You can find a quick overview on the form itself below, then the actual review. (This time, the review is actually for an ONA).
Hope you enjoy these posts and as before, I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have for future OVA-weeks 🙂
An animated film or series made for release on video, rather than for broadcast/theatrical screening
Generally, high budgets that can mean visual qualities are better than a typical television series
No fixed length, nor broadcast time-constraints when it comes to storytelling
To some extent, created outside regulation – and so they have a reputation for ‘anything goes’ when it comes to restricted content
Often (but certainly not always) based on original scripts, rather than being adaptations
Long wait times between episodes/installments for some OVAs
First OVA to be described as such was 1983’s Dallos from Mamoru Oshii
The ONA (Original Net Animation) is an obvious more modern equivalent
Sorcery in the Big City (Itazura Majo to Nemuranai Machi) 2017
I do wish Sorcery in the Big City had been a bit longer – it was fun and had some nice, flashy action sequences to perhaps contrast with the moe elements. When I think back on it, I mostly remember it as a feel-good short film that focuses on Christmas and a little on family.
Released back in December of 2017, it’s an ONA from Sanzigen with nice CGI, some at times dazzling lighting and fun character and costume designs too.
One thing I liked a lot was the fact that while main character Akari has lost her teddy bear, she doesn’t precisely end up being the one to find and rescue the toy (Apple), it ends up being the other way around, for the most part.
Connected to the above, I also found it nice to see a little tweak on the “bringing toys to life at Christmas” choice, since in this case, that’s the actual source of danger.
I do wonder whether Akari’s partner drifts in and out of racial stereotype territory – as does our MC, perhaps. I hope I’m off-base, but I dunno. It’s also probably not too hard to see lazy cliches about police mixed in with some copaganda elements too. It’s actually a really odd mix.
Elsewhere, the scene-setting is really detailed – if a little quiet at times, but I suppose that’s part of the Christmas fantasy.
I also wanted a little more screen time for the true villain, and also probably more on the post-climax wrap up… but as I mentioned before, it’s a short and the focus on being uplifting was always meant to come first.
Over the last couple of years here in Australia we’ve had a few streaming services disappear, swallowed up by one another etc, the end result of which being that I now have access to and/or little choice but to use Crunchyroll.
Which is obviously better than no choice at all.
But more importantly, as a consequence of those changes I have now seen a few seasons of shows and also films I would not have otherwise had a chance to watch quite so easily.
Blackfox is one example, and while it’s not in my top ten films, I liked it a fair bit.
The action was fun, it was bright and clear and I liked the character designs and the costumes too. It’s animated and produced by Studio 3Hz who I recognise from Dimension W, Princess Principal (and the opening to Ys VIII), so if you’re familiar with those or other titles by the studio, you might get an idea of what to expect here.
Here’s some of the plot, adapted from MAL:
On Rikka’s 16th birthday, things are forever changed when a paramilitary group raids her family home in search of the drone technology. In the aftermath of the deadly attack, Rikka is now an ‘ordinary girl’ working as a private detective… but when night falls, she dons her grandfather’s fox mask and mercilessly hunts down those responsible for the attack.
From the above, you can probably guess at the combination of shinobi/kunoichi tropes and also sci-fi stuff too, with fun gadgets and serious threats to the safety of the city. And for me all those things worked a treat!
(If there isn’t one already), I reckon this would suit adaption into a game pretty nicely.
I enjoyed a lot of the interaction between Rikka and her roommate/friends, especially the wary ally she has in Mia, but if you give this film a look, I don’t think you’ll find any surprises in the archetypes being used throughout.
Black Fox might be aimed at a slightly younger end of the shounen-audience range in some respects, but at other times I thought I was wrong in that assessment. Hard for me to pin it down, I guess.
But if you’ve like to see a mix between a ninja revenge story with high tech gadgets bringing in perhaps a touch of something like Batman, while also retaining some coming of age themes, then this film might suit your tastes.
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?
