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

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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.

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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

YONA OF THE DAWN SEASON 1 Review

There are a lot of fantastic entries in the Shoujo genre of anime/manga. Today’s show is Yona of the Dawn. It is similar to Garo in some ways, such as being set in a medieval-like time period and the journey to taking down a ruler. Yona however is a more engaging watch, which is mainly due to the focus of the story. The show explores the themes of betrayal, leadership, friendship, and courage. It’s a must-watch for any anime fan.

Yona’s first episode is standard, almost too standard. And that’s the point: to make the viewer think this is going to be something of a stereotype of Shoujo anime. The focus for most of the episode is on the Princess narrating her love for her childhood friend Soo-won. Romance is a primary factor of this genre, so the question always has to be, “what will make this particular show stand out?” The episode answers that question in the climax when Soo-won murders Yona’s father, King II. This scene 24 episodes later still feels like the most powerful of the show. Everything preceding it points to a happy adventure in the kingdom with Yona about to pronounce her love for Soo-won. This scene forces the viewer to rethink that assumption and changes the atmosphere of the story going forward.

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Episode 2 focuses on the Princess and her bodyguard Hak escaping the castle. The viewer is fully engrossed here, not knowing what to expect. In many ways Yona mirrors what the viewer is feeling. She’s shocked while trying to adapt to the situation. From here, the show becomes a survival, and then a journey both outward and inward. The outward part plays out much like an RPG. We have the main character going from village to village meeting diverse characters and “treasure searching.” However, instead of objects the goal is to find and recruit people in order to take back the kingdom.

The inward part of the journey is Yona discovering how to be a warrior and leader. It’s amazing to look back at Episode 1 and jump to Episode 22 when she makes her first kill to save her friend. The character development is fantastic. Yona never ceases to be a likable, engaging protagonist. This is enhanced by her ongoing narration as viewers get to hear things from her perspective, know her feelings, etc. She goes from being distressed to a person of courage willing to put her life on the line to help others. This is why the scene of her firing her arrow at Kumji is such a powerful one; it’s the culmination of her past development.

Aside from Yona, the greatest character is easily Hak, the “Lightning Beast.” His character arc remains pretty much the same, which is being a bodyguard for the Princess. The first few episodes were especially great in showing the unique relationship between the two. Hak is typically portrayed as rather serious, which is why it’s always a treat to hear his narration. Early on it was very interesting to hear what he was thinking about on Soo-won killing the King. He’s just as shocked as Yona, but doesn’t have the luxury of getting depressed because he has a scared duty to protect her. Later, he has to deal with the fact that he has feelings for her. As a bodyguard, is it a good thing to let those feelings take over? It’s a tough question he has to ask himself, especially since Yona doesn’t look at him in a romantic way. This subplot is never overplayed nor underplayed. The viewer is left wondering at the end of Episode 24 what will become of it.

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Soo-won is a fascinating character. He is the “antagonist” yet the writing rarely seems to portray him as outright evil. His killing of King II for “the greater good” and subsequent scenes gives the indication that he is genuinely concerned about the kingdom. We do see glimpses of a more deceptive side at times, but again he’s not a cackling tyrannical dictator. The fact that he has personal ties with Yona and Hak (as seen in the excellent backstory portrayed in Episode 3) makes the conflict all the more engaging.

King II isn’t around long but his presence is felt throughout the show. The interesting aspect of his character is that a lot of the kingdom didn’t like the way he ruled. A very powerful scene was when Yona ran into a dying man. He claimed that it was the King’s pacifism as the cause of the former’s village being in ruin. So, this gives the viewer an ongoing mystery: was II truly a good king? Did he really have a dark past, as Soo-won claimed? These questions the writing smartly leaves open-ended. This also has Yona question whether her father did things right as a king. It’s engaging to see her decide in the final episode that she has to go against her father’s wishes of complete peace and take up a sword to fight for the kingdom.

