Fate/Apocrypha (ep 1-12)

Weak

Fate/Apocrypha is an action/drama anime, and the most recent title in the Fate/ series.  It goes through an alternate timeline in which the events of Fate/Stay Night (and its progeny) don’t happen.  Unfortunately, this installment does not live up to its predecessors, becoming something of an unfulfilled, incomprehensible mess.

Purpose: Weak.

Fate/Apocrypha brought together an intriguing set of elements, changing up the tournament-style fighting that is the basis for the other titles in the series.  It also attempted to do interesting things with other elements, such as the characters and how they relate to each other.  Sadly, this was all — the main purpose of the anime was merely to change things up.  In the process,  they lost sight of what the Fate/ series is about — the clash of ideals presented through a literal clash of swords.  While we got to see hints of this in Fate/Apocrypha, such as the idea of what it means to be a hero versus what it means to be a king, it wasn’t capitalized upon in any meaningful manner.  Perhaps worse, due to an overwhelming number of characters and events, it became more clear as the show went on that all balance was lost and show’s ability to manage everything kept slipping.  The result is a disharmonious mess that didn’t allow any particular element to take root and blossom.

Characters: Poor. 

Most Fate/ series have around 14 players (7 pairs) to keep track of, with different emphasis.  For a normal Fate/ series, they focus on character pairs, sometimes with each member having specific goals and ideals.  Their internal synergy (or lack thereof), is what really hones in the bursts of action and gives it real impact.  Fate/Apocrypha attempted 28 players (14 pairs).  While that seems daunting at first, they were able to lower that number through various means. Unfortunately, in the process, they shatter this crucial element and remove much of the summoner/summoned interactions, instead choosing to focus primarily on battling characters.  Of all of these, only one pair is notable, and is unfortunately relegated to rather minor roles.

Again, for the characters and character development, there were seeds of really interesting things, but Fate/Apocrypha failed to capitalize on any of them.  One example is the idea that Vlad the Impaler hates his legend and wants to clear his name.  Another is Frankenstein’s Monster’s struggle to be recognized as a person and not a monster.  Still another is the idea of a created being taking fate into its own hands.  With the lack of proper focus on developing these concepts, they ended up becoming mere spoken lines and not powerful moments.  Many times, even these were simply hints cast aside and then denied fulfillment.  One particular disappointment involves the failure to capitalize on the inevitable clash of two really likable characters, knowing only one can walk away.

Still worse, it’s very difficult to even point to the characters that the anime is really about — there are no real main characters.  The ones you’d want to be the heroes of the story have a tragically minor role, in spite the best synergy and dynamic interactions.  Everyone else, even the ones that get more screen time, end up feeling like unimportant cogs spinning about with no real purpose – no grander machine behind them.  Without anyone to really care about or root for, we end up becoming observers to a relatively unimpressive struggle, bland and monochromatic.

Perhaps the real tragedy is that properly executed characters could have rescued other under-performing elements.  Truly, the characters took the show down with them.

World: Weak

One of the biggest sins of the world is that this is a purportedly standalone series that relies on information not presented to the viewer.  You need to have outside knowledge about how the world works and events that unfold to even have a hope of keeping up.  Even then, it’s a struggle.  This ends up eroding any potential for internal consistency, since the ground rules seem pretty much made up on the fly.  Almost hilariously on-point is the addition of a special “Ruler” class, who’s supposed to observe the battles and ensure all parties adhere to the rules of the holy grail war… except that the rules were never really stated and couldn’t practically be inferred from the happenings.  The Ruler also has a bizarre will of its own that ends up becoming at odds with its stated purpose.  The problem is that, because it lacks consistency to begin with, you’re not sure whether Ruler is going rogue or these things are supposed to happen.

This “anything goes” mentality pervades all of the other goings-on.   Wheelchair-turned-Doc Octopus?  Sure.  Floating fortress of doom out of nowhere?  Why not?  Character suicides only to reappear at a convenient moment?  Yes, please! (I’m being sarcastic, of course.)  When the world is this weak, it ends up undermining the plausibility of the events that happen, resulting in the viewer losing confidence in anything that happens.

