11 of 11 episodes seen
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is a disaster story with a mission. It mostly abandons the spectacle and sensationalism in favor of being a slower-paced story, focusing on human drama and emergency procedures. A noble aspiration, certainly; but as with most things, it's the execution that truly matters.
The story starts with a teenage girl in the middle of a ravaged city landscape,wishing that the entire world just goes to hell. Then the clock winds back a bit to a few hours ago, to a simpler time.
Her name is Mirai Yonozawa, a middle schooler living with her parents in Tokyo who finds her little brother annoying, thinks her parents are rather dull, struggles with her grades and has no real idea about what she wants to do with her life. In short, a typical teenager. Depending on the situation, she can be to be polite, kind, brooding, friendly, petulant, perceptive or petty. She also has a cynical streak; or rather, the kind of cynicism employed by people who think they have the entire world figured out.
It's the start of summer vacation, and Mirai is taking her younger brother Yuuki to an exhibition on the other side of town. Just as they're planning to go back home, disaster strikes in the form of a violent earthquake that leaves the entire city in shambles. With the help of a kind stranger who goes by the name of Mari Kusakabe, the two siblings must now make their way through a devastated Tokyo to get home.
As the three trek through a shattered city, they are confronted by the best and worst in both others and themselves. Mirai finds herself having trouble adapting to a new landscape in which her easy faux-cynicism has no place. Yuuki finds comfort in clinging to Mari, who in turn is truly heroic in the way she cares for 2 children whom she only just met, while worry for the safety of her own loved ones is eating away at her. They're all interesting characters in their own right, but it's in their interaction that the story really shines: be it Mari's insistence to both Yuuki and herself that everything will be alright or Mirai's projecting of her own insecurities on others, and those are just a few examples. Even minor characters are depicted with similar nuance and care, making this a show with an excellent cast of characters across the board.
So, there's great characters with believable interaction; but what's admirable is that the story is actually willing to focus on them. From beginning to end, the focus is consistent: it's about people and their ability (or inability) to cope with a horrible situation. The makers could have shoehorned in a one-dimensional villain, but they didn't. They could have neglected characterization in favor of making a setpiece-driven story, but they didn't. The emotions Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 feel genuine. When a structure that looks unstable does cave in, there's a deep sense of dread rather than superficial excitement, and when characters who've been trying to keep their chin up are at the end of their rope, the despair feels crushing. The writers wisely choose to focus exclusively on the 3 main characters. We never cut to scenes of Mirai's parents or Mari's family, so we are just as in the dark about the safety of their loved ones as they are. It's a small thing, but it helps immensely in making the characters' worries that much easier to relate to.
If there's one major knock that can be made against the series, it's that the climax features a turn that feels very out of place. While it makes sense thematically, it's very at odds with the atmosphere that permeates most of the story, and that's all that can be said about it without too big a risk of spoiling things. And while I praised the series for relying on its characters to carry the show rather than spectacular moments, it does have some contrived moments of heroism, though they are few and far between.
Visually, the series manages to impress with surprisingly accurate depictions of collapsing structures and a wide array of striking scenes featuring the scarred Tokyo with twisted vistas and broken panoramas where beauty remains in kindness and selflessness shown by the people in it. In regards to character designs and animation, however, the series tends to be serviceable at best, though there is a decent bit of diversity in the character models. One outright blemish in regards to visuals is the awful use of CGI to render the wide shots of large crowds, which ends up looking robotic and awkward.
The soundtrack was composed by Kou Ootani, who's proven himself a skilled composer with his soundtracks for “Haibane Renmei” and the video game “Shadow of the Colossus”. Sadly, his work here isn't quite up to par. The tracks are all too unmemorable, though the sound director deserves props for nonetheless using them to good effect. Though it's telling that some of the series' most haunting scenes either limit the soundtrack's presence, or feature no music at all.
When all is said and done though, Tokyo Magnitude uses a great cast of characters to tell a memorable story. One that's about many things: it's about love, it's about uncertainty, it's about strength, it's about the lies we tell ourselves and others to make it through tough times, and it's about the fear that bad things can happen to the people we love while we can do nothing to stop it. A few minor hiccups simply can't stop this from being a wonderful, emotionally resonant tale. It may depict Tokyo in shambles, but very few anime series form such a cohesive, expertly structured whole as Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.
21 of 21 episodes seen
Fast forward to 2011, Gonzo is diving into the world of Last Exile yet again with “Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam” (TL: Fam, the Silver Wing). A sequel that's only loosely tied to the original, both in story and, sadly, in quality.
