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.
I take a look at a collection of shorts about unlikely heroes.
This movie is a collection of three stories which have no connections as far as I can tell.
The first story is “Kanini and Kanino.” Kanini and Kanino (Fumino Kimura and Rio Suzuki) are tiny anthropomorphic freshwater crabs. Their mother goes away to give birth, leaving their father to look after them. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in the stream and the pair must face fish and other predators on their way to find him.
The second story is “Life ain’t gonna lose.” It tells the story of Shun (Sōta Shinohara/ Henry Kaufman), a young boy who is allergic to eggs. His allergy is so great that even incidental contact with them is almost immediately fatal to him. One day, unfortunately, while he is alone, Shun accidentally gets exposed, and has to struggle to stay alive.
The last story is “Invisible.” A businessman (Joe Odagiri) finds people ignoring him so strongly that he starts to become invisible. Eventually, he’s given the chance to do something noteworthy.
So, this is the second film to be released by Studio Ponoc after the film Mary and the Witch’s Flower. If you haven’t seen that one, it’s a fantasy story about a girl who finds a magic flower and ends up joining a School for Witches and it’s pretty darn cute. Studio Ponoc was founded by a producer from the legendary Studio Ghibli, Yoshiaki Nishimura, following his consecutive Oscar nominations for The Tale of Princess Kaguya and When Marnie was There. At the same time, Ghibli took a break from releasing films which they’ll hopefully resume soon. Ponoc has since picked up a number of people from Ghibli, including the three directors of the shorts in this film. There were apparently originally supposed to be four shorts, but Isao Takahata, the acclaimed director of Grave of the Fireflies, died before he could make the fourth one. Because of that, this movie is actually only 53 minutes long, rather than the 80 minutes that it likely was supposed to be.
The first segment is the most surreal. It’s a nature story about freshwater crabs, however, the crabs are portrayed as being tiny humans. Their claws are represented by weapons that they carry with them. Apparently this species of freshwater crab, which lives in mountain streams, only gets a few inches wide. The world we see is scaled to them, so fish, birds, and even rocks are all massive. They can fight, but mostly, they just have to hide and hope to be ignored by the bigger animals. We see the two children having difficulty doing things like catching minnows, showing their helplessness. That raises the stakes all the more when we see them set off on their own to find their father, who is depicted as a strong provider. The animation in this segment is great, but the water is particularly impressive. It looks almost real when we see it from above. It is a little weird that the crabs are humans and the dragonflies are humans, yet the fish are fish, but it’s still a cute story.
The second story is the most grounded and ultimately the darkest. We’re given an inside look at the life of a person with a fatal allergy. Shun has been allergic since he was a baby, meaning that he has never known a life without constantly being in mortal danger. He has to take precautions around literally everyone, including avoiding having his classmates touch him if they’ve handled eggs. A part of the segment revolves around him trying to work out how to go on a field trip, something that most everyone else takes for granted. Then, we finally see him have to survive when he’s having an episode all by himself, straining to stay alive. It’s a hard story to watch in some ways because it’s real, but it also is more inspiring because it’s a thing that people really have to overcome regularly.
The last segment is about a relatable feeling for many of us, being ignored. However, here, the man is ignored so much that he literally starts to become invisible. As he shrinks further and further away from any other people, he then starts to become untethered from the world, making him start to physically float away. Finally, he manages to find one person who can recognize his presence and have a real human connection, which leads him to finally be able to do something that makes everyone else recognize him. While the short is heavy in metaphor, it’s still very powerful when it gets going because it’s a metaphor that most people can easily relate to. Also, the animation of the invisible man is just brilliant. It’s not animating a thing, but instead the absence of a thing and, honestly, it works better in animation than it does in live action films.
Overall, solid film and it takes less than an hour to watch it.
It’s always fun to watch bad guys be the best good guys.
In the land of Brittania (not to be confused with any real place with similar name), the kingdom of Liones lived in relative peace until the king was overthrown by the Holy Knights, his elite armed forces. The Princess, Elizabeth Liones (Sora Amamiya/Erika Harlacher), set out to find the exiled warriors who previously betrayed the Holy Knights, the Seven Deadly Sins. She actually manages to find Meliodas (Yūki Kaji/Bryce Papenbrook), the captain of the Sins, and the pair embark on a quest to find the others. They succeed in locating four more of the group: Ban the immortal (Tatsuhisa Suzuki/Ben Diskin), Diane the giant (Aoi Yūki/Erica Mendez), King the Elf (Jun Fukuyama/Max Mittelman), and Gowther the doll (Yuhei Takagi/Erik Scott Kimerer). The five, later joined by Merlin the sorceress (Maaya Sakamoto/Lauren Landa), manage to liberate the kingdom from the Holy Knights, only to discover that the entire takeover was engineered to release an even greater threat: The demonic Ten Commandments. Together with the seventh Sin, Escanor (Tomokazu Sugita/Kyle Hebert), the group must stop the Demon Clan from taking over Brittania.
