Review: Wander Over Yonder

Take a wild wacky trip across the galaxy.

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The Lowdown:

Show: Wander Over Yonder

Network/years aired: Disney Channel/XD, 2013- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: The most recent and perhaps underrated work of Craig McCracken’s career is this show- the delightfully offbeat slice of life Wander Over Yonder. Borrowing notes from classic cartoons of yesteryear and a good sense of adventure, Wander managed to carve itself out as a sort of cult hit on Disney X.D., in the midst of more celebrated works airing at the same time, namely Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb, and in turn, was an understated cartoon, quietly bowing out in a summer finale in 2016.

Despite its reputation as a severely overlooked show, Wander featured some legitimate vocal talent on its cast, led by Jack McBrayer as Wander, (whose other well known voice acting role was as Wreck-It Ralph’s titular game companion, Fix-It Felix in the movie of the former’s same name.) A strange “wandering hippie man” as McCracken describes him, Wander is endlessly upbeat and looking to make friends wherever he goes and however improbable the situation… and there’s something very warm about his entire concept that just works, beyond the orange fur… He is accompanied everywhere by his inseparable pal, Sylvia, who prefers to to let her fists do the talking while concealing a gentler side as well.

There was also an actual character arc in the show for main baddie-turned likable incompetent Lord Hater, who despite his odd love-hate relationship with Wander (his antithesis) stayed deep down committed to his goal of being the “the #1 villain and baddest in the universe!” Accompanying him was also one of the better animated sidekicks in a while, the single-eyed Commander Peepers, voiced by none other than Tom Kenny, as the general of Hater’s “Watchdog” Army- a group of similarly single-eyed little men with unwavering devotion, a fair amount of cowardice, a surprising number of luxuries, and perhaps most notably, woefully underutilized by their big boss- who delegated all the hard day to day details to Peepers.

 

The show’s second and final season also saw the introduction of a brand-new and very competent villain as well (who I mention about in the character grading section), and the continued zany adventures of Wander and Sylvia, as well as Hater and his minions. Both seasons feature a lot of different planets and locales, and in many ways, it’s a more modern take on the old “space age” tales of classic cartoons the show riffs off of. Instead of shiny aluminum towers, Planet X’s and little green men though, Wander creates an immensely diverse place that we all get a glimpse into, while wondering aloud if the myriad of characters in the show are missing it all as well as it passes by. There’s a lot of heart and some deeper questions sometimes lurking in the fabric of this fun production, even among goofy inane pursuits ranging from Hater’s terrible sense of romance to Wander’s seemingly inhuman ability to drop *everything* at the cry of help. Needless to say, it’s a show that’s easily accessible and truly far more than just a footnote from its time period on Disney X.D.

 


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with computer shading. Wander’s animation is gorgeously classic, a wonderful rich palette with varied worlds, characters and backgrounds all done in a simple, hand-drawn style. It works very well, and in some ways is remincient of the various locales in Samurai Jack, despite the different style of show and eras. There’s a lot of charm and color, along with some neat animation techniques which really make the show come alive. 4.5/5 points.

 
Characterization: While mostly covered in the thoughts section, the show rotates around the titular Wander, a sort of wandering “hippie” who crosses the galaxy looking to help people, have fun, and promote peace; his ride and best friend Sylvia, a “zbornak” who is a tough as she is loyal, and their “frienenemies,” so to speak- Lord Hater, the self-proclaimed villainous “Greatest in the Galaxy”, his second in command Commander Peepers, and a army of one-eyed henchmen known as the Watchdogs.

(SLIGHT SPOILERS:)

As of the second and final season, Lord Dominator, a ruthless conqueror bent on destroying the galaxy, takes over the main antagonist role. Unlike Hater, she outright seeks to destroy planets in an unstoppable march that she revels in. Dominator’s personal lack of friends may have more than a little to do with her ambitions, but she’s also quite powerful herself and genuinely enjoys being evil, so there’s that.

(END SPOILERS)

Truthfully, the entire show’s cast is exaggerated and funny in their traits, but the DNA of classic Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera run deep through its veins, and their hijinks correspond to that sort of humor, which is well-written. For this style of show, it’s very good. 3.75/5 points.

 

 
Story quality: Episodic, with continuity. Wander at its core has the DNA of classic Western cartoons in its storytelling, and each episode is naturally its own adventure. However, there is continuity in the show; past people and place reappear, adventures are referenced that already happened, and character development, along with a loosely long-term narrative exists. There’s no arcs, so to speak, but it’s a lot of fun to watch; it’s a show that’s smart without ever taking itself too seriously, knowing its own tropes. Indeed, the conclusion of the show is both a fitting end to the wacky people and places of the show while still giving a sense that the adventure never ends… 4/5 points.

 

 
Themes: There’s a lot of nice themes wedged into episodes about friendship, love, and ultimately many other valuable life lessons. It’s a very sweet show that finely balances these ideas on its trademark humor and zaniness. However, if you’re looking for a very densely packed thematic show, you’re in the wrong place. 3.25/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: “Fun” is the best descriptor to describe Wander. Smart, classic, and something all its own, it’s a cool ride. It also uses references and tropes quite well. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.5/25 (82%). Craig McCracken’s show is a entertaining blend of slapstick humor, frantic storytelling, and hints of past efforts such as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. It is one of the better efforts at the episodic format in recent years, and is worth a watch. (You’ll also find yourself whistling that theme song all day long!)


