The Book of Bantorra (Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra)

Book of Bantorra is definitely more than its fan service – though if you need some, then the costumes for Noloty and Chesty La Rue Hamyuts Meseta will have you ‘covered’.

And even, to a far lesser extent, Matt or Enlike.

The Book of Bantorra (Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra) 2009

But beyond the window-dressing, there’s a high concept fantasy/action story split into fairly strongly connected, non-linear narratives, full of mysteries and hidden motives.

And it has a stellar opening theme song:

So, what’s the plot?

In a world where dead people turn into books and are stored in the Bantorra Library (where anyone who reads a book can learn their past), Armed Librarians who wield psychic powers defend the Library from their enemy: a religious society known as Sindeki Kyoudan. (Adapted from MAL).

In summary, it sounds a little silly, but I came to accept the premise of the world soon enough.

And there is a neat and clear reason for all of what seems so bizarre on the surface of the world too, but the series does a nice job of keeping the truth if not hidden, at least obscured for a good long while, and then explaining a lot of the mysteries too.

With the unique premise and fascinating world in place, and mysteries abound, the strength of Book of Bantorra I thought still rested with the range of characters. For the most part, they all get time to have some back story and depth in the present, with small arcs or important roles to play, and occasional quirks too.

In fact, the story of Shiron and her trials with the Shindeki Church could have been an entire season for me – and I actually thought, early on, they were going to dominate the series but as I mentioned above, there are a lot of connected plot lines from up to a dozen viewpoints, so be prepared for many threads coming together by the end.

(Having said the above, I could see that if you weren’t hooked on the characters or world-building pretty quickly, then this anime could very well feel frustrating and muddled).

In terms of aspects I personally didn’t enjoy as much, I felt that the soliloquising and/or grandstanding from some of the antagonists was pretty tedious – one of my pet peeves, perhaps.

The ultimate villain was a little underwhelming too, and while Hamyuts’ bra-size seems like obvious pandering, she did have an actual arc and voice actress Romi Park was pretty convincing re: creating the sense of Hamyuts as untrustworthy.  

I’m glad Book of Bantorra was from an era where it wasn’t unusual for an anime to run for 25+ episodes, as this story needed to be that long in order to wrap things up.

In terms of a recommendation, well I think if you like action, fantasy and as I mentioned/warned early in the post, if you like multiple, interconnected narratives too, then there’s a chance you’ll enjoy this anime.

I’m glad I stumbled across it, as I’ve rarely seen it mentioned.

4 Stars

Gungrave (Gangureivu) TV

It’s probable that I’ve said this before but I find mafia-style stories a hard sell.

And yet, I’ll usually at least try them out.

Gungrave (Gangureivu) TV 2003

Part of what led me to give Gungrave a look was the connection to Yasuhiro Nightow and the promise of the supernatural that was lain out so convincingly during episode one (though not fulfilled until post episode 17 for me).

And while there are a few echoes of Trigun (Wolfwood’s Punisher etc) this is obviously quite different, not just setting-wise, either.

One example is the themes.

Thematically, the price of loyalty and betrayal are key in the anime – this is as much crime-family drama as anything else, remember? – but I was probably most drawn to the science-fiction elements in the end, and the sort of revenge plot that was eventually abdicated in favour of… well, I won’t spoil the ending, even in my ‘spoiler section’.

I also really enjoyed the designs, there’s a great range of characters here, but above all I probably liked Brandon/Beyond’s costume and the way that even his weapons are linked to the overall aesthetic (which holds a few hints of things common to the Western genre).

Narrative-wise, there are a few time jumps across the series – and since this is somewhat of a prequel to the game of the same name, learning about the key players’ pasts feels like a logical move. Having said that, I’ve never played the PS2 game so I’m not sure how well everything fits together.

In a big cast there were a fair few memorable characters and voices (Bunji!), though for one, I did think that Lee became a bit shrill in later episodes. Another issue I had was that Maria was not given much agency, which was annoying, but at least the story afforded her some more functionality toward the end.

[Spoiler below]

For me, a lot of the mafia stuff dragged.

It became a bit of a slog despite singular stand out episodes here and there or the great direction in them – and so I was most invested after Brandon’s ‘death’, though above all, I still liked the series.

Mika was cruelly under-utilised as a character and while bookies Widge and Gary (and Bear Walken and Dr. Tokioka) were other stand outs I haven’t mentioned yet, once I did start to crave vengeance on behalf of Brandon I think everything seemed to come together for me; themes, mafia and science-fiction aspects too.

