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!

Preliminary Review: Invader Zim

I am ZIM!!! Fear me…or rather, the diagnosis of a cult classic.

The Lowdown:

Show: Invader Zim

Network/years aired: Nickelodeon, 2001-2006; movie pending

AniB’s thoughts: I was initially planning to sit on this show’s review until October, but with the recent surprise announcement of the series’ return via a movie, and the Fairly OddParents review that I recently wrote, here’s a week of Nicktoons, for better or worse.

Surprised is really the most apt descriptor I have for Invader Zim’s unlikely return. The first show I thought of that may have spurned the move by Nickelodeon to do so was Samurai Jack, which after 13 years of being “finished,” is now airing an absolutely brilliant 5th and final season on Adult Swim on Saturday nights at the time of this writing. Zim, while a completely different show in terms of substance, style and writing does share two things in common with Samurai Jack: a early to mid 2000’s original run, and an incomplete story. And while I’m fine seeing the adventures of Zim and GIR again in movie form, featuring  their ham-handed attempts to take over Earth and do battle with Dib, their archrival, it’d be nice to have a tightened narrative focus, a refresh on the visuals, and some cleaning up of certain “gross-out” elements that figured prominently into the otherwise dark fantasy and science fiction tones of the original series. I do think that a movie might not be enough to do whatever justice the series really wants for a conclusion…but then again, how many times do cult classics actually get new life?

Changing gears a little bit, the original series is rather overrated by its core adherents, but it is a very unique show in the Nickelodeon pantheon at least: its pervasive darkness and science fiction-heavy elements are mixed with a type of kid-friendly black humor that in turn, is also diluted with slapstick and the usual “idiot ball” trope of some really dumb adults (and kids, for that matter); in the case of Zim, it’s almost a prerequisite to make the entirely convoluted plot-lines work, and to that end, it’s really the characters of this show that give it an odd charm. The closest comparable show I can think of in terms of style, era, and substance (to an extent) is Courage the Cowardly Dog: If dark and weird is your cup of tea, or your store of choice at malls is a Spencer’s or Hot Topic, you probably loved both or either of these shows…

Zim may hold the distinction of “cult-classic,” but nobody will mistake it for a masterpiece, and in the case of this production, it’s probably best. Its originality, particularly when it came to characters, shone through- but in equal measure the animation style, with its dark palette favoring purples and greens, and the style of writing overall also had the potential to throw people off. It’s overall an original effort that does more right than wrong- enough so that I’d say it’s at least “above-average” but whether it’s “good” (or “great”) is terribly hard to pin down. At the very least, the movie will hopefully answer a good deal of questions…and give us all a few more laughs.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D cel animation. Using muted colors and lots of greens, purples, blues and blacks, Zim’s colors leaned towards its off-kilter version of Earth and the strange universe the show exists in. The character models are very cartoony, but they work well for the show, and there’s only a few models that are truly off-putting. 3.25/5 points.
Characterization: The heart of the show lies in its zany and memorable characters, which in turn catapulted the entire enterprise forward.

Zim serves as the overzealous titular anti-hero bent on proving his worth as an Irken Invader; despite his puny size, big mouth and impulsiveness, his will is stronger to succeed than anyone else in his race…except he’s a menace to them to through sheer bad luck.

GIR, Zim’s dim-witted robotic assistant with a flair for human food, TV and pigs, often makes nonsensical comments and interrupts Zim often, especially when he monologues. Despite being deemed a “defective model” by Irken standards, GIR is actually quite loyal (for the most part) to Zim and contains a powerful array of weapons and modes, though he rarely utilizes them.

Dib, a boy obsessed with the paranormal serves as Zim’s archenemy and is the only human who consistently views Zim as an alien and a threat; this is in contrast to his younger sister Gaz, a dark, gloomy little girl with seemingly terrifying powers and wrath who holds little concern for anything or anybody aside from pizza and video games.

The characters tend to follow a similar line of thinking in each episode they appear in; however, the series does change up the plot lines to keep them fresh, and there is some character development, though not complete. 3.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with loose continuity. Zim was beginning to build a mythos and backstory in its second season before it was cancelled, which means it was incomplete in the story the show wanted to tell. However, most of the show’s episodes could stand alone. Featuring a blend of trademark humor that blended black comedy, slapstick and some randomness, Zim’s storytelling tended to usually be entertaining and unique, but sometimes strayed into uncomfortable and unsettling. 3.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Surreal and futuristic, the show’s thematic elements tend to focus more on its trademark humor and Zim’s mission. Therefore, it excels at what it does… but lacks depth thematically otherwise. 2.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Dark and creepy are two aspects that happen in Invader Zim. There’s a couple cringe-worthy moments, but it’s a decent watch at the end of the day. 4.25/5 points.

 
Total Score: 17/25 (68%). Truly the definition of a cult hit, Zim is a unique show with sci- fi and vaguely dystopian themes running through its run. It’s very different, but worth a look if you’re into the types of themes and humor the show peruses, it can be very entertaining. It’s a flawed show, but a good deal of that had to do with its cancellation and the inability to finish the narrative that was developing. Hopefully, these issues can and will be resolved in the movie.

Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The journey of two brothers deep into the mysteries of life itself is gripping.

The Lowdown:

Show: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Network/ years aired: Adult Swim-Toonami/2009-2010 (dub 2010-2011)
EDITOR’S NOTE: While originating from the same franchise and manga, this show is completely different from the 2003 anime titled “Fullmetal Alchemist,” being a far more faithful and fleshed-out adaptation of the manga. That said, the ’03 show is still excellent on its own merits; just don’’t expect a ton of story overlap save for about the first 10 episodes.

AniB’s thoughts: One of the best anime from the first decade of 2000, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is actually the second adaptation derived from the original manga, coming about 6 years after the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist, which diverged onto an anime-exclusive storyline with original characters and a far different ending for our heroes, the Elric brothers. While it is a beloved show by anime fans, for those who are unaware, FMA: Brotherhood is an absolutely terrific choice to check out in the genre even for the most casuals of fan for a variety of reasons: stunning animation, dynamic characters, a intriguingly crafted fictional world, and a dark quest that serves as the undertone to the entire show.

In the last decade while the anime industry on the whole has seen a downturn, this show shone brightly in 2009, in the wake of global recession and animation worldwide slumping. It was not entirely surprising that Bones (the Japanese studio behind it) would want to revisit the franchise with a more faithful adaptation of the manga, but what was surprising was how well the show came off to viewers. It was like a warm glove retelling the story of Fullmetal Alchemist essentially in the first 10-14 episodes, with some minor differences, mostly pertaining to emphasis on certain characters, but after that point took off into its own story, introducing new characters like May Chang, a princess from the far East country of Xing, who was skilled in a particular form of alchemy (which in this show serves as a major plot point and unique skill endemic to a few) and Ling Yao, also from the same country, who (spoilers!) was in search of the secret of immortality. The story also traverses along a far different and frankly much darker path than 2003’s version; a journey that has plenty of unusual twists and makes great use of all the details and locales it takes place in.

While my thoughts here hardly do justice to the entirety of the show (especially the main villain and his massive scheme), it is an absolutely fantastic outing that does live up to the high praise and hearty recommendations of many a fan. I think the grading below does a nice job of explaining the rest to both seasoned viewers and newcomers alike.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, with certain 3-D elements in spots. Gorgeously animated, the country of Amerstris and its people are brought to life with vibrancy, detail, and fluidity. The character models are well-detailed and pleasing; a good number of key characters maintain their appearances from the 2003 anime, but some do receive some slight changes in model as well. The action sequences are truly outstanding- the fights are fast-paced and fluid, and the story narrative blends well with what the animation is doing, enhancing the overall effect of drawing the viewer in. Truly a fine job. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Once again, FMA: Brotherhood stars the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric in their search for the Philosopher’s Stone in a bid to regain their bodies after a horribly failed human transmutation (a taboo form of alchemy.)

Ed is the older of the duo; sporting long golden hair, his distinctive automail arm and leg, and a pet peeve for being called “short,” he’s a prodigy at alchemy and the titular “Fullmetal Alchemist,” having become the youngest state alchemist in Amestrian history. Despite his short temper, Ed has a close relationship with his brother and childhood friend Winry Rockbell, and a relentless determination and promise to Alphonse to meet their goal of regaining their bodies.

Alphonse is his younger brother; having lost his body, his soul is bound in a hulking suit of armor, which belies a kind and gentle boy inside. Even more highly skilled in hand to hand combat than his brother, Alphonse looks to protect Ed and fulfill the same promise, looking forward to the day he regains his human form.

Winry is their close childhood friend; a skilled automail mechanic, she is the proud inventor and maintainer of Ed’s arm and leg, and cares deeply about the two. She improves her skills over the course of the show, finds herself more and more involved in the thickening plot of the Elric brothers’ adventures, and might have a thing for Ed…

Colonel Roy Mustang is the Flame Alchemist, the man who recruited the Elrics to the military and who secretly is launching a bid to become Fuhrer of the country in an attempt to make positive change. Using special gloves with alchemical symbols emblazoned on them, Roy can create huge explosions, hence his name. He has a loyal team devoted to his goal; this is headed up by his loyal right-hand, Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, an expert marksman and all-around military specialist who in fact hides a secret on her person…

Maes Hughes is Mustang’s best friend; he is a keen investigator and busybody who is hard not to like and dotes on his family excessively, but his tendencies can lead him into some trouble… The rest of Mustang’s team is Jean Havoc, a unflinchingly loyal and competent soldier, Kain Fuery, a young soldier with incredible skills in communication and tech, Vato Feldman, his intelligence man, and Heymans Breda, an information gatherer. (While more can be said, FMA: Brotherhood has a huge cast.)

