Takopii no Genzai, or Takopii's Original Sin, explores the human psyche through the lens of pure innocence and naivete. How do you explain suffering, loss, emotional, psychological and physical abuse to someone who knows nothing of the human condition? This manga goes to very dark places as a cute little alien with strange powers named Takopii tries relentlessly to help and understand humans in the only way he can, with no understanding of just how his well-meaning charity could be twisted and taken advantage of.
This manga exploded in popularity in Japan, and could have easily dragged on for years, but the author chose to end
it on their own terms, and I have a lot of respect for that. For how dreary and depressing it can be, the ending is satisfying. You can easily read this in a single sitting and enjoy it for what it is. It gets slightly convoluted near the end, but gets its point across with brevity and conciseness.
For everything that could have gone wrong with Takopii, it gets a lot right by having an uncompromising vision. If this is an indication of the talent of this mangaka, I think we have a lot to look forward to, as this is their first published work. I would recommend this short read to anyone, and give it a solid 8/10.
Aug 10, 2021
The Shirobako anime has garnered a respectable fan base over the few short years since its debut, and it's been well deserved. Shirobako brought the meat and potatoes of anime production to audiences with a fun cast of characters and a meaningful story to go along with it. Despite having an almost overwhelming number of characters, it managed to juggle all of its themes together in 24 well paced episodes.
Fans were delighted to hear of a movie sequel just as meta as ever - an anime movie about making an anime movie. But can this film accomplish what the TV series did in just ... 2 hours?
The film starts 4 years after the events of the series, with an overworked and jaded Miyamori Aoi, still chugging away at Musashino, gutted from years of more bungled productions. It begins to explore another harsh reality of the industry - when the passion fades, your dreams seem too far gone, and you start questioning if you even enjoy your work anymore. Aoi forces herself to put on a smile and keep herself going every day. It's a poignant hook, much like the first episode of the series where it ends with a character fainting from overwork.
However, as Aoi & co start picking up the pieces to put together a crew to make an anime movie, Shirobako begins retreading familiar territory at a frightening pace. There's a few new faces, but mostly old ones. Inviting, but stunted. The film rarely takes a breather as it hops from one plot point to another.
Near the end - 3 weeks to the release of their movies theatrical release - Aoi vows to re-take the ending as the production team agreed it felt rushed and lacked a satisfying crescendo. I find myself having the exact same sentiments about this movie. I was actually shocked where it ended - despite it running 2 hours, by the time you're feeling the film is entering its 3rd act, it's over.
Happy end aside, I can only recommend this film to Shirobako fans. And maybe that is who it's intended for. In fact, I imagine if anyone came in to this film blind they would be utterly lost. There's too many callbacks to the series for this to stand on its own.
While I'm disappointed to give this a mere 6/10, I feel I may actually be generous here. I did not dislike this film, but I think it could have been a lot better, especially as a 2nd season rather than a film. It needed more room to breathe and explore the wonderful cast and intricate workings of animation production.
Wishful thinking, but I hope someday we get to see the Musashino crew again under better circumstances.
If you love Shirobako, this one's worth a watch. Otherwise, go and watch the series, and then come back here if you loved it.
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Jun 29, 2021
It pains me to write this, but the finale of Wonder Egg Priority serves not as a satisfying conclusion to the story of the series, but rather the death knell of the production problems that plagued it and the industry in general.
First off, the opening 25 minutes are recap and not worth discussing. The second half is clumsy in its execution at best - full of awkward pauses, editing errors, rushed compositing and stunted pacing, it's painfully obvious the staff still did not have enough time to put the kind of polish on this episode that was present in the beginning of the series and ... slowly deteriorated over time.
Story issues aside, I put no blame on the fate of WEP in the hands of the hard-working animation staff that spent years putting this together. Many of them are young and have shown incredible potential and dedication in what they accomplished on this series. They did the best they could with the time they had, and I wish them nothing but the best. Overambition may have factored in to this series tripping over itself, but what went wrong during WEP's production are symptoms of much larger problems that have afflicted the industry as a whole for many years. Only now are many coming to understand just how overworked and strained for time anime staff are, and for those interested in how it affected WEP I recommend reading Sakugablog's "TV Anime, A Deadly Landscape" and both "Wonder Egg Priority Production Notes" by kViN, which highlight the people behind the series and the struggles they faced.
As for the meat of the story behind this final episode, one has to wonder if this is the ending that was planned from the beginning. It seems unlikely given how unsatisfying the conclusion is, and how many loose threads were left untied. The wonderful friendship of the 4 main girls withers away with uninterest, empty platitudes and half-baked expository dialogue. At the end, we are left with an open-ended conclusion that one would normally assume to be a hint at a 2nd season - but the likelihood of that considering how we got here in the first place is next to nothing.
All I have left to say is that I am not angry, but disappointed. Disappointed that such a promising and stand-out series with an admirable amount of passion poured in to it ended up this way. Disappointed for the fans who were holding out, hoping it would stick the landing. Disappointed for the staffers, who worked so hard to push the boundaries of what is possible in the absolutely chaotic and unforgiving world of the anime industry. And disappointed that not only have things not gotten better for them, but continue to get worse.
This whole series has left a sour taste in my mouth. I take no pleasure in saying that I cannot recommend it, because all it does for me is build up to nothing of consequence. I hope things don't end here for WEP, but it seems that they do.
3/10 for the OVA, 6/10 for the series overall.
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Feb 26, 2020
If you've seen the first Hero Academia movie, you should know what to expect here - but this time the idea of a MHA fanservice story that has no bearing on the main plot has worn out its welcome. And it doesn't help that this movie hits every single plot beat that the last one did.
Once again, this film takes place on a remote island, far away from U.A. High School or any other place that might cause any plot holes. The most major difference is what's on the island - this time, it's a small, rural town full of normal people who live normal ... lives. The students are sent alone, and their job is to take care of more everyday tasks the villagers might need help with.
