In American superhero culture there is an often annoying discussion about power-level in regards to fictional characters. The logic of any shonen action series or superhero story steeped in thematic morals is that the hero with the strongest will and heart wins specifically because of those components.
Yet still people will get all up in arms, partly because suspension of disbelief is often integral to the balance needed to keep audiences entertained. The other reason is that characters who are overpowered are often criticised because their power seems unearned, their victories seem illogical, or that there is no tension. It is the same reason why Superman is such a divisive character.
Funnily enough, the works of manga artist ONE seem to avoid these issues in discussion surrounding the works. It could be because the very nature of characters being overpowered are the point of the story like in One Punch Man, but there is more to it than that. After finally watching Mob Psycho 100, it is apparent that ONE’s talent comes from his ability to tackle complex themes and to produce tension and stakes through character drama rather than simply through the power levels of the characters.
Now that I have finally watched it, One thing is for sure, and it is that I am even more angry that Mob Psycho 100 did not win best animation back in 2016.
I’ve discussed previously my disdain for the praise aimed at Trigger in its early days. The whole “savior of anime” meme got old quick with the industry growing larger than ever, and certainly not solely because of Trigger’s work. Funnily enough, as time has gone on, there are now a lot of people who seem to think Trigger is “stagnating,” but that’s kinda bullshit.
With their catalog having built up over the years, Trigger has only been getting more praiseworthy as time has gone on. Kiznaiver was one of the best looking shows of 2016, Gridman was one of my top five from last year, and I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time I watched Space Patrol Luluco.
Now, director Hiroyuki Imaishi and screenwriter Kazuto Nakashima have reunited for a new project, this time a feature-length film. As I am in Japan currently, I took this rare opportunity to see the film in theaters. Because I am not fluent and didn’t pick up on everything, this is not a formal review, but I couldn’t resist taking the time to give my thoughts.
Some months back I went on a whole tirade about finding my “perfect” anime and ended up determining my three favorite shows of all time. One of them was Kekkai Sensen, an episodic action series by Studio Bones, which remains to be the closest to perfection I have found. However, when making that decision, I had a significantly difficult time picking between that and one other show: Bungo Stray Dogs.
Bungo Stray Dogs follows the Armed Detective Agency, a group of superhuman detectives who keep order in the port city of Yokohama. Meanwhile, they frequently face off against other supernatural organizations such as the aptly named Port Mafia. All major characters are named and based on real literary authors.
They are somewhat similar in premise. Both shows follow a team of sometimes serious, sometimes whacky superhumans keeping the peace in their respective towns. Kekkai Sensen captures the packed insanity of New York City while throwing in aliens and monsters. Bungo favors a more comparably peaceful and modern Yokohama. Both shows are episodic with a through-line narrative, both straddle the line between dramatic and comedic and they are both produced by Bones.
Eventually, it was no contest that Kekkai Sensen won the battle for being a bit more put-together throughout, whereas BSD was mixed in the first season. It helps that the former has the single greatest season finale I’ve ever witnessed, putting at least the first season comfortably among my top three.
That being said, Bungo Stray Dogs rides much the same line that Kekkai Sensen treads in winning over my heart and could easily make my top 10. It has managed to continue strong, with a feature film and a currently-airing third season. Six episodes in, it doesn’t seem to be losing stride.
There are some shows that I immerse myself in and binge within 24 hours, totally content and happy, only to find myself going blank when I attempt to assess the show’s quality. Certain genres are hard to critique because the magic that makes them click for audiences are more difficult to put into words. The Promised Neverland is one of those shows.
Specifically, this is a show depicting a mental tug of war between two sides trapped together. The tide is constantly shifting in one side’s favor and it all builds to an elaborately constructed conclusion, the complexity of which I- an aspiring writer- could only dream of creating. It’s… a lot to unpack, but the short version is: It’s really good.
Look at any of Japan’s most prominent genres and you might notice how self-referential the country’s media is. The tropes and visual iconography seen in classic Mecha like 1988’s Gun Buster can be seen mimicked in everything from Gundam to other classics like Gurren Lagann. I think of this as a cultural signature of Japan that they love to pay homage to the art that inspires new works. It’s about embracing new while not forgetting the old.
