Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

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Elfen Lied (review)

Final impression – an often misunderstood psychological thriller (9/10)

Summer 2004 (13 episodes + 1 OVA)

Off the shores of Kamakura is a secret island that conducts research on the cutting edge of human evolution.  Called the Diclonius after a type of dinosaur, this genetic offshoot of humanity is distinctive by two small horns protruding from the sides of the head. The other quality that makes them worthy of scientific research is the female’s destructive psychic capabilities.

The first and most dangerous specimen named Lucy breaks her bonds and after an ensuing bloodbath manages to escape the facility.  But not before suffering a massive head wound that splits her personality between a dangerous beast and a helpless child.  She is discovered on Enoshima beach by Kouta and his cousin Yuka who take her in and decide to shelter her from her shady pursuers.  But when Kouta notices her horns, he senses there is a frighteningly deep connection between him and his new dependent that he must remember at any cost.

Elfen Lied and I have a bit of history that needs to be fully explained before I can go into a proper review of the title.  Back in 2004, I was still a wide-eyed 18 year old, fresh out of the nest and learning to fly solo at college.  At this point in my life I had only watched three anime that I actually knew were anime—Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion.  I’d also seen Tekkaman Blade, Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Digimon and Pokemon as a kid, but I thought those were American series at the time so in my mind they don’t count (more on that some other time).

I had just joined my university anime club because I wanted to learn more about this genre and by some chance of fate the club president recommended Elfen Lied, which was still airing on Japanese TV.  Horror and R-rated media were things I’d never really been introduced to at the time, which gave Elfen Lied the privilege of relieving me of my innocent naivety.  It was such a shocker it felt like I’d been hit by a bolt of lightning (thinking back on it now, that metaphor is so apt it’s kinda scary how green I was back then).  I’d never experienced such an incredible emotional response in my life and I became immediately aware of something—I wanted more.  The rest they say is history because I’ve been hooked on anime ever since.  No other medium has been able to illicit such a heartfelt passion in me as anime and I foresee this to be one of my lifelong hobbies.

As I’ve matured over the past 8 years, my adoration for Elfen Lied has been tempered slightly.  I’ve come to realize it has a few flaws that can’t can’t fully be ignored and I may have been initially oversold on this anime’s shock value.  The years have also not been kind to its super large-eyed character style that is getting dated and was very indicative of the previous decade even at the time this series was made.  It also hurts its own potential with over-the-top violence and blood—important as that may be to its success—and lets us down with deceivingly simple writing about an exceedingly complicated story that needed a lot more time to be properly told (to be fair, there was a lot of contention within the staff to push this series into a longer run).

However, I continue to maintain that Elfen Lied is an excellent model for how to properly use nudity as a storytelling device. Whether it’s to accentuate Lucy’s animalistic savagery or Nyuu’s childlike innocence, what’s very clear by its direction is that this is not fanservice.  There aren’t any random panty-shots or views of cleavage made possible courtesy of deliberately maligned camera angles—every instance of the female form works to support the plot.

It’s a story that raises all sorts of philosophical issues about the nature of humanity—namely what constitutes being human.  Is it kindness, pure altruism and our ability to forgive past transgressions?  Is it nothing more than genetics?  Is it emergent in our sophisticated intelligence?  Is it our resourcefulness and ability to adapt to whatever circumstances we find presented to us?  Is it willingness to do whatever is necessary to survive?  Or is it the simple quality of possessing immutable instincts that go beyond mere desire for simple survival?  All of these themes and more are touched upon if ever so briefly in this anime and the only disappointment is that there wasn’t time to explore them more thoroughly.

Sadly, Elfen Lied is probably one of the most contentious, misunderstood and quite often underappreciated anime of all time.  Despite how well it reviews statistically, I suspect that like my younger self it gets a big boost from its emotional impact.  I hardly ever hear very much praise for it from a technical standpoint.  Ironically, it’s almost as if, in its attempt to reveal the intricacies of human nature, it was able to expose the superficial shallowness of the average person who so quickly and easily discredits it without making any attempt to reach for a deeper meaning.  However, the fact that it’s still capable of firing such powerful emotions eight years later is a testament to the kind of response it generates in its viewers.  As much as I can try to guide people on how to interpret the value of this show, it is ultimately going to be an exercise for the individual to undertake.

To this day I continue to hold the position that Elfen Lied is one of the best examples of an anime that not only deserves a sequel but NEEDS one.  What anime have you watched that had an open-ended or cliffhanger finale that you think requires a second season to properly wrap up the rest of the story?

