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

 

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Zootopia (2016): A Masterpiece Exploring Prejudice and Communities

Zootopia Poster

   “Disney Animated Stuios” is pretty much the new Pixar in regards to quality animated storytelling. “Pixar” is now where old Disney used to be as they are releasing tons of sequels and it isn’t ‘garutneed they’ll make a hit (unlike “Disney Studios”). Seriously, “Big Hero 6,” “Frozen,” “Wreck-it-Ralph.” These are films this studio has put out and now “Zootopia” is up there among them as one of the best animated films I have ever watched. Much like those this film is intelligent with characters, comedy and themes and gives us a lived in world without a powerful story we can relate to our own world and ourselves. Before I get further and into spoiler territory, go see this film.

    “Zootopia” was directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore while being written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston and was produced by Clark Spencer.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to Zootopia to become a cop and finding out that the ideal world of animals that were once Predators and Prey isn’t the peaceful utopia she believed it to be. Together she must work with a hustler named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve the case on why certain predators are going feral and help save the city.

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! It has a bunch of anthropomorphic animals and unlike a lot of “Dreamworks” films they don’t exist as jokes. There are fully fleshed out cultures and societies (of the the carnivore and herbivore variety) made to reflect our own, rather than satire pop culture…but that is the quality I’ve come to expect from Disney Studios.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful as Zootopia is split into different regions…from the Metropolis at the center, desert, rain forest, etc. It all flows together beautifully and I love how they show when animals go feral with the red eyes.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film as their histories are what inform the film, especially between Hopps and Wilde, who really carry the film. This is a film that is honest about it’s characters and in turn honest about our own basic humanity, with all of the pros and cons that come with it.

Mr. Big – Mr. Big is the gang lord of the Arctic region. He is an Arctic shrew who is pretty amazing as he helps our heroes once he learns that Hopps saved his daughter and in turn he makes her family and forgives Wilde for conning him.

Chief Bogo – Idris Elba is awesome in this! He plays a giant Water Buffalo who is the police chief of Zootopia. He has his own issues to work through as he doesn’t take Hopps seriously until Wilde calls him out for his prejudice against smaller animals and his belief they can’t be cops. He grows a lot and becomes of the few characters who remains a hero throughout the film.

Nick Wilde – Jason Bateman is fantastic as Nick, who is a tragic figure who had gotten beaten up by some herbivores as a kid because he was a carnivore, as they beat him up and muzzled him. From this we get why he doesn’t trust people and why he lives the sly fox stereotype. His friendship with Hopps is awesome as he helps her grow and she helps him grow as he becomes someone serious and stops conning others.

Judy Hopps – Hopps was beat up by a fox when she was little and her family hates foxes due to their experience in the countryside. That all changes when she goes to the city and befriends Nick. It is from there that she has to face herself when she helps the Assistant Mayor target predators when she blames their going feral on their DNA. From here there is one of the most touching scenes when she apologizes to Nick for all she’s done and they go to takeout the Assistant Mayor.

Prejudice and Communities – The main prejudices explored here are those based on body (Hopps ignored by the Police Chief and force) and carnivore vs. herbivore as the herbivores fear the Predators and vice versa due to times fear and hatred have been acted upon characters. We see this in how the Assistant Mayor uses the fear to limit predator opportunities and making Hopps a hero. It is when Nick and Judy get past their prejudices and Chief Bogo does too that they are able to take out the Assistant Mayor and her sheep who want revenge for being used and oppressed and wants to end the existent of carnivores.

The Cons: The Mayor and Assistant Mayor – I felt that these two were never fully explored. The Mayor was just someone taking advantage of the media to be better liked while the Assistant Mayor preyed on fear. There was so much more that could have been done with all of them. The mayor being a bully didn’t seem like a logical reason to target all carnivores.

Too Much Shakira – She is in this as Gazelle and she is everywhere. Seriously, at times this film feels like a Shakira commercial. I hated it as this city should listen to more people both in the news and music. This was the one thing that really took me out of the film.

  This was an amazing movie even if the Mayor and Assistant Mayor didn’t feel fully developed as characters, and there was way too much Shakira (and I like Shakira) as at times it felt like one giant music video selling her, especially at the end. These cons are overwhelmed by the positive though as the world is amazing and the core characters all go through character arcs that humanizes them and gives them depth. There is a lot to like about this film and I would not be surprised if it ends up making my Top 5 Films this year.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10