Category Archives: Anime

Tokyo Ghoul (anime)

Tokyo Ghoul

Episodes 1-12

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
– minor amounts of nudity, ghouls eating human flesh (mostly not shown), and an intense torture scene (the main reason to stay away if this will bother you)

Ken Kaneki is an ordinary human in a city where ghouls lurk. Ghouls eat people, and a special task force hunts them down. But it’s all distant from his everyday life—until a date gone bad leaves him no longer quite human himself. And even if he wants to live a quiet life, people from both sides have taken an interest in him . . .

This was far less of a horror story than I initially expected, although by the end it does go quite deeply into some hard things. I doubt I’ll watch the last episode or two again, as sitting through someone being tortured while chained to a chair was bad enough the first time. So I want to reiterate up front that this is NOT a children’s show and the Mature rating is for a reason.

On the more positive side, though, the characters are really strong. Although the whole “must eat people” bit would make it easy to characterize ghouls as monsters, both sides have a lot of gradations. There are members of the CCG (the anti-ghoul force) that have far crossed the line with their obsession to wipe out all ghouls. Similarly, some ghouls don’t see the point of giving humans any dignity, or restraining their own excesses. Ken isn’t the only character caught in between those two sides. He falls in with a group of ghouls who only want to be left alone, and try to exist in ways that minimally impact the general human population.

This comes to a head in tragic scenes like the confrontation in episode 8, where the person giving the speech about ghouls having the same right to live as any ordinary person is telling the one person who can’t be convinced, and the one who might be convinced is fighting someone who can’t figure out how to say the same thing. And it probably wouldn’t be as easy as winning that one man over to the ghoul’s side, but that would have been a start. A start that never happened, and might never happen, which leaves the world stuck in the same struggle it’s always been, where ghouls and humans mischaracterize and kill each other.

Some threads might be better in the manga, as, for instance, Ken’s best human friend, who is a major character early on, disappears from the story for no obvious reason. It would have been interesting seeing the two of them interact more after Ken was turned. However, the heart of the story is Ken and his relationship to the group of oddball ghouls who dare to believe they can coexist quietly with humans, and find ways to take the nourishment they need without becoming monsters.

Oh, and although this can be a dark and serious show, the space after the credits where the preview would normally go tend to be lighthearted side stories told in about 30 seconds, and are well worth watching.

Overall this is nothing like what I expected, and I enjoyed it a lot. I watched it in Japanese because I streamed most of it, so I’m not really sure how the English cast performed. I haven’t read the manga yet so I can’t say how faithful or not it was as an adaptation, but I understand a great deal of manga was condensed into these episodes, which may explain why some characters don’t get as much time as I thought they should. I rate this show Recommended.

(As a side note, regardless of what you think about the second season, episode 13 does make a much better ending than episode 12, as it finishes that fight and gives a better sense of an ending. But the box set will only come with episodes 1-12.)

Mob Psycho 100 (anime)

Title: Mob Psycho 100

Episodes: 1-12

Mob is a middle-school student with incredible psychic powers, but he doesn’t think much of himself or his abilities. He works part time for an exorcism company, but mostly he wants to fit in with the more ordinary world around him. But between ghosts, evil spirits, and other psychics, he’s not going to have an easy time of it.

This is a show that I watched purely based on recommendations, as so many people rated it their favorite of the season. I had originally avoided it because I hated the art style. Having watched it through, I still hate the art style, but I do appreciate the story. It took a few episodes to get invested, since the beginning is mostly setting up the premise, and then it starts digging into a more overarching story.

Mob is one of my favorite character types: quiet, unassuming, and massively powerful. Reigen, his boss, is an obvious con artist taking advantage of Mob (and his customers) . . . although for a con artist he actually puts a decent amount of work into making sure his customers go away happy. I liked how Reigen developed—the advice he gives Mob may be usually for his own benefit, but he (perhaps unintentionally) set Mob on the right path for how to think about his power. This brings Mob into conflict with his peers on several levels, as he’s not interested in using his power for personal gain and especially doesn’t want to use it to hurt anyone.

I think my favorite part was how the show defied expectations. Mob is asked to join the Telepathy Club (of which he would be the only legitimate member, as nobody else in it has psychic powers), to stop the Body Improvement Club from taking over the room (I won’t spoil how he decides). The Body Improvement Club in general was great. They’re a bunch of huge, muscled guys entirely focused on even more physical fitness—but they’re anti-violence and actually quite nice.

Things that didn’t quite work for me were the art and some of the humor. Thankfully the story doesn’t linger on the jokes, so whenever one didn’t work for me, it wasn’t something I had to watch for long.

