Zombie Loan: Marked by the ring

Welcome, My Friends, to the final review of horror anime month. Zombie Loan was a manga written by the duo, Peach-Pit, also responsible for Shugo Chara, Rozen Maiden, DearS and some other stuff I have never seen nor read. It was published by Square Enix. The anime version was handled by Xebec in 2007 with eleven episodes airing two more being released only on the DVD. Let’s delve into the series and see what awaits us.

Story:

Kita Michiru can see something that no one else can when she takes off her glasses, a dark ring around the neck of a person who’s fated to die shortly. One day, she spots a pure black ring around the necks of two classmates, Chika and Shito, who had shortly before survived a bridge accident that had killed everyone else involved. Following the two to warn them, Michiru discovers a secret. They didn’t survive the crash. They died and were given a loan that allows them to keep going. To pay off this “zombie” loan, they fight mindless and illegal zombies for bounties. At first, Chika and Shito plan to kill Michiru to keep her quiet, but once they learn of her ability to see the rings they decide to put her to work. She just has to use her shinigami eyes to help them in their endeavours, but it won’t be easy. There’s a rise in zombies like Chika and Shito, except these zombies operate without authorization and they turn both animals and people into the mindless variety of zombie.

There are two significant problems with the narrative. The first is that the series has an issue with continuity. There’s a major retcon that comes out of absolutely nowhere because… the plot needed it to work. The series also establishes that zombies start to lose their emotions, outright states that it’s happening with a specific character and then proceeds to show us that character experiencing anger, distress, and all manner of other emotions in subsequent episodes. There are also some real contrivances for the plot to work. The biggest one being the reason why Chika and Shito are working together.

Those complaints aside, there are some positive aspects to the story as well. The premise is interesting and the tension is developed very organically. The series is also very good in terms of progression. There’s always something compelling happening and the stopping points for the individual episodes are very well chosen. The series proper ends at a good point as well, with the completion of a major arc. Although the extra episodes start a new story arc, but only do the basic introduction for it, which didn’t bother me since they are added episodes, but I can see why it might bother someone else. The series also excels at emotional investment. There are some really strong tragic scenes, some good triumphant moments, some touching scenes and amusing comedic moments. That isn’t to say that all of the emotional moments work, there are certainly some that don’t, but the majority of them do hit the mark.

Characters:

There are some really interesting characters in this. Initially, it looks like Shito, Chika and Michiru are all going to be pretty archetypical, but all of them develop beyond that fairly quickly and grow into fairly complex characters. The same is true for a lot of the side characters. Even if I’m not sure whether they’re using a pseudo-scientific understanding of dissociative identity disorder with Koyomi or there’s something else going on with her. It’s probably explained in the manga at some point, but the anime either leaves it out or doesn’t get to it.

Really, the only weakness is in the familial dynamics. Chika’s interactions with his father and sister are questionable at best. There are also some disturbing implications involved in Shito’s back-story. Really, the most natural family relationship is Michiru’s dynamic with her aunt and uncle and they barely appear in the anime, act like jerks and are banished from the story.

Art:

The art is a bit odd. Most of the time it does look really good with some strong character designs, action sequences and backgrounds. However, there are quite a few more light-hearted scenes where the art style switches to a very lazy, minimalistic style. I’m not certain whether they thought stick figure drawings were funny or they just decided that they didn’t need to put an effort into drawing those particular scenes. Either way, it looks pretty bad.

Sound:

They got some great actors for this series. Chika is voiced by Suzumura Kenichi (also the voice of KnK‘s Mikiya Kokutou) Kuwashima Houko (Kurumi 2’s Nako) voices Michiru. Shito is voiced by Sakurai Takahiro, the actor known for his work as Cloud Strife. Although he plays against character a bit since he doesn’t cross dress or chase after a childhood love interest in this one. The music is decent enough except for the stuff with lyrics. The stuff with lyrics is a cacophonous mess.

