“Star Wars: Visions” Season 1 – Intriguing Stories With Beautiful Animation That Fit Right Into the Star Wars Universe

“Star Wars: Visions” is a great anime anthology show that I hope gets more seasons. This series gives stories that fit so well into the Star Wars Universe. I’ll be grading each episode individually in this review and listing them from the episode I liked least and ending with the one I liked most and give a final score for the season at the end. So this is a SPOILER review of season 1 of the show. Before I get into SPOILERS this is a show I highly recommend though. The stories are compelling and the animation is beautiful. They really chose great collaborators for this series.

So without further ado, here are the reviews.:

9) “The Twins”

Ep. 3, Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Written by Hiromi Wakabayashi and animated by Studio Trigger.

The premise to this episode is promising with two twins born from the dark side of the force and used to create a superweapon. Sadly that is where it ends as the brother is randomly good and any logic is thrown out the door with them fighting in the vacuum of space and the brother surviving being on top of a ship and jumping to hyperspace. Leaps of logic can be explained but not without setup. The writing sucks and nothing is explored. The animation and voice acting are good at least.

Score: 5 / 10

8) “T0-B1”

Ep. 6, Directed by Abel Góngora, Written by Yuichiro Kido and animated by Science SARU.

This episode is harmless and takes no chances. Really my biggest issue is how a robot can use the force is never explained. This is a fun adventure though and the Jedi professor is killed so there are stakes.

Score: 7 / 10

7) “The Elder”

Ep. 7, Directed and written by Masahiko Otsuka and animated by Studio Trigger.

“The Elder” is beautifully animated and poses some cool ideas in the ex-Sith Elder. Sadly it fails in stakes as the apprentice survives when he should have died so the Jedi Master is back to status quo by the end.

Score: 7.2 / 10

6) “The Duel”

Ep. 1, Directed by Takanobu Mizuno, written by Takashi Okazaki and animated by Kamikaze Douga.

Stylistically this is the most unique of the episodes. The reason I don’t rate it higher is how much was planned. Our not-Jedi fights a Sith Bandit Leader and seems to be collecting Kyber Crystals. The mercs were defending the village from the bandits but the not-Jedi doesn’t interact until it looks like they are losing. I wanted more clarity whether it was all chance or the not-Jedi’s plan all along. Still the duel is great and the aesthetics of the episode rock.

Score: 7.8 / 10

5) “Tatooine Rhapsody”

Ep. 2, Directed by Taku Kimura, Written by Yasumi Atarashi and animated by Studio Colorido.

This episode is fun as a Padawan escapes from Order 66 and is taken in by a rebellious Hutt who’s forming a rock band. In the end Boba Fett takes in the Hutt but the band rescues him with their first finished concert and Jabba becomes their sponsor. This episode is so good and wholesome. Only reason it isn’t higher is the music from the band doesn’t always work. They are good but not great.

Score: 8 / 10

4) “Akakiri”

Ep. 9, Directed by Eunyoung Choi, Written by Yuichiro Kido and animated by Science SARU.

“Akakiri” is a great story with not great execution. It has a Jedi return to a planet to help his former lover and he saves her and the planet but joins the dark side. The problem is pacing and execution as it largely depends on flashbacks and the Sith is one-dimensional.

Score: 8.2 / 10

3) “Lop and Ochō”

Ep. 8, Directed by Yuki Igarashi, written by Sayawaka and animated by Geno Studio.

This is an episode with consequences that I wish had gone deeper as Lop was an Imperial slave given freedom by Ochō and her father yet they work with the Empire until the father rebels but Ochō goes full collaborator. The characters and action are all good though and it sets up future drama between the adopted siblings as they are the ones in full control of the family legacy as Lop is now a Jedi standing against the Empire.

Score: 9 / 10

2) “The Village Bride”

Ep. 4, Directed by Hitoshi Haga who co-wrote the episode with Takahito Oonishi and animated by Kinema Citrus.

This episode is an explorations of Jedi philosophy as a Jedi and her partner return to her former Master’s homeworld and face a bandit threat as the local village is trading the princess for peace and we see her marriage to her love beforehand and her drive from duty. In the end the Jedi saves her and we see how the people are connected to the force. The princess and her husband and the Jedi and her friend are the compelling relationships explored. It is a great episode.

Score: 9.4 / 10

1)”The Ninth Jedi”

Ep. 5, Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama and animated by Production I.G.

“The Ninth Jedi” is a great episode with so much misdirection. It starts with a mysterious man who looks like a Sith calling all Jedi to a Jedi Temple where lightsabers are being constructed again after the form was lost. It is later revealed most of the Jedi are Sith and the one who called them is a Jedi. It is a great episode that sees 2 young characters learn what it means to be a Jedi. I loved this episode and the misdirection only makes the story stronger.

Score: 10 / 10

This is a series I highly recommend I can’t wait to see what future seasons brings.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

“Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” Season 1 – An Amazing Exploration of Personhood, Politics, Capitalism and Corruption

“Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” is one of the animes that got me interested in anime. I remember watching it on television during high school and college along with “Death Note” and as someone who has always loved sci. fi. and cyberpunk and the concepts they explore this was completely my jam. This was fun to return to as the show does largely hold up with only a few issues I’ll bring up in the cons largely being objectification of the Major and the initial slow pacing of the show. The action, exploration of identity, and cyberpunk missions keep the show great though. I’ll be reviewing season 2 and the conclusion “Solid State Society” film as well later on.

The show was directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama and is based off the manga by Masamune Shirow.

The story follows Section 9 and their investigation around events surrounding the hacktivist known as The Laughing Man and the hidden government conspiracy he is seeking to reveal.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack to this show is amazing and that is all thanks to Yoko Kanno. It captures both the melancholy feel of character situations at the end of stories and the intensity of sci. fi. actions that give the show an otherworldly feel. I can’t wait to hear more of it when I return to season 2.

The World – We have the world where people can put their minds and ghost in the net, cyborgs, robots, mech suits, sentient robots, clones and conspiracies. This is the world of cyberpunk and this show makes the most of it to explore what it means to exist in this new world that is in many ways like our own.

Standout Cases – These were my favorite cases that weren’t related to the Laughing Man Case. “Testation” where an engineer puts his mind in a robotic tank, “Idolator” with a clone conspiracy, “¥€$” where they have to protect a tech. billionaire and “Lost Heritage” which studies the nature of political conflict and how different ghosts tie to and can change identity.

Section 9 – Section 9 is the special operations task force that operates on a world scale solving cybercrime cases. They are a great group wit Chief, Major, Batou and Togusa being the standout characters. They also use Think Tanks called Tachikomas who develop individuality and sentience.

The Tachikomas / Think Tanks – The Tachikomos are the enforcers for Section 9 who have child-like minds. We see them develop individuality over the course of the show and how their connection to Batou leads to them sacrificing themselves to save his life. It is a great arc and they have distinct personalities.

Ishikawa – Ishikawa is the most laid back of the team and the most competent besides the Major and Batou. He provides a nice contrast and his joking helps relax the group with the dangerous missions they face.

