Cidolfas's Anime Reviews
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The basic premise here: Space cowboys. In particular, four bounty hunters aboard the good (or bad) ship Bebop: Spike, the rakish martial artist with a sorry past; Jet, the big burly engineer guy; Faye, the sleazy con artist; and Ed, the totally insane hacker girl. Very episodic in nature (there's some stuff about the past, but generally speaking, each episode is self-contained).
I'll have to admit - this one completely failed to catch me. It might just have been a dare - the person who sent it to me said that no one he knew had ever disliked it, so there I go. 8p But it's more of the fact that it just doesn't do anything *right*. It's got action... sort of. It's got emotion... sort of. It's got humor... sort of. But it doesn't do anything well. The characters don't have much of a hook to them, and I've never been a big fan of Western symbolism, and I don't think it works with outer space.
I will admit that I stopped watching this at episode 15; I simply lost patience. To that end, I'm going to withhold giving it a mark. Lots of people seem to like this; I just can't see the point.
Favorite Character: Faye.
Well, now that you know everything there is to know about Excel Saga, I can just go...you mean you want more? Greedy ingrate. A summary: Lord Il Palazzo is the leader of ACROSS, an organization dedicated to conquering F City, F Precinct. He has exactly two female underlings: Excel, who is absolutely bonkers, and Hyatt, who has an unfortunate tendency to drop dead at inopportune times. Il Palazzo is played as a very straight villain-type, which is what makes it so funny when he does something un-villain-like. Their adversaries are essentially the municipal office (there's a very subtle, ironic jab at government civil service in there). And then there's the mostly unrelated tragic saga of Immigrant Worker Pedro.
In case you hadn't heard, Excel Saga is a spoof series. It spoofs everything, including (and most frequently) Excel Saga. To whit, the writer of the manga it's based on, Koshi Rikdo, makes an overblown appearance at the start of each episode at the end of which he grandly gives his permission to turn Excel Saga into something else (sci-fi, horror, romance, etc.) This tells us two things: Koshi Rikdo is the ultimate sellout, and the anime director is completely desperate for ideas. Said director, Shinichi Watanabe, actually appears in the series as a major character, the afro'd Nabeshin (and his wife is there too!).
Excel Saga is really meant for a Japanese audience. English speakers will certainly enjoy it, but don't expect to get more than half the jokes even if you're an avid animephile. For one thing, it relies heavily on text gags, and the screen can quickly fill up with subtitles, especially considering the blazing speed Excel jabbers at. The humor ranges from plain old slapstick, which anyone can get, to incredibly obscure parodies of animes that almost nobody has heard of. I've seen reviews saying that people could barely stop laughing... I didn't find it quite as hilarious as all that, but it's definitely a hell of a lot of fun. There's quite a bit of schadenfreude as well.
So we go about laughing our way through the series, until we hit episode 24/25, at which point Nabeshin-san taps us on the shoulder and says, "Hey, guys? You know all that stuff you were laughing at until now? Take it in another light and it's not so funny." It's a real wrench. Oh, and episode 26 is one where they try to take absolutely everything to the extreme, so be prepared for nudity, violence, sex, and lots of blood.
I think your enjoyment factor of Excel Saga varies directly with how much you know about Japanese culture. If you don't have direct experience with Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Capcom fighting games, dating sims, doujinshi, mecha anime, J-Pop, etc., you might want to wait a bit. You'll still probably like it, but you might be going "What the heck?" way too often for your own good.
Favorite Character: All the recurring cast are pretty funny. 8-)
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 (mileage may vary)
Final Fantasy: Unlimited
Very loosely based on the Final Fantasy games, this anime centers around Ai and Yu Hayakawa, twin kids from Tokyo. Their parents rode a mysterious train and ended up in an (extremely screwed-up) world known as "Wonderland", which they ended up writing a book about. However, they later went back and never returned. Ai and Yu vowed to follow them, and their escapades make up the rest of the series. They're joined by Lisa Pacifist, a kind but mysterious woman who shows up in Wonderland and decides to help them on their journey (without ever actually saying why).
However, the series increasingly focuses on an even more mysterious and taciturn man named Kaze, who has a Demon Gun attached to his arm; the gun uses a substance called Soil to summon creatures which can wreak devastation unlike anything else. Kaze's nemesis, White Cloud, works for the Earl, ruler of Wonderland and a very nasty child. It's never really clear why Kaze hates White Cloud so much, but he doesn't care about anything else as long as he can get at him. At times Kaze seems much nastier than White Cloud (in an uncaring kind of way), despite the fact that he usually ends up helping the Hayakawas.
