Abandoned #3 (The Rising of the Shield Hero, Inuyasha & Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: Battle of Unato)

  1. The Rising of the Shield Hero (2019)

Portal fantasy is a classic genre and can be perfect for a writer to deliver exposition – naturally, the visiting character needs most things explained and at the same time, the viewer gets the info.

That’s why I like such shows in a way, because they’re up front about what I need to know and the pacing of a story tends to be fast(er) as a result of that, but despite all the good, tension-building angst at the beginning, I didn’t finish episode one here.

I think I’m just not precisely in the mood for this one, so I can see myself coming back to it.

2. Inuyasha (2000)

Sensing a theme? 😀

I got a few episodes in and was enjoying Inuyasha, which is definitely a classic, but despite me liking the characters and the world-building, I felt kinda crushed by the weight of the rest of the series.

It’s not the longest out there of course, but with nearly 300 episodes I just knew I’d never make it. Maybe one day I’ll go up to a certain arc’s resolution but for now, I’m glad I’ve actually seen at least a few episodes of this one.

3. Kabaneri of the Iron Rortress: Battle of Unato (2019)

This one is probably my mistake rather than any particular deficiency that I noticed – slick animation, vivid colours, some compelling tension and an interesting world that I’m curious about – but I’m half-way through the film and well aware that I’ve missed enough from the series that the character interactions should be carrying more weight.

So yeah, that’s my mistake – I started the film on a whim, knowing I shouldn’t watch it before the series, but I was drawn in enough even without the wider context of the show.

Will finish after I’ve seen the series.

Castlevania (TV Series)

Castlevania (2017 -)

Castlevania as an animated TV series was a long time coming.

The first four episodes were released back in 2017 after around ten years of development ups and downs, with the next batch following late last year – leaving most viewers pretty keen for the third season, it seems.

And I’m one of them for sure; in part it’s due to the art style, in part the storytelling and probably the ace performances of the voice actors too. Generally, I have limited knowledge of which dubs are super-high quality for most anime or animated works (obviously I know that Cowboy Bebop’s is top-notch and many Ghibli ones are great too) so it was nice to hear a range of accents in Castlevania.

Maybe it’s ‘impossible’ to write spoilers about the storylines for fans of the franchise, since they are close to the games, but there’s a lot of familiar character conflict and bitterness mixed in with the gore and fantastic fight sequences as Belmont, Sypha and (in time) Alucard set out to destroy old Vlad Dracula Tepes.

While some of the gore was kinda casually employed (rather than being used to have an impact on the main cast) and the cursing worked perfectly 50% of the time and seemed like posturing the other half of the time, I still think the series is otherwise fairly close to an ‘instant classic’ – at least, the first two seasons are. The initial four episodes have perfect pacing and while the second season wallows a bit in Dracula’s court, the finish is big enough to compensate for me. And all the action throughout is satisfying I reckon, from a visceral and technical standpoint, especially the Belmont/Cyclops and Belmont/Alucard battles. I’d link to the whole thing here but it’s probably going to have more impact after watching the lead-up.

Perhaps above and beyond those aspects are the character design and voice acting.

The look and feel of the characters clearly (and wonderfully) go for a Symphony of the Night / Ayami Kojima feel, with the regal/Elvish vampire approached used to full effect. The creature designs are good too and the settings are suitably grim, and the somewhat dimension-twisting architecture of Dracula’s castle really stood out in the second season especially.

Finally and quickly to the voice acting – I thought Graham McTavish really nailed the power and menace of Dracula, but also humanised him so well. Somehow now, I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice when I think of Dracula. Richard Armitage really killed it as Trevor too, and while everyone else sounded great to my ear, I wanted to also mention someone I didn’t recognise at first, Peter Stormare in season two as Godbrand.

I’m fairly confident in saying fans of the Castlevania franchise will enjoy this adaptation, so too horror/supernatural fans, though perhaps not so much folks who might consider themselves general anime fans – though the Amercian and Korean studios who produced the animation certainly nailed the anime aesthetic.