Like what you see? Have something to say about Wander Over Yonder? Leave a comment!

Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

A magical experience that defies stereotypes.

The Lowdown:

Show: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (often shortened to PMMM or just Madoka)

Studio(s)/years aired: Shaft/Aniplex, 2011

AniB’s thoughts: Well, well, well… some of you have patiently waited for this review for a while (shout-out to S.G.), and frankly, it’s a pleasure to have written it. Simply put, Madoka is a terrific show, defying the cringy stereotypes of the magical girl genre while delivering an highly favorable impact in only 12 episodes.

To be honest, it was hard to know what one should expect given that it was a blind watch and the genre has never been my usual choice to watch in animation, but experience took over and all the aspects that exists in any good to great animated show- gripping characters, stellar animation quality, and a very interesting story with progression- were all in place, along with some very thought-provoking thematic elements that created an unexpected depth in the storytelling.

It’s also worth adding that it was very pleasing to see a dearth of fanservice in this type of show. The genre lends itself to the stereotype, but instead, the show focused its efforts on its core experience that it delivered- and at the heart of it are some terrific characters. Madoka’s a likable, personable main character, but it is Homura- the mysterious magical girl with the power of time manipulation, and the strange creature known as Kyubey that truly steal the show. Both have very interesting motivations that drive them, and Homura in particular received an outstanding character arc.

It’s evident that Madoka Magica is the magical girl show for people who don’t normally watch these types of shows, simply because it is a great piece of work. It’s true the cast is mostly cute girls, but the themes they grapple with and the decisions they find themselves making in this world are all too real, with a gravity and dramatic tension that is nicely balanced. Based on my viewing, it’s safe to say Madoka is definitely one of the better anime from the East this decade and probably the best of its kind out there.

Now, onto grading:


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, hand drawn but computer-shaded. Madoka pops off the screen, as good anime all tend to do- but its visuals also helps sell the complex and rich narrative it provides as well, along with its intriguing cast and thought-proving themes. Action sequences in particular are unique, using several different styles to indicate the chaos of witches in the show as an example. The animation does a wonderful job drawing the viewer into a compelling world. 5/5 points.

 

Characterization: The show focuses on the titular lead character, Madoka Kaname, and her role to play in the mysterious dealings of Kyubey, a strange alien being responsible for the creation of magical girls. Appearing as a small white, cat-like creature with red eyes and long ears adorned with hoop rings, Kyubey’s appearance and voice only add to the strangeness of this creature…and whose ulterior motives become more evident with the passage of time.

 

Madoka herself is a kind young junior-high girl who despite her musings about magical girls and their activities, is reluctant to become one due to the consequences of how Kyubey creates them- namely through a special, eternally binding contract. However, she is thrust inevitably into the middle of a looming crisis involving a super-powerful witch’s arrival, and the cruel consequences for all parties involved in this mysterious world.

 

Her best friend from school, Sayaka Miki, also finds herself intimately intertwined in the web of intrigue, but is is lured in by the promise of a unbounded wish as part of the magical girl contract with Kyubey. She cares deeply for a friend who suffered a crippling hand injury in an accident, and so Sayaka’s sense of justice is both pure and idealistic.

 

However, the most mysterious magical girl is Homura Akemi, a seemingly cold individual uninterested in the usual rules of being one, and with the highly unusual ability to manipulate time. What her purpose and goals are are shrouded in mystery through the show, but slowly reveal themselves.

There are other magical girls as well, one of which is a bit of a spoiler for those who haven’t seen this show, but the other is Mami Tomoe- who introduces both Madoka and Sayaka to the duties and responsibilities of the role, should they accept Kyubey’s contract.

Madoka is definitely a show that excels with its small cast and does a terrific job developing them in the concise, tight narrative that exists. It’s a treat to watch the development that takes place, and how well the show ties its cast into the overarching plot seamlessly. 4.75/5 points.

 

Story quality: Overarching plotline. Madoka’s story is quite difficult to boil down into a few words, let alone without spoilers, but overall, it’s a tale about the choices people make and their implications, just what exactly does it mean when one says “the greater good”, and the sacrifice involved with it, and a tale about true friendship and even love (in a non-romantic sort of way). It’s a terrific character-driven plot that has intrigue, action, and is hardly what you’d think a show featuring “magical girls” would look and feel like, especially given the narrative weight. 4.5/5 points.

 

Themes: Like the story, there is much to unpack in the thematic elements of this show. The consequences of all choices, and the idea that there is no such thing as a “free wish” is key, as is the idea that “the decisions you make seal your fate.” Also key is the idea of “what is selflessness vs unselfishness?” and “What is the cost of doing something that can be portrayed as altruistic? What does sacrifice truly mean?” Much is asked in this show, and these answers are given in surprisingly thorough detail for a 13 episode anime. 4.5/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: In an anime where the temptation is to have loads of fanservice, this really isn’t an issue here at all, and the show gains much for it. Tightly choreographed, briskly paced with action and dramatic tension throughout, it’s a gripping little watch. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 23.75/25 (95%). A case of where expectation pleasantly did not meet reality, Madoka Magica is a heavily thought-provoking watch with a lot more weight to its narrative and cast than one would officially be led to believe. It’s worth a look, even for those not into the magical girl genre as an all-around excellent show.


