10 Most Memorable Villains

Ah villains. They can be so much fun to hate or really horrifying to watch depending on the circumstances and they usually don’t fail to entertain you over the course of a series. However, despite the fact that it’s generally easier to make a good villain than an interesting protagonist, making a villain that’s capable of leaving a lasting impression well after you’ve finished watching/reading something is easier said that done.  So here’s a list of some of the most memorable villains in animation and manga who have earned their claim to infamy through their complexity, epicness, insanity and for just being a total prick.

*WARNING!!* I’m going to be going in depth on a few of these and that’ll include some potential spoilers so there you go

#10. Slade (Teen Titans)

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Teen Titans runs though several central antagonists over the course of it’s five season run. Slade is by far the most remembered of them and for good reason. He’s a pragmatic and manipulative criminal mastermind whose end goals are pretty much a total mystery but for the first two seasons where he’s the main villain he’s out to find himself an apprentice to take up the reigns and he’ll do anything to achieve that end.

When he actually does manage to succeed in that goal at the end of those seasons though, he’s show to be ridiculously abusive and controlling and his abuse of his second apprentice Terra specifically, has some pretty disturbing rape like subtext to it (which can come off as weirdly ironic if you know what their relationship is like in the original comics). The guy is effectively the world’s most effective child predator and even in some of the later seasons it’s shown that even death isn’t enough to stop him from being totally creepy and obsessive.

#9. Eddy’s Brother (Ed, Edd n Eddy)

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Eddy’s Brother makes exactly one appearance in the show during the movie finale, and even then he only really appears for about five minutes. However in those five minutes we get a fully fleshed out character and the only true villain of the show. Eddy spent most of the series proclaiming his brother to be a great guy and a total hero but when we finally meet the man we see get to see him for how he really is. As it turns out, he’s pretty much been physically abusing Eddy for his entire life (and if this doesn’t come off as that creepy to you keep in mind that Eddy is only 12 and his brother is at least somewhere in  his 20’s) and is the cause behind Eddy’s mask of arrogance and his inferiority complex.

He’s also not show to be above harming other kids as well and it’s pretty heavily implied that the reason he works at an amusement park is because enjoys messing with children in general. The revelation of his depravity is enough to make the neighborhood kids (who were practically out to kill the Eds at that point) sympathetic towards Eddy and even the Kanker Sisters were disgusted by him. You know you’re bad if you can make borderline serial rapists look good.

 

#8. Freeza (Dragonball Z Kai)

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Dragonball Z has a lot of powerful villains, but their usually know for their power rather than their actual villainy. Freeza however, is by and far the exception to the rule. He’s introduced as a power hungry evil overlord who wants to rule the universe and when he learns that his loyal servants the Sayains may someday produce a legendary “Super Sayain” who is the only being capable of defeating him, he proceeds to wipe out the entire race. While this is by and far his largest act of villainy in the series it’s far from his last as he ruthlessly annihilates the Namekians and Goku’s friends in his pursuit of immortality before finally  being defeated by the very thing he feared.

What really puts him above some of the other major villains from the franchise is that he wasn’t created to be a menace (Cell) or is too naive/insane to understand what he’s doing (Majin Buu) and gleefully commits genocide of his own free will. Though he walks around with an air of politeness and pretends to act like a gentleman there’s no hiding the horrifying monster underneath (Oh and if you’re wondering why I mentioned Kai in the listing and not regular DBZ it’s because he came off a bit differently in the old Funi dub and the less said about Granny Freeza the better).

#7. Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

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The main villain of the series is established pretty much from the get go, but Azula stands out the most. Whereas her father, Fire Lord Ozai is a pretty generic evil overlord (his saving grace is being voiced by Mark Hamil) Azula is much more interesting to watch as she’s a lot more calculating and manipulative constantly staying one step ahead of our heroes and playing others to get what she wants.

Her most notable trait though is her need for dominance. So much so that it’s slowly revealed to be more of a instability than a weapon for her villainy as she constantly tries to keep people in fear of her so she can’t be betrayed, but when that fear is lost and she slowly loses those closest to her, she subsequently breaks down and we she how broken she truly is underneath it all.

#6. Shinobu Sensui (Yuyu Hakusho)

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After going through several arc villains whose actions and motivations were pretty straight forward (though Younger Toguro was fairly interesting) Sensui brought something different to the table as his personality and motivations were much more complex.

As a child he grew up with a very white and black sense of morality with humans being good and demons being evil. Because of this he was recruited to become the Spirit Detective of Earth and hunt down criminal demons but he wasn’t prepared to learn that humans could be just as cruel-if not more so-than demons and subsequently went insane from that revelation. After viewing some of humanities greatest atrocities first hand through a video called “Chapter Black” (which is full of some of our greatest hits like the Holocaust and Hiroshima) he resolves to destroy humanity by flooding the human world with demons. 

His insanity is largely masked by his suave and classy demeanor as he was one of the progenitors for more sophisticated villainy in later series made by other authors, but it makes him a more compelling character as the more we learn about him, the more we see just how unstable of a person he truly is. He’s ultimately a pretty tragic villain however as his fate could have been avoided and his real desire is something much more personal.

 

#5. Kumagawa Misogi (Medaka Box)

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Being the anti-thesis of the main character in many ways, Kumagawa is the Joker to Medaka’s Batman and has the personality to match as he comes across as what would happen if the Joker had a love affair somewhere in Japan. Where Medaka is extremely talented and constantly trying to get people to better themselves, Kumagawa is a born loser and resolves to drag talented people down to his level. Though outwardly friendly, he constant trolls and deceives others through pragmatic-ism and underhanded tactics which generally makes him incredibly entertaining to watch.

Through it all though he remains surprisingly earnest about his desire to defeat so called “elite” people to the point where he could almost be completely heroic if his personality wasn’t so twisted. As a born loser his destiny prevents him from pretty much never being able to truly win the things he wants but even though he’s miserable he considers himself a beacon to other miserable people that there’s someone out there more miserable than they are and yet smiling through it all.

