Akudama Drive (Akudama Doraibu)

Akudama Drive (Akudama Doraibu) 2020

I’ve been thinking about Akudama Drive on and off since finishing it and I’m wondering if it’s actually Cyberpunk in name and aesthetic only.

And if so, does that even matter?

This was one of my fav shows from the last few seasons and I enjoyed it plenty, no matter the labels that have (or have not) been attached to it by other folks, or by me for that matter 😀

A bit more on genre further below, but for now I’ll do a sort of short, general overview.

For fans of action, science fiction and also amps that go up to 11, I reckon Akudama Drive will have exactly what you’re looking for – flashy action, boldly drawn characters that sometimes push beyond their archetypes and a neon cityscape full of corruption.

There’s even a slight Suicide Squad feel to the premise.

Now that I’ve opened by saying I enjoyed the anime, I will say that I might not have finished the series without Swindler (or the kids, I guess) as there were very few characters I wanted to see succeed.

But by the end I definitely wanted to see some vengeance.

And a real plus for me was the fact that the anime actually has a resolution and an ending, and one that feels both inevitable and satisfying. So fear not if you’re the kind of viewer who is endlessly frustrated by anime without endings.

Getting back to my opening paragraph, typically I harp on a lot about genre so I’ll try to keep it brief here for a change.

Basically, I think Akudama Drive is most concerned with the action conventions of spectacle, both visuals and violence, and less about exploring technology’s impact on humanity, and thus it might not be a Cyberpunk text in every sense of the word.

On the other hand, when you consider that the anime is so clearly fulfilling that ‘punk’ side of resistance – fighting an oppressive state/government that needs to be defeated, then Akudama Drive in that respect is indeed cyberpunk through and through.

If I were to pick at a minor issue, for me the kids’ story could have been introduced earlier but I still enjoyed it.

Cutthroat is merely “psycho for the sake of psycho”, which feeds quite neatly into the action movie conventions and while one highlight is probably the sequence with Swindler in the abandoned factory, once again the threat of sexual violence seems like a predictable go-to. (Also, a trope that feeds directly into the action-genre.)

Akudama Drive has quite a big finish too – and despite my quibbling over genre above, the anime does address the role of technology in our lives but it’s just not the main focus.

In the end, I still think of this show as an action series before anything else, but I’m not claiming that as a problem, just my reaction 😀

(It’s also a series I might collect in the physical edition one day too.)

4 Stars

Trese

Netflix feels reasonably hit and miss when it comes to anime and related forms but I’m glad someone at the corporation is putting money into projects I might never have had the chance to see otherwise.

Trese (2021)

Terese is one of those shows, and one I enjoyed a lot, finishing it keen to see more of her story.

Here’s a hint of the plot from Netflix: In Manila, where dark supernatural forces pervade the criminal underworld, it’s up to Alexandra Trese to keep the peace — but there’s a storm brewing.

Now, going in, I was curious about the ‘horror’ label too, because some animated horror doesn’t hit as hard as live-action, but there’s blood and gore (rather than a lot of suspense or jump scares etc), and plenty of creatures and dark magic.

Having said that ‘supernatural’ is probably more useful in terms of genre if you’re after a single word for the show’s focus, which meant I was on board pretty much right away. I guess you could argue that there’s a slight Buffy feel to Terese, but there are very clear differences – for one, there’s no teen drama.

Another difference was my favourite element of Trese: which was experiencing aspects of Filipino culture, folkore and mythology. To me, Terese feels like a series made by a Filipino team for Filipino audiences, as they rarely broke the narrative or pacing to stop for exposition, which was great.

If you are on the fence about the show I think you’ll know if you’re going to like it after viewing episode one. For me, Terese’s role as peacekeeper between humanity and various creatures made sure there was variety but if you hesitate re: ‘monster of the week’ hints there are interconnected narratives where events from the past slowly bleed into the present.

As a stand out for me, I’ll mention (but not spoil) episode 3 – creepy indeed. (I should also note how much I enjoyed the settings, some of those establishing shots especially).

While not every action sequence dazzled in the way that some legacy studios might have produced, I was never pulled out of the moment. Some extra focus on Trese as a character beyond her role as protector might have been nice but aside from those two aspects I didn’t have much in the way of complaints.

I saw a fair few big names in the English cast, which seems like one measure of international support it had during production, and I so hope that there was enough interest in the show that more episodes are produced one day! 

4 Stars

Yasuke

Yasuke (2021)

Let me preface this review by saying that I will watch more of Yasuke.

