The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando)

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) 2019

As I’ve said before, I don’t mind being a year or two behind the pace when it comes to new shows because I tend to miss both the hype and the reactionaries.

However, I did catch on that a lot of folks enjoyed this when it came out, and I can now add myself to the ranks.

The Promised Neverland is edge-of-your-seat stuff, with memorable characters and formidable villans indeed, with a largely dormitory setting that manages to have enough variety to keep things interesting visually, but also, retain a heavy sense of claustrophobia, I reckon.

While it’d definitely be safe to say that this is a horror anime, and that it has a few other genres mixed in, I think psychological thriller/suspense is probably the one that jumps out at me. Very few characters have clear motives and it seems like everyone is, at one time or another, keeping secrets.

It was nice not to know exactly how something would play out, as well as be surprised a couple of times too. I can see how ‘Mom’ was voted as a fav villain and while I was hoping for a different resolution to her storyline, I remain excited for the delayed second season early next year.

I don’t want to write too much more, in fear of spoilers or hints, in case anyone is planning on watching The Promised Neverland but I will add that if you’re not keen on seeing kids suffer – a lot – then maybe give this a miss. Having said that, it’s not relentlessly grim… but it’s no walk in the park, that’s for sure. Cool opening theme too!

5 Stars

(Mamoru Kanbe also directed ‘The Perfect Insider which could be said to be in the same ballpark re secrets, mystery and suspense).

Note: I should have mention before, but Sister Krone’s design is not great. She’s an actually character with a mini arc but design-wise, yeah, too evocative of minstrel shows.

Toward the Terra (1980)

Toward the Terra (1980)

I tend to really enjoy stories that feature big concepts – especially imaginings of the future, and Toward the Terra features both of those things.

While it’s a generational story that skips a few years here and there, the beginning especially gives us a look at an unsettling ‘utopia’, a place boasting order and health but a place where a character might say something like “I’m sick of boys, let’s get a girl next time” and this statement would be perfectly normal.

The repressive society featured in Toward the Terra isn’t the main focus precisely, but it is the structure that our Chosen One (Jomy) must rebel against.

Ultimately, the story is a far-future struggle between humans and Mu (Mu are humans who can use psychic powers) and while the film does feature space battles and struggles, it’s not so much a war between equal and opposing sides, it’s more like a brainwashed humanity seeking to commit genocide upon the Mu.

It can be pretty grim – and while the ‘80s designs and animation might not make some of those things seem as visceral as modern shows could, it’s still compelling.

For me, the time skips I mentioned before suggest that this adaption would have worked really well as a series (and twenty-seven years later maybe it does :D), allowing the story to further explore things like Jomy and Physis for one, but beside that and similar issues related to the huge story and limited running time, I enjoyed Toward the Terra plenty.

4 Stars

Spriggan (Supurigan)

Spriggan (Supurigan) 1998

So! I was stunned to learn that Netflix is creating a series for Spriggan and that it’s due next year.

I think you could argue that it suits their action/sci-fi-heavy anime catalouge, but I guess I’m still surprised that Spriggan, which seems kinda ‘forgotten’ maybe, would be picked. In any event, I’m definitely looking forward to it because I think there’s room to expand the story, as compared to this 1998 film adaptation of Hiroshi Takashige’s manga.

And this is most certainly a film for action fans.

Spriggan is packed full of blistering, superhero-style battles and action sequences (even a touch of DBZ in there at times) and before you (maybe) groan at the idea of another schoolkid with unrealistic abilities, Spriggan does address that seeming oddity.

To very quickly talk premise: the story features two powerful groups vying for control over a world-altering artefact, with young hero Yu taking the lead as the top agent tasked with preventing misuse of said artefact.

For Studio 4°C this is quite opposite in tone etc to a latter film like Children of the Sea (which is the most recent comparative text I’ve seen) but the same level of care and attention to detail appears onscreen, with some cracking action sequences, as I mentioned above. Among the best I’ve seen in any anime.

Now, most folks seem to have problems with the story, and it does take a backseat to the action but it’s not like the plot is wildly swinging from one idea to another. Instead, maybe it’s just that a few important things (like Yu’s past, perhaps) don’t get a whole lot of screentime.

Katsuhiro Otomo was involved as a supervisor, and maybe you might then think of Akira in superficial ways (mind powers and sci-fi in general) but Spriggan is definitely closer to an American action film, fast-paced, violent and even far-fetched.