Like what you see? Enjoy Madoka? Leave a comment!

 

Preliminary Review: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) (post season 2)

The long anticipated second season of the show proved to be action packed and a solid continuation of the series.

The Lowdown:

Show: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)

Studio (NA network)/ years aired: Wit Studio (Adult Swim/Toonami), 2013-

(NOTE: SPOILERS abound ahead, so skip to the grading if you want to avoid them.)

AniB’s analysis: Well, that went fast, didn’t it? After years of anticipation and waiting, the 12 episode second season of Attack on Titan ripped by in a flash, but the frenetic pace and non-stop action gave us an overall worthy continuation and adaptation in the series. I suspect season 3 will feel like the second half of a whole in regards to the current season that just concluded, but the anime still covered a great deal of ground, from the debut of the Beast Titan, to the low-key reveals of Bertoldt and Reiner as the Colossal and Armored Titans respectively, and even the slowly dawning revelations of a Titan’s origins.

It’s hard to find an exact starting point in discussing this frenetically-paced season. A good point to was the leading role Ymir emerged to take in the season, along with the increasingly interesting role of Christa, who in fact was disbarred royalty- her true identity being that of Historia, a bastard child of a royal lineage; the back-room mechanizations of the “priests” inside Wall Rose, and of course Ymir’s tragic, strange and unique backstory. The idea of Titan shifters, first brought to life in Eren and then Annie Leonhart in the form of the Female Titan, took a dominant role here- and Ymir introduced a small 5m form as opposed to the huge Shifters that existed elsewhere in the series. Her backstory was and is tragic- and in turn, her decision-making became much clearer in light of her own past and the future she saw ahead for herself.

Of course, the other huge dynamics at play were the aforementioned reveals of Reiner and Berthold as the Armored and Colossal Titans, respectively, and their own motivations for why they launched the fatal attack at the beginning of the series. This question of what drives them and their actions is pivotal in Season 2, where there’s a certain struggle for identity between the Scouts they’d become in the fight for humanity, or their actual purpose as infiltrators, meant to find “the Founding Titan” (who in fact is revealed to be Eren.) Needless to say, it brings another dynamic to the show…and between them and Ymir, there’s a lot of flashbacks to their training days in the military.

Finally, there’s the return and continuation of the Eren-Mikasa-Armin dynamic, with the latter 2 sworn to protect Eren, and the full circle completion of the events of 5 years ago in one sense, as Hannes gets involved as well. We also get to see Sasha’s (the potato girl’s) backstory and she gets a really neat episode where she rescues a single child from a Titan with nothing but her bare fists and a lot of running; and one other highly important point occurs- the mysterious origin of Titans begins to become devastatingly clear, with highly dramatic implications.

Season 3 promises to be one of high tension with plenty of story points moving forward, from Titan origins, to the continued role of the Beast Titan, and perhaps even the mysterious motives of the priests inside the walls. Finally… Dedicate Your Heart is one amazing opening song. SASAGEYO!


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime, with computer cel shading. Attack On Titan, as you might expect, looks gorgeous… which also makes the various scenes of violence and destruction much more impressive. Character models are nice, and the whole show’s atmosphere is set up largely in part because of the animation, which captures all the little details like sunlight glimmering off Scouts’ capes, or the detailed features of city carnage. 5/5 points.
Characterization: The show’s main three characters are Eren Jaeger, an impulsive, hotly determined young man with the mysterious ability to transform into a Titan, and his two running mates, Mikasa and Armin. Eren himself is best described as passionate, where he throws himself fully into whatever he does and never gives up in a seemingly hopeless situation. He’s not the most talented individual, but his resolve and drive turns him into a top cadet out of his military training class, and in some ways, makes him ideal in possessing his Titan form.

The former (Mikasa) is a girl who was fostered by Eren’s family at a young age and later serves as his protector with few words and highly impressive combat skills. She usually is all buisness in dealing with Titans and other people, but has a warm side to those who she is close to. She is considered a prodigy as a Soldier and finished at the top of the cadets in her training class.

The latter (Armin) is a kind-hearted, but somewhat unsure kid who is also a master tactician and genius. His confidence grows as the first season wears on, and continues into the next season, where he is determined to protect Eren.

The show also features many other important characters, which are worth noting in addition to the ones highlighted in my thoughts: Ervin Smith, the formidable captain of the Scouts, and his right hand man, the skilled Captain Levi, the scientist Scout Zoe Lange, and several fellow trainees of Eren’s training cadet group (who have been shown to play huge roles). Overall, the cast is varied and well done, and recieved more time with development in season 2, which was very good. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story quality: There’s a heavy story-based plot structure with over-arcing elements, which makes sense, not only from a storytelling perspective, but also a director-based one (Tetsuro Araki also did the adaptation of Death Note, another heavily story-based anime.) There are no fillers, and the action stays constant through the series so far, with occasional pauses for more emotional moments and flashbacks. It’s well done so far, but still needs more time to mature into the final result, something that remains true after 2 seasons. 4.5/5 points.

