This show has a disturbing set-up and uses the heck out of it.
Emma (Sumire Morohoshi/Erica Mendez), Norman (Maaya Uchida/Jeannie Tirado), and Ray (Mariya Ise/Laura Stahl) are three 11 year old children who live together at an orphanage called “Grace Field House.” They live an idyllic existence with their foster siblings and their caretaker whom they call Mom/Mother (Yūko Kaida/Laura Post). One night, after one of their siblings is adopted, Norman and Emma sneak out to give the child her stuffed animal, only to find the child dead at the hands of a demon. It turns out that Grace Field House is not an orphanage, it’s a farm and they’re the crop. Now the three have to find a way to escape along with their other siblings while evading Mom and her assistant, Sister Krone (Nao Fujita/Rebeka Thomas).
This show is one of the most aggressively disturbing set-ups I’ve seen in a long time. It hits harder than many shows because it’s not just a dystopia, it’s a dystopia focused on killing children. Almost all of it, at least so far, has been off-screen, but it’s still a horrifying idea that this happy orphanage is literally just raising children to be slaughtered. The show does a good job of keeping the pressure on all of the characters through that and it’s all the heavier because these are young people who normally wouldn’t have to consider their mortality.
What sets the show’s cast of characters apart is that these aren’t normal 11 year olds, they’re all prodigies on an epic scale. They not only are heavily educated, but they’re constantly trained to think critically. The explanation of WHY they were raised that way is a bit of a stretch (at least the one they gave so far), but it justifies having a hypercompetent set of protagonists so I can accept it. Against a normal adult, these kids would likely triumph without issue, so naturally their opposition, Mom, has to be unbelievably intelligent and resourceful. Watching the two groups scheme and counter-scheme is like watching a high-level chess match, sometimes literally. It’s tense and exciting and full of twists.
Overall, this was a really solid series. It’s rough to watch, because of the plot, but it’s worth it.
I take a look at an adaptation of a medieval fantasy video game series.
In the medieval land of Gransys, Ethan (Yūichi Nakamura/Greg Chun), a hunter, loses his wife Olivia (Miyuki Sawashiro/Cristina Vee) and his surrogate son Louis (Yūko Sanpei/Jeannie Tirado) to an attack by a savage Dragon (Takayuki Sugō/David Lodge). The Dragon, sensing Ethan’s hate, takes Ethan’s heart and revives him as an Arisen. He is soon joined by a magical humanoid creation called a Pawn, whom he names Hannah (Nana Mizuki/Erica Mendez). Together, the two head through Gransys to slay the Dragon, and all of the monsters they meet along the way.
This show’s apparently an adaptation of a video game, and that’s kind of what it feels like. Every episode feels like the next level that slowly gets to the “boss” Dragon. While this provides some boost to the structure and pacing of the show, it does get a bit repetitive, mostly because the characterization of Ethan and Hannah is really thin until the very last episode. Even the episode that fleshes out Ethan’s backstory doesn’t really do it in a way that evokes a lot of emotion. The monster designs are pretty solid, but only a handful of them are particularly creative. The rest are just picked from a DnD Monster Manual.
Every episode is named after a particular sin representing one of the monsters in it or the general theme, which, at times, feels a little like a PSA. This is particularly true of “Sloth,” which generally comes off as being a Reagan-esque “Winners Don’t Do Drugs” fable. This vibe conflicts with the fact that the violence and nudity give the show a distinctly adult feel. This tonal inconsistency is only matched by the character inconsistency, with several supporting characters seeming to change motives at a moment. It’s particularly noticeable with Ethan and Hannah, who both seem to fluctuate between “help the people” and “kill the dragon, screw the people” depending on what the current episode needs.
In positives, the fight scenes are pretty good. Some of them are creative or at least have nice visual elements. I will say that the last episode does make me want to see more of this show, because they open it up for a completely new direction. At seven episodes, some of which are under 20 minutes, the show isn’t a major investment if you just have some time to kill.
Overall, if you like hack and slash, give it a try, but if not, maybe wait until we find out if Season 2 is any better.
Netflix brings us a new heist series from the studio that animates Attack on Titan.
