And I’m back again, with more reviews to catch up on! This time I am going to discuss three animes (I’ve been watching a lot of them as I do work) I’ve watched since my last post in early January on Code Geass: Elfen Lied, Deadman Wonderland, and Fullmetal Alchemist (not Brotherhood). I have grouped all of these together because I didn’t think they were particularly good or worth spending time on, and because the first two of these were very short (and FMA I had already seen part of and I’ve seen the 2009 remake, FMA: Brotherhood). So, here are my disorganized thoughts on the three:
Elfen Lied. This anime had been hyped to me a lot via the Internet and an anime-loving brother, and so I decided to give it a shot. The opening song, “Lilium,” is absolutely beautiful, and the imagery and symbolism in the accompanying visuals was very powerful. Other than the opening, however, I found nothing else that I liked, and nothing I found objectively good, either, though I’m sure people will disagree. I found it severely lacking in almost all areas, except animation and art; the background art was fantastic and the animation better than normal. The characters were all one-dimensional and really annoying; this is partly the fault of the short length of the show, but Baccano! had better character development for more than twice the cast of main characters and (before the three wrap-up episodes were released) the same amount of episodes. The audience pull/stock young male protagonist was really annoying and does nothing, and over the course of the show gathers a harem of women in the house he lives in, including the interesting character of Lucy. Lucy is a diclonius/superhuman with two personalities: a timid and naive young girl who can’t even speak Japanese, and a murderous escaped experiment who slaughters people with invisible arms called “vectors.” While she is interesting and her past explored, I did not find her compelling or convincing. The focus of the show is clearly on Lucy, and yet because they want to show her to develop empathy in her relationship to the stock young male protagonist they don’t spend enough time actually exploring her. It was also clear that we were supposed to feel bad for Lucy’s terrible past, but other than the puppy scene, I felt nothing. I couldn’t connect to her at all, and none of the other characters were better.
The plot was also a mess, and made little to no sense. The background and exploration of the origins of the diclonii was really interesting, but the exploration was so limited that it raised more questions than were answered. Again, I blame the show’s focus on characters, which it did a poor job of developing anyway. It took away from exploring more interesting plot points. All in all, the show felt extremely unfocused and half-thought out (and I’ve heard the manga is only a little better), and tried in vain to appeal to emotions. I didn’t take any lessons about discrimination, bullying, or morality from it. All that I remember was a mess of a show that made no sense with really weak characters. It tried to do too much in too few episodes, and so failed to do anything well. Except that opening.
Deadman Wonderland. I enjoyed this one a lot more than Elfen Lied, despite having even larger plotholes than the previous. The major difference was that, despite having only the same amount of episodes, I actually cared about most of the characters and they had much better backstories and more development. The one exception, though, was the main character Ganta, who was Shinji from Evangelion voiced by someone mimicking Jacuzzi Splot from Baccano! He was really annoying, but I could feel for him; after all, he was (rather absurdly) given a death sentence for single-handedly massacring all of his middle school classmates. Of course, he wasn’t just executed; no, he was sent to Deadman Wonderland, a prison where the death row inmates participate in games for a watching public in order to earn “candies” that act as an antidote for the poison constantly pumped into their blood.
Despite the problems with his accusation and sentencing, this was actually a really interesting premise with a lot of potential. There could have been a great deal of the exploration of public spectacle, the criminal justice system, privatization, and morality. Was there any of that? Sure, a little. But then the show moved on to the “real” purpose of the prison: supernatural bloodbenders (“deadmen,” hence the title) who fight each other for the amusement of secret rich donors, using their blood as weapons. But wait, there’s more! Behind this, the prison’s director is secretly using these deadmen, who are infected with a parasitic worm that lets them control their own blood, to create some sort of powerful thing and understand the “Wretched Egg.” But wait! All of this is also somehow related to a huge earthquake that destroyed Tokyo. What does this all mean? I don’t know! The show never explains it (the manga does, apparently).
Like Elfen Lied, then, Deadman Wonderland tries to do too much in only 12.5 (the half being an almost unrelated OVA) episodes. It opens up a lot of potential plot paths, and then fails to conclude them. The show doesn’t even have an ending (likely because a second season was intended). I think it would have been much better if it had stopped with the supernatural bit, and just left it as a screwed up prison and explored the themes around the privatization of justice. It had so much potential, but then lost it, I think (oh, and it had a really good opening too!).
Fullmetal Alchemist. I love Brotherhood, the 2009 remake that more closely followed the manga. It is one of my favorite animes of all time (I place it at about my sixth favorite overall). I actually became interested in Brotherhood by watching my brother watch some episodes from the middle of the original Fullmetal Alchemist, becoming intrigued, watching the first 10 episodes on my own, reading that Brotherhood was better, and then switching shows. I read about the ending to the original on the FMA wiki, and was reluctant to go back to it as I didn’t think it held a candle to Brotherhood‘s ending. And, surprisingly, I was right.
I went back to rewatch this because I felt guilty about having not finished the original, and initially I greatly enjoyed it. The original did a few things better than Brotherhood, namely in terms of the emotional impact of Hughes’ death, the atrocities of Shou Tucker, and the pacing of the first episodes (Brotherhood‘s first several episodes pretty much assume you’ve seen the original FMA). The actual writing was also very good, though not quite up to Brotherhood‘s level, and I enjoyed watching FMA up until the last few episodes. It was still a good anime, but not great. Why, you ask? Partly because I compare it to Brotherhood, and partly because it fails to create a convincing plot. Brotherhood‘s conspiracy involves a government taken in by promises of power manipulating its people for a dark purpose, and FMA‘s involves eight individuals who somehow control the entire country with no outside supporters. It doesn’t really seem “realistic” (ignoring the existence of alchemy and the fantasy setting). Furthermore, the ending of the original is one giant plothole, with a villain who doesn’t do much or have much motivation (admittedly, though, I hate parallel universe plots). All-in-all, up until the ending, it was good, but not great, and then the ending brought it down from good to alright.
Coming up soon are three more anime reviews: Steins;Gate, Cowboy Bebop, and Attack on Titan!