 

Themes: Probably the most interesting part of the show so far is its deep and intimate exploration of emotions, morality, and practicality. The characters range in their philosophies, some of which are very difficult to grasp as an audience, such as Capt. Ervin Smith’s belief that sacrifice is not a personal affair, but a necessary one for the greater good of winning a war… It’s dark, and resonant, perhaps too dark at several points, but undeniably complex. 4/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: There’s a ton of blood and guts, but the writing is excellent, and the narrative throughout the two seasons assures Titan is not just a mindless, gory mess. There’s emotional gravitas and some really solid character development, which means while there’s a lot of death and destruction, it usually has the proper emotional heft to it. Titan’s also got some amazing openings and solid endings, which is always a big plus. 4.75/5 points.

 

Total Score: 22.75/25 (91%). A dark, chilling action thriller epic, Attack on Titan is a grimly gripping narrative of humanity, morality, and other such implications. It is an experience that should only be for 17 years and older, but for those of age, and willing constitution, the spectacle is immensely gripping and the emotional impact deep. The show will probably air a 3rd season sometime in 2018.


Like what you see? Have thoughts on Attack on Titan? Leave a comment!

Review/Rant: Family Guy

Brace yourselves: AniB digs into an overrated popular show.

The Lowdown:

Show: Family Guy

Network/Years aired: Fox, 1999-2003, 2005-

 

AniB’s thoughts: A long time ago, in a certain English class at my first university, a professor decided an episode of this show was worth showing to get people analyzing storytelling elements and humor. Needless to say, he made a bad pick. This review may prove be highly unpopular with some people, but the reality is that Family Guy never has been and certainly isn’t now a standout show; rather, it is symptomatic of the worst parts of Western animation and the “lowest common denominator audience” that many a network executive aims to shoot for, and so my disdain for the show has an entirely different basis than earlier review/rant pieces that I did; while Fanboy and Chum Chum, as well as Breadwinners were simply poor concept with terrible execution, they were still more niche in the sense that they were Nicktoons; Family Guy is a different animal entirely. It is a mainstream show that is globally known, and it’s had an impact that goes far beyond most animated shows for better or worse. However, I’m not here to debate the size of its pop culture impact, but rather, the show itself, and that, I’m sorry to say, is not good.

The reality about Family Guy is that it comes down to whether or not one thinks the characters are engaging in the show. Sure, they’ve gained a sort of iconic pop culture status in some circles, but that’s not the question. It’s whether they are good characters. Suffice to say, the show comes up woefully short in that regard, despite the few moments it managed to use its cast well over its long run. To start with, Seth McFarlane’s shows all stick to the “ensemble” format- a main cast that follows set roles and rarely strays from them. That’s not inherently bad on its own, but Family Guy just so happens to have an insufferable main cast, from Peter Griffin’s mind-numbing idiocy and bigotry to the abuse of Meg Griffin, down to the family dog, Brian- who despite his ironic reputation as a “voice of reason” is in face more akin to the condescending jerk nobody likes. Whatever its other failures and shortcomings as a show, it falls squarely at the cast’s feet- and seldom has there been a more boring, one dimensional, rude and boorish cast in the history of animation.

That scathing critique aside, I understand the why of Family Guy‘s continued existence: It makes money and its aforementioned director has been a major influence in Fox’s animation block for the better part of 2 decades, for better or worse. It’s a prime example of a “lowest common denominator” template that has proven to work in the sense that it draws viewers and is easily syndicated, and it’s in many ways to many people an “edgier” version of the Simpsons (but really, it was never anywhere near as smart or charming.) That said, understanding its success is also why it’s vital to be honest about the show we received, because it is a case example of why Western animation (and the entirety of animation on the whole) does not reach potential audiences with the sort of depth and critical acclaim their live-action counterparts do. If your casual viewer is spoonfed a diet of low-calorie junk like Family Guy, they will never develop a palette for something better, believing it to be the only sort of animated show for adults out there. As I’ve proven time and again, there are fantastic animated shows no matter where you look, from Disney XD to the Toonami block. Obviously, there’s still overlap for some people and that’s to be expected, but the demise of crude, cruel shows like this one would go a long way in legitimizing the short-form TV format for many a casual viewer, while spurning on a burst of quality that also makes money.

(Finally, one last note: Spare me the excuses about this show; I’ve explained my bit about why it’s simply not up to par, and frankly, I’m being too kind, both in my words and the grade I’ve come to assign it. That said, onwards to grading!)

 


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, done in a signature style of Seth MacFarlane. It’s got a pleasing color palette, pops visually, and overall is pretty solid, though not perfect. 4/5 points.

