Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Denno Coil

Every once and awhile I find a gem of an anime that no one has really heard about stateside even though it's very high quality. This usually happens when licensing companies determine that a series wouldn't appeal to an western audience and it gets no promotion outside Japan. Series like this have to build up steam by word of mouth and fansubs before they get licensed. It's a shame since Denno Coil is one of the most intelligent and funny series I've come across. It manages to deal with cyberspace, hacking, and futuristic technology in a very reasonable and realistic manner. Other popular series in the cyberpunk genre like Ghost in the Shell and Serial Experiments Lain often depend too much on techno-bable and overly complex explanations to move their plot forward. Denno Coil on the other hand explores the same concepts, but from the viewpoint of elementary students

This keeps science fiction concepts more believable and easier to comprehend in my opinion. This doesn't mean it's dumbed down for the masses though. It's just when trying to describe a future technology like augmented reality it's better to put it in a familiar setting. I find it very believable that one of the first things corporations did after developing a virtual reality internet was to sell digital pets. It's just the kind of crass commercialism you expect to find in real life and the series pokes fun of this in several episodes. It's also a great setup for the plot which revolves around kids exploring the mystery behind illegal computer viruses that attack virtual pets and can affect the real world. Of course this is also the main reason while distributors haven't yet picked up the series. All the main characters are elementary students and yet the series deals with high end technology and science fiction concepts.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Denno Coil has a nice overall plot through the series, but also manages to have several side stories which are hilarious. One in particular about a computer virus that grows on the faces of people it infects made me laugh so hard I almost fell out of my chair. The main story is bit more serious since the "illegals" do attack virtual pets and have been indirectly responsible for several deaths. The ending can't quit live up to the rest of the series, but only detracts a little from the overall story.

Animation and Artwork:18
One of the major things that might put people off of Denno Coil is that the animation seems a bit childish on purpose. This contrasts to most cyberpunk series which often go for an edgy and ultra realistic style like Ghost in the Shell or Ergo Proxy. All of the animation is well done though and it's mostly a matter of opinion. The hacking battles are animated in a very entertaining manner since characters often have to use a combination of gestures, symbols, and virtual keyboards to attack. The obsolete spaces are pretty creepy with their combination of mismatched buildings and white fog that represents data loss.

Characterization: 18
Most of the characters in Denno Coil are portrayed as children and their interests and stories reflect it. However, for the main plot to have a more serious feel to it some of the main characters are portrayed more like adults. Iasako and Haraken both lost loved ones and the series uses that as reasoning for them being more serious. Yasako on the other hand was involved in a bullying incident that caused her to have to change schools. Her character progression closely mirrors a classic coming of age story. Despite being the least powerful "hacker" she is clearly the main protagonist. Her kid sister provides much of the comic relief in the series and reminds me a lot of Fudge from the young adult novel "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing".

Sound and Voice: 17
Denno Coil isn't yet licensed so there are only fansubs available outside Japan at the moment. The original japanese dub is well done though and I didn't notice any one's voice not corresponding to their character or being particularly annoying. The opening theme song works well with the footage of the children exploring obsolete space though I didn't particular care for the song. The soundtrack works well with the series and is mostly compromised of electronic drum pieces for action scenes and soft sounding, dream like pieces for exploring cyberspace.

Originality: 20
Denno Coil wins a lot of originality points by applying the old cyberpunk genre to an elementary school setting. This allows the series to explore the relationship between new technology and younger generations. Adults in the series often don't understand the workings of cyberspace and apply heavy handed tactics like the Searchmaton anti-virus program. The program is powerful, but poorly written and the children are often able to trick or avoid it. The parallels between the world of Denno Coil and the Internet Age are very apparent.

