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That’s right, I’m back, with one of the long time staples of this blog… A full-volume review of the newest incarnation of Rooster Teeth’s attempt at making their own anime! As usual, I’m not going into this with any real sense of structure, just gonna make it all up as I go. Before I begin, however, there are a few points I want to address.

1: There have been two RWBY manga released in Japan, and while I’m not gonna review them, I thought I’d give my thoughts on them here. The first one is mostly a retelling of the trailers, and it’s okay. There’s nothing really new or interesting about it, but it does it’s job, and I guess it’s worth a read. The other one is the first in an anthology series, and it’s awesome. It’s a slice of life featuring the main cast in different situations, and while nearly all of the art styles are easier on the eyes than the previous manga’s, the stories are also a lot more entertaining. That one I’d definitely recommend.

2: This new DVD/Bluray release is vastly different from the previous releases. This time, you can’t watch the volume as a film, you have to watch it episodically, with every single op and ed sequence preserved. They’re also unskippable, unless you’re really diligent about fast-forwarding. This does work in some ways, as I was speculating before how certain scenes would fare without episode breaks, but it also makes it a lot more difficult to judge the pacing of the volume… Something I suspect they took advantage of.

3: Remember a year ago, when I posted an editorial about how Rooster Teeth likes to steal things from anime? Well, to add to that, I’ve got a new one for you. Think about the relationship between Ozpin and Oscar: An ancient being is reincarnated into the mind of a small child, who acts as his avatar, can communicate with him, and can sometimes switch consciousnesses? It’s like Yugioh! It’s almost exactly like the bond between Yugi and the Pharaoh! If they didn’t steal this idea, then it’s a mighty big coincidence.

Anyway, getting back to the volume itself, it stands out in another way; It really doesn’t have a beginning. There’s really no inciting incident, there’s no strong opening to define the events that will follow… It feels like a continuation of the previous volume, which it is, but it feels more like a second half than a part 2. Which is strange, because volume 4 definitely had a definitive ending.

Much like volume four, this story is told through several different plotlines, each one featuring a different set of characters who only really interact between said lines once in a while. These plotlines start off with Weiss on an airship, Yang looking for Raven, Salem’s Lot plotting, RNJR and Qrow at Haven, and finally, there’s the menagerie storyline, featuring Blake, her family, Sun, and Ilia. Adam also gets some scenes, and Raven basically just exists in other peoples’ storylines.

However, in volume four, things were a lot more organized and consistent. The four main characters got their own storylines, while the bad guys and Qrow just kinda meandered while waiting to jump into them. Those main storylines didn’t all have action, but they were all actively moving forward and accomplishing important points for the narrative. In this volume, however, things aren’t really that well planned out. While Yang and Weiss’s storylines are moving forward, the rest of them are just kinda meandering, waiting for a cue to start picking up. This results in a good portion of the first half of this volume just feeling like a complete drag, with tone that’s all over the place, cuts between storylines that don’t gel with each other, and a ton of material that was clearly written in to keep it’s respective storyline relevant, but ultimately just winds up feeling like the kind of material that could have been left on the cutting room floor.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about this volume featuring a lot of ‘show don’t tell’ moments, and while I agree to an extent, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as they make it out to be. I mean, not quite as bad, but it’s still a problem. There are so many scenes where people explain things, and not all of them are badly written, but the sheer amount of them definitely over-shadows the ones that work. I thought the exposition scenes involving Oscar/Ozpin and Raven were handled really well, if perhaps a bit too wordy, and a little stuffed. The showdown between Adam and Sienna, on the other hand, could have been executed in half the time with a few small rewrites, and nothing would have been lost in translation.  Seriously, every other line, they were saying something that was just there to explain their relationship and history to the audience, and that all could have been skipped if they’d found a way to work Sienna into the story organically in volume 4. The same could be said for Ghira Belladonna’s entire speech early on, which accomplished nothing, and could have been held offscreen with only a few snippets of dialogue afterward about how it went and what he was trying to say.

Honestly, Blake’s whole spiel about her friends embodying certain words felt like a complete waste of time in retrospect, unless they were just trying to set something up in the future, or lay the clues for her being mildly autistic or something. We didn’t need to see Qrow looking for huntsmen, we didn’t need to see Blake and Sun looking for signatures, we could have easily just heard about those sequences in a few short snippets of dialogue while achieving the same effect. Hell, maybe then we could have had time to see something more interesting, like a stylized look at Raven and Qrow as youths, or some of Oz’s forms throughout the years, something to spice up the dialogue a bit.

And speaking of the dialogue, the other problem with this volume being so dialogue heavy is one that I found to be much more of a hindrance; The tone. From what I saw, there are very few scenes that contain more than one note. Most scenes are either light-hearted, action-heavy or dour, with little crossover inbetween. There are exceptions, mostly revolving around Raven and Vernal, but aside from that, there are some long conversations that needed some form of nuance to them. I mean, you can do small amounts of comic relief without pulling a Jar Jar, were you aware of that? When Blake and Ilia are angsting back and forth, could one of them maybe crack a joke or throw an insult?  Ilia’s only mode up until her redemption is “I have to do this,” even though when you take her backstory into account, she’d be perfectly justified in being a little more personally invested in the White Fang’s activities.

Or how about this; Does every single episode have to stop dead so somebody can make a speech? It’s annoying, and they rarely ever say anything we don’t already know. I don’t need to hear Ren gushing to know how important the main cast is to each other, or how much they’ve all grown. Ghira’s speech to the faunus just winds up cheapening the much more powerful and important speech his daughter gives later on. Ruby and Oscar’s heart-to-heart didn’t feel set up at all, and Oscar’s blow-up at her felt like it came right out of nowhere, and that’s WITH an understanding of his circumstances. Yang’s sudden meltdown over Blake is exactly that… It’s sudden, with her showing no signs that she’d even been thinking about Blake throughout all of volume four and five up until that moment, and it ends with the matter being resolved clearly and swept under the rug, when I really could have used some ambiguity leading up to their reunion.

The best moments in this stretch of the volume are the moments when storylines converge, making the over-all story feel less congested. Weiss converges with Yang, the two of them converge with RNJR, Raven converges the villains with RNJR, etcetera. When moments like this happen, the story gets tighter, and the focus of the writing gets a lot clearer. This eventually does streamline the story, and thank God, because things get a LOT better in the second half.

As the stories converge, and characters who were just kind of fucking around finally start to move into place, the importance of most of what we’ve seen so far becomes clear… And yes, I’m saying most because there was a lot of pulp this volume… But the final four episodes are glorious, full of action, high stakes, well deserved call backs and pay-offs, and a near-death tease that shook the world more than the ending of Infinity War(Don’t lie, you scoff now in hindsight, but when it first aired, you were worried and uncertain).

But I don’t feel like I can really talk about the ending without first talking about the message of this volume. Yes, there’s a message, and they lay it on pretty heavy throughout. It’s not a specific message, though, and I’ll admit upfront that it’s a bit on the generic side… It’s a message about doing the right thing, and holding the right values. It’s kind of all over the place in terms of what that means, but it’s still remarkably consistent. When you write a story with a moral message, it’s incredibly easy to fuck it up, either by coming off as too preachy, accidentally being hypocritical(How ya doin’, Deadpool 2?), or not backing up your point convincingly. Surprisingly, for all this volume does wrong, RWBY doesn’t fall into any of these traps.

Take, for example, the Faunus situation. We’ll ignore for now how little sense their oppression makes(although that’s been an issue since volume 1), and instead look at how the issue is being dealt with. Adam is working from a state of anger, and as Blake notes, spite. He wants to conquer the oppressors and oppress them right back, and he’s willing to go to any lengths to achieve this, even if means knowingly exaggerating the human threat by creating false-flag situations to drum up his peoples’ support. Blake wants to take the high road, to unite humans with faunus by saving them and protecting them, and purging the harmful individuals from their own ranks.

Realistically, either one of these approaches can work, but RWBY creates a scenario where Adam’s tactics backfire, people see him for what he is, and he winds up alone, with only his bull-headed anger left to rely on, and THAT gets him a thorough ass-kicking from Blake until he flees and tries and abandons the people whose loyalty he never saw as more than means to an end.

Raven is perhaps an even better example of this, as she’s shifty, dishonest, and fights for nothing other than her own survival, and her motives carrying a subtle echo of some of Roman Torchwik’s last words… If you can’t beat someone, don’t fight them. She doesn’t quite join the side she perceives to be stronger, but she does manipulate them to get the edge, sacrificing other people… People she was close to… Along the way, and hell, even Cinder makes a quip about her becoming a monster by killing the former Spring Maiden. Speaking of which, all of her scheming, all of her plotting and backstabbing, and all it leads her to is possibly the single greatest individual scene from the franchise thus far… A final confrontation with Yang, who gives her such a thorough verbal beatdown, calling her out on her bullshit in such a way that she actually convinces her to flee, and it all feels natural. None of it feels like part of a forced message, which is how messages are supposed to be delivered.

You don’t want to be a coward, or to act out of fear. History doesn’t look kindly on Benedict Arnolds, and neither does RWBY. You can run from your fears, or you can ally yourself with them, but they will catch up to you, and they will destroy you. It happened to Lionheart, it happened to Torchwik, and it could happen to you. You don’t want to act out of selfishness, because at the end, all you’ll have left is yourself, just like what happened to Raven.

The same thing could be said for acting out of anger or hate, though, and while there’s Adam to consider, Hazel is perhaps a more interesting case, as his hatred comes from a desire for revenge. He’s allied himself with Salem, not out of loyalty or a desire for power, but to get a chance to achieve satisfaction over the death of his sister. It doesn’t make logical sense to blame Ozpin for a decision that his sister made, but certain emotions know no logic… It’s not hard to assume that he felt powerless over losing her, and Ozpin is the only possible target for his frustrations. Of course, revenge is a self-destructive motivator, as shown by the harm he does to his body in pursuit of it, and the fact that he’s allied himself with killers to achieve it. There’s a reason that Blake’s storyline included a statement about forgiveness.

So what values does volume 5 promote? Well, once again, there’s forgiveness, as they showed with Ilia. Former enemies can become important allies if given the chance. It can also help you to find the sense of peace and purpose that eluded Hazel. Speaking of Hazel, there’s also selflessness, and the willingness to sacrifice yourself for the goodwill of others, which his sister fell to. But maybe the most strongly portrayed value is courage… This is kind of a basic idea, as I remember learning it from a freaking Mary Kate and Ashley movie when I was little, but true courage is when you’re afraid, and you don’t know if you’ll succeed, but you do the right thing anyway, as Yang said while verbally decimating her mother.

Of course, now it’s time for me to get on my soap box… This is all relevant to real life. Some of the worst experiences people can have are at the hand of other people acting in fear. We want to build a wall between nations because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We separate children from their parents because we’re afraid of our laws looking weak. We ban travel from other countries because we’re afraid one or two of them might hurt us. We do any number of insane and horrible things, from discriminating against queer people to performing genital mutilation on children, because we’re afraid of what our respective Gods might do to us if we don’t. We refuse to stand up to dangerously unqualified leaders because it might weaken our political parties.

And that’s just fear.  Entire wars have been fought just for revenge, costing outrageous amounts of money and far moire lives than whatever incidents sparked those wars in the first place.  We hurt others for the sake of our own interests, and while never specifically calling any of it out, Rooster Teeth used this volume to make a statement about it. In doing so, it arguably accomplished more than any other volume has to date.

Anyway, getting back to the fun stuff, the animation is still great. There are a few shots and angles that I found questionable, and there are a few background shots where extras are just standing around blandly, but those are minor complaints compared to where RWBY came from. I’ve heard people complain about the fight scenes being awful, but I never really felt that either. They’re certainly different, with no flashy spectacle fights going on, but these things went away for something I consider much better; Story-telling. In this volume, and also in volume 4, the fight scenes are used to tell stories. There aren’t any of Monty’s trademarked ‘rule of cool’ fights, where everything just feels like extended animation demos, but there’s actual plot and story going on.

This allows them to focus on things that were missing from the action of the first two volumes, and which the third volume brilliantly transitioned into having… Suspense, stakes, and drama. As far as visual issues, I’ve heard people saying something about characters teleporting, but when you consider the most popular action sequence was a food fight where Nora launched Yang through the roof at an angle and she fell down straight in a location completely different from the direction she’d been launched in, I’m willing to accept a minor flub or two in a fight scene that feels ambitious and engaging. I’ve also heard complaints that Ruby doesn’t develop this volume, but she got a ton of development in volumes 3 and 4, and not every character has to develop in every volume.

Although the fact that she hasn’t asked Ozpin about her Silver eye powers is, I will agree, fucking stupid.

Once again, as much as I love about this volume, it doesn’t go down as easy with the poor way the first half was executed. Yeah, everything comes together more-or-less perfectly in the second half, but for a 3+ hour volume that’s made a fucking 4 hour volume by the inclusion of all the openings and closings, those first two hours can be tough to get through whenever it’s meandering or wasting time, which is far too often. The dialogue, again, needs a lot of work, as it’s not unsalvageable, but it can’t continue to be like this going into volume 6.

