Tag Archives: Anime Review

Anime-Breakdown: Ajin Part 1: Shoudou (2015) Recap Movie Review

Polygon Pictures is the name of the studio behind this film, and the anime series Sidonia no Kishi/Knights of Sidonia. I bring them up because despite only having seen one completed series from Polygon Pictures (at the time of this review being posted) it was enough for me to make them my most hated anime studio. This hatred is derived from Knights of Sidonia, or as I refer to it Sci-Fi: The Anime since it’s biggest piece of sci-fi trite I have ever seen in any form of media. Every single plot point was predictable, it didn’t put a new spin on any established sci-fi formula nor strayed from any common modern anime writing conventions, and it’s also the only piece of science fiction, and animation to ever put me to sleep. So before even starting the film, and Ajin anime series there was already the hurdle of low expectations. The only way Ajin couldn’t meet those low expectation would be if it turned out worse than Knights of Sidonia. Ajin went so below the bar of low expectations I could make a top ten list of the worst Ajin episodes in great detail by how much incompetence there is in each individual episode.

This film is basically a recap splicing together the first six episodes of the anime series Ajin. You might be wondering what’s the purpose of this recap movie if there’s no noticeable alteration between the anime series, and film. Both use the same footage with the same dialogue rendering it rather pointless to seek out the other product depending on what you decide to check out. As negative as I was towards the recap movie, Sword Art Online: Extra Edition, A1 Pictures did the logical in creating new material exclusive to it. Ajin Part 1: Shoudou only major difference with the anime series are scenes not having Izumi Shimomura (Tosaki’s secretary) cheeks turning red when blushing in two episodes of the anime series. I would like to point out this film came out in late November of 2015, and between that time all the way to mid January of 2016 when the anime aired. Someone, or several individuals at Polygon Pictures felt it was important to slightly alter moments of embarrassment by having Izumi cheeks turn red when she’s blushing instead bumping up the framerate to not make the animation look like it is always lagging. Just like the anime series, this recap film purpose is to simply be dead air. The metaphorical coaster of anime so to say.

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Sup! I’m Porcupine.

Ajin takes the classic premise of the “Human Parasite” (as I call it) trope where the focus is on a main character who becomes something he/she, or the world hates. If you read, or seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers (my go to association with this premise) you know for a fact this premise under right hands holds infinite possibilities. Especially horror since it could thrive on creating psychological fear of these creatures that easily blend into our world. However, Ajin doesn’t understand the basics of storytelling so when it tried to reach higher than possible never once does it bother to set up the building blocks for a stable story.

First issue for the film is simple; bad world building combine with bad context for exposition. In Ajin, it’s establish the entire world know the existence of Ajins, yet in a later scene in the movie a police officer is surprise there’s an Non Lethal Drug Gun specifically design to capture Ajins. Before you could be bother to ask what sense does it make that this weapon isn’t mandatory for all policemen to have in case of an emergency it throws another bad plot point at you. One being how high school students managed to find a leaked video of a Ajin being experimented on, and there being no mention of it in any news media outlet. The flimsy excuse of a student saying it could be fake cannot be assumed to apply to everyone else in the world which requires higher suspension of disbelief that does not come with the premise. In the anime series, the news media eventually discover this leaked video, but in the film the news media does not. Creating more plot holes that in sequel films Polygon Pictures will have to cover up instead of focusing on telling a story (not a good one at that).

We also have the Elephant in the room to address in that paranoia, hatred, disgust, or any feelings towards the public views on Ajin goes without setup. Aside from the first discover Ajin being a gun for hire in Africa, and if Ajin are turned in you’ll be rewarded there is nothing much to grasp from the Ajins presence in this world. The film even brings up the fact other Ajins were discovered, but mentions nothing if the other Ajins are commonly violent toward humans. If that was the case, than it would make sense for Kei Nagai (our teenage protagonist) not to trust anyone in his surroundings. However, if the story didn’t establish the public mindset on Ajins existence than the idea of them being turned in for a reward could still be a reasonable source of distrust for Kei Nagai. A simple, and not hard to shoe in solution for this issue is someone mentioning an Ajin who got betrayed by his friends for money. If this was done than you could have a less inferior reason for Kei Nagai not to trust his friends in the beginning of the film. It’s even brought up the reward could be just a rumor, but even if the reward is just a rumor than Kei Nagai fearing being betrayed by his friends from a story he heard would make a bit more sense. My solution sucks, but it could hold itself together much better compared to betrayal for rumored reward Kei Nagai just recently discovered imply by the film.

Reason number two this film is bad is because of main character Kei Nagai. I personally refer to him as Sam Blanderton since he has no personality, the writing pretends he’s a smart character, and has the plot armor of immortality. His younger sister describes Kei Nagai as a cold person so Vanilla Ice is also a suitable nickname for the protagonist. Jokes aside, you would also find Kei Nagai in that piles of jokes. Despite being told he’s a smart character, and studying to be a doctor he’s no smarter than the rest of the cast in Ajin that can’t phantom the idea of multiple people wearing hats. Having never gone to medical school I can tell you it is possible to knock someone out unconsciously with your fists. I bring this up since Kei Nagai can summon a Black Ghost which are basically an invisible humanlike manifestation Ajins can use. For some reason, when Kei is being tortured about an hour into the film, Kei seems to have forgotten everything he learned. This is a character who the audience is told wants to be a doctor. In a scene where Kei is being tortured he is also pressured into killing scientists, which you would expect someone who has been studying to be a doctor to do the logical, and knock out whoever is torturing him in order to intimidate anyone who wants to torture him in the future. Not wanting to kill is one thing, but if you have the power to knock someone out unconsciously like Kei Nagai has with his Black Ghost where’s the conflict in the situation. Kei doesn’t have to kill anyone when he’s being tortured, yet he seems content that he could only kill despite the fact he’s been studying to become a doctor. Good to know that knowledge goes to waste.

Kei Nagai acts however the plot demands him to without a consistent personality trait. In the film, Kei meets face to face with an old man who kidnapped his sister, but is okay with it since she wasn’t harm. (Tear out hair in anger). Yet, he is more concern with the idea of this same old man wanting to kill scientists who have been torturing him (Kei) for days none of whom he knows. Showing concern for their very livelihood despite torturing him. Just, huh? What makes this infuriating for me is Kei Nagai brings up the idea to handicapped those scientists while begging for them not to be murdered. So the series (along with this film) is telling me Kei Nagai gives a rat ass his sister got kidnapped who he known for basically his entire life, and shows more concern for saving people who tortured him for several days  to the point he’ll bargain to handicapped them to make sure they live. However, this completely goes against the established trait of Kei Nagai being a cold, but intelligent character which does not go well when you see this same intelligent character wear nothing to hide his face when out in public. This is never an issue since Polygon Pictures is too lazy to have background characters which is why there is hardly ever crowds of people in the film. What this means is that Kei Nagai is not a cold character since he bother saving random strangers who tortured him several days, and is not intelligent since he doesn’t use his medical knowledge in his situations to protect himself. There’s no moment of competency from this character since Kei Nagai either gets lucky by discovering a new ability to save himself when convenient, or needs to be save by another person.

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Glasses guy takes his groping seriously.

Finally, the reason the film is terrible, and the anime series itself is also terrible is pretty much everything else. Characters are one dimensional in the film with the only character using his head is Satou who is presented as the villain. Satou is refer by others as The Man in the Hat (even in the English dub for who knows why) because he wears a hat. Apparently, in Ajin, Satou is the only person in the entire world who wears a hat. This is proven whenever Satou is brought up simply mentioning someone is wearing a hat. Characters will immediately bring up Satou. Details like this makes it impossible to take Ajin seriously. What it tells me is a race of immortal beings is easily accepted in this world, but multiple people wearing hats is an entirely alien to concept those same people. Satou character also suffers the same issue, in this film, of having little character development, but compare to every other character he’s written the best. Satou is the only character who has a goal, and a motivation for what he does to a certain character. As you can assume, one character who’s passable doesn’t excuse an entire cast that’s disposable. Kei Nagai does virtually nothing to advance the plot, Kaito/Porcupine (Kei’s best friend) disappears after the second act without explanation, Eriko Nagai (Kei’s sister) is practically pointless contributing nothing to the narrative, and a slew of other unimportant characters amount to either explaining things characters in the world should already know, or just disappear after a while.

Pacing is a mess rushing through everything. This issue applies to the anime series too, but in movie format it’s boils down to throwing set pieces at the audience face without substance. There’s nothing of value to gain from constantly seeing the main characters in danger if there is no reason to care for them. No tension, no stakes, and no investment in the characters will have you constantly looking at the time wondering how long this train wreck is going to last.

On a technical level Polygon Pictures 3D animation is dated, even by 1990s 3D television standards. It’s embarrassing that the Donkey Kong Country 3D animated series from the late 90s has more expressive facial animation, and a better framerate. Donkey Kong Country can make the simple action of Gorillas walking, and dancing for that matter move smoothly. In Ajin Part 1: Shoudou, in the beginning of the film, Polygon Picture can not make the simple action of walking move smoothly. Through the film (and the anime series) it seems like characters are moving in slow motion. Polygon Pictures is capable of fixing of this, but are too lazy to do anything about it. There are two sequences in the film where two Black Ghosts are fighting against each other using the technique of slowing things down briefly then speeding things up. This simple demonstration of being able to change the speed of motion freely should also apply to the frame rate. It’s done deliberately so Polygon Picture have the technology not make to their anime series, and films look like they’re lagging at all times. Polygon Picture is so lazy the film closing credits is the opening sequence to the anime series with just longer credits. Bravo Polygon Picture.

Ajin Part 1: Shoudou needed to be story boarded, and drafted at least once before ever entering production. If this was done than Polygon Pictures would have realize they have no motivation for people to hate Ajins which would have save them from a number of issues if it was addressed. However, even if Ajin did give a good reason for why Ajins are hated it wouldn’t do away with the idiotic plot filled with shallow characters, and a very lazy production. You could find better looking 3D animation from the late 90s than this film which came out in 2015 which is embarrassing. Whatever way you view Ajin in either film, or tv format it is an embarrassment display of Japanese animation, an embarrassment to 3D animation, and an embarrassment to storytelling.

1/10

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Anime-Breakdown: Golden Batman (Black Star and the Golden Bat (1979) Movie Review

Golden Batman is a Korean animated movie from 1979 based on a 1967 anime series called Golden Bat or Ogon Bat in Japanese. Created by Takeo Nagamatsu in the 1930s, Ogon Bat is a Japanese superhero that predates the likes of Superman, and Batman. Much to my surprise, Ogon Bat is considered to be the world’s first superhero. Borrowing more traits from Superman than the name of the 1979 film would imply having super powers that include superhuman strength, invulnerability, and the ability to fly. In the original Korean-Japanese production of the 1960s anime series (according to what little information could be found on this series), Golden Bat is apparently the last surviving Atlantean who fights crime wearing a golden skull mask. If you see the poster, or promotional art you’ll notice that the golden skull mask is nowhere in sight. Turns out in 1979 Golden Bat design was updated to resemble Batman.

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Seriously though, the golden skull pimp design looks cooler.

Now, the only viewable copy of Golden Batman is a Spanish dub of the film since the film never officially received an international release in the US. Probably because the new character designs rips off Batman. You either have to search to the ends of the world to find an old VHS tape, or search desperately online. If Golden Batman was dubbed in any other language besides English, or Spanish that would be the end of the story. There’s no English subtitles either so unless you know you’re Korean, or Spanish well you’re sadly out of luck. However, that is not the case for me so I’ll discuss the actual film.

Golden Batman (or Black Star vs. Golden Bat according to the announcer in the beginning of the film) story follows a bunch of kids, and their talking pet dog trying to prove their bravery for their dying sick friend. There’s also a subplot revolving around villain Black Star who is kidnapping the world’s top scientists to develop a weapon that can make him take over the world. Pass the opening credit sequence which has cheesy music the first thing the villain, Black Star, is shown doing is watching a news broadcast. This news broadcast basically clarifies a scientist is working on “Rocket TM” which is described to be a robot for an Aerospace Science Central. Black Star after seeing the newscast decides to call the Aerospace Corporation, and announces to them in a phone call that he’s planning to steal the blueprints to “Rocket TM”. With this information you think the Aerospace Science Central would signal Golden Bat, or sing his Korean theme song to make sure Golden Bat appears at the scene in advance to stop Black Star. The Aerospace Science Central does not do that, and instead a army of clone security guards that were in charge of protecting “Rocket TM” fear at the sight of Black Star.


This event make news waves where whoever translated the script into Spanish felt the news broadcast should say (paraphrasing) “We’re living in a time of authentic danger”. Leading me to speculate that regular crime committed by normal people in this world is not considered “authentic danger”. There’s also a pointless cutaway to a child crying where the mom threaten her kid she’ll call Black Star if he doesn’t stop crying. It contributes nothing to the story, but that some hilarious cruel parenting right there. It only takes around six minutes before Golden Bat actually makes first his appearance in the film for some further nonsense. Aside from his ridiculous character design the members of the mafia show their fear by doing some sort of invisible orgy from what I could interpret from the animation. You got one mafioso thrusting the air, and another mafioso thrusting the floor repeatedly. This leads into a badly animated action scene where Golden Bat wins easily. After stripping the mafia down to their underwear, and leaving one of them a red Bat on their chest Golden Bat leaves the scene. So why did Golden Bat go to the hideout of the mafia if it wasn’t to retrieve the blueprints is never explained. Well, Golden Bat is did strip down several mafioso down to their underwear so he had a plan of some sort that wasn’t aimed at kids (the film intended demographic).