Final Score: 92 Excellent

Monday, April 27, 2009

Seirei no Moribito

Seirei no Moribito is one of the few animes I think would have succeeded no matter what the animation looked like. The story walks that fine line between realism and fantasy that draws people into a different world without alienating them with bizarre concepts right off the bat. This is a show you could easily use to introduce someone to anime. That's probably why Adult Swim originally picked up the rights for the series. Though it's not as fast pace as the standard shonen series like Naruto or Bleach there are some very nice action scenes throughout the series. It's a shame that Adult Swim lost the broadcast rights when Geneon went under earlier this year. Still the series is good enough that I have no problems waiting patiently for the DVD's to be released after watching the fansubs. I'm also excited that this anime was based on the first book in a series of ten dealing with the same characters. Since the anime has been wildly popular in and outside of Japan there's a high chance we'll see further anime adaptations though no announcements have been made yet.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Story: 18
Moribito starts off with a fairly simple plot where a female bodyguard is hired to protect a prince from assassination attempts. However, things quickly start growing in complexity as the bodyguard, Balsa, learns that the one seeking the prince's life is his own father. I know what you're thinking, "But having an evil father is standard fare in anime." However, the plot continues to jump off the beaten path and actually assigns logical reasons for every one's actions. No one is trying to kill the prince just because they are cartoonishly evil. Even Balsa has her reasons for accepting a job which is practically a death sentence. The prince himself manages to avoid falling into the spoiled rich kid cliche and actually comes off intelligent. He deals with his possession and the numerous attempts on his life like an actual person. Sometimes this means being brave when facing his father's assassins and other times it mean quaking in fear when hearing what the La Lunga do to the Guardian of the Sacred Spirit. All in all its a great fantasy story with a historical overtones, though the pacing in the middle is a bit slow. Still the ending more then makes up for this by being heartfelt and actually resolving every issue, a rarity in most animes.

Animation and Artwork: 19
Beautiful, Ethereal, and Moving. I could stop there but I would be selling the series short. You'll notice right away that most of the characters in Moribito are realistically drawn and lack the stylized hair and facial features that can be found on most anime characters. This might make them look a bit plain especially if you're used to recent series like Code Geass which have adapted the bishonen look for mainstream appeal. However, I believe this more realistic style allows the characters to be better animated in action scenes. This is especially noticeable in Moribito which has some of the best choreographed fight scenes I've come across in anime. Everything sort of flows together in a rapid fire manner which is more like a dance then a battle. It actually reminds me a lot of the Avatar series for some reason though Balsa sticks to everyday weapons instead of elemental magic. The background artwork is very beautiful, especially in episodes that deal with the dual nature of their world. The way the real world and the elemental world exists in parallel allows the animators to have fun with the background artwork. Thus you get scenes where the characters can be walking in a dried out gorge and all of sudden find themselves underwater with exotic fish and sea creatures. Also the way La Lunga fades between the two worlds is also very creepy.

Characterization: 19
Seirei no Moribito is carried almost entirely by its two main characters, who are rather unique in the anime universe. You would think that prince Chagum would be a spoiled and selfish child since he's been isolated and pampered his whole life. Almost every anime I've seen portrays royal/rich children this way and usually throws in a bit of tsundere. Instead, Chagum's got his head on pretty straight and he quickly figures out life in the real world. Balsa is another exception to the rules since she's a middle age female fighter who actually dresses like a warrior instead of some over sexualized Amazon. The character design for her is still feminine, but they animators weren't afraid to add some muscle onto her. In general, the supporting cast is less developed, but none of them fall into any filler roles or cliches. I found Shaman Torogai to be quite entertaining and surprisingly enough is the comedic support in the anime. Her and Toya have slightly exaggerated features like a caricature portrait which is probably a visual cue that they are less serious then the rest of the cast.

