Month: October 2014

School Days

School Days

school days

  • Trailer: Trailer for the Visual Novel and Anime
  • What it’s about: Itou Makoto is your standard hapless Japanese teenager. He has a crush on Katsura Kotonoha, a girl who commutes to school on the same train, but has no idea how to translate his desires into an actual relationship. In the end, it takes a girl from his class intervening and pushing him every step of the way to initiate things. But once the shine of Itou’s new relationship begins to wear off, his eye starts to wander.
  • Why you should watch it: From the description, the show might appear to be your standard school romantic-comedy anime. And indeed the first few episodes fit into that genre pretty well, albeit with the relationship moving a great deal more quickly than is usual for that kind of show. The reason for the “rush” through the initial relationship stage becomes apparent once the groundwork is laid.The show transitions first into a drama and then into a tragedy, with things going seriously off the tracks. Itou proves himself to be a surprisingly realistic incarnation of your typical teenage boy, flush with hormones and with no real sense of responsibility or consideration for others. The phrase “harem deconstruction” gets thrown around a lot, but I’m not quite sure how accurate that is.
  • Caveats: Things take a while to really amp up. The show is infamously controversial for some of the choices it makes. It’s also quite hard to discuss without spoiling too much. The character designs lean towards the “ridiculously large eyes” end of the anime spectrum.
  • Themes: Teenage stupidity and its consequences. Lust, love, and limerence.
  • Similar works: Genji Monogatari Sennenki. But bear in mind that it’s aimed at a different audience – older women rather than younger men.
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Alien Nine

Alien Nine

aliennine

  • Trailer: English dubbed version
  • What it’s about: Alien landings are now an everyday occurrence. Rather than inspiring horror in the populace, they’re treated with a tolerant annoyance and captured for their own safety. To this end, Yuri’s elementary school class have nominated her to be on the “alien party”, responsible for tidying up after the falling spaceships. There’s only one problem: Yuri is terrified of aliens.
  • Why you should watch it: The show is quite seriously screwed up in a subtle way. On the surface it’s a setup for a quirky saccharine school comedy, complete with cutesy animation and character designs. But once you get past that, everything is just quietly *wrong*. Everyone from the teachers on down seem completely blase about the eldritch horrors that invade their planet every week, and scold Yuri for her cowardice in a genuinely terrifying situation. People disappear, or are possessed, and nobody cares. The juxtaposition of horror and brutal violence against school slice-of-life makes the show quite unique.
  • Caveats: It’s a four-part OVA that was intended from the start to act more as an advertisement for the source material than a standalone work. The protagonist is a genuinely terrified, crying child, so don’t expect much int he way of heroics.
  • Themes: The loss of innocence, and the way in which parents and teachers often force children into growing up too quickly without even realising it.
  • Similar works: I’ll say Neon Genesis Evangelion tentatively, since this is nowhere near as in-depth as that, though the protagonists are similar on a surface level. Narutaru is probably the closest.

Afro Samurai

Afro Samurai

afrosamurai

  • Trailer: Teaser trailer
  • What it’s about: There exist two powerful artefacts in the world: a headband granting its wearer absolute godlike power, and a second headband granting its wearer the right to challenge the first to single combat. While still a child, Afro saw his father, the previous champion, slain by a mysterious gunman. From that moment, Afro swore to seek vengeance, and has pursued it with monomaniacal focus. And now, with the challenger headband in his possession, he sets off to face his destiny.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s stylish, stylised, and over the top. the muted palette, hip-hop soundtrack, and unique character designs make the show stand out from the crowd. The fight scenes are fantastically well-choreographed and the whole thing is the closest I’ve seen to a comic book brought to life. As an added bonus, the English dub is excellent with some truly inspired casting choices. Samuel L. Jackson plays the title character, while Ron Perlman hisses his way into a great antagonist role. If you’re a fan of gory action anime, this should be near the top of your list.
  • Caveats: Character development is not one of the show’s strong points. While we get to see a lot of interesting backstory for Afro, he remains the quintessential inscrutable stoic badass and little more. Likewise most of the mookish villains are a little stereotypical without much in the way of meaningful motivation. Remember that there’s a follow-up film, Resurrection, if you want more once you’re done.
  • Themes: Honour and the warrior’s path. Revenge. The destructiveness of obsession and the ultimate futility of violence as a solution.
  • Similar works: Outside of anime, Kill Bill. Inside of it, Berserk and Blade of the Immortal