 
Characterization: Needless to say, while my thoughts expressed a clear level of disdain… This might be the most annoying troupe of characters I’ve ever had to deal with watching a show, especially when you discount the pop culture significance of said individuals. On top of that, they’re damn unlikable for a variety of reasons. Peter is an imbecile with loose lips and a looser moral code; Stewie is an unnaturally unnervering presence, and the show’s treatment of Meg is downright shameful. Mean-spirited and downright morally reprehensible beyond any sense of humor, these fools get no credit from me. 0/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with some loose canon elements, though not really. This show’s storytelling is the equivalent of the mystery box- you have no idea what you’re going to get, and most of the time, it descends down a rabbit hole of insulting anything and everything in the name of “creative humor.” Some folks find this fun. It’s likely more insulting than anything. That said, there’s the occasional clever moment. 0.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Based on the above categories, do you really think Family Guy has any themes worth mentioning, let alone worth following? No, it doesn’t. It’s worse at social commentary than South Park, lacks anything nutritive unlike other shows with family ensembles, and while all of this might be excusable if it was entertaining…it’s really a matter of taste, which in this case was not a very good one.  0/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Family Guy is a mean social critique and satire of anything and everything. It makes me cringe almost constantly, which no cartoon should do. But it’s an adult show! some say. It’s still highly questionable even with a higher tolerance levels for such attributes. Finally, it was canceled twice. What does that tell you? 0/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 4.5/25 (18%). Good animation aside, Seth MacFarlane’s most well known work is ultimately a terrible show disregarding its significant pop culture influence and unlikely 16 year run (not counting its short cancellation period) on TV. It has ultimately lost its fundamental comic heart and soul; it is not funny, and serves more to take a dump on just about everybody. It makes a true animation fan cringe and shake their head. There’s nothing against trying new things in the medium, but when it’s pushed in such a way as here, there’s nothing but a cold husk of cold “humor.” Some people like nasty. I find it tends to ruin the show. And so it goes.

Review: Monster

A perfect blend of action, thriller and mystery elements makes one terrific anime.

The Lowdown:

Show: Monster

Studio(US network)/years aired: Madhouse (SyFy), 2004-2005 (USA 2009-2010)

AniB’s thoughts: The name of this show- Monster– doesn’t pop off the page as an overtly exciting concept, but as it turns out, it’s another classic case of excellent execution on a pretty great concept and as a result, is one of the best anime I’ve seen.

Packed into 75 episodes, Monster’s a mid-length experience that truly feels excellent every step of the way, expertly weaving a complex story while seamlessly transitioning from one part of the story to the next; its midpoint “finale” is incredible, only to be one-upped by the stunning conclusion, and the character development is mind-blowingly excellent. There may not be a “perfect anime,” but on many levels Monster is very close. It nails both “psychological thriller” and “mystery” genres flawlessly into one package; runs multiple plotlines parallel to the main one, seemingly disparate at times, but ultimately ties them all together in a very satisfying manner…and if that wasn’t enough, gives us one of the great villains in animation. It’s truly a monster of an experience.

What does this all mean to me beyond gushing effusive praise? It’s proof that you can find a great show if you keep looking under rocks. I was unaware of Monsters existence until occasional guest writer and friend Onamerre discovered the intro theme on a Youtube search, and suggested I watch the show based off his impression of that opening. (Goes to show you openings do in fact, have a key first impression.) It’s a show that’s the best representative of the seinen anime label if you wish to call it that- clearly intended for slightly more mature audience, but hardly edgy or contrived, like some shonens, and it’s been something that I was quite excited to write about for a while based on how much this was both an enjoyable and good experience.

One last note: It was difficult to write this piece and not spoil the whole plot. For those of you who have seen the series, you’ll understand exactly why that is, given the twists and moments of discovery in this show. For those unfamiliar with the show, know that you’re in for a treat best seen without spoilers and an expectation of being ready for anything. Perhaps the reason this show was so terrific was in part because the manga writer also spearheaded the anime- but it’s overall an excellent example of what the best of anime has to offer. Onwards to grading!


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime. The usage of the animation in this series is vital in telling the tale it wishes to convey, and as a result, it’s beautifully and hauntingly scripted. With pleasant character models, detailed settings, and meaningful imagery, Monster’s usage of the art form is sublime. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Featuring a diverse cast of characters, the show centers on Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese neurosurgeon, and a boy he rescues from a bullet in the head, Johan Liebert. Tenma is shown to be a rising star in the medical field in Germany (right after reunification) who has his career sidetracked by the surgery-when he decides to save the boy instead of a prominent, but corrupt politician who also needs brain surgery. To make matters worse, the boy disappears shortly afterwards from the hospital, with his attending doctors found dead…pushing into the main events of the show. Overall, Tenma is a kind person and a brilliant neurosurgeon, but his character arc is complex and riddled with difficult decisions and dangerous paths.

 

Additionally, the story features Nina Fourtiner (Anna Liebert), Johan’s sister- who is entangled in the show’s central plot and mystery as she searches for her past and the truth of the mysterious night where her brother was brought into the hospital; Detective Heinrich Lunge, a crack BKA officer and an obsessive workaholic bent on catching criminals no matter how hard or difficult the case, and Ava Heinemann, the one-time fiancee of Tenma,who becomes estranged after the events of the beginning of the show, turning into a bitter alcoholic with many regrets. Finally, there’s Dieter, a young boy who is rescued from the last vestiges of a horrific social experiment…

There’s plenty more that could said about the cast, but in the case of Monster, it would amount to one massive spoiler. Know that there are several other key characters in what proves to be a strong cast, and the character development is top notch- and you’ll be left amazed at the show’s central villain and the twists this show delves into. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: One massive overarching plot line, with smaller arcs comprising a wholly connected story. Monster’s story is all about its characters and their different, yet similar quests all leading back to each other, tied together by a certain fateful operation.