I will admit that when I first checked out this series, I had already read some of the manga, so I think I might have expected too much of it. The anime is a pretty faithful adaptation, particularly compared to some others that I’ve seen, but it didn’t feel like it added enough for me. As a result, I kinda bailed after the second season. However, since the manga has wrapped up in the interim, I decided I wanted to see how the story ended. So, I checked it out again and I will say that they did get a little bit better at layering extra imagery onto the anime that wasn’t in the manga to keep it fresh.
The main thing that I liked about the series at the beginning was that most of the main characters were, in fact, depicted as sinners. Meliodas was a pervert who constantly groped Elizabeth (which she apparently liked, but is still wrong) and was presumed to be concealing an impossible amount of rage beneath his joking facade. Ban was a thief, King was responsible for his species nearly being destroyed, Diane constantly tried to force Meliodas into a relationship with her, Gowther was literally amoral, Merlin was willing to experiment on people without their knowledge, and Escanor, as is true to his sin, was the embodiment of haughty pride. Having protagonists with such flaws almost always makes the story more interesting, but they tried to make a few of them a little more likable at the cost of removing that moral ambiguity. Still, the personalities and character traits are pretty solid for a show like this.
It also helps that the show references a diverse number of mythologies, either directly or via allusion, and that it builds on elements from them to quickly create a world that contains a huge number of species and cultures. The show has traditional fantasy races like elves and giants, but also celestial and demonic forces that are a blend of DnD and Abrahamic religions. Arthurian mythology is directly invoked, as is modern vampire mythology and even some Western pop literature.
The biggest problem, for me, was that the series had to do the Dragon Ball Z thing of having to constantly level up the powers of the characters in order to keep them as the underdogs. The series even gives you a “power level” reader just to make sure that you understand that these threats completely outclass our protagonists, such that when the Ten Commandments are first introduced, one of their number is stronger than all of the Sins combined. This seemed almost unnecessary because the Commandments also had innovative powers that could have made them a threat even if they were just even in power. Still, so many series have done this, I can hardly hold it against them. I just appreciate it more when series, like One Piece, for example, at least hint from the beginning that this kind of power exists in the world, so that it doesn’t just feel like the narrator saying “well, you beat Bob the Unbeatable, now you have to beat Tim the More Unbeatable who we didn’t mention before now.”
Overall, I do still think it’s a solid series. Plus, it has an apparent end point in the next season or two, so you don’t have to worry about sitting around 10 years from now waiting for the arc to finish. Lookin’ at you, One Piece.
We get a darker take on the classic series, even if it’s just a taste.
The planet Cybertron was once peacefully populated by robotic life (somehow, that term is accurate). Then, a new faction of synthetic organisms arose, the Decepticons, led by Megatron (Jason Marnocha). They began a war for control of the planet. Their only opposition ended up being the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (Jake Foushee). The war has raged for years, and now, the Autobots stand on the edge of defeat. Hope comes in the form of the rogue Cybertronian Bumblebee (Joe Zieja) and the possible source of all life on the planet, the Allspark. The battle for the future of the planet is on.
If you have never watched a Transformers property before, this show is not for you. It is not interested in really giving you any introductions to the world or the characters, nor is it interested in fleshing out a ton of the backstories of any of them. Given the sheer number of Transformers featured as secondary characters, this may overwhelm a lot of viewers. However, in some ways, I appreciate this kind of setup, because it prevents a lot of the overdone exposition which is common in many Transformers series. Also, it’s not like Transformers needs to be complicated. There are good robots and bad robots and some of the bad ones turn good or vice versa. Good ones are usually the underdogs, bad ones usually end up losing.
Actually, this adaptation has way more moral ambiguity than most of the previous series. At the beginning of the show, we see Megatron, typically shown to be a mass-murdering conqueror, talking about honor and attempting to resolve the war without having to kill all of the Autobots. At the same time, we see Optimus Prime, typically the ultimate symbol of goodness, considering some darker and less honorable tactics than we usually wouldn’t associate with him. As the series progresses, they both end up moving more towards their traditional roles. The series seems to indicate that their actions throughout the entire war are as much about their personal feud as they were for their principles.
The war for Cybertron has long been a part of the mythology of the Transformers, but this show is the most explicit version that I can remember. While the Autobots are usually shown to be fighting a losing battle, this show makes that painfully clear by having most of the planet in shambles, all of the autobots injured or battle-damaged, and random robot remains strewn about the locations. While it is bloodless, since they don’t have blood, this would resemble the battlefields from the film 1917 otherwise. Moreover, a big part of the struggle is to find enough energon to survive, something that both sides are having trouble with. That means that the two armies are both starving to death throughout the series. It makes this whole series darker than any I’ve seen before.
The biggest problem with the show is that it really just doesn’t have a lot of time. At 6 episodes, the plot feels a bit rushed, even without the backstories. Since this was only the first chapter, though, there are plenty of opportunities to expand in the future. On the lighter side, I do enjoy the fact that the show makes some fun references, including a recurring Blade Runner joke, and that it does point out sometimes that many of the Transformers look like others, only with different colors. Since many of the toys were made by taking the same figures and giving them new patterns, this is kind of a fun shot at the nature of the show being to sell toys.
Overall, I enjoyed it. I admit that I’ve only dipped into the franchise a few times since Beast Wars, but this was a solid miniseries and I look forward to the next installment. Thank you to the readers who recommended this 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.