Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Anata ga koko ni Itehoshii)

This is a short sci-fi ONA from 2001 – not so long into the slow rise of CGI in anime, and while it has a few problems for me, I didn’t end up abandoning Zaion.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Anata ga koko ni Itehoshii) 2001

Most aspects were good enough without being outstanding.

Which sounds like not much of a compliment, I know but not every single second has to be outstanding, right? The storyline was the classic ‘save the city’ this time from out of control space-virus mutations, with a small team of human-nano-machine-hybrid soldiers having to bear the brunt of the attacks.

That is, except for Ai, whose psychic powers are the only guarantee of victory.

Sadly, she’s a prisoner of her military & their scientists – and while she develops a relationship with male lead Yuuji, it was just as interesting to see the mother-daughter relationship between her and conflicted scientist Misao, who is her first ally.

I won’t go deep into the story but it plays out as expected, though with a more sombre ending than say a typical action sci-fi.

Despite things that kept me watching, I will say that the CGI is not integrated too well – the age of it is clear, and obviously Gonzo and the industry would improve over the years.

When it comes to the plot, there’s some real problems with the obliviousness of the general population too… but to go back to things I liked, the themes around the futility of war worked for me, and Kenji Kawai’s OST really stood out too.

Not sure I’d recommend Zaion, however, unless you are a fan of the era?

3 Stars

I do like the DVD cover a lot

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto)

This was a great taste of action-science fiction from an era of anime that’s sort of long gone now. Well, if you consider 15 years a long time ago, and probably it is – in terms of trends and audience tastes, perhaps.

But that’s not what’s important here.

Instead, here’s little on the premise/plot, before I focus on other things:

Strait Jacket is set an alternate history where magic was proven to exist and spread throughout all facets of society and changed the social and technological development of the world. Rayotte Steinberg, a lone wolf ‘tactical sorcerist’, fights against monsters while wearing a ‘mold’, the straight jacket that keeps him human. (Adapted from Wiki/MAL)

All classic stuff that will usually catch my attention, since I’m pretty easy to please.

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto) 2007

However, I will say that events in the Strait Jacket OVAs/film are clearly part of a wider story (it’s adapted from a light novel series), giving me the sense that there is much more to learn about the characters, if only viewers had been given a chance to do so – say, via a full series.

So maybe Strait Jacket was too short but that might be exactly what you’re looking for, and in addition, there are resolutions to a few of the problems the characters face, one of which is major enough to provide an actual ending.

If I was going to continue grumbling here, I guess I felt that the ending itself was a little less impactful than maybe it could have been… perhaps.

I’m more confident noting that a fair amount of the magic/technology as it was used in the film could have used extra grounding.

Actually, now that I’ve said that there is one more thing – the (lesser) antagonists were not as compelling as the heroes for me. That’s at least in part due to the running time of the anime, again I’d say it’s because there wasn’t enough space to expand things, and obviously the light novel series has the luxury of an extended narrative to fix that issue.

And so, now that it turns out that I’ve spent most of the review quibbling over minor flaws, I should finally go over what I really enjoyed – and below, you’ll see ‘4 Stars’, so I clearly liked Strait Jacket a fair bit.

For one, I did enjoy the characters (especially Inspector Simmons). Some of the conflicts faced by the supporting cast also worked as a nice contract to the more stable or at least hidden past that existed between lead Reiott and his mysterious sidekick, Kapel.

Throughout, the use of colour and lighting stood out for me – though I’ll spare you any rhapsodising and just note that some of the images throughout show some of those aspects I enjoyed.

Straight Jacket features some pretty big action sequences and ace mechanical and creature design also – as an example, the plucked/roast chicken shape, rather than being too comical, remained unnerving here:

It was interesting to see the death of a supporting character actually occur ‘off-screen’, since it really worked to drive home the ‘hero-wasn’t-there’ guilt-motivator for events in the final stages of the story.

At other times, there’s a bit more blood and gore than perhaps you’d see on a TV broadcoast anime, so take note if that’s not your thing.

I finished the OVAs pretty interested in the series, keen for more info on the heroes… but that probably won’t happen in a hurry, knowing my disinclination to follow-up on light novels/manga etc, so I’ll probably just have to be happy with what I’ve got on DVD 😀

4 Stars

And before I finish, I want to thank Anime Hanabi for the recommendation – I might not have watched this without your post 🙂

Ray: The Animation

From creator Akihito Yoshitomi comes something of a Black Jack spin-off, with another supremely talented surgeon – Ray, whose x-ray eyes help her save the day wherever possible.

