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

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto)

This was a great taste of action-science fiction from an era of anime that’s sort of long gone now. Well, if you consider 15 years a long time ago, and probably it is – in terms of trends and audience tastes, perhaps.

But that’s not what’s important here.

Instead, here’s little on the premise/plot, before I focus on other things:

Strait Jacket is set an alternate history where magic was proven to exist and spread throughout all facets of society and changed the social and technological development of the world. Rayotte Steinberg, a lone wolf ‘tactical sorcerist’, fights against monsters while wearing a ‘mold’, the straight jacket that keeps him human. (Adapted from Wiki/MAL)

All classic stuff that will usually catch my attention, since I’m pretty easy to please.

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto) 2007

However, I will say that events in the Strait Jacket OVAs/film are clearly part of a wider story (it’s adapted from a light novel series), giving me the sense that there is much more to learn about the characters, if only viewers had been given a chance to do so – say, via a full series.

So maybe Strait Jacket was too short but that might be exactly what you’re looking for, and in addition, there are resolutions to a few of the problems the characters face, one of which is major enough to provide an actual ending.

If I was going to continue grumbling here, I guess I felt that the ending itself was a little less impactful than maybe it could have been… perhaps.

I’m more confident noting that a fair amount of the magic/technology as it was used in the film could have used extra grounding.

Actually, now that I’ve said that there is one more thing – the (lesser) antagonists were not as compelling as the heroes for me. That’s at least in part due to the running time of the anime, again I’d say it’s because there wasn’t enough space to expand things, and obviously the light novel series has the luxury of an extended narrative to fix that issue.

And so, now that it turns out that I’ve spent most of the review quibbling over minor flaws, I should finally go over what I really enjoyed – and below, you’ll see ‘4 Stars’, so I clearly liked Strait Jacket a fair bit.

For one, I did enjoy the characters (especially Inspector Simmons). Some of the conflicts faced by the supporting cast also worked as a nice contract to the more stable or at least hidden past that existed between lead Reiott and his mysterious sidekick, Kapel.

Throughout, the use of colour and lighting stood out for me – though I’ll spare you any rhapsodising and just note that some of the images throughout show some of those aspects I enjoyed.

Straight Jacket features some pretty big action sequences and ace mechanical and creature design also – as an example, the plucked/roast chicken shape, rather than being too comical, remained unnerving here:

It was interesting to see the death of a supporting character actually occur ‘off-screen’, since it really worked to drive home the ‘hero-wasn’t-there’ guilt-motivator for events in the final stages of the story.

At other times, there’s a bit more blood and gore than perhaps you’d see on a TV broadcoast anime, so take note if that’s not your thing.

I finished the OVAs pretty interested in the series, keen for more info on the heroes… but that probably won’t happen in a hurry, knowing my disinclination to follow-up on light novels/manga etc, so I’ll probably just have to be happy with what I’ve got on DVD 😀

4 Stars

And before I finish, I want to thank Anime Hanabi for the recommendation – I might not have watched this without your post 🙂

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.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei)

The Dawn of the Deep Soul film continues with the ‘let’s do unspeakably cruel things to cute kids’ approach that featured in the first season of the anime.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei) 2020

Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the movie – that would be a lie, but some scenes will probably be hard work for most viewers, so take note if you know you’re not up for that sort of thing right now (or ever).

To contrast all that was harrowing about the movie, I’ll say that the amazing perseverance of the kids who keep fighting, no matter what, ends up being uplifting.

Although, perhaps what I enjoyed most about the film was the expansion of the world featured in Made in Abyss, learning more specifics around its often twisted workings.

Another highlight for me was the first fight scene between Bondrewd and the kids – put me on the roller-coaster a bit, because I was well-aware that it was far too early in the film for a resolution.

I don’t really have much in the way of criticism, save for something that’s relatively unfair – which is that the sense of travel and encountering new wonders and horrors is somewhat reduced here. And of course – it’s one film, not one season, and one film focused on a very specific location, Bondrewd’s fortress of horrors.

And I’m not sure this is a criticism precisely, but there are times when it’s clear how the narrative is going to traumatise Riko and co, and even the seemingly more stalwart Nanachi, and so some scenes may or may not land as hard as intended.

Again, whether you experience something similar or are even bothered by it is probably not going to be a big issue, if at all. Sometimes anticipation heightens the suffering too, lol.

Other than that, the film was often harrowing, occasionally uplifting, and pretty much every minute of it compelling.

(And also – before season 2 happens during the ‘summer’ of 2022, I reckon this film is a must if you’re planning to keep watching the Made in Abyss series).

4 Stars

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 🙂

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin) 1989 [Collaboration with Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews]

it’s been a little while since I hosted a collaboration here, so I was really happy that Scott was up for working with me on Kiki’s Delivery Service – the famous Studio Ghibli adaptation of Eiko Kadono’s book (and top-grossing film in Japan for 1989).

If you’ve not had the chance to see this film, I hope we’re able to make you at the very least, curious enough to check it out!

