Reviews of yesteryear: Monster

Monster is an award winning manga written by Urasawa Naoki, the same author who wrote the brilliant 20th Century Boys, from the mid 90s to the early 2000s. A couple years after the manga ended it got an anime adaptation from Madhouse. Them again? It feels like I’ve said everything about their studio that I possibly can in the past few months, both good and bad. So… let’s just take a look.

Okay, so there’s a Japanese neurosurgeon named Tenma. After an attack of conscience about being pulled away from poorer patients he takes a stand, breaks orders and handles the operation of a boy who got shot in the head instead of transferring over to a different operation on a richer patient at the last minute. The boy survives, thanks to his expert care, but it destroys his career. At least, it does until the hospital director and several others are killed by poisoned candy but the boy and his twin sister both vanish from the hospital. Cut to several years later and there seems to be a bunch of unexplained murders. That’s when Doctor Tenma learns that the young boy he saved back then is responsible. To make matters worse, Tenma is wanted for the murders. Wanted by the law and determined to make sure that there are no more victims, Tenma goes after the boy known only as Johan. Now, it probably seems like I’m going into spoilers, but I’m not. This all happens in the beginning. Now, one concern I had about the length was that it was going to drag, but it doesn’t. Everything that happens is necessary and plot-related. To Monster’s credit, the episodes also don’t drag, well mostly. There are a few scenes that feel overly long, but not many. There’s also a good mystery here, not over who’s responsible since they tell you right away, but over the reasons why. There are constant clues as to what happened to the twins in the past. You get these hints piece by piece until, eventually, the answers become clear. Now, I won’t spoil it but it is really interesting. Another thing that Monster does well is handling the darker content. Unlike a certain other anime from Madhouse, which I could name but those of you who regularly read my reviews can figure out what it is, Monster takes the darker content and handles it with maturity and intelligence. Yeah, it’s a really dark anime, but it all works because the writing is so well done. Take note, this is how you handle mature content. One issue I did have was with the ending. Honestly, it’s too optimistic and doesn’t quite fit the rest of the series. It’s not badly written, but it does feel like a strange tonal shift.

Like the story elements, there isn’t a character introduced who isn’t important. Yes, some of them disappear for a while and some of them are only in a few episodes, but they’re all important to the plot. Not only that, but they all have developed personalities and many of them get further development as the series progresses. That’s pretty impressive. It takes skill to write a 74 episode series without any unnecessary characters or plot lines. I also really like Johan as an antagonist. He’s incredibly clever, so the police don’t look inept for not being able to find him. It also helps that he rarely gets his own hands dirty, preferring to manipulate others into doing it for him. And they say that charisma makes a good dump stat unless you’re a bard.

The art is really well done. The characters look pretty realistic. The scenery does look a lot like the areas they’re supposed to be. The various objects from guns to food to cars are all nicely detailed. There are some cases where you can’t quite see because it’s too dark, but it’s always done to strategically build tension rather than a result of incompetence and it always works.

The voice acting is excellent. Everyone does really well from Sasaki Nozomu to Kiuchi Hidenobu to Noto Mamiko, even if she’s not playing a yuri girl in this. What? She plays yuri girls a lot. See Mai Hime, Mai Otome, Maria Sama Ga Miteru, & Yamibou which were most of the anime I’d heard her in at that point. The music is really good for aiding atmosphere and tone. However, the stuff that actually has lyrics is kind of poorly done. No offense to Sylvian David, but he sings in this like he inhaled a bunch of helium and he’s just coming off of it.

The yuri factor is a 1.5/10. There are a few scenes that could be interpreted as homo-erotic, but there are only two of them and interpreting them like that is kind of a stretch.

The final rating for Monster is a 9/10. In the end, most of my complaints are pretty minor and none of them detract too much from the series. The writing is excellent, the characters are well developed, the art is great, the voice acting is excellent and the music adds to the series. In spite of a few complaints, everything is done really well in the series and I do recommend it to anyone who wants to see a good drama. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out.