I did find that the scope of events in the latter half quickly outstripped the amount of episodes allocated to the season, resulting in a pretty rushed feel which left me feeling a little cold toward the show.

If Netflix would simply stand by their creators and not rush out a handful of episodes at a time, maybe it’d be easier for shows to pace their storytelling, to give characters and events room to breathe/develop. (Of course, I don’t know if that is actually what’s happening).

But stepping away from possible production issues, I didn’t need much convincing to try this short anime at all – samurai, supernatural stuff, outsider lead character, all things that I tend to enjoy.

And enjoy them I did. Most of the action was great and while there were times where the dialogue didn’t land for me, the range of character designs and colour palettes balanced that out.

While I didn’t go in seeking historical fiction from the anime, I did really enjoy the flashback portions of the story. In fact, Yasuke’s backstory became more compelling than the main storyline at one point, and I would have watched more in that vein for sure.

That’s not to knock the mentor relationship between Yasuke & Saki but there was a lot about other characters that didn’t work for me.

An example of that would be the sense that Achoja and co were meant to be rogues that come around to the side of the good guys when faced with a bigger evil, and yet the narrative sort of jammed them and their flat banter into events then did away with them before giving enough time to get to know or care about them.   

Maybe I misread the purpose of those characters in the narrative?

As much as I liked the variety in character designs, Saki did sometimes have a little of an ‘adult face in kid’s body’ look and Father Abraham reminded me a bit too much of Anthony Hopkins. Minor things, but I noticed them.

For me, the first few episodes feel like a great beginning to a pretty epic story.

The next ones less so, but I’m still keen to see what happens next with future seasons should they appear and ended up preferring Yasuke over Cannon Busters.

3 Stars

(I should mention that the OST by Flying Lotus really stands out too.)

B: The Beginning – Succession

B: The Beginning – Succession (2021)

I’m not sure how to write about this short season…

It seemed like the prologue to a bigger story to come, and at the same time, like an epilogue to a bigger story that had already been told.

Which it basically was.

In terms of negative aspects, first up is that fact that I didn’t enjoy the side-lining of Keith Flick* for pretty much the entire series. Maybe it’s like Superman needing kryptonite. If a character is too smart, it can be hard to surprise them and so dramatic tension is cut.

While the political intrigue was an interesting extra facet this time around I think it maybe took the place of a compelling villain, but since this season seems to function as something to tide folks over, I should probably hold back on judging too soon.

Things still look great and there was plenty of dramatic lighting and warm colours, along with some exciting action sequences, but overall I’m still finding myself a bit disappointed.

Having said that, I’ll still watch more episodes if they appear one day and it was nice to see Izanami return.

So, maybe 3 stars, I guess?

*I’m also wondering if Keith’s past with his adoptive sister is going to be explored or whether it’s just some run of the mill shock tactics stuff?

The Way of the Househusband (Gokushufudō)

The Way of the Househusband (Gokushufudō) 2021

By now, I think folks seem to have moved past some of the general disappointment surrounding this adaptation of Kousuke Oono’s manga. I can’t compare this with the original but if you’ve never read the manga then the anime might actually be a good introduction? Maybe? I don’t know.

Admittedly, I was expecting something quite different myself but I think that’s because Netflix did an exceptionally poor job of establishing expectations with its promo.

For context, if you haven’t seen The Way of the Househusband then imagine a manga with a little bit of movement, sound and colour and you’ll get a fair idea.

It’s pretty funny too 🙂

Although the bulk of the humour comes from the premise of a former Yakuza bringing his deadpan menace to the domestic world, because each episode is so short, the joke didn’t wear out its welcome for me. (I don’t know if I’d enjoy longer episodes as much, but I am definitely going to watch the next series.)

One highlight for me was Kenjiro Tsuda, one of my fav voice actors, and someone who I think is perfect for Tatsu. Another joy was his wife Miku, who’s probably the standout character from the show’s small recurring cast.

Now, if you’re on the fence about this series because the premise isn’t quite enough or you expect more animation maybe, I don’t know if I can convince you to give it a shot.

But if you also enjoy sight gags, slapstick* and hyperbole (so, the Comedy genre :D) then The Way of the Househusband might still satisfy. It’s also very digestible in terms of length per episode, so if you don’t have a lot of time and feel like something light this could be perfect.