Ho-yay:

There’s a fair amount of ho-yay in this. Shiba gets some homo-erotic moments with both Chika and Shito and they also get some with each other. During the extra episodes Shito even asks another guy if he can kiss him. It does, however, have more les-yay. Koyomi’s second personality, Yomi does quite a few things with Michiru. Things which she really should have asked before doing, but to be fair she does stop when Michiru tells her she doesn’t like what she’s doing. Although, even with that scene it’s hard to call it a one-sided thing. Since, during the two extra episodes, Michiru does demonstrate some feelings for Koyomi. So, there is some pretty blatant stuff both between men and between women but none of it amounts to a full fledged romantic relationship, at least not in the anime. It might in the manga, but I haven’t read through it yet so I don’t know. So, the ho-yay factor for the anime is going to be a 6/10.

Final Thoughts:

Zombie Loan is a good action adventure series with an interesting premise, compelling build up, strong acting, and good characters. Unfortunately, it also has some serious drawbacks in terms of narrative continuity and character dynamics. So, it is good but not great. My final rating is going to be a solid 7/10. If it sounds interesting to you, check it out. It’s only eleven episodes, thirteen if you get into the specials, so it’s a pretty fast watch. Well, that’s another horror anime month complete. Next week we’ll open November with a requested review, Claymore.

Reviews of yesteryear: Devil Hunter Yohko

Devil Hunter Yohko is listed as a magical girl horror comedy anime from Madhouse. No, I have no idea how that combination works. But it’s from the same studio that brought us Ninja Scroll, Perfect Blue and Claymore. So how bad could it be?

The story is about a fifteen year old girl named Yohko who comes from a long line of devil hunters and must take on the role to save the world. Each episode covers a different adventure of Yohko’s in her efforts. It’s a simple enough story and it could work, but in this case issues start popping up right away. Whether it’s the over-reliance of cliches, the plot holes, the erratic pace that moves really slowly at some points in an apparent effort to create tension, the bits that just make no sense, the plot points that are downright moronic it’s just one poorly executed idea after another. The humour is mostly unfunny jokes about Yohko’s virginity and even the jokes that had some effort put into them just fall short. The only thing funny about this OVA is the monster design, and I don’t think that was intentional, but I’ll get back to that later. The best episode is the one that’s nothing but music videos, yes that is a real episode apparently they hadn’t discovered soundtracks yet in 1990, and that’s only because it doesn’t have the numerous issues that plague the rest of the OVA.

Let’s talk about the characters, there are only five repeating characters, Yohko, Azusa, Chi, Yohko’s mum and grandma. The rest are one-dimensional one-shot characters who show up, do something and then are never mentioned or seen again. Fair enough, at least the five important characters are developed… right? Well, no. Yohko is a brainless twit. Azusa is a useless character who follows Yohko around and barely does anything. Chi has virtually no personality whatsoever. Yohko’s mum is defined entirely by her libido and Yohko’s grandmother is there to be the cliche mentor figure.

Now for the art. It’s not bad but it is really lazy. I know, this was made in 1990 I shouldn’t expect too much, but even so. There are several moments where they repeat the same animation, backgrounds are barely present and the movements during fight scenes are cumbersome. There’s also far too much fan-service in this. Madhouse, seriously she’s fifteen, I don’t need or want to see her breasts in every episode. They also take advantage of various opportunities to tear her clothes. Good job of keeping it classy there. I said I’d get back to the monster design, like some other anime I’ve reviewed, the monsters in this look utterly ridiculous. The only time I actually laughed when watching the series was when I saw the fifth episode’s monster.

Now we move on to the best attribute of the OVA. The voice acting. It’s… competent. Most of the voice actresses do a decent job. The only real issue I had was with Koorogi Satomi who delivered most of her lines like she had gravel stuck in her throat. Is that just how the director thought that old people sound? The music is certainly not bad, some of it is even kind of good. Yet another reason why the random music video episode is the best in the OVA.

The yuri factor is a 2/10. There are a few slightly homo-erotic moments but they never go anywhere and there really aren’t many.

My final rating for Devil Hunter Yohko is a 2.6/10. It’s just awful. The story is terribly done and the characters are annoying. The best part is the music and, frankly, you could probably find it without watching the anime. I should’ve left this one in obscurity.

Reviews of yesteryear: Black Rock Shooter

Black Rock Shooter is a series I’m only passingly familiar with. Basically, an illustrator named Fuke Ryohei did an illustration that inspired a song that resulted in an OVA that resulted in a game that resulted in several manga, an anime and a whole lot more. That must have been one awesome illustration. In any case, let’s take a look at the anime adaptation.

