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“Creating the Magic”- How I do reviews

Everyone can be (and is) a fan or an enthusiast of something, and in some cases, it goes further than that, stemming into actual professional fields and careers. You could say as I’m starting this journey that I’m a hobbyist-turned-professional as of now. Extensive time and planning goes into the work people are bound to see and read here- and while reviews will vary greatly in genre, show content, and the types of individuals they may attract, they will have a binding element to all them (one system to rule them all!): A specialized grading system.


For each and every show, I had to devise a universal grading system that would work without fail. There was a few key reasons this task was monumentally important: First, to be a “universal animation critic” who talked adequately about both Western and Eastern shows (namely Japanese anime), the system need to be plausibly fair and work equally as well for something like The Fairly Odd Parents (a Western show) as it did for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (an Eastern show). Next, it was designed to preserve the imaginative and classic aspects of criticism while adding a quantifiable analytical element to shows. People like quantifiable numbers. Most reviewers, whether it be animation, live action shows, movies, etc., tend to use a four star scale or A-F grading. The focus was to create a superior system that would try as best as possible to add an objective angle in a field that is notoriously opinion-based. I cannot make the claim that everything can be 100% unbiased (as it’s impossible), but I will say it’s more impartial than any other system I’ve found out there. (I can only hope dear readers, that you’ll find the same thing to be true.) Finally, it’s meant to give a clear picture to both long-time viewers of a given show as well as people who’ve never even heard of the same flick. To accomplish all these angles was a tall challenge, but hardly insurmountable, and the system you’re about to see has been perfected on close to 100 animated shows from all genres, which you’ll see gradually rolled out. So, without further ado, here is the grading scale that you’ll see in every formal review posted here (and adapted sooner rather than later to video form as well!)


There were 5 key aspects to form a grade. Three are inherently important to any storytelling medium: Characterization, Story Quality, and Themes. One aspect is exclusively tailored and necessary for the medium: The animation itself! It’s not live-action, so that aspect which gives the art form its very name was very important to get a good grasp on. Finally, there’s a grab bag called “don’t insult the viewer” that was originally envisioned as judging whether a show’s writer wrote down to, or pandered to their audience (to the detriment of the show), or wrote something very smart that could be appreciated by everyone, advice on levels of violence depending on genre and target audience, and other such miscellaneous aspects, which also grew to include music (which was way too subjective for a separate category. Some shows have amazing scores, and other shows don’t have much at all, but can still be good shows.) Each aspect is then weighted on a 5 point scale, and add up to a 25 point score. This score then has a x4 multiplier to get a 100 point grade. And voila! There you have it. Below is more detail on what these categories entail specifically.

Animation Quality

This is the first, but not only aspect of animation. However, the medium inherently demands a certain quality. What kind of medium is it? Traditional 2-D? Cel-shaded? Stop-motion? CGI? All these methods have a certain threshold. The stories themselves are imaginary, so the world and characters should draw us in. The first way to do that is good animation. There are various shows I can name that were great starting with animation eye-candy. I can also think of a few clunkers that were impaired by poor animation or animation that simply didn’t work from the beginning. Problem Solverz was one of those shows- besides generally uninspired writing, the biggest complaint about this dud was the animation, which made it visually unappealing (and I can attest to this). Poorer animation can sometimes be saved by great writing, but that show had neither.

Characterization

Characters are the gateway into any show and frankly, if we don’t care about them, it’s likely we don’t care about their world, and thus, the show. In animation, this is even more important- since the worlds are inherently make believe, the characters must be convincing and relateable if we are to become interested. They should be dynamic too, at least the main characters- inherently flawed, but possessing some ordinary or outstanding characteristics that make them interesting, and a personality we can get behind. Some exaggeration is good too, particularly in animation where it is a bread and butter tactic of slapstick. And they should look good ideally too. There’s no such thing as a perfect character, but I like to think of animated characters by the “action figure criteria.” If it would look good in real life plastic, and continue to be aesthetically pleasing, it probably is a good design. One last note- designs are best either as simplistic (think tradition 2-D characters) or very detailed (such as most anime and for a Western example, Avatar: The Last Airbender). It’s surprisingly important how characters are almost always better suited for a specific style, and if the creators chose the wrong look for them, it can be very detrimental. Likewise, the opposite is true: good character design in the right style can synergize beautifully.

Story Quality

What kind of story is it- overarching or episodic? Is it a mix? If it’s episodic, does it make itself compelling, funny, or interesting in a roughly 20-30 minute block? For bigger arcs, is there continuity and are plot lines tied up in an interesting or cohesive way? How many filler episodes exist? The multitude of questions presented here are basic criteria that help to frame and decide if a show is fulfilling its story potential. While show runners tend to either storyboard or do written scripts, the way in which the show was written is inconsequential; rather, it is the end product on screen that gets all the attention.

Themes of a Show

Is there any overarching lesson we can take from the narrative? Animation doesn’t always focus as much on this, but it can be an important factor for quality. How smart a show plays cultural and social tropes is an indication of this as well. Used properly, it can have comedic effect. While I thinks some people would disagree, cartoons inherently should NOT be about pushing social agendas or propaganda, although I acknowledge this has been done. It’s quite different than a smart social criticism satirically. Themes will also be probed for the depth in which a show explores whatever elements are key to it, their integration into the story, and relative synergy back into the other key elements of the show (story, characters, etc.)