Set an unspecified number of years after the original, “Ginyoku no Fam” is an adventure story starring Fam, a spunky young pilot who dreams of a free and peaceful sky. Said wish is brutally shattered when the powerful Ades Federation declares a war of global conquest. Fam gets involved in the conflict when she rescues a runaway princess from Ades' one of Ades' first conquests and vows to help her get back her kingdom and end the war.
Sounds familiar? That's because it is. It's the same basic story that you've seen in a hundred fantasy books, children's cartoons and role-playing games. Being derivative is not a dealbreaker in and of itself seeing as even the most formulaic story can become riveting when injected with interesting concepts or explored from a fresh new angle. While “Ginyoku no Fam” makes a few decent attempts at the former, but it's undone by haphazard storytelling that focuses on all the wrong things.
The titular character herself is actually one of the shows biggest problems: Fam is obnoxious, naïve, pushy and prone to get herself involved in affair that she knows nothing about. It wouldn't be bad if the narrative actually acknowledged these qualities as a bad thing or tried to somewhat realistically depict the downsides of having such a personality but it's all too obvious that the makers of this show wanted the audience to be charmed by Fam's unyielding optimism. Worse yet is that the creators' infatuation with her extends to the way she manages to charm and influence every character she comes across. Hell, at one point the main villain even expresses his admiration for her even though they never had any meaningful interaction up to that point.
The problems created by the constant focus on Fam actually seep into and corrupt the overall story. Part of what actually made the original series so captivating was that the main characters were part of a much bigger world. Their presence and influence on the grand scheme of things was minimal, as one would expect from a bunch of adventure seeking kids. This hint of realism made for an adventure story with a fresh twist. “Ginyoku no Fam”, however, is very clear about how we're supposed to see Fam: a messiah whose energetic demeanor is the solution to all the world's problems.
It's a real shame seeing as the story had elements that could have made for a great watch. The Ades Federation initially seems like the typical evil empire but are quickly revealed to largely consist of sympathetic individuals whose firm conviction is borne from desperation more than anything. Other bits of world building such as the tensions between Exiles and Natives, both of whom are convinced that they are the world's “rightful people” (allegory, anyone?) are similarly intriguing, as is the brief glimps we get of the seemingly theocratic and secluded nation of Glacies.
But hey, who cares about things like that when you can watch girls walk around in maid outfits or lecture about how people should just “get over” feelings of mutual resentment that have existed for decades?
The production values are all over the place. The visuals in particular range from spectacular to absolutely awful. Anyone who's a bit knowledgeable about animation will tell you that anime series are no stranger to saving their budget for lavishly animated sequences while other scenes have considerably less effort put into them. “Ginyoku no Fam” is no exception, but I can't recall another series where the quality of the visuals fluctuated so massively. And that's not even the worst part: the series renders the airships in CG and it looks terrible. Which is all the more shocking when you realize that the original series looks fantastic despite being one of the first series to rely heavily on 3D computer animation and CG. The final visual insult, however, is that many of the big battles that are fought over the course of the story look absolutely terrible. All of them are absolute clusterfucks that are devoid of any sense of urgency seeing as the main characters always find a way to turn the tides no matter how badly the odds are against them.
Ultimately, the only conclusion I can reach is that this series is a failure both as a standalone adventure story and as a sequel.
Correction: it fails especially as a sequel.
Very few of the original series' characters show up and the ones that do just get completely sidelined in favor of the “fun” adventures of Fam and girlfriends. The only character from the original series whose role comes close to anything substantial is Dio and he flat-out disappears for large chunks of time. There's also very little connection to the original series in terms of themes, atmosphere or world building. A cynic might even suspect that Gonzo simply took a tried-and-true storyline, mixed it with currently popular character archetypes and slapped the label of one of their older and best received series on it. It would certainly explain the creative bankruptcy on display in this mess of a series.
“Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam” is a huge disappointment. I can reach no other conclusion. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
''Full Metal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos'' – based on the acclaimed manga - is no exception. It's a forgettable if somewhat serviceable adventure flick with some exciting action sequences and a lacking story. No different from the dozens of other films of this type.
It's a shame, considering the plot showed promise; but it's all pulled off too clumsily to ever turn into a satisfying experience.
The biggest problem is that the writing is sloppy. The guest stars (ie. characters exclusive to the movie) and central conflict are introduced in a hasty manner. The main antagonists in particular are too vaguely established to ever feel like a genuine threat, and that's not getting into the fact that some of their actions end up feeling counterproductive or that there's nothing stopping them before the Elric brothers arrive. Speaking of which, those two really feel like empty shells of themselves. Al feels more like a living plot device while Ed is relegated to being a generic action hero. Worse yet is that they shoehorn in fan favorites like Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye only to have their involvement amount to nothing. What the hell, Bones?
