Yatterman Night Review

Shorewood Standard Ocard1

Who doesn’t love a good tokusatsu? From Ultraman to Super Sentai, the genre remains a fixture in Japanese pop culture. It unfortunately isn’t too popular in the United States. Outside of Power Rangers, tokusatsu is relatively unknown. There have been many shows throughout the years in Japan, one of which is Yatterman. The original anime aired in the ’70s, and though it’s not as popular as Ultraman, the main characters nonetheless did make it into the video game Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Yatterman would go on to appear in a remake show and even a live action movie. Most recently, Yatterman got an anime cerebrating its 40th anniversary titled Yatterman Night. FUNimation released it in North America not too long ago, which is great because the show is quite engaging.

The opening scene sets up the story with the attack and now iconic quote, “It’s punishment time!” It’s amazing how this sequence connects when everything comes together in the final episode. Back to Episode One, it does a fantastic job setting up most of the main characters. We’re introduced to Leopard and her relationship to her mother Dorothy. Anime deserves a lot of credit, because in just one episode it can establish how genuine a relationship is and make us care for the characters. Here we see the mother-daughter love these two have. We’re also introduced to Voltkatze and Elephantus, where we see they are servants for Dorothy.

The story really kicks off when Leopard finds out that she, Dorothy, Voltkatze and Elephantus are descendants of the Doronbow Gang. This is fascinating because all this time Dorothy had been reading to her daughter the story of how Yatterman defeated the Doronbow Gang. Leopard is dismayed at her heritage, and she also learns that many years ago Yatterman banished the Doronbow Gang, and her descendants continue in that banishment on the island they were exiled to.

Soon Dorothy grows ill. Leopard decides to take a boat to Yatter Kingdom and ask Yatterman for help. After all, he’s a hero, right? So when Yatterman and Lady Yatterman are in sight, Leopard understandably rejoices…until her boat is blasted and the two “heroes” shout that intruders are not welcome. This moment changed everything. The show’s main plot point is the mystery of what’s happening in Yatter Kingdom. Why is Yatterman not acting like the hero of legend? It’s an engaging concept, and one the writing uses mostly perfectly. At the end of Episode One, Leopard dons a Doronjo costume, likewise Volkatze as Boyacky and Elephantus as Tonzra.

So, we have a reversal of roles. Doronjo’s gang are the good guys while Yatterman has seemingly turned into a dictator. There’s a great sense of tension among the episodes. Who can forget the Yatter soldiers chanting “Yatter!” in Episode 2? The most powerful scene showing the extent of the living hardship in Yatter Kingdom is found in Episode 4. A pregnant wife’s husband is drafted into serving Yatterman for 35 years where he’ll never be able to see her. He’s told it’s an honor to serve Yatterman. The viewer can see the terror and sadness on his wife’s face as she does the Yatter salute. This scene further cements Doronjo’s mission to “give Yatterman a forehead flicking.” It’s at the end of this episode where she says that Yatter Kingdom is a hell.

The show is mostly fantastic, but there are scenes that take away a star. Chief among the negatives is Episode 7, which was mostly filler and just not engaging. This is thanks to Ryu, a character the heroes run into. I’m all for the heroes running into people affected by Yatterman’s rule…but only if they’re actually likable. Ryu’s gimmick is that he loves fish, to a disturbing extent. He talks about being wrapped around in octopus’ tentacles. It’s a little fishy, excuse the pun. I don’t care about this guy “achieving his dream,” as the episode wants viewers to. There’s also Takeshi in Episode 5. His arc was engaging, but his gimmick of relieving himself got annoying quickly. Yatterman Night is unfortunately sometimes hit with childish and strange humor.

Thankfully, the negative things don’t usually take center stage for too long. The show also gives us two more characters, Galina and Alouette. These two would become vital and epically engaging in the final episode. In the meantime before that, they aren’t bad. Galina attempting to spy on Alouette though at a hot springs was unneeded and hurt the character. Besides that, he’s given solid development throughout the show. Oh, one more heroic character whom can’t be forgotten is Honorable Oda. This pig made for a fun animal mascot without going overboard.