Don’t Insult the Viewer

You’d be surprised how relevant this is. Shows and movies with a family demographic run the risk of pandering to kids and ignoring the older audience; Shows aimed for slightly more mature audiences do take some risks, and when it goes from smart to insulting (such as Family Guy episodes in general to implied controversial themes in family programming) it can ruin the show and leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. This category, despite its name, also can award merit to great musical scores, unorthodox decisions by the director that work out but don’t fit the other catergories, and general advisement on suggested vs potential audiences.

 

Ratings Scale (A general guide):

25: The perfect animated show. This doesn’t exist, so we’ll say this is the theoretical threshold of perfection.

23-24.5- Instant Classics. These do exist, but they’re of a rare, extraordinary breed of show that just hits all the right notes. It’s not easy to pen a show of this caliber, but this rating system should accurately pinpoint such shows.

22-22.5: Likely Classics. Barely a cut beneath the shows above. Some minor flaw, perhaps. But still a gem of a show.

20-21.5: Excellent Show. Potential to become classics, were very good, had a few negligible flaws, but still great.

18.5-19.5: Very Good Show: Not next level, but solid productions that were enjoyable to watch and follow, typically speaking.

16-18: Above -average show- goes above the typical output, is usually enjoyable, but contains an inherently fatal flaw that keeps it from climbing higher, or it may not have enough development yet if it is an ongoing series.

12.5-15.5: Average show. Nothing particularly special, watchable, inherently flawed, and usually predictable.

10-12: Mediocre: More bad than good, likely not worth one’s time, are flawed in multiple aspects, though they may have the occasional bright moment.

Below 10: A bomb. Fatally flawed, a possible insult to animation, poor characters, poor story, poor animation, etc… and a definite waste of time.

Below 5: Probably “worst of all time” territory. It’s difficult to get a 5 or below on this scale.


So again, the 25 point score is multiplied out by 4 to get a grade out of 100%. The format allows for fair and balanced criticism and discussion, while adding that unique analytical angle. Here’s an example to finish this post off:

 

Name of Show (Network name, start year-end year)

Animation Quality: This will contain some thoughts about the animation of the show.   ?/5 points.

Characterization:  All about the characters. ?/5 points.

Story quality: Episodic or arcs? All will be explored here. ?/5 points.

Themes:  Family, friends, life itself…you never know unless you watched it. ?/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Fanservice usually not welcome. ?/5 points.

Total Score: ?/ 25. Multiply that score, and you get your % out of 100%.


I know this is a lengthy explanation and a lot to take in, but the system is remarkably easy to understand once you see it in action. I’ll be posting formal reviews at least once a week to start; these can be anything from ongoing shows to real blasts from the past. Oh, and one last note: The only set in stone criteria for a show to be graded is: a) It has to be at least 90% animated, and b) It has to have accrued at least 1 full season to receive a preliminary review. Current shows will be updated seasonally. Movies also work in this format, and at some point, I may review these more formally as well. Finally, thanks to the Walt Disney Company- I don’t know if “create the magic” is trademarked by you guys, but it does make for a catchy title inspiration!

 

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Welcome to AniB Productions!

An innovative new way of looking at animation is here.

Hello new readers,

Welcome to AniB Productions! Here on this blog will be an absolutely amazing compendium (mostly) about  animated shows, from both the West and the East, but also some potential talk about animated movies, or just the occasional random musing. I will have plenty of updates about reviews, thoughts on shows; candid, honest and thoughtful discussion is encouraged- a hallmark of a healthy society! I will also be planning to launch videos sooner rather than later on YouTube, but the written components of criticism and analysis here will still be very important. So whether you’re a huge anime fan, a longtime viewer of Western shows, or just casually interested in the medium of animation (and animated shows, by extension), I sincerely hope that everyone will find something here to interest and potentially inspire them! Please enjoy,

-AniB

 

 

Review: Steins;Gate

A show about time-travel might just become a timeless classic of anime.

The Lowdown:

Show: Steins;Gate

Studio/year released: White Fox, 2011; Funimation handled the dubbing and North American release; however, instead of going to network it was directly released on DVD and Blu-Ray, hence why no localized network is listed.

AniB’s thoughts: Continuing on this whirlwind week of new reviews comes Steins;Gate, a request from a while back, and I must say that it was well worth the watch. Featuring a plot revolving around the concept of time-travel and its effects, once only believed to be in the realm of science fiction, the show is an adaptation of a visual novel and is notable for its small, intimately well developed cast of characters and its premise.

On the subject of time travel, it is a notoriously difficult concept to get right, especially in animation. The vast majority of shows devote an episode to the idea at some point, with  the results usually being somewhere between convoluted and mediocre Back to the Future riffs. There are a few excellent episodes dealing with the idea; SpongeBob Squarepants’ “SB-129” from its early seasons was actually one I enjoyed as a one-off idea in a style that fit that show (and yes, I just praised SpongeBob. That doesn’t happen often these days.) Steins;Gate however, did something very different in deciding to make the central plot device be time travel- but not the actual story itself, and in doing so, constructed its characters around the premise to spectacular results.

