Review: Steins;Gate

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

The Lowdown:

Show: Steins;Gate

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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


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

Review: Assassination Classroom

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

The Lowdown:

Show: Assassination Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

Review: Samurai Jack

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

The Lowdown:

Show: Samurai Jack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Hey everyone,

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

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

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

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

5/26: Review: Steins;Gate

5/27: Review: The Huckleberry Hound Show

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


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

2nd Top 10 Shows Listing

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

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

 

T1. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)

T1. Gravity Falls (98%)

T2. Cowboy Bebop (97%)

T2. Hunter x Hunter (97%)

T2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (97%)

6. Young Justice* (93%)

7. The Legend of Korra (85%)

T8. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)

T8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)

T8. Dragon Ball Z (84%)

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

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

NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review.

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


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

Guest Review: Rurouni Kenshin

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

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

The Lowdown:

Show: Rurouni Kenshin

Network/ years aired:

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


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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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.