Bubble (Baburu)

The fable of The Little Mermaid gets its fair share of attention in anime, especially when it comes to the ‘doomed-romance’ sub-genre. (Further spoilers below).

Bubble (Baburu) 2022

And at a glance, the film is very much science-fiction. Or action, but despite the setting and the parkour sequences, the diminished curiosity the film shows for the cause of such a radically changed Tokyo allows the romance-side of things to take a larger share of the narrative.

Now, by ‘diminished’ I don’t mean zero.

Obviously Makoto is very curious, but the story isn’t about her and her ship or her research. It’s more of a gradual reveal focusing on how the two romantic leads were ‘always connected’ and so the science-fiction/disaster aspects are in service to Hibiki & Uta’s drawing together.

Which still worked for me, absolutely, but I think this would disappoint viewers expecting a complex science-fiction epic or something like writer Gen Urobuchi’s work in Blassreiter or Pyscho-Pass.

However, if you’re looking for a sci-fi (ish) Little Mermaid re-telling that is visually pretty gorgeous, then give Bubble a try. As with a lot of work from Wit Studio, their use of colour and detail is pretty ace, even maybe overwhelming at times – and the film does feature some thrilling parkour scenes too.

But even with its inevitable ending, Uta’s final moments are still sad.

And it seems also to me, that the personal growth and opening up of Hibiki is only rewarded by him simply becoming more vulnerable to new suffering, and so maybe that aspect left things a bit sour for me in the end.

On the other hand, the sheer spectacle of the visuals was absolutely worth my time.

3.5 Stars

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.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song

Vivy made me wonder whether great art, exhilarating fight sequences, catchy songs and fun costume changes with engaging characters were enough for me to say yep, 5 stars – even in spite of some disappointment with the plot.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song (2021)

(In the end, it doesn’t matter whether I finish the review with a 4 or 5 star rating, or any other number, but apparently I enjoy overthinking and so I’m still not sure about a score :D)

Anyway, getting back to Vivy itself– if you’ve been craving time-travel science fiction and action that looks great (with an interesting compression of a 100-year timeline) then there should be more than enough to keep you watching.

And there was for me – I looked forward to each new episode and in addition, it was really fun to see the show via Karandi’s posts too.

Ah, the wrist-grab trope

Occasionally, I felt some of the jumps in time were a bit sharp and Matsumoto can be hard work to listen to, though those were minor issues for me. Again, I personally find it easy enough to overlook aspects I didn’t enjoy when the visuals are great and WIT studio lives up to their reputation here, I reckon.

While there are a few threads / mini arcs that I preferred over others, I think I’ll quickly mention some fav scenes or smaller aspects instead:

  • The robot welcome in the factory stood out, nice way to humanise them and also kinda manipulate the audience
  • The ‘falling’ fight scene in episode 9 is pretty ace
  • Gradual thawing of Vivy’s personality works really well
  • OP is a cool song
  • I also enjoyed the little bit of exploration around possible rights/privileges of non-humans (robot marriage etc)

Without spoilers, there was a particular point toward the end where the choices of characters (and connected time-travel difficulties) gave me fair pause, and some disappointment there did impact the finale for me.

However, I wouldn’t say I felt the same level of disappointment as with say, The Promised Neverland or Wonder Egg Priority.

And in spite of the issues I had with the last few episodes I liked that time-travel wasn’t something that solved everything neatly, often when Vivy and Matsumoto took action, they found changes harder to make than planned.

In the end, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is definitely a show I’d like to add to my collection one day, no doubt about it.

4 Stars

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) 2017

Action-packed and grisly at times (perhaps gratuitously so, and I understand that descriptor won’t match everyone’s opinion of course) this series is pretty fast-paced, building quickly to a finish that maybe could have been ‘bigger’ but was by no means a let-down, either.

In a way, the tagline writes itself and I can’t remember whether I’ve seen it used officially – but basically, if you can imagine zombies on a train then you’ve got it to some extent.

Obviously there’s a more to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress than that, but not as much as I’d like in terms of world-building and any wider context appearing in the story. To a small extent the film that followed mitigates that feeling but overall, I think this could have easily been 24 episodes with a lot more exploration of how the world came to be the dystopia it is shown to be in the series.

The settings usually had lots of detail.

Still, I’m always willing to give a chance to a story that isn’t an adaptation and knowing that Wit Studio would produce something that (at a minimum) looked impressive led me to give the show a shot after stumbling across the film on Netflix last year.

Okay, time to jump in to some dot points:

  • Yukina and also Kurusu were underused in the story, I reckon.
  • The villain was the ‘handsome evil’ type and he really was a piece of work – clearly pretty much everything about him was a lie used to manipulate others, some good characterisation there.
  • I enjoyed the conflicting idea of being trapped – but trapped in moving thing, so whenever a train was attacked by the kabane, there was a sense that flight was both happening but also kinda useless. Having said that, maybe too many zombies were ‘shamblers’ so not always very threatening.
  • I didn’t buy the viewer resentment toward Ikoma I think I remember reading. If you’ve seen this series you’ll know he’s a classic underdog so I was on board with him pretty quickly. Most of all, he was almost always right about pretty much everything, and had to suffer fools almost constantly.

On a related note, one great thing about being so far behind everyone else with new shows, is that I often miss both the hype and the naysayers. It seems that at least to some extent, Attack on Titan fanatics piled on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a bit, considering it too similar or just a money-grab, somehow?

For me, the two shows are plenty different even with some clear similarities, and I think I’ve argued before a little on the important role of the cash-cow – without said cow, the more ‘risky’ or original shows just don’t get made. (And here I mean ‘original’ as compared to a show that is an adaptation of an existing manga etc).

Yep, he’s a villain.

Overall, I enjoyed Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress without being over the moon. If you’re a horror or dark fantasy fan (even a steampunk fan perhaps) you’ll probably find at least something to enjoy here, beyond the beautifully coloured art.

3.5 Stars

Hero shot 😀

At times, the show paused for what seem almost like glamour-shots, switching to a little extra detail while also adding an almost soft focus, as if they were setting up future stills for trading cards or other merch? There’s more than I’ve noted here of course, but I tried to snap a couple. (First is a better example).


The storyline is continued in a follow-up film that I actually abandoned last year, at the time knowing that I should probably watch the series first.

I definitely enjoyed the movie; it continued the main themes and struggles, advancing some character development too. I do wonder whether the relationship hindrances thrown up between Ikoma and Mumei were always natural?

Still, if you enjoyed the series you’ll like the film, I reckon.

Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku)

Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku) 2015

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

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

So, finally to the film itself!

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars