Chihiro Furuya has no interest in the opposite sex. This is of course far from uncommon in the anime world, as male protagonists often act chaste and reject the conventions of romantic or sexual attraction, but the difference with Chihiro is that he has an actual reason… He’s been obsessed with zombie fiction for as long as he can remember, and he’s been on the look out for a certain kind of girl that’s just drop dead gorgeous… That is to say, a hot zombie chick. One day, after finding a mysterious ink-splatted book about resurrecting the dead in his attic, his precious pet cat Babu is run over by a local man’s car, killing the freaky feline instantly. Not yet ready to part with one of his only friends, Chihiro begins to study the old book, and begins to experiment with the potion listed inside of it, crafting different variations of the same concoction to try and find that one sweet mix that will bring Babu back to life. Of course he can’t do this at home, so he chooses an abandoned hotel as his makeshift mad science lab… And that’s where he meets Rea.

As one of the most popular girls in school and the daughter of it’s owner, you might expect her to live a happy and privileged life, fulfilling and free of want, with nary a care in the world that wouldn’t fall under the term “First world problems.” You would be wrong, as the lifestyle of this rich and famous heiress is closer to that of a detainee than that of a debutante. Putting up with her Father’s soul-crushing over-protection and her Mother’s alcohol-influenced indifference, she finds Chihiro’s weirdness to be a pleasant diversion, and winds up becoming the Igor in his experiments. Unbeknownst to them, he actually manages to perfect the potion, so when she secretly steals of a vial of it to end her own life with, she soon winds up becoming the one thing he’s always wanted… A living dead girl. But with her psychopathic father waiting for the perfect moment to strike, and her own mysterious condition presenting them with challenges at every turn, is there any hope for their boy-meets-ghoul romance? Or like Rea, are they simply living on borrowed time?

Once upon a time, I came across somebody in the forums I frequent, denouncing Studio Deen as the worst animation company he’s ever seen. He showed a mediocre-looking clip from the first episode of Fate/Stay Night, calling it “literally the best looking thing they’ve ever done.” Now I’ll admit that that Deen’s put out a few ass-looking anime before, but I was quick to show him clips from a few shows that I’d specially selected to show just how amazing some of their shows can look… And one of them was Sankarea, which had just begun to air on I selected this particular title for one specific reason… Because the animation in this series is nothing short of perfect.

Now, don’t get me wrong… We are of course not talking about constant fluid motion, like what you may find in the best looking Kyoto Animation shows… On-screen movement is restricted to what’s necessary, but it never feels like they’re being held back by anything other than their own discretion. When the movement does slow down, it’s almost always for the sake of an emotionally significant moment, at which point it’s more like the visuals stepping back and letting you become engrossed in the shock and gravity that you’re supposed to be experiencing, which is further amplified by the exquisite art design and brilliant use of sound effects. This gives the series a sense of energy and atmosphere that can, at times, make you feel as though you’re really there in the moment alongside the characters.

For the most part, the art design is rooted firmly in reality… Well, blonde japanese girls with large breasts aren’t exactly realistic, but you could consider that the exception that proves the rule. Everything from a field of flowers to a row of trees to your basic urban settings are drawn with elaborate detail down to the very last blemish, arranged on screen with strict adherence to attractive color palettes and in ways that draw your eyes directly to the human characters living out their lives in the midst of it all. Having said that, the use of off-beat camera angles and just plain weird shot set-ups doesn’t always work, and can at times feel a little over-excessive, like they’re trying way too hard to look like Studio Shaft, who can be extremely hit or miss in terms of visuals in their own right. Some occurrences deserve to be explored from less commonplace angles, but when you’re trying to spice up a conversation in a locker room by having three characters open up their lockers as though they’re practicing their timing for a synchronized swimming meet, the show can start to look a little pretentious. The character designs are also a bit strange, despite the mostly realistic body proportions… I will never for the life of me understand why old people are often portrayed as little people… And then there’s the main character’s cat-like hairdo, which I’m sure has some sort of symbolic meaning in regards to his zombie cat. Rea looks like the stereotypical standard of young Japanese beauty, and while I would be crying ‘generic’ over it, there’s an argument to be made that her father simply raised her to look like that.

The opening and ending portions are just beautiful. The OP, Esoragoto by nano.Ripe, is one of my favorites of all time for some damn good reasons. Aside from the throwaway side-character breakdown that happens at about 45 seconds in, the imagery used in this opening is full of metaphors for the story of the anime, none of which you’ll understand until probably your second time through. They’re very subtle in the way they’re presented, and the childish voice singing the lyrics perfectly emphasizes the tragedy of a young adolescent who was never truly allowed to experience childhood, and thus hasn’t been allowed to grow up. The ending, Above Your Hand by Annabel, takes that idea to it’s natural conclusion… Rea in a bowling alley, what one might consider the ideal teen hangout, just lying in the lane and waiting to get struck, knowing she’ll never truly live and patiently, serenely awaiting death to take her. There’s a good reason the singer sounds older here than in the OP… It’s the harsh reality to the op’s unsettlingly upbeat fantasy.

In keeping with these thematic ideals, Yukari Hashimoto composed the soundtrack to hit two major notes… One decidedly better than the other. Half of the OST explores the emotional trauma faced by Rea… The exact nature of which is betrayed by an array of music box, organ and piano orchestrations. The other half is tailored more towards Chihiro, and there’s a reason nobody’s going out of their way to upload them on youtube. These tunes skew more towards the background, and have a much more homey feel to them… They can be downright happy and disarming, and while they’re perfectly fine in their own right, the emotional resonance of the stronger half of the soundtrack does tend to attract more attention. Personally, my favorite is Babu’s theme, Babu no Iru Fuukei, which just sounds like the anthem of a cat strutting around town without a care in the world, and it’s surprisingly easy to dance to.

The English dub is also top notch, which shouldn’t surprise you if you look at the list of names involved before viewing. The backstage work is in the hands of the right people, with Joel McDonald directing and Monica Rial writing the script, two choices you can’t go wrong with. Jamie Marchi stayed the hell away from the script, which is also to it’s great credit, as she’s a far better actor than she is a writer. She plays Chihiro’s cousin Ranko, and while she’s played more than her fair share of loud, energetic girls, her character has a great deal more emotional depth than your typical incest-obsessed cousin cliche, and Marchi makes you genuinely feel for this character who would probably come off as annoying in anyone else’s hands. David Wald, whom I’m convinced can do no wrong, plays Rea’s creepy father, bringing forth an air of pride and nobility, with some heavily unsettling tones lurking just beneath the surface.

Monica Rial is of course adorable as a zombie cat, as is Felecia Angelle, who plays Chihiro’s ghost-obsessed sister Mero with the perfect deadpan sarcasm. However, the real surprise here is with our two leads, Chihiro and Rea. Ever since Aaron Dismuke hit puberty, I’ve found his performances to be extremely hit-or-miss, but he was luckily able to play off of his own obsession with zombies to play his strange, socially awkward character. His performance could be described as one note, but it’s the kind of one-note an introverted teenager would believably use, and he’s more than capable of emoting through it whenever he needs to. And what’s more shocking is that I’ve NEVER liked Tia Ballard, the high-pitched banshee who ruined the first episode of Shiki for me. But in the title role of Rea Sanka, there are no words for how amazing she is. She shows an unbelievable amount of control over her voice, and is able to put forth consistent quality whether her character is cheerful, suffering, or going through rigor mortis(her approach to which is hilarious). When she goes into her backstory, her expository dialogue can be downright heartbreaking, and it’s clear she feels all the pain in her character’s heart. She can come off as a bit too whiny and spoiled at some points in the story, but I can’t really fault the actor for that… It is, unfortunately, the way the character was written.

What’s that? You think it’s weird for a girl who’s been established as an abuse victim to be portrayed as annoying and spoiled? Well, get ready for worse, because this show is really freaking weird. And I’m not referring to it’s concept, either… This is one of the most bafflingly executed anime series I’ve ever seen. It has no sense of tone, it constantly shoots itself in the foot with it’s lack of focus, and seemingly has no idea what it wants to be. Is it an intense, dramatic character study? Is it a light-hearted slice of life with an unusual premise? Is it a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the zombie genre? Hell, it could be all of those things without feeling nearly as jarring… Comedy, drama and off-kilter subject matter has been handled expertly in shows like Ouran Highschool Host Club… but Sankarea just doesn’t understand how.

Our central character is Chihiro, a zombie obsessed boy who immediately gains your attention via some subtle hints that he actually doesn’t want a zombie girlfriend, and is only saying that as an excuse to himself as others as to why he’s not yet mature enough to be interested in girls. He lives in a house with what could almost be called a Japanese Addams Family, has a dead cat he’s trying to resurrect, which(along with his own cat-like appearance) could be a metaphor that he desperately wants to get a life himself. He’s one of the better male protagonists I’ve seen, but he’s immediately over-shadowed by the lead female, Rea. Not long after she’s introduced, we start to hear her story, and it is so bizarrely horrifying that it winds up hijacking the story. It’s like hearing about a triplegic puppy who just found out it has another case of leg cancer, it’s that merciless of an attack on your sympathies.

At first, we’re told that her father takes naked pictures of her on her birthday, which she’s sick of. Yeah, that sounbds liek a spoiler, but we find it out in the first episode, so whatever. Then we find out that he shelters and controls her, firing any maid who he doesn’t agree with, possibly killing a stray cat that got too close to the house, and using his influence to destroy the lives of the family of a girl she’d confided to about the pictures. You’d think that’s bad enough, but as the story goes on, we also learn some things that are supposed to make him feel more sympathetic, but they just wind up making the situation feel all the more sinister. I won’t give away the spoiler that reveals this, but it becomes evident by the end of the series(to anybody who’s really paying attention) that he’s planning to start engaging in a physical relationship with her as soon as she turns 16. Hell, there’s an OVA episode where it’s heavily implied that he takes extra naked pictures of her that DON’T wind up in the official collection.

Every time I watch this series, my heart feels heavy for Rea, and the tone of the series at that point is appropriately crushing. But that tone starts to fade, and by the time she’s become a zombie, it’s all but gone. We go right back to silly, weird slice of life zom-com fare. It feels like you’re watching a different show, and the worst of it has to be the gratuitous fan-service. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against animated nudity. I’m no prude with that kind of thing, and if it’s done well, I welcome it. But Sankarea is that rare title where it just feels like a horrible, misguided idea. Remember, we just got through a soul-crushing backstory where it was firmly established that the exploitation of her naked body is supposed to feel sick and wrong. Why not follow this up with pointless shower scenes(she even states that she doesn’t need them because she doesn’t sweat) where she’s confusedly squeezing a loofa between her boobs and getting comedically attacked by an old man? Yeah, they use her hair as a source of convenient censoring, and even if they didn’t she has no nipples for us to ogle(which is strange, because Ranko definitely does), but it still feels wrong. It starts to feel like the writers and animators, and by extension the audience, are no better than her father.