After the first few episodes the show focuses on Yona searching for the Four Dragon Warriors. This is where the RPG element comes into play. Each Dragon Warrior (aside from Zeno) has his own mini-arc as the Princess enters the villages. The writing does a solid job at making them diverse. The longest arc is Jae-Ha’s. Some might say it took too much time away from Soo-won’s story, but it helped cement Yona as a warrior princess. Plus, the heartwarming moment with Yona and the pirate captain was excellent. The most disappointing arc by default is Zeno’s. Of course, after the long pirate saga it didn’t make sense to have another multi-episode arc exploring another Dragon Warrior. This sadly then forced Zeno to appear basically out of nowhere and by the end he’s given no backstory. Hopefully in Season 2 he will be explored a little more.

The animation is excellent, as are the fight scenes. There aren’t many standout battles unfortunately, because a good number of them are just against hordes of minions. The best single battle might be early on with Soo-won versus Hak. This was a nice tease for a future showdown between the two. There are quite a few side characters, the most prominent being Yun whom becomes a main character. He’s definitely good, but the writing does sometimes take it overboard with his yelling. (Not to mention the tiresome self-calling “beautiful boy genius.”) Even though the plot is rather serious, the show does like to have fun with itself with comedic scenes. Sometimes they’re effective, but often they border on just being too silly. (Such as some of the bickering between Hak and Kija.)

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Overall, Yona of the Dawn is a fantastic watch. At its core it’s about a princess moving past betrayal and becoming a warrior. Yona is a great focus, and her narration greatly enhances the viewing experience. The cast of characters is nicely utilized, especially Hak. The ongoing plot with Soo-won is intriguing to watch unfold. While not perfect in some spots, Season 1 is excellent. Hopefully its sequel will be formally announced soon.

9/10

TOKYO GHOUL Season One Review

Two of the shortest anime I’ve ever seen are Puelle Magica Madoka  and Serial Experiments Lain. Ironically, those are also two of the best anime I’ve seen. They’re only about 12 episodes each, but unlike shows with over a 100 episodes, there’s no filler and no episodes to stretch for time. Each episode gets right to the point in advancement of the story. That’s one reason why the first season of TOKYO GHOUL is pretty great. There’s no filler and the story is definitely very unique like the aforementioned shows. With FUNimation recently releasing the complete Second Season, it’d be good to take a look at the many positives of the first season and why one should go check it out.

TOKYO GHOUL Season 1 has some unnecessary things preventing me from giving it a perfect score. Even in context for the story, the fan service featured in the first episode was brutal. There are some over-the-top writing and questionable content in some of the episodes, but nothing absolutely terrible because these things appear just for a few moments. With that out of the way, let’s start with the actual concept. It’s really cool how in this universe ghouls and humans coexist. It’s dangerous and an interesting status quo the story just drops on the viewer. Rather than taking its time in explaining things, the viewer learns about it as the episodes move along. It’s a tough thing to do since there can be the complaint of not explaining much, but GHOUL pulls it off nicely.

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One of the greatest things about Puelle Magica Madoka is how amazing it is in developing likable characters in such a short amount of time. In just 12 episodes we have some of the most engaging characters out there. (Some shows take a hundred episodes to make someone likable.) There’s of course nothing wrong with long-term character development, but it’s always a feat when a short show/season can establish much in so little time. For example here, in just two episodes the viewer cares about the friendship between our main character, Ken Kaneki, and his best friend, Hideyoshi. Then, in even shorter time the brother-sister relationship between Touka and Ayato is fantastic. Somehow just one flashback was needed. Of course, this is mainly due to the great writing present throughout the episodes.

An intro can gain or lose a viewer. If the intro is really bad, then it’s farewell. For example, BATTLESHIP’S beginning completely destroyed the movie before it even began. Most intros in anime are great and Tokyo Ghoul is no exception. We open up to an intense WALKING DEAD-like scene with a ghoul “binge-eating” as it’s called before being confronted by another ghoul. It’s scary, action-packed, and with a stellar soundtrack that sets the tone for the rest of the show. What’s great is that what happens here has an effect on the last episode. If one watches the season over the course of say a month it can be easy to forget that, so it’s good to look back and see how everything came together.

A major part of the first act is Ken having to deal with the fact he’s part ghoul. The show does an excellent job showing his inner turmoil. Here we have this guy whom now has an appetite for humans and there’s nothing he could do about it. It’s an inner battle for him as he tries to retain his humanity while fighting this new tendency. It’s a great concept over the course of 12 episodes, and the fact he really wants to stop himself from giving in, which would be the easy thing to do, makes him quite a likable and engaging focus.

