Tales of Zestiria the X (Season 1) – Short Review

Decent

Full disclosure – I completed the Tales of Zestiria game before watching the anime and really liked the story.

The good news is that it’s really pretty to watch – gorgeous animation and smooth fight scenes.  The bad news is that it was somewhat disappointing.  Setting aside the fact that there was a two-episode throwaway insert that was basically an ad for Tales of Berseria (yes, which I plan on buying), the biggest problem was that they didn’t properly build the plots, characters, and issues.  While the Berseria elements may play a role later, it ended up thinning out the time to set up the payoffs.  For example, characters would come to a realization that wasn’t set up as an issue, previously – it doesn’t help the viewer if the issue is purely internal and unspoken.  That’s what makes it a little odd – in order for some of these issues to make sense you pretty much had to have played the game, but the story itself differs somewhat (which is neither good nor bad). Without that knowledge, the show seemed to need to jump from point to point without really setting up the “why” of it.  I do get that 12 episodes may be a little tough to hit the finer points of the story (roughly half of it, actually).  However, due to the failures in the storytelling, this season ends up under-performing and becomes rather forgettable.

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

 

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Tamako Market (+ Tamako Love Story)- Short Review

Good

Tamako Market is a very lighthearted comedy anime.  Though somewhat bland, perhaps it’s best to think of it as setting the stage for the OVA movie Tamako Love Story (Excellent).  Very sweet and fluffy, Tamako Market is about the joy of life – loving a peculiar little community.  If you love the super-sweet anime without any clouds in the sky, this is right up your alley.  If not, you can find it… trying.   That said, it doesn’t feel like much happens, in spite of the presence of a talking bird and the general main plotline of finding a bride for a foreign prince.  Actually, the talking bird is pretty much the saving grace of the show, acting as a refuge from the saccharine tone of the anime.

As much as I’d love to say skip ahead to Tamako Love Story, you really do need to finish Tamako Market because it develops the characters’ personalities and lays the framework for the OVA.

Tamako Love Story is a very different beast, and is more serious – it clouds over the sunshine a bit.   It’s about growing up and dealing with changes that happen in life, dealing with a combination of changes that you want to happen and changes that you are fighting against, even if subconsciously.  Everything about Tamako Love Story is stronger and more solid.  Come to think of it, the OVA has one of the strongest “confession” scenes in recent memory.  Really, this is the payoff that makes the whole series worth it.

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

Tatami Galaxy

Excellent

Tatami Galaxy is an odd sort of anime that breaks from a lot of anime tropes and norms, giving it a very different feel from what you’d normally find. This anime is about people and perspective, presenting a relatively simple premise in a highly entertaining and convoluted, yet positive fashion.  Tatami Galaxy is an outrageous merry-go-round in a very ordinary carnival.

Purpose: Excellent.  This anime is both simple and complex at the same time.  Going by overall theme and generally episodic nature, it first appears to have a much more frivolous tone.  Each episode, however, ends up adding something different to the mix.  The end result is an interesting looping sort of story that accomplishes its task by shifting perspectives on characters and events.  Part of what makes it interesting is sorting out the continuity – which events “happened” and which ones didn’t, yet give you insight into the characters.  The continuity itself can be difficult to keep track of, since it’s basically a series of “what ifs,” different sets of decisions that may or may not change the outcome of certain events.  One of the strong points here is the use of “keystone” events that act as a landmark or roadmap of where we are in each story.

Characters: Excellent.  The characters are all fascinating, bizarre, and complex.  Characters both are and aren’t what they first appear to be.  Rather, they have an evolving degree of complexity as the story shifts perspectives, giving the viewer different glimpses of who the character is.  One of the more interesting aspects of this element is that characters are all affected, in some way, by the main character’s perspective.  After a certain point, the viewer’s knowledge of the characters and the main character’s knowledge of the characters diverge, making that a unique perspective in itself.

More than that, the anime is about the relationship between the characters.  It’s about how they interact together and with each other.  Often, it’s how the characters bounce off each other in odd situations.  The relationships have a unique feel and flow to them, very fluid.  It gives them a very natural, if odd, feel.