Now, it is of course possible to start an anime on an emotionally turbulent note and still have it be a comedy. It’s not an immediately terrible idea, but you have to commit in some way to both sides of the story. In Kotoura-san, we follow a telepathic girl as she doesn’t know she’s not supposed to be able to read minds, so she unknowingly alienates her friends and destroys her own family by revealing peoples’ secrets to each other. She grows up depressed and cynical, until she meets a group of friends who are willing and eager to accept her for who she is, and even though she has many hilarious misadventures with them, we’re never spared the psychological effects of her unfortunate childhood and the damage that she has to overcome, and we’re terrified of what will happen when her mother re-enters the story. See? This sort of thing can be executed well, but you have to work to MAKE IT WORK. Kotoura is a hilarious show, but her psychological trauma is never played for laughs, just like Rea’s body should never have been exploited for cheap fan service.  It’s easy enough to accept anime fanservice as a natural element of the medium, but if you’re going to take the very idea of a female character being objectified by the male gaze to such a dark place, you can’t just go back to silly cheesecake.  You’ve gone under anyway, you might as well throw some depth at us.

Well, it’s not like Sankarea doesn’t try… That’s the most frustrating thing about it. It has depth, but it doesn’t know what the fuck to DO with it. First of all, this series is a subversion of the magical girlfriend genre, a style of story where a male protagonist who’s unlucky in love receives a female companion who’s perfect for him through supernatural means, and likely has to teach her an unspecified amount of stuff about the world around them, while she finds fulfillment in simply being his waifu. Sankarea is the zombie version of this, which is a welcome diversion compared to the homogeny of the genre. She’s found happiness in death that she didn’t have in life, although this is eventually shelved so the story can focus on exploring the physical properties of zombies in it’s canon. Frankly, I would have loved to see the trope humanized further by having Rea get uncomfortable with Chihiro filming her for research, as such an activity would probably remind her of her father’s photo sessions.

But while we’re on the subject of Chihiro and Rea’s dad, there’s a whole other can of worms lurking in that subject. A few times during the series, Chihiro reflects on how he’s no better than her Dad, because he keeps her locked up in the house. This serves as a convenient reason for him to take her on some walks around town, but what the anime fails to realize is that the similarities go a lot deeper than that. Yeah, they both keep her locked up, but it’s also worth mentioning that she symbolizes an unusual fetish for each of them, and also that they both value her primarily as a triumph of life over the tragedy of death… Chihiro loves her because she’s a zombie who literally came back from the dead, and Rea’s father loves her for certain spoiler reasons. Aside from those rare moments of lucidity that I mentioned before, Sankarea never capitalized on these things, forgoing a wealth of possible depth in exchange for an ending that begs for an unlikely sequel and a resolution that deals with Rea’s father almost as poorly as Akihiko was dealt with in Sword Art Online.

So is Sankarea a bad show? Well…  Kind of. I hate to say that, because while there are a lot of negative aspects to the writing and execution of the series, most of them are more like missed opportunities than actual flaws. It’s like I said before, this is just a really weird show all around, and it can make for a bewildering experience, regardless of what you were expecting from it. It’s overuse of cliches can be irritating, especially when it comes to Chihiro having basically the same two best friends as Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and several other protagonists had, but it manages to cast more of it’s cliches in an interesting and fresh light than not. Hell, even the incest-crazy cousin is way more sympathetic and relatable than she should be, by any convention. Honestly? I just can’t help but enjoy it in all of it’s flaws, just because of how bizarre it is.

Sankarea is available from Funimation. It was originally released as the censored TV cut, but was later released uncensored, although if I’m being totally honest, if you can save some money by picking the censored version, you probably should. There really isn’t that much difference between them. For the extra money you get a couple shots of zombified Rea with her guts hanging out, as well as no more than 30 collective seconds of uncensored nudity that you’ll barely miss. The uncensored version is cheaper now than when it was released, going for thirty-five bucks instead of sixty, but you can still find copies of the censored version floating around Ebay for ten to fifteen bucks. The original manga is available stateside from Kodansha entertainment, and while I haven’t read it, it apparently offers a more complete story. It has a few OVAs, and while one of them made it onto the DVD set as an episode, the other two did not, and are not available stateside.

Sankarea is far from perfect, but I still have to stick to my guns on one thing I said two years ago… It’s the best zombie anime I’d seen at the time, although it’s since been dethroned by School Live.  It creates it’s own logic from scratch instead of clumsily trying to reinterpret and reinvent the existing logic, choosing to paint the many established zombie lores as the works of fiction that they are. It’s love of the zombie sub-genre and dedication towards being a new and distinctive entry into said sub-genre is what ties the series together with a note of other-wise sorely lacking consistency, and to it’s credit, the off-kilter execution just serves as one more thing that’s unique about it. It’s bigger problems are a little too serious to ignore, and there are parts of it that feel jarring and uncomfortable, but I really like it’s brand of weirdness, and would easily recommend it to anyone who loves zombies, but is sick and tired of watching the same old genre fare. Even as a Halloween title, it might not be for everyone, but with it’s high production values, offbeat campiness and unwavering devotion to the undead, I still recommend checking it out. Unfortunately, when the title of “Halloween treat” is removed, it’s not very good.  I give Sankarea a 5/10.

Hey guys, it’s Naru, and I am proud to offer you an article written by a friend of mine from, Falseshepherd!  He read my review of Shiki, and had a few choice words to say in the defense of Shiki and it’s character design choices, and his arguments were so well written and compelling that I kind of wish I didn’t have a policy against editing past works.  Instead, I did the next best thing and asked him to compile his thoughts into one outstanding article, which is exactly what I have here today.

You can find more work from him at his MAL account, or if you’re feeling so inclined, you can also follow him on Twitter.

Shiki is one of the most disturbing anime series I’ve seen. From its Story, to its characters, and themes, Shiki is excellent from start to finish. Adapted from the 1998 novel by Fuyumi Ono, it also received a manga adaptation that ran from 2007 to 2011. Both of which are excellent versions of the story. If you don’t know by now, Shiki is about a family of Vampires moving into an isolated village, and the death and bloodshed it causes when they clash with the villagers, who suffer from what can only be described as a ‘small town mentality’.

I have heard many opinions about shiki. And everyone tends to agree that the story is great, and that the characters are, at least, interesting. But when it comes to the aesthetic of Shiki, I noticed many people tend to draw a line. The physics-defying hair, large, distinct eyes, and strange fashion tends to make the viewer feel annoyed or distracted. I’ve heard from a few people I know that Shiki has bad aesthetic; some say just the character designs, others say the whole show looks bad, so I’m here to dispel that idea.

Shiki’s aesthetic is just as important to the show as the writers are to the story. And the character designs can be broken down into three distinct aspects. The first is also the most mundane; the major characters have a distinct look to differentiate them from the rest of the cast. This is something pretty much all anime does, sure, but it’s worth pointing out that Shiki does it in a way no other show does. Sometimes, a minor character will have an unruly hairstyle, or a major character may have a pretty realistic hairstyle; I look at this as a way subvert the audience’s expectations from time to time. But this aspect is not as fundamental as the other two.


Outlandish Character Designs


Have you noticed that the character designs match each character’s personality? Almost everyone’s design fits them like a tailor-made glove. And no other character is a better example than Megumi Shimizu. Megumi is a narcissistic, nonconforming girl who does everything she can to represent herself in a specific way. Everything from the color of her hair (pink, which denotes a kind of feminine charm, and gentle nature), her common twin tails, and stylish outfits tell us that she wants everyone to see her as she sees herself: a beautiful, classy young girl, who is amazing in general. The strange and unique outfits also tell us she doesn’t want to conform to village life, and sees herself as above the villagers, as per the expensive look she goes for. Megumi may want you to think she’s a pretty girl with a lot of potential, but her true nature is more selfish and malicious than you think. And the red glint in her eyes are a hint at her more antagonistic side that we see later on, after episode 1.

Megumi isn’t the only example. Toshio Ozaki is another character whose design is a reflection of his personality. His unkempt, disheveled hair, stubble, and often tired eyes tell us he’s quite the workaholic, reinforced by how we never see him not wearing his doctor’s attire. Toshio also has some pretty intense eyes, that denote a determined, cunning, and fearless man who won’t back down, and will do anything to save ‘his’ village.

Seishin Muroi’s inherently passive nature is represented by his priests outfit, and the lifeless hair shows him as someone who’s given up. While everyone else seems to have lively, unkempt hair, Seishin’s is always limp and without the physics defying life the other characters seem to often have. His eyes a dark, almost like a Shiki’s, foreshadowing his indignant feelings and darker side that lurks just beneath the friendly, and passive surface. Hopefully these examples give you an idea of what I mean.

But none of this really explains why they have to look so surreal. There are other shows that reflect a character’s personality in the way they’re designed. So what’s the deal with characters in the show looking so distinct? Why do the Kirishikis seem to have an otherworldy glow about them early on?

Why do the characters in Shiki have such a strange look at all? it’s for the purpose of making the audience uncomfortable. To us, Shiki looks surreal, it looks strange, it looks different and wrong. Shiki looks weird, no doubt about that, but this is intentional, and I would argue it works to the show’s benefit. No other anime looks like Shiki, not even other shows done by the same studio (which all seem to suck, I suppose Shiki is Studio Daume’s magnum opus).

Shiki is often considered a horror anime, after all. And what good is a horror that can’t make you uncomfortable? But I think it goes a bit further than that. I feel as if the audience reacts to Shiki’s character designs in a similar way to how the Sotoba residents react to the way outsiders are, that is to say, dismissive of different ideas or perspectives. This is sort of like how someone who’s used to anime looking a bit more photorealistic being closed-minded about the outlandish, and unconventional look of Shiki.


Strength of the Setting


The power of Shiki’s aesthetic reaches beyond character design, and encompasses the setting itself. Sotoba is a quiet, isolated village in the mountains. Whenever there’s a scene that takes place on the streets of Sotoba, you can often see the trees the surround the village, and at night, the perceived black wall the trees form conveys an oppressive and ominous atmosphere that fits the show perfectly. This is given more meaning when you realize that these trees are used to craft headstones which is the origin of Seishin’s metaphor that Sotoba is a village surrounded by death.

The best example of this feeling is in episodes 9 and 10, when the Shiki attack the clinic. The one shot of Megumi peering in through a large window, as other Shiki gather behind her, with the oppressive wall of trees in the background, gives off the claustrophobic feeling that you’re sealed in with these monsters, and you can’t escape. Shiki is filled with stuff like this, however, it’s not just at night that Sotoba feels alive, but also during the day.