This past fall, SSSS Gridman hit the scene, especially committed to capturing the magic of classic Tokusatsu beyond visual cues. In the same vein, a new series on Netflix appears to have the same intentions, though arguably more accessible than Gridman. With sci-fi directors Kenji Kamiyama (Stand Alone Complex) and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) helming the series, I was dead set from the first trailer. Here is my review of the Netflix Original Series, Ultraman.
So apparently I never shared a video that I made last year on YouTube. Or maybe I did and it was within another post. Either way, I’m sharing it now. I was taking a culture course to prepare me for my trip to Japan (where I currently am). It was the same course for which I wrote my review of Your Name (which oddly enough, I did share here). The story goes, I was asked to make a video about my host culture. Being a weeb, I decided to make a video about sakuga, as it is something I am deeply passionate about. Check it out below.
Having watched RWBY since the beginning, I would consider myself a fan, despite how much I rag on it. It’s always been “good” but there was always some sort of caveat attached to any praise I could offer when the volumes were airing.
Volume One – It’s good, except the episodes are sometimes too short, which made it a pain to watch week-by-week. Ultimately, the only episodes I felt really satisfied with were one, eight and 16.
Volume Two – It’s great, except the ending ruins it and Ruby’s biggest opportunity for growth is thrown out the window in exchange for more characters that will never matter.
Volume Three – It’s good, except it sucks. More depressingly, we lost Monty.
Volume Four – Looking back, the narrative was pretty good (compared to what came before), but there is a lot of time wasted. I look on it fondly now, but at the time it aired, I hated it.
Volume Five – It’s terrible. There’s no excuse for this one.
Up until around Volume four, people would also make the excuse that Rooster Teeth was a smaller company, but that doesn’t really fly anymore, especially when they are getting nominated for awards and shit. This made the problems stick out more because their status demands they be put up to a standard befitting of their aspirations.
For this reason, I’m delighted to say that Volume Six of RWBY is the first truly good entry in the series. I know right? Surprised the fuck outta me…
I’m going to Japan for four months to study and I don’t know when I’ll be free to write about Anime. I’ve got a couple ideas for posts that I’ll see if I can squeeze out while I’m there, but if you don’t hear from me, don’t worry. I’ll be back with stories to tell and hopefully, even more ideas for things to write about.
I will be posting my review of RWBY Volume Six before I leave though. Expect that tomorrow or as soon as I have internet when I’m in Japan.
If you want to follow my journey, I have been assigned to run another blog during my trip. Sakura in Japan is the name. A lot of the prior posts are things I had to write for assignments so I procrastinated on some of them, hence the inconsistent quality. Still, expect some good stories and plenty of pictures.
Love y’all, and see you next time.
Ghost in the Shell (GITS for short), the acclaimed manga by Shirow Masamune, portrays a future Japan after a third and fourth world war that has advanced prosthesis to the point that full-body cyborgs exist. The series has existed in animated form ever since the classic from 1995 by Mamoru Oshii and each new entry has taken a different approach to utilize this world to talk about philosophy and ethics through the lens of a post-singularity world. There is one entry, however, that has been glossed over in the past, but which I believe to be criminally underrated.
This is my unedited essay on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. This will contain spoilers for the film, so read at your own peril. If you would like the SPOILER-FREE review, click here.
It’s one thing to review anime that no one talks about, and that’s pretty fun. Chances are if I’m struggling to find content discussing an obscure show that looks cool, there are others just as aggrevated. I feel obligated to give these shows some publicity, whether it be good or bad. What’s more interesting are the times when the anime I’m reviewing is a more obscure part of a well-known series.
Recently I had the opportunity to analyze a film for my course on media criticism and decided to write about Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the sequel to the very influential Ghost in the Shell from 1995. Despite having the same director and an impressive visual onslaught, the film has never gotten the same acclaim. after all these years. This surprises me, because given the choice between which I like better… I might enjoy Innocence more.
This is a reworked, SPOILER-FREE version of that essay, so treat this like a review of the film. For the UNEDITED ESSAY, click here.