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

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.)

Brave 10

Brave 10 (2012)

Brave 10* was definitely fun but maybe not super-memorable.

Or at least, it never got a chance to become too memorable for me – since as with a lot of anime series that are only 12 or so episodes long, there’s just not enough time to tell those stories with a more epic scope.

And Brave 10 was leading up to some bigger conflicts for sure but it only had time to present an opening salvo.

Still, the season is not given an awful cliff-hanger ending, so if you want a short, supernatural ninja series with a lot of action, some angst and a conclusion, then Studio Sakimakura/TMS Entertainment definitely deliver.

I know I haven’t actually said much about the story or characters but to be brief – in Brave 10 a wandering ninja ends up protecting a shrine maiden who is more than she seems and in time there’s a shift toward the ‘drawing the team together’ plot, in order to prepare for a big struggle that sort of occurs.

And while Saizō wasn’t as interesting as some of the other characters, I liked Yukimura a lot and I know his role would have expanded in future seasons, so that’s a shame. (On the note of characters I can’t figure the motive behind the story playing coy with Kamanosuke – for laughs or to kinda rebel against social labels?)

To switch from my regrets to a positive, I do like costume dramas (and other historical elements) and in Brave 10 certainly Isanami and Yukimura (among others) get to show off their threads. Overall, I shouldn’t complain precisely, as I certainly finished the anime and would have watched more to hopefully see Yukimura’s plans come together.

3 Stars

*Drawing from the ‘Sanada Ten Braves’.

Le Chevalier D’Eon (2006)

Le Chevalier D’Eon

The first episode of Le Chevalier D’Eon offered everything I wanted – swords, magic, twists and turns, intrigue too, and all of it taking place in historical European settings!

In fact, I remember after seeing the opening being pretty thrilled, feeling sure that I’d found a show that I knew I would love. And I would definitely put the first episode (D’Eon∴ Lia) up against most of the first episodes of my other favs for sure.

And in the end, I did love the series but I hit a wall in the middle.

I think I know why – it’s the pacing.

Now, I mentioned pacing here in one of my previous ‘Abandoned’ posts – there was a point where I felt a slight drag on the forward momentum, because I knew that our four leads were going to visit a new town, catch up on local politics, help out, and then collect a few scraps of info on the main quest.

At one point, that pattern repeated itself for enough episodes to deter me, and it took a while to come back to the series, even though at the mid-way point I should have been totally unable to set Le Chevalier D’Eon to one side.

And what’s interesting to me is that I love episodic storytelling but this time around it felt like mini-arcs with not enough of the main plot woven throughout to satisfy my curiosity.

On the other hand, I certainly finished Le Chevalier D’Eon because there was so much I want to know by the end. In addition, the characters, settings and magical elements are all great – along with the swashbuckling too, of course.

But it’s not really an adventure show (despite escapes, conspiracies, monsters and swordplay etc) because as I’ve mentioned before, intrigue and politics feature heavily here. There’s even a touch of romance, but the magic (Poets and Psalms used to destroy and manipulate) are probably the main focus, along with a slew of changing loyalties.

The price of loyalty too, is a huge theme in Le Chevalier D’Eon and one that I enjoyed plenty.

I think another stand-out aspect is the range of (loose) historical elements; not just things like the various royals that our leads meet (or figures like Comte de Saint Germain and Maximilien Robespierre), but aspects that had me reading up on the real-life D’eon. In fact, it seems a shame that the existence of Lia in the anime clouds important details about D’eon.

Finally, I guess I should say, be warned, by the end there is very little left for the surviving leads to celebrate – perhaps unsurprising considering the setting.

Still, the anime was compelling for me, even when its storytelling sometimes became a little opaque or even if, as I see it, giving D’eon room to process truths about his sister is somewhat swept aside by the scope of other events.

4 Stars

(This series is sometimes compared to Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, released a bit earlier, since both are somewhat similar in themes and settings).

Kai Doh Maru (Kaidōmaru)

Kai Doh Maru (Kaidōmaru) 2001

I got the sense that Kai Doh Maru (and its focus on incorporating CGI into the storytelling) was somewhat connected to the same Production IG approach and era that included Blood: The Last Vampire.

The visual style of Kai Doh Maru is striking in a different way however, thanks to the washed out or water-colour look, an aesthetic the team use to evoke a historical feel. And it is distinctive, but watching it now… the early 2000s CGI is quite dated, at times reminding me of old architectural software, due to that flatness.