Van Hohenheim is the mysterious father of the Elric brothers who left them at an early age; a man who rarely shows what he is planning or thinking, he travels from place to place, though not without reason… Scar is a vengeful warrior from the city of Ishval, where a bloody war of extermination wiped out most of his people. His arm is engraved with a unique alchemical tattoo that allows him to utilize a powerful destructive alchemy upon contact, something he uses initially to wreak havoc on state alchemists in a revenge tour…

Ling Yao is a crown prince of the country of Xing, having traveled across a huge desert to Amestris in search of the secret of immortality (to become the next emperor). His absent- minded introduction belies a smart, fierce, and highly skilled warrior who is relentless in what he pursues. Attended by his loyal guards Lan Fan and Fu, the three of them are a force to be reckoned with… May Chang also come from the East; a crown princess of Xing in pursuit of the same goal as Ling. She is highly skilled in the art of alkahestry, a form of alchemy practiced in her native land, and travels with her tiny pet panda, Xiao-Mei.

While this is a somewhat good-sized listing of all of FMA: Brotherhood’s main cast, it is a huge, diverse pool of characters, many of whom are not mentioned here (such as the Homunculi, the main group of antagonists), and of the ones talked about, there is much more to say, but I will ultimately note that overall, the characters of this show are outstanding, receive great development, and it is much more satisfying to watch then to try and explain it all here. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Revolving around the Elric brothers’ quest, the show becomes much more complicated than you’d initially think. Fans of 2003’s Fullmetal Alchemist will feel a very familiar, similar story progression for about the first 10 episodes; however, the shows begin to greatly diverge after that particular point, and the manga-centric direction Brotherhood takes is in fact more fleshed out and satisfying than ’03’s anime-original plot, which was very good in its own right. Expect plenty of action, expertly played emotions, and big questions to play themselves at the right time. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes: There is a massive play about the role of “God,” “Truth,” and morality going on in FMA: Brotherhood. There fundamentally human questions are explored in unique, albeit symbolic and literal ways through the show, which is fueled by the backdrop of “alchemy” as the show and universe it’s set in portrays it. Does it get weird at times? Definitely. For the most part though, it’s a uniquely gripping take on questions not always explored in animation, or many other mediums for that matter. 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: There are certainly some hair raising moments, quite a bit of blood, and some fights that get quite violent. However, they fit so well within the scope of what this show is going for that it really does not affect what it’s looking to achieve at all. 5/5 Points.

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A terrific anime that improves in every way from the franchise’s first animated series, FMA: Brotherhood takes the series in a whole new direction, pacing itself with engaging characters, a gripping story, and a powerful thematic message about morality itself. Definitely a must-watch.


Like what you see? Love FMA: Brotherhood or the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist? Leave a comment!

Review: Bleach

The highly popular shonen anime has its obvious strengths and flaws.

The Lowdown:

Show: Bleach

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Studio Pierrot(Adult Swim-Toonami)/ 2004-2012

(Minor spoilers ahead. Not anything “big-picture.”)

AniB’s thoughts: Ah, another of the “big” shonen anime from the past 15 years- the tale of Ichigo Kurosaki and his friends as they’re plunged into the battles of Soul Reapers- the shinigami of this universe- and Hollows, corrupted souls who devour others and wreak havoc. Essentially, Bleach hit the jackpot in popularity when it first started its run back in 2004; this was the era of the long-format shonen franchise especially when it came to the West, and so three shows in particular defined this idea in the wake of Dragon Ball Z’s dub that made shonen relevant on a large scale in the West: Naruto, One Piece, and this show. While Bleach was key to the era, it also would come to close a chapter too- by the time the show finally came to an end in 2012 after an exhaustive 366 episode run- enough for every day in a leap year- the anime scene had greatly changed, and while one of this blog’s favorite shows- Hunter x Hunter– was techincally an ongoing shonen, the idea was largely exhausted, save for the continuation of already established franchises (the same two already mentioned- Naruto and One Piece), and in the past year and a half, the revival of Dragon Ball with Super coming into existence.

Bleach itself is an interesting show that shows both the good and bad effects of becoming massively popular. While there are generally interesting elements in the show- such as the dynamics between the world of living, the Soul Society (where the Soul Reapers and the souls of the departed reside), and Hueco Mundo- the Land of the Hollows- the pacing and fillers represent the side that prevents it from finding its true peak form. There is in fact, some really decent character development- and a few individuals in particular (especially Kisuke Urahara) have outstanding backstory and more depth than you’d imagine. The problem is getting there. The Hueco Mundo arc of the show, as an example, lasts for around 1/3 of the entire show (including fillers), has battles that often take the span of 5-10 episodes to complete- and contains lots of said battles and long staredowns. (In that regard, Bleach got DBZ syndrome.) In fact, doing a quick calculation of canon material vs. filler (meaning anime-original content/non-manga material here, even if well done), 191 episodes can be considered “canon” to watch the entirety of Bleach– a measly 52.1% of its run time, constituting a bare majority of its episode. Of course, hardly all the extra material is terrible- the first major filler arc (Bounts) is relatively entertaining, and others will point to the Zanpankto Tales arc as another example. Regardless of the quality however, the interruptions to the main storyline can be rather jarring and unwelcome- and while this is a result again of Bleach’s popularity and the need for the manga and anime to align, it also constitutes quite a bit more tediousness to what is already a very lengthy watch.