*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.
(Imagine that my standard disclaimer about maybe coming back to these one day appears right here!)
Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc
Masters of the Universe: Revelation
Okay, I’m maybe very tired – but He-Man didn’t really appear in the first few minutes, so I found myself getting impatient, and just switched over to something else.
I was pretty keen to see how the mix of horror and comedy would go here and I liked enough about the show overall, but after a few episodes (3 or so, same amount I lasted with the new Demon Slayer) I just haven’t gone back.
(Some of the fan-service elements were shoe-horned in pretty hard – I was laughing at times, it was just that clumsy).
Dog & Scissors
This sounded wonderfully bizarre and it featured a bookstore as the primary setting, and so I was very curious going in…
… but I didn’t laugh or even smile much in the first half of episode 1, and so I’ve shelved it for now.
Boy, looking back on these I wonder if I’m feeling far more intolerant than I realised lately. Because of all of them, I’m thinking I’ll only try out He-Man again in a hurry.
This film would probably be a real delight for folks who like in-jokes and intertextuality.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse (2018)
It’s also nice – after 60-odd years – to see the character expanding as other folks don the suit and save the world!
Into the Spider Verse might feel like wall-to-wall awesome action sequences but there’s enough time for character development for Miles and even Spider-Gwen, along with a few classic super-hero twists that you’ll probably see coming if you’re fairly familiar with the genre.
Aside from those moments (which I still found effective) there is a new depth, and opportunities for humour, due to the multi-verse structure. I won’t offer spoilers here, in case you’re like me and it takes you a while to see things that make a big splash upon release (I’m roughly 3 years late :D).
Although, there is a fun voice acting choice for a supporting character that I wasn’t expecting – a perfect fit, really. I want to spoil it now but really, that’s no fun at all.
Highly recommended if you like top-notch animation (on many, many levels here) and want to see a different take on Spiderman.
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.
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.
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?
Greetings! It’s collaboration time again, in this one Curtis from Iridium Eye Reviews and I are going to chat about 2019 portal fantasy Ni no Kuni – a film we both enjoyed without being blown away, perhaps.
(You can see one of our previous reviews in Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathersright here) Before we start, I have to say thanks to Curtis for some pretty impressive patience on this one, as it took me a bit longer than I’d hoped to get everything together 😀
Ashley: To kick things off I wanted to ask if you came to the film sort of ‘cold’ or whether you’d had a chance to play any games from the Ni No Kuni franchise?
For me, I played Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (2011) and was excited that Studio Ghibli did the cut scenes in that game, and so I went into the film expecting a certain aesthetic (which I definitely got, and really enjoyed). Having that little bit of background also took care of some world-building for me as a viewer too. I wondered if your first impressions of the film were influenced by the franchise or whether you had a more ‘clean slate’ viewing experience?
Ospreyshire/Curtis : I came into this movie cold. I have never played any of the games. All I knew was that Ghibli helped out in animating the game series, but that was pretty much it.
That’s cool with you having experience in playing this game. Studio Ghibli helping with a video game series is really cool as their skills could help a video game with the aesthetics as well as that animation company expanding their horizons in using their skills. This was purely a clean slate experience in going into this movie blind. As someone who has never played a game nor knowing anything about the world-building or exposition, I did feel like I was learning about the world much like the main characters.
I thought Ghibli was involved in the Ni no Kuni movie perhaps in a co-production or consulting role, but I was shocked to find out that OLM of all companies animated this film adaptation. Could’ve fooled me because it could pass as a Ghibli work (especially with the art, character designs, and Joe Hisaishi handling the music) instead of the same studio responsible for Gunsmith Cats, Yo-Kai Watch, and several installments of Pokemon of all things.
A: Wow, Gunsmith Cats and Ni no Kuni is a contrast 🙂
I feel the same, especially with Joe Hisaishi involved, yeah – it definitely feels like a Ghibli production in many ways, perhaps an industry they could have expanded even further into?