The level of physicality that Sotoba is able to generate is impressive. While this is more because of how grounded in reality the show is, in terms of writing (vampires notwithstanding), it’s also the dimensions of the surroundings in proportion to the characters. In short, Sotoba feels like a tangible place that you could actually go to.

Characters feel like they’re actually there, walking on the ground, and interacting with their environment. Now this stuff isn’t anything particularly unique or special, I’m just pointing out how well Shiki does it. A good example of this is one scene in episode 1, right before Megumi makes her way up to Kanemasa. When she walks away from Kaori, and turns to walk up the road to the mansion, the way she moved felt like she was actually walking further from Kaori, and up the hill. Again, textbook stuff, but shiki does an outstanding job at it.

One more thing worth noting is how the show, and especially the Manga, go into detail about the mentality of the villagers, and the evolving mood of the village as the continuous deaths create a bleak atmosphere for the inhabitants, and the viewer. The attention to detail in the writing of how Sotoba functions as a community as well as establishing different distinct locations in Sotoba, such as Kanemasa, Ozaki Clinic, the Temple, Yamairi, and so on; is executed very well. There are even detailed maps and overhead shots of the village in manga, and some in the show also. Its almost like there is enough information about Sotoba that, by the end of the series, you feel like you know your way around Sotoba.

Shiki is the best looking thriller anime I’ve seen so far, and it’s likely it will still be my favorite thriller anime for years to come. Sotoba is an interesting place to visit for 24 episodes, and I’d highly recommend watching this series.  If you’re looking for a visually stunning and morally provocative anime, then you cannot go wrong with Shiki.

“It is difficult to fight against anger, for man will buy revenge with his soul.” The immortal words of the philosopher Heraclitus have never rung truer than they have with the rising popularity of The Hell Correspondence, a mysterious website that’s been trending among Japanese youth by word of mouth and sworn testimonials from the people who claim to have used it. If you’ve followed the popular URL to a dead end, it’s likely because you haven’t tried to access it under the right circumstances… The Hell correspondence website will only appear to those who try to access it at the stroke of midnight, and even then, it will only appear to visitors whose hearts genuinely burn for revenge. This is because The Hell Correspondence is not a joke. It’s not just some trend, or a petty game to alleviate minor school yard tiffs. The business of revenge is real, and like any business, the service it offers does not come cheap. In order to send the object of your ire screaming into the depths of hell, you’ll have to sell your own soul alongside them.

Of course, after you’ve used the site, you’ll hear all of this when you’re paid a visit from it’s contractor, not the dark lord satan himself, but a beautiful, emotionally detached young girl sporting a black middle school uniform and an untied hime hair-style. In a voice as cold and lifeless as her eyes, the girl will introduce herself as Ai Enma, and she will offer you a straw doll with a red thread tied around it’s neck. She will explain her services, as well as the toll they will take on your immortal soul should you choose to employ them, and she will leave you with one simple choice… Pull the string and send your tormentor straight into the depths of hell, body and soul, or deny the animalistic urge inside you and offer them your forgiveness. many Japanese souls have become clients of Miss Enma, and only a select few of them have been able to resist the temptation. But how about you? Have you ever known somebody who you’d sell your soul to have taken care of? You only have one soul to lose, but always remember; Beyond midnight’s veil lies the revenge that you could not exact alone.

Out of all the animation studios I’ve covered in this blog, Studio Deen probably has the worst reputation. I’ve reviewed some shows of theirs that looked good enough, with Sankarea being the most recent example, but if there’s any show they’ve done that perfectly encapsulates all of the negative criticism they receive, it’s Hell girl. It’s not the worst looking anime I’ve ever seen, but the character movement on display here is some of the cheapest I’ve ever seen. It’s embarrassingly bad, and with so many examples of off-looking animation coming to mind, you need only look at the first episode, where the first vengeance victim in the series has to watch a flashback of herself stealing money from a fellow student. The shot of her past self entering the classroom isn’t even the first questionable visual, and yet it’s so jaw droppingly bad that it’s easy to go into denial, claiming that there’s no way the series could ever look that bad again.

Oh, but it can, and it does so with surprisingly often. Movements are stiff and unnatural, running and walking cycles look awkward and out of place, and characters’ faces are constantly off-model, making for a show that you could almost say looks best when it’s not moving, and characters are just sitting around and talking. I say almost, because the show’s budget was clearly reserved for the show’s various punishment scenes, where Ai boards a flaming chariot and affords her victim one last piece of torment before ferrying them to hell. Hell girl rarely employs visual effects outside of these scenes, making for a night-and-day transition between the build-up and pay-off of each episode. I should be impressed by this, as I’ve praised some shows in the past for looking better at the right moment at the expense of quality elsewhere, but they definitely went over-board here. The climax of each episode does look more or less beautiful, with cg fire, endlessly creative visual imagery, the haunting flower design on Ai’s kimono, and a final parting shot of Ai rowing her victim down what I can only assume is the Japanese equivalent of the River Styx.

Unfortunately, as I’ve alluded, these scenes don’t make up for just how bad the rest of the show’s animation looks. The animation may be hit or miss… Although it’s really more miss than hit… But thankfully, the art design is far more decent. It’s never quite as good as the art cards that came packaged with the original DVDs would have you believe, but it’s still easy to get lost in the detailed, immersive backgrounds, and unlike the animation, this level of care doesn’t just get limited to the hell-related material… The backgrounds in Ai Enma’s realm and in the torment scenes are beautiful, yes, but the lighting at various points in the day and the level of detail featured in the myriad of different settings are also surprisingly intricate. As a side effect of the show’s episodic nature, there’s a diverse array of architecture that can often make the series feel more like a tour of Japan than a proper horror title. Similarly, the character designs are just as varied, and while a select few of the people who appear in this series may be on the generic side, they’re still diverse enough to distinctly stand out against the rest of the cast without ever leaving the spectrum of realistic design.

Hell Girl may not be a visual wonder, but where it truly shines is with it’s use of sound. The soundtrack is limited, and you may very quickly notice a few tracks that keep getting used over and over again, but in it’s defense, I can only say this; Don’t mess with perfection. Ai herself is characterized by the chanting of a childlike, disembodied voice, normally accompanied by string music, although there are several other tunes that tell her story. Due of course to the episodic nature of the series, there are several tunes that get repeated as a formula each episode, from the hauntingly complacent tracks floating around in Ai’s downtime to the climactic Jigoku Nagashi that closes out every individual story, but my favorite track would have to be a certain piano piece called Kakugo, which plays up the tension whenever one of Ai’s clients makes a game-changing revelation. It’s unnerving, it’s probably one of the best “Oh shit” type tunes I’ve ever heard in an anime, and it has the unique ability to cut in at any point during the episode, whether it’s following dead silence or cutting off another tune.

The English dub is an early Funimation offering, having come out about eleven years ago, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the show’s episodic nature has left it’s mark on the cast, too. Hell girl’s dub features what can only be described as a revolving door of 2005 Funimation regulars. Brina Palencia performs one of her earliest roles as the title character Ai Enma, and while most of her dialogue is repeated in each episode, she’s still able to imbue moire and more nuance and developing emotion into what’s supposed to be an emotionless character, and in some of the most uncertain moments, she can convey that the character’s shell is being broken without letting her voice crack or her delivery betray her true feelings. It takes an overwhelming level of talent to have her cake and eat it too in this way, and it’s not hard to see why Brina was bumped up to Funimation’s main voice acting roster following roles like this one and Beck. Her lackeys aren’t quite as dynamic, but they’re distinct enough… Jennifer Seman is knowing and perceptive, Todd Haberkorn is cocky and laid back, and R Bruce Elliot is wise and authoritative, and they all convey a deep sense of devotion and loyalty for their mistress.

I’ve praised John Burgmeier before for being an outstanding talent behind the scenes who has more than enough voice acting chops to lend credence to his writing and direction, and Hell Girl features one of his unfortunately few starring roles. After spending eight episodes establishing the kind of entity Hell Correspondence is, we’re introduced to out-of-work reporter Hajime Shibata and his precocious daughter Tsugumi, who has a mysterious psychic connection to Ai. John Burgmeier remains sincere throughout in his attempts to thwart Ai’s delivery of vengeance, and even though we don’t find out his motivations until the last few episodes, he never really comes off as preachy about it. Luci Christian, despite turning in a cringe-worthy performance as Ai’s first victim(I blame bad direction), is able to make up for it when she returns later on as Tsugumi, a little girl confused between childish idealism and an adult understanding of consequences and the cost of life. Their presence in the story gives it the plot that it needs at exactly the right time, and these two actors could be more of a perfect selection.

As for the assorted revolving door of actors that pass through Hell Girl, there are very few bad performances, but quite a few standouts. There were a lot of flaws in the first episode, but Laura Bailey was incredibly likeable as Ai’s first client. Vic Mignona melts into the role of a crooked veterinarian, and Caitlin Glass is spectacular as the duplicitous foul-mouthed actress who will do anything to anyone in order to secure her future fame and fortune. Jerry Russel turns in a somber performance as an elderly former client of Ai’s who’s accepted his oncoming fate with a mix of hope and melancholy that touches even Ai’s heart. Kate Oxley and Leah Clark play a pair of twins, and since the fact that there’s two of them is meant to be a spoiler, they’re able to match each other’s voices to the point that even the most astute voice chasers wouldn’t know they were different people. Pam Dougherty and Carrie Savage play off of each other wonderfully as a cruel old woman and the poor, unfortunate soul she’s taken in as an indentured servant, with the bitter paranoia of the former feeding into and off of the heartbreaking despair of the latter. I didn’t see this series in Japanese, but I did see season two that way, and I sorely missed the dub when I did, so I’m going to have to recommend dub over sub.

One of the most consistent criticisms I’ve heard about Hell Girl is that it’s repetitive… It has a formula that all episodes must follow, making it something of a monster of the week show, if you were to replace interesting monsters with people beefing with each other. I can’t in good conscience say that this assessment is entirely untrue, as the show does have a solid formula that you’ll pick up on before too long… A person is tormented by another, they ask Ai for help, Ai tells them that they’ll have to sell their souls to hell in exchange for her services, the client gets cold feet, the torment kicks up a notch, they relent, and Ai gets to administer brutal psychological torture on the tormentor before maybe or maybe not giving them a chance to repent for their salvation… Although she never really means it. This may sound like something that might get tiresome after a while, as several anime with similarly cut-and-paste episodic plots are far too willing to rest on their laurels once they’re assured that people will watch the same story over and over again… Just look at Sailor moon and Detective Conan, thank you very much… But there are also several anime that evolve from their formulas.

