Jujutsu Kaisen

One thing that (fighting) shounen anime can do so well is stretch a fight (or a contest) over several episodes – and Jujutsu Kaisen fits that bill for me, and yet my favourite episodes were probably the more self-contained ones.

Jujutsu Kaisen (2020)

And so the drawing together of the main cast, the investigations and especially Nanami’s episodes stood out most for me.

I loved the premise too, especially as a fan of supernatural stuff, and while the action sequences were ace, I do have a few niggles to report. While the ‘bro’ joke oscillated between amusing/overplayed/all the way back to maybe amusing again, I do find myself growing weary of a trend that seems to exist within and beyond anime: the zero progress per season.

Okay, I’m exaggerating.

But I’m referring to the huge battle at the end of every season that doesn’t come close to defeating even the first Big Bad, no matter how visceral or satisfying the actual scenes or blows themselves are. (That same Big Bad usually can’t manage to defeat newbie heroes either… but that’s a trope for another review :D).

And in a way, once you buy in to the series, that sort of thing never matters.

And in time too, I tend not to care too much, because I’m more interested in seeing the main characters grow and succeed.

And there’s a great deal of growth, usually accelerated, for the leads and in particular for Yuji. And he has that lovable goof vibe which is fun too. Actually, as the series continued it was interesting to see the writing team rope in Nobara to a similar role.

(Just quickly also, having hammer and nails as weapon caught my eye, certainly not something I see a lot of in anime).

Another double-edged blade I guess, would be Ryomen Sukuna.

I finished this season with the sense that he and Yuji did not have enough screen time together.

Of course, there needs to be stuff left over for future seasons. But still, I felt that only allowing them a few scenes together, or at least limited interaction, both weakened the central narrative (as it had to take a few long detours to introduce the wider cast) and at the same time, also heightened mystery.

Basically, I wanted more, because those scenes held the most tension for me.

But that also means that I now have something else to really look forward to – keen for another season!

4 Stars

Lunar Legend Tsukihime (Shingetsutan Tsukihime)

This short anime series is based on visual novel Tsukihime, and while I didn’t see Lunar Legend back in 2003 when it aired, I believe it garnered its share disappointed fans of the franchise.

Lunar Legend Tsukihime (Shingetsutan Tsukihime) 2003

And I know that’s not saying much – disappointing the average anime fanatic is not hard, but I was able to quite comfortably side-step all of that while watching, since I didn’t know anything about the franchise before I kicked things off.

However, by the end of the anime, I had noticed where some parts of an obviously fairly rich and detailed storyline had to be left out of the adaptation. So too, it was clear that wider context about certain characters had been omitted as ‘assumed knowledge’. Neither of those things detracted from the story too much, but I did do some quick reading afterwards to fill in a few gaps.

One of the things I found interesting was the blend of genres. Perhaps not an even blend, but there’s horror, suspense, gothic touches, drama, action and also romance. So there are a lot of balls in the air during Lunar Legend. I can see some viewers finding it muddled – but for me, what held everything together were unanswered questions about the main cast.

In that vein, I guess the high point of the ending wasn’t actually the confrontation between Arcueid & Roa but the reveals about Shiki’s past. I think that was what I was most keen to discover from the beginning.

I will say that nothing within the series quite lived up to what the OP seemed to promise with its drama, costume and setting, but that’s not to say I disliked Lunar Legend Tsukihime either. And even though Shiki was kind of a flat character, it was good to see Arcueid trying to get him to live.

Time for some dot points!

  • Despite some creepy moments and some memorable battles, my favourite episode actually comes from the amusement park, I was laughing at poor old Akiha’s childishness fairly often, I must say
  • The mid-episode title cards I really liked
  • The OST really adds to the gothic feel – as does Akiha’s mansion itself
  • Interesting to see a pocket-knife as a main weapon.

I suspect that if you’re a die-hard fan of the visual novels then you might not enjoy this anime a whole lot, but I was drawn in via the promise of slowly revealing secrets. I probably won’t watch it again but I could say that about a lot of things 😀

3 Stars

Vampire in the Garden (Vanpaia in za Gāden)

You know the very-real genre known as “not-quite-tearjerker”? Yep, that one – absolutely something real that you’d find in a video store, or in the list of categories via a streaming service.

Well, Vampire in the Garden (2022) feels like it meets the criteria for the above ‘genre’ to me, since it’s quite sombre and sort of contains little in the way of hope.