This goofy fight while entertaining sadly isn’t followed up on. Instead of following the last surviving Atlean fighting evil on Earth the film shifts focus to a bunch of annoying kids that really like Golden Bat for the majority of the film. Given the film is barely an hour, and ten minutes long the kids remain static characters. Along with the one dimensional kids, neither do Golden Bat, or the villain Black Star have much personality to them than stating the obvious between good, or evil. The movie also has a easy to follow story where you’re just meant to accept everything at face value. There’s a talking Cat, and a talking Dog that wears boxing glove in the film that everyone simply accept in their everyday normal life in this world. In one scene, there’s a kid who disguises himself as Golden Bat to scare off the mafia, yet the disguise changes his height, body structure, and voice simultaneously. I could buy the mafia falling for the disguise, and even Golden Bat flying out of a Lava pit unscrathed, but an entire costume changing a kid body structure is just pushing it.

Among various nonsense of the writing there is Toltry (the main character) father who claims it is normal for his son to break his neighbor windows. I bring this up because the film does this frequently. It shows something to the viewer that is inconsequential to the story, and goes about it business like nothing happen. So for like 40 minutes it does this until eventually the kids discover Black Star cave by accident. The film tries to setup drama by having a sick dying kid in the film, and revealing his tragic backstory through flashback. I laughed at this part in the film so that tells you how much I cared. Not only was the currently sick kid bald for some reason when his mother died, but became good friends with neighborhood kids on a whim. I would have taken the scene seriously if what sounded like bad porno music (the bad voice acting didn’t help either) wasn’t playing in the background during the flashback. Also, in the flashback a kid shed tears, and his tears goes through his glasses. That’s the kind of things you’ll notice when boring kids character are meant to carry an entire film. It’s difficult to care them too when they’re idiots. In one scene, Toltry tells his friend they should leave before they are discover by Black Star henchman. Instead of immediately leaving the evil layer the kids stand in the same place until an announcement finishes saying someone entered the evil headquarters. I know Toltry is the same character is who did animal impression to cheer up his dying friend in an earlier scene, but that was seriously stupid.

The best part of the movie is easily whenever Golden Bat appears on screen because ridiculous things happen on screen. It’s a shame he’s delegated into the background since the climax is the highlight in the movie. During the climax, the film could care less about the tiny details like logic, and rational thinking as Golden Bat beats up everyone in his path. Golden Bat fights against an army of clone henchman, a robot, and eventually the villain with just whatever came up to the animators mind. Golden Bat is so powerful that he even survives falling into a pit of Lava, and flies out of it without a scratch to fight the villain of the film. The final confrontation is entertaining seeing Golden Bat fight a villain who can seemingly shoots laser out of anything he touches. If the movie offered more cheesy superheroes antics over annoying kids than the film would have been more enjoyable, though probably just as badly written. It would make the moment where Golden Bat karate chops off Black Star arm off look less out of place given the intended audience was obviously for kids.

Animation is odd. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful in finding the studio behind this film. Then again I guess it’s for the best since the animators have a clear butt fetish in the film. Characters are slapped in the butt, kick in the butt, patted on the butt, and a couple of shots to show fat kid butt. Putting some detail into them which questions where the animators priority were at. Throughout the film there’s many examples of bad animation like a character face being colored differently from the rest of his body, a kid head going through a bed sheet even he’s a couple feet away from it, and Golden Bat flying off seemingly out of thin air from a window. My favorite pieces of bad animation is the constant jittering from all the characters in the film that never stops. It’s quite an accomplishment when the animation is so bad that still animation wasn’t done properly. However, the non stop jittering of characters make can scenes unintentionally funny when taken out of context. Usually making it seems like characters are doing something sexual like making it appear like a fat kid is giving his dog a rough time.

I saw the film with a Spanish dub, and regardless of what language you actually understand you can obviously tell this is horrible voice acting. Now I can’t list any specific voice actors since the credits are written in Korean, and the Spanish dub didn’t list any Spanish voice actors in the closing credits either. The only voice actor I would give any compliment to is whoever voiced Golden Bat did a good job in his role. His role was rather limited in screen time, but the voice actor felt self-aware of the role he was playing, and chose to ham it up. It felt appropriate with the tone of the film. Golden Bat was also the only voice actor whose performance was remotely enjoyable because he was intentionally campy. Even though Golden Bat was the hero the evil laugh of Golden Bat as he beats up people is hard not to enjoy. Every other voice actors was terrible. The whole cast simply not caring about their performances. The only things that aren’t dubbed in Spanish are the Korean song tracks. Including two moments where the kids sing Golden Bat theme in their original Korean language, and oh man it’s awful! The kids are out of sync, can’t sing those high notes, and also can’t sing.

Golden Batman is an interesting piece of animation history, as well the source material it’s based on, but there’s nothing to see here. Golden Bat takes a back seat in his own movie even though he has top billing in the film title. While unintentionally funny in parts the annoying voice acting, and the amount of time it likes to waste on pointless diversion it’s better to leave this relic of the past unseen.

4/10

Anime-Breakdown: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream (2014) Movie Review

Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth was done by AIC A.S.T.A. studio which despite not being a good film I would have preferred if they continued making the films over A-1 Pictures studio. A-1 Pictures had their chance at the Persona franchise with Persona 4: The Golden Animation. Instead of refining Lerche’s earlier anime adaptation, titled Persona 4: The Animation, on the same game A-1 Picture created what is best described as a cash grab. Now they’re in charge of creating a sequel to an average video game movie adaptation. Like with Persona 4: The Golden Animation, A-1 Picture doesn’t seek out to make improvements, and instead makes sure you know it’s an A-1 Pictures product. What I find funny is during the opening sequence, Makoto says “I don’t know why, but I feel really good” looking up into the sky revealing director Tomohisa Taguchi name. Almost as a way to reassure viewers this sequel in good hands. It might seem unimportant, but this is the same director behind Persona 4: The Golden Animation. Persona fans, let that sink in as I delve into this bad sequel.

Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream continues the story of Makoto Yuki from the first film leading a group of Persona users to eliminate “The Dark Hour”. This movie opens with a shower scene in a motel room. The film is gracious enough not to provide viewers with a recap of the previous film to pad the running time, but not smart enough to provide context as to why two teenagers are in a motel seemingly about to have sex. I know what happened since I played the game, but even with that said I’m watching a movie not playing it. External knowledge should not be required to understand the first scene of a movie. Once Yukari Takeba finishes showering, putting on a towel while Makoto takes off accessories around his neck. Yukari, and Makoto stare at each other in the middle of the room for a bit before Yukari blushed from embarrassment. The opening scene ends when Yukari slaps Makoto in the face then cue in title card. No scene, can better express what it felt like to see the film. It was, in every metaphorical sense, a slap to the face as a fan of the Person 3 video game.

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A-1 Pictures: We care about plot!

Now, I want to emphasize this is an A-1 Picture production because it takes 17 minutes before anything significant like story actually appears in the movie. Yes, it takes that long before anything story wise actually starts moving forward in a film that’s around an hour, and forty minutes long. The most important thing relating to story that happens within those first 17 minutes is introducing the passive villains Strega. Everything else is spend on fan service like a scene at a beach involving Junpei Iori describing the swimwear of the female characters as the camera shows them off. Granted, this also happened in the video game, but at least they (the female characters) received some characterization at that point in the video game. Since the last movie didn’t develop the cast into dynamic characters it’ll make you shake your head as this is most of the female characters’ biggest contribution in the film. Another aspect it failed to do within those 17 minutes was introduced anything meaningful to use later on in the film story. After an opening action scene, the characters are next seen on a boat heading to an island, then proceeds for around 10 minutes on the beach on non-story related activity.

Now pass those first 17 minutes the film finally provides explanations for questions that should have been answered in the first film. So now you’ll finally get an answer for why Gekkoukan High School transform into Tartarus in “The Dark Hour”, why the Shadows were released into the world, how to possibly eliminate “The Dark Hour”, and how many of the powerful Shadows that appear during a full moon need to be defeated. All of this information would have been useful in the first film! This is basically damage control for the insane decision for characters to withhold information for no good reason. Narratively it leaves the viewers with no exposure to Persona 3 wandering in the dark when information needed to understand how the film world function gets addressed in the sequel. Thankfully, the one good decision from the story was explaining the concept of artificial Personas. Explaining what makes them different from regular Personas, and the consequences they hold. It’s not a focal point in the film, but at least some attention is given to it.

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Welcome to the Pointless Room. A place between padding, and filler.

Out all the material that could have been cut from the film it’s beyond comprehension why the one, and only scene in “The Velvet Room” was left in when all that was said in it was enjoy life to the fullest, and beware of Shadows. This added absolutely nothing of value to the story. The inhabitants of “The Velvet Room” don’t appear again the film besides this one scene. The film was also in need of direction, and main goal to accomplish in the story. There’s a moment in the film where Shinji cooks for a dog while wearing pink cooking apparels. Then, the camera turns around to show an expressionless Aegis staring at Shinji. This causes Shinji to sweat with hip hop music (Mass Destruction by Lotus Juice) playing in the background repeating “Baby, baby, baby”. I just described a pointless moment in the film that the creators of the film approved to animate in the film, even though the first 17 minutes does nothing to move the story forward. Choices like these are the reasons why these Persona 3 films fail to tell a story properly.  

While still discussing the first thirty minutes of the film I should get across this sequel ruined one of my favorite scene from the video game. It’s after Yukari sees footage of her father dying (plus a revelation discerning Shadows too), and Makoto goes to the beach at night attempting to make Yukari feel better. I very much like this scene allot in the video game besides being a tender moment gave Yukari more depth as a character. It also ended with a humorous note showing the group strong friendship in hard times. So, when I saw the altered scene play out it was for a different purpose. What should have been a character defining moment for Yukari ends up being the set up to an introductory action scene to show off Aegis capabilities as an Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapon killing a dozen or so shadows. I wouldn’t have mind the action scene if A.) Cell Phones were working even though the first film establishes technology doesn’t work during “The Dark Hour”, B.) The action scene happens after Yukari sees footage of her father dying which dramatically voids Yukari of a meaningful moment, and finally C.) If in the previous film a single character had no trouble fending off a powerful Shadow in his first time of combat in Tartarus what makes you think I’m going to believe two unarmed characters will be in danger from an encounter where they are surrounded by a dozen weak Shadows.

Okay, with the first 1/3 of the film problems already written about there’s the rest of the film. With newly introduce Cyborg Girl Aegis now part of the main cast the film makes sure to tell audience she has an infatuation with protagonist Makoto Yuki. A love triangle would have benefited the story if done right. Makoto pays more attention towards Aegis in the film than Yukari even though they have known each other longer. Yukari is shown being jealous whenever Aegis says her purpose in life is to be next to Makoto Yuki side. If competently written this would be used to develop Yukari instead of just being used for humor. To add insult to injury Aegis proves to be more powerful, and useful in combat than Yukari who has been fighting Shadows for a far longer time. This romance aspect of the story doesn’t go far beyond Aegis stating she wants to be next to Makoto. Our protagonist shows no interest in either of them, but spends more time with Aegis in the film.

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“I can’t believe believe this goes nowhere plot point”. Now with everything you hate without the cholesterol.

Continuing what was the point of the first film if Makoto didn’t learn to be more open with his emotions! It’s like he reset as a character to learn the same thing in the sequel. However, this film ends on a tragic note which would have made sense for Makoto to be emotionless if that tragic event happened earlier, or if the film was longer. It’s headache inducing attempting to figure out why the filmmakers thought this was a good direction to take Makoto character in.

When it comes to characters instead of developing the already large cast this sequel decides to increase its number instead. With the exception of Makoto, all the characters from the previous film are delegated into the background. Including Yukari, and Junpei whom were important in the previous film don’t grow as characters in the sequel. Junpei for instance doesn’t know what he would do after “The Dark Hour” is dealt with, but there’s no exploration on it. Other characters who also pondered this same question in one scene. Beside Makoto Yuki, everyone else’s thoughts on the question feel unimportant. A negative that detracts from the whole group dynamic when its tries to get across SEES is made up of close friends. Any character that was in the sideline in the first film don’t receive better treatment except for Akihiko who receives some characterization. Unlike the first film where the climax allowed him to contribute to the story. In this entry, Akihiko ends up short as his connection with Shinjiro has to be rushed, nor is the idea that they (Shinjiro and Akihiko) are good friends is done convincingly.

A total of seven characters get added to the cast. One of them is Ken Amada who turns out the best developed of the new characters. He has a simple backstory that eventually turns into a sub-plot of revenge. This leads to Ken being more developed as a character since the reasons behind his negative feelings on living are addressed. Koromaru is a dog that can use a Persona who has no backstory to him. Ken says a single line that Koromaru got left behind, but that could mean anything from an owner who forgot his dog to a street dog with no owner. A single line won’t make me care Koromaru, even if he’s a cute dog who can use a Cerberus like Persona. Finally, there is Shinjiro Aragaki who joins SEES fifty minute into the film. Anybody who has played the game (minus maxing out Shinjiro social link in Persona 3 Portable female route) knows Shinjiro fate in the story. His late addition to SEES makes Shinjiro character be rushed, and his impact on the story overall weak. Without much time spend with him, along with other characters, there’s no reason to be invested in their story. He’s also a plot convenience in the film when he goes to the rescue of SEES.

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I pronounce you Mr. and Ms. Sue.

