25 of 25 episodes seen
I have only a passing acquaintance with the Gundam franchise. My first encounter with it was Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, which I'm told is hardly a typical Gundam series (though it is exceptionally good, and one of my favourite anime series). A couple of years ago I watched Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, which was enjoyable enough but a little forgettable. So I had some slight idea of what Gundam entails, but no detailed knowledge and no experience of alternate universe versions like Gundam Wing.
So from that point of view, Gundam 00 is not particuarly Gundam-like. Clearly it has a more modern visual style but it also feels entirely different, and the Gundams themselves serve a completely different function. In many ways there's no reason for it to be a Gundam series at all. The Gundam mobile suits in 00 could just as easily have been an original creation; I can't help thinking that a famous name (and identifiable visual design) was attached to this in order to attract an audience.
Fortunately, Gundam 00 is very good regardless.
Having only recently finished watching the series, the strongest lingering impression about it is moral ambiguity. This is a theme that persisted throughout the whole series, though it did weaken towards the end. The Gundam pilots working for the Celestial Being organisation are narratively the protagonists - they are the characters we spend the most time with and get to know in the most detail. But in many ways they could just as easily be the antagonists: they perform violent missions that could easily be (and frequently are) considered acts of terrorism, knowingly getting civilians killed in the collateral damage. Many of the supporting characters are on the other side of this divide; they are soldiers protecting their homelands from this erratic terrorist threat, or civilians who just happen to get caught up in events larger than themselves. Main character Setsuna F Seiei explains it very well himself when he remarks that it's hard to say who is right because both sides are justified. He's talking about a small civil war, but the sentiment can just as easily be applied to the whole series. Every faction does things that could be considered reprehensible, yet every faction also has good and understandable reasons for its actions.
There is no black and white in Gundam 00.
This determination to paint all deeds in shades of grey necessitates quite a large cast for perspective, and with many names and abbreviations to keep track of, sometimes it can become confusing. After 25 episodes I know the Union is based around the US, but I couldn't tell you which out of the other power blocs (the AEU and the Human Reform League) is where. Similarly, I have no idea which of the anti-Gundam commanders is affiliated with which authority. In many ways, the three power blocs that govern most of the world are interchangable. Still, while this makes it hard to follow the political manoeuvring, it also means that you don't really need to. It doesn't really matter which government is which, just that all of them fear and resent Celestial Being.
The characterisation continues this ambiguity. People do bad things in order to prevent worse things, or they do good things for bad reasons. Because we get the points of view of various characters with different affiliations and agendas, almost all the recurring characters are sympathetic, which leads to an interesting situation where (at least for me) it's impossible to root for one group or person. I wanted Setsuna to win his battles, but at the same time I wanted Graham Aker to win his - and the two of them often come into conflict. It's testament to the quality of the writing that I felt symapthy and support for so many characters with such different personalities and incompatible agendas.
There is still room for improvement in the characterisation though. I never particularly liked Saji and Louise, the token innocent high schoolers who we follow periodically. Saji is meek and inoffensive, but eventually his inoffensiveness itself becomes annoying. Louise is just an obnoxious brat, and I that felt any woe that befell her was largely deserved - probably not the reaction that was intended. Mercenary captain Ali al-Saachez seemed a bit of a caricature, gurning and snarling his way through his scenes as though in pantomime, though he could have been interesting if we'd learnt more about him. There is also a group of characters introduced halfway through, who never really get any development at all, and as a result come across as quite two dimensional and incidental. I neither supported nor opposed them; they were just there.
Still, these are the exceptions. While no character is explored comprehensively, the main ones do get distinct personalities, and backgrounds that shape them in believable ways. In many anime series, the traumatic pasts of many of these characters would lead to endless bouts of dreary introspection or petulant outbursts, but they're mostly handled with maturity here.
Of course, being a series about giant robots used in war, there are plenty of combat scenes. These are generally well done, though at times it can be hard to tell which mobile suit is which, particularly with the non-Gundam types. These scenes are energetic and well-paced, and they never seem to drag. Nor does the series indulge in the common anime practice of abusing action scenes; not once did I feel a particular confrontation had been crowbarred in just to keep the action content high.