Steins;Gate is a gripping drama with some action and a strangely slice-of-life feeling that only becomes all too painfully real in the ways the show explores the different outcomes of a day, an hour, a minute, a second. Watching the main character, Rintaro Okabe (usually referred to as “Okarin” by his friends, especially Mayuri) go through the excitement and the anguish of discovering a lifelong dream and the justification of his convictions only to see the implications of every action, from the very beginning of show, and how he changes as a person (though not always outwardly) is quite a journey, and for such a short anime (26 episodes), it feels a lot longer when it’s all said and done. Ultimately though, Steins;Gate also feels worth all that time when it’s completed, and you might find yourself doing some introspection too after watching. There’s surely more to say, but it’s a terrific show that speaks best upon viewing…a journey of discovery might be the best way to sum it up.

 


1. Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, with all the richness and detail you’d expect from a show that has a focus on time travel. The character models are pleasing; the visual style brings to life the stakes at hand in the show, and the end product pops. 4.75/5 points.

 

 

2. Characterization: In a show full of standout qualities, the most impressive was the intimately developed cast, consisting of the members of “The Future Gadget Lab” and those around them.

Rintaro Okabe is the leader of the team and a self-proclaimed “mad scientist.” Preferring to be called by the fictional name “Hououin Kyouma,” Okabe is usually referred to by his friends as “Okarin” (a portmanteau of his first and last names.) Often talking in aloof terms or overt exaggeration, Okabe has a much more serious side emerge when his masterpiece invention- a time machine- turns from a theory into a reality- and as such, quietly takes responsibility for all the events of the show as the plot unfolds.

Kurisu is the daughter of a physicist and is studying abroad in Japan, as she is actually an American. She is a brilliant scientist in her own right, but finds herself quickly at odds with the eccentric Okabe, who takes to calling her “Christina.” However, the two grow to like each other as members of the Future Gadget Lab, and she proves pivotal in the plot of Steins;Gate. (SPOILERS: She also develops some feelings for Okabe.)

Mayuri serves as Okabe’s foil, or “hostage” of sorts. A happy, naive girl with lots of warmth in her heart, she knows Okabe better than anyone else, and is known for her catchphrase “Doo do doo! (when greeting anyone.) She’s happy to assist around the lab, has an avid interest in cosplay, and is often concerned quietly when she sees Okabe growing distant in his thoughts.

Itaru, better known as “Daru,” is the lab’s tech genius, which has Okabe calling him “the hack,” much to his annoyance. Knowledgable and chilled about most things in life, Daru has a sort of fetish for “otaku” culture, and the somewhat stereotypical anime perversion for women, which amazingly enough, isn’t entirely cringeworthy in this show. He also has an unusual connection with another cast member…

Suzuhu works for Mr. Tennouji, Okabe’s landloard. A mysterious girl who showed up one day to work for him, she’s athletic with a sense of humor and loves to ride her bike. She shows a sharp sense of intuition and there may be more to her than meets the eye…

As for the rest of the cast…Ruka is a gender ambiguous individual who despite feminine appearances, is a boy; he cares a lot about Okabe as well and is rather introverted; Faris is the owner of a maid cafe (yes, it’s what it sounds like) and is at the center of such culture in the city, and Moeka is a mysterious girl with glasses who usually only talks to Okabe via text messages…all these characters have more depth to them than these brief descriptions in what proves to be a stellar cast. Here quality definitely trumps quantity…5/5 points.

 

 

3. Story quality: Unusually enough, Steins;Gate is adapted from a visual novel, a somewhat unconventional sourcing material, but it makes for a seamless transition here. The brilliant move in Steins;Gate was designing the entire story around time travel as a plot device; instead of serving as a gimmick, it is the backbone in which the framing of everything else, from the superb character development, to the intrigue the story generates, is able to make sense…and it works wonderfully. 4.75/5 points.

 

 

4. Themes: Time travel and the implications of it as the show portrays is at the heart of Steins;Gate, but there is more… playing “God” and trying to manipulate outcome proves to have tangible consequences; the value of lives considering outcomes and personal feelings; true friends and relationships that transcend any sort of time regardless of setting, and even some rather tasteful approaches to usually difficult subjects ranging from gender ambiguity in a character to even tempting fate… it’s all very well done. 4.5/5 points.

 

 

5. Don’t insult the viewer: Great pacing, good music, innovative concept, and an intimate, well developed cast with some interesting themes explored and the writing to match? I’ve got nothing to complain about here. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 23.75/25 (96%): An unusually innovative take on the time travel trope, Steins;Gate starts a little slow but hits its stride with a small but superbly-developed cast of characters and a lot of interesting thematic implications. It’s definitely worth checking out as one of the best anime from this decade.


Like what you see? Did you enjoy Steins;Gate if you saw it? Leave a comment!

Random Episode Ramblings #1: “Not What He Seems” (Gravity Falls)

A while back, a certain reader of mine requested at some point that I take a look at individual episodes of some shows. I considered the proposal and ultimately decided that it’d make another good series to write that would keep me going for a while…the only hard part being that I had to parse down to singular episodes I really liked. Most of the time, I usually am thinking about shows in their totality because I’m writing the graded reviews that are a major focus of this blog, and I also know other bloggers already do this kind of analysis…but I’m here to put the “AniB spin” on it. (I suppose I can grade episodes too!) So here’s the first episode I’ll talk about: “Not What He Seems,” from Gravity Falls.