#4. Light Yagami (Death Note)

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As he’s also the protagonist of the series, there are some who don’t really consider him to be a villain but his evil is established so thoroughly over the course of the series that it’s pretty much impossible to paint him as anything else. After picking up the Death Note and quickly learning that it’s exactly what its advertised as, he resolves to rid the world of evil and eliminate heinous criminals. This would seem like a pretty noble goal  except for the fact that he’ll go to pretty much any means to achieve it. He constantly controls and manipulates others to get what he wants and he lives by trying to stay one step ahead of those who are after him.

While he generally remains pretty dedicated to his new world order project, his priority quickly becomes eliminating those who are in his way including his allies he’s more than willing to kill them if they present even the slightest threat to his goals. His biggest flaw however is his pride which eventually leads to his downfall, but by the time he gets there there’s pretty much nothing left of the man he used to be as he’s becoming nothing more than a ruthless criminal confusing himself with godhood and is called out as such. Though he’s much better remembered for his incredibly planning skills and genius rather than his heartlessness Light stands out as one of the most heinous villains in fiction.

#3 The Joker (DCAU)

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There isn’t much I could say about the Joker that hasn’t been said already, but the Joker has been talked about a lot for a reason. If Batman is the personification of order and justice then the Joker is the pure embodiment of chaos and he pretty much runs with it. He commits atrocities and mass murder pretty much for laughs (the most infamous being in the Batman Beyond movie where he mind rapes and tortures Tim Drake for weeks just for the heck of it) but if he has any one true motivation it would pretty much be Batman.

As long as Batman exists the Joker will commit to his crime spree to see if he can eventually break good ol’ Bat enough to get him to actually  killing him and without Batman his existence is without meaning as the Joker rarely directly tries to defeat him. One will pretty much never exist without the other and the Joker’s brand of crazy stands out in pretty much every incarnation of the character as he never fails to be horrifying and entertaining all at the same

 

#2. Hao Asakura (Shaman King )

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As the main antagonist of the series and the evil twin of the hero, he’s successfully managed to avert most of the cliches that would be expected of that kind of character. Being the most powerful Shaman in history with mastery over the elements and even death itself, Hao’s main goal is to become Shaman King, the elimination of regular humans and the creation of a world only for Shaman after having a vision of humans eventually destroying the planet . Though this puts him at odds with our heroes he generally tries to remain pretty friendly with them while slowly manipulating them towards his own ends and much like with Sensui his exact motivations behind his goal are a bit more complex than the end goal itself would appear to be initially. While his anime counterpart (though still a very solid villian) doesn’t fully capture his character and abilties, his manga incarnation stands out a lot more for doing the one thing no shonen villain before him was ever able to:

*WARNING* EXTREME SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT

He wins.

He successfully manages to become the Shaman King. In fact the final arc of the series isn’t even so much the main characters trying to stop him from becoming the Shaman King (they all pretty much acknowledge they can’t beat him) but to stop his end goal of wiping out humanity and while they kind of succeed in that department, they only convince him to delay it while they attempt to find a way to show him that humanity is worth saving. Of course that goal doesn’t seem to work out much either as the characters still haven’t quite found an answer well into adulthood. Perhaps their children in the sequel series Shaman King Flowers will fare better in convincing him (though considering he has them fighting on his behalf that seems unlikely) but for the moment Hao stands as pretty much THE most successful shonen villain of all time.

#1. David Xanatos (Gargoyles)

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Xanatos is one of two main villains to the series, but he stands out not only above the other but over most villains in general. He seemingly starts out as an ally to the titular characters as he introduces them to the modern world a bit, but he’s quickly revealed to be using them for his own goals and they come at odds with each other before too long.

The thing that stands out the most about his villainy is how pragmatic he is. Even more so than villains of his archetype are generally expected to be.  He’s almost always one step ahead of his opponents, generally having anywhere from one to several backup plans in place to ensure his victory and even in rare cases where he actually does lose he makes an honest effort to learn from those experiences never makes the same mistake twice. He’s also extremely careful to avoid many of the typical pitfalls villains of his archetype would normally make. He never tries to take anything personally (the one time he actually does kind of do something out of vengance it costs him), never attempts to go to any major extremes, and tries to stay on good terms with the Gargoyles rather than directly antagonize them so long as they aren’t an immediate threat to his goals.

However he’s well remembered for being a really great villain one of the things that makes  him great is that while he does grow as a villain where most villains typically don’t he also grows as a person over the course of the series. His character arc, while generally subtle, is handled pretty well and by the time he gets to where he is at the end of the second season, it feels like he was always meant to go in that direction.

Honorable Mentions

Demona (Gargoyles)

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Demona is the other main antagonist of Gargoyles and while she doesn’t leave as much of a lasting impression as Xanatos, she’s still a pretty interesting villain. She’s the former lover of the protagonist Goliath and holds an undying hatred of humanity for the annihilation of their clan. While this seems pretty stereotypical as the show goes on her backstory is fleshed out bit by bit as see what drove her to the breaking point as how much of the tragedies she’s caught in are self inflicted. Her inability to take responsibility for the things she’s done is her greatest flaw, but it’s also part of the reason why she didn’t make the list(the other being I didn’t want to have two villains from the same series on it) as that whole schick can get a bit repetitive.

Sosuke Aizen (Bleach)

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Much like Xanatos and Light above, Aizen is well known for being a master manipulator and a brillaint chessmaster in terms of planning as he goes through his scheme to take over the Soul Society and Earth, and his planning abilties are so over the top that even when the series goes downhill later on it’s entertaining to see what he’s mapped out next. However unlike some of the other chessmasters on the list Aizen is a bit one dimensional in terms of his goals and motivation and for all his scheming he’s defeated pretty anti-climatically

Ragyo Kiryuin (Kill la Kill)

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Ragyo will likely go down in history as one of the worst anime parents of all time putting even Gendo Ikari to shame (sadly the only reason he isn’t on the list is he doesn’t technically qualify as a villain) as she physical and sexually abuses her two daughters and even casually attempted to dispose of one of them as an infant when the results of her experimenting on them didn’t go as well as she’d hoped. Oh and she’s also sold out humanity to an alien race of clothing monsters who want to take over the universe. She was actually extremely close to making the list but as she’s extremely recent it’s hard to say exactly how well she’ll stand the test of time and for all her epic villainy she isn’t really given an exact motivation for the whole selling out humanity thing.

