Category Archives: Anime

Castlevania – A Netflix Review

I don’t have much experience with Castlevania. I once watched about a third of a Let’s Play of Symphony of the Night, played Castlevania III for as long as it took the first floating Medusa head to appear and knock me into a river, and vaguely remember a game existing on the DS with a giant crab in it. I haven’t exactly been following along with the adventures of the Belmont factory pipeline, an endless supply of vaguely posh blokes with whips and impractical hair traipsing up a hill to spank a bat in a cape, but I get the gist. It’s vampires, right? Dracula? Blood and Holy Water? Stakes through the heart, lightly salted with a hint of garlic? Yeah it’s vampires.

dracula

My name is Vlad, and I am not a vampire.

Safe to say, then, that I have very little prior investment for this new Netflix series, and, given I first heard of it about two days after it came out, no real anticipation of anything either. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to find it sitting at a princely 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, with some critics calling it a new gold standard for videogame adaptations. There was even a giddy review from GamesRadar which claimed that ‘it has enhanced the Castlevania franchise in ways a video game could never do’. Aside from a fair amount of damning with faint praise going on, given that game adaptations are notoriously abysmal, and the GR quote being total sycophantic gibberish (pray tell what can an animated series do that a videogame can’t), this is some high praise indeed. So is it any good, or does it reek harder than the goatee of a thousand year old man who only drinks blood?

skulls on spikes

The answer may shock you, as with this fella, although in hindsight his surprise may have been the spike up his jacksie.

Castlevania is a four-episode adult animated series that re-tells the story of Castlevania III, with a bit of added backstory from Symphony of the Night and a bit more that’s totally made up. It follows the adventures of Trevor Belmont, exiled vampire hunter, as he bands together with a magician and a plot spoiler to try and stop Dracula’s hordes of monsters from slowly and inefficiently killing everyone on the planet. You might notice that it’s not a very complicated plot, which isn’t surprising since Castlevania III was an NES game that didn’t really have a plot anyway. They even removed the pirate in a belltower, which was probably a wise decision upon reflection.

This simple setup is a good starting point and lends itself to a more character focused affair, as Castlevania has always been one part swashbuckling adventuring to two parts ghastly horrors from alternate dimensions. The potential is there for boundless personal growth and discovery, since all the main characters are introduced with so much implied backstory that I’m surprised they can remember it all without a personal library.

Unfortunately, this never really happens, and ties into my biggest issue with the series – Castlevania is simply far, far too short. Four 25-minute episodes is no time at all to both introduce a world of this size and leave a satisfying self-contained story, or at least not the story that they attempted to tell. The phrase ‘leaves you wanting more’ has been thrown around, but for that to apply it really has to give us something in the first place.

belmont

Trevor’s been given a polar bear to wear, for example. He doesn’t seem pleased.

When I said that the series re-tells Castlevania III, what I probably should have said is that it aims to tell the first third of a story based on Castlevania III, with the other eight episodes coming out as a second season at some point. This essentially means that sod all happens in the four episodes we have; the first episode, while quite good, is nothing but backstory and setup, the second and third are mostly expositional filler with about 3 minutes of action thrown in to stave off narcolepsy, and only in the fourth episode do we get the heroes fighting anything supernatural. I’m fairly sure Trevor kills more priests than demons in this series.

Wait, he kills priests? Yes, for some reason Castlevania flips its own source material and makes the ruling religious folk absurdly, cartoonishly evil, being lead by a bishop that wouldn’t look out of place at the head of a Nazi experimentation facility. This is probably an attempt to add more human stakes to what is essentially a big stabby fight against some oversized rodents, or to make an edgy point of some kind (possibly that religion is bad, but that needed implying another billion times before I can be certain). It doesn’t really add anything to the core story, and given that there’s a TV Tropes page for this already maybe it’s not as novel as the writers seem to think it is.

notavillain

Notavillainnotavillainnotavillain…

Sadly, this isn’t the only problem with the script. For example, our hero is an arsehole.

Trevor Belmont is presumably intended to be a lovable rogue, an apathetic scoundrel armed with a sarcastic quip or weary sigh for every situation. Unfortunately, he quips sarcastically and sighs wearily in every situation, which becomes annoying rather than endearing. To compound matters, this deliberately posh-voiced British man randomly litters f-bombs throughout his conversations, and monologues about how much he hates things and just wants to be left alone. This only serves to make him dark and edgy at a level of nuance not seen outside of the more depressing corners of Tumblr. It jars with his visual design and constant attempts to help people, and combined with his lack of enthusiasm and the borderline comatose vocal performance from Richard Armitage, Trevor becomes actively unlikable. For crying out loud, Dracula is more developed and sympathetic, and he’s barely in the fucking thing.

Other plot wobbles include the ‘legend’ of a soldier resting under a town for centuries despite him only being there for a single calendar year, leading me to believe that these townsfolk run on advanced dog years or something. This plot point also has a twist that a deafblind newt would be able to see coming if they knew anything at all about either Castlevania III or Symphony of the Night, ruining any tension the series might have been building. Even me saying ‘blonde hair’ is probably a spoiler.

castle

I’m running out of relevant pictures, so here’s a Dark Souls level.

Similarly, there’s a fight towards the end where a magic user creates massive ice walls to ‘trap in’ the demons, which somehow works despite the demons having wings and the ice walls not having a roof. It also begs the question that if you can make 6ft thick walls of ice appear from the ground then why are these demons any trouble at all? Just drop a concrete block on them or something.

On top of this, there seems to be an awful lot of utterly pointless violence. When it happens it’s genuinely disturbing, such as one close-up of a child’s mangled corpse in the first episode that made me feel a bit ill, but this, along with the swearing, feels like an exercise in excess. It’s like they knew that they had an R rating from the get-go and pushed the envelope as hard as they could without it popping open and it’s entrails leaking out, but didn’t integrate it fully into what is a very generic adventure story. None of the gore is necessary; it’s pretty infrequent, is always insanely violent, and all happens either off-screen or to extras who’s entire screen presence is them being ripped to shreds. At one point there’s a market square with intestines as bunting and heads on spikes, which is just absurd. Did the demons kill some people, then instead of killing everyone else they made parade decorations out of the corpses? They must have been in a very jovial mood that evening, those horrifying fanged monsters of the night.