I know it may look like I’m being really hard on this volume, but the fact that I’m giving it these kinds of criticisms is a sign of how far along it’s come. In the first two volumes, I complained about the things that stopped RWBY from being good. In volume 5, I’m complaining about the things that are stopping it from being great. I believe it can achieve the greatness that it had in volume 3 again, even if this just wasn’t the right time for it. I give RWBY volume 5 a 7/10.

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The year is 2019. It’s been 31 years since a mysterious explosion happened in Japan, which somehow triggered World War 3. In the current society, a version of the city has been restored, and dubbed Neo-Tokyo, not to be confused with Tokyo-3. But as it turns out, what was supposed to be a new haven for humanity has already become dilapidated and worn down, with the new government at odds with the people, sparking violently destructive protests that are in no way helped by the scourge of anarchistic youths waging war with each other one the backs of their motorcycles. See, this is why we can’t have nice things. Two of these gangs are called the Capsules, a handful of middleschoolers with the image of a pill emblazoned on their jackets, and the clowns, a gang of… Other thugs… Who wear weird masks and stuff. Existing somewhere between The Sharks vs. The Jets and The Bloods vs. The Crips, their rivalry is a notoriously violent one, and their fights have terrorized an already restless population.

In any case, it’s during one of these particular skirmishes that the Capsule Corps, led by the main character-ish young man named Kaneda, stumble upon a strange little Benjamin Button boy who inflicts another member, Tetsuo, with some sort of abnormality. The local government snatches up Tetsuo and the little geezer, and they disappear them to a secret facility to perform experiments on them. In order to rescue Tetsuo, Kaneda must work his way into a rebel faction in order to infiltrate the facility… But strange things are happening to Tetsuo, within whom a dangerous entity has begun to awaken, granting him power beyond his control… Power that attracts the interest of Button and his friends, who antagonize him in order to bring about his full potential. When Kaneda finally does manage to reach Tetsuo, what kind of reunion will await the two of them? Can Tetsuo be saved from the destiny that’s begun to develop around him, or is it too late for anybody to be saved?

Akira was animated by TMS, also known as Tokyo Movie Shinsa, one of the oldest known Japanese animation studios. They’ve produced not only anime over the five decades that they’ve been in operation, but plenty of western animation from their subsidiary company Telecom. I’ve seen a bunch of Telecom’s titles, with a particular highlight being the fucking Ducktales(Ooo-Wooo-Ooo), but out of their anime work, I’m honestly not that familiar with them. They’ve produced some iconic titles that have been around for impossibly long periods of time, like Lupin(the only installment of which that I’ve seen was The woman Named Fujiko Mine) and Detective Conan, which I only saw the first season. Beyond that, any title they’ve released is either something I saw very little of, or something I haven’t seen in over a decade, so it’s kind of hard to get an accurate grasp on them in regard to their oeuvre of work.

Whatever they’re like, they clearly had a ton of money to burn when they were producing Akira, and boy does it show. The animation in this movie is insanely fluid, especially for a title that was released in the late eighties. The quality is consistent throughout, but it only takes a few minutes to see that this isn’t your average production. Just as we’re dumped into the interior of a seedy, suspicious bar, we’re shown that not even such an arguably unnecessary visual as channels being changed on a TV is still given the kind of lavish treatment that would suggest that they really spared no expense with this one. To be sure, the movie then quickly moves on to one of it’s biggest highlights, the motorcycle race war… Yes, a literal race war… Between the Capsules and the Clowns, which may be one of the single most well-animated sequences in anime history. It’s several solid minutes of gritty dudes racing through town on their various models of bikes as they try to kill one another,r to varying and somewhat vague levels of success. This sequence is so fast and fluid that even the residual trails of their taillights in the night sky is beautifully present.

It’s weird looking back and thinking that an anime from 1988 could look as good as this one does, but it was just as weird for the world back then, as Akira was considered groundbreaking with it’s visuals. The kind of facial animations and fluid movements it featured were unimaginable at the time, even though they’re more or less commonplace today. Most anime of the time was stiff, with limited articulation and frozen faces with moving mouths, which made this particular piece all the more breathtaking. Now, having said that, it’s kind of understandable, but I just can’t help but feel they might have gone a bit too far overboard with this achievement, as the characters’ facial expressions are so over-exaggerated that it’s kind of hard to take what they’re saying seriously at time, but that’s just a nit-pick on my part.

Akira’s visual prowess doesn’t just limit itself to the fluidity of it’s animation, either. It’s also pretty well directed, with the man in the director’s chair being Katsuhiro Otomo, whom, if you didn’t know, was also the creator of the manga, so in terms of the presentation, nothing was lost in translation. His sense of direction isn’t perfect, as some of his action scenes can stray into a feeling of sensory overload, but there are moments in the government facility and especially in Tetsuo’s room that feel downright chilling with the way they’re framed. The backgrounds of Neo-tokyo are so extensively detailed that it’s almost sad how much of it you’ll miss if you’re not constantly pausing to check out the environment, with it’s variety of different buildings and gorgeous lighting effects. It almost feels like a real city, and one that you could actually imagine living in, thanks to the level of immersion it manages to hit. I’d keep going on this topic alone, but I’m struggling to find the right words to do it justice, and you kind of have to see it for yourself in order to appreciate it.

Although, to be perfectly honest, my favorite thing about Akira is the music, which is uniformly unconventional in it’s orchestrations, and carries a level of depth to it that kind of evades the story itself, as composer Shoji Yamashiro, which is actually the pseudonym of Tsutomu Ohashi, and while further work of his is hard to find, Akira is his most renowned project, and with good reason. The music for Akira is stunningly powerful, full of hard percussions and haunting vocal effects, some of which tell us more about a character and their arc than the story itself does. For example, the most popular track in the movie is probably Tetsuo’s theme, which uses bells and flutes to signify the titular character’s younger-brother relationship to Kaneda, showing frustration in the beginning while slowly becoming more unhinged and unsettling as it builds up to one of the most famous vocal spike notes in anime, the infamous DAAAAAA DAAAAAAA DAAADAAA that heralds the arrival of his powers later in the film.

The rest of the ost is just as creative, however. Kaneda’s theme isn’t as long or involved as Tetsuo’s theme, but the instrumentation is still like nothing I’ve heard before from an anime, as it’s decked out with lightning sound effects and shifting percussive beats that sound like they were taken from a traditional Japanese festival, complete with chants of Rasse-Ra, a chant used to welcome the summer. Other noteworthy tracks include Battle Against Clown, the battle theme for the opening gang war that somehow managed to take the sound of a guy breathing too hard and make it sound epic; Winds Over Neo-Tokyo, a tune that starts out slow and dreamy only to sound more ominous and carnival-y as it goes on; And Dolls’ Polyphony, a damn creepy track that’s used appropriately in the film, as it’s use of a female voice uttering the nonsense word “Perom” over and over again sounds like it was taken right out of a slasher movie, and that’s before the deeper male chanting starts to drown it out. All in all, I highly recommend picking up this soundtrack, whether you’re a fan of the actual movie or not.

To my knowledge, there are two English dubs for this movie… An old one, which was really awkward sounding and badly acted, and a newer one that sounds a lot more natural and human. The drawback is that while the old one at least managed to fit the insane mouth movements from the characters, the newer one doesn’t even try, which in turn makes the over-animation look even more obvious and silly. I don’t really think either dub is that great, but i kind of prefer the older Streamline dub, just because it sounds more interesting, even as terrible as it was. Don’t get me wrong, the Animaze dub had a cast of much more talented and well-respected actors, and they did act out the roles a lot better than their Streamline counterparts did, but like I said, the natural sound and grounded delivery doesn’t really feel like the right fit for the movie’s style of facial animation, whereas the Streamline one just feels like a better fit for this world.

Not to mention, as talented as the newer acting pool is, it’s not made up of the most compelling actors in the industry. The perfect example of this is Kaneda, the apparent star, who’s played by Johnny Yong Bosch, a highly talented actor who can give stellar, engaging performances when given the right material, but he has way too wide of a comfort zone, and once he’s in it, he falls right into typecasting hell. It’s a shame that he can be so boring at times, but here, he just sounds like a less interesting version of Ichigo. On a similar note, there’s Wendee Lee in the role of Kei, whose performance output is almost fifty/fifty in terms of quality, with just as many awesome roles as terrible ones, and since Kei isn’t that meaty of a character, she falls somewhere in the middle here. Michelle ruff, a personal favorite of mine, is wasted in the role of Kaori. The exception to this trend is Tetsuo, who’s played powerfully by Joshua Seth, a Digimon veteran who plays up his character’s youth and frustration, wearing his torment and rise to power on his sleeve. Either way, I’d still recommend sticking to the sub.

All right, I’m going to try to keep this brief, because I don’t really have all that much to say about Akira. To give this review a little background, I’ve never read the manga this movie was based on. Honestly, I don’t read that much manga in general. My reading is reserved for books, mostly by Stephen King, while I’m passing time on my lunch break at work. Yeah, I’ve gotten into a few series, but I can probably count on one hand the amount of titles I’ve read to completion, or at least to the point of being caught up. I’m sorry, but I’d rather absorb a story visually, where it takes less time and money to do so. Having said that, it means that I was essentially going into Akira blind, and taking it completely at face value, with no source material or outside information to explain it’s story, universe or world view to me. I’m reviewing this movie in a vacuum, as any title SHOULD be reviewed, and I’m not going to do any research to augment or explain the material. A good adaptation should do that for you. So how does Akira hold up under these conditions?

Well, frankly, this movie doesn’t make any fucking sense. From beginning to end, it doesn’t do any more than the bare minimum in explaining anything. To start right at the beginning, we’re told that Japan accidentally bombs itself(I won’t tell you how, as it’s a spoiler), and that this event was the spark that caused World War 3, and that the story takes place several decades after. Okay, so, how did World War 3 start? And yeah, I hear you guys saying “With that explosion,” but that’s not what I mean. How did Japan accidentally bombing itself lead to the third World War? That’s not a small detail. You know what a World War is, right? It’s a war where a group of allied nations fight against the rest of the world. Did Japan blame the explosion on another country? Who were it’s allies? Who were it’s enemies? Did it win? Did it lose? How long did the war last? How did it end? Did it even end? What was the death toll? You can’t just throw World War 3 into your narrative because it sounds cool, damn it, you have to explain that shit!

Okay, here’s another one: What are people protesting about? What is the government doing that’s got the people so pissed off? What’s the conflict there? Or here, I’ll give you an easier one: Who’s the guy we see leading the Benjamin Button kid through the crowd? Did he help him escape the facility? How? Or instead, I’ll tell you what… How did Tetsuo get his powers? We see him crashing his bike right in front of Button’s face, only to have it blow up between them, hurting neither of them… i mean, sure, Button was probably able to protect himself with a force field, but the explosion happened right in front of Tetsuo, who wasn’t even scratched. Was it contact with Button that triggered his change? Is that a normal side effect of interacting with Button? Can he just do that, or was Tetsuo a special case who just happened to have dormant apocalypse inside him? Was it the experiments at the facility that changed him? Is there some piece of equipment they have that gives people apocalypse tumors? Would all of this crap have been avoided if Tetsuo were released with his friends? Or died when his bike blew up?

I could throw it a bone if it had a cast of memorable characters, but guess what? I have no idea who any of these bastards are! I want to start by bringing up Kaori, because while she may not be one of the main characters, her role in the film is memorable for all the wrong reasons. She’s Tetsuo’s… Sister? girlfriend? Stalker? I have no idea. She’s barely in the movie, gets maybe five minutes of screen time, and her only big scenes are where she gets her face punched in and her top ripped off by a Clown member, and when she’s gruesomely axed off towards the end of the movie. Her only contributions to the film are suffering, dying, and adding two seconds of nudity to the film’s content rating, and it’s all so undeserved that it’s honestly kind of uncomfortable to watch. She had no reason to be in this movie. She’s not the only female character, but Kei is so underwritten that I’ve heard hardcore fans of the movie just refer to her in passing as ‘the female.’ She’s a terrorist, but why? What’s her connection to the government? What are her motivations?

And it’s a sad state of affairs that I have to say this, but speaking of Kei, who the fuck is Kaneda? Why am I supposed to be rooting for this person? What’s supposed to be so interesting about him? I think he’s the leader of the Capsules, right? And he’s just… Main character material, or something? What does he want with Kei? Does he just happen to spot “ooh, female,” and decide right on the spot that he’s going to get her out of trouble and pork her? Like, half the movie he’s just trying to get laid, and when he’s not trying to guilt her into it, he’s going up against armed adults in her honor. This is coming from an asexual person, mind you, but is a random girl who doesn’t seem interested in you really worth taking a bullet for? I get the whole devotion thing, but when your life is on the line, dude, there are other fish in the sea. You shouldn’t ally yourself with literal violent terrorists over someone until you’ve at least established a relationship with them.

