Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign Season One, Part Two Review

Seraph of the End Season One reaches its conclusion with the latest Blu-ray from FUNimation. Part One was good, not perfect, but still did a solid job establishing the setting. The concept of humanity being wiped out aside from pockets of resistance almost always makes for a compelling story. The ending of Part One introduced new concepts to the table and another dimension to the human/vampire conflict. Part Two explores these concepts in detail while advancing the overall storyline. With the characters already established, the rather poor pacing found in the beginning of Part One is almost non-existent here. There are some lackluster elements, such as Yu being more on the mediocre side when it comes to protagonists and an out of control climax. There’s still of course a lot more to like than dislike.

The first episode (technically Episode 13) establishes a couple of things for the story. Before we dive into them, one thing of note is Mitsuba’s characterization. We’ve seen some emotion from her in Part One, but here in this episode it might be her best scene. She’s given a promotion, but says to Yu, “I don’t deserve a promotion, I’m a failure.” This is referencing events in Part One. The writing sometimes fails (we’ll talk about that soon) but more often than not it succeeds in delivering genuine emotion from the characters.

One of the biggest scenes in Part One was Yu running into his old friend, Mika. We know of course that Mika is a vampire which makes Yu want to do something about it. In this episode Yu is doing research on the possibility of turning a vampire back into a human. This is fine, but what happens later with Yu and Mika makes this scene moot. Not only that, but what happens later is the single worst moment of the anime. We’ll address it soon, but first it’s worth mentioning that Episode 13 also introduces a major player to the board, Kureto.

As Yu sees his friends being tortured by Kureto for information, the viewer knows something is going on behind the scenes with the humans. Perhaps the biggest scene of Part Two is Kureto telling Guren his master plan: after taking out the vampires, he wants to destroy all the remaining human pockets of resistance and put the world under one government, the Japanese Imperial Demon Army. This is a fascinating backdrop because it changes the face of the war from “good humans against evil vampires.” The writing for Kureto is very good as he borders from someone genuinely concerned about the future of humankind to deranged sociopath. The scene in the climax with him saying that if God is their enemy they’ll fight Him fully established Kureto as a character with a superiority complex. He is a character begging for backstory the anime sadly hasn’t given. Hopefully if there is a Season Two we’ll see that.

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Speaking of Guren, the writing does an excellent job making him complex and likable. All throughout Part One it was the opposite. Part Two changes things by making him in contrast to Kureto’s “anything to win” mentality. Perhaps the best part is the flashback to when Guren took Yu in. It did an excellent job showing how the relationship between the two started. Guren showcases some of his best moments in the second half of Part Two in his tag team battle with Shinya (perhaps the best new character in Part Two) against Crowley. The big plot development with Guren in the final two episodes is a bit sudden, but should be interesting to see fleshed out if there’s a second season.

Easily the best parts of Part Two are when the Moon Demon Company venture out into the streets to take out the Nobles. The action scenes are excellent as well as the soundtrack. The music was very good in the first part, but here it’s even better. The most engaging sequence is when Guren’s and Shinoa’s teams attempt to take down the Crowley. There’s an incredible amount of tension in these scenes as we see everyone outclassed by Crowley. Crowley is one of the best written characters and may be the most compelling antagonist of the entire anime.

Like in Part One, there’s an ongoing subplot with Mika. Here in Part Two his main goal is to find Yu and take him someplace away from everything. The main thing I personally found engaging about Mika’s plot was his constant inner struggle to not give into his vampire side. There are a few instances where for a second the viewer thinks he’s going to, but then he doesn’t. It’s an excellent part of the story…and then it’s all for nothing.

The sequence with Mika battling his way through Moon Demon Company soldiers to get to Yu was engaging. The episode “Yu and Mika” is supposed to be the big payoff one for viewers, the culmination of everything since the haunting very first episode. For a bit the episode is great, until Yu basically forces Mika to drink his blood. Mika repeatedly tells Yu that he doesn’t want to be a vampire forever. If he does drink human blood, there’s no going back. As stated earlier, Mika spends the the show fighting his desire to drink human blood. Despite this knowledge, Yu continually insists that Mika drink his blood, thus condemning his best friend to be a vampire. Yu should have honored his friend’s wishes in this case, even if Mika was severely weakened and needed the blood. This scene was brutal and it was hard to be engaged with Yu in anything afterward.

The climax is a mixed bag unfortunately. The build up to it is excellent and provides a sense that a grand, final showdown is about to take place. The actual battle is all over the place because it introduces too many new elements to the field. We have a gigantic demonic monster appearing out of nowhere, an angel, and Guren’s plot development among other things. The core humans vs. vampires story was lost in all of this. Everything is thrown at the viewer without much explanation which hurt the effectiveness of the climax. The biggest crime however might be the under-utilization of Queen Krul. She was established as the vampire leader of Japan and main antagonist in Part One, but here she barely does anything. By the end, she can’t even be called the main villain anymore. The writing really dropped the ball with her.

