Vampire in the Garden (Vanpaia in za Gāden)

You know the very-real genre known as “not-quite-tearjerker”? Yep, that one – absolutely something real that you’d find in a video store, or in the list of categories via a streaming service.

Well, Vampire in the Garden (2022) feels like it meets the criteria for the above ‘genre’ to me, since it’s quite sombre and sort of contains little in the way of hope.

(Quick warning, there are fair few spoilers below, so if you’ve been planning to watch this one day and want to avoid spoilers, please take note).

However, to some extent, the action scenes and also the defiance and determination shown by the leads (Fine and Momo) sort of cloaks what is a tragedy, but I think it’s the kind that of tragedy that telegraphs its inevitable, sad ending very clearly. You’ll most likely be able to prepare yourself, if you know this kind of story will upset you.

(For example, the berserker/suicide drug that the vampires can use never seems far from Fine’s mind, and the series is careful to remind us with close-ups etc, that it’s always an option for her).

But it’s not just the ending that is melancholy and more; there is plenty of despair and hate and war throughout, and examples to demonstrate just how hideous humanity can be. It’s a clear a parallel with real-world war and prejudice, which makes the handful of upbeat scenes almost glitter in comparison.

Part of the mood is obviously achieved via lighting – and of course, it’s about vampires and so there’s going to be a lot of shadow.

But the scenes within grand manors or military encampments are often shadowed, or chilled by all the snow, leeched of vibrancy or sick with that nuclear green. It all feels like a clear sign that points to humanity being in decline from within, something clear when we see how little music, art and joy they have – and most of all, how hard they try to stamp those things out when they are found within the vampire’s culture.

On the other hand, the human race is caught within a war of survival.

Again, the themes are clear and heartfelt – something I certainly don’t begrudge the anime for in any way. War strips away the things worth living for, and Momo and Fine turn their backs on that during their search for a promised land of harmony. Well, both of them prior to the first episode – and Fine a long time prior.

I will note that the age-gap is undeniably suspect, even before the indeterminate age of vampire Fine. It’s a pretty common vampire trope, I guess – so perhaps no surprise there.

Both leads remained engaging for me, in part because they were each given time to open up, and I definitely wanted them to find what they were seeking. Despite the story giving me many reasons believe that they actually had no chance of success, I was still a bit surprised by how close the narrative permitted them to come to happiness.

A member of the supporting cast caught my eye too – Kubo and his samurai sword. Had he played a bigger role, I’d have been interested to see more of his back-story, but as things stand I felt like I was provided enough to support his motivation. (There was also enough time to see a bit more on other side characters too, which was nice).

In terms of time, I thought I should note that Vampire in the Garden felt longer than its 2-and-a-bit-hours to me, probably due to being chopped up into five episodes.

Visually, it seems clear that Wit Studio have unleashed a torrent of stunning settings and backdrops, and elsewhere I have no complaints*, but Kazushi Fujii and Satoshi Takabatake (I believe it was) really captivated me with so much striking scenery. I kept watching at least in part to see yet another awesome background.

So, at long last – is this anime for you?

Maybe if you like bat-style vampires – or far more importantly, love stories that are bittersweet at best. And if so, then this should be pretty pleasing overall. If you prefer more conventional noble-vampire/thrall plots, or vampire-hunting stories, then I don’t think Vampire in the Garden will quite do the trick.

4 Stars

*Well, maybe the jeep’s landing and some general “invincible heroes” stuff, but it wasn’t enough to ruin anything for me.

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.)

B: The Beginning – Succession

B: The Beginning – Succession (2021)

I’m not sure how to write about this short season…

It seemed like the prologue to a bigger story to come, and at the same time, like an epilogue to a bigger story that had already been told.

Which it basically was.

In terms of negative aspects, first up is that fact that I didn’t enjoy the side-lining of Keith Flick* for pretty much the entire series. Maybe it’s like Superman needing kryptonite. If a character is too smart, it can be hard to surprise them and so dramatic tension is cut.

While the political intrigue was an interesting extra facet this time around I think it maybe took the place of a compelling villain, but since this season seems to function as something to tide folks over, I should probably hold back on judging too soon.

Things still look great and there was plenty of dramatic lighting and warm colours, along with some exciting action sequences, but overall I’m still finding myself a bit disappointed.

Having said that, I’ll still watch more episodes if they appear one day and it was nice to see Izanami return.

So, maybe 3 stars, I guess?

*I’m also wondering if Keith’s past with his adoptive sister is going to be explored or whether it’s just some run of the mill shock tactics stuff?

The Way of the Househusband (Gokushufudō)

The Way of the Househusband (Gokushufudō) 2021

By now, I think folks seem to have moved past some of the general disappointment surrounding this adaptation of Kousuke Oono’s manga. I can’t compare this with the original but if you’ve never read the manga then the anime might actually be a good introduction? Maybe? I don’t know.

Admittedly, I was expecting something quite different myself but I think that’s because Netflix did an exceptionally poor job of establishing expectations with its promo.

For context, if you haven’t seen The Way of the Househusband then imagine a manga with a little bit of movement, sound and colour and you’ll get a fair idea.

It’s pretty funny too 🙂

Although the bulk of the humour comes from the premise of a former Yakuza bringing his deadpan menace to the domestic world, because each episode is so short, the joke didn’t wear out its welcome for me. (I don’t know if I’d enjoy longer episodes as much, but I am definitely going to watch the next series.)

One highlight for me was Kenjiro Tsuda, one of my fav voice actors, and someone who I think is perfect for Tatsu. Another joy was his wife Miku, who’s probably the standout character from the show’s small recurring cast.

Now, if you’re on the fence about this series because the premise isn’t quite enough or you expect more animation maybe, I don’t know if I can convince you to give it a shot.

But if you also enjoy sight gags, slapstick* and hyperbole (so, the Comedy genre :D) then The Way of the Househusband might still satisfy. It’s also very digestible in terms of length per episode, so if you don’t have a lot of time and feel like something light this could be perfect.

4 Stars

*Perhaps best exemplified by the chapter where Miku’s dad tries to play catch with Tatsu, poor guy

Revisions (Rivijonzu)

Revisions (Rivijonzu) 2019

Sometimes I find myself being a little harder on recent shows if they don’t break a whole lot of new ground.

It’s something I shouldn’t do, I feel like I have to fight that impulse both as a viewer and when reviewing a series, because I don’t think that Originality!!!! is the most important metric available.

Instead, I’m more interested in whether I was drawn into the world, whether I responded to the characters and whether existing tropes and conventions are refreshed or handled in an satisfying manner, whether the art style, design or settings chosen make me stop and recognise just how beautiful or impressive they really are.

And so having said all that, I still found myself in two minds about Revisions.

It definitely echoes Neon Genesis and other classics specifically in some ways but on a smaller scale.

Elsewhere it’s more ‘generally familiar’, from character design (that Voltron-esque colour scheme of the body suits) to other common mecha tropes, but the time travel aspect added a nice complication to the plot.

Having the main character Daisuke both suffer a hero complex and be ridiculed for it allowed extra conflict between the young heroes, though that aspect of the storyline kinda swung a little violently from polar opposites in the short span. Maybe the manga spreads that aspect out more smoothly?

Still, the pacing was brisk and the animation itself kept me watching; especially the designs of the Civilians and the suits/the String Puppets themselves all felt both ‘on brand’ for the genre but also distinctive enough.

I did find the occasional close up here and there to reveal that cel-shaded look to the CGI that I’m not a huge fan of, but it was nothing glaring.

Great music throughout, especially the ending theme and with a few satisfying twists in the story, not too many instances of ‘out of place’ fan service (I guess) and overall I did enjoy it.

The writing was pretty effective at showing the unsurprising cowardice contrasted with the welcome heroism of humanity in a largely dystopian setting. It also pulled back away from the kids and their struggles to spend a bit of time on managing a city on limited resources, which I found interesting, though would hardly be everyone’s key memory of the series 😀

3.5 Stars

B: The Beginning

Perhaps a quick warning – this review is even more rambling than usual, so if you’re looking for a plot summary maybe click here first 😀

So! There was a whole lot I liked about B: The Beginning (and it’s nice to know there is a second season in production) but one thing that bugs me is that the working title was Perfect Bones – which is far better than the generic final title, right? Is it just me? Perfect Bones* clearly links to the meat of the series in a subtler and more satisfying way and again, is far less generic than… well, anyway, I enjoyed this series!