All the things that made it fun, perhaps.

4 Stars

You can’t quite tell here, but this guy is about to throw that helicopter.
Watch out, dude

Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti)

Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti) 2010

Before Hiromasa Yonebayashi became a founding member of Studio Ponoc, he was working at Ghibli on a lot of their blockbuster films. Arrietty was his debut as director, with a screenplay that Miyazaki adapted from The Borrowers. (Another example of his interest in storytelling from the UK).

This one is not in my top five Ghibli films, but I do prefer Arrietty to Yonebayashi’s other feature for the studio, When Marnie was There.

Ultimately, what keeps this one from climbing up the ranking in my mind, is the ending, which felt a little flat compared to the rest of the film… but I won’t try to claim that it’s a bad ending, because that’d be an exaggeration, I reckon.

What I loved most was the clear ‘world-within-a-world’ that existed in the film, with the borrowers having not only their own home and cast-off possessions, but that different perspective on human homes.

It’s a warm, intimate world where little is wasted and ‘simple’ tasks take on more epic dimensions – like that first quest for sugar. (Those scenes show the same beautiful attention to detail Ghibli is known for, mirrored in the natural world too, but for me I think of the house most whenever I remember Arrietty.)

I won’t ramble on much longer, but the tension between the Arriety and Sho’s storylines eventually meeting is great, and I always find it sad but sweet when he tries to switch the kitchen around. But of course – in the end, he cannot help Arrietty and her family, as the power of one small boy cannot fully stand up to the cruelty of the adult world.

Still, Arrietty isn’t a tragedy, so there’s an ultimately uplifting ending in store if you’ve never seen this one 🙂

4 Stars

Gangsta

Gangsta (2015)

Mafia-style stories can be an incredibly hard sell for me in many ways, since I tend not to enjoy the idea of glamorising career-criminals via entertainment media.

But Gangsta isn’t a straight-up crime drama either because there is a little something more going on – namely the human experiment angle, that and the fact that one of the lead characters is deaf, which was a welcome change from typical action heroes.

Having said that, this series still features vaguely super-hero style fights at times, so typical action conventions definitely dominate. Nic and Worick are memorable leads, and while they don’t get a chance to be fully developed, I think it’s clear they were going to get even more dimensions – even, or especially – Alex, who does function as more than eye-candy sometimes.

The villains are fairly strong too and the setting is distinctive – or at least, I enjoyed its general Italian-look for sure. I think you could argue that the super-human ‘Tag’ aspect to the world-building was going to escalate far too quickly for the pacing of a story that definitely needed more than one short season to tell. For me, that meant that some of the action-sequences and associated tension tapered off because characters seemed a little overpowered for so early on.   

But basically, I was pretty happy to see something a little different in this unfinished story from Manglobe and Shūkō Murase. I know that Gangsta sometimes comes with a little asterisk next to it, as ‘the series that no-one liked and which killed Manglobe’ but of course, that’d be a little simplistic. Manglobe certainly did close up shop [a few details here] and some of the vitriol directed to this short series is due to the ‘ending’.

And if there had been a second season, this would be a cracker of a cliff-hanger… but alas, it was not to be.

Like the majority of anime out there, there is a manga luckily, and so if you wanted to keep reading to catch more of the storyline then you’re all good. However, as usual with me, I’ve written about the anime since that’s all I’ve got 🙂

4 Stars*

*This might be me being my usual generous, uncritical self, but since the Gangsta anime is a truly unfinished story, I wanted to add this note about the lack of resolution, since I’m certainly on record as saying that endings are vital.

The selective colouring in the opening I liked a lot.
There’s probably a touch more sexualised stuff and violence than in typical shounen anime, so it’s more firmly in the seinen age-bracket.

Ghost Hunt (Gōsuto Hanto)

Ghost Hunt (Gōsuto Hanto) 2006

Time for more supernatural anime!

Aside from that category, to my eye Ghost Hunt fits firmly in the YA genre (to use the literature terminology). There are things like the ‘absent parent’ trope, a focus on first love and our young heroes take centre-stage (in generally believable ways).

So to switch back to anime vocab for a moment, this is a great shoujo series that I wished had been given another season. Maybe like so much anime out there, was it always partially meant to be a gateway to other media forms, or maybe – more likely I think, it just wasn’t popular enough for JC Staff to afford another season? I’m finding it hard to find much in the way of contemporary reception for a ‘non-landmark’ show from 2006.

