Darker than Black (Dākā Zan Burakku ー Kuro no Keiyakusha)

Shadowy syndicates, superheros and melancholy characters – tick, tick and tick!

Darker than Black (Dākā Zan Burakku Kuro no Keiyakusha) 2007

I feel like Darker Than Black walks a line between drama for characters who are under-powered and drama for characters who are over-powered.

And of course, while I use the word ‘superhero’ I don’t mean it in the Marvel sense. This is quieter stuff, but powers and the impact on both the people who use them and the overall storyline are definitely still the main focus.

Having said that, I was perhaps most compelled by the slow-drip of back-story for Hei/Li. That and the central mystery in terms of the gate disaster, especially since the setting and its implications really unified the episodic mysteries, in addition to fuelling that back-story.

It was also fun to see a structure of connected episodes that weren’t always finished in one 20-minute span. Not a whole lot felt rushed until maybe the ending of the series, though that’s perhaps debatable.

Now, it feels cruel to say that I have some fav episodes, since the others aren’t bad ones at all, but here they are anyway!

The Fallen Star of a Contract
The Scent of Gardenias Lingers in the Summer Rain

The White Dress, Stained with the Girl’s Dreams and Blood
A Heart Unswaying on the Water’s Surface
A Love Song Sung from a Trash Heap

I know I mentioned ‘melancholy characters’ earlier but the tone of the show is hardly morose. Elsewhere, for instance, Gai and his sidekick Kiko offered some lighter moments for contrast.

And while Amber perhaps ended up being a bit underdeveloped for me, I see why she had to remain at least somewhat mysterious. Hei was a great lead character – he was also quite the actor when it comes to faking shyness to fool those around him, and Yin has an interesting, slowly developing mini arc that was probably my fav aspect overall.

Classic stuff from Bones and folks behind shows such as Wolf’s Rain or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex among others, and including a distinctive Yoko Kanno OST.

Despite not enjoying the ending as much as rest of the series, I finished Darker Than Black without any desire to see the second season, which tells me that I obviously felt there was enough of a satisfying resolution to season one.

4 Stars

The Daughter of Twenty Faces (Nijū Mensō no Musume)

The Daughter of Twenty Faces (Nijū Mensō no Musume) 2008

This (loose?) adaptation of Edogawa Ranpo’s ‘Kogoro Akechi’ detective stories really becomes two different shows for me, with the first third being far superior. Not that the last half or ending is poor, but the focus becomes a bit muddled I reckon.

But is any of it outright ‘bad’? Not at all.

And I think if you like adventure stories and heists, then The Daughter of Twenty Faces should do the trick. (It also has plenty of daring escapes and fun action sequences from late 2000s-era Bones too.)

Thinking back, I remember that the first episode almost had me give up on the show – I won’t spoil why, but pay-off is worthwhile, I reckon.

In fact, the anime throws out a few twists and turns as you follow the clever Chizuko through the post-war Shōwa era on her quest to find the truth about the mysterious benefactor who operates as something of a surrogate father.

Twenty Faces and his crew, especially Ken, stand out as co-leads/supporting characters (and so does Tome, perfectly demonstrating heroism without brawn) and as much as I enjoyed the surprises and larger scope of the story, I’ll probably watch this again one day for the characters themselves.

[Spoilers below]

When it comes to a few things that stand out as disappointing, I will say that the decision to simply do away with almost the entire cast after about episode 6… well, I’m still of two minds about it.

Clearly, it works wonderfully to force Chiko to become more independent but it seemed also a way to place her into a generic school setting, to make sure certain manga arcs could be animated?

It really slashed into the tension and introduced tangents that weren’t as interesting to me as the main storyline.

My subtitles were a little hit-and-miss too, so I didn’t quite pick up on the full dialogue toward the final few episodes, but one day a re-issue might sort that out 😀

Despite my grumbling about those issues, I liked The Daughter of Twenty Faces due to the characters and the storytelling, and still find myself wondering how it was received ‘all the way’ back in 2008.