Plot: Weak

There were so many plot trajectories, the execution ended up haphazard at best.  In order to fit everything in, individual plots were thoroughly butchered.  The actual thinning of plot points seemed nearly random, since even some major turning points (character decisions, growth, etc) were either glossed over or not shown at all.  Thus, the only time we see plot advancing is when we as viewers are fed a line about something changing.  We don’t get to see how characters arrive at a conclusion or why a particular event is happening, only that it has happened.  This also goes back to all of the unfulfilled character points — their truncated plot made the interactions feel pointless.

Storytelling: Weak

The only saving grace of the storytelling was the beautiful animation.  However, the animation doesn’t make up for a tragic lack of communication to the viewer.  We weren’t fed a cohesive story since all of the connective details were lost.  Worse, the happenings are fed to us at a wholly inappropriate time, meaning it’s very, very easy to get lost, even for those familiar with the story.

One of the problems with the storytelling stems from a serious lack of prioritization of information.  Yes, there are lots of goings-on.  Not everything needs to be shown, and less important events can be disposed of with lines or phrases.  However, it would be a challenge to say which parts of the story were supposed to be more important than any other.  Instead, the story appeared to try to give each bit some sort of equal time, diluting everything.

Pace: Weak

The pacing was startlingly even, when it really shouldn’t have been.  This meant that instead of establishing a tempo of fast action and quiet, slower scenes to develop characters and plot, everything kept marching on.  One of the problems was the lack of hooks between scenes or cuts, ruining any sort of dynamic flow between them.  Scenes were more like stacked blocks, each a cube, whether it needed to be or not.  This ended up creating a rather bizarre experience that tended to be rather dull on the whole.

Advertisements

The Voynich Hotel (manga review)

Zenko-Anime-smallZenko here!  (For those who don’t know, I’m Akko’s other half.)  Besides helping Akko out with the anime reviews, I’m starting to write reviews of my own, focusing primarily on comparisons of anime and manga versions of a story.  My writing style is vastly different from Akko’s, so if you usually visit his blog for his succinct and analytical critiques, be warned that you will not find it here.


 

Even though I usually write about anime vs. manga comparisons as a sort of specialization within this blog, today I will be talking about a tale that is (currently) only in manga form.  Allow me the bizarre pleasure of introducing you to the strange world of “The Voynich Hotel.”  At only 68 short chapters in all, this relatively quick read is about as addicting as the Mercelo drug being grown in room 303 of the hotel.  It’s weird, it’s dark, it’s oddly endearing.  While recent anime we’ve seen include characters with horrible personalities that sometimes do nice things, most of the characters of “The Voynich Hotel” are nice people who happen to do horrible things.

Alice-Assassin-Meet-The-Voynich-Hotel

Legendary witches, eccentric assassins, high drug dealers, tattooed yakuza, mine-maimed residents, conversational ghosts, corporate demons…sounding interesting?  How about a maid with an eyepatch, a suicidal cook, a rabbit-masked child, a useless robot, a corpse in love, and a serial killer?  This odd mess of a cast comes together for a tale that is part love story, part murder mystery.  But it’s not about romantic moments or crime-solving suspense—rather, it is more of a supernatural slice-of-life and the strange beings that muddle their way to happiness.  Or death.  Or both.

In many ways, the story is as simple as it is bizarre.  You don’t have to think too hard, just let it draw you along through its 68-day stay at the hotel as you get to know the ever-increasing number of characters and their little mysteries, odd connections, or growing relationships.  Like the story, nobody is particularly deep, just strangely intriguing in a low-key yet eccentric way.

New-Eyepatch-The-Voynich-Hotel

Oddly enough, the same could be said about the art style.  It is relatively simplistic, utilizing a lot of straight lines or simple curves as well as bold shadows, making great use of the black and white medium for its dark yet spunky tone.  With expressive faces and weird character designs, the drawings were the first thing that drew me to this manga, so I definitely rank that element highly (even if just by personal taste).

Another element I enjoyed about this manga was its variety of ideas and blend of cultures.  It takes place on an island (somewhere) that is probably technically part of Spain, but many Japanese visit there, and the witch stories seem to be part shamanic part Russian.  It may sound like a mess, but I found it to just make things more interesting.  A lot of the point of the several stories and plots going on is that there are a variety of weird people and odd things, and somehow they will all work out together.  And they do.

While there are many little stories going on throughout the tale, following (as mentioned above) an ever-growing cast, it does, however, manage to keep from being just random.  Rather, some of the moments may be a little random, but everything adds to the story and the character development in some way or another.  It doesn’t explain everything, and it doesn’t have to.  It explains and wraps up what it needs to without going into all the mysteries of the hotel and the island.  It could have easily dragged on by trying to be serious and thorough about everything, but I have to say that I’m glad it doesn’t.  It’s oddly charming, dark humored, and quirky.  It doesn’t need to be anything else.

