First Anime reviews round-up post of the year. Full time work just makes me too exhausted to enjoy games during weekdays these days, haha. Not to mention there's little time left once I've commuted back home so back to sporadic posts ^^;
Future Boy Conan (1978, Nippon Animation)
Mirai Shounen Konan
Some time has passed since the world was at war fighting one another with ultra magnetic weapons of mass destruction, ravaging Earth in the process. As humans desperately try to survive the horrific conditions of Earth, a group build a ship in an attempt to escape into space but fail and end up crashing on the remains of a island. Earth had now restored most of its nature but there was only one survivor that was still alive today, living together with his grandson Conan.
One day, Conan comes across a girl named Lana who had come from High Harbour Island and they soon discover there were other survivors on Earth. Unfortunately, Lana's pursuers from Industria soon catch up with her and take her away. And so, Conan sets off from the island for the first time, going on a grand adventure meeting new friends and foes alike as he seeks to rescue Lana and help her reach her grandfather.
This show was Hayao Miyazaki's debut role as Anime director before he co-founded Ghibli. Right from the very first episode you can see plenty of Miyazaki's familiar style that will probably remind you of his Ghibli movies such as the animation styles, world setting, character behavior and designs despite the rough voice acting and sound effects from the late 1970s. The show mostly resembles the action and technology from his later movies Nausicaa and Laputa while its comedy will probably remind you more of his light-hearted movies such as Totoro. As it seems to be the trend with Miyazaki's work, it's yet based on another Western novel named "The Incredible Tide" by Alexander Key.
It might be 40 years old (at the time of writing this) but it's got a great balance of action, comedy, friendship, romance and adventure. There's so many themes going on and it's a bit of everything from Ghibli's more glorious days really. At first it might seem like a show about a bunch of innocent kids being caught up in conflict but the characters are likeable as with Miyazaki's other movies, each with their own distinct characteristic (those toes!). You have to admire the bravery and determination Conan shows making up for his naivity and balancing out his superhuman abilities. Both Conan and Lana has some good chemistry going on between them and Lana isn't your cliche damsel-in-distress as with Miyazaki's later works as they struggle through troublesome times together. She is as strong a character as Conan just without his superhuman abilities. It's also great to see the show doesn't go with the "never give up" immortal characters mentality that a lot of Anime shows go with and it's not afraid to admit defeat or weaknesses in situations.
After building up on our protagonists, the plot itself really picks up just about half way through with yet another familiar theme of nature versus power lusting humans but, it's directed so well the drama keeps you watching. And of course, since it's from the founder of Ghibli, there's no fan service aimed at the male viewer or the moe style that seems to be the trend with most shows these days. The Furigana in its episode titles suggests it's aimed mainly at children as it's used to help them read Kanji and even includes a mini guessing game in the eye-catches but, I think it can be enjoyable by all ages as with his other works.
If you enjoyed Miyazaki's classic movies, still enjoy them and don't mind the old art style and retro sci-fi look, you'll most likely enjoy this. A lot of the art still looks great such as the mecha designs but even the backgrounds can still look good - especially now that it's been HD remastered for modern screens. It probably shows the staff involved were ahead of their times with all the effort the they put into the backgrounds. There is another series misleading named as "Future Boy Conan II" but it's actually not a sequel and focuses on different characters while keeping a similar world setting of magnetic warfare.
So, are you a fan of Ghibli Miyazaki's classics such as Laputa and Totoro? Yes? Then go watch this. You won't be disappointed.
Worth A Watch
Revisions (2019, Shirogumi Inc)
Rash, stubborn Daisuke Doujima was kidnapped one summer when he was in elementary school but he was rescued by a mysterious cloaked lady who called herself, "Milo". She said that one day, Daisuke would have to protect his friends and ever since then he believed he was the chosen one. Some years later Daisuke and his friends were now in high school still trying to forget what happened that night but Daisuke continues to believe what Milo had said to him. One day, Shibuya is suddenly thrown into chaos as it is whisked away into the distant future where an organisation known as "Revisions" is sending out giant mechanical beings known as Civilians to attack them. Milo re-appears before the friends offering Daisuke the chance to use a "String Puppet" mecha robot to fight against them. As the friends recover the remaining Puppets and seek a way to return to their time they begin to wonder which side they should trust.