I think it's worth noting that, as I mentioned earlier, some of the series' qualities trail off in the final few episodes. The shades of grey become more clearly defined and we start to see some elements of a black and white/good and evil dichotomy appearing, but the troubled characters largely keep things on track. We also get the odd deus ex machina popping up as time goes on, but still far less than in many series. Combat understandably becomes more frequent as the series approaches its conclusion, but fortunately it remains fast-paced and compact. On top of this, the gradual development in the way the war is waged lends each action scene an additional draw. With each new battle I was eager to see how the military would attempt to counter the Gundams, and how far they would be able to succeed this time.
Crucially, at no point does the series become a chore to watch. Even in its weaker moments it's still a high quality series, and aside from one reasonably short recap montage halfway through it never feels padded or slips into filler, nor does it wander off into rambling asides. The writing remains tight and focused, and ensures the series is an engaging watch to the very end.
Gundam 00 Second Season will pick up the story four years later, but I still have that ahead of me. Perhaps some of the weaknesses I mentioned in this series, particularly some under-developed characters, will be addressed there. Regardless, Gundam 00 is a series that is definitely worth watching. Gundam fans should be prepared for this bearing very little resemblance to traditional Gundam (at least the main/UC continuity), but it doesn't suffer for that. With plenty of action that doesn't outstay its welcome, troubled characters who don't overdo it, and a delightful moral ambiguity that makes a refreshing change from black and white conflicts, Gundam 00 is a well written series that should appeal to a broader audience than just mecha fans. Give it a try; it probably has something you'll like. read more
2 of 2 episodes seen
It may well be the single most boring thing I have ever seen in my life. The main character spent a good fifteen minutes trying to take a photo but being unable to get the right shot. That's it. Later on, she looks at some lights under a lake. It's a pretty sight, no doubt, and there's nothing wrong with a scene of atmospheric tranquility, but it goes like this: lingering shot of lights, lingering shot of face, lingering shot of lights, lingering shot of face, lingering shot of lights, lingering shot of face, lingering shot of lights, lingering shot of face....in silence for at least five minutes. I can't see any way in which that's anything less than incredibly dull.
And the animation! I've seen reviews praising the way the animation brings the main character's personality out vividly - but it's a lie! The art isn't bad, but the animation is downright poor. Alpha (the main character) has two expressions: 'slack-jawed gawp', and 'suprise' - and it soon becomes obvious that 'surprise' is the same slack-jawed gawp but with pink cheeks. The only other recurring character is the old man down the road, and he has only one expression! His facial features never move more than a fraction of an inch!
The worst example of animation in this, though, was the scooter-sideways incident. There was a sustained shot of Alpha riding her scooter, 'filmed' from behind. This was fine on the straight stretch of road, but then she came to some kind of curve or bend - but it took me a moment to realise that's what it was meant to be, because what actually happens is she leans slightly and moves directly sideways. It's HIDEOUS.
I'm completely nonplussed by the seemingly universal love of this anime. It makes watching paint dry seem eventful; at least paint progresses from wet to dry. The technical ineptitude only serves to make the experience painful as well as boring, leaving me with a weird feeling of being sedated and then beaten with wads of damp tissue paper. read more
26 of 26 episodes seen
For the first few episodes, Samurai Deeper Kyo seems quite formulaic. Kyo establishes himself as a badass who can crush all opposition while sneering disdainfully, and combat consists largely of exchanges of flashy-looking quasi-magic power attacks. So far, so shounen. There are some un-shounen elements even at this early stage, though – if you’re paying attention. I didn’t notice until maybe my third or fourth viewing just how short the battles tend to be. This could easily be seen as a bad thing – one or two explosive techniques from each combatant and it’s all over. But having sat through (and enjoyed, mostly) every episode of Bleach to date, I’d contend that this brevity of conflict could also be seen as efficiency. There are no episode-long power-up sequences here, or even episode-long fights. Even the best shounen tends to have unrealistic bursts of dialogue in the middle of combat and foes who wait patiently while the hero recites the name of his attack, and that’s certainly true of Samurai Deeper Kyo, but unlike so many other series the fights here get to the point. Sadly, they’re also somewhat more stationary than people raised on Bleach or Samurai Champloo might be accustomed to; there is an over-reliance on speed lines, and a lot of the bog-standard non-superpowered sword swings look clumsy and artificial.