I mean, okay, I tried to assume that he was just sniffing her ass because he thought getting involved with terrorists could help him to get closer to Tetsuo, but he would have been enacting this plan way too early for there to be a believable amount of desperation, and besides, he hounds her about turning herself in, going straight and dating him afterwards. That sounds a little counterproductive, don’t you think? And moving onto his relationship to Tetsuo, I didn’t know what kind of connection they shared until that random exposition dump at the end. Apparently they were orphans together. Up until then, I had no idea if they were friends, brothers… Even lovers could have been possible… or if Kaneda was just super dedicated to his gang members. The most fleshed out character is Tetsuo, but the only thing we get from him is his frustration over his connection to Kaneda. The changes that happen to him over the course of the film are it’s only, yes, only, source of character development. I’m sorry, but you need more than faces and names to have characters.

The only real concession that I can make for Akira is that it has a really well pronounced cool factor. Seeing gang wars waged on the backs of motorcycles against a vaguely post apocalyptic setting is really cool to see, and the movie would probably be better if that were all there were to it, but it gets so involved with it’s muddled, convoluted plot that it’s impossible to know what’s going on without reading the source material or making a ton of assumptions. It’s like this huge, thousand piece puzzle where none of the pieces fit. I didn’t even bring up the other two Benjamin Button kids, as their plans involving Tetsuo are so confusing and inconsistent that I’m hesitant to even call them spoilers. But like I said, regardless of what it was they’re actually trying to accomplish, their efforts still play into the movie’s cool factor, as they manage to bring us some truly trippy and surreal visuals when they’re using their powers to attack him in his room. It’s not much, but I guess if you’re just watching Akira for spectacle and it’s gritty adult tone, I can understand the appeal.

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Akira is available stateside in a number of different home video releases, most recently from Funimation is a very cheap DVD/bluray combo pack. Other releases are available, such as the limited edition steel case that I’m currently borrowing from a friend. The original manga has also been available in numerous printings, with the most recent being from Kodansha comics back in 2009. Each volume is still relatively cheap, or you could splurge and spend a little more money on the box set. At the very least, I’d recommend grabbing a copy of the soundtrack Cd, which is available from Milan records, and is fairly inexpensive online.

I’m sorry, guys. i know this is one of the most popular anime movies in the medium, but I just can’t get into it. It’s not a terrible movie by any means… The pacing is really good, and it never gets boring. I’m the kind of guy who literally can’t stay awake through a single showing of Empire of Corpses, but I’ve never fallen asleep during Akira, which at least speaks to it having some kind of entertainment value. I understand that adapting a phonebook thick manga collection into a two hour movie isn’t an easy feat, but at the same time, I don’t want to have to look up footnotes and plot synopsis just to figure out what the bloody hell I’m watching. The version of the movie I watched had a sort of pop up feature that was designed to give you extra information at random points, but after like twenty minutes, all it had been showing me was a map and some Japanese text translations, and I was relying on THAT to try and be fair. I like movies that challenge me to figure them out, but not like this. For the animation and music alone, it deserves it’s place in anime history, but I guess I’m just not a fan. I give Akira a 5/10.

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Harumi Kazuhito isn’t your ordinary bookworm. His entire life revolves around books. I know that may sound like hyperbole, but oh no, I mean that with complete sincerity. I also mean it literally, but we’ll get to that. For now, Harumi is a high school boy who has dedicated his life to the pastime of reading. He basically chain-reads, buying up books by the handfuls, burning through them at supernatural speeds, and hoarding every volume he finishes. He even refused to live with his family, opting instead to live in an apartment by himself so he could go to school in an area where the books he wants are able to come out slightly quicker. One day, while he’s reading in a cafe, a crazed robber bursts in and begins to wave a shotgun around. He threatens a young woman who’s distractedly writing away in another seat, and Harumi gets up to defend her… Not because he’s generally a nice person, but because he can’t stand to see a fellow book-lover get hurt. Yes, that’s how his mind works… Or, how it DID work, until the robber blew it out of his skull.

Now freshly dead, Harumi decides he can’t cross over to the land of the dead yet… He has so many books he still wants to read, including the final book from his favorite author, Akiyama Shinobu. He manages to pull himself back to the land of the living with the strength of this passion… So, like I said, his life literally revolves around books… But through some mix-up, he’s reincarnated into the body of a dog. A miniature dachshund, to be exact, who’s kept in a small cage in a pet store even though he’s not for sale(this is never explained). He’s soon adopted by the girl he rescued, as the connection they share has given her the ability to hear his thoughts(at least I think that’s the reason?), and she takes him home… To murder him. Until he finds out she’s really Akiyama Shinobu, she finds out he’s a fan of her work, and she inexplicably becomes sexually attracted to him. And as it turns out, these are not going to be the only extreme oddities in his life going forward, as the world around him just gets weirder and weirder. Good god, let’s just get this turkey over with already.

Studio Gonzo may have some acclaimed titles under their belt, what with the Fullmetal Panic franchise and arguably Linkin Park’s best music video having been produced by them, but when you tally their output together, the bad far outweighs the good. They’ve put out some visual wonders like Gankutsuou, but they’ve also let out some real clunkers like Gantz, and while Dog and Scissors, may not be THAT far down the ladder, it’s pretty close to the bottom. The animation is stiff and cheap in a way that’s honestly hard not to notice. They’re clearly able to save a lot of money with the fact that the central character, living in the body of a dog, is able to speak telepathically, without the burden of having to animate lip flaps, so all they have to do is repeat animation cycles when he’s on screen… Be it slight movements in his fur, or wagging the tuft of hair on his head… But this advantage becomes stale very fast, as it’s just a variation on the talking heads that make up the rest of the cast.

And speaking of the cast, I’ll be honest, the character designs look pretty good. If you’re just looking at still images, the series actually looks really crisp and pleasing to the eye. A few of the designs look a bit cliched, and they all look a bit standard, but they’re all pleasant to look at. Harumi makes for an adorable little doggy(which makes up for how intentionally bland he looks as a human), and maybe this is a matter of personal taste, but I love the design of his chop-happy new owner Natsuno. She’s like a grown-up version of Ai Enma who walks around dressed up like an extra from the Matrix movies, and I dig it, she looks really cool. I also really like the afro guy who runs the pet store. not only does his apron feature a clever Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure easter egg, he just looks like he’d be a really chill dude to hang out with. The backgrounds are also immaculately detailed, with shelves full of diverse looking books giving our characters’ collections their own sense of personality, and each character’s living space is detailed enough to add a new dimension to their personalities, especially in the case of Natsuno.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse the animation. Despite what the premise may have suggested, there’s action in this series, but considering how well it moves, you may as well just read the damn light novels. The only thing that looks like it had any real money put into it was the opening, which is fast moving, full of visual effects, and actually manages to translate the characters’ awkward movements into some really fun dance cycles. You’ve probably seen an anime where characters imitate dogs or cats by moving their half-clenched fists in a certain way to resemble paws, haven’t you? This opening features nearly the entire cast doing step-dances that heavily incorporate that kind of movement, and it’s so adorable you just can’t help but smile when seeing it. They also have doggy ears and tails, and as a possible result of the video’s fast pace, it’s disquietingly easy to not notice this the first time watching it. This video has no right to be as fun as it is, but at least it was SOMETHING to look forward to.

Of course, it probably helps that the song was also really catchy. It’s by Inu Musume Club, and it’s called “Wan Wan Wan Wan N_1,” and that may sound like gibberish at first glance, but there’s a really popular Japanese pun behind it. Wan is the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound a dog makes, which any American would call Woof or Bark. Wan also sounds like One, hence why the title begins with barking and ends with an obvious abbreviation for Number One. This actually isn’t even the only opening theme to employ this pun, hell, it’s not even the best one, as Working!!! actually did it much better, but leaving that aside, it’s a funny little footnote. The ending theme is almost as delightful as it’s op counterpart, with Natsuno flying a scissors-inspired private jet, her rival’s black-suited bodyguards expressionlessly dancing in tandem, and generally just a bunch of creative and funny imagery gets paired to a slightly more low-key but still catchy song with the bizarre name Lemonade scandal.

I wish I could tell you more about the music, but unfortunately, I barely noticed it at all during the show. I guess that means it was doing it’s job? I can’t remember ever hating the music… At least not as much as generally everything else… And I can vaguely recall tapping my foot to a few fun-sounding tunes. This is normally where I’d be looking up each individual track online, but I can only find one, by the name of Mieta Kibo, and god help me, it sounds absolutely divine. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, as it’s credited to one Akito Matsuda, who Wikipedia says WAS in charge of the music of the series, but since there’s only one track available online, I’d have to rewatch the show to hear it’s ost… And I’d rather stick a thumb-tack through my eyelid. Thankfully, he’s done the soundtracks to a lot of other recent anime, and now that I’m hearing some of it, I suddenly REALLY want to watch Sound Euphorium. His composition, as I’ve heard, was the one and only interesting thing about Glasslip, so Dog and Scissors’ music was probably just as solid.

The English dub is… Well, it’s weird, but hey, this is a weird show. It’s a mix of bizarrely enthusiastic standouts and adequate, okay performances, with thankfully no real duds to speak of. At the very worst, some of the casting choices are standard, just the actors we know coming and doing their thing, catching an easy paycheck off of a role that they were suited for. Chief among these is Blake Shepard, who I’m normally not a huge fan of, playing the lead role of Harumi, and while his delivery skews the line between hammy and wooden whenever his character is excited, he manages to nail it whenever he’s supposed to sound serious or sarcastic. And then on the other end of the spectrum you have Jessica Calvello, an actor who… Well, if you assign her to one of your characters, you’re pretty much bringing out the big guns, because putting her in any role but the lead is fucking overkill. Luckily, she’s playing one half of the titular pair here, and her penchant for hitting a wide range within one single character adds a level of insanity that makes Natsuno far more tolerable than her disturbingly subtle Japanese portrayal.

There are other actors, of course, and I’d like to bring up Luci Christian as a highlight because she put an absurd amount of effort into a suicidal self-blaming character… And the adaptive script is really good at localizing the dialogue without straying too far from the original intent, although it does fuck up once towards the end and make i sound like someone’s responding to Harumi’s thought-comments… But I really want to skip right to the second half of this review, because I have a lot to say about the writing and meat of this anime, and none of it is pleasant. So let me just say that the dub is good, and I’d highly recommend it over the sub, because the sub just sounds too grounded, which makes a lot of it’s more problematic elements harder to stomach. The dub gives it more of a wacky and bizarre personality, allowing you to mentally remove it from the harsher implications of a lot of it’s so-called jokes. Then again maybe that’s just me being dumb American and not appreciating the Japanese language or whatever. If you’re going to watch this, I recommend doing it in English.

Right, now that that’s over with, I’ve been holding this in for far too long. If I haven’t already given this away, Dog and Scissors is bad. Like, it’s really, really bad. It’s not funny bad… It’s not interesting bad… It’s the kind of bad that I only place among the worst of the worst, which, for me, is a list that not even School Days has been able to crack. I actually hesitated to write this review, and even thought about stopping a few times, because I honestly don’t think a review is necessary. This is the kind of show where you can immediately tell whether or not it’s worth watching… Yeah, it’s ironic that an anime revolving around books would be so easy to judge from a glance at the cover. In fact, here’s all you really need to know to get a feel for the series: A woman adopts a puppy because she wants to kill it, and then spares it because she wants to have sex with it. I know that’s not entirely fair, and it’s taking the scenario out of context, but it’s not inaccurate, either. That literally happens, and further details don’t do much to improve things.

Everything about this series… Well, aside from the music, dub and art… Is either stupid, confusing or awful. There is not one redeeming quality outside of those few production efforts. I could do an entire Inconvenient Questions post about each individual episode, but I won’t, because watching this show twice in my life was twice too many times, and I cancelled IQ for a good reason. Thus, I’m only going to focus on my biggest problems with this series. For starters, I failed to mention until now what the biggest connection between Natsuno and Harumi is. He can’t talk, being a dog, but she can hear his thoughts. This might not bother you, but it bugs the hell out of me… His thoughts aren’t treated like thoughts, but like regular conversation. She hears him as though he’s speaking. That’s not how thinking works. You never stop thinking. And yeah, you could SAY that she can only hear thoughts he sends to her, but this also isn’t true, because the only reason they met is because his thoughts, from elsewhere in the city, were distracting her, and she tracked him down.

Right there, it’s established that not only can she hear his thoughts without his consent or knowledge, but that there’s a long range, and she can’t shut it out, but there are possibly thousands of instances in the series that directly contradict this. Why does she ask him questions? Why does she ever think he’s lying about something? You can hear his thoughts! He shouldn’t be able to lie to you! Why do you each read a book at the same time, when you should just be able to hear him reading it? Did his thoughts distracting you from writing just stop? Did that problem go away the second you decided to not murder him? If you were able to track him down to the pet store he was being kept in(like a parrot), why do you EVER have to look for him in order to find him? I’m sorry, I really am, but this entire premise is so frustratingly inconsistent that I honestly found it distracting throughout the series. Even comedies… No, especially comedies… Have to take themselves seriously to enough of a degree that they pay attention to fucking detail.

