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Anime-Breakdown: Sword Art Online (2012) Series Review

From the moment I finished the first episode of Sword Art Online all promises of a good show flew out the window. Some problems became immediately clear to me and it first episode failed to capture my attention in any way. Yet, at the same time I stuck with it, hoping it would improve, and in some respect it kinda did. Not enough for me to call it or consider it a good show, but nothing I would consider bad in general either. For all it’s problems it always kept me entertain whenever it did something good or bad. The ideas it had were interesting even if not executed properly most of the time. It’s simply a well produced show that tells a story poorly, but in a very entertaining way.

Synopsis:

In the year 2022, the virtual reality game Sword Art Online is released. Using a Nerve Gear, players can control their characters using their own minds, and experience the world of Aincrad as if it were real. Unfortunately, it becomes all too real when the creator of the game locks everyone out of the real world by hijacking all the Nerve Gear devices so that if you die in the game, you will die in real life. Only by clearing the 100th floor and defeating the final boss can the players win their freedom.

Good: Solid Production Values

A-1 Picture is a studio that I just acknowledge exist. This studio hasn’t made anything that I liked or hated wholeheartedly. However, when it comes to their production values they are consistently solid including the very colorful Sword Art Online. Character designs are simplistic and the locations are diverse. A-1 Pictures take advantage to show off snowy mountains, grassy fields, ancient dungeons, and many more to their advantage. Colors are simple and plain because lightning is rarely a factor to how a scene will look. Don’t expect much shading from this show, let alone gradient. In movement the animation is smooth from beginning to end without any noticeable issues.

One of my two complaints about the animation is Sword Art Online misses depths of perspective. Everything in the show looks flat, making what little use of 3D there is stick out. Another complaint is the action scenes are very weak. The choreography for all of them are simple which would have been fine, but whenever a spell or a weapon makes an impact on a person there is little visual flair or particles effect to add to the action. It’s similar to lighting up a firework and waiting for the true spectacle to occur, but it never comes because it’s a dud. I should add that the first opening intro is very misleading in representing Asuna as an strong component character who is as skilled as Kirito. In the first opening intro it shows Asuna and Kirito beating “The Gleam Eyes” while in the actual show it doesn’t happen. It’s almost as if A-1 Pictures acknowledge in their own way “Yeah, this character sucks. Sorry”.

All the music in the anime is a good fit with the show. In particular the closing song “Overfly” by Luna Haruna perfectly fits the romance side of the series. Of course that could be due to the second outro being more visually creative giving bits of the character relationship in pictures where the first outro is just camera panning down two characters doing nothing. The opening themes aren’t impressive. “Crossing Field” sung by LiSA sounds phoned in (especially if compared to Oath and Sign) and Air Eoi “Innocence” is passable. Any piece of music that isn’t the opening or closing themes fits with the show. It’s never distracting, but at the same time hardly noticeable as it never fuels audience’s emotion to create a powerful scene. It simply works in the show.

Voice acting is good, though not a single performance stands out regardless if you see it in Japanese or English. Both versions have a different take on how the voice actors portray the characters. The English dub cast are (mostly) subtle in their delivery, but in Japanese there’s more emotion driven into the performances. If you have to choose, I would recommend seeing it in its original Japanese language if only because the animation doesn’t deliver spectacles worth your attention.

Mixed: Mixture of good ideas that fail to live up to potential

Sword Art Online first arc (episode 1 – 14) suffers from rush pacing. It’s damaging to the point that on episode 13 it finally decides to address a major plot hole established in the pilot episode regarding how the players’ bodies are kept in a stable condition in the real world. If it takes that long to address a gaping plot hole there’s less chances whatever the material tries to tackle will come out better. For example, Asuna is introduced as a player who is on or close to the same skill level as Kirito holding her own in a fight in episode two. That quickly changes when Asuna is pushed to the sideline and given little to do afterwards. Usually involving cooking, cleaning, and needing to be saved. Another drawback to the pacing is skipping around time. You frequently skip months in the story with the anime usually relying on generalizing events than actually showing. Like how did Asuna obtain a high ranking position in the “Knights of the Blood” made further questionable when seeing her contribution when working alongside Kirito.

When out of focus episodes will go off track from the main story. These side stories flesh out the world by showing how the game mechanics work, but all at the cost of being filler. On the other hand, these side stories do keep the story unpredictable, even if the outcome never changes. Some other positive points about the first arc is there is risks of losing inside “Sword Art Online”. Not anything the main cast will suffer because Kirito’s overpowered, but it is established and touched upon in key scenes. While not as explored as the subject of death, it does bring up the mindset of different kind of players. Showing some diversity to offset the goody two shoes the story focuses on. Another positive is the romance doesn’t end with two characters becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. It shows two characters as a couple and runs with it for awhile. Although the downside being the couple aren’t interesting as stand alone characters let alone when they become a couple.

If there’s one thing that can’t be overlooked is how often it contradicts itself. It’s more than willing to break its own rules to make its protagonist come across as being awesome. For example, Kirito said himself it’s much better to be in a guild, but in Episode 8 single handily defeats one of the toughest bosses by himself. This also applies to gamers in the show who don’t know how to play the games. In Episode 2, it’s established to take place an entire month after the first episode and gamers still don’t know how to play the game. Either leading to speculation that most players of SAO are idiots or don’t bother to learn how play the game knowing their lives depending on it.

Now due to the course of the anime I encourage you to avoid the next two paragraphs to avoid spoilers. I won’t go into specifics, but just the mere mention of it will spoil “Sword Art Online” Aincrad Arc (Episode 1 – 14).

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Episodes 15 – 25 make up the Fairy Dance Arc that takes place in Alfheim Online. A noticeable improvement is the pacing is slower. Allowing more of the story to unfold in real time instead of generalizing important events in exposition. However, some issues in the Aincard Arc carry over to the Fairy Dance Arc. Asuna character receives another downgrade and becomes a plot device to move the story forward. Sadly, that’s all of Asuna contributions in the Fairy Dance Arc. It also does away with the consequence of death that the first arc got across. Stakes are smaller and the scope of what it tackles is smaller. Plus going from a setting that has dragons, ghosts, and Santa Claus gets replaced by a setting filled with Fairies. There’s no competition, which arc has the more interesting setting. It might sound like a downgrade, but it improves in one area with it counts.

Since the story becomes more personal there’s no filler in the arc. Everything done is to move the story forward. It still suffers from the same problem of giving supporting characters little to do, but it is not as noticeable since an entire episode won’t be dedicated to helping out a random character who won’t make another appearance. Then there’s Suguha whose characterization is better handled. From her introduction as an important character we see her progress from her conflict from beginning to end. Unfortunately, there’s never a love triangle that arises from her involvement. Just like every other female in the show, Suguha has to rely on Kirito to do everything in the end.

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Mixed: Likeable, but bland characters

Kirigaya Kazuto or Kirito as he commonly referred by is a bland protagonist. Kirito is overpowered to the point that if there is an ever moment of conflict, he’ll make sure to eliminate it. Every battle and every dungeon Kitiro goes in, there is never any doubt about his survival. Even without the “He’s the protagonist, of course he won’t die” invisible tag attached to his character. Diminishing any worthwhile investment since he easily overcomes any obstacles including boss fights. The worst aspect about this trait is the audience doesn’t even get to see Kirito become stronger. If it was another genre of gaming, it would make sense…except Kirito play games specifically designed for multiple people to play together. Yet, somehow with his lone wolf attitude Kirito is able to get to a higher level than any other player that play in a group. Anyone who plays an MMO will tell you how difficult it can be to level up, especially if you’re a solo player. What’s most questionable about him is the way he thinks. For some reason he keeps how strong he is to himself, despite the fact if he played at his full abilities he can prevent more people from dying. His actions are equally harmful to the people trapped in SAO as a antagonist.

Another (lack of) trait is Kirito suffers little eternal conflict that gets explored. At one point the show explains why Kirito is into gaming, but doesn’t expand on it. Instead of adding on Kirito accepting the game he’s trap in as real life. It’s left as an interesting, unexplored characteristic of his character. Everything always seems to work his way sometimes without his involvement in the solution. This kind of character or wish fulfillment can be done correctly. For example, in Persona 3 you take control of a seemingly perfect character (that you could name him/her whatever you want) with a status of the chosen one. Much like Kirito, Persona 3’s Protagonists builds his/her stats until he/she is perfect at everything. The difference with Kirito is his backstory is never a focus at any point in the series. Whereas Persona 3’s Protagonists backstory is given fleshing them out. No longer are the characters simply overpowered, but developed characters that blend with the cast. From beginning to end Kirito remains static with no major difference from where he begins to where he ends up.

Asuna serves as Kirito love interest. She could have been a good character, but beyond episode two the series does everything it can to lessen her importance. Instead of being an equally strong character like Kirito she eventually becomes reliant on Kirito like virtually every female character in the anime. What makes Asuna case different is how she was introduced as an equally skilled player which is not the direction the story took her in. This introduction makes her the most disappointing in the cast especially with what’s done with her in the second half. Another significant female character is Yui whose an AI or little girl ex-machina. Her contributions are similar to Asuna in which she becomes a plot device to move the story forward in the second half, but early on is involved in a side story about family. To get it out of the way it was rather heartless, but at least it contribute to the main story and one of few times character development of Asuna and Kirito as a couple works.

The last significant female character is Kirigaya Suguha. Despite not appearing in the show as much as the series main love interest Suguha gets better character development. Suguha is a sympathetic character all due circumstances from her placement in the story. Her feelings in a situation are rely to the audience properly to understand where she’s coming from. Making her conflict in her feelings for Kirito that she never thought about much. She doesn’t know if her love for Kirito is right or wrong due to circumstances she’s not entirely sure played a part to influence how she feels. Like the other female characters she does end up falling for Kirito, but unlike the rest of female cast Suguha feelings has some depths. As a character she grows in the story for the better not taking steps backwards.

Male supporting characters won’t be as reliant on Kirito since an entire episode is never dedicated to Kirito helping out another male character on a dangerous quest. The most he does for a follow male is teaching them how to play, despite the person spending tons on money to get the equipment to play the game and having waited three days in line to get it. If it’s a male other than Kirito they’ll spend most of their time off screen. This rule changes if the male happens to be an adult than chances increases they’ll be evil. Most of the adversaries Kirito fight against are mostly male, which in itself becomes tedious. Although, that last sentence should be filed under personal pet peeves instead of a flaw in the show.

Personal Enjoyment: Surprisingly, I was never bored

Well you did just read a couple of paragraphs of me favoring the second arc of “Sword Art Online” over the first. Just because I prefer one arc over the other doesn’t mean “Sword Art Online” quality will change. It’s story is never consistent in quality, but it is always entertaining. Whenever there is a bad scene in “Sword Art Online” I find it entertaining. From Kirito gaining the very stupid and non insulting nickname of “Beater”, any scene involving those useless teleportation crystals, and seeing Nicholas The Renegade (Santa Claus) being a few stand out. Thankfully not everything in the series was poorly thought out as there are actually good scenes in “Sword Art Online” I liked. The ending in Episode 14 titled “The End of the World” was satisfying even if the outcome of it was completely due to deus ex machina. Another being episodes 22 & 23 where the scenes between Leefa and Kirito that made me realize I actually cared what happens.

(Likely) Possible Complaints:
Everything I listed
The main character is Kirito
Everything that isn’t on the technical side if you loathe the story and characters
How popular it is (this one’s superficial)
This review if you absolutely hate it or absolutely love it

Rating: 6/10

Production Values (Sound, Animation, etc.): 3/3

Story: 1/3

Characters: 1/3

Personal Enjoyment (Yes, my enjoyment is worth the least amount points): 1/1

Final Thoughts:

When I got to the final episode of Sword Art Online and sat through the closing credits with still images my thoughts on the show were immediately clear. It’s not something I would call a good show with a story that has good ideas that get squandered by poor execution and characters that receive little character development or get pushed to the sideline after a single episode. However, it was consistently entertaining and always had my interest no matter how it turned out. There’s is one thing that is for certain regardless where you stand on Sword Art Online quality. It’ll leave one strong impression on the viewer before and after it ends.

6/10

Anime-Breakdown: Trigun (1998) Series Review

Introduction:
I don’t know how to bring up a discussion on violence which is the main theme of “Trigun”. An anime series that goes into depth on the topic of violence and telling a compelling story with a great leading character. Despite the serious theme Trigun is also enjoyable dashing out humor through the course of 24 episodes. It’s as much of an enjoyable show as it is dramatically powerfully. If you’re a fan of Westerns, Madhouse Studio, or like a great leading character Trigun is the show for you.

Basic Information:

Episodes: 26

Available English Dub: Yes

Animation Studio: Madhouse

Good: Vash The Stampede

Trigun is only as it good as it protagonist and you couldn’t have asked for a better leading character than Vash the Stampede. He is deliberately introduced as this badass gunmen in the series intro that shows him dodging dozen of bullets from gunmen and wind constantly blowing his way in the lonesome desert getting across an uncanny, seemingly violent figure. Once the first episode starts you only get to know about Vash from secondary accounts that make him out to be this dangerous man. However, when actually seeing Vash for the first time you’ll find it difficult to imagine such a goofball would be worth so much money.

That’s one of the main reasons Trigun works. Vash has many characteristics allowing the series to go in different directions once establishing Vash and none is more evident than in his sense of humor. It doesn’t matter how dire the current situation or standoff might be. Vash can come out of it with his goofball side intact. Always seeking to find the best solution in a very limited amount of time when placed on the spot. Vash is a misunderstood hero you probably wouldn’t give a second thought towards. When advancing further in the series details slowly revealing Vash background are given. Suddenly there is new meaning behind Vash good nature in the desolate and violent world he lives in becoming more sophisticated. Analyzing the depth of Vash can be an engaging experience all on its own right.

Define by his ideology and the constant challenge to stick to it in difficult situations, there is never a moment Vash is not challenged. Because of his pacifist nature, it leads him into trouble in the west from dangerous gunmen. By no means is Vash an incompetent shooter as proven in several episodes he has obtain pitch perfect accuracy. Understandably that would ordinarily make for a boring lead, but because of Vash ethics to not kill anyone it makes every approach to conflict unique. With his beliefs preventing him from simply killing those after him results in creative solutions. Whenever simply shooting a gun off your gunman just doesn’t work, it branches out how the setup will play out. Since Vash ideology prevents him from killing in confrontations will have you wondering what the breaking point will be. Living in a world and people that influence him to think like common folks over achieving peace. What Vash does isn’t simply for survival, but spreading an ideal that he must represent by any means.