Like many other shounen series, Samurai Deeper Kyo leans towards being an ensemble piece, with an ever-expanding core group of characters who trail after the hero, or cross his path repeatedly in a variety of ways. Unlike some series, though, most of these characters are quite distinct and likeable as people. Few of them are particularly nuanced (with the notable exception of Yukimura Sanada, at least to this viewer), but they rarely blend together as some characters in this genre can tend to. As you might expect, most of the central characters have something to hide, or something to discover, or an unclear agenda – and while I doubt any of the revelations will make you gasp in abject shock, they’re not always easy to foresee.
One of the strongest points of the series, for me, is the fluid nature of alliances and good/evil – something I have a fondness for in other series too, such as Gilgamesh. While shounen as a genre frequently has enemies becoming friends and the like, lamentably few actually keep you wondering just who is really the enemy. Like the proverbial onion, Samurai Deeper Kyo sheds layers of intrigue, each time shaking an assumption you thought was concrete. Similarly, the series employs the well-established technique of 'threatening the badass' – that is, if Kyo seems to be an unstoppable killing machine in the early episodes, it’s only to impress upon us the seriousness of later travails that actually challenge him.
On the music front, Samurai Deeper Kyo really surprises me with its quality, though I didn’t notice at first. Some of the recurring themes really jump out at the viewer, such as ‘Awakening’ (the music that usually accompanies Kyo’s trademark Mizuchi technique), but many are quite subtle and atmospheric. I thought for a while that Kyo’s music was indelicate, almost garish, consisting of just one or two brash tunes, but when I listened to the soundtrack album I realised to my surprise that I recognised every one of the thirty tracks, and most of them were incidental themes, accompanying flashbacks or moments of tension. Curiously, much of the music, when listened to away from the visuals of the series, puts me in mind of console RPGs; some make me think Final Fantasy, others Zelda, and one even reminds me of an old NES game called Battle of Olympus. That’s not to say that the sound quality is shrill or the composition is lacking, simply that some of the tracks are more soaring or more grand than I would have expected. A particular highlight for me is ‘Begin’, an upbeat, airy, faux-string composition used for some action scenes.
Overall, then, I’d recommend Samurai Deeper Kyo to anime fans who enjoy action/fighting series wherein the plot isn’t exclusively a vehicle for the fights, the characters are simple but likeable, and there are enough surprises to keep things from getting boring. If you can overlook the sometimes stilted combat animation and are willing to be patient with the monster-of-the-week nature of the first few episodes, you might find Samurai Deeper Kyo a more rewarding watch than you expect. read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
A serious, gritty science fiction horror. A touch of space exploration, but mainly based in one frontier space station. A mildly convoluted, dense plot that's initially baffling but gradually clears while continuing to raise mysteries along the way. A touch of chronological confusion, with the first episode being set after most of the rest of the series. Some intrigue, some bleakness and paranoia, some strangeness and just a touch of the disturbing.
With an almost all-female cast who all have breasts the size of their torsos.
An oddity indeed.
The thing that continues to confound me about Divergence Eve is how this happened. The simplest explanation would be that someone wrote a serious science fiction horror, then someone else came along and drew breasts on it. Quite often, a series tries to be two things at once, and fails at both; Divergence Eve doesn't TRY to be two things, it just seems to be two incompatible things haphazardly glued together - and succeeds at both, to an extent. Yes, where series that try hard to meld two elements fail, Divergence Eve succeeds by not making any effort to integrate them at all. Or rather, it succeeds at each one separately, but fails at both together.
You see, if you want to watch impossibly proportioned anime girls bouncing around in impractical faux-military uniforms, getting out of showers and training in their underwear - Divergence Eve will meet your needs. If, on the other hand, you want to watch the aforementioned gritty and engrossing science fiction horror, complete with intrigue, mystery and suspense - Divergence Eve will meet your needs too. But in each case, you need to do your best to overlook the other element. If you want bouncing chests and so on, you may find the involved plot makes you think when you probably don't really want to, and distracts you from the eye candy. And if you want the plot - or get dragged into it against your will - the constant bouncing, jiggling and unprovoked bouts of nudity will grate. If you're willing to concentrate, you can take Divergence Eve on either of its component parts, but not both together.