Overall I liked this more than I expected, although I don’t think I’ll ever be fond of the character designs. If there is another season, I’d be interested to see where the story goes, although it does end well enough not to feel cut off. I rate this show Recommended.

Tales of Zestiria the X

Title: Tales of Zestiria the X

Episodes: 1-13 (00-12)

The world is crumbling under natural and unnatural disasters. During such times, legend says, a Shepherd arises to drive back the darkness. It’s this legend Princess Alisha has risked much to uncover. The young man she finds living alone in a mountain village insists he isn’t the Shepherd, although he also believes the legends—and he’s also able to see the seraphim that dwell in the world alongside humanity.

This is based on the game Tales of Zestiria (with a random two-episode advertisement for the next game, Tales of Berseria), but the anime makes a number of creative alterations to the plot. Most of these changes are good, tightening up the game’s plot and fleshing out the characters more. This is about the first half of Zestiria’s plot, but it manages to end at a good point.

As its own show, it still suffers from a few of the oddities in the game’s plot, most notably villains that pop in and out of the plot (although Lunarre has more relevance in the anime than he ever did in game). However, in general this doesn’t require any knowledge of the game to follow. The biggest flaw is actually the Berseria episodes, because they have no connection to the rest of the plot and feel like a pointless diversion that breaks the flow. I also thought that for all the prologue episode attempts to give more weight to Alisha’s early hardships, it introduces a few things that aren’t explained until way later (if ever…. Symmone shows up but is never introduced, so only game players will even know who she is, as she doesn’t have any role in the anime after this except for one appearance in the last episode).

The artwork is amazing, particularly the landscapes. I was more mixed about the CG, as some things like water looked very good, and others like some of the monsters were rather obvious CG (although still in general a lot better than some of the CG I’m used to seeing in anime).

As a fantasy anime, it’s pretty good (ignoring the Berseria interruption), though it leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger waiting for season 2. As a game adaption it’s excellent. It’s tightening up the story, giving Alisha a bigger role, and adding some much-needed backstory to characters like Zavied and Edna.

Overall if you’re curious about Zestiria, or even if you didn’t care much for the game but wanted to check out the story, give this a try. The show even uses the same voice actors in dub, so there’s no jarring switch. I rate this show Recommended.

Alderamin on the Sky

Title: Alderamin on the Sky

Episodes: 1-13

Ikta Solok may be a military genius, but he prefers to be a lazy womanizer. But an attempt to help an old friend pass an exam brings him to the attention of the princess, who promotes him into the military despite his wishes to the contrary. Now an officer-in-training, he’s beginning to build a reputation as one of the best generals the country has ever seen.

This show took a few episodes to really grab me, but Ikta makes for an unusual protagonist. He’s legitimately smart, and I like that his backstory shows he’s actually been embroiled in military tactics his whole life—he’s not just some random kid outsmarting people who have more experience. But due to his father being a disgraced general, Ikta bears the military no love and is trying to get a job as a librarian (where he’ll be well out of trouble and able to sleep as much as he wants). Unfortunately, he ends up in the military anyway, and that’s where his tactics start to shine. Also, although Ikta quickly builds a reputation for being a genius, his tactics aren’t a magic ticket out of all his problems. Especially when the stakes start to rise, he’s confronted with hard choices that have no good answer.

Yatori Ingsem, Ikta’s childhood friend, couldn’t be more different. She’s driven, dedicated, a fierce warrior from a family deeply rooted in tradition, and very loyal to the Empire. I loved the deep friendship between the two of them. They understand each other at a level no one else can, and are comfortable with each other, but it’s a trusting friendship, not a romance. Yatori is the only reason Ikta hasn’t fled the Empire. Ikta does what he can to support her, hoping he can break her free of the shackles of her loyalty to her family, for her own good.

The other main supporting characters get less time, but that mostly works out since this is a short series (although I can hope they’ll adapt more). Toroway Remeon is, like Yatori, from an old military family, but where hers has focused on swordsmanship, his uses guns. (Ikta just dislikes him for being a pretty boy bound to grab the attention of the girls.) Matthew is also from a military family, but one much less known (and I like that he’s heavyset. It’s rare to find a younger anime character who isn’t 90 lbs soaking wet). And Haroma is the healer, helping to ensure the group survives everything that didn’t go right.

The animation quality can take some shortcuts, particularly during battles, which tend to get explained before and after, but either skip out on the actual fighting or show very little of it. But since the fun is more in the tactics than the execution, that didn’t bother me too badly. I was more irritated that the show ends on a magnificent twist that begs for a second season, which is not likely to happen. I’ll have to see if the manga adaptation or the original light novels are available in English.