Good: A Riveting World

Trigun takes place on a desert like planet named “Gunsmoke” that is cover by sand, decaying cities and towns, and steampunk technology. The world of Trigun is common to overlook in a film, but in the form of a TV series you get a better opportunity to understand and see it developed. It’s not an ideal world to live in. As made evident with the extensive world building that is put into crafting this world. We benefit from seeing Vash travel to different destinations and experience a bit of chaos in that city or town. Each visit gives you insight on how differently people lives are affected by the world they live in. In episode 5, an entire city is attempting to capture or kill Vash in order to save the city from bankruptcy. Immediately you understand that the city is in desperate need of money in order to survive. Hinting that even in a world that’s barren like “Gunsmoke” money still present power over instinctively helping the common man. Within the same episode you get to hear voices lashing directly at Vash to give up his life while Vash on other hand opposes their opposition with reasoning. Needless to say, good nature people doesn’t equal positive decision making. Neither does it mean that a doomsday aftermath will eliminate the rules we currently live by.

Trigun takes place on a desert like planet named “Gunsmoke” that is cover by sand, decaying cities and towns, and steampunk technology. The world of Trigun is common to overlook in a film, but in the form of a TV series you get a better opportunity to understand and see it developed. It’s not an ideal world to live in. As made evident with the extensive world building that is put into crafting this world. We benefit from seeing Vash travel to different destinations and experience a bit of chaos in that city or town. Each visit gives you insight on how differently peoples’ lives are affected by the world they live in. In episode 5, an entire city is attempting to capture or kill Vash in order to save the city from bankruptcy. Immediately you understand that the city is in desperate need of money in order to survive. Hinting that even in a world that’s barren like “Gunsmoke” money still present power over instinctively helping the common man. Within the same episode you get to hear voices lashing directly at Vash to give up his life while Vash on the other hand opposes their opposition with reasoning. Needless to say, good nature people doesn’t equal positive decision making. Neither does it mean that a doomsday aftermath will eliminate the rules we currently live by.

Good: Exploration On Violence

The element of violence I keep mentioning is what the series tackles thoroughly. Our protagonist is a pacifist, and those he encounters generally are not in the same mindset. Simply holding all life sacred isn’t as simple as withholding one self from pulling a gun trigger. It’s a perspective that is elaborated upon, even if the answer you received might not be entirely acceptable. Characters in the world will question them with the hero or villain quick to refute their criticism with their own reasons. The philosophy is obvious, but understanding why anyone would stick to their beliefs is difficult to fully grasp or get behind. Sometime it can be as simple as a person who inspired a character or in another case a life that influences choices.

As a blunt contrast to Vash we’re given the traveling priest and smooth operator Nicholas D. Wolfwood. Despite being a follower of the holy lord, Wolfwood is far more pragmatic in his treatment of human life, and the arguments between him and Vash, as well as Wolfwood’s eventual confrontations with redemption, make him a particularly interesting character. He a highlight of the examination of Christians principles. Sure many religions value love of life, forgiveness, and redemption, but clearly Nicholas D. is geared toward the Christian side given Wolfwood background. Am I reading too much into the character? Maybe, although Yasuhiro Nightow (the creator of Trigun) is a known Christian. Much like Vash, we wonder what Wolfwood breaking point would be when it comes to his religion. Can a man who follows the word of the lord really be able to abide by them? The answer to that it provides might come across as clear cut, but much like Vash, there is various shades to each answer given.

Another contrast to Vash are Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, who are agents of the Bernardelli Insurance Society sent to evaluate claims regarding Vash the Stampede. In the series they serve the purpose of comedic reliefs as well as being the bridge to natural characterization. The insurance girls are a good pair on the entertainment and story. For me, the relationship between Meryl and Milly evolves from the two simply doing their job to doing what they feel is right. As I see it, this is an evolution to being realistic and adds a subtle take on a working person in the world of “Gunsmoke”. Finding the meaning behind what you do beyond a simple paycheck. What drives a person to keep their job, no matter how dangerous and why. It’s never truly brought to the forefront in the series, which makes it a small nice touch in the background. Passing no judgement on whatever your motivation as it demonstrates sometime the reason can go beyond your judgement as demonstrated with Meryl and Milly following Vash despite the harm they are put into.

Good: All Shades of Villainy

The series advances with a villain of the week formula. In nearly every episode has Vash and sometime his company defending themselves from a new super power villain or ordinary thugs. In the very first episode Vash goes up against a large cyborg named Descartes. He possesses a giant cybernetic arm with an attached boomerang. Despite appearances Descartes doesn’t last more than a single episode as Vash easily gets rid of him.

Villains personalities are varied offering some that are sympathetic with reasonable motivation while others are solely evil. It’s refreshing to see a series that doesn’t attempt to make every villain come across as a tragic story. Because of this we’re able to see the lowest depths thugs in this desolate planet can sink too. The most memorable confrontations are those that expose a different side of Vash psyche. These intellectual battles require Vash to be a quick thinker to find a peaceful resolution, even though simply shooting the villain is an easy way to survive. Sometime Vash doesn’t even need to use his gun to win making preventing standoffs from becoming stale.

One noteworthy villain is Legato Bluesummers. Legato best fits the part of a villain with long blue hair covering one eye and wearing an open trench coat showing off his imposing figure. Smiling when torturing others with his sadistic personality. Ultimately going as far as choosing his purpose in life is to help his master wipe out all of humanity and making Vash as long as possible. When it comes to villains not many within the series can surpass Legato in dedication to his single cruel purpose.

Good: A Distinctive Vision

The animation is spectacular while the art and the background art isn’t wildly creative with the barren, dusty world nearly eliminating scenery variety. On the plus side character designs are classic-yet-memorable, and the quality of the production is always high to carry the story. Vash’s spiked blond hair, signature sunglasses, and long, red trench coat, give him a distinctive look as the hero of a Western. Nicholas D. Wolfwood looks suitably cool with his massive, cross-shaped gun makes him among coolest priests in animation. There are impressive over-the-top fights displaying various degrees of bullets piercing and the dynamic gun choreography is always fun to see with superpowers gunmen requiring characters to change tactics. In particular the final standoff, which easily ranks among one of the best choreographed finale to have ever graced animation.

Trigun soundtrack is noteworthy from aggressive electric guitar to a few very mellow Western-themed tunes and a pretty song that factors into the story. Supporting a scene instead of telling the audience how they should feel in a particular scene. Like Legato’s chaotic industrial-sounding theme that fittingly goes along with Legato even more chaotic nature in mentally torturing Vash.

The Japanese and English voice acting is another of Trigun’s strong points. Vash goofball side and antics mesh well with the dramatic parts of his persona. Never is one aspect of Vash personality ever become overshadowed by the other. Wolfwood is also smooth, fun, and generally likable sharing many similarities to Vash. Hiromi Tsuru does a great, lively Meryl, although there’s not much depth to the role. She’s balanced by Milly an equally likable and generally believable when she gets serious. The English dub has none other than Johnny Yong Bosch in the lead role who does an excellent job. Playing up Vash comedic chops during the comedy scenes while always sounding human whenever discussing the value of life. All the actors in the English dub sound natural balancing the vastly different tone that it starts out with to what it eventually becomes. Much of the same praise that can be given to the Japanese cast can also apply to the English voice cast. Either way you can’t go wrong with reading subtitles or watching the English dub.

Final Thoughts:
Trigun has high brow writing and thoroughly explore themes on violence without shy away from dishing out a sense humor along the way. Coming across as a prime example of how to do gritty story and delivering a meaningful message without having to be serious all the time.

Protagonist: 2/2

Story: 2/2

Themes: 2/2

Villains: 2/2

Production: 2/2

Possible Complaints (no points value):
Vash numerous pacifism speeches
Sand, Sand, and more Sand
Depending on your taste the soundtrack isn’t as memorable without the series

Rating: 10/10 – Trigun is the best kind of anime that takes the establish western genre and reinvents it with a unique world which has yet to be match in the industry. A must see for any fan of great anime, for those looking for intellectual departure, or anyone who likes western.

Anime Breakdown: Fate/Zero (2011 – 2012) Series Review

It was rather hectic this month as I aimed to pump out three of these anime breakdown reviews due to the chaos that occurred in May that prevented me from writing with a clear mind. The most difficult and certainly not the last was Fate/Zero. I love the show and it easily earns the score that it does. As I slowly become accustomed to reviewing anime determining a hierarchy of quality becomes clearer in my mind. For now, I won’t consider myself as a part of the anime community (or an Otaku as some in community refer to themselves) due to my lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of its culture, but I can be an outside admirer that too can support good works. Fate/Zero is a series that regardless of your exposure to anime I would easily recommend for anyone who enjoys visually gorgeous and terrifically written shows.

Basic Information

Episodes: 25

Available English Dub: Yes

Animation Studio: Ufotable

Premise:

After being defeated in three successive wars for the Holy Grail, the Einzbern family is determined to win the next one at any cost and elects to hire the notorious Magus Killer, Kiritsugu Emiya, to become their representative in spite of his reputation as an unconventional and ruthless hitman. For the next eight years, he prepares the war in the Einzbern stronghold while unexpectedly forming a family with Irisviel von Einzbern, who is to become the vessel for the Grail, and their daughter, Illyasviel. However, Kiritsugu must contend with six formidable opponents, all participating in the war for their own reasons.

Good: The Setup

The first episode of Fate/Zero is both the longest and the most daunting in the series. You get introduced to a large cast, get their background, a hint of their complex motivations, the stakes for the families involved, and other information for the framework. Once it has the framework set up the only thing left is to build upon it. This is the great benefit of episode one, since all the basics are taken care of first. It won’t hinder the flow of the series. For example, there’s this whole working of how the “Holy Grail War” is fought. It is explained in a way that you can take it as magicians summoning legendary historical heroes to do battles with each other. That’s the basic way to interpret how the whole battle structures work. Add on top that special abilities, fighting classification, and strengths and weaknesses brings depths to the “Holy Grail War” like a game of chess. Participants test each other, probing defences, and trying feints and sly attacks like an opening gambit. Using their brains to outsmart their enemies than simply gaining more strength. Offering battles to be one on one, all out battle royale, and team against team makes a appropriate setup feel as grand as possible.

Beyond adding a level of intelligence in how battle are foughts it also brings that same level of intelligence to its participants. All of which are introduced in a nice manner with a good glimpse of who they are when we start out with them. By solidifying some strong first impressions on the characters through their ideologies and background allows leeway in how characters interact. Some coming from prestigious family or either in a status that makes them comes across as no threat to others. Becoming very broad in the themes it brings up later on with ideas that support or goes against a view. These themes and the characters positions on them which for all serves a good purpose from beginning to end. Once all the ingredients are in place you have a framework that’s easy to understand on a basic level, but given room for depths to grow from what’s established. From then on, it only keeps getting better and better.

Good: High Brow Writing, Easy To Follow Structure

When Fate/Zero first begins you are going to have to take in a lot of the who’s, why’s, and how’s of the “Holy Grail War” which is quite daunting and risky. It also demonstrates the amount of respect it has for the audience entrusting them with so much right out of the gate. After that point, the series becomes easier to follow jumping from character to character and their doings in the “Holy Grail War”. Structuring itself in a way where the focus is always on the most active participants. Though we’re given a main to cast to keep things focused with Kiritsugu Emiya, Irisviel von Einzbern, and Arturia Pendragon/Saber receiving prominent screen time. These characters keep the flow the narrative linear when the stories themselves are anything except conventional. They receive the most screen time out of any participants and also find themselves in trouble quite frequently. However, it doesn’t mean that the show will make them the one the audience will cheer for.

A character’s means for victory will either be something you go along with or find yourself debating. Quickly you realize some characters ideologies are easier to grasp because of what they will do once the Holy Grail is in their hands. For others it could be difficult read what the actual intentions is. Another layer to the series is variety. Variety in themes, variety in backstories, and variety in stories. One such technique that is cleverly used is playing off your expectations. One way is does this is by name. Method for inviting viewers to involve themselves deeper into the story and actively work to understand the characters in which the writers the keep one trait to allow viewers to identify with. Why I would gear my attention towards name when mentioning variety is simple. The names are identifiable building of your expectation in order prevent predictability. A clever method which might go unnoticed when you’re digesting carefully thought out discussions, opposing views, philosophies, history, and working out the meaning behind metaphors. Giving you context to form a solid conclusion, but free enough hold many interpretation. In particular the meaning behind Rider/Iskandar seeing a particular ocean will require the most thought (not even I could figure it out it full meaning).

Good: Breaks Away From Common Anime Trends

Some common things non anime viewers usually associate anime with are also things some anime fans can be irritated by. That’s exactly why the direction of the series is damn impressive. Not just on a visual level, but also because things like fan service, emo teenagers, one-dimensional saviors, comic relief, or romantic pretty boys are out of the equation when it comes to this series. Removed from conventions it’s a series that stands proudly with a unique identity. Being unconventional is what it’s all about. Characters can go for minutes literally talking to each other without much complicated movements. There’s an entire episode where three servants discuss kingship and for the majority of it is driven by dialogue. It’s very confident in its delivery of the episode for not using flashbacks. Instead, it left it to our imagination. We get to hear about the characters which in turn learn more about them. It’s not afraid to stray off the main course.

Episode 10 titled Rin’s Adventure is the one that strays off from the main course the most. It’s a an episode entirely dedicated to a character that will not have a big or important role in the series. Now under the wrong hands the detour to such a character would have been disastrous. However, it’s treated with the same importance as any other episode. We get to see through young Rin Tohsaka eyes how training in the field of magic has it wonders and downside. For starter, can you imagine at a young age being able to manipulate your energy to create something physical. Rin has that ability seeing as a way to do good. In contrast you have her father who trains has her train not just on magic, but also school to obtain perfection in nearly everything she sets out to do. Yet does not scold her for failing despite him taking part of an often harsh and unforgiving life of those who participate in the “Holy Grail War”. In a single episode it shows how a mage can grow up in this lifestyle and how they handle living an ordinary life. As an episode in the franchise it provides background of what occurred before Rin Tohsaka took part in the fifth “Holy Grail War”. As an episode in this particular series some might consider pointless. Seeing how it’s often labeled “cute little girl adventure” (well, the cute part is accurate) it has no bearing on the story as a whole, but that added perspective shows the influence to do and how perspective of your abilities can guide your decisions. For that alone displays an average mage life and possibly what they might turn into when they are older. In my definition, that some good world building studio Ufotable is doing.