There’s a very intriguing dividing of focus. Obviously Ken’s story is at the main, but the show also shows us the human side of things. We follow detectives Koutarou Amon and Kureo Mado, both very different, but engaging characters. Because of their stark contrasts in personalty they make an excellent pairing, even buddy-cop like. They’re part of the CCG, which hunts ghouls. It’s interesting because as humans in this world we would be on the CCG’s side because many ghouls hunt and kill humans. All we would ever hear about on the news is killings. Yet, there’s a small band of ghouls whom refrain from doing as such, because they choose not to. The CCG is not aware of this, so the conflict in the latter part of the season was extra interesting.

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I suppose what the season lacks is a true main villain. There are some that pop up, but not a main antagonist. Of course, things are heavily established in the final two episodes, setting up for Season 2. The notable villains that do pop up here are all well-written and diverse. Tsukiyama for example with his polite demeanor made for an interesting contrast to the sadistic Jason. Touka’s brother was also definitely interesting. While these villain characters are very good, the show also features some really great protagonists. Touka is very good as she too has to go through inner battles. One of the best scenes was when a character made her re-think what it means to be a ghoul. There are many old, wise man characters in media, but that doesn’t stop Yoshimura from being one of the most likable characters in the season.

It’s a little disappointing how Season 1 ends. Of course, since there is a Season 2 we won’t count loose ends a negative. Rather, I found the end conflict rather contradictory. The character says one thing but something happens anyway which kind of renders his notable line moot. The fight scenes are very impressive throughout. There’s a certain amount of tension that leads up to each fight, making it even more engaging. (A great example is the dialogue back and fourth with Tsukiyama against Ken, Touka, & Nishiki.) The soundtrack as stated earlier is also very impressive.

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Overall, Season 1 of TOKYO GHOUL is very strong . It has a unique story which is filled with interesting characters. Ken is unlike a lot of characters we’re used to seeing. His inner battle against this other side is really engaging. The show has been compared to ATTACK ON TITAN, and for good reason. If you are a fan of the latter, you will like GHOUL.

9/10

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time Review

There have been quite a few notable anime films. We have ones such as Spirited Away and Akira, both of which many consider to be some of the finest works of fiction. Does The Girl Who Leapt Through Time deserve to be counted among these greats? Since its release back in 2006, it hasn’t gained quite the large amount of attention as the aforementioned films. Still, as the 2016 re-release says on the cover, it won best animated feature of 2007, and many other awards. So at the least while maybe not attaining classic status as others it’s still very well known. Of course, one shouldn’t judge a film by the awards it gets or how well known it is. Many will be seeing Girl for the first time thanks to FUNimation re-releasing it. I am happy to say that it’s definitely worth a look if you haven’t seen it before, or if you saw it back in 06 and want to watch it again in crisp Blu-ray HD. While there are a couple of factors stopping it from being a masterpiece, Director Mamoru Hosoda’s film is still an excellent watch from beginning to end.

With so many fantastical and action anime roaming around, it’s good to take a break and watch something a little different. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a drama, romance, and thriller with no fantastical elements. (Well, besides science fiction of course.) Makoto isn’t a chosen one, warrior, or anything resembling the sort. She’s just a normal school girl. The situation she’s thrown in is something we’ve seen before in various forms of media: being given the ability to travel through time. In this case, she’s able to do something called “time leap.” A question one always has to ask in these time travel scenarios is how far does one go with it? It usually starts out with simply fixing a recent problem, but then you have to ask yourself why stop there? As Reed Richards put it, once you have that ability what’s to stop you from “Knocking the apple out of Eve’s hand?” That’s why time travel stories can be tricky. With Girl’s case however, the time leaping only goes short distances in time backward, managing to avoid any of these truly tough questions.