Bakemonogatari

Bakemonogatari

bakemonogatari

  • Trailer: DVD Trailer
  • What it’s about: Koyomi Araragi is not your average student. After surviving a vampire attack, he retains an unusual regenerative ability and a close association with the occult side of everyday life. And so when one of his classmates, an aloof prodigy named Senjougahara, falls into his arms and only seems to weigh less than 5kg, he’s quick to seek out the reasons behind it and to offer his help.
  • Why you should watch it: Bakemonogatari has one of the most unique directorial and cinematographic approaches to animation that I can think of. The already-stylised SHAFT artwork on both characters and backgrounds, the almost exclusive use of jump cuts as transitions (no panning, zooming, etc), the flashes of text and live-action scenes interspersed throughout the episodes, it all comes together to make the show one of the most memorable experiences in recent anime. The dialogue is snappy and naturalistic, the characters are interesting and nuanced, and the humour is perfectly integrated. It’s an incredibly solid show.
  • Caveats: It’s not a straightforward show. The artsiness can be seen as a bit pretentious (though since it reaches and surpasses its artistic pretentions, this isn’t a criticism I’d personally level at it). Make sure to watch the show in the correct order: Bake-, Neko-, Nise-, Monogatari S2, Hane-
  • Themes: Being willing to ask for help – most of the characters end up making their situations worse along the way by refusing to bend their pride and ask for assistance with the problems they’re facing. At the same time, Araragi’s martyr complex is put under the microscope.
  • Similar works: Mekakucity Actors for more a similar visual style. Katanagatari for more of the writer’s dialogue-driven narratives. Noragami also has a lot of similarities, though it replaces the wit with wackiness.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

lotgh

  • What it’s about: Two space-faring polities – the autocratic Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance – have been at each other’s throats in an on-again off-again war for centuries. Neither is able to break the stalemate, and millions continue to die in the endless jostling for position and advantage through large-scale fleet actions. Amidst this ongoing tragedy, two military geniuses begin to make their names, each rising quickly through the ranks of their respective militaries to face off against one another. Yang Wenli of the Alliance wants nothing more than an equitable end to the conflict, but his superiors have other ideas –a noble crusade against the “Evil Empire”. Meanwhile, Count Reinhard seeks to topple that Empire from within and save his sister from her gilded cage as the Emperor’s mistress.
  • Why you should watch it: Calling Legend the magnum opus of Japanese animation would not be an exaggeration. An epic space opera that sprawls over a hundred episodes, it’s an in-depth examination of war in all its hideousness and glory. Political backstabbing and manoeuvring behind the scenes, tactical space battles, personal conflicts and rivalries, and the small-scale everyday tragedies faced by the civilians – the series has it all. Despite the initial assumptions that come with an “Empire vs Republic” story, neither side is entirely in the right. There are heroes and villains on both sides. Great effort was put into establishing the characters; the series holds the Guinness World Record for the highest number of voice actors, as not a single repeat performance is given despite the gigantic cast. The classical soundtrack complements the action perfectly. If you’re a fan of the medium at all, you’re going to need to explore the series at some point.
  • Caveats: There is currently no legal way to watch the show unless you find an old copy of the tapes on eBay. The whole thing is, however, available on most major streaming sites. The largest caveat to the show is the sheer time commitment that it demands. Unlike typical long-running series, though, there’s very little filler in Legend. Every episode nudges the plot forward in one direction or the other, or opens up a new exploration into the characters themselves. If you’re unsure whether or not you want to start, try watching the prequel movies My Conquest is the Sea of Stars and Overture to a New War first. They’re standalone films that also serve as a good lead-in to the series itself. If you do watch Overture, you can skip the first two episodes of the series, as it covers the same material. Finally, it must be noted that the series is from the early 90s, and it shows in the animation and sound design. This is a story where you come for the plot and characters; if you’re after whizz-bang graphics, look elsewhere.
  • Themes: I don’t even know how to sum this up here – you could write entire theses on the thematic development of the show. In short: rivalry, ambition, loyalty and betrayal. Power, the right-to-rule, legitimacy, the nature of peace, the nature of war, democracy, autocracy, bureaucracy.
  • Similar works: The closest work I can think of is David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, which has the same kind of epic scope and shows protagonists on both sides of the conflict. In anime, maybe Zipangif you want more of the same kind of rivalry that you see between Wenli and Reinhard, maybe check out Death Note or Code Geass.