But, of course, a new one-off villain and his sidekicks appear on the island to wreak havoc. And while the heart of My Hero Academia is most definitely heroes vs. villains, the longer these conflicts go on, the more you need to be careful of retreading old ground. Unfortunately here, the film's villain is shockingly unoriginal in his powers and ambition. It is literally boiled down to this: he is an off-brand All for One.
The biggest problem with this is that it cheapens the conflict of AFO vs All-Might from season 3 - an enormously impactful moment in the story of MHA - as the isolated villain showdown in this film raises the stakes in absolutely insane ways that ultimately don't matter and are written off by the end.
Not only that, but what this movie promises for fans of Deku and Bakugo's rivalry is visually satisfying, but inevitably hollow. It reminded me of how powerful their face-off at the end of season 3 was, at a time when Bakugo had a rare moment of emotional vulnerability. But this time, it's just a fleeting excuse to show the two fighting together in a Yutapon-injected showdown that might as well have just been a dream.
Yes, the character interactions are fun, the little kids they save are cute, and the fights are a spectacle to behold. But the predicament the movie finds itself in the end when evil is defeated is that all must be forgotten so the actual story can continue. How it is explained away by Deku as they sail away as heroes is just laughably absurd and ultimately makes the entire film a pointless endeavor.
What hurts the most is significant talent was stretched thin at Studio Bones to make this movie happen while they were simultaneously working on season 4, which is visually apparent both here and in the series.
Recently, a rumor has been floating around that they want to make 10 - yes, ten - MHA films. After seeing this one, you can tell they're already out of ideas, and I really hope they have a change of heart and decide to focus more on the stories that actually matter. Not only does it seem they have tapped out the potential for spinoff films, but the power creep required to out-do the final fight in this movie would make Akira Toriyama blush.
If you are a MHA super-fan, there's no need to rush to see this film. You may enjoy it - especially if you are a big fan of the Deku & Bakugo rivalry - but don't expect any events that take place to ever have any more relevance than a fanfiction would. And at the end of the day, that is basically the function of this consequence-free film.
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Jan 4, 2020
I picked up this film for no other reason than the fact that it was directed by Masaaki Yuasa. This is a very different type of story than he would typically adapt. It's a story about love, coming of age and learning to move on from loss. Colorful, vibrant and fairly easygoing, it does away with most of Yuasa's hallmarks of frantic and wild fever dreams.
Nothing wrong with that, however I don't think the movie is very successful at giving its lead much of anything to do besides being an absolutely hopeless blubbering mess who comes off as a dysfunctional klutz who needs her hand ... held by her knight in shining armor.
The film starts off showing Hinako - the female lead - as an elusive, glowing trophy. Two friends, Minato and Wasabi, admire her surfing in the distance. They don't know her name, and accept that her existence in their lives could be as fleeting. Yet fate has her cross paths with both of them, and in fact Minato ends up saving her from a fire, and the two of them start dating.
It's then that you learn that Hinako is basically only good at surfing and doesn't have her life together in any way. She can't take care of herself, her house is a mess, she can't cook, she doesn't have a job - in fact, it's never quite made clear what exactly she's doing with her life. Minato, on the other hand, does everything for her and is basically the perfect cookie-cutter boyfriend. She becomes quite reliant on him. The only thing he can't do is surf, which Hinako teaches him.
After a series of tragic events, Hinako spends the rest of the film acting like a lunatic when she learns she can sing a song to make an apparition appear in water whenever she needs its advice - which is basically all the time. The problem is, no one else can see this except her. So naturally, everyone around her finds her behavior strange. I can't tell if these portions of the film are supposed to be funny, or sad, or perhaps even both. It's a bizarre mix of emotions and it lacks any kind of magic or chemistry. The romantic chemistry only exists because of dependency issues, and Minato is such a flat and uninteresting character that it's hard to be anywhere near as infatuated with him much as Hinako is.
The supporting cast is .. there. The only voice of reason is the stone cold Youko, Minato's sister. Minato's friend Wasabi doesn't do much of note besides live in the shadow of his buddy. And there's really not much more to it.
As the title suggests, the film is supposed to be about Hinako learning how to "ride the wave" of her life. But constantly throughout the film she howls and begs for others help. It's only at the very tail end of the story that Hinako learns to grow, and only because of Minato's help. She never once accomplishes anything on her own accord.
It's an unsatisfying story because of this abrupt end to Hinako's arc. The ending is bittersweet, as one might imagine, but it lacks any emotional punch. Hinako is hard to care about because she doesn't grow or change much, and when she does it feels unearned. Minato is hard to care about because he's basically an ideal and not much of a character. I, personally, only really enjoyed Youko's brief time on screen, a minor character by all means.
Should you watch "Ride Your Wave"? I'm not sure who I would answer "yes" to. If you like the works of Masaaki Yuasa, you probably are looking in the wrong place. If you like romantic stories, the relationships aren't fleshed out enough here to give a satisfying romance. Everything that "Ride Your Wave" represents falls flat. Perhaps it could offer some catharsis for those going through loss, but I think there are many other stories out there that do it better. If you are looking for anime in that vein, I might recommend something like "The Wind Rises", "Shinsekai Yori" or "Katanagatari" instead.
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Dec 27, 2019
Let me take you back to 2003. Atsushi Ookubo, creator of Fire Force, is making waves with Soul Eater, a manga that would go on for 10 successful years - sparking an anime adaptation and a spin-off series.
Soul Eater was a stand-out shounen that excelled in not only having a fascinating universe, but also characters that were compelling by having...well, personalities. And while Soul Eater did have characters with wacky quirks - most notably Death the Kid's OCD, used as the butt of many jokes - they weren't the epicenter of every character's existence.
2 years after Soul Eater, Ookubo started Fire Force. And in almost ... every way, it feels like he has de-evolved as a storyteller. Characters in Fire Force are defined by singular traits, and you're bashed over the head with them constantly. Female characters especially, in the form of unfunny and blatant fanservice. Villains are comically evil mustache-twirling, monologue-spewing characters that are so blatant you can point them out the first time you see them.
