A Review of Given

Early in 2014, when I was just getting into anime, I decided to watch Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, the now-famous sports anime by Kyoto Animation. Being in the closet at the time, I went into it with the kind of ironic half-interest that wouldn’t tip off my friends that I was hella gay (which didn’t work anyway).

To put it bluntly, Free helped me come out of the closet. Granted, the characters never canonically became boyfriends or stated they were gay in the show. Regardless, the characters were all content in their masculinity and displayed a level of intimacy and emotional expressiveness that was really meaningful to me. I will always have a soft spot for that series. I talked more about this in my tribute to Kyoto Animation that you can read here.

Ever since then I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Boys Love/ Yaoi genre of manga and anime. There are great stories that have been told, especially recently. Yuri on Ice hit the mainstream with gayness like a nuke and we’re still waiting for that fucking film. Sarazanmai went even harder, though I can’t say it was too memorable. The romance in No. 6 was the saving grace when the rest of it was a rushed mess. Finally, dated as it was, Banana Fish was the action drama infused with gay romance I always wanted and I should really finish it.

For every decent to great gay show that has seeped through the cracks, a lot of yaoi shows have turned me quite cynical towards the genre. The trash-tier of yaoi can be downright infuriating. Shit like Junjou Romantica and Love Stage too often treat non-consensual sex as the starting point to a relationship. There are a lot of really unhealthy tropes that have made it hard to get into anime with gay romances.

There is a lot of garbage out there, but recently, anime with gay characters are being produced more and more. Hell, half of the good examples I mentioned before came out in the last couple of years. And today I want to talk about a show that broke through a lot of that cynicism for me and left me a lot more hopeful for future stories like this.

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The Big O is a Big Hit

After writing for the cult classic, Serial Experiments Lain, Chiaki J. Konaka took to scripting The Big O, a 26-episode mecha series for the premier studio of mecha anime, Sunrise. However, given Konaka’s now-revered talent of writing bizarre, psychological dramas, this show was anything but ordinary.

Over the years I have come to know it as a stylistic blend of art deco film noir and sci-fi mecha. It took clear inspiration from Batman: The Animated Series, with the original concept by Keiichi Sato likening the setting to Gotham. After the original 13 episodes, however, the show was canceled, or, more accurately, it was given a shortened season by producers.

And then it aired on Toonami in 2001.

The international reception alone pushed Cartoon Network to co-produce The Big O‘s final 13 episodes. The demands of western producers were limited. Sunrise was still animating it and Konaka was still writing with seemingly as little restraint as possible, so long as he added more action and was more forthcoming with the mystery plot.

This is yet another cult classic I have been meaning to watch for a while, considering it seems to be right up my alley. Whether it be allusions to film, or it’s stylistic similarities to my childhood obsession Batman, this review was bound to happen. And yet, I can’t honestly say I was prepared for what I was in for.

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Gunbuster & Diebuster – Classics Transcending Generations

It’s funny to think that the very first work by Hideaki Anno I ever saw was Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster, or, Aim For the Top! Gunbuster and not Evangelion, what he is better known for. It’s even more surprising that I hadn’t even watched Eva fully until this past summer when it released on Netflix.

Gunbuster was Hideaki Anno’s directorial debut. A high-concept super-robot show that in many ways was the breeding ground for concepts and character dynamics that would later be fleshed out more in Evangelion. It’s looked back on as a classic of the ’80s.

16 years later, Kazuya Tsurumaki, the director famous for FLCL, made a sequel to Gunbuster, titled Top wo Nerae 2! Diebuster, which was different and I mean, very different. However, it was just as good as – if not arguably better than – its predecessor.

Unfortunately, its hard to find a physical copy of either that has both shows, each one six episodes long. For the longest time I wondered when either show would be released in their complete glory. After seeing a photo on twitter of someone’s Blu-ray collection, I realized they already both already had. The same Gainax 20th Anniversary line of which an Evangelion Blu-ray was part of had produced a Gunbuster/Diebuster OVA collection. Upon learning its existence I didn’t hesitate to buy it.

Oftentimes with sequels to classics, there is a lot of skepticism among fans. They can be divided over which is better, and yet, both shows are not only received well on their own but as a pair. They are often seen as equals that complement each other. It’s a rare occurrence indeed. The question becomes: How did two shows from radically different creators manage such a success? Furthermore, is one truly better than the other?