Meanwhile, the more successful elements (like the interesting setting) are underdeveloped or feel repackaged from the main series. The one exception being female lead Julia Crichton, who consistently plays an active role and has a solid character arc that mirrors the Elrics' in a cool manner.
Other positives are that the movie is solid in the audiovisual department. Though the offbeat animation style during fight scenes (reminiscent of ''Gurren Lagann'' and ''Tetsuwan Birdy Decode'') might rub some people the wrong way. There's also a conspicuous amount of still frames for an anime movie, though that's probably the price to be paid for going all-out during the elaborate action sequences.
Despite some good points, ''The Sacred Star of Milos'' is simply lacking when compared to its pedigree. Full Metal Alchemist has, in all its incarnations, garnered a large following because it's always pushed the envelope for what a fighting shounen can be. This film simply can't match up to that legacy. read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
Which makes it a relief that Fate/Zero is quite good. Great, even.
For the uninitiated: Fate/Zero is an urban fantasy action series set in the fictional Japanese city of Fuyuki. A modern day setting where magecraft exists and is acknowledged. The story chronicles the first half of an event called the 4th Holy Grail War: a contest of elimination where seven mages (dubbed 'Masters') each summon an ancient spirit (dubbed 'Servants') into the physical realm with the objective of fighting other contestants until only one remains. The winner is allowed access to the Holy Grail: an artifact of incredible power said to be capable of granting any wish.
It is within the Holy Grail War that we follow a wide range of characters: seven Masters, seven Servants as well as a number of supporting characters, most of whom with a connection to the Masters, be it spouse, mentor or assistant. The show handles its large cast of characters remarkably well: there's a lot of diversity and complexity in the personalities, motivations, designs and abilities showcased. Furthermore, the characters feel human: meaning that they can sometimes do terrible or stupid things, but there's always an idea of where they're coming from. This is because of solid world building in the earlier episodes where it's shown that the mage culture is highly elitist and traditional. Especially emphasized is the treatment of women: they're seen as little more than tools to produce heirs, and arranged marriages are very common. Some might view this as misogynistic, but the show does not glorify or endorse these practices in the slightest, though some women are happier in the circumstances than others.
The great characters inhabit an equally stellar narrative. Magic battles and Highlander-esque contests of elimination are certainly nothing new, but the plot twists tired conventions in clever and often brutal ways. Noteworthy is how Fate/Zero handles the action. Battles are not won by believing in your friends or having willpower, instead victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat through planning, cunning and intelligent use of one's abilities and resources. Kiritsugu Emiya, protagonist and anti-hero to the core, embodies this; and his stunningly vicious pragmatism – which masks a sadness of a man who wishes to better the world by any means necessary - is just one of Fate/Zero's many deviations on the usual clichés. The storyline and characters work in tandem to create a truly gripping action series. One that drives home a very important point: action scenes get better when characters you care about are in the fight, and you can understand why they're fighting.*
Not everything about the storytelling is wonderful, though. The show ends on a massive cliffhanger and has no continuation at the time of writing though it is in production. A bigger problem is that there's a lot of exposition in the story's calmer periods. While helpful, it's often delivered in a clunky way. The show is often guilty of something that's referred to as ''As You Know''-dialogue, where one characters reiterates information to another that both of them already know. Moreover, the composition of these scenes is awkward at times. Absolute low point is the first episode in which a Master in training is receiving instructions from 2 people who, while doing so, are walking in circles. One could make a case for how it's supposed to symbolize the fact that they're trying to indoctrinate him, but the whole thing just looks incredibly silly. The saving grace is that the dialogue itself is consistently interesting, be it a discussion about how society defines one's ethics, a character expressing his self-doubt or a Servant's thunderous proclamation of superiority before annihilating an opponent.
Those familiar with ufotable's work on Kara no Kyoukai were confident that they would turn in good work for Fate/Zero, and these hopes weren't in vain. The visuals are of excellent quality across the board. The atmospheric environments and stunning action sequences in particular are a sight to behold. Though there are some visual blemishes in the form of conspicuous CGI here and there, including an entire character rendered in it. This last bit was supposedly an artistic choice on ufotable's part seeing as the character in question is described as feeling fundamentally alien, and while the actual CGI isn't bad but it's definitely not as fluidly animated as the hand-drawn visuals. The soundtrack isn't so extraordinary. Yuki Kajiura isn't quite as diverse as other acclaimed Japanese composers and it doesn't help that she didn't seem to bring her A-game for Fate/Zero. It's not a bad, but nothing that will have people itching to download it. The opening and ending themes, however, are both stellar.
