as if the animators are trying too hard to be cool. There’s a somewhat uncomfortable scene where the sentient school uniform (who is presented as being male) rips Ryuko’s clothes off and literally forces himself on her, and I rolled my eyes at the fact that the uniform’s battle mode puts her in what is essentially a robo-bikini. Maybe this is maybe a parody of the whole chainmail bikini thing- the outfit somehow protects her entire body despite only covering a small portion of it- and if you wanted to be really generous I guess you could read Ryuko’s embarrassment at being forced to wear a revealing outfit to achieve her goals as some sort of commentary, but mostly it’s just juvenile and stupid. I also have to wonder where they’re going to go with this premise. The preview for the next episode makes it seem like it’s going to be a super powered student council member of the week deal, which given how sloppy and incoherent the action scenes in this episode were I’m not sure I’d be interested in watching.

I’m going to stick with this series just because of how interesting it looks, but I really hope the animators tone it the fuck down next time and find some reason to give Ryuko a less idiotic battle outfit (some sort of red thread comes out of her defeated foe’s uniform at the end and fuses with her own, so maybe that’s the direction they’re going).

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Beyond The Boundary

Our hero Akihito is on his way home from school one day when he spots a cute girl wearing over-sized red glasses standing on the roof, apparently about to jump off. Being a fan of girls wearing glasses (this is literally his given justification) he races up to convince her to step away from the edge. Instead she back-flips over the fence around the roof and stabs him in the chest with a sword made from her own blood.  It turns out the girl, Kuriyama Mirai, is a hunter of “dreamshades”, and Akihito is a half-shade who is also immortal. Their relationship therefore consists of Mirai, who as it turns out is actually pretty god-awful at the whole monster-hunter thing, following Akihito around and trying in vain to murder him. Drama and wacky hijinks ensue.

Beyond the Boundary is the next series by KyoAni, a studio known for cranking out facile, pandering moe bullshit that all the otaku lose their fucking minds over for some reason. And to be sure, there are definite moe elements at play here- Mirai fits right into the pigenohole of the clumsy and kind of dumb glasses-wearing girl who falls over a lot- but for some reason I found this show clicking with me in a way that their previous efforts never have. A lot of the dialogue is unusually sharply written, the episode is snappy and fast paced, the character designs and action scenes are gorgeous and there’s some decent humour as well. Although at the same time the episode falls at several points into groan-worthy “as you know we live in this urban fantasy setting where things work like this” exposition and Akihito’s friend/love interest spends the entire episode calling him a pervert, which I guess is supposed to be hilarious.

I don’t know, maybe I’ve just become so jaded that I’m giving Beyond the Boundary a pass where it doesn’t deserve one, but I found it pretty enjoyable. The opening animation includes some truly spectacular fight scenes as well as a lot of ultra drama so we’ll see where it goes.

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Coppelion

And the award for biggest waste of resources and artistic skill of the year goes to…. Coppelion!

It’s the post-apocalypse and three high school girls with very little personality traipse into the overgrown ruins of Tokyo to look for survivors, led from a helicopter by their school Vice Principal who sounds like a serial killer. The girls have been genetically engineered to survive whatever caused the city to be destroyed and is making the ruins inaccessible to normal humans. For some reason they do this while wearing their school uniforms, including distractingly short skirts that regularly billow in the wind to show glimpses of their underwear.

The big draw with Coppelion is the absolutely drop-dead gorgeous background art, which honestly rivals what you’d see in theatrical productions- in the scene I took that screencap from every single one of those flowers is moving in the breeze. It really is beautiful to behold.

For ten seconds, until the characters come on screen. Then you realize the character designs are pretty ugly- all three of the protagonists have enormous gazelle-legs that take up more than 70% of their bodies and they’re frequently drawn with thick black outlines which clash horribly with the almost photorealistic backgrounds- our three protagonists are either bland or annoying and not a whole lot actually happens in this episode.

What annoyed me about Coppelion is how badly it botches a seemingly easy premise. There should be a real sense of mystery and adventure in the idea of exploring the ruins of a long-dead city, but the fact that two of the girls whine and complain constantly and have generic stock personalities so cliched they were already cliched in the 90s (one of them eats a lot!) and the third acts like an unflappable badass put me more in the mindset of a wacky school comedy than an exciting sci-fi adventure. And I know this should be a minor point, but the school uniforms just make it seem like the characters aren’t taking their job seriously. The plot- in so far as there is one- is paper-thin, with the supposed big twist of the girl’s mission having an ulterior motive that they’re not aware of telegraphed miles in advance. The near-constant fetishization of the girl’s short skirts- which begins within the first thirty seconds- sealed the deal for me.

Coppelion could well turn into something interesting, the ending animation shows lots of moody, surreal imagery that seems to suggest the story is going to get darker than it is at the moment, but based on this first episode I feel like the production committee spent an astronomical budget animating someone’s half-baked webcomic idea.