Shows like Princess Tutu and Neon Genesis Evangelion started off just as formulaic as Hell Girl, with the former following the tried and true ‘Magical girl accomplishes task to collect a piece of something” formula that it probably had to rent from Inuyasha, and the latter established itself as one of the best monster-of-the-week anime of all time before diving headfirst into pretentious bullshit. Like those titles, Hell girl uses it’s first handful of episodes wisely, fleshing out it’s premise at a smart pace, not only exploring the stakes of what people will be doing to each other, but also the extent of ai’s power and the different ways that usage of the Hell Correspondence may vary. By the time the Shibata family enters the story to fight against Ai’s activities, we’ve already seen that a contract with Ai can be used to punish a murderer, save one’s life, and potentially also serve malicious purposes such as taking out one’s rivals. We’ve also seen it established the kind of people who can and can’t access her services, as a shrewd businesswoman with no real desire for revenge finds herself blocked from using it for financial gain. The Hell Correspondence site, Ai Enma herself, and the show’s truest theme, the true cost of vengeance, have all been firmly established by the time the plot gets off it’s feet around episode 9.

The plot culminates in a multi-episode climax that starts off with a certified gut-punch of an episode where the Shibatas are investigating the case against a pretty young nurse, and the results of their investigation shake any faith that young Tsugumi may have had about a black and white justice system where bad people deserve to die, as well as calling into question her… And any viewer’s… Belief that Hell Girl is a benevolent force that exists to help people and to do the right thing. Things spiral out of control from there, with Ai fighting against her curse and two very tragic backstories being revealed as the three main characters are challenged with their own pasts as well as each others’, but more importantly, it doesn’t answer any of the questions it raises about the nature of revenge and forgiveness. It explores the theme from so many angles that you can’t simply boil it down to either one being morally superior to the other, and that’s the sign of good thematic writing. I hate preachy shows that offer messages with definite answers, because life isn’t made of definite answers… It’s made of nuance, of shades of grey, and of different perspectives offering complexity into every single choice a person can make.

Is it okay to punish somebody if they’ve wronged you, or should you accept the fact that the damage has been done and move on? What if you know they’re going to wrong you again, and you have the chance to prevent it at they’re expense? What if you refuse to do so, giving them the benefit of the doubt, but they still hurt you again? Is it okay to get revenge on them then, even thought once again, the damage has been done? What if a person hurts you in a way that has serious implications on your future? What if you have to sacrifice a part of yourself to get back at someone, but it’s a part of yourself you can never get back? Isn’t it possible that someone else might come along and do something worse, but you’ve already cashed in your only chance to sell your soul for revenge, either literally or metaphorically? Could you kill someone to save yourself? To save others? These are the questions Hell Girl asks, and while the characters facing them may find their answers, it’s never made clear whether or not they’re making the right choices and taking the proper actions.

Of course, moral relativism isn’t the only thing this show has going for it. It’s still entertaining, which may be the most important aspect of all. The stories follow a repetitive formula, but it’s never the same story twice, and it’s really easy to get wrapped up in them. They’re all unique, a lot of them can leave you feeling emotional, and yet they’re all important, offering a development to the plot or a new perspective on the theme of vengeance. The only real exception I can think of is episode 10, Friends, which doesn’t really offer anything and ends in what I have to admit is pretty stupid fashion. Aside from that, there’s no filler, and barely any fanservice. In addition to offering a tour of the different Japanese communities and landscapes, it can also teach you a surprising amount about Japan’s various social issues, from obscure topics like collective responsibility and mob mentality to more well known phenomena such as Idol worship, the shunning of outsiders to the psychology behind hikkikkomori culture. Japan is a strange place, where being in the wrong place at the wrong time can have devastating effects on the lives and careers of not only you, but your family and friends as well, and Hell Girl offers an accessible window into how these social systems work.

Of course, I probably shouldn’t go any further without mentioning the obvious downside of having an anime be about vengeance… If there was ever an anime that deserved to have a bunch of trigger warnings attached to it, it would be this one. Hell Girl features a wide and mercilessly thorough spectrum of terrible things that people can do to each other, and never shies away from any of it. Throughout this 26 episode series, you’ll bare witness to acts of sabotage, stalking, attempted murder, actual murder, neglect, child abuse, rape, false accusations, dehumanization, fratricide, infanticide, and no less than two mutually exclusive instances of animal cruelty. This series is not for the faint of heart, and could easily reopen old wounds in the wrong viewer. Another obvious issue would be the pile of inconsistencies surrounding how the Hell Correspondence works… Sometimes people are offered a chance at salvation, sometimes they’re not. sometimes Ai approaches her client immediately, sometimes she has to investigate the circumstances first. She almost always waits to suit up until the string’s been pulled, but there are instances where she does so just to meet the client. There’s a group of girls that occasionally talk about the Hell correspondence in earshot of future clients, but it’s never clarified whether these girls work for Ai or are just doing things randomly.  After a while, the mechanics of Hell Correspondence start to feel arbitrary, which is kind of a huge misstep, but it’s still one hell of a show.

Hell girl is available from Funimation. You can find the individual DVDs pretty cheap on amazon, but full collections, including the thick series box collection and even the thin SAVE pack, are out of print and can easily run over a hundred dollars online. Two follow-up seasons, Two Mirrors and Three Vessels, are available from Sentai Filmworks, although the switch in companies led to them being released undubbed, and they’re not exactly cheap either, although Two Mirrors collection 1 can be found for mere pennies. A manga adaptation by Miyuki Eto is available stateside from Del Rey, and can be found online for relatively cheap, although it’s been over five years since I read the first copy, so I can’t speak as to the quality. A short-lived live action series ran for 12 episodes starting in 2006, and three further manga adaptations have not been released stateside, nor has the handheld video game.

I first saw Hell Girl when the first two episodes aired in’s long forgotten theater feature in 2007. Funimation was airing a few shows there, but Hell girl was the one I became immediately addicted to. I went out and bought the first DVD, and before long, I wound up watching it on it’s own several times through. It quickly became one of my favorite shows as I gathered up each individual disk upon release, before eventually trading it all in for the thinpack to save room on my shelf. I can easily see someone getting frustrated with the formulaic nature of the series, but for me, it just kept getting better and better. Of course, even through my furious rewatchings of the first DVD, even I was able to recognize the pacing issues each episode had, as they could either flesh out the client, the tormentor, or the situation, but there was never enough time for all three… And yet, somehow, my biggest regret about this series is that with so many interesting characters, we never get to check back on any of them. Just one episode set in hell would be enough, really. In any case, if you’re looking for a spooky anime to watch this October, this anthology of antipathetic animosity easily gets one of my first recommendations. I give Hell Girl an 8/10.

Hello, and welcome to the Fullmetal Narcissist anime blog! It’s October now… I mean, this is literally the first of October… And it’s time once again to delve into the horror genre, where everything is spooky, festive, and fake. I’d normally open a month like this with a review, but this time around, I felt like I had a much better note to begin on. Specifically, there’s a question that’s been bothering me for about four years now… Are the Hotel Transylvania movies any good?

I originally saw the first one while it was still in theaters. It looked really lame from the trailers, and it didn’t have a very impressive Rotten Tomatoes score, but I had heard from a few trusted sources that despite all that, it was actually a very funny, beautifully animated, even heart-felt movie. I went to check it out, because I was kind of loose about going to the theater back in 2012, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I laughed constantly, I connected with a few of the characters and their dilemmas, and I left the theater in a generally good mood… And yet I didn’t feel that the low critical scores were wrong. I personally believe that every critic should learn how to separate their personal taste from their professional taste, and I was definitely feeling this movie as a sort of guilty pleasure.

Fast forward three years, the sequel hit theaters, and I didn’t go, because the first movie was no longer fresh in my mind, and I just wasn’t really feeling it. Yet, the movie DID come out on DVD, and I rented it from Redbox, surprisingly enjoying it as well, even as my feelings for it became a bit complicated. I knew it was a step up in terms of story and plot, which is a good thing for a sequel to do, but there were so many little problems gnawing away at me that I couldn’t believe it actually had a better rotten tomatoes score than it’s predecessor… I couldn’t help but feel that it deserved more of a 26 percent, and keep in mind, that’s for a movie I LIKED. What’s the deal with these weird feelings? Why should I feel so conflicted over a pair of movies that sport such simple ideas and concepts? To answer that question once and for all, I’ve decided to rewatch both movies, and decide once and for all what I think of them. And hey, since this is the season of spooking, you should watch them too. I mean, I am going into heavy spoilers, so yeah, if you haven’t seen them, stop reading for a few hours and check them out before coming back.

To start, let’s take a look at what I like the most about these movies. But before that, I’m going to have to apologize to a few people… Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Jouji Nakata, Crispin Freeman, and Gerard ButHAH! Yeah right. Fuck Gerard Butler. I need to apologize to everyone else because Adam Sandler… Yes, THE Adam Sandler, the one who made Jack and Jill, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Pixels, and the Ridiculous 6, is my favorite Dracula actor. Now, to be fair, I’ve always known Adam Sandler to be more talented than people give him credit for. He has great acting skills as well as lyrical talent and a superb singing voice. When he’s given total control of a project, which happens far too often, he takes the easiest way out, making for dumb, rushed films where he only casts his friends so they can get a paid vacation together. When he’s forced to work under other people, and he actually tries, that’s when magic can finally start to happen.

Sandler shared cowriting duties with Robert Smigel, the mind behind a whole line of SNL animated skits and the ever-popular Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and he’s probably the reason this movie is as funny as it is. The directorial duties were handled by Genndy Tartakovsky, an animation heavyweight who’s so beloved and respected that his work inspired two separate anime… Powerpuff Girls Z and Panty and Stocking. With these two names attached to the project, even Adam Sandler couldn’t fuck it up. I’ve heard some critics complain that Sandler’s Dracula is yet another generic Sandler character… A misunderstood loser with no real flaws who learns his lesson far too quickly. I can’t help but disagree in this case. In this movie, Dracula is portrayed as a retired monster, now living as a family man with a deep fear of the outside world and a delusion of responsibility to keep his only child safe and protected by any means necessary. He does bad things… VERY bad things, really… But it’s hard to hate him for any of it because, according to his own experiences, he has good reasons to act the way he does.

And he does have noticeable flaws. He’s selfish and set in his ways to the point of near delusion. He will ignore an entire room full of unhappy people if things are going his way, and while those moments may have been played for laughs, he is absorbed in the reality he’s constructed for his daughter, and can’t handle the idea of it ending. Even when he gets over his fears and allows his daughter to choose her own life, he’s still threatened by change, and the possibility that she’ll leave the vampire life behind… And him with it. Aside from being a vampire, this is the most human portrayal of Dracula that I’ve ever seen, and relatable as all hell to anyone who’s ever had a kid or made the effort to understand their own parents. His fear about his grandchild turning out to be a human mirrors this perfectly, because every parent and grandparent alike has expectations about how their legacy will play out, and anxiety about it not going the way they want. How many parents out there freak out at the possibility of their kids turning out gay, or the wrong political party? In the world of this movie, human vs. vampire is the perfect metaphor for these fears in the development of an impressionable child.