4 Stars

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Kaubōi Bibappu: Tengoku no Tobira)

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Kaubōi Bibappu: Tengoku no Tobira) 2001

Another powerhouse film from the dawn of Bones as a studio.

Back when I was reviewing the Escaflowne movie I was reading about Bones using certain scenes to showcase the animators and I wonder if that holds true with the Cowboy Bebop film?

The opening credits come to mind or the smash-up in the convenience store (“You take too long in the toilet!”) where things are very self-contained, serving as both a reintroduction to some of the cast, and as its own little mini story.

In any event, it all looks pretty ace and not just the fight scenes – but plenty of the scenery and montage moments too. The team themselves also look great with all that extra detail and narrower aspect ratio, which did take me a bit of time to adjust to, actually.

A note, this won’t be a detailed analysis, it’s just going to be me skipping through a few things I liked 😀

So, if you loved the series but for some reason have never seen the film, will you like it? Surely yes.

This time, the gang have to deal with a terrorist with the skills to actually bring about some serious destruction, choosing the chemical warfare path. Vincent is a pretty good villain, menacing and understandable if not someone I’d actually empathise with perhaps.

Of the new characters showcased in the film, Eletcra is easily my fav – fitting nicely into the ‘girls with guns’ mold, but great hand-to-hand skills are also on display with the that fantastic ‘Clutch’ fight against Spike.

The OST is another triumph of versatility from Yoko Kanno (even with the uncredited Sugababes cover), with What Planet is This?! and Time to Know being my favs, and of course, having Time to Know linked to Ed and Ein’s search is obviously perfect.

There are too many great scenes to highlight of course – and so beyond the two I’ve already mentioned above, I will also say the super-dramatic introduction to Vincent is great, especially with the depth of field tweaks.  

Speaking of Vincent, I’ve always wondered about his almost half-hearted attempted rape of Faye. Is it meant to illustrate his disconnect with reality or was it ‘just’ fan-service?

If it is supposed to show Vincent as dehumanised (which fits) I find it hard to believe he’d bother, he’s so apathetic – yet at the same time, desperately focused on a singular goal to the exclusion of everything else.

(Sometimes the film is described as a long episode of the show, and that feels right but not in a disparaging way, I hope. Cowboy Bebop’s episodic storytelling often had more content and stronger resolutions in 20-odd minutes that plenty of feature films).

But to return to the film now and also wrap things up – for me Cowboy Bebop The Movie lives up to the series, and exceeds it visually, and even though Jet is a little side-lined throughout, it’s still one of my fav anime films.

5 Stars

A-Z Challenge: “N” is for Noragami (2014)

Noragami

This is (another) show that I wanted to tick off my A-Z challenge list and so I’m glad I’ve made a bit more progress on the challenge there, but sadly, it seems that maybe Noragami is a show Bones has abandoned.

I guess the audience didn’t love it enough to buy the merch or other physical items, and obviously, the studio has to follow their cash cows in order to stay afloat in a crowded marketplace… but I left season two of Noragami ready for a third and it probably won’t happen, which bugs me.

Nevertheless, that’s the way it is.

And I should switch to the things I liked about those two seasons – while also attempting to complete a short review for a change 😀

Noragami mixes supernatural action with comedy and drama in an urban (but not grimy) setting that’s kinda shown via the rooftops and telephone wires as much as the shrines and streets, which I loved.

For me, the creatures and magic were always fun and I liked the designs for both them and the humanoid characters, but I think the characters themselves were my fav aspect.

The pacing and reveals (especially around Yato’s past) and storytelling did the work of keeping me hooked, and while I probably enjoyed the first season’s main storyline slightly better, I got a lot of satisfying answers in the second.

The contrast between Yato and Hiyori as leads works a treat for me but I think maybe I was drawn to the side-characters as much as those two – even the sullen Yukine, who is given a nice arc, and is actually a pivotal character that I could have really disliked, but I ended up pretty keen for him to succeed.

I haven’t said much in the way of specifics here perhaps… and so here’s one I wanted to mention: the hierarchy of Gods and the way they operate within the bounds of the human world was a big hook for me.