There are any number of individual episodes worth talking about from Gravity Falls, the critically acclaimed Disney show that I talked about a while back, and it remains a personal favorite of mine, but I’ve decided to discuss a keynote episode of the show that brought together the best of its episodic and overarching storytelling blend, which in turn delivered on a great deal of buildup from the very first episode of the show (Tourist Trapped). It’s an episode that reveals in one explosive 22 and a half -minute package the truth about the journals, the culmination of a great deal of character development for Stan Pines, who I also wrote about in a character analysis piece, the actual purpose and reason the Mystery Shack exists (and it’s not just as a dumpy tourist trap), and finally, the explosive reveal of the mysterious “author of the journals,” in what is still an incredibly-well choreographed and animated moment.

 

It goes without saying that Not What He Seems is a Stan-centric episode, but beyond that, it’s how he ties into the entire current of mystery underpinning the entire show. While I talked at length about Stan’s role in another article, part of what makes this episode so memorable is the buildup to it. At the end of the prior episode- Northwest Mansion Mystery, Fiddleford McGucket’s fixed laptop shows a doomsday clock; since the finale of season 1 (Gideon Rises), the audience is aware of the massive portal underneath the Shack, and that the other journals were in the possession of Stan, who hid his double life working on said portal…until now.

The cold opening begins with Stan working in the basement again, apparently using toxic waste to fuel his endeavors. It also showcases another reason this episode stands out- the absolutely stellar animation. After the intro, the episode starts innocuously enough like so many other Gravity Falls episodes before it- as Stan decides to join in on some mischief with fireworks and then water balloons- and then, the facade is broken as the government shows up.

Watching Dipper and Mabel formulate an escape plan and then discover the uncomfortable truths about their “Grunkle Stan” before he had a chance to tell them is both genuinely uncomfortable and tense- a testament to the staff that such emotional sentiment was built up to this episode. In true Gravity Falls style though, there is still some unexpected moments of humor that work- and in this case, it’s delivered by Soos, whose well-meaning, albeit ham-handed attempts to protect the Shack and Mr. Pines bring just the right amount of levity to an episode where “serious” takes precendence over “humorous.”

The final 5 minutes of the episode however, is genuinely some of the best stuff you’ll ever see in animation, as the buildup come to a (literal) earth-shattering conclusion that brings many narrative threads to a head at a critical moment. Stan escapes from jail in a very cool scene (and Durland and Blubbs are playing pinata in the corner, haha), the twins have made their unsettling discoveries in Stan’s personal office (fake I.D.s’, newspaper clipping of his “death”, and a lot of doubt) and Soos shows up to protect the vending machine in the Shack’s gift shop, where after a brief reunion and struggle with Dipper and Mabel, the trio discovers the secret behind the door.

I’ll pause here for a moment to really take in the work on the drawing in these scenes. The creative team did an absolutely terrific job evoking “apocalypse,” from the reddened sky and sun, to the town literally tearing apart at the seams, and the portal itself, its massive energy surge threatening to warp the fabric of existence and send our characters into an unknown oblivion. It’s true that the writing made most of this episode and Gravity Falls on the whole, but Not What He Seems is taken to another level by the art itself- just look at this still panel:

“Grunkle Stan…I trust you.”

The decision to have Mabel make the final decision in such a key narrative moment was a crucial writing decision. Shown to be the “fun” sibling, with an insecurity towards growing up (and grown-up affairs), she is asked a hard question rooted in very real implications, a roaring rift gate potentially ready to unleash the apocalypse, and a difficult comparison: was Stan the “grunkle” she came to know over the course of the summer, or the strange man of double lives and false aliases her and her brother came to find? This line of questioning would be difficult for an adult, let alone a 12 year old girl…and she went with “trust” as an answer. Was it smart? In the long-run narrative, yes it worked out, but logically without further information it was not…but from a character-building perspective it was a perfect decision. Simply put, it showcased Mabel’s greatest strength- her ability to emphasize and give the benefit of the doubt to mostly anybody, was also her greatest strength, and that sometimes, the biggest decisions in our lives are not always as cut and dry as we want them to be, or pressing a giant red button, as Dipper would have been wont to do.

So “my brother, the author of the journals,” appeared. Ford’s official debut served as the conclusive finish to many questions in the show, and while his emergence from the portal is a massive turning point in Gravity Falls, it is secondary to everything else that happens in this amazing episode. The next episode in the show (A Tale of Two Stans) explained a great deal of backstory, but Not What He Seems served as a mid-season finale to end all mid-season finales. Alex Hirsch even described at one point that the episode was likely slated to originally serve as season 2’s endpoint, with a final season focusing on what the final 9 episodes did instead, but the result was still brilliant in setting the table for the sprint that was the end of Gravity Falls, but also as a stand-alone episode.

There’s probably plenty more I can say about Not What He Seems, or Gravity Falls as a whole, but it’s even better to go back and watch it again. And if you read this far and have never seen the show or this particular moment, do yourself a favor and watch it. It’s one of the best shows this decade, and in this author’s opinion, the best Western animated show of the same time period. Honestly, there’s more than one episode from the show that could make the cut for this column, but in the end, one of the most influential episodes in the show both as a standalone piece and pertaining to its role in the overarching story gets the nod as a stellar work of animation.


Like what you see? Want more Gravity Falls material, or episode reviews? Leave a comment!

 

Review: Assassination Classroom

A quirky, unique anime with a original premise hides a lot more depth than you’d expect.