4 Stars

Memories 1995

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Memories (1995)

Katsuhiro Otomo had been involved with two other anthologies (and one afterwards) prior to Memories, and while I’m still hunting down Neo Tokyo, I’m pretty confident in saying that Memories will remain my favourite.

And maybe there’s a certain amount of nostalgia in that – some of the stuff we see as teenagers seems to cling to us for decades after, right? Well, this is one of those titles but I think most anime fans would enjoy at least two out of the three shorts in this anthology regardless of the production context or their age.

Actually – let me re-phrase, if you like science-fiction and a bit of light horror, maybe some dark comedy or allegory, then Memories has you covered.

The anthology is made up of three pieces – all based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s short manga works, and features three directors. For me (and for most folks it seems) the stand out is Magnetic Rose (dir. Kōji Morimoto), which is as haunting as it is beautiful. Everything about it is top notch and I’d recommend seeing Magnetic Rose if you had to choose just one. Now, I’m definitely biased as there’s a lot of involvement from some of my favourite industry figures – there’s the Otomo source material and a screenplay by Satoshi Kon and music by Yoko Kanno, but the nightmarish search of the ruined ship and its decaying memories really is mesmerising.

The other two stories, Stink Bomb (dir. Tensai Okamura) and Cannon Fodder (dir. Katsuhiro Otomo) are just as well put-together but for me not quite as good as the opener – Stink Bomb has some moments of dark comedy but it’s closer to a tragedy in the end, and features some great animation too. The final short is easily the more distinctive when it comes to art style, but perhaps due to its allegorical nature the message seemed stronger than the story; it came closer to being a vignette actually.

I actually would love to see more of the anthology format, as it seems to have resurface only occasionally across the last twenty years. Or maybe it’s more that I’ve missed them? Obviously I remember Short Peace from 2013 and I was also excited to see that Studio Ponoc’s second work is also an anthology (Modest Heroes) so the anthology approach isn’t ‘gone’ but it did seem like it was no longer in fashion for quite a while there.

4 Stars

Vampire Hunter D (D Banpaia Hantā Dī)

Looking back to another classic for this review – this time it’s Vampire Hunter D which is very much a ‘monster hunting other monsters’ film but while there are definite horror aspects present, the Western and post-apocalyptic/sci-fi elements are just as clear.

Vampire Hunter D (D Banpaia Hantā Dī) 1985

So many of the story beats do read like a Western actually; you’ve got ranchers under threat, blackmail, dodgy law-keepers and a hired gun who has drifted into town to save the day… nothing groundbreaking in and of itself, but when it’s set against a futuristic/retro backdrop with Vampires and mutants, I think I see why the film must have stood out when it was first released. (And it remains engaging to me both now and when I first saw it as a teenager, though what I enjoyed most on first viewing probably wasn’t so much the cross-genre stuff as the more predictable horror/action elements I suppose: fights! exploding monsters! mysterious heroes! Etc etc).

Anyway – getting back to the actual review, as with so many of my write-ups, I can’t really speak to the quality of the film as an adaptation but if you’re interested in the genre, and if you prefer your vampires to be arrogant nobles a la the classic European style (rather than ‘animals’ or ‘sparklers’ as per some more modern texts) then you might like Vampire Hunter D. Certainly give it a shot if you only have time for a film-length anime too, since it won’t take long to watch it with a running time of only 80 mins.

However, length of the movie aside, I think it’s worth a look not only for its place in anime history, but because I really liked the ‘hard-to-pin-down-a-precise-era’ look to the character design (and some great creatures too) along with a handful of twists that kept things engaging – not to mention the titular character D himself, who’s a stoic but dependable hero. Personally, I’d have loved to see more of his internal conflict but that’d fit better in a series than a single feature I guess.

Until reading up on Vampire Hunter D for this review I’d also never realised quite how much the US was involved, with Sony Records and CBS acting as partners to Ashi Productions, which is perhaps part of why D eventually had a theatrical run in the States a few years after original release (and well before the ‘modern’ anime boom in the west.)

The OST was another element that I really enjoyed – it’s somewhat minimalist and even quite pensive at times (for a horror OST). Fans of 1980s electronic music will doubtless dig it too, but there’s still the sense of a simulated orchestra at times so it’s not ’empty’ either.

