Archive for the review Category

Kurenai Analysis & Review

Posted in anime, review with tags , , , on September 2, 2008 by daeyeth
Always make sure you're adequately fed before a final battle

Always make sure you're adequately fed before a final battle

“Kurenai” is a slice of life series with an action-anime ambition that aired in 2008. It’s about a young high schooler, Kurenai, who is working his first job as a bodyguard protecting a 7-year old, pampered girl. I didn’t have any expectations going into this series so I was pleasantly surprised by the first couple episodes. It had something that very very few anime try for: realistic conversations simulations (mouthful). That is to say, back-and-forths conversations between characters are fast-paced as to give you the illusion that you’re watching a real conversation as opposed to actors acting out a scene (ie. contrast Quentin Tarintino (Pulp Fiction) dialogue with a Michael Bay movie (Transformers)). This makes watching usual odd & awkward anime antics entertaining and engaging. Silly situations are genuinely amusing because of the real reactions and replies of the characters.

This attribute translates nicely into the characters. All of the main characters are considerably fleshed out and three-dimensional, transcending their archetypes and becoming real people. There’s nothing super unique about this anime (something that’s hard to pull off these days, I agree, as it seems everything and anything has been tried in anime) except for its depth and realism. However just that is enough to make a huge impact on Kurenai.

There’s a problem with having realistic characters and conversations however: it makes all the normal anime conventions stick badly out of context. The main character, Kurenai, has this super power. In the average contexts of anime, this super power wouldn’t normally be weird or out of place at all, yet it is. It’s not needed and it seems to have been added simply because they could, because the medium allows… no, expects the main character to have something like that. It adds nothing to the series and is nothing but a flimsy motivational addition to the main character. In a typical anime, this super power would be a focal point of the anime and since it’s not, you have to ask why is it there then? It seems clear to me that they were making a very obvious pull at action anime fans with some of their decisions.

"You know you're crazy right?"

"You know you're crazy right?"

Another out of context, but perfectly normal anime convention are the convictions of the antogonists. To put it plainly, they’re retarded and sick in their motivations. They need help. More on that later. The most irritating type of bad guy is the one who can’t comprehend how much of an asshole they are, the ones who think they’re right no matter what. At the end of Kurenai, the good guys square off against the bad guys in moral debate, which is a terrible decision. Don’t put a spotlight on how retarded these bad guys are, sweep it under the rug and just let the good guys win. The stuff that was coming out of the antogonists mouths left me screaming in frustration how insane these guys were yet they couldn’t see it themselves.

Haliriously, the good guys were thinking the same thing. The strong point of Kurenai comes to save the day, with the realistic protaganists providing logical counter-points to each ridiculous justification. Unfortunately, we get no satisfaction because the bad guys never give up a single point and can be summarized as, “No, you’re wrong and I’m right because this is the Kuhouin way.” Pretty annoying.

The character designs of Kurenai are crisp and modern, complimenting the realism of the series. The easiest way to tell how good the character designs are is by seeing if each character has a unique facial structure. In generic anime facial structures were completely interchangeable. For instance, to make someone look old, they’d simply add a couple lines on the cheeks and under the eyes. In Kurenai, the middle-aged bad guy is masterfully constructed with that beak-like nose and beady eyes. My first impressions of Murasaki, the little girl, were actually, “Eh? That design makes her look pretty old.” But actually it fits perfectly in the context of her character and how she always acts, or tries to, like an adult.

I don’t remember the music at all which shows memorable it was. As for the animation, pretty nice for the most part. Anime with complex character designs sometimes have trouble with animation but not Kurenai. Now, I said earlier how Kurenai has ambitions to be an action-anime and for the most part, the fight scenes are pretty good. They’re nothing special but they’re good enough as a vehicle to display the capabilities of a pretty good animation studio.