Chief Aramaki – Aramaki was one of the 3 powerful men before the war and after he formed Section 9, recruiting each of them individually. He is the one who navigates the politics in government for the team. He is closest to the Major and mentions them as co-leads of the team at one point. He is also driven by guilt as his brother lived in the refugee zone and he didn’t look for him until the government arrested him. His job and this guilt keep him from getting close to people.

Togusa – Togusa was a good detective recommended to the tam and is the family man. He is joked on the most by the team and his the heart of the team too as he often calls out the corruption present. He is one of the first in the team to meet the Laughing Man. He is also the least cyberized.

Batou – Batou is the former army ranger who saw a lot of the global corruption from war first hand. This and the PTSD define how hard he is but his soft side comes out around the Major and when he’s protecting others. He’s the older brother of the team and gets some great development where you see how conflicted he is a lot of the time.

Major Kusanagi – The Major is one of my favorite characters in animation. She is a hero defined by duty but goes beyond it for the greater good and to help others. There is a reason the Laughing Man trusted her and gave her his memories. She is confident and commanding and the one always on the leader on the group missions for Section 9. She is a full cyborg and because of this accepts that she is always be changing as time goes on and is at peace with that even as she holds onto the watch from before she was a cyborg. She also has regret as well as she realizes she was wrong about the Tachikomas. Besides Togusa she is the one calling out the problem or doing something about it through the story.

The Laughing Man Arc – The Laughing Man arc is fantastic. We learn about the hacker and the conspiracy he reveals where business and government forces suppressed a vaccine so their businesses could profit off an unproven method to treat a cyberization disease. The Major and Section 9 find all this out on their own and with the Laughing Man’s help leading to a black ops unit that nearly succeeds in taking them all out. It is only thanks to the Chief and knowledge Section 9 leaked to the press that they are successful and even then it isn’t wholly successful as the forces that were trying to stop them are still very active and succeeding in silencing and assassinations.

Section 9 Trapped in the Machine – We see Section 9 and how it is used to revel and stop business and government conspiracies but also how those same forces use it and at one point destroy it until the Chief plays the system enough to survive this cycle. The plan works but with more fores still silencing the truth Section 9’s existence is shown to be only around by the the whim of the machine that someday probably will destroy it.

Okay:

Pazo, Borma and Saito – These members of Section 9 don’t get much development beyond their roles as undercover operative, bomb squad and sniper. They all have great designs but I couldn’t tell you their personalities, which is a shame.

The Cons:

Slow Start – The first few episodes are real slow but pick up real fast after. The plus is it establishes the world the con is that it loses the hook of the initial “Laughing Man” case. It would have made up for it if it had explored the characters who haven’t been explored, but it didn’t.

Objectification of the Major – The Major is an amazing character but I hate how she is objectified in the show. She is the only woman on the team and the camera presents her in situations that none of the men ever experience, such as showing up to a briefing in her underwear because a mission lead to her clothes getting dirty. Her team and how she is as a character is respected but the objectification is obvious and I hated it.

This is a great and flawed show and one I highly recommend to any fan of cyberpunk or science fiction. The Major is a great character and the mysteries and conspiracies are done really well in the show. I look forward to continuing on with the story again in Season 2 and the film. I really hope the rest of the team who wasn’t explored is explored next season and I do remember the core arc being compelling and fun so it should be great to return to like this season.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10 Only reason it isn’t rated higher is the slow initial start and the members of Section 9 who aren’t explored and objectification of the Major.

“Cannon Busters” Season 1 – Unfinished But a Good Exploration of Friendship, A.I. and the Cost of War

Cannon Busters (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb

“Cannon Busters” is clearly an unfinished series but it has the potential to be great. This a show that reminds me of “Cowboy Bebop” and “Gurren Lagann” with the mechs, A.I., technology and politics that drive this compelling space western world. The series was created by LeSean Thomas and is a Netflix anime. Without getting into SPOILERS, this is a show I’d recommend if you are looking for a fun space western.

The story follows Android Sam and repairbot Casey as Casey is seeking Prince Shelby of Botica and believes only the immortal outlaw Philly the Kid can do so.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Opening Song – Marty Grimes and BJRNCK’s “Showdown” is one of the best anime opening songs. I never skipped it when I would say I end up getting to the point of skipping most anime openings as they simply aren’t catchy. This one captures the outlaws and outcasts on the run feel of the show really well and it is so catchy and fun.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful. There is some CGI with Philly’s transforming far Bessie and other robots but besides that the show opts for the flowing 2D animation. It serves the show well and it gives it a unique feel that captures both the advanced technology of many of the factions but the desolation of the Wasteland that many of the characters live in.

The World – The world is fantastic. You have 5 kingdoms and coup that happens early on when King Bulgher’s son Locke returns to get revenge for the exile of him and his mother and uses magic to conquer the Kingdom. From here we see his expansion of power as Prince Shelby escapes with the Captain of the Guard Odin as Shelby’s friend and protector android Sam seeks him out. In this is a world with humans and tons of other alien species all living together though it seems humans are the ones who control the kingdoms. I’m curious if this aspect of the show will get more exploration as so far we have met members of very few kingdoms outside Botica.

Red Horizon Fraternity – The Red Horizon Fraternity is Locke’s all women cyborg squad of enforcers and assassins. They are lead by Dax who doesn’t have arms and controls her robotic hands with her mind, Bridge the pilot of the airship mech who has rocket legs, Coin who can replicate themselves into multiple people and Mainic an android whose body is a weapon that can shoot explosive oil and a lazer for an eye. They are amazing and they manage to be victorious too as they capture Prince Shelby in the end and in the cause of Mainic manage to fight 9ine into a draw. I can’t wait to learn more about their story and why they serve Locke.

9ine – 9ine is a drunk samurai and the best swordsman. His whole deal is his running away from his order and seeking just causes and alcohol as that is what leads him to watching over Philly, Sam and Casey. His story is tragic and you see why he left when the Mercenaries he was a part of kill a family and he realized he can’t do it anymore. He is a character constantly seeking to runaway (like Philly) from his past whether it is through a challenging fight or drink. In the end he officially joins the team to rescue Prince Shelby from Locke.

The A.I. – The A.I. are one of the most interesting aspects of the story as we see many humans have them as companions but they are also weapons of war too and the weapons of war have no sentience that we witness compared to the repairbots or Sam, who is a Cannon Buster (Powerful War Golem). This is something the show explores and it suggested that Cannon Busters have souls but whether other A.I. does too is never fully addressed.

Casey – Casey is the repairbot who loves collecting and fixing things. They have a really cool arc where they find other repairbots like them and learn they are seen as obsolete (it is in a junkyard with a repairbot recycling other repairbots). At this point Casey believes their only purpose is to be recycled too as they feel abandoned as Philly and Sam are away. Luckily Sam saves Casey and Casey sees their value as Sam’s best friend. Sam is also the only person through most of the series who knows that Sam is a Cannon Buster as even Sam doesn’t remember her transformations. Casey is a character that could have gotten annoying quick but their quips and actions have purpose and I liked their arc of self-discovery.

