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Nov
21
2014
0

Review: Aldnoah.Zero (アルドノア・ゼロ)

You have to watch this anime to find out whether their wish will come true or not.
You have to watch this anime to find out whether their wish will come true or not.

As mentioned in my last post, the second title I will review here for this blog‘s ‘Anime of the Year ‘ audition for this year, is for the mecha anime series titled Aldnoah.Zero. At least that’s what I have expected when I started downloading this anime this year, but it turns out differently in the end. If you want to know what have changed, then go on to read the rest of the review below.

Story:-
In an alternative version of Earth, the world is under an uneasy armistice for 15 years with a high-tech alien-like human civilization that lives on Mars. As if in cue, the said armistice become invalid in the very first episode of this anime when the princess of the said high-tech alien-like human civilization was assassinated during her visit to Earth. The Martians then invades Earth with their overwhelmingly superior mecha robots, and our typical lackadaisical main male high-schooler protagonist then has to get off his ass and starts the counter attack.

Take the main male protagonist from Hyouka (I watched a few episodes of this anime in Animax), borrows some plot devices from Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince (the princess, the high-tech alien invaders, a world where Microsoft’s Metro GUI actually got popular) and then combine them with a space opera-like storyline, and you will got this anime. As a whole, this anime’s storyline is fairly solid, better even than the first title in this audition. But still, this anime does has some chinks in its plot armor, like two poorly-executed and cringe-worthy events that happens in the last third of the series, amongst others, that will be explained below.

Let’s take a look at the storyline first. Superficially from the outside, this anime looks like, smells like and sounds like a mecha anime title, but this is where you will get it wrong. This anime may have robots in it, but the mechas are merely a minor part of it. The last anime title I have watched that does this is Bokurano, where its mecha is merely one cog in a machine. While the latter leans more towards the dramatical slice-of-life genre, this anime instead gravitates towards a soapy space opera that borders with the seinen territory.

One thing I like about this anime is the fact that its main male protagonist fought the alien invaders that possessed overwhelming technological superiority over Earth humans, merely using a normal mecha machine while aided by comrades that has nothing better either. Even in Bokurano, the children there managed to get themselves a overpowered and deadly mecha of their own. Throughout the series, I half-expected that the princess a.k.a. the main female protagonist will eventually gives him his own Aldnoah activation power, but she didn’t, which is a good decision by the writer.

You are going to spend significant portion of your time watching this anime waiting for him to be relevant. He has too much airtime spent on him for a secondary character. I will not be surprised if he become the main male protagonist for the second season.
You are going to spend significant portion of your time watching this anime waiting for him to be relevant. He has too much airtime spent on him for a secondary character. I will not be surprised if he become the main male protagonist for the second season.

From the start, the storyline branches into separate but equally important sub-plots, with each of them revolves around certain characters. The first one revolves around the main female protagonist (the princess) which then bind the main male protagonist with her. This plot line is probably the closest one to a typical mecha anime such as Majestic Prince. The second one revolves around the princess’ Earthling retainer from Mars which then bind the main antagonist with him. This plot line is arguably the best one in the anime, so far. The third one revolves around the Kaji-like character shown in the picture above which may bind several characters like the female ship commander and also the main male protagonist’s older sister. This plot line consists mostly of character developments, so far. Those ‘so far’ statements exists because this anime will have a sequel next year.

The first two subplots are actually quite OK, and both developed nicely up until the last third of the anime. Nearly simultaneously at that time, those two subplots’ quality are marred by two cringe-worth events that definitely will cause the scoring to suffer. For the first subplot, that would be the attempted assassination of the princess and her groveling aftermath. For the second plot, that would be the interactions of that subplot’s main characters right after the retainer was kidnapped.

The actions of the princess at that event makes me cringe inside with her cliché-laden declarations (and the groveling – damn that groveling). Meanwhile, the kidnapping in the second subplot is actually the most important event in the whole series, and it serves to prepare the princess’ retainer for the finale, supposedly using character developments and also flashback storytelling. The biggest problem about this kidnapping event is its execution, which is poor as I mentioned above. The transition of the retainer’s characterization from the start of the kidnapping to the beginning of the finale has not been fleshed out properly. What the transition process need is more airtime so that the main antagonist can do the conversion process properly.

As for the presentation aspects of this anime, I don’t think there is anything to complain about. The pacing of this anime is much better than Majestic Prince, although maybe it has slowed down a little near the end. Contrary to what you may think, this anime does not exactly have any best characters per se, mainly because this anime is such a story-driven title, and its principle characters are merely cogs in the machine that is this anime’s multi-subplot storyline. The retainer is probably the only character here that may and can assume such a distinction, mainly because of the ending.