Fate/Zero has a lot to like in spite of a few downsides, and it comes together so marvelously that liking it is all the easier. The fascinating characters, gripping plot, wonderful animation and stunning battles make this an easy sell not just to action-junkies or Type-Moon fans, but to anyone craving an intense thrill-ride with a bit of extra bite to it.
* (It's almost sad that it bears mentioning that caring about characters and having a feel for what's at stake for them makes fights better. But hey, 'Gurren Lagann' and 'Baccano!' got away with lacking them so there you have it.) read more
24 of 24 episodes seen
Mawaru Penguindrum falls under both definitions.
What Kunihiko Ikuhara of Utena-fame has created here is a show that takes philosophical musings on themes such as fate, love and death; and combines them with slapstick antics involving ghost penguins and ping-pong balls that erase people's memories.
If that sounds difficult to take seriously to you, don't bother watching this show. It's going to get a lot weirder.
The overall product is audacious, if nothing else; presenting the story 2 brothers, Kanba and Shoma, who promise to help a mysterious entity track down an object called the Penguindrum in a desperate attempt to ward off the death of their sister, Himari. Their quest has them run into a slew of messed up characters and situations, and before long the narrative turns into a complete mess.
There are several reasons for this.
A big problem is that the series has absolutely no regard for logic and consistency, even within its own narrative. At the start of the series, Himari is brought back to life after succumbing to an incurable disease. Her death and subsequent revival are treated as tragic and miraculous, respectively. Makes sense. What doesn't is that this is repeated several times over the course of the series, treated with the same impact every time. Viewers, however, might be puzzled or annoyed by this repetition seeing as it raises the question as to how severely this series treats the concept of death. This is exacerbated once another character reveals that he's been dead for over a decade, after which the story moves on, completely unaffected by the revelation.
Character development also tends to be very inconsistent. Motivations, personalities and even backstories can change from one scene to the next just to suit the needs of the plot. The aforementioned memory-erasing ping-pong balls are liberally used to retool previously established plot-points to the narrative's convenience.
Other, basic issues also plague the storytelling: many of the back stories feel interchangeable (crappy childhoods galore), some characters who get a lot of screen time end up being completely insignificant while others are introduced seeming important only to be forgotten about before anything could even be done with them. The latter goings-on of the story also feature hackneyed developments involving terrorism, delusions (it's all in your head!) and cliffhangers (someone was stabbed! but who?) that end up not mattering in the slightest.
Most damning of all, however, is the clumsy way the overall product comes together. The shifts in tone – from whacky to dark and vice versa – are as frequent as they are jarring, and it all too often feels that the subjects about which characters are philosophizing have very little to do with the story of two brothers who are attempting to ward off that which should be inevitable.
*WARNING! The following paragraph contains spoilers about the general tone of the ending! WARNING*
Speaking of which, the ending cops out on that in a major way. The series spends a lot of time emphasizing how ordinary people are powerless in the face of fate and that struggling against the inevitable will often result in greater tragedy. One would expect such a story to end on a tragic note as is befit for a something that fancies itself an exploration of fate, but the actual ending turns out rather bittersweet; mostly leaning towards the sweet considering the dark events preceding it.
All that said, the series must certainly be praised yet again for its unique style. This show isn't just different for the hell of it. Ikuhara combines audio and imagery in striking ways, constantly delivering scenes that will shock and surprise. Even if you end up disliking the series, there's a definite guarantee that you'll remember it. Which is more than can be said for a lot of other stuff.
In closing, I'd like to say that while many others would opine that the Mawaru Penguindrum's unique style, impeccable direction and interesting themes make for a wonderful anime, I think that there are too many issues with the overall product to really consider it great. Many of which, I feel, can't be chalked up to mere artistic idiosyncrasy. read more
11 of 11 episodes seen
The above dichotomy is perhaps one of the most enduring through all of fiction. Many stories that tackle it end up siding with the truth, only to end up cushioning the blow through all sorts of contrivances; making the bitterness of the truth not as bad as initially thought.
Enter UN-GO: an 11-episode anime series by Studio BONES which tackles this theme by pouring it in the format of a buddy-detective show, following cynical detective Shinjuurou Yuuki and his quirky assistant Inga as they tackle cases in a Japan that's recovering in the aftermath of a devastating war. The end result is something that thematically feels less like the typical mystery anime and more like a sci-fi spin on the British crime-drama Foyle's War.