At this stage it’s probably a good time to re-iterate that Castlevania definitely isn’t terrible. In fact it could be amazing if given the right amount of love and care, as the characters all appear to have depth, the world is theoretically huge with a lot of scope for extended adventures and new characters, and the fight scenes are often directed extremely well despite how scarcely they appear. On top of this, some things look really, really cool.

fire face

See how cool this thing looks? Phwoar.

Unfortunately, the majority of things don’t look cool. In fact, some are flat out bad.

A bit of context; Castlevania is a product of two Western production studios (well, technically five, but two did the majority of the work), including the one behind Fairly Odd Parents and Adventure Time. These companies decided to go with a distinctively anime style for this series, presumably on a dare, as it’s a bit of a departure from the aforementioned kids cartoons. Unfortunately, this lack of expertise shows. It really shows.

The action scenes are decent, such as the final fight with its awesome looking whip stuff, and most other things look alright from a distance, but little details will frequently break everything and make the art look frankly amateurish. In the slower scenes some of the geometry can go beserk; in one conversation, I completely missed what they were talking about because I was distracted by the varying dimensions of the room they were in, and how people seemed to completely disappear from it depending on the shot. Sometimes it’s hard not to notice these things.

Here are some examples.

1) Belmont’s face changes from the key frame on the left to the key frame on the right during a conversation scene. During this movement his eyes have gotten bigger and closer together, his nose is now longer and has changed direction completely, now pointing down instead of up, and his shitty hair strand has grown. I don’t even know what’s going on with his ear and sideburn, but they seem to have moved as well. This was the first obviously bad thing I noticed, since it was so weird looking in motion.

belmont faces

2) This old man regains his hairline after being stared at by an angry priest. I think his eyes have changed colour as well but I can’t be sure, and someone’s smashed his nose in with a frying pan.

oldman faces

3) The same old man, when sat down, appears to have a perfectly cylindrical body made entirely out of putty, because the artists drew themselves into a corner with this rounded cloak thing and had no idea how to draw the inside of it. Also, his nose is suddenly straight, his face only occupies the bottom half of his head, and his hairs changed yet again. He also seems to be naked.

necks not like this

4) This things neck is not supposed to be telescopic, and his wing folds into nothingness behind his right arm. Some of the muscle definition changes as well.

demon neck

These might seem like the most nitpicky nits I’ve ever picked, and while you’d be right, this sort of thing happens incredibly frequently. Maybe none of the artists got on and were assigned their key frames via broken tombola, or the lead artist died on the way back to his home planet, or they all swapped desks one crazy Friday. There’s really no excuse for it.

It doesn’t help when the motion itself is often choppy and stuttery, with surprisingly few inbetween frames for any large movements; for example, the man in the shot below is on screen for a total of three frames, which is barely enough to register his existence before he’s vanished back into the comforting embrace of the void.

3frame run

Gotta go fast.

This can leave some scenes feeling very static and awkward, or, in the worst examples, leave the viewer with no idea what’s happening because the animation is so jumpy and the art is so baffling. The first episode is largely alright for this, especially anything related to Dracula’s fantastic looking fire powers, but the others can be downright hard to watch at times. For a first stab at an anime style it’s not bad, but it’s also not good by any stretch of the imagination.

On a lighter note, the sound is generally decent, with a fitting orchestral score that swells and fades at the right times, and some pretty solid sound effects, if that’s what you’re into. The voice acting is largely good, although it can vary. As stated before Richard Armitage has apparently fallen asleep in his cereal, and the female speaker sounds like a girl from Leeds attempting an Italian accent. While it’s always nice to hear a variety of rural English accents (ignoring the fact it’s supposed to be set in Romania), some of the plebby farmers can be a bit indecipherable, even for someone who grew up in the north of England. Maybe that’s the point, who knows. Anyway, it’s a nice change of pace from the usual suspects, and I’m glad I didn’t have to listen to Johnny Yong Bosch shout-cry his way through all his scenes again.

magician

‘Ooh-a ‘eck-a, she’s-a all-a clarted up for-a goin’-a down-a t’ pub. Whippets, pasta etc’

Overall, the Netflix Castlevania isn’t particularly bad, but it’s not distinctly good either. It’s suffocatingly short and extremely forgettable, more of a pilot than a real series. What is there lacks polish, with a surprising number of plot holes for such a short series, and the art could do with another editorial meeting or twelve. There’s also not enough Dracula.

If the inevitable second series matches the highest points of the first episode then I’m all in, but as of right now go watch Hellsing Ultimate instead. Castlevania’s just not worth your time.

cloud

Sad cloud-man is sad at my mangled Yorkshire gibberish. It sort of made sense. Sort of.

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The Seven Deadly Sins – An Anime Review

First of all, I feel I should point out that I’m a bit of a dick. I can be nit-picky, I can be sweary, or I can just start ragging on something for no apparent reason. I say this because I feel that the first season of The Seven Deadly Sins is something that probably doesn’t deserve an absolute hammering but is most likely going to get one anyway. I still can’t get over the fact that there’s a pig that is also a hill.

a pig that is also a hill

Pictured: a pig that is also a hill. With a pub on it.

So what is The Seven Deadly Sins? Well, going in I assumed it would be a charming, swashbuckling remix of things like Dragon Quest, Zelda, and One Piece; a bit of adventuring here, a bit of wholesome pirating there, all silly fun with no major repercussions. This impression was only strengthened by a main character that looks identical to every non-tunic’d Link you will ever see, and the squawky, bouncy, malleable, nails-on-a-chalkboard-annoying bloody pig bloody sidekick that looks like those ones at the start of Wind Waker you can chuck around at the kids with the massive bogeys (you know the ones). Turns out this isn’t the case, and instead it’s Bleach in the Middle Ages as told by Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.