The story is pretty simple, there are two worlds, one is our ordinary world, the other is a world where our other selves live and shoulder our pain for us… by beating the crap out of each other. Because talking through it would just be silly. The series surrounds a middle school student named Mato, her interactions with others and how this affects the other world. The concept is interesting, but they really only get in depth with it for half of the series, which amounts to four episodes. The series uses a lot of completely unsubtle colour symbolism, which gets a little annoying. I liked the way they brought the disparate elements together at the end, but it almost felt like they tried to do too much with an eight episode series. This means that some of the plot points aren’t very well explained or expanded upon.

The characters in this are very well done. A lot of the reason for that is the premise. Since the characters emotions are tied to what their other selves are doing, the series has to go in-depth into the characters in order for the other world to make sense. Which, thankfully, they do with skillful illustration rather than forced exposition. To put it in a simpler, albeit somewhat cliche, way they show you instead of telling you. And this leads to some really compelling and sympathetic characters. Even though most of them are middle school girls. I suppose that this could be considered an issue, a lot of what makes the characters interesting is that they don’t act like middle school girls except in a few minor ways. Although, as someone who still remembers middle school pretty vividly, I’m glad that they took the route that they did.

Now, let’s talk about the art. I’m a little torn with this one. The “real world” scenes use a bright and cheerful art style similar to Manabi Straight. That’s right, the art style that annoys me. They use the same basic style for the features in the other world, but they also do some really spectacular things with the art. The other world has this bizarre, ethereal quality and it looks great. The action scenes also have a unique and interesting look. So, I didn’t particularly like the real world art but I did like the other world art.

The cast does a good job, particularly Hanazawa Kana, it feels like she keeps popping up in the stuff I watch, and Sawashiro Miyuki, there’s another familiar name. The music, I did not care for. It’s difficult to put exactly what I didn’t like about it into words. I suppose that it’s the very artificial Vocaloid style a bunch of it uses. I’m not saying that Vocaloid music is inherently bad, in fact I rather like some of it, but given the importance that emotions to the story it feels like a really bizarre and inexplicable choice to use a synthetic, emotionless musical style for the series.

The yuri factor is a 6/10. Kagari clearly has a thing for Yomi and Mato and Yomi’s relationship gets really homo-erotic at several points.

My final rating for Black Rock Shooter is a 6/10. It’s a decent series with interesting ideas even if they could have been handled better. If the premise sounds interesting to you, give it a try. It’s only eight episodes so it is a pretty quick watch.

Corpse Party: Missing Footage- Gotta change scenes fast

Corpse Party is a survival horror video game series Oddly enough, the first one was made with the RPG maker software and came out in 1996. The follow up titles didn’t start seeing release until over a decade later in 2008. Most of the games were developed by Team GrisGris, with 5pb joining them after the second released game. The series has had four manga and two OVA adaptations, both OVAs being handled by Asread. Let’s take a look at the first one, Corpse Party: Missing Footage, and hope it’s better than the other adaptation we’ve seen this month or at least as hilarious in its awfulness.

Story:

Our tale opens with a group of children being murdered by an androgynous figure with long, dark hair. You know, because building up to that kind of thing is over-rated. After a minute or two of that our scene shifts to a guy in the bath when his naked sister walks in on him and starts insisting on washing him. Which is, incidentally, the most horrific scene in the entire thing. After that we switch to a girl groping her friend in various ways while questioning her about a guy. Because that’s what girls do when they have sleepovers. They grope each other and talk about hunky boys. Actually, as someone who has been to a few girls’ slumber parties, I can confirm that only one of these is likely to happen and it’s not the one you might wish it was. After that the scene switches to two new characters talking on the phone about the upcoming culture festival. And then it switches to two different students talking about the same basic thing. And… that’s pretty much everything. So, the narrative goes from child murder into scenes of various characters we know nothing about talking about the culture festival and hunky boys.