The Lowdown:

Show: Assassination Classroom

Studio(NA Distrubutor)/Years aired: Lerche (Funimation)/ 2015-2016

AniB’s thoughts: This show’s title is ultimately misleading, but not inaccurate. The basic premise of the show- where a class of misfits at an elite junior high school in Japan are tasked with attempting to kill their new teacher- a strange octopus-like creature named Koro-sensei- sounds janky at first and perhaps even heavy handed, and I won’t lie, I was somewhat skeptical of how the entire production would turn out. As it is, this is a time I’m very glad to have been wrong, because this is a great show overall.

Derived from Shonen Jump, the famed manga publication, as so many other noted anime are, the show does have some of the usual things you might expect- some nods and brief fanservice, and references to other Jump franchises, from Naruto to Fist of the North Star. However, this show is very savvy about this sort of anime-specific craziness, and has a wonderful way of weaving these potential cliche tropes into its narrative, usually to comedic effect, but sometimes, also into a serious moment or plot line, and as result, it doesn’t waste time.

Split into two seasons spanning 47 episodes, Assassination Classroom flows thanks to a lack of filler, interesting, dynamic characters who by the nature of the show’s premise, literally develop as both people and students over the course of the show’s run, while learning quite a bit about themselves…and forging relationships and memories to last a lifetime.

If you can get past the unconventional premise (which the show does a great job of), you’re in for a real treat. Perhaps in a weird way the show resonated strongly with me considering my own circumstances in school (and recent graduation from college), but regardless of that, it’s a blind pick that turned out great.

 


Animation quality: Modern 2-D anime. It’s really very good looking, and the animation enhances the sort of whimsical, yet dramatic storytelling the show seeks to do. Character modes are on point and varied, to say the least, and mostly, the style is used to good effect.  4.75 points.

 

Characterization: The shows focuses on the titular “Assassination Classroom”- formally known as Class 3-E, a group of junior high students outed as misfits, underachievers, oddballs, and potential “late bloomers.” As it is, they need the inspiration of a great teacher to bring out their true potential, and so the mysterious yellow octopus-like creature whom they dub “Koro-sensei” is it. While he is blamed for destroying 70% of Earth’s moon, he also serves another purpose, hence the name of the show: the kids have one year to take him out, or the Earth will be destroyed. Koro-sensei has many fantastic abilities, including regeneration and speed up to Mach-20, but his greatest is that he’s a fantastic teacher- and cares about every one of his students…which seems greatly at odds with his initial reputation.

Nagisa Shiota serves as the show’s main character and protagonist. Slim built and noted for his long blue hair that collectively gives an androgynous vibe, he serves as the show’s narrator in most episodes while trying to discover his own path. Initially billed as weak, Nagisa shows frightening promise and aptitude as an assassin despite his unassuming size and strength, but does that mean the career of an actual hitman is in his future?… He’s noted for his kind disposition and willingness to lend a helping hand to his fellow classmates and anyone else who needs it, but possesses unsettling blood-lust in high pressure situations.

Karma Akabane is the top student in Class 3-E after his transferal from suspension there in the 1st term. Noted for his vivid red hair, seemingly slacker attitude and sharp tongue, Karma possesses genius intellect and hand to hand combat skills, only matched by his latent sadistic side (which is usually more impish on most days). He initially is blood-lusted to “kill his new teacher”  (he had a previous grudge against the one who got him punted down to E-class), but like the other students, Koro-sensei finds a way to win him over.

Kaede Kayano is the other “main character” student, though uniquely between her, Nagisa, and Karma, she plays much more of background/supporting role through most of the series. While her major involvement in the plot is largely unveiled in the second and final season, it would be a massive spoiler to mention it here…pegged as a kind, cheerful, and even somewhat ditzy person, Kayano is the epitome of “don’t judge appearances.”

While there are 28 students in Class 3-E and all of them receive some time in the spotlight, a few play bigger roles than others, and so it would be difficult to talk about every last one of them. I’ll say collectively they are as charming a classroom you’ll ever find in this genre, and for the most part, there’s an organic growth to their relationships as a group and in terms of character development that spans a collective range of emotions unusual to the genre and the sorts of tropes you might expect from a show like Assassination Classroom.

Additionally, other major side characters exist in the show outside of 3-E’s crew, from the rest of the academy they attend, to actual professional assassins, and Defense Corps. people. While each and every one of these characters could have something written about them, in this case, it’s best to discover it for yourself along with the class in the show…and for anyone who’s seen Assassination Classroom, this approach makes plenty of sense. I will commend the show’s ability to juggle a large complex cast rather skillfully as well- all while staying below 50 episodes, which is all very impressive. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: An overarching plot structure with plenty of specific episodic bits sprinkled in, especially in season 1, but no filler. Given the unconventionally simply premise of the show, Assassination Classroom possesses a great deal more depth than initially meets the eye; while its humor might be slightly more geared in mind with seasoned anime fans (which is to say, it’s still decent for anyone), its drama hits all the right points at key moments and the story flow is excellent. 4.25/5 points.

 

Themes:  Incredibly enough, this show’s about growing up, seeking out one’s own potential and the capacity to learn in the school called “life.” It’s a quirky twist that in a show that features the idea of assassination in its name and core premise, it’s much more about the value of life and what you take from it, the relationships you make, and the lessons you learn from the trials one endures. 4.25/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Surprisingly tricky to nail down the exact grade here. They do the occasionally cringeworthy thing…and then somehow parlay back into the main narrative seamlessly rather than as a one-off gag, and I’m not sure I’ve seen that before. It’s got a pretty solid dub as well…I’m not too high on the openings, but they still have a weird quirky charm if you watch them enough. 4.75/5 points.