The bad thing about this ambition is that they don’t know how to pull it off. There’s no lead up, no anticipation to these battles. One minute they’re driving down the road and the next they’re doing a martial arts showdown (conveniently, no one brings weapons). The brilliance of action-anime is that they advertise their fights like it’s a world championship match, getting you eager and excited. In Kurenai, these fights just happen. It’s like if you saw the top two boxers in the world duke it out on the street, out of no where. You might be like, “Hey, neat”, but it would be missing that spectacle.

I need to bring something up. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to but now having finished the series, I can see that I do. There are very strong lolita romanticisms in the themes of the story. At first, I thought it was just a cute, little-sister, big-brother kind of thing. I was wrong. I’m going to skip over the bad guy’s part in this who’s telling the 7-year old kid that he’s going to marry her in the future and he’ll be gentle with her (seriously). But he’s a just a sad crazy who was raised to believe that stuff. That part is somewhat easier to take because it’s out in the open. What’s somewhat bothering is the undertones of the main character’s feelings that make you go, “Gettin a little creepy here.” The picture below will explain it for me. Overall though, the lolita thing isn’t a big deal until the end and they don’t actually cross the line (they just think about it).

This is in his dream... is that a wedding dress she's wearing?

His dream... is that a wedding dress she's wearing?

As far as the actual story goes, a bodyguard with a super power protecting a little girl from being the slave child-bride of a psychotic aristocratic family immune to the law, it’s as silly as any other anime so I won’t hold that against it. This goes for pretty much all of my complaints. They’re all standard anime conventions that are constantly seen. It’s only because Kurenai had the potential to rise above those conventions that I’m seemingly panning them. The first half of Kurenai, which was mostly slice of life, funny and awkward moments and conversations, I very very much enjoyed. I wish the whole series was that. A friend mine, when telling me to finish Kurenai, asked me, “Don’t you want to see how the story ends?!” Not really…I really could care less about the evil Kouhins and Kurenai’s quest to find himself after a series of losing battles. That stuff is the everyday bread n’ butter of anime that you can get from anywhere.

What I would rather just see is some more amusing, unique character interactions, excellently paced conversations, and developed, interesting characters, all the strong points of the series. Kurenai is a failure only in the respect that it let itself become like its peers (this says more about them than it does about Kurenai). But I definitely give them points for executing in the unique areas that they did.

Rating: B

Kaiba Full Analysis & Review

Posted in anime, review with tags , , , , on September 1, 2008 by daeyeth

“Kaiba” is a little known high-concept, sci-fi anime where memories are souls and can be transfered from one body to another. It is very reminiscent of classic anime and clearly draws upon Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astro Boy), reminding me very much so of the modern adaptation of Metropolis which was based on his original story. Like Metropolis, Kaiba calls back to the vintage look of “Astro Boy” in terms of character designs but rather than the hi-res, high production, yet stiff and blaringly detailed, 3D environments of Metropolis, Kaiba is a beautifully simple world. The best way I can describe the ascethetics, textures, and physics of the Kaiba universe is a world of water balloons. These floaty, lofty-type environments fit absolutely perfectly with the character designs and is one of the most imaginative universes I have ever seen in an anime.

Kaiba also features gorgeous choices in color palette I must say, filled with snuggly fitting muted overtones that lend to the world’s fairly dark, cyberpunk setting that is infused into the stories. Interestingly, Kaiba can feel oppressive without being overbearing, it can be sad without being depressing. While the characters, mostly poor and living in ghettos, are forced to handle rough, “that’s life” type of situations, they don’t beat you over the head with it or beg for your sympathy. There are many adult themes in Kaiba and they delve into some dark, seedy corners of humanity, but they don’t overwhelm you. Despite everything, the characters are refreshingly optimistic at the end of the day. Kaiba is serious without being melodramatic, dark without being hard to watch, silly without being stupid.

Kaiba’s characters must deal with the cards that life deals them and live through it to the best of their abilities. There’s a gritty realism of Kaiba, a strange thing to say when the feel and look of the world is about as fantastical as you can get. The creators of Kaiba are absolute masters of teetering on edges of fantasy and gritty, making them blend together in seamless motion. I can’t but find it strange that I’m using such analogies considering these types of descriptions would completely off the mark from first impressions of Kaiba visually, but it’s to the series credit. I can’t but find it strange that I’m using all these analogies considering these types of descriptions would completely off the mark from your first impressions of Kaiba visually, but this is to the credit of the series.