If you complained about Makoto Yuki being overpowered in the first film; this film offers a solution by providing another overpowered character. This time in the form of Aegis who also just as powerful as Makoto. In this film, Aegis is responsible for doing most of the fighting while Makoto is given a handicapped depending on the context. The climatic fight in particular has Makoto pondering his purpose after eliminating “The Dark Hour” for most it. While on the climax, it does a disservice to Junpei, and Yukari characters as they get beaten quickly showing they had not grown stronger since the first film. As a character, Aegis is simply a robot that doesn’t blend well with other human with how she acts. Unfortunately, she doesn’t learn, or wants to seek out what it means to be human in the film. Though, given the archetype of Aegis it’s bound to happen. Her defining trait in this film is being overpowered, and being attached to Makoto Yuki allot.

Lastly for the characters there are the members of Strega. A group that only has one character who has anything to do in the story. His name is Takaya Sakaki who states his intentions, and make the heroes ponder the questions of their purpose without “The Dark Hour”. Takaya is only in this film to kill off a certain character whose death has not much impact because that specific character short screen time. The other members of Strega don’t do much beside exist. Finally, there’s the character of Pharos who also has little to do in the film. Much like the one scene in “The Velvet Room”, Pharos appearance could have been cut out since he basically states the obvious of something bad is about to happen.

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I might hate this movie, but A-1 Pictures usually delivers in animation.

A-1 Pictures is in charge with the production, and thankfully at least that is carried over from previous film. A-1 Pictures doesn’t improve on the animation aspect, but there is not a decrease in quality either from film to film. There’s more variety in the settings. The majority of the movie takes place at night time with the presence of with lots of heavy shadows. Like in the previous film, it’s reliance on lighting to create an eerie atmosphere. When in “The Dark Hour” blacks into dark greens and the blues into reds. This carries in the film insistent on color saturation be it making day scenes intensely bright, or making night scenes really dark. Almost as if it’s unable to trust viewers with the time of day a scene takes place in. Particle effects are amped in the battles from the previous film as members in SEES equals to more Persona on screen using magic attack, or the characters killing shadows. When Aegis is killing a group of Shadows in her first action scene the animation is fluid as she quickly moves around the environment, the framing of shot making it clear to see what’s going on, and the effects to add to the impact of an attack be it heavy flames, or bullet piercing. There is some bad 3D animation during a major action scene that doesn’t blend with 2D animation. Besides this the 3D in the film is not jarringly noticeable through its duration.

Shoji Muguro continues to provide music for the Persona 3 films. This time around the film offers new music to listen that wasn’t in the original Persona 3 games. The hip hop track “Fate Is In Our Hands” by rapper Lotus Juice plays in the opening sequence during a battle scene. Due to the bad audio mixing the sound effect drown out the music being played, but the song itself is rather good. It’s more progressive than the actual film discussing the hardships of life, and the persistence to overcome them. There’s a stanza in the song where Lotus Juice tries to understand his foes, and quickly goes into how his actual worse enemy is himself. Subjects that are brought up in the film, but not expanded upon like in this track. Yumi Kawamura provides her vocal for the film ending theme titled “One Hand, One Heartbeat”. This melancholic, piano ballad track perfectly closes the film on a somber note. Unlike the film writing, Yumi Kawamura provide emotional vocals that can make the viewer feel something in the scene after it’s over. By itself Yumi Kawamura song is a heartfelt piano ballad about losing someone special. In general, the music itself tells a far better, and compelling story than the film writing does on its own.

Voice acting is satisfactory once again. With too many characters, and unequal screen time the majority of the main voice cast from the first film get sideline without being offered single a scene to display their talent. Giving more half of its talent the equivalent of thankless roles. New addition Kazuya Nakai who plays Shinjirou Aragaki gets the most ranged in a rush amount of time. His performance is noteworthy as despite the speed his character changes tone Kazyua Nakai always sound natural. He makes the swift change in his character easier to accept. Megumi Ogata plays Ken Amada has a more steady change in her performance. Going from uncertain scare kid, too optimistic, to gloomy is handle well through her performance. I might not like the character Ken Amada, but she makes the character convincing. Then there’s Maaya Sakamoto who plays Aegis who has plenty of screen time. Unfortunately, her character is a cyborg trying to learn emotion archetype. However, since Aegis hasn’t gotten philosophical of what it means to be human Maaya Sakamoto is monotone for the whole film. It goes with the character in this instance, but it ends up being a forgettable performance. Sakamoto monotone delivery of her lines does provide hint of a complex character making Aegis seem hollow than she might actually be.

Makoto
Makoto Yuki: “I could be dynamic, but I’ll prefer to be static”

What really bothers me the most about the performances is voice actor Akira Ishida doesn’t get to expand on his character Makoto Yuki. So he once again has to play the same emotionless, broken leading character from the first film. Ishida is not allowed to be more emotional, more expressive in his portrayal of Makoto Yuki. This film does the biggest disservice to him since by not allowing Akira Ishida to gradually transition his emotionless character to a more expressive one. The film rejects Akira Ishida the opportunity to expand Makoto Yuki beyond what was presented in the first film. It feels like a retread of his performance from the first film. While his retread performance is not bad it doesn’t quite the same effect the second time around.

Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream is a bad film continuing being inaccessible for newcomers, and infuriating for Persona 3 fans for not making the appropriate changes for the material to function as a movie. None of the character are develop to care about, there’s no tension because of two overpowered characters, a large cast most of whom don’t contribute to the story, and is predictably boring for anyone who played Persona 3 as it does nothing to fans off guard. It looks, and sounds like Persona 3, but by the time the credits roll it won’t be the same emotional roller coaster the video game was.

4/10

Anime-Breakdown: Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth (2013) Movie Review

I played Persona 3 FES at a time when I started losing interest in gaming. From the opening intro, right till the end of its short post credit scene Persona 3 rejuvenated my interest in video games. While Persona 2: Eternal Punishment made me a fan of the Persona series it was Persona 3 that made me into a Shin Megami Tensei addict. Persona 3 FES was heavy on the exploration of death, the lore setup in the world was fascinating, the music was good, and finally the gameplay (while repetitive in design) kept me hooked for around the 84 hours it took me to beat it. Regardless if it’s in film, or in a tv series format anything based around video games generally end up being down right awful at worst, and just barely average at best. The amount of watchable video game adaptation can be counted on a single hand. Now, you think the film adaptation of Persona 3 would easily please a fan of the video game. Sadly, that is not the case as certain choices make the film a hindrance to see. The video game storyline was not adapted into film format properly, nor were the necessary changes made in order to create a good film. Even with my single-minded love of the video game this film ended up being average at best, and boring at it worst.

Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth follows Makoto Yuki, a transfer student at Gekkoukan High School, suddenly awakened with the powers to control a Persona (a demon like manifestation of one’s personality). First order of business if you have never played any incarnation of the video game Persona 3, or know anything associated with the game you’re completely out of luck with this film. Not only does it required multiple films to solve its main course of conflict, but doesn’t offer a story that can stand alone without supplementary material to understand it. Like the fact there is no film adaptation of the first, or second Persona games in the series, nor are all the games within the series connected together to weave a single narrative. With the inclusion of No. 1 in the title should give the uninitiated an idea of what to expect. If not, the short version is a main conflict that doesn’t get resolved, characters that are underdeveloped, story elements that are underused or lack explanation, and a series of questions that serve to bait viewers instead of intrigue. Newcomers will be left in the dark on anything going on in the film.

In general, the writing ranges in good decisions, and delivery as it introduces characters, and certain story elements, but does very little with them. For example, in the film you get a random scene in what’s called “The Velvet Room”. An elegant blue colored elevator constantly going up where our protagonist, Makoto Yuki, is told by long nose proprietor Igor the power of friendship by building bonds will unlock more Persona/Demons. Within the film context, this is a pretty cheap plot device since it basically means our protagonist can be given any Persona/Demon simply through the film loose definition on the power of friendship if the plot demands it. Before that though, you’ll be wondering how in the world did Makoto Yuki entered “The Velvet Room” since the first time he enters “The Velvet Room” we last see Makoto riding on a train. The next time Makoto goes into “The Velvet Room” it’s after he fights demons referred to as Shadows on a roof top. The next time is when he’s on a train, with two of his friends fighting a powerful demon. It is explained that “The Velvet Room” is a place between mind, and matter. A place within dream, and reality. Between WTF, and helpful explanation for how Makoto enters “The Velvet Room”. Every time Makoto enters “The Velvet Room” what happened in the previous scene is different. When witnessing Igor give Makoto Yuki a key it’s natural to assume it would come into play in the film somehow. If something as minor as this key was not properly used for anything than the chances of it actually succeeding where it counts have been lowered.

Pacing is episodic like treating each act in the film as a mini-arc. The first half hour attempts to set up a normal life routine with some element of something otherworldly. Its intention is nice setting up a mystery, but when one of the first things you see is Makoto Yuki walking on a sidewalk with coffins just outside it fails immediately. This odd scene it chooses to open with only begins the series of unanswered questions. For instance, there’s a mention of Makoto Yuki parents being dead, and a couple of flashes of Makoto past that hints at a tragedy. That’s about as far as it goes in exploring his backstory.

Another is the creation of Tartarus (a giant tower filled with demons/shadows), and why Gekkoukan High School transforms into it is skipped over. At most, there’s a reference to a specific event that might have caused it, but the film doesn’t go into that detail either. Withholding information in this case makes no sense since the characters whom participate in stopping the shadows/demons should question their cause for fighting for SEES (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad) who are against these creatures. The heroes never do which seems odd when one of the main characters, Yukari Takeba, states her dislike for the protagonist fighting on missions just because, but not question herself for the cause she fights for.

Aspects in the world like “The Dark Hour” is explained by continuing a theme of vagueness in its creation which is also only referenced. One example of vague explanations being within the same scene establishing technology doesn’t work in “The Dark Hour” viewers will be shown Mitsuru Kirijo (a member of SEES) riding on a motorcycle during “The Dark Hour”, and the only explanation for it functioning is “It’s specially made”. Also in this scene, it makes sense for the newcomers who are Junpei, and Makoto not to know this fact, but Yukari who has been in SEES longer barely learning vehicles don’t work in “The Dark Hour” is questionable on character consistency.

One aspect that is done away with quickly is our main three characters Yukari, Junpei, and Makoto learning to use their abilities for the first time. Even though it’s their first time fighting, and the audience is told it has a toll on their psyche the action on screen goes against the information given. Makoto in his first time fighting against a powerful shadow in Tartarus beats it virtually by himself. Action scenes are animated nicely, but the context, and the plot armor prevents them from being exciting. The only real consequence in these battle is shown the first time Makoto fights against the Shadows resulting in him losing consciousness for several days. It shows Makoto waking up from a hospital bed which sets up the idea there is actual consequences to using your Persona. Afterwards the physical, and mental toll that can result in using a Persona become absent for the rest of the film.

This film adaptation only adapts the first three full moon incidents, which in the game is three months’ worth of story material to work with which probably equals around 20 hours of gameplay. To further highlight this problem, progression of time is shown through a calendar that goes through dates in linear fashion showing stills, or animation without dialogue of what occurred on those days. What this doesn’t get across is the characters are bonding like it wanted since every time it cuts back into telling a story there’s something upsetting the group of characters the film follows. With so much on it plate the struggle between balancing saving the world, and having a school life is ignored. During the opening sequence several characters are shown most of whom don’t make an appearance in the film. Serving as foreshadowing for the answers you’re not going to receive in the film.

Protagonist Makoto Yuki characterization in the film is a transfer student loner who learns the value of friendship, and showing more emotion. Beside the typical dead parents background, Makoto expressions is limited to being uninterested through the entire film. The journey leads up to a smile, and in terms of interaction the film decides to end before seeing the result his journey had on him. So throughout the film Makoto doesn’t have a personality, and his past is only briefly discussed. While Makoto arc is written in a typical way without surprises it’s handle competently. His lacked of any distinguishable trait from an overpowered emotionless lead makes him uninteresting as a protagonist, but his transformation is steadily done not falling victim to being an unnatural one-eighty change.

Yukari Takeba fares the best of the supporting cast. She gets developed, has an arc that gets completed, and contributes to the story. Having scenes interacting with Makoto helps develop Makoto, and herself. Her inability to trust Makoto with her life because of his lack emotion is touched on. However, she tells the strongest member of the group she doesn’t want him to go on a rescue mission because he doesn’t have an emotional input in it. If Makoto wasn’t overpowered Yukari outburst wouldn’t be idiotic. That’s not the case so Yukari looks like an idiot in this scene by being fully aware of this fact, and voicing her opinion to make SEES rescue operation more dangerous. Aside from this very plot point, Yukari develops competently as well.

Junpei Iori is delegated to being comedic relief without doing much comedy. Why the film made this decision is up in the air for debate. In the film, maybe Junpei class-clown attitude could have been used as a way for him to hide his discontent self-image, but it’s not. Junpei develops an inferiority complex at one point in the movie out of nowhere, and gets resolved minutes later. Then later on in the film, Junpei wants to redeem himself for acting irresponsibly on one of the team’s operation. What exactly his arc was trying to accomplish is sketchy. Fuuka Yamagishi who has less screen time then Junpei has a simple arc of being bullied by one of her friends, but not letting that get in the way of her friendship. Or Fuuka just has low self-esteem too. She’s not developed much as a character beyond what’s introduced about her, but her arc also gets completed even if Fuuka remain largely unchanged.