On the other hand, direction of the sharp action sequences feels great – and when colour appears it really stands out. I also liked both character design and the soundtrack but overall this isn’t one of my favourite OVAs.

The main issue I had was with the pacing and plot. Since Kai Doh Maru is around 40 minutes long, and takes on a pretty large story, there are a lot of gaps in what occurs onscreen. If I knew the Heian period and stories around the Shitennō well, maybe I’d have followed better – especially in regard to what I’d consider an abrupt ending. (And so maybe that’s not a fault of the storytelling truly, but a deficiency in my knowledge.)

Further, I surely missed many subtleties throughout due to that. I did pick up on the heavily restrained romance between Lord Raiko and our heroine of course – but having said that, the focus is on war, politics and historical details. There’s also a supernatural element too, but I won’t spoil how it’s used.

I certainly don’t see Kai Doh Maru mentioned much, even among older fans, but it’s memorable even if I don’t precisely think I enjoyed it from top to bottom.

2.5 Stars

Dororo (2019)

There are a few gaps when it comes to my knowledge of Osamu Tezuka’s works beyond Astro Boy, which is something I’ve been wanting to fix for a long while.

Being well-aware of his other stories but only having having seen a few or just bits and pieces over the years has been kind of frustrating, especially when it comes to finding a copy of Phoenix 2772 🙂

However, when I started Dororo I didn’t realise that the anime was the second adaptation of Tezuka’s manga, so that was a fun surprise! And even through the grimmer, more splatter-filled 2019 series probably doesn’t look like it on the surface, I think there are both character design and story-telling aspects that reveal the source material.

Dororo is a classic underdog story, with both Dororo and Hyakkimaru up against a harsh, unforgiving world – and that’s just the humans. The demons are bad news too, but the duo prove to be a match for the things they face. And while what they face can be, at times, a monster of the week, Hyakkimaru’s quest to restore himself provides a narrative link looking forward, while Dororo’s past offers a similar thread of consistency.

Perhaps the injustice Hyakkimaru must face, and one that certainly had me onside with him right away, was the nature of his birth. After all, not only does his father sacrifice his organs and senses, almost his entire body, in exchange for prosperity, but nearly everyone around Hyakkimaru chooses to overlook the father’s cowardice, instead turning their blame on a more convenient target.

Part of why I watched 4 or 5 episodes each night (more than I’d planned :D) was that injustice, but knowing Osamu Tezuka’s storytelling, there’s no simple answer. There is a cost to Hyakkimaru’s restoration, so Dororo has more than one good moral dilemma.

Reading up on the reception, I see that one criticism aimed at this modern adaptation is that compared to the manga, ronin Hyakkimaru has so little dialogue that it is harder to connect with him as a character. I half agree. On one hand, it meant that the ending had a little extra impact, on the other, it meant that I missed out on hints of how he was dealing with everything.

To compensate, we learn a lot about Dororo throughout – so I was happy with the trade off, myself. In terms of the ‘modern’ violence, I did take a quick look at the manga in an attempt to compare and maybe it’s partially colour, movement and sound that makes the show feel more violent?

But getting back to the anime, I wanted to quickly share a few favourite aspects – one being the pre-Jaws moments but I also really enjoyed what felt like a nod to the ‘hidden Ainu treasure’ trope, along with Izume or Jukai as characters. ‘The Story of the Jorogumo Silk Spider’ was another favourite; it had a few twists and a non-typical ending perhaps.

I suppose that in some moments, the character design might bring to mind that late 1960s look, especially with Mio and the golden horse to give two examples, and I wondered whether they ‘fit’ the grimmer aesthetic of things elsewhere, but I can’t really complain since I liked it all.

Oh, and when folks joke about Hyakkimaru being the original ‘demon slayer’ there will be aspects that appeal to fans of both shows, at minimum the historical setting and the slicing up of monsters, however the two are obviously different in a lot of ways.

Really enjoyed Dororo and I’m keen to find the first anime one day too.

4 Stars

Review count: 151 (Dororo was the ‘runner up’ in the little vote I had for the 150th review)

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

Jin-Roh (Jinrō)

Jin-Roh (Jinrō) 1999

Jin-Roh is another film that ticks a lot of boxes for me, but if you’re unsure about watching this lesser-known classic, keep in mind that I have my biases and I probably enjoyed this more than folks who maybe consider themselves ‘general’ action fans.