When Bleach gets going though, it’s got some very entertaining action sequences when they finally do get to the point (such as Ichigo and Byakuya Kuchiki’s fight in the picture for this article), and the payoffs are usually decent for very long buildups. I’ll also be the first to say that I very much like the character design in this show, as it tends to reflect both personality and pleasing aesthetics into one. The mechanics of zanpakto– the special weapons usually in the form of a katana Soul Reapers wield- is also very interesting, as are the distinctions between classes of Hollows as another example of universe-building. Overall, the plot stays straightforward despite all the detours; the usual shonen tropes and power-ups are very much present, and if you’ve got the guts for a very long watch, you ultimately might enjoy Bleach very much despite its predictability at times (and I did, all things considered.) And if you’ve already watched it…I’ll just say I love the way these guys say “Bankai…”

 


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime. Bleach is a very comfortable show to look at; it’s got a typical style for a shone anime, good colors, and unique enough character models. Some of the action sequences are also outstanding. However, it is not particularly groundbreaking in any one aspect. 3.75/5 points.

 
Characterization: As is typical for a show of this style, Bleach has a massive cast which it juggles; for the purpose of this analysis, this section will just canvas the main characters.

Ichigo Kurosaki is the main character; noted for his bright orange hair and straightforward personality, he becomes a Soul Reaper, or shingami one fateful night after meeting Rukia Kuchiki. Driven by a powerful despite to protect those he cares about and loves at all costs, Ichigo’s the consummate description of a shonen protagonist: timely powers, generally a badass, naturally gifted and very straightforward as a character, which isn’t to say he’s bad… just fit for the role he plays.

Rukia Kuchiki serves as the Soul Reaper who initially unlocked Ichigo’s shingami powers and set in motion the events of the show. Often showing a mock callous or serious side, she also cares deeply about her friends; she becomes great friends with Ichigo and his human allies (particularly Orihime) and has a special connection with another Soul Reaper, Renji Abarai…

Speaking of Renji, he’s a hot-headed impulsive Soul Reaper not at all unlike Ichigo personality-wise. Determined and stubborn, Renji is longtime friends with Rukia, is tough as nails, and has his own goals to reach, based on events in his past and through his life.

Speaking of Ichigo’s human pals, there are a few, but in this case it’s referring to the aforementioned Orihime, “Chad” (whose actual name is Yastoru Sato), and Uryu.

Orhime Inoue is a kind, gentle soul who experienced great loss at a young age (both her parents and her older brother are dead.) She greatly wishes to become strong, and acquires the mysterious power  “Shun Shun Rikka,” which in turn are 6 guardian pixie..things who allow her to “reject” any phenomenon or injury.

Chad immediately upon his first appearance is noted to be an abnormally strong, big guy for his age. Half Mexican and half Japanese, he develops powers similar to that of a Hollow, which physically manifests on his arm. He’s been friends with Ichigo from a young age and always vowed to have his back…

Finally, Uryu Ishida is a Quincy-  a human who exterminates Hollows with specialized spirit energy techniques manifested usually as bows and arrows. Because of Quincies having a long-held grudge against Soul Reapers (and perhaps rightfully so, just watch the show), Uryu initially starts off as Ichigo’s fierce rival, but quickly turns into a close friend and trusted ally.

The rest of the cast is just as diverse and interesting, if not even more so (the captains of the Gotei 13 and their lieutenants could fill a whole column themselves.) I’ll give special mention to Aizen here- he’s the big bad of the show. (Regardless of whether you watched Bleach or not yet, that doesn’t give away much- and if you have, you know.) 3.5/5 points.

 

 

Story quality: Massive overarching story structure for the main plot. The non-filler material is pretty entertaining, and Aizen makes for a great main villain. The major problem with Bleach’s story-telling is the massive amount of filler (which accounts for nearly half the episodes in the show’s 366 episode run); an agonizing tendency to take its sweet time getting to, and concluding climactic showdowns in the story, and certain major plot holes, that while resolved ultimately in the manga (as the Bleach anime ended prematurely) still exist here. (SPOILER: Also, there is a strong belief Bleach should have ended with Aizen’s defeat instead of doing a timeskip in the anime, but what’s done is done.) 3/5 points.

 

 

Themes: There’s a great deal of focus on the usual tropes: Getting stronger, protecting what you believe in, surpassing your limits, sacrifice… it’s not anything really that new, but Bleach does a relatively good job with these ideas. 3.25/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Filler, filler, and more filler. Seriously,  the amount of non-canon material is irksome to no end, despite the relatively good quality of some of it. Bleach also inherited DBZ syndrome for some of its battles being drawn out; and the violence was intentionally toned down (whether or not that’s a good thing is probably a personal preference.) Some really catchy tracks repeat through the show- you’ll know them when they play. 4/5 points.