I’m honestly not sure what else to say, but to recommend a stay at The Voynich Hotel—be charmed by its maids, be haunted by its ghosts, and be wary of the VIP upstairs.

Fair warning: this manga does include some nudity.

Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou (anime & manga comparison)

Zenko-Anime-smallZenko here!  (For those who don’t know, I’m Akko’s other half.)  Besides helping Akko out with the anime reviews, I’m starting to write reviews of my own, focusing primarily on comparisons of anime and manga versions of a story.  My writing style is vastly different from Akko’s, so if you usually visit his blog for his succinct and analytical critiques, be warned that you will not find it here.


As often seems to be the case recently for me, I had seen the anime a few years ago, watched it again recently, then took up the manga and read through all 85 chapters of what Crunchyroll Manga has to offer of “Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou.”  Like its English title of “The Kawai Complex Guide To Manors And Hostel Behavior,” the Japanese title bears a pun, at the same time meaning “we’re all from/of Kawai Manor” and “we’re all pitiful.”

Misfit Freaks and Awful People

What happens when a masochist, a drunk, a man-eater, a bookworm, and a freak-magnet live together under the same roof?  Well, apparently a lot of insane antics and a few sweet ones.  Today’s comparison covers the odd story of a boarding house’s weird, lewd, trouble-making tenants and the house’s pleasant yet mischievous manager.  Our newcomer protagonist finds himself once again the freak-magnet as he becomes essentially the bullied youngest sibling in a family of bad personalities.  His only bright spot in the house is his cute, book-loving sempai—who’s also taciturn, cold, and absent minded.  His earnest pursuit of her is fraught with crushing failures, many of which are deliberately caused by bitter (or bored) members of the household who take delight in ruining the innocence of youthful romance.  And yet…well, I’d love to say, “and yet, they are still a family,” but quite frankly, it’s slow to come to the surface.  It’s in there, hidden somewhere among the bondage rope, saké bottles, makeup, and piles of books.  Somewhere there are giant bubbles, water fights, a few rescues, and when you’ve had a bad day, your favorite meal is waiting for you at dinner.

Kawaisou-Chaos
“Chaos Living Room”

Art Style and Character Portrayal

In initial comparisons, the anime fairly accurately portrays the chapters it covers in the manga, so there isn’t really anything concrete that it differs in.  Ah, but it does differ—in feel.  Here is one where I will actually talk about the difference in character design and drawing style.  While many anime adjust the drawing style to be a little better proportioned and slicker, this is an interesting example of their simplifying the character designs.  Personally, I thought this choice robbed the characters and their facial expressions of a certain charm.  The girls had a particular beauty and cuteness to them in the manga (when they aren’t being horrible to each other) that the anime completely skipped out on.  The basics were there, but not the eye-catching moments of delicate appeal and graceful lines.  This is particularly marked in Mayumi, the drunk OL (office lady) who has horrible luck with men.  In the anime when she gets dressed up, she looks like she’s trying too hard.  In the manga, she really is beautifully charming, and it emphasizes her innocent longing deep down for a man that won’t be a jerk and fraud.

Manga-vs-Anime-Kawaisou-Ritsu-Mayumi
Ritsu and Mayumi, manga vs. anime. Which style do you prefer?

The facial expressions, too, were quite striking in the manga.  I would sometimes stop reading just to look at them and enjoy the great portrayal of a particular emotion or a complex mix of ones.  The original manga artist really has a talent for faces, and it really added to my enjoyment of reading the manga.  It added a certain extra element that made the characters more intriguing than I found them to be in the anime, which did not take advantage of these facial expressions.  Consequently, the anime’s more straight-forward approach to the characters’ portrayals left them as somewhat flat—awful people with a few endearing moments.  Having watched the anime twice before reading the manga, I still did not grow attached to the characters—rather, they were somewhat entertaining to watch, but still with the distance of “I wouldn’t actually like to know these people.”  The manga, however, gave glimpses of deeper character that really does slowly unfold as the manga progresses past the point in the story where the anime leaves off.  While most of them are still a freaks that the average person would stay clear of, the manga does portray them in a way that there is something about those freaks that makes one want to know more.

