After a slow start that wasn’t actually slow – I was transfixed.
Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma) 2000
Argento Soma feels like a bit of a rare story for me, where the pay-off definitely matched the mystery and tension that had built across the previous episodes. And in an industry littered by the cast-off bodies of so many unfinished shows only given a single season, it’s nice to come across a story with a conclusion.
In regard to the pacing, what was ‘slow’ for me was warming to most of the cast.
Without Commander Ines and Sue or Michael (and to a lesser extent Hattie), I wasn’t invested in anyone’s outcome precisely. At first. Actually, unless you were to count how much I came to want Ryu to fail, to receive his just desserts.
Instead, it was the central mystery of why the aliens attacked earth, why they continued to seek the mysterious Pilgrimage Point, that kept me going until I warmed to the cast.
Right off the bat I knew Ryu was a jealous loser, and even when he became tolerable later on – usually at the cost of the emotional well-being of others – I don’t think I actually wanted him to succeed. He was a fantastic character in that respect. Not quite anti-hero, not quite antagonist, and amusingly absolutely utterly unaware that he was not the hero of the story*.
*Trying to paraphrase something iniksbane brought to my attention with that last sentence – and also, thanks heaps for the recommendation 😀
So, now that I’ve got all that out of the way – what’s the anime actually about? Well, it’s about people trying to defend the earth from aliens. And:
[From MAL] In the year 2059, the earth has been plagued by aliens for several years. In an effort to learn more about these aliens, Dr. Noguchi and his assistants Maki Agata and Takuto Kaneshiro try to revive the professor’s experiment, a large Bio-Mechanical alien named Frank. During this process the alien comes to ‘life’ and the lab is subsequently destroyed, leaving Takuto the only survivor and the alien disappearing into the wilderness.
And further, there’s mecha, mystery, science-fiction and drama aspects all neatly woven together as events expand from the premise above – even a bit of mind-games, especially when it comes to Ryu and Mr X, whose scenes together often have interesting staging and lighting, really selling the duplicity.
If you like to compare things (as I do), there are clear classic science-fiction themes, something of a War of the Worlds feel here, and for some fans no doubt you’ll find that Neon Genesis comes to mind also, especially with the escalation of alien attacks used for some of the anime’s structure, but Argento Soma still stands quite apart from the two texts I mentioned.
Some of what differentiates the show for me is because Argento Soma feels a lot like a character study before anything else, a vehicle for Ryu to become a better person – and it’s a long redemption arc too (if you’d want to go that far). And while most events and other characters often serve that purpose, Argento Soma shows a wider cast that is notable in its own right. (A shame that Sue’s past only sneaks into the OVA, however).
Another thing that I think separates Argento Soma from any cries of ‘Eva-clone’ might be the classic, big science-fiction ideas most commonly seen in 20 Century science-fiction cinema… but I won’t spoil them here.
I will say that the somewhat nose-less designs (courtesy of one of my fav directors, Shukou Murase) took me a little while to acclimatise to, but it’s definitely memorable. And also in regard to design, I definitely felt that Frank’s look was top notch. It had a less organic but more human feel compared to the other aliens, to my eye.
In addition to the above quibble, I will note that Ryu spends most of the show as a terrible person – not just ‘flawed’ but really, a bad dude. This means he abuses everyone around him, especially women, both before and after the tragedy that inspires his childish (but not surprising) drive for revenge.
But as I said before, he does (for the most part), have a redemption arc, and in the context of the whole series, his shitty behaviour is not front-and-centre. For instance, you’re not going to be confronted with an endless parade of graphic psychical or verbal abuse, but just be aware that he’s no hero.
(Also, Hattie can be a bit shrilly repetitive).
But finally, is this anime for you?
In short, if you want a twentysomething-year-old mecha show focused on adults, on revenge, with a great cast and a lead character that is far from ‘clean-cut’, then this could be for you.
It also has a deeply satisfying conclusion to its central mystery – another reason to give it a shot if you can find it.
Shadowy syndicates, superheros and melancholy characters – tick, tick and tick!
Darker than Black (Dākā Zan Burakku ー 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.
Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation (Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru) 2015
I probably made a bit of a mistake by reviewing this series a fair while after finishing it – I forgot to take notes right after too, so I’m hoping I remember things clearly nevertheless.
Beautiful Bones contains a lot of aspects I enjoy; episodic mystery, slow-reveal backstory, a clever but odd-ball lead, a bit of drama and humour too, and of course, lovely visuals. I wasn’t watching seasonal anime back in 2015 and so this was an anime I’d heard about but not seen until earlier this year.
Okay, as I sometimes do, I’m launching into dot points now, starting with a random list of things I enjoyed:
Sakurako and Shoutarou have a good dynamic, the mis-match adds both drama and humour with young Shoutarou having to be the responsible one at times
I enjoyed the specific (if morbid, I guess) forensic elements about bones
Gran is a stand out 🙂
The source of the cursed painting was a great reveal
Interesting to see the ‘beautiful but cruel’ character type in Sakurako softened by her obsession with osteological matters
Features some tough themes
Settings were detailed and lovely, as were objects (it’s always interesting to see just how much of budgets in other shows seem to be devoured by action sequences)
In contrast, I did have three quibbles to note:
Because Beautiful Bones is only one short season, the main villain never quite goes beyond “lurking menace”. Excellent set-up for a future season though… should one ever occur
Feels like the ED overcompensates for not being able to put heaps of fan-service in the actual show
In regard to the final episode – I think I like it, even though I might not have been satisfied. Sakurako’s past and present were just about converging but without enough episodes not much came of it, and so the conclusion becomes about resolving a different problem. Without spoilers, I think it still gave a sense of closure to the season but I was expecting something different.
So, should you check this series out one day?
Well, if you like any of the things I’ve mentioned further above, and if you can accept an ending that doesn’t deliver many answers, then probably yeah 😀 I’ve not seen anything else from Troyca but to me everything looks great.
Beautiful Bones is hardly an old series either, and so it’d be easy enough to find. I will add that, despite the young co-lead, the anime is obviously not aimed at younger audiences.
Very excited to kick off this collaboration with Iniksbane atIn Search of Number Nine, since we’re writing on one of my all-time favs, Ergo Proxy!
I’d put off reviewing Ergo Proxy for a long time but being able to work with Cameron took a bit of the pressure off, and I’m really happy with what we came up with. Thanks to Cameron’s awesome posts over the years, I’ve been introduced to a heap of great anime – and one that comes to mind instantly for me isRahxephon.
But getting back to Ergo Proxy, we’ve split the posts between our blogs, so below you can read our review conversation and next up is our analysis post over at In Search of Number Nine – link to follow once we go live 🙂
But now, let’s begin – and Iniksbane’s up first:
Iniksbane: I’m curious when and where you first encountered Ergo Proxy? I have a little bit of personal history with this show. I initially saw the first episode at Otakon in 2006, and I was blown away by how this show looked. Sure. There were other stylish shows that I had seen, but between the austere sci-fi setting and the voice-over, I was intrigued.
I’m not sure if I would say I was hooked, but I was interested in learning more.
This show holds an important spot in the anime distribution history in America in that it was one of the final shows that Geneon released. Pioneer and then Geneon were responsible for distributing a lot of the more unusual anime, stuff like Ergo Proxy, Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, Paranoia Agent and Gankutsou, to name a few. The End of Geneon USA – Anime (bellaonline.com)
This was around the time I started blogging as well.
It was the start of the change of the anime industry in the U.S. Within a year or so, ADV would become Section 24. They would eventually start rereleasing anime under Sentai Filmworks, but that would take some time.
Funimation ended up being the last one standing. They emerged with all of the Dragon Ball Z money.
But I remember feeling lucky that I got my copy of Ergo Proxy.
In my notes, I noticed that the show has a 4.5 out of 5. I find that interesting because it wasn’t a beloved show at the time of its release. I’m glad that it’s found an audience 15 years later.
Ashley: Wow, that’s pretty awesome that you got to see the opener at a convention!