Hmmm, now that I’m just rolling off things I enjoyed, it might be time to wrap things up and just mention a few last aspects – Ebisu had an interesting close to his storyline, and while I would have loved more from Kofuku and Daikoku, I did get to know a reasonably large cast, which gave the show plenty of variety, I reckon.

If you like action, comedy and supernatural elements around Gods and related deities then this might just hit the spot.

4 Stars

[This is the latest entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].

Escaflowne (Esukafurōne)

Wow, talk about a shift in tone!

Escaflowne (Esukafurōne) 2000

I’d always considered the Escaflowne movie as only vaguely related to the series but now that I’ve re-watched both recently, it’s even more obvious that the movie is not meant to be considered a ‘re-telling’ at all.

The shift obviously plays out visually and via a new tone to both storyline and characters, but something I hadn’t known until checking out the special features, is that director Kazuki Akane very deliberately made those changes.

He mentions that a key audience for the series, ninth-grade girls, would have grown old enough to reach college or join the workforce and “hit various roadblocks and probably have a lot of worries”. Upon reflection, he felt that due to making a film for them, that “the story couldn’t help but become more serious and dark.”

This idea that, four years later, teens who loved The Vision of Escaflowne series might be struggling with disappointments in life really does play out on the screen, not just via Hitomi’s listless, depressed temperament, but the darker, angrier more viscous action that has all but replaced the romance and intrigue from the series.

At first I’d thought that this had been a shift toward the clichéd things sometimes aimed at teenage male audiences, but the comments from Akane really put the film in a new light for me.

The changes that obviously matter the most to fans are around character, and some I really love. It’s nice to see Millerna happy, and while Allen is now under-utilised, at least Merle is no longer tediously jealous. I’m in two minds about Van, whose bloodlust can be a bit overdone, whereas folks like Jajuka have less time onscreen… but he certainly has an interesting role still.

Biggest among the adjustments, and perhaps most divisive among viewers, is Hitomi, who changes from decisive and ultimately positive, to listless and depressed. She might even take on the damsel role a little here but I feel like it mostly worked in the context of the movie – she doesn’t get a lot of time to adjust to being thrust into a terrifying new world.

Many of the character designs were changed for the film too (still by Nobuteru Yūki*) and some of them I like a lot, or at least can appreciate re: how they suit the film’s darker mood. First among them could be Jajuka, but Allen is ‘tougher’ now (same with Van) and Folken has gone from a vaguely Bowie-ish hairstyle to full on Labrythin-era locks.

I won’t go over the plot now, but it’s a classic portal fantasy with ‘save the world’ stakes – instead, I’ll mention a few other things I really enjoyed. Of course, the music by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi is great once more, especially everyone’s favourite piece Sora. (Okay, maybe it’s not your favourite but the constructed language is haunting and the little homage to Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie is tops too).

Masahiko Minami and co had only just left Sunrise to form Bones when they did Escaflowne and the studio really pulls out all the stops here.

I’ve read that a few sequences were also doubling as showcases for animators and so if you liked the work of Yutaka Nakamura in things like Sword of the Stranger then the you’ll enjoy the action here – most of all perhaps that opening fight sequence. It’s a real high point, especially due to the non-conventional lighting and colour. [Spoilers in the next paragraph].

Now I’ll switch to a couple of criticisms.

In an echo of the television series, I didn’t feel that Folken’s motivation was shown all that well. However, probably my biggest issue with the storyline is probably his final encounter with the heroes. On one hand it satisfies due to a certain character striking the killing blow. Their motivation is strong, even with no more than single piece of foreshadowing.

But on the other it was surprising than neither Van nor Hitomi actually play a role in that ending. In a way, the climactic action scene is actually the mech fight between Van and the cool, calm and collected Dilandu.

Of course, the finale of a film doesn’t have to include a fight (action-genre or not) for me to enjoy things. But I’m sure the trade off disappointed some people with Folken’s last scene, as that moment of surprise comes at the cost of some emotional impact, I reckon.