One subplot that wasn’t needed was Doronjo having feelings for Galina. By the end of the show, it didn’t go anywhere. Why was it added? Back to overall characters, General Goro is the antagonist whom goes after the heroes throughout the episodes. He’s a fun villain to have around. The plot twist with him later on is brilliant and adds a sense of tragedy to his character. The music that usually plays when he’s around is awesome as well. The anime’s soundtrack is strong all around, complete with a great opening theme song.

There aren’t many one-on-one fights unfortunately. Still, when the action is there, it’s fast paced. The last two episodes did an incredible job bringing everything together. The writing is great as it explains the big plot twist. The final showdown is epic and inspirational, bringing the show to a memorable close.

24c9526e98472176bb1b47fd66eee9111fbc06f9_hq

Overall, Yatterman Night is an excellent take on the Yatterman franchise. Instead of being a remake, it’s set many years into the future of the original show, making it an interesting sequel. The ongoing mystery of why Yatterman has seemingly become a tyrant is engaging. Doronjo is a great protagonist, fighting as a promise to her mother and to save the people of Yatter Kingdom. Viewers get a sense of how genuinely Doronjo cares for others. The cast is good as well, all having diverse personalities. Sadly, questionable humor and the disturbing fish lover removes a star. But, the show is still a very good addition to the tokusatsu library and a must see for Yatterman fans. Even if you’re not familiar with the character, definitely give this show a watch.

8/10

Escaflowne: The Movie Review

escaflowne-the-movie-a-girl-in-gaea.23614

The Vision of Escaflowne was an influential anime back in the 90s. It was jam packed with content, from mechas fighting it out to philosophical themes such as the “alteration of fate.” Perhaps the best aspect of the show is how developed the characters are. Great care was put into the diverse personalities each of them had. There’s a fantastic sense of nobility to the story. Though sometimes the grand scheme was a bit vague, Escaflowne remains one of the great anime fantasy epics. In the year 2000, Sunrise released a film simply titled Escaflowne. Instead of a sequel, it was a retelling of the 26 episode series. That’s ambitious and of course liberties would have to be taken if a 95 minute film was to adapt a whole show. Sadly, too many liberties were taken. The film is still decent whether you’ve seen the show or not, but one is better off taking the time to watch the 26 episodes.

The film opens up with Van slashing his way through various enemies to get to the Escaflowne armor. It’s a typical action film opening, but it’s still exciting. The first act then takes place on Earth, similar to The Vision of Escaflowne’s first episode. Hitomi is introduced, along with her friend Yukari. It’s here where the dire changes from the show start to become evident. The writing reveals this version of Hitomi to be depressed and suicidal. It’s a sour note to introduce her character. Hitomi had inner monologues in the the show, but she wasn’t depressed.

What the writing does is give her a character arc that is similar to Folken in the film. (We’ll get to him soon.) Hitomi in the show is known for her kindness and ability to see the good in others. She becomes that person later in the film as she interacts with Van and sees how Folken is. It’s not a bad character arc in concept, but it doesn’t work as well as it could thanks to the rather short runtime. Because of the rushed pacing, major plot points like the romance between Hitomi and Van feels extremely forced. Escaflowne just wasn’t meant to be told in 95 minutes.

The world of Gaea is vast, which is why 26 episodes was needed to fully explore it. There’s too little backstory in the film. Going back to the first act, I don’t want to compare the film again, but the buildup to Hitomi entering Gaea in the show was epic. Van’s confrontation with the dragon should have been remade. Instead, we get this cheesy dream-like sequence and then Hitomi magically appears inside Escaflowne. The pacing is a bit slow from here until Dilandau and his men arrive.

Unfortunately, most of the characters are a step down from their original appearances. Allen was given great prominence in the show, but in the film he’s reduced to a supporting character. He could have actually been cut out and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was also distracted by how much his redesign resembled Sephiroth. (Seriously, they look like twins.) Princess Millerna is given a big makeover, having a more warrior-like persona. That’s fine, but what does she actually do in the film? She doesn’t really fight at all despite the redesign. That’s the problem; aside from a few characters, most are just there because of their names. Worse is that Naria and Eriya, two interesting characters from the show, are reduced to fleeting cameos.