I remember being only generally aware of Ergo Proxy back in the early 2010s and sometimes seeing it on informal lists here and there afterwards, it seemed like a real favourite for a lot of people but at the same time, not a series that was well-known, yeah.
I reckon I first saw a preview, probably on a DVD of another show and that got me searching for the series, thinking I ought to finally track down a copy and see for myself what it was like. (That copy was the Funimation reissue).
Glad I did too :D.
Iniksbane: What did you think about the show when you first watched it? What do you think of it now? I’ve heard another review of this show that divided it into three parts and said the beginning and the end were weak, but the middle was great.
I’m not sure I remember much from my first time watching the show, I remember the quiz show episode and the one where they were stuck, and I vaguely remembered Iggy’s fate.
Honestly, this time through, I liked the beginning. I loved the middle episodes, and I am still torn about the ending.
To give you some to react to, I thought the first few episodes moved fast enough to set up what happened after they started the journey. I don’t feel like it wasted any time, or rather I felt like it spent enough time doing what it needed to.
The show really kicks it into high gear once they leave the dome. I found Hoody’s story arc engrossing. I liked the interplay between Daedulus and Raul.
The conflict between Iggy and Re-l was great. In particular, I love the line, “You don’t get to write me off just because I’ve gotten complicated.”
Although Vincent is strangely hands-on with Re-l in a way, I wasn’t comfortable with and didn’t understand. I wrote down in my notes that Re-l attracts creepy stalker guys.
My biggest problems come in the last three or so episodes. I’m still struggling with what they were trying to do there. It’s the only part of the show that felt self-indulgent. The show would have these long panning shots without anything going on. Raul and, to a lesser extent, Daedalus felt like non-entities at that point.
It’s not a bad end, but it felt a little lackluster in comparison to some of the frankly brilliant stuff they do in the middle.
Ashley:That’s interesting re: the review you mention. For my first viewing I had the opposite response, to me during some of the middle episodes it felt like the tension was beginning to fall off. I remember preferring the beginning and ending parts.
And yet, on subsequent viewings those middle stretches contain some of my favourite moments. A bit like you, the ending is the part that I now wonder about. I wish it had been expanded for a few more episodes at least.
When I finished Ergo Proxy the first time I remember feeling like I had to immediately go and watch the first few episodes again to catch the foreshadowing I’d missed. Viewing it now feels like watching familiar, (and some) beloved characters fighting against cruel manipulation and that abandonment you mention below, I feel like I can focus more on character and less on unravelling the plot.
I guess like a lot of post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk fiction the fear of what humanity cannot control does seem to motivate a lot of characters and I like how that played out in Pino’s character, since she humanised the robots who are ‘infected’ with the Cogito Virus. (Maybe a bit like Robin from Witch Hunter Robin?)
Iggy stood out for me too – poor guy, Re-l seems to treat him as a punching bag at times. Agree that Re-l is definitely a magnet for those sorts of fellows.
I also agree that Daedulus and Raul had some great scenes together but that the narrative seems to abandon them by the end, which was a real shame. Again, maybe just a few more episodes and that ending could have given them more time too?
One thing I think about the show now compared to the first time I watched it, is I realise more just how long the audience is kept in the dark in terms of piecing the bigger picture together, which is mostly only lurking behind the smaller investigative events for a fair while.
Iniksbane: Do you feel like the show succeeded with its more surreal aspects? So I’m leading a little bit here, but I felt this show was good at adding weight to what are largely surrealistic episodes.
In particular, I pointed out in my notes that I liked the library episode. In particular, I said One of the things about this show is just how surreal it is without losing all of its footing in “real” life. The bookstore in the middle of the wasteland is the height of that weirdness.
This is also true with the episode Ophelia, as they are in the dome with the grocery store, and they keep running into a proxy that could copy other people. I don’t know if it’s the Hamlet reference, but I think the episode succeeds in making me realize that the proxy felt lonely but was so scared of being lonely that she killed everyone.
Ashley: The Ophelia episode was one of my favs, absolutely – the surrealism throughout that plot was ace. It’s interesting how well those episodic sections of the series operate to build tension, expand the world and delay the answers everyone is seeking.