The series as a whole is reasonably nicely drawn and adequately animated. I don't think I need to say anything about the character designs (or point out where most of the animation happens) but it's worth mentioning the 'outside' bits. Outside Watcher's Nest, the space station, everything goes CG. Sometimes this is really glaring, such as when a character and a CG object meet (which doesn't happen all that often, in fairness) but a lot of the time it works well enough. The Ghouls (which I won't explain, to avoid spoilers) are done in CG and seem a bit woodenly animated, but the CG spacecraft are pretty decent. It's not Advent Children, but it's good enough, and having the Rampart Armours (the characters' individual transports in space) in CG actually lends them an oily, military solidity that fits with the tone of the plot.
Some of the incidental music in this series is quite nice, though not outstanding. The opening theme is probably the musical highlight; a vaguely mechanical-sounding guitar-based chug at odds with the mildly fanservicey images it accompanies. The ending theme, though, is horrendous: a shrill, vacuous noise that can't be labelled 'pop' without offending a great many people. It's awful even if taken alone and out of context, but when it comes immediately after a tense or ominous scene at the end of an episode, it's hideously jarring. At the end of each episode I leapt for the remote, and you will too - to hit either 'stop' or 'mute', depending on whether you want to watch the full-on fanservice montage that is the end credits.
Before we leave the realm of the audio, I'll mention the voice acting. I watched the dub (I usually do, unless it's bad enough to grate - Escaflowne, I'm looking at you) so I can't comment on the Japanese voices, but the English ones are less annoying than you might imagine - and yet more annoying, too. Misaki, the main character, sounds like, for want of a better word, a bimbo. And she is, mostly. In that sense, I suppose the voice is appropriate, but bear in mind that she's meant to be a marine of sorts. Some of the other girls are a bit squeaky or whiny, but not unbearably so - and there's one solitary gem. My favourite voice actor in this is also my favourite character: the girls' immediate superior, another generously proportioned woman by the name of Lyar von Ertiana, who defies the gravity of her chest and acquires some gravity of character. She's voiced by Shelley Calene-Black, who I later discovered again in Those Who Hunt Elves (and it turns out she's been in a few others too, such as Orphen) and while her performance isn't exceptional for anime in general, in this case she's the only one of the female characters to have any kind of strength or distinctive character in her voice.
Now to the plot. I'm not going to describe any of it, since I can't do so without spoilers, but I will say it's the strongest point of the series. It's interesting, fairly clever, dark, and engrossing - but I have a couple of significant criticisms. Firstly, it can be a little confusing. It's some time before anything becomes remotely clear, and you may find yourself going back to earlier episodes to see if they can help you make sense of a new development. Having said that, it's less confusing than the likes of RahXephon, so it's a surmountable problem. Secondly, the plot doesn't finish. I'm not giving anything away by revealing that; I think it's best to go into this series knowing that if you want the rest of the plot you need to watch the sequel series, Misaki Chronicles. At least, I assume Misaki Chronicles actually wraps everything up; I haven't got round to watching it yet, out of sheer terror that it might have been completely overcome by fanservice. Either way, you won't find resolution in Divergence Eve.
All in all, I'd have to say I do like Divergence Eve and will probably watch it again sooner or later, but its flaws are too numerous to make it essential viewing. The acceptable but vaguely annoying voices, the occasionally jarring CG, the grotesquely inappropriate ending theme and the lack of plot resolution would knock this down a point or two anyway, but the most striking and downright inescapable of the faults in the series is the utterly baffling fanservice that pervades everything by way of the enormous, bouncy chests of all the female characters. This really scuppers the whole endeavour by contrasting completely with the tone of the story and forcing the viewer to squint or develop selective blindness in order to take any of it seriously. This jarring contrast is probably easier to resolve if you're only in it for the breasts; you can just press 'mute' to avoid exposure to the plot.
It's a shame, really, because if it had stuck to being drama/horror instead of trying to tack on some Playboy elements, Divergence Eve would have been easy to recommend as a dark, interesting and pretty different take on science fiction anime. read more
12 of 12 episodes seen
The premise is simple and silly: three total strangers from modern-day Japan are accidentally summoned to a fairly standard fantasy world populated by elves and the like. An attempt to send them home goes awry and the relevant spell is split into five pieces and imprinted upon the bodies of randomly selected elves across the land. So the three Japanese visitors - one famous actress, one gun-obsessed tomboy and one martial artist - set off in their...er...tank...to find the spell fragments in the only way they can think of: by stripping every elf they come across.