Dio Brando (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure)

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Dio grew up with an abusive alcholic for a dad but it’s pointed out pretty quickly that this is just an excuse on his part and he’s pretty much a total prick cause he wants to be. He makes his adopted brother Johnathan’s childhood a living nightmare, stealing his girlfriend’s first kiss and literally setting his dog on fire before eventually attempting to kill his stepfather and becoming a vampire in the process. He pretty much exists to be hated as he delights in his villainy and is hammy enough about it to avoid coming across as generic. Sadly for all his ham he’s just barely one-note enough to not make it on the list.

And there you have it folks. Some of the most memorable villains out there from child abusers to genocidal maniacs. I would have included movies in the list but doing so would have flooded the list with Disney villains and I’m pretty sure that’s been covered enough be others as is.

So thoughts? Comments? Let me know what you think.

Review: Kill la Kill- Dressed to Impress

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Kill la Kill is a 2013 series and the first original TV project by Studio Trigger who houses most of the creative staff that brought titles such as Gurren Lagann, FLCL and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. The story takes place in an alternate post-WWII fantasy setting where Honnouji Academy is run by Kiryuin Satsuki and her student council who wield Goku Uniforms, uniforms that enable the wearers with crazy powers. One day a rebel student named Ryuko Matoi arrives at the school, seeking to track down her father’s murderer and after learning Satsuki has some kind of connection to the killer, vows to end her reign over the academy.

Being Trigger’s first TV project, Kill la Kill had a lot of expectations to live up to. Trigger needed to prove that they were still capable of making an action series as solid and fun as Gurren Lagann and that they could deliver on making something relatively profitable so that they could continue to make new projects. Fortunently Kill la Kill more than managed to meet those expectations and has show that the creators haven’t lost their edge just yet

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IRA GAMAGOORI DECLARES THIS SHOW TO BE EXCELLENT!!

The first half of the series is relatively formulaic as Ryuko typically fights the Club President of the Week but it does a good job of introducing us to the setting and characters. We learn bit by bit about the backstories of the Elite Four (Satsuki’s personal guard) and Ryuko respectively and the balance is generally between comedy and crazy fight scenes as the truth behind the academy slowly starts to reveal itself.

Of course the second half of the show is where it truly starts to shine. Plot twists become rampant while still generally being shown to have been hinted at well enough in advance  to not seem like their making up things as they go along and the  character development for Ryuko and Satsuki respectively becomes prominent. Each episode escalates in insanity and finale delivers on everything it needed to and wraps up satisfactorily.

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“MY ARMS!! DO YOU KNOW HOW IMPORTANT THOSE ARE?!”

Much like Gurren Lagann one of the greatest strenghs of the show is it’s sense of style and in a lot of ways it actually outdoes it in that area. The battles and actions are always ridiculously over the top and the series continually escalates in that area making it a lot of fun to see what kind of action will be coming next. There’s pretty much never a dull moment to be had in the show and it almost always manages to entertain.

However if style is the greatest strength of the series, then substance is one of it’s problems. The content of the story itself more or less delivers but there are a couple of notably weak episodes such as episode 7 which is unusually straightforward and generic for the series. It’s over the top use of fanservice (mostly in the first half of the show) can also be a bit of a turn-off though it fits the style of the show and thankfully avoids being a bit too distracting where it shouldn’t The characters also aren’t quite as developed as in Gurren Lagann (though the cast in general is arguably the more fun of the two) and the overall theme of the show (stuck somewhere between individuality and the importance of family) isn’t quite as definitive as Gurren Lagann’s theme of “doing the impossible and never giving up” but the show is fun enough that these issues don’t drag it down too much and it remains enjoyable throughout.

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Yep. It’s the Gainax crew alright…

The cast of characters for the series are all pretty entertaining to watch as lead character Ryuko starts off as a pretty typical loner delinquent but gradually  matures as she discovers the importance of family through her friend Mako. Similarly the other heroine Satsuki also becomes a lot more level headed throughout the series though her exact motivations aren’t made apparent until fairly late into the show. Mako also makes for a pretty interesting sidekick as her quirky speeches and personality are generally what keep some of the situations in the series from getting a bit too ridiculous and she’s done in just the right way to come off  as charming rather than annoying. The other characters of the series are all a bit more straightforward even if they are fun though the main villain Ragyo is notable for being in the running with Gendo Ikari of Neon Genesis Evangellion for being the worst anime parent of all time. 

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                      My, what excellent parenting skills. Gendo would be proud.

The animation budget for the series is pretty great overall as there are a lot of fantastically done action sequences though much like back when the creators worked at Gainax, the budget isn’t spread very even as it’s always pretty apparent when their trying to save on animation. It’s character designs are pretty distinctive though the art style resembles that of western animation a bit in terms of shading and zaniness. It also has a pretty great soundtrack and the insert song “Don’t Lose Your Way” is always great to listen to. The theme songs for the series are all pretty great as well though the second ED song is kind of take it or leave it.

Trigger has made the magic happen once again with Kill la Kill as it delivers on everything it needed to as an action series. Though it doesn’t quite have the same level of depth as it’s predecessor, it more than makes up for it in style and sheer fun. It stands as one of the strongest shows of 2013 and hopefully it won’t be too long before Trigger gets the opportunity to wow us once again

Overall: 9.4/10

Avaialble on Crunchyroll, Daisuki and Hulu

Animation Talk- Neon Alley’s Transition: A Retrospective

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One week from today Viz’s streaming channel service, Neon Alley will be making a full transition away from it’s livestream format and will instead be a more traditional streaming service through partnering with Hulu. So now’s a good time to look back and see exactly how far its come from its earlier days.