The set-up is that a group of Holy Knights called The Seven Deadly Sins are rumoured to have killed their leader in an attempted coup before disappearing into hiding. Ten years later, a random girl with preposterously massive breasts falls over in a tavern and sets in motion a chain of events that sees the Sins re-unite and attempt to clear their name, all whilst uncovering the standard sinister plot within the upper hierarchy that aims to do something that isn’t really ever clear at any point in all honesty.

king ban

Before we start, I should stress that there are a lot of cool looking things in this show. A child impaling a backup dancer is one of them, apparently.

Unfortunately, there are many things that are wrong with The Seven Deadly Sins. It has tonal issues, pacing issues, plotting issues, dialogue issues, visual design issues… it’s one of those irritating Code Geass situations where a fairly insignificant part of pretty much everything is consistently and repeatedly a bit off, meaning nothing ever quite feels ‘right’ despite it seeming really pretty good on the surface. It’s a shame, because once the immersion is broken, every single problem stands out like a house fire.

Firstly, and most obviously, there seems to be no cohesive vision for the character designs: Blondie looks like a homeless Hobbit  version of Edward Elric; Crying Girl is dressed as a sexy fondant cupcake with a stocking missing; Giant Pigtail Lady comes in a bright orange mech pilot bodysuit with the legs cut off to show her arse a bit more round the edges; Abs Man is Grimmjow moonlighting as a Michael Jackson striptease artist; Whiny Floating Child is South Park by way of Naruto; Tumblr Bait Skinny Boy is just Uryu Ishida with pink hair, even going so far as to copy his personality and special weapon of an energy bow that shoots light; and all the knights are from your generic swords and sorcery armoured goon show, but with more boob windows, abs, and thigh gaps. By the time the Boar Sin of Gluttony arrives as a Victoria’s Secret model in a G-string and a dinner jacket they’ve just completely given up. If it wasn’t for the thigh high boots she would pretty much just be wearing censor bars.

Dawn_Roar_preparing_to_fight_the_Sins

Alright, so we’ve got a female Templar with a bent sword and too much thigh, a bored Robin Hood, a tweenage Samurai, mecha-Baloo with a giant pizza cutter, and heavy metal Casey Jones with a red satin thong stretched over his shoulder, enormous pink washing-up gloves, and a… weapon, of some sort. Consistency?

It’s a very vibrant and colourful show, which combined with the ‘distinctive’ character designs means everything looks strangely fake and plastic. It’s all a bit too well produced, a bit too polished. Whenever I see any of these people interacting all I can see are vinyl collectable figurines bumping into each other on a shiny tablecloth. Call me cynical (please), but I can only assume that the original character designs were all done independently at different times for marketing purposes, before being quickly squeezed into a plot to form this semi-competent flip-flop of comedy and drama that I like to describe delicately, and with class, as blithering nonsense.

This brings me to the writing. It’s lazy. As lazy as a very lazy simile, which is very lazy indeed, let me tell you. The only excuse I can think of is that it’s probably stuffing too much manga into not enough show until the pacing snaps and it all goes a bit wacky at the angles. An actual plot only drunkenly lumbers into view in about episode sixteen of twenty four, with a helpful bit of exposition that turns one of the various Slightly Evil Dudes into the Main Evil Dude, finally giving us an actual villain with an actual plan. It all feels like a first draft by someone who was making it up as they went along, perhaps translated from a different dialect on a different planet through a sophisticated combination of hand signals and panicked shouts.

The major plot beats just sort of happen out of nowhere with very little foreshadowing, such as the time fucking King Arthur of Camelot appears without any of the constituent parts of that title being said at any point prior to his introduction. It would be like if Bleach brought out Nikola Tesla in the middle of an episode to talk about how he created a laser space shuttle that can turn the moon upside down. He’d also be crying, because that happens a lot as well.

Elizabeth_falling_while_serving

Like, a lot.  A really, very, very big lot.

More wonky storytelling occurs when, towards the end of the season, several incredibly major action sequences are hijacked by the fifteen minute exposition fairies who throw flashbacks at you until you care slightly more about why the fight’s supposed to be happening. This is obviously much, much improved over the tried and true method of, say, sprinkling small bits of exposition throughout the series to keep intrigue high and boredom low, instead of fucking off to a beer and fighting festival for like six episodes where you just spend time slamming your cocks around to see who can make the biggest crater in that cliff over there.

Even the dialogue doesn’t escape unharmed; it’s a constant deluge of slightly bizarre sentences that doesn’t really mesh or develop character as such, rather just shout what’s happening at a breakneck pace in order to keep everyone roughly abreast of the plot that nobody actually knows. Any world building or backstory is lumped in with the throwaway intro narration that’s really hard to follow since it keeps jumping around in time like Doc Brown on a particularly rough weekend.

The practical outcome of all of this is that I have no idea what’s going on, who’s involved at what level of government, what the governing system actually is, what the time scale is, why some Holy Knights are evil for no apparent reason, or where the hell the Fairies and Giants come into it (fun fact, there is exactly one Giant in the entire series, making me question if it wasn’t just a weird perspective trick the whole time). Compare this to something like Fullmetal Alchemist, where I know exactly how the country works and so can follow the schemes of the villains in their plans to royally fuck it all up. Here, all I know is that sometimes people are evil and sometimes people are dressed as bugs.

Weird_Fangs_Anime

Clockwise from top left: King Boo bolted to a Texas Longhorn; Ariados; a boss character from Bayonetta; and a bad day with a ball of yarn.

OK, so maybe the structure isn’t very well thought out, but the action itself is good, right? Well… shit, not really.

I’ll give some examples.

There’s a sequence where the main character traps a villain, who’s secret power is turning invisible, in a basement to make the latter stop pursuing the heroic female companion. This is so they can have a nice dust up without our hero having to look over his shoulder for her the entire time, since she’s such a strong character who definitely isn’t a pathetic useless crying bleating wailing waif the whole time. Literally four seconds after this they bust out the side of the building into the street in broad daylight and this big dumb idiot with her stonking honkers comes running out with squawky pork in tow to have a conversation. This pig sidekick has done nothing but squeal and make atrociously ham-fisted (smirk) pork puns because pigs are har har funny bacon. Neither combatant is restrained or cornered, so the villain could just pick her up and leg it, but instead he turns invisible and gets on a horse, which isn’t invisible, and runs away on that, riding off into the distance and consequently straight out of the plot.