That's about it. At best, an appealingly daft plot; at worst, a nauseatingly stupid one. Which side of the fence you fall on might surprise you. You see, contrary to what you, like I, might expect, the silly plot and the situations it brings about aren't really the point of this series. Of course, the elf-stripping adventure is the focus to an extent, but really only as a vehicle for the characters. Those characters are the thing that shifted me from 'this is going to be bad' to 'this is actually quite fun'.
Though there are only three Japanese 'guests' in the fantasy world, the core group of characters actually consists of four; the High Priestess (or something of that nature) of the elves, Celcia, rapidly decides that the only way Those Who Hunt Elves (as the party are known to the public at large) are going to get anything done is for her to help them out. This is pivotal to my enjoyment of the whole series, since it's really Celcia's constant bickering with martial artist Junpei that provides the most entertainment. It's not unusual in any form of TV to have two companions who are always squabbling; it forms the crux of many sitcoms, including the respected likes of Red Dwarf. In some cases, this revolves around witty repartee, but in those Who Hunt Elves, wit is replaced with sheer gusto - and it works surprisingly well. Celcia and Junpei casually mock and insult each other at every opportunity, much like siblings, and where this can often seem stale and forced in many series, in this it just seems perfectly natural, and all the better for it. The other two characters in the group, Airi and Ritsuko, have their share of amusing activities but, for me at least, the Celcia/Junpei dynamic is the highlight.
The other source of entertainment in Those Who Hunt Elves is the inversion of the various elves encountered along the way. In general, the elves here are the traditionally haughty and dignified type, but it doesn't take much to crack that facade. Simply watching the elves being sarcastic and irritable is entertaining in itself.
Other elements of this series are more mediocre. On the visual front, it's fine but not exceptional. Everything is appropriately colourful, the characters' various expressions are suitably over the top, and the animation is adequate. In fact, 'adequate' is a good word to describe the visuals in general. Unremarkable but adequate. The incidental music made no impression on me at all, which usually means it's neither good nor bad - just adequate. The opening theme is a curious retro-synth-pop ditty that fits the tone of the series very well. It annoyed me every time I heard it, but I missed it when it was replaced for Those Who Hunt Elves II. Annoying or not, it was silly and unsubtle - perfect for the series.
One more note on the audio aspects: the English dub is essential. Even if you don't usually watch dubs, please watch this one. Not because it's spectacularly well acted (it isn't) or because it features memorable vocal performances (it doesn't, though I must admit to a newfound fondness for Celcia's voice actress, Jessica Calvello). No; you must watch the dub simply because the sub only gives you a fraction of the jokes. Maybe the humour is more evident if you actually understand Japanese, but the English subtitles are fairly straightforward and sensible, most of the time. The translators for the dub of Those Who Hunt Elves have done something that seems to happen surprisingly rarely in anime; they've not just translated but reinterpreted the translation in a way that captures the intended spirit. I say it one last time: do not miss the dub.
Overall, then, Those Who Hunt Elves is a disconcerting proposition. It promises little, and on the technical side it delivers nothing out of the ordinary. The concept is a little more promising, but could easily go horribly wrong. I had nightmare visions of another Negima!?, but fortunately Those Who Hunt Elves has an ace hidden up its sleeve: character. Not well developed, not well rounded, but very entertaining; the characters, combined with flagrant destruction of elf stereotypes, make the entire series. The dialogue is hardly the height of wit, but it's blunt, direct and effective, and in the cases of Junpei and Celcia it's delivered with something that seems to be genuine enjoyment. I was warned before I started watching this series that I would probably never rewatch it. Only time will tell, of course, but I think I will probably watch it again at some point, for the same reason that I've rewatched the early episodes of Trigun more than once: it's simple, fun and easy to watch. It makes no demands. Those Who Hunt Elves is almost the definition of 'light entertainment'. If you seek gravitas, look elsewhere; if you seek a break from the gravitas, Those Who Hunt Elves should be both stupid enough and amusing enough to make you chuckle without killing too many brain cells. Those Who Hunt Elves, I salute you. read more
62 of 62 episodes seen
Generally I approach shounen titles with care, since many of them strike me as a bit shallow and vacuous. Hunter X Hunter, however, sounded quite interesting. On the strength of one solitary review, I gave it a watch.