(Quick warning, there are fair few spoilers below, so if you’ve been planning to watch this one day and want to avoid spoilers, please take note).

However, to some extent, the action scenes and also the defiance and determination shown by the leads (Fine and Momo) sort of cloaks what is a tragedy, but I think it’s the kind that of tragedy that telegraphs its inevitable, sad ending very clearly. You’ll most likely be able to prepare yourself, if you know this kind of story will upset you.

(For example, the berserker/suicide drug that the vampires can use never seems far from Fine’s mind, and the series is careful to remind us with close-ups etc, that it’s always an option for her).

But it’s not just the ending that is melancholy and more; there is plenty of despair and hate and war throughout, and examples to demonstrate just how hideous humanity can be. It’s a clear a parallel with real-world war and prejudice, which makes the handful of upbeat scenes almost glitter in comparison.

Part of the mood is obviously achieved via lighting – and of course, it’s about vampires and so there’s going to be a lot of shadow.

But the scenes within grand manors or military encampments are often shadowed, or chilled by all the snow, leeched of vibrancy or sick with that nuclear green. It all feels like a clear sign that points to humanity being in decline from within, something clear when we see how little music, art and joy they have – and most of all, how hard they try to stamp those things out when they are found within the vampire’s culture.

On the other hand, the human race is caught within a war of survival.

Again, the themes are clear and heartfelt – something I certainly don’t begrudge the anime for in any way. War strips away the things worth living for, and Momo and Fine turn their backs on that during their search for a promised land of harmony. Well, both of them prior to the first episode – and Fine a long time prior.

I will note that the age-gap is undeniably suspect, even before the indeterminate age of vampire Fine. It’s a pretty common vampire trope, I guess – so perhaps no surprise there.

Both leads remained engaging for me, in part because they were each given time to open up, and I definitely wanted them to find what they were seeking. Despite the story giving me many reasons believe that they actually had no chance of success, I was still a bit surprised by how close the narrative permitted them to come to happiness.

A member of the supporting cast caught my eye too – Kubo and his samurai sword. Had he played a bigger role, I’d have been interested to see more of his back-story, but as things stand I felt like I was provided enough to support his motivation. (There was also enough time to see a bit more on other side characters too, which was nice).

In terms of time, I thought I should note that Vampire in the Garden felt longer than its 2-and-a-bit-hours to me, probably due to being chopped up into five episodes.

Visually, it seems clear that Wit Studio have unleashed a torrent of stunning settings and backdrops, and elsewhere I have no complaints*, but Kazushi Fujii and Satoshi Takabatake (I believe it was) really captivated me with so much striking scenery. I kept watching at least in part to see yet another awesome background.

So, at long last – is this anime for you?

Maybe if you like bat-style vampires – or far more importantly, love stories that are bittersweet at best. And if so, then this should be pretty pleasing overall. If you prefer more conventional noble-vampire/thrall plots, or vampire-hunting stories, then I don’t think Vampire in the Garden will quite do the trick.

4 Stars

*Well, maybe the jeep’s landing and some general “invincible heroes” stuff, but it wasn’t enough to ruin anything for me.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Anata ga koko ni Itehoshii)

This is a short sci-fi ONA from 2001 – not so long into the slow rise of CGI in anime, and while it has a few problems for me, I didn’t end up abandoning Zaion.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Anata ga koko ni Itehoshii) 2001

Most aspects were good enough without being outstanding.

Which sounds like not much of a compliment, I know but not every single second has to be outstanding, right? The storyline was the classic ‘save the city’ this time from out of control space-virus mutations, with a small team of human-nano-machine-hybrid soldiers having to bear the brunt of the attacks.

That is, except for Ai, whose psychic powers are the only guarantee of victory.

Sadly, she’s a prisoner of her military & their scientists – and while she develops a relationship with male lead Yuuji, it was just as interesting to see the mother-daughter relationship between her and conflicted scientist Misao, who is her first ally.

I won’t go deep into the story but it plays out as expected, though with a more sombre ending than say a typical action sci-fi.

Despite things that kept me watching, I will say that the CGI is not integrated too well – the age of it is clear, and obviously Gonzo and the industry would improve over the years.

When it comes to the plot, there’s some real problems with the obliviousness of the general population too… but to go back to things I liked, the themes around the futility of war worked for me, and Kenji Kawai’s OST really stood out too.

Not sure I’d recommend Zaion, however, unless you are a fan of the era?