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin) 1989

Ashley: Hey! Excited to start this collab, especially as it had definitely been a while since I’d seen Kiki’s Delivery Service and last time we worked together was on a mecha show, so this should be a fun contrast. 

How long has it been for you? I wondered if you noticed different things about the movie this time around?

Scott: Hey Ashley! I’m excited too. It’s been way too long since the last time and I think this one will be a fun one to discuss.

Honestly, it’s been way too long for me. Over a decade and half I think. Ever since my high school marching band days when we watched films on these nice buses that have tv screens that we could watch movies from. Kiki was a staple for that.

To be honest, I can’t say that I really noticed anything particularly different. The screen I watched it on was small and with the length of time, it’s like watching Kiki’s Delivery Service for the first time.

How about you?

A: Cool, what a contrast from the bus tv and environment to a more controlled one at home 🙂

It’s been a few years for me and this time around I was reminded just how key Joe Hisaishi’s music is to the overall Studio Ghibli feel for me, how it really adds to the whimsy (or the drama in some of the flying scenes) but also the scene-setting. 

I had also forgotten that Jiji is voiced by Rei Sakuma and her voice (and characterization) is obviously quite different to Phil Hartman’s, whom I had become really accustomed to. It’s an interesting contrast, especially in terms of their respective personalities in the original vs the dub – Hartman’s Jiji has a fair bit of that classic Disney sidekick comic-relief that’s not present in the Japanese release. I definitely love his performance but it was fun to see another side to Jiji.

S: Oh yeah, I agree with that feeling. The big question I have is if Joe Hisaishi didn’t do the OST for it, is it really a Ghibli film? I mean probably, but it wouldn’t feel the same.

I feel like there are always some localization changes like that in English versions of Ghibli films. Like, Princess Mononoke had a prologue narration while the Japanese version didn’t or how Spirited Away had San say “oh, it’s a bathhouse”, because that’s not a thing in the United States. So I suppose that going with that choice made sense for this film for western audiences.

So this film. Kiki is quite a film isn’t it?

A: Yes! I love coming of age films and so Kiki… automatically ticks a lot of boxes for me. 

I also really like how much dramatic tension there is in seemingly small stakes, such as those that come from delivering items, retrieving items or making the switch with Jiji etc, which is contrasted with the emotional beats of her quest for acceptance, self-discovery and of course, the bigger, action-based stuff in the latter half of the film.

S: I love them too, honestly. A well done coming of age story are some of my favorite things. So relatable and can be applied to so many scenarios to keep it fresh and interesting.

As for digging into details, there are so many of them in the story that just add so much extra fluff into it for me too. So many good little bits of micro attention that just makes the film a lot better then the viewer would first expect. I feel like that coincides with Kiki establishing herself because every moment is a little bit of tension.

A: I feel the same with those small details, like the work on the pastries or the slow warming of Osono’s Husband toward Kiki, or the stunning backgrounds, especially when it comes to the buildings. I feel like it’d be easy to do a whole post just on the scenery 😀

If you had to pick a high point for that tension around Kiki’s growth, what would it be do you reckon?

S: Exactly and there are just so many little bits like that to make the world feel so organic. Just like the bus driver given the time to actually close the door because he drives off. So many small things like that which add up and make the experience just so grounded.

Oh, the moment of tension? I feel like its centered around Kiki’s relationship with Tombo hits a whole point. Probably where she questions her magic. Very much where all the tension in the staying in that city suddenly explodes. I could be wrong about that though…

A: Same again! In fact, the questioning of her magic always made me a bit sad. The crushing, somewhat comparatively dull adult world pushing its way in? 

Maybe that’s a little negative of me – Kiki certainly finds plenty of fulfillment doing things adults do as well. Her sense of purpose and confidence from her independence, which is earned through all those non-magical things.

S: Isn’t questioning her magic so relatable though? She’s a little too early in her own life to think that was though. Especially comparing herself to her mom. Maybe she is growing up too fast by doing the usual witch tradition.

Yeah, I think her finding out she doesn’t need her magic to be around people or just live is a good way to carry this story. I think that her magic coming back from that understanding feels completely natural because of it.

A: It really is, definitely – and it suits the overall uplifting tone of the film too, huh?

So before we finish, I wanted to ask what or whether anything didn’t work so well for you?

S: I feel boring in saying in saying that I don’t have much against it? In some cases I just felt a bit rushed at some times? Some scenes didn’t have as much room to breathe as they could? That’s about it for me.

I really don’t have much to say against it. What about you?

A: For me I thought I was going to say that the film was a touch long… and yet, is that even true? Do I even have any actual criticisms – I don’t think I do, either 😀

It really feels like the Studio Ghibli team firing on all cylinders, creating a really fantastic adaptation, and visually, nailing the match of theme to visuals, of character to expression etc. So I’m like you – loved it, can’t really find anything to complain about!

And finally, huge thanks to Scott for joining me for another collaboration 🙂

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.