And oh boy, the ending sure is at least better than what is seen in No Game, No Life and has a cliffhanger-like feeling in it that approach the one seen in the first season of Code Geass. It comes to my understanding that this anime will have a second season next year, which I will definitely watch, and the ending in this anime is set up perfectly. But after watching this anime’s ending, I have some concerns about what may happen in the sequel, and hoped that certain things will not happen in it.

In the ending, this anime first sub-plot has ended when both of the main protagonists died. Meanwhile, the second sub-plot has been completed with the retainer’s burst of character developments finalizing his transition to a certain status as a main character in the sequel (he could become the main protagonist or main antagonist). He does so by ending the first sub-plot indirectly and also eliminates the main antagonist. The third sub-plot was paused at the verge of the final showdown, and definitely will only be restarted in the second season.

My only hope for the second season will be for the writer to resist bringing any or both of the main protagonists back to life. I wouldn’t have had to mention this if not for the fact that the writer of this anime also wrote Blassreiter. An excerpt of my review of that anime 5 years ago:-

The most defining aspect of this anime is its high character churn rate, with many characters dies left and right. That would have been a good thing for this anime, if not for the fact that this anime also revives dead characters more often than the DragonBall series.

The writer better not revive the main protagonists of this first season in the sequel. People who has been shot in the head don’t come back to life, unless as zombies. Even zombies don’t come back to life after getting a head shot. And no, the Aldnoah power cannot bring people back to life, or else the princess’ assassination plan wouldn’t have been conceived in the first place. Trying otherwise will blow a plot hole so big, Mars can fit into the said hole.

Character Design:-
Character designs in this anime is just ordinary, and frankly speaking, the bland designs here is inferior to what is seen in No Game, No Life (which is not exactly that good either) or Majestic Prince. Or even Blassreiter. In an anime that takes place in an alternate version of Earth in our present time, black hairs are quite common though, which is a good thing even when there are aliens and robots in here.

Voice Acting:-
Just like the character design, voice acting in this anime is also ordinary and just about average in quality. While it is hard for me to remember any characters whose voice actors has done any noticeable jobs, at least this anime does not have any bad gigs either. Inferior to No Game, No Life too in this aspect.

Music:-
When it comes the OST, what you can hear in this anime is better than the ones in No Game, No Life at least. But as for OP and ED themes, both anime are just the same (read: none of them are good at all).

Animation/Direction:-
Animation quality in this anime is good and smoother than what you can see in No Game, No Life. This applies to both general and character animations. Unfortunately, integrations between 2D animation and CGI sequences isn’t exactly seamless though. This anime isn’t the place to go if you expect good mecha actions, because choreography for those scenes overwhelmingly underwhelming. The directing is flawless, but quite a little bit on the conservative side.

Conclusion:-
8 out of 10.
Same score as the first entry of the audition: No Game, No Life. The next entry in the audition is going to be the 4th installment of the Cardfight! Vanguard anime series, titled Cardfight! Vanguard Legion Mate.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/prgSo-Ex

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Oct
22
2014
0

Review: No Game, No Life (ノーゲーム・ノーライフ)

This blog’s annual ‘Anime of the Year’ audition for the year of 2014 starts today with my review of No Game, No Life, a potential Xeroxed copy of last year audition candidate Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo? (damn you Japan and their long-ass anime titles). With both anime’s main protagonists having exactly the same grand entrance sequence when they arrived to their own fantasy worlds, comparisons between these two titles is definitely going to be inevitable when you read this review further.

Story:-
Our two main protagonists; two hikkikomori siblings with penchant for video games, none more important than the other, was invited (or forced?) into ‘Disboard’, a mystical fantasy world vastly different from their version of Japan. In Disboard, the game geniuses that they are will be able to challenge other mystical races in non-violent games, so that they can save Disboard’s version of humanity from oblivion.

The first obvious similarity between this anime and the anime with the long name above, is that both of them has multiple main protagonist. This anime has 2, the other one has 3. Personally speaking, I think this anime has better main protagonists than the other one for several reasons. The teamwork between the main protagonists in this anime is much better, while the main protagonists in the other anime series works more independently off each other, with inconsistent results unlike the achievements of this anime protagonists. Synergy in this anime is simply much better than what can be see in Mondaiji-tachi..