4 Stars

*Perhaps best exemplified by the chapter where Miku’s dad tries to play catch with Tatsu, poor guy

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) Season 2

Well, I don’t want to add too much to the vitriol out there and I doubt I’d have anything new to contribute to some of the… discourse (such as it is) either.

But this season certainly didn’t feel quite right.

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) Season 2 (2021)

And rather than go over each and every issue, I think I could just suggest “see what your fav blogger has to say” since they’ve probably covered it, and better than I could. Having said that, there will be spoilers below – and in a way, half the pics are too.

I left this season feeling sad – I’m kinda worried that the production team were dangerously overworked and also not given enough time? Were they producing a flawed adaptation from the start, or did something else go wrong somewhere along the way?

And on top of those possibilities, I worry that some great things in season 2 will be simply obliterated by the negatives.

Due to that, I’ll try to confine myself to just 6 observations here – 3 for bits I really liked, and 3 which I did not.

But I want to finish on some positives and so I’m starting with the aspects I didn’t enjoy so much.

1. Compression

Without having read the manga I could still feel how fast the second season was, how often it skipped over or abandoned the stuff I was excited to see more of.

I wanted extra time in the shelter for one, more time to explore and deal with the demons in town, more time to see the leads struggle with certain decisions, more time on Norman’s return.

2. Character

This time around, it felt like Emma maybe softened without enough of her change occurring onscreen for the audience to witness.

Norman and his crew seemed to come around from their positions too fast too – a scene or up to half an episode is all it seemed to be, instead of what could have been explored across entire arcs or seasons, I guess.

3. Conclusion

Montage is very appropriate for the compression of time and events… but I guess I didn’t want so many of them here.

For me, again, without having read the manga, a fair few things that were shown in the end were empty referents. It felt like somewhere, someone had decided that season two would serve as a way to nail down the lid on any possibility of future seasons.


Switching now to things I enjoyed:

1. Exploration

After the tension in the house, the barriers both physical and psychological, it was exciting to see the kids explore a bit of the world.

To see creatures, plants and tunnels, trees and plains – I was pretty thrilled. It also allowed the story to include a bit of action, which was fun (not just via Sonju) and of course, the mystery of Minerva became a bit of a quest too.

2. Ethics

There were plenty of ethical dilemmas in season two and while I wanted more time spent on each of them, it was still nice to see it onscreen.

The kids are all pretty smart to say the least, but they’re not immune to doubt or to a deadly rage – I guess I’m thinking mostly of Norman and Emma here and their struggle with/over genocide.

3. Exultation

Finally! After watching the poor kids go through so much suffering in that first season, it was great to see success, joy, happiness and reunions etc.

Obviously not just between the main heroes, but even good old Phil (whose scenes border on treacle I guess, but I didn’t care) – I wanted to see them all happy 😀 (Even the ending didn’t mar that feeling for me, for the most part).


Okay, and there we go – after this, I’ll wrap things up with a few shots or pieces of background art that I really enjoyed, I think.

It’s a shame this season doesn’t compare well to the first one, but if you have zero plans to ever read the manga, then I guess try season two one day but perhaps don’t expect things to be as consistent as the first.

3 Stars

(Oh, and I love the closing sequence – watched it every time).

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2019

As with my last post, I have a few weekly write-ups starting here from back when No Guns Life was airing and so I guess I’m going to kinda summarise some of them here 😀

There’s a fair chance that if you enjoy science-fiction, action and noir then you’ll like this series and I did for sure… but I do wonder if Madhouse has any plans to keep it going. (Looks like there’s plenty of material available with Tasuku Karasuma’s manga at least).

I mention that possible third season because at the end of No Guns Life I felt that there was still far too much to be explored and I want to see more.

That’s probably the main issue I had with the series.

There’s plenty of action, some eventual backstory reveals about mostly interesting characters and of course Juzo himself was a favourite element, but I wanted a more compelling central villain. It’s clear that the Big Evil Corp (Berühren) take on that role but the episodes here are often building up and then pulling back from developing that central narrative/mystery.

And without a future season there’s not going to be any payoff/resolution for me in that respect.

Instead of expecting that, I eventually started to focus on enjoying some of the smaller arcs or character designs of the humans and Extendeds who live in the almost perpetual blue-green-grey or brown-orange-pink of the city.

What I found really interesting was Juzo and other ‘gun-head’ designs – it obviously makes them seem more impassive, and for Juzo it feeds into the ‘detective with a past’ trope but it also created an issue for comedic moments or scenes that maybe required facial expressions.