But I guess you could say that I have a soft spot for JC Staff productions, and this feels like one of their stand-outs. Based on a series of light novels from (you guessed it) the 1990s, Ghost Hunt was an anime I stumbled across during a bit of a supernatural binge I was on a fair while back now.

And I was quite happy to find Ghost Hunt, since it featured comedy and drama while being genuinely creepy at times. I wanted to take a moment to talk genre too, because it’s very much ‘suspense’ rather than horror, so depending on your tolerance, even if you don’t like shows that are meant to be scary, I’d say that Ghost Hunt is most often ‘spooky’.

Part of what keeps the tone generally lighter a lot of the time, is the focus on humour, with banter and ribbing between a large team of characters (folks who do care for each other) as they work to solve paranormal mysteries.

I think I was especially drawn to the folklore and mythology aspects too, plus the occasional historical storyline. The season only covers a handful of ‘cases’ but the pacing is taut enough that you’re pulled along through the various 3 or 4 episode-long arcs quite nicely, I reckon.

Visually, I certainly have no complaints and Mai and Kazuya are engaging characters, probably exactly what you’d expect for leads in the age-group, but the supporting cast I enjoyed as much. There’s even a Catholic priest from Australia, John Brown, who uses the Kansai dialect. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this correctly from other shows, but it seems that because the dialect is maybe a bit ‘broader’, then it is sometimes used for AU and UK characters in anime?

Not sure how good my memory/understanding is there at all – in fact, if anyone knows I’d be interested in your thoughts 🙂

To finish at last, this is a fun suspense anime with a bit of folklore, comedy and romance mixed in. Like so many series, sadly, it never gets a chance to reveal all its secrets in regards to a certain key character, since there was no follow-up season and thus you might finish it feeling a little short-changed in some ways.

3.5 Stars

There was the occasional use of old school techniques like this or the split screen, which I liked.

Dragon Quest : Your Story (Doragon Kuesuto Yua Sutōrī)

Dragon Quest: Your Story (Doragon Kuesuto Yua Sutōrī) 2019

Being a fan of JRPGs, I found myself waiting quite keenly for the Switch edition of Dragon Quest XI and really enjoyed playing it last year.

Flash forward to now and I was happy to stumble across Your Story.

It’s a classic fantasy, adventure film that adapts the storyline from the fifth Dragon Quest game, blending action, humour and magic nicely to my eye. Again, I’m on record plenty of times as being wary of CGI and anime, but everything looked top-notch to me and perhaps I was less inclined to feel like it didn’t suit, because I associated everything here with the game visuals rather than 2D anime.

On that note, I’d argue that you can definitely watch this film without being familiar with the game series – and a point of interest for me was that the narrative spans a fair few years, and more than one generation as well, but does so in such a way that doesn’t make things feel disconnected either.

Quite thrilling for me, as a fan of DQXI, was hearing the game’s OST in the film, and each instance certainly fit the storyline. Also appearing in were the now-classic ‘slimes’ and other creatures – and though the usual look of other Akira Toriyama character designs didn’t appear in the same, distinctive way as in the games perhaps, they still worked for me.

I will just note that maybe, if you’ve played any of the games, you might get a few more references or easter-egg kinda things, but again, it should still be enjoyable for someone who isn’t necessarily a fan of the series too. (I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it’d be suitable for little kids… but it’s probably aimed somewhere between tweens and adults perhaps).

4 Stars

Arte

It feels like only a few folks are talking about Arte (or I’m just missing the discussions) but I’m glad I stumbled across this show! (I’ve been watching episodes of Arte between Black Lagoon stints, and the contrast is vivid :D)

Arte 2020

Arte is a seinen series that should appeal to folks who like historical fiction too and coming of age themes in any other genre, but also visual artists themselves. Obviously, setting a show in Florence during the 16th century means (High) Renaissance but in Arte it’s not a drama about the masters, but a coming of age story that focuses on apprentices – chiefly Arte herself, of course.

