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

The Rolling Girls

Weak

Another entry in the “disappointing” category.  This anime was yet another one that had some really interesting ideas and really cool stuff, but failed in execution.  It felt like something of a bait-and-switch – the first two episodes set up a really different sort of anime from what it ended up becoming.  Unfortunately, the strongest point of the anime, the action, was really under-utilized.

Purpose: Poor.  They had some really strong ideas in there, they just couldn’t find the right way to go about displaying it.   Essentially, we follow four nobodies who try to help other people solve their problems.  This is a fairly standard setup, which would have been okay if the anime was what the first two episodes promised to be – an action-type anime with a supporting character drama.   The action really was the strongest point of the anime with some really neat and interesting scenes, often with supporting music going along.  However, the reason the purpose failed was that they didn’t focus on their strengths. They focused too much on the girls, which was a problem because the girls weren’t developed very well.  The reason this focus was improper is because the girls, being nobodies, had little role to play in the anime.  That said, if done well, it is completely okay to have the “main characters” be little more than plot delivery devices.  Essentially the camera follows them around so that we get a limited perspective with which we get to learn about everything else, which is really interesting.  For this to work, the characters are supposed to have as little presence as possible so that they merely serve as the rope that connects disparate plot points  What happened in Rolling Girls was that the cameraman was effectively getting in the way of other, more interesting things, which is unforgivable.

Characters:  Poor.  These characters actually were non-entities for the most part.  The fact that they were bland and forgettable is what is supposed to happen in this kind of anime.  On a general note, they did serve their role as tying plot together, acting as a substitute for storytelling.  That part was sort of competent.  Everything around them, from the world to the characters at the center of the plotlines, was more interesting.  Characters that are involved in the plots are decently developed enough to make them worth paying attention to.  If it were just as I described it, then this element would be Good.  The problem was that they spent far too much time trying to develop our “main” characters.  This really hurts just about everything else because every minute devoted to those girls was a minute taken away from the interesting world or the interesting “bests.”

Since the anime tried to develop them, we’re forced to evaluate them as characters rather than storytelling “glue.”  In this regard, they utterly fail.  We get very little information about the characters other than they are weak and powerless.  Even at the end, all we really knew is that they were sort of on a journey to help others (just because) and to possibly become “bests.” They were the bungling-meddler character type that really is served best by having one, not four. In effect, they really only sort-of helped situations, often in spite of themselves.  Even so, there wasn’t really any rhyme or reason for their actions, other than they (and not even all of them) felt obligated to help others out.  One other problem with these characters is that they were a bit inconsistent.  The best example is the character that wants to be a “best.”  She’s surprisingly blase about getting those stones to become a “best” until the end, when it serves as a cheap excuse to add some tension into the group.

World: Very Good.  There was some really cool stuff here.  There was the interesting breakup of the world into, basically, vigilante groups.  That set the stage for some really interesting fights.  The fights themselves were often highly stylized, in a Kill-la-Kill-esque style.  Sadly, the fights were often too short and too far in between to really mean something. Aside from the fighting, each of the areas that the girls visited had a distinctive feel and flavor.  Generally, these were caricatures of those areas, but that is part of the world’s charm.   The varied settings provided very interesting backdrops for the plots to play out.  With that said, there were some problems with the world, especially near the end.  The main problem was that it got a little bit into jump-the-shark territory, where random stuff just started happening.  The random stuff necessitated an expansion of the world into areas that lacked the foundation built upon earlier in the anime, so were shaky as a result.

Plot: Decent.  If by plot you mean the things that happen to affect the world and the other non-main characters, then the plot was Good.  If you mean the plots directly involving the main characters, they were Not Really Good.   The plots around the non-main characters were fairly bland to start out, but got stronger as the anime went on, to a point.  That point was where things just started to get random.  The fact that they were random is because they didn’t create logical steps to where they were going.  Things appearing out of nowhere or “just because” often can be attributed to poor storytelling, but in this case it was because there were missing plot elements.