In the end, this might appeal most to action and fantasy fans rather than romance viewers. Perhaps treat the Escaflowne film as something quite unlike the series, and let it stand ‘as is’ – a beautifully animated, dark action film that mixes fantasy and a little mecha with only slight touches of romance.

4 Stars

*Probably one of my favourite character designers, who has also worked on things like Kids on the Slope,The Weathering Continent, X, Record of Lodoss War, Battle Angel Alita and RPGs like Chrono Cross and Seiken Densetsu 3.

(I had to share the horse laughing, even though my screencap is obviously a little ‘off’ here :D)

RahXephon

[Spoilers abound!]

RahXephon (2002)

Today I’m starting with a thank you to In Search of Number Nine because I think that without these great posts, I would not have been introduced to a classic mecha show that I’d somehow missed over the years 🙂

As fans of RahXephon certainly already know, narrowing the series down to just a couple of genres, say ‘mecha’ or ‘science fiction’, clouds the fact that the anime is one of those killer shows with variety – and it’s happy to slow down and explore its characters through romance, intrigue and betrayals.

Now, I know I was already pre-disposed to enjoy RahXephon because I like Chiaki J. Konaka’s writing a lot, but also because this series has a mystical/ethereal feel, and I think those elements are pretty interesting to see in mecha. I was quite transfixed by hints of mysteries not explained in the narrative too.

One of the other aspects I really enjoyed was the tension-building throughout – which, unsurprisingly, is linked to the characters, many of whom have motivations that are kept from the viewer for many episodes.

Thinking about the series now, months after I finished that first time, I realise that as much as the action sequences do stand out in my memory (for their otherworldly nature especially) they’re mostly memorable due to how connected they are to the characters who go through them.

Here, I guess I’m thinking mainly about Hiroko’s death or maybe Elvy’s dogfights or even when Haruka is trying to defend and impress Ayato in those opening episodes, because especially upon second viewing, these moments with her strike me as quite sad. It feels like everything she tries in order to recapture the past just falls so flat.

RahXephon can feel down-beat – but there are moments of levity and action and mystery to go with it; and also some great detail to the Mu and the connected world-building. It’s exactly the kind of series that I reckon you’d enjoy even more upon a second viewing.

As I sometimes do, I want to quickly jump to some random dot points:

  • In a great cast, I found Ayato’s mother to stand out – especially when she was speaking the Mu language, as it’s this really disconcerting mix of unnerving and soothing.
  • The Futagami reveal was cool; I should have known he’d be a ‘higher-up’ 😀
  • I’d have loved a bit more time spent expanding upon the villains, as their role in the ending wasn’t quite as impactful, perhaps. On the other hand, it really allowed some of the main cast to take on highly antagonistic roles too.
  • Maybe all of Quon’s dialogue doesn’t land for me… but it’s still an important part of the show’s tone.
  • The design of the RahXephon is one of my favourite mecha designs out there, and the dolems are striking too. Related, I thought the use of song/voice added to the eerie nature so well – those first couple of episodes, where the viewer is just cast into conflict with little idea of who is who, one of my anchors was just how different it all was.
  • Loved Ayato’s 1970s-style outfit in the abandoned department store.
  • The ending theme perfectly evokes the feel of the show and it was always interesting to hear the variations.
  • Useless trivia: My DVD set has really nice illustrations (likely by Akihiro Yamada) on each disc, ones that I think were taken from earlier single-disc releases or maybe posters? But sadly, because my copy is an ‘ex-rental’, glue from the stickers that the store had used on the discs was jamming up my player. I had to use the ‘orange’ cleaner that folks in the retail industry might recall – it’s strong but not insanely so, and deals with sticker residue really well… when used on plastic surfaces, that is. When used on printed discs, it can erode some of the image itself, so a few of my discs now have what look like ‘scrape marks’ 😦

In terms of the production context, obviously Bones was a fairly new studio around 2001 – but having evolved from Sunrise, they had plenty of expertise to draw upon.