Arguably the biggest change was completely removing Emperor Dornkirk. Dornkirk was the main antagonist in the show. Though he was mostly in the same place the entire time, he was the person behind the entire conflict. Dornkirk’s fascination with the “alteration of fate” was an engaging plot point, and gave the show a grand philosophical conflict. Once you remove Dornkirk, you remove a vital part of what made Escaflowne so great. Instead, the film uses Folken as the villain. This could have been interesting, since Folken was one of the show’s best characters. He retains his engaging demeanor, though his goal is to ultimately die. He also hates Van because the latter was chosen to be king. This wasn’t a bad plot point, but it needed more backstory and flashbacks.

All of this is not to say Escaflowne is unwatchable. The story picks up nicely when Dilandau arrives. The buildup to Dilandau against Van was epic. Though, Van and Dilandau possessing magical abilities was unneeded, and actually made the fight anti-climatic. On the positive side, there’s a cinematic quality to the battle of the mechas in the latter part of the film. The writing in the scene with Van and Ruukusu was particularly strong and gave viewers a peak of the grand backstory the film doesn’t show. There’s some excitement in the climax as Folken confronts Van. Hitomi get some good dialogue. Sadly, the “showdown” is lackluster, thanks to the silly magic visuals. The resolution is good in concept, but like mostly everything else in the film, it was rushed. Back to the positive side of things, the soundtrack is fantastic. It uses the iconic themes from the show while also adding in fantastic original music.

tumblr_nbdn5nHBZg1s5oxc0o1_500

Overall, Escaflowne: The movie is a disappointing retelling of the classic show. On its own it’s a decent fantasy movie with an interesting story, good (but severely underutilized) characters and some solid fights. But it fails to revamp what made the original anime a near masterpiece. The philosophical conflict is removed in favor of something more simple. A lot of the main characters are given nothing important to do. At the very least, it removes the unnecessary love triangle between Hitomi, Van, and Allen. It’s a decent enough movie, but to really appreciate Escaflowne, one should invest time into the anime.

6/10

The Vision of Escaflowne Review

escaflowne

One of the best things about The Vision of Escaflowne is how it merges different genres. Mechas play a substantial part, but even more so the fantastical and philosophical themes. Romance also plays an important part throughout the 26 episodes. Though it’s not 100% perfect, Escaflowne succeeds in many different areas. The writing is almost always on point and the characters are nicely fleshed out. For those that appreciate grand action scenes, the anime delivers. The aspect this reviewer most appreciates is that the show has an atmosphere of nobility, much like Kenshin.

The Vision of Escaflowne follows a teenage girl named Hitomi. The core of the story is focused on another planet named Gaea, where Hitomi is mysteriously transported. It’s here where we learn that an empire called Zaibach is set on taking over. The first episode does an excellent job setting the stage for what’s to come. Hitomi is introduced as a normal, kind character who likes to run in the track races at school. The episode’s tone shifts drastically when a guy by the name of Van appears through a blinding light. The next part however is where viewers get a sense of the tension the story is going to have moving forward: the arrival of a dragon. There’s a great sense of danger as Hitomi and her friends try to adapt to this situation. The battle between the dragon and Van is exciting. The dragons in this show aren’t canon fodder, which is refreshing.

Episode One could be called a prelude, because it’s in Episode Two where the main story begins to take focus. Gaea is an interesting, fantastical setting, having a Medieval look. Van is introduced as a bit of a hot shot prince, which makes for an interesting dynamic with Allen Schezar later on. Allen’s introduction is handled marvelously, and he remains a great character as the show continues. Escaflowne does a good job giving its characters importance, from Princess Millerna’s medical training to Drydan being able to help rebuild Escaflowne.

Allen is a great character, but in the second half the writing doesn’t use him as well. This is primarily because of the forced romance triangle between him, Van, and Hitomi. Allen professing his love for Hitomi didn’t seem earned at that point. The show didn’t need to have this romance angle. It’s not the worst written triangle, but it can be a detractor in the show’s second half.

