Series Review – Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga

Series Review – Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of A-1 Pictures

I suppose I should address the elephant in the room here.  I apologize for my absence and the lack of reviews.  It’s been about 4 months since my last review.  Admittedly, I ended up being a little burnt out from maintaining a mostly weekly review schedule.  On top of this, my Youtube channel has been fighting the good copyright fight with regards to my video versions of these reviews.  Fighting the Youtube copyright system made me really not want to do reviews anymore, but I’m back and I hope to publish at least two reviews a month.  We will see if I stick to a nice schedule, but I will release reviews as I see fit.  I’ve been watching a ton of anime that I have a lot to say about.  It should hopefully be easier because I am pretty much done with making video reviews and will solely be focusing on this as a blog.  With that said, let’s get to the review.

Six years ago, the first season of Blue Exorcist managed to impress the anime community.  Despite the great premise, this first season deviated from the source material and presented an anime-original ending which was met with criticism.  It took forever, but Blue Exorcist finally received a second season that flat-out ignored the anime-only events and this resulted in a perfect story arc.  I’m Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth Anime Review.

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Story and Characters

The second season opens up immediately after the events of the Forest Training Arc and does away with the events that characterized the latter half of the first season.  Rin’s status as the son of Satan is finally exposed to his classmates and he immediately suffers the fallout of this revelation.  However, the exorcists-in-training are quickly assigned to a mission regarding a conspiracy that seeks to revive the Impure King, a high-level demon that devastated Japan hundreds of years ago.  The audience is also introduced to Ryuji’s family, who are part of a religious sect that seeks to prevent the resurrection of the Impure King.  That is the basic plot premise of this 13 episode season.

I would characterize the Kyoto arc as the first major arc in Blue Exorcist.  Before this, most of the story was largely delegated to standalone episodes, but the Kyoto arc marks a turning point in the series.  The story largely focuses on two characters: Rin and Ryuji.  The focus on these characters makes for a compelling plot.  Both of these characters are facing their biggest hurdles to date.  Rin loses his friends and his never ending optimism as a result of the Order learning of his parentage. Similarly, Ryuji must also address his issues regarding his perception of his father.  At its base level, the Kyoto arc provides an excellent character study of these two characters which makes the escalation of events much more interesting.

The Kyoto Arc also marks the introduction of antagonists other than Satan.  This results in a significant amount of world-building that really adds to the character of the series.  This season provides a bevy of information regarding Exorcist abilities, demons and even backstories on a few of the side characters.  From start to finish, this arc enthralls the viewer.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t more to watch.

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Animation and Sound Design

Blue Exorcist once again showcases its animation pedigree and even improves on the animation of the first season.  The characters maintain their amazing level of expressiveness which is significant given the more serious nature of the arc compared to the episodic nature of the first season.  However, the animation shines in the action scenes.  There are some impressive action sequences located in the latter half of the season.  I also believe that this is one of the best examples of an anime that animates fire extremely well.  Fire is present in a large amount of the action scenes to the point where I was impressed anytime Rin used his blue flames.

Once again, the sound design has no flaws.  The voice acting remains impeccable.  The actors for Rin and Ryuji capture the new-found dramatic cadence with such perfection that it really adds on to the quality of the story of this season.  In what is a Blue Exorcist tradition by this point, the opening remains one of the finest that can be offered by anime.  Hiroyuki Sawano returns and creates a dramatic and action-packed score.  There is one scene toward the end of the series that uses music to such perfection that I had chills the first time I watched the scene.  Overall, the animation and sound design are nothing short of perfect.

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Final Verdict

Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is a fine example of a shonen anime.  The Kyoto arc presents an arc filled with drama and excellent character growth, while also expanding upon the world.  The animation and sound design maintains the excellent quality of the series.  I give Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga my Bananaowns’ stamp of approval.  It really is one of the best offerings of the year.  I’ll be back next week with another review and thanks for checking this one out.

Bananaowns stamp of approval

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Series Review – ReLife

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of TMS Entertainment

Anime adaptations of on ongoing work can be relatively hit or miss.  At a certain point, the anime can catch up with the original work.  This can lead to a variety of options.  Some studios turn to filler arcs to pad the length.  Others leave it off on a cliffhanger with the intention to lead the audience to purchase the original work.  My least favorite option is the anime-original ending.  With the exception of the original Full Metal Alchemist, anime-original endings usually are of a lower quality.  The show that I am reviewing this week is an example of how to perfectly adapt an ongoing work.  ReLife ended with that perfect mix of closure and anticipation for the rest of the series.  I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth anime review.