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So, we have a simpler version of a time travel story, and that’s certainly welcome. We have Makoto going back to fix problems only to realize that something bad is going to happen, even though she might have fixed something else. The film manages to keep going with the time leaping without it becoming a running gag. (An example of annoying repetitiveness is in the film Edge of Tomorrow.) At first her ability to do so is unexplained. As the story went on part of me worried we wouldn’t get a concrete answer as to how she’s able to do this. In the climax we’re finally given reasoning, and it’s definitely an interesting, unexpected twist. One might argue it kind of takes away from the overall story, but I think the writing did a good job making sure it wasn’t an outlandish, final minute twist such as in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Since this is a drama, heavy emphasis is put on the interactions. Makoto is a likable character with a humble heart. Her relationship with her family is organic, especially with her younger sister Miyuki. (One of my favorite scenes is when the latter catches Makoto seemingly about to jump from a window and pulls her back in, thinking it’s her fault for having Makoto’s pudding.) The best scenes however are with Makoto and her two best friends, Chiaki & Kōsuke. At first a complaint was going to be that the friendship just appears with no development, but as the film goes on the viewer sees how real and genuine it is between the three. Kōsuke and Chiaki are very likable characters, being diverse and having a high sense of morality.

The film is set in high school, which can sometimes be a very bad thing. Thankfully, the film showcases it in a real, but not annoying way. We have bullies being dealt with, friends helping their friend with a crush, and other things here & there. This might be the best story set in a high school, at least in the last ten years. Are there any substantial negatives with the writing? There aren’t any big ones, just minor things. For one, the twist at the end calls into question the overall timeline with Makoto and her two friends. This wasn’t explained properly. Another thing is a slight deus ex machina maneuver at the end. Makoto is given one more time leap after running out. The story explains how this happens too quickly, which is unfortunate because how she gets it is actually quite smart.

Makoto’s aunt Kazuko is an interesting character. Just about all her lines are excellent and serves as the moral standpoint for the main character. Sadly, Kazuko is also at the same time underdeveloped. Why is she known as jokingly a witch? And why does she seem to know a lot about time leaping? The story hints at something but it’s never made known. With a little more backstory this wouldn’t have been an issue. The soundtrack is strong throughout. The end credits song nicely ends the film with an emotional touch. The actual animation looks solid. It seemed to be aiming for a retro Astro-Boy look, which isn’t a bad thing. (Though some scenes looked a little choppy.)

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Overall, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a fantastic film. It’s very well written with great character focuses. There’s a large amount of genuine emotion throughout. The romance aspect of the plot is also handled well. It’s one of the best time travel stories in the modern generation. The plot twist at the end was interesting, but needed to be explained a little better. Besides that, we have a movie every anime and non-anime fan should check out.

9/10

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

Seraph of the End has been compared to Attack on Titan quite a bit. The comparison is certainly justified. On the onset the two shows appear very similar. The ongoing plots center around a resistance attempting to survive and take back the Earth from a challenging threat. This kind of story is nothing new, but is always a blast to see what kind of unique spin a writer/director can put on it. Instead of giant monstrous zombies, this time we have, as the subtitle puts it, a reign of vampires. There are quite a few things so far stopping Seraph from being an all star show such as the first season of Psycho-Pass. It is however still an engaging entry in the ongoing Shonen library.

 

It’s not that difficult to start something out engaging. The hard part is continuing and living up to that very first episode. This is something Seraph struggles with: continuing to deliver the emotion and intensity from its first episode. “The World of Blood Legacy” is a perfect example of how to start a story with this kind of plot. It begins on an average day. Then the adult population starts to fall due to some kind of virus. It’s atmospheric, genuinely scary, and grabs the viewer’s attention right away. The twist is that the virus has not affected anyone under the age of 13. All the kids are put in vampire strongholds, which are basically concentration camps. We’re introduced to our main character Yūichirō and his adoptive family soon after the virus hits. Yū is bitter, but in this situation it’s justified. The relationship between him and his family is organic and the viewer feels for them. It’s impressive when any type of media can establish true emotion in less than 15 minutes.