Reviews of yesteryear: Arashi no Yoru ni

Arashi no Yoru ni was originally a children’s story written by Kimura Yuichi. It won several awards and was turned into a series of books, an anime film and a TV series. Let’s take a look at the film from Group TAC. You might wonder why I’m looking at a kid’s movie. Well, I don’t review this type of anime often since most of my requests are geared towards adults or older teenagers and I just feel like doing it for a change of pace. Besides, I needed something short to review before Monster.

The story is pretty basic. What, you wanted more from a kid’s movie? On a stormy night a goat named Mei takes shelter in an abandoned… house… shed… barn… porno theatre? It’s not really clear since the screen is really dark. The important thing is that, while he’s there a wolf, Gabu, walks in. Naturally, Gabu smells Mei and gobbles him up and so our story ends within ten minutes. Okay, that’s not what happens. They both have the sniffles so they can’t smell each other. How very convenient. They each assume that they’re the same species and talk. They become fast friends and agree to meet the next day when the skies are clear. So, they meet at the barn, (did you really think it was a porno theatre?), and Gabu instantly gobbles Mei up. Okay, that doesn’t happen. They realise that they’re different species, but decide to be secret friends anyway because friendship is important to both of them. Unfortunately for them, the other goats/wolves find out and that’s when things get interesting. I won’t go further into the plot, as to not spoil anything but things really do get interesting. It’s a pretty simple story about friendship and adversity, but it’s surprisingly well told. The conflicts are actually nuanced Yeah, it’s cutesy but it has a good amount of depth for what it is and it is a pretty fun film. Okay, so I like cutesy stuff, sue me. Honestly, the only real issue with the film’s plot is the side story about Mei’s mom being killed by wolves. They show it at the very start and mention it once. After that it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no payoff and no conflict resulting from it. It’s odd to see a scene that should have a lot of weight end up being completely irrelevant.

A lot of what makes the film work is the interaction between Mei and Gabu. They’re both interesting characters and they have great interactions. Even the side characters have verisimilitude and they do bring up legitimate concerns. They aren’t vilified even though they end up in antagonistic roles, except maybe for Giro. Still, there’s a lot of character subtlety especially for a kid’s movie. Seriously, these characters get more developed in an hour and forty minutes than the entire cast of Gantz gets in twenty six episodes and that was made for adults. Extremely immature adults who just want to see violence and nudity, but still adults.

The art in this is beautifully done. The nature scenes are really detailed with vibrant landscapes. The animals are stylized, but they’re really nicely drawn too. It’s not quite as good as Studio Ghibli’s work, but it comes pretty close.

The voice acting is good. Both Narimiya Hiroki and Nakamura Shidou do well in their roles. As do Takeuchi Riki and everyone else really. The music is kind of bland, actually. It’s not bad, but it’s pretty typical.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. There are some female characters, but their interaction is minimal. Besides, it’s a film about a wolf making friends with a goat. You shouldn’t expect romance. That would just be silly and not in a good way.

What’s the final word? Well, Arashi no Yoru ni does have a lot of positives. The artwork is beautiful, the characters are well done, the story, though simple, is well told and the voice acting is really good. There are a few negatives. There are some pointless scenes and the music is kind of dull, but it’s a surprisingly good movie. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re an adult or a child, it’s a fun film. My final rating is an 8/10. If you’ve got a couple hours, check it out. Next week, the Monster review will finally go up. You can hold your breath if you’d like, but I refuse to take responsibility for any adverse effects you suffer as a result of holding your breath for a week. For you guys on WordPress it’ll be up as tomorrow’s review of yesteryear. I still don’t recommend holding your breath though. 