Good: Large Varied and Rounded Cast

The image above shows all the characters involve in the “Holy Grail War” and never once it feels crowded despite how many characters are involve. This is a large part due to pacing and how it’s doesn’t dwindle time on anything pointless. Every episode has the story moving forward and characterization to grow its cast. While watching you’ll begin to notice it’s more about the growth of the characters than the actual war itself. It’s a war over clashing ideologies from these characters that is the ultimate goal over the “Holy Grail”. Some between masters and their very own servants that inspite of their clear differences have to work together to reach a common goal. If there’s a character this series will get to them and develop to grasp who they truly are.

One of the many themes it tackles in great detail is heroism with it subvert perspective. Challenging if the means to achieve your goal is worth it and if there is such as thing as heroes. This theme is tackle with Kiritsugu Emiya whose life perspective is defined by what he believes heroism is. He is unquestionably skillful being a very careful man and intelligent strategist. Emiya means for accomplishing his goals becomes more challenging when delving in his backstory. Two episodes are dedicated showing what ultimately led to Kiritsugu Emiya to become the man he is now. Simply labeling Emiya as good or evil does him no justice in getting to know the man. At first Emiya intention is to do good which is perceived as good, but what events transpired to made him desired to be a hero can be perceived as evil. There’s many shades to interpreting Emiya as a character and one whose life is define by how he deals with his personal beliefs in heroism when it’s challenge by the world he lives in.

Most of the cast as you’ve seen in the image above are mostly adults. Waver Velvet is one of only two teenagers in the large cast. When Waver begins he is the polar opposite of his servant, Iskandar/Rider, who is physically overbearing, jovial, and impulsive. Compare to his master, Waver Velvet, who is pragmatic, cowardly, and short tempered. These two have traits that contrast each other significantly, yet it’s this same contrast that makes this pair a highlight in the series. Together they must overcome their differences and work together for a common goal. Complementing one another as Waver is the brains and Iskandar is the brawns. However, there’s much more to it than that. The journey itself, like for all the characters is more important than the “Holy Grail War” itself. There’s allot more to Waver Velvet’s growth beyond what you might perceive from the brawns and brains duo. Waver learns more than to have a backbone and Iskandar learns more than his desire for world conquest. They are also the duo that best balances comedy to show the softer sides of our and drama into what’s mostly a serious show. Making them the most versatile in subjects out of the entire cast and the most loose in tone that you can still take serious.

Kirei Kotomine is complex and one of the most subversive character because he is a Catholic priest. Kirei Kotomine is a rather dour char­ac­ter who doesn’t really have a clear under­stand­ing of what he wants in life. His heroic spirit(s) is the Assas­sin, which are actu­ally many assas­sins. Like everyone else, Kotomine changes through the course of the series, but what makes him noteworthy is his background. He’s a Catholic priest whose actions are anything, but righteous utilizing methods that are out of lines with his background teachings. Fate/Zero has a vividly complex and multidimensional take on one’s true faith over a falsely accepted one. It’s how he transforms into the man he becomes by the series a significant deal of depth. No matter how holy one might proclaim to be even they might not resist temptation regardless of a position that points them in a holy light.

With a large cast you’ll easily find a character to gravitate too. For me that character was Arturia Pendragon/Saber who hands down was my favorite character of the series. Saber is formal, honorable, determined, sympathetic, intelligent, and strong willed. For me, she’s basically the ultimate feminine character who has all the characteristics for a compelling character. She might be a goody two shoe, but the way she is written never makes it come across that way. Her ideals are constantly challenged especially when interacting with those who views her reign of a kingdom as a disappointment. Saber is a strong character who never hides an ounce of her personality. While I only discussed specific ones to certain extent all the other characters are worthwhile as the ones I’ve delved into. I definitely have a favorite among the cast with Saber/Arturia Pendragon and the best part is Fate/Zero has a huge selection of three dimensional characters to choose as your favorite.

Good: Everything Technical Is Stellar

Animation studio Ufotable is responsible for making the series as gorgeous as it looks. The artwork is quite appealing with wonderfully ambient background art and detailed character designs, while the animation is spectacularly smooth and nuanced. It has such fluidity to it it’s like near cinematic quality animation. The action scenes are breath taking and are a feast for the eyes with its intensity and grit. In most anime, the actual animation of the show never matches up to the opening, but here, it’s a pretty accurate representation. The art is always that evocative and the animation is always fluid and exciting, especially during some of the more intense combat scenes later on. Ufotable’s style certainly compliments the character designs especially with the use of gradients. Rather than using solid colour they incorporate gradients which bring objects and characters to life in unforetold beauty and depth.

The soundtrack is suitably bold and dramatically sound unique style and providing (with Kalafina) the second opener “To The Beginning,” a strong song paired with very fitting visuals which replaces the equally strong “Oath Sign” by LiSA used for the first half. These two opening tracks setup the mood properly. Second series closer “Up in the Sky, the Wind Sings” is also a strong effort, one which replaces the first season’s montage of adapted historical images of the Servants with a montage chronicling the meeting and love of Kiritsugu and Irisviel. Some of the images from that are compelling enough to make one wish that their story might eventually be told in more detail in some future OVA release. However, the original soundtrack in general is spectacular that sculpt an atmosphere that leaves the listener feeling unsettled being evocative and engaging the melody shifts in a way that lets you explore the many facets of a given mood, scene, or character.

Voice acting is phenomenal regardless of your preferences. Personally though, I would suggest the English dubbed simply because the amount detail put into its animation can be missed when reading subtitles. The cast for the English dubbed is well chosen and carefully selective. Kari Wahlgren voices Saber/Arturia Pendragon who is strong, confident, and hinting of a tragic past. After looking at her resume I was surprised in what she was in. The fact I couldn’t recognize her is a testament to her vocal range if she can distinctly change her tone of voice so easily. Plus, she fits the characters so perfectly. Another stand out is Jamieson Price as Rider/Iskandar is most the energetic of the cast. He’s freely range to high volume goofiness to steal most scenes he’s in. Either way you decide to watch it all the technical aspects are checked and of high standard.

Final Thoughts:

Fate/Zero is an excellent series that contains everything you could possibly want from a great anime. Gripping stories, engaging characters, and exciting action all culminate in a intelligent series. It’s easily one best anime you could possibly see regardless of your knowledge of the historical figures or position when it comes to viewing anime.

Framework: 2/2

Writing: 2/2

Direction: 2/2

Characters: 2/2

Production Values: 2/2

Possible Complaints (no points value)

  • Uneven pacing in the middle
  • Narrative has no problem jumping around time
  • Some still images, though very detail ones

Rating: 10/10 – Fate/Zero is a benchmark series that combines gripping stories and engaging, complex characters. There’s no area it doesn’t excel in from it’s intricate character designs that move smoothly in a already detailed looking series. Containing a host of well developed themes and ideologies that’ll get you thinking long after it ends. It has everything you could possibly crave from a great series. Everything it sets out to do it accomplishes it. This is one I highly recommend anyone to check out.

Anime Breakdown: The Familiar of Zero (2006) Series Review

After finishing WataMote I naturally started looking for another comedy to pass the time whenever I wasn’t in the mood for something action oriented or at the time about magical teenage girls fighting witches that had allot of depth that shut me up on its cutesy drawn characters. So when researching I came across The Familiar of Zero which was unique for a Harem (basically a romance series where the protagonist has numerous potential love interest). Unlike nearly all Harems that uses a modern back dropped The Familiar of Zero uses a fantasy setting to make it stand out visually. However, as soon as I began watching the series it turned out the setting was the only thing noteworthy feature of the show.

Basic Information

Episode: 13

Available English Dub: Yes, but not recommended since it’s only for one season and its awful

Animation Studio: J.C. Staff

Premise:

Set in the feudalistic and fantastical world of Helkeginia, The Familiar of Zero centers around Louise de Valliere or “Zero”, an aristocratic girl who is completely and utterly inept at magic and who accidentally summons Saito, an ordinary boy from Japan, when she performs the traditionally summoning of one’s “familiar”. Reluctantly accepting him, she generally treats him poorly, verbally and physically abusing him and forcing him to perform menial attacks. In spite of his utter ignorance regarding this world, however, the perhaps too-forward Saito miraculously finds himself able to best an arrogant and powerful aristocrat who berates those of lower social standing, leading him to become popular with both plebeians and the other girls (to Louise’s dismay), and the headmaster of the school to speculate on who he actually is.

Good: Attempts To Be More Than A Romance Story

The world of The Familiar of Zero is one ruled by nobility who are magicians while peasants are ordinary citizens. Why only nobilities can become magicians and peasants can not is never elaborated upon beyond nobility can use magic. You think in a world with this kind of logic there would have been at least a couple instances where a noble marries a peasant, but apparently not. Back on providing some positives. The setup offers a wide variety of possible topics to discuss. Especially in this world where the division between social status is greater. The minority is filled with rich nobles that have magical powers while the lower class don’t. For a while it seems it wants to address that issues with protagonist Saito Hiraga not taking his unfair treatment lightly. Since Saito wasn’t born in the fantasy world he’s viewed as a pet in the noble eyes and is treated like one. Saito could only take his unfair treatment for so long before standing up for himself. Going up against a British noble despite Saito not having any extraordinary abilities. Sadly that discussion never goes anywhere rewarding beyond a certain point. It’s brought up every so often, but once Saito gets slightly better treatment that discussion disappears and dissolve into being only a Harem.

Not everything The Familiar of Zero sets out to do is accomplished to the degree it wants barely having enough positive to outweigh the negative. A positive trait is male lead, Saito Hiraga, is actually likable and it’s understandable why women would flock to get his attention to make him their boyfriend. His reaction to the world is natural and how he is used to integrate the audience into the world is solidly executed. In the context of the story it makes sense for a character within the world to explain to an outsider about the society they live in and in turn we as the audience learn about the world. Saito while not an engaging character is likable facing various conflicts that shows his growth. In particular towards the end of the first season where Saito is put in a positioned that forces him to choose between his livelihood or the well being of an entire kingdom. He has plenty of conflict he has to confront with his hate/love relationship with Louise slowly changing through the course of the first season. This change comes across naturally in the series. Admittedly the ambition shown in its first season and attempt to discuss society related issues through it world is respectable, but sadly that ambition is never reached for a number of reasons.

Mixed: Story

The first season doesn’t have an overarching story of any kind. It builds around smaller stories that focuses on the main characters personal life with the issues of the background world slowly catching up with them. Most of the conflict in the series is often solved with deus ex machina because you know, magic. Removing any tension that a conflict could have had, but also serves to progress the story further. While there is never a true sense of conflict because of easy solutions the story never stays in one place for too long either. Something is always happening and in some sort of way is making progress in the story whether it be character relationships or building up towards the finale. One key point it does miss is properly conveying the moment that Saito falls in love with Louise. Before Saito romance blossoms for Louise we know he’ll fall in love Louise because of the predictable nature of the show and its inability to throw its viewer off. However, the true issue comes afterwards as once Saito has finally made up his mind that Louise is the girl for him isn’t convincing. Aside from sharing a kiss and a couple of short moments of gratitude towards each other there’s nothing that really sells the idea Saito and Louise are right for each other. Let alone making a good argument for Saito affection for Louise since beforehand Louise does some questionable things that makes you wonder if Saito is a masochist.

Aside from the predictable romance another area where carries over mix results is it exploration on the world past. It makes some interesting development as characters discover bits of the world past and one that is made with the most importance is the Rune (basically worded magic seal) on Saito hands. It’s allows him to control any weapon like an expert as long it is made out of metal. Within the first season it’s given a foundation of development where it doesn’t come across as an easy cop out for the protagonist in combat. However, the same can’t be said about Louise as out of nowhere she becomes part of rare magicians called Void Mage. Not only does this eventual development remove Louise relatable aspect, but also excuses her failure in using of magic on a simple titled. What’s most unfortunate about this development is it usage during the climax which easily resolve the conflict of an entire war. It’s a major disservice toward Louise because instead of making her commitment to be a good magician part of her growth it’s conc the idea she’ll never get better and a disservice for the viewer for it’s easy quick resolution.

Mixed: Repetitive Humor

A majority of the jokes in The Familiar of Zero involve Saito being put in a situation usually sexual related in general. A girl hits on Saito and doesn’t know to react in turn leading to some overtop reaction with Louise either “hilariously” whipping Saito for talking to another girl or bickering between two girls. It gets really old when there is a serious lack of variation on the same type of humor. Some of it is funny. In season one there’s an episode focusing on this sacred book that knows the secret to arouse all men, but actually turns out to be a porno maginize. In context it works because characters in the fantasy world reaction is over the top giving more mysticism to a basic object. In some cases these jokes don’t work. No other example better embodies this than the perverted old man character whose mouse is also a pervert. The first time the joke is funny if foreseeable given the genre. When it repeated again not so much since it’s the same every time joke being told over again.

In some instances there are scenes where you question if it was meant to funny. For example, there’s a scene of Saito walking in the streets of Japan and finding a wormhole in the middle of street. No one elses notice it and sticks his hand in it only to be sucked in the fantasy world. Now given the show doesn’t have a good success rate of being funny I laughed at this scene because of the fact no one in the street of Japan wanted to help Saito from being sucked into the wormhole. It’s such a natural occurrence that no one’s is bothered by it anymore. With scenes like that spread out through the series you’ll slowly grow an immunity to what it throws at you. A problem in comedy in general is attempting keep a certain brand of humor funny if your whole act revolve around it. Something this show first season fails to maintain fresh.

