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

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.

Gungrave (Gangureivu) TV

It’s probable that I’ve said this before but I find mafia-style stories a hard sell.

And yet, I’ll usually at least try them out.

Gungrave (Gangureivu) TV 2003

Part of what led me to give Gungrave a look was the connection to Yasuhiro Nightow and the promise of the supernatural that was lain out so convincingly during episode one (though not fulfilled until post episode 17 for me).

And while there are a few echoes of Trigun (Wolfwood’s Punisher etc) this is obviously quite different, not just setting-wise, either.

One example is the themes.

Thematically, the price of loyalty and betrayal are key in the anime – this is as much crime-family drama as anything else, remember? – but I was probably most drawn to the science-fiction elements in the end, and the sort of revenge plot that was eventually abdicated in favour of… well, I won’t spoil the ending, even in my ‘spoiler section’.

I also really enjoyed the designs, there’s a great range of characters here, but above all I probably liked Brandon/Beyond’s costume and the way that even his weapons are linked to the overall aesthetic (which holds a few hints of things common to the Western genre).

Narrative-wise, there are a few time jumps across the series – and since this is somewhat of a prequel to the game of the same name, learning about the key players’ pasts feels like a logical move. Having said that, I’ve never played the PS2 game so I’m not sure how well everything fits together.

In a big cast there were a fair few memorable characters and voices (Bunji!), though for one, I did think that Lee became a bit shrill in later episodes. Another issue I had was that Maria was not given much agency, which was annoying, but at least the story afforded her some more functionality toward the end.

[Spoiler below]

For me, a lot of the mafia stuff dragged.

It became a bit of a slog despite singular stand out episodes here and there or the great direction in them – and so I was most invested after Brandon’s ‘death’, though above all, I still liked the series.

Mika was cruelly under-utilised as a character and while bookies Widge and Gary (and Bear Walken and Dr. Tokioka) were other stand outs I haven’t mentioned yet, once I did start to crave vengeance on behalf of Brandon I think everything seemed to come together for me; themes, mafia and science-fiction aspects too.

The ending was really interesting but part of me also found it fairly unsatisfying – in terms of bloodlust, at least.

To keep harping on a bit about things I didn’t enjoy so much, making Brandon almost mute during his ‘grave’ era was also a disservice.

He was never much of a talker in the previous arcs, but denying him much in the way of speech really diminishes the potential to add extra depth to a lot of his scenes. Obviously, the visuals do plenty of talking but there could have been more facets to his final arc.

Having grumbled about all of the above, I have to say that I still enjoyed Gungrave a lot – and as a quick final, final thought, it was nice to see a bit of time (though not enough) spent critiquing the deep hypocrisy of crime families.

4 Stars

Tokko

If you like breasts and blood, supernatural-action anime Tokko has got you covered.

Okay, flippant opener I know – but I’ll switch to the tone of the series now.

Tokko (2006)

On the special features for my disc I noticed the team mentioned wanting to create something edgy/dark and that since the series would screen on Wowow during a late night slot, they’d be able to come closer to the source material.

I can’t speak to that but there’s a fair share of blood, some supernatural and sci-fi horror, along with plenty of breasts too, when it comes to costuming. (None of the nudity really makes sense of course – it’s not a question of romance or passion, but it’s not R-rated stuff either).

Now, in terms of ‘flaws’ I’ll say the animation quality varies a little, as does the consistency of character models at times, but I’m pretty forgiving of those things when it comes to supernatural stories.

So, what is the story in Tokko?

“When 108 demons free themselves and start killing people, Special Public Safety Task Force, or ‘Tokko’ for short, is formed to stop them.” Covering familiar ground here but the series definitely has a few extra dimensions via the various groups at cross-purposes, along with something I found pretty interesting.

Here, the characters were probably in their early 20s (rather than being either younger or older) meaning that Tokko could fit into the (perhaps fledgling) ‘New Adult’ genre as it’s called in the world of books.

This meant that some of those problems appeared onscreen – the trials of independence, workplace issues, juggling dating and work, those were the welcome, extra things that main character Ranmaru Shindo had to deal with when not slashing up monsters.

On that note, the violence is a touch more than your average shounen/seinen perhaps, and while the supernatural/horror elements did stand out at times (especially the opening and the lab episodes) I think that Tokko could have been ‘good’ to my mind, but when I got to the ending… woah.

And so to finish with a spoiler – do not seek out Tokko expecting a solid ending.

After the climax to the final episode, there’s this odd rush of ending-erasing stuff, as if to somehow reset the story and then kick off on a second season, a season which just never materialised.

3 Stars

(Also, episode one has quite the wtf moment but I won’t spoil it for anyone who might hunt this show down one day).

BEM: Become Human

BEM: Become Human (2020) follows on directly from the series but you could probably pick up the movie and have a different but equally enjoyable experience – how exactly it would differ probably strays into spoiler territory, though.