Sound and Voice: 16
The opening theme of Moribito is one of the few anime songs I've heard that manages to avoid being unintentionally funny while using a mix of Japanese and English words. If you've ever seen the closing theme songs for Wolf and Spice or Naruto then you know what I'm talking about. The rest of the music in the series fits into the story very well and augments the mood at appropriate times. The fight scenes in particular are set to some fast paced orchestra pieces which match the realistic style of fighting used in the series. Not counting the fight scenes the series has a lot on beautifully composed string and woodwind pieces mixed in with a few folk songs. So far this is probably one of the better sounding animes I've run across. I only got to sample the dub soundtrack, but it seemed like the English voice actors did a great job. While Moribito is an epic fantasy tale, the plot and characters are fairly realistic which always seems to make the voice actors a little less self aware during the dubbing process.

Originality: 17
If you dissected Moribito into its component themes it becomes noticeable that the series actually uses a lot of conventional plot devices. It would be hard to watch more then one fantasy anime without running into a mysterious bodyguard, elemental spirits, or royal family members on the run. Still the reason this series feels so unique is that it turns these standard themes on their head. The mysterious bodyguard is a strong female character who doesn't dress like a prostitute and the prince is actually likable straight from the start of the series. Also I found the way Moribito handles elemental magic to be very spiritual and a nice change of pace from characters just yelling out attack names to conjure giant fireballs. Unfortunately, the series does loose a bit of its realism and originality by having Balsa magically not killing anyone she fights. Then again after watching a series like Simoun which has so many pointless deaths I'm bit more accepting of everyone living after a battle. Except for the La Lunga, Balsa has no problem killing hordes and hordes them.

Final Score: 89 Great

Note: An almost Excellent series except for some pacing issues and a couple of supporting characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Amazon has the first two books in the series translated into English: Guardian of the Spirit and Guarding of the Darkness. The anime episodes have only been partially released at this time though I believe Media Blasters has the DVD rights to the entire series.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Well-executed anime usually has a dream like quality which makes it very memorable in the viewer's mind, but can often be hard to explain to other people. This is especially frustrating in cases where the story deals with weird and controversial issues which make plot explanations awkward. Simoun seems to be a perfect example of this phenomenon in that while I like the series, it would be hard to recommend it to any of my friends who like adult swim type anime. Simoun is a extremely well written sci-fi opera, but it takes place in a society where everyone is born female and later on chooses their gender when entering adulthood. So even though this anime has similarities to the widely liked Vandread it's emphasis on mostly female characters and their relationships classifies it as a yuri title.

That's not to say the anime isn't exclusively about relationships and drama like some yuri titles. There's a fair amount of mecha oriented action centered around the piloting of the strange flying machines called simoun, which can only be controlled by young priestesses who have yet to choose a gender. These machines have the ability to summon enormous amounts of energy, which are usually used in religious ceremonies to paint the skies with elaborate aerial designs. This is changing though as a long war has made the government put pressure on the priestesses to use the simoun for warfare. Most refuse and enter adulthood to avoid being forced to fight. However, the government's policy of allowing priestesses to remain children as long as they are fighting in the war tempts some to try to put off ever growing up. Of course while they may psychically stay children the war quickly destroys what childlike innocence they originally had.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Story: 17
I really liked the story in Simoun even though it was a little too bittersweet for me to rate it as one of my favorites. The war itself is portrayed as pointless with a lot of people dying for no clear purpose. In the midst of all this conflict you throw in a group of young girls who think that risking death in the war might be a better fate then making the decision to grow up. Aaeru is the character who most embodies this wish to remain a child forever. However, as the series progresses you learn that its not adulthood she is avoiding, but rather the loss of being able to fly a simoun. There is something very special that can be done with a simoun which is actually a gift from their god and has a great benefit to humanity. Besides Aaeru's quest, the rest of the story is mostly character driven. Several of the simoun sibyllae (priestesses) have extreme personality faults like obsessiveness, jealousy, and depression which are actually fixed and resolved throughout the series. In the last episode its very fulfilling to see those that survived the war living out their lives as adults. Of course the last episode is also the most depressing since it looks like war is about to break out again and several characters have already receive draft cards. Also you're never really told what happened to Aaeru and Neviril which destroys some of the anime's resolution.