Sam – Sam is Prince Shelby’s protector and best friend and is known as a friendship bot who is kind to everyone and is able to turn most enemies encountered into friends. I like how Sam’s arc involves learning jokes, sarcasm and finding purpose beyond her programming (which continues the arc of learning nuance) as she is friends with both Shelby and Philly (and Philly wanted to kill Shelby at one point for what Botica did). She is the heart of the team and is the one looking out for the others.

Philly the Kid and Facing Trauma – Philly has elements of Spike from “Cowboy Bebop” as he is the protagonist who is always pushing others away and running from his mistakes. Hell he made a deal with a demon for revenge and to become the immortal he is but doesn’t care enough about himself to get revenge. Throughout the show he is shown to be a thief and drunk but his time with Sam, Casey and 9ine changes him as he finds purpose beyond revenge and realizes he does have friends. The arc itself is common but it felt real here with only his revenge motivation needing more setup earlier on. Curious to see where the story goes and I really hope Locke isn’t the one who really killed his parents.

The Cons:

Mystic Emperor Locke – Locke looks like a giant animallike human (think a monkey with sharp teeth) so his humanity has been gone for a long time. His motivation beyond revenge isn’t really known and he serves the Essence of Magic whose motivation we also don’t know. This is really the main problem, I can ignore bad character design if the character is compelling (The Fraternity Designs are much more interesting than his). We don’t know why he does what he does and we don’t see how he rules beyond destruction. He is a weak character at this point and I hope he can be made interesting later.

Prince Shelby – Prince Shelby’s arc goes from compassionate and caring to hardened to ending up captured. The characters around him like Odin, Hilda and Sam are who make him compelling as he is flat character. Both of King Bulgher’s kids (Shelby and Locke) are very poorly written with only the characters around them making them at all compelling.

Cliffhanger Ending – Prince Shelby is captured, Bessie is destroyed and the new party is now Sam, Odin, 9ine, Philly and Casey to go and rescue the Prince. I really hope this gets resolved in a film or another season as I can’t think of anytime a cliffhanger ending is a good way to end a story.

I really hope this story gets finished. I found the world and most of the characters compelling as the animation and soundtrack beautifully bring this world to life. This is an anime well worth checking out, and it is a story worth finishing. If you are looking for a good anime and a good Netflix show, this is one I recommend.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10 Boosted by the main characters.

“Blood of Zeus” Season 1: A Story With Potential

Blood of Zeus" (2020) movie poster

“Blood of Zeus” is a story with potential. I am a huge fan of mythology and I grew up reading the Greek myths and playing “Age of Mythology.” These are stories that have so much you can do as they were an oral tradition and interpretation is the art of telling a story. Because of this I am hoping this gets a Season 2 as Season 1 did have some stilted dialogue and some flat characters but I did enjoy this 8 episode introduction to the world.

The series was created by Charley and Vlas Parlapinides.

The story follows Heron (Derek Philips), a bastard who discovers the greater origin of his birth while humanity must deal with the rise of Demons, a faction lead by Seraphim (Elias Toufexis) who were formed from the ancient Giants of old.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise is great. We have the Giants as stand-ins for the Titans who Zeus and the Gods defeat but whose bodies aren’t destroyed and corrupt humanity before Hera raises them in her rage against Zeus. It is a lot of fun and fits the drama and tragedy of Greek mythology.

Alexia – Alexia is an Amazon voiced by Jessica Henwick. She largely is there to drive the plot though she does have some good characterization in how she blames herself for the death of her parents. I’m curious to see where her story will be taken if the story continues.

The Giants – The giants remind me a lot of the Titans from “Attack on Titan.” They are these twisted giant humanesque creatures who never speak, just destroy. As forces of nature they work really well and you see the Gods and their followers fall easily to them. They also destroy Olympus too, even if their souls are once again trapped by the end.

Hera and Zeus – There are two core dramas that drive this story and the primary one is that between Zeus and Hera as it is Zeus’s cheating that leads to Hera seeking control of Olympus through bringing back the Giants. She is ruthless but you can see where she comes from and she uses her power of the ravens and air to a great degree. I liked her as the flawed antagonist and was glad she survived the Giants’ betraying her.

Seraphim and Heron – The other drama is that between Seraphim and Heron. These two are brothers and Electra is their mother. Heron is son of Zeus and Seraphim is son of the King of Corinth. Both lose everything including their mother but Heron had Zeus looking after him where Seraphim had no one which lead to his consuming of the Giants to become a Demon. Eventually Seraphim is defeated by Heron and we see that Heron is one of the few he actually cares for. In the end he meets Hades, who gives him a chance at life once more for his loyalty and given he was forced to follow Hera he is once again torn in choosing his own destiny. Heron finds peace on Olympus and discovers his divinity in sacrifice by contrast.

Heron’s Journey – Heron starts out resenting Zeus for not protecting his mother but comes around to respecting Zeus when Zeus starts acting like a father. From here we see him find his wit and intelligence over anger and rage and become the hero that stops the Giants, Hera and Seraphim. It is simple but a good arc.

The Cons:

The Goddesses Left Out – Ares shows up as muscle, Apollo and Hermes play a part as those accepting Heron as a bastard but we do not see Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis or Athena have no dialogue or play any sort of role in the Civil War between the Gods. I’m sure they showed up but the Vampire Generals in “Castlevania” did more in the brief appearances they had in Season 2 (same studio did this show).

Stilted Dialogue – The dialogue is all tell and no show. So there isn’t any room for interpretation. This is the biggest factor that kept the show from being good as you can only tell so much nuance.

Flat Characters – The stilted dialogue is the reason for this as we are given complex backstories, like two rogues who join Heron and Alexia and become heroes…but we don’t see them ever as bad. So in the end most side characters including Electra end up being flat or plot devices.

I really want to see what “Season 2” brings. You have an entire pantheon of Gods and so many myths to draw inspiration from. It is really in all these things that this could become a great series like “Castlevania.” For now, I just hope it gets renewed, as flawed as it is there is still so much potential.

7 / 10 This was enjoyable and does have potential to be good.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – Part 1: Phantom Blood – A Hero’s Journey

Amazon.com: Trends International Wall Poster JoJo's Bizarre Adventure -  Season 1 Key Art, 14.725" x 22.375", Premium Unframed: Posters & Prints

“JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” is a show I first heard about from cultural osmosis via the Dio memes. Now that we’re in October and I’ve been reviewing horror related content I think JoJo’s applies as it cover the vampire mythology. I have only watched the first 2 parts but Part 1 is easily the strongest and worth checking out as the first part captures both the major strengths and some of the cons of the series. For those the pacing can be off and the villain plans aren’t well thought out.

The series was created by Hirohika Araki and produced by David Production.

Part 1 follows the story of Joseph Joestar and his rivalry with his toxic adopted brother Dio Brando.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Hirohika Anaki has such a unique style that stands out in the animation. Like “Fist of the North Star,” we have large heroes but they are much more colorful than other animes of the same type. The show does a good job capturing that.