 
Total Score: 17.25/25 (70%). Bleach is a typical shonen anime with some interesting characters and a curious enough story, but mostly suffered from its own massive popularity, due to the obscene amount of filler and the tedious length of certain arcs. However, if you’re looking for a long watch show and like lots of sword fights and battles with a good cast and a decent story, Bleach is a good choice.

Review: Ben 10

It started when an alien device did what it did…(and spawned a franchise!)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This review encapsulates the original series that aired from 2005-2008. This is NOT about any of the successor shows spawned in the franchise, or the reboot of the same name that started in 2016. We’re going old school!…if you can call a show that’s the same age as Avatar: The Last Airbender that.

The Lowdown:

Show: Ben 10

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network/ 2005-2008

AniB’s thoughts: Long before Ben 10 became a ubiquitous household name type of franchise, this was the show spawned by Cartoon Network and Man of Action (the same people behind Teen Titans) that started it all. Yet another take on the classic “summer vacation” trope, the show follow the titular Ben Tennyson, his cousin Gwen and their grandpa Max on an RV road trip that ultimately delves straight into the realm of science fiction. I’ll be the first to admit that this show captured my imagination as a kid, between the alien transformations of Ben, the increasingly strange locales the show featured…and this super catchy theme song:

(It goes to about 1:05; this video also has slight variants.)

What’s notable is that the show almost beyond a doubt has the highest animation production values of any of the Ben 10 iterations. The Teen Titans inspiration is clearly there in terms of style, and while it’s clearly a Western show not veering into the realm of Japanese anime, the detail as well as the story arc progression certainly resemble it. The show came in the later years of “classic Cartoon Network,” a golden period that in these years had the really amazing “CN City” bumper campaign (seriously, check them out if you’ve never seen them) and was able to stand out thanks to a fairly unique premise, the quality of the animation, and the fact that it carved its own unique niche at a moment in time when Cartoon Network was loaded with good to great shows (and obviously some bad ones, but that’s true of any network over the years.)

Another distinct factor about Ben 10 was that Ben in fact, had access to only 10 aliens for much of the show. Whether it was the design team, the marketing team, or the writers, the franchise became known for pumping out a new set of transformations for Ben to take in each iteration of the universe, but as our lovely intro above makes clear, those original 10 were the stars and remained fairly static save one major change until later in the show’s run. What was established here however (and was smart, as well as logical from a writer’s point of view), was that each alien had a distinct personality and different strengths, which mixed with Ben’s own 10-year old attitudes and ways of doing things, and due to his inexperience, the Omnitrix (the watch-like device that allowed him to transform) sometimes would lock him into a different transformation that he did not want to use…and all his changes had a time limit, with a subsequent cool-down time. The last part was more a narrative failsafe to make certain problems have a more compelling way to be solved, and one episode actually teases this when Ben find a master code to get rid of the time limit, only to have to reset the watch by the end.

At its heart, Ben 10 is a unique show that does some unexpectedly original twists on ideas normally seen in comics. There’s a secret organization (and secrets in general), otherworldly villains, unexpected twists, and of course, the hero origin story. To a 10 year old boy watching, it really did excite me…and it’s still a solid show today, if drowned out by the successful spinoffs that succeeded it. You might just want to find out “what an alien device did what it did” and go on a summer vacation that once again, breaks the trope into new territory.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with computer shading, some rich detail and colors and some really creative design work. Ben 10 looked fantastic in the various locales and places it spanned; the characters themselves are aesthetically pleasing and it leads to a fine effect overall. 4.5/5 points.

 

 

Characterization: Being the original series, Ben is a bit of a jokester, looking for adventure (and occasionally trouble) and is in all respects, a fairly typical 10 year old personality wise. He’s got a good heart though, and a strong sense of justice. While he loves his newfound alien powers, he’s rather impulsive and can become arrogant from time to time, a trait that often gets him in trouble.

Gwen, Ben’s cousin, has a love-hate relationship with him, but it is developed through the series to show despite acrimonious appearances, they do really care for each other. Unbeknownst to her for most of the series, Gwen also possess certain “special abilities…” though I won’t say what they are!

Grandpa Max is an amicable old man with a deep, mysterious past that compromises quite a bit of the story. Highly fond of his niece and nephew, he’s determined to have a great summer with them in his beat-up old RV, but what that entails exactly is even more than he bargained for… (Fun fact: His voice actor, Paul Eiding, is also the Colonel in the Metal Gear Solid series of video games!)

Finally, Ben’s rogue gallery is pretty good, especially his archenemy from season 1, Vilgax, and Kevin Levin (who in the franchise, actually has a much bigger role, but serves as an enemy in this series.) 3.75/5 points.

Story quality: There’s a clear story and canon, but the episodes can stand alone as well as episodic events. To that end, they usually are quite humorous, action packed affairs. The backstory is decently solid, if not convoluted, but it’s all very pleasing when it comes together. 4/5 points.