There’s also that time our heroes have to fight their way through a bunch of eminently beatable cannon fodder, but instead of smacking them around they pull an ex-machina out of their collective arse and go into sneaky stealth mode around some chest high walls to avoid them all. Something in the near distance explodes, throwing rubble a few hundred feet up into the air directly in their line of sight. Someone asks “what was that”, and receives the ever helpful answer of “it was over there”. They all decide to get angry again and charge at the source of the explosion with the amazing idea that “the fastest way [to win] is to wipe them all out”.

Quick question – why did you start sneaking around people if you were just going to beat them all up anyway as part of the plan? Never mind the actual plot, even moment to moment interactions are impossible to keep up with.

pig and link

Side note, I fucking hate this pig.

Some other dumb things: there’s a ten year gap built into the plot but everyone still looks between the ages of four and fifteen at all times; of the Seven Deadly Sins we never actually meet the seventh, and one or two are so pointless it might as well just be four; the opening credits manage to spoil a boat load of characters that aren’t introduced for ages, ruining any impact their debuts might have had; there’s a giant conch shell that lives in a basement and can grant wishes that is mentioned twice and shown once; some people have moral difficulties with killing the same guy for what is ostensibly the third time; a character appears and is then immediately killed off for a dramatic impact that falls completely flat for obvious reasons; and one character offhandedly whistles a dog into existence from another dimension that can teleport whatever he eats to wherever you want to go. This was a vehicle to get an arse shot of a woman in a leotard. I was… struggling at this point.

cool armor (grr)

Can we just go back to these cool looking things from the intro please? Hm, what’s that? They never appear in the actual show? Oh…

In summary, The Seven Deadly Sins is alright. It was incredibly, nigglingly, frustratingly annoying at times, but the actual direction, production, animation, and music are all really good. The fight scenes in particular would be fantastic fist-pumping moments if there was any character to back it up, but that’s been lost in a sea of tits and primary colours. If you don’t care about or notice plot holes, the loud game of exposition hot potato doesn’t get your goat, and you’re not put off by the scattergun character design then you’ll probably quite enjoy it, but for me it just became infuriating. There’s a pig that is also a hill, for crying out loud.

In a scene near the end, a character gets up after having a massive hole blasted in their chest and punches a giant soldier head over heels in one blow. The line that accompanies this? “I recommend not over-thinking things”. Touché.

slide large

There’s also this weird curio in one of the opening titles where someone in the editing department doesn’t know how to zoom layers properly. Look at these slidey arseholes slip-slidin’ around. It’s like they’re on a bar of soap.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion – An Anime Review

Code Geass is frustrating. It really genuinely annoyed me. It’s one of the very few things that I Googled the ending for before finishing it and felt absolutely no shame. I had to take a sabbatical from the bloody thing three times because it began to actually make me angry. I don’t have a dog, but if I did I almost certainly would’ve punted it out of a fourth storey window in sheer frustration. Yes, Code Geass killed my metaphorical made up dog.

cg-suzaku2

Fuck off anime Garen, you’re not helping.

Right, I’ve got that out of my system. Let’s start again.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is pretty much Death Note with mechs, or Gundam with mind control, or a giant game of Risk with an anorexic Batman and his army of butlers. That’s not all hyperbolic bullshit this time either; from Death Note, we have a main character who stumbles across a terrible power with oddly specific limitations, hides his secret from his friends while everyone in the country knows about it and who becomes more morally ambiguous as the plot goes on; from Gundam, we have the giant mechs that are infeasible in almost every sense of the word and the world conquering politics stuff; and from Batman we have a guy who puts on a cape and a black mask and flounces around a bit. His butler army is even called The Black Knights for God’s sake, it’s not exactly hard to find the comparison.

cg-blackknights

Apparently the all-black air hostess outfits are supposed to be disguises. Not sure the sun visor helps.

The story goes that Lelouch Lamperouge, a high school student with genius level intellect and a perfectly normal name, stumbles upon a mysterious green haired woman who gives him a Geass, making a seagull get stuck in his retina and giving him constant redeye as well as  the power to control another person’s actions for a period of time. With this newfound power and an itchy eyeball he wants to overthrow the Holy Britannian Empire, which strangely doesn’t contain Britain but does contain the USA, who have taken over Japan and rule it and most of the rest of the world with an iron fist. There’s also robot suits called Knightmares and mandatory high school hijinks for comic relief, such is the breathtaking innovation on display in this show. They never actually get round to properly explaining what a Geass is either, going so far as to say it’s passed down by a mystical somethingorother and manifests differently in every person. This is the writers equivalent of saying “Please, just go with it”, roughly the same explanation as to why all the best mech pilots in the country are 17.

cg-roboprep

Even Voltron needs to pass his medicals before he can be attached to half a jet and shot out of a cannon.

So it’s massively unoriginal, but it at least manages to get you invested for the most part. Chess is a recurring theme, so battles are played out strategically with the majority of fights being between groups of people/robots with leaders ordering them around and trying to outmanoeuvre each other, which is a nice twist on the usual mech smashy combat routine. Luckily for the high school sections, the Death Note formula still hasn’t worn out its welcome yet; having to deceive everyone you know and love for your idea of the ‘greater good’ is morally interesting and played pretty well, with at least one impressively gut wrenching episode that works purely because of its absolute permanence.

cg-emperor

This guy has absolutely permanently replaced his earlobes with kitchen rolls, for instance.

However, this is where it all starts to go wrong. Everything I’ve mentioned up to now has been in the first season. The second season, subtitled R2 for unknown reasons, manages to be almost perfectly identical to the first series but without any subtlety, character development or noticeable quality. It starts with a literal reset of every character and plot point back to the very first episode, and the screenwriting only gets worse from there. It is to the first season what the Star Wars prequels are to the original trilogy; a horrible reminder that the same creative team that made something good can also fuck up catastrophically, and the two are now linked forever. You think I’m exaggerating? R2 features the Fantasy Seduction Team for all of a minute. It’s a minute I wish had never existed.

cg-slutteam

I just… no. Fuck you Code Geass. Fuck you.

