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

Infinity Train Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train

Infinity Train Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train (2020)

After really enjoying the first season of Demon Slayer I was keen to see how the premise and characters would work under the constrictions of a film.

And there was definitely a lot I liked about the main storyline, a nice progression of obstacles for Tanjiro, some good tension (especially on the train itself), but I finished the film with two responses above all.

First, would Infinity Train have been poorer without the side plots following Zenitsu and Inosuke?

Quite clearly, some of their scenes bring brief moments of levity, but for me they didn’t offer enough overall. (However, that doesn’t mean I think that they didn’t work at all either).

Secondly, by the end, most of the drama had transformed into melodrama for me. Which in and of itself isn’t always bad thing necessarily, but I think here, with Kyōjurō and especially for his last scenes, it was all just drawn out too long.

I still enjoyed Infinity Train overall and just like during season one, the use of colour was pretty dazzling – even if the subtler moments were just as distinctive.

I reckon you should watch this (if you haven’t already, of course) before beginning the Entertainment District Arc, since there is some great follow-up in terms of Tanjiro’s emotional state, things that are mostly missing from the movie (of a necessity perhaps).

Once again, the visuals were ace – especially the final fight, but I guess I wasn’t as enthralled by the narrative and/or narrative structure.

3 Stars

Bubble (Baburu)

The fable of The Little Mermaid gets its fair share of attention in anime, especially when it comes to the ‘doomed-romance’ sub-genre. (Further spoilers below).

Bubble (Baburu) 2022

And at a glance, the film is very much science-fiction. Or action, but despite the setting and the parkour sequences, the diminished curiosity the film shows for the cause of such a radically changed Tokyo allows the romance-side of things to take a larger share of the narrative.

Now, by ‘diminished’ I don’t mean zero.

Obviously Makoto is very curious, but the story isn’t about her and her ship or her research. It’s more of a gradual reveal focusing on how the two romantic leads were ‘always connected’ and so the science-fiction/disaster aspects are in service to Hibiki & Uta’s drawing together.

Which still worked for me, absolutely, but I think this would disappoint viewers expecting a complex science-fiction epic or something like writer Gen Urobuchi’s work in Blassreiter or Pyscho-Pass.

However, if you’re looking for a sci-fi (ish) Little Mermaid re-telling that is visually pretty gorgeous, then give Bubble a try. As with a lot of work from Wit Studio, their use of colour and detail is pretty ace, even maybe overwhelming at times – and the film does feature some thrilling parkour scenes too.

But even with its inevitable ending, Uta’s final moments are still sad.

And it seems also to me, that the personal growth and opening up of Hibiki is only rewarded by him simply becoming more vulnerable to new suffering, and so maybe that aspect left things a bit sour for me in the end.

On the other hand, the sheer spectacle of the visuals was absolutely worth my time.

3.5 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.

Summit of the Gods (Le Sommet des Dieux)

This was a bit of a harrowing film, and I was transfixed the whole way through.

Having said that, I watched it in 3 separate sittings – partly due to the limited time I had free all the way back in March, and partly due I think, to good old tension.

Because mountain-climbing definitely = tension for me.

Summit of the Gods (Le Sommet des Dieux) 2021

And Summit of the Gods has a few scenes where the stress is right up there at 11 out of 10, even sitting at home on a couch. And it’s not a cheerful film either, mostly dealing with the costs of obsession. Or determination, if you’re being more generous.

That’s part of what makes both lead characters Makoto and Habu so engaging; they act in ways consistent with their overwhelming determination (again, or obsession). And so, of course, I certainly didn’t have to agree with their choices to understand them.

Summit of the Gods is a French film based on a manga by Jiro Taniguchi (and in turn based on an earlier novel), and follows Makoto and Habu as they pursue their separate but deeply connected quests.

The first hook for me was the historical, George Mallory angle – as I’ve long been interested in the grit, ability and oft-times tragedy of those who seek to climb Mount Everest.

And when I first read about Mallory (or folks earlier) doing what they did with less advantages than we have today, I remain stunned. Of course, it’s a hell of a big deal to attempt Everest today or any day, surely.

But as the film moves along, the focus expands nicely to a point where I was most interested to see not only if Mallory’s camera actually existed, but how and whether both lead characters would achieve their respective goals.

I also loved the way the narrative wove together past and present, in some scenes sort of overlaying them, so that the two times and characters could be brought together before the final stretch of the journey.

I haven’t spoken too much about the film visually yet, but there are plenty of great shots where the composition drives home the daunting scale of the mountain, showing exactly what the characters are up against.

And no need to expect variations of white snow only; there’s a range of blues and pinks too, and of course, scenes that aren’t on the mountain at all.

This film wasn’t one I was aware of before stumbling across it on Netflix, but I am glad I’ve seen Summit of the Gods even if I know I do not need to watch it again.