Admittedly even though I’ve been a subscriber of the service since day one, it intially seemed like an idea that would fall on its face pretty quickly. A linear streaming format with no on-demand offerings, commercials, Ps3 exclusivity  and dub only content looked like a recipe for disaster and many were awaiting its demise. I had frankly only really subscribed to it because of Viz’s promise to use it to make good on actually releasing stuff as that was still an uncertainty for many concerning their titles at a time.

But then the service launched and a strange thing happened: It worked.

While the format seemed pretty unappealing at first there was a certain charm to the channel that kind of seemed to click. Being able to watch a 24/7 anime network still had a certain ring to it for the audience Viz was after and the commercials were actually pretty okay to deal with as they were pretty fandom centric and were usually for upcoming releases and the like. It also started up with a pretty strong initially lineup with shows like Tiger & Bunny and Blue Exorcist making their dub debuts on the service and the shows were solid enough to win over some of the skeptics.

Of course a lot of skepticism still remained as the service was still pretty flawed, but to its credit the service continued to evolve and better itself. It eventually expanded onto other platforms including the Xbox 360 and PC and the creation of the Catch Up feature won over a bit more of the people who were still skeptical by making it easier to get around the linear format and keep up with the newer titles on their own convience. The service continued to survive past it’s 1st year, defying people’s expectations and as more and more content continued to be added it seemed to be thriving pretty well.

Then a little over a month ago the transition was announced and it was met with mixed reactions. Some thought it meant that the linear format was doomed from the get go and that had been a flop from the very beginning while others lament the loss of the livestream since it did provide viewers with a way to watch shows they might have otherwise ignored. Personally I kind of figured something like this would happen from the get go regardless of how much of a flop the service may or may not have been. Having two seperate streaming offerings (the other being the VizAnime site which generally hasn’t been paid much attention to as it’s titles are available elsewhere) seemed like something that wasn’t going to last forever and I figured they’d probably get merged together at some point though the transition being free was certainly a welcome surprise. I don’t think the service as it currently is was actually a flop since it kind of lasted a bit too long for that to make sense but as I don’t work for Viz and have access to the numbers or anything I can only guess on that.

So is the transition a good thing or a bad thing? I’d say it’s mostly a pretty good deal. Losing the livestream is a bit of a downer but we’re getting access to a lot more stuff on demand and hopefully they can afford a lot to have a lot more newer content as well since they aren’t paying to keep the app running. Canada’s (unsurprisingly) kind of getting the short end of the stick on this one but hopefully Viz won’t take long to make good on their promise to find a solution for them.

Neon Alley has come a long way in the short time it’s been here with us and the evolution of the service seems pretty logical as the next step. How much will stay the same is unknown but hopefully the service won’t lose too much of its charm through the transition and new users will be able to see some of what made the service work.

One week to go till it all goes down. Time to see if Neon Alley can make the magic happen a second time.

Review: Samurai Jack- I’ll Be Back, Back to the Past

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Samurai Jack is a 2001 series created by Genndy Tartavosky who is also known for creating Dexter’s Laboratory and more recently Sym Bionic Titan. The story kicks off long ago in feudal Japan where Aku a shapeshifting being of darkness is resurrected and ravages the land. To stop him, the young prince of the land is taken to train all across the world under different cultures and masters for the final confrontation and is given a magic sword which holds the only power that can harm Aku. He eventually manages to confront Aku and nearly defeats him but before the final blow could be struck, Aku used his powers to open a portal in time and fling the prince into the distant future in which Aku’s evil is law. Now trapped in the future and given the nickname “Jack” by the locals, he must now seek a way to return to the past and undo Aku’s evil.

Samurai Jack was one of my favorite shows growing up as a kid and over a decade later the show is still pretty well remembered and remained enough of a classic to get a run on the current late night version of Toonami, but does it still hold up that well? The answer is mostly yes.

Though the end goal of the series is laid out pretty clearly from the get go, Samurai Jack is more of an anthology than an ongoing epic as there’s very little continuity between episodes outside of the occasionally episodes that expand both Jack and Aku’s respective backstories. While that might initially seem detrimental to an action show, it works in its favor as it allows for the series to take on a somewhat different approach in style. Even though Aku is generally involved somehow in the plots of most episodes, many of them function like standalone mini-films allowing for the series to take different approaches in style.

In fact style is generally the series greatest strength as the series pays great homage to action films of all kinds ranging from noir films, to kung-fu movies, and even giant robots. Of course, given the title of the show, the style it tends to stick to the most are samurai films and the show tends to rely on music more than dialogue to create atmosphere as Jack fights all manner of opponents from demons to robot bounty hunters and the show delivers on having tons of action pretty much all the time while occasionally dishing out thematic stories though they aren’t quite as frequent.

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                                                       For Lulu…sweet thing

The show also pays a great homage to its samurai film origins in terms of violence. Though it’s a TV-Y7 rated show and the mutilation of actual people wouldn’t exactly go over well with the censors, the series is usually pretty creative about getting around that as the frequent robotic opponents that Jack fights tend to meet their end pretty horrifically and there are many instances where it’s blatant that the staff is making fun of the fact that they’d never get away with some of the violence displayed if Jack was fighting human opponents.

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                                  That oil seems an awful lot like blood splatter…

That being said one of the largest grievances in the series is that Jack’s foes tend to be robots a bit too often, even sometimes when they clearly shouldn’t be and there are instances where clearly organic looking creatures are revealed to be robots shortly after getting butchered which can be somewhat annoying. Additionally as the show is mostly an anthology while there are a lot of strong episodes, there are some pretty weak ones as the series is forced every now and then to cater towards it’s target younger audience. Thankfully they tend to have titles that are obvious enough to avoid (looking at you “Jack and the Farting Dragon”) but it does hurt the series somewhat.