RahXephon was maybe their third TV series and they’d had a few films out already, one of which was the Cowboy Bebop movie, so it certainly feels like things were going well. The anime is also the only one (so far) to be directed by Yutaka Izubuchi, who was well-known as a designer. I really wish he’d direct again/be given the chance to direct again – but I’m glad they gave him the chair in those early years.

Back then, Bones had two teams, but I don’t know if any of the current five teams have made anything quite like RahXephon? But that could well be my ignorance at play – and in fact, if anyone knows of something approximately similar from Bones, I’d love to hear about it! [I’ll quickly add that maybe Un-Go and probably more so Xam’d are vaguely close].

It’s now been 18 years since RahXephon was released, and 25 since Neon Genesis changed so much about the genre, and I know the two shows are often compared. There are obviously aspects that are similar in tone and character but I never felt like I was watching a cut-rate clone. And in my reading for this review, I found that other folks mention Megazone 23 and Brave Raideen (1975) as being closer.

(And Yutaka Izubuchi feels the same about Brave Raideen, about wanting to bring a different sense back to the landscape of giant robots.) So naturally, I’m now curious to see a few episodes but that’s a long-term project. My knowledge of 1970s-era anime is pretty much limited to Lupin, Space Battleship Yamato and a handful of films.

Anyway, getting back to RahXephon I’ll try to finish this one with a recommendation. I think, if you’ve seen other works penned by Chiaki J. Konaka then you’ll enjoy this for sure. If you like post-EVA mecha stories with a bit of angst, then yep. Also maybe, if you’re the kind of fan that follows studios, and maybe have a soft spot for ‘early Bones’ productions, then take a look at RahXephon.

And finally, if you’re the kind of viewer who likes to be left with a few questions at the end of a series, then definitely watch this one – not sure who is streaming it at the moment, but it’s still around I’m sure!

5 Stars

Gallery time! I took around 300 screencaps and of course, have had trouble deciding which pics to highlight. Here’s some with the occasional thought here and there in the captions:

We see two shots with a lot of space between characters fairly often, from memory – and it certainly suits all the secrets it seems everyone is holding.
I like the ‘beehive’ kinda look to the edges of Ayato’s vision when he’s piloting.
There’s another shot of Quon which has me half-convinced that they gave her the umbrella (in part) because it would add to a distinctive silhouette.

And finally – the costume I mentioned earlier, which I liked well-enough for a temporary outfit, but Haruka did not:

Un-Go (2011)

Un-Go (2011)

This series was fascinating.

It’s hard for me to accurately describe why I found it so – probably because of the contradictions within.

On one hand Un-Go feels like an uneven detective series and on the other it feels like an uneven philosophical text… and on the other hand it’s aesthetically pleasing, even stylish at times. On the fourth hand that I apparently have, it’s one of those shows that appears not quite able to add up to more than the sum of its influences, yet manages to become compelling.

Now, maybe I’m in a bit of a minority here with Un-Go but by the end I was ready for more cases and more of the interplay between detective Shinjuurou and his ‘boss’ Inga. The series is short (eleven episodes), with one double-episode length OVA as a prequel. I’d like to come back to that OVA actually, but for now I’ll mention that there is an overarching story that I preferred to some of the episodic parts.

While some cases felt rushed into single episodes, once Un-Go passed beyond that establishing phase the multi-part mysteries let the storytelling breathe a little, especially the final half dozen. In addition to what I consider an uneven start I feel like the pacing encourages the viewer to gloss over some plot holes or uneven character beats but the mysteries of the setting, the cases themselves and most of all, the exact nature of the contract between Shinjuuro and Inga were the main draws for me.

Secrets upon secrets

Un-Go is pretty good at drip-feeding it’s secrets too, and that’s another aspect that kept me watching – as did the oddness of Inga, who is basically a mix between Ed from Cowboy Bebop and Harley Quinn but it kinda worked. The anime takes on some big topics (albeit too briefly) around autonomy, privacy, war and finding purpose, and is far more adult in nature than say, Full Metal Alchemist. How’s that for a segue? I mention FMA because Un-Go is helmed by Seiji Mizushima and features Shō Aikawa in the writing chair.