Overall this was a lot better than I was expecting. The fantasy world has some interesting wrinkles with the spirits that companion each person (air spirits drive guns, not gunpowder), but the focus stays squarely on the characters. It peers into the uglier realities of war, like fighting unjust battles, and asks a lot of provocative questions about the use and nature of force. On the other hand, Ikta’s religious devotion to science can be somewhat annoying, although it does grant him a willingness to think outside the box. I rate this series Recommended.

God Eater (anime)

Title: God Eater
Episodes: 1-13

The world has been ravaged by the sudden and inexplicable scourge of monsters called Aragami. No ordinary weapon can harm them. But a small class of people who are compatible with the artificial-Aragami weapons called God Arcs can fight. These God Eaters are all that stands between the Aragami and humanity.

I just started playing the second game and thought I’d check out the anime as a shortcut to the plot of the first game. So as an adaptation, I have no clue how accurate this is. As an anime, though, I mostly enjoyed watching it.

The present-day story of Lenka, a new God Eater who is equipped with the next evolution in God Arcs, weaves with the story of the three scientists who originally discovered Oracle cells and the disaster that followed. I liked this technique, as the devastation of the present lends a weight to the past, and the past fills in several questions about the present. Also, it serves as a contrast between two of the three scientists: Johannas as he grows ever more willing to do whatever needs to be done to ensure the survival of humanity, and Paylor who tries to stand on principles of conscience and peace. (Which makes it funnier that Paylor is the one who invented God Arcs . . . for a man of peace, he certainly invents plenty of excellent ways to kill things.)

The animation is movie-quality. I love the desolate cityscapes (and artistic splashes of blood—and there’s a lot of blood). The crumbling buildings, abandoned personal artifacts, moldering fabric, destroyed furniture, and so on paint an almost picturesque urban decay. And Fenrir’s future-level technology is a nice contrast. The God Arcs are interesting weapons in-game, and the anime nicely captures both how unique and how disturbing they can get (ep 13 was overkill, though).

I didn’t care for the overabundance of slow-motion shots early on, or how often people would stare in total shock at the screen. And I roll my eyes at how impractical some of the girls’ outfits are for actually killing monsters (seriously, put on a bra. It makes a world of difference when running/jumping. Not that anime outfits have ever been terribly concerned with practicality).

To be perfectly honest, this probably isn’t something you’re watching for the plot. It works (sometimes better than others) until the last episode, when Lenka’s upgraded God Arc gets so ridiculous that it’s hard to take anything he does seriously. That’s probably why I found the backstory clips more compelling than the present-day, except for the fight scenes. It was still a fairly intense journey, as the ruthless horror of the Aragami keeps getting emphasized through various ways, but the character’s solutions are puzzlingly ineffective. It boils down to “Let someone else do it.” This is another reason I often liked the flashback sequences better than the present day plot. Johannas, Paylor, and Aisha are determined to find an answer and work tirelessly to that end. Even when things go wrong or it looks way beyond them, they continue to do everything they can.

Overall, if the visuals appeal to you and you don’t mind a somewhat weaker plot, this isn’t a bad series to check out. It’s short enough to marathon in a few days, and if it wasn’t priced so highly I’d buy it for my collection as I do quite like the visuals (I’m still considering, but ~$10 an episode is a hard price to swallow when there’s so much else on my to-buy list that’s significantly cheaper). I rate this series Neutral.

Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Title:Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Episodes 1-25
Natsuki Subaru is a young man with a purposeless life, until one day he finds himself in a fantasy world. Captivated by a half-elf girl he meets, he tries to get her to fall in love with him. Subaru is convinced his presence in this world means he’s destined to be a great hero, but the only power he seems to have is the ability to reset whenever he dies to a point sometime before then. And because he’s the only one who remembers those previous lives, Emilia keeps forgetting their relationship. It’s up to him to stop himself (or her) from getting killed so he can keep moving to the future.
This can be a very uneven show. Take Subaru’s arrival in the world—he literally blinks and he’s there. The show never bothers with how or why, or much of who he is or what he does beforehand (we know he’s a huge nerd and that’s about it). Or the whole competition for the throne gets no setup, and never explains what qualifies the candidates (or why they’re all girls). Emilia is in the running, despite being hated by a majority of the population for being a half-elf (and therefore suspect, as there was once a powerful witch who was also a half-elf, whom the population still remembers with fear and loathing). Many of the other candidates are equally confusing—one goes as far as saying her goal in becoming ruler will be to tear the kingdom down.
So the world isn’t particularly compelling, and the details are often lacking. But where it gets interesting is with the characters. Subaru is frequently annoying or presumptuous—and then he’ll die from that miscalculation. Sometimes repeatedly. The “gift” of being brought back to life functions practically more like a curse, as he has to experience usually violent death over and over, trying to prevent impossible situations. And he can’t tell anyone about his ability, either, which means he often can only say “Trust me” about some information he has no legitimate way of knowing. So he goes crazy, in various ways, and more than once. He tries everything from apathy to madness to mania to sheer hard work, and still fails until he gets smarter about how he tackles the problems.
And then he hits problems he can’t just reset around, because he doesn’t control the reset point, which make up the entire back half of the series. Subaru keeps running into the fact that, as much as he would like it to be otherwise, the people in this world (as cliche-ridden as they can be) have their own goals and agendas and lives, and he’s not as incredible as he wants to think he is.
All in all, this is a very mixed bag. If the tropes don’t immediately turn you off to the whole thing, it does evolve into something a bit more like a psychological thriller, as Subaru tries to find a way around whatever is killing him or the people he loves. But certain things about the genre still hold true (if I never have to watch that bath scene again… Really Not My Thing), and it’s those bits plus the often non-existent background that make me hesitate to give a blanket recommendation. Tentatively Recommended.