There are two types of adventure anime: epic adventures where each episode is a piece of the grand scheme slowly building towards big climaxes. These are series such as Naruto or Bleach who, for the most part, are linear arcs completely focused on single goals. You wouldn’t be able to watch an episode out of context and understand what is going on because they’re only one piece of the puzzle.

Then there are procedural adventures, where each episode is a self-contained short story but have a grand scheme story arc beneath its surface. These are anime such as Wolf’s Rain or Monster, although the format of the show will remind you more of a straight-forward, non-adventure procedural anime like Mushishi or Kino’s Journey. I sometimes have my reservation about procedurals because they can fail at being able to tell a compelling story in only twenty minutes and it’s hard for me to empathize with new characters in the time frame, especially knowing I won’t likely see them in the following episode. Procedural anime live and die by the hit or miss one-shots. It’s with great pleasure that I can tell you that, so far, Kaiba is filled with excellent, top-notch engaging short stories that has greatly exceeded my expectations.

Completing the package is a befitting array of elegant, soft, sexy, relaxing, grandoise, epic, heart-warming, heart-pounding, heart-wrenching music… one of the best anime soundtracks I have ever heard, especially in terms of the musics ability to lend an emotional grab to each scene. Overall, the production values of Kaiba are very high with excellent animation and some truly mind-bending backdrops. Perhaps this is because of the humble art style but they certainly use it to their every advantage.

Considering how high my expectations of Kaiba rose with each episode, I was amazed to find the amount of satisfaction I felt from its climax, ending, and epilogue. Very rarely does that ever happen to me. Without mentioning any spoilers, a part in the climax of Kaiba blew my mind. I won’t say what blew my mind, but when you watch that scene and go “holy shit”, that’s what I was talking about (clue: near the end of episode 11) . In addition, some of the imagery in Kaiba, the final episodes especially, are just jaw-droppingly awesome that make me go, “Damn that is good”. I’m an illustrator, I get off on that kind of stuff.

Kaiba feels like a true successor to Metropolis, pulling off when its predecessor failed to do. To me, Kaiba is a long form version of a Hayao Miyazaki film (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Within). That’s how high in regard I hold this series. I hold no shame is saying this series is now one of my favorite anime of all time.

Rating: A+

Sword of the Stranger – Review

Posted in anime, review with tags , , , on June 11, 2008 by daeyeth

“Sword of the Stranger”, I find, is the perfect anime equivalent of what you would call a typical “blockbuster” action movie in Hollywood: not much substance, nothing particularly unique or creative, but can be fun to watch and has high production values. “Stranger” is a movie about your random vagabond ronin who gets caught up in a devious plot of an emperor to attain the Elixir of Life, which is apparently doable by sacrificing some kid with pure blood or something. Fact of the matter is, the plot doesn’t matter in the slightest and is just an excuse for some good old fashioned, samurai sword slashin’ action. As it should, or rather ends up, to be in every decent blockbuster flick. You don’t watch Michael Bay (Transformers, Bad Boys) movies for their stories, you watch them for their over-the-top, insane action sequences. The problem is, while what action there is in “Stranger” is high quality and well-done, it winds up to be a meager portion of the film.

A majority of “Stranger” is comprised of the ronin’s interaction with the bratty, but likeable child. They have a good amount of on-screen chemistry, but it’s nothing special, nothing that will really captivate your heart as they seem to be desperately trying for. The characters’ themselves are decent, albeit standard anime arch-types. The hero has an interesting, cliche mysterious background and it’s unfortunate that they couldn’t just focus on that instead of using it as an additional spice so to speak.