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The turning point of the episode is when Yū’s best friend Mikaela devises a plan to escape the stronghold. The viewer roots for these kids to escapes, and can feel their dread when they walk into a trap. As each of Yū’s friends are stabbed by the vampire known as Ferid, the viewer is thrown in a loop. It’s hard to believe, after having these characters introduced, seeing them die off one by one. This is the emotion I was referring to earlier, which is one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever seen in an anime. The viewer can see the sadness on Yū’s face as the only family he’s ever known is destroyed right in front of him. What also adds to this is the fact that Mikaela gives Yū the go ahead to escape. Once again, the viewer can see the emotion as the main character has to decide whether to stay with his family to the end or escape and not let their sacrifice be in vain. Yū’s heartbreaking run into the outside world accompanied by a chilling soundtrack was greatly effective. In those last few moments we were given the perfect setup. We have the reason why he wants to slay all the vampires.

Well, as stated earlier, the rest of Part One doesn’t quite live up to that emotional setup. There are a few reasons for this. Episode 2 has a big time-skip as we see Yū in what is apparently a part of Japan that is not infested with vampires. This episode shows that everyday life is still going in. School, people getting ice cream, etc. The first episode gave the impression that everything is bleak and the humans are on the losing side. The status quo set in Episode 2 was poorly established. The main character is tasked with “making friends” in order to join the vampire extermination. It seemed like most of what was going on was just to stall for time until the main conflict.

It’s understandable what the show was trying to do: development for the main character as he’s given a new family. In some aspects this works. But, the way the story progresses just doesn’t mix with the first episode. We actually have school bullies, making fun of a 0 school test score, and meaningless arguing all the while the world is in complete turmoil. The show is aiming for the usual Shonen-like feel combined with a very dark situation. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and maybe some feel differently. I personally think the story would have benefited from a more serious tone and focused more on the “take back the world from vampires” plot than the main character’s school adventures.

 

Yū ranges from slightly engaging focus to unlikable. He’s nothing we haven’t seen before and many would compare him to Eren Yeager. Unlike Eren however, there are quite a few things in the 12 episodes stopping Yū from being a likable focus. He’s often a complainer, (though interesting enough but probably unintentional he represents the viewer’s thoughts of why most of the stuff is relevant to the conflict at hand) and being downright mean, such as stating to the class, “You can become vampires for all I care.” He never quite recovered from that line. Not only that, but his quest for power was annoying to watch. This is not to say the writing did an outright terrible job with him. Development is still not bad, and finally at the last episode he seems to have emerged as a likable focus.

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I don’t want to keep bringing up comparisons with Attack on Titan, but it’s almost impossible not to with Yoichi. He very similar to Armin, to the point where you can almost interchange them. Unlike Armin’s organic friendship with Eren however, the friendship between Yoichi and Yū  was very forced. The former is introduced in Episode 2 and by the end he’s calling Yū his best friend. This was very awkward and even cringe-worthy to watch. The writing tried too hard to establish the friendship early on rather than develop it. A lot of the focus is also on Shinoa. Her playful personality was fun. (Though parading around with the main character’s 0 test score was a bit much.) Her backstory with her sister is interesting and hopefully in Part 2 we’ll see it expanded on.

Later we’re introduced to Shihō  and Mitsuba, which makes up the team you see on the cover. The group forms rather suddenly, and the chemistry takes awhile to build. By the last episode they’re fun to watch together, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of them. To talk about the two briefly a bit, Shihō isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. What stops him from being painfully generic is the touching backstory with his sister. Still, it feels like he’s only there just to hurl one-liners at Yū. Mitsuba is more interesting. At first it seems like she’s a rather strict leader because that’s just her character. She’s given tragic backstory which explains her decisions in the present day. If it’s one thing Seraph is good at, it’s delivering quality backstories.

Aside from the main character’s arc, much of story is focused on Mikaela. At first I thought it was a mistake to bring him back after seemingly being killed in the first episode. (Since it might have taken away from the sacrifice.) But what the story has done is something that perfectly parallels what the main character is going through. Mikaela’s story is the most fascinating and engaging part of the show. As Ferid (whom is a pretty solid character as well) puts it, “You hate vampires and now you’re starting to hate humans. I’m curious as to which one you will choose.” Mikaela’s character is truly complex because while we know he’s not a villain, he’s also not quite the hero either as we see his thinking is  a little unhinged in the last couple of episodes. His encounter with Yū was expertly done with an extra emotional touch. I’m really looking forward to seeing this conflict take a bigger role in Part Two.