Then finally leaves the remainder of the underutilize cast. Mitsuru Kirijo has little to do in the film. Her small contribution is feeding the team information on the environment during operations. In a routine setting, she is simply in the background. It’s hinted Yukari doesn’t like Mitsuru, but that goes nowhere. Shinjiro Aragaki is only used to deliver exposition in two scenes, and helping the main cast out of trouble in one scene. Akihiko Sanada is just in the film. He’s a fodder character regardless if the film attempts to paint him as an important member of SEES. Then the oldest character in the film being Shuji Ikutsuki who is only important in one scene where he explains “The Dark Hour”, and the purpose of SEES. Beside that one scene he’s in the background not doing much either. There’s Natsuki Moriyama who is the bully/friend of Fuuka whose change is telegraphed by this description. That’s a lot of wasted room for characters who mostly do nothing in the film, and that’s not including three supernatural characters that serve as deus ex machina, and info dumping on an impending catastrophe.

Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth was animated by AIC A.S.T.A. Art direction captures the game’s dark atmosphere perfectly. The usage of lighting is key since most of the film takes place in the dark. Thanks to the clever usage of moonlight, the action in the film is easy to see while the lighting still manages to keep the setting looking ominous. Locations from the game are brought to life, and given a vibrant new look, whilst also retaining the same details that any fan of the game will remember fondly. Plenty of foreboding compositions, oppressive shots, and generally solid direction help to keep things aesthetically impressive. Animations such as the school turning into Tartarus are rendered beautifully (even if the 3D in the scene is weak), and many elements of movement and action that were previously left to the imagination are now visually stunning. Action scenes while lacking excitement are nice eye candy. One thing the film fixed about the characters’ designs were the long necks from the games. All the characters look more natural in the film with some minor touches like adding more line details to the hair to update the game arts style.

Shoji Meguro returns in his role to produce the soundtrack, and as usual his work is stellar.  Crazy techno/hip-hop soundtrack creates a unique tone. The game’s soundtrack is largely reused in the movie, and fits perfectly well. If anything, the movie does a special service to the soundtrack by not playing the same tracks for several hours like in the video game. As a fan of Shoji Meguro in general, the best part of the film was the opening credits with a remixed version of “Burn My Dread”—complete with an added strings section. This film does not provide many new materials worth looking into in terms of music, but the rearrangement of familiar tracks makes it a nostalgic trip for fans. The original Japanese voice cast from the video game returns to reprise their role, and are just solid in the film adaptation. In particular Akira Ishida gets allot more to say besides some grunts and demon names. While limited in dialogue, Akira Ishida grim voice fits the broken character of Makoto. Unfortunately, with the sloppy writing grants no one else the opportunity to deliver much of a noteworthy performance from the character they play. As of this moment, there’s no English dub even though it’s licensed for North America distribution by Aniplex of America. Take that as you will if you liked the English cast from the video game.

Persona 3 The Movie: Chapter 1, Spring of Birth is a movie that I wouldn’t recommend seeing, including fans of the video games. The production side of things capture the aesthetic of Persona 3, but the writing doesn’t emulate what made fans hold the video game in their heart so dearly in the first place. For newcomers, it’ll leave them in the dark with too many unanswered questions, and the inability to work as a stand-alone feature film weakens the narrative when divided in segments. Fans of the video game might be able to enjoy it as whatever doesn’t get explained they’ll still know what’s going on. However, I would just rather say replay the video-game for a better experience. As an adaptation it’s not a train wreck since the story is interesting, and some character arc are handle well, but not enough was changed to make it work in a different medium.

5/10

Anime-Breakdown: Rakuen Tsuihou: Expelled From Paradise (2014) Movie Review

Gen Urobuchi is a writer I like, but even with that thrown out there he’s very repetitive in his writing. At times, he creates fascinating worlds, and characters, but then make them speak by info dumping, and reiterating the same topics as if viewers missed them the first time. They speak like plot devices instead of like people. So Gen Urobuchi opted to create a world that was formerly filled with humans, and now are just data. Here is story written in that kind of world. A world without consistency, nor intelligent life forms. Just a strings of badly written events.

The opening sequence of the film is confusing. We’re shown a beach, our main character in a swimsuit relaxing, someone hacks the beach, our protagonist throws her drink, and stops this hacking by being naked. Don’t worry, the event turns out to be pointless. I eventually found out by the end of the film that it lead up to nothing. Absolutely nothing. A conflictless story that forces in conflict in its final act just because. No logical reasons behind it besides the fact it wasted more than half of its duration on nothing related to the main story, and might as well try to end things with some action no matter how nonsensical it seems.

Minutes after failing to stop the hack it is established that Deva, this spaceship where 98% of humans resides, has been hacked by this same hacker, Frontier Setter, 184 times. So Deva has push aside the notion of improving their security, but it took them approximately 184 times of being hacked to finally decide to send one of their own agent to Earth to capture the hacker. So we got an advance system/civilization run entirely by super advance computers whom all take the appearances of Gods contradicting the notion this is an advance, smart, intelligence system when it reacts this slow. At this point (seven minutes in), you begin to question if the system got hacked that many times by a single entity how come a large amount of people are still living in Deva?

Not only that, but instead of assigning one of Deva best agents on the assignment Deva assigns 3rd class agent Angela Balzsac. There’s obviously much better agents that can accomplish the task. They (the computers Gods of Deva) established Deva already has an S ranking Deva agent on Earth. It would speed up the process by giving this assignment to Zarik Kajiwara, the S rank agent on Earth, who’s familiar with Earth, and despite being told he has a bad reputation is clearly reliable due to the fact he is an S rank Deva agent. Why Deva uses numbers, and letters to determine an agent ranking is beyond me. Seriously, is the number 1 or 0 much higher in ranking than S rank agents?

Our main characters is named Angela Balzac, which is the most respectable thing about her. She’s a stupid character who for some inexplicable reason knows to hack which would require understanding of simple terms like Script Kiddies, Black Hats, and words like Daemon for simple function. Yet, this same character does not understand people don’t eat sand which is the first thing she does when landing on Earth. These two things don’t belong to the same character. Ballsack (as I am referring to her out of the lack respect I, and writer Gen Urobuchi do not share for her) is introduce in a beach scene in a bikini saying it’s because of work? Wouldn’t it make more sense to be in a place that can overlook CPU, servers, hotspots, you know any area that’ll actively help you better spot when there’s a hacker in the system. I would wouldn’t be questioning this if the film itself provided decent world building. With that absent, there’s no understanding on the status quo of this world at all.

Ballsack goes from one scene to another completely inept in her abilities. Her human partner, Zarik Kajiwara, has to explain to her how using her mecha from Deva would expose her spot to Frontier Setter. Why Ballsack didn’t think of this is inconsistent with the claim she’s a 3rd class rank agent close to being promoted to a high ranking position. If that’s a high position in this world it further question her abilities to do this job, and Deva security too. She needed to be told by S rank agent Zarik Kajiwara to do this instead of her doing it on her own. After being told using this Mecha would reveal her position to this intelligent hacker the next logical step would be for Ballsack to put on some different pieces of clothing to blend into Earth crowd, and not stick out. However, she wears a leotard, garter, elbow-length gloves, and knee boots for the entire film. Everyone else on Earth else wear normal pieces of clothing, but this doesn’t matter in the long run either since this does not catch the attention of Frontier Setter at any point.

I’m meant to believe Frontier Setter singlehandedly hacked into this super advance ship called Deva, which apparently has high security, yet the fact Frontier Setter is unable to detect Ballsack who is looking for him in this city without changing her appearance goes against what’s established. Frontier Setter has other robots he could control, and taking into account he hacked into Deva 184 times this is also inconsistent with said intelligent of the character. As far as characterization goes he received nothing substantial besides questioning if human traits can be found in machines. This often used plot point in sci-fi would have been fine if the film actually explored it.

Another annoying trait of Ballsack character is her bragging how life is better on Deva, and how life on Earth pales in comparison. Ballsack mentions that old rock music wasn’t considered worth keeping by Deva. Meaning Deva intentionally didn’t keep information on simple stuff like sand does not taste good, but kept the information that made Ballsack be naked when stopping a hacker in cyberspace? The same information that does not tell her human body can get tired, and sick. If Deva was a such a great place to live at than it should have preserve as much information as possible not just be selective about it. Say, if somebody on Deva like rock, and Deva didn’t have it that person is out of like. However, on Earth you can find rock music if you like. If not, simply ignore it not discard it like Deva does. As I mentioned earlier, due to poor world building Anglea claims of Deva being better than Earth don’t add much to the film when the bare minimal about the world is not established.

Zarik Kajiwara is the most likable character, but even he has inconsistency in his character. He says himself in the movie he’s  afraid of heights, yet there is a scene where he’s on top of an abandon building stringing his guitar. Unlike tsundere Ballsack, Kajiwara is competent at his job to the point he should have been the protagonist of the film. For starter, he blends into the crowd unlike Ballsack who sticks out. Another thing is he knows the area, can collect information on Frontier Setter location, all while being off Frontier Setter radar. This guy, is basically babysitting this deadweight agent named Ballsack to make sure she doesn’t kill herself. This allows me to sympathize with Kajiwara because not only does he have to do most of Ballsack job for her, but also make sure Ballsack doesn’t end up killing herself. Sadly, there’s not much to his character either besides he likes rock music, and living on Earth. This about as close as the film gets to producing anything resembling good quality.

Our final character is Frontier Setter himself. The film sets him up as this intelligent hacker which does make you wonder why is he attacking Deva. Unfortunately the answer essentially amounts to “you want to go on this road trip bro?” for his motivation. It’s a letdown when this is reveal because the hour building up to this were spent on characters talking about nothing related to the plot. It was either debating where it’s better to live rendered into a pointless argument because of terrible world building, or being all philosophical with subjects on eating till you’re full, liking a specific brand of rock music, and being sick like a human. Frontier Setter is falsely presented as the antagonist in this story, and when there’s no ill attention from it then there should have been something the characters learned from their journey. Ballsack does eventually learn the value of being human, and having a human body just because. There’s not a single good experience she had on her journey before finally finding Frontier Setter. She has her mecha destroyed, and sold for parts, was nearly raped, got sick while on Earth, became very tired, hungry, and talked to Zarik Kajiwara discussing the current affair of their job. Somehow all of this made Ballsack change over a new perception of human living.

It’s explained later on in the film that human consciousness was transferred into data. How exactly that happened, when it happened, and how long it’s been going on for is up to anyone imagination. They (Deva) could have used “Bipolar Magnetic Reversal Theory” to accomplish that as far as anyone is concerned. These simple questions needed to understand the setting are never answered. After the opening credits, Angela Ballsack crashes on Earth, and fights giant Centipede like aliens with a giant robot. These bugs appear in this one, and only scene throughout the film. Are these bugs a common issue on Earth? Is there any other species on Earth that make people fearful to live on Earth? If so, then the idea of 98% of Earth population living in a computer would make sense. Except, there is no world building on Earth either!

While seeing the film I assumed it was created by A1-Pictures because of various ass shots, but nope I was wrong. This film was brought to us by Toei Animation, and Nitroplus who really wanted to outdo them with ass shots. All the budget for the film clearly didn’t go into the animation. Whenever character speak it’s only up, and down motion which looks unnatural. I’m guessing the budget likely went into developing bouncing boob technology for Ballsack character before abandoning the idea when realizing Toei, nor Nitroplus had the technology to make it happen. So they opted for ass shots just incase the audience forgets Ballsack has an ass. When the characters are still the models don’t look bad, but the low-framerate in motion makes everything look disjointed, and delayed. Possibly making you wonder if whatever device you’re watching it on is laggy. The only time the animation looks natural is when the framerate is bumped up in the action scenes. In these action scenes the motion is fast, and whatever moving looks somewhat natural. These moments don’t last long, nor are they very flashy in their presentation. Most of the film best moments of competent animation is in the climax, but given how pointless the climax is it undermines what happening on-screen, and ultimately would have been pointless if the writing wasn’t so awful. The only thing about the animation I wouldn’t complain about are the backgrounds are decent looking since they don’t move. That would be it as far praises go.

Voice acting in both Japanese, and English languages are competent while virtually sharing the same traits. For starter, both Rie Kugimiya in Japanese, and Wendee Lee in the English voiced Angela Balzac are equally annoying. Wendee Lee is higher pitched in her portrayal which makes her more grating when listening to her brag about how better life is on Deva. She doesn’t change her tone regardless what her character is meant to feel in any scene either. Rie Kugimiya doesn’t fare any better in the leading role. Instead of being grating her portrayal ends up being bland. At least Wendee Lee portrayal made me feel something about the character. Sure it is mostly hatred, but it’s certainly better than Rie Kugimiya who leaves no impression when having played other tsunderes. Nothing about Rie Kugimiya performance stands out besides she sounds no different from a bland tsundere character.

Zarik Kajiwara is played by Shinichiro Miki in Japanese, and Steve Blum in the English dub. On both audio tracks these two actors are easily best actors. Steve Blum especially operating on autopilot with his cool, laid back voice. Blum voice goes hand in hand with Zarik Kajiwara personality for an easy cool portrayal. Miki also does the same so not of a much difference in performances. Frontier Setter is voice by Hiroshi Kamiya in Japanese, and Johnny Yong Bosch in the English dub. None of them end up being better than the other voice actor. Johnny Yong Bosch is simply wasted in the role that demand nothing of him. The character has no complex emotions, or personality so it’s more disappointing seeing Johnny Yong Bosch in the role than it is a bad performance. He doesn’t sound robotic at all in the role. Whereas Hiroshi Kamiya does sound robotic in his portrayal. Fitting the role, but nothing demanding about.