Not only is he a great character in his own right, but by painting him as an older, retired version of the popular character, these movies were able to paint his fellow monsters and long time friends in the same way, which helped them all to act as adequate support for his character, as well as carrying distinct personalities and jokes of their own. The cast of Grown-Ups CAN be funny with the right writing, apparently, although swapping out Rob Schneider for Steve Buscemi probably helped. Out of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, and The Mummy, none of these characters are there for token reasons… None of them are wasted, with the possible exception of The Blob in the sequel. The script takes advantage of every possible joke it can, with these monsters, with random monsters sprinkled throughout the film, and especially with Dracula and the long history of vampire lore. I can’t stress this enough… There’s a fart joke in here that’s funny enough to earn TWO genuine laughs, as it utilizes these characters so perfectly.

Of course, for all the great character writing, there are going to be a few exceptions. Unfortunately, they concern the second and third most important characters in the story, Mavis and Jonathan. I don’t want to say they’re unlikeable… Well, maybe Jonathan about half the time… But there’s just so little character TO them. They’re more plot devices than people. Mavis is a girl who’s been cooped up all her life and wants a taste of the outside world. Jonathan’s a free spirited transient who just happened upon the hotel by accident. Beyond those descriptions, there is nothing you can say about them that doesn’t have something to do with Dracula and what they are to him. The most interesting thing you can say about Jonathan is that he’s the combination of Olaf from Frozen and the three main characters of Quack Pack. He’s Robin Williams, being the perfect guy to shake up the establishment and make everyone’s lives better by being obnoxiously hip and bringing about the most obvious changes. I guess a great relationship between the two could help to save them, but I’m sorry, that whole Zing thing is just the lazy ‘love at first sight’ trope with a bullshit gimmick attached to it, which is supposed to cover up the fact that Mavis would have fallen for ANY laid back human that wandered into the hotel by accident.

Mavis does get more character under her in the sequel, although she also gets painted as WAY more gullible, too. We get to see her out of her element, which sets her up for some outstanding jokes that are completely independent of her father… She’s given her own arc, she’s given her own issue, even if Jonathan’s been reduced to just being along for the ride. Hey, he’s less annoying, so I’ll take it. The problem is that while Mavis’s role may have been beefed up, there’s another character who gets an even worse treatment… Vlad, Dracula’s father. Now, right off the bat(hahah), he creates a problem in terms of continuity… In the first movie, racism against human was perfectly explained. Dracula was afraid of them for killing his wife, and everyone else feared them by listening to his accounts. But in the sequel, we have no idea what caused Vlad’s racism, and he claims to have raised Drac to hate humans. The death of his wife is barely mentioned, when it was a strong plot point of the first movie. In addition, his gargoyle henchman feel like cheaply tacked-on villains, and he overcomes his prejudices way too fast just because his kid and granddaughter stood up to him once each. Bull. Shit.

This brings up two more important points… First of all, on the subject of continuity errors, there are a ton of them in the second movie. Remember when Murray the mummy was introduced in movie 1, riding a wave of sand into the hotel? Well, in this one, he’s suddenly too old to produce much sand without doing a dance that goes on for way too long to be funny and breaking his back and only producing a tiny pile. Remember when Wayne ate an entire flock of sheep? Well now, he thinks the idea of eating one little deer is too much trouble. Remember how vampires didn’t show in mirrors in the first movie, and are then shown to not show up in pictures right in the beginning of the second movie? Not only do they facetime each other throughout the second movie, Mavis is even captured on a convenience store security camera! That’s so lazy that it not only disregards the first movie, but the beginning of it’s OWN movie as well! And let’s not forget Dracula’s glare suddenly working now, after being blocked by contacts in the first movie. I could go on and on about this, but let’s get to the second point…

These movies do not know how to end. That’s probably my biggest problem with both of them. They promise some pretty deep commentary on the trials of parenting, but these themes are executed terribly. The plot is easily the weakest element of the first movie, and while I don’t know how I would have had Dracula overcome his fear of humans, even I can tell that the whole Monster Fest scene was fucking stupid. On top of which, Mavis’s desire to leave the castle and see the world was dropped and replaced with emo boy drama, and the resolution… Which would have better involved her traveling the world and meeting new people… ends with her marrying the first boy she ‘fell in love at first sight’ with. Talk about one step forward, two steps back. But hey, now that she has a boy toy who wants to stay at the cool castle, Dracula doesn’t have to let her go! Oh, and the second movie was even worse. By having the kid turn out to be a vampire, you’re taking a message about accepting your children for who they are and ending it with “Don’t worry, as long as you’re accepting, your dreams for them will come true. Accepting the possibility of a gay kid is the best way to get a straight kid.”

Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason the kid turned out to be a vampire was so nobody would move away from the hotel, and then the third movie could still be called Hotel Transylvania. It was all in the interest of preserving the status quo. Honestly, I felt really proud of Drac when he realized he was wrong and caught Dennis from falling, but nope, he’s still a vampire. I don’t know about you, but I was hoping for something more bold… If, after Mavis stood up to Vlad, the old fogie had brought up the important element of vampire romances that Hotel Transylvania had spent two movies avoiding… Mortality. Johnathan will grow old and die, while Mavis and Dennis wouldn’t. If there was any tangible reason for Vlad to oppose their union, that would be it. And then Dennis would turn out to be human, so at Mavis’s request, Vlad would use his ancient magic to turn her human. Hell, after she left, Drac could have demanded the same treatment, moved to California with his daughter, and left the hotel in the hands of his friends. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see Dracula and Mavis, as humans, freaking out over the wonders of the human world together? Trying all the Slushy flavors together? But hey, who cares about consequences and hard decision when we have big dance numbers, because Shrek did it?

So, are these good movies? No, not really. Are they ANY good? Yeah, I think there’s some good in them. If nothing else, the only people who won’t enjoy them are the people who have expectations of them… People like me, who see hints of depth and thoughtfulness, are going to be disappointed with the over-all product. People who are just looking for comedy and outstanding animation will find it in spades, especially with the lightning fast, energetic pace of the first movie. The second movie is a lot more heavy on plot, which makes it’s failure all the more catastrophic, but it’s easy to set aside nit picking and laugh your ass off at the first movie, especially around this particular time of year. The humor is effective for both adults and children, and it does so without ever really being inappropriate, which alone makes it worthy of being praised. Opinions on the sequel may vary, although it does contain some harmful messages… Such as “Draculas are never ‘just friends…’ But I can highly and enthusiastically recommend watching the original Hotel Transylvania, either with your kids, your friends or yourself, as a special Halloween treat. Just, you know, go in with reasonable expectations.

I will never escape from this franchise, will I?

I’ve written, at this point, nine different pieces related in some major way to RWBY. That’s insane, but what’s even crazier is that this is going to be the tenth. This is also considering the few post ideas that I’ve dropped, like “The Top Ten Best Things About RWBY,” a post I was planning to make in order to sate some angry fans, but lost interest in back when I still hated the series. Now that I’m a legitimate fan, as well as a proud owner of two RWBY action figures, my posts have generally gotten more positive, unless they were referring to the criminally unfunny Chibis series. And now I’m getting pulled back in again.

Keep in mind, this isn’t something I was planning to do. Not long after I wrote the Inconvenient Questions post for volume 2, I found I had a commenter on my volume 3 review chiding me for my opinions back when I reviewed the first two volumes. I agreed with him, and promised to CONSIDER writing this very post, with the provision that I’d have to get a certain set of other posts wrapped up first.  Well, they’re wrapped, which brings me back to this post.  Now, there’s a reason I’m going ahead with this idea; Because I rarely ever get requests, and I like to honor them when I do. Having said that, I was still a little hesitant with this one, but for the record, this post was requested by Serocco, and it’s going to focus on how my opinion has changed on the first two volumes of RWBY since the third one converted me into a fanboy… And how some of my opinions have stayed the same.

But first, there’s something I’ve never told you guys, and I feel as though it would be the perfect jumping off point for this topic. The first time I saw RWBY, way back when it was still new and all I knew about it was the hype, the creators and what the name stood for, I didn’t make it past the first episode. This is not an exaggeration. The writing was so bad that before the timer even ran out on episode 1, I was already turning it off and shuffling it over to some pile of shows I’d never feel enticed to touch again. Granted I DID come back after it exploded in popularity, but I’d like to share with you for a moment what made me drop it in the first place.

I don’t recall having a problem with the opening narration… Honestly, the first time around, I strangely can’t even remember there being narration… But I found myself having two major problems with the episode right off the bat. First of all, Ruby was listening to a CD near a music shelf, using a pair of sample headphones. What kind of store was this to even have those? Only music and entertainment stores have those, and not all of them, so I found it a little hard to believe a pair would exist inside of a tiny little dust shop.

As for my second problem? Well, let’s break this down. Torchwik said, as clearly as daylight, that they were there for dust, and not for money. All they were going to do was empty the dust dispensers, and their job would be done. However, one of his henchmen abandoned his job and tried to rob Ruby… For what? Did he really think she’d have enough dust on her to justify him leaving his station? He approached her, and she did the cliche of a deceptively powerful character smirking over the fact that they’re abut to be challenged by a lesser being… See Mindy’s final scene from Kick-Ass as a quick example… and she started kicking ass.

Here’s the problem… He had no reason to bother her, and yet by doing so, he alerted her to a crime she likely wouldn’t have known about otherwise. If he hadn’t done that, she wouldn’t have fought Roman, she wouldn’t have met Glinda, and she wouldn’t have skipped grades to attend Vale, meaning the school would have been doomed and Salem’s plans would have run a lot more smoothly. See, the true hero of Vale isn’t Ruby, it’s some random henchman who had ONE FUCKING JOB. Granted, back then, I didn’t know most of that, I just hated the fact that the henchman approaching Ruby made no freaking sense. Then I saw her in the interview, talking like she’d been written by a grown man(which is true, but there should be more of an illusion), and eating cookies that disappeared the second they hit her mouth, and I was done. That’s where I cut off. The animation did nothing for me, and the writing was maddeningly bad.

My first time, I dropped the series before Ruby could even finish her cookies.

In any case, my opinion on the writing hasn’t changed. The dialogue in RWBY volume 1 is still terrible. It’s full of unfunny jokes(“I drink milk”), phrasings that sound like an adult male with no idea how girls actually talk came up with them(“My dearest sister Yang…”), awkward phrases that no human being would naturally use(“You’re discriminatory”), and ad-libs that the director really shouldn’t have allowed past the recording(“She does love Tuna a lot”). It can honestly get cringeworthy at times. Even after being converted into a fan, the only laughs that volume 1 can get out of me are from some of Ruby and Weiss’s interactions, like the ‘girl who exploded’ running gag, Ruby questioning Weiss’s abilities right before getting launched into the Nevermore, and of course, “It’s a combat skirt.”