Mixed: Characters

I’ll be honest and say the cast in this series lacks engaging personalities. Main character Saito Hiraga and Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere (that’s seriously her whole name) are a predictable item. Part of the fun of a harem should be guessing who the main male lead will end up with. Even if it is predictable who the male lead will choose it helps that the leading lady is likable. In this case it suffers similar problems to Shana of the Burning Eyes in which seeing the couple relationship develop does not work because of it central pair refusal to move past the status quo. In Saito Hiraga case he unknowingly gets on Louise bad side. However, Saito makes an effort to make amends to his master Louise no matter how small the problem is. If it bothers Louise, Saito is going to attempt to explain to Louise why he did something and talk it over with Louise attempting to fix it. His heart is in the right place never compromising what he believes, but neither letting his beliefs cloud the way those around him feel.

Than there’s Louise Francoise who falls victim to execution. She is a an abusive tsundere (alternating between irritable or lovestruck personality) whipping Saito for any possible reason. Most of his whipping in season one stems from Saito simply talking to any other girl that isn’t her. Not only does her constant jealousy becomes realize in physical beating towards Saito, but comes across demented for feeling guilty for punishing Saito, yet continues to exact physical punishment despite the fact that it never once works to change Saito behavior. Louise falls on the spoiled brat side, expecting Saito to simply do her bidding without question. Believing her being unpopular is a much more serious issue than Saito being just being thrust into a world he didn’t know existed and forcefully given a role to serve his master. Leading to a chemistry of bickering and bantering that occurs in most if not all episodes. There’s actually a kind of disturbing unintended subtext of slavery here. With Saito getting a chain around his neck to keep him in line, and Louise barking out orders to him as if he were nothing more than mere chattel. Does that sound like a love interest you want your leading male character to deal with? If you said yes, then you’ll be happy to know she would probably make you sleep on the floor on a pile of hay sometimes outside of the academy like she does with Saito and threatens him with starvation.

The supporting cast offer other love interests that are more bearable, though not all are explored equally. First up is Tabitha who is the strong emotionless type. She does get characterization through second hand accounts from other characters in the series. While Tabitha doesn’t say much she is more likable because of it. Where a majority of the female characters are speaking about boys (come on, not all women are shallow) Tabitha remains silent on the subject showing her talents to yield magic. Though given her treatment in the show it’s clear she won’t register on Saito radar. That’s a shame since a quiet, emotionless character is more likable than the leading lady. Tabitha best friend, Kirche, who is the polar opposite of her. Kirche defining characteristic is that she is well endowed. Okay, to be fair she does use her body to get what she wants since she knows how to persuade men. Sure her big breast is an easy design for fanservice, but she’s treated like a person and not solely as an object. Kirche genuinely cares for her friend Tabitha becoming closer to her when learning about her tragic past. She does have fanservice moments, but also moments where she comes across a well intended character.

Next up is Siesta who is a maid at the academy. She develops a romantic interest towards Saito and her affection for Saito reasonable. As oppose to Kirche who falls in love with Saito because it’ll make Louise jealous; Siesta loves the side of him that stands up to the noble and speak for the common man. Unlike Louise, Siesta actually holds a conversation with Saito as an equal being one of the few people Saito actually likes being around. She show concerns for his well being and on top of that is a good worker. When Louise punishes Saito for something he did by not feeding him, Siesta brings food from the kitchen or takes him down to the kitchen where he gets some of the leftovers from the nobles. Even when she knows Saito clearly has a questionable attraction towards Louise, Siesta still stays by his side as a friend. As you can tell, this character is pretty much everything the main love interest is not. Affectionate, caring, and oh, one sided positive traits. Okay so not entirely perfect nor interesting in a form of a story, but still a much more preferred option over Louise.

Finally there’s princess Henrietta. I know the whole princess thing can be problematic especially if given the traditional lazy the king is away excuse or not bringing it up at all. In Henrietta case it’s actually explain why she’s a princess. It’s because she was too young to be coronated to the throne and thus become queen when her country is at the brink of war. She’s given a realistic portrayal because of her job it shows the conflict of running an entire conflict as such a young age. Making her job all the more difficult when lives are at stake and her subordinates forcing her to agree on a decision she knows are wrong. Henrietta is sympathic since many want to be her, but very few actually want to know her.

Wait, what about the male supporting cast? Just plot devices to move the plot forward and do not whatsoever have much of a focus aside from chasing after a particular girl. About time a harem made it male supporting cast characters shallow, though that’s not really a positive either. The only other male that receives prominent screen time and development is a talking sword. Let that sink in. Goes to shows how much it value it male cast.

Mixed: Production Values

It’s one thing that the story doesn’t use it fantasy setting much to its advantage, but it’s another to restrict the animators on that front. The technical aspects are below average failing to capture a wonder in its world or imprint any image in the viewer that remains with them. Everything from it’s aesthetic is the very definition of basic. The cartoonish color scheme of bright tones, devoid of shading of texture, while the character art is very bland. There’s not much of an animation budget with noticeable movement being very limited. It’s made apparent even in the opening intro as some of the characters movement looking delayed. Less crucial is Shinkichi Mitsumune’s score is the equivalent of J.C. Staff’s generic fantasy-world settings: pleasant, and in some cases downright pretty, but hardly a draw unto itself. I’ll admit the opening theme is more bearable than it’s outro theme which is entirely off key. It’s pleasant to the eye and nothing wrong with things being pleasant. However, simply being pleasant to look at doesn’t excuse unremarkable technical aspects.

In the English dub voice actress Cristina Valenzuela has the good sense to tone down Louise’s wilder swings, creating a slightly more mature variation on the character. Jonathan Meza makes the fatal mistake of playing Saito with a quavering loser edge, effectively destroying his unflappable charm. Iwasaki is a veteran of romantic comedies (part of the reason, no doubt, that his action direction is so poor), but the little jolts of poignancy he teases from Louise and Saito’s evolving relationship cannot survive a toned-down Louise and a dispiritingly limp Saito. Nicholas Manelick picks up some of the slack with his hilariously ham-handed take on womanizing self-aggrandizer Guiche, and most of the other supporting players are solid enough, but a romance drained of its chemistry is too sad a thing to be saved by humor.

If you must for consistency reason go with Japanese language all the way. At least when it’s being adapted there’s effort put into translating the source material into a series and a understanding from the cast to deliver the performance expected of them. As for the English dub on the other side it’s very lazy in translation. In episode one when Louise first summons Saito they both are unable to understand each other, but in the English dub both speak English so comes across as a bit of confusion. It’s later explain that Louise was speaking in a different language and so put a spell on Saito so he can speak their language. If the English dub was too lazy to record couple of Saito lines in a different language it already failed. It doesn’t get any better so Japanese voice actors all the way. It’s not like watching it with English subtitles will make you miss the “meh” production values.

Final Thought:

The Familiar of Zero doesn’t offer diversity as a harem, comedy, or as animated series to warrant multiple viewings. It appeals to a specific audience meaning unless you’re part of that target audience you don’t have a reason to bother batting an eye at it. It attempts to appeal to a large audience and fails to live up to that goal. There’s some aspects of the series done right, but not enough where the good traits become noticeable.

Ambition: 2/2

Story: 1/2

Characters: 1/2

Humor: 1/2

Production Values: 1/2

Rating: 6/10 – The Familiar of Zero offers a unique setting and some interesting ideas, but those traits takes a backseat to its genre cliches and a cast of characters that are mix in results. It’s more concern in filling out a quota for a specific genre that’s audience expect from it that holds itself from better things. At the end though, it does tell a complete story, has a likable lead, and an interesting world that made it worth seeing. Even if the end results didn’t match those standards it could have.

Anime Breakdown: Shana of the Burning Eyes (Shakugan no Shana) (2005 – 2006) Series Review

Admittedly when I sat down and viewed the first episode of Shana of the Burning Eyes my thoughts on it were mostly negative. Literally within the first minutes what hinted me that I might be in for a bad time were the blue flames in the opening intro. The other anime I saw that had blue flames was Blue Exorcist and inspite of my positive review for it (it was a decent show) it ended on a bad last note for me. Mostly because when it upgraded the material above it usual quality instead of sustaining the higher quality it reverted back to being underwhelming. In hindsight both series don’t have much in common, but my experience of them were similar. For starter both series shower themselves with tropes of their genre, both have a hero who are cover by flames trying to discover themselves, and me slowly embracing them for what they are. However, whereas Blue Exorcist reverted back to it usual self, Shana of the Burning Eyes did improve as it went on. Despite a poor start I ended up liking Shana of the Burning Eyes as every episode left me so much to talk about. Be it good or bad.

Basic Information

Episodes: 24 Main Series, 5 Specials

Available English Dub: Yes

Animation Studio: J.C. Staff

Premise:

Shakugan no shana, also called Shana of the Burning Eyes, tells the story of Yuji Sakai, a normal high school boy who discovers he is dead and that he is in fact a torch after being attacked by a monster and saved by Shana, a young girl of red hair and burning eyes who calls herself as Flame Haze. Due to the confusion and chaotic mess Yuji gotten into, he follows the girl with the flaming red hair and finds out the truth about everything around him. The two begin to develop a bond that will help them battle the impending forces of doom in the city and Shana will eventually require Yuji to help fuel her strength to continue doing battle.

Good: Balance of Action and Romance

It’s easy for a series to favor the romance over the other half of the genre it’s mixing with, but with Shana of the Burning Eyes that never becomes a problem. There’s a good amount of action in the series that never overshadowed the slice of life drama. Following a routine of villain causing trouble in the city and after villain is defeated life returns to normal. The formula is pretty basic and given how little it changes it routine story arcs are easy to follow. For most of the story it focuses on the everyday life of the characters which helps to add some weight to the action scenes. By taking time to build its world we become familiar with the city the show takes place in. Making it that more significant in seeing the importance of why it’s worth protecting so much for its characters.

The action side of the show is nothing impressive honestly. In a rough fight Shana can pull out a new power to turn the tide of battles in her favor. However, often as is the case she has to earn her victory as oppose to other animes where it’s common for a character to overcome his/her opponent quickly with their new powers. This prevents the repetition of the fights from becoming tedious. At times when Shana pulls out a new trick it doesn’t land her a victory within the same episode. Being force to overcome her opponents with the abilities she’s given. Before every fight creating good build up is necessary. The build up to action is reliable for properly setting the mood and stage for the ensuing spectacle to take place. Although, to be fair, the build up is generally allot better than the action itself. Thankfully it has a good supply of action to make up whenever it does not live up to its promise.

The slice of life side of things has a good sense of pacing. Slowly it introduces new characters, new conflicts, and takes some detour that might not serve to advance the main story. It also has a balance between the drama and comedic moments. So stuff does happen outside of saving the city from a new threat. It’s pretty good at depicting these characters, they have lives and purposes that go beyond what we simply see in the show. With varied situations like Yuji seeing the disappearance of a single person does affect not his world in the slightest, at home training so Yuji can fight, comedic relief at a character home or public place, and so forth.

Good: Character Relationships

Shana of the Burning Eyes does not offer a whole lot in memorable characters, but knowns how to make its cast interaction a saving grace. We’ll spend a huge amount of time with the same characters through season one and they keep things interesting. The characters interactions can vary from being comedic, touching, to downright leading to a potentially violent fights physically or verbally. How these scenes are done captures the spirit of its teenage characters who are growing up throughout the series. Like actual friends, the characters don’t always get along with each other, but always find a way to work out the issue with things going to back to normal. Characters are always shown what’s on their mind with monologue and make an effort to speak out their mind. Rather than simply endure an issue that clearly bugs them. Shana and Yuji’s relationship starts out one sidedly with Shana serving as his guard of sort. Progressing slowly in becoming more like friends with Yuji trying to learn to fight to help Shana and Shana slowly embracing Yuji as a person and not a object to protect. It’s done in a manner that allows its relationship to grow in the right time.

All of the characters interactions tend to contribute something to the show. Yuji’s interactions with his best friend Hayato Ike shows a tight bond between two friends. It’s evident by the way they speak to one another they have know each other for a long time. This makes the dynamic between the two interesting to see unfold when Ike contemplates he might have feelings for Yoshida (a girl who likes Yuji) while helping her win Yuji affection. By the end of the season the issue is not resolved which might sound like a complaint, but it’s actually not. By providing no solution to the conflict it goes to show that not every problem will require the same amount of time to resolve. Also, this conflict never tarnished Yuji and Ike friendship by turning it into an easy plot device. It becomes a part of both characters when this revelation is brought up and as good friends acknowledge the problem is not fixed, but not a serious issue that it’ll cause the other any harm.

Mixed: Characters, most notably the villains

This is a surprise for me too even after having seen season one in its entirety. While the interaction between characters is handled well those same characters aren’t interesting on their own. The title heroine of the series, Shana, has a personality disorder that goes back and forth making her grating on screen. When she starts she reasonably doesn’t take a liking to male lead Yuji Sakai whose stubborn to do things her way. Shana’s starts out as the girl with a rough exterior, but than upon meeting a guy learns to feel more emotions unable to control them. Her change is predictable. Unfortunately maintaining some annoying traits. The most common one is going back and forth between her feelings for Yuji Sakai. At first it’s not an issue since dead people in this world are basically floating blue flames, but repeat these struggles for more than ten episodes with no variation on the subject it becomes annoying. Then there’s Kazumi Yoshida who also suffers from the opposite problem of Shana. Virtually all of her dialogue is something like “I love Yuji Sakai. He’ll be mine forever. I won’t let you have him Shana”. Rarely does any of her scenes involve talking about anything other than boys. Sadly all of the young women tend to focus on talking about boys in their conversations and conflict revolving around boys. I get that they’re high schoolers, but make the conflict varied. Not every high school girl’s biggest ordeal is winning over a guy.

The male cast don’t get away from this issue either. Granted the male cast have allot more to talk about other than girls which is a relief. Our main leading man is Yuji Sakai who’s written nonsensically. Yuji is understanding when it comes to other people besides Shana. He could tell whenever something is bothering Yoshida making an attempt to help her. If she was Shana on the other hand Yuji is intolerant constantly fighting with her. This I might add is our male lead and Shana is his love interest so…yeah…not exactly a couple that will make your heart soar with the passion of love. Then comes Hayato Ike who is Yuji’s best friend. He’s more emotionally aware of the girls feelings around him. Ike doesn’t do allot in the show to be honest, but brings forth an interesting conflict of two friends possibly fighting over the same girl. Sadly it’s not utilized to its full potential, though thankfully it’s never taken to the extremes of the love rivalry between Shana and Yoshida or Yuji. Alastor is the wise talking amulet like object whose dialogue has a tendency to be filled with wisdom. Unlike Yuji where his reaction can be inconsistent with his character; Alastor thinks logically of what’s best. When he has a talk with Yuji’s mother he has to be convinced of another person’s view on how look after a child. He’s understanding to the point he can admit he is wrong about something through some convincing arguments if there is any. Than there are best friends Keisaku Satou and Eita Tanaka who are the series comedic reliefs. Surprisingly these two despite being the goofiest characters in the show have a surprising amount of growth. They come to face more complicated emotions than “what should we do today” to becoming people that desire to help others. If these two were the leading characters the show would have benefited because as oppose to the leading characters where the humor comes from the situations. Keisaku and Eita humor comes from who they are.