It also fit right into the unsettling tone – sometimes it’s almost absurdist, which kinda built upon the unease for me.
And I know what you mean, the further into the show you get, the clearer it becomes that the Proxies are desperately unhappy or lonely, often broken by their roles. I especially felt bad for the Disney Proxy who was maybe doing a better job at protecting his charges than what we see in other domes.
Iniksbane: What character moments/episodes stood out to you? I’m curious. I liked two episodes in particular. One was the quiz show episode because it’s such an unusual way of getting exposition across.
I also really liked the Disney episode. One of the characters I felt like got shortchanged in the early episodes was Pino. She seemed a lot like a cute mascot girl, but that episode gave me a sense of who she was. She really is a nice person who wants to help people. She was just a child in danger of getting thrown away.
There is another moment that I like in the last few episodes after both Re-ls reject Daedalus. He says, “When I look into her eyes, I want to see my reflection.”
This is one point I probably should make about those last few episodes. I do think they’re messy, but there are a lot of great moments. At one point, we see Raul limping down the street, and there is a voiceover from Pino.
Re-l has a monologue where she says, “Once this clockwork paradise bored me. So I prayed for change. Any change. I now have to wonder if those awful prayers were the catalyst that woke the sleeping Ergo.”
Ashley: Pino really became a stand out character for me too, yeah. Seeing her learn and grow as the series went on, and that Disney episode is a highlight for her – I love the teacup scene for a lighter moment, and there aren’t tonnes of them in the show, huh?
Agree on the game show episode – Ergo Proxy just cuts in on a lot of those episodes with zero transition, and so I remember experiencing a bit of whiplash at first, but when I watched it again I thought it was a pretty cool way to deliver exposition.
I think the first episode is one of my favs – I finished it with so many unanswered questions and was immediately drawn in by the detective/noir stuff. Upon re-watch, Monad’s struggle takes on a different tone too but above all, I think it’s the action sequences as they punctuate the investigations. They feel pretty explosive and fluid too, like a good chunk of the budget went into hooking the audience with that ep.
Next up for me was probably the Ophelia episode. I really enjoyed being confused at first, and then once I figured out the team were being manipulated I was suddenly second-guessing everything I saw, that was fun.
Visually too, the emptiness and all the wide shots, or the reflections and mist, it all made for heaps of memorable compositions. The atmosphere and symbolism around duality is pretty strong here too and Pino’s ‘cooking’ is a nice little moment of levity.
Iniksbane: According to an ANN interview, the series composer Dai Sato said they wanted to “create an image somewhat like a darker breed of American superhero.” Do you think they succeeded? Do you think that is a worthy goal? Link to the article. Interview: Dai Sato – Anime News Network
Ashley: That’s really interesting – although, I probably don’t know enough about superhero texts to offer an opinion on Ergo Proxy’s success in reflecting that… but I think it’s fascinating that the end result made me think of things like Tim Burton’s Batman films from the 1990s.
Good question, I think maybe it is worth trying because it might end up in something really distinctive. So, to bring in superhero stuff to a noir/cyberpunk/dystopian story resulted in Ergo Proxy so that’s pretty cool. And that ‘darker’ idea seems clearly realised, as it feels like most characters are anti-heroes, villains or at least always at cross-purposes throughout the series. (Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there though).
Iniksbane: Most famously, the show used real philosophers’ names along with referencing Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum,” do you think this worked? I remember this being the most significant sticking point with Ergo Proxy. To put it kindly, people thought this show was up its own butt.
Even Sato, in that same ANN interview, said, “I thought that project was a little too fast-paced. We had a lot of ideas and things we wanted to incorporate that we couldn’t fit.”
As a story, I think you can completely ignore this point, and for the most part, the story stands on its own. I’m not sure if I remember the names of the philosophers that are referenced, and I don’t think it bears looking up.
That said, thematically, I think the ideas of self-determination and free will are core to what the show is going for. And here is where I’m going to dip a bit into spoilers.
Raul starts off the show talking about people filling their assigned roles and has a deterministic outlook on life. But by the end of the show, he’s trying to fight against Ergo Proxy. He rejects the “God” of their world.