World: Excellent.  The world does a lot of heavy lifting, even if it isn’t fist evident.  On one hand, it manages to create a place where craziness can happen without being too off-the wall or random.  At the same time, it manages to ground everything so that the craziness ends up being of an everyday quality.  That’s not to say the world makes things bland, only that it lends a sense of weight and realism to the events that happen, making the events believable, or perhaps more plausible.  This ends up adding to the weight of the story and the genuineness of the characters’ actions and mannerisms as well.

Plot: Excellent.  The plot, too, is another strange and potentially confusing contradiction – it doesn’t cover much ground, but at the same time, it goes a long way.  What, exactly, the plot is depends on how you look at it.  If you think of the plot in this anime as the distance between the starting and ending point, then it’s a relatively short trip.  If you think of the plot as how we get from beginning to end, there’s a ton of progress.  More specifically, the plot is a combination of what is, what perhaps was, and what could be.  Even more, there are many interconnected character-specific plots that create a fascinating ultimate trajectory for the story.  It’s not just that the plot represents changes in the characters’ story or the story the viewer is being shown.  The tangled web of plots manage to direct the viewer’s perspective on characters and events, which can be understood as a separate and unique plotline.  Part of this direction involves certain fixed plot points so no matter what happens,  the viewer can keep a grasp of where the various episodes’ plots were on the timeline.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.   The storytelling in this anime is truly unique.  At a basic level, the art style is very different, lending a unique spin to the events that happen.  Contrasts and colors end up being a very important part of the story.  What makes the storytelling truly special is its weaving and shifting, seamlessly tying world, characters, and plot throughout the story.  With the kind  of story being told, it could very easily have become dull or stale, showing how delicate and skillful the anime really was.  Much of the story ends up being almost on repeat, except that it isn’t.  It’s more a series of what ifs that are all blended together to paint a complete portrait of characters and events.  That said, the story is limited in perspective to the main character.  The main character is never named, giving to the first-person feel of it.  He narrates the story and, as it goes on, it becomes clear that the viewer’s view of each happening is limited and, daresay tainted, by the main character.  As we shift through possibilities, the motives, actions, and goals of the characters (and the events they are a part of) come into clearer focus as our knowledge diverges from the main character’s.  Though there is no real “villain,” by the end, it makes you wonder who the bad guy really is after all. Since there’s so much going on, this is an anime that lends itself to several re-watchings

Pace: Very Good.  Not too much to comment on here.  The slightly episodic nature of the anime gives it an odd feel, once you’ve gone through a few scenarios.  It feels both fast and slow at the same time.

 

 

Terror in Resonance

Bad

Lazarinth from Fantasy and Anime  asked why I don’t like Terror in Resonance.  Terror in Resonance is a fairly popular drama anime, so why does it deserve a Bad rating?  Coming at it from a Japanese perspective, it seems like a very different kind of anime – a dark thriller with a very foreign concept.  As an intro to terror-themed shows, it’s probably fine to watch.  As an anime, however, it’s plagued by several structural flaws, both in the underlying source material and in the execution.  Really, the show appears to have been written (or as re-written by editors) as something that was afraid to take risks – afraid to take the anime to the dark places it promised.

*WARNING – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*

Purpose: Bad.  Where the anime begins and where it ends are in two wildly different directions.  Actually, this divergence marks its descent from Excellent to Bad.  It starts on a pretty strong note, making the anime appear to be a terror-themed drama, with the main focus on the villains.  With that particular focus, it was setting the anime to be almost like a cat-and-mouse game, made all the more intense by limiting the viewer (mostly) to the bad guys.  The closest comparison would have to be found in Death Note.  Unfortunately, Terror in Resonance wasn’t what it promised to be.  Ultimately, the path the story took ended up undermining everything that happened earlier.  That’s not to say that this particular structure itself was bad, only that the way it was used was bad.  As the story looped in against itself, the actors’ roles in the story became unfocused.  As that happened, the various elements started to collapse in upon themselves, resulting in something of a mush.

That aside, the anime’s ultimate message takes a little bit of digging around, plus a helping of context.  Ultimately, the anime’s something of a commentary against Japan’s more recent move to try to re-militarize itself to keep up with the “big boys”.