The Adults of Kawaisou

Something essential to the story that goes across both the anime and manga is the fact that, with the exception of the house manager Sumiko, the adults of the house are terrible or useless people in some way or another, while the two high school students are relatively normal, decent people.  Sumiko and Shiro (the masochist) are the only ones perhaps to provide any real sort of advice or wisdom (though Shiro’s is often then hard accept gratefully as he usually can’t help but finish it with something reminding you abruptly of his more off-putting tendencies).  Other than this, there are no good adult role-models.  The adults in this tale are children.  I will say, though, that the anime finishes up before the story starts to go into this aspect with an interesting look at the hopes, dreams, accomplishments, and unwanted pasts of the three child-adult tenants.

As you may have noticed, Sumiko is an exception to the child-adults.  The manager of Kawaisou is my hero.  I want to be her when I reach her age!  (In fact, in look alone I wouldn’t be too far off….)   Though a woman of advancing middle-age, she is youthful in soul, fun, sweet, mischievous, but with the best heart for everyone in the house.  At the same time, though, she knows how to keep them in line.  Sayaka, the man-eater college student who’s apparently horrifying without her makeup, bears a respectful fear of Sumiko and will not cross the line when Sumiko warns her.  Sumiko is the one who prepares your favorite dinner when you’ve had a bad day, she’s the one who will listen to your confusions and frustrations, and she’s the one who will appreciate you more than anyone.  If anyone makes this pack of freaks feel like a family, it is Sumiko.  (Though, I will add that Shiro the masochist does create many fun activities for the whole group that does bring them together and brings them joy.)

Sumiko-Kawai.gif
Sumiko, my hero

In Conclusion

So, what do I recommend?  Quite frankly, if you liked the anime at all, I recommend the manga—and do start from the beginning!  The impression it gives is a little different, and this grows as intriguing moments and subtle hints to the inner-workings of characters develop and begin to reveal depth.  By chapter 85, it has gone some interesting places as characters learn more about themselves and each other as they clash and even grow closer.

And if you started with the manga?  Don’t even bother with the anime.  I honestly cannot think of anything that the anime does better or in a positively different way.  By comparison, it is a dull representation of the story.  Stick with the manga, and let’s look forward to what will continue to unfold in this odd tale of misfit freaks and awful people who clamor and fight their way through life together as housemates.

Kawaisou-Renaissance
Kawaisou Renaissance: a windy incident with the laundry turned hilarious. This was splendid in both versions.

Kimi to Boku (You and Me) – Anime and Manga Comparison

Zenko-Anime-smallZenko here!  (For those who don’t know, I’m Akko’s other half.)  Besides helping Akko out with the anime reviews, I (very) occasionally write my own.  Ok, so really just one so far, but I’ve been encouraged to write about anime and manga comparisons, so here I am.  (And with my own blog writer name now, too!)  My writing style is vastly different from Akko’s, so if you usually visit his blog for his succinct and analytical critiques, be warned that you will not find it here.

A Leisurely Stroll Through High School Life

Today, I will discuss the anime and manga of “Kimi to Boku” or “You and Me.”  I binged both seasons of the anime a few years ago, then recently found that I was curious about it again since I had forgotten almost everything but a few little scenes that I thought were funny.  I’m ever so glad we watched it.  Inspired by the curiosity of how the characters’ lives continued after the stories portrayed in the anime, I took up the manga, of which I finished all that was available in short order (through chapter 70, which is the first chapter of volume 15).

The story is one of growing up, looking back at childhood, making the most of the present, and slowly coming face to face with the unknowns of the future.  Full of silly antics, playfully idiotic enthusiasm, the grumpiness of growing pains, and little touches of really sweet romance, the story maintains an endearingly down-to-earth quality.  It is definitely slice-of-life with a somewhat slow pace, so don’t come looking for long story arcs of drama with succinct conclusions.  Rather, visit “Kimi to Boku” for an entertaining stroll through high school life, punctuated by little moments of character relationship progression.

Kimi-to-Boku-Group-Shot

Manga vs. Anime

So, let’s get down to comparisons!  Assuming that the manga I read online included all the chapters properly, only the first episode of season 2 was anime-only.  In general, the anime faithfully portrays the chapters that it turned into episodes, although they did switch the order of some stories (or even scenes within a story), and also skipped over a few chapters.  Some of the order change seemed to be for storytelling and pacing reasons.