As the series doesn’t have much continuity, Jack and Aku are the only really notable characters in the series though both are interesting enough in spite of that. Jack is more or less the classical samurai archetype and it generally works for him as his sense of justice is both his greatest strength as it keeps him from abandoning his mission and his greatest flaw as it often costs him opportunities to make his return to the past due  to his need to put others first. Meanwhile Aku is a pretty straightforward evil overlord, but he makes up for the genericness of his archetype with sheer hamminess as his trolling and villainy are usually just over the top enough to be entertaining though his overuse of it also tends to cost him many opportunities to finish Jack for good. Another character of note is The Scottsman, who is pretty much the only other recurring character and the closest thing to a best friend Jack has in the future and though he doesn’t appear in too many episodes he’s pretty amusing to watch when he does as his brash nature tends to play off of Jack’s calm demeanor pretty well.

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                                    Behold his GREAT FLAMING EYEBROWS!!!

The artstyle of the show is the part of it that holds up the least as it feels a bit dated now, but style of the series tends to make it work for the most part and there are some occasional visual shifts that are pretty cool to watch. Since the show tends to rely on music more than dialog as mentioned earlier, music is another of the show’s strong suits as the soundtrack is typically very distinct and goes very well with many of the show’s action sequences though the show’s theme song is kind of hit or miss.

Samurai Jack is a show with a lot of style and that style is what has kept the show well remembered even today as it’s a pretty unique kind of action show. Though some episodes don’t hold up as well as others and there’s no definitive ending yet (hopefully Genndy will get to make that movie finale he wanted some day) the series is more about the journey than the destination and its a pretty action-packed journey.

Overall: 8.1/10

Available on streaming on Netflix, Currently airing on Toonami

 

Review: Log Horizon- Livin’ in the Database

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Log Horizon is a 25 episode series animated by Satelight and based off a series of light novels by author Mamare Touno who also wrote the original novels for Maoyu: Archenemy and Hero. The premise starts off when one day players of an MMORPG known as Elder Tale one day find themselves trapped in the world of the game and are unable to log themselves out. Now the players must figure out how to survive in their new world and discover a way back home.

Having been announced and airing during a time where  “gamer” type shows were rampant with adaptions such as Btoom!, Accel World  and most famously Sword Art Online, Log Horizon had to prove that it was different from the rest of the pack in an over-saturated market.  Thankfully over the course of the show Log Horizon has not only managed to prove itself to be different from other shows of it’s genre but it’s also proven itself to be a shining example of a  genre defining show as it stands out from its predecessors.

One thing that stands out as different from similar shows at the beginning of the series is that the players aren’t explicitly told they’ve been trapped in the game, as they all have to find that out for themselves, and they aren’t given any indication as to how to escape from the game world either. Additionally there’s no threat of death as players can respawn at the local Cathedral and be on their merry way. So what is there to do exactly? Well the first few episodes are spent exploring this as main character Shiro along with his two companions Naotsugu and Akatsuki kind of aimlessly travel through their sector of the game world before taking on a request to rescue a girl named Serara from a guild ran by a over the top mustache twirling villain (okay well there’s no mustache but you get the idea).

On their journey they see how other players are dealing with their situation. Some are taking advantage of it to obtain power and dominate  other players and guilds since there aren’t any consequences to killing them. Others are wallowing in misery as they try to find something meaningful to do or get excited over (and it doesn’t help that the food in the game world has no taste). After completing the rescue in epic fashion and getting over some of his loner issues, Shiro decides to start his own guild called Log Horizon and to try to make the world a better place for all the players in it.

It’s at this point that Log Horizon ceases to be a regular “trapped in the game” esque show and evolves into something else entirely as it dips into more fantasy world elements. Shiro’s plan to change things directly coincides with his desire to save a pair of young twin players from yet another evil guild of mustache twirling villains and thus he manipulates the other guilds of their home server Akibahara to do his bidding (mostly through solving the aforementioned food problem from earlier) and apts to force them all into a alliance of sorts to establish a quasi-government and provide some order to the town.  Political battles and tactics become the norm as Shiro and the other members of the alliance must deal with the NPCs who are also known as the People of the Land, as they’re revealed to have their own agendas and goals in mind and the two sides compete to stay on top of the other.

Through it all though, Log Horizon never fully abandons its RPG fantasy premise. The mechanics of the game after often worked into the world itself with the players having the ability to dramatically twist the rules to their benefit and later revelations show that there are consequences to death for the players. There’s also a much more typical RPG-ish threat that takes up most of the middle section of the series and has more traditional action going on through the first season ends with another potential political threat.

There are some minor issues with the show as Shiro’s plans, while generally exciting, can sometimes be a little bit too perfect and overshadows some of his character flaws at times. Additionally the clear-cut villains of the show tend to be over the top and extremely blatant in their evil which can be a little grating for a series where motivations and planning are otherwise complex. These issues thankfully aren’t enough to drag the show down much but they do cause some bumps in the road every now and then.

The cast of characters for the show are all largely likeable and entertaining. Shiro is a pretty interesting lead as he starts off as a bit of a loner and though he largely stays in the background for his plans (and eventually earns the nickname “The Villain in Glasses” due to the underhandedness of his plans) he learns to open up to his guild mates and by the end of the first season they become the backbone of his desire to change the world. The supporting characters are also fairly interesting as some such as Crusty who is one of the leaders of Shiro’s alliance and Princess Lennesia  prove themselves to be little more than who they largely have to play the part as, with both of them having some unique sides to them beneath the mask. Some of the other characters are a bit more true to their archetypes but the largest surprise in the supporting cast is Minori, who is one of the twins Shiro rescued earlier on as she largely admires Shiro and slowly learns to adopt his way of thinking, largely becoming a bit of a mini-Shiro herself and becoming a good tactician in her own right.

Production values for the show are fairly average as is typical for NHK produced shows though the animation can occasionally step up a bit for some of the actual fight scenes. The character designs are also pretty standard though some as Nyanta’s (a cat-man) do stand out a bit. It’s music is pretty solid with some strong orchestral tracks here and there and it’s opening theme song Database by Takuma-Feat stands as one of the most ear-wormy and ridiculously catchy songs of 2013 and once you hear it you’ll never be able to forget it regardless of whether or not you like it.

Log Horizon is vastly different from other shows of it’s genre in that it isn’t so much as struggle to survive as it is a struggle to maintain order and living life  comfortably. It’s largely thanks to that though that it has evolved into a genre-defining series and stands out as not only being a pinnacle of the genre, but also as one of the best shows of 2013.