Now, in all fairness this was bundled with a limited edition release of one of the spin-off games. So, it is very much intended for fans of the game series and not for people like me who are only vaguely aware that the games exist. However, there’s still the major underlying question of what purpose the thing actually serves. How exactly do these four snippets of mundane conversation that feature completely stilted dialogue add anything to the “happy” Corpse Party world of child murder? Now, the purpose is probably to give the audience a basic peek at the premise and introduce the characters. So, it’s basically an extended trailer. However, there is a major problem with it on that level and it comes down to one aspect…

Characters:

Yes, the problem is with the characters. We only get a couple minutes with each pair of characters and what we get of them is so absurdly stilted and divorced from reality that the chance of connecting with any of them on any level approaches zero. You would almost think the characters had been written by someone who has never had any friends and lives as an isolated NEET but thinks they understand people because they’ve seen a lot of bad comedies.

These are the types of one-dimensional twits you would expect to see in a terrible comedic anime like Baka to Test rather than in a work of horror where you’re supposed to get invested in them and their survival. If anything, watching the OVA will just destroy your investment rather than enhance it. Unless, possibly, you’re rooting for the main cast to die horribly in which case the bath scene will almost certainly contribute to that.

Art:

The art is mostly decent, albeit kind of standard. The biggest issue, in this case, is with the gore in the first scene. It uses that ridiculous convention of having the blood spurt everywhere as though it was connected to a high pressure hose of some kind. Furthermore, it has nothing but blood even when an area gets stabbed where other fluids really should be coming out of the wound. Granted, medical accuracy would have made that segment a lot more disturbing and that would be terrible in a horror piece. Wait, what?

Sound:

The voice acting is pretty average. They did get some good actors with impressive records like Sawashiro Miyuki and Nakamura Yuuichi but they really don’t give them much to work with. The music is also pretty standard. It’s not bad, but it’s not anything you’re liable to remember or even notice much.

Ho-yay:

The ho-yay factor is going to be a 4/10 for the non-consensual groping during the sleepover scene. Although the effect is diminished somewhat by the fact that the girl doing it never shuts up about guys while she’s doing it. Dating tip, don’t talk about other people during foreplay and always ask before you touch your partner there. With there being any part of their body.

Final Thoughts:

This OVA is just stupid. It’s made up of loosely connected scenes showing characters interacting in ways that just make it apparent that the writers don’t know how human beings work. The scariest scene is almost certainly not intended to be scary and the OVA as a whole just contributes nothing of value to anything. You might be interested in it if you’re a huge fan of the games. For anyone else at all, I can’t even suggest giving it the ten minutes of run-time it has. This isn’t terrible in a hilarious way like Galerians. It’s just terrible. 2/10. Next week, horror anime month ends with a look at Zombie Loan.

Reviews of yesteryear: A-Channel

A-channel is a slice of life manga about a group of girls written by bb Kuroda. I know next to nothing about it except that it’s supposed to have a good level of les-yay. Let’s take a look at the anime adaptation and see how accurate that is.

There’s not an over-arching story in A-channel. The basic setup is that a girl named Tooru is starting High School and she’s excited because she got into the same school as Run, the girl she loves. You follow Tooru, Run and two other girls, Yuuko and Nagi as they enjoy their school lives. Frankly, I don’t care about the lack of a story. This is a comedy so the important aspect is the humour. How does that hold up? Well, it’s pretty similar to Azumanga Daioh. The humour is derived mainly from quirky characters interacting and going through everyday situations. The major issue with the humour is that, in the first few episodes, they reuse the same jokes several times close to each other. Fortunately the series does get better about varying the humour pretty quickly so it’s not much of an issue. They even have some reoccurring setups that result in different punchlines, all of them funny. Is it as funny as Azumanga Daioh? Not quite, but it comes pretty close.

The characters are pretty familiar. Most of them come close to following common character tropes for slice of life comedies. They do vary somewhat and, to be fair, the variation they do get is arguably enough to set them apart, but it does feel like they started with the trope templates and modified them only slightly. I thought that it was adequate for what they were doing, but some people are probably going to find them too close to the standard.

Now we move onto my biggest issue with the series, the art. I don’t like the art style. It may even be more accurate to say that I heartily dislike the art style. Like Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight, the characters look like children with overly large heads, no noses (or noses that are so small someone couldn’t possibly breathe with them), which begs the question of how Nagi keeps her glasses on. It has very basic sets and backgrounds. I’ll be fair to the series, the art doesn’t look bad. It’s bright, colourful and cheerful, which arguably suits the series. My dislike of it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality and is based entirely on preference.