 

Total Score: 22.5/25 (90%). A surprisingly great show with a unique premise, a fresh take on the tired high school tropes in anime, and a dynamic cast of characters, Assassination Classroom succeeds in hitting both humor and serious drama while being savvy to tropes and references. A must watch.


Like what you see? Have you seen this show before? Leave a comment!

Review: Samurai Jack

After a 13 year hiatus, the story of a samurai lost in the distant future comes to a stunning conclusion.

The Lowdown:

Show: Samurai Jack

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 2001-2004 (initial run), 2017 (season 5)

AniB’s thoughts: I had originally planned to write a encompassing Jack review as early as late 2015, nearly 2 years before I started this blog (at the time of this writing), but with the announcement and subsequent return of the Cartoon Network- turned Adult Swim classic, I put it on hold. Mind you, it was going to be a favorable look back on the original 4 seasons in which Jack faces “the Shogun of Sorrow,” Aku, and is flung into the far future, where the events of the show unfold, just like it is now, but with a great deal of fresh thoughts and material in the wake of 10 frentic, beautifully animated, well-written episodes that finally put to rest the very last of the Cartoon Cartoon series. (Previously, this distinction was held by Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy, which concluded with Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy’s Big Picture Show, the finale movie, but with Jack’s revival, it claimed the belt- in all likelihood for good.)

(SPOILERS AHEAD. SKIP TO THE GRADED SECTION IF YOU WISH TO AVOID.)

The finale of this show, for better or worse, will be talked about for a long time, and while my initial reaction was that the show could have used 20 more minutes, it was satisfying on the whole, bittersweet and fitting in the end. Jack made it back to the past, Aku was finally defeated, and as for Ashi…we’ll get to that in a second. The episode was crammed with cameos, callbacks, and perhaps the greatest troll job Aku’s ever pulled in playing the original Samurai Jack intro to the world in announcing he’d captured the samurai. We also got at least one last meeting between the Scotsman and Jack, and that was wonderful- but another question worth wondering, “was it all a dream?” Because as Jack looks out up the beautiful valley at the end, it might as well have been- for nobody in the past truly knew the suffering, pain and struggle it took for Jack to save them all and change the course of history.

As for Ashi, she was Season 5’s most notable addition. She had an entire character arc crammed into the course of 10 episodes, and despite the horde of Jack’s past allies, Ashi stands out and does so well.  Slowly, she becomes Jack’s romantic interest in a total 180 from her intial role- an assassin of the “Daughters of Aku,” a cult that worshiped Jack’s mortal enemy. As it turns out, her “Daughter of Aku” title was no mere nickname, but literal- as in quite the twist, she was quite literally Aku’s daughter…which made for a very interesting endgame. Being part-Aku, it was she who was able to create the portal to the past…but in the process of “undoing the future that is Aku,” she undid herself from existence. (It was quickly pointed out the similarities of Ashi’s end to Nia from Gurren Lagann, and so Jack is our Simon here- he saved the world, but couldn’t quite save the one he loved, and that enough qualifies the bittersweet ending as exactly that.

Not to be forgotten in any analysis of Samurai Jack are the four seasons that defined the show from its original run (and what would have comprised a complete review prior to the revival season.) As the show was in Cartoon Network hands at the time, it was designed to be far more episodic with some recurring elements and characters, and it was during this period in which several staples of the series were established, as well as the bulk of the show, from the mask-free animation style that remains striking (and slightly updated, though still the same 13 years later) to many memorable characters, most notably the Scotsman, a trash-talking firebrand of a man with a machine gun for a peg leg and Jack’s equal in combat.

The original seasons also served the purpose of building the world in which Genndy Tartakovsky was able to build a convincing dystopian future- one that had plenty of Aku’s evil influence, but also parts yet not ravaged by the evil overlord. In saying that, the idea of “hope”- or lack thereof, as the 5th season appeared and Jack came to fight his inner demons- is pivotal to the thematic aspect of Samurai Jack, and without it, it couldn’t possibly be the show that it is, nor would we have received the ending we got.

On one other specific note for season 5, Scaramouche, the self-proclaimed “Aku’s #1 assassin, babe!” became a fan favorite, starring as the main episode villain in the first new episode after 13 years (XCII), and after his defeat against Jack, went on a quest to inform Aku of the samurai’s missing sword. (Unfortunately for him, his info was outdated in short order).  Noted for his scatman inspiration and fast-talking mouth, he was a likable villain worth mentioning, considering his dark humor and attitude brought some levity and action together into the grimmer interpretation of Samurai Jack. And as his catchphrase goes, “That’s all, babe.”


Animation Quality: A unique 2-D animation, mask free (so no outlines). Season 5 featured a refreshed, upgraded version of the original style, which took the show to another level aesthetically. Samurai Jack is a dazzling array of environments, characters, and circumstances. It features fluid action sequences, and most importantly, is able to successfully convey the story with its settings and animation. They did a marvelous job- both during the original run, and through the final season.  4.75/5 points.