The battles are very well done. Episode 2 had a fun fight in the school room. Unfortunately after that there’s a serve lack of important battles. The best one is probably when Mikaela runs into Guren. As it stands, there aren’t any hugely notable battles, which should hopefully change in Part Two. Besides the vampire story, there’s a subplot involving demons. The humans apparently make contracts with demons for “Cursed Gear,” which gives the user a weapon powerful enough to slay vampires and monsters. I suppose it’s sort of like in Naruto with specific characters having an entity within them. This plot has only been briefly explained sadly. Another (though less notable) plot point is the pills Shinoa has the team take. This steroid/drug aspect was definitely not needed and could have been written out. The final two episodes delivered a couple of shocking plot twists, one of which makes the viewer question the morality of the humans. This should open some very interesting plot lines for Part Two.

As for the main antagonist, Krul the Vampire Queen is definitely a fun character to watch. Unfortunately she isn’t given much to do. In fact, she never comes into conflict with the humans in the 12 episodes. The viewer is left wondering how powerful she is. At the very least, the flashback to her enticing the newly vampire Mikaela to drink blood was pure villainy at its finest. Also, the idea of a vampire council is interesting since it means she isn’t the sole leader. Hopefully in the next part that aspect of the story will be explored more. Another interesting villain, Crowley, also doesn’t get to do much. That could be the point however, since it makes the viewer especially excited for Part Two. The soundtrack is strong throughout. The theme song in particular is one of the best I’ve heard in awhile.

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Overall, Seraph of the End starts out with excellent promise, but becomes not too much different than other Shonen shows. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, and there’s definitely fun to be had throughout the 12 episodes. But, it’s hard not to think how much better it could have been if it contained the same amount of emotion, darkness, and intensity of the first episode. The main character isn’t particularly great, and much of the early school scenes feel like filler. The friendship between Yū and Yoichi was very poorly established. The positives still compete with the negatives of course. The vampire backdrop is engaging to watch unfold. Mikaela is an excellent character, and probably the best part of the entire thing. Even though Part One had quite a few rough patches, the final episode makes sure to excite the viewer for the remainder of Season 1.

7/10

TOKYO GHOUL √A: Season 2 Review

The first season of TOKYO GHOUL contained pretty much all one could want in an anime. The story was quickly, but nicely established from that very first episode. We saw a human young man by the name of Kaneki forced into becoming a so-called “monster” and being thrown into crazy scenarios. He was a very reserved person, and with a gentle mindset. That’s why the final episode was the ultimate cliffhanger: he gave into his ghoul side to stop Jason. It’s been quite awhile since then for viewers, and with so much happening Season 2 (or rather √A) was heavily anticipated. Like the first Season, we have 12 episodes. √A continues the dark show well…somewhat. It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of its first Season. This is primarily because of the unfocused writing and questionable second half.

√A picks up directly where the first Season left off. The CCG is battling it out with Aogiri. Kaneki had just finished taking out Jason while Touka is in a deadly battle with her brother. As expected, there’s a great amount of intensity, not only in the fights but in the dialogue as well. Touka’s brother Ayato was established late in Season 1. Somehow a lot of anime can get away with establishing characters late in the game. We only got some lines of dialogue and a flashback to detail the hateful relationship between the two. Some shows take whole arcs to fully cement this kind of relationship. But in a quality show like Ghoul, it only takes an episode. The fight in the first episode here was extremely well done. Obviously not only because of the choreography (though that deserves praise as well) but because of what was established before between the two characters.

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It’s in this episode when were introduced to the Owl. This character looks especially imposing and unique, so hats off to the original designers. There are also a couple of other notable things happening here as well, the biggest being the ending which shapes the status quo for the next eleven episodes. Instead of Kaneki simply going back to Anteiku with his friends, he decides to join Aogiri. Plot developments like this are always shocking, sometimes a good shocking and sometimes not. Given the context and what was happening between the two episodes, Kaneki joining them came out of nowhere. The viewer at first is given no real reason for his joining. When that reason finally presents itself, it still doesn’t make up for this bizarre aspect of the story. (Never mind the fact that a member of their group was literally torturing him to death.) Also Ayato was trying to kill Kaneki; then about 15 minutes later they’re side by side on the same team with no dialogue questioning this. It felt like part of the episode was missing.