There is little to no nuance in Fire Force. It has moments where you start thinking "wow, maybe this will actually get good now!", and then it falls right back into its tired, repetitive devices. And it's a shame - because there's no question that Studio David went all out with the action animation in Fire Force. But no matter how elaborately animated the fight sequences may be, it can't save Fire Force from barely scraping the surface of mediocrity.
I don't want to bash on Fire Force entirely - it's not a trainwreck. It is awkward, stilted and has weak convictions. But it does have moments of genuine tension, character growth and curious lore. Fleeting as they may be, they are there. So let's start with the good.
The Asakusa arc takes place in the middle of the anime, and it is by far the strongest arc in this season. Why is it so much more satisfying than anything else that happens in the series? Because it advances the plot in meaningful ways, and the ways in which it does it are EARNED. Characters do things for believable reasons, and conflicts are resolved in sensible ways that give strength to the plot. I thought the anime did a 180 for the most part during this arc, and had high hopes for what came after. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The fighting animation is fantastic. It is also complimented by the sound effects used to add impact to the fire-based fighting. Altogether, it's easily some of the best choreographed and heart-pumping sakuga out there. The characters of Fire Force shine their brightest when they are fighting. Mostly because they dialogue is so weak, but hey - you get what you can take.
The universe and lore of Fire Force is pretty interesting - when you get some. There's clearly something sinister on a cosmic level that's going on in Fire Force that slowly gets revealed as time goes on. And i'm sure there will be more of that in the 2nd season.
Unfortunately, that's about it for the good.
The direction outside of the fighting scenes is weirdly robotic and disjointed. Shots are flat, uninteresting and tonally confusing. Conversations are punctuated with a lot of awkward silence, still shots are held for too long, and you're often left wondering if there was supposed to be a punchline. It's worth noting that a lot of David Pro have come from Shaft, where many worked on the Monogatari series. While this is pure speculation, I can't help but wonder if the decision to use the same directorial stylings of Monogatari on Fire Force was due to this, because you can definitely make some parallels here. Unfortunately, for a shounen, it really doesn't work - especially when we get to the next bad thing: the humor.
Comedy is important in shounen. It can help sometimes to break up serious moments or sadness with a little bit of humor. But it's also easy to stretch a joke too thin. Fire Force is tirelessly overdoing its recurring gags. I get the feeling Ookubo might find his jokes a lot funnier than they actually are - and he uses the same ones over and over. As mentioned earlier, a lot of characters have a singular quirk that is shoved in your face over and over. One of the worst ones is easily Tamaki's. Her character is repeatedly shoved aside for a single joke that is played out to excess - her clothes are constantly falling off and she always finds herself being accidentally groped by the MC Shinra in the most impossible situations. Now, this would be fine if you were making a brainless ecchi fanservice show - but Fire Force wants you to take it seriously quite often. So it's tonally bizarre when at one moment there is death, tragedy and destruction, then suddenly some girl is squeaking while her bra and panties magically pop off and her boobs are in some guy's face. This kind of stuff happens more often than it really should, and for me almost none of the humor landed.
On the subject of Tamaki, I have to unfortunately give a knock to the female characters of Fire Force. It's not like Soul Eater wasn't full of fanservice, but at least it had an incredible female lead by the name of Maka Albarn, who wasn't a constant source of cheap sexual gags. Fire Force seems to treat every female character as a certain type of fetish - like strong girls? There's Maki. like scantily clad ones? There's Tamaki. Like femdom? There's Hibana. Like the innocent type? There's Iris. Outside of maybe 2 or 3 scenes, these characters are thoroughly shoved into their corner of pandering to something so juvenile that it's honestly just sad - especially considering that they (with the exception of Iris) are incredibly powerful fighters that deserved better.
Not only that, but the way some of these characters are treated ranges from disappointing to downright disturbing. Two examples that come to mind are Hibana's "turn" to join the 8th Company during her fight with Shinra. Shinra does a little talk no jutsu, punches her in the face, and just like that, she completely changes her mind about her life's ambitions AND - as an added bonus - falls madly in love with Shinra. It's the first arc in the series and really takes a lot of the wind out of your sails, because it's supposed to be the climax of the arc and it falls totally flat. The second one is when Tamaki finds out someone she idolized is actually an evil person. That evil person proceeds to mercilessly kick the shit out of her while she cries and does absolutely nothing to defend herself, despite being entirely capable. It's uncomfortable to watch and comes off as weird fetishy torture porn.
The male characters are not much better, just that their one-note quirks are inherently not sexual. Shinra is the main character. You see, he's a hero, so he has to say that all the time - just in case you forget. Arthur fancies himself a knight, and so he has a lot of jokes about being a knight. When he feels like a knight, he fights good. When he doesn't, he fights bad. To be fair, the male characters can be decidedly more well-rounded than the female characters, because they actually take the time to give them some backstory. So there's that.
Finally, the villains range from comically evil to downright incompetent. I'm gonna have to give "dumbest villain of the year" award to none other than Giovanni - a man with a plague mask who mostly just stands around talking - who managed to incapacitate his cult's #1 target, then proceeds to leave him alone in a forest with no guards instead of taking him somewhere where he couldn't escape. Then - of course - he escapes, after Hibana finds him somehow - and proceeds to get kicked in the face while he is busy talking about how evil he is elsewhere.
At the end of the day, a lot of these plot contrivances can all be chalked up to one thing - lazy writing. I don't know why Fire Force ended up being such a huge step backwards from Soul Eater narratively. There's a lot of reasons to speculate, but it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, Fire Force is what it is - the most baseline of shounen action, coupled with awkward humor, bizarre scene direction and stunted characters. For every moment you're pumping your fists, you get ten where you're rolling your eyes or raising an eyebrow in bemusement. All in all, it's kind of exhausting to sit through.
Should you watch Fire Force? Maybe if you've got nothing better to do. It struggles to even elevate itself to mediocrity. And in a genre as over-saturated as shounen, a lot of viewers are looking for something better. And there's plenty better out there than this - including the author's previous work.