Ray: The Animation (2006)

Combined with the cases she solves and illnesses she cures on an episode-to-episode basis, there is a larger story of the past pushing through in this anime, which definitely worked as a nice hook for me.

Since Ray: The Animation is near future science-fiction as much as it is a medical drama or mystery, there’s a lot of solves via technology that may never exist, but I usually found most of it interesting, even if Ray’s eyes were often used in a similar way.

Ray herself is a somewhat cold (but not heartless) character, in a clear contrast with the nurses at her hopsital, who are quite cheerful and one of which is quite happy to regularly rib Ray – especially when it comes to the romantic subplot that rises and falls in importance across the 13 episodes.

I really liked the way the various elements were interwoven here, how the foreshadowing starts nice and early for certain reveals.

And in regard to the main villain, it was a fun surprise to see what his true motivations actually were… and the lengths he went to in order to reach his goal are typically impressive and troubling, as per most great villains.

Visually, it was also nice to see some pastel/watercolour-looking backgrounds and settings, along with the occasional ‘postcard memory’ too.

Now, if you’re not in the mood to deal with a certain amount of non-graphic but obvious cruelty toward children, then maybe save Ray for another time.

The first episode has a few surprises up its sleeve, that’s for sure – and I have to spoil just one, since it really threw me in a good way, which was the ease with which the nurses switched from the healing to martial arts.

Black Jack himself cameos a couple of times in the anime, but it’s very much the story of Ray’s search for truth about the dark organisation that kept her captive as a child, interwoven with the medical drama.

I enjoyed the characters as much as the scenarios, and some of the cases were pretty compelling – but another warning, a few of the medical procedures are shown in enough detail that some folks might not enjoy it, and a few cases probabaly verge on body-horror, so be warned if that’s not your thing either.

4 Stars

Due to copyright, Black Jack was only alluded to as BJ and never seen fully in the original manga, but because the anime was produced by Osamu Tezuka’s own studio, he appears fully in the anime (though still somewhat obscured) and is referred to by his original name.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei)

The Dawn of the Deep Soul film continues with the ‘let’s do unspeakably cruel things to cute kids’ approach that featured in the first season of the anime.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei) 2020

Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the movie – that would be a lie, but some scenes will probably be hard work for most viewers, so take note if you know you’re not up for that sort of thing right now (or ever).

To contrast all that was harrowing about the movie, I’ll say that the amazing perseverance of the kids who keep fighting, no matter what, ends up being uplifting.

Although, perhaps what I enjoyed most about the film was the expansion of the world featured in Made in Abyss, learning more specifics around its often twisted workings.

Another highlight for me was the first fight scene between Bondrewd and the kids – put me on the roller-coaster a bit, because I was well-aware that it was far too early in the film for a resolution.

I don’t really have much in the way of criticism, save for something that’s relatively unfair – which is that the sense of travel and encountering new wonders and horrors is somewhat reduced here. And of course – it’s one film, not one season, and one film focused on a very specific location, Bondrewd’s fortress of horrors.

And I’m not sure this is a criticism precisely, but there are times when it’s clear how the narrative is going to traumatise Riko and co, and even the seemingly more stalwart Nanachi, and so some scenes may or may not land as hard as intended.

Again, whether you experience something similar or are even bothered by it is probably not going to be a big issue, if at all. Sometimes anticipation heightens the suffering too, lol.

Other than that, the film was often harrowing, occasionally uplifting, and pretty much every minute of it compelling.

(And also – before season 2 happens during the ‘summer’ of 2022, I reckon this film is a must if you’re planning to keep watching the Made in Abyss series).

4 Stars

Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma)

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.

Bob Newhart cameo!

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.

4 Stars

Finally! My first review in over a month 🙂

Devil May Cry: The Animated Series (Debiru Mei Kurai)

Devil May Cry is another anime based on a classic game franchise, but I can’t judge this one in terms of its merits as an adaptation, since I’ve not played any of the games.

And so I’ll focus on the anime itself.

Devil May Cry: The Animated Series (Debiru Mei Kurai) 2007

In terms of plot, our hero Dante runs a demon-hunting business, ‘Devil May Cry’, while struggling to get out of debt in order to afford more strawberry sundaes 🙂

I enjoyed Devil May Cry without being thrilled by every moment; there was some great action and memorable creature designs, especially in the first two eps, along with a few stories that stood out above the others.

One thing that I found perhaps more interesting looking back, was the way that the villain works to link together what appears to be ‘only’ an episodic format. And while he might be typical for his archetype, he’s probably not so typical as the Big Bad. (I guess that’s a little vague but I wanted to make an attempt to avoid spoilers).