No spoilers – but this guy is a real highlight too 😀

Writer of the novels Hideyuki Kikuchi is on record saying that the look of this film is “cheap” and I think that’s somewhat misleading but not always inaccurate either, as there are some animation techniques used throughout that are probably in there to cut some corners, including the use of a lot of close-ups, but the direction is still pretty ace overall, especially with that creepy opening sequence.

4 Stars

Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku)

Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku) 2015

I was only vaguely aware of this film up until last year – but the cover art of the DVD caught my eye and then upon doing a little reading I found out that the writer ‘Project Itoh’ had certainly been a significant voice in Japanese speculative fiction before his death at a young age, ten years ago now.

Empire… along with Harmony and Genocidal Organ are adaptations of his work collected under the moniker Project Itoh. Differing studios and teams worked on each film but you’ll no doubt recognise Wit Studio from Attack on Titan here.

So, finally to the film itself!

On one hand it’s definitely an exploration of personhood and life, of love and obsession, and while those aspects definitely worked for me, there’s just as much of Empire of Corpses that works as a fun mash-up instead.

There’s horror, action and (alternate) historical fiction all butting up against the philosophical elements in the movie, as the somewhat disparate historical figures of Holmes, Charles Babbage, Ulysses S Grant, Edison and Yamazawa Seigo (to name a few) are brought together in a world where a new breed of semi-autonomous zombies have been created – zombies who quickly became government fodder for war and labouring jobs.

While the colour scheme is mostly dark and somewhat muted, there’s still some spectacular high-contrast explosions and such that go hand in hand with action sequences and equally – a memorable opium-like haze of yellows, greens and pinks in a certain disturbing scene, and generally enough variety that it’s never dull.

The same can be said for the pacing, it’s got a good balance of ‘concept’ stuff spread between character development and action and of course the animation itself looks great, as most modern work does, so no gripes there from me. Bonus points for me with what is also essentially a quest storyline, as our main character Watson strives to save his friend Friday from living death.

Take a look if you’re a fan of zombies or mash-ups, I reckon.

4 Stars

Dimension W (Dimenshon Daburyū)

Dimension W (Dimenshon Daburyū) 2016

Dimension W only just finished its run as a manga late last month, so I thought I’d do a review on the anime today, which I really enjoyed except for two aspects – but more on those two issues below.

If you’ve read any of my short reviews here, you’ll know I don’t often bother with a plot summary (as they’re available elsewhere) and maybe that’s lazy of me… so in honour of not being lazy this time… I’ll copy one from wiki 😀

“Dimension W” follows an auto mechanic hobbyist named Kyouma Mabuchi and a robot girl named Mira Yurizaki, both of whom are “Collectors”, bounty hunters tasked with confiscating illegal Coils, dangerous devices which can harness the power of another dimension.

So with that out of the way, what did I like about this one?

Lots, basically.

In many ways the series is a great action/technology-based science-fiction show that follows the classic narrative structure of slowly escalating stakes and tension, intercut with character back-story. However, it did those things well enough for me to enjoy it, especially the pacing of some of the central mysteries and how characters were actually connected.

But what I found just as engaging were other elements the series incorporated – there were obvious critiques of society’s celebrity-worship via supporting character ‘Loser’ and his storyline, metaphysical elements (these seemed a bit shaky, perhaps) and also some horror aspects, especially with the gothic-influence of episodes set in the ‘haunted’ hotel.

Now, I’m painting a bit of a disparate picture here perhaps, but Dimension W is more cohesive than it sounds, though it does miss a few opportunities to explore the main casts’ relationship, especially the curt and troubled Kyouma and his ‘side-kick’ Mira. This is one bit that, considering plot points that are later revealed and which I won’t spoil, I would have liked to see more of. (That’s not to say any development between them is absent, just that more would have been welcome).

Okay, so on to the two elements that didn’t gel for me – first, a few moments that went beyond ‘fan-service’ and directly to ‘gratuitous’ and it just didn’t fit. This isn’t to claim all fan-service is terrible but yeah, this time it didn’t work, I reckon. The other aspect is more important as a flaw, if you’ve ever heard the phrase “a hero is only as good as the villain” then sadly, it fits Dimension W fairly well.  