Makoto Edamura (Chiaki Kobayashi/Alan Lee) is a Japanese man who was forced into becoming a con artist after being the fall guy for a fraudulent corporation. He attempts to run a scam on a French man named Laurent Thierry (Junichi Sawabe/Aaron Phillips), only to find out that Laurent is a much better con man. Makoto chases after Laurent and ends up following him to the US, where he finds out that Laurent is a gentleman thief who steals from the corrupt. The two end up becoming associates after Laurent drags Makoto into a scam on a drug dealer. Along with Laurent’s associates Abigail and Cynthia (Natsumi Fujiwara/Kausar Mohammed and Mie Sonozaki/Laura Post), the pair travel the world trying to take money from the most despicable people on Earth.
I was a big fan of the show Leverage, but I often found it to be too formulaic. It was a series about repeatedly committing elaborate heists and, as Rick and Morty pointed out, eventually having a big reveal that everything was “just part of the plan” gets old. This show manages to avert that a bit by having each of the heists consist of four or five episodes apiece. The first season actually only consists of three separate heists and, with so much time to spend on the stories, they’re able to focus more on the growth of the main characters, mostly Makoto. While it does still tend to have a “let me tell you how it really happened” finale, the fact that they’re spaced out by several hours and usually less dramatic than in films like Ocean’s Eleven helps to make it easier to deal with.
Makoto and Laurent’s relationship is one of the more interesting facets of the show. Laurent is the more talented one of the pair and operates on a completely different scale from Edamura, however, he’s also somewhat colder and more unforgiving towards his victims. In the first heist, for example, Edamura becomes concerned about the welfare of one of the goons working for the target and his son, even risking everything to help them. Laurent would likely have just ensured everyone went down if it weren’t for Edamura. However, Laurent considers his business to be completely moral, something that Edamura starts to doubt after the initial partnership. Edamura frequently states that he’s getting out, but, naturally, after Laurent lays out the pitch to him, he tells the son of a b*tch that he’s in. Their relationship bounces between mentor and student, partners, and semi-rivals, which keeps it interesting.
In terms of supporting characters, Abigail and Cynthia both end up getting a bit more development than I had expected from the beginning and there have been hints that there is still a lot of ground to explore. I feel like Laurent’s background is the least explored as of now, but that is natural given that the show is really only starting. The villains that the cast deals with are also expanded upon better than I would have thought. While many of them are still unrepentant in their lack of care for their victims, they also seem to have some personal relationships that matter to them, which is more than we usually get for targets in shows like this.
Overall, I really did enjoy this show. It’s more character-driven than most heist series.
Based on a 1970s novel, we follow a family living through a natural disaster.
It’s 2020, the Tokyo Olympics are over (tells you when this was written), and a massive earthquake strikes. Four members of the Mutou family survive: Mother Mari (Yuko Sasaki/Grace Lynn Kung), Father Koichiro (Masaki Terasoma/Keith Silverstein), and children Gou and Ayumu (Tomo Muranaka/Ryan Bartley, Reina Ueda/Faye Mata). After reuniting, they set off walking across Japan in search of a place to get off. It turns out that the earthquakes are a sign of something more dire: The Japanese archipelago is sinking.
Masaaki Yuasa, the mind behind the grim and violent Devilman Crybaby and the extremely trippy Mind Game is being hailed as the lead behind this show, but aside from the subject matter it doesn’t have most of his bitter touches or his creativity. I can’t tell if that’s a sign that he left most of the series to the other director, Pyeon-Gang Ho, or if he just completely whiffed on this one. It’s not that Japan Sinks 2020 is bad, I actually still enjoyed it, but it’s pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of disaster films or television. Nature kicks the crap out of people, people then kick the crap out of each other, rinse and repeat.
There are a few things that the show definitely gets “right.” First, plot armor pretty much doesn’t exist in this show, for good or ill. Anyone can die, much like Game of Thrones, and that includes the people you like. In fact, having a conscience often proves a liability. This becomes apparent early on when Ayumu helps an older couple by offering them some water, but they immediately take advantage of her generosity. Stuff like that happens throughout, and even though the story does ultimately show that we are stronger together, the fact that times of chaos result in people killing each other for resources (that they don’t even need) is shown painfully well by the show. Second, the show does a good job of demonstrating the extent to which people will act irrationally when confronted with things out of their control. Considering that America is currently dealing with a preventable pandemic that is largely due to the inability for people to take reasonable steps, this seems… on the nose. Third, the relationships between the family members and those of their temporary family are strong and believable. There is a love that speaks to a great willingness to sacrifice for others, and that’s always going to be a powerful message when done right.