I could go into endless detail as to why R2 is a pale imitation of the first season, such as the numerous plot holes, the sudden removal of any depth to the characters, the utterly ridiculous plot points that happen mostly by luck and stupidity rather than judgement, the annoying habit of forcing a cliffhanger onto the end of every episode that then gets resolved before the opening titles of the next one, etc etc etc. What it boils down to, however, is that I simply wasn’t as interested in the second season as the first. The reset killed any investment I had in the series, because it removed the absolute permanence I mentioned earlier.

With an introduction of a reset it becomes like any Supes story after ‘The Death of Superman’, where I won’t care if someone dies because they could just be magicked back to life by the writers. The personal sacrifices Lelouch makes can theoretically become undone at the drop of a hat. I might be a bit more forgiving if it wasn’t so forcefully manipulative with some of its characters, but instead we have a bad guy shouting “EQUALITY IS WRONG” to a room full of soldiers, replicating the Nazi leader guy from Hellsing Ultimate in an attempt to show himself to be the most blatantly evil person in the plot.

The final nail is the amount of pointless padding there is just to stretch the runtime to 26 episodes; when the plot repeats the first season for the first ten or so episodes only for a million people to then randomly escape on an iceberg to China (this actually happens) I just can’t care anymore.

cg-cop

“You’re wanted for crimes against consistent quality. Please hold backspace until your audience stops crying”

Both seasons share faults. They both have pretty rubbish dialogue that eschews organic storytelling in favour of the characters telling you literally everything in about twice as many words as are necessary. They both have character designs that look like Jack Skellington with eyeballs, skin and a funky coloured wig. They both have way too many characters with none of them being particularly great other than the main two or three. They’re both sponsored by Pizza Hut.

The main problem is that R2 has way more story problems and way less intrigue, which means I’m less invested and more likely to notice everything that’s wrong with it. I became annoyed at the lack of story progress, the way it ignored most of the events of the first season, the gaping plot holes, the stupidity of some of the characters,  how the apparently unstoppable Knightmares became cannon fodder within minutes,  the endless cliffhangers and “Aha!” moments, the gratuitous ‘fan service’. Code Geass can be better than that. I know it can, because I saw 26 episodes of it that were infinitely better.

cg-gurenfight

I don’t get why all these robots constantly fight with knives and swords. Apparently they can outrun bullets better than they can a guy with a sharp stick.

R2 starts to claw its way back up to par towards the end when they climb the ‘thought elevator’ (what in the fuck), and the ending is about as perfect as you can get for what the story has dragged its raw, swollen arse through for the preceding twenty odd episodes. They finally get around to addressing the major plot points set out in the first season, instead of pissing around in China or trying to repeat memorable scenes from the first season, discovering far too late that removing a character from the plot for the second or third time is less effective than doing it just the once. The final scene is genuinely pretty well handled and basically the only way it could end, even though the fallout is preposterous; we must have learnt by now that eliminating one guy is a touch unlikely to end literally all war on the planet and allow everybody to focus on “solving hunger and poverty”. Idealistic doesn’t even cover it.

cg-mao

When designing a character, a white palm tree fringe, mini belts on the collar and eye-covering aubergine headphones might be a bit much.

In short, I both like and hate Code Geass at the same time. The first season is paced well enough so I don’t notice Jonny Yong Bosch’s terrible voice acting as much, or how Lelouch flings his arms around and points at everything before saying anything important. However, the second season spends over half of its running time stalling for time, and so every tiny little problem that the show has, of which there are quite a few, is immediately noticeable. A show being boring is bad enough, but when it becomes actively annoying then you know you’ve fucked up somewhere.

cg-brofist

“Nice job bro, now let’s go tackle that orphanage”

Akira – A Movie Review

At the end of Akira, a boy turns into a universe. Or maybe a new lifeform, or a higher state of consciousness, or a god. Hell, he could’ve turned into a Jaffa Cake for all I know, and it wouldn’t have changed the ending in the slightest. In fact it might’ve made more sense.

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Witness the birth of… something.

If Akira can be summed up in one word, it’s ‘ambiguous’. Character roles are ambiguous, explanations are ambiguous, the plot is left as ambiguous as the contents of my salad draw. It makes for a thought provoking movie, but a serially frustrating one as well, as you never actually know what’s going on. Even when a character asks a seemingly clear cut question they get a useless apology of an answer; when asked ‘what is Akira?’, someone replies with, and this is word for word,  ‘Maybe there was genetic material in the air and water, even in the particles of dust and space, and if that’s the truth, then what sort of memories are hidden within them?’. Um, no, that wasn’t an answer. Oh never mind we’ll never know, since a plot convenience has just happened because of some similarly vague zombie mummy toddler pensioners and something something psychic evolution. Fair to say, it’s a bit unclear.

akira-angry

‘WILL SOMEBODY TELL ME WHAT’S GOING OOOOOON!’

That said, Akira is undeniably an extremely good film, bordering on a masterpiece even. A tale of childhood friendship, mental instability, political corruption, war, social unrest and the danger and ethics of scientific experiments in the name of knowledge. It’s two hours long, which is almost unheard of for an animated film, and ramps up deliciously from a small gang of 14 year olds on motorbikes to complete citywide devastation with enough political intrigue, random superpowers and Silent Hill mindfuckery to keep you guessing.

akira-crumbling

Pictured: Silent Hill mindfuckery.

It’s also, largely speaking, artistically impeccable. The visuals are astounding at times, with wide shots of the futuristic Neo-Tokyo on the brink of disaster particularly impressive. The sound design is practically perfect, similar to Ghost in the Shell with tribal drums and chimes flying around everywhere as well as the best use of silence I’ve yet come across. Interestingly Akira actually tries a proper attempt at animating dialogue where the whole mouth moves to fit each word rather than flap up and down like a flip book pedal bin. This can mean the dub gets a bit wonky at times where the words don’t fit the mouth movements, and irritatingly the most recent dub has the usual cast of one-voiced Americans that act with the intimacy and subtlety of a cow being hit by a train. Yes I’m looking at you, Johnny Yong Bosch.

akira-laseraim

A rare sight of Johnny Yong Bosch desperately searching for his talent.