Alphabetised list

Someone on Reddit pointed out that now would be a good time to provide a complete alphabetised list of the series and movies that I’ve blurbed to date. So, here it is:

  1. A Certain Magical Index
  2. A Certain Scientific Railgun
  3. A Piece of Phantasmagoria
  4. Afro Samurai
  5. Aiura
  6. Akame ga Kill!
  7. Aldnoah.Zero
  8. Alien Nine
  9. Angel Beats!
  10. Aoi Bungaku Series
  11. Attack on Titan
  12. Avatar: The Last Airbender
  13. Baccano!
  14. Bakemonogatari
  15. Bartender
  16. Berserk
  17. Black Bullet
  18. Black Lagoon
  19. Blade of the Immortal
  20. Btooom!
  21. Brynhildr in the Darkness
  22. Buta
  23. Canaan
  24. Candy Boy
  25. Cat Shit One
  26. Cencoroll
  27. Chihayafuru
  28. Chronus
  29. Claymore
  30. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
  31. Coffee Samurai
  32. Colorful
  33. Cowboy Bebop
  34. Daily Lives of High School Boys
  35. Danna ga Nani wo Ittereiru ka Wakaranai Ken
  36. Darker Than Black
  37. Deadman Wonderland
  38. Death Billiards
  39. Death Note
  40. Denki-gai no Honya-san
  41. Denpa Teki na Kanojo
  42. Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka?
  43. Eden of the East
  44. Elfen Lied
  45. Ergo Proxy
  46. Expelled From Paradise
  47. Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya
  48. Fate/Zero
  49. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
  50. Flag
  51. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)
  52. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  53. Gangsta.
  54. Gankutsuou
  55. Garden of Words
  56. Garo: Honoo no Kokuin
  57. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
  58. Ghost in the Shell
  59. Girls und Panzer
  60. Grave of the Fireflies
  61. Gunbuster
  62. Gunsmith Cats
  63. Hal
  64. Harmonie
  65. Hataraku Maou-sama
  66. Hellsing Ultimate
  67. Hitsugi no Chaika
  68. Higurashi
  69. Himegoto
  70. Howl’s Moving Castle
  71. Hunter x Hunter (2011)
  72. Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san
  73. Is this a Zombie?
  74. Junketsu no Maria
  75. K-On!
  76. Kaiji
  77. Kara no Kyoukai
  78. Katanagatari
  79. Kill La Kill
  80. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  81. Knights of Sidonia
  82. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
  83. Liar Game
  84. Little Witch Academia
  85. Log Horizon
  86. Madoka Magica
  87. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
  88. Maoyuu Maou Yuusha
  89. Mirai Nikki
  90. Monster
  91. Murasakiiro no Qualia
  92. Mushi-shi
  93. My Neighbour Totoro
  94. Neon Genesis Evangelion
  95. Nobunaga Concerto
  96. No Game No Life
  97. Noragami
  98. Oh My Goddess!
  99. Ojii-san no Lamp
  100. One Off
  101. One Outs
  102. Outbreak Company
  103. Pale Cocoon
  104. Paprika
  105. Paranoia Agent
  106. Parasyte
  107. Patema Inverted
  108. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom
  109. Ping Pong: The Animation
  110. Plastic Nee-san
  111. Problem Children Are Coming From Another World, Aren’t They?
  112. Psychic School Wars
  113. Psycho-Pass
  114. Redline
  115. Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne
  116. Ristorante Paradiso
  117. Robotics;Notes
  118. Romeo x Juliet
  119. RWBY
  120. Sakura Trick
  121. Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo
  122. Samurai Champloo
  123. School Days
  124. Seirei no Moribito
  125. Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance
  126. Selector Infected WIXOSS
  127. Serial Experiments Lain
  128. Shigofumi
  129. Shingeki no Bahamut
  130. Shinsekai Yori
  131. Song of Saya
  132. Speed Grapher
  133. Spice and Wolf
  134. Spirited Away
  135. Steins;Gate
  136. Strait Jacket
  137. Suisei no Gargantia
  138. Summer Wars
  139. Sunday Without God
  140. Sword Art Online
  141. The Animatrix
  142. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
  143. The Legend of Korra
  144. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya
  145. The Tale of Genji
  146. The Twelve Kingdoms
  147. Thermae Romae
  148. Time of Eve
  149. Tokyo Ghoul
  150. Toradora!
  151. Usagi Drop
  152. Voices of a Distant Star
  153. Wolf Children
  154. Yama no Susume
  155. Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san.
  156. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru
  157. Zankyou no Terror
  158. Zipang

100 reviews and counting

And with that, I’ve pretty much caught up with the reviews that I’ve been posting on /r/animesuggest. From here on in, they’re going to be coming a lot slower – there are a few shows and movies that I’ve yet to write up, but for the most part I’m going to need to be watching new stuff before I can write them up. Most of the shows I’ve seen that I haven’t already reviewed aren’t really stuff I can recommend to others with a straight face. Since this blog isn’t really intended as anything but an online (and more easily sortable) backup for the Word document that I generally use, I’m not going to be that worried about it.