Additional recommended reading—Elfen Lied Wiki, Real life scenes from Elfen Lied around Kamakura


Mirai Nikki (review)

Final impression – the journey is better than the destination (7/10)

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (26 episodes) (title literal translation – The Future Diary)

Yukiteru Amano has been entered as an unwilling candidate into a survival game by Deus Ex Machina, the god of time who will use the contest to decide his most appropriate successor.  Yukiteru was chosen, along with 12 other contestants, because they have been keeping impeccably accurate observation diaries that Deus deems a worthy character trait to qualify them for the role of the god of time.

As part of the game, each player has had their diary upgraded by Deus to predict the future out to a considerable amount of time.  Their actions in the present could change their futures and those changes will be reflected in updates to their diaries.  Thus the best candidate will be the one who can control their future and eliminate the others.  But Yukki isn’t the most gung-ho about being unwittingly involved in this survival game no matter how big the prize, especially when he has to put up with his creepy, stalker girlfriend, Yuno Gasai, whose diary is capable of predicting his every move.

I’m not the type of fan who can fully enjoy a series based solely on the adventure.  I need some measure of closure at the end—something to wrap things up or at least signify a proper ending.  It doesn’t matter too much if I disagree with the outcome.  After all, it’s at the writer’s discretion to tell a story the way they think it should be told, not to tell it the way I want.

That’s why I’m so conflicted about Mirai Nikki.  It seems too focused on the path to the conclusion than on the conclusion itself, even if the voyage along the way was a doozy.  The finale does an exceptionally poor job of signifying a true ending as it goes about a little epilogue with a real dearth of imagination.  I just can’t imagine sitting in a self-imposed exile doing nothing but lamenting the loss of your loved one for 10,000 years.  I was always a big believer in the concept of time healing all wounds; particularly those of the heart.

Many times in this series I think Yukki’s personality is just far too inconsistent; even taking into consideration the chaos that’s always threatening to envelop him at any moment.  The pacing of the story also can’t keep a steady tempo with a lot of little bunny trails that seem to lead off to nowhere.  But for all of my complaints it does do a good job of telling a story filled with a terrific variety of interesting characters with a multitude of motivations and flaws; all packed with some pretty grisly details that make me wonder if they’ll be uncensored on the blu-ray.

Can true love literally last forever even if you can never see that person ever again?  Is it really healthy to remain true to your greatest passion or does there come a point when it’s best to just let go and move on?  And what about endings?  Is it best to have closure or can the journey be just as rewarding, even if the reward at the end is seriously lacking?

Sankarea Ep. 1

Initial impression – surprisingly interesting and well-thought

Spring 2012 (12 episodes) (more info)

I’m not sure what Sankarea is really about, but it has definitely caught my attention.  I really like the unconventional way Chihiro Furuya thinks of zombies as misunderstood and feels a weird kind of passion for the undead.  It’s an eccentric character trait and the fact that on some level he knows zombies can’t possibly exist gives him an interesting, internal conflict.  Rea Sanka’s family problems then add an element of desperation that ties the two protagonists together in a kind of loose comradeship despite their very different backgrounds.  The title animation would lead us to believe that this is some sort of zombie comedy-adventure, albeit more serious than the wacky Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?  But as the first episode begins, I started to suspect the opening theme is intentionally being playfully facetious and this is going to be more of a fun, awkward romance story than anything to do with actual zombies.  That assessment changes though, when Rea shuffles her way to Furuya’s side, dragging along her parts that aren’t supposed to be on the outside of your body.  It’s such a shock after Sankarea’s not-too-dark beginning that I’ve been hooked and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Another (review)

Final impression – slightly inconsistent horror (7/10)

Winter 2012 (12 episodes)

After his father goes on a long business trip to India, Kouichi Sakakibara suffers a collapsed lung and moves to the countryside village of Yomiyama to live with his Aunt and grandparents.  While recovering in the hospital, he encounters a mysterious girl wearing an eye patch who is walking to the morgue to deliver a doll.  He’s unsure what to make of this strange occurrence until he meets the girl again in his class at junior high school and inexplicably, he seems to be the only person who acknowledges her existence.  As it turns out, her name is Mei Misaki and she has an important role in preventing a horrifically deadly curse from befalling the class.

