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

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood (2021)

Coming to the series cold, the connection to the game Dota 2 had no positive or negative impact for me – it was just a fact about the anime, and so I enjoyed having no preconceptions going in.

I know that animation produced by non-Japanese studios can get some flak from the community but I don’t really care – DOTA Dragon’s Blood looks great and it was a lot of fun to watch a fantasy/action animation with all the classic creatures.

Plenty of humour, plenty of really ace action-sequences and even the fan-service tended to actually make sense here. There was also lots of lovely imagery and striking use of colour to further keep me watching and without spoilers, the story probably isn’t full of curve-balls but it’s satisfying.

I have a few fav characters from the large(ish) cast, but Marci is a stand out – I also don’t recall dozens of mute characters appearing in other animated works I’ve seen, so that was really interesting. (There were even Australian voice actors too, which is another rare thing).

Toward the end, I will say that it seemed that the pacing picked up a little too much. Important events outpaced the running time, and once again, it felt like modern production choices (esp those favoured by Netflix) meant the team at Studio Mir had to squeeze in a 13-episode portion of a big story into an 8-episode run.

Maybe that was just my impression?

But with more episodes on the way, I’m definitely tuning in whenever more of the story is ready.

4 Stars

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 😀


Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei)

Gundum is one of the heavyweights of the anime industry that I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet (which surprises me) as I had planned to do the original series and then Gundam Wing, but when I saw that Shukou Murase was directing this one, I thought I’d switch to Hathaway instead.

I should note that this will probably be more of a ‘dot-point’ style review as I don’t have enough knowledge to contextualise the film within the franchise.

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei) 2021

Although, I will say that I loved this – the visual aspects from design to colour and movement were all ace and story-wise, the film is a great set-up for what’s to come. I was actually surprised to find that Hathaway feels very much like an old-school spy novel at times, which was cool.

(But there are a few big action scenes + a bit of fan service to go with the intrigue and verbal sparring too).

  • Hathaway feels like triumph in lighting
  • The work done to sell the scale of the robots in this film, like showing feet of the mechs filling the screen and all those low angle POVs, loved it
  • There were a lot of standout scenes but the milkbar & taxi scenes jump out for me
  • Gigi is an interesting character – there’s a lot of ‘mysterious woman/femme fatale’ stuff going on (not that my screen shots show that), which feeds into that espionage feel. I’m left wondering what her role will be in future films.
  • It’s interesting to see Australia mentioned as an important base – I wonder if back in the 1980s (when the books were written), if my homeland was still a bit in vogue for settings to be mentioned but not used.
  • I’m not really up to speed on the (ongoing?) tension between the Evangelion/Gundam camps, but with or without any boasting to (potentially) influence you, I still think that this film was pretty spectacular.

I also wanted to ask myself whether Hathaway could function as a possible entry point into the Gundam franchise… and I’m not actually sure it would be the best one.

The same classic themes around war and loyalty etc are front and centre, and of course, giant robots! but something about Hathaway makes me wonder if it would be right.

I don’t think I have enough knowledge of the franchise to make a recommendation.

But to finish at last, I will say that it’ll be tough to wait for the next two films but I’m keen, very keen.

5 Stars

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō)

Back Arrow is bursting at the seams with exuberance and I enjoyed that a lot.

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) 2021

For me, it’s wildly over the top and dead sincere at the same time, leaping between those two contrasting extremes. In that way I guess you could say that there’s a mix of aspects from shows like TTGL and Gun x Sword, among others.

A while back, Lita and I did a ‘first reactions‘ kinda collab and I’m happy to say my response to the show remained quite favourable indeed.

Now, in other reviews I’ve definitely criticised stuff that hops between extremes (or wildly contrasting tones) but obviously I don’t always have a problem with it. I thought Back Arrow shifted in such a way that I was expecting things to be a bit off-the-wall from the beginning, and so it didn’t bother me.

All the shounen tropes and clichés (and bizarre humour) are out in full force in Back Arrow (the choir! the wine bottles!), declarations shouted with clenched fists, escalating battles and a huge finish.

It was hard to believe in a way, but as the last few episodes unveiled new and more gigantic surprises in terms of that escalation, I was swept up in the sense of fun – all the amps go up to 11 here.