Tokyo Godfathers: Someone threw out a perfectly good baby

Tokyo Godfathers is a film directed by Kon Satoshi, who also directed the superb Perfect Blue, and co-written by Wolf’s Rain creator, Nobumoto Keiko. With animation and production from Madhouse, whether it’s the branch of Madhouse that ruins action scenes with random T & A shots or the branch that does stellar work remains to be seen. Yes, I have become convinced that Madhouse has one division to do animation for quality projects like Rainbow, Monster and the aforementioned Perfect Blue and another for their drek projects like Highschool of the Dead or Devil Hunter Yohko. Although in reality they probably have a lot more divisions than that. I am cautiously optimistic about this one since the director and co-writer have both done some spectacular work, but keep in mind that the last time I expressed optimism going into a series was Penguindrum. Let’s hope this one goes better.

Story:

The narrative follows three homeless individuals, Gin, Hana and Miyuki. It’s Christmas time and the three of them head to a garbage storage area because Hana found some thrown away books for Miyuki’s present. While wading through the various bags they hear a crying sound and discover that someone threw away a perfectly good baby. Hana is ecstatic since she always wanted to be a mother but hasn’t been able to become one on account of being a trans-woman and lacking the resources for adoption. So, she names the baby Kiyoko but they naturally can’t keep her what with the homelessness and lack of resources that go with that situation. As such, they follow their only other clue, a key with a number written on it, and go on a search to find the baby’s mother.

There’s only one story issue with Tokyo Godfathers. The narrative frequently relies on major coincidences to work. We’re talking coincidence on the level of Steerforth showing up at random all the time. Except it’s not so bad in this since there’s a major underlying theme of people who are down-trodden getting lucky breaks for once which the beneficial coincidences does play into. As opposed to David Copperfield where Steerforth just showed up at random because Dickens needed or wanted his character around and not for the sake of any thematic content. Still, the coincidences they encounter do stretch believability and it is a tad distracting.

Overall, the story is really solid. The film does a great job of keeping tension. The pacing is excellent. The scenarios the characters find themselves in while looking for the mother are all plot relevant. Various story points get brought up and resolved very well. The comic moments are kind of down-played and subdued, which works excellently for a film that blends comedy and drama. There are a lot of really good emotional scenes funny, sad and happy and the ending is perfect.

Characters:

The characters are all really interesting. You learn the circumstances that led each one to live on the streets and each one gets their own story arc within the film. All of which is accomplished very skillfully. None of it is superfluous either, it all evolves very naturally from the story. The film does a perfect job of crafting characters who have faults but come across as genuinely good people. Even the film’s “antagonist” has motivations that you can understand and sympathise with. The character interactions are also very well done. They all feel very real. Sometimes they argue or fight but you do get the sense that they really care about one another. Even the other characters not respecting Hana’s gender identity and the way she copes with it have verisimilitude.

Art:

The art is excellent in this. The backgrounds are lively and very detailed. The character designs are a bit reminiscent of Perfect Blue. They’re nicely detailed and focus on realism. The faces are very expressive. The film just looks really fantastic.

Sound:

The voice acting is really well done. The major characters are voiced by Okamoto Aya, Umegaki Yoshiaki and Emori Toru. All of whom are primarily live action actors with very little, or nothing in terms of voice work besides this. In spite of that, the three of them do give very strong performances. The side characters are all well acted as well. The music is really nicely done.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any. Primarily because it’s not homo-erotic when a trans-woman likes men.

Final Thoughts:

Tokyo Godfathers is a really good film. It does just about everything right with a spectacular story, great characters, amazing art and good acting. It has very little in terms of issues and is definitely worth checking out. If you have ninety minutes this holiday season, give it a watch. My rating is a solid 9/10. Next week, I’ll take a look at Heroman. And I’ll end this review by saying happy holidays to all of you and to all a good day.

Reviews of yesteryear: Gantz 2nd Stage

Not long ago I reviewed the first stage of Gantz. There were only two reviews between the two series of Gantz, Baccano and Black Lagoon. I was far less than impressed with its mostly dull/moronic cast and its story that had more holes than your average slice of Swiss cheese. That being said, it was far from one of the worst anime I’ve ever seen. Naturally, this means that people want me to look at the second stage claiming that “it’s better.” Being a cynic, I doubt it, but let’s get our red pens ready and take a look at Gantz: Second Stage to see whether or not those claims hold true. They might.