Another could have been a much better horror / mystery anime if it had managed to keep a more consistent tone.  Instead it allows itself to stumble into the pitfalls of appealing to the viewers in completely unacceptable ways.  Most notable is the very misplaced swimsuit episode that makes it impossible to take the series seriously afterwards.  But for all it does wrong, Another is a very good horror anime.  You’re always kept on your toes with its consistent pacing and it gives just enough information to answer the questions of the previous episode while providing enough new content to keep you invested in the next episode.  It may be a simple formula, but its tried and true effectiveness is not to be undersold.  The character of Mei Misaki was perfect for providing a suitable amount of misdirection to keep you guessing about her role in the story and Kouichi’s levelheadedness in the face of all the darkness around him is a beacon of hope and sanity in the frenzied chaos.  And while the series is far from perfect, the ending gives a satisfying conclusion when you realize the hints were there all along.

Bakemonogatari (review)

Final impression – a magnificent, philosophical escapade (10/10)

Summer 2009 to spring 2010 (15 episodes) (title literal translation – Monster Story, English synonym – Ghostory)

During spring break of his final year of high school, Koyomi Araragi had an encounter with a vampire. Fortunately, he was able to mostly restore his humanity through the aid of the supernatural specialist Meme Oshino, who was able to intervene before things got worse.  As part of a way of thanking the man who saved him from becoming a vampire himself, Koyomi has begun helping people he encounters rid themselves of their unnatural afflictions.  And it’s a good thing he retains some of his vampiric traits, because most curses are not willing to go down quietly.

Bakemonogatari is an amazing masterpiece of wordplay.  I’ll come right out and say that if you don’t like dialogue-heavy anime you’re not going to enjoy this series because its strongest attribute is the way it twists language and and plays with our perceptions of humanity.  But if you revel in the intellectual—the sociological—then you’re going to have a hard time finding anything better than this.  And the awesomeness doesn’t stop with its writing.  It has a great cast of voice actors including Kana Hanazawa and Yui Horie who are masters of their craft and depict their characters’ personalities perfectly down to every nuance.  Then, if you thought my praise was over, the music is absolutely spectacular with a fresh opening theme for each of the female protagonists, sung beautifully by their skilled voice actresses.  Dealing with such topics as love, hopelessness, responsibility, desire and lust, Bakemonogatari is passionate and insightful.  If you let yourself get caught up in its pace, your blood will start to boil with the brilliant energy radiated by this incredible anime.

Fortune Arterial – Akai Yakusoku (review)

Final impression – atmospheric and smooth (7/10)

Autumn 2010 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Fortune Arterial – Red Promise)

Kouhei was always transferring schools throughout his childhood as his family moved from place to place.  But now that he’s a high school student and he’s been accepted to a prestigious private school, he’s decided to make some real, lasting friendships for the first time in his life.  But now that he’s made up his mind to finally enjoy his youth without worrying about having to leave it all behind again, he discovers that Erika, the beautiful student council vice president, is actually a vampire.  Her older brother, who happens to be the president, gives him an ultimatum.  He can either join the student council so they can make sure he doesn’t divulge any secrets, or Erika will erase his memories—ruining any chance he might have of recollecting his past relationships with the other students at his school.

The splendid symphony of Lia’s music for the opening and ending themes is the most wonderful aspect of Fortune Arterial.  Also, the story is deeper and twistier than most anime based on h-games.  Overall it gives me the impression of a Twilight rewrite with gender roles reversed and no werewolves or pretty boys—making it a version of Twilight with a male audience in mind and fewer plot devices stolen from Underworld.  However, for as much good as it does to fix the vampire-romance subgenre, Fortune Arterial’s greatest failing is how poorly it treats its side characters.  Those girls not important for the main plot get about one badly written episode if they’re lucky enough to not have any siblings.  Basically, it just sticks with the main girl all the way, which provides a steady pace for some good character development.  The ending is a bit wishy-washy, but impactful enough to not detract from the overall story.  And while this anime ultimately falls short of excellence, it is still very respectable.

High School DxD Ep. 1

Initial impression – succeeding at being bad

Winter 2012 (12 episodes) (more info)

The first thing you need to know about High School DxD?  It’s very ecchi.  So if ecchi isn’t your style you can stop here and go read one of my other reviews.  Oh?  You’re still interested?  Well then, if you’re going to pick an ecchi anime you can certainly do much worse than High School DxD.  Most ecchi anime stick with relatively tame panty shots or clever angles to hide the best parts; in this anime, fully exposed, bouncy boobs are fair game.  The drawing style looks amateaurish with lens flares cheaply used to censor the best parts below the waist and that choice somehow fits with the spirit of immaturity that permeates this anime.  It’s seriously lacking in plot substance, but it’s paced quite well and leaves enough of itself open to keep things entertaining.  High School DxD is an ecchi anime where it’s just sort of nice to relax and drink in all of the eye candy constructed around a simple story.  That’s not praise, so much as a begrudging nod that High School DxD knows what it wants to accomplish and it’s doing it well.  I’ll say that if you’re looking for an ecchi anime that knows how to be entertaining without being too stupid then High School DxD might deserve to be given a chance.