Animation and Artwork: 14
This series really bounces all over the place in the quality of artwork. A lot of the background settings are simple pencil sketches which contrasts greatly with the decent looking CGI used for the simouns and the battleships. This varying quality can also be seen in the actual character designs with some characters receiving a lot of detailed attention while others look very bland. Dominura, Aaeru, and Neviril all look gorgeous though Neviril's constantly surprised expression does make her look like some sort of obscene blow up doll. Rimone and Floe suffer from the worst character design and look like they step out of an 80's Macross series. Perhaps wishing to make up for this the animators made both characters look much better in the final episode which is set a few years in their future. The battle scenes between the simoun and the planes used by the invaders are decent though far from the quality seen in Last Exile. The best and most beautiful animation I thought was found in the "pool" scenes where the simoun sibyllae practice flying in what is basically a giant zero gravity well.

Characterization: 18
Simoun does a really good job of developing a large cast of different characters throughout the series and avoids having any two dimensional filler roles. The main protagonists are Aaeru and Neviril though they are perhaps some of the least developed characters. Aaeru comes across as dense and overly happy at first, while Neviril spends half of the series in a funk over the death of a lover. Luckily, as the story proceeds Aaeru slowly starts to recover from her "Goku" disease and is revealed to be an actual human being. The cast of characters is too large for me to cover all the simoun priestesses, but the relationship between Roatreamon and her former servant, Mamina, was especially poignant. Mimina probably changed the most over the series from stuck up bitch at the beginning to a decent human being at the end. Of course since this is a drama the Japanese have to pointlessly kill off good characters like Mamina so they can manipulate your heartstrings. I also especially like Waporif who is the chief engineer and struggles with her/his beliefs about the simoun and their priestesses being sacred and untouchable. Throughout the war he fights his way through a lot of dogma and finds the kernel of truth in his beliefs while still getting the girl.

Sound and Voice: 13
Simoun has limited mainstream appeal and its no surprise the distributor didn't feel the need to produce an English dub for the series. However, the Japanese voices are masterfully done and accurately match up to the characters. Only Rimone's voice sounds slightly wrong as if an adult was whispering rather then correctly modifying their pitch. The opening and closing themes did nothing for me and I didn't watch them all the way through a single time. It's not that they were bad, just generic enough where I much rather skip ahead to the story. I really hated how this anime inappropriately matched background music to almost every action scene in the series. There was this one piece of catchy music that sounds like something you would hear outside a cafe in Italy, but it was used way too often and I really hated it by episode five. Only at the end of the series does the music start to properly highlight the action of what is being shown on the screen. There are some very touching orchestra scores which work well for the series climax. Also that catchy tune that's used in almost every episode is finally put to good use in a scene where a ghostly Aaeru and Neviril are shown dancing in the ballroom of a sunken battleship.

Originality: 15
The religious aspects in this series were similar to mecha animes like Evangelion and RaXephon though thankfully the series managed to avoid a "reset" ending. Also while I haven't watched any yuri shows before, I've heard that sci-fi stories in the genre generally take place on planets segregated by sex which fits in with the setting of Simoun. However, despite the similarities to other pseudo-religious animes, there were some unique features which I think set Simoun apart. The first thing that stands out was that the design used for the simoun avoids the standard giant robot cliche so often found in anime. True, the simoun don't exactly look aerodynamic, but I like the way they slightly resemble the Nautilus from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The series itself also has a unique plot that mostly revolves around the error of trying to remain a child forever and the reason church and state should be separate. It was sadly ironic that the simoun sibyllae who chose to fight and put off choosing a gender were pretty much forced into adulthood anyways by the horrors of war. I've said earlier that the story was a little too bittersweet for my tastes.