The Earl's other henchmen (colorful characters all) run into the protagonists at various points and invariably get blown away by Kaze, who always just happens to be there when they need him. Lisa, Ai and Yu eventually join up with the Comodin, an anti-Earl resistance movement with the requisite Final Fantasy super-inventor Cid on board.
What do I think of the series? Hard to say. It's one of the first animes I ever saw, so I didn't have much to compare it to. In hindsight, it doesn't have a whole lot going for it. The episodes do get fairly repetitive, especially in the beginning (the kids run into trouble, Kaze gets them out). There isn't much emotion involved, mainly because the series never actually goes into the backstory of any of the more intriguing characters. The ending is forced and takes place way too rushed (there was no 26th episode; due to bad ratings it was ended in number 25, which I gather caused a lot of stuff to not be said). There are some cool parts, and it's definitely got style (a rather creepy style, but a style). If you're an FF fan you might enjoy it, but others might want to stay away. I get the feeling that if this had gone for a second season it might have been much better, but as it is, it really isn't much.
Favorite Character: Kaze
Overall Rating: 4.5/10
Edward and Alphonse Elric are two brothers who study alchemy - the art of transmuting a substance into something else. However, after their mother dies of an illness, they decide to try to bring her back - a taboo which no one has ever successfully done. In the attempt, Edward loses his left leg, and Alphonse loses his entire body; in the last second Edward manages to bind Al's soul to an empty suit of armor, losing his own right arm in the process. Edward has an "auto-mail" metal arm and leg made up for him, and he is determined to travel the world in order to find a way to return himself and his brother back to normal. Most of the series revolves around his search for the Philosopher's Stone, which has him becoming a State Alchemist (working for the army) at 12 years old (he spends most of the series at 15). The world of FMA is circa 1920 technology-wise; there's no planes, cell phones or computers, but all the other amenities of life are there (like phones and refrigerators), plus the advent of alchemy and auto-mail.
The characters of FMA are well-rounded and many-faceted. Even those who seem to be there for comic relief have nuance and depth to them. The protagonists are intriguing, to say the least. Al is a gentle giant; he still has the naive soul of a child, yet finds himself put in a position where most people think he's an adult. Ed is an irascible and entirely human boy, oversensitive about his height (or lack of it), and with a bit of a mean streak (he can have an awesome evil grin). Neither are your typical heroes. Ed has some extremely difficult decisions to make, and he doesn't always make the right one. Their relationship with each other and the others around them is stimulating and very eye-opening.
Be warned that there are some extremely disturbing images in this series. It has quite a lot to say - about memories and reality, about appearances, about duty, about the things that science, military might, and religion can do if taken too far. The villains are, often enough, everyday people given powers they never deserved. Ed and Al wander through it all, trying to make sense of things and do the right thing and often stumbling. FMA is the antithesis of shows like Ranma 1/2: it's essentially a 26-hour-long movie, and you can't just come in the middle. But the beauty of that is that it allows for an amazingly complex story, while still keeping characters and events unique enough not to get confused. There's one big plot twist per episode, on average (towards the end it's more like four or five), and some of them are real doozers - the horror and shock literally knocked my breath out at times. Multiple threads are woven into one enormous tapestry... an amazing achievement.
Animation-wise, FMA is really beautiful, except for its exaggerated "surprise" and "angry" faces, which are a bit out-of-touch. Also, characters tend to be a bit overdramatic - not in the Dragon Ball style of it, but everyone has a tendency to gasp when people say anything remotely out of the ordinary, Ed tends to overreact whenever anyone mentions his height, etc. However, these really just inject bits of humor into what's overall a very serious series. It's one I think everyone should see, as long as they can stand the sight of blood, that is.
Favorite Character: Toughie, but let's go the safe route with Edward.
Overall Rating: 10/10
I first heard about this anime from Piro/Greg in his rants at Megatokyo. Sounded interesting, so I tried it out. The first episode utterly captivated me. Unfortunately, the remaining 12 completely failed to live up to the promise which that first episode presented.
The premise is simple, if original. The series is about a group of youngsters (mostly girls) called Haibane (pronounced "high-bah-nei"), or Charcoal Feathers, who live on the outskirts of a village. They're normal kids, except that they all have tiny wings and a halo. The Haibane have a complex relationship with the villagers, as well as the Haibane Renmei, or Charcoal Feather Federation. The series in particular follows Rakka, a "newborn" Haibane, as she adjusts to her new life.
I don't want to give out any more details, because most of what satisfaction is derived from the series comes from learning more about the Haibane and their place in life, and in the village in particular. By the end of the series, you'll get pretty much all of the whats - however, without learning any of the whys. Intrigue is excellent, provided answers are actually given. Unfortunately, that's not the case here.