The World – The world is intriguing. We have a stone mask that creates vampires with the implication of a larger lore behind it. We have family dramas and honor codes that pull from our world and are taken from there. Like Castlevania you can see where history and fantasy meet.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” and it is really their arcs that keep the story going. They drive the drama and create the basis for the show.

Erina Pendleton – Erina is the love interest of Jonathan and stands against the awful crap she faces. She resists being kissed by Dio and doesn’t let the era sexism define her. She fights it and defines her own life. In the end she chooses Jonathan out of organic falling in love. This is powerful and she doesn’t fall into the damsel role.

Will Zeppeli – Will is Jonathan’s mentor after he believes he has defeated Dio, who became a vampire from the family mask. Zeppeli teaches him how to use the power of Hamon and is there with Jonathan until the end, giving him his power to defeat Dio. They have a fun relationship as Will is flamboyant and fun versus the serious, honor driven Jonathan.

Robert E. O. Speedwagon – Speedwagon starts out as a villain and becomes an ally after Jonathan spares his life. He is so inspired by the good in Jonathan he changes. He is a fun character who doesn’t help during battles but is good emotional support. Also takes his name inspiration from a great band.

Dio Brando – Dio Brando is the villain who SPOILERS again (lives beyond Part 1). I knew this already from the memes but you should know this now. Part 1 is a great arc so I hope him coming back isn’t messed up. In this he is the father of a drunk and crook who becomes the beloved adopted child only to have that all turn against him when Jonathan reveals the truth of how he is poisoning his adoptive father for the inheritance. Before this though, he learned the secret of the stone mask and uses it to become a vampire. He is powerful too and kills his adopted father and sets out for conquest. Dio and Zeppeli defeat him but he doesn’t die as his head survives. This ends in a confrontation after Erina and Jonathan marry, that ends in Jonathan’s death when he hold’s Dio’s head as the ship explodes.

Jonathan Joestar – Jonathan reminds me of what I like about Castlevania. Castlevania you have a medieval society fighting Dracula over generations. I knew that was Dio going in so establishing the original relationship is important. Jonathan’s arc is going from no confidence to confidence as he loses people along the way. He is the honorable and good and in the end he gives his life in forgiveness believing he defeated Dio. It is tragic as he loved his brother who abused him even as he sought to stop and destroy. This is the strength that carries this Part. It is Jonathan’s goodness that inspires goodness in others like Speedwagon to good. This was a real good arc.

The Cons:

Pacing – One of the biggest problems, that also exists in Part 2 is pacing. This series is fast but after goes very slow. This is fine but it took me a while to finish both parts and that started in Part 1. Dio is defeated initially in Part 1 but isn’t dead and it slows down. This is after his first defeat. So we are left waiting for action to happen, and that hurts the story.

Era Sexism – When Dio molests Erena it is against her will and the guilt is put on her. This is sexism both of the era and sadly current and I wish it would go away. She advocates for herself and still stands strong but I hate the echo of needing to be saved that does inspire Jonathan, even if he doesn’t say anything. She is strong but she is never part of the party.

Dio’s Final Plan – So Dio wants to conquer the world but after he is just a head he wants Jonathan’s body to conquer the world in the final of this part. So, after? What does that even mean? I get he wants dominance and to be a “God” but it is never explored deeper than that. This is where the “Castlevania” show does a better job with it’s villain than this show.

I thought this show was real good and worth checking out for folks into vampires and anime. I will not be rating Part 2 as high, so know that now. This narrative still lags but it is focused. The lag gets worse. So know that going forward if you plan to watch on. I’m about to start Part 3 and do plan to finish it, but know that Part 2 is much more flawed than this good introduction to the world.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10 The overall arc between Jonathan and Dio is strong but Dio’s final plan was very poorly executed and felt rushed.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – An Amazing Show About Politics, Philosophy and the Fully Realized Life

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

    “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is one of my favorite animes of all time. This is an anime that has intriguing characters, philosophy, politics and a narrative that builds to a fantastic and rewarding ending. If animes are your thing, you should definitely check it out. This is a re-watch for me as I was looking for more long form completed stories to see during the Covid-19 crisis. Suffice to say, it still very much holds up. There is a 2003 adaptation that is quite different from the manga that I did not enjoy as much, but at some point will revisit. If you want to see some really fantastic deep video content checkout Wisecrack and Lowart’s takes on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” They are amazing deep dives well worth your time and I want to give them a shout out before I explore my own thoughts on the show.

The series is based off the manga created by Hiromu Arakawa, directed by Yasuhiro Irie, written by Hiroshi Ōnogi and produced by Bones.

The story follows State Alchemists Ed and Al of Amestris as they seek to get Al’s body back and free him from the armor his soul lives in. This all unfolds as the brothers and other characters slowly uncover the truth of their country and the nature of Alchemy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Akira Senju’s gothic inspired soundtrack is so beautiful and helps build the tension of the narrative so well. This is a story with consequences and that is reflected in the composition of the score who pulls on gothic choirs and somber instrumentals.

The Action – This show has some of the best fights you will see in any anime. Any time a character is fighting a Homonculus you get to see the full potential of both the fighters. You get the superhuman speeds of the inhuman homonculi and the power and magic behind the attacks the alchemists bring or the martial arts from the characters from Xing. It is hard to choose a favorite fight but the personal nature of anyone facing Wrath is extremely warding as well as Lust against Mustang.

The Politics – The politics of “FMA: Brotherhood” are one of the strongest aspects of the story. We have the Ishvalin Civil War, which is used as cover for Amestris to destroy them. We see them clash with their northern neighbors Drachma who they’ve clashed with in the past and the rise of to power as many Generals vie to control Amestris as they plot the downfall of the Furor Bradley. Within all this we see the stories of the Ishvalin refugees, meet characters from Xing, seeking immortality through Alchemy and see the clashing between clans happening there. All of these struggles are told through character interaction and we come to care about the people and their missions.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “FMA: Brotherhood” as it is their struggles and stories that bring meaning to the political and philosophical battles that unfold. This show made me care about random characters who were introduced as muscle for enemies and even the villains get explored in a compelling way. The exploration of the villains is best executed through the stories of the Homonculi who will get their own section in this review. What makes things work the most is the characters and their relationships change. Ed and Al inspire people to be better and even they go through crisises of identity when faced with the monstrous acts of others or the consequences of their choices or situation. This applies to all the characters and I felt for anyone who died over the course of the show.

Homunculus | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

The Homonculi – The Homonculi are the primary antagonists of the series. They are lead by “Father” who became the form of Hohenheim after he used the destruction of Xerxes to create a philosopher’s stone. After this he tore his voices from himself and made them his children. These are the Seven Homonculi – Wrath, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Sloth and Gluttony. All of them are compelling with most being muscle at different points. Gluttony and Sloth are muscle. Lust and Envy are the ones trying to get under characters skin and acting as assassins early on to keep Father’s plot hidden. Pride is the one watching and controlling a lot of what is going on. Greed is doing his own thing and Wrath is King Bradley. Greed and Wrath were my favorites and I’ll into that further.