And that’s partly because of the odd mix between aspects that are quite at home in a CSI/Criminal Minds cop team (featuring an uneasy genius and a taciturn leader) and the supernatural, the teen angst, and some horror and occasional bits of comedy too.

At first I thought there were too many disparate parts, but the series mostly brought it all together, definitely enough for me to suspend disbelief and want to see how it ended.

(However, keep in mind that I do enjoy genre mash-ups a lot and so I have that bias).

The story follows twin, converging storylines which are both engaging for differing reasons and while it seems one has more action (young Koku’s search for a lost love) and one more investigating (Keith Kazama Flick’s search for a killer), the division isn’t always clean cut.

Both stories essentially offer plenty of both action and intrigue, delivered with the fairly ‘slick’ modern animation that’s always pretty impressive if not always distinctive, but then, you don’t always want super-distinctive. Sometimes you want reliably enjoyable, I reckon.

And I don’t mean for either of those descriptions to come off as put-downs either, so hopefully they don’t do that.

Aside from those aspects it was probably the characters and the mythology that the series created and wove in and out of the story that I found most enjoyable.

In terms of character, I think it was Keith and Lily’s relationship, which has an abrasive mentor/rival/student thing, that I enjoyed the most – her earnestness is endearing and his drive is too. On the note of the mythology, I’d actually have loved more of that (perhaps over the boarding school flashbacks – though they certainly served a purpose) and maybe season two will do just that?

Despite my enjoyment of Keith and his storyline, the slapstick sometimes seemed oddly out of place and to some extent, the Koku character is reasonably standard, but again, that’s not a deal-breaker for me as everything lifted up the more conventional aspects; slick, vivid animation, some great villains, a few twists and real comedic moments were joined by interesting mythology and an Italian setting, so yeah, I was a pretty happy viewer 🙂

And the ending theme is another highlight, both the credits sequence itself and the moody song – which fans of Megadeth might be interested in, as it’s performed by Man with a Mission in collaboration with Marty Friedman.

Back in 2016 when Netflix were making those early pushes into anime this show was announced as: “the first ever original anime title to debut all episodes simultaneously in 190 countries around the world” and so it was clear they wanted it to succeed, and partnering with Production I.G on this 12 episode series was a pretty great first step.

Obviously a big distribution deal, an average title and a great ending theme song aren’t enough to make a killer series; it’s everything in between that we’re interested in – but for me the separate elements added up to something memorable.

Having said that, I suspect if you watch a lot of US crime shows or anime in general, Perfect Bones B: The Beginning won’t be surprising but it hit a lot of the notes I was looking for.

*And yeah, I understand that the visual representation of the ‘B’ itself is also important to the story but still, Perfect Bones would have been better 😀

4 Stars

Children of the Whales (Kujira no Kora wa Sajō ni Utau)

Obviously I’ve been digging through my memories for some of the reviews thus far but ‘whales’ is a short series from 2018 that I saw recently – and I found it hard to settle on a star rating this time.

Children of the Whales (Kujira no Kora wa Sajō ni Utau)
2018

There’s a lot to enjoy: a distinctive ‘textured’ art style and memorable, oft-times difficult characters for one.

The series also features a pretty fascinating setting (isolated folks living on a mud whale that sails on sand) and great world-building that drew me in more and more with each episode… but in the end, I just couldn’t get on board with the ‘child soldiers’ theme.

In the fictional universe there is something of an explaination via the emotion/empathy-draining whales that protect the people as much as they harm then, but still, transforming such a large portion of the inhabitants of the world into sociopathic drones wasn’t one of the compelling aspects for me.

I’m 50/50 on whether I’ll watch any possible season 2 episodes, though it doesn’t look like it’s been given the go ahead.

2 Stars

The design here I love – it’s fascinating and somehow disturbing too, more so via close ups in the following episode.