Stylistically, Haibane Renmei is excellent. Some images, like an angel-like figure in a denim top riding a motorcycle while smoking a cigarette, will definitely stay with you. The animation is great, with some quite haunting visuals. The music is minimalistic (often with only one or two instruments) and sorrowful. The English voice acting, while not containing any standout performances, is more than adequate and most voices are perfectly matched to their subjects. There aren't many translational quirks; but I can pretty much tell you that when they say "sin", it's not what you think - and I still haven't quite figured out what they do mean by it, which ruins much of the last few episodes' drama.
Like Megatokyo, there's very little that actually happens in Haibane Renmei. Unlike MT, however, the lack of action isn't offset by the dynamics of human relationships; it isn't offset by much of anything at all, in fact. Without the answers to the interesting questions it poses, the series is reduced to a bunch of people just living life, which can hardly be called entertainment. There are several conceits presented here which don't make much sense - such as where one of the characters disappears, and another one who barely knew her is suddenly so forlorn that she's depressed for a month. Other fairly corny themes get introduced as well; it isn't anything we haven't seen before.
In short, Haibane Renmei is a decent watch, but definitely not if you don't have patience. The potential is, for the most part, sadly squandered.
Favorite Character: Reki
Overall Rating: 6.0/10
This anime oozes style. It's steampunk (think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Wild Wild West). Nearly the entire series takes place in the air, flying little planes called vanships, or aboard giant warships. There's a lot of attention paid to detail. The technology level really isn't anywhere past turn-of-the-century except for all the airships (which is the essence of steampunk, to some extent). Communication still has to be done via pipes or wires; there's no magic here (at least for the most part). The animation is good to excellent; there's lots of CG thrown in and it really enhances the experience. Multinational symbolism is rampant; the uniforms are Civil War-era American, the other costumes have a Germanic touch, the music is Celtic and the lettering is in Greek.
There's a whole culture being created here, where wars are fought on airships (but shots are still fired with cannons and muskets); vanships (whose engines need to be cranked like Model T's) act as couriers for both military and civilian errands. However, things aren't as sky-high as they seem; the mysterious Guild controls things from the sidelines, and these people are not nice at all, for the most part.
The two protagonists are Claus Valka and Lavie Head, two childhood friends whose fathers died on an errand in the Grand Stream, an area of super-high-velocity winds. Their dream is to fly their fathers' vanship there someday; in the meantime they're couriers. However, their lives get complicated when a downed vanship thrusts a high-priority errand on them, to deliver a girl named Al to the almost-mythical warship Silverna. Claus and Lavie get swept up in something much larger than they ever expected; the search for the secret to EXILE. What is EXILE? Well... they never really explain particularly well, but that really pales next to the stuff you're seeing. There's excellent characterization being done here. Claus is pretty stereotypical, but the people around him really do have depth. They're all second-class next to the amazing flying battles and races, but a great job is done of presenting them. It took me a while to warm up to the characters, but I certainly did.
Unfortunately, the actual plot is a pretty big weakness here... as I said, EXILE is never really explained, and since the entire series revolves around it, there's a gaping hole there. The later episodes really start to get confusing, and there isn't a sense of closure about it. It's a shame, because this anime is not something to be missed.
Favorite Character: Dio.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Slayers In Space!!!!!
...At least that's what they'd like me to say. Lost Universe is made by the same folks as Slayers, so going in I expected the same kind of comedic storylines. The first couple episodes did seem like it was on the same wavelength... but it went enormously downhill from there.
The actual story revolves around a "Trouble Contractor" named Kain Blueriver, who pilots a Lost Ship called Swordbreaker (Lost Ship being, as they sound, ships from an ancient civilization with their own intelligence). Swordbreaker is gifted with an AI program called Canal, who can instantiate herself into matter using "holograms" (the same awful technological confusion used in Star Trek). There's also a dilettante named Millie who ingratiates herself into the crew, eventually proving herself useful by being a perfect shot.
As I said, the first couple episodes had some potential. But Slayers itself was terrible when it was trying to be serious, and Lost Universe tries to be serious almost all the time. When it does try to be funny, it's almost always done with plain old bickering. Both Kain and Millie are way too shrill, and Kain's overly serious. When you only have three main characters, you'd better be damn well sure they're good characters - and they're most definitely not.