The main issue with the film lies in the fact that nothing really happens during the entire 90-minute span of the story besides that. Aside from the catalyst to begin the story and the climax to end it, everything else in-between is blatantly filler. And while most blockbusters use that exact formula, a good one will make the filler seem of some consequence, importance, or interest. What this movie was missing was the “rollercoaster ride” that all blockbusters have; it was missing that momentum of action sequences, which there was a surprising lack of. I wanted to see a movie full of high quality, sword-swinging battles, but was given tiny teasers of quality fights that never panned out and left me wanting more. Instead, the movie chose to take it’s sweet time following the mundane antics of brat and ronin and the typical “here’s what the bad guy is doing” sequences cut in between. As usual, you never really care about any of the bad guys (which comprise of 90% of the cast) aside from maybe one of them. They’re just there to fill the world and drive plot points.

I suppose I’m a little more miffed than need be because of how much potential this movie had. The opening action sequence drew me in immediately and excited me. However, in the end, it betrayed me because it set a tone and energy for the film that just wasn’t true. It was pretending to be a big adventure with a grand storyline but the meat of the film was simply everyday, relaxing meandering between a child and a hardened soldier. Actually, I would of liked the film better if it had just been that instead of being this wish-washy direction that covets it. The ending climax plays out as you’d expect but by that time I was already like, “Oh, finally…” I will say that I was satisfied with their choice in epilogue. If you read between the lines, there are two different endings that are apparent and they let you choose which one you think will happen.

The bits and pieces of goodness that they tease you with are enough to make “Sword of the Stranger” a decent, blockbuster anime movie; the action can be entertainingly awesome but there’s just not enough of it, and while the interactions between the main protagonists can be amusing and sweet at times, they slow down film. So other than that, there’s not much else to look at.

Rating: C+

Baccano! – Review & Analysis

Posted in anime, old school, review with tags , , , on May 20, 2008 by daeyeth

“Baccano!” is a thirteen episode series that finished airing in Japan in November of 2007.

Baccano starts up with an upbeat, jazzy tune and an introduction naming the cast in quick, ten second spots. It’s an enjoyable opening sequence and is symbolic of the colorful (to put it lightly) sorts of characters that fill the world Baccano. I don’t usually enjoy, or even watch, the openings for anime for a couple reasons. 1) Whether I like the opening or not is entirely dependent on the song choice. After all, openings are little more than short music videos. And 2) quite often openings are jam packed with inherent spoilers about the relationships of the characters. You know how annoying it is to figure out who the love interest, best friend, bad guy, and even what the basic premise is a minute and thirty seconds into the very first episode? I don’t want to learn all that from a music video. It’s a good thing that Baccano’s story isn’t so cookie-cutter to be laid out so easily like that as would be typical for a generic anime. No, far from it.

I’d best get this out of the way because the comparisons are unavoidable and if anyone’s ever told you about Baccano, it’s likely this came up. Baccano is not an anime version of Pulp Fiction. In terms of actual story content, Baccano is very different than Pulp Fiction. However, the influences are undeniable and I won’t be able to avoid talking about the similarities between the two. Both are infused with organized crime, though neither use that element to drive plot. Rather, it’s used to flavor the environment/characters and becomes little more than a statement of the natures of people the characters are. In the beginning of Baccano I spent much time trying to memorize the names of each mafia family and their relations to one another only to discover that none of it really mattered in the big picture. The crime syndicates merely act as a vehicle for the characters. This is as opposed to a film like “The Godfather”, the mother of all mafia movies, where the roles are reversed: the characters are a vehicle for the story of the crime syndicates and their relationships with one another.

The narration is told through a series of non-linear, random but interconnected coincidences in the vein of Pulp Fiction. As the plot progresses, it becomes something of a “seperation of six degrees” type of thing. Though the stories of the characters are told separately at first, they’re all connected to one another through something of a “he’s the friend of a friend of a friend”; or rather, in this case, more like “he’s the friend of the guy who was killed by the hitman who works for”….you get the idea. Baccano rarely focuses on a single character for too long, which put me off at first. I had a few concerns with that, the first being that I might not get to know the characters as well as I would like. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Even though each episode covers a different set of protagonists, all of them are constantly popping in and out of each other’s stories. There’s a steady flow of character development for everyone equally and you’ll continue to learn about them regardless who the focus is of the episode.