The script is different in both languages. I wouldn’t advise seeing the film in any language given how bad it is. Reading the subs draws more issues to its writing while the English dub has some bad audio mixture. In English, some wording are changed to make the story appears less idiotic than it already is, but also end changing the meaning in the film in general. Hearing 98% of humans have “cyber personality” doesn’t seem like a big deal compare in Japanese where it says 98% of humans are “artificial intelligence”. Creating different problems for itself. At best, it’s most tolerable to mute the film, and read subtitles. Not the even soundtrack composed by Narasaki is noticeable in the film. It’s heavy on electronics, techno, and rock, but all equally forgettable.

Rakuen Tsuihou: Expelled From Paradise will leave you with many philosophical questions. The most important one being “What did I just watch?”. Don’t let Gen Urobuchi, and Seiji Mizushima (director of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime) names trick you into seeing this film. If this is the standard Japan wants to set for every 3D animated film that come out of their country they’re in serious trouble. The general low-framerate in animation, lack of any thought into the writing, and nothing substantial to remember is inexcusable in an era where the likes of Pixar, and Dreamworks Animation have made better 3D animated movies. If the animation isn’t flashy enough to make it entertaining to watch than it should at least contain good writing to keep viewers engaged. When you got neither, this film here stands as an example of that.

2/10

Anime-Breakdown: Natsu e no Tobira (1981) Movie Review

Natsu e no Tobira/The Door Into Summer in English is an animated film from 1981 based on the manga of the same name by Keiko Takemiya. A pioneer of shonen-ni/yaoi manga in the early 1970s whose short story, Sunroom ni te, contains the earliest known male-male kiss in a shojo manga. She’s an accomplished mangaka whose contribution to her field is far more interesting, and engaging than this Madhouse and Toei produced animated hour-long film. It’s a relic of the past that is better left collecting dust.  

Natsu e no Tobira attempts to be a coming of age story tackling the idea of raw love in youth. Unfortunately there isn’t enough material for it to delve into its own chosen subject. Right off the bat the film opens with intrigued starting ​at a future point with two friends in a twenty paces pistol duel with main character Marion in his attempt to stop them. This opening is stylishly presented with field of red roses contrasting against a dark sky along with black and white human characters figure in the pouring rain. This opening scene is a good hook in making the viewer wonder what led up to this moment. Everything after this opening is an immediate failure.  

For starter,​ the biggest issue for this coming of age film is there’s virtually no characterization. Without establishing how the central characters were before experiencing their life changing events it doesn’t feel like they learned anything from their conflicts. A character in the film reveals he has feeling for his male best friend which isn’t hinted at any point in the film. It’s a spontaneous revelation that only brings to mind crucial questions. What made him fall in love with his friend, and how long has he felt this way aren’t answered. Presenting itself more in the way of an over the top soap opera exaggerating every major scene. Similar dramatic scenes are presented in ridiculous way, but are not enjoyable because they’re meant to be taken seriously.

Another issue is Marion is a boring main character. He, like the rest of the film, is simply going through the motions of events without setting up a proper groundwork. Marion point of view on love is of that of a fairy tale, but he’s too shallow to be sucked into the emotions he’s going through. There are only few lines of dialogue that attempt to characterize Marion, and give a bit of backstory, but they’re delivered in a  throwaway manner not allowing time for those plot points to sink in before another event happens that progresses the story. The dialogue in general revolves around love which gets repetitive when characters have no other things to talk about.

There’s a scene where our characters see the dead body of a friend that committed suicide. One of them acts appropriately being sadden at the lost of a friend only then to utter out loud he wants to be hold by the woman (who’s in her 40s) he loves. In the background of the same scene two other characters talk about dueling to get a girl hand in marriage. A friend of these characters killed himself, learn about it recently going to the site, and they are so self-absorbed in their own problems to pay to their dead friend any proper respect. Other characters don’t fare any better. Marion is one-dimensional while everyone else are more in the cookie cutter variety. Nearly all the characters have a conflict revolving around love, aren’t developed to make any said change meaningful, and are treated as plot devices.

Madhouse and Toei Animation who are responsible for putting this anime movie together were faithful to the manga which is a negative. The manga is a single volume, less than 80 pages manga telling the same exact story which would take an average reader less amount of time to read in its entirety than watching this film. There’s not enough material to extent into an hour-long film. Unfortunately the added scenes don’t improve an already short story with rush pacing and shallow writing. It’s bloated with scenes dragging out in order to be extended to an hour length. Instead of expanding on the basic story it inflates itself with material that doesn’t do much in the long run to improve the source material. One of these decision is giving supporting characters more screen time, but that doesn’t amount too much since supporting characters are simply tools to advance to the next scene.

All the characters look feminine, especially the males. Emphasizing beauty of character over anything else. Containing sparkling eyes, smooth skins, and gorgeous similar looking hair cut. None of the character designs standout being exactly what you would expect from a Shojo that doesn’t attempt to standout. The background is generally blurry in line with a wispy like style. With the exception of the flower field where the duel is held backgrounds are dull to look at with minimal detail paid to them.  

The music is composed by Kentaroh Handeda whose score is a mixture of violins, saxophone, piano, and low-key singing of lalala lyrics. If you allowed a giant pile of cheese to produce music for this anime you would get the same result. Not a single memorable track helps the anime in any positive way. There’s a terrible sex scene in the film which is made worse by jazz like music combine with animation that attempt to make it look poetic. The result is one of the worst sex scenes you could see that’s animated. In general the music is forgettable and has the power to put anyone to sleep when listening to it.

Voice acting from the entire cast is weak. Granted the material wasn’t good in the first place, but the voice work doesn’t fare out better with the vocal performances. The gender roles are basically reverse in their performances; the females are reserve, and the males are more emotional. Like with everything else in the film the voice acting leaves allot to be desired. In general being trite, unconvincing in relaying across any proper emotion in their line delivery to make them believable.

Natsu e no Tobira has a lot of problems, but the one thing the anime movie does better over the manga is the pacing so everything in the film flows more naturally. While there isn’t enough substance to justify its own length at least it unfolds in a more proper manner than the manga. However, even with that small praise it clearly went to waste. Madhouse and Toei studio both failed to add anything to something that was already rushed, and shallow from the source material managing to make it worse in animated form.

1/10

Anime-Breakdown: Death Parade (2015) Series Review

Spoiler Warning: My review will spoil the entire series of Death Parade in order to explore its story, and go into detail as to why its writing fails even at obtaining the bare minimum for a working story. Ending up as a collection of ideas that failed to work in a cohesive manner because not enough thought was given to either the story nor its characters. Obviously with that being said if you still want to continue reading (regardless if you’ve seen the series or not) you have been warned on these spoilers.

“We are all just dummies Nona, and that includes me” Oculus from Episode 12 of Death Parade

No better quote from the anime Death Parade better sums up the series than this sentence. Everything Death Parade presents to the viewer serves to further question why the story is bothered to be told in the first place. A good simile would be reading, or watching a courtroom drama with the story being told establishing nothing about the court system or how it runs. Such fine details would be needed in order to discuss a number of ideas especially if attempting to tell a “change the system” story. When Death Parade has these issues the lack of characterization, and unbalanced narrative structure become far more noticeable due to it.

A simple abstract idea like a realm whose inhabitants determine if a deceased person gets resurrected or send to the void (a bottomless pit basically) would have worked just fine as is. The afterlife itself, and the question if such a thing exists would lead to a never-ending discussion, but when attempting to give functionality similar to the real world to an abstract idea it attempting to cover far more than it is capable off in the short amount of time it has.

Broken: Story with no thought put into it

Death Parade first episode is the best in the series. If only for the sole reason none of the major issues are made apparent from the onslaught. However, it does suffer from an Spanish soap opera style of storytelling in its first episode. Making every twist unintentionally hysterical. It’s also the only other episode (the other being episode 7) whose tone, and execution is carried over from the anime’s intro. Though, you’ll have a hard time trying to consider an anime dumb fun when the first episode has a man indirectly killing a fetus inside his fiancée womb. With this being how the anime starts you know you are in for a fun ride when a dead fetus is in the first episode.

In episode 2, it is explained the whole purpose of the death games is to exhibit human reaction by creating tensions by making the participants think they’re in a worse position than death. Before getting to the games let’s focus on why this judgment system is broken. Immediately after the anime explains the purpose of the games it doesn’t addressed what precautions Quindecim has in place to those people who know they are dead. In the first episode, Decim says that the game will have the player stake their lives on a game without both knowing that they are dead. If both participant know their dead, or simply refuse to play the game what other methods do the arbiters have to providing judgment to souls? Luckily the anime avoids bringing such a scenario to the center opting to ignore the essential details. It’s not like this omission is plot breaking, but the lone fact that I have to accept arbiters never come across this issue, or mention an event where it has happen causes further suspension of disbelief that every person who arrives at Quindecim is oblivious to the fact they die when they arrive. So, Death Parade is telling me there’s possibly millions of people who went through these judgments, every single one was willing to participate, and didn’t know they were dead virtually every single time.

Another thing about the world is those being judge come in pair. Except for the special case of Onna (a main character/plot device) who arrives alone in Quindecim in episode 5. This episode explains why Onna is a special case; she appeared alone in Quindecim, and could remember that she died. Raising some interesting questions like why did Onna appear alone in Quindecim? What happen to the other person who was meant to arrive with Onna? What could have caused the problem in the first place? All of which, and more Death Parade is happy to ignore providing an explanation for.

When an explanation is provided it hurts the series more by bringing to mind other things that need to be address. In episode 7, all that is shown about training is Decim and Ginti (just one of many unimportant supporting characters) is pressing a button to complete their training to be Arbiters. Nothing is mentioned if the two have read books on human psychology, or if they studied video recordings of previous judgments. If Quindecim has the technology to include elevators, and a machine that can track the deaths of people on Earth how come none of it was shown in the training process. For that matter, if the Arbiters jobs is to judge people how come they are forbidden to have emotions. It complicates matter when they aren’t allow to understand emotions the one element most crucial to their judgments. If the judgments are meant to be held from an objective point of view than how come the games themselves are rigged to favor one of the participant at a given moment. Fabricating the scenario along with the original emotions of those participating in these games of judgments.

Now the games themselves are not designed to do what they are meant to do. For starter, in episode 3 a pair of teenager play bowling. In Death Bowling, you can feel the other person’s heart when you grab the bowling ball. That is all there is to Death Bowling. When the bowling ball hit the pins nothing happens. There’s no consequences in getting points, or getting a gutter ball in bowling. Now compare Death Bowling to the first episode where a couple plays Death Dart to amplify the huge contrast. In episode 1, every point that was made hurt the other person in a specific body part depending on where their dart landed on a board. There are consequences playing against your opponent in Darts unlike in Bowling. It would be like hovering your hand over a hot stove versus placing your hand on the hot stove; clearly one scenario will cause more harm than the other. Death Dart will cause a greater emotional reaction because its participants are being harmed while Bowling due to no consequences to players the participants are simply relaxed enjoying a good time.

As a collective whole all the games require hands eye coordination over the usage of mind. In order to compensate for this issue the Arbiters can also mess around with the contestants while they’re playing the games. Creating an unfair advantage for both sides at any given moment defeating the purpose of the games. If the point of the games is to draw out the dark side of a person then if the game favors a player whose good at that game of course only one person will be frustrated. Demonstrated in episode 5 elegantly. You have a single mother who never played a video game going up against a loser who locked himself in his room all day playing video games. From the onset the loser has the advantage. Add onto that Arbiters ability to interfere at any given moment you’ll get a single mother smashing her opponent head on an arcade cabinet.

In episode 2, rule three is established, and it says Arbiters cannot feel any emotions. Now this rule isn’t always in use, but there is an exception to it only for every episode in the series. The opening intro for example shows the Arbiters showing a wide range of emotions when they’re dancing happily. In other episodes our main Arbiter of interest, Decim, is shocked in the second episode when he failed to take the action of lying into account in the first judgment of the anime series. When giving some thought you have Arbiters who are created not to feel emotions trying to judge souls that have emotions? So if the Arbiters can’t feel emotions it misguides the judgment. Usually how it’s done in the world of the living is the more you know about a subject the better you understand it (hopefully). Not the less is more approach in a scenario that requires you to decide the fate of people’s souls!

Death Parade biggest pitfall is the terrible world building. The more it reveals about Quindecim the more questions that are left unanswered. Including those needed to simply understand character motivations. Its establish that the arbiters are immortal, and provides no reason as to why they continue to judge souls. Nor does the anime care to explain what kind of payments would want to make immortal beings want to keep on judging souls for all eternity. Among other things that the writing fails to address is the creation of this “Middle World” when it is casually revealed in episode 12 that the Arbiters/Dummies, and the world itself are made up of souls that got send to the void. So exactly how did this “Middle World” come into existence if there was no humans at the beginning of time? Did these the Arbiters/Dummies judge Dinosaurs souls, but that would also bring to question about its creation? How exactly did it come into existence if it needs souls that get send to the void to be formed in the first place? The answer is simply a paradox. Also, awful world building, and horrible writing would have also been another acceptable answer to the question.

Bad: Weak main cast and interesting supporting characters that leave after one episode

Due to the narrative format attempting to be both episodic, and tell a continuing story it in turn hurts the characters. More so than just being poorly developed, but being unable to be seen as anything other than tools. Onna, whose one of our main character, is mostly use to guide the viewer into the world to explain certain aspects of it. She can’t remember her name, but spoiler her name is Plot Device. Okay not really, but it might as well be since if she wasn’t in the series than Death Parade would be a series of just episodic judgments. As explained in the previous paragraphs the writing simply refuses to have a functioning story. However, despite being a tool to progress the story she is also the best written character in the entire series.