I say that because one of the things that I’m predisposed toward enjoying is an alternate history story and that’s definitely one way to describe Jin-Roh. And based on the pacing alone, perhaps don’t go in expecting a blockbuster-action movie.

Jin-Roh is a little more measured and could be described as character-focused, without being ‘slow’ either, I reckon.

Set in a troubled postwar Japan, with the 1950s rioting as part of the backdrop, there’s a lot of what I think is period-appropriate detail to the setting, contrasted with the almost futuristic armour worn by the Kerberos Panzer Cops. Our hero is Corporal Fuse, a member of the elite anti-terrorist force trained in the use of such heavy-duty armour. His story begins when he fails to shoot a young terrorist beneath the city.

And since the film uses a few thriller conventions, where everyone around Fuse is suspect, I won’t go into much more plot detail than that, and instead switch back to some of the production stuff that I tend to enjoy. Jin-Roh is based on a Mamoru Oshii work and was released post-Ghost in the Shell and so it feels like, to some extent, the team at Production I.G were still riding high and had a good budget too. The film definitely plays out that way, with high quality art and animation and a focus on character as much, or even more so than the action.

I’ll quickly note that action scenes aren’t absent either – and it can be quite ferocious, considering the Kerberos’ preference for those serious machine guns, but there’s time for Fuse to reflect and think about who he can trust too.

There’s even a lot that’s poetic about the film, from the faint ‘glow’ to some scenes, to the fatalistic attitudes of a lot of characters, or the way the Little Red Riding Hood nursery rhyme is used. In fact, in my obsession with seeking intertextual elements, I wonder if one of Fuse’s dream sequences doesn’t include a nod to a film I’ve mentioned before Don’t Look Now with the gate (and the girls themselves)?

But I’d better switch back to the visuals for one more point before I finish up, because I want to mention both the muted colour palette and how well that fits the setting, and also draw attention to the character design. If you’ve been exposed mostly to modern anime you might not be used to the realism common to various Hiroyuki Okiura designs, but I really enjoyed the variety from the director.

Finally, I want to mention the brooding soundtrack from Hajime Mizoguchi, which is another element that really sells the sombre mood of the film. In fact, it can be almost bleak and our lead is a little morose but I think, if you finish Jin-Roh you’ll see why. He is at least a little torn between his desires but it’s a very much internal struggle that is rarely played out upon his face.

So, to quickly sum up I believe this is a bit of a ‘must’ for fans of Mamoru Oshii but if you’re also interested in alternate history or a bit of subterfuge with your action then you might well enjoy this at times sombre movie.

4 Stars

(The colour of red itself runs through the whole film, with varying degrees of subtlety, but always feels effective to me)

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo 2004

It must be daunting to take on such a classic – often adapted and widely revered, the Alexander Dumas novel is perhaps the ultimate story of betrayal and revenge.

(How’s that for a quick introduction for a change?)

So, if you’re familiar with the specifics of the novel then you’re up to speed with the plot in the anime… for the most part.

There’s a few significant changes overall – for one, Gonzo set this version well into the future with space travel and war-suits, though aesthetically it remains very lavishly European in terms of costuming and character. Teens take centre stage here too, which is perfect in terms of keeping the viewer one step ahead of the main character but still one step behind the antagonist/hero. Elsewhere there are hints of vampirism and alien or demonic forces at play, but with or without any of those things The Count of Monte Cristo is still a gripping drama that will feel a lot like the original story.

Most people discuss the visuals of this series and it’s clear why – they are astounding as well as, at times, utterly exhausting. It’s such a forceful and impressive blend of Gustav Klimt, typical anime aesthetics and Ukiyo-e that you’ll be both dazzled and confused at times, I reckon. For me, I couldn’t look away but the first few episodes were truly difficult adjustment periods. (Here, I tried not to share too much but also failed to capture what it’s really like – especially when all those clothing patterns move :D).

Beyond the art there’s a lot of angst and bitterness, but also perhaps a lot of nobility. At times it’s easy to get frustrated with young Albert’s naivety but he’s not the only character with something at stake here, so you’ll get to know other folks. For instance, I think most people would accept that Franz is just as important as Albert and the Count, along with the romances. In a way, it’s a large cast and you do get a bit of time with everyone.

While it’s mostly a story about the way Albert is manipulated into a role within the Count’s long revenge, the other plots are woven through the story neatly and toward the end, in impactful ways. [Spoiler here] In fact, for me the duel between ‘Albert’ and the Count is actually the high point in terms of drama, probably because you’re meant to be well-aware of what’s really happening. After that, the ending didn’t quite pack the same punch – and related, I would have loved something different or possibly more visceral for some of the revenges Edmund took.

