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.

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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

Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn Re: 0096 – Short Review

Good

Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn originally aired as an OVA series of 12 episodes of roughly 1-hour in length.  Re:0096 re-cuts it into a tv-sized series of 22 episodes, sometimes cutting it in a jarring fashion.  That aside, Gundam Unicorn is a series that probably won’t be terribly accessible to a new viewer, since it relies heavily on (and refers to) a lot of the previous Gundam series in the Universal Century timeline.  (If you’re confused already, here’s a graphic showing the timelines).

True to Gundam form, the series has grand and lofty ambitions – dealing with the collateral damage and side-effects of war, as well as the meaning of conflict and peace, and older generations of people as opposed to newer ones.  Since that’s the main focus the character development will seem a little fast, with people skipping to conclusions instead of agonizing over it.  This will be a bit of a welcome change to experienced Gundam fans, since the focus of the series will often be a civilian thrown into a military situation with death and explosions, who deals with it through whiny angst.  In spite of this, they do manage to pull together some absolutely spectacular character moments, although you have to wait for them a bit since Gundam series are a slow burn and tend to peak around 3/4 through.

All in all, a solid entry in the Gundam series that’s really pretty to watch as well.

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

 

 

 

WWW. Wagnaria!! – Short Review

Good

WWW. Wagnaria!! the anime is a spin-off of the Wagnaria series, taking place in another restaurant in the same chain.  Actually, the source material for this anime came from an earlier work by the same manga artist.  The work was a web series and served almost as a pilot.  This ends up being important because the best way to think of this anime is as a prototype for the first Wagnaria anime.

This anime is pretty entertaining to watch.  It’s full of eccentric characters that make for a wacky slice of (work) life.  Compared to Wagnaria!, the comedy is a little on the harsher side, but funny nonetheless. The characters aren’t particularly complex and are more like caricatures of a single “problem.” Actually, if you pay close attention, you can see the foundation of character traits and types that later make an appearance in the Wagnaria! series.  This lack of depth ends up limiting the scope of interaction between the characters – they are mostly segregated into comedy duos.  Unfortunately, WWW. Wagnaria has a significantly accelerated timeline, meaning that the viewer won’t be quite as invested in the payoffs.  That said, it’s certainly worth a watch!

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

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

 

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