Okay, now that I’ve finished, let’s compare. The second stage has the same setup as the first. A giant magic eight ball copies people at the instant of their deaths and sends those people to fight aliens for no adequately explained reason and he either picks those people carefully so that they won’t be smart enough to ask questions or just gets really lucky. The second stage does do a few things differently. The first is that they eliminate virtually all of the moments intended to build character in favour of mindless violence and sex. Honestly, the first stage was better. The character moments may not have contributed much since the execution was pants and most characters were just introduced for the sake of acting as fodder, but at least it tried to have development. This one does give some motivation to Gantz, but it’s really really lazy. Basically, they imply that Gantz is doing it for laughs. Is it better than no explanation? Not really, Gantz is still like a silver-age comic villain. Evil for the sake of being evil. At least no explanation had the potential for something interesting. One thing that is better is that they actually do have some genuinely evil threats in this one, at the very end, anyway. This one also doesn’t suffer from continuity errors… Well, not in the plot anyway. They also get rid of the horrible working girl joke. Unfortunately, they replace it with several horrible gay jokes, all in the span of a few episodes. Yeah, that’s not a real improvement. It’s just trading some of the misogyny for more homophobia. They eventually do start questioning Gantz, which really needed to happen earlier, they do it in the last few episodes so it’s really too little too late. There is one other issue with Second Stage, and that’s the ending. It’s a complete anti-climax.

The characters were pretty bad in the first stage. So, surely they improved them here, right? Wrong. They’re actually worse. None of the major characters from the first stage develop any further. Male Kei is still an insufferable prick Female Kei doesn’t get any more good scenes and goes back to being quietly supportive. Kato remains the only decent character, but doesn’t get any further development. The rest of the cast is still very much composed of bland, one-dimensional figures. So, how is it worse? Here’s the basic thing. The first one didn’t have deep characters, but at least they were consistent. In this one they take the guy who had the semi-important speech about the sanctity of life in the first series, and the first thing he does is murder someone in cold blood. Great continuity.

The art is about the same. It’s pretty strong with strange looking eyes and really bad gore effects. Actually, these gore effects just get silly. There’s a guy who gets punched and his head stretches like a rock em sock em robot. There’s another scene where a guy gets flattened and you just expect one of those cartoony “splat” sound effects because of how absurd it looks. There are several death scenes that should be intense, but the ridiculousness of the gore just ruins it. There isn’t as much fan-service, but there’s still quite a bit. The fight scenes are about the same. They’re pretty interesting and unique. They actually might be a little better since there are fewer characters who stand around and watch.

The voice acting and music are the strongest points, just like the first stage. The actors do really well and the music is nice and atmospheric.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. Again, there’s not much interaction among the female characters.

So, is it an improvement? In a few ways, yeah. There’s less fan-service and the fight scenes are a little better. Overall, it’s not as good, though. Yeah, the first one was sloppy, but at least it tried to have some depth. This one just says “screw it” and takes the mindless sex and action route and its flaws are just all the more obvious because of it. The Second Stage gets a 3/10. My one consolation is that there isn’t any more to the anime. I can only imagine what they would do with a third season.

Reviews of yesteryear: Baccano

Baccano is one of those anime I’ve heard mentioned several times but have never seen. The anime was adapted from a series of light novels written by Narita Ryohgo. The anime was handled by Brain’s Base, a studio that I have never watched anything from. So, this is going to serve as my introduction to them. Maybe I’ll even let them have a goodnight kiss if they make a good first impression, but they’d better not expect more than that. What kind of guy do they think I am? With that said, and some strange people taking it seriously, let’s take a look at Baccano. I’ve actually reviewed two other Brain’s Base anime since writing this review, Durarara and Penguindrum. 