Let's get one thing clear: UN-GO isn't very good when taken as a pure detective story. Most of the cases involve genre staples such as blackmail or crimes of passion. Worse yet is that it seldom feels like the main characters are running an investigation. Whenever a crime occurs, the main duo briefly scans the scene and talks with (read: introduces) the people involved, this is followed by some brief speculating after which Shinjuurou will deduce the big picture, only to have Inga swoop in with a magical power that literally forces people to spill the beans. And seeing as the majority of the cases last only one episode, it all ends up feeling very rushed. By rights, UN-GO should be a complete disaster, yet it ends up worthwhile by being a show about detectives solving mysteries that isn't really about the mysteries.
This is where the contrast between sweet lies and bitter truth comes into play.
The story, as previously mentioned, takes place in a Japan that's licking its wounds in the aftermath of a war. The government has restricted people's freedoms and control the flow of information as much as possible. In-story avatar of these policies is Rinroku Kaishou, the chairman of the company that holds the monopoly on Tokyo's communication infrastructure. A charismatic, intelligent man who uses the system to his advantage. This in stark contrast to our hero Shinjuurou, a self-proclaimed seeker of truth whose insistence on uncovering shady practices earns him the hatred of officials and the people alike.
The contrast between these two is the thematic driving point of UN-GO as well as one of its greatest strengths. What seems like a derivative tale of the well-respected villain vs a misunderstood hero becomes a n of how people will shape events in ways that best suits them. Terrorism, blind patriotism and greed are among the themes that come by throughout the episodes, and the show consistently surprises in how it ties them into its truth-vs-lies dichotomy. Interesting to note is that the show doesn't really pick a side between Shinjuurou and Rinroku. While the former's desire to uncover the truth is presented as an admirable quality, his complete lack of tact and almost suffocating cynicism are presented not as harmless quirks but as defense mechanisms born out of desperation. Rinroku's shady practices are in no way glossed over, but the narrative also makes it clear that he views himself as a lesser evil rather than a greater good.
It's a shame then, that other characters don't fare as well. Recurring and one-shot characters alike usually fall into easily recognizable archetypes who play their roles as puppets of the plot competently. Standard detective fiction fare. A bigger shame is that the dynamic between Shinjuurou and Inga isn't fleshed out. It would've been interesting to see the more sinister undertones in their relationship elaborated upon, particularly the part where Inga feeds on truths as a substitute for souls. The dynamic as it is feels interesting if underdeveloped. Though it doesn't hurt the story proper in any significant manner.
The visuals are what you'd expect of a competently produced TV-anime. The animation is nothing remarkable across the board, though key scenes are brilliantly animated. The music is nothing memorable in and of itself but always does an excellent job enhancing the mood of scenes. On the voice-acting side of things some praise is in order for Aki Toyosaki, who showcases surprising range in her role as the quirky yet mysterious Inga. Director Seiji Mizishima (Fullmetal Alchemist '03, Dai-Guard) once again proves himself to be highly capable, turning several aspects – many of which vary in quality and aren't always compatible - into a compelling whole. And it would be no exaggeration to say that UN-GO might not have turned out so well had someone else been at the helm.
Ultimately, UN-GO is the best kind of bait-and-switch, providing the tale of a man seeking truth in a sea of deceit, under the guise of a detective story. Anyone intrigued by the premise and willing to be surprised would do well to give it a look. read more
Oct 22, 2011Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shi... (Anime) add
11 of 11 episodes seen
That last part is where things go wrong, but more on that later.
As the show begins, we see a boy sitting at home while his female friend is pestering him. The boy's father is remarkably unfazed by what is going on. Soon enough, we learn why. The girl, Meiko, died 10 years ago and is a ghost visible only to our protagonist, Jinta. She's come to him with a request: he has to help fulfill her last wish so she can part for the afterlife. Problem is that Jinta has grown up to be a recluse. Nonetheless, he gathers all his courage and ventures outside.
Earlier episodes show Jinta in his attempts to reconnect with his group of old friends to find out what Meiko's final wish could be. The Super Peace Busters (the name of the group) are a colorful bunch, and the series is at its best when it shows them getting back in touch. AnoHana nails that mix of awkwardness and nostalgia felt between people who haven't seen each other for a long time. In particular when they're connected by tragedy. In this regard, the character interactions feel incredibly authentic.