Unfortunately, some of this is somewhat undermined by the show. Even though anyone can die, for some reason natural disasters appear to pick off the greedy or the selfish at opportune moments. It’s like the Earthquakes are paying attention for “d*ck moves.” The message of sacrifice appears mostly to be based on the old being willing to sacrifice for the young, which seems to often have the older people dumping all of their failings on the next generation. It’s like someone saying “sorry about the global warming, but I’ll be dead before it’s a big deal.” Ultimately, that’s the biggest weakness of the series, it keeps trying to force narrative occurrences in order to try and make the story into an allegory, rather than just letting the journey of the characters supply the meaning.
Overall, the series is not the strongest, but if you want a disaster anime, the scale of this one does still make it worth watching.
Netflix gives us an anime adaptation of a steampunk series about hunting dragons.
Welcome aboard the Quin Zaza, an airship crewed by a group of “Drakers” or people who hunt dragons for a living. Far from the typical depictions of monstrous fire-breathing lizards that destroy villages, dragons in this world are preyed upon by humans who use their oils for various resources and feast on their delicious meat. Takita (Sora Amamiya/Cassandra Lee Morris) is the enthusiastic new recruit aboard the vessel, serving alongside/under her sister Vanabelle (Kana Hanazawa/Colleen O’Shaughnessey). Other crew members include the gluttonous gourmand Mika (Tomoaki Maeno/Billy Kametz) and the cool and collected Jiro (Sōma Saitō/Johnny Yong Bosch). Most of the series is following their attempts to travel between the distant human settlements and keep the ship afloat by draking.
I honestly wouldn’t have thought I’d like this show, but I’ll have to admit that it grew on me quickly. The set-up and setting are both pretty solid surrogates for the whaling cultures of the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, in order to simulate the same conditions of whalers, having to go weeks or months stuck on a boat, this society has human settlements spread apart in a mostly feudal society (similar to Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled during the 18th and early 19th centuries). As such, coming back to port is a big deal, despite the fact that they’re largely over land all of the time. The setting is kind of a perfect blend of steampunk elements with Western and Eastern history, but without all of the worries about historical issues complicating the narrative.
The nature of the show allows much of the story to focus less on the action of catching and killing dragons, but more on the slow character moments that take place aboard the ship. It has a lot of scenes dedicated to things like cooking and tasting the dragon meat, and I have to give the animation full credit here, it looks freaking delicious. Mika’s enthusiasm towards the subject and his very colorful descriptions of the taste and texture help sell it. In addition, a lot of the time on the ship is just spent trying to avoid boredom, filling it with chores and scheduling, just like you would imagine was true on a real whaling vessel. Much like Moby Dick, this forces the stories to be more character-driven and introspective.
Overall, if you like Anime, this is probably a good one to check out. The episodes that are up really feel like a prelude, so I hope they keep the series going.
It’s a Red Panda singing Death Metal. If you aren’t intrigued, please call a doctor.
SUMMARY (Spoiler Free)
Retsuko (Kaolip and Rarecho (Japan)/Erica Mendez and Jamison Boaz (Eng.)) is a 25-year-old red panda who works in the accounting department of a large company with her friends Fenneko, a fennec fox (Rina Inoue/Katelyn Gault) and Haida, a hyena (Shingo Kato/Ben Diskin). She is constantly beaten down by the monotony of the work, the harassment of her boss, Mr. Ton (Souta Arai/Josh Petersdorf), and the treachery of her senior accountant Tsubone (Maki Tsuruta/Debra Cardona). To cope with all of the stress in her life, Retsuko lets out her frustrations by going to karaoke and busting out Death Metal songs about her life. Most of the series is just her dealing with things like dating, meeting new friends, trying to lose weight, and trying to find a way out of her job.
First of all, Red Pandas are the greatest animal on Earth and my strongest case for my belief in a higher power, as nothing that cute can possibly have evolved naturally (Note: This is a joke, I get how natural selection works). As such, it made sense that Sanrio, the company famous for making Hello Kitty, would eventually use them as the basis for one of their characters. However, I could never have believed that they would have come up with this series, which, while the characters are mostly adorable, is about as bleak and unforgiving as… reality, I guess.