There are actually three rather distinct stories in Baccano. Tied together through both repeated characters and elements. There’s a story about trouble aboard a train, a story about a young girl looking for her brother, and a story about a group of people gaining immortality. The stories are told non-linearly with just about every episode having elements of all of them. This does present one issue. The very first episode shows the ending of the second story chronologically. Just think about that for a moment. You know exactly who’s going to survive. The end result is that a lot of moments that should be dramatic aren’t. Now, to be fair, showing the three stories simultaneously does essentially eliminate any tension that the earlier stories could have had. So, you may be wondering why the ending of the second story spoils so much. The basic answer is that the final chronological story, Eve’s search for her brother, doesn’t involve most of the characters from the other two stories. The characters who were on the train don’t even make an appearance. In short, they could have kept all three going simultaneously and still gained some good drama from the second story, if they hadn’t started by showing the aftermath. Another issue is that the anime jumps between incredibly goofy moments to serious moments frequently, sometimes in the span of seconds. Again, let’s be fair. There are some anime that balance drama and comedy quite successfully, but that’s not the way to do it. In order to maintain a good balance you need time to transition between the serious and the comedic. Moments where the comedy/drama winds down to make room for the other. If you switch between them quickly it doesn’t work. It’s just disjointing. Another thing that bothers me is that there’s a scene in the very first episode with two reporters talking about strange events and trying to make sense of… well, the rest of the series. The problem is that after the first episode these characters are never seen nor referenced again. Which renders the whole scene entirely pointless. Maybe they show up in the specials, but that doesn’t give them any relevance to the main series. They could’ve been cut out completely and nothing would have been lost. To Baccano’s credit though, the humour does work pretty well and the stories are unique and it’s interesting to see how they unfold.

Baccano has an unwieldy cast and they try to give a lot of them their own story arcs. The basic result is that the arcs are really short, rushed and most of them are pretty pointless. Some of the characters are interesting but most are pretty one-dimensional. Which works for the goofier characters like Isaac and Miria, but not so much for the more serious characters like Firo and Chane. For every interesting character there are three or four with very little personality. Most of them only serve one or two basic purposes in the story and are never developed beyond a few traits.

The art is actually one of Baccano’s stronger points. The characters have unique looks, there are some strong action sequences and there are some good details. Now, there are some problems. Some of the action sequences are kind of confusing. They get rushed through too quickly and it can be difficult to tell jut what happened with some of them. There are also some really bizarre facial expressions, particularly from Jacuzzi. To be fair, they’re probably meant to be more humorous than anything else, but they don’t really work most of the time.

The voice acting is another generally well done aspect. Every actor gives a performance that’s completely suited to their character. Koyasu Takehito gives a very calm and collected performance as the calm and collected Luck. Sakaguchi Daisuke gives a generally whiny performance as the generally whiny Jacuzzi but he doesn’t overdo it to a rating extent. Aoki Sayaka and Onosaka Masaya both give loud and exaggerated performances as Miria and Isaac and so on. I will acknowledge that it can get more than a little tiring, though. Yeah, it’s perfectly suited to the characters but that just means that the lack of character complexity carries over to the voice acting. There may be a lot of great actors in this, but they don’t get to demonstrate their range. Except for, possibly, Kanda Akemi who plays one of the more emotionally complex characters. The music is pretty simple. There’s a high energy track for the high energy scenes. A more toned down track for the more dramatic scenes and so on.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. Honestly, there’s not a lot of interaction among the female characters. Yeah, Miria gets to be on friendly terms with both Ennis and Nice but there’s nothing beyond that and those scenes are pretty short.

So, that’s Baccano. It’s… okay. There are some funny scenes, the art is well done and there’s some good action, but the story is lacking and the characters are largely dull and under-developed. If you just want some hyper-active fun you’ll probably like it. If you want some kind of depth, you’d be better served with something else. Final rating: 6/10. No goodnight kiss for Brain’s Base, but they can have a firm handshake.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Superman Legend- Heroes in a half-assed shell

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a quintessential cartoon of the late 80s and early 90s. It was a fun series that took full advantage of its goofy premise and it became famous worldwide with a lot of tie-in merchandise and other franchises attempting to rip it off. At the tail end of the series run in 1996, Ashi Productions went to work on an OVA to act as a tie-in for the toy line in Japan. And what better studio to work on the Turtles than the one behind… Magical Angel Sweet Mint. Wait, what else did Ashi Productions do? Well, regardless of their past productions, the turtles aren’t super complicated. Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines. Raphael is cool but crude and Michelangelo is a party dude. It’s not like they could do worse than 4kids. So, let’s look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Superman Legend and see how it compares to the awesome TV series.