The majority of the series consists of Swordbreaker getting into space battles with the evil syndicate Nightmare, whose honchos are all cookie-cutter bad guys. There's almost no exploration of the pasts of anyone, and none of them are interesting enough to keep our interest. After about ten episodes, I was only watching to see what happened next; and until the very last episode, there wasn't much happening at all. This anime was really a waste of time.
Favorite Character: Canal.
Overall Rating: 2.5
Let's try this: Ranma 1/2 is about a young martial artist named Ranma Saotome, who's the subject of a curse whereby he turns into a girl whenever splashed with cold water, and turns back into a boy when hit with hot water.
That sentence is akin to saying Shrek is about an ogre: technically correct, but completely fails to capture the hilarity and absurdity of the whole.
I'm not going to try to go in-depth into the crazy plotline of the anime, but let's try to get a general overview here: Ranma's curse is caused by him falling into the springs in Jusenkyo, China. Complications arise (there's an understatement) when Ranma's father Genma arrives in Tokyo to shack up with his old friend Soun Tendo, deciding that Ranma is to be engaged to one of Soun's three daughters (Kasumi, the homemaker, Nabiki, the scheming one, or Akane, the tomboy martial arts expert). Upon discovering Ranma's secret, Akane is promptly singled out by her sisters (since she hates boys, she's obviously the one to get engaged to someone who's half-girl). The catch? Ranma thinks Akane's too "uncute" to like, and Akane thinks Ranma's a jerk and/or a pervert. They're both half-right.
Then of course Ranma goes to school, and the good old Superman cliche comes into play, whereby people who are perfectly sane somehow manage to be astronomically stupid in one particular aspect, and he manages to keep his curse a complete secret from nearly everyone else. Dramatic irony comes into major play here - there aren't love triangles, there are love moebius strips, such as the bit where a brother and sister believe that Ranma (boy) and Ranma (girl) are actually dating, and where the brother falls in love with Ranma (girl) and vows to beat Ranma (boy) to get her, and the sister does exactly the same with the genders reversed. Got a headache yet? Ranma does. After a while it seems like the producers are just aiming to get Ranma into as much trouble as they possibly can without his having done anything actually wrong. I really start to feel sorry for the guy (or whatever he is).
Throw in several other love angles into the mix, as well as people that turn into various animals arbitrarily when they're splashed with water, and you have a zany and at times screamingly hilarious anime. You may want to sketch a chart just to keep track of who's in love with who and who thinks what of whom else. And I didn't even mention the fact that most of the anime seems to involve people throwing ridiculously-themed martial arts techniques at each other. Often these attacks destroy buildings and landscapes, or launch people hundreds of feet into the air, but oddly enough nobody ever gets seriously hurt.
Now for the downsides. Most characters are fairly one-dimensional (but that's to be expected, in a comedy). The series is pretty old, so the animation isn't up to par with more recent offerings. And be warned that there's a surprising amount of partial nudity (although given that, it's also surprising how little actual sexual content there is in the dialogue... at least before a certain character is introduced in the second season). However, none of that takes away from the enjoyability of the series, and it's one I'd recommend to anyone who isn't too prudish to be shocked at a cartoon breast, or too close-minded to suspend disbelief so far you won't remember what it looked like on the ground. Just a note, though, in this case I'd recommend the original Japanese rather than the dub, which I find a bit too annoying.
Favorite Character: Probably Ryoga, although I have fun with Nabiki, Mousse, and Genma too.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Read Or Die
This three-part animation series is heavy on action but still manages to make time for the little guy. The basic premise is just ridiculous enough to be interesting: Yomiko Readman is a special agent working for the British Library's Special Forces (you can already tell this isn't exactly run-of-the-mill). Yomiko's special talent is to have control over paper - being able to make it strong as steel or sharp as knives, or to have it form shapes she can use. There's a typical plot to take over the world involving cloning legendary figures, and Yomiko gets sent in - along with another special agent, the aptly named Ms. Deep, and an American army guy named Drake.
The real delight about this short series (other than the awesome fight sequences) is the refreshingness of the protagonist. Yomiko isn't your hero-type; she's a total nerd. She has to write herself notes to remind herself to dress and eat. Every last cent she makes is spent on books (and as is alluded to later, it might just be her love of books that evokes her powers). It makes for a welcome change from the generic stereotypes you usually see in these kinds of stories.
The series is too short for any real depth, but there's still a few twists and turns up its sleeve, and it makes for a very enjoyable watch.
Favorite Character: Yomiko
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
This is a 26-episode sequel to the three-part Read or Die OAV (Original Animation Video). At first glance, it seems like it ruined everything that made the OAV great: Yomiko is replaced as protagonist by three Hong Kong sisters (you'd be excused for thinking that the creator figured if one is good, three is better). Action is played down in favor of character. The big urgent conspiracy theme is gone. Your first reaction might be to dismiss it outright, and that reaction would be utterly wrong.