Final Score: 77 Good

Note: Right now the series is split across several volumes which might be overly expensive for some. However, amazon does show a planned summer 2009 box set which is actually quite affordable.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Aishiteruze Baby

I used to avoid slice of life and romantic-comedy series, but after running into a few masterpieces like Azumanga Daioh and Toradora I've changed my mind. My new rule of thumb is if I read the plot summary for a series and can imagine it being an interesting movie then I'll try it out. Aishiteruze Baby passed this test since it looked like it would be similar to those 80's comedies like Uncle Buck or Mr. Mom where a clueless guy found himself suddenly acting as a mom to a bunch of kids. I always laughed at those types of movies when I was kid and felt I might get a similar experience from this anime. And while Aishiteruze Baby definitely delivers on the laughs, it also includes a lot of serious elements that an American movie wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.

Kippei is basically an irresponsible playboy who doesn't have a steady girlfriend, but fools around with any girl in school. One day he comes home to an emergency family meeting where he learns that his five year old cousin has been abandoned by her mother. His cousin, Yuzuyu, takes a shine to him right away and the rest of his family decides it would be a good idea if Kippei learned some responsibility by taking care of her. As the plot progress and hilarious hijinks ensue the playboy starts to realize that every women started off as a little girl like Yuzuyu. Kippei's realization helps him form a solid relationship with a troubled young girl in his class and he also starts to become a very dependable adult. There's some pretty high strung episodes where he helps out a suicidal cousin and confronts domestic violence at the home of one of Yuzuyu's friends. I know it does sound a little darker then most slice of life animes, but it manages to deal with these serious topics in a realistic manner without becoming depressing.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Story: 17
I was very impressed with the story, especially the way it was able to touch on issues like child abuse and depression while not changing the tone of the series into a full blown drama. It was also one of the most heart warming animes I have ever come across and it accomplishes this without using over the top moe antics that usually accompany child characters in anime. Some of the episodes do deal with overly simple childhood topics like getting lost, but more often then not the main plot is intriguing enough for most adults. There's definitely a sense of mystery of why Yuzuyu mother's abandoned her daughter and as the story progresses, a believable and sad story is told. It's nothing far fetched or unrealistic either. No evil relatives or mysterious duties to save the world are keeping them apart. However, just because its not a fantastical anime plot device doesn't mean its simple to explain. A lot of the early episodes and sub-plots act as reference points to why Miyako is staying away from her child. The other part of the main story is about Kippei basically becoming an adult by learning about responsibility and taking care of Yuzuyu. Its ironic that he basically learns to be man by becoming a mother to Yuzuyu.

Animation 14
The main character designs in this anime are nice though they have a stereotypical shojo feel to them. The large doe eyes and overly stylized hair makes some of the characters feel like they belong in a fashion magazine and I think it detracts a bit from the realism of the story. I think this type of artwork is better served in series like Vampire Knight or Code Geass which are obviously set in a different world. Then you can just suspend your disbelief and pretend the story takes place in a world where everyone is a Calvin Klein model. Setting aside character designs, which are almost always a matter of opinion, the actual animation in the series is also lacking. Nothing looks terrible but the series seems to make use of a lot of far away scenes where they can get away with drawing the characters in less detail. The backgrounds settings are adequate, but seem lacking after watching the Last Exile.

Characterization: 18
I'm simply amazed by the main characters in this anime. Kippei, Kokoro, and even Yuzuyu actually evolve and grow as human beings throughout the story. Kippei goes through the biggest changes and learns about real relationships by taking care of Yuzuyu. He's still incredibly dense, but it serves as fodder for the comedy aspect of the series. Kokoro has the look of a stoned deer throughout the early part of the series which sort of annoyed me. Thankfully, her back story is explored and it's sufficient enough to explain her personality defects and withdrawn nature. Plus she becomes much more expressive towards the end of the series as Kippei and Yuzuyu chip away at her broken exterior. Yuzuyu manages to move the story along by acting just like a normal girl. Normally children in anime are portrayed more like child actors who are directed to act either overly cute or more adultish then there appearance warrants. Yuzuyu never comes across like this even when dealing with issues like losing memories of her real mom. The rest of Kippei's family are excellent background characters with his older sister Reiko standing out the most.