And then Meiko comes into play.
Meiko, as portrayed by the series, is the most wonderful girl ever. She's incredibly sweet, loving, selfless, wonderful and innocent. Jinta is in love with her, even after all these years; as are the other boys from the Super Peace Busters. And the girls? Their emotional crises are all about how they could never match up to Meiko, even now that she's dead.
Keep this in mind: we're referring to a girl who died over 10 years ago, when all of them were around 5. I repeat: this happened 10 years ago. A lot can happen in so much time, especially for children growing up. The death of a friend, tragic as it is, will usually stop hurting quite as much. Life goes on, and day-to-day concerns have a way of catching up. AnoHana doesn't seem to grasp this. Every single person who knew Meiko even the slightest bit is still devastated over her death because she was simply the most wonderful girl ever.
Or so we're told.
The Meiko we can see, however, is an annoying caricature. Her personality is that of ditzy, clingy, ''moe'' characters such as Yui Hirasawa (K-ON!). Her reactions mostly consist of either crying or being incredibly cheerful, and things she does on her own usually boil down to misguided attempts at cheering up Jinta with antics that we're supposed to consider cute. The makers even shoehorn in some fanservice of her. Raising the question of how seriously they really want us to take her.
Very seriously, it turns out.
The whole plot ends up revolving around Meiko and her wish. By the end it's difficult to remember any aspect about the other characters that doesn't trace back to Meiko in some way. Worse yet, the series spends a lot of its running time having characters doubt Jinta's claims that he can communicate with Meiko's ghost. This in spite of the fact that Meiko is a ghost who can interact with physical objects. That's right. Proving her existence would be incredibly easy and yet the series keeps contriving ways to wring melodrama out of other characters' disbelief. One could defend this by claiming that people in real life don't always go for the best solution and make stupid mistakes. Which is true. But the characters in question are portrayed as decently smart in spite of their issues so it feels strange that such an easy to solve problem is dragged out for so long. Worse yet, the actual narrative ends up pointing this out. Indeed, the series itself pokes fun at how long it took to solve its nonexistent problem. It would be cute if it wasn't so infuriating.
Sadly, the frustration only gets worse from there. As the series culminates in an ending that's composed and executed with such bombastic melodramatic sincerity I almost felt bad about laughing at it. The climax basically abandons any pretense of subtlety in favor of having characters shout their feelings at each other, only to neatly wrap up their issues with an instant-cure group therapy session. If only it were that easy in real life.
Real grief, of course, is a totally different beast. It's not something you get over after a miraculous event. Rather, it's a constant uphill battle as you struggle to pick up the pieces and try to fill the void that's appeared in your life. The way AnoHana presents a one-size-fits-all solution is hopelessly naïve, however well-meaning.
That last bit is a great way to sum up the series in a nutshell. Its superb presentation and handful of interesting parts are ultimately wasted on a series that decides to focus on all the wrong things. Pandering, sentimental and ultimately frustrating. ''Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai'' is a crushing disappointment.
The ideas I have formed about the themes explored in this series are based on my own imagination and second-hand accounts of people less fortunate than I. Should you disagree things I have written in this review then please do not hesitate to write me a message. I apologize for any offense I may have caused and wish to explicitly state that it is in no way intentional.
1 of 1 episodes seen
‘Towa no Quon’ (TnQ) is a superhero story as well as Studio Bones’ attempt to hop on the bandwagon. How is it?
Not bad, actually.
It opens with tense sequence involving a shady organization chasing a young boy. Their attempt at capture is swiftly interrupted by a strange figure who proceeds to engage them in a blistering and beautifully animated action sequence. Eventually said figure manages to escape with the boy, and it’s from then that the story well and truly starts up.
The rest of the movie is basically what you’d expect from a first installment. It mostly concerns itself with establishing the major players, the setting and the main conflict. It’s all handled well. Characters all fall under familiar archetypes but not annoyingly so and the larger conflict has the potential for cool developments. Kudos for introducing it all without too much spoon feeding of exposition. Which is something Bones has often tried to do though it’s lead to incoherent messes like ‘Darker than Black’ and ‘Xamd’. The narrative in this, however, is simple and straightforward so there’s no fear of getting lost, not yet at least.
By far the best thing about TnQ’s first episode is the excellent balance between all its elements. It manages to introduce all the important things while keeping the story going. This is further enhanced by the fact that titular character Quon is already introduced as a skilled fighter from the very beginning. Thus avoiding typical clichés revolving around a hero who must come to grips with his powers et cetera (this gets turned into a subplot). On the flipside, it avoids making Quon so powerful that he can effortlessly defeat any opponent. He gets considerable injuries in most fights he’s in and he actually needs the help of his colorful ensemble of sidekicks. This makes it all the easier to warm up to the characters even though they’re yet to be fleshed out.
