In my attempts to be a not-shitty blogger, here are some mini-reviews of anime that I have watched. I’m nowhere near the cutting edge of anime fandom, so most of these are as mainstream as anime gets, and you can probably find more in-depth reviews somewhere else.
Sword Art Online
Holy shit, this stabbed me in the feels in a horribly awesome way, even though I was fully aware of the tricks they use to emotionally manipulate the audience. It’s that good.
Slightly in the future, in-depth virtual reality is perfected and used to make a video game called Sword Art Online. Except during its launch, the game creator disconnects the logout option and traps thousands of players inside the world Aincrad, forcing them to beat the 100-level game before they can get out. And the sticker is that if they die in the game, they die in real life because of the interconnectivity between the video game hardware and the brain stem.
There’s some action and swordfighting because it’s that kind of video game, but the real hook is the psychological and philosophical aspects: the despair the players feel and how that motivates them, questioning reality, questioning the nature of affection and emotions and experience if it is only a video game. But the sad news is that the first half is the better one. Without spoilers, the second half seems like a lot of rehashing and also a mildly creepy love-triangle involving the main character and his cousin. I realize that first-cousin-marriage isn’t as taboo in some places outside the US, but they were raised as siblings ewwewweww. That aside, I would give the first half 5 stars while the second half rates somewhere between 4 and 4 1/2. And the soundtrack is pretty good, and not just the intro and credits songs. The battle music is orchestral-ish and has ethereal singing in some unidentifiable language, and I’ll never be tired of that stuff.
Oh, and I’ll try to make a note of whether I watched subbed or dubbed. Though I’ll warn you that I’m trying to keep up my shitty Japanese vocabulary by watching subbed. SAO I did watch in subs, because Netflix streaming actually offered language options for this one.
I started off watching in subs, but then I switched to dub because one of my peeps mentioned that the voice actor who did Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood did Crona. And then I found out Soul Eater might as well be a voice-actor reunion for Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, there were so many that I recognized by sound even if I couldn’t connect voice to name. Yes, this is a good dub.
Maka is a student of the Death Weapon Meister Academy who is determined to complete the ritual to turn her weapon partner Soul Eater into Lord Death’s personal Death Scythe. They do that by harvesting the souls of evil people, which turn into kishin eggs. But this series is pretty character-driven, so the focus is less on battles and more about the relationship between Maka and Soul and their friends and their friends’ weapon partners. Other prominent characters include Black Star and his partner Tsubaki and Death the Kid (Lord Death’s son) and his partners Liz and Patti. Also, it’s pretty funny.
The sad thing is that the manga outpaced the anime, so the series wraps up too quickly and very disappointingly for as much awesome intricacy as it was building up. Coincidentally, just like the first adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist, where they also had many of the same voice actors. And I compulsively played the first intro song over and over, and also the third ending song. They are catchy. The art style took me a little bit to get used to, because it’s more superflat than what I’m used to.
Here there be much yaoi under-or-not-so-undertones, but the story’s pretty good. Though it is very goth, including pretty much all the range of the word between Gothic and loligoth, being set in a supernatural-tinged Victorian England. Ciel is the 12-year-old Earl of Phantomhive has a demon butler, Sebastian, whom he promised his soul if Sebastian would help him get revenge on the people who killed his parents, burned his manor, and used him as part of a creepy cult ritual, as catamite or human sacrifice or both is unclear. The mystery is well paced, and there’s actually a good bit of humor in this, and not just yaoi-oriented humor. There are two seasons, and I preferred the first. The best parts of the second season are the compare-contrast between Ciel and Sebastian and another boy-and-demon-butler pair Alois and Claude.
Turns out there’s noises of remaking this one to follow its manga more closely. Also, I first watched this in sub, but I checked it out in dub when I saw it had some voice actors I know. They actually did it with pretty decent British accents — except for Lady Elizabeth, because she sounds inappropriately and gratingly Cockney and makes me want to stab my eardrums.
This one is about a group of ghost hunters of various backgrounds who, well, hunt ghosts. The main character is the assistant of a ghost hunter who uses the more scientific approach with cameras and thermal imagery. The rest of the gang consists of a miko, a famous (in-universe) spiritual sensitive who dresses in traditional kimono, a former Buddhist monk, and a super-young Catholic exorcist. And it’s still kinda weird to see Catholicism/Christianity portrayed the way the Japanese do, though Neon Genesis Evangelion pretty well wins the game of Judeo-Christian elements used in a WTF kind of way for sheer dedication.
The series runs in a bunch of episode-clusters, with usually four episodes per storyline, which is effective at exploring a ghostly mystery in-depth without beating it to death. It’s pretty good at pacing and mood. And I watched this exclusively in subs, so I have no idea what the dub is like, but since it’s a more recent anime, there’s a good chance it’s not awful.
This is surprisingly not-shitty for a vampire love-triangle thing with a pretty useless main female character. Like, I am almost blown away at how not-shitty this is, mostly because I am aware of the depths of shit it could plumb. Good characters, decent plot, pretty good pacing. The useless female character is actually pretty likeable despite her plot-necessary dependence on being saved by either of her love interests. At least she tries to not be useless?
The plot is that a school tries to create a place where vampires and humans coexist by hosting human students in the day and vampire students at night. The two groups are still pretty strongly segregated because there is a long, long history of vampire-human conflict and this is the first attempt at coexistence. But most of the focus is on the love triangle between Yuki and her adopted semi-brother Zero and the vampire prince Kaname. (Since Zero and Yuki don’t act like siblings, it doesn’t set off my squick reflex.) Like I said, this sounds like it could be enormously shitty, but there is backstory that is actually interesting and mystery that is not bullshit. This one is also pretty strongly goth, but not melodramatically so.
The use of vampirism as a metaphor for sex is heavily used, but it’s very well done with show and not tell. You could maybe call it softcore porn, but if it is, it’s pretty successfully artsy softcore porn. Again, I watched this in sub and not dub, so I have no comment on the dub quality. The sub had sufficient earsexy, but I’m practiced enough at listening to Japanese that I can pick up on tone. I dunno if the dub actors are adequately earsexy, and I’m almost afraid to find out in case they are terrible.
*Update: The dub made horrible, horrible mistakes in casting that complete ruins the earsexy. They did not make good use of their Vic Mignogna.