Oh, and speaking of comedy, have you noticed how small Natsuno’s breasts are? Good, because I just spoiled at least 60% of this show’s comedy. The other 40% is largely made up of BDSM and animal cruelty. I don’t like speaking in absolutes, but I have to say this: In anime, jokes about a female character’s bust size are never, ever funny. I’m not saying that because such humor is sexist, or mean-spirited… although they are both of those things… I’m saying it because that is THE most overused joke in anime history. Characters bringing up cup sizes happens more often than tsunderes over-reacting to misunderstandings, and that’s saying something. The only time I can ever remember a boob-size joke being funny was in Yamada’s First Time, when Yamada was imagining what her best friend’s life must be like with big boobs, getting all jealous, but then we get a glimpse of said friend having to apply lotion to herself because of how much the damn things chafe. See, that was a clever subversion of expectations, and it’s an example of how hard a boob-size joke has to work to even be kind of funny.

Dog and Scissors relies heavily on this idea, but it doesn’t put anywhere near that level of effort into it. Despite the fact that he’s not into real live women, Harumi is constantly berating Natsuno on her bust, and even when he isn’t, she’s constantly seen obsessing over it. It gets to the point where I was seriously wondering why Natsuno didn’t just get a damn boob job already. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t promote a shallow image of beauty, and people look fine just as they are, but plastic surgery can help people who have confidence issues relating to their appearances. Natsuno’s a grown woman, she makes her own decisions, she lives independently off of her success, and she clearly has Seto Kaiba levels of disposable income lying around, so why doesn’t she just get some work done? Oh, right, because that would take away the one lazy-ass joke that this series keeps on dragging out of the dumpster to try and amuse us, to the point that even a dead horse would tell them to stop beating a dead horse.

And speaking of Natsuno, try to wrap your head around this; She’s twenty years old, hasn’t written anything since she was 19, and is implied to have a bibliography that would make Stephen King jealous. She’s written a ton of novels spanning all types of genres, and at least six of her books are thick enough to contain at least a few thousand pages each. By the time she was 19. Not only is she considered one of the three top best-selling authors(the words “In Japan” is never attached to this, so it’s fair to say they mean worldwide), but the other two, who we meet in this series, are also young ladies of a similar age. Hell, her most vocal rival spends most of her time as a pop idol! The world’s best selling authors are seriously three teenagers?  Did any thought go into any of this?  Even her threats to kill Harumi don’t add up to anything, as all she ever does is cut off portions of his fur, which grow back in less than five seconds… And yet he still acts terrified of her, every single time she attacks him. Hey, dumbass, she may say she’s going to cut off one of your ears, but I think you’re gonna be fine.

And honestly, even it’s focus on books and reading was completely shallow. All Dog and Scissors knows is that reading and writing are things. Possibly fun things. Possibly lucrative things. It knows they exist, it knows they’re important to people, but it has no deeper understanding of any of it. Not only do we never find out anything about Natsuno’s books outside of their titles and a seven deadly sins gimmick, we don’t even technically know if they’re fiction or non. Harumi is extremely pretentious, being that he loves to read, he deifies books, he defends books from critics, he judges people(even his own damn murderer) on whether or not they’re readers, and get this; He has no defined taste. This moron would probably get his jollies off reading the ingredients on a packet of McDonalds ketchup. This series knows as much about books as Adam Sandler knows about video games. We never find out what literature means to anybody, but it wears it on it’s damn sleeve.

And if any of you are holding out hope that the plot and mystery aspect might have something to offer, don’t. Harumi’s killer is found and dealt with so early that it can’t even be considered a spoiler. It turns out that after killing him, the killer had time to rob him before running away, and has been hiding in the second apartment that Harumi’s been keeping secret from his family AND his landlady. Chew on that for a moment. They find him, they chase him down, and it turns out he’s got Natsuno’s six thickest books hiding in his coat(even though they’d definitely be weighing him down and banging into his body while he was running), and he uses them as weapons in the worst anime fight scene since Master of Martial Hearts. She beats him, and gives Harumi the choice to either kill or spare him, all while I’m screaming “Neither! Call the fucking cops!” Oh, and we never meet his parents, we hear nothing of any funeral, he has no drive to get his life back, and we meet his sister, but… Hoboy. Had to dip into the incest shit, didn’t you? Bottom of the barrel wasn’t low enough?

Dog and Scissors is available on both DVD and Bluray from Sentai Filmworks, and it’s available both in dubbed and undubbed formats. The manga and light novel are not available stateside.

I’m not gonna lie, guys, this was a tough one to get through. The only reason I even bothered is because I was on hiatus for a few months, and I needed something especially bad to rage on. Thus, I figured, why not an anime where one of the biggest running jokes is the main character commenting about shit not making sense, while completely missing the bigger picture each time? Like I said before, the artwork and character designs are good, the music is serviceable and the opening and closing themes are awesome, but these are really the only things it has going for it, and they’re the only qualities that pull it up from a possible 0 score, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s wrong with it. It falls apart if you give it even one seconds worth of thought, which is why I have to wonder if the people who enjoy and defend it checked their brains at the door, or at birth. I don’t condone threatening violence against dogs with a pair of scissors, but this is one tail that definitely should have been cut short. I give Dog & Scissors a 1/10.


As I should have mentioned in my updates post last week, I knew before I even had my future decided that if I came back, it would probably be in early May. I knew that the first anime I’d review would be Berserk, as I did flat out promise it, but I had a lot of ideas swirling around in my head about what my second review should be. For some reason, I was feeling incredibly stupid that day, and I decided to leave my fate up to the internet. I went to the most active Facebook group that I was a part of, and I posted an open poll, asking what title I should hit next.

Now, the option to close out Facebook polls so nobody can troll them is rather recent… I am, at the very least, ONE of the people whose complaints to Facebook lead to this change… But if you’ve dabbled in Facebook polls before, you’d know that the urge to troll open polls has only gotten greater since people were given said option. I knew this, and was fully aware of it, but I didn’t care. I wanted to get trolled. I wanted people to suggest some truly heinous and offensive, or notoriously unwatchable, anime for me to tackle, because I wanted to prove to everyone that I was back and ready for a challenge.

I didn’t add any options myself… I let people add their own options… And thus, I was expecting people to burden me with something like Bible Black, or Twin Angels, or Boku no Pico, or Black Butler… But no, that’s not what happened. I learned a very important lesson that day… Even if you can’t count on people to be assholes, you can always count on them to be stupid. Case in point, the title that won the poll in a landslide, earning at least 4X the votes of the second place option, was Cory in the House. Yeah, if there’s one redeeming quality of the human race, it’s that even when presented with the opportunity to be randomly cruel to someone, they’d still rather be rebelliously idiotic. I don’t know how I wasn’t expecting that.

Don’t worry, my *next* review will be of something heinous.

Now, initially, I was just going to ignore these results, and pretend the poll never happened. The second highest vote-getter was From the New World, a title I actually really like and respect, so I was just going to do that(and I still will, in the future). But then an idea hit me… Fuck it. You guys want me to review Cory in the House, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s an old Disney sitcom that’s only relevant because of a decade-old meme that nobody’s willing to forget about, but doesn’t that, on it’s own, make it part of anime culture? And I’ve reviewed non-anime stuff before, so whatever.

Only, here’s the thing; I’m not going to review it as an anime. I’ve done a little research, and that meta element of the joke has, on it’s own, been beaten into the ground, with nearly all of it’s youtube reviews and Amazon product reviews falling in line, like the very mention of it as an anime is the equivalent of Schwarzenegger impressions… Meaning, it’s a cheap, easy joke that nobody ever laughs at, and it’s rewarding solely for it’s trolling value. Although, I’ve gotta give some credit to the Youtube reviewer who went as far as to connect it to a murder conspiracy. Good effort. No, I decided right then and there that I’d review this title for what it was… An ancient Disney Channel sitcom. Because I hate the human race, and I really don’t think I’ve been showing it enough.

At least, that’s what I thought would happen, but as I would soon find out, this show is really hard to find. There was never a series DVD release, it’s not streaming on Netflix, I don’t have Hulu, and I am NOT resubscribing to TV service just for this. I asked for help online, but of course, all I got in response was trolls naming off anime streaming sites, because you’re all horrible people. I actually checked these sites, too, so I can especially say Fuck you to that.

I eventually found some of the series available on Dailymotion, but in poor quality… Sped up, zoomed in, and all that jazz. I also happened to find one lone DVD that happened to have 4 fan favorite episodes on it, so there, my goal was set. I wasn’t going to watch the full series… I mean, come on, guys, the video quality of that pirated Dailymotion stream is just too painful for me… I was going to watch the pirated first episode, as well as the ones available on the DVD, and hopefully, they’d give me an accurate feel for the series as a whole.

Before we go any further, if there’s anyone still reading at this point who want to make some joke about Cory in the House being an anime, this is where you sod off.  Sod right the fuck off.  I don’t know why I said sod off when I’m obviously perfectly capable of saying fuck, but whatever.  I’m owning it.

Besides, anime is only from Japan, and Cory in the House was animated in America! It doesn’t count!

There, I made a meme joke, and I hope you fucking choke on it.

Anyway, now that I’ve actually watched some of Cory in the House? Well, first of all, you have to take my opinion with a grain of salt, as I only watched the pilot episode and four alleged fan favorites, so if there’s some dark period to the series, I don’t know about it. But from what I did see, honestly, I really like it. I know, right? I’m as surprised as you are. I’ve never seen a Disney sitcom before, outside of the old TGIF line-up, and everything I’d heard about them had prepared me for unlimited cringiness and soulless acting from people who really didn’t want to be there, but I actually enjoyed this.

This is mostly on account of the lead actor, Kyle Massey, who plays the title character, House… Oh wait, that’s Hugh Laurie. Kyle Massey plays Cory, and damn if it if he doesn’t bring his all to the performance. He brings boatloads of energy, charisma and sincerity to the role, so much so that even when the jokes are at their lamest(which, to be fair, happens a lot), he still makes you want to laugh at them. The other main cast members do a hell of a job, too, having a lot of fun with their roles while still putting genuine effort into the material. Some of them were saddled with less than enviable gimmicks, like Jason Dolley, who had to play the stereotypical dumb best friend, but he still came out looking good, mainly due to the fact that his character had the essential benefit of also being laid back and likeable.

I mean, the guy playing Cory’s dad isn’t great, but he’s still way above what I’d normally expect from a Disney sitcom actor.

There are also a few guest stars, particularly in the episodes that I watched, and while they didn’t do anything particularly memorable with George Takei, it’s excusable because their target audience more than likely had no idea who he was. They gave a lot more focus to Raven and The Rock, because of course those names are going to resonate with younger viewers. Rocky had a pleasant reunion with his Game Plan costar Madison Pettis(Who I forgot to mention is also a huge star in this show), and Raven… I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen Raven, but apparently she was psychic? Whatever the case, she put forth just as much effort as Kyle Massey, and the chemistry the two of them together had me rolling.

And despite what I’ve been saying, the writing isn’t all that bad, either. I mean, okay, it’s obviously stupid. Like, dumber than a box of hammers, kind of stupid. But it still kind of works, in it’s own way. One thing I noticed that it’s particularly strong at is the element of planting and pay-off. The Rock episode is probably the best example, as there are almost a dozen things in it that come back later in surprisingly smart ways, but since I don’t want to spoil anything in that episode, I’ll talk about a plot line from the first episode, instead.

Early on, Cory shows us a bobblehead resembling the President, and say he wants to sell them as a product. Now, you might be noticing, this isn’t funny. At all. It just feels kinda weird. Who made that for him, and if he’s that pressed for a get rich quick scheme, how did he pay for it? It’s bad, but due to the show’s strong sense of pace, you quickly forget about it. Or, you would, except that it comes back. While Cory is stuck under the president’s desk(and is forced to lick his hand, pretending to be a dog, which is admittedly painful to watch), his assistant refers to him as “The boy with the bobblehead,” which the president mistakes as meaning that Cory has an actual physically deformed head. That would be funny on it’s own… Congratulations, you saved a bad joke, please teach this art to Mike Myers… But then, at the end of the episode, POTUS gives him a heartfelt speech, detailing his own childhood deformity(just go with it), and without Cory even realizing the mistake, it winds up tying in to the resolution of the episode.

I’m sorry, guys, but I’ve gotta be honest, this show is way too entertaining for it’s legacy to be the fact that a bunch of unimaginative trolls keep dragging it out as a dated meme. I mean yeah, like I said before, I only saw the first episode and a collection of popular episodes, so it goes without saying that I don’t know the series at it’s worst. Hey, for all I know, maybe Donald Trump makes a cameo. It happened in Drew Carrey.

So, to clarify, Cory in the House isn’t quite good enough to justify the hassle you have to go through to watch it, but if you can find a convenient way, go for it. It’s a pretty funny show, and I’d recommend checking it out.