Wrath / King Bradley – Wrath was an orphan raised from birth by mad scientists to some day potentially lead Amestris. He survives the philosopher stone that is put into him and so much of his life is seeking his own choice. This is one reason the rebellion against him gets as bad as it does. Wrath wants something unpredictable and challenges to fight as it is only in battle he truly feels alive. He also still holds onto his humanity as he took a wife who clearly cares about even though I don’t think he is capable of love. He is one of the best antagonists in the series and is dynamic, charismatic and threatening anytime he is in action.

Greed  – Greed is the Homonculi who grows. In the beginning he has a gang of Chimera (part-human, part-animal creations) who Wrath takes out as he is seen as a threat to Father’s plans. Father destroys him but later introduces him once more as a pawn to be used when Ling, a Lord of Xing is captured. From here Greed protects Father and stays out of his way until Ling establishes more control and the memories of what Wrath did to him come back. This eventually leads to him realize that he desires people and power in order to have friends, which leads to his final sacrifice to make Father vulnerable in order for Ed to finally defeat him. It is a powerful arc and I loved that he changed over the course of the show.

Defining Tragedy – One thing that defines the stakes and choices in this story is that of tragedy. Scar and the death of his brother and the Ishvalin people, Scar’s murder of Winry’s parents who were caring for him, Ed and Al’s loss of their mother (and Al’s body and Ed’s arm and leg), Izumi and the loss of her child, the murder of Maes Hughes and the death Nina and Alexander. All this happens early on or is revealed over the course of the earlier arcs. It is beautifully done, and keeps the stakes high through the series. Loss is what defines these characters and it is their facing that loss and the consequences that they change.

Forgiveness – Forgiveness is a running theme of the show as it is the first step for a character who has done wrong to realize they can atone and can change their actions. This is seen in the Ishvalins refugees who forgave the military and are there fighting with them at the end to overthrow King Bradley and in Winry whose forgiveness, that changes Scar and his hunt to kill all Alchemists.

Winry – Winry is a fantastic character who takes an active role in her destiny and country’s future. So many times Ed and Al try to protect her from the truth (Scar, murdering her parents) but she learns it any way and lets them know that she is here to help beyond being Ed’s mechanic. I really liked her arc over the course of the show as she develops as a mechanic and sees more beyond her village and friendship with Ed and Al, even as her relationship with Ed is sweet and I like that they end up together. She is smart and honest and though she won’t kill Scar and forgives him she says she can’t abide by him continuing to murder. This holding of account while not giving into hate changes him and it is thanks to Scar joining the fight that it is even possible to defeat Father in the end.

Atonement – Another theme in the series is that of Atonement. Mustang and his men are attempting to redeem themselves for the wrongs they committed in Ishval. Scar is attempting to redeem himself for the murders he committed and Ed and Al are also seeking atonement for their attempt to bring back their Mom, just as their Father seeks atonement for his empowering of “Father” and being a very terrible dad himself. There are other examples as well but these are some of the strongest as it is the mistakes characters made that inspire them to change things and make things better for themselves, their people or country and the people around them.

Mustang – After the horrors Roy Mustang committed in Ishval, he and his men promise to change the country and that they will make Mustang leader in the process to write these wrongs. It is powerfully done and we see Mustang facing his internal rage as well as his guilt. It is Ed and Hawkeye who show help him get past that final step to become leader when he nearly kills Envy in revenge for his killing of Hughes. In the end Mustang lives and is working to help Ishval with the hint that eventually he will become leader of Amestris.

Scar – Scar is first introduced to us as a complex antagonist. He is hunting down Alchemists on a religious crusade as he sees Alchemy as an afront to God. He is also seeking revenge for the death of his brother and the destruction of his nation by the Alchemists of Amestris. This rage and belief that drives him doesn’t change until Winry forgives him for his murder of her parents but holds him accountable for the evils he still commits. He sees her justice as worth it and the fact that she doesn’t kill him forever changes him. After this he becomes an eventual ally of our heroes and their war against “Father” and King Bradley. In the end Scar defeats Bradley and we see him unite with the refugees among his people and become a leader. What he and the Ishvalin refugees do is essential to defeating “Father.” Scar is such a wonderfully complex character and has one of the greatest arcs on the show.

The Cost of Hate and Revenge – The cost of hate and revenge are a running theme in the series that also gives it strength. Scar and Mustang are nearly defeated because of how it consumes them. Envy’s hate for humanity leads to him killing himself when they fail to give into the hate they should feel for one another. What is a part of this is that killing in murder or revenge will change you and in turn you will only hurt more in the process. Scar’s journey is truly the best execution of this path. Ed and Al and Winry and Hawkeye are the one keeping the characters balanced as they always seek alternative and also face their rage or guilt and find out why they feel the way they do. It is powerfully done and I loved this element of the show.

The Philosophy of Equal Exchange – One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the philosophy of equal exchange. Everything has a price and is a part of something else. This is expressed anytime Alchemy is used as something can’t be created from nothing and when characters confront the mysterious “Truth.” “Truth” always takes something and in turn a character gets back something in turn.

All is One and One is All – Within Alchemy is the philosophy is all is one and one is all. This is part of Equal Exchange as something cannot be made from nothing. This philsophy is also taken literally in how the Homonculi are defeated or changed. The Homonculi are powerful one on one or against one or two people but whenever they face multiple characters or forget the people that make them up within the philosopher stones that birthed them, they lose. “Father” loses because he fails to recognize the individuals within him, and it is even the final act of one of his children Greed sacrificing himself changing him physically that leads to his final defeat. The multiple standing as one are more powerful than any single individual even if they wield the power of “God.”

Hohenhiem and “Father” – Hohenhiem grew up a slave in Xerxes, which is where “Father” who at the time was “Dwarf in the Flask Homonculus” was also a slave to the Alchemist. “Dwarf” teaches Hohenhiem and helps him become an alchemist himself. He is even the one who gives Hohenhiem his name as at this point he only has a number as an identity. and eventually gains a form when he tricks the King of Xerxes as nationwide Alchemist Circle is used to create a philosopher stone. From this Hohenhiem gains immortality and “Dwarf” becomes “Father” and takes Hohenhiem’s form.

Ed and Al – Ed and Al are the heart of the show. They are idealistic brothers who refuse to kill. They are also driven by their guilt for their attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. Ed is more stubborn and loud while Al tends to be more reflective. We also see how hard is life is too. His soul is in armor as it was the only way to save him and because of this he can’t sleep or feel anything. This makes his fight through the series all the more powerful and gives strength to all his arguments to Chimera about them choosing to live and to find a cure. Ed doesn’t carry that same trauma but he is in the thick of the politics and it takes time for him to open up as his early arc is holding his trauma close. Winry is one of the first he opens up too and I love that they end up together by the end. These are two of the most compelling protagonists in any anime and it is their wonderful flaws that define them and their choices so well. They deserved getting Al’s body back and in the end they are still seeking truth as it is Ed giving up his knowledge of alchemy in order to bring him back.