In particular, Raul tells the regent, “You have spent your existence seeking a god that betrayed you. I am free of your illusions.”
This back and forth between fate and free will is a recurring theme in the entirety of the show. I feel the show solidly lands in favor of free will, but there is a lot of plot driven by characters who believe they are fated for destruction.
So I guess I will end this with another question. Where do you think the show lands on that theme?
Ashley: I think the individuals in the Collective could have been called anything and it wouldn’t have made any difference, definitely.
I don’t recall their dialogue as distinctive or even suggesting any of the curiosity you’d expect from a philosopher – by which I guess I meant, they pretty much towed the line and never seemed to question their own part in the dome and the greater plan. (Admittedly, they weren’t infected so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised).
For the theme, those final shots seem really defiant so that especially makes me think the show comes down on the side of free will. Bleak as it can be, and even with all the collateral damage.
You mentioned Rual and I think he’s a perfect example of a character playing out the tension between those themes – he’s got quite a lot of development too, swinging from sympathetic and less so and then back again, from antagonist to maybe a supporting protagonist which I found interesting since Vincent/Ergo Proxy isn’t strictly a hero or even an anti-hero, I think.
Or at least, not until the end perhaps – when I guess his resolve is channelled along the lines of free will being worth preserving?
Hope you enjoyed this post and that you’re ready for the next part, which you’ll soon be able to read over atIn Search of Number Nine 🙂
This time, I want to start the review by saying that I wish there had been a bit of extra foreshadowing leading up to the ending to Kokkoku…
….but that’s about it when it comes to aspects I remember feeling disappointed over.
Kokkoku: Moment by Moment is a mix of mystery, science-fiction and maybe even supernatural suspense, and is one that plays out in a relatively small setting; just a few homes and streets, really.
And that narrowing of place and space adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere that quickly builds as each episode raises the stakes for the Yukawa family. To contrast this sense of the ‘small’ is a somewhat large cast, with the intersecting goals of a fair few characters meeting and clashing in a supernatural cage of disturbing stillness.
But I’m jumping around a bit I think – to finally maybe give context to what I’ve said above, I’ll share a blurb adapted from Wikipedia:
The anime tells the story of Juri Yukawa, who during a kidnapping of her nephew and brother, discovers that her grandfather can stop time using a mysterious stone and more, that he can move freely when time is standing still.
It’s a premise that suggests the kind of child-like fantasy of youth – ‘what if I could go anywhere or do anything without anyone seeing me?’ etc etc but Kokkoku shows a far more lonely and troubling place at times.
And from that rescue attempt mentioned in the blurb, the audience gets to learn a lot about Juri and her grandfather especially. I wouldn’t say the show is a character study though, as there’s plenty of plot-based tension when the Yukawa family discovers that other, more unsavory people hold the same ability.
It was nice to see a range of faces and character designs too, compared to say the generic choice of only having young, flawless heroes (as in a lot of anime over the decades) but the thing I liked the most here was probably the uncertainty. I was rarely confident about exactly what would happen next, which was fun.
Due to all the time the characters spend in stasis, I guess calling Kokkoku a ‘time-travel’ story isn’t quite right, but the principle is the same – the anime is exploring time and our relation to it.
Kokkoku also felt like it made room for a few moral questions but the speculative elements are the main focus. I also liked the kinda muted colour-scheme Geno Studio* used too, which added to the sense of realism within the unreal.
But I think I’ve rambled long enough – maybe I won’t watch this every year like some other favourites, but I’m glad I’ve seen it 🙂
You can no doubt predict exactly what I’ll say about episodic storytelling by now, right?
I’m definitely a fan of it – but The Big O ticks a lot of boxes for me outside its mostly episodic structure too.
First, there’s the slowly unfolding mystery in an unsettling but familiar city, then there’s androids, revolving villains, a dramatic multi-genre OST and finally; retro-looking mecha placed within a very 20th Century aesthetic – the mash-up is fantastic.
Having said that, if you don’t enjoy (almost) madcap mixes of conventions and genres, you probably won’t end up liking The Big O too much.