But it’s not a fucking anime.

As far back as anyone can remember, the land of Midland has never been peaceful. It’s unclear how long the Hundred Year war lasted, with kings waging war against each other for territory, and a number of uniquely named mercenary bands fighting on their behalf, but the casualties have been many, and the conflict has only recently appeared to be resolved. You would think that the end of this war would bring piece to midland, but you’d be sadly mistaken, as the rise of a cruel demon king has led to the earth being invaded by terrifying monsters, the likes of which not even the darkest imagination could comprehend, and whom hunger for the blood of men, women and children. It’s a dark time for the human race, one where death waits around every corner, and any given person can become the dripping dinner of a demon at any given moment. We live at their whim. We are their cattle. Among us, there is only one human the demon scourge fears. One they’ll try to kill at any cost, as they know full well he’ll do the same thing to them.

That man is named Guts, and the demons are right to fear him. Towering over other men, covered with battle scars and always ready for a fight, he is almost literally a killing machine. With one eye, a prosthetic arm chock full of demon-killing weapons, and a giant 400 pound sword resting on his shoulder, he travels midland looking for demons to slay. Sadly, he’s not motivated by the survival of the human race… He’s killed more than enough humans to be considered a demon himself. It’s revenge that he thirsts for, and his target is the herald of the apocalypse himself, the Demon King Griffith. See, this isn’t a story about the demon-infested world, but of how that world came about… And these two have a history spanning several years. Once upon a time, Guts was just a wandering soldier, bouncing aimlessly from battle to battle, sort of like a mideval Ronin Warrior. It was his chance meeting with a young Griffith, still just a brilliant, strategic genius leading a fledgling mercenary group, that would entangle his destiny with what he could not have possibly predicted would be the end of the world as we knew it.

It’s been around twenty years since this series came out, and in that time, there’s been an ever-present demand for a new adaptation to be released. There have been a few reasons for this, and I’ll get to one of them later, but the other one… and perhaps the more persistent one… Has to deal with the animation quality of this initial adaptation, and just how dated it looks due to the technical and financial limitations of the time. The truth is, however, the animation in Berserk was bad even back when it came out, and it had it’s pedigree to blame for it’s disaster. It was animated by a company called Oriental Lights and Magic, yes that’s an obvious Star Wars pun, and not only was Berserk their fourth series, but their only other major claim to fame was… You’re not going to believe this unless you already know about it… The Pokemon anime. Yup. They had just gotten started animating the Pokemon anime about six months prior when they decided to try their hands at one of the most infamously mature and intensely beloved manga properties of all time, and God help me, they tried.

I’ve talked in the past about how low-budget anime productions can use a lot of tricks to hide the weaknesses that such a restraint holds over their productivity, and how more experienced observers can pick out these techniques. With Berserk, however, even the greenest of viewers can spot the corners being cut. Right in the first episode, the onslaught of a struggling human settlement is portrayed by static images being either panned across or zoned in and out of while the music plays. The static images look good, like high qualities paintings depicting the horrors of war, so it’s not like any of it comes off as an eyesore, but it does sort of defeat the purpose of animation, which is a word that’s defined as movement. The speed lines are even worse, as they really do drag down the action of a series that’s mostly famous for it’s action. Dialogue scenes are often reduced to a series of talking heads, and when they don’t have any shadows to play around with, these issues are embarrassingly exposed.

So of course, new adaptations came. People got what they wanted, and in a weird sort of twist, they’ve only served to make the original series look better. Yeah, an anime whose visuals were already on the low end of the scale back in the late nineties looks better now than it did when it was new. Thanks to the new adaptations, it’s aged miraculously well. Part of this is due to the new adaptations looking like complete ass… The movies in particular employ extravagant CG, and while it obviously had a lot of money poured into it, they just look ugly and clumsy as a result, with a serious case of Uncanny Valley plaguing all of it’s characters. I haven’t seen the new series, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not that different. A quick comparison between movies that spend a lot of money haphazardly, and a series without much money that had to be responsible to make ends meet, Berserk has actually managed to develop a certain kind of nostalgic charm and respectable sincerity to it’s plethora of visual issues. I won’t go as far as saying that it looks good, but it’s hard to look at the amount of effort and artistry they put into it without cutting it some serious slack.

So the visuals are a mixed bag, but you know what definitely isn’t? The soundtrack. The music in Berserk is almost as famous as the show itself, and with a composer like Susumu Hirasawa behind the wheel, it’s not hard to see why. In addition to Berserk, Susumu has also done the scores for several Satoshi Kon projects… And that alone is a high praise. While his contributions to The Berserk franchise may not be as deep or cerebral as those, they are some of the most epic, powerful orchestrations you’ve ever heard from the medium. The over-all aesthetic of the soundtrack is something akin to what you’d hear in a really inspired opera about King Arthur… Fantasy, destiny, war, the rising tension of a battle that’s about to start, the inner conflict of deceptively complex characters, and none of it sounds like it was just picked for the sake of sounding good. for a few examples, a tune like Behelit is subtle but bone-chilling, while Guts’ theme song, which you’d expect to be some sort of roaring metal anthem, instead sounds like you just entered a fairy sanctuary, and it’s used in scenes where’s he’s most at peace, and we get to see who he is behind the carnage.

The most famous track from this show is without a doubt Forces… Okay, well, the God Hand Remix is the one people seem to hear the most often, but the original track is still the most popular from that release. While there are other tracks that feature vocals, I’m pretty sure forces is the only one outside of the OP and ED to feature actual lyrics. The most famous part is the chorus, which awesomely belts out the phrase HAI EEE YAI FORCES a few time before lapsing into instrumentals, but the interesting this about that is that you never hear this during the series. The song plays once in one of the early episodes, but cuts off right before the chorus can hit. I’m not sure what the history behind this song’s usage must be, but it is weird that the most famous 16 seconds of Berserk’s soundtrack don’t actually make it into the show. To give the opening and ending themes a quick mention, they’re okay. I initially didn’t like Tell Me Why by Penpals, I felt it was too light and upbeat for the material, but it’s grown on me recently. The ending, Waiting So Long by Silver fins, I’ve always been cool with. It’s a cool ending.

The English dub is… Good. It’s not particularly remarkable, as almost everyone across the board does their job competently, with only one or two performances standing out in one way or another. Mark Diraison does a perfectly fine Guts, and while his acting is never bad, the best thing you can say about him is that he has the right voice for the part, as he plays the character with a low, gravely tone that makes him sound appropriately tough. He used pretty much the same voice in his other major role… Oh good lord. He played Zoro in the 4Kids One Piece dub. Moving on, as you damn well should after learning something like that, Carrie Keranen is amazing as the Hawk’s sole female warrior Casca, whose interactions with the other main cast walk a tight rope between her strengths and weaknesses, as she speaks forcefully and proudly as a leader, yet still insecure and full of longing for her unfulfilled ambitions and desires. They’re both better than Kevin T Collins, who plays Griffith in a very hit-or-miss fashion. He has his moments of brilliance, and can be downright chilling even at his charismatic best, but can also sound stiff as a board inbetween.

Those three make up the majority of the show’s dialogue, but there are also a lot of memorable performances in the supporting cast, as well. Rachel Lillis plays a charming, naive young princess who catches Griffith’s eye. Veronica Taylor plays the child version of Griffith, who shows up once in a surreal scene towards the end. I was a huge fan of Mike Pollock in this show, as he plays a recurring antagonist General named Adon, who’s just an arrogant loudmouth over-all, but still manages to become a fitting arch-rival for Casca. It’s very likely he was typecast, as he also played Eggman in a lot of Sonic properties. Famed Goku actor Sean Schemmel takes on several roles, including a low-level hawk member, and if I’m being honest, most of his best lines are bloopers. Actually, speaking of bloopers, those are totally a thing, and while you can find a ton of them on each individual disk, you can find the entire set on Youtube. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Guts do a Shwarzenegger impression, Casca rant in a lisp or Griffith bust out in all his showtunes glory, I highly recommend checking them out.

Berserk is not the only anime in history to be granted a do-over. I feel like this is kind of obvious, but one of the most notable examples is Fullmetal Alchemist, which carried a lot of the same complaints that Berserk did… Mainly, though, it was too different from the source material, and people wanted to see a more faithful adaptation. As we all know, Brotherhood came out to monstrous fame and adoration, while surprisingly, Berserk seems to have had the opposite effect. The movies, as much as people praised the first one, and the 2016 remake, which I’ve pissed people off by calling Berserk Brotherhood, is popularly considered an actual dumpster fire. I have not seen it, but I’ll take their word for it until I finally do. But all of this does raise a very interesting question: If the original 1997 series had so many shortcomings that people demanded a do-over, why are there so many people who still consider it the best version? I mentioned earlier how it’s animation has aged better than anyone thought, but I think there’s more to it.

One of the first problems you’ll hear from people with grievances over the original series is how incomplete it is. Now I’ll be blunt, I’ve only read the first seven volumes of the manga… Give me a break, I’m not a huge manga reader, and there’s like hundreds of volumes… But it’s not hard to see their point, especially since the prologue in the manga was way longer than the one we got for the series before it went back in time for Guts’s origin story. There are other things that were cut, and other changes that were made for the sake of streamlining the story, and while this may be considered a mild spoiler, they cut a part of Guts’s childhood where his guardian sold him for a night with a grown man, who raped him. I don’t think this is a particularly bad cut, though. The story works just fine without it, although it does sorta rob him of a connection he shared with Griffith and Casca. The more obvious change, however, is that the story doesn’t properly end. After a huge climax, it leaves off on a massive cliffhanger, wrapping around to the prologue that we’d seen in episode 1. I don’t personally mind this, but we’ll get to why in a moment.

And if you think the removal of Guts’s pedophilic abuse scene means the series was toned down in any way, you’re fairly well mistaken. I haven’t read much of the manga, so it’s hard to say how far the story truly went with it’s content, but Berserk rests firmly as one of the most R rated mainstream anime in existence. It has just about everything you could want in a mature title, such as blood, gore, sex, nudity, uncompromising violence… It’s oddly light on foul language, I noticed… And it presents all of it with no shame or hesitation. Now, some of you may be asking, so what? The movies did this too. Well, yeah, but here’s where I’m going to be a bit prudish… No matter how far the 1997 Berserk’s content went, it was always, well, tasteful, which is quite a bit more important than you might realize. A long time ago, I ranted hard on Blood C over it’s violence and depravity, and it wasn’t because I have a problem with gore or anything, but because I had a problem with how it was used, and how the series was basically just a vehicle for gore porn.

But leaving the blood splatters behind for a moment, let’s talk about what’s possibly the most controversial and divisive element in any media, nudity. This has always been a weird element in anime, as producers will happily use it to titillate audiences, but they have to bend over backwards to avoid showing certain things… So you get weird compromises like convenient censorship and straight up nipple-free Barbie-doll bodies. You get situations like Sankarea, where it’s okay on some characters but not others. Berserk has nudity, but it never goes too far in either direction. It doesn’t bother censoring anything(unless it had to legally), and it also doesn’t create situations like endless showering and bathing scenes just to push out more flesh coverage. If it’s in the story, it happens, and not one single fuck is given as to how you feel about it. If you’re offended, you know where the fast forward button is. If you’re turned on, you know where the pause button is. It’s not there to please or shock you, it’s part of the story… And that’s how Berserk is about everything, really.

Every single second of this anime is important in some way. Every conversation, every fight, every death(even those involving nameless soldiers and mercenaries), every second of sex and inch of flesh, every single second of material has a direct purpose, such as establishing mood, developing characters and their relationships, communicating details to us, furthering the story and even foreshadowing later events. This is in stark contrast to the Golden Age movies, who valued spectacle over story, and would often gloss over important events in order to, presumably, ‘get to the good parts.’ Like, there’s a moment where Griffith, depressed, making a huge mistake by sleeping with someone he should have stayed away from. The series made no bones about what was happening, but only showed you what you needed to see in order to follow what was happening and appropriately fear the outcome. The movies straight-up presented it as a hot, sexy porn scene, completely missing the point to a confusing degree, and to make matters worse, the same thing happened regarding a rape at the end of the third movie.

I don’t know which version was more true to the books, and frankly, I don’t care. I’m worried for these characters, so why are you trying so hard to make me jerk off? You don’t need to destroy the tone of the story to keep my attention, and the series knew that. And that’s when mature content becomes a problem… When it’s manipulative. If you write something into your story as fan service, with the effect it might have on the audience as even one of your main intentions, all it will be is fan service. The original Berserk doesn’t give a shit about it’s audience, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. It never tries to shock you, or titillate you, or coddle you, or excite you, it’s focus is squarely on it’s own damn story, which is where it should be. If you need boobs and catgirls to get invested, fuck you. If the material goes too far for you, fuck you. Berserk is the story it wants to be, and while that’s not always the best thing to say about an anime… Garbage that wants to be garbage is still garbage… Berserk legitimately is a great story.