Overall 9.5/10

Avaiable for streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll

Animation Talk- 6 Common Misconceptions Fans Have About the Anime Industry

The anime industry is a pretty tricky thing for  fans as there are a lot of things unknown to us and some who have been following the industry still don’t know everything. Nevertheless there are some things we do know that some fans both new and old have often gotten confused so here are some common misconceptions anime fans have about the industry.

DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be an industry insider or super expert as there’s frankly a lot of things I don’t really know myself. These are just the things I do actually know. I am not legally liable for any confusion  or mistatements you may have/make afterwards. Now let’s begin

6. Everyone in Japan Loves Anime

Since anime is such a beloved, though niche medium internationally and has often garnered the attention of those who normally wouldn’t give two craps about any other kind of animation it’s generally assumed that Japanese people have a lot of respect for the medium since their the ones who make it. In reality what we consider anime is a niche medium even in Japan and outside of shows designed to sell toys like Beyblade or super mega hit shonen titles like One Piece, the majority of anime airs late at night and only a very specific audience (i.e. otaku) generally watches it, though there are exceptions every now and then In fact big animated movies from the west such as Disney titles are better know and more popular to the general public in Japan. Though the industry is obviously bigger there than elsewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s mainstream.

5. The Amount of Source Material Determines How Long an Anime will Run

Admittedly this is something I used to believe was the case for awhile because on the surface it kinda makes sense as something that’s run 5 years or so would have a lot of material to adapt and could run a lot of episodes. The actual truth is far from the case as anime production commitees don’t really care about that sort of thing. If they don’t  think it’s worth the risk then it could have 10 years of material to run with and could still potentially end up with a 13 episode run (see the Zetman anime for an example). In the older days adaptions would generally run a bit longer but these days 13 episode adaptions are more or less the norm. What seems to be the defintive factor currently (and this is partially a guess on my part) is how large the pre-existing fanbase is sales-wise and recently only things that were already kind of a hit to begin with receive 24 episodes or beyond.

4. Studios Have a Say in How Much of Something/What Gets Made

Tying into the above misconception, some also assume that studios have a say in how much of a show is actually made. Production committees fund the actual shows so they’re the ones who hold power over how long stuff is, even for original works. There’s also the misconception that studios have full control over the production of the shows they work on and there is some truth to it as the creative staff does generally determine how a series will function. However the executive staff does have some control in that department as well and they can override creative decisions if they so please. One of the biggest examples of this was the entire second season of Code Geass being rewritten from what the creators had originally planned due to some of Sunrise’s meddling.

3. The Studio Determines the Quality of the Show

This is another one with a little bit of truth to it as some of the larger studios such as BONES or Production I.G. generally produce shows with a high animation budget, get popular japanese bands to do the theme songs, etc., but there’s generally no direct correlation between the studios and the shows themselves in terms of what’s good. For instance, Studio Pierrot is generally met with scorn as their known these days for their badly paced battle shonen adaptions like Naruto or Bleach but they’ve also produced shows such as Yuyu Hakusho, which stands today as the most well paced adaption of an (at the time) ongoing action series, and Hikaru no Go (similar deal), both of which (arguably) outdid their source material. Additionally some of the larger and more popular studios like A1 Pictures have (again arguably) produced somewhat medicore anime adaptions like Blue Exorcist alongside some of their more popular works like Sword Art Online. Production committees again generally determine things such as the actual budget of the show or the episode count but the biggest deciding factor for a show is generally the staff itself and that’s not always directly tied to studios so the staff list is generally what’s worth paying attention to more.

2. Japan Cares About the International Market

While there are some exceptions such as what’s currently going on with Space Dandy airing new episodes on Adult Swim before Japan gets them, Japan generally doesn’t care much for the international market. Due to middlemen distributors such as Funimation, Viz Media, Sentai Filmworks, etc. only a small percentage of sales actually makes it back to the japanese producers. Japan has made several attempts (such as the existance of Aniplex of America) to directly penetrate the english market themselves but for the most part their concerned with japanese audiences since that’s where most of the direct sales come from. The middlemen companies do of course have their benefits like bringing us more affordable prices and dubs, since they’re here, don’t expect to have any direct say in what gets made.

1. US Distributors Have a Direct Say in What/How Stuff Gets Made 

It’s a mistake generally only made by newer fans who don’t know much about how the industry works and it’s died down for the most part, but there’s still the occasional suggestion that Funimation or Viz have some direct say in anime. They don’t. Funimation doesn’t own Dragonball Z, Viz doesn’t control when we get new episodes Naruto and they can’t promise you future seasons of anything. Again it’s rare that anyone actually makes this mistake but it can be a bit frustrating to see.

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And there you have it. These are mistaken assumptions often made and hopefully someone’s a little more aware now. There’s a lot we can’t know without actually working inside the industry but there are some things we can avoid having to guess.

 

 

 

Review- The Irresponsible Captain Tylor: The Tale of an Unconventional Man

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The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a 1993 series done by Tatsunoko Productions who is best known for japanese superhero series such as Casshan, Yatterman and recently Gatchaman Crowds. The story takes place at some point in the distant future and depicts a war between an military group known as the United Planet Space Force and aliens known as the Raalgon who want revenge due to the Space Force supposedly being behind the death of their emperor. Meanwhile a mysterious man named Tylor sees an ad for the Space Force and decides to enlist, thinking it’ll lead him to an easy life. After a few bizarre incidents he eventually ends up becoming the captain of one of the Force’s ships known as the Soyokaze and travels with his crew to participate in the war.

Despite the vague sci-fi plot mentioned above that’s not really what the show is about. The show is really all about Tylor as the viewers along with his crew members slowly start to understand exactly what kind of man he is as he’s a bit of an enigma. At the start of the series he comes across as a clueless idiot, strolling along and doing things for seemingly no real reason and luck being the primary factor in his gradual rise to fame/infamy in the force.