Immediately, the higher budget (and change to Production IG) for the film was clear, with more detail, bigger battles and overall smoother animation across the board (esp transformations and action) than the short series.

There are also subtle changes in character design and a narrowing of focus when it came to the story too – this is very much Bem’s tale. For me, that was both a strength and a weakness to the film, as Bela is sidelined and Belo only gets a bit of action, but overall the most screen time (and impact) comes from Bem’s struggle.

On the other hand, having the three leads separated does add some dramatic tension.

The main theme of what does it mean to be human? is still front and centre, allowing Bem’s backstory to sneak into his search for truth about himself and the city he seems to be trapped within.

[Spoilers below] 

In regard to the setting, it was perhaps the other stand out for me – I found it fascinating how much it reminded me of the original Westworld, Stepford Wives or the Truman Show perhaps. Since pretty much the whole city is in on the deception, there was a great sense that everyone was a villain or at least, untrustworthy.

I will say that I wished there had been time for the movie to do a little more with the relationship between Bem and his ‘wife’ perhaps, and I’ve already mentioned not enjoying the lack of attention given to the supporting cast (Sonia gets more time than the others) but overall, I’m glad I stumbled across the series and, in turn, the movie.

Definitely for fans of the supernatural or perhaps late 1960s manga.

4 Stars

Kurozuka

Kurozuka is a sometimes jumbled, often compelling adaptation of a novel by Baku Yumemakura and which is on the surface, a vampire story.

Kurozuka (2008)

After finishing the series I think it can be more comfortably described as science fiction/action with incidental vampirism, which is both interesting and – if you are looking for some vampires – disappointing.

Produced by Madhouse and directed by Tetsuro Araki, Kurozuka bears a few hints of aspects which later appear in Attack on Titan but here there’s an epic, centuries-spanning tale squeezed into 13 episodes.

I’m not able to put my finger on what I think made this anime close to being amazing, without getting there.

Fun action, interesting world with a good central mystery to the storyline, even a disjointed narrative structure to keep things from becoming too predictable… but something was missing.  

Two things that I came up with after thinking a bit:

  • the set-up of a potentially doomed romance actually led to something else, a swift separation of the main characters which then denied them much meaningful interaction for nearly the rest of the series, and
  • the sheer volume of off-screen story that did not appear (or was not referenced) in time for the climax to have a big impact.

Did all of my grumbling mean I hated this series?

Not at all, but I guess it’s a very easy 3 Stars for the rating, since I’m glad to have seen it (and am now quite curious about the book), but at the same time, I don’t know if I’ll watch it again.

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi)

This is a typical OVA in some ways – violence and nudity (or the threat of rape being passed off as ‘comedic’), all predictable things about certain anime genres, some of which have certainly come to tire me after a couple decades.

Puppet Princess (Karakuri no Kimi) 2000

That isn’t to claim Puppet Princess is terrible, or that I think it’s impossible to take on serious themes in anime either, but Puppet Princess feels too casual with its application of that content for me.

I should talk about the story sooner or later – but first, Puppet Princess almost seems bit of a warm up for Karakuri Circus, especially when it comes to the puppetry (which was probably the best aspect of the anime).

An adaptation of Kazuhiro Fujita’s one-shot manga, it’s a straightforward but still at times exciting story of vengeance. Rangiku (the Puppet Princess) recruits warrior Manajiri and together they seek and eventually take on Lord Karimata, who murdered her family.

There are a few fun surprises, especially toward the end, and the art and animation works for me, though this 2000 OVA won’t deliver things you might be used to if you favour modern action sequences and techniques.

Is it worth chasing down?

Maybe if you’re a fan of Kazuhiro Fujita or the era of production perhaps, or just if you really love swords and shinobi.

3 Stars

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú)

I tend to be a little disappointed in romance anime that hold back on the developing the relationship onscreen – especially when it comes to homosexual relationships, but that’s probably not always fair.

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú) 2020

And I say ‘not fair’ not in terms of a discussion between chaste vs lewd content, but more a case that I wish the industry would treat the relationships of gay characters the same as heterosexual ones, though it feels like that’s changing slowly. 

Having said that, I think I should also add – I hope things continue to change in so long as it’s safe for the creators, that is. (Obviously, country of production has an impact).

But until things change, there’s still somewhat sweet shows like Heaven Official’s Blessing, based on the novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu and animated by Haoliners Animation League. I hadn’t seen many works from China at all, but this looks fantastic, with whimsical and menacing settings, fluid action and memorable leads.

Heaven Official’s Blessing feels like a balanced mix between supernatural action and almost cute romance, (with lead Xie Lian even taking on the clumsy ‘damsel’ role at times) and I enjoyed the mythological aspects as much as the character interplay across the 13 episodes, and I’m definitely hoping there’s another season one day.