Sound and Voice: 15
The music fits the series well with most of it being comprised of soft string and piano pieces. The opening song is a tug on your heart song which is probably the Japanese equivalent of Butterfly Kisses. I started skipping through it after listening to it for the first couple episodes since it's not my music genre of choice. In general I liked the music in the series and the only thing that annoyed me was this one overly dramatic piano piece that's repeated every time a big emotional moment is coming up. By the middle of the series it started giving things away, like you were hearing the director in the background shouting, "and .... cue the music". The voice acting was excellent and fit all the characters quite well. I was suprised that they had a young girl do Yuzuyu's voice but it added a nice degree of realism though the crying scenes were awkward.

Originality: 15
Like I said before the series isn't exactly breaking new ground by having a clueless male throw into the "mother" role. One scene in the series where Kippei makes Yuzuyu a single giant rice ball for her lunch reminds me a lot of the giant pancakes made by John Candy in Uncle Buck. I guess there's only so many gags about guys doing household chores in the world. The series does break new ground in the way Kippei learns more about being a human being by taking care of Yuzuyu. I've heard the saying that sometimes children make the best teachers, but this was probably the first time I've seen it in an anime series. While the story doesn't resolve every issue by the last episode, it does portray Kokoro and Kippei as surrogate parents to Yuzuyu. It's weird since this was the same situation in Last Exile with Claus and Lavie basically adopting Al at the end. I'm not sure if this is a common theme with orphans in anime series or if its just a coincidence.

Final Score: 79 Good

Note: While all managa volumes have been brought over to the west and can be found on amazon. I believe the anime remains unlicensed to this day. Because of the popularity of the story though it's easy to find the fansubs lying around the internet.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Last Exile

Last Exile is a perfect example of how an anime can achieve broad appeal by avoiding the normal anime genres. If you're tired of seeing wave after wave of romantic comedies or giant robot series then you should take the time to watch this gem. At its core the story is a world war one epic, but it successfully manages to mix in science fiction elements. The result is something like a cross between Frank Herbert's Dune and the old black and white movie, Hell's Angels. This is definitely an action oriented series and it has a lot of aerial combat between giant airships and smaller vehicles which look like antique fighter planes. However, that's not to say this is a shonen anime that's just about explosions and dogfights. There is a lot of political and military maneuvering in the series which adds a degree of complexity to the plot. It's not as well written as the empire building in Code Geass, but it manges to be above most anime I've seen recently.

Besides the high end parts of the story dealing with empires at war and technocratic cabals of psychopaths, there is also some amazing human stories mixed into the series. Claus and Lavie are the two main characters and I could probably have watched an entire series based just on them running delivery missions and entering races. The animation of the flying vanships is just that entertaining. Eventually, the young couple end up helping a war orphan avoid being captured by several of the main empires in the story and get entangled in the main plot. It helps that Alvis is actually a likable child character and reminds me of a number of young heroines from Miyazaki films. Some of the other minor characters in the story are also quite interesting and .... gasp... actually change throughout the story! Also the series manages a nice ending though some things were rushed in the last episode. Still the fact an anime this good managed to avoid a reset ending guarantees it a spot in my old time favorites list.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20points each

Story: 18
Last Exile has a very well written story that is both surreal and grand in scope. The only problem is that they are a couple portions where the story became too large for the writers and resolution required some minor plot holes. Still the series has well placed progression that starts off focused on Lavie and Claus and then explores why their planet is being torn apart by war. The way aerial battles are fought between the two empires seems poorly thought out at first until you start seeing the similarities with World War One. A large part of the middle story deals with the clash between old military tactics against new technology. Thankfully, the story is kept from being too high-brow with most of the main characters being interesting and actually changing as they are affected by the war. The main antagonists in the story are the keepers of high technology and are referred to as the Guild. They are a little too convenient as villains and no good reasons are every given for them orchestrating the war. They are simply evil though it hints that the Guild recently underwent a coup where one family seized control through violence. Despite this shortcoming the fact that this is one of the longest paragraphs in my review reveal that the story is engrossing.