Unfolding in smaller arcs, the pacing is steady and has no filler so to speak; every episode either focuses on plot or character development or both, and the answers to various questions are fulfilled in interesting and ultimately satisfying ways. 5/5 points.

 
Themes: There’s a heavy focus on various relationships and competing ideas of philosophies on life, and the whole question of one’s own value and the very idea of personhood and humanity. Deep and complex, Monster’s explorations of these ideas can be occasionally disturbing, but on the whole, brilliant and in line with the sort of expectations it sets. 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Brilliantly paced and deeply compelling, Monster is a masterpiece in the genre with its writing, with maybe the occasional hard to watch moment….which really adds to the dramatic tension in this case. It’s a show that stays vibrantly packed to the brim with flowing action and plot progression, different locales and a excellent sense of pacing. Finally…the opening theme is perfect for this show- haunting, serious and just terrific.  5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 24.5/25 (98%). Brilliantly adapted and deeply complex, Naomi Urusawa’s Monster is a hidden masterpiece that is relatively unknown outside anime circles. Due to its incomplete airing on the SyFy network, a US station not traditionally known for animation, it has flown under the radar as one of the 2000’s best shows. It’s a must watch for animation fans and a solid recommendation even to others based on its strong mystery, psychological and thriller elements.


Like what you see? Know about Monster? Leave a comment below!

 

Guest Review: Fairy Tail (Episodes 1-48)

Hey everyone,

This review features the return of Onamerre to AniB Productions, and this time, he’s compiling his thoughts in an ongoing review of the anime Fairy Tail. Note again that his thoughts are completely and entirely his…and he’s glad to receive useful feedback and insightful comments.


Author’s Note:
I have only watched the first 48 episodes, or what Funimation had deemed to be the first season of the show. There are over 270+ episodes and normally I would skip the filler, however, the show rarely has it up to now, and has quickly started up a new arc immediately after the conclusion of the previous one. I have decided to mark this show as a continual review, meaning once I have time, I will go through season by season and issue my reviews as if it were still being released. I have no problem watching anime with 100 or so more episodes, but over 200? To be watched consecutively? I have to give it a break to avoid being burned out, or else watching the show would feel like a chore. Please make sure to read my conclusion notes at the end for my overall opinion on the show. Now, I just have one question to ask. ARE YOU GUYS READY FOR MORE FAIRY TAIL?!?!?!?! (But seriously, read till the end please. Also, SPOILER WARNING!!!)


Animation: Fairy Tail was like a lot of other shows at the turn of the decade in which they started to experiment with CGI backgrounds and 2D computer aid. This show decided to use the CGI on the effects of the spells being cast. Everything else was hand drawn in a computer, including the backgrounds, and it shows. By that, I mean a lot of the time, the backgrounds don’t look good. Sure, there are times of awe, but only until critical plot events are in play do we see that happen. (That’s the main appeal of the show’s animation.) It’s a series of deep valleys, and breath-taking peaks…When those peaks arrive, the show shines. Conversely, the valleys aren’t super awful, but wow, is it noticeable. 4.0/5.0 points.

Characters: By far and away, the strongest part of the show. Every character, minor or major, has been given their deserved moment in the spotlight relative to their importance to the plot. (I will be avoiding some characters this time as I’ve only seen the first 48 episodes.) So for now, I’m focusing on the core characters of Fairy Tail.
Natsu Dragneel, AKA: Salamander, Fairy Tail’s Dragon Slayer: The star of the show, Natsu is often hot tempered and incredibly impatient. Makes sense as he was raised by a literal dragon named Igneel. He possesses incredible power within him, however, his flaw is that he gets motion sickness too easily. He is EXTREMELY protective of his friends and other members of the Fairy Tail guild. He often decides to deal with a problem by blowing stuff up first, and asking questions later. A fun character to watch, but easily annoying if not written right.

 

Gray Fullbuster, AKA Flasher: Unsurprisingly, the character that is supposed to be the fan service to the female viewers. Possessing dark spikey hair and an extremely toned muscular body, Gray is the guild’s ice mage. To quote the narrator of the show, “he has habit of losing his clothes.” While this would automatically take away points from the DITV (don’t insult the viewer) category, the origin as to why he takes off his clothes is interesting, and still weird. As we learn in the Galuna Island Arc, his town was wiped out by a demon, and he was the sole survivor. He then gets taken under the wing of a very powerful ice wizard. The preparation included stripping down as a way for the body to become numb to the cold to better focus on casting the magic. We see Gray get stronger as the show continues, and a feature I really like about Gray is that he sustains wounds during the Galuna Island Arc, and for the rest of the series, he has a scar over his left eye brow as a result.

 
Lucy Heartfilia: The show’s secondary narrator. She is a celestial wizard, meaning she can summon celestial beings that she has worked out a contract with to help her in battle. She is extremely caring of nearly everyone she meets who’s friendly to her, but furiously full of rage upon being annoyed. It turns out, Lucy is a runaway from her home as she is the heiress to the Heartfilia railway empire, and as such, makes sure that her surname isn’t publicly known. This situation is the catalyst for the Phantom Lord Guild Arc. There is a rather humorous gag involving her home. Every time she enters, there is someone from the guild in her house. It’s actually kinda funny. Her weakness though is that she is SUPER emotionally attached to almost every situation she encounters. But, she does find the strength to overcome most obstacles.