Another Anime that is almost exclusive to NetFlix, this original show was written using the "safest" ideas after considering how easily viewers get hooked on foreign dramas featuring young people getting caught up in disasters such as time travel and parallel worlds. It was actually the trailer that caught my attention but after learning it was written by Makoto Fukumi, the same person who wrote the scenarios for Psycho-Pass, I was expecting something just as good. As expected, it has its share of fan service and gore.
It's a very dynamic show right from the very first episode even if it is your very cliche high school students with powers saving the world. You can't take it seriously anyway with all the silly characters. Story's not too bad but I feel like it just didn't have enough time to flesh out the world setting so it had to focus more on character development which is a shame because it gets quite interesting as the mystery slowly unfolds. At first it feels kind of cliche with your usual high school students fighting the bad guys with powers but it's actually a little more down-to-earth where heroes doesn't mean everything.
The show makes use mostly of cel-shaded 3D graphics for character animation and for the most part it's done really well. Sometimes you notice the 3D animation's a bit rough as if you're having a frame rate problem in a video game and you also notice the alternation when it switches back to 2D. Other than that the Shibuya background art and models look great. I would have used it for the key image here but it wouldn't have given a great representation of the whole show although the one I've chosen here looks very cliche. As for the odd fan service scene they are really rare - just one or two and of course, your usual tight body suits for mecha pilots and revealing outfits. Those who enjoyed Noragami and liked the OP by Oral Cigarettes will probably like the OP "Wagamama Gomakasanaide [Don't Feign with Selfishness]".
Be sure to watch the extra scenes after the credits.
Worth A Watch
Darling in The Franxx (2018, CloverWorks x Trigger)
Humans are threatened by a mysterious alien species known as the Klaxosaurs and has begun living in mobile fortresses known as "Plantations" while extracting large amounts of magma from deep within the Earth to use as energy. As a countermeasure against the Klaxosaurs, large mechanical humanoid weapons known as "Franxx" have been employed. Piloting these Franxx are young "parasite" pilots who work together as partners - the male acting as the "stamen" who performs the control while the female "pistil" provides the connection, allowing their minds to connect and the weapons to reveal their true forms.
Cheery, whimsical "002" Zero Two is a pistil born with Klaxosaur blood and horns. Not many of her partners last long before they die so she is known as the "Partner Killer". One day while looking for a place to swim, she meets "016" Hiro who had just lost his ability to pilot fails to qualify as a parasite. Seeing how he wasn't bothered by her horns like others were, she takes an immediate liking to him and decides to stay at the same base. Just as the latest Franxx startup ritual for Squad 13 goes under way, they are attacked. Watching his ex-partner get sent away and get caught up in the attack, Hiro is frustrated how powerless he is and how he's lost a place in the world. Just then, the Franxx Zero Two was piloting "Strelizia" crashes nearby and seeing it as a chance to redeem himself, he decides to become her new partner. As the two spend more time together they begin to discover the mutual support they've sought after.
So this is an original show as part of a collaboration between A-1 Pictures (now branched off as CloverWorks) and Trigger, not based of any Manga or light novel as Anime usually are. Art style is very Trigger-like including the mechas which will probably remind you of Star Driver. It actually feels a bit like Evangelion too such as the mecha cockpit design, pilot suits, raining alien blood and underground city... Sometimes you'll even think, "Isn't this that scene...?" Except all with your usual Trigger silliness so it's not so serious.