However, I hope I haven’t misled anyone into thinking I believe FMA shies away from difficult themes, but its tone is a fairly different to Un-Go. And related to the question of tone – if you’ve seen this series and notice a reasonably pessimistic streak running throughout, then it might come from what is (to some extent) the source material.

Ango Sakaguchi was a post-war writer who seems to have been understandably struck by strong disillusionment, and one of his works Meiji Kaika Ango Torimono-chō, is the base for Un-Go’s lead, Shinjuuro who can appear to have lost hope at times. (But I think that’s about all that’s used from the source, since among other differences, the novel is set in the Meiji era and the anime is futuristic/alternate Japan.)

The show often gives little name flashes as reminders when we first see a character in an episode.

Finally now, I’m returning to the prequel I mentioned earlier.

The prequel is the most compelling of all the episodes in the series and perhaps even has slightly higher production values too, if that sorta thing matters to you. It also adds a bit of clarity to some of the Buddhist hints throughout.

But more important for me, was that Inga Chapter offered a lot of answers. Earlier I mentioned how I thought the show did a great job of maintaining my curiosity and it was pretty high by the time I saw the prequel. However, there’s a bit of debate out there as to when you should watch it – either before you begin the series or after episode eleven. On my DVD the OVA is on the final disc and so that’s how I saw it, and I liked that approach because it was enjoyable to finally get some back story for the lead characters and solve a few mysteries that had been hinted at since that tiny glimpse at the beginning of episode one.

(As a quick aside, the air date of the prequel was actually during the series itself, which is interesting.)

It’s clearly too late for me to watch Un-Go any other way ‘for the first time’ now, but if you’ve decided to hunt this show down then I guess consider what kind of viewer you reckon you are.

If you don’t mind having secrets held back for a long time, so as to build anticipation, then watch the prequel last.

If you suspect you might be a bit annoyed by a series that takes its time to return to the main concern, or if you like being one step ahead of the main characters and catching all the little hints they sometimes miss, then maybe watch the prequel first.  

Okay, another ridiculously long review! Next time, I’ll aim for a shorter write up 😀

3.5 Stars  

Sword of the Stranger (Sutorenjia Mukōhadan, Stranger Mukōhadan)

Sword of the Stranger (Sutorenjia Mukōhadan, Stranger Mukōhadan) 2007

As I’ve probably made clear here on the blog before, I’m most likely going to automatically warm to a series or film if it’s set in a historical period. That does blunt my capacity for critical review of course, but I hope I can still at least outline what I enjoyed about Sword of the Stranger without presuming to claim that it is the best thing ever.

Even though it is quite good 😀

So, Sword of the Stranger has Feudal Japan as its setting and all the fighting and costuming that goes with it, so I was already happy upon learning that for one.

It also features a wandering Ronin/quiet hero protecting others, beautiful scenery and a little bit of mysticism too AND Unshō Ishizuka in a supporting role, so once again, the film ticks a lot of boxes for me.

There’s a plenty of action in the film but enough in the way of breaks for character introspection or to build up tension and intrigue again, especially in regard to the servants of the Ming Dynasty who find themselves searching Japan for our hero’s charge, the plucky Kotaro.

No-name (the wandering Ronin) has a typically troubled past and the themes around obedience and honour from that past do spill into the main storyline at times, but I didn’t find the film heavy-handed in that respect.

To some extent, the fantastic sword fights and action sequences are probably the stars before the storyline itself, though that aspect of the film didn’t feel deficient to me.

And while there are only few characters that act with honour in the film, this fact really sells the desperation of the time period, I reckon.

Even the large cast of villains are memorable, along with a lot of the scenery and settings that they battle throughout. Despite a really big finish too, I actually found the duel used to introduce No-Name’s skills to be my favourite – hopefully I can find a clip to paste at the bottom of the review.

Part of what I think I enjoyed so much was that here, Bones worked once more on an original story – and by ‘original’ I mean that the story isn’t an adaptation of an existing manga, as opposed to a samurai film that is completely groundbreaking.