But one thing my opinion HAS changed on is the characters. I still hold to the idea that Yang was defined primarily as “Ruby’s big sister” during this volume, but there was more depth given to Weiss and Blake… Well, kind of. Weiss was given two arcs, one with Ruby and one with Blake, while Blake had her own at the end of the series, and you do learn a lot about the two of them through the two arcs… Unfortunately, these arcs, along with Jaune’s, that tried to deal with issues like ego, teamwork, bullying, racism and even race relations, were handled with all the depth and nuance of an Arthur episode, and they all ended fairly easily… One of them through an immediate talking-to with teachers, and the other two after fight scenes. Considering the issues being raised, I can’t help asking… Is that it? Ruby and Weiss are going to patch things up this quickly? Carden’s just going to forget the info he has on Jaune? What changed Weiss’s mind about Blake since the last time we saw her?

And yeah, I hate to say it, but compared to the first half, the second half of the volume is kind of boring.

But the characters ARE better developed and presented than I remember, which is the entire point. I appreciate how, in the fight scene against the Nevermore and Death Stalker, the teams formed naturally around their eventual leaders, a detail I missed the first time around. I also take back everything I said about the character templates being randomly and haphazardly chosen. I get the themes, now. Team RWBY are based on fairy tale characters, Team JNPR are based on genderbent tragic heroes, and everyone important to Oz’s inner circle is based on a Wizard of Oz character. It makes more sense than I gave it credit for, and it actually works a lot better, too.

Having said that, a jump from a 2/10 to a 4/10 isn’t a big one, and I still consider volume 1 to be, well, bad. Maybe not AS bad as I first stated, but… Bad.

As for volume 2… Well, I wish I had as much to say about it as I did about volume 1, but I really don’t. A lot of the differences are the same, just at a better ratio. It still has lame jokes and bad dialogue, but not nearly as much. The story is a lot more streamlined and the tone is a lot more consistent, and there’s a bunch of character development that slipped under my radar. I think the biggest problem with my Vol. 2 review is that I only watched the volume once before reviewing it, despite having seen vol. 1 about three times. Also, I’m going to be chastised again for this, but I saw both without watching the trailers, thus I was going into all four characters without the proper introductions. This is primarily the reason that I saw the development between Yang and Blake as abrupt and cloying, when it was actually very well set up. I still hold to everything I said about that stupid dog, and while I appreciated him having a reduced role in volume 3, it took Chibis to make me actually like Zwei. Volume 2 is… Okay. It’s okay. I still don’t enjoy the foodfight on many, many levels, but after a rough first few episodes, it does come into it’s own really well.

Also, I kind of hesitate to say this, but as talented and amazing as they are now, Lindsey Jones and Barbara Dunkleman kind of sucked in volume 1. I’m not just talking about all of Lindsey’s unfortunate ad-libbing, but just as actors, they didn’t really seem to know what they were doing in this volume. But hey, like I said, they get a lot better in volumes 2 and 3. And I guess that’s it. I bit my tongue about Monty Oum, especially since I’ve said all I can say about him in part 1, and since I watched both of these volumes on Netflix(during a rare moment of good internet reception on my PS4), I don’t know anything that may have been said in the commentary tracks. So that’s really all there is to say about volumes 1 and 2, unless you have a specific question to ask me in the comments section.

But you know what? Fuck it. While I’m writing this thing anyway, let’s take a look at how RWBY Chibi’s coming along, 18 episodes in from when I reviewed it’s first two.

Well, in all fairness, this is supposed to be a comedy series, and humor is subjective. different people will find different things funny based on their own personal perspective, tastes, and standards. I can only really compare Rooster Teeth’s efforts to my own comedic sensibilities, which is unfortunate, because after 20 episodes, I’ve only laughed at about five percent of the clips I’ve seen. Am I a harsh critic? Am I hard to please? Maybe, but honestly, I just don’t think RWBY Chibi is very good.

I already reviewed the first two episodes, going as far as to go clip-by-clip with them, and a lot of what I said back then still stands… I don’t think Rooster Teeth has the comedic timing or style to pull off a proper Chibi show. While I’ll admit that the majority of the clips manage to fall somewhere on the middle of the spectrum between good and bad, with only a few very rare clips being pathetic or out of character enough to really be off-putting, most of the clips just feel like misfired ideas.

There are plenty of clips where you can figure out exactly what’s going to happen way too early on, making a long joke out of what could have been a short joke. There are plenty of jokes that don’t have satisfactory punchlines, others that drag on too long, and some that are just downright confusing. There are some more interesting failures, like in episode 5, when characters address the early flaws in the series, with Blake acknowledging the fact that she has four ears or Team RWBY noticing the stock shadow people walking around, that probably would have been funny if they’d been made a year or two ago.

There were a few funny clips sprinkled throughout, but even more impressive are the two episodes that I feel stand out from the others… Episode 6 was consistently funny, as it created a great conclusion to the “Blake being scared of Zwei” running gag, a clip about Ruby’s cape that probably would have been funnier if the three segments were rearranged for the sake of escalation(Ruby getting hanged should have come last), Blake and her books putting on a classic gag with a surprisingly deft use of timing, and finally, the triumphant return of Pyrrha, which would have been awesome enough if Nora hadn’t stolen the show and made something especially memorable out of it.

The other one, episode 12, starts out by introducing the Junior Detectives clips(which, as far as I’m concerned, have ALL turned out to be funny), and poor Jaune does his best butt-monkeying in this one. It concludes with what may be the most sophisticated clip in the entire series, Ruby’s take on Little Red Riding Hood, which features Ruby, Zwei, Blake and Yang firing on all cylinders for what I consider to be Chibi’s crowning achievement. I can watch it over and over and still laugh at Blake’s indignation at Ruby’s exploitation of her, and especially at Yang’s eagerness to steal the show any way she can. Professor Mustache’s cameo was also really unexpected.

Also, I have to give a shout-out to the painting vignette in episode 10. Unfortunately, it was paired with a love triangle-ish clip that was really only amusing the first time through.

So, over-all, RWBY Chibi isn’t the worst thing ever, but it’s hard for me to find value in a comedy series that’s about 95 percent ineffective to me. There’ve been a handful of great clips, and two great episodes, and the animation’s really spot-on… Even though I feel flash would have worked better… And it did get me to admit to the potential value of Zwei. So I can’t write it off entirely.

Well, now, is there anything left to say? Yeah, I guess there is, in regards to volume 4. I don’t want to watch ti episode by episode. I want to watch it all at once when it hits DVD. The problem with that is, I hang out in a lot of anime loving circles, and RWBY is of course insanely popular with the anime community, so watching along with the releases is probably the best way to avoid being spoiled. I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. I’ve made it this far without watching the new season of Red vs. blue, but not well enough to avoid hearing that Caboose and Grif’s sister are both (spoiler) Freelancers.

I don’t know, time will tell.

And speaking of time, guess what time it is? Starting next week, it’s going to be Otakutober, the month of anime horror! I’ve got some special material for you, including an awesome guest post, so get your hopes up good and high for my next five releases!

Going to a new school is never easy. Having to uproot your life and leave behind everything you know just to satisfy whatever reason your parents have that you’re too young to understand is hardly fair for anyone, even though sometimes there’s no choice in the matter. But what’s even more unfair is when your family’s situation has nothing to do with it… When your school closes down, and without a formal establishment left to provide you with an education, you have to either go to a neighboring school where you’ll have the immediate disadvantage or to home school where you may never have opportunities to see your old friends again. this is the dilemma that’s been posed to Hikari, Manaka, and their friends Chisaki and Kaname, who’ve been forced to abandon their failing Nami Junior High and migrate to Mihama Middle School, and to make matters worse, they face discrimination the minute they set foot on campus… Not because of the color of their skin or the way they speak, but because of WHERE they’ve come from… Shioshishio, the village under the sea.

No, that’s not just a bizarre local catchphrase… Our four heroes are basically amphibious mermaids without tails. They can breathe with ease both in and out of the water, but need to be periodically drenched in salt water to keep themselves from dehydrating. At Hikari’s insistence, they all come to school wearing their old uniforms, a show of pride and resistance against their new day-to-day environment, which is an attitude their new classmates are all too willing to share, making comments about them smelling fishy and rejecting them as inhuman beings. On the surface(Pun not intended), this separation could be seen as a good thing, because if a surface dweller and a sea dweller ever cross the line with each other, the latter will be banished from Shioshishio and forced to live the rest of their lives as a human, which is a curse that has become all too common in the recent past. With vitriolic prejudice tormenting them on one side and the charms of one open-minded boy tempting them from the other, will these four fish out of water be able to balance their lives between home and school, or are both surf and turf headed for a new ice age hundreds of years in the making?

While Studio Bones may be my favorite animation studio in terms of content output, PA Works is probably the best one I’ve seen in terms of quality and visual consistency. I’ve commented before on how Kyoto Animation, Studio Gainax and JC Staff can put out great looking shows that break down and become really cheap looking whenever the budget gets cut too thin, but PA Works is the few where I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen. I can easily say the same thing for their 2013 offering, A Lull in the Sea, because the budget doesn’t really drop until the second half, and even then, it’s a pretty difficult drop for the inexperienced to notice. Visually, this series is just as teeming with life as any ocean, and this is especially clear in the ocean, where there are schools of fish swimming around through the environment, in both the background, foreground, and once in a while they even interact with the sea dwelling humans on screen.

Character animation is also crisp and fresh, with little pieces of extra effort sprinkled in here and there to make their movements underwater feel more realistic, and to make their lack of practice moving above water feel a little more awkward. The character designs are nothing too extravagant, especially with most of the nameless adults looking more or less the same, and the only character who doesn’t look like he’d been pulled from the real world being the Sea God’s remnant, Uroko-sama. The kids look fairly generic, but for the most part, their personalities are so distinct that you won;t have any trouble remembering what each one looks like. Their facial expressions are also very fluidly animated, highly expressive, and full of either youthful passion or adult stoicism, depending on the character. I did of course mention the animation budget drops in the second half, and thankfully, there’s a canonical reason for this.

I won’t spoil what happens halfway through the series, but what I will say is that there’s a reason for the underwater setting to lose all of it’s fish and most of it’s people, and there’s also a reason for both sea and surface to a more intensely white color palette. The lack of underwater visual effects cannot be explained, however, but the lack of diverse expressions and extra movement can be traced back to a major shift in focus and tone, as there’s just a lot less going on in the second half than there is in the first half. More on that later, but I’m pretty sure a huge chunk of the budget in the second half must have gone to the 3D visual effect of salt-flake snow falling in both the sea and surface settings. All that aside, the point that’s most worth remembering is that the series may lose some of it’s flair, but it never gets so bad that it looks cheap, which is one thing you can always say for PA Works.