Characters are full of energy and personality so there's plenty of hilarious scenes. Some are fairly much your cliche Anime character but, others can be quite different such as Zero Two who enjoys licking people's cheeks to find out what they "taste" like or causing mischief to liven things up. You've also got your multiple romances except the team has never known what falling in love with someone means. You watch the new make-shift group of friends grow and support each other as they learn more about the outside world as well as the harsh realities they never thought they'd have to face. It's got great character development which ends up being the main driving factor behind the show. The world setting isn't too bad for a sci-fi action show which is nothing too deep but enough for a bit of mystery which, gradually gets revealed as to what's the story behind Zero Two and how the world got to its current state. No loose ends.
And as with Trigger shows, it's not shy of using its female characters for fan service such as your usual nudity, groping and bathing scenes. That said, it does do in a natural way mostly rather than awkward moments.
It's nice to see how the studio keeps the ending animation flexible, quite often changing it to adapt with whatever way the story's progressing. Interestingly enough, some staff who were involved with the Steins;gate game also worked on this show - huke the character designer, did the concept design for 001 while Naotaka Hayashi from Mages, wrote the script here too. Even Khara Studio who produced the Evangelion Rebuild movies was involved, responsible for the 3D graphics. The show's director Atsushi Nishigori is also best known for his character designs for the classic Gurren Lagann but who also worked on key art for Evangelion 2.0 and 3.0 so, perhaps that explains why there are so many resemblances to Evangelion. Some people have said it actually resembles Gurren Lagann too and it does at some point as the two species battle it out but overall, I think this show has the better start and direction.
There was a lot of hype for this show, especially around Zero Two and Hiro but that wasn't the reason why I watched this. I watched it knowing nothing about the show other than there was romance in it and it was a Trigger show and, I enjoy their shows for the silly fun action titles they usually produce. Darling in The Franxx is kind of half silly, half serious. If you like a mecha action show with strong supernatural romance, friendship and don't mind that a large part of its designs and some direction resemble the classic Evangelion, you might like this. It has its cute moments... and dramatic ones.
Worth A Watch
Mirai of The Future (2018, Studio Chizu)
Mirai no Mirai
Little Kun is excited that he will be having a new baby sister soon but when he discovers his parents doting on the baby he becomes jealous. One day while playing in the garden, something magical happens. Kun discovers their family dog Yukko taking human form and his sister Mirai travelling back from the future. Ever since then, Kun finds himself taking trips back to the past and meeting his older family members. With every trip little Kun grows up just that little bit more.
Mamoru Hisoda's movies had always had great art and this time we seem to see more use of 3D. Unfortunately the voice acting feels really out-of-place, especially with young Kun's voice sounding like an older woman even though it's common for females to play the voice of young males. I find this ruined the movie quite a bit because of how often Kun ends up crying and shouting all the time. The rest of the characters aren't any better also lack enthusiasm that you'd usually hear from Anime and sound flat most of the time.
TokiKake is one of my most favourite movies but the other Hisoda movies weren't so good so wasn't sure how good this would be. There's the odd bit of humour and it feels like a family movie showing how important it is to have family members supporting each other with a touch of magic - very much a "you are not alone" kind of familiar Japanese theme. It has its good moments.
Worth A Watch
Banana Fish (2017, MAPPA)
Rash but skilled and street-wise Ash "Lynx" was picked up off the streets by Mafia Lord Dino Golzine, treated as a "pet" and was the now the leader of many street gangs around New York, Manhattan. Ever since his older brother Griffin was mentally destroyed by a powerful drug, he had been trying to track down the ones responsible. Not long later he comes across a mystery powder from a dying man who mentions the mysterious name "Banana Fish", something he had heard his broken down brother mutter repeatedly. Meanwhile, the timid Eiji Okumura a young journalist assistant is out helping to do a feature on street gangs and ends up caught in the feud when Ash is attacked. After being saved and learning that Ash is determined to bring down Golzine alone, Eiji decides to help him. However, Ash and his new friends end up being caught up in something bigger than they had bargained for as they uncover the truth behind Banana Fish, the key to destroying Golzine. Soon, Ash and Eiji find themselves growing ever more dependent on each other as they face many hardships.