To continue on with things I enjoyed, Dante stands out in part due to his character contractions, rather than only due to the very satisfying high-contrast colours he’s given. Lady and J.D were other favourites from a cast that has nice mix of recurring and new characters.

In terms of favourite episodes, ‘Rock Queen’ heavily features music and even record-collecting as plot points, so that was pretty ace. Some of the characters even got a happy ending too! I also really enjoyed the ‘Death Poker’ episode, as it was a little different to the more typical hack-and-slash of many from other plots.

Speaking of which, there’s plenty of demon-fodder in Devil May Cry, blood too, and some gore, though most (but not all) of it is focused on the monsters. Still, pretty obviously not the kinda anime for the young ones.

To quickly finish on something that bugged me, while Patty started off in brat-mode, she became far more tolerable as the series went on, but it’s a shame that in the end, Dante seemed to value her most as a bloody cleaner.

3 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Okaruto Gakuin)

Occult Academy* charges out of the boxes with its first episode – really throwing punches everywhere and culminating in uber-tsundere Maya standing on her father’s coffin, interrupting the funeral (taking place in in a school auditorium) and shouting about everything being ‘staged’.

Sound over the top?

It definitely is.

But the anime is well-aware of that fact too, and so if you watch episode one it’s possible at least to contextualise what I’ve just mentioned. And if you’re like me, after you’ve seen the ep you’ll probably be 100% hooked on the premise and characters.

Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Okaruto Gakuin) 2010

So, on to the plot! Simply put, Maya and Fumiaki investigate occult occurrences, searching for a way to prevent the end of the world. To add a bit of complication, they’re uneasy allies and he’s a time-traveller while she’s a sceptic, somehow filling in as principal of the school she attends. From there, the show grows increasingly off-the-wall, while holding things together with the central threat of a terrible future that must be avoided.

I thought both Maya and Fumiaki were great lead characters, as their own issues complicate their present day lives nicely. Some of the supporting cast are good enough to be scene stealers too – I’m thinking Smile and JK, and Ami, though I wanted to see a touch more from Junichirou also, especially as we might have a somewhat unreliable narrator with Maya.

Throughout the series, I found myself surprised here and there by a few twists. I also enjoyed the occasional moments of straight-up drama, a great contrast with all the supernatural and humour elements. As much as anything, I really enjoyed the distinctive, varied character design too. Once again, I feel like I’m hammering modern anime a bit… but with certain genres, the character design is a bit same-same, and that’s not the case with Occult Academy.

Ready for the fan-service paragraph? Aside from the typical costume stuff, I was surprised to see some that was vital to plot and character. But I guess if I say too much more, I’ll inadvertently drift into spoiler territory and for some reason, I think this anime is a bit forgotten now? IS that even true? I don’t see the physical edition up with many retailers and can’t remember if it’s available to stream in many places? (And 12 years is a long time in anime).

In any event, Occult Academy surprised me with its mix of humour, heart and the supernatural and I’d recommend it to folks who enjoyed… well, actually, I don’t think I have a handle on shows that include this mix of genres or tone. Maybe if you like a bit of time-travel mixed in with your supernatural, science-fiction, suspense, action comedy?

5 Stars

*Part of A1 Pictures ‘Anime no Chikara’ which featured 3 shows that were originals (Night Raid and Sound of the Sky also), and which inspired me to seek out the other two, which I hope to review soon-ish.

Kino’s Journey —the Beautiful World— (Kino no Tabi)

I hope that Kino’s Journey is considered a classic beyond my limited sphere, since I reckon it’s a wholly compelling series from beginning to end.

Ideally, I’d launch into my reasons for saying why I enjoyed it so much – but I want to instead start with some of my quibbles. And since they include spoilers, I’ll just place a pic or two here first.

Kino’s Journey —the Beautiful World— (Kino no Tabi) 2003

The series is really sparing with details about Kino herself.

I suspect I know at least a few reasons why that would be so, but I still wished there had been time to learn more. Even the episode that introduced Kino’s namesake could have offered us a little more – perhaps a double episode? That would have been great.

Oh well.

(My issue here is obviously something that would have been mitigated by a longer series.)

Secondly, I’m not sure how much I enjoyed the text cards throughout – I liked their function as prompts but I don’t know how effective they were.

Of course, that’s not a bad ratio – two complaints only, right?

So, onto the stuff I loved.

For one, the world building is great – each destination is enthralling and usually pretty distinct, and having Kino’s three-day rule is a perfect way to keep things episodic, which is in turn, the perfect structure for a traveller.

In fact, I wanted another season, another set of surprises and moments that had me pause to think, moments that caused me to question what I thought I understood about any given situation presented in the stories etc.