As for Hitomi herself, though she doesn’t participate in the fights, the writing is careful not to make her just a weak bystander. Her kindness and ability to see the good in others is prevalent throughout. One of the most powerful scenes was Hitomi offering Naria grace, despite being kidnapped by the latter. The themes of kindness, love, and redemption are there throughout the show and it’s usually thanks to Hitomi. This makes her an engaging protagonist, despite never really being in the heat of battle.

Zaibach is an intriguing antagonist. Folken is their military captain and one of the show’s best characters. He is also Van’s brother, providing a very personal conflict for throughout show’s first half. Dilandau makes for an interesting foil to the rather serious Folken, being more of a crazed fighter. Later there’s a huge plot twist with Dilandau, though it’s bizarrely explained. Zaibach’s leader, Emperor Dornkirk, is interesting. Much of his dialogue is a bit on the meta side, dealing with “controlling and altering fate.” This provides a grand, philosophical (though sometimes vague) conflict throughout the show. The final episode with most of the armies going at each other because Dornkirk says this is truly what humanity wants was intriguing. Also as intriguing was how true love can put an end to violence. It’s a great message, though Dornnkirk fading away was a bit anti-climatic.

tumblr_mknhm4zpQX1qmpg90o1_500

Overall, The Vision of Escaflowne is a quality anime. From its fantastic soundtrack to epic battle scenes, the anime is worth watching. The characters are great. From the main characters to secondary characters to characters who only appear for a few episodes, they are all handled well. The subplots and backstories enhance the story, an example being how Dornkirk was connected with Allen’s father. Though the romance triangle aspect wasn’t needed, it doesn’t take away from how much quality Escaflowne has. It’s one of the great anime fantasy epics.

9/10

Guilty Crown Review

guilty_crown_poster

Guilty Crown is an original piece, not being based on any previous form of media. To summarize the rather convoluted plot: the story follows a high school student named Shu Ouma. He’s taken from his normal life when he runs into a mysterious girl named Inori. From there things get interesting as the writing slowly unveils there’s something bigger at play than a simple resistance versus the tyrannic government. This is perhaps the show’s biggest disappointing aspect: there are some unique ideas but the poorly explained plot and characters stop Guilty Crown from being the science fiction masterpiece it could have been.

The first episode did an excellent job establishing a tension-filled atmosphere. We’re introduced to Inori in a fast-paced escape sequence. There’s a lot to like here, from the gorgeous animation/overall style to the interesting backstory with Japan reliant on foreign aid and having an unstable government. It sets the tone for what should be a stylistic and action-packed story. It definitely has those two things, but the characters and terribly explained plot progression stops it from being something that can be called great. Shu is one of the biggest examples of the writing going all over the place and demonstrating how not to do character development.

The first few episodes did a great job introducing Shu. It’s clear what the writing was going for: Shu is a shy, anxiety-filled student. His meetup with Inori, and then the resistance group Funeral Parlor leads him on a journey to becoming an extroverted hero. This isn’t bad in concept; in fact, it’s quite good. For a little while the writing was succeeding. (I particularly liked the inner monologue in the first few episodes.) But, he starts to go downhill in Episode Eight, which was the worst episode of the show. We see Shu attack his friend over flirting with Inori even though Shu said it was fine earlier in the episode. In a later episode Shu states to Funeral Parlor, “I’m not the one that betrays people here.” Yet in the episode previously mentioned he betrayed his friend, thus making Shu a hypocrite.

Later in arc two the writing has Shu become a tyrannical leader, bordering on being evil. This plot development comes about after the death of someone close to him. Now it makes sense something would happen to his character development, but this was just an abrupt change. Everyone falling in line with him was too sudden, and worse this character arc lasted only a couple of episodes. He goes from tyrant to being a noble hero looking out for others in just under three episodes. Does the writing expect us to forget about what just happened and be engaged with him now? It doesn’t work that way. This type of character development needed more episodes and better writing to make it work. Shu’s character was just all over the place and ended up being a missed opportunity for something truly interesting.

guilty_crown_22_4

Inori…where to start with her. First, the romance between her and Shu makes little sense in the first arc. Unlike an anime like Tsubasa, it takes awhile for the romance aspect of Guilty Crown to feel remotely organic. Inori is often little more than a plot device, or worse- a tool. The main character often reaches into her chest (yes it’s a strange visual) to pull out her Void. The viewer often wonders why Inori acts the way she does, because she doesn’t act or talk like a normal person. Finally in a big (and poorly explained) plot twist it turns out she is the clone of the main character’s sister who happens to be evil used by aliens(?) to bring about an apocalypse. That sentence was tough to type, but the point is made. The anime really went off the deep end in arc two, not really explaining much of anything. (So how did Shu block out all those vital memories?)