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Sep 28, 2019
Shounen is a tried and true genre that has grown through generations of stories building off the predecessors that inspired them. For the most part, audiences and creators alike know what works and what doesn't by now. There are story beats, character archetypes, good-guy power-ups and bad-guy boasts that we've come to expect - and it would be a mistake to think otherwise. Though these tropes are not inherently bad - they are merely another way for us to scratch our unending desire to endlessly categorize and file familiar things in media. It does not matter if the same trope is used a thousand times ... in a thousand different stories - what matters is that they have a purpose, and if that purpose resonates with both the characters and the audience.
Demon Slayer is not a story that takes a lot of risks. For a seasoned anime fan, Demon Slayer doesn't waste any time checking off every shounen trope in the book. Yet at every familiar turn, there's a light ahead that keeps you captive to the journey: A lingering mystery, a cliffhanger, the prelude to a thrilling battle. After coming down from those highs there are times your patience might wear thin, but then it pulls you back in again. This process can be frustrating, but despite the ups and downs that come with shounen series, the elements that Demon Slayer excels in make it easy to forgive its shortcomings. For someone new to anime, Demon Slayer would be a fortunate first entry into the world of shounen anime, with an easily digestable episode count. For anime veterans, you'll see echoes of characters and arcs from series past that you've loved and hated, willing and reluctant at the same time to take those familiar journeys again.
+ Straightforward story with clear goals
+ Solid setting & timepieces
+ Compelling story arcs and worldbuilding with potential for larger stakes
~ Power system is very simplistic, lacks logical structure
- Tonally jarring and overbearing humor, jokes don't always land, some drag on too long
- Foreshadowing could be utilized better
The story of Demon Slayer is laid out simply. Our main character Tanjirou's family is slaughtered by demons - save for his sister Nezuko, who has been transformed into a demon, who thirst for the blood of humans. He vows to avenge his family and to restore Nezuko's humanity. And so his journey begins by training to become part of the Demon Slayer Corps, to find the demon responsible for slaying his family, and for discovering how to save his sister.
I would say the story of Demon Slayer is where the anime has its most glaring strengths and weaknesses. It's only speculation, but I believe Demon Slayer must be an ambitious learning experience for its creator, mangaka Koyoharu Gotouge, as this is their first published manga that has run for more than a single chapter. And when you look at it that way, it's easier to understand why Demon Slayer sometimes clumsily handles shounen pitfalls, while later handling the same scenarios better.
Ufotable's adaptation thus far has been absent of wasteful filler with brisk pacing, so this first season is packed generously with content. Because of this, I could talk about the story forever - but to keep it short I'll share my thoughts on some things it does well, and others it doesn't.
As far as strengths goes - Demon Slayer's world is full of compelling mysteries and conflict. It is the early 20th century in the Taisho period of Japan - while the advent of an industrialized Japan is on the horizon, the rural settings and traditional Japanese aesthetic is still dominant. And so the presence of demons plaguing their world blends perfectly with the almost mythical status of those who fight them, and the techniques and weapons they use. The story shines its brightest when the fights between humans and demons transcend beyond characters loudly announcing their next attack or technique - something that is largely trivial to the story - and instead give the audience a conflict deeper than blood and swords. While many demons that Tanjirou and his friends face end up being "monster of the week" fodder, we'll see a side of them that gives them humanity, and begins to blur the black and white line the story presents at the beginning. By the end of the first season, you really begin to question what larger meanings are stirring in the world of humans and demons, or even if they could possibly coexist. The best shounen are known for making you question what you believe to know as good and evil, and Demon Slayer begins to tap in to that, which I hope it will continue to build on in its coming seasons - and judging by the spectacular sales of the manga and the anime I have no doubt will come. Demon Slayer raises the stakes with each passing arc, and it's easy to see how a 2nd season could build on what the first establishes, as the true powers that be have not shown their hands yet.
While Demon Slayer is a fairly serious story, there are plenty of moments of humor, and it felt more miss than hit here. There is a lot of yelling and screaming used to deliver comedy (more on that later), with plenty of 'reaction faces' and chibi moments to boot. If I had to describe these moments in one word, it would be hyper. We're talking sugar-high, kids running around with permanent marker and no parental supervision hyper. It can clash with the tone of the episode sometimes, especially during battle scenes. Whether you enjoy this kind of humor depends on you, but how quickly you tire of it will probably depend on your age. Personally, I never laughed at any of these scenes, and many of them physically hurt me to watch as some drag on for far too long. But then there are moments when you're caught by surprise, and a snide offhand comment or quick visual gag will be thrown in, and make you laugh when you weren't expecting it. It was relieving to laugh out loud at Demon Slayer when it wanted you to, and I think the comedic timing by the animators at Ufotable helped a lot in delivering these moments. Humor can really help tie together a story with a lot of violence, tragedy and death, because you can't bum out your audience forever. The author certainly knows this, but are going overboard at times.
Yes, Demon Slayer is not without its moments of weakness - and while the story is ripe with potential and fascinating questions for the audience to ponder, it sometimes immediately smothers those opportunities. Easily the best example I can give is that at one point, a demon mentions his craving for a special kind of blood that only certain humans have. Immediately your mind starts to flood with possibilities - who has this cursed blood? Why do they have it? Why do demons want it? Well, worry not - because quite literally right after this blood is mentioned, Tanjirou's familiar appears out of absolutely nowhere to explain away everything about it, instantly dissolving the tension and creating a pointless distraction for an awkwardly placed bit of trivia. These are rookie story mistakes that hearken back to early days of shounen where authors couldn't hold back anything longer than 5 seconds, or assumed audiences wouldn't remember something being foreshadowed for longer than 5 seconds. It can do a story a lot of good to withhold information from the characters and the audience until a time when it needs to be known.
