Overlord (Seasons 1-3)

Decent

Overlord is another in a line of “stuck in a video-game” fantasy anime that utilizes over-powered characters.  While it certainly frees the show up to potentially explore other ideas or themes in depth, they opted instead for the sandbox and toyed around with several ideas.  Unfortunately, this show is unable to counteract the drawbacks of its selected genres and ends up being overwhelmingly unimpressive.

Purpose: Not Really Good

Shows that use the “stuck in a video game” setting are often indistinguishable from ones that have a pure fantasy setting unless there is a powerful purpose driving that choice.  If there isn’t a clear purpose, like in Overlord, it becomes a vague excuse for things to happen, which can come in several flavors – a drive to survive/adapt, a drive to get back home, or to thrive/become a member of the new world.

Similarly, settings that utilize the “over-powered character” come with substantial drawbacks.  Unless there is a particular point to having a character over powered, it can rob the story of any proper drama, cleverness, or point.  For example, an over-powered character doesn’t need to be “smart,” they can just obliterate everything.   Even in instances they are being smart, what was the point?

In Overlord, the two are combined, which creates essentially a sandbox for exploration.  Instead of picking a single theme, they appeared to experiment with several.  While the sandbox didn’t exactly render the anime useless, without a unified theme, Overlord leaves the question – “what was the point?”

Characters: Decent

Utilizing over-powered characters can create an opportunity to focus on the characters themselves, since there is no real external threat.  In this particular setting, the idea would be – you’re way too powerful for the current setting, what do you do – who are you?  Unfortunately, even though the anime makes a small point of trying to make NPCs break from their mold, they never manage to succeed.  All of the characters are more or less the same as when they started.  While that could be forgivable if the point was a character study for the main character (such as the effects of too much power or settling into the role as overlord), Overlord only tentatively touched on the concept.  The main character was dragged along for the ride and only really “settled” into the role outside of the camera.  We saw neither growth nor real “corruption” of the main character.

That said, we don’t necessarily need to see growth if there were some evolution of understanding for the viewer.  Once again, it was only lightly touched upon about the complex settings and back-stories that were given to the main NPCs and it could have even been a backwards exploration into who the original creators were.  We don’t get much of that either, unfortunately.

World: Decent

When you take a step back, there’s shockingly little shown or explained about the world at all.  While this makes it a decent blank slate to do whatever contrivance or convenience helps push things along, if the world does not act or move on its own, it’s up to the main characters to make things happen.  Looking at all of the events that happen in Overlord, this is clearly the case – all other actors do things in response to the main character.  In other words, the world revolves around him.  While that’s a funny idea, given the title, it means that the world completely lacks depth.

With respect to this particular setting, one of the key defining points of shows with the stuck in a game theme – are the characters in a game or are they in some fantasy world that is based upon/seems a lot like the game?  This is actually a really important question since it affects how things develop in the world.  Overlord chose to ride that line, which muddled things more than it helped.  This only really becomes relevant in how several things work, like items and magic.  For example, “Tiers” of magic are touched upon in such a narrow way, that the viewer only really gets a vague sense of power.  This could have been purposeful, since it limits their need to explain relative strengths of characters or kinds of power.  It’s enough that they’re all too powerful – they break the “game”.

Plot: Not Really Good

The plot is the aspect of the show that really suffered from the lack of purpose.  The whole plot can be summed up in the idea that the main character settles into his role.  This is a rather short plot trajectory in itself, although it’s possible that the parallel main plot is for the viewer to like the main character less by the end.   Unfortunately, there are lots of half-finished subplots lying around, hinting at more and there’s a lot of plots that simply go in circles without really going anywhere.  This ends up muddying the waters, and makes the plot a bit of a mess.

Storytelling: Decent

The storytelling was also victimized by the lack of purpose and ended up going into fragments of stories, without a clear reason why.  For example, substantial time was given to humanizing several characters, only for them to not really be mentioned again (and not necessarily because they died).    Those sequences only make sense if you’re supposed to empathize with the characters and, consequently, dislike what other characters are doing to them.  Yet, out of sight, out of mind.  This lends itself to a rather simplistic sort of storytelling that you’d find in action-heavy genres.  Sure, some neat stuff happened, but without any real challenge or threat, one-hit KOs (even flashy ones) don’t really lend themselves to a enthralling story, since they lack tension or drama.

Pace: Decent

We can only guess that they’re going for a very slow burn, given that 39 episodes have completed.  Given the room they had to tell a story, it unfortunately seemed a little on the slow side.  In this case, it’s very likely because they devoted a lot of time to unnecessary characters or events that had shockingly little place in the show.