And yeah, i know, Berserk doesn’t really have the kind of story I’d normally praise in a review. I’ve made it kind of a theme to talk about metaphors, social commentary, allegories, real symbolic stuff, and as far as I can tell, Berserk doesn’t really feature any of that. It’s a fairly straight-forward story, with everything that’s happening being right there on the surface, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have depth. Whether it was intentional or not, Berserk(at least the parts that made it into this anime) has managed to become something very few anime can actually claim… A Greek tragedy. This ancient style of storytelling takes flawed characters from all walks of life, gives them some lofty ambition to pursue, and then follows them as they put everything they had before on the line, make heavy sacrifices to get within inches of their dream, and then ultimately lose everything when they fail, due in major part to those flaws they just couldn’t overcome. There are countless ways that Berserk stands as the perfect example of this, and it’s unflinching look at pain, suffering and despair only serve to cement it as possibly the greatest Greek Tragedy Anime of all time.

There’s also the dynamic between Guts and Griffith in general, which is probably one of the most important elements of the story, but getting into that would be going WAY too heavy into spoilers, so check out Bennet the Sage’s review if you want to know more about that..

Berserk was originally available from Animeworks, with individual DVDs way back in the early to mid 2000s, and a thinpack that was released back in 2009, all of which are currently out of print, but the thin pack isn’t too expensive online, if you’re bent on owning it.. The follow-up movies are also fairly cheap on DVD, but the 2016 remake, which has just started hitting the shelves about a year ago, is still worth a pretty penny. The original manga is available from Dark horse, and yes, i know it’s just 39 volumes, I was kidding earlier. There are also a few video games, including titles for the Sega Dreamcast and the PS4.

It’s frustrating to see just how close Berserk came to perfection. Much like the hero of any Greek tragedy, it came so close, only to fall to it’s own undisguised, insurmountable shortcomings. Like I said before, I don’t personally mind the cheap animation, but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem, and it was a driving force behind the demand for a reboot. The same could be said for it’s crippling lack of an ending, and while I think the way it wraps around to the prologue ultimately justifies it, I still completely understand how cheated some people feel over it(Unless the ending of the third Golden Age movie is manga accurate, in which case I can firmly say that I’m GLAD it cut off before reaching that shit). On it’s own, Berserk is still such a thrilling and engaging story that I sometimes have difficulty remember which episode I’m watching, as the story flows so naturally from moment to moment that my mind barely registers the episode breaks. I can’t call it perfect, but I can call it one of my favorites of all time. I give Berserk a 9/10.

Humankind cannot gain anything without giving something up in exchange. To obtain, something of equal or greater value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of equivalent exchange. As it follows, there is another law, and one that’s harshly enforced, both by humanity and by fate… No matter how skilled an alchemist may be, and no matter how much they offer up in exchange, they must never attempt to transmute a human being. Yes, it is possible to map out the chemical make-up of a human body… It’s been thoroughly explored, all the way down to the follicles on an average adult’s eyelashes… But there is nothing in existence that can be exchanged for a human soul. To most, this warning would be more than enough to strike fear into their hearts, and make them think twice about putting their lives and livelihoods on the line to bring a deceased loved one back from the grave. For every rule, however, there are people who will be tempted to break it, and to prove themselves above it.

Normally, these individuals are foolhardy, courageous, and naive, believing their abilities to surpass those of others. This is exactly the attitude that one young prodigy named Edward Elric, a child from Risembool, and the son of one of the greatest alchemists alive. With his father having disappeared from his family under mysterious circumstances, and his mother having been taken from him at the whims of a lifelong illness, he and his younger brother Alphonse attempt to resurrect their beloved mother, a venture that costs Ed a literal arm and a leg… Oh, and his brother, whose soul he saves by binding it to a suit of armor at the last minute. Looking nothing like the naive children they once were, both in body and soul, the Elric brothers burn down their house, and set out on an epic journey to restore their bodies to the flesh and redeem themselves for the sin that they’ve committed.. A task that will require the use of a Philosopher’s stone, an artifact of legend whose power is rivaled only by it’s danger… Much like alchemy itself.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood… Which I’m just going to call Brotherhood, from here on out… Was, unsurprisingly, an effort of Studio Bones. Bones doesn’t always give it’s productions the budgets that they deserve, but most of their titles were directed well enough to compensate for this issue. Some of them use smart editing and enchanting uses of lighting and shading to enhance the visuals, achieving mixed to positive results… I am sad to say, however, the Brotherhood is not one of them. It would be generous of me to say that even half of this anime looked good, but it really doesn’t. It does have some impressive looking visuals… There’s a lot of CGI used for special effects, and it looks competent enough. There are also times when certain shots will have fluid animation, such as most of the fight scenes and a violent riot in the settlement of Liore, but such animation doesn’t come cheap, and Brotherhood’s budget saving tactics are about as blatant as a punch to the face.

Throughout the series, there are constant key frames. For the most part, they stay on screen for two to thirteen seconds, with minimal movement happening in them aside from flapping lips and occasional shifts in posture. Sometimes, it’ll freeze on one character’s face while other characters are talking, so they don’t even have to pay for lip flaps in the first place. This isn’t something that has to be noticeable or distracting under the right direction, but here, it’s just an eyesore. The actual alchemy looks nice, as that’s where the 3D aspect comes into play, but when it’s juxtaposed against the stiff, motionless 2D key frames, the two styles mix about as well as oil and water. A good example of this in the early episodes is when Ed and Al, as children, show off their alchemy to their mom, and she’s momentarily bathed in the glow of their experiment… During which she freezes completely, and then has a minimal reaction. Motion wasn’t necessarily needed there, I mean she was just spectating, but come on, guys, try harder.

And the art, I’m afraid, isn’t much better. The character designs are fine, and they’re accurate to the manga, but they look way too polished and clean, like they don’t exist in any sort of real world. Part of this is the lack of effort in shading, but a much larger part of it is the cartoony direction of the visuals. These characters almost seem to spend more time in chibi and super-deformed mode than in actual, realistic shape, and while I’m sure that’s a huge exaggeration, it doesn’t FEEL like one. The backgrounds are detailed, but for the most part, they feel lifeless, like the characters are just walking around in life size paintings that have no real personality or depth to them. The only other problem that I feel is worth mentioning is the character’s outlines… And I’m not talking about Ed’s hair having light outlines, although that’s the best way to distinguish Brotherhood footage from ‘03 footage. I’m talking about the choppy outlines that persist throughout the series, especially whenever there’s a close-up of a character’s face. To be fair, this really only seems to be a problem on DVD releases, as it was a problem for a LOT of Funimation DVD sets back in the day. The bluray and Netflix releases don’t have this issue.

I decided when I began writing this review that I’d bring up the original 2003 adaptation as little as possible(although, realistically, I’m gonna bring it up once or twice), but when it comes to the music, I did notice what appears to be an interesting role reversal that I can’t help but comment on. The original series had a stellar soundtrack that fit the subject matter of the series to a T, and carried a lot of emotional weight with it, but on the flip side, the opening themes were just generic(but high quality) rock and pop songs that didn’t really tie into anything. They were picked because they sounded good and didn’t feel out of place. The exact opposite seems to be true for Brotherhood, because the musical score is a bit on the generic side, but more than befitting a grand Shonen-Action style epic, and the openings are where the true heart and emotion of the series can be heard. This isn’t a blanket statement, of course… There are some heartfelt tunes in Broitherhood, such as Trisha’s Lullabye, which is used as a beautiful motif throughout the series, but that’s about it.

That’s not to say the music isn’t awesome, of course. In addition to Trisha’s Lullabye and it’s hypnotic vocal track, one of my personal favorites is To Be King, the theme of the character Greed, as it’s tribal theme carries a sort of rebellious pride that suits his ambition perfectly. The openings, of course, blow anything FMA ‘03 brought to the table out of the water. They fit the story so well that some of them, most notably the first one, called Again, can even be identified as coming from the perspectives of certain characters. The animation in these openings is so good that they almost make up for the lackluster visuals that are present in the series proper. I don’t think this was intentional, but the best contribution these openings make to Brotherhood is the fact that the two best ones… The first one, Again, and the last one, Rain, just happened to be placed during the beginning and ending arcs, which were arguably the worst parts, and they managed to get a lot of necessary good will out of me.

When it comes to the English dub… Well, there’s not a lot that I can say about it, and I mean that in the best way possible. I can normally go into an English dub and say whether or not an actor was able to fit the character they were casts as, what they were able to do with it, how they interpreted the roles… I can’t do that with EITHER version of Fullmetal Alchemist, because to my ears, the actors ARE their characters, to the point that I honestly forget while watching the shows that there are even actors involved. To this day, I associate Vic Mignona with Ed Elric, and vice versa. Some of Caitlin Glass’s most diverse performances have been ruined for me because no matter how good a job she does, I can’t stop thinking “Huh… That does NOT sound like Winry.” None of the other characters have this effect on me quite as bad, but the FMA performances they did will always be lurking somewhere in the back of my mind when I hear other work by them. I feel like the reason I experience this phenomena so strongly with Ed and Winry is because of just how sincere and earnest Vic and Caitlin’s performances were.

Speaking of iconic performances, I can think of a couple of actors who were unable to reprise their roles from the first series. Dameon Clarke seemingly retired from anime voice acting two years prior to Brotherhood’s release, and was replaced by J Michael Tatum, who did a stellar job, but was unable to capture the grit and years of lonely pain that had peppered Clarke’s performance. On a much more impressive note is the role of Alphonse, who had a lot of American fans worried when they realized that original actor Aaron Dismuke was too old to go back to the role, having gone through puberty between shows. Through some kind of miracle, Funimation was able to find Maxey Whitehead, who was not only able to perfectly imitate Aaron’s younger voice, but was even able to prove herself a better actor than Dismuke, having of course had more experience than he’d had when taking on the role.

In addition, the rest of the cast is back, slipping right into their characters as though they never left. Colleen Clinkenbeard is still playing both Rose and Riza while successfully sounding like she’s actually two different people, even though one is fleshed out a lot more and the other is fleshed out less. Christopher Sabat is still the most masculine fop you’ve ever heard in what is arguably one of his best roles ever, Major Armstrong, and the scores of roles that Travis Willingham landed between shows have transformed him from a promising rookie to a veteran befitting his strong, resolved character. New characters like Lin Yao, Lan Fan and Olivier Armstrong bring a handful of new actors into the mix, and let’s be honest, no dub has ever been worsened by the addition of Todd Haberkorn, and Trina Nishimura, Stephanie Young. The only disappointing returns are from people like Laura Bailey, Chuck Huber and Sonny Strait, who’s characters have been substantially diminished between shows, and Monica Rial, whose new character May is a lot closer to her usual typecasting than her old role was. I included this in my top ten favorite dubs, and it deserves to be there.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist manga was released in 2001, by the magazine Monthly Shonen Gangan. The series was met with resounding popularity right from the start, and after only two years of it’s ten year run, the demand for an anime adaptation was overwhelming. Studio Bones took up the production, but with the manga not even a quarter of the way finished, they were left with a pretty big lemon to deal with. Fortunately, they were able to make lemonade by writing an entirely new story using the material they were given. The resulting anime was an immediate success, among fans and critics alike, winding up on more than it’s fair share of top ten lists since then. And yet, despite the fact that it was universally loved and critically acclaimed across the board, there was still heavy demand for a more faithful adaptation. Thus, in 2009, only one year away from the manga’s end, Brotherhood was born, and the fandom was elated at the idea that a more faithful adaptation of the original manga was finally being made.

Now there are tons of videos and editorials comparing the two FMA adaptations… I wrote one myself that’s been quite successful… But I’m not gonna do that today. I’m not going to review Brotherhood as a reboot, nor am I going to review it as an adaptation… To be fair, I’ve barely read any of the manga. I’m going to judge it by it’s own merits, as a stand-alone series. Unfortunately, this is going to do it more harm than good, because a good chunk of this show’s early material fucking depends on the added context. Starting with the obvious, the first episode is entirely unique to Brotherhood, and serves largely as fanservice to returning fans, as well as a baffling reintroduction to a lot of the story’s more frequent elements. The episode, I’m sad to say, is horrible, and not just in the way that it fumbled a lot of the biggest reveals and surprises of the early episodes, which were supposed to have massive story-based impacts. It also introduces one of brotherhood’s over-all biggest problems, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

With that out of the way, we’re able to start the series proper… Only I wish this were the case, but it turns out they’re not quite done getting things out of the way yet. I’m not gonna beat around the bush about this, the pacing of the first thirteen episodes or so is abysmally fast. We get to know Trisha Elric for about ten seconds before she dies(I don’t THINK that’s a spoiler), we get almost no material with Ed and Al as children, and it just feels like the writers were bumbling from one important moment to the next, looking to get the viewer up to speed on what they presumably already saw so they could get to the new material. I think I’ve heard that’s exactly what they were doing, but it’s a pitiful excuse for shoddy story telling. It was included for new fans, and rushed for returning fans, trying to please everyone and ultimately pleasing nobody. They don’t even make an attempt at suspense, atmosphere, or any kind of emotional investment, just making sure all the exposition is taken care of, violating the rules of show-don’t-tell to an absurd degree.