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Ignore the Hate, Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is Good

The new Ghost in the Shell is good

This isn’t up for debate. Not because I’m opposed to dissenting opinions but because the festering shitholes known as the comment sections and forum posts about this new series have made such a claim a necessity.

About three years ago, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 was announced. After 14 years, Stand Alone Complex was getting a direct sequel, something that was welcome after the middle-of-the-road Arise series from 2013. Even better, it would be directed AND WRITTEN by Kenji Kamiyama, the same guy who directed and wrote the original SAC. As a bonus, he would be co-directing alongside Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki.

Production I.G. would be working on it (no surprise there) along with Sola Digital Arts. In a big surprise, the character designs would be handled by Ilya Kuvshinov, someone who is mostly known to me for making beautiful art that people always set as their Soundcloud thumbnails for some reason.

Just last year we got a sense of what this very production team, sans Kuvshinov, was capable of. They released the Netflix original Ultraman, the animated sequel to the legendary Tokusatsu show of the same name. It was a cool show that got praise at the time, for good reason. So you’d think that knowing that these same people were working on the new Ghost in the Shell that people would look at the two and think “ok, this is the kind of animation I can expect.”

Instead, a lot of stupid fucking people acted like they didn’t see it coming when the new Ghost in the Shell was entirely CGI. Now that it’s released, I’d like to believe that people realized they were wrong, but nope. So I’m coming out of my hiatus swinging to get you motherfuckers cultured.

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A Love Letter to Animation – A Review of Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!

In 2015, P.A. Works produced what would be remembered as one of the best shows of the year, Shirobako. The series was, funnily enough, an anime about making anime. It was praised for its depiction of the hardships of working in the industry as well as the optimism with which it approached its story of overcoming hardship.

There have been a few shows that have dealt with similar subjects, usually in a business-type setting. There was New Game, about game development, Girlish Number, a cynical comedy about the darker side of anime production, and all-in-all, plenty of shows about working women in creative fields.

However, no other show quite retained the same popularity and acclaim over time quite like Shirobako. That is, until now. After ONA’s like Devilman and films like Ride Your Wave and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Masaaki Yuasa returned to TV anime for something truly special.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na, or Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, might very well be one of the most uplifting, insightful, and inspiring shows I’ve seen in a very long time. It does for the industry much what Shirobako did, openly disclosing the ups and downs of the business, but in a way far more imaginative and stylistic than it’s predecessors.

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The End of the Game – A Review of Psycho-Pass 3: First Inspector

I finished watching the conclusion to Psycho-Pass 3, titled “First Inspector,” just before writing this. After eight 45-minute long episodes, the story concludes with a “film” meant to wrap up the season’s plot threads that had felt unfinished. My thoughts were a mixture of “ok, cool” and “what the fuck even was that?.”

I should address a mistake on my part right out of the gate. Back in the final part of my Psycho-Pass retrospective, I claimed that First Inspector would be a recap film. I was incorrect. Info at the time led publications to believe that was the case but, no, they wrapped up the story in a neat little bow, which I appreciate.

However, I don’t think I’ll be referring to this as a film so much as a delayed finale. For some reason, Amazon divided the story into three episodes, despite it being marketed as a film and even given a limited theatrical run in Japan. Though, if I’m honest, judging by the production quality, I can’t imagine being impressed by the visual quality magnified on a theater screen, save for maybe the final episode.

If the snark was any indication, this may not be the most positive review. Far be it from me to spoil the verdict before you’ve even scrolled down or clicked “read more,” but if you weren’t the biggest fan of season three, the ending probably isn’t going to make you change your perspective. Regardless, here are my thoughts on how the film tied up one of the most ambitious sequels to Psycho-Pass yet.

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Castlevania Series Review

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.

Opening Title Rough Animation by Spencer Wan

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?

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A Review of My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

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.

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A Psycho-Pass Retrospective, Part Three – Sinners of the System & Season Three

Last week I looked at the divisive continuations of Psycho-Pass, both the second season and the movie. The latter marked the end of what I consider the first phase of the franchise, one bookended by two solid stories by Gen Urobuchi, held back by an abysmal second season and some missed potential with the film.

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?

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A Psycho-Pass Retrospective, Part Two – Season Two & the Movie

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.

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