NOTES: If you liked the themes in Overlord, you might like to try:

One Punch Man (Very Good), which has a much stronger take on the “over-powered” character theme.  Although it’s a little bit of a parody series, there’s plenty of action to be had.

Log Horizon (Very Good), is another stuck in a game series, although it chooses to focus on the idea of creating a society in the game.  It has a much stronger focus on the world itself and how the characters interact with the new world.

Gate: And So They Fought (Very Good), combines a bit of the over-powered character themes with a fantasy setting (and a bit of harem).  This is another series that is world-focused and is much stronger in its handling of the world –  or the setting’s reaction to these over-powered characters.

 

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Record of Grancrest War

Decent

Record of Grancrest War is a light action fantasy series that transforms fairly quickly into a drama of nations.   However, the overall execution has many weaknesses, meaning that the show doesn’t really stand out.  Instead, it comes off as a somewhat bland series.  Action genre fans may struggle with the slower “intrigue” portions and decline of pure action while the series marches on while nation drama fans will find it too shallow to be gripping.

Purpose: Not Really Good

In order to understand a bit of where they were going, we have to examine what Record of Grancrest War came from.  It is an anime, based on a light novel that is a derivative of a series (“Record of Lodoss War”), that was, in turn, based on an RPG tabletop game, similar to DnD.  Thus, at the beginning, we have more of a fantasy/action setup with mages, special powers, etc.  These concepts, however, are never really explained and under-utilized throughout the story and, other than being a grand “catch ’em all” kind of thing, don’t really factor much into the story at all.  It’s because of this shift that it gets into the drama of nations, where the earlier elements that were established are generally ignored or lightly touched on while the story focuses on the Lords and Ladies duking it out for supremacy.   While this doesn’t necessarily detract from where the story was going, it really fails to bring the elements together in a cohesive fashion.

Characters: Good 

There’s a fairly sizable cast of characters, however, all of the arcs are relatively short since the characters aren’t challenged through the story other than as military obstacles to their view.  This makes for a rather simplistic character trajectory – “I have an ideal” -> “You have a not-good ideal-> “You must be defeated.”  While ideals and motivations become somewhat clearer as the story goes on, they don’t develop at all.   Without true character development, the story becomes almost a contrivance where the good guy is pressing a relatively unchallenged ideal and doesn’t really have to address the consequences of that ideal.  This is one of the largest character vulnerabilities of the whole series – their ideals are relatively unchallenged other than the threat of the character dying.  One character refuses to serve a lord that has no ambition, but they never explain why – it’s just presented as a bad ideal that ends up having to die.  While the ending slightly tries to challenge the main character’s ideal, it is mostly brushed off without much explanation.

World: Decent

While we do have magic, demons, and “crests” that grant powers the concepts aren’t really explained at all, so the viewer has to guess.  Worse, in spite of having these “powers,” there’s no particular role they play (or any reason as to why or why not they are or aren’t used).  This makes the world itself rather drab since it ends up being closer to a non-magical world, but with some magical keywords.  That might have been fine, had they focused on the nature of the other lords/ladies or the tone of their respective countries.  Unfortunately, that too was not really emphasized.  Those elements could have added a tremendous amount of depth on the character field (nations as characters), which include respective ideals.  Not to say that there weren’t fascinating attempts – a nation where at least the soliders (perhaps the upper-echelon?) were a harem for a queen or a nation where the soldiers put on masks and acted as though they were in a play.   Those two alone could have been quite unique and interesting if developed, since that would also serve to challenge the main character’s ideas of what it means to rule.

Plot: Decent

The plot was definitely weaker than average and can be summed up as “catch ’em all” so that we can have world peace.   Perhaps it was that the plot was too simplistic.  Normally, a plot point involves a crucial situation that affects the story in some way – either for a character (a challenge to an ideal, a fight, a decision, etc) or for the viewer (understanding more of the situation, ideal, decisions, etc).  What gives life to the plot is that the plot point actually changes something!  Physical conflict as a standalone plot point typically advances the world or advances characters (sometimes both).  In Record of Grancrest War, the plot point almost exclusively advanced the world and ignored the characters.   Thus, the varied plots were >obstacle presents itself -> bad situation -> victory.  Without the characters advancing much other than to gain or decrease in relative power (not entirely clear how that worked anyway), effectively the plot became moving pieces around on a game board.