In terms of fav characters, Shu stands out for me, since he forges his own path, though I will say that his key betrayal actually seems poorly handled in respect to another character, considering the supposed importance of a certain flashback. That’s probably pretty vague if you haven’t seen Back Arrow but I was hoping to avoid spoilers.

So I’ve written a few paragraphs now without mentioning the plot but it includes some of the big stakes I’m looking for: save the world and know thyself, along with a big enough cast that a few folks get to live out different aspects of each.

I can see how this show might fail to meet the needs of some audiences – some of the key anime that Back Arrow is channelling across its 24 episodes were now released generations ago.

And to be honest, there is a strangely childish part of me that really enjoys the fact that Back Arrow seems to be almost a cult show already.

That’s actually a bad thing, though – I want Back Arrow to be more popular so that more shows like it get made.

4 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?

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú)

I tend to be a little disappointed in romance anime that hold back on the developing the relationship onscreen – especially when it comes to homosexual relationships, but that’s probably not always fair.

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú) 2020

And I say ‘not fair’ not in terms of a discussion between chaste vs lewd content, but more a case that I wish the industry would treat the relationships of gay characters the same as heterosexual ones, though it feels like that’s changing slowly. 

Having said that, I think I should also add – I hope things continue to change in so long as it’s safe for the creators, that is. (Obviously, country of production has an impact).

But until things change, there’s still somewhat sweet shows like Heaven Official’s Blessing, based on the novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu and animated by Haoliners Animation League. I hadn’t seen many works from China at all, but this looks fantastic, with whimsical and menacing settings, fluid action and memorable leads.

Heaven Official’s Blessing feels like a balanced mix between supernatural action and almost cute romance, (with lead Xie Lian even taking on the clumsy ‘damsel’ role at times) and I enjoyed the mythological aspects as much as the character interplay across the 13 episodes, and I’m definitely hoping there’s another season one day.

I saw HOB on the soon to be defunct Animelab, and while the subtitles were far too small for my eyes, I’m glad they were there because without them I would not have been able to watch the show at all. (There were mythological elements and context that I missed too, especially those last few episodes I suspect).


The ending to episode 12 kinda demanded an OVA or a ‘special’ because while it wrapped the action plot, the relationship between Xie Lian and San Lang needed more screen time, which did happen with #13 thankfully.

Definitely recommended for fans of the above-mentioned genres.

4 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song

Vivy made me wonder whether great art, exhilarating fight sequences, catchy songs and fun costume changes with engaging characters were enough for me to say yep, 5 stars – even in spite of some disappointment with the plot.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song (2021)

(In the end, it doesn’t matter whether I finish the review with a 4 or 5 star rating, or any other number, but apparently I enjoy overthinking and so I’m still not sure about a score :D)

Anyway, getting back to Vivy itself– if you’ve been craving time-travel science fiction and action that looks great (with an interesting compression of a 100-year timeline) then there should be more than enough to keep you watching.

And there was for me – I looked forward to each new episode and in addition, it was really fun to see the show via Karandi’s posts too.

Ah, the wrist-grab trope

Occasionally, I felt some of the jumps in time were a bit sharp and Matsumoto can be hard work to listen to, though those were minor issues for me. Again, I personally find it easy enough to overlook aspects I didn’t enjoy when the visuals are great and WIT studio lives up to their reputation here, I reckon.

While there are a few threads / mini arcs that I preferred over others, I think I’ll quickly mention some fav scenes or smaller aspects instead:

  • The robot welcome in the factory stood out, nice way to humanise them and also kinda manipulate the audience
  • The ‘falling’ fight scene in episode 9 is pretty ace
  • Gradual thawing of Vivy’s personality works really well
  • OP is a cool song
  • I also enjoyed the little bit of exploration around possible rights/privileges of non-humans (robot marriage etc)

Without spoilers, there was a particular point toward the end where the choices of characters (and connected time-travel difficulties) gave me fair pause, and some disappointment there did impact the finale for me.

However, I wouldn’t say I felt the same level of disappointment as with say, The Promised Neverland or Wonder Egg Priority.

And in spite of the issues I had with the last few episodes I liked that time-travel wasn’t something that solved everything neatly, often when Vivy and Matsumoto took action, they found changes harder to make than planned.

In the end, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is definitely a show I’d like to add to my collection one day, no doubt about it.