After watching this show, I'm sure American Anime fans will be able to do some "Anime pilgrimages" of their own and go about location spotting in their own country. I watched this show out of curiosity and heard some good things about it. The American background scenery is pretty good to look at and art quality stays consistent. The second OP art particularly well done with a great combination of 2D and 3D art. The 3D hardly stands out like a sore thumb unlike Cloverworks. Plenty of attention to detail too. This is one of the rare shows that actually got the technical details of "hacking" right where they consulted the Japan Hackers Association instead of just using screens of random code.
It's not a bad show. You watch the drama unfold as Ash struggles to free himself from the mafia world and discovers how much Eiji's support means to him but it gets quite repetitive along the way. Early on in the show the pacing is quite good as the gang gets closer and closer to what Banana Fish is but afterwards, it's pretty much the same scenario. Ash tries to push Eiji away, does something crazy, shows his vulnerable side and Eiji returns to console him for a bit of "boys love" scenery. Rinse and repeat. Sure, there's a large scale gang war going on but it just feels dragged out and used as an excuse to squeeze in as many characters as possible, similar to the way shows aimed at the male audience is filled with girls. Action scenes are short but intense enough to watch and there's a bit of humour here and there to lighten things up. Fortunately, things do pick back up towards the last third of the show.
The show is based on a Manga serialised in the Betsucomi magazine aimed at high school girls which is probably why this show is filled with bishounen "pretty boy" character designs. There's sensual fan service similar to your harem show for guys, just less frequent but more... intense. As mentioned earlier, Fujoshis will probably feel right at home with the gay male romance and BL scenes such as hints of sodomy. It actually makes use of this to highlight how bad sexual harassment is for women too. However, there's also mild moments where dominance, rape, child slavery along with sexual abuse is mentioned with the odd image and obscured camera angle. It focuses on these issues a lot so if you're uncomfortable with all this you'd probably want to avoid this gangster drama and conspiracy show.
Worth A Watch
Tsuki ga Kirei (2017, Feel)
Athletic Akane Mizuno from the track and fields team had long fallen for the aspiring novelist "curly hair" Kotarou Azumi ever since she saw him but never found the courage to approach him. As their third year of junior high begins, Akane just happens to be put in the same class as him and her hesitant actions ends up catching Kotarou's eyes too. The two keep their distance as strangers until one evening their families both happened to be dining at the same restaurant. When Akane's sister sees her shy reaction next to Kotarou, she decides to stir things up and the families introduce one another. Shortly after, Akane and Kotarou ends up in the same festival duties group and so, are given a chance to slowly close their distance but they soon learn the ups and downs of having a relationship - not to mention one under wraps.
"Tsuki (moon)". What better a time to ask "tsukiatte (go out with me)" than a moon lit night?
This is an original show from Feel, not based on any Manga like most Anime are. Right from the very first episode, you're greeted with the beautiful sights of cherry blossoms as the new school year begins. And if you've ever visited Kawagoe AKA "Little Edo" in Japan due to the buildings keeping their appearance from the 17 - 19th century Edo era, you'll recognise the signature black buildings right away along with the bell tower sign - I actually watched this because I visited the place. It's a very relaxed romance show with equally pleasant art to match. Interactions are cute as we watch Akane and Kotarou explore their first love relationship. Characters are likeable with their own little signature habit such as Akane with her little stress relief toy and Kotarou using his room's light cord as a boxing target.
Interestingly enough, some of the staff behind the Anime adaptation for Assassination Classroom was involved in this show namely director Seiji Kishi and story editor Yuuko Kakihara. Kakihara also happened to be the writer for Orange too although I don't quite notice any similarities apart from the cheery, happiness the show is mostly filled with. A bit too cheery even with everyone getting along perfectly but with this show, it's toned down a little more.
As with most romance shows, coincidences play a big part in getting the couple together - and becoming hurdles. It doesn't get away from your usual cliche drama coming from misunderstandings and missed encounters. It doesn't help when the shy couple are trying to keep it all a secret so that others think they're available. While the cliche situations do drag out a bit similarly in some way, the show does also resolve them quickly rather than spread out the heartache over multiple episodes. Maybe because this is a short series or Kakihara just wanted to highlight how important it is to communicate and be decisive.