Now, I know that a studio will want to mitigate risk by going with trusted works, but sometimes I find myself craving more totally new stuff as a viewer.

That’s probably a bit of a side note though, so I’ll instead finish by saying that I really enjoyed Sword of the Stranger and have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of the genre.

4 Stars  

Jyu-Oh-Sei (Jū Ō Sei)

I felt like I noticed where the storyline to Jyu-Oh-Sei/Planet of the Beast King had been compressed for the purpose of adaptation, which is a real shame because it missed out on being ‘great’ instead of ‘good’ for me, due to that.

Jyu-Oh-Sei (Jū Ō Sei) 2006

Now, I know I’ve said this before (so it’s doubtless getting a little boring!) but if this had been expanded, maybe to a 20-something-episode series, I think it would have been pretty compelling.

Despite this, I didn’t give up on the show because there’s definitely still enjoyable things – there’s a futuristic/primitive new world with an interesting society (one that has been forced into its current shape due to the harsh realities of the planet), there’s a range of nice action sequences too.

Jyu-Oh-Sei features characters with both noble and unclear motives to keep you guessing, along with enough twists and meaningful character development that you’ll probably end up caring about at least some of the heroes.

(Actually, in both design and charactarisation, this reminded me a touch of Guin Saga at times, though this series is from Bones and Guin was completed by Statelight.)

However, in regards to the main character Thor… too many of the most vital and plot/life-changing decisions he makes are just thrust upon him with no or little lead-up or even foreshadowing.

Due to this, such events and actions come across as quite clumsy onscreen – I’m sure the long-running manga didn’t have that problem since it benefited from the luxury of time. One of the early decisions really gave Thor a psychotic edge which I don’t believe was the intention – it was meant to be something he struggled with.

And without spoiling some of the big reveals at the end, I see where you might argue why his actions actually made clear sense… but during the opening stages of a series, show the character struggle so we can empathise, rather than glossing over the tough moments.

Just a final note, the series has a shoujo target audience and maybe that feeds into things like character designs but I don’t think Jyu-Oh-Sei precludes any one audience at all (except the quite young of course).

It’s very much a mix of sci-fi, action and drama, so if that’s what you like then maybe try Jyu-Oh-Sei.

3 Stars

Xam’d: Lost Memories (Bōnen no Zamudo)

Xam’d: Lost Memories (Bōnen no Zamudo) 2008

This series from Bones & Sony seems to have had a pretty big budget – possibly in part because it was launched as part of the Playstation Network’s video downloading arm.

And so, no doubt everyone involved really wanted it to succeed – and while Xam’d felt visually impressive and is definitely a really distinctive show complete with compelling characters, it doesn’t feel like it’ll ever become a ‘classic.’

Doesn’t mean I though Xam’d was bad either, but some of the elements have never really come together for me.

Mainly, I feel like the main antagonist/destructive force was not foreshadowed (or even introduced) early enough and afterwards, I was left with little knowledge or kinda even little interest in the creature. The human villains were more interesting, as were there heroes – but a touch more on that below.

The other aspect that felt underdeveloped was the grounding of most exciting events that take place in the story; there’s war and religious conflict chugging along in the background but with little to contextualise it in place or the history of the world, even (for the most part) when the main cast brushes up again/is pulled into those struggles.

Aside from that I enjoyed the variety of the cast, the setting and the magic – along with the oft-times disturbing ‘humanforms,’ creatures which all benefit from imaginative and bold designs.

Probably above and beyond that, there were a lot of intersecting character storylines that kept me going – main character Akiyuki’s personal struggle with being thrust into a role he didn’t seek of course, but the story between his parents or the shifting loyalties amongst his friends, and the mysterious past of Ishuu and her ship’s crew (she’s a somewhat acerbic character whose role hovers between ‘postal delivery captain’ and ‘smuggler’).

Worth watching if you’re happy to let yourself be swept up in the visuals and the characters I reckon, but not a series where you’ll be stunned by big reveals or a thrilling plot, because despite the complexities of the storylines, there’s just something missing for me when it comes to tying everything together.

3 Stars