The soundtrack, for the most part, sticks to piano and string instruments, played in such a way that they almost sound like they’re echoing underwater. It’s music that, for the most part, that reminds you of the sea, even if it wasn’t attached to this series. There are some exceptions, like Ofunehiki no Uta, which draws upon a fictionalized Japanese tradition, and thus falls back on a much more traditionally eastern sounding orchestration, complete with backup singers and what might be the only wind instruments in the show. Another odd standout is Uroko Sama no Monogatari, a tune that plays around the character of Uroko-sama, and oddly enough, it almost sounds like the extended beginning to a country song. I can’t really say that it’s a memorable soundtrack, and there really aren’t any standouts that you’d get any enjoyment out of without having the show to put them in context, but there are quite a few of them that can move you to tears if you listen to them while remembering the scenes that they were used in, especially in the case of Ofunehiki no Uta.

The first opening, named after the anime itself, is a bit on the generic side, an upbeat pop song that you could find attached to pretty much any slice of life anime. The visuals, on the other hand, are nothing if not stunning. While the song fits the mold of slice of life, the video that accompanies it breaks that mold, offering a beautiful look at the two towns and their inhabitants, all while remaining consistent with the animation quality from that half of the series. On a related note, there’s water animation in this opening that could hold it’s own against Free!. The first ending theme, Aqua Terrarium, is also somewhat generic, albeit with it’s visual accompaniment being lingering shots of one of Manaka motionless in the sea. So, yeah, standard ending animation. The second opening, Ebb and Flow, carries a much more somber tone than the first one, and it’s imagery of time having passed can possibly tug at your heart strings for an episode or two, at least until you realize what direction the rest of the series is taking. The second ending theme, Mitsuba no Musubi, is just as unremarkable as the first, albeit with an unexpected shift in art style.

The english dub was produced by Bang Zoom, and I just want to say off the bat that I’ve been turning into a HUGE Max Mittelman fan lately. He’s still relatively new in the industry, but as I mentioned in my One Punch Man review, he deserves all of the lead roles he’s already been getting. He’s playing a character who starts off angsty and confrontational, and if we’re being completely honest, he’s also kind of an asshole. He develops over time to become much more reasonable and understanding, and throughout the whole process, he plays off of Michelle Ruff’s Manaka(Can I call her Monica from here on? Screw it, I’m gonna anyway) beautifully. While Monica is the target of both Hikari’s aggression and later affection, she’s no hapless Yamato Nadeshiko type character. She responds to his behavior the way any actual girl her age would respond to a close friend acting like a bully, by chastising him for being aggressive and threatening to stop hanging out with him if he doesn’t cool it. They become much stronger characters by the halfway point, and the actors have more than enough chemistry to pull it off.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak as glowingly about the rest of the main four, as Kaname and Chisaki aren’t quite as interesting as their floundering friends. They’re not unlikeable characters… At least, not at first… But it’s hard to describe them outside of their looks and their positions inside of the show’s love polygon. Brianna Knickerbocker and Bryce Papenbrook perform admirably in these roles, but still feel quite underused. Xanthe Huynh and Erica Mendez have a much more rewarding turn as Miuna, a little girl from a damaged home, and Akari, the woman who’s found herself tied by fate to Miuna’s single father. Their efforts to overcome prejudice and unchecked emotional turmoil in order to come together as a family is one of the biggest driving forces of the first half of the series, a fact that wasn’t lost on either actress, who put out some of the most genuine, raw emotion out of the show’s entire cast. Chris Hackney also does a commendable job as Tsumugu, a land-living boy who finds himself drawn into Hikari’s group of friends. He’s not the first actor to give a stoic character personality, but he still pulls it off pretty damn well. There aren’t very many standout performances over-all, but it’s still a solid dub that’s more or less on equal footing with the original sub.

At first glance, A Lull in the Sea may appear to be another slice of life romantic comedy, with it’s only distinction being it’s neo-little-mermaid gimmick. Thankfully, the writers waste no time whatsoever establishing that there are real themes at play here, and that they’re timeless themes to boot. At the beginning of the series, the people of the land and the people of the sea are not on good terms whatsoever. I’ve seen plenty of fictional allegories for racism in my day, and while most of them amount to angry strawmen claiming “We round people shouldn’t be getting mixed up with them circle people” to the Disney version of Pocahontas sporting a song that blatantly states “They’re not like you and me, which means they must be evil,” Lull takes a much more thorough approach. The differences between the sea people and the surface people has some serious depth to it, as it exists not only in real time, but stretching back throughout their long term geographically close relationship with one another.

While it’s true that the setting does feel a bit underdeveloped, and the idea of an undersea village living as neighbors to a realistic, modern land village does bring up a lot of questions that never get answered, these flaws in world-building are easily over-shadowed by just how uncanny the plot’s resemblance to real life social issues can be. with the exception of the Sea God’s backstory, every single social injustice we see in this series can be drawn as a parallel to an issue that either occurs or used to occur in real life. The idea of middle and even high school students instantly rejecting and tormenting other students for the simple crime of being different has been happening since the dawn of time. It’s practically a rule of being adolescent, regardless of how adult international relationships may or may not be influencing it. For some minorities to want to rebel against this discrimination by being confrontational and having a bad attitude while others try to be on their best behavior in order to fight stereotypes through pacifism, and even for these two sects to clash with each other, is also disturbingly relevant to race relations in any society that’s managed to diversify itself. This is in stark contrast to Japan, a racially homogenous nation where this series oddly takes place.

Harking back to Hikari’s sister Akari(yes, those two names are put together in anime far, far too often), she originally had a job on the surface, until it was revealed that she was in love with her single father boss, and was harboring an intent to marry him. She was rejected outright from both sides, with her boss’s daughter not wanting the union to take place for certain spoiler reasons, but she was especially contested by her own people, including her father, because of a village rule stating that anyone who fell in love with a land lubber would never be allowed in the sea again. It’s later revealed that the legend of the Sea God was behind this rule, but even if he wasn’t, this attitude still rings true today, as there are tons of parents out there who would rather die than see their offspring wind up in a relationship that might compromise their heritage. Hell, one of my favorite scenes occurs long after the children have already put their differences aside, and the adults from both sides are coerced into a negotiation over a necessary ritual, which goes great until both sides start demanding apologies over perceived injustices of the past, an argument that almost becomes violent before the who kerfuffle is blamed on the kids, suggesting that racial differences are harder to get over for the older generation than the younger one.

If I hadn’t made it obvious to you by now, the two biggest recurring themes in this show(at least the interesting ones) are prejudice and desegregation, themes that are told primarily from the point of view of four sea-dwelling middle schoolers trying to fit in at a surface-dwelling school, but when you take a step back from them, you can see the issue from the perspectives of the human kids, the hopeful teacher, the adults who’ve lived through issues the kids can’t fully understand, the young star-crossed lovers and more. All of these different perspectives, almost all of which are realistic and relevant to the viewer in their own way, give the series a sense of depth and complexity that most slice of life shows can never even hope to reach. Characters grow and develop as their minds become more open and their hearts become more accepting, and yeah, even the bullies become likeable through the course of the story. There’s a sprinkling of developing crushes to add some spice to the main cast, but it takes a back seat to more important plotlines. All of this leads to a climax that’s equal parts inspiration and tragedy, and an ending that will have you crying your eyes out… Halfway through the series.

Yeah, this is pretty much where my praise of A Lull in the Sea ends, and the ravaging must begin. I’m going to try my best not to spoil the climax of episode 13, as I do believe everyone should be able to experience it blindly for themselves, but I will reveal some… stuff, from the second half, so here’s your warning. If I didn’t think it was important to talk about, I wouldn’t be spoiling it. For example, there’s the fact that episode 14 starts off with a five year time skip. One of our four main characters has aged naturally, but the other three are still 14, through some means I don’t feel like explaining. Considering how the first half ended, this isn’t the worst way to continue the series, and there is some potential for the story to develop under these circumstances, but here’s the problem… The racial tension, by this point, has been completely resolved. The people making the show must have realized they’d written themselves into a corner, and the only way to continue was to abandon all the depth of the first half and instead focus on the love-polygon, which quickly becomes a love-dodecahedron.

Going forward, a lot of dumb decisions are made to get the writers out of their corner, but the one that instantly had me doing the hardest head-desk of my life was when, in a flash-back, we hear nine year old Miuna getting jealous over Hikari, a character she’d never shown any special affection for throughout the first half. I did the math on the time skip, and guessed on the spot that this show was about to rely on one of the creepiest, unrealistic, sexist ideas that anime has ever come up with. To get a vague yet still accurate picture of what I’m talking about, picture Love Hina’s Keitaro Urashima, the boy who’s pursuing a girl he knew from his childhood. Now, instead of a male character falling back on a memory because he can’t get a girlfriend through any other means, picture a female character who COULD get a boyfriend, but refuses to because she’d rather end up an old maid than betray some dude she had a crush on as a child. It’s bad, and a lot of anime do it, but most anime don’t go the extra mile of using a time skip to make the girl and her old friend the same age so it’ll be okay. Only it’s not, because it’s still creepy.

Oh, and it gets worse… Her friend, the mischievous moppet Sayu, falls in love with another 14 year old because… Get this… He patted her on the head and called her a good girl. Ooh, scandalous, right? That has to be the most laughable catalyst for an “I WILL NEVER LOVE ANOTHER” that I have ever heard. I wish I could go into deeper spoilers, but I’ve already said too much, so let’s summarize this: The second half of the anime exists for two reasons. First of all, it exists to explore and conclude the love dodecahedron, which it doesn’t, and it also exists to ret-con the conclusion of episode 13 so that the series can end on a happier note, which… Unfortunately… is executed in a very fanficcy way that tears a massive plot hole in the lore of the story. Basically, the entire second half of the anime didn’t need or deserve to exist, especially since the first half ended on the perfect note, a beautiful tragedy that warranted no farther than one epilogue episode to wrap things up. You came close, Lull… You came close.

A Lull in the Sea is available stateside from NIS America, which of course means it’s ridonkulously expensive. Luckily, it’s also available in both dub and sub form on Crunchyroll for subscribers. The original manga by Project – 118 is not available stateside, nor is the follow-up four-panel manga from the same writer. Personally, I recommend the Crunchyroll subscription, if you can afford it. I had to cancel mine after paying 1000 dollars on a car bill, but then again, i’m an old ass adult. Subscribe with your parents’ money, kids!