The adult women on the other hand are better handled. My favorite character in the show (who sadly doesn’t appear soon enough) is Wilhelmina Carmel who rights the wrong of Shana. Unlike Shana where her emotions become a nuisance instead of a trait, taking away from her tough image; Wilhelmina never suffers from those same issues because we’re shown there are more emotions to her than her exterior tend to tell. Wilhelmina always speaks in a monotonous, overly formal and polite manner and has nearly no expression. Because Wilhelmina action are readable there’s a lot more depth added to her without having her say it. We know Wilhelmina cares a lot for Shana and that comes across strongly in her scenes. Acting motherly with Shana and defensive when out in public. Even when she has to break away from her tough exterior to show some form of emotion it never feels out of character. Margery Daw is the other adult woman who while not as awesome is admittedly given a more likable personality. Early in the series Margery Daw starts out as a temporary villain who is still made likable with her easy going mood on duty and her chemistry with her loud mouth talking book that makes snappy comeback at her. Margery receives some development, but it being center on the high school leads she does not grow beyond the drunk and loud mouth woman she constantly portrayed in the series. Yuji’s mother, Chigusa Sakai, is also another terrifically written character. She’s wise, understanding, and goes out of her way to help Shana. She’s the most pleasant character to be around even when those she talking too are not.

Virtually every single villain in season one had it own intrigue since not a single villain is normal. The first villain of the series is Friagne the Hunter who doesn’t get much development. Friagne is the series first in the long line of lame villains. He hardly takes any action to reach his goals. Nearly half of the time he’s shown on screen he plans something than which immediately gets ruined and does not know how to fix the problem. In the show, he gets easily defeated and it doesn’t help that he has a underlying doll fetish. Out of all the traits Friagne has, doll fetish will be the one that sticks with you the most since his dolls (in the English dub) sound like little girls who refer to him as master. Doing whatever it takes to please her master which in wording that way gives it a double meaning. The doll’s intention is nice, but made off putting seeing Friagne often talking to himself and his tone of voice is sensual when speaking to the doll. Next up is minor villain Margery Daw who later becomes a permanent supporting character in the cast. She gives Shana a good beating early on, though her villain arc amounts to little impact in the long run.

Next up are the incestious siblings Tiriel/Aizenta who can be unpleasant. Literally the introduction of these siblings goes like this. After Tiriel and Aizenta eat some people in a alley they admit they’re brother and sister and kiss passionately on mouth in a close up. This kiss is also how a the episode they are introduced in ends, which doesn’t help matter when the ending theme has a choir singing. Then afterwards comes a biker and a Samurai that don’t amount to much. The biker baddie is very lame since none of his combat abilities come close to beating the heroes. The Samurai like villain is build up to this incredible fight only get defeated easily within minutes. Afterwards our group of heroes just faces a team of villains that stick it out for the remainder of season one without getting defeated. They’re not worth discussing since their plan and the final arc they are involved in resolves little in the matter.

Mixed: Storytelling

In the opening I said the series had a rough first episode. It’s so rough the series needs five episodes before it could recover and during the first six episodes it’s an onslaught of cliches and nonstop bad explanation of how its world functions. This become tedious very quickly as not only it makes it difficult to follow the working of this world, but also near impossible to comprehend the rules during combat. Making matters worse is the first major villain of the series is very lame. Remember that villain I said had a doll fetish…yeah he doesn’t appear much for that reason. It’s pretty rocky to have such a lame first advisory when tolerating bad explanations. Past these early six episodes it does eventually recover from its rocky start, though doesn’t go out with a bang like one would expect from gradual improvements.

There is a point in season 1 where out of nowhere there are three flashback episodes without a proper transition. The flashback episodes do their job in developing Shana and finally getting to see Wilhelmina. These episodes serve a point and also highlight the issues with some of its villains being interesting, but easily beaten. Through the first season there is never urgency that our heroes won’t succeed. Even in the season finale the extended climax outstays its welcome with the obvious conclusion. The finale doesn’t solve the current dilemma as so much serve to bridge the current season to season two. As a whole, characters grow up beginning at indifferent or becoming closer through the series of threats that can take away their existence. Seeing its characters face their issues together will have you sticking around, but leaving an impact on you from their journey is unlikely.

Mixed: Production Values

The animation is done by studio J.C. Staff and are also responsible for everything in the series. J.C. Staff is the studio you associate anime with both good and bad. Everything from the characters with big eyes, girls who only seem to favor wearing skirts, shortcuts in action sequences, and the occasional fan service (which is out of place in the final episode I might add). This particular studio is pretty much the middle ground of Japanese animation studios. Their animation is competent and versatile in styles, but don’t have an edge in any particular area. Characters design are simplistic with re usage of similar hairstyles and saving some money with incomplete background characters having no mouth. Line detail is okay, but not excessively sharp, but the entire enterprise just has that slightly soft and blurry look. It works for the flames to look blurry to it give it that effect of a burning wave. Not so much when there’s isn’t anything eventful occurring on screen.

The series does have an English dub which is pretty good. Much better than the material actually deserves. All the actors fit their roles well while their performances depends on the writing. Tabitha St. Germain who voices Shana in the English dub can be grating with her high pitches whenever in a verbal fight. Sounding a lot like a spoiled brat at times, but the writing is to blame since Shana’s personality is all over the place. It’s a miracle St. Germain manages to pull it making the emotionally scattered Shana come across as focus. However, I would recommend anyone who has an interest in seeing this to view it with subtitles. Now the English dub for season 1 is great with the voice cast fitting the characters, but season 2 replaces all the dub voice cast from the first season and having seen just one episode of season 2 with it new voice cast I’m already having second thoughts to continue seeing it in English. Season two’s dub is that bad.

Music is the only area that is left and it’s a give or take thing. Virtually all the opening and closing tracks are pop songs and about the same thing. A couple overcoming the burdens the world throws at them and yeah not varied is it. The first closing theme for season, “Toake Umarekuru Shojo” (The Girl Born At Dawn in English) starts out with a choir slowly raising their pitch. Then comes in the singer, Yoko Takashi, who begins to sing with her voice overshadowing the male choir who repeat some verses. It soons descends once a string is heard accompanied by techno sounds. Instruments are battling one another to be heard and it become a clutter mess of sounds that don’t blend. As for the original music it disappears into background. If it’s not from an famous singer than it won’t register in the slightest with you. The music in general are not tracks that you’re not going to picture listening to when not viewing the show. It’s not bad since the way the song talk about a couple struggle goes along with the series when it progresses, but it neither varied by genre or topics.

Random Thoughts: Nostalgia Crept In (no points taken to account)

My journey in viewing the series was not always welcoming, but I grew a fondness for it through season one. Every episode always left me with alot of thoughts that regardless the emotions left an impression on me. There never was a boring episode even if nothing extraordinary came out of the events. The writing had its fair share of downsides religiously following tropes, but also subverted from them to tell interesting stories. As the show characters grew up during the course of season one so did my feelings for the show. Ending up liking it despite a very poor start. Over time while watching it I grew rather nostalgic of it despite being my first time seeing it. The feeling was like returning to a series you loved, but finding out it hasn’t aged very well. Shana of the Burning Eyes is like that. While it’s not this great show many made it out to be there’s certain qualities about that keeps your feeling positive for them. The series’s first opening theme has stuck with me and helped it be on my good side. While I don’t know the exact way to word it. It’s exactly the song I would picture going with the series. Sure I don’t like the basic structure of the song, but is written that it feels like it was specifically for the series.

Final Thoughts:

I hit many road block during this series first season and many times I wondered if it would ever recover. I was eventually able to settle in and let it do it own thing without worrying too much. Like it characters, the first season was able to overcome an issue. Sure it never fixes any of its flaws to eliminate them, but the show’s heart to face them head on works in its favor. It doesn’t entirely succeed in everything it wanted to do. Where it does succeed it strikes and strikes it hard to pull itself back up whenever stuck in a rut. In the end, it’s broken in some areas, but comes out with a well earned damaged victory.

Genre Blending: 2/2

Character Interaction: 2/2

Characters: 1/2

Story: 1/2

Production Values: 1/2

Final Rating: 7/10 – Shana of the Burning Eyes has a rough start, but gradually improves the further it goes. However, the appeal of the series is limited with just about everything you associate with anime both good and bad being on constant display in every episode. It follows tropes religiously while at other times breaks away from them. Constantly rising and diving in quality it has a lot more high points when it ends than the low points from where it begins.

Anime Breakdown: Elfen Lied (2004) Series Review

This show holds a great deal of significance…to my little brother at least. As oppose to myself where my entry point back into anime was Angel Beats! (a show my brother doesn’t hold in the same regard). Elfen Lied was his entry point into anime and one of the few shows he recommended me to check out. I did just that and to be honest it didn’t have the same impact on me, but is still a great show. It’s mature, bloody, and all around is supported by a creative team that manages to discuss many dark themes in the short span of thirteen episodes.

Premise:

University students Kohta and Yuka (Kohta’s cousin) save a Diclonius girl called “Lucy” when they see her naked in a beach. In fact “Lucy” is a serial killer who is being searched by the government but they are not aware of who “Lucy” really is because her personality is split.

Good: Holds Nothing Back

In Elfen Lied no area is too gray to discuss. Just about every episode casually discusses genocide, violence, vengeance, discrimination, inhumanity, and other dark themes. It’s for this acceptance for these dark themes alone that makes its story worth seeing. Providing a depiction of dark subjects without downplaying them. One such prominent and driving characteristic of those themes is Lucy and her violent outburst. Literally the opening minutes has her killing guards in bloody manners and upon this sight we tend to side with the humans. Delusioning the audience into believing that Lucy does in fact deserve to be locked up seeing how many people she killed. As the series advances and develops there’s a clear line drawn between compassionate killing and killing for a selfish reason. There’s a difference between child Lucy killing a child her own age versus young adult Lucy who kills an Assault Soldier. Violence for Lucy’s case is a path that presents maturity in her growth into a different person. Even the way Lucy kills a person has a distinct difference in methods. As a small child Lucy method is sloppy as her early killings there’s plenty of bloodshed despite being successful in her kills. Now compare to young adult Lucy and there’s more precise cutting and less of a bloody mess. She’s learns to become an expert in the art of killing while slowly becoming consume with regrets and hatred for herself committing such activity that encourages discrimination and the people that drove to that state.

The way it depicts violence isn’t for fun showing the pain it causes both on who inflicts it and whose receiving it. Because it chooses to show violence as a form of pain rather than a spectacle it further pushes it highlighted themes. Beginning to question who are the biggest monsters; Diclonii for resorting to violence when discriminated or the humans that discriminate against them viewing the species only as a tool. Both sides are morally wrong, but at the same time morally justified for such actions. We get to experience the conflict on both side. In Lucy’s views she had a small spark of hope in humanity that was lost. Negative feelings that were only reaffirmed through the hardship once she got captured and treated as an animal in experiments. On the other side we have the humans believing Lucy represents the Diclonii short temper and dangerous powers that gives them little leeway if more of them are born. Some see Diclonii as a problem being a superior race that can easily overthrow humans. The conflict isn’t one dimensional as both morally reinforce the other negative feelings towards the other questioning if there is such a thing progress beyond the label of race.

Stopping myself before I spoiled every theme for newcomer I’ll discuss my favorite moments in Elfen Lied weren’t so much the deep meaning it gave to it themes. It was actually the dynamic backstory of Kurama. Episode 10 is the series biggest turning point as not only does it developed Kurama as a much more than a cold, complicated individual, but it brings a whole new meaning behind his actions. Most of which are questionable even before learning about his past. With the revelation in episode 10 it puts into perspective that further reinforced him as a monster or as a weak minded man who’s intentions outweighed his actions. His conflict is no longer one sided, morally seeking revenge, nor it is one outweighed that it’s his duty. Rather it’s a smaller personal journey that through the course of the series we see him changing, but not necessarily for the better. While he does not have a change of heart he neither goes out of his way to redeem to himself for the possible dozen of lives he has taken. Kurama is a man who in his exterior does anything that is for the better of mankind. No matter how much of his humanity he has to sacrifice, but not at the cost when the dilemma becomes personal. This is proven when he refuses to go through with a specific order in Episode 10. Kurama is just one of many cast of characters that not only struggles with the cruel reality, but also struggles with complicated issues themselves that cross a series of gray lines.

Good: A Love Story With Blood and Gore

Underneath all the dark themes lies a story of romance that’s rather odd. One would expect going into any show with a male lead making a prediction of who he’ll likely end up with and be correct. That’s not the case with Elfen Lied as it blend of comedy and harem (protagonist surrounded by multiple love interests) semi-realistically among the chaos. Each episode focuses on the central characters current dilemma with the bigger picture in the background slowly inching it way to centerfold. Kouta, at the center, is shown conflicted with his romantic feelings. He’s neither oblivious to the idea that Yuka (childhood best friend) loves him nor makes attempt to conceal he might have feelings for another girl. Naturally he’s drawn to Nyu/Lucy child mentality state as she sees the world in her own eyes for the first time. Whenever Nyu is around you always feel there’s a warmth of innocence and good intentions behind everything she does. Nyu might not be able to fully comprehend everything about modern society, but neither do we hold it against her. Yuka on the other hand intends well, but comes across too strongly in expressing herself. She isn’t afraid to speak out her mind that for better or worse leads to the predicament she gets into.