And whether this is a negative or neutral point to you, it's important to mention this: Demon Slayer does not present its audience a power system or set of rules for how powers really work beyond what a character needs to do to make them work - which usually involves some kind of special breathing. As far as you should be concerned, the techniques and powers characters can utilize are more or less elemental magic. If you're looking for Hunter X Hunter levels of structure within shounen battling here, you will not find it. If that bothers you, you may have a very hard time watching Demon Slayer. As to whether the story will address these things later on in serious depth (as Hunter X Hunter did not introduce its power system rules by this point in the series either) I cannot comment. I am judging this series as a 26-episode anime, and what is contained within it.
Overall, Demon Slayer is solid in concept while clumsy, but formidable in execution. While it rushes out the gate and stumbles a bit, I feel the author earnestly learning how to tell a better story along the way, and it's rewarded by sticking the landing after a couple worrying stumbles on the way there. Hopefully in future entries, the weak elements of Demon Slayer's writing will be ironed out. There's more good here than bad, but there's plenty of room for improvement. While Demon Slayer has lots of potential, it will be tough to live up to it, but it's hard not to cheer on the author when you're riding the high of a fantastic arc with a satisfying payoff only to realize the first season is winding down for an ending.
+ Bond between main characters is strong
+ Demon Slayer corps supporting cast are eccentric and compelling, leave you wanting more
+ Cast helps the story blur the line between good and evil
~ MC can feel too powerful at times
~ Demons can feel like "monster of the week" throwaway characters
- Zenitsu's personality is overbearing to the point of being obnoxious
There are a lot of characters in Demon Slayer, too many to go over here. Because of that, I will keep it to a few groups of people, and my thoughts on each.
TANJIROU & NEZUKO - a very strong sibling relationship, but not creepy or sexualized in any way. Tanjirou is honorable to a fault, as one would expect of a young, capable shounen hero. He is also incredibly powerful, sometimes to the point where he may as well be impervious to injury. Despite this, he does have his limits, and is not always victorious in battle. In fact, he fails a lot, though he often surprises his enemies or sparring partners with his natural talent. Overpowered? Probably, but within reason - as ridiculous as that sounds.
Nezuko is adorable, but sometimes felt more like a pet companion rather than a real character. It doesn't help that she can't really speak, but at times it's obnoxiously cute. Speaking of obnoxious...
ZENITSU & INOSUKE - Tanjirou's eventual travelling companions. Inosuke is a stubborn, short-tempered fighter overflowing with pride. Zenitsu is, well.. mostly a whiny, blubbering coward who is almost constantly screaming.
Zenitsu has his moments. Brief moments. Moments of pause, introspection and gorgeous fight scenes. And maybe this is one of those characters that is better seen through the scope of a manga, because then you wouldn't be able to *hear* him. I began to dread episodes with Zenitsu in the preview because of how obnoxious he is. If you're supposed to like this character and root for him, it's a hard sell. While he does get a sympathetic angle and a bit of backstory to explain why he is the way that he is, he's also a bit of a degenerate pervert that is played off for cheap laughs, and you always have that in the back of your mind. Overall, I don't have a very positive impression of Zenitsu. He's fairly selfish and genuinely unlikeable. If he "gets better" as the saying goes, it didn't happen much here. Again, he does have maybe 5 collective minutes worth of screentime where you can come to an understanding with his repulsive personality, but he's so overly exaggerated that you just want to see him grow up as fast as possible - and we know that's not happening.
Inosuke is also very loud, but in a more tolerable way. He is the type that refuses to run from a fight, and must always prove himself. He clashes with Tanjirou's personality to make for a great rival, and when he has vulnerable moments you can really feel how hard it is for him to express his feelings as someone who spent most of his life disconnected from society. As far as the travelling shounen trio goes, his chemistry is far more compatible than Zenitsu. You just know they are going to become great friends and want to see that relationship develop.
THE DEMON CORPS - There are so many characters within the demon corps that you will meet. They are all an eccentric bunch, but the one that struck a chord with audiences the most was almost certainly a hunter named Shinobu. Soft-spoken and elegant, yet terrifyingly powerful and overflowing with conviction, Shinobu meets Tanjirou and his company about halfway through the series. As far as I am concerned, she is a supporting cast member that has such a great story you wish she was a main character - and a character that leaves you wanting more is always a good thing. For the most part, many of the demon corps characters you will meet don't get as much attention as she does, but it is implied that they'll have much more screen time in the future. If any of them are half as captivating as Shinobu, good things are in store for Demon Slayer fans.
THE DEMONS - Again, a large cast, but mostly throwaways. Demons are introduced and then promptly killed in their respective episodes or mini-arcs for the most part until the second half of the series. Some get little backstories, but they are fleeting epilogues when someone you just met is about to die. But they are there to serve part of a larger narrative - that demons are often a product of their tragic past. The more it happens, the more you start to feel that there may be some grand misunderstanding of demonkind, that their circumstances in another life were taken advantage of by a greater evil. And in fact it is part of the implication based on the limited information the series gives us about the story's overarching villain, who leaves the limelight as mysteriously as he appears. Again, most demons come and go, but as part of a bigger story and concept of the Demon Slayer universe, there is a lot of potential and it's beginning to bare fruit already.
+ Excellent animation
+ Consistent quality
+ Solid direction that matches the source material
+ Elevates its source material
This may actually be the best thing about Demon Slayer. And I don't mean that in a negative way, but the staff at Ufotable did such an insanely good job elevating the source material for animation that its significance is hard to overstate. From front to back, Demon Slayer is consistently well animated, masterfully directed and is visually coherent and compelling. I would recommend reading the Sakugabooru blog "DEMON SLAYER: KIMETSU NO YAIBA – THE POWER OF UFOTABLE’S HARMONY" (ep 19 spoilers) if you'd like to know more about the inner workings of Ufotable and the massive amount of industry experience and skill that came together to make Demon Slayer happen. Almost all of the fights in Demon Slayer are breathtaking spectacles that raise the stakes through the sheer power of what magic only 2D animation can bring. Demon Slayer is full of cuts that demonstrate what truly makes anime special and a worldwide phenomenon. What's happening on the screen is sometimes more spectacular than what is actually taking place in the story, but what matters is that not only can you feel the passion of those working on the series and that they truly care about making it the best they can be, but that Ufotable gives their staff a schedule that allows them to create a series like this and give it the attention they felt it deserved.
