The end goal of any traditional story of good versus evil is to battle to a point at which good has triumphed and evil has been defeated. The setting returns to or discovers a comparably peaceful status. From there, it can be assumed that peace will persist for as long as it can after the curtain has closed.
But what happens when a story paints that perpetual conflict between good and evil not as a disturbance or ongoing plague, but as the goal? Furthermore, what if a story progressively affirms it to be preferable to another, worse turn of events. While it may not be clear at first, Bungo Stray Dogs is the very thesis of this notion.
On the surface, this show is about the conflict between the simply named Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia, set in modern-day Yokohama, Japan. Every main character is named after and based on a popular author or poet, each possessing supernatural abilities based on their works.
Beyond the first season, the story evolves slowly into something far grander in such a way you might not notice it. It’s the kind of stylish show that could be unfairly criticized as lacking, narratively. My purpose in writing this is to parse the purpose of a story that I consider to be the very essence of character-driven storytelling.
Video game adaptations are almost always bad. The best of them excel only on the condition that you overlook large caveats, be they performances, the script, or how faithful the project is to the original. Video games are hard to adapt. You’re either trying to appeal to fans and alienating movie-goers or vice-versa. Both can fail depending on what is being adapted and how.
In the mid-2000s’, Warren Ellis wanted to make a direct-to-video animated film based on Castlevania. While the script was approved by Konami, the work ended up stuck in production hell for years. Adi Shankar, a producer who went viral with his “Bootleg Universe” series of fan-films, eventually was approached about producing an animated series based on Ellis’ script. While he turned down the same idea for a live-action film, believing live-action wouldn’t fit, he was more than happy to work on this one.
So eventually, Netflix adapted Ellis’ script into an animated series produced by Powerhouse Animation, an American studio. The first season – all four episodes of it – came out in July of 2017 and took the internet by storm. Everyone, myself included, was instantly clamoring for more. With the release of the second season in the fall of 2018, the show revealed even more of its potential with a longer season, more character drama, and even better animation.
With the recently released and certainly shocking third season fresh in our minds, it might be good to look back on the series as a whole thus far. It’s certainly the best video game adaptation, but is that saying a whole lot? Is Castlevania more than just the sum of its gorgeous animation?
International Women’s Day was this past Sunday and ever since my hiatus I have been excited to take the opportunity to praise some of my favorite female characters. Whether they be relatable, funny, awe-inspiring, or simply badass, anime has given us so many iconic female characters there’s bound to be a few gals in every anime fan’s list of favorites.
About three years ago, I ranked the five hottest anime dudes I’d seen, based solely on sexual reasons. As I am not straight, the same can’t be said for this list. I would have called it “anime women who almost turned me bi,” but that wasn’t necessarily accurate either. Regardless, the important thing about any ranking of characters be that the writing produces a character worth giving a shit about, regardless of attractiveness… still though these women are fucking gorgeous.
Save for a rant-filled, canceled post from this past summer, I have never formally written on the topic of My Hero Academia. That might seem sacrilegious given my prior reputation as a Studio Bones devotee, but it never felt like there was anything to be said that hadn’t already been said.
It’s a super fun show given greater clout by its colorful cast and a uniquely relatable protagonist who goes through quite a lot of punishment to become the hero he wants to be. It has also been well-produced, taking year-long breaks in-between seasons to ensure a sustainable level of quality between arcs.
After a somewhat underwhelming third season (to me at least), the fourth season has been stellar so far, and high on hype from the last arc, I think everyone had high expectations for the new film, Heroes Rising. And to make a great year even better, those expectations were most certainly met.
While not necessarily in vogue among anime critics lately, it isn’t hard to find rankings of very specific subjects within the community. “Top 10 Strongest Anime Characters”, “Top Ten Anime Villains”, “Top Ten Anime Couples”, etc. And of course, who could forget the perpetually memed “Top Ten Anime Betrayals,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen created unironically.
However, while overdone, it has never felt like the kind of thing that anime critics do begrudgingly out of some unspoken tax as per the job. After all, anime has a lot of cool shit and fights are no exception. It’s only obligatory so far as such a thing is relatively easy to create and an ample excuse to ramble about things we like. That’s half the reason people like me become critics anyway.
So in no particular ranked order, here are a few my favorite anime fight scenes.
In 2018, a new trilogy of films set in the Psycho-Pass universe was announced for a 2019 release date called Sinners of the System. The three short films, each about an hour in length, take place at various points throughout the timeline. It would be the first new entry in the series in about four years. In the same year, a third season would be announced and released in the fall.
Psycho-Pass was back, with original director Naoyoshi Shiotani’s involvement being a major selling point. They wanted us to know that the series was returning in good hands. Even so, with such a long delay and the second season still a sore spot for many fans who felt the film didn’t make up for it, how well would this new phase fare?
The only thing worse than a bad show is a bad sequel to a great show.
Last time, I gave a resounding review of Psycho-Pass‘ first season, hailing it as one of the best science-fiction series of the last decade. When I first caught wind of a sequel, it was right after the premiere had aired. I had no idea that it was coming out and suddenly got super hyped to watch it. After all, it hadn’t been that long since the summer when I first binged season one.
I watched week-by-week, admittedly impressed for the most part, before reaching a conclusion that seemed to come far too soon. As time passed, I started looking back on it with more disdain. Psycho-Pass had hit a rough patch and I wondered if it could recover.
I have no plans to make any sort of big “best of the decade” post, purely because I became an anime fan right around the midsection of this decade and always feel I can become more cultured. However, if you all would permit one instance of passionate and opinionated hyperbole, it would be that Psycho-Pass is one of the best science fiction series of the past decade.
But that word “series” carries a certain connotation. After all, there have been three seasons of Psycho-Pass and about four films, not counting the novel and video game spin-offs as well. Furthermore, after season one, the quality of the series is contentious at best.
Some argue the first season is the peak and then all sequels pale in comparison to varying degrees. It’s a perspective that I can’t necessarily argue with, even if I enjoy most of the content after season two. Regardless, I think that the series’ continued lifespan speaks well of the intentions of the creators at the beginning: To create a new popular brand within the Sci-fi genre.
I want to take a closer look at the series piece by piece – similar to my Bungo Stray Dogs retrospective – and look at the franchise as a whole to see if it was a one-trick pony or not.
Last week I raved about the best film of 2019, Penguin Highway. Initially, I wanted to get a head start on a new multi-part series of reviews but things take time. January tends to be a time to reflect on the previous year anyhow so why not keep the ball rolling. I watched more shows this year than I have in a while and there are still more which I missed, but for now, here are my top five TV anime of 2019.
Before we begin, YES, Penguin Highway, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, was released in Japan in 2018. However, seeing as how it was released in the US in 2019, I consider it a worthy candidate befitting of the accolade emblazoned on the title of this review. Plus I’ll use any excuse to talk about this lovely film.
Some of the most acclaimed and beloved anime films from Japan have had an inherent focus on youth and growing up. Most of the studio Ghibli films center around young boys and girls going on harrowing fantastical adventures that mature them, whether they be children or teens.
Often times the films of this nature are enveloped in that fantasy fully, never questioning the logic (and really, what’s the need?). But what happens when you set a similar type of story in a setting that is rather grounded yet slowly descends into fantasy? Furthermore, what happens when the protagonist explores said fantasy through the sheer power of science?
Not only do you get one of the most unique stories of its genre, but you also get the best-animated film of 2019