However as the series goes on it slowly becomes apparent that Tylor may not be quite as stupid as he seems or perhaps pretends to be (it’s purposely left ambiguous which is to the show’s credit as painting him as one or the other would kind of ruin things). There’s a lot of things he does that he clearly couldn’t pull of if he were really an idiot and at the same time there are situations he’s put in that he wouldn’t always be able to plan himself out of if he were secretly a genius. He does things his own way and while a lot of it seems to be pure madness there’s a method to it and by the end it becomes apparent that Tylor’s own words are the way he operates: “Do the best you can and let the rest take care of itself”.

Of course while Tylor himself his pretty much the show’s main draw his interactions with his fellow crewmembers also drive the story as they slowly grow into a group of loyal companions and learn a little from Tylor’s way of thinking. The most notable instance occurs in character involving the ship’s nurse Harumi whose real identity plays into things in a large way and brings us the first real instance where we can see that some of Tylor’s shtick may be an act and that he can take things more seriously than he lets on. Some other characters such as the First Lieutenant Yamamoto grow a bit too as he starts off as a by the book solider but gradually learns to bend the rules a bit as the show goes along which eventually ties into the final couple of episodes where the show’s main lesson is more or less spelled out.

While the characters are the show’s greatest strength, the narrative does suffer from some minor issues. The major battle between the Raalgan the Space Force, while done in a rather glorious manner, is done kind of anti-climatically and though the series is mostly clean of clear-cut villains, the one really notable villain, the Raalgan empress’s advisor, never actually gets to accomplish much of anything and eventually thrown into the backburner by the time the finale arrives.

The production values for the show are pretty typical of 90’s series and the animation is generally solid though the character designs are a bit aged. The orchestral music for the series is also pretty good with a few notable tracks here and there and the opening theme song “Just Think of Tommorow” is pretty catchy and sets the mood for the show well.

The english dub of the series houses one of the first notable roles from legendary voice actor, Crispin Freeman as Tylor, and though it was before the time where his career took off and and he became popular, he does a solid job contrasting Tylor’s goofiness with some of the depth underneath. The supporting characters provide decent but mostly forgettable performances but the dub is servicable enough to get by and worth listening to if only to hear Crispin Freeman act like a goofball for 20 minutes.

How much you enjoy The Irresponsible Captain Tylor will largely depend on your assesement of the lead character himself.  Is he a idiot? Is he a brillaint mastermind? The show never fully answers that question but it’s an enjoyable experience trying to find out exactly which it is and it makes more a pretty interesting ride along the way.

Overall: 8.5/10

Available on Hulu

 

 

Review- Okami-san and Her Seven Companions: Doesn’t Quite Bear It’s Fangs

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Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is a 2010 series done by JC Staff. The story depicts the tale of a girl named Ryoko who’s also known as Okami-san (the wolf) who is a member of the Otogi Academy’s, Otogi Bank, a club designed to handle student requests in exchange for favors (no not that kind) to be repaid later on. One day while returing home from the club she encounters a boy named Ryoshi who’s known for not particularly standing out and has a fear of being stared at by other people. He confesses his love for Ryoko and though she rejects him on the spot he soon ends up joining the club in an attempt to get closer to her.

The show is mostly a comedy and a fairly self aware one, as the narrator frequently comments on some of the pandering and zaniness that occurs. Though the show is rarely laugh out loud funny it manages to be a pretty fun romp in that aspect. It also balances the growing romance between the two leads fairly well as Ryoko slowly starts to become attracted to some of Ryoshi’s better qualities.

Drama and characterization are also a fairly big thing for the show. Though the show is called Okami-san and Her Seven Companions only a a few of the group members are given some serious focus but the focus they do get is handled decently as we learn some of the reasons behind their individual quirks and they do grow a little bit although not too much as it’s a comedy and status quo has to be maintained in some fashion. However while the serious moments are mostly alright it’s also where some of the shows problems lie

It’s made apparently very early on that though Ryoko maintains a tough girl image , it’s mostly a facade to hide some of the deeper issues she has going on. This mostly works as the show gradually alludes to the trauma she went through in middle school with her supposed (?) rapist ex-boyfriend (the exact nature of the relationship isn’t made that clear) and why she  shuts herself off from other people but the the show never goes into full detail over the incident. Additionally though a good half the show is spent on developing a conflict between the Otogi Bank and a rival school run by rapist-ex boyfriend the conflict is never fully settled and though his actions over the course of the show include kidnapping, assault and most likely attempted rape (again it’s not terribly clear) he doesn’t receive any serious comeuppance for his actions and the final episode of the show is devoted to an entirely seperate plot.  There are also some occasional issues with balancing the serious and comedic moments as the narrator, while mostly funny, can sometimes be a bit too intrusive  and it can take away from the episodes a bit, even during some of the comedy scenes.

The production values for the show are fairly solid as the show delivers on some surprisingly well animated action sequences by JC Staff standards though the show doesn’t stand out much otherwise as the character designs are fairly average for a comedy series. The music is also a little forgettable though the opening theme song by May’n is pretty good and the  ending theme song is a little catchy.

Funimation’s dub of the series more or less delivers and is as solid as you’d come to expect from their work. Joel McDonald’s Ryoushi works and Briana Palencia pulls off Ryoko’s tough girl act well enough as is her standard typecasting. The rest of the dub cast is fine as well although some of the voices do occasionally sound a bit too deep for what are supposed to be teenagers.

Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is a mostly fun little romp but some of its issues prevent it from being as solid as it could have been since  the larger story at hand isn’t really resolved. It’s not highly recommended from me  but if you want a mostly cute romantic comedy it works out enough in spite of it’s looming problems.