It is not that the capabilities of the main protagonists of Mondaiji-tachi is inferior than the abilities of this anime’s main protagonists. For example, Mondaiji-tachi’s main male protagonist’s abilities easily exceeds the combined abilities of this anime’s main protagonists. Not only that his intellect easily matched them, his physical prowess towers over them by a long way. Hypothetically, if he is the one that was invited into Disboard instead of the hikkikomori siblings, he would still be able to win all the games that the protagonists of this anime has won, and probably with less effort too. With his physical abilities, if he really get serious, he would be able to win the first-person-shooter game against the Werebeasts in less than a minute even if his opponent is cheating.

Still, this anime’s main protagonists is still better than him mainly because the writer of this anime has a done a much better job at showcasing the siblings’ abilities in this anime, unlike his/her counterpart in Mondaiji-tachi. There are many scenes in this anime where this anime’s main male protagonist is channeling Aizen Sousuke as the siblings trolls their opponents, especially in the Werebeasts arc. The act of the trolling isn’t significant per se, but their mannerisms, especially the older brother's, is what makes them awesome.

The second similarity that these two anime titles has is that both use a similar plot device: games. Games in this anime are more accessible to mere mortals like us; from coin flipping to chess, while games in Mondaiji-tachi are more esoteric like the notable Black Death-Pied Piper combo game. Both of them has approximately the same balance between the requirement of skills and intellect too. Therefore it is really hard for me to say which anime has better set of games.

But then again, the main characters of this anime has a better approach, better interactions  and better planning with their own set of games than their counterparts in Mondaiji-tachi. Then again, this has to do with the aforementioned synergy above, which really shows the siblings’ abilities better than their counterparts in Mondaiji-tachi. Winning games decisively and with panache and style too, means that this anime played its games better than Mondaiji-tachi ever does for now. Doing this even when there are no major gap of abilities between the two sets of protagonists, makes this anime a winner in this aspect.

Another similarity those two anime series has is that both titles takes place in a fantasy setting, with both set of protagonist coming from real-world Japan. In this case, ‘The Garden’ that is sectioned into 4 points of the compass, has layers which number has not been revealed yet and is larger than the sun, is much better than ‘Disboard’, which is apparently only sectioned into 16 regions. This distinction is important because the settings affect their storyline greatly.

Unlike very many anime titles reviewed here before, including Mondaiji-tachi, the plot of the WHOLE series has already been laid out: the two main protagonists must defeat all 16 races of their respective regions so then they can resume the game against the main antagonist that they have already partially won back then in their world. I will put my head out there and say; that just like a Spanish telenovela, that they will win the said finale, and now only the writer is the obstacle between the main protagonists and their goal. And from what I have seen so far in this anime, I am not really impressed with what I have saw.

Blame this to the meeting between the protagonists and their final opponent right after the event when they are crowned the kings of humanity, because that was the exact point the writer forced the main storyline to the corner. With a lackadaisical main plot, this series as a whole (not only what this anime shown so far) will need to lean on the portrayal of the brilliance of the main protagonists as they approach their future games. This series can actually succeed and gloss over the weakness of the main plot if they can keep up the intensity of what have been seen so far in this anime. This is of course if this anime gets a fully deserved second season, of which as of writing I have not heard of one yet.

Some of the parodies in this anime.
Some of the parodies in this anime.

Unlike Mondaiji-tachi though, the story seen in this anime is written to fully accommodate the fact that the anime has only 12 episodes; there is no messy planning like what is seen in Mondaiji-tachi. The pacing of the storyline is excellent, and the flow is flawless. Unlike Mondaiji-tachi, this anime likes to make external references to other games, anime and manga like is shown in the screenshot above. The ending is structured to have a second season, but as mentioned above, there are no news of one yet.

Character developments in this anime is actually not really good. Due to the fact that the siblings in this anime has comparable when it comes to abilities, unlike their counterparts in Mondaiji-tachi where their protagonists’ abilities has disparate gaps between them; this anime’s main protagonist character developments are actually quite static. I can easily said that the main protagonists at the end of the anime is almost the same as the ones that plunged head-first into Disboard at the start of the anime. The flat-chested girl who has an elf as a friend, and to a lesser extent, the princess whose throne has been usurped by the main protagonist, all of them has better character developments than them. Still, the main male protagonist is still the best character in this anime, as he leveraged all of his and his sister’s experience and abilities accumulated back in Japan to troll their enemies in Discord.