I could nitpick some 3D/2D hybrid scenes and moments of awkward pacing, but when it comes to TV animation, to ask for more than what was delivered here is silly. Demon Slayer is an anime series any studio would be more than proud to have in their portfolio, and meets a standard of excellence rarely seen in a world of overworked and underpaid animators.
+ Music is tonally appropriate
+ Sound design elevates the scenes
The music of Demon Slayer is very appropriate for the time period and helps immerse you into the world. There's a few standout themes, but as far as earbugs go Demon Slayer is mostly inoffensive, for better or worse. The sound design and effects also bring more energy to fights and the atmosphere. Overall though, there is nothing here that detracts from the production of the series. The music always plays to the tone of the scene, and the sound is always on point.
+ Made with intent to be as good as they could make it
~ Mixed feelings in the first half
~ Many memorable "good" and "bad" moments, but good outweighs the bad
~ May be harder to watch for long-time anime fans used to shounen
My mind races trying to piece together all my thoughts about Demon Slayer, and subsequently breaks trying to condense it into a "yes" or "no" to the question "did you enjoy Demon Slayer?" There were times I was excitedly speechless, times I wanted to turn it off in annoyance, and everything in-between. However, The times where I had negative reactions began to wane as the series went on, and I found myself - to my own disbelief - anxiously waiting for the next episode more and more. And now? I think I "get it" - I get what Ufotable staff see in Demon Slayer, and why they put every ounce of effort into making the anime as fantastic as they could have. I get why the fans of the manga assure me that my qualms with this and that will be resolved. I get that the mangaka is learning how to write a story with this many layers and this many characters, and I see that growth throughout the series. As cynical and jaded as I can be, and as much as I may have even subconciously wanted to say that I didn't enjoy Demon Slayer... I can't say I didn't.
All that being said, I have to give Demon Slayer a final score with a nice round number. I'm not going to lie, it took me a long time to come around to Demon Slayer, but at the end of the day, I kept watching it - and I'm glad that I did. But I still have to keep all my feelings in mind about it through the weeks. There were times I wanted to drop it, times I didn't believe I was going to like it, but rather reluctantly sit through it. I'm relieved to say that in the end, despite my gripes, that I want to see more and eagerly await a second season. My entire thought process on Demon Slayer is usually "well, bad thing, but also good thing", and I like the good things more than i dislike the bad things. At the risk of continuing to repeat myself, i'll just give a few other scores to sum up my review.
FIRST HALF: 5/10
SECOND HALF: 8/10
ZENITSU: 3/10 - this is a failing grade, see me after class
SHINOBU: 10/10 - tfw she will never ask to see me after class
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Apr 1, 2019
A few years prior to the 2nd season of Mob Psycho 100, this series was relatively unknown. One Punch Man - once a goofy webcomic drawn in the charmingly childish style of ONE - was masterfully redrawn by the accomplished mangaka Yusuke Murata, and not long after an explosive anime adaptation from Madhouse introduced the world to the works of ONE.
No one saw Mob Psycho 100 coming. Adapted in ONE's style during the height of One Punch Man's popularity, its humble and unapolagetic flair both intrigued and repelled anime fans. But it didn't take long for those paying attention to take notice of the incredible ... story of ONE and the raw power of Bones' animation unfolding on screen.
And just when most of us were thinking, "how will they top season 1?", we got blindsided again.
Mob Psycho II is nothing short of lightning in a bottle - a perfect storm of solid storytelling, compelling characters and a studio willing to meet the challenge. What was initially shrugged off as "that thing that isn't One Punch Man" only two years before my typing this is now one of the most highly regarded anime series of all time.
In season one, Mob was always under the thumb of charming con-man Reigen. While Reigen is in many ways a father figure to Mob, it's clear from the very beginning that Reigen takes advantage of Mob's selfless good nature and naivete when it's beneficial to him. Despite that, Mob builds his philosophy around Reigen's early advice, "do not use your powers to hurt people." We see Mob get pushed to his limits several times as his emotions boil over and his hand is forced to protect the people that he cares for. Along the way, enemies and rivals become friends, and Mob begins to grow as a person.
In season two, we get to see the fruits of these actions pay off in big ways. In Mob Psycho, the "power of friendship" doesn't come in the way of inexplicable power level boosts - Mob has always been a force of nature. How he got his powers and why he is so powerful is trivial to the core of the story - I can't stress that enough. Mob isn't interested in his own powers, he sees no value to them. He sees the value in hard work, cherishing and nurturing the latent ability that is inside of all people, not just espers. When he's back into a corner, he'll do anything to protect the people that cherish him and the people that he cherishes. It's what has always separated him from the antagonists he has faced.
What Mob - and the viewer - are rewarded with is not the power but rather the value of friendship, as Mob's humanity inspires those around him to protect the same values he does.
But many wrenches are thrown in the works as one crisis after another compounds on itself to the final arc of the 2nd season.
My only reason that I am not giving the story a 100% is that the first few episodes retread familiar territory a little too much with Mob and Reigen doing what they always do - which isn't bad, but leaves you wondering what's coming next.
Then episode five smacks you upside the head with one of the most surreal and mind-bending battles that briefly unleashes a new terrifying power in Mob we haven't seen before, only to bottle it back up again and bring us back down to reality.
From then on, Mob Psycho puts its foot on the gas and doesn't stop. Mob and Reigen experience some heartfelt and well needed introspection. They drift apart briefly, only to come back together having a better understanding of themselves and eachother. And they need it, because the final arc of the anime is full of heart-stopping cliffhangers, twists and the most formidable antagonist that Mob and his friends have yet faced.
Outside of all the monologues about power, espers vs humans and sakuga battles, Mob never forgets its core message, which lies at the center of its protagonist. Find yourself, embrace who you are, and become a good person. Mob refuses to let his powers define him, and in that respect the story of the anime refuses to let the esper battles do the same. While fantastic in their own right, they are a part of something bigger.