Overall: 6.9/10

Available on Hulu, Funimation.com and Netflix

Animation Talk- Snydar’s Departure: A Retrospective

So for those who are unaware it was announced a little earlier today that the current president of Cartoon Network, Stuwart Snydar will be resigning from his position at the end of the month. His time at the company has been an interesting adventure and though we’re all pretty glad to see he’s gone, now’s a pretty good time to take a look back at some of the good and much of the bad that happened during his reign

Syndar first took over Cartoon Network roughly six years ago and his appointment to the position brought a lot of changes to the network. One of his first and perhaps most notorious changes was the axing of Cartoon Network’s original Toonami block (recently revived by Adult Swim almost 2 years ago) which ran for about 11 years due to the ratings being in a slump as a result of Naruto, which had become the ratings pillar of the block running into it’s infamous 86 episode filler run and hitting a massive decline (which kinda stung since the cancellation occured during the final season of filler and before the sequel series Naruto Shippuden could air). This caused a lot of controversy and backlash with long time viewers of the network and this would not be the last instance of this happening.

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Syndar sure didn’t

Around the end of 2008 he started what was perhaps the most significant shift in Cartoon Networks programming: the introduction of live-action programming. The first instance of this came with the series Out of Jimmy’s head which was a spinoff of the movie Reanimated. For the most part this was somewhat tolerable as the show had a mix of live action and cartoon elements but the show was very short lived and only lasted for about 2 seasons before getting cancelled. Despite this, Snydar continued the push of live action shows in an attempt to directly compete with Nickelodeon and Disney and this eventually lead to the creation of the CN Real block which had it’s own series of bizarre live action programming that aired on and off until very recently where it seems to have more or less gone away outside of airing movies on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

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We hear ya man

Adding onto some of the controversy surrounding some of his decision making regarding CN’s move away from third party anime content,  he was also known for being very unsupportive of some of CN’s own original action shows and valued toy sales over ratings which led to the cancellation of well acclaimed shows such as Young Justice and Green Lantern the Animated Series, which were strong ratings performers, but weren’t as strong on the merchandising front.

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We’re still bitter

It’s perhaps unsurprising that as a result of much of the controversy and changes that happened during Snydar’s run as president. the network has seen a pretty sharp decline in it’s ratings as compared to it’s prime, and it’s due to this that the network has gradually lost some of it’s airtime to the more popular late night Adult Swim block, and has been pushed back from it’s original 10PM end time, to 9PM and later on in the month, 8PM.

Despite much of the bad that happened during his reign there was some good to be had. CN’s original comedies over the course of the mid 2000’s were mostly forgettable and weren’t quite able to create as much of a following as the classic “Cartoon Cartoons” of the late 90’s/early 00’s which are still remembered to this day, but around 2010, CN began having a renaissance of sorts with their primetime comedies as we were introduced to Adventure Time which has become CN’s most popular and iconic show in recent memory. This was followed up by the creation of other strong comedies such as Regular Show and mostly recently Steven Universe which have seperated themselves from the norm in terms of children’s programming and have offered experiences a bit more adult than some of CN’s other properties.

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This probably one of the least suggestive jokes made in the show

So what’ll happen now that Snydar is gone? Well seeing his replacement has yet to be announced there’s a lot that’s up in the air but we could see some significant changes occur. I’m not expecting to see anything as drastic as non-toyetic anime return to daytime programming (those days are long over) but I’m personally hoping we can see CN shift back to action programming (which they’ve been severly lacking in as of late) and possibly see the creation of a new action block though I imagine that wouldn’t happen anytime soon. I’m also hoping we’ll see a bit more variety to the channel in terms of having female oriented shows as that’s been a notable issue for them as of late.

Syndar’s departure brings about new winds of change and it’s hard to be certain of where exactly things will be headed next. Though, as Snydar’s reign brought about what many have considered to be the network’s darkest age, there’s much to be optimistic about. While it’s very unlikely the network will make a return to it’s glory days, hopefully we’ll see some grand changes for the better.

Review- Rurouni Kenshin Live Action Film: Blade’s Still Sharp

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Okay so I know this isn’t technically animation and that’s what I was going to stick to as far as reviews go for this site(otherwise I’d have to change the name to something else) but it’s an adaption of something based on animation so we can make an exception right? Right? After all it’s friggin Kenshin. Now that that’s settled let’s move on.

Rurouni Kenshin is a 2012 movie adaptation of the manga/animated series of the same name . It tells the story of a samurai named Himura Kenshin who was once as assassin for the revolutionary army. However after the revolutionaries won the war and a new era arrived he became a rurouni (wanderer) vowing to never kill another soul with his blade. The movie covers the first 4 volumes of the manga including everything from the beginning of the  series to the end of the Kanryu arc while adding in Saito as a bonus and for the most part it blends the arcs together very well. Kanryu takes up the lion’s share of villany in the film(somehow managing to be even worse of a human being than his manga counterpart) as several of the other iconic opponents from the early parts of the manga serve under him though some of the villains are blended together into one character for the sake of convenience.

Kenshin’s character arc is the main focus of the film as he is constantly questioned as to whether or not he can still be capable of protecting others while still maintaining his vow and his resolve is tested more than once as he tries to overcome the memories of his past sins.  The arc is given a pretty meaningful resolution with the Jin-e fight and in a lot of ways it works better here than in the manga and anime versions of the encounter since there’s a lot more buildup on Kenshin’s struggle.

Though the film mostly maintains it’s focus on Kenshin there are some issues here and there. Yahiko and Sano are kind of awkwardly added into the film and while Sano specifically is initially introduced as a minor antagonist his shift towards becoming an ally is downplayed and mostly seems to happen for the sake of convenience as do a few other story elements which are handled a bit awkwardly, but these are thankfully minor enough that they don’t totally drag down the film.

One of the greatest strengths of the film however are the fight scenes. The action sequences are very well choreographed and deliver on all of the action you’ve come to expect from the series though since Japan’s live action films typically don’t have the same budget as that of a Hollywood film there are a couple of instances where the theatrics look a bit too over the top and almost come across as silly. The film also has issues keeping Kenshin’s design consistent since while his hair is usually bleached orange like in the manga/anime there are a couple of scenes  where the bleach isn’t there and his hair is black instead which can be a little weird.

Despite some minor story problems the film mostly delivers on everything it needed to and provides a solid adaptation of the original series. It’s a solid example of how a live action manga adaptation should be done and hopefully the upcoming sequel films will follow in its footsteps.

Overall: 7.8/10

Available fansubbed