The ending was really interesting but part of me also found it fairly unsatisfying – in terms of bloodlust, at least.

To keep harping on a bit about things I didn’t enjoy so much, making Brandon almost mute during his ‘grave’ era was also a disservice.

He was never much of a talker in the previous arcs, but denying him much in the way of speech really diminishes the potential to add extra depth to a lot of his scenes. Obviously, the visuals do plenty of talking but there could have been more facets to his final arc.

Having grumbled about all of the above, I have to say that I still enjoyed Gungrave a lot – and as a quick final, final thought, it was nice to see a bit of time (though not enough) spent critiquing the deep hypocrisy of crime families.

4 Stars

Ryoko’s Case File (Yakushiji Ryōko no Kaiki Jikenbo)

Supernatural investigations led by the lovely but cruel Superintendent Ryoko.

A quick review this time!

Ryoko’s Case File (Yakushiji Ryōko no Kaiki Jikenbo) 2008

This was a short and fun series, and I found it interesting to see some politics mixed in with the supernatural too – though it probably takes a bit of a back seat to the intrigue.

There’s also a ‘girls with guns’ feel here too, which was another plus in my books.

In fact, the anime covers a few genres (in addition to the above there’s romance and sci-fi too) and maybe what holds things together most is the relationship between long-suffering Junichirō and Ryoko (who isn’t always cruel, thankfully).

There is a central plot line and an antagonist that probably makes an appearance a bit too late, but I do like episodic stuff for the most part. And in truth, the bad guys have some surprises up their sleeves so they remained engaging for me.

Ryoko’s Case File also has room for a bit of humour, which helped elevate some individual stories above others, and overall I enjoyed this ‘old’ show a lot.

Now, I don’t see it popping up on anyone’s Top Ten lists but if you want something enjoyable and a bit different from some of the genres that dominate modern anime today, maybe try to find this short series.

3 Stars

Ninja Scroll: The Series (Jūbē Ninpūchō Ryūhōgyoku Hen)

In many ways this is a less compelling echo of the film.

Same lead character of Jubei, similar quest feel with stumbling blocks presented by different monsters/adversaries to defeat, and there’s even some (toned down in comparison) sketchy content, but all without the production budget and schedule of a feature film.

Ninja Scroll: The Series (Jūbē Ninpūchō Ryūhōgyoku Hen) 2003

Naturally, there are going to be differences between the two forms – and I don’t always like to compare based on budget; as I should take the time to describe and evaluate a thing upon its own terms, right?

Still, I think at least some comparisons are worthwhile for this review – one of which being the MA vs R rating.

Another is the tone, far more comedic at times.

The Ninja Scroll series has significantly slower pacing too, as its straight-forward quest storyline is stretched to fit into the monster-of-the-week format (a format that I usually love).

Despite what probably sounds like a long list of grievances here, I enjoyed individual episodes enough to overlook the at-times stark differences between series and film, such as the Shelter from the Rain and A Dragon Within eps.

It was interesting also how bold this one is, with more exaggerated character design and the use of brighter colours; the series does ensure that it’s distinct from the film. However, in terms of storyline, in a way, the anime seems only generally concerned with the main quest its characters are on, and the supporting cast has limited impact on plot or theme, leaving the heavy-lifting to Jubei.

(Well, aside from Shigure, but she’s sort of ‘tagging along’ in her own story, sadly).

Further, while the design of a lot of the creatures and enemies were usually pretty interesting, during a lot of their scenes, I found myself keen get back to the main quest.  

In that respect, the last two episodes were among my favs, since the team got to the lost shrine/city at last and kicked the magical aspect up a few notches at the same time. (There were also a few fun surprises toward the end, a nice escalation of stakes also).

However, I’m not sure I’d recommend Ninja Scroll to everyone, but if you love supernatural ninja stories there’s going to be at least a few elements you’ll enjoy. In addition, I liked the OP a lot!

3 Stars

Tokko

If you like breasts and blood, supernatural-action anime Tokko has got you covered.

Okay, flippant opener I know – but I’ll switch to the tone of the series now.

Tokko (2006)

On the special features for my disc I noticed the team mentioned wanting to create something edgy/dark and that since the series would screen on Wowow during a late night slot, they’d be able to come closer to the source material.