Retsuko’s public persona is unimpressive in almost every way. She makes a lot of mistakes at her job, she has social anxiety, she’s insecure, she isn’t good at dealing with her bosses or her co-workers, and that’s sort of what puts her in the situation we find her in at the beginning of the series. She’s become so unhappy that it actually starts to lead to her making bad decisions that end up getting her in even more trouble at work, but, like most people, she absolutely can’t afford to lose her job. I hope that this doesn’t resonate with any of you, dear readers, but this does seem to resemble many people I know… and am. She doesn’t really have any hope of promotion in the near future, particularly since the people being promoted aren’t necessarily the people who do the best work, but she doesn’t really have anything else she can do. Even if she looks for another job, it’s likely to be a similar position within another massive company that will have the same problems. The only people who seem to be avoiding it are people who have parents helping them up. Basically, she’s most people between the ages of 25 and 40.
Retsuko’s only respite is that she secretly goes and sings Death Metal in an amazing voice and generally takes on the appearance of a demon while she does (becoming Aggressive Retsuko, or Aggretsuko). At first, she tries desperately to hide the fact that she does this, but as the series goes on, she becomes more open about it, particularly after she befriends Washimi (Komegumi Koiwasaki/Tara Platt) and Gori (Maki Tsuruta/G.K. Bowes), two high-powered women within the office. By the end of the series, she’s sung in front of almost everyone, although several people think they were just drunk and hallucinating Retsuko busting out super-loud metal. There are usually 1-2 songs per episode and they’re all pretty amazing, particularly the ones where Retsuko is complaining about her boss.
I do have to give them credit for how they made the animals representative (for the most part) of the characters. For example, Mr. Ton is a pig (because he’s a chauvinist), Fenneko is a fennec because she overhears everything like a fennec fox, Washimi is a secretary bird (she’s the head of secretarial), and Gori is a gorilla (because she’s head of marketing… guerilla marketing). I still haven’t figured out what, if any, meaning there are to some of the other animals, but I’m betting there’s some pun in Japanese.
This show is good in both Japanese and English, so don’t let people pressure you to only do subtitles.
Overall, I like the show, mostly because it’s just representative of the bleak nature of adulthood in the modern era. We spend all of our time working and most of us don’t even talk to people about the things that we love to do for fun because it might not be “socially acceptable.” Give it a shot sometime.
Up front, I was never the biggest fan of Bleach. I do like some anime and manga (One Piece is still amazing) and I did enjoy the first two or three arcs of the series (I don’t know how it’s organized), but it started to fall prey to Dragon Ball-esque Serial Escalation and the characters didn’t interest me enough to put up with it. If you’re not familiar with Serial Escalation, it’s where a series is forced to constantly increase the power of the opponents in order to maintain some semblance of threat to the hero. Basically, if you beat a demon, you then have to beat a super-demon, then the devil, then the super-devil, then the anti-God (this example is pulled from the show Supernatural). Bleach does this so badly, the final opponent in the series EATS GOD. Still, the art style and universe were always pretty creative and this adaptation manages to keep that as much as a live-action movie can.
Ichigo Kurosaki (Sota Fukushi) is a high-schooler who has three unusual traits: First, he has naturally strawberry blonde hair (and his name means strawberry, so his parents picked well). Second, he’s extremely strong and fast with solid instincts for fighting. Third, he can see ghosts. Guess which one this series is about?
Ichigo spends much of his time trying to bring peace to the spirits he finds around Karakura Town in West Tokyo, Japan. One day, however, he spots a girl wielding a sword and wearing a black kimono who seems surprised to see him. She reveals herself to be Rukia Kuchiki (Hana Sugisaki) a Shinigami (God of Death) or “Soul Reaper.” Basically, they guide souls to the afterlife. However, when a soul dies while filled with rage, despair, or teenage angst (I assume), then their ghost wanders around with a hole in it that eventually expands, turning them into a “Hollow,” a demonic ghost that has to be purified by being slain by a Soul Reaper. One of these Hollows attacks Ichigo’s family and Rukia is injured in the process. Deciding that there’s only one way to stop the monster, she gives Ichigo her powers, despite it being forbidden.