Despite the strong Batman/James Bond feel to the series, and despite the noir detective stuff happening on the surface, I still think that there’s enough dissonance and enough of the philosophical maybe, to deter folks who prefer a focus on a single genre or tone.
But again, that’s one of my favourite aspects of The Big O – that and the stylish character designs and art deco visuals.
I’ll take a shot at exploring the premise just quickly:
Roger Smith is a negotiator/investigator living in Paradigm City, known as the city of amnesia (for reasons which I won’t spoil). There, he is eventually pulled into the mystery of whatever event wiped everyone’s memory forty years ago, aided by former client, Dorothy – an advanced android.
To hopefully evoke a sense of tone here, I want to mention one person involved in the production – Chiaki J. Konaka. As with all collaborative arts, I think it’s cruel to point to only one person, especially in a review, but I think if I mention Chiaki then that might give a few clues as to the tone and direction of this series – especially the second season.
If I step away from my rhapsodising about the series for a moment, I’ll maybe get enough distance to point out some things that I didn’t love. Firstly, Roger is kind of a jerk and essentially mistreats Dorothy for nearly the whole series. And speaking of Dorothy, if you take a look at what she can do in the first two episodes for example, she is truly under-utilised by the story.
I believe more than a few people agree that Season 1 tends to be stronger than Season 2 (actually, I only took screencaps from S1 mainly due to time).
Three or four years later and the animation quality does get a boost for the sequel season, but for me, the powerful mysteries established in those first thirteen episodes aren’t all answered as satisfyingly as I’d hoped. (I also wished that Swchartzman got a little more screentime somehow, as I tended to really enjoy him and his monologues!)
In contrast to my comparative disappointment with the second season, there were still plenty of things that I continued to think about afterward. More, the audience does get a few answers in time, along with one reveal that had nearly as much impact as the stunning ending of episode 13, for me.
Okay, so now that I’ve finally reached this point in the review, I think it’s time to wrap things up – until my next post, where I want to try a bit of visual analysis on episode 3 of The Big O.
In the meantime, I hope I’ve made you at least a little curious about this ‘old’ anime! (It’s been in my top ten for a long time and I don’t see it leaving any time soon, but it did slip down a rung on the ladder at one point.)
Kicking off this review with some useless trivia – I had actually arranged with my local cinema to maybe screen Children of the Sea back in January but the bushfires prevented that – and obviously, I didn’t want people to risk their lives on entertainment stuff at that point, but I was pretty excited to finally see the film last night.
And if I was rating Children of the Sea only on the visuals and animation, it’d be 5 stars no sweat, everything really is stunning.
However, the narrative lost enough of its momentum at one point, that I know I’ll end the review at 4 Stars. Does that matter? I mean, do star ratings (or even opinions) mean much? Not really – everyone has to decide whether they’ll watch something based on their own markers, but what I’m trying to say is that I loved the look of this movie, right down to the pencil-stroke aesthetic for the character faces.
I’m probably more familiar with earlier Studio 4°C works like Spriggan and Memories but I am now really looking forward to their next release, Poupelle of Chimney Town. However, to actually get back to Children of the Sea itself, I thought Ruka was a great leading character and I was quickly invested in her struggles, thanks to a clever opening. Umi is my second favourite of course, though the boundary-challenged Sora is kind of jerk 😀
Before a significant shift, and one that surprised me, the tone of the film strikes a balance between mystery, wonder and social isolation. It’s all brought together by the visuals, which are ultimately very realistic for most of the film, but can be more vividly presented, and even slightly magical.
I won’t share the premise or too much of the plot here, because while on the surface Children of the Sea still looks like an aquatic-themed fantasy adventure film (mixed in with some coming-of-age stuff) there are two genres that are perhaps more apt when I think about the film now, because the preview certainly gave me one impression…
But I think that magical realism is more accurate than a general fantasy tag – and if I say too much about why I believe that to be the case, I might inadvertently spoil stuff. To circle back to what I mentioned re: that shift in tone, there’s a point where the movie becomes extremely metaphysical and it was there that, while the visuals remain entrancing, the storyline stalled.