While I gave it a lot of flak just three paragraphs ago, the plot is still definitely interesting and grabs you by the throat for the majority of the films runtime. There’s so many story threads happening at any one point it’s impressive it never once feels like it’s going to fall apart, and some of the foreshadowing, imagery and open questions are superbly executed. The lack of any and all explanations to the audience means you have a constant drip feed of implications and deductions which would be incredibly satisfying if they’d actually given a bloody payoff at the end. It’s a shame all of that stops when the infamous giant melting blancmange slug baby turns up and nobody cares about what anything is any more.

akira-monster1

Oh this? This is fine. I didn’t need sleep anyway.

Speaking of which, there’s some pretty horrific stuff in Akira; in the first 15 minutes alone there’s a nuclear explosion, a riot, public execution by police, tear gas, dogs getting shot in the head, collapsing buildings and teenagers braining each other with hammers and motorcycles. It’s a violent, horrible world where everyone’s paranoid, incompetent and making the wrong decision at every turn. The police are losing control, the government officials don’t have a clue what a pavement looks like any more and biker gang wars are a daily occurrence.

akira-falling

As well as the entirety of Lucy, Akira managed to inspire the intro to Kick-Ass.

Interestingly there aren’t really any heroes or villains in Akira, just bystanders, morons and assholes. The villain role ends up switching about 4 times as you realise the other guy was acting logically and sensibly, and the one clearly insane character is given the most development out of anyone, with possible mental health worries even before the government started poking his brain and turning him into season 1 Vegeta. The main character Kaneda doesn’t actually do anything in the plot other than stumble upon things and distract people, a role that could very well be filled by an inquisitive rat with pool cue. He is, however, the one true connection to the audience, as he’s only vaguely involved in things at best and never gets told anything. Whatever Kaneda works out, the audience has just about worked out as well, which is a sign of good pacing and gives us empathy with a character who gets more and more frustrated as the plot goes on.

akira-uncover

What Jimmy really wanted for Christmas was a jacket that didn’t remind everyone of Dr. Mario, but a motorbike would have to do

So once again, the only issue I have with a Japanese story is how it ends. Akira is an outstanding film for 100 minutes, then something turns the bad guy into pudding, some meditating and flashbacks happen, the world explodes for no adequately explained reason and suddenly it’s all over, the doors locked and everyone’s gone home. The build up was bordering on insufferable due to how little information was given out, and the payoff did the opposite of what it should’ve done by adding more questions instead of answers. It doesn’t feel like an ending so much as a cliffhanger for a sequel that will never happen, which isn’t surprising given that the manga continued for another two or three films worth of story after it.

akira-orange

Somehow a lost episode of Orange is the New Black ended up in here as well.

To finish; watch Akira, then Google what the last twenty minutes mean and watch it again. It’s undoubtedly extremely good, but if a story isn’t going to tell me things it better well show me them instead.

akira-trails

This film took an awful lot longer to write about than I anticipated

Ghost In The Shell – A Movie Review

Ghost In The Shell has an awful lot more nipple in it than I was expecting. I understand why a cyborg with an invisibility cloak for skin might want to be naked for practical reasons, since you’d get just an unnervingly unhelpful floating clothes effect a la Hawley Griffin. That said, the fact that the only one with this skin is a sexy female future-ninja does raise a few brows. At least she doesn’t seem to care. I guess that’ll do.

ghostintheshell-unsubtle

She should probably get some shells to put her ghosts in. That was a bra joke.

It’s also a lot more preachy than I was expecting; there’s a lot of pondering over what life is and how technology affects what it means to be human, which is all well and good apart from when it takes up about half the running time of the film.  Some of the philosophical speeches are so damn long you start to phase out and stare mindlessly at the screen, lost in the usual two frames of animation that makes it impossible to lip read and even harder to understand. It would be easier to know what’s happening if characters had facial muscles, or exposition wasn’t all somebody shouting the entire plot to the one guy in the room who doesn’t know because he was late/not there/stupid.

gits-gun

Maybe she’d be a better shot if she hadn’t riveted an iron girder to her forehead.

Okay, let’s back up a bit; Ghost In The Shell is a neo-future science fiction film that sits somewhere between Minority Report, Blade Runner and Cowboy Bebop as a hugely influential and slightly prophetic 82 minutes of film. Hackers and programmers are treated as terrorists in the making and human identity is questionable at best in the huge swathes of data available. It is certainly the most adult thing I’ve covered thus far, but not in the gore and swears kind of way that Hellsing Ultimate was; it’s properly mature in its direction, themes, dialogue and almost everything else. The fact nobody ever acknowledges that there’s a naked lady with an SMG running all over the place says as much, and ignoring the random head explosion in the intro the violence never nears excessive. Given that it’s a sci-fi anime with cyborgs and spider tanks, there’s surprisingly little action, especially next to the Matrix trilogy which ripped off almost everything and made it infinitely worse. Apart from the dumper truck exposition, they kept that the same.

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Lt. Surge looked down angrily at his rapidly emptying beer can, a constant reminder that he’d replaced his eyeballs with bottle caps after just one night in Amsterdam. He would never forget that night. Never.

What there is, however, is brilliant presentation. The animation and art style still holds up today if you ignore the incredible 90s mullets, and the soundtrack is one of the absolute best around. It’s toned back and subtle in all the right ways. The track over the opening credits is one of the most brilliantly haunting scene-setters I’ve come across, a mix of Bulgarian harmonies and slow booming drums which becomes a motif throughout the movie, and the sombre theme fits the overall tone. Occasionally it can get a bit too arty and pretentious for its own good, like the five minute interlude of nothing but a camera panning over a rainy impoverished future city overlaid with floaty choral sounds. It does nothing for the pacing and comes off as overindulgent world building at best and padding at worst, but generally the film manages the serious maturity it so desperately strives for.

gits-setup

Dr. Wily was disappointed that everyone had turned up to his Fancy Dress Picnic in the same outfit.