3 Stars

I do like the DVD cover a lot

Ray: The Animation

From creator Akihito Yoshitomi comes something of a Black Jack spin-off, with another supremely talented surgeon – Ray, whose x-ray eyes help her save the day wherever possible.

Ray: The Animation (2006)

Combined with the cases she solves and illnesses she cures on an episode-to-episode basis, there is a larger story of the past pushing through in this anime, which definitely worked as a nice hook for me.

Since Ray: The Animation is near future science-fiction as much as it is a medical drama or mystery, there’s a lot of solves via technology that may never exist, but I usually found most of it interesting, even if Ray’s eyes were often used in a similar way.

Ray herself is a somewhat cold (but not heartless) character, in a clear contrast with the nurses at her hopsital, who are quite cheerful and one of which is quite happy to regularly rib Ray – especially when it comes to the romantic subplot that rises and falls in importance across the 13 episodes.

I really liked the way the various elements were interwoven here, how the foreshadowing starts nice and early for certain reveals.

And in regard to the main villain, it was a fun surprise to see what his true motivations actually were… and the lengths he went to in order to reach his goal are typically impressive and troubling, as per most great villains.

Visually, it was also nice to see some pastel/watercolour-looking backgrounds and settings, along with the occasional ‘postcard memory’ too.

Now, if you’re not in the mood to deal with a certain amount of non-graphic but obvious cruelty toward children, then maybe save Ray for another time.

The first episode has a few surprises up its sleeve, that’s for sure – and I have to spoil just one, since it really threw me in a good way, which was the ease with which the nurses switched from the healing to martial arts.

Black Jack himself cameos a couple of times in the anime, but it’s very much the story of Ray’s search for truth about the dark organisation that kept her captive as a child, interwoven with the medical drama.

I enjoyed the characters as much as the scenarios, and some of the cases were pretty compelling – but another warning, a few of the medical procedures are shown in enough detail that some folks might not enjoy it, and a few cases probabaly verge on body-horror, so be warned if that’s not your thing either.

4 Stars

Due to copyright, Black Jack was only alluded to as BJ and never seen fully in the original manga, but because the anime was produced by Osamu Tezuka’s own studio, he appears fully in the anime (though still somewhat obscured) and is referred to by his original name.

Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma)

After a slow start that wasn’t actually slow – I was transfixed.

Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma) 2000

Argento Soma feels like a bit of a rare story for me, where the pay-off definitely matched the mystery and tension that had built across the previous episodes. And in an industry littered by the cast-off bodies of so many unfinished shows only given a single season, it’s nice to come across a story with a conclusion.

In regard to the pacing, what was ‘slow’ for me was warming to most of the cast.

Without Commander Ines and Sue or Michael (and to a lesser extent Hattie), I wasn’t invested in anyone’s outcome precisely. At first. Actually, unless you were to count how much I came to want Ryu to fail, to receive his just desserts.

Instead, it was the central mystery of why the aliens attacked earth, why they continued to seek the mysterious Pilgrimage Point, that kept me going until I warmed to the cast.

Right off the bat I knew Ryu was a jealous loser, and even when he became tolerable later on – usually at the cost of the emotional well-being of others – I don’t think I actually wanted him to succeed. He was a fantastic character in that respect. Not quite anti-hero, not quite antagonist, and amusingly absolutely utterly unaware that he was not the hero of the story*.

*Trying to paraphrase something iniksbane brought to my attention with that last sentence – and also, thanks heaps for the recommendation 😀

So, now that I’ve got all that out of the way – what’s the anime actually about? Well, it’s about people trying to defend the earth from aliens. And:

[From MAL] In the year 2059, the earth has been plagued by aliens for several years. In an effort to learn more about these aliens, Dr. Noguchi and his assistants Maki Agata and Takuto Kaneshiro try to revive the professor’s experiment, a large Bio-Mechanical alien named Frank. During this process the alien comes to ‘life’ and the lab is subsequently destroyed, leaving Takuto the only survivor and the alien disappearing into the wilderness.

And further, there’s mecha, mystery, science-fiction and drama aspects all neatly woven together as events expand from the premise above – even a bit of mind-games, especially when it comes to Ryu and Mr X, whose scenes together often have interesting staging and lighting, really selling the duplicity.  

If you like to compare things (as I do), there are clear classic science-fiction themes, something of a War of the Worlds feel here, and for some fans no doubt you’ll find that Neon Genesis comes to mind also, especially with the escalation of alien attacks used for some of the anime’s structure, but Argento Soma still stands quite apart from the two texts I mentioned.