The pacing does fix itself once the series recap episodes are over, but by that point the damage is done, and the effects last throughout the series, even during the legitimately good parts, creating some very troublesome problems. For example, Brotherhood has a very weird attitude towards death. In the first episode, an ice and water based alchemist attacks the capital, and he murders two state alchemists in order to show off some of his powers… And these alchemists are disturbingly forgotten immediately afterwards. He’s attacked by Ed and Al, who seem completely oblivious to the fresh corpses lying less than twenty feet from them, and of COURSE this is an appropriate time for the show’s first “LOL, Ed’s so short” joke. Dude, THERE ARE DEAD BODIES RIGHT OVER THERE. They’re also worried about his Ice powers destroying the government, but I’m pretty sure those glaciers were crashing through buildings at one point, and I doubt they were evacuated.

There are four noteworthy characters that die in the first thirteen episodes… I told you about Trisha, but I’m not spoiling the others… And the execution of said scenes makes it seem like we’re supposed to care a great deal about them, but they’re given almost no screen time, and we don’t have enough time with them to build a relationship. This makes it even more uncomfortable when the series corrects it’s pacing, and winds up giving several characters boatloads of extra screen time, despite some of them having minimal impact on the story at best, and with so many of them far overstaying their welcome. I’m sorry, but the fact that Yoki got to live to the end of the series is a slap in the face to one of the most beloved characters in the franchise, whom we were expected to cry over when he died ten fucking episodes in.

And look, before I go any farther, yeah, I like this show. I enjoy watching it. It’s a little on the bulky side, at over sixty episodes, but I have fun with it. The action’s really cool, it has a lot of really imaginative ideas, and I find myself on the edge of my seat way more often than I’d ever like to admit. It’s a good show, so why am I shitting on it so much? Well, there are two reasons; First of all, everything good about it has been pounded in the dirt by now, with over 90 percent of it’s reviews giving it a ten out of ten score, so there’s really no need for me to suck it’s dick. The other reason is that the best things about it are the same things that are awesome about almost every other shonen action series out there… It’s fun, it has great action, and there are a lot of imaginative ideas, and it’s populated by a cast of likeable heroes, detestable villains and hopeful turncoats. Honestly, it has a lot of good qualities, but there’s really not a lot that I can say about them, which is why I’m focusing so hard on the things I don’t like about it.

So on that note, let’s move onto what I consider the biggest problem with Brotherhood, it’s immaturity. It just doesn’t feel like it was written by a grown-up, or anyone who really has anything important to say other than “Hey, guys, look how cool this is!” A big part of this, and possibly the element that irked me the most, is it’s use of binary morality. In Brotherhood, the good guys are all good, the bad guys are all bad, and the only variety in sight is when a bad guy is somehow redeemable, either by the desire to turn over a new leaf or the excuse of not being directly accountable for their actions. Yeah, the original Star Wars trilogy also had this issue, but at least Vader was a complex character with nuanced motivations. Here, the villain is a literal embodiment of evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and six of his seven henchman(well, Homunculi) have no motivation outside of serving him and following the sins attributed to them. It’s a story so devoutly based on the struggle between good and evil that at the end, the hero(who has kept his hands insultingly clean up to this point) has to fight the villain in a literal fistfight while his friends and allies chant his name.

And on top of that, there’s very little emotion in any of it, with the exception of any lingering feelings the viewer may have carried over from ‘03(and I’m sorry, but there are gonna be comparisons in this paragraph). There are a lot of ideas, but they’re just ideas, none of which carries any weight outside of spectacle. Seeing Gluttony’s Kirby world is cool, but I’m not gonna remember it in a week. The homunculi actually having a reason to be named after sins isn’t going to affect me like seeing them pursue their own individual goals. Knowing the country is named Amestris, and that there’s another form of alchemy called alkahestry is interesting, but it doesn’t make the world feel more immersive. I feel bad for Winry after being told her parents are dead, but not as bad as if I’d seen her crying over it as a kid. I can root for her to forgive the person who killed them by accident, because come on, it was an accident! But when the person who killed them is someone who was willfully following orders, and has been haunted by what he was forced to do ever since, well, things just get a lot less simple.

Brotherhood is a show full of easy answers that don’t provide any sort of challenge to it’s viewer. The heroes win through virtue alone, with barely any sacrifice. Yeah, that’s right, no sacrifice, in a show whose central philosophy is that mankind must gain through sacrifice.. Minor spoilers here, but take the Philosopher’s stone for example. We find out how it;’s made, and Ed vows to find another way. He doesn’t, but a stone is still handed to him in the final act, consequence free, so he doesn’t have to make any harsh choices. There are plenty of huge moments that are immensely satisfying, like a late showdown between Colonel Mustang and the Homunculus Envy, and a pulse-pounding fight between Hawkeye and Gluttony, both of which I did highly enjoy, but it’s popcorn fare(To be fair, still better than 03’s Robo-Archer crap). The action is great on a shallow level, but the drama and comedy aren’t even that good, due mainly to what I understand to be two holdover elements from the manga.

Brotherhood fails hard at achieving both drama and comedy through it’s own aesthetic choices and sense of direction. It has horrible comedic timing with it’s super-deformed and chibi based humor, which happens way too often to ever land a joke, and to make matters worse, they’re used during scenes that are supposed to be majorly dramatic. When Ed and Al are fighting over the former risking his life to save the latter, I don’t want to see a sight gag. IU want to care. I want to feel something. That’s tonally incompetent to a disgusting level. What’s even worse is when they’re actually trying to convey drama, and they do so with no subtlety, using over-the-top facial expressions, screams, and over-acted reactions that are more funny than sappy. I’ve found Tommy Wiseau’s deliveries more touching. There’s a moment after the failed human transmutation when Ed’s trying to get his brother back where he screams “Alphonse no!” And I couldn’t stop laughing over his face’s resemblance to Wakko Warner burping opera music. This kind of thing might have worked in the manga, but anime and manga are different mediums, which is something I don’t think the people behind this show really understood.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was available from Funimation Entertainment on both DVD and Bluray, but unfortunately, all versions are currently out of print. You can still watch it for free on Netflix, but if you’re looking to own the physical copy, you’re gonna have a hard time finding one at a reasonable price. The same thing goes for the 2003 series as well as it’s movie. What you CAN find in print and for a reasonable price are the Brotherhood movie, Sacred Star of Milos, and a couple of okay OVA series. There are several video games across different platforms, and while I won‘t list them all, I personally recommend PS2’s Curse of the Crimson Elixir. The original manga is available stateside from Viz media.

As I said before, I really like this anime. It’s an entertaining show. It delivers hard on action, fantasy and spectacle, but that’s pretty much all it has going for it. Throughout it’s 60+ episode run, it never really shows any signs of the masterpiece everyone likes to call it, and I’m not gonna lie, those first thirteen episodes are seriously difficult to get through. It seems to follow an ideology of virtue and righteousness overcoming adversity, and while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that mentality… It is a positive moral, at the very least… It’s still pretty juvenile. In fact, that word pretty much sums up the series… Juvenile. It feels like it takes place in the world as Ed from the 2003 anime wished it was, where good and evil exist on opposite sides, and the whims of fate ultimately favors good people over bad. It’s not deep or complex, but neither are most of the titles in the Shonen Action genre, and those anime are successful for a reason… They’re easy to watch, they don’t ask you hard questions, and they play to your basest ideas of morality and justice. Sometimes, people need an anime like that, and this title delivers. I give Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood a 7/10.

Inspiration can be a fickle thing. The muses may guide our hearts towards a particular passion, but they don’t always stick around to see us through it. As a child, Kousei Arima felt a natural attraction to the piano. He could play music by ear, was a gifted mimic, and had boat loads of potential to one day dominate the instrument. With the help and encouragement of a family friend, Kousei’s mom set him on his desired path, but life as a pianist was harder than he thought. Rather than playing for fun and expressing himself through music, she wanted him to be able to make a living through his music, so she went as hard on her little pianist as possible, going as far as to beat and abuse him if he underperformed or tried to play a piece in his own way. By the time the terminal illness she’d hid from him took it’s toll on her, his passion was gone, replaced with the cold, robotic delivery of one who could deliver a piece perfectly, but found no more joy in doing so. He lost his mother, along with his ability to hear the notes he was playing.

Two years later and about three feet taller(I’ll GET to that), Kousei still tinkers around with the piano, but hasn’t played it seriously, to the chagrin of all who enjoyed his work, or just hate to see him so incomplete. It’s at this point, like all down-trodden men who’ve lost their luster for life, that along comes that one girl to bring color back into his world. Her name is Kaori Miyazono, and she’s a violinist who cares nothing for rules or convention, finding childish but somehow wise joy in every aspect of life, and with this one chance meeting, Kousei finds a new muse… A capricious, cheerful beauty whose revisionist musical performances instantly connect with the crowds she plays for, and whom seems singularly obsessed with performing alongside Kousei, and helping him to relaunch the career that he’d so recently abandoned. But her dedication to helping him to overcome his tragedy hides a secret tragedy of her own, and one simple lie she told back in April will live on to define their relationship as they change each others lives through mutual inspiration.

I haven’t seen everything that’s been produced by A-1 pictures, but I honestly can’t remember seeing anything they’ve done that looked outright bad. Sure, Sword Art Online and From the New world looked a little sloppy at times, resorting to broken character models to show fluid motion at reduced costs, but if that’s the worst they can do, then they could do a lot worse. They seem to take a lot of care with their work, putting an admirable amount of effort into quality control, like letting a low budget get the better of them would be an insult to their pride or something, and if that observation is correct, then I like the way they think. I’ve noticed that they generally have a penchant for putting a lot of energy into special effects, and then using just enough budget saving tricks to compensate without going overboard or letting it become noticeable. Key frames are well drawn and pleasing to the eye, and they feature a little more than just flapping mouths, with occasional shifts in posture to keep the characters expressive.

Of course, there don’t need to be special effects in a show about musicians, right? Wrong. Not only are special textures like water given special treatment, but we often get visual representations of the emotions brought out by a piece of music, which use environmental and 3D effects to keep our attention during the sequence, especially towards the end when Kousei and Kaori are playing together in a fantasy sequence, and the camera liberally revolves around a beautifully 3D animated piano. The characters also have a lot of inner monologuing that’s shown to us in artistic fashion, reminiscent of His and Hers Circumstances, but what I found the most impressive was the actual animation of the characters playing their instruments on stage. I can’t confirm this, but I have heard from a few people that A-1 pictures used a technique similar to rotoscoping, and I feel no justification for doubting this rumor, as every movement of the performing musicians, from fingers on the keys to the way the bow’s movements perfectly matches the music of the violin.

It would be so easy to get away with having a still image on screen while only the performers arms moved, and more intense note being played offscreen while only the audience’s frozen faces of adoration are showcased, but as I said, that would be an insult to A-1. Kousei, Kaori and several others put their entire bodies into their performances, losing themselves in it, and you feel every drop of their adrenaline. Character designs are beautifully polished and easy on the eyes, with it’s only major departure from reality being that the musician characters look a little more distinctive and exuberant than non-musicians, like Kousei’s friends. Well, okay, there is one other unrealistic detail that bothered me a bit… The difference in height between 14 year old characters and themselves at 12 is fucking insane. My jaw dropped when they said that Kousei quit the piano at 12, because he was so short that when he sat on the bench his feet didn’t even touch the ground. I could have sworn he was, like, 6 or something. It’s my only real issue with the visuals, but it’s still a pretty jarring one.

The music of the series… Do I even have to say it? It’s a series about musicians, and you can’t do something like that if you don’t have the knowledge or resources to pull it off, and they seriously pulled it off. Not only is it full of classical music, you can tell the difference in the way these pieces are being played, and the music that is meant to inspire and astound people does exactly that to the audience as well as the characters. From what I gather, Yuna Shinohara, a decorated Japanese violinist who was only 21 at the time, played the music for Kaori, and her wealth of training and experience did not go to waste. I can’t find as much information on Eriko Kawachi, who played all of the piano pieces, which is unfortunate. The show’s actual soundtrack was composed by Masaru Yokoyama, and while it isn’t as memorable or powerful as the character-based performances, it’s still solid and well-orchestrated, so it’s a shame it gets overlooked in favor of the insert tunes.

The English dub was produced by Aniplex, and features a lot of newer actors from this decade, alongside a few industry veterans. I’d like to say these newcomers step up and use this show as a platform to make a name for themselves, but I’d be stretching the truth a bit, mostly on account of the many loops that Your Lie’s text throws them for. Their performances were not consistent, which is a direct result of their material not being consistent, and I don’t really think it was fair for them to be thrown into something this eclectic. For the most part, they do a fine job voicing the characters while nothing’s really happening. It’s just characters talking to each other, sounding like natural teenagers going about their lives. Where they really shine is during dramatic scenes, and ho boy are there a lot of dramatic scenes in this anime. There’s a lot of pain, insecurities, confusion, all of that fun adolescent stuff, but with a much harsher but still believable edge to it once you realize the kind of real life circumstances that they’re dealing with.