Fact is, this series excels even more than its predecessor did. The action is still there (and the sequences are indeed just as cool as they ever were). However, there's much more emphasis on understanding the people behind the action, and it's much more thought-provoking than expected.
This time, the show revolves around three paper-user sisters: Michelle (the hyper, bubbly blonde one), Maggie (the silent, easily-embarrassed boyish brunette) and Anita (the firebrand youngest one). They comprise the Three Sisters Detective Agency, and are employed by a publishing firm to protect their star author, Nenene Sumerigawa, from crazies. Nenene happens to be an old friend of Yomiko Readman. Coincidence? Not exactly. The series doesn't give you what you want right away, but you'll be seeing plenty of familiar faces eventually.
The show really runs the gamut of emotions - ranging from slapstick comedy, to dramatic personal scenes, to heart-thumping action, to terrible sadness. As I said, the emphasis is on the characters, and these aren't one-dimensional in the least. Besides the story behind them (which adds layers as you go on, leaving a rich tapestry woven with threads from the original OAV), you really get the feeling that these are real people with real feelings. People's reactions are dead-on; there's very little deus ex machina happening here. In particular, Anita really struck a chord with me - an 11-year-old mature beyond her years, but still with childlike innocence when she gets a chance. I think R.O.D. TV would never be able to get a decent localization, if only because they'll never get an English actor with the breadth and depth of the Japanese actress who plays Anita.
The actual plotline revolves around a fairly ridiculous conspiracy (which grows more inane as the series goes on), and that's really its only weak point. The people behind the conspiracy makes it interesting as you contrast their actions with their pasts, but the actual stuff that happens is a bit cringe-worthy. However, the plot really takes a back seat to the characters, and this series really shines. I highly recommend it.
Favorite Character: Anita
Overall Rating: 9/10
A wistful anime whose tone I can describe as sadly cheerful. The basic story is simple: Pacifica Kasull is a princess born to a terrible prophecy - when she turns sixteen, she'll destroy the world. The series deals with her travels with her foster siblings, Shannon and Raquel, as they evade the forces of the kingdom and the Mauzel church.
The most enjoyable thing about this show is Pacifica herself. Although you might expect someone who spends her whole life running away to be a bit depressed (to put it mildly), Pacifica is a cheerful, bubbly character who's an absolute pleasure to watch. Her interactions with her siblings and the other people around her have a real touch of reality: the kind of feeling that you've seen this sort of banter before, and it warms the heart. Pacifica's companions are a small but eclectic bunch who make perfect foils to her.
Unfortunately, the overbearing story is at once overcomplicated and too simple. Overcomplicated, because there really are too many enemies who are too alike, and several of her friends aren't really necessary either (Chris's entire squadron remain almost nameless for most of the show). Too simple, because once the big secret has been spilled halfway through, the show's finished with its message. It really doesn't have all that much to say (free choice is good... I think we've heard that one before). If the show had concentrated more on Pacifica's interactions with the major players (there are enough of them) there might be enough to ignore that fact, but as it is there just seems to be something missing.
Nevertheless, Scrapped Princess is a lot of fun to watch and has some really touching moments. The music is really nice (particularly the opening and ending themes) and the animation is lovely. There are a few interesting points it makes, but it really doesn't need 26 episodes to do so. Still, I would definitely recommend it.
Favorite Character: Pacifica (but I like Shannon too)
Overall Rating: 8/10
Generally regarded as a classic. The storyline could be lifted right out of your generic RPG: Join expert sorceress Lina Inverse, swordsman Gourry, white mage Amelia, priestess Sylphiel, and one more person I'm not mentioning due to spoilers, as they go on adventures and battle the evil Red Priest Rezo... except that the characters aren't exactly run-of-the-mill. Lina cares more about the bottom dollar than being a do-goodnik (and has a tendency to accidentally destroy villages and the like), Gourry's so stupid he'd forget his own name if people weren't yelling it all the time, Amelia is a naive hero-worshipper who thinks that pointing at people and shouting "In the name of JUSTICE!" is what heroes actually do, and Sylphiel is smitten with Gourry and seems to lack any actual thinking abilities.
Slayers is primarily comedic in nature, and when it does that, it does it quite well. The English dub is actually very enjoyable; Lina, Gourry and Amelia are perfect for their roles, as is the second guy they get for Zelgadis. Everyone else ranges from "okay" to "horrible", though. Lina gets all the good lines (and there are some exceedingly good lines). It's really entertaining.