Blood-C (review)

Final impression – Only for unabashed CLAMP fans (4/10)

Summer 2011

In a remote village, Saya Kisaragi is the shrine maiden entrusted with slaying the Elder Ones—fearsome monsters that feast on the townspeople.  But when she has free time, she goes to high school, talks with her friends and enjoys coffee at a local café.  As she continues her mission to protect the town, small details start to converge together that just don’t add up.  Where do the Elder Ones come from?  To whom did Saya promise to guard the village?  And the greatest question, who was Saya’s mother?  She had better figure out the answers to these questions before it’s too late and everyone gets eaten.

First impressions can’t always be trusted and that is never truer than in Blood-C.  Talk about betraying your legacy.  Blood the Last Vampire and Blood+ had a likeable cast of characters, excellent pacing and terrific endings.  Even the live-action Blood the Last Vampire compares favorably to Blood-C and that’s pitiful.  The only reason I completed watching it is because I enjoy CLAMP’s artwork, making it the only possible redeeming feature.  I don’t know what Blood-C’s upcoming movie will do with this setup that the anime gave us.  However, 95% of the anime was an utterly pointless jaunt on the way to its eventual cliff-hanger ending.  The whole anime could have easily just not existed and twenty minutes added to the beginning of the movie to accomplish the same effect.

Deadman Wonderland (last thoughts)

Final impression – poorly executed 4/10

Spring 2011

It’s just an ordinary day at school for Ganta Igarashi, when the frightening Red Man flies into his class and murders everyone around him.  After being accused of the murders himself and a farce of a trial that leaves Ganta public enemy number one, he ends up in the infamous spectacle prison, Deadman Wonderland.  Here, prisoners are forced to engage in deadly games for a bloodthirsty audience.  But there’s at least a small glimmer of hope.  He meets his long lost childhood friend, the albino girl Shiro, who also happens to be imprisoned with him.

Shortly after being placed in this dangerous minefield of a jail, Ganta encounters a life-or-death situation and he finds out his surviving the attack with the Red Man gave him superpowers called the branches of sin.  He’s now capable of turning his own blood into deadly projectiles.  Filled with hatred, depression, disgust and indignation for his unbelievable series of misfortunes, when it’s revealed to him that the Red Man is also imprisoned in the Deadman Wonderland, there’s only one goal on his mind – revenge.

Deadman Wonderland had a good idea, but didn’t implement it very well.  The falsely accused prisoner sentenced to death row is a very compelling story hook because it makes the viewer want to know how the protagonist is going to escape his upcoming fate.  Additionally, a curse that grants double-edged superpowers creates terrific tension during fight sequences.  The final gimmick that pulls you into this anime is the macabre setting of a prison where the inmates are forced to put on grisly shows for hooting spectators begging for blood.  However, this gets really watered down when Deadman Wonderland injects way too much hope into a plot that was just begging to be dark.  Despite Ganta’s extreme misfortune and his very low lows, he has way too many victories to offset his depression.  Why should an ordinary kid have so many friends in a prison?  But the most egregious problem is the huge plot hole of having an army of superhuman characters unable to make any effective progress at a coup.  While the guards carry effective “kryptonite”-style weapons to keep the deadmen from running wild, it seems far too ineffective a hindrance to truly keep the prisoners in check.  In the end, Deadman Wonderland is just poorly written.

Blood-C Ep 1

Saya is ready to fightInitial impression – good

Blood+ and Blood – The Last Vampire give Blood-C a strong legacy of action anime to live up to.  And unless you can’t stand the Clamp art style, the first episode delivers.  With some really fresh interpretations of Saya, the demon-slaying vampire who fights to protect her adoptive human family, I’m really looking forward to seeing where Clamp takes this well-tred, but tried and true, action / drama.

Unless you can’t look past Clamp’s eccentric art style, there’s no reason not to give Blood-C a chance to live up as a reboot of the series’ past successes.