For example, the Cafeteria Cinderella story pretty much happens all at once in the manga, whereas they let it stretch over both seasons of the anime (with, of course, unrelated episodes in between).  The impression the anime gives, though, is that she was around for a while and Yuuki just lackadaisically never talked to her after his initial fascination of her unruly hair, only to be prodded into some sort of action by her sudden departure.  In the manga, however, the timeline is drastically shortened, which places more emphasis on the brief burst of impact she had on him and his almost impulsive decision to give her the plates when she leaves.  In many ways, it tells a different story about Yuuki’s character.  (In my personal opinion, I lean toward the shorter version portrayed in the manga.  What do you think?)

Awkward Mystery Explained

One of the first things I noticed and found particularly interesting upon starting the manga was that the primary elements of the show that I found to be awkwardly put in actually had a full and legitimate reason to feel that way.  Of what do I speak?  Well, two things, actually.  First, four out of five of our main characters have known each other since kindergarten, and they seem to look back on that time a lot, comparing things they learned about life then with their life now as they learn something similar or from a different perspective.  It’s great that they’ve known each other for so long, but the focus on kindergarten felt oddly far back to look and to dwell on.  Second, there seemed to be an odd focus on Azuma-sensei, as if he were more part of the story than his screen time.  Then, when his own childhood friend (Akira) is introduced, there’s almost this feeling that he is better known or more familiar than the couple of episodes in which he makes an appearance.

Kimi to Boku manga page
Page from chapter 3 “Children World” showing Azuma-sensei and Akira in high school, visiting the boys’ kindergarten.

Well, folks, it turns out that originally the manga artist had a four-panel story going that was about four kindergarteners (our very same heroes of the present) and a couple of high schoolers (the teacher and his friend), and sometimes their stories overlapped!  Case solved.  The manga includes a few of these tales from the past and connects them in the first several chapters, but then the references to it eventually dwindle to a more natural reminiscence of particularly notable moments (such as Kaname’s crush on his kindergarten teacher).  This also brings up one of the few times that the anime changed a whole scene and actually simplified it.  When Akira first shows up in the manga, he is not only unnamed, but one cannot see his face, and it’s an entertaining reveal when it turns out to be the childish shorty from the high school part of the four-panel manga, now all grown up!  In the anime, as I said, they simplified it because there was no antecedent for him, but there was that lingering flavor of “you should know him,” that I was tasting and not understanding.  Really, I just find it interesting to note.  I love it when things suddenly make sense.  I love understanding and reasons for things.

Storytelling in Love

Ok, moving on to the main element I wanted to talk about: storytelling in love.  Four out of the five boys (sorry, Shun-chan) face romantic encounters that bear a certain bittersweetness.  They are just very real-life moments of talking with the girl, often without any great change in their relationship but for some impression or impact on the boy in particular.  The portrayal of each of these scenes in the manga is rather straight-forward, showing only the actions of the moment, hearing the words spoken and the acknowledged words of the heart as each boy learns something about himself.  They are touching moments, but simply executed.

The anime, however, chose to portray these with a little more impact.  They don’t change any of the particulars, but instead present the moment with an overlay of simile or imagination.  The shots of these silent images cut in during the conversation, and show glimpses into the boys’ thoughts, feelings, and inclinations as these relationships grow, change, or fade away.  At first, they seem a little jarring or unexpected, but then they really begin to add to the storytelling.  Afterwards, I looked back on the first ones that I found more awkwardly done, and they, too, included many notes of added meaning.

At the risk of spoilers, if you haven’t watched the anime, I’d like to briefly discuss each one.

Kimi-to-Boku-Storytelling

For Yuuta, he and the girl (Takahashi), are alone on a train, both passengers in life.  In Japan, strangers do not interact on the train, but he and Takahashi are here together, though distant.  Ever the observer, he watches her as she sits slightly facing him (she is the one who liked him in the first place, after all).  As the conversation in real life continues, on the train he moves closer to her, and begins to reach out to touch her face.  His desire to interact with her more directly translates into action in the real world as well, and he is able to make a small but impactful gesture of compassion and encouragement.  Though their somewhat faux relationship is brief, they are no longer strangers on the train, and may interact again in the future.