Rukia discovers that she can’t just take her powers back until she recharges her spiritual energy and Ichigo builds up his own, so she has to pretend to be a normal human for some time while training Ichigo to do her duties as a Soul Reaper. At the same time, her brother Byakuya (Miyavi) sends her friend Renji Abarai (Taichi Saotome) to bring her back, but he ends up misunderstanding the situation and threatens Ichigo until they’re interrupted by a third person shooting magic arrows. The shooter is revealed to be Ichigo’s classmate Uryu Ishida (Ryo Yoshizawa), a member of the Quincy race, a group of superpowered humans who fight hollows but were massacred by the Soul Reapers in the past. Renji flees.
Uryu challenges Ichigo to a contest of banishing Hollows, which he does by summoning a number of them to the city. Renji returns with Byakuya, who issues an ultimatum to Rukia: Kill Ichigo by taking back her energy or face capital punishment. Ichigo points out that, if he slays a strong enough Hollow, he should be able to survive the transfer. So, he trains to build himself up to be able to kill the monster, known as the Grand Fisher. It’s also revealed that Grand Fisher actually killed Ichigo’s mother using its power, with which it conjures a luring image of a small girl to throw its prey off guard. He succeeds in killing the monster, but Renji returns to fight him. Ichigo manages to defeat him, however Byakuya finally intercedes and proves that he is on a completely different level. Rukia agrees to extract Ichigo’s energy to save his life and bids him farewell. As the movie ends, it appears that everyone has forgotten Rukia except, maybe, Ichigo.
So, this movie tries to cram like three storylines into one film, something that usually produces a movie like The Last Airbender or Ghost Rider: Poorly paced and with mostly underdeveloped characters. This movie manages to avert that by avoiding exposition, letting the performances of the actors really handle the characterization and emotional aspects of the film, and making the film as streamlined as possible so you don’t really question how little of the universe is actually explained to you. This movie isn’t going to win any Oscars, but it’s not supposed to, it’s just supposed to be entertaining and that’s exactly what it delivers.
There are a few standout elements, though. For one, the characters manage to really look like a cross between their anime character models and physically possible Japanese people. If you look at them next to their designs, you wouldn’t say they’re identical or even that similar in some cases, but you also would immediately know who is supposed to be who. While some of the character aspects are made more realistic or grounded, they did also keep some of the more outlandish anime elements. This serves to emphasize those elements through contrast, which, since they’re some of the most memorable aspects of the series, is actually a good thing here.
Another big positive is how the characters play off of each other. When the manga first started, that was one of the most amusing and compelling parts of the series, before eventually becoming “get a higher power level.” Ichigo’s relationships to everyone, while fairly simple and direct, are obvious by how he relates to each of them, including how he becomes more familiar and open with Rukia over the course of the movie. Sota Fukushi plays everything over-the-top which, since this is supposed to be a cartoon, works perfectly.
The pacing is pretty solid, which was important. The movie never feels rushed. They cover a lot of ground, but at the end of the film you feel like it was just the right amount of ground to cover in 108 minutes. The ending is basically a teaser for the next movie, but I think years of Marvel films have led me to accept that this is something that just happens now.
There aren’t a ton of things I’ll take shots at within the movie, but here are a few:
Compared to the manga and anime, they do have fewer Hollows and overtly supernatural images, probably due to budget. However, they properly emphasize the ones they do have, which is the best thing you can hope for. This also serves to sort of streamline the mythos and the rules of the universe, something that, honestly, the anime itself should have done more often. This is like a survey course in Bleach: You get all of the key stuff, but if you want to get into why Hollows have Spanish names or how the Soul Society works, you’re going to have to break open a book.
Also, they seriously didn’t develop Rukia enough. She’s such a great character and she owns almost every scene she’s in. I think that Hana Sugisaki is probably the best actor in the film, managing to run the gamut of emotions when dealing with either normal people (who she doesn’t understand), Ichigo (who she feels both indebted to and anger towards), Renji (who she clearly has feelings for), and Byakuya (with whom she has an incredibly complicated relationship). She always sells a lot more with her delivery than the lines would normally merit, which makes it kind of sad that she doesn’t have more of them. Hell, I’d watch a remake of this movie’s arc that’s just more focused on her than Ichigo, but Bleach is Ichigo’s story, so that’s not going to happen.
Overall, this isn’t going to go down as a movie that people who don’t like anime can still enjoy, like Oldboy, but if you’re a fan of the genre, this’ll work for you. And hey, at least it isn’t Dragonball Evolution.