Another good trait about the romance is how it works into the dark themes. As oppose to making the whole series entirely broody the romance aspect tends to be more lighthearted. This is a nice departure serving the interactions between characters feel natural. We never feel like they unknowingly get involved into a big disaster. They naturally go about their daily lives as best they can. These romance scenes reveal a lot about the characters naturally setting up some misunderstandings. A misunderstanding could work its way into a joke which nicely transition into a serious subject. Breaking the barrier’s rough exterior with a joke, then going into its topic with a serious talk. This also works for scenes that feature comedy in general. Depending on the situation within a scene determines the type humor. Ranging from dark humor like a character line from learning he’ll have his genitles remove to out of the blues to metaphor humor like a character having a nightmare on Japan currency crucifying her.

Now where does exactly does exactly blood and gore come into the picture? Well nearly every affection or misunderstanding between Kouta and Lucy/Nyu results in some form of violence. In episode 2, after an argument regarding a precious pink shell Kouta becomes upset at Lucy/Nyu causing her to run away. Lucy and Kouta run into trouble resulting in Kouta being knocked out and Lucy mercilessly killing those sent to retrieve her. While technically both characters haven’t connected at this point it empathizes the focus on a love story. This event only strengthens their bond and from an audiences perspective can truly understand the beauty Kouta finds behind such a cruel killing machine. The romance and the characters current dilemma never builds up to the level as the Diclonius Research Institution violent search to retrieve Lucy, but it’s bridges the gap between discussing larger than life issues with the smaller side of human conflict.

Good: Lots of Great Female Characters

Fans of the series are quick to point to Lucy as the best character of the series regardless of genders and that’s not far from the truth. While not my favorite of the cast, Lucy does resemble a “Jekyll and Hyde” trait transforming back and forth between an entirely defenseless girl you want to protect to a psychopath who you hope don’t come to bad terms with under any circumstances. She chops bodies without having to lift a finger. All she has to do is stand next to a person and let her vectors (telekinetics invisible hands) do all the chopping. She isn’t afraid of a fight on several occasions proving she’s not to be messed with. Being capable of holding her own against her own kind. It also helps that she develops allot through the series seeing what drove her to lose faith in humanity and the person that made her believe in them again.

Mayu is the youngest of the cast of characters and admittedly my favorite of the cast. For anyone wondering no it’s not because she’s cute (her voice actress doesn’t help either), but rather her maturity. Despite never understanding the bigger picture of the series conflicts she manages to be a sort of therapist for the characters. Listening to their problems and being able hold a conversation on subjects she might or not entirely understand. Much like the rest of the female cast she gets a tragic backstory. Nana on ther hand is more lightheaded and no understanding of the real world. She doesn’t receive as much screen time as Lucy, but is a welcome addition with her nearly fun loving personality. Her misunderstanding on how the real world works leads to some funny situations. There are two other worth mentioning, but those two are left as it since mentioning them will lessen their impact when they appear.

Good: Less Is More

Colors are nicely saturated, and the series’ kind of minimalistic design aesthetic comes through decently. Everything visually is kept simplistic even during the moments of carnage which despite having characters get ripped limb to limb are shown one at a time generally. It can get gratuitous with the nudity, but it’s generally used in a context where it would not be viewed as (possible) fan service. Granted some will enjoy the amount of nudity more so than other (me not being one of them). Blood can also get a bit excessive, but the level of dismemberment is intensified by the amount of blood that comes on screen. Either all at once or little by little to proven effect. Character designs are generally distinct, and the lighting for a given scene always look proper. The only major complaint against the animation is all the characters have the same face. While they’re all distinguishable due to hair, eye color, clothing, and things of the like, they all have the same exact facial structure. One of the instances of taking shortcuts, though it’s forgivable since characters are being reused. However, using stock animation in Episode 12 literally minutes after one of its characters performs a specific action does not get a free pass.  

Sound mixing is superb even if the cheery outro “Be Your Girl” by Chieko Kawabe doesn’t fit with the tone of the series. Some of the credit goes to a top-rate soundtrack based around the soulful, elegant Latin opening theme “Lilium” (which, as it turns out, is actually a plot device) stirring hymn inspired from the biblical and buttressed by suitably creepy or dramatic musical scoring in other places. It’s in the use of background noise and sound effects, and the way everything is balanced between multiple speakers, where the sound production truly excels.  It is based upon a catholic chant of the same name. Performed entirely in Latin, it was very unusual and fitting. The Lilium theme also features repeatedly through the flashbacks. The rest of the soundtrack is also good. It sets the right mood and invokes the right emotional response. Most of it is made up of simplistic piano and string arrangements. Instrumental variety isn’t an issue for high quality music is never a bad thing.

Mixed: A Forced Story

Elfen Lied is a tragedy and one that makes sure it does everything to reinforce that. Much like Angel Beats!, what saves the series is great writing and closing a rather large story into 13 episodes that provides a sense of closure. For starter in order for its story to be in a position to continue the characters Kouta and Yuka upon finding Nyu/Lucy naked on the beach first response is to take her home. Instead of the doing usual asking people around town if anyone knows her or report her to the police. Setting up the story with unrealistic action gets a free pass since it’s setting up the story. However, it is a force trigger to get it story going.

Unfortunately Elfen Lied falls into the routine of being predictively cruel leaving little room for surprises. It becomes a running formula for one of the central characters to have a tragedy occur to them. For some characters their troubled past comes across effectively. One example being Mayu character who first time we see her is homeless. Through the early goings we learn tiny details about Mayu current condition which makes it tragic when discovering the truth behind her past. This was foreshadowed as well as hinted at makes sympathy towards Mayu earned. When it hints or allude at a character past and follows up on it becomes a rewarding emotional investment.

Of course anyone who seen the series will hate me for criticising one such scene in Lucy flashback as an example of its forced story. Without spoiling it, all I’ll say is that it involves a puppy. Now here’s a problem with this specific scene. The whole dynamic of Lucy losing faith in humanity at a young age is very forced in this pivotal scene. Lucy takes a liking to puppy, but nothing ever becomes of the relationship. Now in the manga (according to my brother, Anime Psychopath) time is spent on showing Lucy relationship with this puppy which gives greater significance to what occurs to the puppy. In the anime series we don’t get that at all making it feel like it just happened the next day. All that is gathered from Lucy connection with the puppy is that she wanted to feed it and that’s it. We’re never shown any depth to Lucy connection for this puppy aside from she likes it. That’s not so hard buy since allot of people like puppies. It comes off as a plot device that forces itself to prove a point not so much to add value to its story.

Now the whole series does falter in major conflicts getting resolved rather quickly. This is also to blamed on the writing anime series which yes is not a problem in the manga. One such example is Kouta finally gaining back his memory of a tragedy that occurred to him at a young age. Once he discovers who it was behind the murdered of his father and younger sister he quickly forgives the person who done it. Apparently Kouta finds family murdered to be a turn on. Another issue with the series is Yuka (basically the childhood best friend, love interest) character is the weakest of an otherwise great cast mostly filled with strong female characters. More than half of Yuka’s dialogue has something to do about Kouta possibly not loving her or someone else taking him away from her. She’s not given much of a personality coming across overly clinging and unsupportive of Kouta’s good will taking in girls with life issues.

The final episode in particular is a mixed bag. For starter it hints there’s a lot more story left to tell, but doesn’t have a second season to tell those stories. To its credit it does end many of its hanging threads to prevent dissatisfaction with how it all played out. However, it’s basically a read the manga ending if you want to discover what happened pass that ending.

Final Thoughts:

Elfen Lied is currently the most mature anime I’ve had finished. Visually its minimalist details emphasises the nature of pain that comes from violence serving as a commentary tool for its dark themes rather than mere spectacles. Suffering some minor issues from a force story that is routinely tragic and a ending that reveals there’s a lot more story left to tell that is not going to make it way onto the small screen or big screen anytime soon. As it stand as a 13 episode anime Elfen Lied gets across many themes without stumbling between the dark nature of the cruel world and the lighthearted moments between its cast. It might not last very long, but like Angel Beats! it’s a short burst of a quality television worth giving it a watch while it last.

Themes: 2/2

Genre Blending: 2/2

Characters: 2/2

Production Values: 2/2

Execution: 1/2

Rating: 9/10 – Elfen Lied falls into a routine of being predictably cruel, but never does predictability detract from what’s otherwise a great show. It has light elements you associate with anime while never lessening its maturity in telling a story with many dark themes.

Anime Breakdown: Tokyo Ravens (2013 – 2014) Series Review

I picked up Tokyo Ravens around the same time I was watching Blue Exorcist. I went looking on message boards attempting to read any recomendations and went for one whose name stood out to me. That anime was Tokyo Ravens which I picked just for the heck of it. Once I got caught up with the series I had to view each new episodes on a weekly bases. For a short time it would my go to show even if it was just to pass the time. Then the longer it went on the more it dragged getting to the finish line. Leading to a routine of weekly disappointments and cohesive disjointment of quality witnessing a decline in a showed I started off liking. Now that it’s over all I have to say is there’s a reason why Tokyo Ravens will continue to generally go unnoticed even among the anime community.

Premise:

In some event known as the “Great Disaster,” Japan has been thrown into chaos by onmyouji (a kind of magician). Harutora Tsuchimikado was born into an onmyouji family, but he has no power whatsoever. He lived normally as a regular boy, but his estranged childhood friend Natsume Tsuchimikado suddenly appears to him one day. When they were younger, he made a promise long ago to become her shikigami (familiar/spirits protect and serve their master), and she is back to make him fulfill that promise! A battle between onmyouji is about to begin.

Good: Magical Battles

Tokyo Ravens seems to be limitless when it comes to specializing in visually interesting action scenes with some decent staging. Fights in the series are done with magical techniques based on the elements of nature (water, fire, earth, and what not) and occasionally some ugly looking CG creatures that stick out roughly against the hand drawn world. While I can’t explain in detail how it precisely works because of its complexity (that and I forgot what rules were not being changed consistently in each battle). One thing I can say for certain when it comes to showing off magical battles Tokyo Ravens deliver on that fronts with taunt atmosphere setting the mood immediately. High stakes are always felt due to how fatal every attack looks on screen. The only thing more difficult than surviving a magical attack is attempting to read your opponents moves and countering it. Like a standard fight scene if a competitor blocks his opponent attacks than he/she has a open window to do what he pleases in either doing a direct attack or countering his opponent move. In Tokyo Ravens that rings true to an extent as the characters ever so rarely physically hit each other having to rely on a series of spells to get out alive. Here a simple counter just doesn’t means your attack gets reverse, but can equal a mistake that can puts the odds in your opponent favor.

Seeing how combatants have different methods to fighting is part of the fun as you never know what they’re thinking or plan of strategy they are implementing. Resulting in unpredictable battles where the outcome is not exactly how you envisioned to have played out. However, the staging of them is not as enticing as the visuals that accompanied them. Despite having convoluted rules, Tokyo Ravens rarely has any moments where the battle choreography stand out. Like a card game, a majority of the fight consist on someone taking their turn, waiting, and then taking their turn. The whole waiting mechanic of these battles tends to leave opponents open for long duration of time. While it does seperate the ammature from the masters what it doesn’t do is provide a standoff feel to it like that of a western. When two combatants in Tokyo Ravens wait, and stand off against each other it become repetitive no matter how much goes into the combat situation. Still, compared to everything else the magical battles are reliable for pure entertainment from beginning to end. A rule that doesn’t apply for everything else.

Mixed: Too Many Characters

The first half of Tokyo Ravens does a decent job, if clumsy at times, developing the cast of characters. We get acquainted with the central three with Harutora, Natsume, and Touji taking most of the screen time. In its entirety it introduces new characters pacing itself to sufficiently develope these central three. As for the minor cast they rather serve as a means to move the plot. Kon, a mixture between a fox and a little girl who doesn’t have much used in battles nor gets any development from looking adorable (she’s not) until the end of the series. Kyouko is at the first the rival turned friend and then later a potential love interest. At first Kyouko inspite of being given a typical role starts out interesting even if her designed role is contrived. While she doesn’t do a whole lot of fighting she does contribute in helping to developed the characters. It’s only until when it reaches the end when the character is undone by being given a new unexplained power and a contrived conflict with Natsume that is easily resolved. Tenma is useless. A bit a cruel since he’s a plot device to create conflict in the middle of the series and by the end finally does something to serve the story on a positive level. However, nothing ever really comes out of Tenma throughout the show. Finally Suzuka is…just Suzuka. Yeah this character sucks. Simply put in the show she’s belongs an elite group that’s exclusive to 12 members, but never demonstrates why she got that position showing little expertise in combat and a lack of brains outside of school.

Once it passes episode 14 you get a barrage of new characters who motives are lost and made overly complicated. Taking away from the central story whenever it follows characters that sometimes won’t make another appearance in the series. The many characters in its cast is the series physical manifestation of filler. Once it strays off course the characters we do followed that do affect the plot have little to offer.

The heroes are also hypocritical instead of changing for the better start back at square one. Tokyo Ravens first major arc deals with Harutora and Natsume preventing Suzuka Dairenji resurrecting her brother which through an exchange of dialogue we learn resurrection is forbidden because it requires the sacrifice of a single life. Yet, when the heroes decides to use this same exact forbidden magic it justifies because Harutora is powerful. Defeating the whole purpose of the first major conflict presented regardless if the heroes reasonings was for someone he loved. Characters don’t grow significantly at least when it comes to Harutora and Natsume. These two are never made a couple in the series despite both knowing the other likes them. It’s a missed opportunity to standout among the dozens of anime that teases these kind of relationships, but that’s just one of many traits that prevent it from standing out.

Mixed: Story Progression

At first I wasn’t entirely sold on wanting to see Tokyo Ravens from first impressions in episode 1. It appeared to be just another romance anime with light fantasy elements, but was wrong to some degree. The romance angle was set up competently presenting two love interest for Harutora; one who’s he been great friends with for a long time and a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in years. This setup while very convenient to get the series moving presented an interesting conflict. It also ended in an unexpected note that could lead anyone curious enough to see what happened next. The first three episodes actually took me by surprised by the direction the series was going. Not only did the love triangle dissolve quickly (the character still appears in the intro even after she dies), but managed to create interesting characters put into unexpected situations who weren’t sure to how to handle them. These were characters that were easily relatable, having good intentions, and were compelling made it worth following.