Character Design:-
Character designs in this anime is uneven; designs for the main protagonists in this anime are just ordinary, but some designs for the natives of Disboard such as the girl in the library and the flat-chested girl are actually good. When this anime is compared to Mondaiji-tachi, the latter wins this one hands down due to its many exotic races such as the bunny girl. A consequence of having a much better setting, that for sure. Black hairs are also rare here, but then again this anime takes place in a parallel fantasy world.

Voice Acting:-
Voice acting is another aspect where Mondaiji-tachi wins over this anime. Voice acting in this anime is just plain average overall, with the possible exception of the girl from the library. The main male protagonist could have had his character be fleshed out much better if his voice actor has a more commandeering presence in his gigs. I’m not asking for a Toua Tokuchi-level of voice acting gig, but the one at Lelouch Lamperouge level would have done wonders at enhancing the main male protagonist’s character even more.

Music:-
This anime is similar to Mondaiji-tachi in the fact that all of its OP and ED themes are utterly forgettable. Then these two anime differs based on the fact that the OST of this anime isn’t any better too while in Mondaiji-tachi its OST is actually good.

Animation/Direction:-
The animation quality in this anime is good, in both character animations or just general ones. There are quite some times where character composition problems can be seen though throughout this anime. Integration between CGI and 2D animations is seamless. Choreography for action scenes in this anime is just average though, this anime isn’t the one to watch if you are expecting excellent action scenes. The director has done a largely good job at not being bad, although it is obvious that scene composition and camera works are not exactly his/her virtues.

Conclusion:-
8 out of 10.
Eclipsed Mondaiji-tachi by the virtue that this anime does not employ the blurry animation technique the latter does.

The 2014 audition will be shorter than the last year’s, maybe 3 to 5 titles only. The next anime I will review next for the audition would be Aldnoah Zero, but I will keep the identity of other 2014 anime titles I will review under wraps for the time being.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/prgSo-Et

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Sep
18
2014
1

Review: Eyeshield 21 (アイシールド21)

The main protagonist...
The main protagonist…

For this blog entry, I am going to review a sport anime title that aired in the last decade, titled Eyeshield 21. It has some notable distinctions; one being the first title that has more than 100 episodes being reviewed here in years, another is that this anime aired in the same year as with the best ever anime title I have reviewed in this blog, Capeta. The latter is the main reason why I always apply the sport genre handicap to all sport anime titles I reviewed after it, including this anime too.

...and this is his job.
…and this is his job.

Story:-
The anime starts with the main protagonist just enrolling at Deimon High School. Unfortunately for him, the lite version of One Out’s male protagonist forces him to join the school's  American football club. To ensure that the main protagonist’s running power isn’t associated to him, he becomes the anonymous main title protagonist of this anime instead, while the real him acts up as the club’s secretary. As the size of the club grows, he, the One Out’s main protagonist and the others set their aim at the Christmas Bowl event, which is Japan’s high school version of the NFL’S Super Bowl.

My biggest pet-peeve about this anime is definitely the fact that the series has not ended, despite having 145 episodes, the second longest anime title reviewed here after Urusei Yatsura. I would not have complained about this if this anime does not have enough episodes, but this is not the case here, which I would explain more below.

By the time the final episode finished playing, the series is at the semifinal stage of the Kantou playoff tournament. Spoiler: for the record, the Deimon Devil Bats won that particular match and in theory, should go on to the finals of the said playoff tournament. But the final and the Christmas Bowl are not shown, and heads will roll because of this.

Pacing-wise, this anime is quite OK up until the end of the regional third–place playoff game that ends somewhere between episode 80 and 90. Quite a little bit slow between games, but generally spot-on in in-field episodes. But the ~25-episode gap between that third placing game and the first round of the Kantou Tournament is fatal to this anime. The gaps between previous games has never been this long before this part of the series, and it is almost big enough to fill in a normal 2-cour anime series today.

There are another two issues this anime is having; both of them are related to the 25-episode gap issue above. The first one is the gap between the first round of the Kantou Tournament and the semi final game. The gap is quite large too if compared to the ones that precedes the gap before the former. The second one is the pacing of the final game of this anime (the semi final of Kantou Tournament), which is the slowest when compared to all the games that was played before it.

Therefore, with great confidence, I can definitely say that if the last two non-playing gaps has normal lengths as just like the ones that comes before it, and that if the pacing of all games are similar (maybe gives two or there more episodes for Christmas Bowl), this anime would be able to accommodate the Kantou Tournament final and also the Christmas Bowl easily. I’m really pissed that I am not able to at least watch the former, especially when this anime has already set up some events leading to the game that Deimon Devil Bats are supposed to play. Is there any need to show Gaou stopping a truck if we are not goping to see the main title male protagonist going against him?