Characters: Bad.  The characters were all flat, although the main characters ended up folding in upon themselves.  The single worst thing that they did to the character development was the “twist.”  Essentially, they decided to turn the main characters from appearing bad to appearing not-so-bad, then “good.”  In doing so, they negated all of the early character development, and then reversed it.  That’s not to say shifts in perspective or appropriately humanizing the “Bad Guys” is wrong, quite the opposite.  It’s rare to see an appropriately humanized villain, humanized so that the audience thinks, “you’re not wrong.  I understand why you did what you did, but you’re doing it in a bad way.”  It’s the way Terror in Resonance tried to accomplish this task that made it truly Bad.  The entirety of a single character, Lisa, was designed to humanize our main characters.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t handled in any delicate way.  Part of the problem is that Lisa’s also a bit of an awkward foil that artificially creates character conflict, both external and internal.  So, we get little bits of forced character dilemma within the context of goal-oriented “terror”, contraposed over a little bit of mystery and cat-and-mouse game.  In other words, those particular character relations, both in the role they served as well as what they were ended up being, were out of place for the setting and the story.  The other bit of the equation, the cop, also failed spectacularly in this regard.  Of course, he was set up as a hard-boiled, down-on-his-luck detective who ends up being the “cat” of the story.  His role is supposed to be that of a clever detective, finding the right clues to catch the bad guys.  Instead, he gets to find the solution that was basically spoon-fed to him, making him sadly unimpressive as a detective, ruining the setup. Another large problem with the characters is the noticeable lack of a villain.  Sure, we get a sort of antagonist, 5, doing some bad things, but due to the setup of the “twists,” you’d be hard pressed to find a villain.  (other than America, perhaps).  Again, the characters devolve into mush, having no clear role in the story other than the fact that they end up being sort of mannequins mouthing lines on a fairly straightforward trajectory.

World: Weak.  This is a prime example of a setting that is completely robbed of any vitality due to flaws in other elements.  The main culprit is the astounding lack of terror.  There’s an awful lack of anything that creates any sort of tension or exigency outside the first little bit of the anime.  There’s no reason why our terrorists need to be stopped, other than rampant property damage and some slightly scared citizenry.  Beyond even that, everything that happens has an startlingly nonexistent impact on the setting – bad stuff happens, but the world keeps turning on, unimpressed.  Even the terrorists’ ultimate goal was very small.  The issue was something that didn’t really impact anyone other than the main characters and a double handful of others.  While it could be described as “not very nice,” it lacked the necessary quality to warrant the terrorists’ actions.

Plot: Bad.  The plot is fairly straightforward – bad guys who aren’t really bad do some bad things to bring light to a particular issue.  The saddest part is that the plot actually had some really interesting potential.  I know what they were doing – they were trying to bring things into a little bit of a moral gray zone.  Normally, this is accomplished by perspective shifts.  You have events that change the viewer’s understanding of a situation.  Instead, the plot required a wholesale re-writing of the characters to change them from “Bad” guys to “Good” guys.  But how did they do this?  By introducing the not-really-good “good” character.  Now, you instead flipped both the situation and the characters on their head.  So you have the formerly “bad” characters (who never were really bad) who now have to stop the “good” character from using the “bad” characters’ actions to actually do bad so the “bad” characters don’t get blamed for doing bad things.  When you strip away all the niceties of animation and reduce the plot to what actually happened, it really ends up being nonsensical.  Even at that, most of the plot elements ended up being contrivances of convenience that forced things to happen.  Frankly, there were more holes than plot, which contributed to the mushy happenstance.  This, in turn, robbed greatly from both the overall story and the setting.

Storytelling: Poor.  This anime is an example of what happens when you write a story with an extremely dark subject matter but are afraid to take any risks whatsoever.  The result is that you stray away from exploring the darkness, using it only as a general setting for some bad things to happen.  In other words, the story was using a difficult subject matter without adequately dealing with it.  But a much more fundamental problem arises when you ask, “but what story were they trying to tell?”  Rather than clearly focusing on what they were doing, they allowed the characters’ stories to blend together without supporting each other.  That aside, another of the largest problems with the storytelling was that the anime consisted almost entirely of telling rather than showing.  The biggest (and clearest) offender in this category is anything involving the cop trying to catch the terrorists.  That ended up robbing any strength and tension in the cat-and-mouse game.  Basically, we got a story of Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs instead of a tense hunt.