Some of what differentiates the show for me is because Argento Soma feels a lot like a character study before anything else, a vehicle for Ryu to become a better person – and it’s a long redemption arc too (if you’d want to go that far). And while most events and other characters often serve that purpose, Argento Soma shows a wider cast that is notable in its own right. (A shame that Sue’s past only sneaks into the OVA, however).

Another thing that I think separates Argento Soma from any cries of ‘Eva-clone’ might be the classic, big science-fiction ideas most commonly seen in 20 Century science-fiction cinema… but I won’t spoil them here.

I will say that the somewhat nose-less designs (courtesy of one of my fav directors, Shukou Murase) took me a little while to acclimatise to, but it’s definitely memorable. And also in regard to design, I definitely felt that Frank’s look was top notch. It had a less organic but more human feel compared to the other aliens, to my eye.

Bob Newhart cameo!

In addition to the above quibble, I will note that Ryu spends most of the show as a terrible person – not just ‘flawed’ but really, a bad dude. This means he abuses everyone around him, especially women, both before and after the tragedy that inspires his childish (but not surprising) drive for revenge.

But as I said before, he does (for the most part), have a redemption arc, and in the context of the whole series, his shitty behaviour is not front-and-centre. For instance, you’re not going to be confronted with an endless parade of graphic psychical or verbal abuse, but just be aware that he’s no hero.

(Also, Hattie can be a bit shrilly repetitive).

But finally, is this anime for you?

In short, if you want a twentysomething-year-old mecha show focused on adults, on revenge, with a great cast and a lead character that is far from ‘clean-cut’, then this could be for you.

It also has a deeply satisfying conclusion to its central mystery – another reason to give it a shot if you can find it.

4 Stars

Finally! My first review in over a month 🙂

Devil May Cry: The Animated Series (Debiru Mei Kurai)

Devil May Cry is another anime based on a classic game franchise, but I can’t judge this one in terms of its merits as an adaptation, since I’ve not played any of the games.

And so I’ll focus on the anime itself.

Devil May Cry: The Animated Series (Debiru Mei Kurai) 2007

In terms of plot, our hero Dante runs a demon-hunting business, ‘Devil May Cry’, while struggling to get out of debt in order to afford more strawberry sundaes 🙂

I enjoyed Devil May Cry without being thrilled by every moment; there was some great action and memorable creature designs, especially in the first two eps, along with a few stories that stood out above the others.

One thing that I found perhaps more interesting looking back, was the way that the villain works to link together what appears to be ‘only’ an episodic format. And while he might be typical for his archetype, he’s probably not so typical as the Big Bad. (I guess that’s a little vague but I wanted to make an attempt to avoid spoilers).

To continue on with things I enjoyed, Dante stands out in part due to his character contractions, rather than only due to the very satisfying high-contrast colours he’s given. Lady and J.D were other favourites from a cast that has nice mix of recurring and new characters.

In terms of favourite episodes, ‘Rock Queen’ heavily features music and even record-collecting as plot points, so that was pretty ace. Some of the characters even got a happy ending too! I also really enjoyed the ‘Death Poker’ episode, as it was a little different to the more typical hack-and-slash of many from other plots.

Speaking of which, there’s plenty of demon-fodder in Devil May Cry, blood too, and some gore, though most (but not all) of it is focused on the monsters. Still, pretty obviously not the kinda anime for the young ones.

To quickly finish on something that bugged me, while Patty started off in brat-mode, she became far more tolerable as the series went on, but it’s a shame that in the end, Dante seemed to value her most as a bloody cleaner.

3 Stars

Series Reviews now on the Menu

Well – two of them, so far!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning to do one or two reviews per year (give or take) that end up longer than my usual ones, with multiple connected posts etc.

So far, as you can see from the menu above, I’ve got Nadia and Trigun complete.

Those links under the “Series Review” heading will take you to a landing/intro pages for each show, and that’s where I’ll be adding more when I can. Next up may or may not be Cowboy Bebop, and I’ve mentioned before considering others like Ghost in the Shell: SAC and FMA, or maybe even one or two anime I’ve already reviewed.

Actually, on that note, if you’ve got an idea for a show that’s between say 20 – 60 odd episodes long that you think I should review in more detail than usual, lemme know 😀

Darker than Black (Dākā Zan Burakku ー Kuro no Keiyakusha)

Shadowy syndicates, superheros and melancholy characters – tick, tick and tick!