However, there still is a storyline in there, and it does have to turn serious at some points. When it does this, Slayers is almost completely unwatchable; it falls prey to the very cliches it takes so much glee at mocking. Although there are one or two neat twists, there's absolutely nothing interesting about the story. The animation is horrible by today's standards; that's fine for a comedy, but when you're trying to be serious, it just looks like you're making fun of yourself. Big fights consist mainly of grandstanding, and people never seem to learn anything (they'll keep throwing spells at impervious monsters, for instance).
I should note that I've only seen the first season so far, and the second one is supposed to be better. So far, though, Slayers has plenty of good moments, but when it's bad, it's really, really bad.
Favorite Character: Let's stick with Lina.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
WARNING: You kind of need to watch the first Slayers before watching this one, so there may be spoilers ahead.
This is the continuation of the Slayers TV series, and I have to agree with the general consensus that this one is much better than the previous season. For one thing, the producers made an excellent decision by kicking out Sylphiel for the majority of the series and replacing her with two very entertaining characters, Xellos and Martina. The ensemble comedy works really well with people having well-defined roles: Lina's the crazy one, Gourry's the dumb one, Amelia's the naive one, Zelgadis is the straight one (who usually gets the most laughs from me), and the new characters just make things a bit more ridiculous. The English voice acting is really solid this time round, too, even the baddies.
The first series seemed to be more dedicated to an overall story arc with some episodic flashes. This one sticks more to an episodic nature while still having an overarching story, and it works much better. For one thing, it's a lot less serious, and as I said above, this series shines when it's being funny. Some of the situations are priceless. Also, even when it is serious, it generally avoids the pitfalls of cringe-worthy corniness. Some of the "serious" scenes are lightened up considerably by banter which wasn't there in the first series. Obviously some scenes are meant to be serious, though, and those actually do work this time round, mainly because they're so much more personal. Rather than dealing with a big nasty monster who wants to destroy the world, the antagonists are individuals, and their plans are specifically geared towards Lina and co, making it much more interesting.
Long story short, take Slayers and fix most of the bad things about it, and you get Slayers Next, a very enjoyable watch.
Favorite Character: The whole "main party" (i.e. not Sylphiel) are awesome. 8-)
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
See what I wrote for the original Slayers. It's basically the same, except that there seem to be even less "humorous" episodes than in the original. In fact, I'd tell you to quit watching after the halfway mark (the big showdown round about there). I can't recall a single episode I enjoyed after that. (If you really want to know what happens, and it isn't all that interesting, just ask me.) There are some great laughs in the first half, though. Still, Slayers Next is by far the pinnacle of this series.
Favorite Character: Filia is actually pretty neat. 8-) I think I'll stick with Zelgadis though.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 (first half), 2.0/10 (second half)
The movies and OAVs are quite different from the series. Rather than focusing on the ensemble cast of Slayers, they follow Lina before she meets Gourry, and focuses on her travels with Naga the Serpent. Naga is an egotistical, arrogant, and very stupid bimbo whose entertainment value lies entirely in her annoyability factor. Frankly, the directors know full well how annoying she is, and milks it for all it's worth, but it doesn't make watching her any more enjoyable (other than the rather obvious eye candy).
The animation is a heck of a lot better than the TV version, but that's not really what's important - how's the story? Well... these segments are short (an hour for the movies, half hour for the OAVs) so there isn't much time for plot. It's really hit-or-miss. It does best when it pokes fun of itself (in Slayers Return and Slayers Gorgeous, which were loads of fun IMO). Sometimes it goes a way too far, though (Slayers Great, which was one long cringe-fest). The rest of them are decidedly mediocre. I also don't really like Lina's voice actress compared to the TV version - she's a lot more childish and whiny, and the pronunciation of "ing" as "een" grates on me. I should try watching it in Japanese one of these days.
I should also note that Slayers Premium, rather than follow Naga, has the folk from the TV series instead, and it's also a lot of fun, but unfortunately it's about half an hour too short, and two characters are given tiny cameos that really should have been fleshed out. Still, it's pretty nice.
Favorite Character: The best ones are actually the secondary characters... I loved the Rasputin-type villain from Return.
Overall Ratings: 4/10 (Great), 8.5/10 (Return, Gorgeous), 8/10 (Premium), 5/10 (everything else)
Star Ocean EX
This anime is based largely on the game Star Ocean: Second Story for PlayStation. Since it was one of my favorite games, I was intrigued by the series. Unfortunately, it didn't do nearly as well as expected, and production had to be rushed, stopping the series at the halfway point in the game. It's a shame, because this could have been much better than it was.