While some of these issues may be worthy of an eyeroll from the viewer… Most of the characters who are in love with Kousei fall into this category… They’re going through issues that you probably had to deal with as well, and you can scoff at it from your seat as a grown up, or laugh at how silly it is for this obvious harem to try and be something more, they’re feeling something you’ve felt at some point, whether you remember it or not, and they damn well make you feel it. The exception, where several otherwise amazing actors begin to falter… Is with the gag humor, when the characters go SD Chibi for exaggerated reactions, and I don’t think they were ready to transition the specific roles they were playing into it. Max Mittelman, for example, is one of the best voice actors to come out of the 2010’s, and even though he hasn’t been acting long, his voice control and dramatic chops have landed him plenty of leading roles. He can do comedy under the right circumstances… You’d know what these circumstances are if you’ve seen One Punch Man… But he sounds horrible during the gag jokes.

It’s even worse for Erica Lindbeck, who had a tough job playing such a nuanced character as Kaori, whose happy-go-lucky persona hides a darker interior, and she does a great job of it, but the gag scenes just make her sound like a despicable asshole. Smaller characters face the same issue, albeit on a smaller scale, but the few veterans are able to navigate the minefield a lot more skillfully, like Wendee Lee(Who, in all fairness, never has to do a gag scene), Stephanie Sheh and Carrie Keranen. They have the experience to stretch their roles beyond the appropriate tones, which comes in handy here. The adaptive script is loose, but still accurate enough, and changes the vernacular so everyone sounds more like contemporary English, without ever sacrificing the intent of the text. They make a handful of charming and character-appropriate references, like occasional nods to Charlie Brown and The Phantom of the Opera, although they also use the phrase ‘as you know’ a few too many times. They probably should have changes some of the text, as a lot of it, when translated, sounds weird coming from 14 year olds.

Okay, so, here we are again. It wasn’t too long ago that I was calling out modern anime fans for letting their emotions cloud their judgement, saying that they often give perfect scores to any anime that makes them cry. Seriously, you could give a critic a massage, a home cooked meal and the best sex of their life and you’d still be working harder for a 10/10 than most anime do. Back in 2016, I’d just uploaded my reviews of Clannad and Clannad Afterstory, and I asked social media to recommend an anime that had genuine feels… nothing manipulative, nothing manufactured, nothing too formulaic, just an anime that would touch me emotionally and make me cry with sincerity. The overwhelming answer was Your Lie in April, a show I’d been avoiding due to all of the hype. I finally gave it a watch, and did it stand up as a heartfelt masterpiece, or did it offer the same old same old? Well, to be honest,it’s a little of both. My feelings on this show were mixed the first time around, and the second viewing hasn’t changed that.

Unfortunately, Your Lie doesn’t get off to a great start. The first thing we see is a foul ball hitting our man character in the head, lying on the floor and bleeding with what has to be a serious concussion, but not only does he heal immediately, but he shares the blame for the broken window the ball flew through. That’s not just bad, that’s disturbingly bad. It sets an early precedent for him being a sad sack with no will of his own, which I guess is kind of accurate, but it also makes his closest friend look like a monster for taking advantage of it(Trust me, this feeling is only gonna get worse.) I try to move past this, but almost immediately, it becomes apparent that all three of Kousei’s friends are some of my least favorite cliches in anime history. His two primary friends are Tsubaki and Watari, and they are… Respectively… A childhood friend who’s hopelessly in love with the main character, and a girl crazy guy who exists to make the main character feel desirable in comparison. I am so sick and tired of these two archetypes being stuck in orbit around at least half of the main characters in the medium.

And Kaori’s worse, because she’s a trope that I usually don’t see in anime, and I’m not complaining about that. She’s happy-go-lucky, she’s childish, she’s an enlightened soul who’s able to see all of the simple joy in life, and she comes out of nowhere to dedicate her life to dragging the main male character out of the slumps. She is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is to sexism what the Magical Negro trope is to racism. Granted, she deconstructs the trope a little bit, as she actually has a backstory and a reason to help Kousei, but she makes up for that small silver lining by taking the “Life begins at man” trope to a new extreme, as “Life begins AND ENDS at man.” I’ll give her this, she IS the reason I kept watching the series, as I was entranced by her violin performance in episode 2, and she made me want to keep watching so I could hear more of her work, which sounded even better when she played with Kousei. On top of that, she plays an important… Dare I say instrumental… Role in Your Lie’s deeper themes.

Your Lie in April is a story about inspiration, and it attacks this concept from every possible angle. As annoying and cliched as his friends may be, Kousei is a good character who has a great arc that deals with this theme. He begins as a child, having fun doing something that he’s gifted at, until he stops doing it for fun and starts doing it as a future career, being forced to perfect it and take it seriously by his mother, who pushes him to the point of abuse. She controls his life, making everything he does revolve around the piano, even taking away his cat and abandoning it somewhere so it can’t scratch his hands. He loses the ability to hear the notes he’s playing, and quits altogether to avoid his mother’s tyranny along with the intense pressure she put on him for not being good enough. On the surface, this is a very mature look at child abuse and the way it can have long term psychological effects on the developing mind, such as Kousei’s performance anxiety, and especially the fact that cats pose a trigger for him(And I mean the actual definition of trigger, not the bullshit internet definition), and the abuse in question is realistic, rather than cartoony or melodramatic.

Below the surface, this is a story for anyone who’s ever lost their passion for something they once loved. The idea that expressive and interpretive music is frowned upon, and only literal performances are acceptable in competition, which is enforced by both the competition committee and Kousei’s mother, gives an understandable reason for his loss of inspiration. His music was becoming routine, and pointless. I don’t think his inability to hear the notes he’s playing is realistic at all, but it’s symbolic for that loss of passion. When your work becomes routine, it becomes repetitive, and it finally becomes robotic. When your hobby becomes work, you fall out of love with it, which is why Kaori coming into his life was such a major turning point for him. She showed him that there was another way to play. She inspires him, breathing new life into his abilities, and helps him to separate his passion from the pain and sadness that he’d come to associate it with, and it changes his life in so many ways… He starts playing again, he comes out of his shell, and he even begins teaching a younger pianist… That he winds up inspiring her in return.

They also make an argument that you play even better when you’re playing for other people, and while I’ve never personally agreed with that, they make a compelling case. Your own music, your own performances, are not your only legacy. The music you inspire others with is just as important, as your work also lives on through their work. They make a great point when they say that it’s hard to play the piano when you compare yourself to Beethoven, but it’s not nearly as hard when you remember that Beethoven was once just like you, a rookie trying his best to measure up to the greats who inspired HIM. It’s a shame they had to resort to a manic pixie dream girl in order to pull this off, but it’s largely forgivable, especially considering certain reveals that happen in the final episode. So yeah, this is not a shallow series. There is meat to the story, and something meaningful that you can get out of watching it. I’d be happy to say that the series was also executed well, but sadly, this is where things start to break down.

The text of the series, for example, is severely lacking. The idea of inspiration and Kousei’s character arc are well written and exactly as subtle as it needs to be, but the other subplots… The romantic ones in particular… Are annoyingly obvious, and frankly, kind of arbitrary. I mentioned Tsubaki as a ‘childhood friend’ earlier, and while this should instantly telegraph that she’ll never get her guy… They never fucking do… She does absolutely nothing else to justify her presence. Everything about her revolves around her love for Kousei and why he won’t respond to it. Every aspect of her life ties in somehow to her love for him, and since it amounts to nothing, she could have been written out in the first half of the series. I won’t go into too much detail about the other romantic subplot, or how it offers Watari his only relevance to the plot(although he does have a few moments relating to the theme), but they commit one other huge mistake… They use constant, and I mean constant, voice over narration from the characters as they explain their feelings to the audience. It’s lame, it’s tedious, and it seems to be trying it’s best to keep YOU from thinking too hard about what you’re watching, because it doesn’t want the pointless teenage melodrama to lose it’s effect.

Another huge problem is the gag humor, which feels inappropriate and out of place. It makes the heavier themes of the show harder to swallow, and not just on an aesthetic level. For example: We see Kousei sustain head injuries during two of these gags, that result in him lying on the floor and bleeding out. We also see Kaori hit him right in the crown of the head with an axe kick, driving her heel down into his skull. Now, if these instances didn’t cause any lasting damage, and the people doing it are supposed to be seen as likable, how am I supposed to feel when his mother beats him in the head with her cane? I’ve seen him shrug off shit like that before, so I don’t care. Am I supposed to feel different because of the tone of the scenes? This isn’t the fucking Looney Toons. Hell, even the Looney Toons had consistency. I can’t be expected to believe that a portion of the material shown to me doesn’t count just because the writer was making a joke. That’s disgusting. I’ve complained about Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood making this mistake, but Your Lie is just as bad.

And then you have the plot, which did not work for me at all. Like, I said the themes were strong in this series, but they suffered one major setback. Kousei’s mother physically abused him and forced him to play music the way she wanted him to, all because she thought it was in his best interest. His friends, however, do exactly the same thing. Sure, they might not take away his beloved pet, but they still harass him, assault him, chase him, break into his room and generally act like complete assholes in order to get their way. He warns that his performance might not be good, he falters due to a psychological breakdown, Kaori has Tsubaki and Watari start roundhouse kicking him, and HE apologizes. How are they any different than his mother? Because it’s supposed to be comedic? I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of the interactions he has with his friends make me cringe, with their only justifications being ‘comedy,’ and the fact that they just happened to wind up being right. So the ends justify the means.

And then you have Kaori’s entire plot, which… Okay, I’m going to try not to go into spoilers, but if you’ve seen the show, you know damn well what I’m talking about. And this is the big one, the one that makes everybody praise the show out the wazoo, so I’ll try to be gentle. At the end of episode 4, Kaori faints on stage. At that moment, even though I was trying to enjoy the series despite it’s flaws, I couldn’t help it. I knew where this was going. I said, “Oh fuck, she’s gonna (censored), isn’t she?” I am dead serious about that. The beginning of the fifth episode featured her in the hospital, and folks, I predicted everything. I knew what was going to happen to her, i knew she was keeping it secret, I knew that it was going to be kept deliberately vague all the way to the end, I knew I’d never hear her play again(outside of maybe a dream or fantasy sequence), I knew what her backstory and connection to Kousei was going to be.

Knowing this stuff in advance took a huge damper off of the emotional impact of literally any point of the show. Granted, I did make one prediction that wasn’t true. I predicted we’d never meet her parents, which I wish had turned out true, because her parents are… Brace yourself for this… They’re Nagisa’s parents from Clannad. They are literally that. They own a pastry shop, they’re wacky and over-the-top, they live in said shop, and… Well, there’s one other spoiler connection, but that, along with a painful firefly sequence, made your Lie feel TERRIBLE at foreshadowing. I found myself, in both moments, shouting at my TV screen, “Okay, I get it, she’s gonna (censored), shut the fuck up about it!” So did the big bad tragedy work on me? No, of course it didn’t. The only part I got choked up at was a late scene when a cat died at a vet’s office, because it brought up painful memories for me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something here, and it does make the experience a rewarding one, but it just couldn’t stick the landing.

Your Lie in April is available as a Rightstuf Exclusive, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the price is offensively high. Even on sale as part of the site’s holiday deals, it’ll still costed 130 dollars for each HALF of the series, down from 160 dollars regular price. Used copies on ebay go for as low as 60 dollars for each HALF, and I can not recommend you pay that much for an overrated series. You can watch it for free on Netflix, but if you absolutely need a physical copy, I’d actually go against my better judgement and recommend the Malaysian bootlegs on Ebay, which do come with a dub for a fraction of the official price. The manga is available from Kodansha comics, and volume 1 even comes with a sweet exclusive cover if you get it from Loot Crate. The live action movie is probably available stateside, but from what I’ve heard about it, I don’t care enough to check.

Your Lie in April isn’t a great anime, but it’s also not a terrible one. So, overall, is it good or bad? Well, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy the vast majority of it. I found the gag humor annoying and in bad taste, I found the comedic violence way too similar to some of the tragic material, there are too many cliches, and I caught on to some of the more important plot points way too early to fall for them. Having said that, I can’t say the experience was a bad one. The themes of Kousei’s character arc resonated very strongly with me, as someone who’s currently falling out of love with a long time hobby, and while I found his friends to be wholly unlikeable, his piano rivals were much more interesting, and I actually want to see more of him interacting with them. The final tragedy would have been a lot stronger if it hadn’t been so obvious, or if it at least had a proper explanation, and you can’t possibly deny that the audio and visual production went beyond top notch. It had a lot of problems, but honestly, it’s an okay show. It doesn’t live up to the hype, but it’s worth checking out. I’m being generous here, but I’ll give Your Lie in April a 6/10.

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