A Lull in the Sea is kind of like The Big O… I fell in love with the first half, and then found my jaw dropping farther and farther to the floor as what was previously awesome and enjoyable became huge disappointments once they got over the hump. Also like Big O, I wish to God that MAL would separate the two halves into their own entries, so that I could judge them separately instead of lumping them together. Why does the second half of this show exist? What was the point of it? I’m not going to sit here and stream the manga, so I have no idea how well this show holds up against it, but if they did the second half just for accuracy, then maybe they should have broke away from the source material and found a way to end it with episode 14. None of these love interests needed to be resolved, which… Oh, by the way, they weren’t. Nor did the perfect ending, which happened at the show’s halfway point, need to be repeated under dumber circumstances to force a happy ending. This show could have been good. It should have been good. Yeah, a bad first half can be saved by a good second half, but a bad second half can destroy a good first half. This is a damn shame. I give A Lull in the Sea a 5/10.

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? The last time I did an Inconvenient Questions post, it was about the classic stop-motion holiday special “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” and today, I’m going to hit up the title I teased over a year ago… RWBY, volume 2!

For those of you who’ve never seen an Inconvenient Questions post, it’s a feature I do where I watch something while pausing to write down every single question that I feel inspired to ask. My inquiry into Volume 1 produced more questions than any of the others so far, with a solid 222! I can’t wait to find out if this one is going to compete with it!

Also, because this is RWBY, I’ll try my best to avoid criticizing animation errors like clippings, but I’ll warn you that I’m only human, and some of these errors will most likely be too funny to not comment on. But to make fun of these in general would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Also, a few more notes;  I’ve only ever heard commentary on volume 3, so if any of these questions have been answered by the cast or creators, I have no idea.  Feel free to post any answers you have in the comments, and I’ll be thrilled to read them if you do.  Please don’t leave any comments saying that I nitpick too much, or that I take the things I watch too seriously, or that I should turn my brain off and enjoy things on their own merit…  I enjoy what I do, and I won’t change it for anybody.

In any case, I’m doing these in chronological order, and there’s going to be major spoilers, so you might just wanna follow along with me by watching RWBY volume 2 on Netflix!

And here we go!

1: Why can we hear that ship so clearly from the ground?

2: Why does that girl’s cleavage disappear halfway down?

3: Is their banter supposed to be funny?

4: I’ve tried carrying stacks of books like that before, so how is he keeping them from sliding all over the place?

5: And speaking of books, if cell phones have been reduced to scrolls in this society, why are books even still relevant? Wouldn’t they have invented the scroll-kindle by now?

6: Does that dramatic music mean Third Crusade is supposed to be some kind of big deal story in this world?

7: If this is a book trade, that would make this a used bookstore, right? So, it’s not really a matter of whether he carries it, but whether he currently has it, right?  And on another note, if he had every title they were asking about, would they be there for hours looking for a title he doesn’t have just so they can have an excuse to kill him?

8: So they came all the way out to whack this guy, and they open by criticizing his business slogan? That’s like walking into Bill Gray’s with a better tasting burger and then shooting the place up!

9: Is that notebook a shrine to Adam?

10: Ruby just made a reference to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. How is that possible?

11: And now Richard Nixon? Is this story taking place in a dystopian future, or do the people of Remnant just happen to know about American political history?

12: Wait, did she just say it’s been two weeks? Is she referring to season 1 only taking two weeks?

13: Is Neptune a faunus?

14: How did a cafeteria full of people turn into a food fight between just eight of them?

15: In what cafeteria would there be whole chickens and watermelons just sitting out? Is there really a high enough demand for them to keep them from going bad?

16: Not to mention baguettes that are stiff and stale enough to not break when used as swords.

17: Does Ruby have skateboarding experience?

18: Who the hell keeps a whole swordfish on a table in the cafeteria?!

19: That wave of food Ruby just splashed Team Juniper with was also full of broken plates and cups. Shouldn’t they have been impaled by the non-edible debris?

20: Why is Ozpin being so lenient about a food fight that took out some of the foundation and support of the building?

21: Okay, I get the rat/cat thing being a reference to Red Vs. Blue, but does that excuse it from making sense? He didn’t look like either of those things, OR a puma!

22: What does Glinda have against Ironwood?

23: What kind of game utilizes a board, pieces, multi-sided die and yugioh cards? I want a set…

24: Why are her tears running sideways?

25: What has Blake so paranoid, all of a sudden?

26: Who would go all the way to Vail to see a Spruce Willis movie? Cluck Norris could kick his ass anyday.

27: What’s with all the weirdly animated boob jiggling? Eiken looked more realistic.

28: Is Yang referring to the dude she made call her Sir?

29: Is Weiss’s skirt really that easy to get into? I don’t mean her crush on Neptune… I mean her hands, passing right through it like they don’t exist on the same plane!

30: Instead of the lame puma joke, wouldn’t a better Red Vs. Blue reference have been putting Vic in one of these terminals?

31: Why would Penny’s father let her wander through Beacon alone? Why would a robot be able to defy her creators like this?

32: Is Ironwood supposed to be a strawman for Drone warfare supporters?

33: Why does the shopkeeper drive his own supply truck?

34: How is a robot hiccupping?

35: How could anyone go this far without knowing Penny’s a robot? She totally acts like one!

36: If Neptune’s from Haven, does he have a connection to the villains?

37: After the damage Yang did to the bar last time, how does Junior owe her a drink? Or anything?

38: How do they know Roman’s a human? I mean he has no outwardly obvious animal parts, but neither did the bookstore guy. And he’s wearing a hat, so who knows he’s not hiding an antenna under there?

39: Not gonna lie, the first time I saw Neo, I pretty much guessed that would be her name. But just for the sake of asking a question, is she supposed to be the Harley to his Joker?

40: Wait, are you telling me that it took until dark for Weiss to leave the elevator and Ruby to get out of the dumpster? Seriously?

41: Is Son a fan of The Matrix: Reloaded?

42: Okay, I get that the names Ruby’s calling out are supposed to signal which two combatants are teaming up, but how do they have a specific attack coordinated for this specific occasion?

43: Was “Bumblebee” a wink and nod to the audience?

44: how did Torchwik survive the destruction of that mech? Isn’t that like being in a nasty car crash?

45: Where was Neo hiding? And how did they shatter/teleport like that?

46: If the members of CRDL were the first to grab their chess pieces and make it out of the woods, how are they this weak in combat?

47: Does Pyrrha now know that Mercury’s legs are metal?

48: What are they even graded on? I swear, Beacon Academy is just as bad as Death Meister Academy at clarifying what the hell anyone is studying.

49: And how does a catgirl get this little sleep? Even cutting down to 8 hours must leave her exhausted.

50: Not bad, Jean, but try Careless Whisper next time.

51: Holy shit… Having seen volume 3 puts Cinder’s comments about Pyrrha in a completely different context. Also, why do Mercury and Jean have similar tastes in comics?

52: Okay, Blake chasing a laser pointer is funny and all, but how is Yang getting it from all those different angles? How much is she moving around to make that happen?

53: Is Ren gay? I mean, it’s been hinted that there are non-straight characters in the cast, he does wear a lot of pink, and if he is, it would add some pretty funny layers to Jean asking him about girls.

54: How long has the ‘four person teams’ thing been going on?

55: Crow, Raven, Summer Tai-yang… Team Stark?

56: Yang, you’re her friend. She’s not TRYING to stop you.

57: If Weiss is asking Neptune to the dance “Tomorrow,” shouldn’t some time pass before the dance scene? This is basic editing, people.

58: Did Ozpin put any thought into this metaphor?

59: Why is Weiss spazzing out over a flower? If it’s bothering you, pick and and toss it!

60: Why is Penny even at the dance?

61: Where did Jean get that dress on such short notice?

62: I should ask how Team JNPR managed to put together that choreographed dance number, but it’s too wonderful to question.

63: I said I’d lay off on the animation, but why does Cinder have such a weird looking walk across those rooftops?

64: Did Emerald not notice Ruby leaving?

65: Why doesn’t Ruby take off her heels for this fight?

66: Why don’t I see any same-sex couples dancing?

67: Wouldn’t it be funnier if James was Qrow’s first name, instead of Ironwood’s? I mean, Jim Qrow… It would explain how pitifully few dark skinned characters there are… I’ll shut up now.

68: Did Ruby get all the way to her dorm in the span of the teachers’ continued conversation?

69: Jesus Christ, I know I already harked on the weird boob jiggling earlier, but how did Glinda backing up a step cause them to jump like they lost contact with gravity?

70: If Yang was already handing that tube to Ruby, why didn’t she just take it, instead of… Whatever the hell she just did?

71: How did a roll of brown dough just turn into a dog?

72: Did that dog just get mailed to beacon in a package? How the fuck did he fit, how the fuck did he survive, how the fuck did he not need to eat drink of defecate, and how the fuck was anybody high enough to write, proofread, approve and animate something so fucking stupid?

73: Weiss and Blake seem genuinely confused about this too, so my concerns are valid!

74: Was this mailing Zwei thing supposed to be funny? I know people who dropped the series because of this scene.

75: So wait, is THIS why so many people are named after colors? I don’t think that ever needed to be explained.

76: Why did Ruby bring her dog? Let me guess, to justify it’s existence in the story?

77: I mean, does he have a purpose in the story other than proving that the writers were incapable of keeping their otaku-boners in their pants, and they just HAD to make a Cowboy Bebop reference?

78: Who packed the rotisserie chicken?

79: Why is Glinda checking up on Ironwood? How did she even notice he was out?

80: Did none of them pack a change of clothes?

81: Since when did carrying one weapon each count as being ‘armed to the teeth?”

82: Is Ruby saying she wanted Zwei to piss where they were sleeping?

83: How the hell did the ground cave in under one light teenage girl?

84: Did Yang not see Ruby and the soldiers stalking around?

85: That hole looks like a semi could fall through it. how did the weight of one girl cave it in?

86: Did Oobleck just forget about the subway system until this very moment? It seems like an important detail to just overlook.

87: How does Romans cane contain that much rope, as well as the ability to fire bullets? It contains infinite space?

88: How’d they get on the train?

89: Wait, they’re on the roof? Didn’t one of them just attack a guard from inside the train?

90: Why are they expecting the Grimm to follow the train?

91: Bullshit! how did that dog know to do that for a man he’s never met before? And how did Oobleck know he’d survive it?

92: Why did Weiss volunteer to stay behind to fight a guy with a chainsaw? Couldn’t she just freeze it so it would stop working?

93: Wait, it looked like Chainsaw guy was about to cut Weiss’s head off… What happened? Did he just decide to change moves and kick her into the next room instead?

94: Is that Yang’s mother? If so, how did she know where to be?

95: Is Yang’s mom a member of the White Fang? Is she part Faunus?

96: Did Weiss just pull a Groot?

97: What does “That village” mean to Ren?

98: Why didn’t Jean’s sword do any visible damage to that Grimm?

99: How the fuck did Zweii just take out a Grimm?

100: Does spacial logic not exist in this school? A minigun can fit inside of what is, for all intents and purposes, a purse?

101: Why are Cinder’s cronies helping in the battle? Nobody would notice if they didn’t!

Jennifer Paetsch

I write and draw and sometimes people like it! Wow!


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