Here’s one of my fav questions – what jumped out for you in Ni no Kuni?
O: I know, right? I would’ve never guessed in a million years that they would’ve animated both.
I thought it was a Ghibli project going in with Joe Hisaishi and the character designs. This isn’t the first time I’ve had that feeling watching some anime projects this year. Maybe they could’ve expanded especially since they haven’t done that much in the late 2010s.
The animation and having a more mature story compared to most Ghibli works were interesting. Okay, I know this would still count as an isekai work, but it wasn’t a boring example of that genre. I legitimately wanted to know more about the world and the connections between there and earth. The alliances shifting in the second half did feel a bit intriguing.
A: I felt the same re: the changing alliances and the far less typical approach to the isekai formula.
I was interested in the way that the characters were tied to their world of origin, that vital storytelling notion of ‘cost’. An action taken by the characters has a consequence and I liked how the film resolved those issues.
O: Of course. I didn’t feel like I was watching some by-the-numbers Isekai work and there were some twists that I didn’t expect with the world building or how the characters were able to travel between worlds. It did keep me interested with the entire movie and as someone who didn’t play the games, I didn’t feel lost in any way. I thought the damsel in distress aspect did get avoided with the whole story not being about healing the princess. Even though that plot point did get awkward watching it in current times for obvious reasons, I didn’t think it was hampered by the modern world as much as let’s say (got to be brutally honest even though you know my thoughts on this) Weathering With You for example.
From an animation standpoint, this was one of the better OLM works especially if I legitimately thought it was a Ghibli movie. The animation flowed very well and the fight scenes had the right amount of fluidity to them. It felt like a movie and never felt like they were cutting corners here like they’ve done in previous works even on their best days.
A: Me too – I hadn’t put it together with all their Pokemon work say, but like you mention, the battles looked great and the buildings and cityscapes caught my eye, the sense of movement within or things like the horse charge Haru leads too.
I was a little surprised that it didn’t seem too well-received, many of the criticisms landing on it not delivering anything new. I don’t feel that originality is the most important metric out there.
For me, the film worked in part because it was familiar in terms of settings and tropes, and whatever elements were predictable in the plot didn’t bother me. I wanted to be satisfied more than surprised and while the visuals were beautiful and I was engaged with the characters (especially Yu) I was happy to go along with events.
Maybe there were exposition-heavy moments to drag things down a little but in the end I was probably most forgiving because I was keen to see how Yu and Haru’s friendship would withstand the tests it faces. It felt classic to me 🙂
O: There was certainly a ton of effort with the animation even with the little things shown in this movie.
Really? I’ve been doing my best to not look at other reviews for most of the things I watch unless it’s something I’ve previously seen before, but I wasn’t aware of the overall consensus. Ni no Kuni isn’t the most original anime which I do agree with, but it wasn’t a horrible watch nor did I feel like it was trying to copy others or coast on the Ghibli-affiliation with the video games even if I was mistaken thinking the studio animated the movie.
I certainly do my best to give my flowers when movies and series do something innovative, but there are times where the familiar can work. This wasn’t some avant-garde work, but it certainly wasn’t some genre-by-numbers dreck. I wanted to know who this was going to play out and how they’re able to go to different worlds or how Yu is able to use his abilities.
I agree the exposition got a bit much at times and the friendship between the characters had fascinating contrasts and good development as they’re both conflicted during the final act.
A: Sometimes after I’ve seen something I’ll try to seek (as best I can) a general consensus about how a film or show has been received and I very much find doing so to be a a double-edged sword 🙂
When I’m lucky I get some new insights or I pick up something I missed, but that doesn’t always happen. This time I was curious to see if people were writing about the movie in regard to disability representation. I don’t know how often Ni no Kuni got it ‘right’ when it came to portraying someone in a wheelchair, but I definitely had the sense that Yu was given proper thought and attention, especially in the earth-based scenes.