And she’s an endearing heroine whom I wanted to succeed, kind and determined, classic seinen stuff. Having been extremely lucky to have once visited Florence (and Venice) I was enthralled by the setting as much as the storyline, due to the beautiful detail. [As a side note, I did also like seeing the canals so clear and sparkling in the anime :)]

Arte isn’t an episodic anime, as it is building to two key moments that do pay off, and while the individual storylines and characters were definitely enjoyable for me, I think the mentor stuff around Arte and Leo were my favourite aspects, aside from learning more about the specific labour that went into the art world back then.

I only had one gripe, which was the amount of time the story spent in Venice, though that wasn’t because things suddenly became worse, but more because I wanted to see her grow more under Leo’s guidance and he wasn’t in those eps, lol.

On the extremely low chance of a future season, I guess that could still happen. The manga certainly has plenty of issues available for Seven Arcs to draw from 🙂

Part of me wants to say ‘5 Stars’ because I enjoyed so much about the show but I think it’s a fairly niche series in some ways, so I don’t want to potentially mislead anyone reading this. However, if you like the visual arts or the genre, or historical Italy, then I think you’ll enjoy this a good deal indeed.

4 Stars

Katarina has quite the introductory episode
Perhaps the only time Leo smiles from memory
I should have tried harder to find more pictures like these

Planetarian (ONA)

Planetarian

Planetarian is melancholic but still soothing somehow – gentle rain, soft colours in blues and greens, even ‘washed out’ as many of them are, all to really effectively show a city left behind. In fact, the setting is probably my favourite thing about the series but that’s probably just me – what most folks will (rightly) enjoy more is the character development, I reckon.

Watching Planetarian recently, as right now our own society slowly shuts down for the most part, added a bit of extra eeriness to some of the scenes, something I wasn’t quite ready for. On the surface, this short ONA series is a post-apocalyptic story about a scavenger in a ruined city – evocatively named a Sarcophagus City – but the main focus is more the way he must reluctantly open up to an abandoned robot who cares for the Planetarium.  

The story is bookended by two action scenes – with the second being the most high stakes, but as I mentioned above, the structure gives far more time to the ‘Junker’ and his cooling toward the poor robot, who at first, doesn’t quite seem to realise how lonely she is. Without drifting down the path of spoilers, I’ll say that her quest to put on a special presentation about the stars is definitely tinged with pathos but it’s not a relentlessly bleak series either.

There’s also a follow-up film with some repeated footage that I haven’t finished at the time of writing this (but I will finish), however you will get a complete story if you only end up viewing the ONA. So, Planetarian is definitely recommended if you’re after something atmospheric, or downbeat, but something that is also sweet at times.

I’m having a moment of regret re: using a star rating for these reviews – I liked this adaptation and I was caught up for sure, I felt for the characters. Maybe the pacing slowed a few times but that isn’t worth me knocking a star off, I reckon. And so ‘3 Stars’ doesn’t seem right and ‘4 stars’ is probably closer, even if I suspect some folks might not enjoy the moe aspect.

3.5 Stars

Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin)

Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin) 2008

Anime adaptations of games seem generally fraught with risk in my mind – and yet I can’t actually think of a tonne that I’ve seen and disliked, and instead, one obvious success seems to come to mind whenever I do think of games and anime, Steins;Gate.

But I’ll get to Sands of Destruction now.

So, even if individual elements didn’t always feel top-notch, I definitely enjoyed the anime and like other reasonably episodic shows, I was able to watch an episode here and there between other titles and not miss a beat.

Production I.G must have faced a fair amount of restriction in terms of what they could do because the series had to be linked to the DS game, but I thought the humour usually worked and while the setting and storyline is very much ‘classic fantasy’ (with an oppressive society for the characters to rail against) that was certainly enough for me 🙂

There were a few surprises and the pacing of each story drew me along nicely – one stand out was the ‘Dr Elephant’ episode, but overall the scene-stealer was usually Toppy. A tiny, teddy-bear-looking, monologue-ing hero, he was pretty great, I reckon. Toppy also scored a lot of great lines and moments, and to my surprise, the character-affectation of adding ‘kuma’ to the end of every single sentence was not as annoying as I thought it would be.

Eventually.

At first it bugged me a bit.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed the non-human character design more than the human design for the most part, and I felt like I was craving a few extra threads from the main plot to appear earlier than they do, but maybe it’s a minor quibble. The animation wasn’t always knock-out stuff but nor was it poor – at all.

I believe that if the show’s style of humour works for you then that will be enough to lift other elements that will probably seem a little standard. If not, you might not enjoy Sands of Destruction that much.

3 Stars