For starter, Onna is the only character whose goals are clear. She’s trying to remember who she is, and what happened to her. All the other characters in the series don’t have goals, and if they do because of terrible world building those motives become muddle in the process. Another reason why Onna character works is because she is expressive throughout the series. How she views life is narrowed, but brings a personal attachment to judgments. She explains in some episodes to Decim how she came to her conclusions on certain people, and why Decim methods were wrong (which they are) or what he overlooked. Providing a showcase of her thought process. However, she is a plot device which means once her story comes to an end the anime has no time to improve after she’s gone. Also, Decim interaction with Onna reveals whatever characteristic was written in him to Onna. If you read the subtitles or listen to the English dub then you’ll know the entire finale solely dedicated to Onna judgment is entirely pointless, and contradictory to Decim character. At least Onna has a completed arc which is more of a miracle than anything else. Minus the resolution in the finale where she was given a large amount of time to reflect on her action unlike the other participants in the series.

Sadly our main character is Decim who is the worse of the bunch since he’s intentionally written to be terrible at everything he does. Now let’s forget about every issue I brought up to this point. This character is also the main reason why the series fails to accomplish anything meaningful. Decim is given the position of emotionless character gaining emotion by the end of the story. Problem is with no background on Decim acceptance on rule three which states Arbiters cannot feel emotions, for they are mere dummies, how he benefited from gaining emotion goes unseen. One of the final shot in the finale is Decim smiling, and that’s it. No episode dedicated to showing how this change improve or monologue from Decim to express how this new change in him changes his approach to judgments. As a character his journey is meaningless because the cause of his conflict isn’t explored nor is the aftermath of his change shown.

It’s established in the anime that Decim likes people who live fulfilling lives. A characteristic that instead of being used to developed an emotionless character serves the opposite in making him look bad at performing his job. For starter in episode 4, one of the people Decim has to judge is a single mother who had her life taken away from her. A single mother who made mistakes, but has given her all to improve herself as well as provide for her family. Next to her is a loser who simply wasted his time playing video games, being a shut in, being rude to his parents, and committing suicide. If the writing was competent there wouldn’t be an episode 4 written the way it is. Decim likes people who lived fulfilling lives so when a person who commits suicide is sent for him to be judged the outcome should have been obvious. However, according Decim the single mother who had her life taken from her would get sent to the void, and not the loser who committed suicide. Instead of making a good character with this established trait it is instead implemented for shock factor. It throws viewer off, while at the same time breaking whatever semblance of character consistency in Decim.

The participants of the games have aspects of their life reveal to the viewer through flashbacks. Usually displaying specific aspects of their life before hitting the bucket. Sadly one episode isn’t enough to get viewer to care for these characters, but they do provide an idea of how these participants were in the world of the living. A miss opportunity to these participants is a failure to touch on delicate subjects, and having characters present the grey area in life. Most of the participants either died naturally or because of an accident which were out of their control. Placing participants in good or evil category without much grey being presented. One example of a difficult judgement could have a doctor who performs dozen of Euthanasia on patients consent. Where would such a person go if Decim was judging this doctor since not only does it go against Decim personal claim of his likes for people who live fulling life, but it’s a case where taking life wasn’t without cause. A grey zone in some of the participants would have provided different perspective of people’s lives showing the world is filled with both complex and simple individuals not just one category.

The closest the anime gets into the grey area is in episode 8 and 9 when two killers are being judged. One character is a young adult searching for certain people to kill while another is a detective gone mad. Now what’s the problem with this before the episode begins? It’s not justifiable murder since Decim likes people who live fulfilling lives, so therefore the young adult will clearly be sent to the void. Given this series track record it’ll fall into good or evil category. Regardless of what category the person falls in they’ll immediately be sent to the void. Now, the detective gone psycho is revealed by the end of episode 8 to also be a killer. So, yes, you’re going to sit through two pointless episodes, and a pointless judgement when it is obvious at this point. Okay, if we took out these issues these two episodes don’t delve much into subject of justifiable killing (assuming it tried to go for that), or even questions if there is such a thing. The psycho detective shows no regret for killing, and the other despite having second thoughts commits to killing because of a personal trigger in his life. If this character learned his lesson than that would have been a dynamic moment. Except, this is Death Parade where it is more than happy to remain static.

I would bother going into details about the other arbiters, but due to terrible world building the importance of the other arbiters is up in the air. Nona for instance is given the position of boss, and then told in exposition that she’s been boss for 82 years. She’s slow, it took her 82 years to finally determine there’s something wrong with the way that judgments are done. Seriously, there was no other person qualified for the job. Not only that, but apparently according to the bad writing she change the system somehow. Without establishing certain rules how exactly her ideas for changing the ways judgments are done are as just puzzlingly as the fact these people talk about things they should already know. Then there’s Oculus who’s second in line to become God. This guy is so important that all we see him do is play pool, and talk to Nona. Clearly a person burden with so much responsibility. If all the trait you need to become God in this series is being easy, cheerful, and having an unexplained flower beard to become God this world high has some high standard for their judgement business. Nothing, but the worse, I meant “absolute best” can be expected for these individuals.

Good: Madhouse Spares No Expense

Madhouse studio is behind the production of Death Parade, and it’s done well to no one surprise. Death Parade sports a semi-realistic direction. Movement are hardly exaggerated with the cast consisting virtually of adult characters. In episode 11, Madhouse expertise in movements shows during an ice-skating sequence where 3D wasn’t used on a character while she was skating around the ice rink. It’s an impressive feat that three-dimensional movements was done by a drawn, two-dimensional character in the foreground. Backgrounds are given plenty of detail with a muted color palatte where colors aren’t usually bright. Favorably shoving plenty of purples, and blues on-screen. Aesthetically the only time it becomes flashy are during the games or when presenting the platform where the game will be played with speed lines, extreme close-ups, and exciting music to name a few techniques. Other than that, it simply looks nice without any visually interesting thing happening without a game being played. There is a pointless fight scene between two arbiters, but it only serves to fuel the fact that Decim is terrible at his job because he fails a test!

The opening animation is nice to look at, but completely misrepresentative of the series. A baby dies in the first episode, and the intro is happy-go-lucky for twelve episodes. This kills the mood from episode one, and onward when that is one of the first events it wants to show the viewers. Making the intro that much worse for misrepresenting itself. The fact Death Parade wants me to be happy after seeing a fetus die in the first episode is as twisted as creepy stalker idea of love.

Presentation wise the only issue I have, besides the opening, is the execution of episode 10 card game. Madhouse animated a series called “Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor” whose first arc is a card game of rock, paper, and scissors. The presentation in that first arc is glorious making card games awesome, over the top, exciting, and very intense. Here in a relaxing atmosphere seeing a card game is a snooze inducing experience. I could have done without this boring card game, but that’s a personal issue versus the appropriate direction, and animation choices it went for. Doesn’t excuse the rest of the series issues though.

If you had to choose between the Japanese or English dub voice cast go with the Japanese voice cast. The performances of the core characters are more in line with the series mixed up tone in Japanese. This English dub by Funimation goes for a more straightforward approach where some voice actors downplay certain aspects of their characters. For example, Yoshimasa Hosoya who is Ginti Japanese voice actor gives his character snarkiness which is lost with Robert McCollum who portrays the same character in the English dub. In both languages the voice actors portraying the Arbiters are “emotionless” versus the voice actors who portray human characters. However, the English dub does contain a fantastic performance from Monica Rial in episode 5. Monica Rial does not deliver her usual high pitch, gleeful performance in her only episode in Death Parade. It’s a performance where Monica Rial shows off serious talent to the point she could make you care about a badly written character. She’s absolutely perfect in the role selling every line, while subtly changing into a more emotional state as she goes through a wide range of emotions. For me, it made the English all the more worth checking out, and also why I like it a bit more.

In both languages both Tomoaki Maeno and Alex Organ play the emotionless character Decim. Neither performance is impressive since the material limited. The only time both voice actors get to break out of their emotionless state is by the finale of the series. Tomoaki Maeno revealing Decim more emotional state is more powerful, while Alex Organ feels more natural. I would comment on the other cast members, but I mentioned in the previous paragraph how each voice role determines what they do. In terms of content the usual changes in the English script are expected from explaining certain Japanese culture to non-Japanese, and changing dialogue to sound natural in English. Aside from that there’s no major changes so nothing became lost in translation.

The soundtrack is composed by Yuuki Hayashi who did a good job. Plain and simple. His music for Death Parade creates a cool atmosphere like it would at any bar. Hayashi’s melancholy tracks are poignant with the nature of games distinct in their uses jazz. Composer Yuuki Hayashi has a better idea of creating emotions through his music than the writing does with characters. For example, “Death Parade”, accentuates its mournful atmosphere through with a bass. As the piece progresses, a sense of doom creeps in and the music grows more ponderous. A momentary halt lets the tension build up, which is released through a tragic air played by saxophones. The weight of emotions continues to build, amplified by the fitting use of backing vocals and chants to pave the way for some heart-rending violin and saxophone solos near the end. That’s some excellent music composition. Death Parade opening theme is “Flyers” by the band Bradio. It’s a jazzy, and cheerful track. It maintains it fiery energy through the very with a catchy chorus. Lead vocalist Takaaki Shingyoji high-spirited singing makes up for the unimaginative lyrics. It’s ending theme “Last Theater” is by artist NoisyCell is a soft rock ballad. It didn’t leave an impression on me because despite it lyrics being about conflicting morals it feels phoned in. The instrumental drown out the vocalist in this ending theme.

Personal Enjoyment: Almost transcended to a different plain of existence where I stopped caring

Death Parade from the get go failed to grab my attention. If it wasn’t for the lone fact that it was an original creation done by Madhouse studio I would have never given Death Parade the light of day let alone a second of a thought. For starter, death is a complex subject and something that couldn’t be done properly by Death Parade narrative style in twelve episodes. It wanted to tell a continuous story, but in that format attempted to combine it with episodic stories that did more to essentially hurt the story and question its existence in the first place. Another reason I failed to get into it was Decim who is a tool. From the first episode I felt he was incompetent at his job. His backstory certainly didn’t help improving my thoughts on him as a character even more so when the story intention was to get across a “change the system” story with an emotionless lead. You know the writer did something wrong when the main character is given a profession, and several elements that serves to be a hindrance to doing his job properly.

Furthermore, while watching the series I kept wondering what the point of it all? If it’s trying to be a series that wanted to discuss the value of a life it fails because there’s no consistency in the judgments done by our leading character. No explanation as to why Decim thinks it’s okay for a man to hurt a woman, but not the other way around which gets women send to the Void. If was trying to tell a story about changing the system it doesn’t work either because the world building is terrible. Adding real world functionality to several abstract ideas wasn’t implemented properly. Especially when wasting time on stand alone stories instead of establishing its setting to its advantage like it wanted. If it was trying to be a fun series it immediately failed because it’s a series where death is always in discussion, and in the first episode there’s a dead fetus. Lastly, just because an idea sounds interesting on paper doesn’t mean it is automatically suited for a series. Death Parade is a clear example of good ideas, but no proper thought put into them to create anything meaningful.

Story: O/3

Characters: 1/3

Technical: 3/3

Personal Enjoyment: 0/1

Final Thoughts:

Death Parade is a series that’s best left in limbo. Not enough thought was given to the anime for a functional beginning, middle, or end when the more it revealed about its own world the more questions it refuses to answer or overlook. It had such high ambitions only to crumble spectacularly for its own inability to carry itself. From a technical standpoint there’s nothing wrong with Death Parade as Madhouse illustrates great care for it. That alone does it not excuse it for wasting my time for what was essentially failed ideas. If I do choose between reincarnation, or the void, I would choose the latter because at least then I know nothing associated Death Parade would ever bother me again.

Anime-Breakdown: Aldnoah.Zero (2014) Series Review

Spoiler Warning: This review will spoil specific plot points in certain episodes in order to provide examples of why Aldnoah.Zero writing fails for a number of reasons. While I attempted to keep spoilers to a minimum, it’s best recommended to avoid reading this for those who have an interest in checking out Aldnoah.Zero and don’t want anything to be spoiled. In a nutshell, Aldnoah.Zero has the aesthetic for a great series, but no substance to support it not offering anything in between all the eye candy. If you plan to continue reading past this point you have been warned.

“Fiat justitia ruat caelum” is a Latin phrase that means justice must be achieved no matter the consequences. Its usage varies depending on who uses the phrase, especially those among writers in any media, but it has significant value in history prevalent in important court cases where a judge reflects on the duty of the Court. Why do I bring this quote up? This is Aldnoah.Zero tagline that is shown alongside the anime logo in the opening animation. Except it’s translated to “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall” in English. Not only is it a misuse of the quote because of A.) Politics don’t exist in Aldnoah.Zero, B.) Heroes aren’t in any danger because of it’s lead character, C.) villains don’t face the consequences despite going against direct orders from their superiors, and finally it’s a one sided conflict that’s black and white with no significant meaning tied to it. Aldnaoh.Zero is a plain and simple a mecha anime about good versus evil. Yet even with that much simplicity no amount of eye candy is able to disguise the poor writing of the anime.

Unredeemable: Nonsensical Story

Aldnoah.Zero takes place in the futuristic year of 2014. Basically last year at the time of posting this review. I double checked around the internet and some local newspapers just to make sure this anime wasn’t based around any true events. If they were based on true events than this anime would have played out differently with some level of logic. The anime follows main character Inaho who is thrust into a world of conflict when a peace mission goes disastrously wrong. Everything about it first episode is a mess in writing. It’s bad in establishing the setting, introducing characters, and creating a central conflict that have a sense of weight to it. What exactly it was trying to achieve in its first episode is unfathomable.