The further Tokyo Ravens went on the more it began to grow and become comfortable with itself. Finding the right balance between goofing off and moving the story forward. Pacing itself just right that in the end even if the episode didn’t deliver something specific you wanted you knew for certain it was going to get there. When it came to delivering the main arcs they offered the best moments of the series. Sure it helped the series has some nicely drawn magical battles that keeps the excitement going. While those battle do impressed so did twists in the story that put earlier events into different perspectives. What we thought originally gives Harutora conflict on his feelings for the one he love more complexity debating nonstop if he does love the one he sets his heart out for is an illusion or reality to what he wants. Characters we followed were growing, their battle skills were growing, it was becoming more sophisticated, and the stakes grew higher. It knew how create an exciting set up, a story arc that valued the action as much as its characters, and did so executing everything it kept doing right.

Then comes the second half which is when everything started going downhill. I can’t say for certain what episode completely lost me, but I can tell you why it lost me as a viewer. For starter, it shot itself in the foot when it decided to introduced so many characters, organizations, groups, and history on a family or specific character. In the first half there’s a time when the explanations stop finally letting itself loose to tell stories either be comedic or centered around an important arc with emphasis on magical battles with significance to the story. In the second half the explanations never stopped to the point that it can take several episodes to finished explaining what is important to the plot in a previous episode. The longer it went on the more the episodes dragged taking its sweet time dedicating entire episodes to exposition only to end on a cliffhanger that could possibly lead to the next arc. Being disjointed as several episodes were either explaining too much not moving the plot or had too much action losing its characters and story. Rarely in the second half of Tokyo Ravens did it get its balanced right that it soon started effecting how the series progressed.

What was once an easy to follow sosphiscated story became convoluted and difficult to follow complicated mess. Character motivations that were once clear became lost under the talk of reincarnations, stopping terrorists, concealing true gender, coping with everyone knowing true gender, preventing magical disasters, who betrayed whom, what’s the real intention of a group of suspicious characters, what the where about of a family, the ever growing love interests for the protagonists to choose from, secret societies bend on using forbidden artes, and so many yet to be listed. All of those plot elements I’ve mention were either introduced in the second half or made more complicated. Everything it brought to the table resulted in the same repetitive format; several episodes where characters explain nonstop, followed by episode heavy on the action, once the climax of an arc ends it transitions roughly be it comedy center episode or immediately starting the next arc further adding confusion.

The series ending is rushed taking a toll on the over crowded cast and mess of a complicated story. Without spoiling the events of the series simply put the series wasn’t sure whether or not to kill protagonist Harutora. It’s this fear that leaves many questions on the series ending that’ll never get answers. This wouldn’t be a problem if what came before it made it easier to accept the ending, but it leaves several storylines unanswered and the conclusion of the story only closes a small fraction of the story it set out to tell.

Mixed: Animation

If it weren’t for the magical battles the whole technical aspects of the series would have failed severely. As oppose to magical battles which complement the animators to create complex visuals the non action scenes are the very definition of the word simplistic. Nothing about the character designs is memorable nor are the plain looking backgrounds very lively. Not a single thing presented in the world of Tokyo Ravens makes it stand out from a design perspective. As for the fantasy elements they’re mostly made prominent with the usage of magic in battles. However, the usage of familiar is limited in screen time as the character once master their skills used their familiar less and less. The strange usage of CGI will take time to get accustomed to, but the CGI never blends into with the rest of series aesthetics. The 3D models aren’t as smoothly animated with some ugly color choices making the CG stick out severely. Some of the designs are mecha-esque whose mechanical design contrasted poorly against the organic creatures. This issues is fixed later on as the series uses less CG the more it progresses. Animation won’t impress, but is always consistent in middle ground quality. It might look bland, but it’s never a distracting issue.

Bad: Forgettable Music

I could leave this area blank with the simple bullet point above, but that wouldn’t justify my position on the music. There’s no better place to start than with the opening and closing themes of the series. Getting it out of the way the ending theme ‘Kimi ga Emu Yugure’ by Yoshino Nanjo is a slow moving acoustic guitar song with overly sappy lyrics that’s forgettable. ‘Break a spell’ is about determination for a new truth undone by auto tuning instruments and the singer which eliminates authenticity on three ends. Now up first opening theme ‘X-encounter’ by Maon Kurosaki is average. The song did grow on me with it techno beats and lyrics that basically said spread your wings complemented with the events of the show. It didn’t reveal anything major about the plot rather metaphors the endeavor of a bird unable to fly similar to the show’s heroes who have difficulty fighting with little experience and knowledge.

The songs are in Japanese so why bother analyzing the lyrics if I have to read what they mean? Well if I didn’t I would have given a free pass to ‘Outgrow’ by Gero which repeats the same Ravens gimmick. Unlike the techno ‘X-encounter’ whose rhythm basically force singer Maon Kurosaki to composition her lyrics awkwardly. ‘Outgrow’ sounds more natural by comparison. With it combination of alternative rock and techno the song is a collection of loud instruments with no specific arrangement to clutter the ear waves. While it doesn’t strain the ears it doesn’t have anything noteworthy that warranted it to replaced ‘X-encounters’. Basically all that is said in the song is they’ll be better days as a flock of birds capable to change the destination. However, it also discuss the flock desired to be independent despite our heroes needing to be saved by a more powerful force either be a spell, person, and plot convenience. Contradicting events that occur in the show. It forces itself to use the Ravens metaphor for a song that has ‘Blow up the dark’ and ‘Just keep the faith’ for lyrics it becomes lost in what exactly it’s trying to say.

The rest of the music offered variety without a single one of the track being memorable. The score is directionless at times and hard to get a grasp on. Most of the relaxing cues seems to be piano and guitar playing for little or no reason. Providing a warmth and soothing feeling that makes you feel at ease. Take it outside of the series and it doesn’t work the same way sounding like hundreds of other soothing tracks. Without lyrics to these tracks you’ll be constantly be thinking “I’ve heard this before” and never put your finger on where exactly you heard it. Says allot when the original produced music is outdone by artists whose songs weren’t specifically created for the show.

Final Thoughts:

Tokyo Ravens never convinces it was destined to be great, but it was a show that was easy to get into and like. However, the longer it went on more of what made it worth seeing disappeared into the background creating more problems instead of fixings the issues it had. Disjointed in quality and disappointing the further it goes. Ending on a contrived whim that leaves you dissatisfied where you end up.

Action: 2/2

Characters: 1/2

Story: 1/2

Animation: 1/2

Music: 0/2

Rating: 5/10 – Tokyo Ravens only offers half a show worth seeing. Ending up in a complicated mess of a show with no closure to many of it loose threads.

Anime Breakdown: Blue Exorcist (Ao No Exorcist) (2011) Series Review

Important to note:

I’m no expert on manga or its animated form so when it comes to regarding it’s position of quality I have no idea how high or high low this would rank. Honestly though this isn’t the first anime I’ve ever seen, although I doubt anyone who sees and read this stuff would take someone who only anime he has seen are Angel Beats!, Persona 4: The Animation, Tokyo Ravens, Attack On Titan, Noragmi, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and WataMote would take my criticism to heart. At the time this was posted I got confirmation from the official Blue Exorcist fan page that there is no plan for another season.

Lets get started into why I decided to check out the series in the first place. Looking through the animation section of my video store I was looking for something new to see. In the past I pretty much establish myself as a person whose sees the current state of animation in a negative light. Looking back at my reviews on animated movies most of them begin with me bashing current animation in some way. So with this incentives I chose to check out one of the more recent animated films. The one I chose just so happened to be Blue Exorcist and once I discover it was based on a manga that has a anime I chose to do my review of the film differently. Unlike in the past I didn’t just want to go into the film for just newcomers, but be able to tell fans if the film does justice to the series or not. Plus I had plenty of time to kill so there was no harm to be done if I checked out the series. This being a review of a television series and not the film I’ve chosen to adapt the wing-it style I originally developed for TV shows (which I haven’t decided to start or ignore) for this series review of  Blue Exorcist.

Premise:

The world of Blue Exorcist consists of two dimensions joined as one, like a mirror. The first is the world in which the humans live, Assiah. The other is the world of Demons, Gehenna. Ordinarily, travel between the two, and indeed any kind of contact between the two, is impossible. However, the demons can pass over into this world by possessing anything that exists within it. Satan is the god of demons, but there’s one thing that he doesn’t have and that’s a container in the human world that is powerful enough to hold him! For that purpose, he created Okumura Rin, his son from a human woman, but will his son agree to his plans, or will he become something else…? After killing Rin’s guardian, Father Fujimoto, in an attempt to bring Rin back to the Demon world, it led to Rin’s journey of becoming an Exorcist in order to become powerful enough to defeat Satan and also face the consequences of being the son of Satan.

Good: Accessible, Easy To Define Characters

If there’s one thing Blue Exorcist does correctly, it’s its characters. Each of them have an easy to define trait and backstories. Motivations become much more about the characters personal goals over simply being a battle of good vs. evil. Facing their own weaknesses even overcoming preconceived notions when facing each other. Taking time to do something with it sides character albeit be an entire episode or a moment where they specifically shine. Despite a being a series about orphans, devils, and demonic creatures it finds time to have a little fun with itself thanks to its balance of varied personalities. They have the right balance of comedy and genuine emotion that sells you on whatever the characters are currently going through their situations.

Rin Okumura, the protagonist of the series exemplifies the series contrast of the typical cycles we assume of good and evil. He’s the son of Satan, contains his powers, but ultimately decides to go on a different path from what’s society expects from him. Okumura goes against the norm of how to perceive a demon even if the series itself plays it pretty safe with it story. What makes Blue Exorcist easily accessible is the relationship between brothers Rin and Yukio. From first impressions, it came across as if Yukio’s accepting his brother’s status a demon would be a central arc, but gets resolved rather quickly. However, the key to maintaining the brother dynamic interesting is them seeking their parents past all the while facing several issues together. It’s this kind of brotherly love that makes it worth getting involved behind the protagonists.

The series best character moments are with Shiro Fujimoto who raised the spawns of Satan. Early on in the series his character bites the dust, a shame too since it leaves as little impact as you would expect, though that is to blame more on poor plotting than the character himself. Fujimoto slowly becomes more developed through the course of the series from the words of either the children he raised or those who knew him from the past. This father is a certified badass because of how strongly he sticks to his beliefs. Not only does he retain the good word, but always searches for a non violent solution if possible. He’s a pacifist if he sees other ways of resolving an issues, but not to the point he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. It’s just unfortunate Shiro Fujimoto takes a back seat to his sons given how his backstory has a better setup for three act stories than the direction the series went in.

Good: Interesting World With Religious Elements

Admittedly I never once really thought much on the hierarchy of a church. I bring this up because religion is one of the series main elements. To an extent it does establish the rules in which the priests should do business. They are pretty clear using what the average person associates when it comes to exorcism and priests. It’s not an shoehorned element as its usage of religion ideas is solid. Baring some similar element to its inspiration is easy to compare, but free enough to explore the concepts with modern updates. For example, there’s five ways a Meister (an exorcist specific combat style) ranges from; Dragoon (guns), Knight (swords and what not), Aria (reads holy text scripture), Tamer (summon Demons), and Doctor (self explanatory). We get a good picture of how everything functions and works in the system.

Using religion as a starting point it yet again makes a number of contrast from established concepts. For starter the lord of evil Satan has far more characteristic than just a demonic being. His one trait of punishing is kept, but it’s the idea of what makes Satan who he is that we are given a glimpse off. Understanding why a human would fall in love with Satan and understanding Satan as a person not just as a mere demon. This exploration comes pretty late in the series although very much appreciated putting a different spin on a legendary figure. Further supporting the against type the series highlights with the demonic protagonist. Knowing it limits the religion elements never become overbearing to the series.

Mixed: Production Values

From a technical standpoint there’s nothing about Blue Exorcist that stands out from animation, visuals, music, or anything for that matter. It simply does its job adequately which isn’t enough to leave a permanent impression like the series so desperately wants to achieve.

When it comes to sound the only thing that comes close to registering on radar is it music. The series only has two notable tracks which are the opening themes; “Core Pride” by the (can’t believe I actually recognized this) band UVERworld for the first 12 episodes and “In My World” by Rookiez Is Punk’d for the remaining 13. UVERworld is a good band, but “Core Pride” isn’t a good representation of the shows first season. Opening with an uproaring saxophone accompanied by fast drum beats within seconds “Core Pride” goes from Jazz to a rock song in seconds. I definitely like the song “Core Pride” and how it expresses its subject matter, but that same notion can’t be applied vice versa. “Core Pride” transforms into another genre in seconds something the typical opening does not do; title appears with flashy fire effects, protagonist is running late to something, protagonist head facing down while walking alone with hands in his pockets, protagonist laying out in the rain holding his weapon, protagonist gets picked up and runs again, and ending with the protagonist holding out his sword just to look cool. Man I spend allot on a single track which honestly defeats the point of watching 12 episodes. Sure you’ll get more context if you see the first twelve episodes, but those moments are pretty insignificant when compared to the big picture “Core Pride” gets across a lot more efficiently in four minutes.

The second opening track “In My World” by Rookiez Is Punk’D is more in line with the series quality as the opening is even less inspired. However, “In My World” should basically be labeled “Core Pride 2” as both songs are pretty much the same thing lyrically. “Core Pride” talks about a person considered to be an outsider in his community having big dreams he knows are unobtainable. Over the course of his life he never loses the passion to obtain them knowing that if his future is never bound to change like people have told him throughout his life he knows himself he can change. Long summarization I know. It’s just the way the song presents that life experience is a lot classier because the person going on the journey is facing it head on with no excuses even if everyone is trying to put him down. “In My World” is the griefing version of “Core Pride”. Literally opening with “Dark side in my heart is a black box” it mopes around with an unenlightened outlook. Lyrically the song’s attitude is “F**k all to the world” for the majority of it until by the end the person embraces life and all bad things it throws. Notice a problem with the two? If not, “Core Pride” is a life experience where as “In My World” is a temper tantrum. “In My World” is a bad opening because it’s drastically smaller in scope compare to “Core Pride” and going against the big scope the show is aiming for. Worst of all “In My World” doesn’t in any way build upon anything that’s been established simply restating facts viewers at this point would have already known about the series.