I'll begin with a brief summary: Hunter X Hunter revolves around a ten-ish year old boy named Gon who discovers that his permanently absentee father, Ging, is, in fact, one of the most famous and respected Hunters in the world. Hunters hunt various things, from criminals to recipe ingredients, depending on their individual talents and preferences. It seems to Gon that the only way he is going to have access to the resources to find and finally meet his father is to become a Hunter himself - so he cheerfully sets off to take the Hunter Exam. The four Hunter X Hunter series document Gon's attempts to become a Hunter and find Ging, punctuated by various distractions that result from the myriad troubles of the friends he makes along the way.
After two or three episodes, it seemed pleasant enough but uninspiring. By episode seven or so, when the Hunter Exam starts in earnest, it begins to become more interesting. Before long, I was completely absorbed. Unlike many shounen series I've glimpsed, Hunter X Hunter doesn't rely too much on fighting (except for the Celestial Tower arc - the weakest of the lot, but necessary to everything that follows it) and actually has engaging characters who I ended up sincerely caring about. That's a rarity for me in any form of TV/film, but particularly in anime, and very particularly in shounen. In this case, I actually almost wept a single sorrowful tear when the final episode of the final OVA ended, so attached had I become to the central group of characters.
One of the great things about Gon as a 'hero' in a shounen title is he isn't the most powerful character, nor does he want to be. He wants to be good enough to qualify as a Hunter and find his father, but that's all - and he often fails to triumph in difficult situations, whether in combat or a battle of wits or a game. He is surrounded by stronger, faster, cleverer characters; in particular, the mysterious and repellent Hisoka is leagues ahead of anyone else in the series in sheer power and skill.
Again, though, combat is not as prominent as one might expect in Hunter X Hunter. It does occur, but it slots smoothly and naturally into the flow of events rather than feeling crowbarred in, as is so often the case in anime of this type.
One of the strongest points of the whole thing is the interaction between the core characters. It's hugely enjoyable simply watching them together, seeing their friendships develop, shift emphasis, come apart, and take on new dimensions. And every single one of the characters has more depth than I thought was possible in shounen.
Now to the negatives. They are few, but worth mentioning.
The first thing to mention is this series does take some time to get going. The first half a dozen episodes meander along quite sedately as though they're little more than a travelogue. After that, everything is fine up until the Second Test of the Hunter Exam, which really irritated me. I'm not going to say why, since I want to avoid spoilers, but quite how none of the characters stabbed anyone in a fit of rage is a mystery.
The first major low point, though, arrives during the second arc, when some of the characters undertake a stupidly DBZ-like weight-training regime. I nearly took my head in my hands in despair. Fortunately, it was over fairly quickly.
The most sustained of the poorer points of the series is the aforementioned Celestial Tower arc. Fighting tournaments do little for me unless I'm participating (I mean Mortal Kombat etc, not actual, real fighting. Good grief, what do you take me for?). The major developments of this arc are pivotal to later events, but it was still a bit of a chore to sit through the duels - except the all-too-brief outings for Killua, who is always entertaing to watch in confrontations.
One of the things that unsettled me about Hunter X Hunter as I went along was the change in tech. The first plot arc is all sailing ships, bows and occasional scraps of near-ruined modern technology (with the notable exception of a motorbike in Gon's photo of Ging), but each arc increases the tech level until, by the time we reach the York Shin arc, cars, automatic weapons and the internet are commonplace. This is somewhat jarring at first, but the more time is spent in York Shin, the less noticable it becomes.
One more thing I'd like to mention is the music. The reviews I've read of the several Hunter X Hunter series all claim that the music improves as the series progress. While I concede that some of the music in G.I. Final is good, I actually preferred the early music. In particular, I rapidly grew to pine for the melody I think of as 'Gon's Theme', which is rarely heard outside the first story arc.