When I think about something the film didn’t deliver so well perhaps, one thing that comes to mind is maybe the Black Hooded Man, who seems a little inconsistent – or perhaps even constrained by the plot too easily (trying not to spoil certain plot points :D).
Did anything in particular strike you as a weak point?
O: I’ve done that sometimes and it occasionally factors into my reviews. There were a few times (can’t remember which posts at the moment) where I mention the consensus and I compare/contrast with my thoughts against the masses…or at the very least Rotten Tomatoes and/or Metacritic.
You bring up an excellent point. You don’t see that many physically disabled characters in animated works. The only ones I can think of in the context of being wheelchair-bound are Pelswick, Prof. Xavier from the X-Men, and Garrett from Extreme Ghostbusters. I don’t know if I’m the most qualified person to talk about this issue, but from what I saw, Yu was a character who happens to be in a wheelchair instead of a wheelchair-using character. That makes a huge difference in the presentation. Sure, he’s clearly seen using it in the earth scenes, but his personality goes beyond that in both realms, so I do applaud that. I do wonder if Ni No Kuni would get attention from disability activists in portraying a character in that light.
Yeah, the Black Hooded Man came out of nowhere and didn’t have as much development. As I’m also trying to avoid spoilers, I did figure out his true identity by looking at the right signs. They did throw a decoy with that mystery, but I still figured it out even if it wasn’t exactly how I planned it. I could also mention how the revelation does play up a certain cliche with specific occupations, but I don’t want to give away the twist.
Outside of that issue, I did think some of the background characters didn’t get much development. It’s even more glaring in the fantasy world with so many characters of different colors, shapes, sizes, forms, and species around. Even if some had personalities, they were mainly there to show how different it is compared to earth.
One scene that I thought was very awkward was early on where those healers were trying to cure that disease by dancing or singing. Not only did it feel a bit random even if it made sense with the plot at that time, but am I the only person who thought the attire and presentation was a bit racially coded? If they were analogs of those in the East Indian or Middle Eastern communities (granted, the “earth” parallels aren’t bound by this [spoilers minimized]), then the creators should have re-thought things. I’m not saying it’s as bad as the crows in Dumbo or Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball Z for example, but that did make me raise an eyebrow there. Despite some of my issues with the more mainstream Ghibli movies where Hayao Miyazaki would be in the director’s chair, at least he would’ve really gone in detail with the world-building and have a sense of wonder. Ni no Kuni doesn’t feel like a typical Isekai work despite the obvious tropes, but they could’ve done better to stand out more. Those were a few flaws that came to mind. How about you?
A: I know what you mean about the twist and reveal there, I felt the same re: being confident that I knew who but not why precisely.
Those are good points that I’d missed, yeah. Nothing new comes to mind now that I think about it… maybe a touch more on the old man, who is probably meant to be Oliver from the game. On the other hand, maybe it’s more fun to leave open a hint of doubt!
O: Glad I’m not alone in noticing that. Sure, how it played out was a good twist, but the result was quite obvious for me.
Thanks. As someone who wasn’t familiar with the original video games, I will say that it was a decent entry into that series and I’ve certainly seen far worse examples of video game adaptations in film or TV series, so Ni no Kuni has that going for it. This not-Ghibli movie was fine, but certainly not a masterpiece in my opinion. Thanks for collaborating with me again! It’s always a pleasure having someone to team up with to review some anime.
A: My pleasure! (Am already thinking about another collab for the future :D)
-Add 1 point if you like classic hero stories -Add 1-2 points if you’re a fan of fantasy anime.
-Subtract 1 point if you need a truly memorable villain -Subtract 1-2 points if you’re not into isekai plots.
Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Ashley/The Review Heap) 3.5 out of 5 (Ospreyshire/Curtis)
Remakes of classic shows feel risky, since time can divest modern audiences of context, and of course tastes around art styles and technological advancements change the visual landscape so quickly.