The Cons:

Whiplash Between Humor and Seriousness Early on – I am not a fan of when shows jump between a more serious art-style to chibi and cutesy. “Brotherhood” has this problem early on but it happens far less as the series goes on. For that reason I’m willing to give this con more of a break since I can see why it was used as it is an attempt to give humor to all the tragedy that happens over the course of the show.

The fact that the only real con is the very common anime animation and humor whiplash is a testament to just how strong this show is. I came to care about nearly all the protagonists but they minor or major characters. There was nuance in how they were written and their relationships. We also had a show that explored philosophy and identity deeply. We got all of this told through a beautiful animation and soundtrack. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed or watched anime and it was very worth it return back to this stunning story. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic and deep story.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The show does have flaws, but the strengths of it far outweigh those flaws. This is an example of how to tell a great long form story with consequences that can explore deeper themes.

 

“Castlevania” Season 3 – An Exploration of Hope Lost

Image result for castlevania season 3 poster

  Season 3 of “Castlevania” is really good filler. There are a lot of pieces moving and characters are developed, but there isn’t the core driving action that was last season. I still highly recommend checking it out though if you are a fan of the show. There are 10 episodes this season and none of them are wasted. Warren Ellis has truly crafted an amazing story and I’m curious to see where the story goes next.

This season was directed by Sam and Adam Deats and written by Warren Ellis.

The story follows Sypha and Trevor uncovering the mystery behind a town, two twins befriending Alucard in his isolation, Carmilla’s plotting of conquest and Isaac as he creates an army in his quest to get revenge against those who betrayed Dracula.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Saint Germain – Saint Germain is a fantastic character. He is Lindenfeld seeking a portal in order to get back to his wife. He find allies in Sypha and Trevor and it is wonderful seeing them interact as he sees himself as above everyone but them. In a depressing season he is such a fun character who brings levity and humor to all that happens this season. He also helps save the day by closing the Portal to Hell when the Priory in Lindenfeld is trying to summon Dracula back from Hell.

The Sisters – Carmilla and her 3 sisters make up a Vampire coven in Styria who is planning conquest. In order to conquer they need troops though and this involves her sister Lenore seducing and tricking Hector into being their slave. I thought it was handled well as she showed a soft power approach and diplomacy compared to how blunt most of her other sisters are. Striga is the warrior who loves battle, Morana is the strategist and Carmilla is the spark and planner. They have a fascinating dynamic and I can’t wait to see Isaac, Sypha and Trevor take them on.

Sypha and Trevor – Sypha and Trevor are such a cute couple. In this we get to see how much they enjoy killing monsters and protecting people. Sypha especially revels in combat. They play off each other really well and it is the first time we really see a more happy Trevor…until the end. At the end they discover the Judge of the town they couldn’t save was a serial killer the entire time. Once happy fighting evil they discover the evil in humanity again and they have each other, but that is it. By the end of this season, they feel alone. They really should go back to Alucard.

Isaac – Isaac has a fascinating arc this season. He is driven by Dracula’s goal to exterminate humanity, though he still is willing to give people a chance. We see him spare those who show kindness and his conversations with a merchant, a captain and another Forgemaster make him realize that he should shape his own destiny. It is powerfully done and I can’t wait for him to take on Carmilla and her sisters.

Alucard – Alucard is alone and going mad until two hunters, Sumi and Taka seek him for training. He believes them at first until they try to kill him. This loneliness and betrayal breaks him and he puts their corpses outside the Dracula’s Castle as a warning, beginning to embrace the practices of his father, who also had lost all hope humans. He really needs Sypha and Trevor to bring him back to balance.

Hopeless Humanity – Isaac is attacked by multiple groups who are destroyed, Sypha and Trevor discover the evil in the town they couldn’t save and Sumi and Taka show that even those who appear good can do evil. This was the theme this season and is meant to explore why Dracula was the way he was. It is really well done and a proper way for filler to be handled.

The Cons:

The Twins – Sumi and Taka were slaves of Cho’s court. Cho was one of Dracula’s generals from Japan and we see how in control she was over the populace, even letting hunters in for fun. From this I can see why they don’t trust vampires but Alucard killed Dracula. Them trying to kill Alucard wasn’t fleshed out enough, they needed more development for the turn the story took.

Feels Like Filler – In the end what does bring it down is that it does feel like filler. It is good filler, but knowing a show could be canceled at anytime I tend to see filler as a waste. This was a good use of filler but the problem of it still happens. This was really good but if the show ended here it wouldn’t be a good end to “Castlevania.”

I really enjoyed this season. It is depressing as hell but the character development is well handled. I also love how big this world is. This season was largely setup for the big events that will no doubt play out and I think it handled it well. The only con was really the twins as I get why they existed (to make Alucard more like his father and lose hope in humanity) but their motivations needed much more development. I hope Alucard catches a break soon, he’s one of my favorite characters on the show and it sucks seeing him go through all this. Can’t wait to see how the upcoming wars go.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 Boosted slightly by the good character work.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – True to the Anime in a Rich World

In my experience, it is bad to adapt anime into live-action films. You either end up with dumpster fires like “Dragonball Z,” or they are passable as with the first “Deathnote” movie. Live-action isn’t friendly to animation, and that runs true in the United States, too. I didn’t think “Beauty and Beast” was good, and I’ve not been a fan of Disney adapting more animation in the same way. Animation has a freedom of form that you don’t get in CGI, or human actors, and that is true here. So the question I ask is, “why did this work for me?” It works because they delved into the lore where the initial anime didn’t. I can see why this was in development hell for a long time, and this time it was worth it.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is a cyberpunk dystopian action film that was adapted from the manga by Yukito Kishiro.The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez (an action director I’m a fan of), and written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. James Cameron was also a producer, and you can see his care with CGI in this.

Alita is a cyborg seeking to discover her. Her adopted father, Ido, brings her back to “life” upon finding her in the wastes below the last sky city of Zalem years after The Fall, a war that devastated Earth 300 years prior. From here she must face multiple threats as she protects the people she loves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Tom Holkenborg does a wonderful job honoring the original anime’s soundtrack. You can hear the “Blade Runner” inspiration, while it also manages to develop a voice and feel of its own. The music captures the sci. fi. epic past, as well as the present desperation of the characters.

The World – The anime touches on a rich world that the live-action film explores more extensively. There are hundreds of years of history. We learn about the war with the Sky Cities, and how Zalem became the last one. We learn about a cyborg military force from Mars, and how they nearly succeed before being defeated. We see the wastes where there is a gladiatorial competition of motorball where the winner of the tournament is rewarded by going to Zalem. I loved this world. It made me want to read the manga, and learn more. I hope this film gets sequels, so they can further explore it.