I'll end my poorly-structured rambling there (listening to this month's Terrorizer cover CD isn't conducive to coherent writing) with a high recommendation. Hunter X Hunter is among my top three anime. Fans of harem anime or fan service may want to avoid; fans of good character, interesting plot and colourful action with the odd touch of the strange and sinister should watch at the next opportune moment. read more
74 of 74 episodes seen
When speaking to anime sceptics, I tend to point out that it's only here in the west that animation (animatedness?) is considered the defining quality of animated films/series. In Japan, it's film first and animation second. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to illustrate this point; even the most gritty historical epics, such as Bakumatsu, contain elements of magic, psychic powers or the supernatural. From now on, I need not fear - Monster is the perfect example. Set in present day Germany (well, the mid 1990s, but close enough), focusing entirely on drama, tension, plot and psychology, Monster features little in the way of anime staples. It is free of fan service, there are no big eyes or disproportionately large heads in sight, and everything that occurs is actually possible (like most film and TV drama, the events of the series are improbable but possible). In fact, Monster actually takes more care with realism than most 'real' TV: when the neurosurgeon, Dr Tenma, starts using a gun, his ability to do so is actually explained - in this case, by means of him having spent five months taking marksmanship lessons from a retired mercenary. The same happens with other characters too. Everything is justified, explained and accounted for.
On top of the attention to detail and effort to maintain realism, Monster is laden with carefully nurtured tension. The various protagonists all make so many mistakes and struggle so hard to achieve anything that the threat of failure is tangible in each pivotal scene. Additionally, there is so much misdirection and layering in the plot of the series that the viewer never really has a handle on the truth - and every time something is resolved, it just reveals another layer of horror and mystery beneath. All of this dramatic goodness is rounded off by good acting. To the best of my knowledge, Monster has yet to be dubbed into English, so I watched it subtitled, and I usually don't have any opinion on Japanese voice actors unless one has a particularly annoying voice (Merle in Escaflowne is a prime example). I simply - and inevitably - don't pick up the same nuances of tone and expression in Japanese as I do in English. In this case, though, some of the performances actually struck me as exceptionally good - which, presumably, means that if I understood the language they'd be superb.
I have only three criticisms of Monster. The first is the very complexity that makes it a compelling watch across 74 episodes; at times, the convoluted plot can be difficult to follow, and more than once I found myself in the position of knowing I've seen a particular character before, but being unable to remember where or why. This is, I suspect, an inevitable side effect of having a complex plot, as is my second complaint: the pacing. On the whole, the pacing is perfectly appropriate, but it's hardly fast. A story of this type requires a slow, careful pace, so I can't complain - but it does result in the series being more difficult to watch than others of similar length. My third and final criticism is of the main character, Dr Tenma. It troubled me only infrequently, so it's a minor gripe, but Tenma is something of a Mary Sue (or whatever the male version is...Gary Stu, I think). Though he often makes mistakes - indeed, the whole premise of the series is based on Tenma's atonement for a grave error - he is nonetheless one of those characters who improve the lives of everyone they come into contact with, by imparting some grain of personal philosophy or restoring a cynic's faith in humanity. In general, the plot was sufficiently dark, and Tenma's suffering sufficiently intense, that this element of his character went unnoticed, but it did catch my attention at times, particularly around the mid-point of the series.
In all, then, Monster is one of the best anime there is, in my opinion. It's dark, gritty, complex, compelling and occasionally disturbing - all the things sceptics don't associate with anime. This maturity and realism is reflected in the artwork, and continues to the very last moment of the very last episode, without even once succumbing to anime's tendency to incorporate magic or psychic powers. read more
12 of 12 episodes seen
I originally decided to watch Rozen Maiden because lots of people on a certain popular anime review site seemed to think it was great. After all the positive comments, I checked out the site's review of the series, and it was described as 'gothic horror', with advice to not be put off by the focus on dolls. Sadly, Rozen Maiden is in no way a horror, or even gothic (except for the clothing of the dolls, and I'm sure I don't need to tell you that gothic costumes don't make for overall gothicness). The review was right about one thing, though: you shouldn't be put off by the fact that the series is about dolls. What should put you off is the actual characters of those dolls.
I'll start with the good points:
Rozen Maiden is reasonably pretty. The human characters seem to have been deprived of some attention on the design front, but at least Jun isn't a pretty boy. The dolls themselves are quite well designed and their costumes appear to have received more work than any other visual element. Also, Sinku's rose petal flurries are quite well done, looking both elegant and well animated.
Aside from the visuals, the best feature of the whole thing is the villain of the piece, a larger, more powerful and more adult-looking doll called Suigintou. There isn't a whole lot of depth to Suigintou, but that's true of all the characters. The reason for her evil deeds only comes to light in the dying minutes of the final episode, and it's no great shock. Nonetheless, Suigintou serves her purpose in the plot well enough, and she has the honour of being the only character who didn't get on my nerves at any point (with the exception of Souseiseki, who didn't annoy me because she appeared late, said and did almost nothing, and was totally devoid of personality or distinguishing features. She could have been a chair for all the impression she made).