And here we have BEM, a remake created as part of a 50 year anniversary, and so the characters have been around a little while 🙂
Doubly so, that risk I’ve been thinking about seems to stand true for an international audience unfamiliar with the original (which was definitely me) but I took a chance on BEM because I like the supernatural and science-fiction genres.
And while I haven’t seen the 1968 nor the 2006 versions of BEM, I’m quite curious to do so now.
At the core of the series is a struggle for identity and belonging, combined with the Pinocchio quest – a favourite plot in anime for decades.
Here’s a quote adapted from wiki on the premise:
Even though Bem, Bela and Belo (three yokai) are often abused and discriminated against by other human beings due to their appearance, they still strive to protect the human populace of their city from other monsters, one day hoping to become human beings in return for their good actions.
On that note, the theme of ‘becoming human’ is one I craved a little more of in the anime* but it’s definitely present, as the three leads each face doubts about their desire to change.
While they explore the dream, there is a ‘monster of the week’ episodic feel to the early half of the anime, giving us time to get to know the yokai, and I probably enjoyed these episodes better in part because when the ‘big bad’ was at last revealed and brought in to the narrative, it was maybe a little late. She had less impact for me.
On the other hand, the designs were memorable and the action was fun and the themes of discrimination were welcome (depressing as they could be) as it added another aspect to the anime. In this, I imagine there’s a clear link back to the original, surely.
But getting back to the idea of risk, another thing I noticed were the 1960s kinda character designs that remained.
I reckon the artists would have wanted to update things without destroying the original designs.
To me it worked overall for sure, but two things struck me – the most obvious being Bela’s change from adult to teen, and the second being the occasional character like the bowling ball bad guy, who felt kinda goofy.
Those issues aside, I finished the short anime interested in more and enjoyed it enough to seek out the film BEM: Become Human, which luckily enough at the time, AnimeLab had on hand.
*The movie definitely does explore this theme in more depth and the animation budget seemed a bigger too.
(Also, I enjoyed the OST from Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, the themes most of all I think).
Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation (Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru) 2015
I probably made a bit of a mistake by reviewing this series a fair while after finishing it – I forgot to take notes right after too, so I’m hoping I remember things clearly nevertheless.
Beautiful Bones contains a lot of aspects I enjoy; episodic mystery, slow-reveal backstory, a clever but odd-ball lead, a bit of drama and humour too, and of course, lovely visuals. I wasn’t watching seasonal anime back in 2015 and so this was an anime I’d heard about but not seen until earlier this year.
Okay, as I sometimes do, I’m launching into dot points now, starting with a random list of things I enjoyed:
Sakurako and Shoutarou have a good dynamic, the mis-match adds both drama and humour with young Shoutarou having to be the responsible one at times
I enjoyed the specific (if morbid, I guess) forensic elements about bones
Gran is a stand out 🙂
The source of the cursed painting was a great reveal
Interesting to see the ‘beautiful but cruel’ character type in Sakurako softened by her obsession with osteological matters
Features some tough themes
Settings were detailed and lovely, as were objects (it’s always interesting to see just how much of budgets in other shows seem to be devoured by action sequences)
In contrast, I did have three quibbles to note:
Because Beautiful Bones is only one short season, the main villain never quite goes beyond “lurking menace”. Excellent set-up for a future season though… should one ever occur
Feels like the ED overcompensates for not being able to put heaps of fan-service in the actual show
In regard to the final episode – I think I like it, even though I might not have been satisfied. Sakurako’s past and present were just about converging but without enough episodes not much came of it, and so the conclusion becomes about resolving a different problem. Without spoilers, I think it still gave a sense of closure to the season but I was expecting something different.
So, should you check this series out one day?
Well, if you like any of the things I’ve mentioned further above, and if you can accept an ending that doesn’t deliver many answers, then probably yeah 😀 I’ve not seen anything else from Troyca but to me everything looks great.
Beautiful Bones is hardly an old series either, and so it’d be easy enough to find. I will add that, despite the young co-lead, the anime is obviously not aimed at younger audiences.