4 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority + Special (Wandā Eggu Puraioriti)

Wonder Egg Priority (Wandā Eggu Puraioriti) 2021

I wrote some of this review not long after the end of episode 12 and it really feels like so much depends on the OVA…

Wonder Egg Priority should feel familiar but also new and exciting at the same time. Everything is intense too, whether it’s the colours, action sequences or storylines, all with that familiar CloverWorks feel.

And while there are a certain amount of ‘power of friendship’ moments the themes are overall dark and at times, maybe handled bluntly – but I wonder how I’d feel, if I were young right now and struggling with tough issues, to see an anime like this that showed kids fighting back, how cathartic and hopeful it might be.

If you decide to watch Wonder Egg here’s a bit of what to expect as per the plot adapted from Wikipedia:

Ai Ohto, a junior high school student, is temporarily not attending school following the suicide of her close friend Koito Nagase. During a late-night walk, Ai finds a gachapon machine that dispenses a “Wonder Egg”. That night, Ai gets drawn into a dream world where the Wonder Egg cracks open to reveal a girl, whom Ai must protect from a horde of monsters called ‘Seeno Evils’.

Ai is an engaging lead and the bonds she forms with her friends are the highlights, even over some fantastic fight sequences and unanswered questions that pull you along. I wanted things to work out for her and the team by the end of the series, a sure sign that things were working as far as I was concerned.

But certainly the show hasn’t satisfied everyone.

A few months ago (at the time of writing this review) there was a bit of online dribble re: ‘casuals’ and the magical girl genre. For me, if you use the word ‘casual’ to disparage someone, I know I never have to take your opinion seriously, because who cares how someone is introduced to an anime or a genre?

Or a game, or an album, or whatever.

… and so I’ll just move right along.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about Wonder Egg Priority was the roster of villains. [Spoilers below]

For me, there are three to choose from in Wonder Egg Priority; a pair and two individuals.

I’ve probably quoted the adage that ‘a hero is only as good as the villain’ in a review before, and Acca and Ura-Acca are indeed bad news; a pair of sock-puppets skillfully manipulating vulnerable kids who enter their desperate circle of selfish madness.

But you are given a chance to understand why they are villains at least, just like the glimpse we get of the ‘role models’ for poor Rika – someone who demonstrates the sad truth that people who are abused can become abusers themselves.

Frill is the villain with the least amount of screen time, and while her role in the present of the anime remains unclear, her flashback episode is certainly memorable. In fact, that single episode is as confronting as any other in the series can be, and remains one of my favourites, both visually and in terms of having a self-contained storyline.

I believe I might purchase Wonder Egg one day, because I liked enough of it to do so, and I don’t want to reduce this show to its flaws because, it’s a lot more than that.

However, I can’t finish the review without mentioning the special.

… and I don’t want to pile on here, but boy, after a 25+ minute recap at the beginning, my expectations did plummet pretty swiftly.

The final episode (delayed during the original run of the show) definitely achieves a label of ‘unforgettable’ for me.

It disappointed a lot of folks of course, and I found it hard to separate my negative feelings in general, from what the story was actually showing me in episode thirteen.

The special does offer an ending and follows through on some of the earlier foreshadowing, but also raises new plot points perhaps a little too late. I will address one criticism I’ve read about the special, which is that Rika abandons Neiru too quickly, when she learns that her friend is AI.

To me, that behaviour is 100% consistent with a character that called an overweight fan a ‘wallet’.

Thinking back, I don’t think I actually enjoyed the episode very much but I’m glad there is an ending.

Because like so many viewers, I grew to wonder just how much abuse were staff members being put through by the industry (and us as fans?), both via criminal working conditions and unrealistic expectations?

And now I think to myself, should I even keep consuming media that is so obviously burning out artists left, right and centre? I have no answer and being powerless to change things is not an enjoyable feeling. And it’s in so many industries too, certainly not just anime.

Until things change, I should do more to support artists directly – just have to figure out how.

Wonder Egg Priority might end up being remembered more for its heroines, or for the special, or maybe as a show that highlights awful, awful working conditions in the animation industry and for me, I definitely end up associating it with all three when I think of it now.

It feels like over the next few decades (and now of course), it could be regarded as more than the sum of its flaws.

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