Animation: 18
The character animation is an older style which seems similar to Hayao Miyazaki films. It's a matter of personal opinion if you like the softer and less detailed character faces in this anime versus more modern styles. At times the character design does seem to clash with the large scale battle scenes which were partially computer generated. That's not to say it doesn't look gorgeous it's just that I've gotten used to seeing that animation style in older films like Akira. Luckily, the studio responsible for Last Exile has a lot of experience mixing hand drawn and computer animation with such series like Vandread and Blue Submarine Six. Overall the aerial combat scenes are impressive and I'm looking forward to snagging the series if it ever makes it way on Blue-Ray.

Characterization: 16
Last Exile breaks a common law of anime and manages to have some well written male characters. I thought Claus, Mullin, and Dio were particularly well portrayed in the story and they manage to avoid being summarized by one line character descriptions. Unfortunately, the captain of the mercenary ship is the exact opposite and manages to nail the cliche of an enigmatic and brooding leader to a tee. I'm glad he doesn't become a main character until near the end of the series. In fact the majority of the story revolves around the relationship between Claus and Lavie and their entanglement with the war. The two are childhood friends, but are obviously romantically involved though the series is surprising clumsy in dealing with this aspect. The writing is more solid when dealing with family themes as Claus and Lavie become the de facto parents of Alvis and seem to be the only people that actually care for the girl. Alvis gains points for not being annoying or bratty and having a sense of curiosity which reminds of Chihiro in Spirited Away. The main antagonist in the series is Maestro Delphine and she's a perfect villain, meaning that you hate her guts by the end of the series.

Sound and Voice: 18
Last Exile had a great soundtrack and it shows it from the first episode onward. Both the ending and closing themes fit the series and were very easy on the ears. The opening song, Cloud Age Symphony, has some trance elements in it which might annoying some people.Still I found myself listening to the entire song every episode which I usually take as a good sign. The English dub was well done and I didn't notice any characters that had mismatched voices. The musical score was also well done and matches the large amount of sky and cloud scenery found throughout the series. The only thing that annoyed me was that some of the dialogue seemed over simplified on the English dub. Thus I noticed a scene or two where characters seemed to be making unnecessary comments because some of the context was lost in the translation.

Originality: 17
A series that goes with an off beat genre like steampunk earns a lot of points right from the start. I can only think of a few other anime series like Read or Die or Fullmetal Alchemist which could be called steampunk. There seems to be a high ratio of inherent awesomeness in the genre and I think its because of the romanticized use of technology. A lot of people are turned off by normal science fiction which they find confusing, weird, and unbelievable. However, stories like Last Exile avoid a lot of these negative impressions by packaging fantasy technology like anti-gravity into things like steam-engines, airships, and fighter planes. Last Exile also has a great background setting with a world that isn't too alien to the audience, but still maintains a aura of myseriousness. In my opinion they hit the sweet spot where the story seems like a very realistic dream.

Final Score: 87 Great

Note: Funimation go a hold of the release rights for Last Exile and an affordable box set will be available at Amazon next month.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


It seems like vampires are one of the most popular subjects for anime with at least two series a year dealing with the most famous creatures of the night. It's not all blood and guts though as vampires are far more likely to star in a supernatural romance then a horror movie nowadays. This is true on both sides of the world as the popularity of franchises like Twilight and True Blood increase each year. Still it seems that vampires have a wider range of roles in anime then in western fiction. Karin in particular caught me by surprise with it's hilarious take on the idea of an "un-vampire" or "daywalker".

