[Repost] The Great Pretender Review: Cases 1 through 3

The following is my review of Cases 1 through 3 of The Great Pretender that I wrote for Anime Quarterly back in September. If you like what you read and are interested in reading more by the AQ crew and me, be sure to bookmark AnimeQuarterly.com and make it your next frequent stop for anime news and reviews. Also, help us grow by supporting us on Patreon.

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Beyond The Boundary | Kyoto Animation Unleashed

My heart has belonged to Kyoto Animation for a long time. And their shows have always looked good – that’s not even a faintly nuanced observation. The 2010s was the advent of an in-house style that helped forge their identity without ever feeling like a stagnant or limiting trait of the production house. Be it the character work by Miku Kadowaki, Futoshi Nishiya, or others, the character art is something that hasn’t quite been matched by another studio.

Even before their in-house style became synonymous with their identity, their artwork was rarely a sore spot in the final product. However, how well do we regard the actual “animation” of Kyo Ani’s works?

Pretty well as a matter of fact. Consistently. From Liz and the Blue Bird to Silent Voice, I’ve praised the subtle character movements and facial twitches that create the small reveries of human pathos. Occasionally, these dramas or slice-of-life comedies might even present an action scene. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid had ridiculously bombastic action and even Clannad had a pretty dope fight scene. However, I get the feeling that when people say that Kyoto Animation has great animation, they actually mean “great artwork.” It’s worth distinguishing between the two.

I don’t think any show from the studio has consistently reminded me of how great their animation talent is more than one particular show. If you would permit the generalization, the average viewer may not stray close to offering a critique of actual animation outside of shows or genres that incentivize consistent motion in their presentation. Hence why most people, regardless of their inclination to media criticism, often praise the animation of the hottest shonen/action series.

Following that line of logic, this week’s review is an action show with plenty to gush over. Beyond the Boundary – Taichi Ishidate’s directorial debut – is one of my favorite works by Kyoto Animation, and what I believe to be their best-looking show. Or rather, it is the most consistently upfront with what the studio is capable of, both in TV and film.

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A Review of ACCA: 13 – Territory Inspection Dept.

Rarely does a show come along that makes me rethink what I want from a story. Across any number of genres I’m interested in, there is an expectation of how the story will explore “drama. The numerous action shows I watch explore their drama through physical interchange, be it spectacular or grounded in realism.

Even adult dramas with a sparse number of action scenes will present other, more personal forms of violence as well as confrontation through dialog. Slice of life dramas or comedies may have lighter tones, but they may culminate in some dramatic climax where the tone changes.

This week, I’m exploring a show that approaches its story in a far more relaxed manner. It presents its political theater in a captivating way unlike any other show I’ve watched, and made me reassess how I look at what makes a drama “mature.” From director Shingo Natsume and Studio Madhouse, this is ACCA 13 – Territory Inspection Dept.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn, My First Gundam Series

Mobile Suit Gundam is the pinnacle of the mecha genre and has been astonishing fans for decades with classic after classic. Whether in the “Universal Century” canon or the numerous alt-universe spinoffs, Gundam has explored so many different possibilities and stories, all under the care of one studio: Sunrise.

It is surprising, then, just how long I went without having ever completed a full Gundam series. I remember watching Iron-Blooded Orphans on Toonami when it aired, but I didn’t get too far into it before moving on to other shows. To be honest, I’ve held off for so long because the Gundam series, as important as its reputation has made it out to be, has always appeared rather daunting.

Just as the Fate series can seem overwhelming from the outside, I was never sure where to start with Gundam. Thankfully, at the recommendation of some friends, I found myself falling in love with a comparably short but oh so deep entry to jumpstart what I’m sure will be a longtime fandom. From Kazuhiro Furahashi, the director of Dororo, Hunter x Hunter (1999), and Rurouni Kenshin, this is Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn.

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A Review of Boogiepop and Others

Sometimes a show comes on your radar that just seems impossible to fail. There are just the right people attached to get you hyped by their pedigree alone and the prospect of a joining of those parties only makes you more excited. Unfortunately, hype is a gamble. No creator is perfect and no matter how good one work is, it doesn’t guarantee that the writer or director can’t fumble with another project.