The Action – The action is amazing. This is a film where you feel every punch. For example, there is a villain who Alita easily beats while defending Ido. He returns later, and it takes all she has to beat him. She loses so much of her cyborg body but fights on. I was never bored during this film. I even thought motorball was handled well, given how they presented the action with so much color, movement and increasing stakes as players tried to kill her. The action is truly one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Ido – Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Ido. He is a scientist, and Hunter-Warrior, exiled from Zalem with his wife, whom his relationship with ended after their daughter was killed. We see him wanting that second chance in Alita as he gives her his daughter’s name. Their arc is him treating her as her own person, and respecting just how powerful she is. She is the protector and he is the “father.” He reactivated her and gave her the cyborg body he was going to give his real daughter. Through a set of Berserker Armor he Ido gives Alita, she discovers her past as a soldier for the United Republics of Mars (URM). Waltz is an award winning actor for a reason and this film is a great example of why.

Alita – Rosa Salazar does a fantastic job as Alita. She is a woman seeking out her past, and also discovering her own humanity as a sentient android. We see her fall in love with and save Hugo, only to later lose him. We see her relationship with her “father” Ido become one of partnership, and family, rather than her being treated like a child. We see her discover what it means to fight the greater fight, as losing Hugo reminds her of the larger fight against Zalem and the man behind the scenes Nova. Nova has been the one manipulating Vector, Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren, and taking all the remains of humans he finds worthy below. You can see why Alita wants to end him, and when she discovers where her fight truly is, it is empowering and also sets up possible sequels.

Implications of the War – From what we can tell the URM lost the war and Earth stayed oppressed by Nova and Zalem. The world of “Alita: Battle Angel” is broken, and the desperation of people makes it so sociopaths like Nova can easily manipulate them into tools he can use to strengthen his city. The war ended but the fact that Alita survives implies that the old way may return, especially if she becomes a uniter of the people below Zalem.

Okay:

Minor Characters – Hugo, Vector, Dr. Chiren and a few others are fine. In the case of Vector, they end up often being possessed by Nova, so we never really learn who Vector is. Dr. Chiren has some good moments with Ido, and her choice to save Hugo is powerful. Ultimately her character underdeveloped. Hugo is okay, I liked him more in the anime because he was a bit more naive. In this film he is more grown up, which makes what he does as a mercenary all the more revolting. He does leave, and it costs him his life, but I felt he needed more development. I didn’t care about him nearly as much as I did Dr. Chiren.

The Promise of Nova – Nova is a powerful force and we know how oppressive Zalem is but we never learn who Nova is. I put him as okay because the mystery gives potential for a compelling backstory, and he could become much more of a threat than he is in this. Edward Norton is extremely talented and plays Nova. There was some missed opportunity in his role. He is a good enough constant threat in the film, and I like that he’s been around since the war with URM. Hopefully his story pays off in sequels.

For any fans of anime or post-apocalyptic cyberpunk sci. fi., this is a film worth checking out. I’ve been wanting to see a solidly good anime adapted to film for some time, and it looks like this time they managed to do it. The acting is solid, the action is great, the story is compelling and it is true to the anime while expanding on it and enriching the world. This film is a great example of adaptation done right.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Battle Angel Alita (1993): Identity, Desperation and a World in Which I Wanted to Know More

    It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an anime, but I figured with “Battle Angel Alita” out I should better educate myself on the world before going in, which lead me to the OVA/Film that was made in 1993. It has been some time since I’ve reviewed an anime and I’m glad I went back to the 90s. The animation is simply stunning and the story is a brutal cyberpunk world with stakes. This story reminded me why I enjoy anime as an art and storytelling form in the first place, and just how much I miss hand drawn animation. I want this art form to come back. Hand drawn work is so underrated. The “Battle Angel Alita” anime is based on the manga by Yukito Kishiro and after watching this film I may have to check it out.

The film was directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi and supervised by Rintaro with the story written by Akinori Endo.

The film follows a Hunter Killer named Ido who finds an android in a Zalem (the floating city above) scrap heep and rebuilds her to be his daughter. He names her Gally and the story follows her relationship with the scavenger Yugo as well as clashing with her father as she wants to become a Hunter Killer and wrestles with her unknown past as she faces off against threats from Ido’s past and Yugo’s present.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Kauro Wada was the perfect artist for creating a soundtrack for this anime. He is able to create electronic reflection and also tension before and during fights. It reminds of me Vangelis’s “Blade Runner.” Both of these artists tap into the desperation of our characters but also their own disconnect as they face impossible situations. Cyberpunk naturally goes with electronic I think. I have yet to see a film that wasn’t at least competent. I also haven’t sought out awful cyberpunk films. I am also certain they exist.

The Animation – The animation is brutal. There is quite a bit of blood from whenever a character kills another. This works. I wouldn’t say it gratuitous because it fits the brutal cyberpunk dystopian world it takes place in. I also love the 90’s animation. You can see all the emotions in a character’s face, which in my experience you don’t always get with the going for stoic minimalist anime. This is a beautiful designed anime, even though it is unfinished in the story.

The Action – The action is brutal. Everything that happens has consequences. We see multiple heroes, villains and random people experience brutal deaths. This is the definition of dystopia and we aren’t hidden from that. The action lingers on kills as whichever character who is witnessing it has it sink in. The film is under an hour but every action that happens gives you time to take in what happens and what loss the character is facing. It is part of what makes this anime good.

Gally – In the just English dub this Alita. The dub I listened to kept her name as Gally so I’ll be using that in this review. She is one of the strongest parts of the story. She is seeking meaning in not knowing her past but also finding reasons to fight and to live. She goes against her “father” Ido to become a Hunter Killer, she loves and loses and she never stops fighting and growing. There is a reason the anime takes her name because drives the story. I wish it could have gotten more, as after the live-action her backstory is fascinating but the anime gives none of that rich lore.

Ido – Ido is her mentor, father and a Hunter Killer. He is the distant father dealing with baggage through most of the film but we see him open up at the end. This was a man cast from paradise/Zalem and the character we meet hasn’t accepted that fully. This is all me reading into his actions, but I don’t think he would have backed up Gally in the end if some part of him didn’t want to return home, especailly after the loss of his love when she was seeking the same thing. We don’t see him express it but the implantation is there is him wanting to return back, at least for revenge for what they did to the person he cared about most besides Gally.

Okay:

Yugo – Yugo is our love interest and I like how his naivety works. He thinks that his stealing cyborg parts will get him to Zalem, when a theme is no one can really get there. He loses his body and hte person he loves because of his obsession with this dream. I’m putting him as okay as the love story was a little fast and I didn’t see the dilemma of him being split between Gally and Zalem. That choice of choosing Gally before he dies should have meant so much more. The dub was good though. I believed he was the idealistic kid in love wanting a better life.

Vector – Vector is the main baddy and he is brutal but we never get who he is working for. Who is paying him? Is he just conning people and that is it? None of these questions are truly answered because the story is less than an hour long. He truly deserved more development. Not a con because at least he was developed enough that I got why people trusted his charm.