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Story & Characters

The story revolves around Arata, a 27 year old who is unemployed after quitting his job of three months.  Because of his short time with his previous employer, it is very difficult for him to find other work.  One day, he is given the opportunity to be part of an experiment that will see him returning to high school.  He is given a pill that will de-age him ten years, with a chance to fix the problems that plague him.

ReLife has the perfect mix of drama and comedy.  This is mostly due to the excellent character interaction.  All of the characters are inherently interesting with a variety of traits that add to the story.  For instance, Arata’s older age gives him a sense of maturity that he imparts onto the other students.  It also makes creates a lot of comedy when he is forced do anything physical.  On the other hand, there is the socially awkward Chizuru.  Her awkwardness and ignorance is a primary means of comedy and drama for this character.  Her interactions with Rena show this range perfectly.  The awkward attempts at smiling are a lot of fun, but create a lot of conflict.  Of course, the rest of the cast manages to be just as interesting as this small selection.

My only negative with the story involves the large amount of time spent on Rena’s story arc.  In certain situations, her personality does not lend itself for the audience to root for her character.  Her multiple episode fight with Honoka is the perfect example of this aspect.  Her personality comes across as grating and it makes her insufferable at times.  The extension of this story arc just highlights this problem and messes with the otherwise great pacing of the series.

All other anime studios should turn to this show to see an example of how to perfectly end and ongoing series.  They found a natural break in the story, right after something major is revealed to the audience.  This leads to the perfect combination of closure, but anticipation for another anime season.  The story obviously was not done, but at the same time, this ending was not a cliffhanger.  It felt natural and I was very satisfied with it.

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Animation & Sound Design

The animation of this series is not the strongest aspect.  In fact, I would consider the animation to be rather mediocre overall.  Character movements are very stiff and the backgrounds are usually bland.  There is only one aspect of the animation that I would say is impressive at every moment.  The facial expressions for this show are great.  They really add on to the comedic timing of many scenes.  Of course, Chizuru’s terrifying smile is my favorite example.  There are a few scenes that see a noticeable jump in animation quality, but the only one that really stands out is the firework sequence in the last couple of episodes.  There is nothing bad about the animation, it’s just fairly average.

The sound design has a significant strength as well.  The voice acting for this series is phenomenal.  There are a lot of subtle changes to inflection.  The sense of comedic timing is spot on.  One of my favorite moments involves An and Arata whispering about Kazuomi’s dense nature.  The cast is similarly great when the drama begins to arise.  Arata’s exploration of his past is expertly captured by his voice actor.  It is a relatively serious performance given the mostly comedic nature of the series.  As for the music, nothing stands out here.  The opening is rather generic and the score does not offer anything substantial.  The music fits with what is happening, but there is nothing that manages to jump out at the audience.  Overall, there is nothing I would consider to be detrimental about the sound design and animation.  Both of these aspects have some factors that I would consider to be strengths, but are mostly mediocre overall.

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Final Verdict

The Netflix-style release of ReLife caught me by surprise.  I ended up finishing the series in a couple of days.  The mixture between drama and comedy was an indicator of a great work.  Despite some pacing issues in the middle, the story and characters made this show into something special.  The animation was mediocre overall, but nailed the facial expressions.  The sound design had great performances, but lacked memorable music.  I give ReLife my Watch rating.  It’s not a perfect show, but I wholeheartedly recommend this series to everyone.  I’ll be back next week for another review and thanks for checking this one out.

Watch Rating

 

Series Review – Joker Game

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of Production I.G

Expectations can make or break pretty much anything in life.  In terms of anime, expectations can drastically alter how the audience perceives a show.  A show with a lot of hype might be actually good, but the failure to meet those hype levels could lead it to be considered a lot worse than it actually was.  For this week, my failed expectations were largely caused by a misleading story format.  As a result, I did not enjoy this show nearly as much as I would have otherwise.  Joker Game was an entertaining, but heavily flawed take on the world of espionage.  I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth Anime review.

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Story & Characters

This is a series that no one expected to actually be an anthology.  Joker Game has no overarching plot other than the growing need for espionage in the years leading up to the Second World War.  Each episode follows a different spy’s situation as they take on a variety of issues ranging from finding another spy network or escaping interrogation.  This is the inherent weakness of an anthology; some of the scenarios presented are great, and some manage to be very uninteresting.  For the ones that work, they showcase a multitude of twists and turns, with a big reveal of the spy’s strategy towards the end of the episode.  When it works, navigating through this plot is highly entertaining.  When it doesn’t though, it can lead to a very convoluted chain of events that does not seem to come together nicely.

There is also another problem concerning the characters.  Besides Yuuki, the leader of the D-Agency, there really isn’t an interesting character that the audience can get behind.  All of the spies are interchangeable.  They only shine in scenes where they all manage to meet up with one another and this rarely happens.  Some people praise the show for this aspect, but I am not one of them.  They say that the spies being interchangeable enhance the overall theme of a spy’s adaptability.  I agree with this sentiment.  The problem lies with trying to tell a great story with characters that do not really receive any sort of development.  It puts a lot of pressure on the scenarios themselves, which I mentioned were relatively hit or miss.  I put a significant amount of emphasis on story and character when I watch an anime.  When an anime has difficulty getting me to care about the characters, then it’s not really for me.

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Animation & Sound

For the most part, this series features some solid animation.  They absolutely nailed the tone of this time period with the art and the action scenes that show off the talents of the spies are also beautifully animated.  There actually is some very impressive choreography here.  The major problem lies with the character design.  As I mentioned earlier, the spies are interchangeable.  The character design certainly exacerbates this problem.  They look so similar that I have a very difficult time differentiating between them, not like it matters anyway.  On top of that, there are some ridiculous looking characters in this show.  What were they thinking when they were designing some of these characters?  I’m sure the clip of the other spymaster has gone viral with how disgusting he looks.

Thankfully the sound design is top notch.  I consider it to be the best aspect of this series.  The voice acting is phenomenal.  Yuuki’s voice actor deserves a special mention with his perfect performance as an aging spymaster.  He really steals the show with some of his rather devious scenes.  The music is also amazing.  The series features a wide array of jazz which gives it a similar feeling to Baccano!  Overall, the animation had some significant problems, but the sound design was rather good.

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Final Verdict

It’s quite obvious that while I will admit that I enjoyed some moments of Joker Game, the series was disappointing overall.  The lack of character development limited my interest in the anthology nature of the plot.  The animation was great, but the character design was lacking.  The sound design was a highlight with excellent voice acting and an equally excellent soundtrack.  I give this series a Don’t Watch rating.  While there are some great moments, it never really comes together.  I’ll be back next week for another review and thanks for checking out this one.

Don't Watch

Series Review – ERASED

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of A-1 Pictures

I stand by the statement that there seems to be one standout show every season.  The one show that everyone raves about.  It’s a rarity in this world, but it happens like clockwork.  Right now, ERASED is the prom queen of the anime world and it rightly deserves this title.  Seriously, this show is one of my favorites of all time.  I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone checks it out.  If you want to hear more specifics, then continue to view this review.  I’m Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth Anime Review.

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Story

ERASED tells the story of a 29 year old manga artist with a powerful, but mysterious ability.  When tragedy is about to strike, Satoru is sent back several minutes before the accident occurs.  Over the years, Satoru has used this ability to save the lives of many people.  However, tragedy manages to personal and Satoru’s revival sends him back to his childhood.  He realizes that this incident may be connected to a series of child murders that occurred while he was in elementary school and this is his chance to change the future.

The story follows Satoru as he tries to connect the pieces and figure out the identity of a serial killer.  It plays like an anime version of the board game Clue.  Various clues are presented and a variety of motives are questioned.  The plot is an enthralling mystery as a result.  Every episode sees an introduction of new evidence or even debunking of previous theories.  The credit is largely due to the excellent pacing.  Evidence is slowly dripped out as Satoru manages to connect the dots.  Big reveals happen at times when they feel appropriate.  Even the lighter scenes have an intended purpose and are not wasteful in any sense.