The animation is great. Environments are well drawn and most of the characters have distinctive designs rather than recycled models with slight alterations. But most of the effort went into creating the wonderful action sequences which, this being a superhero story and all, are sure to be the main draw of this series. They’re not just well-animated, however. They also manage to feel compelling because of the way they’re written. It shuns dry 1-on-1 fights in favor of dynamic confrontations between groups of powerful characters with all sorts of abilities which they use in cool ways in order to get the upper hand. The director deserves props for showing these fights in such a way that they feel dynamic and hectic without making them chaotic. Once again, the balance is excellent. It’s no exaggeration to say that the action sequences are some of the best since ‘Sword of the Stranger’.
The music doesn’t particularly stand out even though it was composed by acclaimed composer Kenji Kawai. It’s competent but little more.
Judging from the first episode Towa no Quon has the potential to make for a great action series. The brisk pace, well built up tension and outstanding action certainly make it very promising. One can rightfully criticize the series for its liberal use of clichés and lack of depth but those hungry for something action-packed should seriously consider giving this a try. The jury is still out on whether or not the rest of the series will be good but this first movie is still well worth checking out.
1 of 1 episodes seen
The first 10 minutes do an excellent job of letting viewers know what’s in store for them. It’s here that the film treats us to an intense and gorgeously animated race sequence and equally beautiful backgrounds and character models. From there on out it’s clear that the films intent is to overwhelm the viewer with adrenaline-filled races brought to life with mouth-watering animation and sound. Storyline and character development are of the lowest priority.
It’s no surprise, then, that Redline sticks closely to the usual 3 act structure. We’re first given a taste of things to come while the personalities and motivations of the major players are established, topped off with introducing the long term goal. The second act is all about the preparation with some rudimentary attempts at character development while act 3 is the main attraction: a 40-minute onslaught of non-stop racing packed with over-the-top, high speed moments and more explosions than 3 Michael Bay films put together.
Sounds good on paper. But Redline goes so overboard with its spectacle that it somehow becomes a bit dull. It’s simply too much.
First off, there are too many characters. The main characters are pretty forgettable and the only contestant who was somewhat cool was the established champion. The film further hurts itself by introducing subplots and characters who aren’t related to the race. A sizable chunk of screentime is reserved for a b-story involving an evil government (basically space-China) that’s out to stop the race and dig up some ancient weapons or something. Ultimately they’re only there to cause tons of explosions and other kinds of destruction. This in a film that’s already filled to the brim with explosions and spectacular set pieces.
This is Redline’s second excess. There is simply too much going on in the third act. A big race alone would have made for a wonderfully thrilling climax but Redline throws in an obligatory mafia subplot as well as the aforementioned evil government. What it all leads to? Stuff getting blown up and more stuff getting blown up.
This wouldn’t have been so bad if there was a reason to care or even some sense of urgency but there isn’t. All the cars race at impossible speeds and run just fine even after taking enough damage to wreck 10 spaceships. The result is that tension is basically nonexistent in this film. Nobody of note dies and damage to the vehicle is shrugged off so easily that one gets the feeling the only thing at stake is the film’s running time.
It’s a real pity seeing as the film is brilliantly animated and incredibly stylish. The film had a production history of 7 long years and you can tell when watching it that all that time was well spent in honing the stunning visuals to perfection. It’s no exaggeration that this is a new benchmark in terms of pure animation. The film’s many characters have detailed, instantly distinguishable models and are fluidly animated, machines roar and rush over surfaces with incredible speed and there’s even the occasional use of deformed animation for stylish effect that’s very effective. The visuals in Redline are a labor of love and the best part is that it overwhelms the senses in a way that seems difficult (perhaps impossible) to replicate in another medium.
In the end, that makes it all the more tragic that these gorgeous visuals aren’t telling a story worth caring about. Worse yet, its main hook (the visuals) simply can’t be used to carry a 100-minute feature film. Some serious editing could have reduced it to have its length and it would’ve made for a better-flowing and much more enjoyable viewing experience.
As it is, Redline is a stunningly animated but overlong film with such incompetent storytelling that it cannot reach its full potential. One can only hope that first-time director Takashi Koike’s next project will be a lot more polished. As it is, the talent is there. It simply needs to be honed and guided properly.