A-Channel has a strong vocal cast. Uchiyama Yumi, Fukuhara Kaori, Yuuki Aoi and Kotobuki Minako (especially) all give wonderful performances. Then there’s the music. For some reason there are a lot of insert songs in this, one in almost every episode. They aren’t bad songs, even if a lot of them do sound really similar, but they do seem like a lazy way to extend the running time without having to come up with jokes.

The yuri factor is a 6/10. This is mainly a result of Tooru and Run but all of the characters contribute somewhat, especially the supporting characters Yutaka and Miho.

My final rating for A-channel is a solid 7/10. It has a few issues, and I didn’t care for the art, but it’s still a fun series with endearing characters and plenty of humour. If you like Azumanga Daioh or Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight you’ll almost certainly have fun with this one. If, on the other hand, you think the whole slice of life comedy formula has been done to death and you don’t care for it then this one isn’t going to be an exception. 

Reviews of Yesteryear: Tales of Phantasia

The Tales series games have made welcome additions to any RPG aficionado’s collection since the 16-bit era. Every single installment I’ve played has been, at the very least, good. Not surprisingly, a lot of the Tales games have received anime adaptations. So, where should you start when looking at these adaptations? How about with the original Tales game, Phantasia.

The story in the OVA is close to the story in the game. A demon lord named Dhaos is revived at the expense of two villages and two young people, Cress and Mint, are sent back in time to find two magic users to bring back to their time and defeat him. If you’ve played the game then you can probably spot some difference there. That’s why I said “close to” rather than “exactly like.” The OVA does leave some stuff out, mainly for the sake of time, it’s only four episodes. For those of you who are curious about the OVA but aren’t interested in playing the game, as little sense as that seems to make, I’ll talk about how it stands on its own. It’s a really fast paced adventure. The story is a lot of fun and they manage to get quite a bit of complexity into it. Really, there are two issues. The first is that the pace is hectic. There’s a lot of story in the game and they fit as much of it into the OVA as they possibly can. The result is that things progress really quickly without much time for things to wind down or the action to fall. The other issue is that there are some scenes that only make sense if you’ve played the game. Without that background they seem to be kind of pointless. Now, these are pretty minor problems for anyone who’s played the game, but they could bother you if you haven’t.

Tales of Phantasia has some spectacular characters. The OVA keeps their personalities intact. It also fits in the most important aspects of their backstories. The only real exception is Suzu who barely plays a role in the OVA, showing up in only a few scenes. One thing that the OVA does do better than the game is fleshing out Dhaos’s character. In the game his motivations are barely touched on and he comes off as being randomly evil for the evils until the very end. In the OVA they actually make him a really sympathetic character which makes the conflict much more three dimensional and interesting.

The art is pretty good. They manage to copy the monsters really well. The action scenes are exciting and have a grand scale. It looks similar to the cut scene art in Lunar 2. My only real complaint is that the noses look bizarre. They’re barely there in most scenes, although they occasionally become more pronounced for no apparent reason. It’s a minor complaint but it bothered me.

The voice acting is really well done. Kusao Takeshi does really well in the hero’s role, almost like he’s played a similar role before. Which he has,several years before Tales of Phantasia he played the role of Adol Christin in the Book of Ys OVAs, I may get to those eventually. At this point, I have gotten to the first one. Kanai Mika, Inoue Kazuhiko and Itou Kentarou also do really well. Morikawa Toshiyuki is well suited as a villain. In fact, I think I’ve heard him do it before in a different video game based anime. Admit it, you looked it up. The background music is really similar to what you might find in a game, appropriately enough, and the theme music is… not particularly memorable, sorry to say.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. I’ve always thought that Phantasia would be a better game with some yuri, not that it isn’t awesome anyway, but the OVA did not change that.

My final rating for Tales of Phantasia is an 8/10. This is a great anime, especially for fans of the Tales games. You will probably like it better if you’re a fan of the game, but it’s still enjoyable if you just like a good fantasy story. Either way, give it a try.

Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari: Leaving Dubious rumours for the townsfolk

Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari is an anime based on the writing of Kyogoku Natsuhiko. It was handled by TMS Entertainment, the same studio behind Detective Conan and Monster Rancher. So, how does a studio like that manage with a horror series? Let’s take a look and see.

Story:

We open with a writer named Momosuke. Turns out, he’s going on a trip to gather information to write an anthology of a hundred tales. While walking on a rainy night, he nearly falls off of a cliff only to be saved by a traveling monk named Mataichi. Mataichi gives Momosuke directions for a place he can stay and gives him an ominous warning to go straight there. In the dark, Momosuke stumbles into a derelict looking building where a second traveling monk has shown up. Inside, Momosuke sees that Mataichi is there as well. Mataichi laments Momosuke’s inability to listen to people’s advice and tells him he’s going to see something terrifying. This begins Momosuke’s association with Mataichi, Ogin and Nagamimi, three people who find people guilty of horrific crimes and conduct summary executions against them after frightening them into revealing the truth.

Let’s get into the negative aspects of the series right away. The first is that it relies a lot on coincidence. Once the series gets going there’s active trickery to get Momosuke involved in the plot, but early on he just manages to stumble into Mataichi and his group by sheer plot convenience. There’s also the issue of him not having much to do in most of the episodes. There are a few where he plays a prominent role in the setup, but in most of them he either makes an incompetent attempt to help the criminal or he observes what’s happening from the side-lines and contributes absolutely nothing of value. The reason we follow him being to give us a more outsider’s perspective. Like in Yami no Matsuei, the horror elements are largely just dark and disturbing content, but nothing that’s actually apt to frighten anyone. The ending is mixed. There is some good setup leading up to it, but the payoff is pretty weak.

There is also quite a bit about the series that’s good. The premise is genuinely interesting and used to pretty good effect in most of the scenarios. The episodes are a bit formulaic, but there is more than enough variety in the setup and execution of them to keep it compelling. The dark content is handled decently, in spite of every scenario save one being completed in a single episode. I also like the way that the supernatural aspect is handled, but I can’t go into too many details on that one without giving away spoilers.

Characters:

Most of the characters in this series are a bit under-developed and I’m not just talking about the one-shot characters who appear in a single episode, which is the bulk of the characters in the series, or the supporting characters who appear in brief scenes throughout the series. No, I’m talking about the main cast. You never learn much about Mataichi’s group beyond some sparse backstory details and basic character traits. Most episodes focus on their target and steadily reveal details about their crime throughout, although even these characters aren’t particularly well developed or complex since most of their traits are based on their crimes with a very basic explanation for why they do it. As such, getting invested in the scenarios can be difficult. Momosuke is the most complex character in the series, having a pretty substantial character arc and undergoing changes as a result of everything he goes through.

Art:

The art has an unusual style. Everything has a textured look to it, kind of like the art of Gankutsuou, but more subdued. They also draw most of the random people in the crowd with very undetailed, blank faces which just kind of blend together. The details on the backgrounds are pretty muted and basic as well. Although I’m not sure if it’s laziness or that they thought the series aesthetic would work better if people and things in the background were kept with minimal details. The series does have some obtrusive fan-service, particularly with some of Ogin’s scenes, but there isn’t a huge amount. I will give them credit in that the imagery that’s supposed to be disturbing is very effectively done and the designs for the major characters are nicely handled.

Sound:

The voice acting is really good. Seki Toshihiko, Wakamoto Norio, Nakao Ryuusei & Kobayashi Sanae voice our main cast and they all do a great job. Although it is a little strange to hear Cell and Freeza give performances together in a serious anime. The music itself is mostly really good at helping set the tone, but sometimes it’s used to create a tonal clash which may or may not work depending on your perspective.

Ho-Yay:

There is no ho-yay in this. There’s very little romantic content at all and what there is is het.

Final Thoughts:

Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari is an anime with some good, compelling ideas but with execution that isn’t very good. The characters are largely under-developed and the story has some serious issues. However, it does still have a lot of interesting moments and its art and sound do largely work. If you’re interested in the premise and you don’t mind the anthology aesthetic then you’ll probably like it okay since it is decent enough. Just be advised that some of the content is disturbing. My final rating is going to be a 6/10. Next week, horror anime month continues with a look at Corpse Party.