Story:

Like the Mario OVA I looked at not too long ago, each episode of Superman Legend has its own story. The first episode opens with a recap of events that I assume are from the manga version since I couldn’t find any evidence of another OVA and I know they didn’t happen in the regular cartoon. Basically, our green heroes found magic stones that turned them into stronger forms, as did Bebop, Rocksteady and the Shredder. The turtles managed to win by uniting into a single Megazord called the “Saint Turtle.” After those events that we only see in brief recap form, Shredder and Krang are trying to release a faerie from a crystal so that she can help them destroy the world. I seem to recall them being interested in conquest and not destruction, but whatever. I’m sure this is intended to be a completely different continuity. So, Krang works on destroying stars, or possibly blocking their light since many of the stars we see have been gone for a long time and we only still see them on account of how long it takes for the light to reach us, because that will wake up the faerie somehow. While Shredder takes Bebop and Rocksteady to Earth to fight the turtles. They go through their super sentai style transformation sequences and they battle to save Earth.

The second episode involves the turtles flying to Japan with, apparently, no one on the plane noticing. I wouldn’t even bring it up since the turtles have always been a bit goofy but they could have at least put them in their iconic trench coat disguises. But no, no one takes any notice of them just openly running around in only their headbands, elbow and knee pads. Maybe the manga/OVA versions are just so well known that no one finds them interesting or strange looking anymore. Anyway, they travel to Japan to help guard a magic mirror held by a group of ninja. Meanwhile, Krang sends Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady to steal it. This results in the turtles and them transforming into shiny, new, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious armoured forms and fighting each other. Can you tell that the OVA was made to sell toy lines?

The biggest issue with the OVA is exactly that, honestly. Yeah, a lot of western cartoons in the 80s were made to sell toy lines, but this is a particularly egregious example. The plots are thin excuses to introduce the new versions of the turtles in the hopes that people will buy the toys and a sizable chunk of each episode is devoted to transformation sequences, to show off the toys. They might as well have the turtles stop to address the audience directly. “Hey, don’t I look radical? You can buy a copy of me for 1200 yen.”

Now, I will give the series some credit too. It does have some good, funny moments. And, while the premise is goofy, it’s not goofy in a way that clashes with the original TV series’ aesthetic. Remember, the original TV series had some weird episodes with inexplicable transformations too. I recall April becoming both a fish and a cat at different points. So, the tone really does match up pretty well. The OVA could almost be two episodes of the series if not for the few inconsistencies and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

Characters:

The characters are recognizable as themselves. They’re pretty simple in terms of personalities, but they are capably handled. At least the turtles, Splinter and April are. In terms of new characters, Hattori Kinzou gets some funny moments and is pretty enjoyable. Crys-Mu, on the other hand, is pretty boring. She isn’t a bad or annoying character but she’s not interesting either. She… exists.

The big issue is with the villains. Their switch from trying to conquer the world to just wanting to destroy it really hurts them. Yeah, trying to take over the world isn’t a great motivation, unless it’s really well executed, but at least you can understand it. What exactly do Krang and Shredder gain from destroying the world? Are they trying to get revenge for the time that Earth hugged them for removing lost technology from it? Do they want to teach puppies a lesson in complacency? Were they hired to construct a galactic bypass and need to remove Earth because its in the way? Would’ve been nice to hear that in their exposition dump instead of seeing transformation sequences.