Storytelling: Not Really Good

Since it wasn’t clear what the purpose was in the first place, the storytelling suffered.  The action sequences didn’t really have enough action and the drama wasn’t really dramatic.  There were substantial gaps in the storytelling since we were jumping around to different characters and situations.  Things just happen and there isn’t really an explanation given as to why or how they are happening.  The main character goes into battle at a severe disadvantage in one instance (more than one, really), but we don’t see the critical decision or reason why he wins, only that he does.  Different countries at war, the last son of an oppressive ruler swearing allegiance because “he thought that oppression wasn’t the way of the future,” but we are never really shown that.  This is a pretty big sin of storytelling – too much “telling” and not enough “showing.”  It is understandable to a certain extent that, since there is a lot going on, some things must be told rather than shown.  The problem was that the viewer wasn’t shown enough of the important things to flesh out the plot.

Pace: Decent

The main issue of the pacing perhaps was that they seemed to give equal time to scenes and situations that were not ultimately relevant while.  This ended up stretching things out a bit and robbing other areas from a more dramatic pace.   In some instances, this eliminated tension from the events since they didn’t dwell long enough.

Notes: If the concept of the show interested you, you may enjoy:

Heroic Legend of Arslan – a slightly stronger drama of nations series, somewhat less action-heavy but not overwhelmed by politics by any means.

Magi: Labrynth of Magic – More fantasy and somewhat more action-y, but with a stronger character focus.  Ignore the “Kingdom of Magic” season that comes after.

 

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.

 

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

 

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto – Short Review

Decent

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is predominantly a satirical comedy anime, born from the extension of a one-off gag.  This makes it very hit-and-miss in the execution of its gags, since each gag is derivative of the main premise.  As such, it struggles to find its voice until it’s about 3/4 through.   While you do get to know the characters a bit, ultimately, they are still caricatures.   There are some really good moments, which make the misses less memorable.  That’s not to say we wish it was a more serious anime – judging Sakamoto against other satire-based comedy anime, it still comes out a little weaker than average.

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

 

Lord Marksman and Vanadis

Decent

This anime has an odd feel.  It’s almost as though it was intended to be a strategy game, rather than an anime.  This anime does some interesting things, but, ultimately is fairly bland.  With that in mind, it’s useful for some mild entertainment.

Purpose: Decent.  You can tell there was a little bit of wavering on the part of the author.  He wasn’t sure if he wanted it to be purely a strategy-type political drama.  The anime also flirts with some harem elements, pun intended.  Aside from some random elements being thrown in there, they stayed more or less on track.

Characters: Decent.  Some characters had some character development.  For the most part, the characters were fairly subdued, even in spite of some slight attempts at levity.  That’s not all bad.  The serious tone of the anime was even carried through to some of the fan-service scenes.  The main issue with the characters was that they felt, for the most part, to be set-pieces of the world.  Part of the problem is that they didn’t even really keep characters’ relations consistent at all.  They also didn’t really spend time building the characters.  Certainly, they threw in a little bit of moral dilemma and a sprinkling of greater things, but those parts were given very little real estate.  Honestly, it felt like the characters were mostly like a 2d image with scrolling text like you’d find in games like Fire Emblem.  Maybe that’s just me.

The character designs were slightly misleading.  Based on the costuming, you’d believe that it was more of a fighting girls-type anime.  Indeed, the war-maidens all had a variety of skimpy attire at all times.  Not that I find it something to generally complain about in anime, just in how it was used in this one.  The war maidens’ costuming was contrasted with a non-war-maiden attendant who would don armor, when appropriate.   Yes, I get that they are a light version of magical girls, but it was a tad out of step for the tone of the anime.

World:  Decent.  For a strategy-esque political-type drama there was an awful lack of politics.  Sure, you’ve got some guy doing bad things, and you have some talk of protecting the land, little bits of betrayal and a random poisoning thrown in for good measure.  The setup isn’t far off a standard game.  What I mean is that the various standings of the actors in relation to each other, especially the War Maidens’ home country, weren’t really explained or explored.  I mean, you’ve got some quasi-magical powers and some dragons.  But they only really came out when convenient to add life into things.  Sure, some things were cool, but they didn’t really have an established place in the anime.  I get that they don’t need to explain everything, but it usually needs to be enough to provide a hook.  That’s what world building is – grounding your interesting things into the world in an internally consistent way.

Plot:  Decent.  The plot was little more than a pretext for throwing different strategic situations at the protagonist for him to beat .  Sure, you got some branching paths, potentials, but not in a meaningful sense.  It really was a standard game setup – Do A or B.  Interesting plots present clever and unique challenges for the character to overcome through the application of the character’s skill, knowledge, experience, and personality.  But these plots were more like a railroad, taking you to a particular destination.  It was beat enemy A.  Oh no!  Enemy B appears.  Enemy C is marching on your castle!  Very linear and, thus, rather bland.