 

 

Themes: There’s notions of family, sticking together and the like, plus heroic ideas of justice, but there’s also a fairly dark sci-fi element to the whole show. It’s gripping enough, but perhaps not next level compelling in terms of themes. 3.5/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Ben 10 isn’t always the easiest thing to digest from time to time due to the sometime jarring shifts in location and objectives, but stays fairly clean and inoffensive. The theme song is addictively catchy as can be, and the overall product avoids talking down to its audience.  4.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.25/25 (81%). Ben 10 was, and still is a highly successful endeavor that spawned an entire franchise with this extremely solid first entry. Packed with action, written with some memorable characters, and featuring a diverse cast of alien creatures, this sci-fi ‘toon stayed strong.


Like what you see? Are you a fan of the Ben 10 franchise? Leave a comment!

Review/Rant: Breadwinners

Duck soup: A terribly misguided knockoff of Regular Show.

The Lowdown:

Show: Breadwinners

Network/years aired:  Nickelodeon, 2014- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: Once again, some balance is being brought to the reviews with the perfectly awful Nicktoon Breadwinners. Like Fanboy and Chum Chum (which I blasted in a previous review), this show has very little going for it. In fact, the picture I chose for this article sums up how the entire endeavor felt: That our main characters, Sway-Sway and Buhduece (seriously, that’s their names) both smile through abject stupidity that they are often at the heart of while being oblivious to the disaster around them!

Nick seems to have a weird obsession with buddy-buddy shows in the past decade, with the common denominator that they’re terrible. Fanboy and Chum Chum was one; this show is another, and for good measure, I’ll throw Sanjay and Craig on that pile to give everyone a sense of the turgid overflow of awfulness coming from the general direction of whoever green-lit these endeavors. The story behind this one is almost just as bad as the Adventure Time pass that Fanboy beat out; Breadwinners was chosen to be developed into a full-time production from an online short animation that frankly was average at best (and that’s being generous), and highly obnoxious at worst:

(Even without watching it, that screen freeze right there sums it up better than anything I can say.) As an online short, it was not anywhere close to a sure bet to be developed into a full-time series , and frankly, there wasn’t enough substance there to do so. In my mind, the first mistake that led Breadwinners to be a poor series was the fact that it was chosen at all- something that should have never happened. Unfortunately, it did, and so every other valid criticism falls squarely on its misguided Nickelodeon run.

In a lot of ways, the same criticisms that applied to Fanboy apply here: Poor animation, underwhelming storytelling, non-existent themes, and in the case of this show, a very uncomfortable obsession with butts and flatulence. I get the whole dumb network trend of the past however many years that “young boys are our audience, they love this stuff, it’s so damn funny!…” but it’s really not. I don’t want anything related with the posterior to be vitally important in a plotline or a characterization, because it also tells me your show likely sucks ass (pun intended) and that the writers are pandering for cheap laughs from a narrow demographic who network executives might be surprised to learn, like shows that don’t play down to them. This sentiment makes all the more sense when you consider its direct competition over its run were shows like Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb from Disney XD, or Adventure Time and Steven Universe from Cartoon Network, using a few well-known examples. (And that’s just within the intended target demographic.) This show never had the potential to hook in a larger crowd with sophomoric humor, the usual sub-standard Flash animation, and writing that oftentimes left yours truly with his face in his hands. Fortunately, its misguided run came to a merciful end last year; both our TV sets and cartoon ducks everywhere are safe once again.


 

Animation Quality: 2-D Flash animation mixed with what can only be described as clip art. If the characters of the show didn’t outright tell you, you’d be hard-pressed to tell they were ducks; and frankly, the main cast looks (and feels) like a poor man’s version of Regular Show’s cast. Visually conflicting, and cheaply produced, it’s not eye-bleeding, but not close to good either. 1/5 points.

 
Characterization: For those who care, the show follows the titular “breadwinners,” a pair of ducks named Sway-Sway and Buhdeuce, who deliver bread to various citizens of their world, and are obvious knock-offs in many respects, of Mordecai and Rigby from the aforementioned Regular Show, lacking the same sort of charm, development and supporting cast, while attempting to fill the void with more toilet humor and butts than any one show ever needs…

Sway-Sway is the taller one. He’s technically the main protagonist, and while marginally more competent than his partner, he’s still relatively dim-witted and reckless at his job, passion non-withstanding. (It turns out that he actually inherited the family buisness- why anyone though this was a good idea is beyond me.)