Assassination Classroom

The students in class 3-E are the outcasts, the rejects, the troublemakers. No one expects them to succeed. Which is why it’s all the more puzzling when an alien creature who blew a huge hole through the moon insists on teaching their class. The creature further claims he’ll destroy the earth in exactly a year—so this year’s classroom, in addition to the usual subjects, is secretly and intensely focusing on a single goal: kill the teacher.

To be honest, although I’d heard a lot of people reviewing this series positively, it took a while for it to grab me. The early episodes feel like they’re all over the place. For a show that’s supposed to be about class 3-E, the beginning spends a lot of time on teachers, outside assassins, and so on that has little to do with the students. And the students are so beaten down by their position that even this highly unusual assignment can fail to make them interesting. The way episodes were often two different stories each told in about ten minutes didn’t help keep my interest. Also, the show would tend to really emphasize something, like the split between class E and the other four classes, then totally forget about it for quite a few episodes, which gave the early pacing especially a jerky feel.

But I kept going because it was okay, if not an instant favorite, and was very pleased with how everything turns out. The long arcs that comprise the end of the first season and the end of the series were much more what I had been hoping to see, as the class pushes themselves to use all their newfound skills in serious situations. I also liked some of the smaller moments scattered around, such as the baseball game, Nagisa’s trick against his new PE teacher, and the Nagisa-versus-Karma fight (well, the whole paintball episode was amusing, but that fight made it one of my favorites).

For the characters, the demure and girlish Nagisa, who narrates much of the story, ties with Karma for my favorites. Nagisa’s not one to stand out most of the time. He’s average at most things, but where other students start showing talents for brawling or sharpshooting, he’s got talents much more in line with actual assassins. He can read situations and react appropriately, which is often creatively. And when he goes for the kill, he goes for the throat. Yet he is still a kid, and sometimes despite having the right instincts, he’s just up against someone too good for him. His backstory was also extremely good, surprising me with reasons for things like his long hair and his personality.

But Nagisa tends to be highly entertaining or drawing in short bursts. Karma is the series-long selling point for me.

Karma is the kid who, when told on his suspension about the new teacher, remarks: “Oh? I’ve always wanted to kill a teacher.” He’s unflappable, smart, and always smiling—usually while doing some vicious prank or needling with words designed to provoke a fight. The uses he finds for wasabi had me in tears because I was laughing so hard. I’m not sure how this goes in English, because I have a sub-only subscription, but this show is worth watching in Japanese to get the full context of how he’ll use English against English-speakers to taunt them. Basically, whenever Karma gets a particularly devilish smile, I knew I was in for a good time.

The other class members get a fair amount of focus, as do the other teachers. I liked what happened with Asano from the main campus, and how stereotypes don’t control more minor characters like him. (It’s also funny how his basic arrogance hasn’t really changed, despite everything . . . and I wish there was some bonus content showcasing him and Karma going head-to-head when they’re older.)

I really liked the ending. It’s a solid ending that ties up everything for the students and the teachers. After all the drama, we get to see the graduation, and even a bit of what happens next. And although it closes many things, it’s the openness that’s really appealing. You can see these students are now people living out their dreams to the full—taking everything they’ve learned in sometimes surprising ways to tackle the challenge of an adult world. Although I’d LOVE for Nagisa to have a bonus half-episode or so going into more detail, because his looks the most amusing, his final visual is a powerful statement of how much what he learned shaped who he is.

All in all, even though I didn’t care for everything about how the story was told, I overall had a blast. The story has its laughs, but also its heartaches, and it ends as a love letter to the teachers and mentors who have had an unforgettable impact on their students’ lives. I rate this series Highly Recommended.