And to finish here, I know I say phrases like this sometimes, and it’s a obviously a judgement call, but probably not the kind of film that will end up being suitable for (nor satisfy) most kids out there.

4 Stars

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

Abandoned #13 (Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Dog & Scissors and Mieruko-Chan)

(Imagine that my standard disclaimer about maybe coming back to these one day appears right here!)


Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc

Zenitsu.

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.

Mieruko-Chan

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.

Only time will tell 😀

Blue Period (Burū Piriodo)

There was hardly a single moment I didn’t enjoy in Blue Period.

Obviously, I do like coming of age stories. And for me, it was great to remember what it was like to be awed by art, to be curious, even to struggle with creating – but in the end, I think I was most satisfied by seeing actual good teachers on screen.

Blue Period (Burū Piriodo) 2021

But enough about me, right? Here’s the plot (adapted from Wikipedia):

Yatora Yaguchi is a fairly popular student who excels in school, but often deals with inner emptiness and frustrations. One day he became fascinated by a painting at his high school’s art club… and attempts to apply for the Tokyo University of the Arts as his choice of college.

As I’ve already said, I was glued to the screen. Figuratively, of course.

I found myself struggling to wait for weekly episodes and after each one ended, I was a little sad that I couldn’t immediately watch the next!

It was very easy to relate to Yatora (and everyone else) and their struggles, their drive and at times, heartbreak when it comes to the pursuit of art.

I think it’s clear that creator Tsubasa Yamaguchi has experienced the harrowing world of competition when it comes to progressing through the education system, and the creative process itself. The doubts and the triumphs too, because they’re all so clear onscreen.

And I wanted to note that, despite the suffering Yatora (and esp Yuka) go through in regard to art and identity, as I mentioned above, there are great teachers offering support throughout. It was also great to see portrayals of supportive parents and reliable friends to help the characters through.

Blue Period also features the classic escalating hurdles common to fighting or sporting anime, with Yatora having to demonstrate skill and commitment and sacrifice, in order to reach a new goal – with the trials culminating with an exam for admission to the difficult to enter TUA.

Okay, that’s probably enough hype from me – basically, I think that if you have an interest in the visual arts, or know that you can empathise with the challenges of being creative in any field, and you’re up for a coming of age story, then you’ll find lot to like in Blue Period.

5 Stars

BEM: Become Human

BEM: Become Human (2020) follows on directly from the series but you could probably pick up the movie and have a different but equally enjoyable experience – how exactly it would differ probably strays into spoiler territory, though.

Immediately, the higher budget (and change to Production IG) for the film was clear, with more detail, bigger battles and overall smoother animation across the board (esp transformations and action) than the short series.

There are also subtle changes in character design and a narrowing of focus when it came to the story too – this is very much Bem’s tale. For me, that was both a strength and a weakness to the film, as Bela is sidelined and Belo only gets a bit of action, but overall the most screen time (and impact) comes from Bem’s struggle.

On the other hand, having the three leads separated does add some dramatic tension.

The main theme of what does it mean to be human? is still front and centre, allowing Bem’s backstory to sneak into his search for truth about himself and the city he seems to be trapped within.

[Spoilers below] 

In regard to the setting, it was perhaps the other stand out for me – I found it fascinating how much it reminded me of the original Westworld, Stepford Wives or the Truman Show perhaps. Since pretty much the whole city is in on the deception, there was a great sense that everyone was a villain or at least, untrustworthy.

I will say that I wished there had been time for the movie to do a little more with the relationship between Bem and his ‘wife’ perhaps, and I’ve already mentioned not enjoying the lack of attention given to the supporting cast (Sonia gets more time than the others) but overall, I’m glad I stumbled across the series and, in turn, the movie.

Definitely for fans of the supernatural or perhaps late 1960s manga.

4 Stars

Bright: Samurai Soul

Bright: Samurai Soul (2021)

Woodblock prints and math rock!

Here’s another anime where I have no knowledge of the source material, allowing me to head in to the viewing without ideas of what it ‘should’ be perhaps.

Having said that, I wonder if Bright: Samurai Soul would have been stronger as a short series rather than a film?

In any event, if you give this movie a shot I think you’ll at the very least find the visual style interesting, since the woodblock style is compelling, and all the yellows, reds and muted greens work so well to contrast the blues used for the leads.

Since this will be a short review, I’ll skim over a few things I’ve considered mentioning but basically, I liked the characters and (most of the time) really liked the music from Lite, and while the quest/magical artifact story-line hit all the right notes for me, it all felt a little too brief.

One final aspect I enjoyed was the bit of time here and there for a quiet moment, or the way prejudice was shown, along with the hints of society undergoing change.

Yet overall I think I ‘only’ liked it rather than loved it. Maybe if you’ve seen the original you might like to compare here, or perhaps you just like swords and magic like me 😀

3 Stars