Art:

I will give Ashi credit. They clearly try to replicate the art style of the cartoon series for most of the OVA. The turtles, Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, April, and Splinter all look basically like they do in the series and most of the backgrounds and background characters are carefully designed to fit into that universe. Shredder does look quite a bit different, for some reason. Honestly, I don’t care for his design in the OVA. It looks overdone and kind of ostentatious, kind of like the design for their armoured forms in the second episode. Their mutated forms in the first episode don’t even look like they fit. Rather, they look like they came from a different series entirely and were kind of pasted into this one. The action sequences aren’t very good either. The first episode has a pretty good one, before the turtles combine into Voltron, but overall they rely too much on stock footage style attacks. Because that way you don’t have to draw the characters actually interacting with or hitting each other.

Sound:

Don’t expect the actors to sound like their English language counter-parts. But that isn’t a bad thing and there are some pretty decent performances in this. Yanada Kiyoyuki actually does really well as the Shredder. Then you have Umezu Hideyuki. He actually voices both Splinter and Krang. As Splinter, he isn’t bad, as Krang he sounds awful. On one hand, there is a plot point based on Krang sounding annoying, but it really is a grating performance. Sakurai Toshiharu is also pretty bad in this. The music is pretty bland. It probably isn’t going to make you mad or annoyed, but it isn’t going to make you shout “Heroes in a half shell, Turtle Power!” either. It’s just meh.

Ho-yay:

There isn’t any, which is a good thing given that most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. So, the ho-yay factor is a 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

Superman Legend isn’t very good, or even just good. It’s almost like watching two weak episodes in the series. They aren’t bad episodes, but they don’t have much impact and there are more dumb aspects than there are interesting or funny moments. All in all, it comes across as exactly what it is. A cheap and shameless attempt to market toys. If you’re a huge fan of the original TMNT you might want to check it out because it is such a strange tie-in and it is kind of interesting to see this kind of take on the turtles. Just don’t expect much because it really isn’t well done, but there’s nothing particularly infuriating, offensive or even bad about it. So, it is vastly superior to what 4kids came up with. My final rating is a 4/10. Next week I’ll look at Tokyo Godfathers.

Reviews of yesteryear: Black Lagoon

Madhouse is a pretty unpredictable studio. For me, they’ve always been pretty hit or miss. Sometimes I really enjoy the anime they produce, other times I can’t stand it. Some of the best and worst anime I’ve reviewed have been from them. I’m not even kidding, I’ve given anime from their studio everything from 1-10. Most of the time when I get a request to review one of their works I have no idea what to expect. Today is an exception since I’ve actually seen the anime before. So re-watching it for a review didn’t leave me questioning whether or not it was going to be one of their good ones. You may wonder why I even bothered re-watching it. Well, the answer is obvious. So that I could more effectively talk about it. Let’s look at Black Lagoon.

There isn’t an under-lying story in Black Lagoon. There’s just a situation. A Japanese businessman named Rock… no, he’s not a blue robot… gets kidnapped by a group of mercenaries while carrying classified data. His company abandons him and he ends up joining up with the mercenaries. Why? Because… he had nothing better to do? Yeah, that aspect is a little strange. Anyway, the anime follows Rock and the three mercenaries, Dutch, Revy and Benny as they take on missions for profit. The missions follow a basic pattern. The Lagoon company goes somewhere to retrieve/deliver something, someone tries to stop them, action ensues. One thing I will say about the anime is that there are some strange characters that they run into during missions like gun-toting nuns and Roberta, a killer housemaid in traditional maid attire who carries an umbrella that fires high calibre bullets. These are both things that are pretty stupid when you think about it, but that are also awesome. It’s stupidly awesome. One issue I do have is that it ends on kind of a weak note. The strongest mission story takes place before the very final mission and it makes the last mission arc seem kind of anti-climactic by comparison. The worst part is that there’s not really a reason for it. They could’ve easily reversed the order and it would’ve made just as much sense both for this season and the second barrage.