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Overall, Season One of Seraph of the End isn’t perfect. Part Two has a few problems preventing it from being truly fantastic. Despite these things however, the show is still extremely engaging from beginning to end. The biggest theme is family. Sometimes family isn’t by blood. As seen with Shinoa’s brother and Mitsuba’s sister, sometimes blood relatives are less family than those friends that are close to you. While Yu isn’t an amazing protagonist, most of the other characters are well written. The final episode sets some things up for a presumable Season Two. Seraph isn’t the greatest anime, but still one worth checking out.

7.5/10

Doctor Strange Review

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Marvel Studios has cemented itself as a company viewers expect great things from. For the past two years it has been consistent in delivering quality. This year saw the release of one of the finest films in the franchise, Civil War. Now the company takes a short break from the ensemble to focus on introducing another character to the fold. Directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange is an enjoyable installment with a unique spiritual backdrop. The main thing stopping it from being truly great is a mediocre climax.

In some ways Doctor Strange is similar to the first Iron Man. Like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange is introduced as an arrogant man only looking out for himself. The path to his redemption is engaging. The opening act does a good job establishing who he is as a surgeon. Everything seems to be going right, but one event can change everything. In Iron Man’s case it was the terrorists killing Tony’s companions and kidnapping him. In Doctor Strange it’s the car crash that sets him on a path he didn’t expect to be on.

As stated in the first paragraph, the film has a unique spiritual backdrop. Scott Derrickson is a Christian, and he brings quite a few Biblical themes to the table. The conversation between Stephen and the Ancient One on life in general comes to mind. Ancient One shows him in a fun sequence how there’s more to life than what is happening in front of them. Derrickson delivers something refreshing with utilizing aspects of faith which is unfortunately rare in films.

The core of the story is found in the middle act with Stephen traveling to Nepal in hopes of healing his hands. This is one of the main aspects of the origin: Stephen training alongside other sorcerers. It’s well done mostly, but falters in perhaps being too long. There isn’t a big action sequence for quite awhile after the opening scene. The biggest problem with the training aspect might be that the film doesn’t let the viewer know how much time has passed since Stephen first walked through the doors. If we take the film at face value, it hasn’t been that long, so it’s hard to believe that Stephen was able to master all these techniques so quickly. He learns spells and actually outsmarts Wong.

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Benedict Cumberbatch owns the role as the title character. By the end of the film he’s one of the most engaging Marvel protagonists. His role as Sorcerer Supreme will be a lot of fun to watch in future films. The story does a good job detailing the type of work the Ancient One and her fellow sorcerers do. Wong’s dialogue stating,“The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.” was excellent. Speaking of Wong, he was a lot of fun to have around. Every scene he was in with Strange was a highlight. Going back to the Ancient One, she was a compelling character. The writing gave her the best lines; Tilda Swinton delivered them with excellence.

Baron Mordo is an interesting, likable character. Anyone who has read the comics knows what happens; nonetheless, the writing does an excellent job building up to his big plot development in the after-credits scene. Before moving on to the antagonists, there’s one more character of note. Christine Palmer doesn’t appear too much but when she does it’s almost always a good scene. The viewer can feel her sadness when Strange early on basically tells her that without his work, life isn’t worth living, even with her. This plays into the excellent development later when Strange admits he was wrong. Romance doesn’t play a huge part in the story, but what is there is very genuine, in contrast to what is seen in some other Marvel films. (Thor and Ant-Man come to mind when it comes to poorly developed romances.)

The film has two main antagonists. The first is Kaecilius. He wasn’t that interesting, but at least the idea of a former student turning over to the dark side was done alright. The true villain behind everything is Dormammu. He gets a lot of hype throughout the story, and rightfully so. In the comics he’s a powerful figure, on the level of Thanos. Marvel had the opportunity to introduce a major character, and it failed miserably.

Dormammu is Doctor Strange’s greatest antagonist and an extremely powerful character. In the film he is described as a destroyer of worlds but we never get a glimpse of that. Instead when he finally appears he is just a floating head with a deep voice. In the comics he has a menacing, humanoid appearance with a flaming head similar to Ghost Rider’s. We didn’t see that here. Marvel is typically good with accurately bringing characters from the page to the screen but this is just as bad as what FOX did with Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The climax also doesn’t help. Instead of a grand final battle, Strange beats Dormammu in a most unsatisfying way. It’s amusing after the first couple of times (though the ability is too overpowered) but becomes an annoying running gag considering it’s at the expense of Dormammu actually doing something. This was a massive disappointment and could potentially ruin the film for longtime fans of the villain.

The visuals are perhaps the film’s best feature. They are unlike anything we’ve seen in previous comic book films and rival that of Inception’s loopy visuals. They made for some really unique action sequences. From the opening fight scene to the battle in the mirror dimension, it’s an experience witnessing reality being warped. The soundtrack is another highlight. Marvel films don’t typically have notable soundtracks, but Doctor Strange breaks that trend. It’s still not spectacular (there are a few generic themes in there) but it’s solid thanks to the epic choir throughout the film.

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Overall, Doctor Strange is an engaging introduction for the Sorcerer Supreme. Scott Derrickson brings excellent themes to the table. Time is limited – we’re not here forever, so we need to make the most of every opportunity to do good. This is something the Ancient One says to Stephen later in the film. There’s a lot of excellent dialogue. The visuals are unique and something to be experienced on the big screen. Unfortunately the climax is disappointing and a major drawback.

8/10