Pace: Poor.  The pace is another sad victim of other weaknesses.  Since much of what happens involved rewriting characters that were already developed, the pace suffered.  In order to do the rewrite, you have to then re-develop the characters, which is something that can’t easily be done in a short period of time.  In addition, we get bizarre lulls in what’s happening that ends up being a surprising amount of filler, given the anime.  In the end, the errors stack up to get in the way of a proper pacing growth.

Trinity Seven

Decent

How you feel about this anime will probably depend on how you categorize it.   If you’re a fan of the harem genre, it’s good for some laughs.  If you were looking for action or a world-based drama you’d be disappointed up until the end.  It survives as Decent because I consider it to be equal-parts fan-service/harem and drama.

Purpose: Not Really Good.  There were enough interesting concepts to carry two different anime series.  The main problem is that they had two concepts with equally strong potential, they just didn’t want to commit to either one, which would relegate the other to a supporting role.  On the one side you had a solid harem-setup with a variety of personalities and character designs.  On the other side, you had a really interesting magical world that created interesting dramatic possibilities.  Yet, they divided the anime into equal parts fan-service and drama.  This ended up detracting from each part.  There weren’t enough harem-related events to make that part really good and there wasn’t enough explanation and buildup to make the drama really good.  Certainly, some elements shine through, but as a whole, the indecision ended up costing the anime.

Characters: Decent.  On a superficial level, there are enough characters with a range of personalities for a fan of the harem series to enjoy.  However, we never really get to see much depth at all from the characters, merely hints at it.  The biggest missed opportunity for character development involved the Themas – the subject of the various mages’ study.  The disappointing part of the characters was twofold.  First, you have a harem setup with only relatively superficial interactions between them.  Since the highlight of the harem genre is the personalities clashing, the personalities need to clash.  Second, we really only get a “sampler” of the personalities the various characters have to offer.  Only really 2 or 3 truly interacted with the protagonist.

The protagonist was actually interesting for a harem set-up.  He was neither the standard “nice guy” nor the “oblivious guy.”  The way he interacted with the girls could often be described as playful or teasing, which is both rare and fun to watch.  It would have added an extra personality to bounce off all the others, had they decided to focus in this direction.

World: Good.  Again, this had the potential to be really interesting, but wasn’t appropriately explained or explored.  You have magic that requires a research or focus in the seven deadly sins.  There’s some really interesting potential on how, exactly the world worked.  As it was, it was little more than the stage to occasionally do some cool things.  Perhaps it’s trivializing it a little too much, but it felt almost like children making up special attacks and rules to the game on the fly.  That could be some frustration talking because it had enormous potential to do some really interesting things.  Maybe it had too much potential for what they were trying to do.  What ended up happening is that the elements of the world ended up being distracting.

Plot: Decent. For over half the anime, the plot was little more than a device to show off the various assets of the harem members, both personality and otherwise.  Unfortunately, these sometimes ended up being more frustrating than fun because they hijacked more “real” plot points.  When that happened, it ended up breaking the natural flow of the plot, which was jarring to say the least.  That said, the last handful of episodes managed to pull together something approaching a solid plot.  The best description of the plot is that the anime used a kind of inverse proportion for their formula.  This meant that the harem antics were a smaller proportion of the anime nearer to the end and the real plot was in smaller portion at the beginning.

Storytelling: Decent.  Along the same vein as the plot, the storytelling was acceptable for its purposes, but could have been much better.  In order to keep up with the blending of two very different kinds of anime, they ended up tossing aside a lot of explanatory material that would have made this anime far better.  On the harem side, we lost a lot of material that would have explained the characters and their actions or motives.  Instead, they just did stuff.  On the world side, we didn’t really get a proper and solid foundation on what was going on, both magically and with respect to the villain.  The result was that the story often improperly connected plot points so that they were sometime jarring.  If it wasn’t jarring, then it ended up being much weaker than it should have.  That said, it’s not all bad.  The story did manage to balance the two anime to the point where it was entertaining, just not spectacular.

Pace: Good.  There wasn’t really a problem with the pace.  They kept introducing new characters and kept events moving fast enough to not get bogged down.  Of course, to keep up this pace, they didn’t develop many areas, so it’s a mixed blessing in this case.