I guess it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call Kino… a pretty cerebral anime, but it wasn’t a static talk-fest by any stretch.

There’s enough action, movement and lovely visuals to probably keep even casual viewers engaged too – and not just the Colosseum episodes, which came to mind for me first.

One issue I have seen mentioned here and there is Kino herself.

She has a somewhat restrained or even emotionally detached personality (and voice – a delivery that suits her well), though she doesn’t lack compassion at all, I can see times where I wanted her to grow more involved.

It’s also a useful way to give the audience room to insert themselves into the ethical dilemmas, to potentially avoid being swayed by the main character’s choices or beliefs.

I liked the choice and I now find myself wondering about it – was it something unique to the anime, or is Kino similar in the source material?

And perhaps above all, her personality really makes the impact of that last episode a lot stronger, to actually see something really hit home for Kino – where previously she’d been in far greater control of her emotions, she’d been perhaps a little too sure in her role as observer of all that ‘beauty’?

It does seem a bit like a shield for her, and considering her past, it makes sense that she’d be pretty guarded.

Okay, I think that’s about it from me – time to end this review with a few dot-points that I probably could have fit elsewhere, but didn’t:

  • I really enjoyed the muted palette and the occasional use of sepia
  • ‘Persuader’ is an equally striking and troubling name for guns
  • Loved the Florence-like setting in the Land of Prophecies episode
  • Kino’s sense of self is strong, also being quite uninterested in labelling herself – simply claiming to be ‘Kino’ when asked at one point, which is an interesting contrast to her more impartial personality traits
  • Some other fav episodes were the opener and the finale, along with the Land of Wizards and also when we see the nod to Fahrenheit 451

I feel semi-confident recommending this to any anime fan. (Well, any one save for those few out there who only tend to watch a single, narrow sub-category of the medium, I guess.)

Maybe I ought to qualify that claim a bit more with a summary and a few extra bits… and so I think it’s time to bust out a non-essential table 😀 And so below there’s some reasons why I think Kino’s Journey is worth a shot, presented in a hard-to-read table format, lol

I know there was a remake/re-telling/another version of Kino’s Journey released in 2017 but I haven’t seen it. I’m curious… but maybe not enough to actually give it a shot in a hurry as I finished this iteration pretty happy, really.

Anyway, to finally actually wrap up this review, Kino’s Journey is another obvious contender for an update to my Top Ten list.

5 Stars

009-1 (TV)

009-1 (2006) TV

I’m a little annoyed that I’d never come across 009-1 before last year.

Written by Shotaro Ishinomori as a way to tackle stories beyond the shonen demographic familiar with Cyborg 009 etc, it’s an interesting premise where the cold war had continued well into the future. It gave me some Spy v Spy vibes (but with a bigger cast) and a more serious tone, as the futility of the war is very much front and centre across the series.

Right off the bat I’ll say that I was probably pre-disposed to enjoying this anime.

Not just because Ishinomori was behind the pen, but the 1960s-aesthetic (from OST to costume to architecture and weaponry), I loved it. Even things like the echoes of the space-race that appear across the episodes, right down to having (not only) Mylene’s pupils often shaped like little rockets.

Patterns upon patterns here, loved it

Backgrounds and composition were two other highlights for me – it rarely seemed like a single episode passed where I didn’t enjoy some textured view of land or cityscape, or the choice of shot or framing. (Director Naoyuki Konno probably had some great manga panels to reference but I don’t know how close the series is to the source material).

I was also surprised a few times by the twists and turns here, and between plenty of action-based episodes there were some sad tales and stories that take-on big questions too, like perhaps Holy Night and POP or Exodus.

If you’re more well-versed with spy films and TV than I am, I think some of the moments that caught me off guard will be easier to spot.

Lots of fan-service too, mostly focused on beautiful girls and a lot of it fairly exaggerated, though sex and power (and to a lesser extent agency) are actually themes in 009-1.

But above everything else in this category, I cannot finish the review without mentioning the fembot ‘guns in their jubblies’ stuff, because in a pre Austin Powers world I can see it being a great twist but it ended up being comical to me, having seen Austin Powers before 009-1.

I will say that the opening episode does establish a bit of a false sense that the team of Agents will work together across the series, but the anime is mostly focused on 009-1 herself, and so if you’re expecting an ensemble show, this won’t do the trick.

Otherwise, one of my new favs and maybe a contender for the Top Ten. Maybe. Well, Top Twenty, certainly.

5 Stars

Hard not to spoil this joke, but I guess I have now – at least, if you have never seen 009-1 you’ll be anticipating it. And if you never plan to watch 009-1, then there’s no problems, lol