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.

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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

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