The story, as in the game, revolves around Claude C. Kenni, an ensign aboard a very Star Trek-like spaceship, who gets caught in one of those "anomalies" and ends up on Expel, an undeveloped planet, where he rescues Rena, a native girl. Seeing his light gun, she believes him to be the Legendary Hero(tm), come to help Expel get rid of all these demons and natural disasters happening recently. The clues lie in the Sorcery Globe, a meteor that fell to Expel, after which all the bad things started happening. Claude's just trying to get home, but feels that the Sorcery Globe is the best way to get there in any case, and thus begins an epic journey of sorts.
As in SO2, the series's best moments come when characters interact. The pseudo-dispute that Claude shares with Rena's childhood friend Dias Flac, both over Rena herself and their swordsman skills, lends depth to Claude's rather bland goals. The magician Celine and the three thugs who she keeps running into make for some laughs. Precis (a gadgeteering teenager) and Ashton (another swordsman cursed with two dragons stuck to his back) are great comic relief; Ashton in particular has excellent comic timing in his lines. However, as the series progresses, these characters are thrust into the background in favor of bigger things, and unfortunately said bigger things are incredibly boring. Leon, Opera, and Ernest from SOSS are thrown into the mix, but none of them get proper screentime. The story veers farther and farther from the game in the later episodes, and it simply does not work. The characters I once cared for become one big glutinous "fight the evil" mess. It's really a shame.
Favorite Character: Ashton.
Overall Rating: 5.5/10
Tales of Eternia
An anime offshoot of the game known in the US as Tales of Destiny 2. ToE is quite possibly the best-done anime-from-video-game I've yet seen (although that's not a huge list). The rundown is pretty simple: it follows Reid, Farah, Meredy, and Keele from the game. However, in an excellent decision, it does not follow the game's storyline slavishly while deviating from it just enough to make us hate it (see Star Ocean EX or Xenosaga). Nor does it ignore the main characters completely (see FF Unlimited). Instead, it skips to about halfway through the story with a minimum of exposition, and dedicates itself to a side episode in their journey.
The story centers on the island nation of Belcarnu, where the foursome find themselves stranded after a crowded episode or two. The first half of the series is a decidedly upbeat "buddy anime", consisting of one part fighting action, one part sexual embarrassment, and two parts pratfall. It's a lot of fun to watch (even Grid and his gang from the first Tales of Destiny make an appearance). The halfway point marks a darker turn to the story, and it's surprisingly well-done, although not anything to write home about.
The new characters introduced are interesting and varied, in particular that of Coreena the tone-deaf minstrel. The main characters also get a lot more screen time than in the entire original game, giving us quite a bit of unexpected depth. Farah seems to be more of a stick-in-the-mud than in the game, though.
The story is short, spanning just 13 episodes. However, a lot gets done in that time. Although I wasn't hanging on the edge of my seat, I was very interested in seeing how the heroes uncovered the secrets of the island, and what they did about it. In the game there's very few situations that can't be fought out of, but here it's a lot more subtle. Long story short (just like the anime), I think it's something that both fans of the game and people who never played it can enjoy.
Favorite Character: Coreena
Overall Rating: 7.5
A light-hearted fluffy sci-fi. The premise is original: Colony ships are sent out from Earth to two different planets - one contains only men, and the other only women. Three generations later, a female pirate group ends up, through convoluted circumstances, merging with a male ship, and the two genders have to learn how to live together and understand each other.
There are some nice things about this series. It's pretty fun, with colorful characters and some very funny situations. The animation is really nice (with some great eye candy), and the performances of the English cast are well done. Characters are mostly well-developed and there's some real (and realistic) character growth. However, there's way too much to nitpick about it. -_- Story-wise, about half the series is spent fighting nasty aliens in spaceships and giant mecha (Voltron-style). That might be your cup of tea, but as far as I'm concerned most of it just takes away from the really interesting bits where the men and women try to figure each other out.
I also didn't like the fact that VanDread shies away from tackling a lot of the really interesting sociological issues that might arise from this situation (mainly involving sex). The plot is really toothless - there's nothing sad or poignant except for one or two parts. Nothing really bad ever happens. There's no suspense.
Another major issue with me is the sheer corniness of the dialogue whenever anything important happens. The original script is bad enough (descending into some nasty "self-help booklet" scenes at times) but the English script makes it even worse, with some climactic scenes being completely nonsensical. There are some other gaffes with the script (such as Misty calling Maia "dear sister", or having too many words to fit an animation bit, with characters running on their sentences to fit). I also found quite a lot of plot holes and unexplained plot elements (not least of which is why a pirate ship contains so many ditzes and brats).