After this plot development is when the writing starts to become unfocused. Episodes 2 and 3 took time to show more of the inner workings of the CCG. They also served to introduce Akira, the daughter of the deceased Mado, into the fold. These aren’t bad things in themselves. The problem is that too much focus is on them when the viewer wants to see what’s going on with Kaneki and also Anteiku. The character of Akira isn’t bad, but sadly just reminds the viewer how much more engaging her father was. Amon is a very good character to watch, but that was due in part because he was nicely complemented by the buddy cop duo of him and Mado. The duo of Amon and Akira just isn’t as good. Plus, there’s an unnecessary romance subplot between the two that goes nowhere. The “bonding time” first at the bar then at the apartment was bizarre and just awkward to get through.

With Mado gone, the story puts an emphasis on the next most charismatic member of the CCG: Juuzou. He appeared briefly in Season 1. He was fun, but at the same time it felt like he was quirky just to be quirky. There was no reason why he acted the way he did. Thankfully, Season 2 adds excellent backstory. In just a couple of scenes Juuzou rises to being one of the greatest characters in the whole show. Shinohara of the CCG is also given more to do. He’s a likable character, and the friendship between him and Juuzou is expertly established. If a person only had time to state one thing Tokyo Ghoul has proven pretty consistent of, it’s that it knows how to generate genuine emotion in its scenes.

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The fight scenes and the soundtrack complementing them continues to be excellent. Perhaps the biggest highlight was in Episode 4, when Aogiri laid an assault on a top level ghoul prison. Though, one of the biggest plot holes was what happened to Orca. Aogiri wanted him retrieved, so they sent Kaneki. The two get into a big fight, with Orca completely outclassing Kaneki. Then we have another plot development: Kaneki becoming more of an uncontrollable monstrous ghoul. This is good stuff, but the problem is that after the episode makes such a big deal about Orca, he vanishes. I suppose it’s assumed Kaneki destroyed him, but even then it’s just too unclear. Plus, why did Aogiri want Orca? Just for him to join them? The writing unfortunately was very vague here.

Interestingly, Kaneki leaving seems to have affected Touka the most. The two had bonded and became close friends over the course of the first Season. The writing does a fantastic job showing her genuine sadness here. Though, fans might be disappointed that she doesn’t get to fight all that much. At the same time however she’s given development as she starts applying for college. Another returning character of note is Tsukiyama. He was one of the more interesting antagonists of the first Season. The installment there when he captures Kaneki was one of the most intensely written episodes I’ve ever seen in an anime. Sadly, his role in √A was minimal at best. The infamous drug-like scene was too awkward to watch. I know that’s supposed to be the point, but the writing went a little overboard.

Short seasons aren’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s usually the shorter shows which prove to be the best. (Such as the first season of Psycho-Pass and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.) There is however always the chance that things could be rushed or poorly explained. The final four or so episodes of √A is an example of this. There’s a lot of major plot twists, such as with Yoshimura that could have been better developed over the course of more episodes. Things happen way too fast where the viewer is given too much shocking information almost all at once. The revelation of the final boss also comes out of left field. The assault on Anteiku was very well done, but would have been better if there were more episodes building up to it. At the very least, the coffee shop scenes between Yoshimura and Shinohara were very well done and tension filled.

The Season ends with a lot of loose ends. (Such as characters, like the twins, whom seemingly disappear after their major appearance.) Of course, it’s somewhat forgivable assuming a Season 3 is coming. Though, unlike the first Season’s cliffhanger when the viewer thought, “wow that was something, give me Season 2” instead it’s more like, “that’s it?” It was hard to be invested in the final episode with the overload of confusing information and things happening. At the least, the usage of Season’s 1 opening theme as Kaneki walks into the spotlight was an excellent touch.

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Overall, √A isn’t a bad followup to the first Season, though at the same time being something of a disappointment. The animation looks great, and the fight scenes are excellent. The dialogue and backstories are also very well done. Quite a few aspects of the writing however stops it from being called another “great” season. Kaneki’s leaving was handled very abruptly (not to mention that he gets a criminally low amount of screen time) and the final few episodes needed much better developing. Still, if one enjoyed the first Season, he/she should like √A at least a bit.

6.5/10

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