This is a show that is not meant to be watched in one sitting.  A majority of the entertainment comes from speculating about the circumstances regarding the murders.  To put this point into perspective, almost every episode ends in a cliffhanger, but one that is not superfluous.  Each cliffhanger serves the purpose to immediately create a multitude of fan theories and anticipation to see if the viewer could correctly guess what would happen next.  After viewing an episode, I immediately conversed with a friend and what followed was a whole week’s worth of theories and speculation.  This is a show that is meant to be talked about.

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Characters

ERASED features some of the best characterization in any anime, which is especially true for the female characters.  The female characters are the most fleshed out female characters in anime.  Satoru’s mother, Sachiko is a top tier anime mom.  She is involved in her son’s life and possesses a level of self-awareness that is a rarity in anime.  Sachiko is highly perceptive and readily observes anything out of the ordinary.  Her interactions with another character, Kayo, showcase her aptitude as a mother perfectly.  Sachiko is such a standout character that she quickly became one of my favorite characters by the end of the first episode.

Airi, a coworker of Satoru, is the other female character that I would categorize as phenomenal.  She initially appears as an airhead, but this judgment is quickly brushed aside.  Airi is spunky and willing to take action relatively quickly.  She is surprisingly mature for her age and possesses a similar morality to that of Sachiko.  Although she has relatively little screen time, Airi manages to make a solid impact on the viewer.

As for the main character, Satoru, he is interesting as well.  He embodies a sort of helpful morality that causes him to go out of his way for others.  It is sort of clichéd at first, but after his revival to his childhood becomes acceptable.  At times, Satoru possesses a sort of ends justify the means mentality, shown by some potential actions as he tries to figure out how to change the future.  Satoru is not perfect by any means, but embodies a very persistent attitude.  At times his plans do fail, but never manages to lose out hope that he can alter the future for the better.  Another interesting aspect is his adoption of many childlike tendencies when he revives to his elementary school days.  Despite being an adult, these childlike tendencies seem to influence him.  Overall, Satoru is a fascinating protagonist, but is not the main draw of the series.  The focus is largely on the other characters and on Satoru’s attempt to figure out the mystery.

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Animation

The animation of ERASED is a masterpiece of stylistic choices.  The scenes that take place in the present are animated in a normal aspect ratio.  However, the scenes in the past are given a cinematic look by the addition of black bars for these shots.  At times it feels like an animated movie that has been split into normal episode lengths.  The backgrounds and framing of certain scenes are the main driving force of the animation.  Certain scenes possess a rather dark sense of beauty.  Any scene involving Kayo in the park is framed to perfection.  It would create a rather dreary wallpaper, but one that would be beautiful in its own sense.  The character design could take some time to get used to, but I found that I was used to the look of the characters by the second episode.  The animation for the characters is very well done, with a highlight being on the facial expressions of the characters.  In this regard, Satoru’s expressions are done extremely well.  Overall, the cinematic quality of the animation creates an animation style that is visually striking.

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Sound

The voice acting of this series is highlight.  Despite it being his first role, the voice actor for Satoru manages to give an absolutely astounding performance.  Given his larger role in providing narration, this vocal performance needed to be great and thankfully, it is great.  The rest of the vocal performances are similarly acted to perfection.  As for the music of the series, it is appropriate for every situation.  With the rather dark tone of a variety of scenes, the music is mostly moody.  It reminds me of the jokes featured in Forgetting Sarah Marshall that are about a fictional television score.  Given that the story is a mystery, this dark music provides the necessary ambience.  The opening song is a little out of place, but is good.  I can never get tired of Asian-Kung-Fu Generation.

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Final Verdict

Everyone needs to watch this show.  It is an absolute masterpiece.  The story features an interesting time travel mechanic, but is mostly a mystery thriller.  Every episode is entertaining and features a great cast of characters as the mystery is slowly put together.  The animation gives a cinematic look that presents this series as a movie of sorts.  The vocal performances are astounding.  I give ERASED my Bananaowns’ stamp of approval.  It quickly has become one of my favorite shows.  I recommend that future viewers space out their watch of the series.  There is much to be gained by a feeling of suspense, especially if a friend can be convinced to watch as well.  Thanks for checking out this review and I’ll be back next week for another anime feature.

Bananaowns stamp of approval