So if you're expecting something as harsh as 5cm then... There might be a tint of similarity but it definitely isn't as bitter as the little couple puts in a fair amount of effort mutually to maintain their relationship which was great to see. There's also the odd jokes and fun shorts featuring the supporting characters after the ending credits which lightens up the mood even more so there really isn't a lot of bitter drama.
As with most Anime shows that use 3D, the animation can be an eye-sore when they switch to using it but otherwise the show looks good for the most part. As I mentioned earlier, the show is pleasant to watch. There's plenty of colour but not overly saturated and backgrounds are good but again, not heavily detailed so that everything's balanced out and you aren't too distracted from the characters. The Hayashi dance particularly shows off what the Feel can do and was quite mesmerising to watch. If they got rid of the 3D I think the show would have been a lot more aesthetically pleasing. While the OP song doesn't change for this short series, the animation used does half way through the show.
It's a cute sweet romance show (complete with plenty of blushing) without the dragged out cliche moments from the genre. If you enjoyed Orange for its romance and friendship, you will probably like this too.
Worth A Watch
Gurren Lagann (2007, Gainax)
Tengen Toppa Guren Ragan [Pierce The Heavens, Gurren Lagann]
Simon is just another one of your humble residents of Giha Village, an underground village where he spends everyday digging tunnels to help expand. One day, he comes across a drill-shaped amulet and also a big robotic head. Not long later that night, a giant mechanical beast breaks into their village from the surface and starts attacking them. Working together with Yoko, a girl with long crimson hair who lived in an adjacent village of Littner, they try to repel the enemy but their attacks aren't enough. Just then Simon remembers the big robotic head he found and rushes to it, discovering he could activate it with the amulet. Making an effort to fight off the beast, Simon, Yoko and Kamina one of the other residents who had always strived to reach the surface, end up finding themselves defeating it with the help of the robotic head Simon had found who Kamina names "Lagann".
As the trio burst onto the surface, Simon and Kamina find it has its dangers too as it is riddled with similarly giant sized invaders known as "Gunmen" piloted by Beastmen who hate humans. And so Simon and Kamina starts their new surface lives as Team Gurren. During one of their daily fights against the Beastmen, Kamina manages to take over one of the Gunmen, naming it the "Gurren" and after discovering he could combine it with Lagann, a new Beastman is born as the "Gurren Lagann". It appeared the Lagann when activated by Simon using his amulet, could take over anything it ends up drilling into. Now Kamina makes the initiative to take the fight to the Beastmen to protect their new home while in search of his principles of "manliness".
I decided to watch this show because I often see it hyped as another Gainax classic. The show starts off quite a sleeper with its sarcastic and terribly silly jokes. If you can get pass the first seven episodes things do get a little more interesting as the show focuses more on character development. Jokes remain horrible and doesn't stray away from the group of ruffians doing stupid things and charging into battles without any tactics or skill. Fight scenes are dull, mostly each side screaming at each other before throwing an attack. There's little witty dialogue, enemies are a joke and mecha designs are nothing impressive to look at apart from the star itself Gurren Lagann. The still sketches look great. I think it's just barely watchable up to this point with little else to stand out unless you count the fan service with your usual scantily clad ladies and a lot of emphasis on bouncing chests.
That is, until you reach half way through the show when things start to take on a more serious tone and epic scale as we follow the growing up characters (with a bit of romance too). The pacing gets ramped up and the direction gets so much better it manages to redeem itself. Not many shows follow through the character's lives as far as this show. There are also two movies that recap the series but I haven't watched them to comment.
So, "Who the hell do you think I am? Believe in the you that believes in yourself. Row! Row! Fight da pawaa!"