Buhdeuce is the short one. Enthusiastic as all-get out, the kid has an obsession and reliance on using his “booty.” (There is no context to make that sound good.) Even more reckless and foolish than Sway-Sway, no one will ever mistake him for one of the great deutragonists of animation…

The supporting cast is unremarkable. Not the worst crew ever, but still fairly poor. 1/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic in nature, no continuity or canon to speak of. Where do I start? From unoriginal plot lines to crude solutions to some problems, the plots are uneven, and more serious characters are shoved aside quickly as cheap gags. The show’s attempts at humor tend to be pitiful; as mentioned, the toilet humor is off-the charts bad and distracting.  And the pop-culture references and slang are not going to keep aging well. The dialogue is cringe-worthy, even for this style of show. It still maintains a basic story structure though, so it saves the grade form utter annihilation. 0.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Power of friendship? Honestly, aside from weak offerings and a crash course in how much flatulence two ducks (?) can make, this show offers next to nothing, except constantly boring, low expectations. There’s no character growth, and nothing to write home about whatsoever. 0/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Butts, farts, and burps. Not my idea of appointment television. The music is meant to capture some of the 8/16-bit video game era style, but in this show, it doesn’t always come off as charming. At least the colors are nice… which is code for “this is wasting my time.” 1.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 4/25 (15%): Another awful Nicktoon from the decade following 2005, Breadwinners was chosen off of a very average web video, which frankly didn’t have the depth to be a full time series. Lacking coherence and originality in most facets, Breadwinners is a misnomer for “losing.” It you really wish to watch a plot-of the day show, there are far better choices.

Review: Hunter × Hunter (2011)

A dynamic anime that cannot be described simply as “shonen,” but rather, as an experience.

The Lowdown:

Show: Hunter x  Hunter (pronounced simply as “Hunter Hunter”)

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Madhouse (Adult Swim-Toonami), 2011-2014;  USA 2016-

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review encompasses the 2011 reboot of the Hunter x Hunter series, and is considered the definitive version of the anime. This review is also unaffiliated with the 1999 series, or its subsequent OVAs, despite covering all of the same material, and then some.

(Some SPOILERS ahead. Nothing too big, but I mention some arc names and certain characters. Skip ahead to the grading section if need be.)

AniB’s thoughts: If you’ve been reading the comment sections of different articles on this blog, or popped over to the Twitter feed, you might have figured out a Hunter x Hunter review was coming at some point. And I’ll be the first to say that I was beyond excited to write about this fantastic, fantastic show. It’s certainly in the top 3 anime I’ve watched and unequivocally the best shonen for a variety of reasons, and I say this not only because I absolutely love this show and franchise, but because it merits the praise, wholeheartedly and without conditions. It starts with the absolutely fantastic characters, stretches to a story that flips skillfully to different genres and even narrative styles in a way that flows cohesively; preserves the original vision of Yoshihiro Togashi, the manga writer and creator of HxH, and does it with aplomb and essentially no filler despite 148 episodes of action-packed, narratively exciting goodness.

Hunter x Hunter succeeds better than any other shonen out there chiefly because of its characters and story. Gon is a shonen protagonist in the traditional sense, and this is evident especially during the first arc of the show (the Hunter Exam) where the possibilities of the world begin to be revealed and a great deal of foundational character building takes place. It is after this point that the show begins to shift rapidly, from the high-stakes training ground that is Heavens Arena, to Yorknew City, and later into the insanity that is the Chimera Ant arc, and what all these disparate locales share in common is a sort of real-worldliness that doesn’t exist usually in shonen. What I mean by saying this is that while Gon and other Hunters in the show gain a special power called nen, it has specializations and drawbacks; and ultimately, the characters are still human- highly skilled, but never able to outright overpower an obstacle- and in the rare cases they do, there are terrible, real consequences that follow. In terms of narrative direction, the arcs are not at all shonen. Yorknew City, for one, has an action-thriller feel, with hints of noir thrown in. Not what you’d expect from this type of show normally…

However, the real hook, the part of HxH that gets you into the show and keeps you enthralled right through to the end and beyond, is the characters. There are four main characters in the show- the aforementioned Gon, Killua Zoldyck, Kurapika, and Leorio. While I’ll go into more detail individually in the grading section on these characters, it is Gon and Killua’s unshakable, organic, natural, and absolutely well developed friendship that takes the cake in the show as a backbone to everything else. It gives a more relevant framing to Gon’s ultimate goal, is key in developing Killua’s own character arc (which might I add, is uniquely fantastic), and is severely tested by various challenges through the show which in turn shows the growth of said characters. Mind you, an entire novel could be written on the characters of Hunter x Hunter alone (from Hisoka and his eccentrically unique, but strangely delightful character, to the arc involving the Chimera Ant King, Meruem.)