Within this first episode characters provide a quick summarization of a war that occurred in the past in some unnatural exposition. Apparently Vers and Terrans aren’t really all that different since both race when boil down are basically humans. It is also explained that Princess Asseylum is attempting to ease the tension between Vers and the Terrans who I’ll refer to as Earthicans. As soon as something bad happened to Princess Asseylum the Vers Empire immediately launches a military invasion on Earth. A race of species that is more technologically advance than Earthicans apparently doesn’t know how politics function. This one moment becomes further questionable when shown a sick emperor in bed and told he has authority over the Orbital Knights (basically Vers military). The Vers Emperor didn’t issue an attack on Earth to start a war, yet he does nothing to punish those who killed possibly millions. He even goes as far as calling a ceasefire with Earthicans to negotiate peace which goes nowhere near a brain cell in the story. Orbital Knights can do whatever they want without repercussions. In episode 8, Saazbaum, a high ranking Orbital Knight kills another high ranking Orbital Knight and this is never brought up again, nor is the fact he kidnapped a prisoner who was being tortured for information mentioned to him.

For the central characters, they are never in any danger because of leading character Inaho is the solution for any battle. The other characters don’t get the opportunity to contribute in a battle lessening the group dynamic and eliminating the purpose of teamwork. Inaho plans always work out due to luck or plot conveniences. Usually his plans have smart setup to them. Like in episode 3, Inaho uses a toy plane in order to determine what kind of camera a specific Vers mech is using and how it functions in recording its surrounding. Then the actual plan itself throws away logic in order to write a scenario that best suited to make an action scene around. Opting for escapism over intensity which fails due to how it was set up only to be ruined by good luck in execution.

Still on episode 3, it’s established that a mech uses drones in order for its pilot to see the area around him. In a later episode it shows the Vers empire have developed some sort of teleportation device for communication. So by this anime logic; something difficult like teleportation is achievable for this race, but apparently not allowing it’s own pilot to control its own camera drones from within their own robot is not. No matter how often the anime claims the Vers Empire has the superior technology oversights like these show up regularly which can’t be forgiven. Escapism itself is broken when down the line another plot point will either break that immersion by what it reveals or create more nonsense. The thought of how these Martians who have superior technology, yet act so stupid never leaves the mind.

One major problem as a whole in the anime is the lack of weight that comes from a worldwide invasion. It never gets across that this war between the Earthicans and Vers Empire is a global issue. Only focusing on a single group never bringing up how other parts of the world are holding up. With a self-contained mindset this central conflict feels less like a major catastrophe by the way it chose to depict it. A small scale approached backfires when the central characters are static when introduced all the way to the end. Supporting characters do change somewhat, but they aren’t the focus feeling free to just leave their storylines dangling in the finale.

Episode 1 shows a Vers mech using lasers, but other robots Inaho and his group fights against use practical weapon like swords or projectile arms. Despite in several battles Inaho proves with limited training he’s able to overcome any opponent that uses a practical weapons. Vers never change up their tactics, even when it has a success rate of zero percent. Vers strategy comes down to only sending down a single one of their mech pilot to fight against large numbers of Earthicans mech pilots. Not once in this season do the Vers Orbital Knights ever mention perhaps sending two experienced pilots to fight against Inaho since he poses a major obstacle for them. Another issue regarding the weaponry are the soldiers of Vers do have guns, but for unexplained reasons gun type weapons aren’t made for their mechs and if they are not implemented in battles.

The anime also explains what kind of power source the Vers Empire uses for their technology. Once this plot point gets explained it further questions the villain’s motive. Basically, if the only two people who are able to provide power die Vers is as good as dead. Now from the villain’s perspective it makes no sense to eliminate the only source of power for your own species. The villain claims he wants to help the masses, but still goes with his plan to kill the royal family, even though they are the key to supplying their planet with energy.

The final episode of Aldnoah.Zero first season is awful and unfulfilling in every sense. At this point, none of the central cast are developed to care about and the one supporting character who has potential is pushed to the sideline in the finale. Like in previous episodes, there is no sense of suspense on the character’s livelihood as they already have victory in their hands by plot convenience and enemy pilot stupidity. Inaho doesn’t struggle much to fight against a pilot whose mech is a combination of mechs that he already fought. With that alone, it guarantees his victory because at this point it proves Vers aren’t intelligent despite the writing claims that they are. How it ends is weak and purely for shock value. Narratively it’s a horrible ending because it forgets to inform the viewer status of Earth, which is at war with Vers. Only offering a narration of what happened to the characters it focused on. Leaving the fate of its central characters ambiguous isn’t bad, but in this case when the characters are one dimensional who really cares what happens to them.

Unredeemable: Shallow, inconsistent characters, and miss opportunities

Inaho Kaizuka is a young teenager of average height, short tousled black hair, and our lead character. He’s stoic and despite what his sister claims about him being human in episode 10, Inaho never actually shows human emotion. When he does show emotion it’s out of character; in episode 1 Inaho expresses his interest in buying eggs that are on sale. Within the same episode, a couple minutes later Inaho sees Princess Asseylum of Mars killed in front him, remaining stoic at the sight of it. Showing no concern despite the clear consequences of the assassination he has just witnessed. Later on in the series the anime attempts to ship Inaho with Princess Asseylum which simply does not work because of this one moment. So any affection Inaho shows to his “love interest” is as artificial as the robot he uses. Expecting you to believe he developed emotion for his “love interest” when he showed no reaction when he saw her presumably die in the first episode.

As a leading character events magically have a way working out for Inaho even though it’s establish in episode one he’s a trainee of the military. Somehow, with minimal training, he surpasses Martian pilots who have had more experience under their belt in actual combat. It’s not because he smart that he wins. It’s either due to plot convenience, his enemy being stupid, or a mixture of both. Another skill Inaho has over his far more experience comrades is the ability to move out of the way of attacks. This godly power can’t be obtain by the other pilots. All of which are usually standing around in front of an enemy attack until they get killed. Granted evasion should be obligatory in basic combat training, but if allowed so Inaho wouldn’t be the overpowered self insert lead that he is.

In episode ten, Inaho claims that anyone that fights against the same enemy on his side he considers an ally. A statement that is completely proven false in episode seven when he shoots the plane of a Vers pilot that helped him fight for an entire episode. These inconsistencies further weaken the anime when Inaho has no consistent traits let alone a consistent philosophy to believe in. Inaho becomes as much of a plot device as everyone else he interacts with. Finally, Inaho is the character that delivers a speech about how war is used to gain something and ends until the objective is met or the cost outweighs the gain. Not a bad position to take when voicing your thoughts on war, except this character has never shown sympathy when killing his enemy nor ever mentally coped with taking someone’s life. He says within the same speech here cares for no such emotion to gain anything in war. So this whole war speech in the final episodes coming from a lead who said he himself “I care for no emotions” is forced to sound deep and makes Inaho full of himself.

Another major character is Princess Asseylum (who I refer to as Princess Ass since she doesn’t give a shit) is the embodiment of Aldnoah.Zero problems. Easy on the eyes and pleasing, but shallow with no identity of her own. The anime only gives her positive traits like acting like a child when she’s learning about Earth with Inaho and desiring doing the right thing. She looks nice on the surface, but that’s all. In actuality she’s a terrible character. Asseylum has been friends with another major character, Slaine Troyard, for five years showing no concern for him throughout her near death experiences. When reversed, Inaho proved in about a week’s time showing no emotion he’s able to capture Princess Asseylum’s heart. In context, the anime wanting to ship Inaho and Asseylum makes no sense given how little time they’ve known each other. It’s also brought up in a episode she knew someone was trying to kill her, and doesn’t bother to take extra security just to be cautious in case anything happens. Then again, the Earthicans don’t bother giving her protection when they attempt to keep her safe so I shouldn’t be surprised.

Slaine Troyard (not the only pointless reference to Greek mythology) is another poorly written character. His conflict of wanting to be accepted by the Vers Empire is worth investing on paper. Having to overcome the racist mindset of his superior officers and being treated like scum. In execution it’s the opposite, creating scenarios forced to make the viewer care for him. There’s an entire episode dedicated to Slaine being tortured, which doesn’t since in the same episode, it shows Princess Asseylum without care enjoying the day. This episode’s impact is lessened when the entire Vers race is one dimensional and not given any redeeming values to perceive them as actual people.

Supporting characters, just like the main three, that receive tons of screen time are merely plot devices. There was potential with the character Marito to create a satisfying subplot. His back story is compelling, has likable traits by being himself, and has a strong personal turmoil that he can’t immediately overcome. Seeing Marito struggle and trying his best to improve himself provides the best moments in the anime. Unfortunately, by the finale his subplot is left unresolved.

Another wasted opportunity is with character Yuki Kaizuka (Inaho’s sister). Like Marito, Yuki carries a permanent scar from war with her. Unlike Marito conflict, Yuki war scar is resolved quickly and has no important use afterwards. The thought of her brother being an expressionless killing machine never bothers her either. When one of Inaho friends asks Yuki why Inaho is expressionless. She answers by saying yes, he does. A wasted opportunity to develop Inaho beyond a stoic lead, and a miss opportunity to explore what kind of life, Yuki had with Inaho since the status of their parents’ livelihood is never brought up. Other minor supporting characters serve a single purpose. There’s one created to simply die, there’s one that created to be simply racist against Earthicans, there’s one simply created to be sick so the Vers can have power, and so on.

Rayet Areash the worst of the supporting cast being given a position in the anime similar to that of Gavrilo Princip. The anime attempts to paint her in a sympathetic light, except for the fact that it was her fault as well that millions of people got killed. Forgetting this fact, it dedicates an entire scene in episode 10 where she blames Princess Asseylum for something out of her control. Somehow she’s able to make Princess Asseylum feel guilty. This is the equivalent of making Archduke Franz Ferdinand the villain and making him apologize for being assassinated. It doesn’t work that way, even in fictional context when the entire starting point for the story’s existence is because she helped in the assassination. For unexplained reasons, she’s also allowed to do whatever she wants on a military base.

Then there’s the villain Saazbaum who is about as well thought out as the writing in the anime. This character personifies how nonsensical the writing is in physical form. For starter, his motive contradicts his goal. He hates the royal family for manipulating the masses, but the first episode the emperor sends his daughter to Earth for a peace mission. He also initiates an attack on Earth without consulting the emperor. Despite his intentions to help the masses, he fully should grasp the consequences of his own action by attempting to eliminate the only source of power for the Vers Empire. These two points don’t add up; just like the Vers technology and their actual intelligence. The writing never treats the characters it creates as actual characters. They’re a means as story devices and nothing more.

Good: Production side of the anime is generally good

The animation is a joint effort between A-1 Pictures and Troyca. Together they create an anime that all around looks great. It clearly has a high budget incorporating both 2D animation with nice looking 3D robot models that aren’t distracting. Environments in general tend to come across as being large and empty. Since our heroes are on the move battles, mostly take place in environments where nothing much is happening in the background. In some cases, it is put into good use to keep an action scene moving in an large environment as well as showing some environmental destruction. In one action scene, the size of an environment is use to its advantage when Inaho has to stop an attack from a Vers mech on an ship he’s on.

However, the biggest drawback is there’s no visual scale growth in the battles. One of the few memorable scenes in Aldnoah.Zero is in the first episode where an explosion has a similar impact to that of an atomic bomb hitting Earth. Buildings crumbles, cars are blown away by a gust of wind, onlooker to the site are in shock, and it’s large scale destruction implants what a serious threat the Vers Empire is. Everything else, past this moment feels smaller in comparison. There isn’t another scene that visually comes close to matching the mass destruction in episode one. All the characters have appealing looking design no matter the situation. Especially Slaine, who even when being tortured looks good! Particle effects are in no short supply to adding more visual flair to the battles.

One questionable decision in the animation would be the mechs even when stationary are still in 3D. It makes sense in a action scene to use 3D since the thirdimension offer more maneuverability than a 2D plane, but it comes across lazy when mechs are stationed and simply there to show off its high budget. The downside to the animation is the awful staging of the action scenes. Going more for visuals splendor than actual staging. So in most battles there will be multiple mech stationed in one position accepting their death or shooting to hold off an enemy attack. Without a single creative battle that avoid doing these things action scenes are a one time deal for entertainment.

Voice acting is serviceable. The writing didn’t offer much in anything so the voice cast are stuck with what they are given. Natsuki Hanae plays protagonist Inaho and he’s stoic throughout the series. His vocals, mostly stay in emotionless delivery range sounding uninterested in anything. It’s not a compelling performance because there’s no range, but he does portray how the character was written properly. Then there’s Kensho Ono, who plays Slaine, who has a slightly more open role. He gets to scream in pain when his character is tortured, sound serious, concerned, and in the finale near hysterical when he goes insane. Ono role is similar to Hanae where in both performance they have to repeat themselves. Sora Amamiya plays princess Asseylum. It’s passable in general. When Amamiya portrays the more innocent and childlike side of Asseylum she’s convincing as Asseylum, but when in a dramatically heavy scene she falls short. She’s sounds like she’s on autopilot delivering most of her dramatic material with little variation no matter the context of a scene.

The supporting cast in general suffer from the same handicap that Natsuki Hanae is given in which they mostly portrayed a single character trait. This is especially true for voice actors that get casted as Vers Martians. Show Hayami who plays Cruhte only yells for his time on screen. Only having one tone voice in the series. Inori Minase plays Edderlrittuo and sounds like a little girl. It’s an appropriate performance getting across Eddelrittuo sisterly love towards Princess Asseylum.