Having said all that, I did enjoy VanDread... it's a fun timewaster, but don't expect to use your brain too much.
Favorite Character: Bart, oddly enough.
Overall Rating: 6.0/10
Witch Hunter Robin
This anime is, as you might expect, about a witch hunter named Robin. To be more specific, a witch in this context is anyone with supernatural powers. They're hunted if they start acting up and, oh, say, start killing people. An organization called STN takes care of the hunting (which involves incapacitating them with a secret substance called Orbo), but often employs witches of their own to aid in it. The series begins with Robin, a witch and former nun imported from Italy, joining the crew of Tokyo's STN branch.
The series is very dark - not in the "blood and gore" or "depressing" ways, but just in color; the screen often has little light in it. The pace is fairly slow, and you need to have patience if you want to enjoy it. The first half is kind of like an animated Buffy; episodes where Robin and her compatriots search out and neutralize witches who've gone astray. There's a big plot twist halfway through, and the mood changes substantially. To be frank, I liked the first half better than the second half.
In fact, I probably wouldn't continue watching if it weren't for the captivating character of Robin. She rarely smiles, for one thing. She wears dresses that were in style back in Puritanical times, but she rides a scooter. She can magically burn people at five hundred feet, but needs glasses to aim. She's quiet, but not really antisocial. In short, quite an enigma, and I spent most of the series just trying to figure her out.
Like many animes, though, this one falters near the end. Robin's friends don't have much personality, nor any backstory at all, and I really didn't care about them as a whole (the badass Amon is an exception, but not much of one). I just wanted it to get over with so I could see what happens next... but it wasn't all that rewarding.
In short, this series has some interesting things to say, but takes way too long to say them.
Favorite Character: Robin, duh.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
This is an epic series, in every sense of the word. The main thrust is this: at an appointed time, fourteen people - the seven Dragons of Heaven and the seven Dragons of Earth - are destined to fight each other. One side wants the Earth to stay as it is; the other side wants to wipe out humanity and start over anew. The fact that X does so well with such a cliched storyline is a testament to the talents of its creators.
The focal point of the fight is a young man named Kamui - according to an oracle who lives in Tokyo, Kamui is the only one who gets to choose which side he's on. The choice doesn't look promising... Kamui is a sullen, taciturn, nasty guy who blasts anyone who gets near him with his supernatural powers. The only person he mellows to, even slightly, is Kotone, a girl he grew up with, and her brother Fuma, a real Good Samaritan big-brother type.
The series starts slow. First we have to figure out who the dragons *are* (we don't get the full list until around halfway through). Once there, we slowly go into everyone's backstory - and everyone has one, well-thought-out and intriguing, turning them from ciphers into real people with real problems and real goals. Each one has something to bring to the team. What's more, the line between good and bad often gets blurred; other than a few black-and-white characters, there's very few who you can definitely tell are nasty or not. People seem to be on different sides just because that's what fate decides. There's a huge plot twist halfway through, after which point the fight begins in earnest.
X is full of raw emotion. It's not afraid to go places you wouldn't expect; no punches are pulled, no automatic happy endings given. Some characters are built up over many, many episodes, getting us to like or love them, only to die in a later one, whether for a good reason or not. Things are simply not fair. The fight for humanity becomes the fight for individual humans, and the fight to cheat fate and destiny. The soaring musical score adds to the mood tremendously. In the end, this series asks many questions, and doesn't give the answers you would expect. Thought-provoking and extremely sorrowful, this is not a lighthearted anime, but it's infinitely rewarding.
Favorite Character: Sorata.
Overall Rating: 9/10
An entirely unnecessary anime version of the popular RPG Xenosaga Episode I, with a couple of nods towards Episode II. Clocking in at only 12 episodes, this series, depending on its mood, is either slavishly devoted to the original material, or dives off from it in unwanted tangents. What I mean by that is that the majority of the dialogue you'll hear is verbatim direct from the game. But there are a few plot points that diverge from the main canon.
I really don't see the point of this one. Maybe for people who want to remember the overarching story without actually replaying the game? Then again, the game actually goes far more in-depth than the anime; for those who haven't played, they'll be really confused by the terminology which is explained in the game by the useful dictionary. The drawing style is a bit strange as well. And there's even less levity than in the game.
This one gets a zero for originality. And I can honestly say that I liked the English voice cast better than its rather generic Japanese brethren (besides KOS-MOS, that is). It's not actually *bad*, just kind of superfluous.
Favorite Character: KOS-MOS.
Overall Rating: 3/10