However, the show still has a satisfying finish, partly because by the end you’re given those final few secrets and some loose ends are wrapped up.

Knowing this series was based on a long running manga, I’m sure studios 3HZ and Orange (who also did the Norn9 adaptation) would have liked Dimension W to continue when they greenlit this a few years ago now, and I would have too but I guess it wasn’t popular enough.

4 Stars

Sirius the Jaeger (Shiriusu Shiriusu za Yēgā)

Sirius the Jaeger (Shiriusu Shiriusu za Yēgā) 2018

I’m not going to claim to be well-versed in the vampire sub-genre of anime, though I’ve seen a few of them over the years and the ‘exterminate all vampires’ theme is a pretty classic one – though it’s played out by our main character Yuliy in an almost dispassionate way during Sirius the Jaeger.

There’s a chance that if this one didn’t have such a great 1930s aesthetic I might not have been hooked at first, though the eventual main conflict between our MC and his brother kept me going once it developed. That aspect of the storyline was great, though in thirteen episodes the two might not have had enough screen time together, something I also wish that the rest of Yuliy’s team had been afforded because in a way, the show seems to promise an ensemble cast but doesn’t quite go that way.

Despite those and a few other shortcomings, I still finished and enjoyed the show and really enjoyed a lot of the character designs too, especially the Professor and Mikhail, and thought that most of action sequences were pretty ace – it was especially interesting to me that we see a three-section staff as a weapon, a nice change from the usual sword/gun approach.

3 Stars

Meet the main villain – and slight homage to ‘Hellsing’?

The Skull Man (Sukaru Man)

Just a quick review for right now – this one being The Skull Man which is a noir-ish science fiction/horror series with a few surprises.

The Skull Man (Sukaru Man)
2007

When I started this, I wasn’t aware that the anime was based on a one-shot manga by the massively influential Shotaro Ishinomori (who was one of Osamu Tezuka’s protégées) and that the series sort of served as a prequel to Cyborg 009.

Due to that, the ending of The Skull Man fell a little flat for me in that it didn’t offer perhaps quite enough in the way of resolutions while at the same time opening up too many new questions – but aside from that I still enjoyed this, it’s a short series and while the box art might suggest more horror – there are moments of levity. (It’s also an interesting look at an alternate reality where a 1970s aesthetic is clear in the costumes and technology).

Throughout, the writers do a great job of keeping you guessing re: the true nature, motivations and identity of the Skull Man and the various villains within, and while I personally wanted a lot more in the way of screen time for the mask’s origins itself, there was still plenty of other aspects like cults and bioweapons to keep me watching.

Worth a look if you stumble across it, I reckon.

3 Stars (Maybe 4)

Claymore (Kureimoa)

If you’ve read about Claymore you’ll know it’s fairly violent and pretty grim.

Claymore (Kureimoa)
2007

It’s not without hope however – and heroes do actually exist in the series. And while the muted colour-scheme adds to the oppressive feel of this medieval series, there are some vivid uses of green, pink and blue, that provide some nice levity throughout.

For me, what was most engaging were the characters – obviously Clare, but the ‘half-monster’ hunting ‘true monsters’ set-up allowed for some other interesting players to feature too, but I won’t spoil anything there.

What did disappoint me was that after 20 killer episodes with consistent rising tension, the last few fell quite short, especially given the build up. Not sure whether the creators planned a second season and it never got green-lit, but a few plot threads seemed simply abandoned – and I do mean ‘abandoned’, compared to ‘left unresolved’ which I’d have had no trouble with as a viewer.

Another key problem for me was the vengeance sub-plot that does become, at one point, a key reason to keep watching and the way it is handled is kind of baffling – again, if I accept that the writers thought they were going to have a chance to adapt more of the manga then it possibly makes sense.

Still, I think the series deserves the ‘classic’ tag as it’s compelling, often disturbing and even a few times, kinda heart-rending. Fans of Beserk will probably like it if they haven’t already come across it – after all, the series is a few years old now.

4 Stars