Tooru Ookawa plays Saazbaum and unlike Hayami who’s allowed a single scene to change up his act Ookawa isn’t as fortunate. His performance isn’t bad, but it’s a single note role where one line delivery is no different from line another delivery. Takahiro Sakurai plays Trillram and thanks to his more expressive character taking delight in killing people. He’s the most enjoyable screen presence out of all the pilots that Inaho fight against. Yuki Kaida plays Femieanne, Hiroki Yasumoto plays Vlad, and Mamiko Noto, who plays Orlane aren’t as lucky in playing interesting villains. They lack the proper screen time to make something out of their role being forgettable once off screen. Sachika Misawa plays Rayet Areash. While the character is full of herself Misawa performance is fine since she does her best to make her character sympathetic despite what she did. There is a scene in episode 10 where she’s allowed to express her dislike for the Vers empire and it’s a highlight for her performance.

Any Japanese voice actor playing an Earthican gets sideline eventually into the background. Unlike the voice actors that play a Vers. Earthicans voice actors don’t have a single episode where they’re given a highlight moment to show off their acting chops. They get stuck in a single note sometime delivering the same lines of dialogue word for word in different episodes. Ai Kayano who plays Darzana Magbaredge and Yuu Shimamura who plays Kaoru Mizusaki have this problem. Whenever they share a scene together, it plays out the same getting repetitive over time.

The best voice actor in the cast regardless of what race he portrays is Kazuya Nakai and that’s because he plays Kouichirou Marito. His character suffers mental turmoil while on the outside, he shows a free caring personality. Nakai is allowed the freedom to vocalize different sides of a single character more so than anyone in the cast. When he mentally breaks down it’s believable through his delivery. His performance is the most interesting because he’s funny, likable, and a compelling actor in the role. It’s a shame that his character isn’t fully use to his full potential in order to create a good character.

The soundtrack is composed by Hiroyuki Sawano mixing ambient and techno music with aggressive synthesizers, beats, even some 8-bit and a few thunderous orchestral compositions thrown in with Japanese singers singing German lyrics. The music is all around a great fit for the anime and when used correctly in its placement creates some stellar scenes. In episode 1, the musical piece “aLIEz” sung by mizuki is played during a scene of mass destruction is instantly memorable. It’s not as demoralizing seeing an atomic bomb like explosion at the sight of a more technically advance race, wiping out humans with ease, but it’s a cool scene none the less. As great as the music might be there tracks that get reused frequently. In particular the track “BRE@THLESS” sung by mizuki is used in a number of action scenes. Preferably when there’s a chase scene this track will likely play. Losing what made them exciting musical pieces in the first place.

The anime has a single theme song that’s also used as the ending theme in episode 1 is titled “Heavenly Blue” by Kalafina. Despite the less than stellar opening animation “Heavenly Blue” manages to create a strong atmosphere with orchestral composition along with a catchy chorus. It does feel slightly phoned in since there’s not an extra push or power to the track that really demands your attention. The following tracks are sung by mizuki are “aLIEz” used as an ending theme in episode 4, 7-8, 10-11 and “A/Z” in 2-3, 5-6, 9. “aLIEz” loses some of its impact since it’s used frequently in the series failing to rekindle the same feeling when hearing it for the first time. While the usage in the anime distracts from its impact over time the track is a great listen. “A/Z” is more of a techno side with 8-bit beats that’s more optimistic in general. In both tracks mizuki vocals add to the songs; in “aLIEz” her vocals are on a level of opera singing those high notes beautifully sounding as epic as the instrumentals. In “A/Z” she sounds almost robotic like which is fitting for the track. Sawano score is fantastic, but how it’s used in the anime tends to undermine it.

Personal Enjoyment: It killed some brain cells

Usually the first time I ever see an anime I don’t go in them with a critical mindset. Although, fleshed out characters and a story that have working elements is part of the requirement for an anime to be enjoyable for me. However, the first episode did so many things poorly that I couldn’t simply see it without critical thinking. What flipped the switch in my brain was the scene where Inaho showed more emotion for a sale for eggs more so than he does the princess of another planet trying to bring peace to both race when killed in front of him. From then on it’s been nothing, but an infuriating experience how little of the anime was fully thought out. I was so infuriated by Aldnoah.Zero I didn’t bother waiting for any news regarding an English dub. I went into writing out a review for it. Not even the action scenes for as pretty as they look were awfully staged and required very little to no strategy on the characters part. Aside from hearing Hiroyuki Sawano score there wasn’t any other good reason the anime provided to keep me watching. If it ain’t evident with a review consisting of over 4000 words that I think very poorly of Aldnoah.Zero first season I don’t know what will convince you.

Story: 0/3

Character: 0/3

Technical: 3/3

Personal Enjoyment: 0/1

Final Thoughts:

Aldnoah.Zero is nothing more than eye candy and takes pride in that. It’ll excuse logic and good characters if it means it’ll get to show off nice looking action scenes. Understanding what type audience, it wants to appeal to, but mere action spectacles aren’t enough to make an anime worth viewing. It takes itself too seriously unable to be dumb fun, it’s too idiotic to touch on the topic of war maturely, and paints each side in black and white dumbing down the premise to be approachable sacrificing depths along with it. Its central lead wins through a series of plot convenience and luck that remove the suspense of battles. It’s all aesthetics and without substance, it guarantee its own expiration date in a short amount of time. Once you’ve seen the explosions and action there’s nothing left to Aldnoah.Zero.

3/10

Anime Breakdown: Band of Ninja (Ninja bugei-cho) (1967) Movie Review

Band of Ninja is a 1967 manga film from experimental live action film director Nagisa Oshima. It’s not a mistake I didn’t say animated since there is not a single moving image in the film. Oshima filmed manga stills attempting to give the illusion of animation through basic filming techniques like quick cuts and plain cinematography. Resulting in failure from its own execution from attempting to cover a large story without the proper length to accomplish it being rushed consistently in the story department.

Band of Ninja immediately piles up the plot in its first thirty minutes. The story begins in 1560 during a prolonged time of great upheaval in Japan known as the Sengoku Period (c.1467 – c.1573). The central characters are Kagemaru (Rokko Toura), a dashing but mysterious ninja who seems to have the ability to magically appear and save the day when a situation seems impossible; J?taro Y?ki (Kei Yamamoto), who seeks to avenge the slaughter of his father and restore himself as master of Fushikage Castle; Akemi (Akiko Koyama), J?taro’s love interest and secret sister of Kagemaru; and the baddie, Oda Nobunaga (Fumio Watanabe), the evil daimy? and nemesis of Kagemaru, who seeks to unify Japan through violence and oppression. In two hours this film tells all of these stories, and a couple subplots jumping between them leisurely. Try to imagine around twenty manga volumes worth of material badly condensed into a two hour film and you’ll understand the feeling of seeing Band of Ninja.

It’s non-stop storytelling doesn’t allow the viewer to catch their breath on anything. Whenever it switches between characters it further diminishes attachment towards them over time. Regularly going to a completely random character, characterizing them, and then ignoring them going onto another character. You’ll be left scratching your head wondering how a simple story about revenge ended up with a scene where a large number of rats are eating people or another scene where Kagemaru talks to a king with his decapitated head. Simply expecting you accept all the odd occurrences without earning it. Sorting out the different anthology stories, some of which don’t connect becomes a chore as it keeps them piling up. Together, these several different storylines don’t create a cohesive narrative, let alone a compelling story.

Some of the material is delivered well. There is a small subplot that focuses on a warrior being raised in the woods by animals and adjusting to the way of civilize living. How it’s handled is through a montage chronicling his growth into adulthood being one of the few moments where justice is done to the source material. Developing the character, showing his conflict, and overcoming it on his own come across clearly. However, such moments can’t make up for the often left lingering plot threads before eventually getting to them sporadically. They lose value in their quality when not given the proper focus. Which instead of being an exception it’s the rule.

On the technical side, the direction is alright since the camera only captures the stills of the Ninja bugeicho manga. It never feels like the camera cuts off any panels drawn by Noboru Okamoto (know by his pen name Sanpeo Shirato) so nothing becomes lost in the way Okamoto art is shown. Okamoto artwork is preserved as he originally drew them. For example, speed lines function to signify the speed or velocity of a moving object or character within the motionless panel of comics. Shirato’s original drawings for Ninja bugeicho are filled with speed lines, and Oshima faithfully preserves instead of erasing and replacing them with animated movements. Another example of faithfulness to Okamoto’s artwork is in a scene depicting a pivotal duel between the ninja character Hotarubi and the samurai character Jutaro, the speed lines fill the space within a panel. The film retains these lines as it cuts between the tightly framed close-ups that depict the swift sword of Hotarubi mercilessly amputating Jutaro left arm. The resulting impressions of velocity and conflict emanate from the graphic of densities and compositions, rather than from the actual movements of characters and objects.

The simplest technique like panning across a manga panel makes a still image visually interesting. Almost as if the camera is sweeping across a nicely drawn landscape. Added with some top tier sound effect (ranging from wind blowing, clashing swords, fire burning, etc.) and the atmosphere in the drawing comes to life. There were even certain moments in the film where the editing shine; in particular a sword through precisely time editing imitated animation for a brief moment.

These minor visual flair lose their effect after an hour. While the way the camera shows an environment changes, characters will remain still at all time. Limited by its own execution it eventually runs out of techniques to implement. This is actually where voice acting hurts the experimental film. More than half of the film have characters speaking through various emotions, but cuts corners by not changing characters facial expressions to match the voice actors’ performances. In retrospect hurting the connection between the images and the delivery from the voice actor.

Voice acting is top notch in general and only viewable through English subtitles. With so many characters in the film it’s amazing not a single actor gives a bad performance. Shoichi Ozawa narration brings allot of life into the film as well being an emotive storyteller. His vocal performance creates the right atmosphere when entering or exiting a scene. There’s plenty of voice actors in the film each of whom do a good job delivering the material than how the film director chose to tell it.

The music is composed by Hikaru Hayashi and his score is average. There’s Japanese choir singing, mellow violin, bombastic trumpets, flutes, and orchestral pieces. With the exception of the main theme use to open the film the music is forgettable. Most of the tracks are stuck in the moment, which has no variation how a musical piece is played ending up with simplistic music. However, they do liven up the film series of stills whenever use.

Band of Ninja isn’t a film I would recommend seeing even if the material was animated in the shape it is. The experiment of filming manga stills isn’t captivating here due to the large scope story being undermined by a rush pacing. Neglecting time to properly develop hurting its own desire to tell a compelling story being noticeable, but gets bored shifting to another character leisurely. For a film whose entire existence is a risk the only noteworthy aspect about this film is this is the closest director live action film director Nagisa Oshima came to entering the field of animation and the way it was made. Losing substance when translating the manga onto film. Instead of being an achievement in experimental filmmaking in the field of animation, Band of Ninja is instead a small footnote in the vast history of animation.

4/10

Anime-Breakdown: Yuurei Sen (The Phantom Ship) (1956) Short Movie Review

Yuurei Sen in Japanese or The Phantom Ship in English is a short animated film from 1956. It’s a film both directed and written by early 20th century, Japanese silhouette animation pioneer Noburo Ofuji. Telling a simple story without dialogue in eleven minutes. It’s the definition of a visual experience with a fantastic direction creating a visually striking piece of animation despite the limitations that came with the experimental storytelling and animation style.

The short film opens with director Noburo Ofuji cutting waves out of colored cellophane. Showing first hand the method he used when creating this film. For this film, he’s inventive by the way he uses lighting, shadows, and music for capturing the purest essence of atmosphere. In one scene, on a rugged seascape combined with the low vocalizing of the choir creates a feeling of unease. Within the same scene, the shadow of a phantom ship with brightly colored background shows corpses of what appears to be a grisly aftermath of a battle at sea. The wordless chorus increases in volume and pitch as the boat magically comes back to life. With these series of images Noburo Ofuji opens the short film. From then on, the rest is a perfect culmination of animations, filming, scoring, and editing.

Ofuji usage of color creates images that strike strong in their simplicity. Everything in the foreground from characters to objects they are on or hold are dark while everything in the background is colorful. Together in sync the colorful backgrounds make simple the act of a dark figure being stabbed visceral. When inside of another ship dancers are set against a kaleidoscope a complex design pulled off successfully. In another scene, seeing the present of a white phantom ship uses an experimental technique of overlaying animated swirling lines and other shapes. These techniques make are able to make white, ghostly figures that are also transparent when interacting with the other figures. It’s an incredible scene that epitomizes best usage of silhouette animation using it to its fullest potential.

The soundtrack is composed by Kozoaburo Hirai. His score consists of choirs, strings, and percussion instruments that sound by being struck or scraped by a beater. It is powerful how foreboding of an atmosphere the score creates in a short runtime. Further increasing it gradually grows louder and becomes more menacing strengthening the impact the visuals have. How his score is used when opening the film is masterful. Never does it overtake or overshadows what occurs on screen. It’s treated an equal story tool as much as the animation.

Without a single feeling of doubt I will say Yuurei Sen/The Phantom Ship is a short film worth seeing for all lovers of animation. It’s over fifty years old, but has lost none of powerful imagery and haunting score all those years. Standing proudly over time as a testament of quality. If you have never seen silhouette animation or want to appreciate how far animation has come Yuurei Sen/The Phantom Ship is a great place to start. A masterfully made film from a pioneer of Japanese silhouette animation.

8/10