Storytelling: Weak.  One problem with the storytelling was addressed above – mainly that they focused too much on the girls.  Another problem was that the connections between plot points were often lazy and inconsistent.  This also stemmed from the improper focus.  Since they spent so much time on the girls, they had to leap from plot point to plot point.  This created large gaps in the storytelling to the point that it couldn’t hold together any longer.  Basically, the ship was already sinking under the weight of wasted time.  Once it reached the critical point, they just started throwing things in there without any support.  That was the “jump the shark” point.  Normally you need the storytelling to set up the kind of world so that even if really crazy things happen, it’s not a surprise, but a logical extension of where the world was going.  Think of Gurren Lagann – they set up such a crazy “world” that where the anime ended up was crazily over the top instead of just being random.  In other words, it made sense for the world.

Pace:  Decent.  This anime was oddly slow.  Again, everything ties back into focusing on where they shouldn’t have.  The good stuff was interesting enough and fast enough to keep the pace from being annoying, though.

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

Very Good

Purpose: Excellent.  Overall, there was a very strong sense of purpose to the anime.  Each of the events in the plot generally moved towards the resolution.  However, there was a bit of an issue in the middle of the anime where some events didn’t really seem to be making much progress.  I don’t really count that against the anime for a couple of reasons.  First, they helped cement the characters’ place in the world (discussed more in the storytelling section).  Second, those parts themselves weren’t really memorable, but not necessarily in a bad way.  They seemed to blend into the background of the characters and the world so that the “grander” plot points stuck out instead.  My impression is that they were purposely understated to really highlight the scope of the drama unfolding in the world.

Characters: Good.  I am conflicted here and may bump this to Very Good.  The characters themselves were competently done and relatively uncomplicated.  They each had a fairly singular driving force that changed somewhat throughout the anime.  What was really interesting about the characters was that the main two characters had a sort of over-acted and, perhaps, over-dramatic feel that really felt at home within the story.  The way the characters felt combined with how they were developed gave the impression that they were really small, petty characters caught up in something huge.  In sum, they were more of a supporting cast to the World’s “character.”

World:  Excellent. The world was quite interesting and intriguing.  So many things were happening in the background, it gave the world a very distinctive character.  The viewer’s point of entry into the world was through relatively small actors, contributing to the apparent size and character of the world.  There were several different factions, each trying to accomplish something.  The maneuvering and movement of these factions really served to drive everything that happened in the story.  What’s more, all of this was taking place within the backdrop of a threat to the world itself.  My overall impression was that the world itself was the main character.

Plot: Very Good.  For the most part, the events that happened took on a very grand scale.  As mentioned above in Purpose, the smaller plot points served to highlight the grander ones.  The plot served a dual purpose.  First, it essentially shoved our main characters towards the resolution.  This made the characters seem smaller and the world bigger at the same time.  Second, the grander plot points made a definite impact on both the contours of the story and world.  Very interesting in execution and very solidly done.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.  The storytelling here was truly special.  The way that it was told combined the over-acted feel of the characters and grand scope of everything to create a very unique experience in Anime.  It felt as though I was watching a western stage play.  The grander sequences used an operatic theme that really solidified this impression.  It was the storytelling that really created the sense of small characters caught up in something huge.  We mostly followed the main characters.  However what was interesting was the way they managed to keep the viewer’s knowledge relatively limited to the characters’ field of view, yet giving enough information for us to see the grander forces at play. We would see glimpses of the large cogs turning and the world move in a way that really seemed to make the other goings-on the main focus of the show, accomplished from a generally limited perspective.   The story really chronicled the main characters being swept along by the story, almost helpless and powerless against the current.

Pace: Good.  Since we were following the main characters, the pace that we went at was their pace.  While competent, it gave a little bit of a disconnect, especially in the middle.  The characters were moving somewhat slowly while other things, that we didn’t really see or know, were moving much faster.  Eventually, the characters’ pace sped up to match the speed of the world nearer to the end.

FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a really enjoyable anime to watch.  There was some pretty cool stuff going on and the mood was really special.  I found the anime really unique since it felt like a western stage play.