For instance, the first set of protagonists we learn about are Isaac and Miria, a quirky comedic duo. While there is no traditional central character for Baccano, I would consider them the heart of the anime. I had immediately grown attached them and feared something would be missing in the next episode as the focus shifted but I was pleasantly surprised to see them make their reappearance as cameos. Now although this shift in focus transitions smoothly and everything starts coming together nicely, as a result of these switches come atmospheric changes that make the mood of Baccano inconsistent and differ greatly from one episode to the next. Some episodes are filled with light-hearted banter while others are very dark and purposefully resemble a horror movie. This could be jarring for some people as it messes with the pacing.

My other worry with these shifts in character focus was that I might not like a protagonist of a particular episode. After all, for many anime only a few characters are given a decent amount of depth that warrant their own episodes and the others are left as typical archetypes. For an anime filled with this many people, I wondered how much depth could they spread around. Apparently plenty. I realize now that those are the anime that are truly good; anime where you not only care about the main characters but everybody around them as well. It also helps that they have great character designs and are pleasing to the eye. The art style is very crisp, clean, and modern, I really enjoyed it. Admittedly, though most of the designs are distinct, you might still have trouble differing each of the characters from one another in the beginning because of the huge cast. Had another, more mundane style been used, this could of easily been more of a problem. In addition, the excellent choice in the Japanese voice actors help in distinguishing all of them. The casting was absolutely spot on in this series and the actors really bring the vibrant individuals to life. The culmination of all these ingredients make the characters one of the best aspects of Baccano and is one of the selling points of this series.

And I’m including Baccano’s psychopathic, bloodthirsty killers in that statement. Who would of thought? Certainly not I because I’m usually find those types of characters irritating, unrelatable, and are usually there simply to be “the bad guy”, the guy you’re supposed to hate. To me, that’s the sign of a failed character, one that comes off as flat and two-dimensional. Their only purpose is to drive plot points and to fill time by blabbering on about ridiculous philosophies for 10+ minutes, as these archetypes often do. This could of been a big issue for me because several of the main characters in Baccano are the types of crazies who love to babble on about life philosophy.

Yet Baccano managed to pull it off, brilliantly so. Never before have I been so thoroughly entertained watching some psycho hop up and down in a pool of blood spouting off nonsensical things. Each of these killer-types have a very real vibrance to them, adding a depth you wouldn’t usually see in such characters. To be fair, none of them are truly in the vein of the aforementioned bad guy archetype, they only appear to be so at first glance. They’re all given sympathetic or admirable traits as you learn more about them. That’s not to say that Baccano is without it’s central “I hate that guy”, and I suppose every story needs one of those.

Overall, Baccano has high production values and the animation is great. Ranging from the way the characters move (you haven’t seen nothing until you’ve seen a grown man happily skip down a hall covered in blood) to the action sequences. Baccano has a lot less action than you might expect, however, the few fights there are come across as superbly choreographed. The battles can be very fantastical with iconic “damn that was cool” kind of moments that you only get from anime. Or the Matrix. Baccano is also surprisingly gory, the type of gore you’d expect from a vampire anime or the sort. Take the level of violence in Pulp Fiction and magnify that by ten for an accurate picture of what you can expect. Granted, the truly gruesome stuff is implied and happens off-screen…for the most part. The world is exaggerated with enough hyperbole that it won’t disturb you on the level one of those old school, Ninja Scroll-type anime might but you will definitely be doing some cringing.

At it’s base, Baccano is a terrific character driven drama with supernatural and mafia elements as a backdrop, although the former becomes more important than the latter and a key part of the motivations for many of the characters. Describing Baccano so clear cut like that, you might think, “Oh okay, I get it”. But it’s no where near as simple as that description with numerous aspects of Baccano being a unique rarity amongst its peers. While the actual story itself isn’t amazing in and of itself, the excellent execution of how it’s told that makes it stand out and is one never before seen in an anime.

Rating: A

Baccano