It’s more of a literary art piece than a film, and asks some infuriatingly general open ended questions about what life is and what we should class artificial intelligence as, which translates to vast amounts of symbolism to go along with the technobabbly philosophy lectures. This can get a bit over the top at times, such as when a man in an overpowered tank destroys a fossil and shoots straight up a carving of the tree of life. I’m not even sure what exactly that has to do with the point of the film, it’s just there as a general metaphor for humans and life and consciousness or whatever. There’s also a hint at one point that there might be multiple versions of the main character, but I’m pretty sure that was unhelpful arty editing rather than unhelpful arty writing.

gits-tree

Look! A literary device!

The plot itself is super simple, almost to a fault, and the aforementioned 82 minute running time feels incredibly short. The universe is so dense and ripe with potential it’s no wonder they made a full anime series based on it, even if it’s another completely different story. The slightly open ended finale is certainly fitting and artistic, whatever that means, but feels undercooked. I was expecting a third act to kick in where the story really gets going, but instead we have a ten minute discussion between a man dressed as a pink puff pastry and a Victorian toddler before a derpy ending line and credits. It just kind of ends, like far too many episodes in long format shows do. It might be the style, but it’s a rubbish style.

gits-apartment

The cold, dead eyes of a killer. Or a child, you can never tell.

I didn’t know what to expect when I went in to Ghost In The Shell and I don’t really know what to think afterwards. It’s certainly different to a lot of what I’ve seen before, and I liked a lot of it for it’s genuine intrigue and suspense, but it is unfortunately both defined and hamstrung by its dialogue. For better or worse it wouldn’t be the same without the pondering existentialism rattled off by every character, the scattergun of motherboards and drug abuse that is the exposition and the post-it note of an ending. The world is brilliant, the animation is stellar and the soundtrack is out of this world, but there should simply be less talking and more doing. You can’t build a house by engaging it in interesting philosophical discussion, and you can’t have a sci-fi film without far too much stupid mindless action. It’s the law or something.

gits-smg

Now have fun working out which bits of this review were sarcastic.

Afro Samurai – An Anime Review

What kind of person names their child after their own hairstyle? It’d be like if Miley Cyrus was called Mullet, or if Keith Flint asked for Terrifying Negative Clown Mohawk at the christening. It doesn’t leave much room for experimentation, but it seems our main character Afro took this limitation to its natural zenith; this is the craziest afro since the incredulous Miror B.

afrosamurai-afro1

Alternatively he just went to the Goth Circus and stuck his head in the candyfloss machine.

It’s not just the ridiculous thundercloud hair that’s a touch over the top, however, as Afro Samurai is another in the long line of ultra violent slash-em-up shows with limbs and heads flying everywhere and vast amounts of crimson ticker tape spewing from every newly created orifice. It’s not quite as violent as Hellsing Ultimate, but it’s extremely close. There’s no dying peacefully in this show, hell, there’s barely any dying with your most of your body still attached.

The story is pretty simple; as a child Afro witnesses his father get killed for his obnoxiously long headband by a lower ranked warrior and vows revenge. That’s literally it. It’s a story where all the interesting things have already happened, and if they ignored all the flashbacks it would literally be a guy who doesn’t talk and his annoying sidekick friend who definitely does walking up a mountain and killing some guys.

afrosamurai-baldandtits

Mrs. Claus knew she wouldn’t have to wait much longer for Santa to croak after he had his head smashed in and branded by a drunk cattle farmer.

Luckily there is more to it than that, and the flashbacks are by far the most interesting part of an otherwise tepid plot. Why is Afro so silent and emotionless, who is Ninja Ninja and what happened to all their childhood friends? The storytelling is much more Western in style than the majority of other shows, and I don’t think there’s one time where a character shouts out the exact details of something that has happened, is happening or will happen in the near future like in almost everything else. Lots of major revelations are heavily implied rather than told, which leaves a lot for the viewer to work out, and most of the time these twists are genuinely satisfying and answer a lot of questions. That is of course until the ending, which is over too quickly and mildly confusing at best, but I guess they want you to make up your own reasons for why a guy can talk with no neck left.

This leads me to the most glaring issue with the series; it’s criminally short. There are five 30 minute episodes with a plot that could easily have lasted for another twenty. There’s very little time to form any connection with the characters when they’re revealed and removed within half an episode, let alone when a whole host of villains are just flat out cancelled in less than 10 minutes. There’s one befuddling character in particular who appears, talks and leaves with no ceremony or explanation, despite being a mad scientist with a body somewhere between a folded airbed and an egg timer. It’s baffling at times, and while I applaud the ‘show not tell’ attitude to storytelling I’m not enough of a whiz to understand and fully place a maniacal orange postbox with grabby claws and a snooker ball for an eye.

afrosamurai-eggman

Jack Black is currently being born from the puckering anus of a giant mushroom. Just one more sentence I thought I would never say.

The action itself is as bloody and violent as you’d expect, and given how long the fights normally last (not very) it feels more brutal than it otherwise would, as a single strike can and often does win a fight immediately. The art style is fantastic and the animation as fluid as you’d expect from a modern anime, and some of the shots can leave you breathless. Afro Samurai apparently had one of the biggest ever budgets for an anime, and it shows.

Of course, most of that budget probably went to the ridiculous array of high profile talent on board, like Samuel L Jackson, Ron Perlman and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. Jackson puts in his usual no-fucks-given performance on a couple of characters, Perlman is suitably creepy as the main villain Justice and RZA does an incredible job on the soundtrack. Once you think about it, putting a hip hop soundtrack on a story set in modern day feudal Japan with an inexplicably black samurai just makes all kinds of sense. It works better here than it does in Samurai Champloo anyway.

afrosamurai-justice

It’s more of a hatband really.

Unfortunately there really isn’t much more I can say about Afro Samurai. What’s here is great, but there is nowhere near enough of it to make a proper lasting impression. The storytelling is a breath of fresh air but the plot itself is bland and doesn’t really go anywhere. The characters are verging on interesting but don’t have enough to do to be fleshed out properly. It’s about as long as your average movie but is structured like a series, making it all feel a bit rushed. It feels like a bite sized chunk of what seems to be a longer anime, or a short pilot run before the full thing arrives. As it is it’s fun but quickly forgotten, like the fastest wank in the world.

afrosamurai-bear

The gritty reboot of Care Bears was controversial to say the least.