 
Characterization: Jack himself is a wonderfully simple but complex protagonist, who is continually developed as a character in every episode during the original seasons as the stoic samurai. In the 5th season, he is forced to confront despair and fading hope head on, and so the darkness he fights is not only Aku’s, but that of his own heart. Unparalleled in combat and trained to the peak of human perfection, his goal is to return to his home in the past and defeat Aku.

 

Aku, the self proclaimed “shape-shifting master of darkness,” is masterfully voiced by the late Mako, who brought the character to life in the first 4 seasons, and is carried on by Greg Baldwin in the final chapter. Unspeakably evil, but also outlandish and humorous, Aku is the incarnation of “chaotic evil” in a character and seeks to only bring darkness and despair to all. Interestingly enough, Aku has somewhat of a human side in his remarks and jokes, but it’s limited to that- he’s unafraid to smite anyone who annoys him or he deems a threat. The mortal enemy of Samurai Jack and his father, the Emperor, he vows to destroy the samurai to break all hope and cement an eternal reign.

 

(I already commented on Ashi from season 5 in the spoiler section.)

 

The rest of the show features a quirky, interesting group of characters, with the occasionally recurring one (the Scotsman comes to mind). As the show is primarily focused on Jack’s development, it does this very well, often letting the animation action convey Jack’s personality with an economy of spoken words.  The writers also are successful at making side characters episodically interesting. 4.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Beautifully scripted, epically varied in its narration, and ever focused on Jack’s character development and the situations he’s put in, it’s perfect in the first 4 seasons. With the shift in tone and format the 5th season brought, a tightly scripted narrative arc told hold over 10 episodes and while the pacing feels arguably rushed to an extent at the end, the ending is still mostly fitting and remarkable.  4.5/5 points.

 
Themes: A classic story of good and evil, but done with the sort of complexity developed through Jack (and Aku) that really grabs one’s attention. There’s a focus on the test of one’s limits, and the belief in overcoming the odds for a good end. Everything the show explores, it tends to do well at thematically. “Hope” especially is focused on as a theme…and the struggle to keep that flame alive really becomes prevalent as time goes on in the narrative.  4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: A gorgeous show, Samurai Jack is a stellar achievement in animation and writing. It was wonderful to see it come back and receive a proper conclusion after many years, and it was well-worth the long wait. 5/5 points.

 
Total Score: 23.25/25 (93%). Genndy Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Samurai Jack is a triumph of Western animation and perhaps the finest of the old Cartoon Cartoons lineup on Cartoon Network. Masterfully inspired by many different animated styles and themes before it, the story of a lone samurai in his quest to defeat the ultimate evil continued to age gracefully up into its revival season, and then finished the tale with a satisfying conclusion.


Like what you see? Still in awe over the Samurai Jack finale? Leave a comment!

The Return of the Critic: AniB’s End of Semester Blowout!

Hey everyone,

It’s been a while since I’ve regularly posted, and while I’ve slipped in a few articles here and there (see the Easter special, or the revised top 10 list), I haven’t had a new review or “thought piece” for a while. So, with my final semester of undergraduate work finishing up, I have a big week of reviews and material I’m looking forward to sharing with everyone! Here’s the schedule:

5/21: Review: Samurai Jack (the final season will end the night before!)

5/23: Review: Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)

5/25: Random Episode Ramblings #1: “Not What He Seems” (Gravity Falls)

5/26: Review: Steins;Gate

5/27: Review: The Huckleberry Hound Show

There’ll be plenty of other material again going forward, but after finishing school and taking a self-imposed hiatus, I’m very excited to get writing again! (And don’t worry- part 3 of the Hunter x Hunter comparison series is coming still!) I’ll also look to potentially slip something else in before the schedule officially kicks off.


Excited to read some new material? Like any of these shows? Curious about any you haven’t seen? Leave a comment!

2nd Top 10 Shows Listing

It’s the end of April, and 19 shows are on the board. Time for a refresher!

Well, I haven’t been writing that much lately, but with the end of April upon us, it seemed like a good time to update “the top 10.” This is strictly based on grades; note the top 5 are all so closely graded any of them really could be #1! All the reviews are linked to their shows here as well.

 

T1. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)

T1. Gravity Falls (98%)

T2. Cowboy Bebop (97%)

T2. Hunter x Hunter (97%)

T2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (97%)

6. Young Justice* (93%)

7. The Legend of Korra (85%)

T8. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)

T8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)

T8. Dragon Ball Z (84%)

Dropped out: Neon Genesis Evangelion (81%), Fanboy and Chum Chum (9%)

Just missed: Rurouni Kenshin (82%), Ben 10 (81%), Evangelion.

NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review.

Once again, 97% and 98% is splitting hairs. I’d say any of those shows have a legitimate claim for the top spot. (It also goes without saying they’re worth a watch!) For a refresher of what the first Top 10 looked like after only 10 reviews, click here.


Still not seeing a show you’re hoping to see here? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

Guest Review: Rurouni Kenshin

The tale of the wandering ex-Battosai, as told by a friend.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the first time in the history of AniB Productions, there is a review written by another friend of mine, and in this case, it’s the anime “Rurouni Kenshin,” which follows the tale of a former manslaying assassin turned peaceful wanderer in the early years of the Meiji Restoration in Japan. From here on out, this is Tyler’s (or as he’d like to be known, “Onamerre” (pronounced like “on a mirror”) take on what is a personal favorite that he really wanted to cover.