13 of 13 episodes seen
If nothing else, they’re right about that last part.
To the series’ credit. It’s certainly ambitious and refreshing. A story taking place in America during the Prohibition Era and juggling the stories of around a dozen different characters spread across no less than 3 separate time periods, spiced up with alchemy, magic, urban legends and immortal gangsters. Definitely something you don’t see every day.
Ultimately though, the greatest concept still needs to stellar execution to really shine. It needs a compelling narrative that knows where its headed and why, it needs to be inhabited by characters worth caring about and the content generated from a combination of those 2 needs to be presented in a properly thought out fashion.
‘Baccano!’ fails miserably in those areas.
The first major failing is the narrative. Baccano! is a series that presents its events in a non-linear fashion while at the same time jumping between the points of view of several different characters. This is a style of narrative that some works have used to great effect. Baccano! doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way the series juggles its narrative threads and it soon becomes obvious that the answers to the major running questions will only be answered towards the end while everything leading up to it is pure stalling. Bottom line is that Baccano! is convoluted for the sake of it rather than having a fitting thematic reason for it.
This is made worse by the characters. They’re all, to be blunt, horribly written one-dimensional caricatures whose entire personality and motivations can be deduced from their first 5 seconds of screen time. A handful of them gets something resembling a back story and rather forced attempts at development but the majority of them is there to demonstrate their 1 defining quirk only to prance off again while the focus shifts to another character ad nauseam. Worst offenders are Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent, an eccentric couple of energetic thieves whose every conversation follows the exact same pattern. Made all the worse by Miria’s awful shrieking voice. Jacuzzi Splot, a shy ‘gangster’ who cries over anything and everything, is yet another example of such a terrible character. Made worse by the fact that he’s eventually made to look ‘badass’ in a way that’s so forced it’s impossible to believe, seeing as there was no character arc building up to it.
What further hurts the characters is how interchangeable many of them feel. What fundamental differences are there between Clare Stanfield, Dallas Geonard and Ladd Russo? All 3 are violent nutcases who’ll murder someone for no reason at all. What fundamental differences are there between Chane Laforet, Rachel, Lue Klein and Enis? All 4 are emotionally subdued women whose role in the story is defined by an obsession over a single guy. Isaac and Miria? For all intents and purposes, a single character. The series’ blatantly covers up a lack of depth with sheer volume. Similarly to how the narrative constantly shifts focus to prevent viewers from realizing how bland most of the content really is.
The third and final major issue with the series is the way it presents its content. Its portrayal of gangsters is so offensively glamorized that it puts ‘The Godfather’ to shame. It becomes outright laughable when the series introduces us to a character named Dallas Geonard who we’re supposed to view as a villain even though other characters acting the same are portrayed as slick badasses. Violence is used with such frivolity and frequency that it’s devoid of any narrative significance.
In contrast, I’ll briefly discuss a scene from the movie ‘’Pan’s Labyrinth’’. There’s a segment early on in that film where the main villain smashes a man’s face in with a wine bottle. It’s a powerful, important scene on several levels. It not only establishes both the character of the main antagonist as well as the tone of the film, it’s also shot in a chilling yet explicit manner that underlines the brutality of what is shown.
Baccano!, by contrast, is loaded with violence that is much more extreme than what is shown in the scene I just mentioned. There’s even a scene similar to the aforementioned one where a character beats a man to death with his fists. Only in this case there’s no impact seeing as we’ve seen him commit violent acts before. And that’s not even getting into the almost comical way that it’s presented. There’s no dramatic significance to any of it due to how frivolously it’s portrayed. This is made worse by how characters will opt to use violence for the vaguest of reasons. Many characters get hurt and killed over the course of the story but there’s never a reason to care. And once again the anachronic storytelling serves as a way to cover it up.
One can’t deny that the series has a unique style and a refreshing setting. The soundtrack is also wonderfully jazzy while animation is very solid with a number of fun action sequences. This, however, does nothing to remedy the glaring flaws: the non-linear storytelling is a cheap gimmick, the characters obnoxious and 1-dimensional, and the glorification of gangsters is downright offensive. There are powerful stories that feature non-chronological narratives or extreme violence. But these elements alone aren’t what makes them great. When taking an unconventional approach to a story it’s imperative that you think about how to best make it work. This is something the creators of Baccano! fail to realize.
Dictionary.com defines the word ‘ruckus’ as ‘a noisy commotion’. That’s a perfect way to sum up ‘Baccano!’ (merely the Italian word for ‘ruckus’). A ruckus that attempts to pass itself off as an opera.