Hellsing Ultimate – An Anime Review

Saying there’s a lot of blood in Hellsing Ultimate is like saying there’s a lot of water in the Atlantic, or a lot of assholes in government. It’s everywhere, and you can’t escape it; splattered on walls, dripping down faces and erupting from torsos like jam filled balloons. It’s also slightly fluorescent, so battlefields become littered with possibly the most morbid Christmas decorations since Freddy Kreuger’s nativity scene. It’s like liquid tinsel.

hellsing-alufeeding

Put it down boy, or you’re not coming inside.

Hellsing is the Grindhouse of anime, and something Robert Rodriguez or Eli Roth would be proud of. Ridiculously brutal fights happen seemingly just for the fun of it, there’s a bunch of random swearing and there’s even a tiny glimpse of naked boob at one point, although in the absolute worst possible context. There is a plot, and it’s not exactly in the background, but it’s not where the fun lies either. Discovering the origin of Alucard, who the villains are and what their overall plan is is much less entertaining than seeing a Scottish Wolverine ninja priest tear through a horde of zombie soldiers. The story boils down to Bram Stoker fanfic as told through the medium of anime, so there are a few inevitable plot points like a clash of immortal beings, random magic thingamajigs and the infuriating omnipresence of souls as per bloody usual, but at least it’s more interesting than most plots. This is probably because there’s always a 50% chance of someone’s arm falling off in any random conversation, which I’ve found always spices up a dinner party.

hellsing-anderswords

And who says Jedi isn’t an official religion.

The story is set sometime around the turn of the millenium in a universe where vampires exist, and the plot of the original Dracula actually happened. The powerful vampire Alucard is indentured to the Hellsing organisation, who exist to protect Great Britain from supernatural forces, most notably vampires. This means the action takes place mostly in England, which is both refreshing and hilarious, as we don’t often get to see what other cultures think of England. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has a butler, tea isn’t mandatory and the Queen doesn’t actually run very much, if anything at all.

As Alucard is one of if not the most powerful vampire alive, you’d be hard pressed to find a villain worthy to go against him, especially when he’s clearly completely evil with no obvious personality at all. Luckily the writers decided to square him up against the Nazis, so whenever you think Alucard might be going a bit over the top they switch to a ten minute speech from the head Nazi about how he likes killing and maiming so much. They apparently didn’t think even the Nazis were evil enough, so they eventually make them vampires as well. There’s even a shot of a vampire Nazi eating a baby in front of a burning Big Ben, just to prove a point. Almost every single character could be the villain of a different anime, except for the blond Cockney girl, who’s probably more suited to being a Care Bears villain.

hellsing-vampazis

‘Yeah, they’re not evil enough yet. Maybe add glowing red eyes and shark grins?’

The plot gets more and more mental as time goes on, as is standard in this sort of thing, although what seems like the final battle actually happens with about 2 hours left on the clock, leaving a whole load of characters behind to tie up loose ends after they forgot about all the bits of plot they had on the sidelines. There are ten episodes, each about 45 or 50 minutes, but the last one comes in at a staggering 67. It’s strangely paced, is my point.

This isn’t helped by plot twists that are unexpected, but only because they’re so badly signposted. You can say that a characters reasons for changing from one side to the other are sensible and previous actions point to it, but when those previous actions are offscreen behind a wall of blood and amputations you’re not given any chance as a viewer to work it out for yourself. One twist is so retarded I just paused the video and headbutted the desk for a few minutes; it was massively impractical, it left far more questions than answers and was the writers equivalent of a Get Out Of Jail Free card. There’s also one character in particular (I’ll just say he has the ears) that never gets explained and is crucial to the plot, so you’re sort of left there confused as to what Japanese writers think actually happens in quantum physics.

hellsing-zombie

Gary wasn’t looking forward to this latest dentist’s appointment, not after he got his floss stuck in his teeth.

All of that happens in the last two and a half episodes however, while the rest is a fairground ride of gore and badly defined vampire powers. The action is visceral and powerful, more so than usual as more often than not characters will get literally cut to pieces, redecorating the furnishings in the process. The animation was handled by three different studios, bizarrely, but doesn’t see any drastic shift in tone or quality and is always fast paced with dramatic poses and the afore mentioned blood splattered violence. The only gripe would be with some character designs, with some hair lifted from the incredibly sensible fashions of Yu-Gi-Oh and the blind chipmunks they used as stylists. Hair length tends to vary as well; maybe there’s some new hormonal drug that turns everyone’s blood bright pink and randomly retracts hair back into your skull.

hellsing-bleach

This is what you get when you ask someone to try and draw every single Bleach character at once.

I’m not going to say the English dub is bad, but it does have significant peaks and troughs. While Alucard is booming and creepy and Anderson has the smoothest Scottish voice you’ll ever hear, all the Europeans sound like rejects from ‘Allo ‘Allo, and you can only tell the female sidekick has a Cockney accent when she randomly yells ROIGHT after an order. The original Japanese doesn’t have this issue, although I really would’ve liked to hear Japanese in a French accent.

Similarly music choices are either inspired or completely wrong depending on your outlook, as a lot of the time it’s accompanied by a classical score or vocal ballad rather than the heavy metal it seems like it should have most of the time. When it’s a gory action series about vampires and Nazis you’d expect more Black Sabbath than Beethoven.

hellsing-aluborne

Speaking of Black Sabbath…

Overall Hellsing Ultimate is an interesting one to recommend. It’s absolutely brilliant for the most part, but the enormous exposition dump of contrived technicalities and made up half-twists at the end slows the tempo to a standstill and leaves you with an unfortunate bad taste in your mouth. At time of writing the English dub isn’t fully released, with episodes 9 and 10 coming out sometime in late October, so as it is you should watch it all in Japanese or wait a month and see it in English for the hilarious accents. If you go away at the end slightly disappointed I wouldn’t blame you, but that’s only because the first 7 or so episodes genuinely are that good. It doesn’t so much run out of steam as it does blow the engine up out of sheer excitement, desperately try to find the manual in the rubble before it fobs off home for a pie and a kip.

hellsing-aludead

Funny, I sleep best without a windpipe as well.