This anime would be pretty unbearable if it had weak characters. Fortunately, it has a great cast. Most of the main protagonists are scoundrels, but also have good qualities that make them sympathetic and well-rounded. Revy is a badass who carries a lot of hatred and pain but also cares a great deal for her friends and will go to great lengths to protect them. She’s a very intense character and that makes her really interesting. Dutch is more laid back, but he’s still a great character. He’s got a lot of really good leadership traits. He can keep his cool in any situation, he’s cunning, manipulative and he has a pretty strong sense of honour, even if he is a scoundrel. Benny is less interesting that the others. He’s pretty laid back and highly intelligent, but you don’t really learn anything else about him, not in this season anyway. You don’t know why he’s there or what his goals are. He’s just kind of there. I poked fun at Rock’s joining the group earlier, but it actually does make sense when you consider his personality. He’s a man leading a life of quiet desperation. He does what’s expected of him, but it doesn’t bring him any happiness. When he joins with Lagoon it’s a way of breaking away from the expectations that he’s always lived with and finding his own path. I like the way he’s obviously in over his head but still manages to contribute.

One thing that does annoy me about his character is that he whines quite a bit, especially in the beginning. Yeah, it’s understandable and pretty realistic, but it’s still kind of grating. All of the major side characters get fleshed out decently. There isn’t a huge amount of time dedicated to them, but there’s enough to make them seem like real people and a lot of them seem really interesting which makes you curious about them. Especially the gun-toting nuns, Roberta and Balalaika, which is a pretty strong indication that Hiroe Rei knows how to construct characters really well.

The art is another aspect that really works. In a work like this there’s a temptation to make everything dark and have copious amounts of gore, but Black Lagoon doesn’t do that. The lighting is always perfect for the situation, sometimes dark and sometimes bright, but it’s never excessive with either so it’s always easy to see what’s happening. There is blood when people get shot/stabbed/punched really hard, but it’s not like Blood-C where they just spurt out ridiculous amounts, it’s always pretty realistic. Honestly, I find that refreshing. The backgrounds are really vivid and detailed, as are the weapons and various objects.

Then there are the fight scenes. Black Lagoon has some of the greatest fight sequences you’ve ever seen. There’s a lot of movement, but it’s never so hectic that you can’t figure out what’s going on. It’s very fluid and graceful. They also get pretty creative at times, especially the battle with Roberta. Some of the stunts are kind of over the top, but never to the extent that they feel jarring or completely out of place. I also love how expressive the eyes are in this anime. There are some great shots where you can just tell how a character’s feeling just because of the look in their eyes. They especially do it with Revy’s scenes. The only real problem I have with the art is that Revy’s outfit is ridiculous. She wears shorts that are so short you can see her buttocks. It’s probably for fan-service, but if it is it’s pretty subdued since they don’t focus on it or draw shots so that you can get a view of them. They just gave her a stupid outfit and, in terms of fan-service, that’s really subdued. One small issue I have is that Dutch always wears sunglasses, day or night. It doesn’t make sense and it kind of drives me crazy. You aren’t Corey Hart, take those things off when it’s dark.

The voice acting is really good in this. Toyoguchi Megumi gives a spectacular performance as Revy. Namikawa Daisuke and Isobe Tsutomu both do really well too. The music is well suited for the scenes. One thing I do have to mention about the music is the opening theme, Red Fraction. It’s one of those aspects that’s really stupid, but also really awesome. The whole thing is in bad “Engrish” and it’s hilarious. Just read the first few lines and try to keep a straight face: “I have a big gun, I took it from my lord. Sick with justice, I just wanna feel you. I’m your angel, only a ring away. You make me violate you no matter who you are.” I honestly haven’t heard Engrish that funny in an anime since… Star Gentle Uterus.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. There’s not any yuri in this.

So, Black Lagoon is a series with virtually no story, spectacular characters, gorgeous artwork, intense action and some awesomely stupid aspects. I think it’s pretty glorious. I enjoy the character building moments and I really like how complex they all are, especially given how easily this could’ve just been a mindless action series. It’s nice to look at and the goofier aspects actually serve to make it a lot of fun. I have to give Black Lagoon an 8/10.