The show could have ended at the end of the first arc and it would have been a little more decent. The ongoing tension with Funeral Parlor against the government was engaging. Gai was little more than the generic tough, win at all costs leader at first. But as he got to interact with Shu and work with him Gai ended up being one of the best characters. Of course, arc two brings him back for convoluted development and throws away his sense of nobility. There are many other characters of note. Some of them are good, such as Ayase, and Shibunji. Some interesting, such as Kenji and Arisa, are unfortunately rendered an almost non-factor by the end.

There’s a lot to like in the first arc, perhaps the best part being Shu being taken into custody. Segai, by far the show’s best antagonist, shows Shu the government is seemingly not evil and that in fact Funeral Parlor is the organization that needs to be stopped. The dialogue here is brilliant, as Segai showcases deceptive tactics in an attempt to get Shu on his side. Another really well done aspect of the first arc was the hostile government takeover by Keido. It was a well written, explosive sequence. Arc one isn’t perfect however. The school scenes were painful to watch for one thing. The fan service was a major drawback. As stated earlier, Episode Eight was the worst. A major part of it is dedicated to the beach. It doesn’t end with that episode unfortunately, as even good characters such as Arisa and Menjou are victim to it. In fact, almost all the major female characters are reduced in one way or another to fan service scenes. Classiness unfortunately doesn’t often exist in Guilty Crown.

One character that needs to be mentioned is Yuu. He was an interesting antagonist, but the problem (now stop me if you’ve heard this) is that his character is poorly defined. There’s virtually no backstory as to what he is, or what Da’ath even is. His relationship to the Mana aspect was overly complex and his explanations ended up making the story more convoluted. By the time he’s gone the viewer is left wondering who he even was. The climax has some exciting fight scenes, though with a cheesy, save-the-day deus ex machina moment.

The soundtrack is outstanding, one of the best. Almost every theme is excellent and sounds like something out of a film production. The second ending’s visuals with the two main characters running against an emotional theme was very well done as well. The action scenes are often exciting and diverse. We have classic military gun fights, mechas, and of course fantasy elements with Shu being able to use Voids. At the very least, Guilty Crown is never boring. Despite the second arc being the show’s downfall, there are some well done elements. The idea of being trapped in a building part of a state on lockdown was interesting to watch.

kings_heart

Overall, Guilty Crown is one of the biggest missed opportunities in anime history. There’s some great concepts that either aren’t explored properly or are just too convoluted to appreciate. Shu’s character journey is poorly written with only pieces of good writing. Inori is often just there for Shu to use as a weapon, and her character arc isn’t great thanks to -once again- horribly defined backstory. This is not to say the show is unwatchable. It has many exciting moments and a somewhat good cast with a fantastic soundtrack. As a whole though, there are better options.

5.5/10

 

 

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.

7fb24cead6b9b7658fb0b127966e771e

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.

98dc7eb2f19ba91584e990a8d23b1e20

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

The Empire of the Corpses Review

The Empire of the Corpses saw release in Japan a year ago. Not too long after seeing a limited theatrical release in the United States, FUNimation released the Blu-ray. Empire is a truly interesting film. It a science fiction thriller with some horror elements. It finds a fine line between telling a realistic story while delving into sci-fi territory. Not only is it a must watch for anime fans; it’s a must watch for anyone who have enjoyed the classic universal monster stories.

Set mainly in an alternate 19th century England, Empire’s plotline is engaging from the start. The narration by John Watson sets the tone for what’s to come. The driving force behind the story is the search for Victor Frankenstein’s notes. This is an excellent backdrop and one could even see the film as a brilliant take on Frankenstein’s Monster. (In this film referred to as “the One.”) Even though Victor is long dead, his presence is felt because he’s the one who discovered how to reanimate a corpse. The military uses this discovery to reanimate the dead for battle. The dead are also used for chores among other laborious tasks. It’s an interesting status quo, and gives the film a Walking Dead feel.