That's all the good out of the way. Now onto the bad:
The first and largest complaint I'm going to make about this series is the characters. Oh god, the characters! In the very first episode, Jun, the 'hero', is revealed to be a self-centred, self-pitying layabout of a teenager, who makes his sister's life a misery by constantly ordering tat online and immediately making his long-suffering sibling take it to the post office so he can return it. You see, Jun doesn't leave the house. Not because he's ill or anything though. Oh no. He stays at home all day, every day, because he doesn't want to go to school. That's it. For no apparent reason, Jun and his sister (whose name eludes me) have absentee parents, so it's up to her to care for her brother. I'd feel some sympathy for her plight, particularly in light of the way Jun treats her, if it wasn't for the fact that she's a simpering, spineless wuss.
And we haven't even got to the dolls yet. The main doll, Sinku, initially earns some points from me by slapping Jun almost the instant she meets him. Unfortunately,despite her continuing to treat him roughly throughout the series, it's made very clear that she thinks he has some hidden quality inside that makes him a better person than everyone else. Ho hum. Other dolls proceed to arrive after Sinku, and they are all, frankly, rubbish. Every doll looks like a child (except Suigintou, who looks a bit more adolescent) but Hina is the most child-like of the lot - and not only in appearance. She is essentially a shrill brat. That's all you need to know about her, and indeed all there is to know. Suseiseki is alright at first, being aloof and detached from the others, but soon becomes something of a foil for Hina; she is just as childish as Hina, but tends to have opposing goals. As I mentioned above, Suseiseki's confusingly-monikered twin sister, Souseiseki, has no character and no personality, so let's skip her. There are various other dolls in existence, but none of them make an appearance.
Now to the plot. The plot is, frankly, poor. In the first half a dozen episodes, there are occasional implications of a larger plot, with vague mentions of 'the Alice game' and one or two menacing appearances by Suigintou, but that's all. Nothing much (aside from some irritatingly harem-comedy-esque incidents, which are disturbing since the dolls look like children and Hina in particular looks no older than five or six) happens until episode six, at which point Suigintou starts her kidnapping and attacks in earnest. This is not a good thing for a series that's twelve episodes long. The first half of the series is nothing but filler. Episode six may, in fact, be the best episode of the whole series - it manages to be reasonably enjoyable and not annoy too much. Once the plot does get going, still nothing much happens. Jun comes to realise that he cares about Sinku and the others, and discovers he's a git. Sinku vaguely owns up to holding Jun in some regard despite her rough treatment of him. And that's about it. Suigintou gets her comeuppance at Sinku's hands, but it's unsatisfying and pointless. Previously, Suigintou has been far more powerful than the other dolls, but suddenly Sinku is far more powerful than she is. The whole thing hinges on Jun's previously all but unmentioned sewing skill. Apparently his knack for sewing broken dolls back together makes Sinku strong enough to defeat Suigintou. Yes... The Alice game itself is never finished, and nothing much is resolved. Ho hum again.
I'll make a brief mention of the sound while I'm here. I was actually quite excited about the music when I first started watching Rozen Maiden. The opening theme is annoying (though it becomes less so with time) but most of the incidental music has a faux-classical sound, which is nice. Unfortunately, the choice of music is usually at odds with whatever is going on in the series. Chamber-style classical music suggests an entirely different type of series. There is one piece of background music that tends to play whenever Sinku gets the upper hand in a battle with Suigintou, and that's actually quite good - a stirring little melody that reminds me of RPG boss fights, with soft rock guitar and drums overlaid by strings/string-like keyboards. I ended up watching battle scenes more than once, just to hear that tune.
All in all, then, Rozen Maiden isn't really worth bothering with. The rating I gave it might confuse you now you've read all my complaints, but the truth is Rozen Maiden isn't bad, as such - just weak. Simple, shallow, predictable plot that never goes anywhere; annoying characters; nice but inappropriate music... Episode six onwards is an average semi-action affair, enjoyable enough but nothing special; episodes one to five are filler. I hated the first half and didn't mind the second half, so I've given it a six overall. Could be worse, could be a lot better. read more