And so I thought it was fun that when any given scenario needed to show Juzo as more human, you’d end up seeing stuff reminiscent of Alphonse Elric 🙂

Elsewhere, Kronen and Mary are other fav characters and Victor definitely remains someone I’d love to see more of too but when I balance out some of episodic elements that didn’t work for me (S2E5 for example) and my fear that the beginnings of a great central storyline will be abandoned by financial pressures, then I worry.

And I worry because No Guns Life feels like 24 episodes of establishing character, setting and stakes, all of which has left me invested enough to want more of the story, and it probably won’t happen…

3 Stars  

Deca-Dence (Dekadansu)

If you are super-keen to see what I thought about specific episodes of Deca-Dence I was writing weekly, back when the show aired, and those posts start over here. (That first post contains a few predictions, of which I was half-correct about from memory.)

Deca-Dence (Dekadansu) 2020

Here, I’ll say that I really enjoyed Deca-Dence.

It had lots of things that I seek in a show; science-fiction, action, secrets and even a tiny adventure feel (sans exploration). Of course I liked the characters too, as people such as Natsume and Kaburagi were easy to root for in their fight against an unjust system.

Really enjoyed the setting too, despite some elements that seemed to clash…

Deca-Dence was popular during screening – a bit polarising also – and so if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, and you’ve also somehow managed to avoid spoilers, I wanted to mention that I’ll have some below.

Plenty of us have expressed disappointment over the big reveal.

The vivid clash between art styles that becomes clear once you see the truth about the cyborgs and their cruel ‘game’ was a surprise for sure. In time, I guess I did adjust to the visuals but it really did take a few episodes. The cute designs and flat or bright colours maybe functioned as a disturbingly cheerful veneer, but for me it did undercut the tone of the story too.

There was also a storytelling choice that I still can’t decide how I responded to – namely, when the audience got the truth vs when our main POV character Natsume was let in on the game.

I think it would have hit me harder if I’d learned what was going on when she did (around episode 9 or so I think) but on the other hand, there was a different tension afforded to me after learning what was going on so early in the series. I was a few steps ahead of Natsume and that caused different worries and so I was still engaged.

And in the end, I thought Deca-Dence was heaps of fun both to watch and to write about.

Even if I still want a sequel series to see our heroes go out and explore the world, there’s definitely a clear and satisfying resolution to the Deca-Dence, so if you take a look you won’t be left hanging after episode 12.

(And Pipe is cute too.)

4 Stars

Abandoned #9 (High-rise Invasion, Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul, AfterLost & Chrome Shelled Regios)

As ever, with these posts I don’t usually rule out one day returning to the titles I list each time… but something didn’t grab me for these ones upon first attempt.

And so, two quick notes first up (though I only have a touch more to say about the others as I’m a bit pressed for time :D)

High-rise Invasion

I didn’t finish episode one here and I think it was because I’m picky when it comes to ‘in medias res’ kinda openings. (They tend to be empty of connection for me.)

Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul

Rage… was just as bright and visually pleasing as its predecessor and had some fun action sequences… but I went in wanting more characters from the past and got far too little of them, and so I’ve set this to one side for now because I really ought to judge the sequel on its own merits and I can’t seem to do that at present.

Afterlost

From memory I’m about two episodes in and once again, a show that was very much casting the viewer into the middle of everything and then wavering between abandoning context altogether and portioning out just enough.

More than that, perhaps, was my own expectations getting in the way.

I read the logline as two strangers having to solve a science-fiction kinda mystery about the vanished citizens of an entire city but instead it was a little more paranormal + high-tech government conspiracy stuff.

Which is not bad at all but just not what I was keen for going in 🙂

Chrome Shelled Regios

Only two and a half episodes complete and there was a lot I was enjoying here re: the somewhat post-apocalyptic setting and other science-fiction elements for example. Some of the characters seemed like they were going to have nice arcs too but I simply haven’t come back to this yet.

It’s probably been a case of other shows drawing my attention more consistently, I guess.

Maybe of all the ones I’ve mentioned here, this is the show I might come back to first but it’s hard to say for sure!

Heaven Official’s Blessing (More Impressions)

I wish I had more to say today, but basically – I’m still enjoying Tian Guan Ci Fu plenty and also finding it hard to wait between episodes.

The adventure feel is still really strong and what probably amounts to Xie Lian and San Lang’s first date is really cute, even if the scenes aren’t quite played that way onscreen.

One of the only seasonal shows I’m keeping up with this time around! (8 episodes in so far.)