Even though people have managed to bring back the dead, no one has managed to do what Victor did: give the dead a soul. This is the driving force behind Watson’s character arc. He’s managed to bring his friend and colleague Friday back. Watson is desperate to give him his soul; because, while the body of Friday is there, without a soul it’s an empty shell. This might sound well intended, but the ongoing theme is to destroy the notes so that mankind won’t have that kind of power. Watson however when he finally comes into possession of the notes he hesitates, which leads to the deaths of many. People cannot play God, and when they try disastrous results take place.

6

Watson is portrayed as a man bent on bringing his friend’s soul back, to the point where it consumes him. It’s interesting to watch, especially when the One arrives on the scene for the first time. He questions whether Watson will become like Victor, a haunting message. The writing is fantastic from beginning to end. There are however some things that may have been resolved too fast. The consequences for Watson not destroying the notes were brushed to the side quickly. The scene with Burnaby yelling at Watson that it’s the latter’s fault was excellent, but right after that they’re back to being friends. It’s understandable that Burnaby would put aside his hatred to help Watson stop the One, but the resolution was rather quick.

Speaking of Burnaby, the cast is strong. Burnaby is a great character and without him the film would have been more dreary than it needed to be. Hadaly was good, but the writing needed to develop her better. Her first big appearance is a deus ex machina moment, and then later the plot twist is a little much to take in. If the film had shown a flashback, it would have been better. Her “father” was Thomas Edison, which is fascinating but again the story needed to show her backstory for it to be more effective. Nikolai appears early on. Watson does’t at first trust him, giving the viewer an interesting dynamic. Nikolai made for a nice contrast to Burnaby’s personality. (They were very similar to Fai and Kurogane from Tsubasa.) It was disappointing what the writing did with Nikolai toward the middle act. It was a powerful and effective scene nonetheless. If it wasn’t apparent before, this scene made it apparent: the destruction of Victor’s notes was top priority.

Frankenstein has been portrayed in various ways throughout the years. This version in Empire does the Monster justice. Here we see that he is disgruntled with human beings. All of his dialogue is excellent. From his ominous arrival to the final act, he might be the greatest character in the film. His endgame plan has a classical, tragic appeal to it. He shares the antagonist role with M. M isn’t as interesting, but the writing still makes good use of his ideology, even if the dialogue is just thrown at the viewer in the climax.

The film moves at a great pace. There’s a lot of dialogue, especially in the final act, but there’s a good number of action sequences to balance it out. The soundtrack is standard, but it does have a thematic quality to it. It works well with the 19th century setting. The greatest theme might be the piano melody played by the One. (It sounded like something straight out of a Universal 30’s film.) The ending of the film could have been better. It leaves the viewer confused and unsatisfied. In contrast, the after-credits scene is upbeat and a fun homage. (If you thought John Watson was just a borrowed name, you’re in for a treat.)

maxresdefault

Overall, Empire of the Corpses is one of the best anime films from the last decade. The 19th century setting gives the story’s atmosphere a sense of elegance. The biggest aspect is that it’s also a sequel to the Frankenstein story. The driving force behind everything is Victor’s notes, which made for an excellent backdrop. Watson is a likable, flawed character. He’s a human obsessed with bringing back his friend’s soul from the dead, to the point where it jeopardizes the mission. The fallout of being obsessed with this was fascinating to watch. Themes are explored, such as free will.  The One is one of the greatest versions of Frankenstein’s Monster. Every scene he was in he commanded a presence. Even though the film could have used an additional 15 minutes to flesh out some things (the explosive climax throws too much at the viewer), it is nonetheless a must-see.

9/10

GARO: The Animation Season One, Part Two Review

Season One, Part Two of Garo: The Animation arrived on Blu-ray not too long ago. The first half (the previous Blu-ray) was an interesting story set in a medieval-like time period. The concept of demonic monsters called Horrors looking to possess humans and Ultraman-like beings called the Makai Knights combating the creatures made for an exciting tale. It did suffer from a few elements, preventing it from being called “great.” Part Two fixes the primary problems, making it the stronger half. It’s not perfect but still a compelling watch from beginning to end.