Now with that off my chest how’s everything else that actually matters for longer than a minute and half. Well the sound effects are dull. Gunfire sounds are similar and at times when a bullet hits an object the effect can be missing. Things such as fire burning, swords clashing, broken gate falling, or any various series of action sound stock. There’s literally editing programs with same level of quality sound effect. Visually the animation is smooth, but there’s nothing notable about it. Feeling very restrictives it attempts to make up for it with a more stylized approach to make its battles appear big. Granted this works to make battle look cool, but the restrictive animation prevents from the action scenes from being elaborate. Art design is generally mixed. Demonic creatures for the most part are based around animals and unfortunately the creators don’t stray too far off from the animals anatomy. Everything from the color to the body structure, nothing about the demons look visually demonic. Take a look below.

Character designs are thankfully varied minus the protagonist Rin Okumura. While researching images I did not expect to find a character so similar to Rin’s design. So while the protagonist isn’t entirely original, the rest of the cast established their own identity. Although the animators did get carried away with the design of a particular characters breasts. I kid you not when I say there were times when the only things on my screen were animated breasts.

Mixed: Promises a lot, delivers very little

Seeing how many negative things I have to say about the writing, lets get out some positives. Story arcs that have little connection with the main story bring satisfying closure. These stories could be from the celebration of a certain character birthday to a husband finally forgiving himself to what happened to his wife. The downsides to these arcs varied as some do make character development progress, but overall these stand alone episodes neither strengthen nor weaken the overall story. Now for to the long rant.

Blue Exorcist throughout its 25 episodes follows the pattern of a Stephen King novel; it has excellent build up, but the outcome is underwhelming. It has the characters and world to fulfill the epic scope it has its eyes set on, but the stories themselves suffer from mediocrity. In order for Rin Okumura to be become an exorcist he must attend True Cross Academy. This ends up making the series just another high school anime. Character archetypes are pretty typical for a high school setting from the bully, the loner, the nerd, and so forth. Like the high school setting it has some twists like the lack of any actual romantic tension. The characters are good, but unfortunately what the series decides to do with them amounts in unfulfilling transformations.

Another problem with the series is protagonist Rin Okumura never overcomes any major obstacles that doesn’t require the use of his demonic powers. It pretty much throws away the idea of the usage of his power consuming him which prevents Rin Okumura’s having a sense of growth. From the beginning of the series all the way to the end, progression is absent with Rin having learned little to nothing at all. Also the subplot about Rin Okumura learning to control his blue flames for several episodes is thrown away by the finale. Without spoiling it, simply put another character inherits a similar power and immediately knows how to control it.

Another weakness is Rin’s rival Amaimon. Amaimon is meant to come across as the snarky rival, but rather comes across as a overly powerful brat. Everytime Amaimon fought with Rin it usually resulted in expositions between attacks preventing momentum from building up. Even when something did happen in the battles between Amaimon and Rin it resorted to the same trick every time. It’s amazing that despite how short the battles are they can take a while to get to the point.

Hands down the biggest issue with Blue Exorcist is the lack of closure. When reaching closer to the finished line it all feels rushed with elements being left unexplored or underdeveloped even a mysterious character that’s hinted to be more important is left as is. Sure the big finale is wrapped up insultingly easily, but it’s not a way to end a series on a high note. It leaves unanswered questions and teases at the end that our heroes still have a lot more adventures to go on that we’ll never see unless we read the manga. As it stand the ending pretty much promotes anyone who likes the series enough to check out the manga. Coming from someone who’s not an expert on the whole anime culture it doesn’t leave much of an impression other than “it was decent I guess”.

Mixed: Action with flare, but fizzles in execution

When it comes down to the action it’s the closest the series ever comes to being visually impressive. Undermine by battles that just look cool. Just about every single action scene is heavy on the spectacles as the characters fighting styles differs from guns, to summoning creature, spouting bible verses, and weapon combat. Pretty visuals can’t hide the fact the action scenes are basic. This wouldn’t be a problem if the series actually had a fair amount of action scenes, but it is due to the fact that the heroes spout exposition in every action scene, it can’t be forgiven.

Staging on the other hand fares a little better. Making use of its characters varied combat styles leads to seeing these different techniques coming together. Rather than simply using these techniques to pad out the spectacles their strengths and weaknesses are always present. With a clear understanding of how capable each combatant is, it brings excitement not knowing how things will play out. Although this doesn’t apply to whenever Rin fights an opponent. His fights usually are won by summoning bigger blue flames or lazy writing that makes his opponent incredibly easy to defeat. Rin Okumura battles have the most visual flares, but are also the most disappointing due to how easy everything is for Rin to overcome.

Final Thoughts:

Blue Exorcist is a decent show that can’t overcome mediocrity, but neither becomes a victim of it thanks to some twists and good characters. At one point while watching Blue Exorcist you see a glimpse of a show that reaches its potential, but sadly that moment is short lived and by the time you get to that point more than half of the series is done and past that mark it removes all progress to quickly wrap things up. Unable to come close to reaching the aimed epic scope in emotional values and losing momentum when reaching its high point Blue Exorcist entertains while it lasts, but that’s about all the height it’ll amount to.

Characters: 2/2

Ideas: 2/2

Production Values: 1/2

Writing: 1/2

Action: 1/2

Rating: 7/10 – Genre fans will find a lot to like, but for the average viewer its numerous flaws prevent it from standing out to similar series.

Anime Breakdown: Angel Beats (2010) Series Review

Prior to writing this review, Angel Beats! could be best describe as an entry point back into anime for me. My introduction to anime is actually with Dragon Ball Z and Naruto which were enjoyable shows. At the time when I viewed them I just thought as them as interesting looking shows not knowing where they originated from. I never finished to completion either anime series (the video games several of which I have) therefore lost an interest in anime in general. It wasn’t until recently with the surge of my little brother fascination with anime that caught my attention. While I knew little about anime I enjoyed listening to what my brother had to say about the anime series he watched. My little brother did bug me to give anime it a try, but much like when I choose a film to watch I would have to research it. Thus I landed on Angel Beats! because the simple premise intrigued me to check it out and seeing how it’s a short series it would be manageable with my schedule. There’s no question my enjoyment of seeing Angel Beats! is far greater than most anime fans, but one thing it is for certain it’ll leave a strong impression.

Premise:

Rebellious teens fight in armed combat against one dispassionate girl’s supernatural powers in an afterlife high school. (Man is this synopsis significantly shorter compared to my Blue Exorcist review).

Good: Stellar Writing/Handling of Themes of Life and Death

Angel Beats! follow characters that are discontent with their former lives. A premise that is well handle thanks to the writing talent at hand. Combining sharp action, riotously funny humor, clever exploitation of the setting, musical performances, a cast of colorful characters where heavily moe (cute/ a term with a contrived definition) girls are in the minority into a polished package. All these culmination of elements work in sync with each other pulling off anything it sets out to do with great success. Often focusing on what would work best for its story over specifically relying on a noticable strong suit.

Uniting of all sorts of different idea weaving a world that can be best describe as a philosophical videogame. References to Buddhist theology, replete with long, philosophical discussions of reincarnation and its implications, along with more modern, tech-savvy ideas like computer games and programming. Representing an afterlife that works like that of a video game doing so with a good understanding of video game programing with Buddhism. This analogy is made even more obvious by when a character refers to large swarms of background students and teachers at the high school as “non-player characters.” This odd fusion of Buddhism and video games should have not click together, but strangely do. There’s some remarkable similarity made between the two as a retry after death in a videogame could be seen as a reincarnation in Buddhism in the series. Every episode in a way could be viewed as a like a video game level with branching path that either A.) Tackle the conflict blindly or B.) Organize a strategy each with their own risks and reward. Analyzing in great detail one’s own faith and the free will given to them to make difficult decisions especially knowing the life consequence of it.

Writing excels in every category especially when it comes to character focus episodes. Subtle characterization and down to earth dialogue can quickly leave their mark on the viewer no matter the amount of screen time characters receive. Episode 3 is where the strong writing is first shown its true powers. In a short length of time we’re able to connect with character Masami Iwasawa (pink hair! damn one of my weaknesses) whose dreams, past, and passion we get to learn about thanks to carefully written conversations that comes across naturally and not just mere exposition. For a series that want to touch upon many themes it has 13 episodes to do so and of course not everything comes together as it should have. However, the writing hardly gives any sign of uncertainty. Despite being 13 episodes it’s able to accomplished a number of themes it chooses to explore providing full closure on the series.  

Good: Execution of old tricks

For a form of entertainment that has televised series for over 50 years originality is difficult to come by. However, being a movie fan first I know as long as the execution works you can make even the most cliche of stories interesting again. That applies to Angels Beats! which for anime veterans will become familiar with the high school setting, absurdly powerful student counselor, open ending, down to the characters from the hero with a friendless background, the smart guy, tough girl on the outside whose soft on the inside, and what not. Anime fans will be able to pick out the tropes, but as someone who’s not familiar with anime tropes as so much writing devices what is used here works in the confined of the series. Each of the cliches and trope used in the series is executed properly to work. It’s not so much that what it does with them is different for the tropes, but in subtext have more than a single function.

Take for example the characters in Angel Beats! referred to as Angel who can manipulate her hands and turn them into weapons. Most of Angel’s abilities, such as Harmonics and (Hand) Sonic, Distortion, Overdrive, and Delay are various guitar effects. Angel is also a seen playing the piano in the opening of the show and mention in the series that she can play the piano professionally. Why am I bringing up what appears to be a series of random facts? Well Angel real name Kanade literally translate to “playing music” which is the main weapon our group of rebellious teens uses to distract the crowds or enemies during their operations. Scenes involving a character playing a musical instrument Kanade nearly always appears in. Most of which are important moments that explain the workings of the afterlife or a significant character moment. Even Angel herself intention is to drive the audience off her actual purpose in the world (which she even admits to doing poorly) provides a different perspective on to view the inhabitants of the afterlife.

Good: Gorgeous Animation

Animation is often cg-enhanced, looking slick and polished. Backgrounds are very detailed and animation alway appears smooth. Often bright and colorful the presentation boasts very good to excellent line detail as well as a nicely robust and well saturated palette. Character design is consistent and highly expressive. Their movement are never restricted in comedic situations applying cartoon physics. Resulting from characters being stabbed multiple times, being cut in half, seated in a ejector seat that crashes into the ceiling, and several other are made comedic in a series where no one can die. While character designs aren’t exactly innovative, they are colorful, especially with regard to the often oddly hued hair of several of the major players. Some of the concert sequences look good and almost seem to have been assembled with motion capture, so fluid and convincing are the girls’ movement. It looks especially lovely during the action scenes that support plenty of particles effects. Fast in movement with no bluff the action scenes are no doubt a high point sporting numerous tiny details and fast motion. Backgrounds are often minimal reusing the same locations while detail lack variety. Overall Angel Beats sports a nicely sharp and well defined piece of animation.

Good: Music

In Angel Beats, the SSS employs its own all-girl rock band to divert the enemy at choice times. Instead of using existing or commissioned music all songs were written and composed by Jun Maeda himself specifically for this series. Serving the series a purpose the songs by the all girl bands correlate with the series themes. Discussing characters specifics such as the strong desired to continue a dream, friendship, deception, and many others benefits to giving the band character. Giving them an identity and a clearly getting across their personality as individuals and as a band.

The result is an effective, low-key approach which supports the material, rather than leading it, and easily shifts from comedy to dramatic modes. The GlDeMo songs are all solid rock numbers save for a pretty solo ballad, and all of them suit their intended purpose well. Opener “My Soul, Your Beat!” is a lovely piano-fronted song whose visuals adjust slightly each episode to provide previews of the upcoming action. Also, the notes played on the piano are resemble a heart beat. Sneaking in symbolism into its music aside from just sounding good has as much depth given to its as the story. With lyrics that sound like they’re were written by teenagers are easy to understand and fitting the fictional world nicely.

Regular closer “Brave Song” is equally good and accompanies visuals which show major characters in the Battlefront roster and regularly update to reflect events in the series; watching for these changes can be a game unto itself. An alternate rock version of the opener fronts episode 4, while episodes 10 and 13 have the poignant “Ichiban no Takaramono” as an alternate but very appropriate choice. The music in the show if taken out can stand on their own. These songs support in developing the material as much as the rest of music do in supporting its series tone. While none of the tracks in the series can surpass the excellence orchestration and composition in ‘My Soul, Your Beat’ and ‘Brave Song’ the music in general tends to be of high quality.

Mixed: Not Enough Episodes

As much I praise the writing it doesn’t explore everything it wants in 13 episodes and 1 OVA (Original Video Animation/standalone episode created outside the series). Several characters back stories are left in the dust with a plot progressing rapidly. Often resorting to giving a majority of cast a catchphrase or quirk that gives them a specific identity. On the whole it makes the large cast distinguishable even if all aren’t treated equally. This lack of development for the large cast takes away from the emotional impact the final three episodes were going for. Many characters backstories are left to the imagination and also what occurred to them past the series ending is left blank too. That’s not even adding the new characters that are introduced later on in the series that add the headcount of unexplored lives.

Thematically the first halve of the series doesn’t fit the tone of the later half. Early episodes of Angel Beats! plays on its strong side of comedy that are meant to make us acquainted with our cast. Sadly it mindset past early episodes go all over the place jumping into either a straight up drama, comedy, or a mixture of both. In general the balance of drama and comedy is handle well doing what the series does best. Never at one point does either overshadowed the other. However, it’s undeniable how jarring the the series becomes compare to where it started. Noticeably distracting further highlighting the absence of certain elements that made you like the series in the first place. Once you hit a certain point in the series you know things are going to permanently change. Personally I like both the comedic and dramatic tone of the series, but as a whole there’s no denying how indifferent the series tone conflicts with itself scattering around the viewer emotions against the intended impact it wanted to send.

Final Thoughts:

Angel Beats! is a short burst of great comedy, action, and drama while it last. It’s length holds it back from expanding into the show it could have been. Changing drastically in little time and leaving certain elements in the dust. No doubt anyone who enjoys Angel Beats will be disappointed when it ends quickly. What little the series does provide is undeniably entertaining and dramatically powerful with the creators heartfelt passion for their creation shown in the quality of their work.

Writing: 2/2

Execution: 2/2

Animation: 2/2

Sound: 2/2

Length: 1/2

Rating: 9/10 – A short run of an excellent show that balances everything it sets out to do. While it’s aim is bigger than its grasp there’s no denying what is perfectly executed vastly overshadows it faults.