That pivotal moment right before an explosive burst of character development. You will see this a lot in this anime.
That pivotal moment right before an explosive burst of character development. You will see this a lot in this anime.

Storywise this anime is actually quite good in quality. The Death March arc in this anime is definitely the best power-up training regime I have seen in a sport anime to date. Not only it helps the members of Deimon Devil Bats upgrade their abilities and advance their character developments at that time, Death March was also used to do those two things again and again in future episodes, usually in-game using flashback sequences, in a slick and believable way that does not off-put the audience. Not only that, the Death March also helps advance the plot multiple times long after the arc finished playing.

Speaking about the Death March, the writer tried to replicate that arc in the aforementioned 25-episode gap above, but failed miserably.

As this is a sport anime, with a huge episode count at that, it is natural that this anime has extensive character developments, especially for the recurring characters, and to a lesser extent, the one-off characters from the team faced by the Deimon Devil Bats too. The best character in this anime is definitely the club captain, followed closely by the main title protagonist. It really helps too that there are no romance elements at all in this anime; there are no main female protagonist here at all.

This anime has the most informative eyecatches section I’ve ever seen, which is useful for those who doesn’t know American football. Recap episodes and repeated scenes are a staple of this anime, and they are done largely well. The issue with the pacing of this anime has been largely explained above, and that problem do affect the flow of the story in a negative way. There are many comedy events in this anime too, and they can be hit-or-miss.

This anime has its share of quirky teams with equally quirky character designs too.
This anime has its share of quirky teams with equally quirky character designs too.

Character Design:-
Character designs in this anime is very notable for its diverseness. You can see character designs that comes out straight from a  typical shounen anime title like Naruto or Bleach (like the main title male protagonist), then you can see designs that is common from a shounen-ai titles, then shoujo titles, then seinen titles (like the One-Out-esque quarterback) and more. The huge character cast, many of them at least semi-recurring ones, do help this anime in this regard. A positive aspect of this anime.

Some asinine questions too during the eyecatch section.
Some asinine questions too during the eyecatch section.

Voice Acting:-
Voica acting for core characters (the Deimon Devil Bats members) are largely good, with the sore exception of the main male title protagonist, which is just about average. The monkey receiver and the One-out-esque quarterback have the best voice acting gigs in this anime. Hirano Aya of pre-Haruhi Suzumiya era sure is more restrained as shown in this anime compared to her newer gigs.

The voices of other characters, recurring or not, do mirror the diverseness of their character designs. Many of them are good or better, while there are some of them that are just average.

Music:-
The OST of this anime is good; could have been better especially for scenes off the field. As for OP/ED themes, the good ones includes the 1st, 2nd and the 4th OP themes, then the insert songs in episode 28 and 116 (both of them played multiple times). But the best of them all is definitely the 6th ED theme, which is head and shoulders above the rest of them. A positive aspect for this anime because of that alone.

Answer: The main reason why I don't watch NBA and NFL games.
Answer: The main reason why I don't watch NBA and NFL games.

Animation/Direction:-
Character animations in this anime can be very jerky at times, usually in off-field moments, but sometimes also happens during a match. There are also numerous problems with the quality of character compositions, in numerous scenes in the anime, on and off the field.

General animation quality doesn’t seem to have those numerous quality issues that plagued the characters of this anime. This anime of last decade has already used 3D CGI animation, but integration with the traditional 2D animation is not seamless. As for choreography in this sport anime, you can consider them good if you enjoy normal American football techniques being overexaggerated with slow-motion techniques, contrails, after–images, special effects and things like that. If you don’t, well…

The director also has made some mistakes, in addition of the pacing problem above. One of them is plot execution. For example, some scenes like the main title protagonist’s second touchdown against Oujou High School in their first match-up, and also his visit to Sakuraba Haruto after that match, does not have the impact that those scenes should deliver. A better director would have used those scenes to manipulate viewers’ feeling much better.

The best ever name for a cruise liner in anime history.
The best ever name for a cruise liner in anime history.

Conclusion:-
6 out of 10.
Even after 145 episodes, this anime is in dire need of a second season if you ask me. Blame this on the director for letting this happening.

Quoted for truth.
Quoted for truth.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/prgSo-Ea

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