Mob Psycho II ends in spectacular fashion and succeeds in taking the story to even greater heights. I have not read the manga, but I have nothing but full faith that if we are lucky enough to be graced with a 3rd and likely final season that we'll find ourselves stunned again.
Studio Bones has taken full advantage of the simple style of ONE to take this anime production to a level we normally we don't get to see in broadcast anime. The characters' simple and straightforward designs allow the animators to be more expressive in other ways, and ironically Mob Psycho 100 is one of the most lively, well-animated and artistically striking anime we've ever seen. From the emotionally dramatic poses, facial expressions and light-hearted comedic moment styled in ONE's unforgettable faces, to the dark and foreboding nightmare sequences painted on glass by Miyo Sato, to the myriad of absolutely wild and untamed fight sequences, Mob has it all. I wish more anime productions were as bold as Mob to not be so rigid in an industry where I believe too much focus can be put into excessive character design detail, which forces animators to make a compromise in how many drawings they can squeeze into a scene. Mob, on the other hand, shows us what can be done when - perhaps unwittingly - an art style is animator-friendly, and consequently treats us to an almost never-ending demo reel of some of the world's best animators going all out for a project they care about. And you can tell just by watching it.
Sound design and music in an anime can elevate or distract you from what is happening on the screen. A lot of creativity went into what an esper fight would sound like, and Mob has nailed it consistently. Every moment feels impactful and matches what is happening in that moment. To top it off, the music is fantastic and catchy - although what sticks out to me the most are the horror-esque caucophony of violins that screech every time something terrible is happening (or about to happen).
Mob Psycho's story leans a lot on its characters, as many stories do. This can be good or bad depending on a few things. The first thing is the diversity and relatability of the cast. Do we resonate with the plight of the people in this fictional world? Do we empathize with their struggles, and even share them? I think the answer for most people with Mob is a resounding "yes". While none of us have Mob's powers, Mob is probably the most human of all in the cast. His pure intentions, desire for real friendship, and relentless drive to be a better and stronger person, all through a filter of humility are hard not to root for. He also learns to stick up for himself through the trials of this season, and while it causes temporary pain, he comes out stronger.
Reigen also experiences some valuable development, as he sees Mob growing up, he begins to feel threatened by his independence and lashes out. He soon learns that Mob was the only friend that he had, and has to make a decision that will either make or break him, with risk to his past and his future. Seeing a character that spends most of his life putting on an act come down to earth and look inside himself is a grim reminder that there can be grim consequences for the different faces we put on - that you can only "fake it 'till you make it" until you don't. While Reigen turns a page himself this season, he's still the same in-your-face, quick-witted ball of charisma that you loved from the first season - just a better version of the one he used to be. It seems, for once, Reigen took his own advice, and it was thanks to Mob's friendship and honesty that he was able to see its value.
As far as the supporting cast goes, I could go on and on. There are so many endearing characters, some who appear on-screen for a few moments and others who are far more important, like Ritsu, Mob's incredibly supportive and far more selfless brother. What matters is that there are two types of people in Mob's world - those who Mob has befriended, and those who he still wants to reach a hand out to. Everything in the story revolves around Mob, and the antagonists that are most closely tied to his outbursts of power are the ones who not only actively refuse his friendship, but seek to destroy everyone and everything he loves. It's at those moments we see Mob at his most terrifying and powerful, but want him to return to his humanity. And that's why Mob Psycho 100 is such a successfully character driven series.
Season 2 is an emotional roller coaster. It's still full of light-hearted fun, and you will laugh. But it really plays with your heart on some extremely dark cliffhangers, life-threatening situations and a couple of "wait, did he just-" moments. At times, the antagonists can feel a little too shounen-esque in their monologues and diatribes about their power and just how great they are - but often get subverted by our heroes who are rolling their eyes as much as we are. It's proof that ONE is self aware of what he was writing and keeping Mob in a distinct place between an action series and a story about a boy who just wants to live a normal life.
There are very few anime out there that I can say have the perfect mix of all the ingredients Mob has successfully thrown into the mix. This is one in a hundred, maybe even more rare. Every second of the series has been satisfying to watch, and also leaves me wanting more. It will be sad to see the day when there is no more left of the story of Mob Psycho to tell, but I also genuinely look forward to whatever ONE writes next - and I hope Bones picks it up, too.
Mob Psycho 100 is something truly special. There is no one I wouldn't recommend it to. I believe its largest barrier of entry is probably the art style - which I can see a lot of people shrugging off at first glance. To that I would say, if you ever needed proof that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover - or in this case an anime by a single frame - point them to Mob Psycho 100. I feel bad for anyone who skips out on this or couldn't enjoy it. We may very well never see an anime like this again. I hope that we do - but in the meantime, I tip my hat to ONE and everyone at Bones for pouring more than 100% of their passion into making Mob everything it could be and more.
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Jan 25, 2018
A masterpiece needs room to breathe.
Masaaki Yuasa is unquestionably a cut above your average anime director. He has an excellent understanding of how to adapt his source material and always treats it with great respect. He has left his unmistakable mark on anime with a unique flair and instantly recognizable style in storytelling, design and animation.
Devilman: Crybaby is part of the 50th anniversary celebration of works by Go Nagai. Many adaptations of Devilman have been made in the past, but it's been a while. For something this balls to the wall, Yuasa is easily one of the best choices of director for an animation like ... this.
And being on Netflix has also been a blessing for not having to deal with censorship - but it may have also been a curse.
Devilman: Crybaby is only 10 episodes, but it feels like it should have been a little longer. Did Yuasa only ask for 10 episodes, or did Netflix only allot a budget to have 10 episodes to be produced? We might not ever know, but I do feel D:C's length is its biggest weakness.
"Blink and you'll miss it" is how i'd describe the pacing of D:C. Not a moment is wasted and it can be overwhelming at times. It is insane how much stuff happens in a single episode. In a world where a lot of anime takes its sweet time waiting for things to happen, it's refreshing, but also alarming. Pacing can be too slow, but it can also be too fast.