Again, in the end I didn’t mind so much, and I look forward to watching Children of the Sea for a second time one day, but be prepared to go beyond the realms of what you might have first expected, if you choose to watch this!
OWLS is a group of content creators who promote acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Every month we discuss real-world topics through online tours, sharing personal experiences and analyzing pop culture, literature, and other forms of media.
Excited to (finally) get my second OWLS post up and running – we’re looking at ‘Folklore’ and the Supernatural for August – thanks again to the team for the opportunity to jump in 🙂
Witch Hunter Robin (2002)
Witch Hunter Robin was released right around a ‘heyday’ for live-action Supernatural television. In the late ‘90s, shows like Sabrina,Charmed, Buffy, Angel and the X-Files were reigning kings here (doubtless in the US too) and I think traces of those shows are clear in this series.
On the other hand, in anime, the Supernatural sub-genre has probably been more consistently popular, independent of US trends, but Witch Hunter Robin has plenty of European mythology and ‘US crime show’ mixed into its Japanese setting. You could argue, perhaps that it’s a bit like another Sunrise anime, Cowboy Bebop, in that respect (only).
And there are definitely a few production aspects that lock Witch Hunter Robin into that time-period too, but while one of them is a mark against the show, I’m considering most of them as drawcards, rather than issues 😀
Okay, so here’s a tiny note on the premise: the series follows young witch-hunter Robin of Italy, as she adjusts to the STN-J, a sophisticated and powerful organisation tasked with capturing rogue witches… and innocent people who have yet to manifest their powers.
Now, since I tend to think of myself as maybe slightly favouring Concept over Execution, I really enjoyed the PKD ‘pre-crime’ aspect to Witch Hunter Robin. And while what happens to witches and ‘seeds’ in the series is sadly similar to what authoritarian governments continue to do to minorities, I’d have loved a bit more critique of that system… still, it’s hardly glossed over.*
Visually, the anime makes me think of a slightly grimier noir. It’s an aesthetic that I could maybe argue that Grunge helped popularise, and which extended into the 2000s… or perhaps I’m reading too much into that, and it’s more apt to consider it as something director Murase Shukou likes to use?
In any event, if you enjoyed that and certain other things about his works (like Ergo Proxy, Gangsta and even Genocidal Organ) well, they also appear to varying extents here in Witch Hunter Robin. Especially I think, a fondness for shadow, of dark coats, mysteries and ‘slow’ pacing.
So, I just alluded to the pacing, and in terms of the ‘main’ storyline – you will have to wait a bit for it to really kick-in. There’s a fair establishing phase where ‘monster of the week’ plots provide the action and world-building, and only small hints of the big picture, interspersed with quieter moments for Robin and other characters.
The series does build up to something big, but depending on your general familiarity with science-fiction and supernatural tropes, I think you’d see most of those things coming. But I was hooked on the characters and the tensions between them so that was no problem for me.
Most folks in the team have their secrets and even some of the minor characters too, and so there’s definitely time spent there, which I liked. In fact, my favourite episode or moment was probably the one focusing on ‘Master’, the cafe owner – and if I think about it now, he probably makes a bigger impact than a few of the leads.
So, as I sometimes do – I’m switching to dot points in a hopeless token gesture toward brevity:
Unpacking and dealing with some of the issues and discoveries Robin and her partners faced did seem compressed toward the end, and so I can see that as a flaw, even if it didn’t bother me too much personally.
Robin herself is kinda morose, though she’s not without spark. But her (maybe) obvious depression is sort of echoed elsewhere in the series, and so I definitely consider it a feature rather than a bug.
It’s interesting how little in the way of dialogue Robin has in some episodes, you have to read into a lot from her expressions, which are also repressed.
While this isn’t a typical action anime, I noticed that the animation for those scenes at times didn’t always feel fluid compared to other shows.
CGI. Above any other issue here, I suspect a modern audience might have trouble with this one. It definitely adds to the general grimy and downbeat tone of the series, though most of it has aged quite poorly. Just two years later, things would be looking better in say, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, but neither anime resembles a new series with a high budget. Maybe it’s part of the charm for me, but it’s fascinating to note this would have been cutting edge in 2002. How fast technology moves, right?