Part Two picks up a little after the events of the Episode 12. The ending there had Leon attempt suicide by jumping off a cliff. Obviously, it didn’t work and he’s found by a girl named Lara. She takes him to her quiet farm where Horrors seemingly aren’t a factor. This part lasts about a quarter of the story. Leon in Part One was sometimes not that likable. Starting here in Part Two that changes as he learns to live a simple life caring for Lara and her family. This part of the story is very low-key, but nice as Lara grows on Leon as well as the viewer. It’s here where Leon begins to learn what being a protector is all about.

The first quarter is divided between Leon helping out Lara’s family and back in the Kingdom with Prince Alfonzo and German. The latter is where the action is as Alfonso and German vanquish various Horrors. Interestingly, the two plot points don’t intersect at first. For awhile there was really no main story arc and the show felt almost episodic. This isn’t a bad thing however since two of the primary negatives in Part One, the characters of Leon and German (especially him), are fixed here. There is one negative however from not having a main ongoing conflict. Some of the “villains of the week” were too well written to be confined to one episode. The conflict in Episode 14 was worthy of being a multi-parter. Perhaps worst in being underused was Doctor Fabian, a fascinating antagonist. (He even bested German, but thanks to poor plot reasons the Doctor ended up losing.) These antagonists would have been much better to have around than Mendoza

garo_the_animation_ep_18_screengrab_1

The death of Lara was the turning point of Part Two. It was a very well done, emotional scene. The viewer could see how devastated Leon was. In just four episodes the writing successfully established how kind Lara and her family were. Starting here is when Leon truly steps into his role as Garo, protector of humanity. It was fun seeing him alongside Alfonso taking down Horrors.

It was surprising to have Mendoza be the primary antagonist so soon after being defeated back in Episode 12. He’s still not a great focus, but at least he was more interesting here than in Part One. German plays an interesting role later on. Seemingly sent to protect Mendoza, he “betrays” Leon and Alfonso. What happens next is an excellent, emotionally-charged conflict between father and son. It’s also intriguing because it’s written in such a way that makes the viewer question whether German is actually betraying Leon or not.

The climax has Mendoza gain a new form, which leads to a climatic battle against Leon. The dialogue is my personal favorite aspect of this, because the two characters go back and fourth on ideologies. In the end, Garo showcased what heroism was: willing to put his life on the line to save the world. The final moments inside the black hole were engaging, genuinely emotional, and an excellent way to finish the primary conflict. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of Anima. This monster was hyped in the last few episodes as an all-powerful creature. Yet when it appears it’s quickly dispatched.

Ema had a great role for most of Part Two. Even though she appeared frequently in Part One, she was still a mysterious character. The only thing viewers knew about her was that she was a Makai Alchemist, so it was good to see the show diving into her emotional backstory in Part Two. There’s only one negative regarding her, and it’s a big one. Leon and her have remained friends, with no hint at a romance in Part One. Yet, the writing decided there should be one here. It was unneeded and didn’t make a difference since it’s barely mentioned at all after the one scene. Octavia also has a substantial role, mainly later on. Her complete loyalty to Mendoza still seemed forced, but her character arc was still interesting to watch.

The fights are still great. The CGI when used looked excellent. Just about all of the soundtrack is lifted from Part One, but it’s hard to complain when we have such great themes. The epilogue episode is interesting, though it would have been nice to see what Leon and Alfonso were up to.

tumblr_nkg3mest3r1sasvhfo1_500

Overall, Part Two of Garo ends the season on a high note. Leon is given excellent character development. He goes from the brooding, revenge-filled character of Part One to a heroic protector here. German was a primary negative of the previous Blu-ray, so it’s good to see the writing dial back on his flirtatious personality. Ema was very good and we also got to learn about her past. The romance between her and Leon was a head-scratcher however. Mendoza isn’t going to win any best anime antagonist awards. He’s still better than in Part One, but as stated earlier some of the one-shot antagonists would have been more interesting to have around. Despite that, Garo is a solid anime to add to your library.

8/10