Instead of being a normal vampire who drinks blood for nourishment the main character is the exact opposite and produces too much blood. As a result she gets the desire to bite and inject blood into her victims leaving them refreshed and energetic. This makes her the black sheep of her family, whom are all normal vampires that feed on blood. The series itself is cute and raunchy without become a perverted fanservice fest like Rosario+Vampire. The animation is a little low in quality, but it deffinitely makes up for it by having an interesting story. Karin also avoids the brooding and melodramatic portrayal of vampires that have annoyed me in shojo series like Vampire Knight Guilty. Karin is obviously aimed at a female audience and avoids the harem like aspects that plagues other series while still being quite funny.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

The story is definitely the best part of the anime and its moved along by the idea of a "blood affinity" or a type of emotion that a vampire is attracted to and sucks out of their victim. Karin herself is attracted to misery and her victims usually have a severe personality change as if they took a mega dose of prozac. Some of the story deals wtih the morality of changing people by feeding on them, but thankfully avoids any melacholy introspections. Karin herself would probably never feed except for the threat of explosive nosebleeds if she goes too long without biting someone. The explosive nosebleeds are the main gag in the anime and manage to be both hilarious and kinda gross. It especially works well with a vampire hunter who faints at the sight of blood. I also think there's a bit of a hidden message since the male lead character, Kenta Usui, not only accepts Karin's vampiric nature but also cleans and covers up any overflow problem. It's almost a metaphor for a relationship not always being clean and tidy.

The quality of the animation is average when compared to most other series. It seemed as if the animators payed very little attention to most of the character designs with the exception of Karin, Anju, and Elda. Even though Karin is the main character, it's Anju who recieved the most detailed artwork. I'm going to guess that they had an animator on the staff who was a fan of the gothic lolita look. The other chracters didn't make that much of a impact on me except that Kentau Usui is deffinitely related to Ichigo from Bleach. Other then that the background settings were functional, but sparse. Not every anime can be set in a tropical jungle or a future metropolis.

Karin is portrayed as a overly happy airhead which is a common sterotype found in romantic comedies. However, her vampiric nature and need to reverse-feed prevents her from being passive though it clumsily introduces hints of a split personality. Kenta Usui is slightly more unique as a hardworking young man supporting his mother and dealing with the "evil looks" he inherited from his father. Both character personalities have proven popular and been used in more modern animes like Toradora and Rosario+Vampire. The rest of Karin's family is mostly bland with the exception of Anju and Elda. Anju is a quiet and creepy looking girl who reminds me of Ruri from Martian Successor Nadesico. She seems to be the most parent like one in the series and actively trys to steer everyone away from disaster in the background. Elda who shows up late in the series is probably the most complex character and the only one who seems to know how to fight. She reminds me of an evil Mary Poppins.

Sound and Voice:12
The opening song is the standard J-Pop affair, but at least manages not to make you claw out your eardrums. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the english voice acting which I found horrible for some characters. Karin and Usui were okay, but the other voice actors bombed. Winner Sinclair was particularly annoying on both the english and japanese sound tracts and made me wish there was third tract where that character was muted. One hidden soundbyte I noticed was that some of the sunset scenes had a guitar piece that sounded like it was straight out of the Diablo game.

Originality: 16
A lot the classic vampire rules were re-written and taken into new directions for this anime. This deffinitely made the anime more interesting then anything I've seen since Blood+. In particular, the "blood affinity" idea allowed the story to explore the nature of personalities and the morality of changing them to suit your needs. There are heavy themes of learning to accept people as they are in the series without being overly preachy. The series only loses points on originality because of the obvious ending and the fact that secondary characters are mostly just stereotypes which allows you to predict their actions.

Final Score: 75 Good

Note: Karin is also getting a release of complete boxset next month and can be found at Amazon.

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I wanted a place to organize my thoughts on anime I've watched recently and decided to start a review site. I'm not activately trying to the promote the site, but if you stumble across it feel free to refer it to others.