The aspects around witchcraft, folklore and lineage was something I would have liked more of, and maybe that could have happened with a second season… but on the other hand, I like where Witch Hunter Robin ended too.
Character design stood out for me, as did costuming – even Robin’s courier moments. Mostly, I suspect I enjoyed all the ‘coats’ – not just your classic dark trench for the STN-J, but Robin’s more complex outfit or Nagira’s white fur, which really catches the eye.
Nagira himself quickly became a fav too, especially when Amon seems to occupy the role of ‘jerk’ for a little too long.
The opening song was pretty ace, very much of the era, and within the series itself I liked the sombre piano to Robin’s theme. While I mostly remember that piece, there’s also Flame which is plenty dramatic.
And finally, it’s recommendation time!
You’ll see that I’ve rated it the series a ‘5’ but that’s me – if you’re not me, which is pretty likely, then you might not enjoy this as much as I did.
Especially if you have trouble with old CGI or pacing that’s more Mystery than Action, or if you are drawn to more upbeat lead characters. However, if you like other works of Murase Shukou, noir-influenced supernatural shows, leads who are not precisely ‘open books’, then this might just appeal.
*[Bit of a spoiler perhaps] Nagira, who appears as the Yakuza lawyer, and who operates essentially as a criminal, is the one advocating for and protecting ‘seeds’ in Witch Hunter Robin.
And in an all too common reflection upon real life – you have a large corporation with government-level surveillance and a militant arm, which is obsessed with order and control, and thus ‘becomes’ the true villain.
And while Robin at first works for them, and maybe believes in their mandate, she eventually comes to rail against it all, with Nagira’s help.
Here’s a few examples of where the CGI reveals its age:
And now a few extra shots because I wanted to add them, basically 😀
Here we go again with a new ‘Abandoned’ post and my usual disclaimer that I might come back to these one day!
I think I liked the concept better than the approach when it came to Shigofumi. Like many of the shows I mention in these posts I don’t think I’ve ruled out finishing this one day, however.
Shigofumi follows a ‘girl’ named Fumika who delivers after death letters and again, the premise I loved, but part of my issue was the structure. Now, as I type this I know I’m ‘on record’ as saying I love episodic shows and it’s still true, however for at least as far as I watched here, these episodes generally moved between unconnected cases.
Now, for a crime series that’s very, very normal and no problem at all – but the draw there is often the detective, I reckon. You get to know and spend a lot of time with the person solving problems in those instances. Here, Fumika is fairly passive and the mystery around her world (and her role) was offset by not really getting to know her soon enough. That meant that for me her (almost) cameos in the episodes just weren’t enough.
2. Penguin Highway(2018)
Looks great and has what sounds like a fun mystery for kid protagonists to solve – penguins randomly appear in their village.
Now, I haven’t finished this quite obviously, but Aoyama seemed equally obsessed with breasts as he did the mystery of the penguins and I assume it was meant to be cute but it struck me as odd.
Definitely haven’t ruled it out but I’m not rushing back just yet.
3. Tales of Zestiria the X (2016)
I stopped Tales… a while ago now and just haven’t come back, and for a change I know exactly why.
In the beginning, I was enjoying the action, adventure and magic, along with the ‘King Arthur’ feel. There were mysteries and other things that had me curious, along with some great settings that I wanted the characters to explore… and maybe you can see where the ‘based on a video game’ aspect comes in 🙂
But around episode 6 or 7 the narrative leaps away from characters I was beginning to become invested in to settle in with other folks who I just didn’t care about. And perhaps due to that, and not knowing when the focus would return to the ‘proper’ main characters, I just haven’t gone back.
Now, I’d argue it’s really hard to tell an expansive story without jumping between viewpoints of a large cast but where I stopped, I think it had been a couple of episodes without even checking in on the main team and so I just kinda moved on to other stuff.
One day I want to try this again, just not sure when.
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.
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.)
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 😀