I can’t speak to that but there’s a fair share of blood, some supernatural and sci-fi horror, along with plenty of breasts too, when it comes to costuming. (None of the nudity really makes sense of course – it’s not a question of romance or passion, but it’s not R-rated stuff either).

Now, in terms of ‘flaws’ I’ll say the animation quality varies a little, as does the consistency of character models at times, but I’m pretty forgiving of those things when it comes to supernatural stories.

So, what is the story in Tokko?

“When 108 demons free themselves and start killing people, Special Public Safety Task Force, or ‘Tokko’ for short, is formed to stop them.” Covering familiar ground here but the series definitely has a few extra dimensions via the various groups at cross-purposes, along with something I found pretty interesting.

Here, the characters were probably in their early 20s (rather than being either younger or older) meaning that Tokko could fit into the (perhaps fledgling) ‘New Adult’ genre as it’s called in the world of books.

This meant that some of those problems appeared onscreen – the trials of independence, workplace issues, juggling dating and work, those were the welcome, extra things that main character Ranmaru Shindo had to deal with when not slashing up monsters.

On that note, the violence is a touch more than your average shounen/seinen perhaps, and while the supernatural/horror elements did stand out at times (especially the opening and the lab episodes) I think that Tokko could have been ‘good’ to my mind, but when I got to the ending… woah.

And so to finish with a spoiler – do not seek out Tokko expecting a solid ending.

After the climax to the final episode, there’s this odd rush of ending-erasing stuff, as if to somehow reset the story and then kick off on a second season, a season which just never materialised.

3 Stars

(Also, episode one has quite the wtf moment but I won’t spoil it for anyone who might hunt this show down one day).

Abandoned #12 (Gantz, Black Blood Brothers & Dagashi Kashi)

Kicking off with my standard disclaimer – I’m not ruling out one day returning to any of these shows… it just might take a really, really long time for some of them, perhaps.


Gantz

The science-fiction concept had me hooked but after only half of one episode I had come to loathe Kei Kurono.

Having said that, I might finish this one day – or just read about the plot to learn of some unanswered questions I have about the scenario.

Black Blood Brothers

Of the three I’ve listed today, I think this might be the one I could return to in the future, because I’m curious about events in the prologue.

And I liked Jirou’s character but Kotarou was a bit much in that first episode for me to continue.

Dagashi Kashi

I felt like trying out a comedy and the idea of a sweet shop sounded pretty great, but despite a memorable design, Horaru was not so much charming as annoying for me.

Of course, is it fair to give this (or any series) just one or only half an episode? Not really… but then, I have so many shows I want to watch/try/finish 😀


Kurozuka

Kurozuka is a sometimes jumbled, often compelling adaptation of a novel by Baku Yumemakura and which is on the surface, a vampire story.

Kurozuka (2008)

After finishing the series I think it can be more comfortably described as science fiction/action with incidental vampirism, which is both interesting and – if you are looking for some vampires – disappointing.

Produced by Madhouse and directed by Tetsuro Araki, Kurozuka bears a few hints of aspects which later appear in Attack on Titan but here there’s an epic, centuries-spanning tale squeezed into 13 episodes.

I’m not able to put my finger on what I think made this anime close to being amazing, without getting there.

Fun action, interesting world with a good central mystery to the storyline, even a disjointed narrative structure to keep things from becoming too predictable… but something was missing.  

Two things that I came up with after thinking a bit:

  • the set-up of a potentially doomed romance actually led to something else, a swift separation of the main characters which then denied them much meaningful interaction for nearly the rest of the series, and
  • the sheer volume of off-screen story that did not appear (or was not referenced) in time for the climax to have a big impact.

Did all of my grumbling mean I hated this series?

Not at all, but I guess it’s a very easy 3 Stars for the rating, since I’m glad to have seen it (and am now quite curious about the book), but at the same time, I don’t know if I’ll watch it again.

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi)

This is a typical OVA in some ways – violence and nudity (or the threat of rape being passed off as ‘comedic’), all predictable things about certain anime genres, some of which have certainly come to tire me after a couple decades.

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi) 2000

That isn’t to claim Puppet Princess is terrible, or that I think it’s impossible to take on serious themes in anime either, but Puppet Princess feels too casual with its application of that content for me.

I should talk about the story sooner or later – but first, Puppet Princess almost seems bit of a warm up for Karakuri Circus, especially when it comes to the puppetry (which was probably the best aspect of the anime).