 
Erza Scarlett, AKA: Titania: The mother bear of the show. An extremely strong wizard who guides the other characters with an iron will. What makes her interesting is the vast array of armor she can equip. Unlike how Gray is comfortable wearing nothing, Erza is comfortable in her heavy armor. She doesn’t mind at all who sees her with or without clothes, but, her armor literally and figuratively protects her heart as she endured an awful childhood that made her the wizard she is today. An incredibly powerful wizard who is the odds on favorite to become the next master of the guild.

 
Makarov: The master of the guild. The most powerful wizard of the guild and father figure to everyone in it. Short in stature, but the size of his heart for everyone in the guild makes up for it. He knows that his time at the helm is winding down, but he lives everyday like it was to be his last. He also has the sole power to welcome in and expel members of the guild.
Happy: The adorable kitty cat that was hatched from an egg that Natsu brought back when he was younger. The joy he brought the guild when the egg hatched is how earned his name sake. Often joined at the hip with Natsu, over the course of the series, we see him slowly become closer with Lucy. FIERCLY loyal to the guild and its members, while not currently possessing and strong fighting capabilities, his iron heart makes up for it.
There are others that I will get to, but for now, a well-rounded cast of interesting characters that I cannot wait to encounter and talk about.  5.0/5.0 points.

Story quality: An extremely entrapping world inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien with the adventures one might expect. The show has a strong continuity with little to no filter. Each episode has Happy do the voice over with the name of the episode. Pay very close attention to when the voice over is NOT done by Happy, as that signifies either the end of an Arc, who is at the center of the Arc, or the start of a new Arc. The main arcs in the first season are The Death Flute Arc, Galuna Island (Gray’s origin), Phantom Lord (Lucy’s background), The Tower of Heaven (Erza’s origin), and finally, The Battle of Fairy Tale (Civil War). So far, so good. I’ll just say this, the character twist at the end of the season involving the grandson of Makarov knocked me on my ass. I did not see what happened coming. 4.75/5.0 points.

Themes: The Guild Comes First. Pretty self explanatory here. Every decision made, no matter how small, will affect the guild in the long run. Family. The best theme of the show and my god is it brilliant. All of the humans of the core group, with the exception of Makarov, had a brutal childhood. Natsu’s dragon abandoned him, Gray’s family and early friends were killed, Erza’s parents are believed to have died young too, and Lucy’s father is severely over controlling of her. The beauty here is that, while they have no blooded family left in contact with them, they make their own with their friendship. Makarov is the father, Erza is the mother, Gray is the eldest, Natsu is the middle child, Lucy is the little sister, and Happy is the family cat. They fight, cry, and eat like a family. 4.5/5.0 points.

Don’t Insult The Viewer: There is the common trope of the overly strong female trying to show that she can handle herself, but that gets a slight pass as it is well explained in the show. One aspect I picked up is that the characters are powerful when the plot calls for them to be with common tactic of “The true power within them” coming into play a lot during the show. I also mentioned nudity before. Gray’s use is more of a comedic effect. Most of the time, you do end up rolling your eyes. Rarely do you ever get a decent chuckle. For the others, its tasteful and actually makes sense. 4.0/5.0 points.

 

Final Grade (So far): 22.25/25.0 (89%). This was not what I was expecting here. A very well written show with a great cast of characters that will no doubt get larger and better with more conflicts that will come. One other aspect that I love about this show is the fuckin’ soundtrack! My god in heaven the soundtrack! Quite possibly the best soundtrack for an anime I’ve heard this decade. Celtic orchestral sounds with heavy metal guitar and drums is practically sex for the ears (if you like metal that is). I HIGHLY recommend a watch through and please, for the love of all things holy, check out the soundtrack. Here’s a sample to whet your appetite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Oh1jIa8_xU&list=LLPVA5o2996reCbE8l5V3nZA&index=14 Trust me, it only gets better.


Like Mr. Onamerre’s spicy thoughts on Fairy Tail? Leave a comment!

Review: Kill la Kill

Flashy, frenetic anime can be fun, but ultimately misses the mark by a bit.

The Lowdown:

Show: Kill la Kill

Studio (NA distributor)/ years aired: Gainax (Adult Swim-Toonami), 2013-2014

AniB’s thoughts: I’ve been sitting on doing a review of Kill la Kill for a little while, partially because there’s been other priorities to attend to, but also because I wasn’t sure how to put this eloquently to the people that like the show, or those who haven’t seen it yet, or maybe were patiently waiting for me to get around to it: Kill la Kill is overrated.

Yes, the show features a terrific soundtrack and came from the same people who did Gurren Lagann and once upon a time, Evangelion, and yes, it has the same kind of frenetic action you’d expect from a mecha anime in one that actually isn’t, but for me at least, the dynamics of the show were just… off.

It starts with the premise. I’m perfectly willing to accept “over the top” in anime, but this show in particular makes it part of its very fabric. It’s a potpourri of “high school meets Michael Bay action sequences meets convoluted premise” and while many people have reveled in that regarding Kill la Kill, it just never meshed with me. It didn’t find the same emotional thrust mixed with satisfaction as Gurren Lagann did (and which actually occupied a far grander scope, all things considered)…and then, there was the fanservice.

