Karneval Review

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Released in 2013, the Karneval anime is an adaption of the manga by the same name. The story follows a creature named Nai. Nai is apparently half “niji” and half human. Nai is looking for his caretaker, a man named Karoku. A crook named Gareki runs into Nai, and the two of them end up meeting up with a government organization named Circus. Circus’ goal is to protect citizens from monsters called Varuga and a sinister organization called Kafka. Based on the summary, Karenval sounds like a fun story. It is a fun 13 episodes, but lacks in key areas.

The Good

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The action in this anime is slick. From the opening fight with Gareki against a Varuga, viewers know they’re in for a treat. A few of the characters are notable. Though Gareki was annoying sometimes, he did have a good character arc. By the end of the show he emerged with a more heroic mindset, and a willingness to open himself up to the idea of belonging to a group. One of the stronger aspects of the show was the parts that focused on Gareki’s past, and how it relates to the present.

The Captain of the Second Ship, Hirato, was perhaps the most compelling character. He takes his role as a high ranking official seriously, but does care sincerely for his subordinates. He also has a subtle inspiring persona that the writing smartly utilizes, especially in the final episode when he’s talking to Gareki about the latter’s future. Tsukumo had little personality other than just being the super serious character for a good chunk of the show. That changed a bit in the latter part, when she realized that it might be her last night alive. Her monologue, saying how she wished she would have talked to everyone more, was genuinely emotional. Though she is good to have around, it would have been effective to see her actually die. It would have left an impact on the cast and viewer.

Nai’s character arc is a bit mixed. He works best as a character counter to Gareki. It is primarily because of Nai that Gareki starts to have a different mindset. The writing does a good job building and establishing the friendship between the two. Finally, the soundtrack is very good.

The Bad

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Characters are perhaps the most important part of any movie or show. Karneval does not have a bad cast, but not a particularly strong one either. Each of the characters have their personality trait, which is good of course. But, it seems like some of these characters are known by just their personality type rather than actual character. Gareki is a hotshot, Tsukumo is super serious, and Nai is naive but caring. These characters do get good moments, but they can’t be called “great” characters.

The biggest crime Karneval commits is the pacing. The story in concept is good, but it takes awhile for it to get rolling. 13 episode animes should not have filler, but you will find filler scenes in Karneval. The lack of an ongoing primary antagonist is also a huge negative. Well, I should say that there is a main villain, Palnedo, but he barely appears. (Where was he in the final episode?) One could argue Karoku is the main villain, but it is confusing of what exactly happened to him or what his ultimate goal was. The two most interesting villains were Uro and Meiga. If the writing was going to regulate Palnedo to background status with no conclusion, he should have been removed from the cast in favor of one of those two getting a bigger role.

Karneval ends at Episode 13 with an unsatisfying conclusion. Karoku is found, but Palnedo is still out there. If Karneval had a second season, this would be fine. But there isn’t a second season, making the “ending” lackluster.

The Verdict

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Karneval has a lot of potential that is squandered on filler scenes. Character interactions mix from great to mediocre. (Yogi’s befriending of Gareki and Nai was too sudden to be realistic.) Still, to call the show bad would be a disservice. The story is unique enough to keep the viewer engaged, and the action scenes have a nice style. The characters are interesting enough (but not superb) thanks to key developments. Karneval is fine, but there are better animes in the genre to watch.

7/10

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Barakamon Review

Barakamon

There are slice-of-life shows like Spongebob Squarepants where episode order doesn’t really matter most of the time. The opposite of that is a show like Young Justice – a show that features an ongoing storyline. Combining these two ideas, ‘slice-of-life’ and ‘plot driven,’ can be tricky. The rewards are high however, as this kind of show can deliver a unique, down-to-earth experience while also showing quality character development. That perfectly defines Barakamon, a great anime with memorable characters.

Barakmon follows Seishū Handa, a calligrapher whom is sent to an island after punching an exhibition curator for criticizing Handa’s work. On this island Handa looks to improve his calligraphy, and unexpectedly develops genuine friendships.

From the onset, Handa is a unique character. We’re shown his anger in that first episode when he punches the curator for insulting his “textbook” work. By the end of that episode, Handa begins to develop his own unique style for calligraphy by not sticking to the rigid ruleset he had been using. A lot is accomplished in that first episode, and things get even more interesting in Episode 2, which introduces more characters. Hiroshi is inspired by Handa to do better in school, which shows great development on Handa’s part. And that’s just Episode 2.

One more note about the second episode – the entire sequence with the senior patient (ghost?) talking to Handa was excellent. So, moving on to the main focus of the show other than Handa: a little girl by the name of Naru. She quickly befriends Handa, and Handa grows to care about her. Her character is one of great, genuine cheerfulness. Her child-like wonder, but having a special wisdom, is well done and serves as one of the catalysts to Handa’s changing as a calligrapher, and a person.

The characters all bring something to the table. Miwa and Tamako are fun to have around. Miwa’s outgoing personality and Tamako’s love of manga never gets old. Naru’s friendship with Hina is sweet, and Takao’s interactions with Handa are always fantastic. Characters in a slice-of-life-like story are very important, and Barakamon doesn’t fail there. It’s truly amazing what is accomplished throughout the 12 episodes. By the final episode, the viewer has grown attached to Handa’s inner journey and the people on the island. The phone call near the end was well done, and the viewer understands Handa’s wanting to go back to the island – because that’s where he met so many genuine friends and began his true work as a calligrapher.

This review is a bit shorter than usual, but I think I got the message across: Barakamon is a great anime with an inspirational message. Sure, some of the comedic scenes might go on a little too long, but that’s really just a minor thing in the long run. Handa’s journey from disgruntled calligrapher to a changed individual with his own style of work is amazingly done. The characters, especially Naru, are well developed and a lot of fun to have around. Oh, and the opening theme is one of the best.

