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!

 

First Impressions: My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)

Hello long-awaiting readers,

It has been a while since I posted something, but I’ve not been simply twiddling my thumbs, and so my star summer anime project has turned out to be finally watching what’s been released so far of My Hero Academia. Consider this a very strong impression, indeed…PLUS ULTRA!

If you’re a fan of anime or have been following anything at all the past year or so, the biggest show outside of the long-awaited Season 2 return of Attack on Titan was this one- My Hero Academia, often referred to by its Japanese name, Boku no Hero Academia, or BnHA for short. The bottom line here is simple from yours truly: it’s becoming the next big shonen to erupt in the popular conscience…and it’s really, really good.

For those who don’t know (like myself before watching), it’s a show about a version of Earth in which superpowers- known as “quirks” in the BnHA universe- manifest and become commonplace, so much so that society itself becomes the stuff of comics, and regular humans with no such abilities dwindle to a mere 20% of the population. In turn, there’s heroes and villains- and becoming a hero has become a highly sought after and revered position in society. For the main character- a quirkless boy named Izuku Midoriya- this is his dream, though his status as a normal kid makes him a big dreamer and fanboy of the actual pros but not much else.

As fate would have it, it all changes with a fated encounter where Midoriya is rescued by his childhood hero, who also happens to be the world’s symbol of peace- All Might….and it takes off from there.

While I normally don’t like summarizing the beginnings of plots at all, these sort of initial impressions are almost difficult to do without them since in my excitement, I’ve caught up to the current run of the show. I’ll also mention that BnHA is being simulcast online via Funimation. But to get to the meat of what really is at stake here: this is a show absolutely worth watching for a number of reasons:

-The characters: Just from watching many shows and writing many reviews, there’s a premium to be placed on character development and a great cast, and this show delivers, big time. Midoriya is a delightful protagonist, and the rest of the main and supporting cast is diverse and interesting, with distinct personalities– a must in a show that features the superhero genre.

-The animation: The studio doing the show is Bones- and if you know anything about them, they’re the folks behind Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (which I gave a glowing review of.) The action sequences are richly detailed and vibrant, the colors pop, and everything is just so lively.

-The soundtrack: There’s some really catchy tunes and appropriate music that enhances this show exponentially. The theme songs in particular are real winners. Here’s a taste.

-Faithful manga adaptation: While I’m not really so much of a stickler about the exact 1:1 accuracy of manga adaptations, this show’s really faithful. It also doesn’t have filler, which is a huge plus in my book.

-Themes: Strong, straightforward themes are given a new lift and weight by the other strong story and character elements…plus, there’s some very real issues that occur aside from the tropes you’d expect in a show of this style.

 

I’ve completely fallen in love so far with My Hero Academia, and while I’m not doing a graded analysis today (given this is an impressions piece), I will give a 2-season preliminary review once the second half of the current season finishes its run. The show’s well worth a look as both a summer treat and for viewing purposes in general, and while I could say much more that is specific to the show, I’d like others to experience it too without spoilers. Find out what it truly means to be a hero and go beyond…


Like what you see here? Love My Hero Academia or has your interest been piqued? Leave a comment!

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!

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.


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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!