Darker than Black (Dākā Zan Burakku Kuro no Keiyakusha) 2007

I feel like Darker Than Black walks a line between drama for characters who are under-powered and drama for characters who are over-powered.

And of course, while I use the word ‘superhero’ I don’t mean it in the Marvel sense. This is quieter stuff, but powers and the impact on both the people who use them and the overall storyline are definitely still the main focus.

Having said that, I was perhaps most compelled by the slow-drip of back-story for Hei/Li. That and the central mystery in terms of the gate disaster, especially since the setting and its implications really unified the episodic mysteries, in addition to fuelling that back-story.

It was also fun to see a structure of connected episodes that weren’t always finished in one 20-minute span. Not a whole lot felt rushed until maybe the ending of the series, though that’s perhaps debatable.

Now, it feels cruel to say that I have some fav episodes, since the others aren’t bad ones at all, but here they are anyway!

The Fallen Star of a Contract
The Scent of Gardenias Lingers in the Summer Rain

The White Dress, Stained with the Girl’s Dreams and Blood
A Heart Unswaying on the Water’s Surface
A Love Song Sung from a Trash Heap

I know I mentioned ‘melancholy characters’ earlier but the tone of the show is hardly morose. Elsewhere, for instance, Gai and his sidekick Kiko offered some lighter moments for contrast.

And while Amber perhaps ended up being a bit underdeveloped for me, I see why she had to remain at least somewhat mysterious. Hei was a great lead character – he was also quite the actor when it comes to faking shyness to fool those around him, and Yin has an interesting, slowly developing mini arc that was probably my fav aspect overall.

Classic stuff from Bones and folks behind shows such as Wolf’s Rain or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex among others, and including a distinctive Yoko Kanno OST.

Despite not enjoying the ending as much as rest of the series, I finished Darker Than Black without any desire to see the second season, which tells me that I obviously felt there was enough of a satisfying resolution to season one.

4 Stars

Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Okaruto Gakuin)

Occult Academy* charges out of the boxes with its first episode – really throwing punches everywhere and culminating in uber-tsundere Maya standing on her father’s coffin, interrupting the funeral (taking place in in a school auditorium) and shouting about everything being ‘staged’.

Sound over the top?

It definitely is.

But the anime is well-aware of that fact too, and so if you watch episode one it’s possible at least to contextualise what I’ve just mentioned. And if you’re like me, after you’ve seen the ep you’ll probably be 100% hooked on the premise and characters.

Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Okaruto Gakuin) 2010

So, on to the plot! Simply put, Maya and Fumiaki investigate occult occurrences, searching for a way to prevent the end of the world. To add a bit of complication, they’re uneasy allies and he’s a time-traveller while she’s a sceptic, somehow filling in as principal of the school she attends. From there, the show grows increasingly off-the-wall, while holding things together with the central threat of a terrible future that must be avoided.

I thought both Maya and Fumiaki were great lead characters, as their own issues complicate their present day lives nicely. Some of the supporting cast are good enough to be scene stealers too – I’m thinking Smile and JK, and Ami, though I wanted to see a touch more from Junichirou also, especially as we might have a somewhat unreliable narrator with Maya.

Throughout the series, I found myself surprised here and there by a few twists. I also enjoyed the occasional moments of straight-up drama, a great contrast with all the supernatural and humour elements. As much as anything, I really enjoyed the distinctive, varied character design too. Once again, I feel like I’m hammering modern anime a bit… but with certain genres, the character design is a bit same-same, and that’s not the case with Occult Academy.

Ready for the fan-service paragraph? Aside from the typical costume stuff, I was surprised to see some that was vital to plot and character. But I guess if I say too much more, I’ll inadvertently drift into spoiler territory and for some reason, I think this anime is a bit forgotten now? IS that even true? I don’t see the physical edition up with many retailers and can’t remember if it’s available to stream in many places? (And 12 years is a long time in anime).

In any event, Occult Academy surprised me with its mix of humour, heart and the supernatural and I’d recommend it to folks who enjoyed… well, actually, I don’t think I have a handle on shows that include this mix of genres or tone. Maybe if you like a bit of time-travel mixed in with your supernatural, science-fiction, suspense, action comedy?

5 Stars

*Part of A1 Pictures ‘Anime no Chikara’ which featured 3 shows that were originals (Night Raid and Sound of the Sky also), and which inspired me to seek out the other two, which I hope to review soon-ish.