I know there’s some discussion out there re: the ending of the anime vs the novel and each viewer will have their preferred approach but I wasn’t aghast by it or anything. Throughout, Gankutsuou will push you toward sympathising with the antagonist – and again, I’m reserving the word ‘villain’ for other characters here in some ways, but it takes a while before you’re given much of the Count’s back-story for context around his actions. From a storytelling point of view I think that makes a lot of sense, considering how well-known the source material is.

I know earlier I mentioned a large cast and I’ve touched upon a few of the bad seeds but there are bright moments (such and the purity of Valentine and Maximilien) but switching back to a more morally grey character, there’s one of my favs: Peppo who has an important role even if the screen time might not suggest it, precisely.

In terms of audience, note that themes of revenge, betrayal, incest and abuse are front and centre, and so despite the pretty exterior the series does a great job of revealing the depths of human villainy and weakness. In fact, when the visuals lean into the gaudiness I think it becomes at least partially a comment on the excesses of the nobility; that glittering veneer of honour that is so easily tarnished.

5 Stars

The CGI could be out of place but it often seems to fit the plastic/superficial world of the nobles in some ways.
I remember getting some Baz Luhrmann ‘Romeo + Juliet’ vibes from this scene.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) 2017

Action-packed and grisly at times (perhaps gratuitously so, and I understand that descriptor won’t match everyone’s opinion of course) this series is pretty fast-paced, building quickly to a finish that maybe could have been ‘bigger’ but was by no means a let-down, either.

In a way, the tagline writes itself and I can’t remember whether I’ve seen it used officially – but basically, if you can imagine zombies on a train then you’ve got it to some extent.

Obviously there’s a more to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress than that, but not as much as I’d like in terms of world-building and any wider context appearing in the story. To a small extent the film that followed mitigates that feeling but overall, I think this could have easily been 24 episodes with a lot more exploration of how the world came to be the dystopia it is shown to be in the series.

The settings usually had lots of detail.

Still, I’m always willing to give a chance to a story that isn’t an adaptation and knowing that Wit Studio would produce something that (at a minimum) looked impressive led me to give the show a shot after stumbling across the film on Netflix last year.

Okay, time to jump in to some dot points:

  • Yukina and also Kurusu were underused in the story, I reckon.
  • The villain was the ‘handsome evil’ type and he really was a piece of work – clearly pretty much everything about him was a lie used to manipulate others, some good characterisation there.
  • I enjoyed the conflicting idea of being trapped – but trapped in moving thing, so whenever a train was attacked by the kabane, there was a sense that flight was both happening but also kinda useless. Having said that, maybe too many zombies were ‘shamblers’ so not always very threatening.
  • I didn’t buy the viewer resentment toward Ikoma I think I remember reading. If you’ve seen this series you’ll know he’s a classic underdog so I was on board with him pretty quickly. Most of all, he was almost always right about pretty much everything, and had to suffer fools almost constantly.

On a related note, one great thing about being so far behind everyone else with new shows, is that I often miss both the hype and the naysayers. It seems that at least to some extent, Attack on Titan fanatics piled on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a bit, considering it too similar or just a money-grab, somehow?

For me, the two shows are plenty different even with some clear similarities, and I think I’ve argued before a little on the important role of the cash-cow – without said cow, the more ‘risky’ or original shows just don’t get made. (And here I mean ‘original’ as compared to a show that is an adaptation of an existing manga etc).

Yep, he’s a villain.

Overall, I enjoyed Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress without being over the moon. If you’re a horror or dark fantasy fan (even a steampunk fan perhaps) you’ll probably find at least something to enjoy here, beyond the beautifully coloured art.

3.5 Stars

Hero shot 😀

At times, the show paused for what seem almost like glamour-shots, switching to a little extra detail while also adding an almost soft focus, as if they were setting up future stills for trading cards or other merch? There’s more than I’ve noted here of course, but I tried to snap a couple. (First is a better example).


The storyline is continued in a follow-up film that I actually abandoned last year, at the time knowing that I should probably watch the series first.

I definitely enjoyed the movie; it continued the main themes and struggles, advancing some character development too. I do wonder whether the relationship hindrances thrown up between Ikoma and Mumei were always natural?

Still, if you enjoyed the series you’ll like the film, I reckon.