Oh, the fanservice. I’ve yet to write a treatise on fanservice in animation, but the vast majority of the time (about 95-98% in my rough mental estimation), it’s pointless, adds nothing to the story, cheapens the characters, and gives me a vaguely uncomfortable feeling about what I’m actually viewing. Kill la Kill, for all intensive purposes, is an ecchi anime, of which I suspect precious few will pop up in my review choices, and with good reason- it’s teasing nudity the whole way. I’m not into that. And this is the fundamental difference between something like Kill la Kill and the aforementioned Gurren Lagann, in which there’s one cringy comedic bathhouse episode early in the series along with occasionally playful teasing in the latter, while this entire series makes a point to expose its characters…and the main conflict involves clothing…or a lack thereof.

So does this mean Kill la Kill is a “bad show?” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but it’s not the masterwork some play it up to be, and it certainly has found a legion of anime fans that sing its praises. It also features some pretty amazing fight sequences (especially if you can get past the fan-servicing bit); the characters receive some pretty great development through the show (the central character conflict is actually compelling), and Ryuko Matoi is a strong, solid protagonist. (Cool fact- the character’s English VA plays Gon Freecss in the dub of HxH 2011.) Overall, I’d say one’s reception of Kill la Kill is dependent on one’s tastes. To that end, I’ve attempted to evaluate the show with a balanced hand noting the show’s perceived weaknesses against its strengths.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime. Good looking anime that accentuated some things best left unseen, though the battles are spectacular. Character models are standard enough, tend to accentuate women’s breasts a bit though, and there are some truly spectacular settings illustrated as well. The use to make the obvious fan service look good however…not so much. 3.5/5 points.

 
Characterization: The series focuses on the story of Ryuko Matoi, a girl searching for the answers of her father’s murder who comes upon the main location of the show, Honnouji Academy.

Armed with a giant scissor blade, Ryuko’s a bit of a rough and tumble character, which come at odds when she discovers her sentient battle outfit, Senketsu (pronounced sen-ketz), transforms her into a very revealing outfit that also grants her great power. Because Senketsu is made 100% out of a special material called “life fiber,” it (rather he) has a life and personality of his own, although only Ryuko can hear him.

While at the academy, Ryuoko stays with and befriends Mako Mankanshoku (and her eccentric family). Bright and airheaded to a t, she often serves as the calming presence to Ryuko’s fierceness and determination, and has a good heart and a stubborn will…She’s also the main source of comic relief through the show, a role she excels at.

Opposing Ryuoko through most of the show is Honnouji’s fierce student body president, the formidable Satsuki Kiryuin. Armed with a will stronger than steel and a blade to match, she rules Honnouji in a way that it is much more a military base than really a school… She is flanked by her “Elite 4” (no, not Pokemon)- Ira Gamagoori, a massive man with a personality to match who serves as head of discipline; Uzu Sanageyama, a one-time street boss turned loyal swordsman; Nonon Jakuzure, the only girl and a friend of Satsuma since they were children, and also a music nut; and Houka Inumuta, her information specialists and tech systems guy.

Also to be noted among an extensive supporting cast is Raygo Kiyuin, the mother of Satsuki and head of the REVOC Corporation, a clothing line that has almost monopolized the whole world… Overall, these are actually pretty good characters for the most part with some strange elements and stereotypical tropes; the supporting cast on the whole is okay. 4/5 points.

 
Story quality: Overarching story. While the tale moves at a great pace (and one particular episode deals with the dreaded recap episode in the best way possible), there are other flaws inherently present. Mostly, this is because the storyline of Kill la Kill might be the most convoluted albeit complicated arc out there… (spoilers:)

Life fibers, the threads that form Senketsu, and give clothes known as Goku Uniforms their power, are in fact apparently a sentient alien parasite that devours its victims and destroys planets. Seriously, I can’t make that up if I tried. Raygo Kiryuin, the big bad, tries to co-opt this scheme of destruction while the subtext of Ryuko vs Satsuki plays out, the two eventually coming to a head… the paramilitary organization is literally a group called Nudist Beach (they eschew clothes…) and most adults in this series seem fairly useless. There is some strong emotion built into the plot as well as some decent plot twists, but overall, the end product is both somewhat entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time. 2.75/5 points.

 
Themes: Family struggles, friends, and some other self-discovery stuff. For Ryuko, it’s about forging her path against the path of someone like Satsuski, and so ideologies clash, literally exposed with bare ambition. Honestly, this show isn’t the strongest on themes, but it’s passable considering everything. 3.25/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Fanservice. This is the single biggest issue with Kill la Kill, and it’s obvious how intentional that decision was with characters even commenting on it in universe. One one hand, it sorta works because there’s an in-universe explanation, but… if you’re not into nudity (or very skimpy outfits), I’d stay far away (and frankly, i don’t condone it in the slightest). There’s also a fair bit of blood in some scenes, and to that end, you have been warned. 2.5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 16/25 (64%). A bizarre mix of different anime tropes with more than a little fanservice, Kill la Kill is unique…sometimes in the (very) cringeworthy sense, and other times in interesting, unique, and even very funny ways. I wouldn’t personally recommend this to anyone under 18, but depending on your tastes, it is potentially worth a watch.


Like what you see? Have something to say about Kill la Kill? Leave a comment!