An adaptation of Kazuhiro Fujita’s one-shot manga, it’s a straightforward but still at times exciting story of vengeance. Rangiku (the Puppet Princess) recruits warrior Manajiri and together they seek and eventually take on Lord Karimata, who murdered her family.

There are a few fun surprises, especially toward the end, and the art and animation works for me, though this 2000 OVA won’t deliver things you might be used to if you favour modern action sequences and techniques.

Is it worth chasing down?

Maybe if you’re a fan of Kazuhiro Fujita or the era of production perhaps, or just if you really love swords and shinobi.

3 Stars

Abandoned #11 (Sonny Boy, The Case Study of Vanitas, The Detective Is Already Dead & TEXHNOLYZE)

Okay, I admit that this is one of my most click bait-style headings so far, since the word ‘Abandoned’ is probably a little too strong for some of these entries.

And so here’s the usual disclaimer – I’m not ruling out one day returning to any of these shows… one of which at least I am 99.9% certain I will finish.


Sonny Boy

Ideally I want to come back to this when (now that?) it’s finished, so I can watch more episodes back-to-back, since having a break between each episode at the beginning wasn’t working for me.

I think I’ve seen the first three, and despite being hooked on the premise and the unanswered questions, and enjoying the visual aspects, I don’t think I’m actually interested in any of the characters.

The Case Study of Vanitas

Might return to this one day as I was enjoying the world, but I found Vanitas too annoying for a lead character.

Once he upgraded from being just annoying to ‘dude that commits sexual assault at the first opportunity’ I groaned and not only because it didn’t play like a flawed character who will one day change, and seemed more designed to fall rather neatly within the ‘cheap thrills’ category.

The Detective Is Already Dead

Nearly finished the first episode.

Might try to take a second look one day, as the premise caught my attention to begin with.

TEXHNOLYZE

99.9% sure I will finish this sometime during 2021.

I’m six or so episodes in and I was enjoying SO much about the anime. It is also just a tiny bit familiar too, as though I’d seen some of it a long time ago.

But whether my memory is any good or not is an issue I’ll put to one side for now, however, because I’ve been able to pinpoint what made me pause my viewing: for whatever reason, I’m just not in the mood for dystopian/bleak stuff at the moment.

I will be sooner or later, but it’s been over a month since I started and I haven’t returned just yet.


How about you? Seen/planning to see/abandoned any of these?

Blade of the Last Phantom Master (Shin Angyō Onshi)

Blade of the Last Phantom Master (Shin Angyō Onshi) 2007

Here is another anime that has me quite curious about the manga.

Set in lands reminiscent of ancient Korea, Blade of the Last Phantom Master follows anti-hero Munsu as he roams around fighting tyranny. And while he is utterly committed to that, his methods often grant him that label of ‘anti-hero’, perhaps along with his curt manner which is tempered by compassion.

The film does pander a little to the fantasy/supernatural genre’s expectation for violence and I guess you could made a case for Chun Hyang’s costume being an expression of the same expectation, but it’s hardly constant. (As I’ve probably said before, endless fan-service tends to bug me but Blade of the Last Phantom Master doesn’t feel like that kinda movie).    

I don’t really have much to mention in terms of aspects I didn’t enjoy – but I could see the structure of the film being an issue for some viewers perhaps, as Blade of the Last Phantom Master is one part the story of how the two leads meet (Munsu and Chun Hyang) and one part their next adventure, combined into one film. In that sense, it’s an effective bit of marketing for the manga for sure but might not be to everyone’s taste.

Elsewhere I loved the painterly, at times softer backgrounds, especially in the travel montage and throughout, I was surprised at a few of the turns the story took. And more, having so little knowledge about Korean myths and stories, I loved seeing some interesting magical elements – especially the way paper was used.

On that note, I believe not everyone was happy with the Youn In-wan’s tonal shift in this adaptation of the beloved The Legend of Chun Hyang and so I’m keen to read more about it one day.

Blade of the Last Phantom Master makes good use of its two villains too, along with the supporting cast. I should add, that even though master swordswoman Chun Hyang is a co-lead, she doesn’t really get many lines and so again, the sense that this is an opener to a much longer story is clear there too.

I can’t finish the review without mentioning the CGI, which is pretty well integrated to my eye, it definitely feels like both the Japanese and Korean studios (Oriental Light and Magic and Character Plan) put in a lot of care an attention there.

And finally, as a quick observation, I found it fascinating that Munsu seems to carry and use an inhaler – something I haven’t seen in a whole lot of anime.

5 Stars