9/10

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Yatterman Night Review

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

RAGE OF BAHAMUT: GENESIS Review

RAGE OF BAHAMUT is certainly one of the most captivating titles in recent history. It commands at the very least a second glance when scanning the shelves in search of a new quality anime to check out. Genesis is based on the online card game of the same name, which was recently shut down in the United States. The show combines quite a few different elements. It has the genres of a western, action, fantasy, and a conflict between angels & demons. The first half suffers from a few problems, but picks up greatly during its second half. Because of the first 4-6 episodes, one can’t call it a “fantastic” anime like the first season of Psycho-Pass but the second and final acts are epically engaging enough to still call it a “very good” show.

The big question of course is what makes the first half of Genesis not particularly that good. The prologue is fantastic and sets the tone. We have a flashback to when the angels, demons, and humans united to seal Bahamut. It’s a Lord of the Rings style epic and the perfect way to engage the viewer. The problem is when we jump to modern day. It seems to be rare that anime/manga starts out with a noble character such as Kenshin. Rather, it appears a majority starts out with them as either a punk or obnoxious person. (Such as in Naruto.) Favaro is the latter. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but for the first half he is just too annoying to watch. His ongoing conflict with Kaisar also quickly became an annoyingly comical thing than something to be taken seriously.

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It’s understandable what the show is going for here: Favaro going from carefree bounty hunter to somewhat noble being. To be 100% fair, by the final episode he is certainly better off than 11 episodes earlier. This doesn’t justify the in-your-face writing however. It’s a little disappointing to think how much better the first half could have been if the writing had gone a different direction with him. Now, if you’ve seen the trailers then it’s evident a large amount of the focus is on Amira. She is the driving force of the story. Her arrival sparks a great mystery that the plot slowly unravels. Her story arc might be one of the most emotional I’ve ever seen in an anime.

At the core, her story revolves around one thing: finding her mother. Once the viewer realizes this, the ending theme takes on another dimension. Every time that song played I was reminded how much love and care Amira had for her mother, even though she hadn’t spent much time with her. (The ending theme is also a nice contrast to the rock n’ roll opening.) The fist half of the show has two plot points. We have Favaro taking Amira to Helhiem and the angels attempting to hold Bahamut. At first it seems like the two have nothing to do with one another. By the second half they finally start to intertwine.

Often in this show the side characters are the most interesting. For example, there seems to be dissension in the demon ranks. Beelzebub wants to become ruler of all, negating Lucifer while another demon, Azazel, is left out of the equation. This was fun to watch, and it’s hard not to think why we weren’t seeing more of these characters rather than Favaro being intolerable. Since we’re on the subject of the demonic beings; almost all the named ones were engaging characters. Azazel gets the most screen time, and has some excellent lines. (Especially when he battles Favaro in the castle.) Beelzebub appears far too little, but in every scene he’s in he commands a presence. Lucifer interestingly only appears once. This was shocking since he’s constantly referred to as “Lord Lucifer” yet he does nothing of absolute importance. In fact, he’s completely absent during the final battle. It seems like the writing couldn’t find a way to utilize him.

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There are quite a few other notable characters and questionable writing. Rita was by far one of the best; every scene she was in she stole. Her debut could have been handled better however. The viewer could see the emotion on Kaisar’s face when he had to stop her from destroying some of the cast. Later we’re shown that she had become a zombie and decided to tag along with him. This happens rather randomly and kind of takes away from the emotional scene earlier. Again, she’s a great character to have around but that scene could have been better so it didn’t have to feel rushed. We also have Bacchus and his duck partner Hamsa. Bacchus’s entire thing is that he drinks a lot. He gets to fight in the final couple of episodes, which is good, but ultimately his trait was more annoying than funny to watch.

Jeanne D’Arc and her loyal devotion to the angels brought a sense of true nobility to the cast. It’s impossible not to like her and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call her the best character. That’s why the viewer is shocked when she is transformed into a demon as she is about to be burned at the stake. It feels like this plot point should have been longer since it’s over in the very next episode. Speaking of plot points, the show late in the second half does a good job at catching the viewer off guard. The realization that Favaro would have to kill Amira after beginning to genuinely help her on her quest made for an unnerving cliffhanger.

The climax doesn’t disappoint. After 11 episodes of hype, we finally get to see Bahamut wreak havoc. The dragon is an awesome focus as we see him annihilate all that stands in his way. He is definitely one of the best antagonists in recent history. The ending before the epilogue is a little anti-climatic however. At the very least, there is some emotion and closure. The epilogue helps cement a finisher to a 12 episode journey. A second season titled “Virgin Soul” is coming, but unlike GARO or Tokyo Ghoul, Season One of Rage is complete. The soundtrack is very good, though the same themes are used frequently. Of course when the themes are that good it’s hard to complain.

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Overall, RAGE OF BAHAMUT is a solid anime. The first 4 to 6 episodes are a little jarring to get through, which is mainly due to Favaro’s annoying antics, the un-comical conflict between him & Kaisar, and the two major plots seemingly (at first) having nothing to do with one another. But once we reach that second half the show becomes an excellent watch. We have great (though some unexplored/underused) characters, fun fights, and very good dialogue. There’s an emotional touch to the story as we see Amira at her core is just a little girl at heart in search of her mother. (As stated earlier, the ending theme perfectly portrays this and is a song that truly speaks to the heart.) Bahamut himself lives up to the hype. Even though Genesis ends with closure, I am definitely looking forward to Virgin Soul. 

7.5/10