For Yuuki, the Cafeteria Cinderella is older, more mature, no-nonsense, and a woman of mystery to him.  Their silent image overlay presents them in black formal attire against a mundanely utilitarian, white brick wall—an interesting mismatch between them and their surroundings.  She faces away from him as if to walk away while he watches her.  Their interaction is brief, distant, and demonstrates a certain contrast, just as they are from two very different places in life and in personality.

Let’s skip to Kaname next.  The sun is officially setting on his long-standing admiration and love of the woman several years older than himself.  Kaname is rather practical and not prone to flights of fancy, so perhaps it is no surprise that there is no new setting for his silent image overlays, only the road on which he has been walking with her as the sun goes down and the distance between them lengthens as he remains silent.  It is melancholy, yet memorable.

Finally, I’ve saved the strongest storytelling bit for last: Chizuru and Mary.  His silent overlay is more involved, appears more than once, and tells a story of his hopes, wishes, surprising innocence, and patient persistence.  For the energetic, usually cheerful, and fun-loving boy of youthful idealism, what imaginary setting could be better than a small bit of beach with warm sand and a brightly shining sun?  But it’s not just the backdrop, his interactions there are interesting.  As his feelings for Mary begin to dawn on him, she appears in this beautiful world, bushy hair, school uniform and all, bare feet in the sand as though she had been there longer than he had realized.  When he consciously chooses to put her happiness before his own and helps her give a gift to her crush, the Mary on that little piece of idyllic beach now holds a paper in front of her face.  The paper has on it the simply-drawn, generic face that is commonly drawn with just a few Japanese letters in the arrangement of two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.  Chizuru begins to feel that his one and only is someone he hasn’t met yet, her face unclear to him.  But as he begins to walk away in the real world, Mary returns and shows him thanks and kindness.  Suddenly, the paper with the generic face is tossed aside, and Chizuru knows that it is Mary that he loves.  Some time later, when things are awkward between them, the Mary on the beach begins to wander and avoid him, almost as she is doing in real life.  Chizuru begins to move the chair he had been sitting on as he gazed at her, but she continues to avoid him.  Eventually, he goes to her where she is on the beach, and gives her the chair, just as he has always met her where she is, tried to put her at ease, and now he patiently waits for her.

Chizuru projects a personality of flashiness, rebellion, playboy tendencies, and even cheerful idiocy, but in actuality, he is pretty much none of it.  As a person, he has good character and is surprisingly innocent.  He is at his most mature when it concerns Mary (well, for the most part), and when it comes down to it, he is kind, considerate, patient, and utterly devoted.  He still blunders through things, makes foolish decisions, and really is a cheerful idiot (that part is true), but his good qualities make him very endearing.  In my opinion, their slowly progressing relationship is the highlight of both the anime and the manga.

A few more comments to wrap this up…

As an anime, “Kimi to Boku” overall faithfully brings the tales of the manga to the screen while enhancing the storytelling through added moments of simile.  It’s pace occasionally strays into sleep-inducing, but Chizuru in particular seems to keep it going as a point of comedy and as the only character whose story particularly seems to progress.  If you enjoy the manga, I recommend a watch of the anime for the storytelling additions and the excellent cast.

As a manga, “Kimi to Boku” does struggle to find its voice for the first few chapters, but once it knows who to focus on and what to tell, it charmingly (though somewhat simply) builds the characters, their relationships with those about them, and their understanding of the world and themselves.  If you enjoy the anime, I highly recommend the manga to continue the tale of the boys as they continue to grow.

Both versions take a somewhat poetical view of high school life, highlighting both the fun memories and the struggle of youthful feelings, but I believe that it balanced it well enough to keep from being either downright goofy or downright sappy (though, if I were to say, it errs nearing the sappy side of things).  They present some good goofballery and slapstick, then peer inside the hearts of characters for the bit of character drama that grounds the story and pulls it along.

Kimi-to-Boku-Animated-Group

Death Note (Netflix Live Action)

Weak

This is the US live-action adaptation of Death Note, brought to you by Netflix.  As a whole, this movie is an embarrassing adaptation of Death Note.  What makes it embarrassing is that a fan of Death Note isn’t likely to be pleased, while a newcomer to the concept is likely to ask “what was the big deal about the original work, anyway?”  What we got was an angsty teenage romance/drama with some supernatural elements instead of a Holmes and Moriarty-esque struggle of titans.