A handful more episodes, maybe even just 1 or 2 more to make it your standard cour length would have greatly strengthened what could have been a masterpiece. What hurt the most was the lack of time to develop an understanding of Akira and Ryo's relationship. It's absolutely critical based on how the story ends, and there just isn't enough of it.
One example of how fast D:C blazes through its story is the world goes from operating normally to being thrown into worldwide chaos and anarchy as demons are unleashed on the world within minutes of screen time. The dichotomy is jarring and feels unconvincing.
I do think that Yuasa did the best he could with the time and resources he had. I don't want to be presumptuous and blame Netflix for this, but it feels uncharacteristic of Yuasa to misjudge the amount of time he has to tell a story.
Overall I would still recommend D:C if you're not squeamish or bashful, it's unlike anything you will see this season or perhaps even this year. It will overwhelm you with so many different emotions, and leaves you with plenty of existential terror to chew on.
But I do believe this is a far cry from Yuasa's best - most notably The Tatami Galaxy and Ping Pong The Animation, both of which are funnily enough one episode longer.
I am not worried that D:C is a decline, but rather an anomaly - and it's only because it is "just" good, not great. You'll enjoy the ride, but you'll want to slow down sometimes. And before you know it, it will be over.
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Jan 25, 2018
Mary and the Witch's Flower is the inaugural film from Studio Ponoc and the 3rd directorial effort from Hiromasa Yonebayashi, whose previous films include the respectable Ghibli efforts The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There.
Being essentially an offshoot of Ghibli, you can immediately see the visual cues Ponoc borrows from its roots. In many ways, it is as if nothing changed. From an animation standpoint, this film may as well have been made by Ghibli staff - but I say this not as a criticism, as not only will it take time for Ponoc to develop its own style, but this anime ... is a fantastic visual feast. Gorgeous backgrounds, excellent attention to every detail and nuance accompanied by fluid and breathtaking animation is what you can expect from Mary and the Witch's Flower (MATWF).
Unfortunately, this is where the comparisons to Ghibli go from being a worthy tribute to a pale imitation.
There are many common themes in Ghibli films that Mary and the Witch's Flower attempts to replicate - the core one being essentially the same journey that Sen takes in Spirited Away. A clumsy, naive little girl bored by her mundane life is unwittingly whisked away to a magical place that will be the setting of her coming-of-age story.
The set-up for this is perfect - in fact, many ideas presented to the audience in MATWF are enticing. The problem is that movie barely does anything with them, and we are left with a very hollow story and anti-climactic third act. The world of the witches and magic that Mary encounters is just barely explored as she faces her trials, and somehow even manages to be boring at times despite its fantastical themes and overdose of whimsy.
As much as I don't want to continue to compare Ponoc to Ghibli, I feel the best example is again the comparison of characters between Mary and Sen. In Spirited Away, Sen spends the majority of the film in Yubaba's bath house, and meets many memorable and interesting characters while living there. Each one helps her a little bit on her journey - she learns something, makes a new friend, takes another step closer to becoming the hero of her own story. You learn a lot about the inner workings of this ethereal yet perilous labyrinth of a bath house that she inhabits. Miyazaki has always been a master of setting and applying it to a character's journey.
In MATWF, it will be no surprise to you that Mary is endowed with the power of a witch. Her magical broom flies her to the "Endor College of Magic" - an absurdly massive school in the clouds full of what seems to be hundreds if not thousands of students learning to become witches. Yet Mary only interacts with no more than 3 people while there, and most of the time it feels empty - aside from some animals and autonomous magical servants that don't utter a word. We get a glimpse of life in the college, but only that and nothing else. Ultimately, everything we see at Endor is nothing but an almost unnecessary loose end.
A great example of this is when Mary visits Endor for the first time. Before entering, she is informed that Endor has very strict rules, written on a giant stone plaque outside its gates. The audience and Mary cannot read it because it's written in some magical language. The first rule is read to Mary, but the others are left unread because they get interrupted. Yet not only do we never learn the other rules to Endor, the first rule ends up being entirely irrelevant to the main plot despite its supposed importance.
I could nitpick the movie and its little faults, but its ultimate failing was the story arc of Mary. Early in the film, Mary meets a boy named Peter. If I must make another Spirited Away comparison here, he is basically the movie's Haku, except that he's basically nothing more than a helpless pawn with no real attachment to Mary.
Peter and Mary don't really get along - in fact, they are not even friends, just acquaintances who tease eachother. After interacting with eachother in real life for all of 5 minutes, eventually Mary accidentally puts Peter in great danger and decides to rescue him - she suddenly cares greatly for him as if they were good friends, and act like totally different people than when we last saw them together.
While there is motivation for Mary to rescue Peter, it lacks conviction from the weak script. There just needed to be more of what mattered and less of the spectacle. The story feels rushed and cobbled together, sometimes even confusing. As far as Yonebayashi goes, it's definitely a step backwards when it comes to characters.
Perhaps it is part of the growing pains of transitioning to a new studio. Perhaps it is difficult to succeed without the constant guidance of masters like Miyazaki and Takehata. Perhaps it's both. Whatever it is, I hope for the best for the future of Studio Ponoc - living under the shadow of Ghibli is not easy. They stumbled a bit out the gate, but there's no mistake that Ponoc employs incredible talent. If they take some time to reflect on what went wrong with MATWF and how to do it right, there's no reason why they cannot build on it.
Overall, the movie is not altogether terrible. It is a bit of a bore to watch at times, the script lacks subtlety and the moral of the story is ambiguous at best, but it has its heart in the right place and should be a joy for small children, especially young girls. The opening flashback sequence is a great hook (and honestly looked like it would have been a more intriguing film), the animation and backgrounds are fantastic and there are moments of genuine laughs and charm, but they are sometimes far apart.
It is, for all intents and purposes, merely decent.
I would say don't go in expecting a Ghibli film, but even if it looked nothing like one, I don't think that would change much.
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