I saw HOB on the soon to be defunct Animelab, and while the subtitles were far too small for my eyes, I’m glad they were there because without them I would not have been able to watch the show at all. (There were mythological elements and context that I missed too, especially those last few episodes I suspect).


The ending to episode 12 kinda demanded an OVA or a ‘special’ because while it wrapped the action plot, the relationship between Xie Lian and San Lang needed more screen time, which did happen with #13 thankfully.

Definitely recommended for fans of the above-mentioned genres.

4 Stars

Blade of the Last Phantom Master (Shin Angyō Onshi)

Blade of the Last Phantom Master (Shin Angyō Onshi) 2007

Here is another anime that has me quite curious about the manga.

Set in lands reminiscent of ancient Korea, Blade of the Last Phantom Master follows anti-hero Munsu as he roams around fighting tyranny. And while he is utterly committed to that, his methods often grant him that label of ‘anti-hero’, perhaps along with his curt manner which is tempered by compassion.

The film does pander a little to the fantasy/supernatural genre’s expectation for violence and I guess you could made a case for Chun Hyang’s costume being an expression of the same expectation, but it’s hardly constant. (As I’ve probably said before, endless fan-service tends to bug me but Blade of the Last Phantom Master doesn’t feel like that kinda movie).    

I don’t really have much to mention in terms of aspects I didn’t enjoy – but I could see the structure of the film being an issue for some viewers perhaps, as Blade of the Last Phantom Master is one part the story of how the two leads meet (Munsu and Chun Hyang) and one part their next adventure, combined into one film. In that sense, it’s an effective bit of marketing for the manga for sure but might not be to everyone’s taste.

Elsewhere I loved the painterly, at times softer backgrounds, especially in the travel montage and throughout, I was surprised at a few of the turns the story took. And more, having so little knowledge about Korean myths and stories, I loved seeing some interesting magical elements – especially the way paper was used.

On that note, I believe not everyone was happy with the Youn In-wan’s tonal shift in this adaptation of the beloved The Legend of Chun Hyang and so I’m keen to read more about it one day.

Blade of the Last Phantom Master makes good use of its two villains too, along with the supporting cast. I should add, that even though master swordswoman Chun Hyang is a co-lead, she doesn’t really get many lines and so again, the sense that this is an opener to a much longer story is clear there too.

I can’t finish the review without mentioning the CGI, which is pretty well integrated to my eye, it definitely feels like both the Japanese and Korean studios (Oriental Light and Magic and Character Plan) put in a lot of care an attention there.

And finally, as a quick observation, I found it fascinating that Munsu seems to carry and use an inhaler – something I haven’t seen in a whole lot of anime.

5 Stars

BEM (2019)

Remakes of classic shows feel risky, since time can divest modern audiences of context, and of course tastes around art styles and technological advancements change the visual landscape so quickly.

And here we have BEM, a remake created as part of a 50 year anniversary, and so the characters have been around a little while 🙂

Doubly so, that risk I’ve been thinking about seems to stand true for an international audience unfamiliar with the original (which was definitely me) but I took a chance on BEM because I like the supernatural and science-fiction genres.

And while I haven’t seen the 1968 nor the 2006 versions of BEM, I’m quite curious to do so now.

At the core of the series is a struggle for identity and belonging, combined with the Pinocchio quest – a favourite plot in anime for decades.

Here’s a quote adapted from wiki on the premise:

Even though Bem, Bela and Belo (three yokai) are often abused and discriminated against by other human beings due to their appearance, they still strive to protect the human populace of their city from other monsters, one day hoping to become human beings in return for their good actions.

On that note, the theme of ‘becoming human’ is one I craved a little more of in the anime* but it’s definitely present, as the three leads each face doubts about their desire to change.

While they explore the dream, there is a ‘monster of the week’ episodic feel to the early half of the anime, giving us time to get to know the yokai, and I probably enjoyed these episodes better in part because when the ‘big bad’ was at last revealed and brought in to the narrative, it was maybe a little late. She had less impact for me.

On the other hand, the designs were memorable and the action was fun and the themes of discrimination were welcome (depressing as they could be) as it added another aspect to the anime. In this, I imagine there’s a clear link back to the original, surely.

But getting back to the idea of risk, another thing I noticed were the 1960s kinda character designs that remained.

I reckon the artists would have wanted to update things without destroying the original designs.

To me it worked overall for sure, but two things struck me – the most obvious being Bela’s change from adult to teen, and the second being the occasional character like the bowling ball bad guy, who felt kinda goofy.


Those issues aside, I finished the short anime interested in more and enjoyed it enough to seek out the film BEM: Become Human, which luckily enough at the time, AnimeLab had on hand.

3 Stars

*The movie definitely does explore this theme in more depth and the animation budget seemed a bigger too.

(Also, I enjoyed the OST from Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, the themes most of all I think).