Kouhei Kadono’s novel series from the late 90s, Boogiepop, is – according to fans I’ve talked to – one of the most influential light novel series out there. It paved the way for meta works like that of Nisio Isin’s Monogatari Series. It was a psychological, supernatural drama about otherworldly entities preying off of the anguish of humanity and the angel of death that released people from that anguish: Boogiepop.

In the west, the novel series and manga didn’t get official translation until the mid-2000s and even then it became mired by low sales and dropped. It wasn’t until 2019 that the fourth and fifth novels were finally released in English when a renewed interest in the series was stirred. A byproduct of this was last year’s animated adaptation.

Madhouse would be producing the new series. Back in 2000, the same studio made Boogiepop Phantom, an original story not based on a particular novel entry. Directing would be Shingo Natsume, famous for Space Dandy and One Punch Man, among other things. The music would be composed by Kensuke Ushio, whose aesthetic talents have captured hearts with A Silent Voice and Devilman Crybaby. Even Yoshiaki Kawajiri was credited for the storyboarding.

From the staff to the promotional PV (seen above), everything was promising. And then after 18 episodes, almost none of what was in the promo was in the final series. What I got ended up feeling like a fraction of what the universe of Boogiepop had to offer. Was there a silver lining or was Boogiepop and Others another adaptation to be forgotten.

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The Anthology From the Man Who Brought You Akira

No convention has been a greater boon to animation as a whole than the anthology. Granted, I love anthologies in most mediums. A collection of short stories from a slew of diverse, creative minds can expose audiences to all kinds of stories and genres they wouldn’t normally see or seek out themselves.

In terms of animated anthologies, works like Batman: Gotham Knight, The Animatrix or recent experiments like Love, Death, & Robots are perfect examples. They expand upon established works and introduce their own lore spanning myriad genres and subject matter, all while experimenting with myriad art styles.

The best part is that you can hook the audience with at least one story and they’ll surely be curious enough to see how the others fare. Maybe they don’t love all of them, but even one or two great stories can make the entire collection worth it, especially if the whole package is an hour and forty-five-minute film with three stories.

In 1995, Madhouse and Studio 4°C collaborated to create Memories, a collection of three short films based on short manga stories written by Katsuhiro Otomo, the man who created Akira. Since Otomo seems to always be involved in the animated adaptations of his work, he was the executive producer for Memories and even directed the third and final short himself.

Together with Darker Than Black director Tensai Okamura, Studio 4°C co-founder Koji Morimoto, and legendary director/writer Satoshi Kon, Memories was an ambitious fusion of three very different kinds of stories. If the objective was to make something that would stick in your mind, then they certainly picked a fitting title.

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Masahiro Ando’s Shakespearean Epic; A Review of Blast of Tempest

Here comes Matthew again, leaping to review another anime by Bones. I suppose that’s all I’m good for, isn’t it? And it’s directed by Masahiro Ando, no less…

Is Masahiro Ando my favorite anime director? He’s certainly up there with blokes like Takuya Igarashi. After all, Ando directed Snow White with the Red Hair, a show that I consider to be an empowering masterpiece of feel-good fantasy romance. Be it a drama or an action show, he is a talented director… though not without some missteps.

What I watched of Canaan never gripped me and reeked of a show whose potential was hurt by low-denominator tropes and poor writing. Under the Dog was an average pilot to a series that will never come out. And Sirius the Jaeger? More like Serious Disappointment (don’t hit me).

I would call Masahiro Ando the Brad Bird of anime. He makes some legendary stuff that will stick with you for ages, but he also tends to bat 50/50. It’s hard to tell why. Maybe it’s the source material on certain shows, maybe it’s other staff members, or maybe Ando is just inconsistent depending on the project.

I’ll cut through some of the snark and assure you of one thing, though. Blast of Tempest (or, Zetsuen no Tempest: The Civilization Blaster) is certainly on the good side of Ando’s batting average.

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Pondering Attack on Titan’s Final Season

At the end of the much-acclaimed third season’s final credits, a fourth and surprisingly final season of Attack on Titan was announced to be greenlit.

We went from waiting years for a second season to getting subsequent sequels at a reasonable pace to the point that now I’m a little shocked that the end of both the manga and anime are syncing up accordingly. However, long-time fans became concerned as soon as it was suggested that Studio WIT would NOT be animating it.

In the wake of the world burning down, we were blessed with quite a climactic trailer for the final season. And the editors wasted no time telling us who would be helming it.

Studio MAPPA.

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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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