In a decade defined so far by weak performances from anime studios across the board, and a disturbing influx of fanservice being substituted in for actual quality, Hunter x Hunter was a standout show from its debut in 2011 through the end of its initial Japanese run in 2014. The dub, at the time of this writing, is in the middle of its English run on Toonami, and is worth checking out (Keith Silverstein as Hisoka in particular is outstanding.) However, if you do watch this show, or have watched it, you’ll probably (or already have) binged the entire thing; in that case, there is quality sub work available. Finally, some new to the series ask about the ’99 anime of the same name. While that can be a separate review on this site, it is advisable to watch the 2011 first due to the more extensive nature of the story (it goes a lot further than the original adaptation of HxH did) and the dearth of filler. Hunter x Hunter ’99 is fine on its own merits, but doesn’t necessarily graze the heights this reboot does; it’s got an older animation style (which is good, but different), and only gets about 3/4th of the way through the Yorknew City arc; after which point a series of Japanese-only OVAs finish said arc and add Greed Island. (It’s about the equivalent of 75 episodes in this version.) Regardless of your preference, Hunter x Hunter is a show nobody should miss out on; it’s an experience, and not just another show.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, with computer shading and a diverse color palette. The detail of Hunter x Hunter is amazing; the animation itself contains the tonal shifts and mood of the show at any given moment, and the character models are both memorable and pleasing (for the most part). Accentuating the action and tension throughout, the style really does lend itself to bringing the show alive, even more so than its predecessor from ’99, and quite impressively for any animated show at all. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Undoubtedly the strongest point of Hunter x Hunter, the show revolves around four main characters, with other characters coming prominently into the story in different arcs.

The main protagonist of the series is Gon Freecss, a simple, but talented 12 year old boy who sets out on a journey to become a Hunter (which in this universe is a highly sought after and difficult to obtain title) in hopes of finding his father, the mysterious Ging Freecss, a top-class Hunter in his own right. Along the way Gon meets and befriends many individuals, growing  in both experience and strength, as well as a person. In particular, he becomes best friends with Killua Zoldyck, another boy of the same age who takes the Hunter Exam with him.

Killua is the second youngest in a feared family of assassins, and technically the heir of the family business; through the show he serves as the deuteragonist, trying to find his own path, struggling to become his own individual, and and to follow what his heart tells him against his twisted family’s ambitions. He also works to find a resolution to the two sides at war within him- the kindhearted boy with unyielding loyalty to those he truly cares about, and the merciless assassin who can kill without so much as a second thought… The boys share one of the best developed friendships in animation, which forms a major plot and character development point in the show…

Gon and Killua also befriend Kurapika and Leorio during the first arc of the show. Kurapika is the last of a tribe known as the Kurta, who seeks vengeance and justice against the Phantom Troupe, a powerful gang of outlaws with prodigious abilities, who wiped out his people. In particular, Kurapika seeks to recover the special eyes of his people, which turn a brilliant shade of red when excited or enraged, and are highly valued on the black market… His dark quest ultimately shades his decisions through Hunter x Hunter; however as aside from his goals, Kurapika cares deeply about his friends, is smart and usually cautious, and willing to usually lend a hand to them.

Leorio is a young man who wishes to become a skilled doctor, but initially cannot pay the high fees for medical school. Never one to shy away from his opinions, Leorio is in many ways the kindest heart of the four main characters, always sticking his neck out for what he cares about as a loyal and committed friends despite his brashness at times.

The supporting cast of the show is also very strong, which often changes from arc to arc, leading to a diverse cast of characters encountered by the foursome (though Gon and Killua in particular.) Of that rotating cast, it’s led by characters such as Hisoka, the psychopathic “magician” who lives for the thrill of battle and strong opponents; Illumi Zoldyck, one of Killua’s older brothers who is a rather cruel person in many ways, and a fearsome assassin; and Chairman Netero, the mysterious head of the Hunter Association whose leadership style is very unique… There are plenty of other names worth mentioning here, but it’s best to experience the show and discover them for yourself…not unlike a Hunter themselves. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Overarching story structure broken down into connected arcs, of which there are 7 in this show. Each one seems to embody a different aspect of storytelling, and are dynamic in expanding the world of Hunter x Hunter, bringing it to life in interesting ways. The way in which each character’s goals and development are brought into the overarching structure is well done, and it gives you the sense of a world full of people hunting (no pun intended) for their own goals… which ultimately draws back to the show’s motif. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes:  Supposedly simple themes of friendship and family exist prominently in Hunter x Hunter, with a great deal devoted to character relationships and dynamics. The show also deals with far more complicated issues as well. Questions arise over one’s life goals and path, the meaning of existence, and the complicated entanglements of what being a Hunter actually means to each individual. Personalities clash, goals cross, and the show develops all these questions in fulfilling ways. All of these dynamics are worth considering, and as a bonus, it plays well with some usual anime tropes, never overusing them… 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Hunter x Hunter is a unusual shonen anime in many respects, but it’s also largely the reason it’s an excellent show. Shifting tone and even genre to an extent from arc to arc, HxH’s writing, adapted from the manga, is wonderfully engaging and keeps you on your toes in anticipation. Add in a music score which fits nicely and has some fairly cool leitmotifs, and you’ve got yourself a very fun experience. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A exceptional shonen anime with great depth, storytelling and compelling characters, this iteration of Hunter x Hunter improves strongly on the ’99 version, with a further expanded story adapted from the manga, successfully creating a compelling experience despite its longer length (148 episodes.) Also praiseworthy is the strong friendship of Gon and Killua, which is simply outstanding. Definitely recommend this show, especially if you’re looking for a longer watch.


Like what you see? Did you know irrespective of criticism, HxH’s my favorite anime? Leave a comment!