The Lowdown:

Show: Rurouni Kenshin

Network/ years aired:

AniB’s thoughts: Rurouni Kenshin is a classic anime in which I’ve seen some of- but not all of it (at the time of this writing). While I’m certainly planning to finish the show far sooner than later, the review here is all Onamerre’s baby. He knows Kenshin’s signature special attack and can say it quickly in Japanese, piqued my own interest in the show, and I will say that while it has the slightly dated look of 90’s visuals, it’s an enthralling setting for a story. Taking place in the decade following the Meiji Restoration in Japan, it’s an interesting historical backdrop to an otherwise fictional setup and individuals with fantastic powers and abilities; and that being said, the main cast of this show is pretty likable. But enough from me- here’s his thoughts on the whole thing below!


Rurouni Kenshin Review by Onamerre
Animation: The art style of the show is a product of its time. Traditional 2D animation with some real-world footage rarely shown. The character models aren’t anything new, so the animation gets the job done there. At times, the colors do look bleak and boring, and other times, they really pop. Most of the fight scenes are terrific with special attention devoted to the antagonists of the series. Each fight (showdown) is memorable and distinctly different from each other. Overall, not bad, and it gets the job done. 3.50/5 points.

 

 

Characters: (NOTE: Some characters are omitted to avoid serious spoilers.)
Himura Kenshin AKA: Battosai The Manslayer. The protagonist of the show. Once the hyper feared and deadliest assassin of the Tokugawa War, he now wanders the country side offering his now reverse bladed sword to those unable to defend themselves and is at the mercy of charity as atonement for the many men that he killed. At first, he appears to be a bumbling goof ball that can seem annoying. However, at the turn of a dime, his repressed instincts come back to life, appearing as if he were another person altogether. Ever more present is his cross shaped scar on the left side of his face, forever there to remind him of his past deeds. His journey from cold blooded assassin to seeker of justice and peace is a worthy drama to watch.

 
Kamiya Kaoru: The narrator of the series. The first character the audience sees. Owner and sole master of her dojo. Kaoru is nearly forced to close her school down as the recently emerged Battosai starts to kill people using her school’s technique. Her school is saved after Kenshin, the real Battosai, defeats the imposter and restores honor to her school. As a reward, she allows him to stay at her school and live there, providing he does work around the place. In a way, she is the conscience of the show, always weighing the good and the bad of every situation. In truth, she is the one truly “good” and innocent character of the show. At times, she is the damsel. However, when she is in that position, there is no real way for her to escape it alone considering the aggressors, nearly match Kenshin’s skill. She is the mother of the Kenshin Clan.

 
Sagara Sanosuke: Hard-nosed gambler and drinker. Former soldier in the Tokugawa army, he and Kenshin immediately fought each other as the Battosai was an Imperialist. After being easily defeated and outmatched, Kenshin convinced him to start helping people, in which he would receive shelter at Kaoru’s dojo if he did so. Sanosuke is the typical “agro” character who thinks he’s tough, and always ends up flat on his ass as a result. However, he does in a way become a mentor figure to the next character on the list.

 

Myojin Yahiko: Orphaned from the war, he was essentially brought into slavery to a group of thieves, as his parents presumably owed them a debt, Yahiko being the price. Loud mouthed and big headed, he quickly fills the “annoying brat” character, however, he has high dreams of growing into his father’s role as a samurai. Seeing this, Kenshin refused to train him, delegating Kaoru to train using her school instead of Kenshin’s. Over the course of the show, we do see him mature and become quite skilled at Karou’s sword style. He and Sanosuke develop almost a brother like bond.
Oh, there are others…but talking about them would severely spoil the plot and most of the anime. Truly an interesting cast of characters, except the copious amounts of filler often dilutes them. 4.75/5 points.

 
Plot (Story quality): The show is broken up into three seasons. The first has some great arcs, but copious filler. The entire second season is the LEGENDARY Kyoto Arc. Unfortunately, the entire final season is filler. There were drafts in production for one final arc to end the series, but by then, it was too late. The notable arcs from the first season involve what I like to call the “Opium Arc”, the “Yutaro Castle Arc” (in my opinion, the strongest of the first season), and the “Pirate Arc.” The second season is a must watch. (I’ll refrain from talking about it as it simply would not do it justice!) Avoid the third and final season (aforementioned filler) . Overall, good (sometimes great) arcs, with decent to awful filler. 4.0/5.0 points.
Themes: Redemption/Atonement is the main one. Every character we meet has this as one of or the sole motivation of their actions. Disillusionment. Many of the characters involved in the war simply cannot adapt to what is happening in the country. As weapons are illegal to own and fighting is heavily discredited, a lot of soldiers who only know how to fight turn to crime, other plan on another revolution. It also hurts that the technology of the West is starting to rapidly change their culture as well. Power. Know this phrase and know it well as it relates heavily with the Kyoto Arc. “If you’re strong you live, if you’re weak you die.” 4.25/5.0 points.
Insulting the viewer: Being an anime made in the mid-90’s, the troupes of yore make an appearance. Mandatory Bathhouse Scenes? Yup. Philosophical Clashes that bring the show to a crawl? Yup. Unbearable Filter that singlehandedly killed the series? Anata wa ima sore o shirubekidesu! (You should know it by now!) However, the second season and memorable fights pick up the slack. 4.0/5.0 points.
Final score: 20.5/25.0 (82%)


Like what you see? Did you like what Onamerre had to say about Kenshin? Leave a comment!