To be fair, the director did indicate that he wanted to do something different… and do something different they did.  This was accomplished through a massive (daresay upsetting) set of changes, character, setting, and even genre.  That said, there were other changes that I feel perfectly fine about.  I don’t mind that it set in Seattle and that the entire cast is distinctly American.  Those changes, if executed competently, could have been a really fascinating adaptation of the series, a “what if the Death Note landed in America,” hypothetical.  What we got was something of a wholesale slaughter of the core concept and identity of the series, turning it into almost a shambling mockery of itself.

Starting with the characters, they managed to destroy almost all semblance of cleverness or intelligence.  We are told that Light is a smart person and later he tells us in passing of something that resembles a god complex, although we never get to see it.  Instead, we get something of a whiny brat who is using the Death Note to get into someone’s pants (Mia, the replacement for Misa).  Yes, I’m serious.  I do have to say that Mia’s character was wildly altered and became something of a blend of the anime’s Light and Misa – she’s the driving force, the “actual” cold-blooded killer.  On that note, I do like what they did with her, since I consider Misa’s inclusion in Death Note as something of a tragic mistake.   As for L… Instead of a brilliant yet cold detective, we have a little bit of an emotional wreck who, surprise surprise, doesn’t actually seem like a genius.

These changes ended up wildly affecting the plot and the storytelling.  As much as it pains me to say, because of the massive changes to Light, L was almost wholly unnecessary in this story.  Since much of the movie focuses on Light and Mia’s relationship, all L does is introduce the possibility (and fear) that Light might be caught.  This makes Light even more hesitant to kill people (the exact opposite of the anime series).  This could have been accomplished with a random police officer or investigative agency, since L’s “brilliance” was to stumble around in a haphazard fashion.  That makes sense, of course, since this is not a movie in the detective/drama genre.  It’s clear that no one on the writing staff even cast a wayward glance at something like Law and Order, let alone Sherlock Holmes.

Even if we forgive that, we still have a bizarre and awkward teenage romance.  Since Mia ends up being the driving force, Light ends up being a killer to impress her more than anything.  Even with her trying to stand in the anime Light’s shadow (giggle), there’s still something massively lackluster about the movie.  Because of the relationship focus, the movie ends up being so small and trivial in scope – it’s never about reforming the world or about changing society, no matter what they say.  But at least the movie ended.  It’s over, right?  As if to leave a final insult to the viewer, the movie ended in a highly unsatisfying fashion – nothing concluded and it strongly hints of a sequel.

As a post-script, William Dafoe as Ryuk was the best part of the movie.  He was so perfect in that role, it pains me that the rest didn’t even try to be on that level.

One Punch Man (Short Review)

Excellent

One Punch Man is an extremely fun anime to watch, blending the action/fighting and parody genres.  Very clean and smooth in execution, it’s accessible to both newbies and experienced viewers alike.  If you’re very familiar with the action genre (Dragon Ball Z, YuYu Hakusho, Bleach, etc), you will find that almost everything in the anime is a parody on some level, from the main character’s lack of hair, to the various monsters, to the S-ranked heroes.  But what makes One Punch Man stand apart is that it doesn’t purely rely on the parody; it’s fully aware that it’s also an action anime and really delivers as such.  Part of the delivery is the contrast of the personality of the main character compared to everything that’s going on around him, counterbalancing all the craziness going on.  He has a two-stage personality – that of a pretty average guy and that of a functionally unbeatable character (who knows it.)  This gives him a refreshing devil-may-care attitude that is fairly unique.  Why should an over-powered character feign weakness or even care about enemy attacks when they won’t really do anything?  The attitude actually resolves a longstanding weakness often found in action anime, who artificially create drama by not “powering up” until the last minute.  Instead, One Punch Man creates some excellent drama involving other, weaker heroes and their stories.  All in all, a raucous party and a really great show to watch.

Purpose: Excellent
Characters: Very Good
World: Excellent
Plot: Very Good
Storytelling: Excellent
Pace: Very Good

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Short Review)

Decent

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a blend of slice-of-life comedy and light fantasy.  The overall tone of the anime is pretty light-hearted and sometimes sweet, with a touch of seriousness woven throughout.  That said, it’s fairly underwhelming compared to others in the genre.  Part of the issue is that this anime is structured around a fast-paced comedy skit style, often found in adaptations of 4 panel manga series (although the original work in this case is not a 4 panel manga).  This isn’t usually a problem if you have a proper arrangement of theme and mood (see Wagnaria and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, for example).  What made it a problem for this anime, was that the comedy is overall pretty flat.  The comedic punchlines are generally recycled, with only a handful of categories that keep reappearing in slightly different setups.  The high points of the anime are the ones that are either not recycled (like the sweet and serious parts) or the comedy that hasn’t had a chance to cycle through too many repetitions.  Overall, it was a fun concept, but lacked the spark you’d expect out of an anime like this.