RErideD, Derrida: Who Leaps Through Time (2018, Geek Toys Inc)
RErideD,Tokigoe no Derida
It is the year 2050. Automatas are now part of human's daily lives. Derrida's father happens to be the creator and now he follows in his footsteps developing them at Rebuild. However, he and his friend Nathan discovers a fatal bug in the latest "DZ" models that could allow them to go out-of-control. Not only that, rumours were the models were going to be militarised which was all the more reason they had to fix the bug first.
Not long later, Derrida finds both Nathan and himself targetted by Rebuild. As he desperately runs away from his assailants, he finds himself falling into an underground laboratory and put into cryostatis. When he wakes up he finds something he had given up research on had happened to him - time leaping. He was now 10 years into the future which was now ravaged by an ongoing war, over-run by rogue DZ models. Now Derrida must find Nathan's daughter Mage so that he can retrieve the key he had entrusted to her, needed to run the patch on the automatas.
This is actually the Geek Toys' debut title. Looking at Director Takuya Satou's profile you might expect something good to come out of this show considering he was the co-director of Steins;gate, scenario writer for Fate/Stay Night (2006) but, unfortunately this original story is nothing special.
World setting is passable as a futuristic city with automated robots and vehicles serving humans. It's nothing original really although the building designs look quite good. Sci-fi background art by Kusanagi Studio looks pretty good and the 3D blends in pretty well but the animation's really stiff. This is especially true of the characters who look roughly designed. Most of the time it looks like they can only animate one thing at a time or if there is animation, it looks like it's been cloned and set on a loop.
The story's very cliche and the pacing's also awfully rushed so you don't really get to know the characters well enough to empathise with them. It feels like they come up with very cliche ideas, decide to try them and then don't know what to do with them afterwards. Sci-fi isn't setup as good as say Steins;gate ironically because instead of using real world hypothesises and expanding on them, this show just makes things up like "Trout Theory" that are vaguely explained. Time leaps (or "time rides" as they're called here) happen randomly and are unexplained with your familiar protagonist desparately trying to change history failing time and time again (pun intended). It even tries to add in a bit of mystery and magic too with random mist and a "mystery girl" appearing which just becomes tiring to watch because it doesn't add much to the show. Every time the sequence happens it feels more like the team ran out of ideas and thought, "Lets do use that scene again to pad out the story."
Good points? Besides the good background art I guess it's one of those rare shows with no fan service scenes. The supporting cast stands out more than the protagonists. Mayuka is probably the only character you can empathise with being a good girl character similar to Kanna from Miss Kobayashi. Oh, and maybe Graham the AI car.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly (2018, Toei Animation)
Wasn't really expecting much when I heard there was a new Dragon Ball movie because I hadn't enjoyed the last two Battle of The Gods nor Ressurection F. I quite enjoyed the TV series Dragon Ball Super so I was quite pleasantly surprised when I found out this movie takes place after the tournament.
It starts off quite well as the movie takes Dragon Ball fans or viewers who grew up with the series down a bit of nostalgia lane. Then it builds up a little background for why Broly ended up becoming the berserker he was. It's quite different from the Z series where he seemed to hate Goku AKA Kakarot because he was a big cry baby next to his pod but, that seems to be the direction with the new Super scenarios. They focus more on character development than powers and forms. Another highlight would probably be Mizuki Nana playing a minor role in the movie. I ended up hearing her as Anne from Persona 5 mostly.
However, not long after the intro the horrible jokes kick in and you're reminded it's a series aimed at kids. This is followed by lots of yelling... and I mean lots! I was expecting it considering that's pretty much what happened with the Z version of the Broly movie but I think I might have gone deaf from watching this movie. Hard to imagine what the cinema screenings were like. Fights are dull, you watch Goku and Vegeta transition through their forms like they're nothing. What's worse is you hear the Americanised style Dragon Ball rock music chanting the same words over and over.
It does wrap up quite well as it gives some closure to Broly's upbringing but, even though I did grow up enjoying the Dragon Ball Z series I'm going to have to give this a miss because I almost fell asleep though the movie.