The Cons:

Unexplained Zalem – Zalem is never explained. It is implied a civilization might be up there, but in the dub I watched it was vague enough that the defenses could be automated. This was bad storytelling. A clear answer would have given so much more development to Yugo and Vector at the very least. The city is always present in scenes of the cityscape and is the climax of the film but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. This really hurt the overall story.

Gally’s Unknown Past – We never learn who Gally is, not a hint or anything. There was no point to this as even some detail would have given her complexity in the choices she makes beyond being a good person. Ido hints at knowing more but we never learn who she was before she was found in the trash heap. I say this as someone who thought she was one the strongest parts of this hour long long story. The main character needs some deeper development at least. Jason Bourne got more of that in his first film.

For fans of 90’s anime you should check this film out. For how much it is underdeveloped in regards to Gally’s past it gives Ido and the character dreams and conflict in the present a good exploration. This film made me see the live-action adaption, which will be a future review. Besides the animation and action, it worth seeing it for the world the characters inhabit and how they interact with it. This cyberpunk dystopian is brutal and the fact that our characters can choose to be good or are good means something. In this world choices have consequences that give weight to the characters.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good anime, worth your time.

 

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War – A Solid Battle Royale Anime That Tackles Meaning and Purpose

    I’m a fan of complete stories, and stories with consequences. This goes for shows, books, films, etc. If I start something, I want to finish it. That is what lead me to this series, and one of the reasons I love Battle Royale animes. Battle Royale is a style of anime where a group of characters are in a tournament, fighting to the death, and there can only be one team or one person left alive. Think “Hunger Games” in terms of scale.

“Juni Taisen: Zodiac War” is an anime based off a light novel (interactive book), by Nisio Isin, which was illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura. It takes place in the modern day where a war rages between 12 families, named after the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac fight (Ox, Dragon, Snake, Monkey, etc.). World Leaders bet on who will win, and the winner has a wish granted as their reward.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is full of magic and technology, and each family has a power or ability that is passed down through blood. This makes the wars between them fascinating and adds a darker element to it all, as each ability is used to maximize killing. The world is full of constant war and political intrigue, and this plays into the characters chosen to fight in the tournament.

Characters – Not all the characters are strong or interesting. I couldn’t stand Snake and Dragon as they were just like Beavis and Butthead. Horse needed more character development. How women are objectified ends up taking away from a few backstories, too. There are a few characters that do manage to carry this 12 episode series though.

Boar – Boar is our introduction to this world. She is the daughter of the winner of the last tournament. She wants to be the best more than anything and to be loved by her father. This leads to her driving her sister insane when her father chooses her sister over her. The reasons behind this are never fully explored, but given how sociopathic her father is, he turned sister against sister to see who he could make the most ruthless. She’s a broken character, but she loves the rage of battle. We see how her father’s views shape her, making her vulnerable, which is contrasted by the hard, collected exterior she presents to others.

Monkey – Monkey is the peacemaker, driven by the desire to bring about world peace. She is a planner and has a way of disarming people with her kindness. She is one of the most powerful members in the tournament, as she controls the elements. She only dies when Rabbit uses the others he has killed to catch her off guard. Monkey is the only good person in the tournament, as many are driven by much more selfish means.

Tiger – Tiger fights in a drunken rage. Having to fight in the wars that the families take part in breaks her spirit, and makes her a nihilist. This leads to her drinking and fighting, which leads to her forgetting herself, getting kicked out of her family and living by instinct. Her arc is about finding herself again, as when Ox rescues her one of the days she is drunk prior to the tournament, and that drives her to be better. Her story is touching. In the end she sacrifices herself to save Ox from Rabbit, and is the only member of the tournament to die happy.

Ox – Ox is the Samurai archetype. This is a man who fights for honor and in defense of others. He has no abilities, but is methodical in his killing, becoming known as the “Genius of Slaughter.” He chooses not to kill in the end, in regards to Tiger. We see him as someone who has lived his entire life killing and found no purpose beyond how he kills. It is in his final act of risking his life, so Rat can defeat Rabbit, that we see that he finally finds purpose, just as his friend Tiger did.

Rabbit – Rabbit is an insane necromantist whose soul desires to make everyone his “friends,” as in kill them and make them his minions. He is unpredictable and the main antagonist of the series, as he outmatches every single character. His winning means the end of the world. It takes multiple characters working together, starting with Monkey and ending with the actions of Ox and Tiger, that lead to Rat finally being able to defeat him. The final fights are amazing, and that is mostly due to just how impressive Rabbit is as an enemy.

Shaped by Trauma – One of the major themes of the series is how trauma shapes you. Chicken was abused as a child so they learn to use vulnerability as a tool, Tiger’s trauma shapes her into a weapon, Horse’s trauma leads to him pumping himself full of drugs to be the strongest, and Monkey’s trauma drives her to try and bring about peace. These are a few examples of what makes the characters, who drive the story, so compelling. All of them were born out of conflict and their actions are shaped by it.

Character Contrast – Each of the characters has another aspect about themselves that is contrasted with the face they wear during the tournament. Ox is a brutal unfeeling killer, yet dies for another. Tiger is reckless and violent but her final actions are driven by love, Rabbit brings people back to life because he is lonely and wants to be with people, Horse is a powerful soldier but in the end dies afraid and trapped, unable move past his fear.

The Cons:

Dragon and Snake – I hated Dragon and Snake. These two are thieves who present themselves as helping the poor, but will take any contract, even killing the very people they were helping. We never find out why though. They have no clear motivation in their actions, and it just makes them bland. These characters just act bored or crazy, and it does nothing to develop them. These two received two episodes to explore their backstory, which really should have gone to Ox or Rabbit. The writer didn’t care about these characters, and in the end, we don’t either.

How the Show Presents Women – Women in this are presented as victims only. Monkey is a victim of failed treaties she made, Chicken from abusive parents, Tiger from War, and Boar by her father. On top of this most of them are presented as sexual objects. Where the men get outfits that would function in combat or cover most of their body. With the exception of Boar and Monkey, everyone else is in underwear or less. This was so stupid, especially in regards to Tiger, who is a soldier, and Chicken, who is a spy. This is a common trope in anime and one I really hope is changed. Every character deserves full development and respectful presentation. Objectification does nothing but cheapen the character.

The Ending – Rat wins because of his ability to see up to 100 different possibilities and choose the best path to take. So what does he do? What did he learn from all these characters, their motivations, and wishes? Nothing, seriously… the ending is awful. Rat chooses to forget he ever took part in the tournament, which is problematic given it makes all the deaths meaningless, and it doesn’t keep him from being put back into another tournament. He doesn’t help anyone and he doesn’t solve the problem of the tournament’s existence. I hated the ending, and it is one reason I can’t really call this series good.

If you are fan of Battle Royale animes you should check this one out. It is entertaining and there are some great character moments, the animation and action are fantastic too. What brings it down is the common anime trope of the objectification of women, and certain character arcs having no payoff; as well as, an ending that isn’t worth your time. Seriously if you want the best of this anime, watch everything but the last episode, and skip the Dragon and Snake episodes. Besides that, this was entertaining but extremely flawed.

Final Score: 7 / 10