 

Masamune-kun’s Revenge (Short Review)

Very Good

Masamune-kun’s Revenge is a show about the interplay of contradictions, both within characters and in interactions between characters.  The show’s premise is contained in its title, but the execution is very different from what you’d expect.  What’s particularly interesting about this anime is that it doesn’t take the ugly route, instead opting for a heaping of melodrama punctuated by some very deep moments, making it very entertaining.  The story is structured in an almost simplistic fashion so that the characters end up seeming hilariously petty in their interactions.  In addition to overt storytelling, the music was employed in a very precise fashion to create the melodrama by drawing attention to and blowing petty acts out of proportion. This keeps the overall tone light and the comedy rolling instead of creating a slugging match of abusive one-upsmanship.  It also serves to mask the fact that the underlying issues are very real and actually kind of reasonable, given the circumstance.  This interplay of contradictions led up to an exceptionally complex and powerful scene – one that probably is up there on my list of dramatic scenes.  While I don’t think this show is going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I am interested in seeing where they are going to go with it, given that it was set up as a first season.

Purpose: Very Good
Characters: Good
World: Good
Plot: Good
Storytelling: Very Good
Pace: Very Good

 

Interviews With Monster Girls (Short Review)

Excellent

Interviews With Monster Girls is a very sweet and endearing show about monster girls in a very down-to-earth school setting.  While that may sound rather plain and uninspired, the show utilized a more thoughtful approach in how they presented the characters, both human and non-human.  The main character follows (quite refreshingly) in the theme of Gate – a mature character that is more of a good guy, rather than a nice guy.  Instead of relying on dim-witted naivete, the main character takes an active role in shaping the dynamics of the group and outcomes of a variety of situations.  This isn’t to say he’s an all-powerful superman, but his stable and empowering character ends up being a catalyst for positive change in other characters.  Because of the grounded tone of the anime, it ends up having a very real feel, lending credibility to all of the interactions.  With that setting, they end up addressing some very deep issues, such as how individual differences can affect a group as well as the struggle a teacher faces in trying to guide their students.  Not to say the anime’s necessarily all lofty and high-brow – there’s lots of fun and cute moments.  While there aren’t any crazy harem antics like other shows of a similar type, Interviews With Monster Girls ends up serving as a very low-key counterpoint to others in the genre.   A surprisingly simple, yet very satisfying anime to watch.

Purpose: Excellent
Characters: Excellent
World: Very Good
Plot: Good
Storytelling: Excellent
Pace: Very Good

Re:ZERO (Short Review)

Weak

This is an anime that started off decent, cut itself off at the legs, flailed around in the mud, and then clawed its way back to something competent by the end.  I really wanted to like Re:ZERO – they had some really promising elements and ideas that, unfortunately, died in execution.  It’s really difficult to put my finger on a single point of failure, so much as a collection of under-performing elements that combine to really bring it down.  A lot of the problem can be traced to the main character himself.  While his character arc was relatively believable (going from enthralled by adventure, to mild angst, to unsightly self-absorption, followed eventually by repentance and actual competence), his fundamental character, as displayed by the anime was ugly.   The anime described him best through some of his actions – he created his own mess, agonized about his own mess, and then fixed his own mess (all work that was pretty unnecessary).  But it wasn’t just the main character.  The anime struggled to find its voice and ended up with a fairly predictable pattern of silly events -> blood everywhere storytelling arc that leveled itself out about 3/4 through the 25 episodes.  It takes a long while before they use the violence for anything other than shock value.  This is compounded by the poor pacing and storytelling that interrupted the flow of events when they managed to get things going.  Perhaps the most frustrating part is that the anime showed its potential – both in characters and storytelling, mainly through Rem and also through the very tight development of Wilhelm and his backstory.  Though I’d probably warn someone against Re:ZERO, if you’re intrigued by the theme of redoing events, I’d highly recommend Steins:Gate (Masterpiece) instead.

Purpose: Poor
Characters: Decent
World: Good
Plot: Decent
Storytelling: Poor
Pace: Not Really Good