Still, it’s been fun so far. It’s given me an opportunity to polish a few of the earlier pieces, though for some of the shorter works there’s not really much room for expansion. Let’s see where it goes from here.

Darker Than Black

Darker Than Black

darkerthanblack

  • Trailer: Fan-made trailer
  • What it’s about: Just over a decade ago, downtown Tokyo was destroyed when a tear in reality opened, warping the space around it and imbuing individuals with impossible abilities. These new talents come with a price, though – an obsessive compulsion unique to each individual that they must carry out after every use. The show is a detective story with a loosely defined continuity, following an agency made up of several such “Contractors” trying to solve the many mysteries that the Gate brought with it.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a slick, stylish action show with a distinctly noirish vibe to it. The character designs, worldbuilding, and overall “atmosphere” of the show are fantastic, and you want to keep watching to find out where exactly the whole thing is headed. The soundtrack is a melange, drawing excerpts from multiple styles wherever it seems appropriate, just as the story itself is a drawing-together of what, on the surface, appear to be entirely-separate story arcs.
  • Caveats: The characters start off a little bland, and it takes a while to warm up to them and to begin seeing how they deviate from their relevant archetypes. The second season makes some controversial choices and was met with a somewhat mixed reception. Don’t forget to watch the OVAs that bridge the two, it’s not filler.
  • Themes: Power doesn’t so much get rid of your problems, as give you new ones to worry about.
  • Similar works: Outside of anime, I’d say that Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart is pretty similar in style, theme, and plot. Within the medium, Speed Grapher and Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom.

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha

maoyuu

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: The story starts where most others end: the Nameless Hero bursts into the throne room of the Demon King, looking to end the long war between humans and demons in one stroke. Except…the Demon “King” is actually a woman, and one who makes a series of cogent arguments showing that a quick end would only lead to civil war, and that for true peace, the pair must co-operate to spark an economic and political revolution in both kingdoms.
  • Why you should watch it: This is a pretty smart show, and it doesn’t shy away from showing off in that regard. At the same time, the narrative balances the intellectual discussion with a strong romantic subplot and regular doses of action to keep things lively. It’s a very binge-able show with something for everyone. The painted backgrounds are interesting to look at and the rest of the animation is equally above par. The voice actors for the two protagonists have worked together a lot (they previously played Holo and Kraft Lawrence from Spice and Wolf, and Lelouch and Kallen from Code Geass), and there’s good chemistry between them.
  • Caveats: The ending is quite abrupt. It resolves all the major plot threads while remaining open-ended, so it’s not disappointing, but there’s a definite invitation there to pick up the Light Novels or Manga (a second season is quite unlikely at this point). If macroeconomics bores you to tears, give this one a miss.
  • Themes: Economics, politics, war, and peace (and how they relate to one another).
  • Similar works: This show is basically a bridge between Spice and Wolf and Log Horizon, borrowing the director and voice actors from the former and the author from the latter, and there are strong thematic and stylistic ties at both ends. For another show with a medieval fantasy setting and a general anti-war message, check out Junketsu no Maria. For a less serious “modernising the medieval” take, try Outbreak Company.

Hellsing Ultimate

Hellsing Ultimate

hellsing

  • Trailer: The official one flat-out sucks. This one’s a bit better, though it’s a little too long.
  • What it’s about: There’s a secret battle going on in the dark corners of the world, a fight against ghouls, vampires, and who knows what else. The Hellsing Organisation of Great Britain is pledged to defend the realm against all such dangers. At the same time, it is locked in a continual struggle against the encroachment of the rival Catholic Church into its jurisdiction. Both tasks are becoming ever more difficult but, thankfully, they have an ace up their sleeve – an ancient vampire named Alucard who fights for reasons of his own. The question is: how far can he be trusted?
  • Why you should watch it: It’s gory, dark, and action-packed from start to finish. Alucard is overpowered as hell, so if you’re a fan of “badass protagonists”, Hellsing Ultimate is a pretty safe bet. I’m a huge fan of the soundtrack too, which has a very distinctively dissonant jazzy feel to it. The story is relatively simple, but it sticks to its strengths and never gives the audience a dull moment.
  • Caveats: Don’t bother with the original series, Ultimate is the one you want to go for. The gore and fight scenes are deliberately over the top, Tarantinoesque.
  • Themes: Nature of humanity and corruption. What makes one person a human and another a monster?
  • Similar works: Elfen LiedTokyo Ghoul