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?
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.
More and more lately I find shows and films that I call “pseudo-nostalgic.” They are stories that fill me with a sense of yearning for the days of older trends in storytelling, even if the subject matter is not something which was known to me when I was younger. Are these films and shows which I attribute this label just banking on nostalgia? I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I believe revisiting an old formula in a new time can feel just as refreshing and an older story adapted for the now can be made to fit in rather nicely. Today, I’m reviewing an adaptation a long time in the making… 52 years to be exact. This is Studio MAPPA’s Dororo.
At the beginning of 2019, I wrote: Rising of the Shield Hero is 2019’s First Must-watch. It was a pleasant surprise to start the year, given how apprehensive I typically am about the Isekai genre. I was quite adamant about my excitement for this show after the first several episodes and despite the controversy, I believed it would be a total hit. I wasn’t wrong. It became one of the most-watched anime of the year and after its 25-episode run, a second and third season was confirmed.
Nearing the end of the year, as people begin reflecting on the best of the year, it bears asking if Shield Hero was worth the praise. Did it live up to its strong start?
I have long tried not to commit myself to watch a ton of new shows each season. It’s not out of concern that media consumption will become “work” because… I mean I’m a critic aren’t I? That it would become a “hassle” is more accurate, perhaps. I don’t like the idea of becoming a cynic who starts to become jaded, even if inevitably I probably will have seen enough stories that I start to somewhat tire out.
I put myself in a funny position then, because I want to stave off that creeping cynicism, but then look back on shows from before and think I missed out. But then I remember exactly why I love approaching critique in a more retroactive manner. Not only are there still plenty of classic shows that I haven’t seen, but there are even more that interest me but don’t get talked about a lot.
Even popular works don’t always have the kinds of content I look for, which appropriately enough is the content I strive to make. Every month, one of the highest viewed posts on this blog is my review of all three Kizumonogatari films together, a pretty popular trilogy. On the other hand, my series on Bones’ forgotten Towa no Quon films got more views than I initially expected. If I had to guess why it’s because people like me were looking for discussion about it and found there was practically none.
That’s why I love finding shows – even somewhat recent shows – that I completely missed, yet fall in love with when I finally see them. It’s an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a work that doesn’t get a ton of discussion in the constantly forward-facing anime community. Today’s show just so happens to be one of the hidden gems of 2017, Studio 3Hz’s steampunk spy thriller, Princess Principal.
For a series that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to my friends, the first season of Bungo has a few more problems upon second glance. This happens a lot with good shows I feel. There is a first season that catches your attention with some elusive quality you can’t quite put your finger on. Next up, the sequels build on the formula, turning the show into something even grander than you first envisioned.
The real tricky part is getting people into it without over-hyping it purely on the grounds of how good it gets later on. I’m sure if I kept watching Breaking Bad season four I would love it, but I don’t wanna watch Skylar try to buy a God damn car wash for half a season. Where was I? Oh yeah, allow me to start by giving you an honest look at this show’s humble beginnings.
How in the hell did Attack on Titan Season Three, Part 2 become #2 on MyAnimeList’s all-time top anime list? I was already a little surprised when Your Name dropped to #6 after Hunter x Hunter 2011 (makes sense), another iteration of Gintama (meh), and Steins;Gate (how have I not watched this yet?). However, for Attack on Titan to take #2, particularly in its third season? Now that threw me for a loop.
Granted, I’m not pretending this list is the be all end all, as it is merely determining the best based on the average score given by the users who have rated it on their lists. None of these shows are perfect. Both Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Your Name are arguably overrated and flawed, even if I think they are great. However, this list does give a sense of the nature of certain show’s fanbase and the cultural discussion surrounding a work.
I’ve never seen Gintama, nor does it look that interesting, but for this show to consistently score this highly tells me that the fanbase must be one of the most committed ever. Likewise, Hunter x Hunter 2011 is one of the most highly scored Shonen’s out there. Steins;Gate to me is the equivalent of that popular Emmy nominated show everyone says to watch but that I’ll take years to sit down and enjoy. The list says a lot more than just which anime is the best.
As such, my goal today is not to argue whether or not Attack on Titan is deserving of this status, but to understand why the fanbase is reacting so strongly and now of all times. Especially because, to me, season three is the weakest of three admittedly solid seasons.
In my review of season one, I praised how ONE manages to make overpowered characters likable and their stories tense through sheer emotion. This story about self-betterment and the discussion permeating the spectacle made battles ones of ideology in addition to super-powered flair. With a sequel, how does one continue this discussion without becoming repetitive?
Sequels can often succumb to a temptation to be like their predecessors, but bigger and better. Doing something different, even radically so, can be remembered better, but it is far more risky. That being said, you don’t have to be radical in order to make the sequel interesting in new ways. Sometimes it simply requires a change in focus.
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.