Storytelling:  Decent.  Many of the same complaints voiced above apply to the storytelling as well.  However, there were some helpful elements they added.  Often, they would have a short narration on a map, which would quickly explain the situation.  This was helpful in a couple ways – it provided geographical context to the actions happening and gave the viewer a sense of what was broadly going on.  The other interesting thing was to use the same map-type explanation to depict the general tactics or strategies that were happening while our heroes were slaying enemies. While it does help accessibility for some, overall it seems as though it would take the anime into a bit of a niche audience.  While I can appreciate the finer points of a pincer attack on a column or a flying column’s interception of the enemy, I don’t exactly know too many people that would.

That aside, lots of stuff was presented suddenly, without explanation or appropriate buildup.  Sure, it wasn’t entirely necessary, but still… The result was that the storytelling often left fairly sizable gaps in the goings-on.

Pace: Good.  Not too much to say other than the pacing wasn’t really a problem.  It steadily made progress to the conclusion.  Sometimes, the explanations and build up was very quickly touched on before we get our characters to the battlefield.

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.

A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd

Decent

Overall, bland and forgettable.  There wasn’t really anything done particularly well with this anime, but at the same time, nothing done particularly poorly.  The source of the problem was the fact that it tried to do too many things.  If nothing else, this is a really good example of what happens when you try to make characters that are common to several different types of anime.

Purpose: Not Really Good.  This anime is an example of too many purposes flying about. They tried to combine several different kinds of anime, yet give them equal importance within the story. There were three different kinds of anime that were combined here – a harem-lite anime, a high school drama, and a world-focused story going on in the background.   However, they seemed to spend most of the time on the harem-lite aspect of the anime, using the high school drama and world-focused story as sub-plots. Sort of. Of course, those three types of anime have very different needs to make them really good.   In order to combine them, the anime appeared to take a “lowest common denominator” approach to the elements – keeping the development to the features that all three types of stories shared.  While the concepts themselves didn’t exactly conflict, they detracted from each other by watering down the path the story took.  This prevented proper development of the elements necessary for each of the anime types.

Characters: Decent.  The common denominator approach is very clear with the characters.  They were overall quite bland and “colorless.”  They had a little bit of somewhat serious back story thrown in there to try to give a little bit of depth – the one-shot problem back story.  In all this was a problem for all three stories they were trying to tell because the characters were basic and plain enough to be common to all three.  To illustrate, the strong point of harem-style anime is the (usually crazy) characters’ antics and in-fighting – it’s a personality clash.  The fact that it’s over a boy is really little more than a shortcut or “cheat” to get those personalities into conflict.  High school drama is similar in that the quirky personalities are reacting to everyday situations thrown their way.  The world-focused drama shares some traits with the two, with the main difference being that the characters react to (usually) much bigger problems thrown at them by the world, but they are generally more serious.  This anime showed that it was doable to make characters common to all three, but the result was characters that didn’t stand out at all.

World: Decent. One general weakness of the harem-style and high school drama-type anime is that their worlds tend to be fairly ordinary.  While not necessarily bad, the world usually borrows common and familiar themes so that it doesn’t usually require much development.  The result is  a fairly unnoticeable world that’s more like a backdrop.  Many high school dramas try to compensate for this by throwing in some magical components to spice things up.  Here was no exception.  The backdrop was similar in theme to the Adjustment Bureau.  While it had the potential to be really interesting, they didn’t spend really any time developing it.  Instead, the world in this case was used as a bit of a cheat to bring characters into conflict.

Plot: Decent.  For each of the three plots going on, there wasn’t really that far for them to go.  The plots themselves were fairly simple, as is common to the harem-lite and high school drama anime.  The plot made a little difference in the overall trajectory of the story.  Predictably, there were some plot holes, but it’s not like they exactly mattered.  The way it turned out was that each of the plots were solidly “meh” and when combined, didn’t really add or detract from each other.  Again, I think it was because the plots were “harmonized” by only incorporating elements common to all three.

Storytelling: Not Really Good.  The storytelling didn’t exactly work out too well.  While it is true that combining all three plots is difficult, the stories weren’t exactly well told.  In this case, it was almost more of a juggling act to try to keep one plot in the air while working with the other two. That said, they didn’t exactly make the most of what they had – they were somewhat inconsistent.  Some scenes were well done, but other scenes were not.  The scenes that were well done had a bit of good drama going on.  However, I’d liken these scenes to chewing gum – only about 5 minutes of flavor, then it goes bland.

Pace: Decent.  It was a little on the slow side.  This mostly stems from the story’s juggling act.  Since one story like was always in the air, there was always the slight nagging feeling that it was dragging on.  It wasn’t exactly significant, but it was worth a sigh or two.