Episode One-Derland: Red Garden

Plot: Kate, Rachel, Claire and Rose are all from different walks of life, but they have one thing in common – they’re dead….But not really. Well, yes, they are, but they’re still walking around and interacting with people – anyway, they don’t remember anything about the night they died, but mysterious ‘teachers’ show up to guide them…to murder?

Breakdown: I had plot synopsyes from other websites that I could have ripped from, but I like writing my own. So if that plot sounds confusing it’s only because this first episode is really confusing.

I didn’t know much about Red Garden going in and I pretty much still don’t, even after reading a couple of reviews on it. It tends to get middle of the road reviews, and that seems to be because the final four episodes are terrible. Several reviews I read treated this series as if it would have been near masterpiece level had the ending four episodes not been so rushed and terrible. The THEM review on it made it sounds like a damn car crash of plot development.

To tell you the truth, that almost put me off altogether, because I can stand watching a bad anime or just a couple of episodes of a bad anime to get my chuckles in, but if you give me a good anime and then tell me its finale is terrible, I feel like I’ll be investing a lot just to end up disappointed.

One of the reasons for the initial confusion is that the first episode keeps jumping between the girls. For a good chunk of the run time, it’s just constantly reminding us that the girls don’t remember what happened the night before and they’re all sleepy and feeling ill.

The opening scene does show all of the girls, now unconscious, being transported back to their houses, and we learn a friend of Kate’s, Lise, went missing and was found dead in the woods under mysterious circumstances. Everything culminates in the end with all of the girls being lead to a location in a park by a bunch of butterflies that only they seem to be able to see. They meet two people, clad in black, who introduce themselves as their teachers before instructing them to kill a nearby man who turns out to be a monster.

It’s staged very much like a thriller, which I like, but it doesn’t change the fact that the first episode is confusing. I think it does enough to keep my attention and make me want to learn more, however.

The art and animation will take some getting used to. Everyone’s very lanky with big lips and smaller eyes than you typically see in anime. It’s not really bad, but it’s just weird to me. Not my cup of tea.

The music in general is pretty nice and the voice acting is also decent.

THEM noted that this series has a very awkward habit of having the girls, for no reason, suddenly break out into sad songs and mentioned that their voice actresses just could not sing worth a damn. I honestly didn’t think anything of it when I read that, but when Kate started singing….yikes.

I was going to give her some slack because she was grieving her friend so it was probably just her emotions affecting her voice, but…..no. There’s a difference between putting emotion into your voice and sounding like someone is gently strangling you as you sing. I shouldn’t be visibly flinching at points during your song.

Continue Yes

While I am going to be very wary of the final four episodes, many people still seemed to enjoy it in its entirety just fine, and I think it’s worth a roll of the dice. Nothing’s really reaching out to me as ‘masterpiece’ worthy or even all that great, but I still think it will be interesting and hopefully explore some cool ideas.


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Episode One-Derland: Ajin – Demi-Human

Plot: Seventeen years ago, humanity discovered the existence of ajin; seemingly immortal beings with other superhuman abilities. Only two have been discovered so far, but interest in the ajin remains extremely high.

Kei Nagai, however, only wants to focus on being a ‘fine human.’ He wants to rid himself of frivolity and study hard to become a doctor. He’s even given up his old best friend, Kai, to achieve it.

Distracted while walking in the street, Kei is suddenly hit by a truck. Everyone watching instantly believes he’s dead. No one could survive a hit like that. Well….no one except…

Breakdown: Ajin: Demi-Human is a title I’ve heard of, but never really learned much about.

The show has a talent at capturing your attention. From the first scene, you’re sucked in by the ajin as one lone ajin takes out an army of people with ease, even taking RPG shots head-on without issue.

Then we shift to present day and our main protagonist, Kei, who is really hard to like or relate with. He has a very odd manner of speaking (Who says their main goal in life is to be a ‘fine human’?) doesn’t ever smile and is a big stick in the mud. Even when he’s a kid, he’s talks like a serial killer who’s too cynical for his age.

He has a flashback to his sister, Eriko, crying over a dead puppy and Kei basically shrugs it off and says “He was sick, so he died. It can’t be helped. Though, what’s the point of dying? Might as well not die.” He’s like six in this flashback, by the way. Not like his mom is much better. She called the puppy ‘defective’ and is the one who basically told Kei to dump Kai as a friend if he wants to be a ‘fine human.’

Kei gets a little better near the end because he actually sucks up his pride and contacts Kai for help, and he shows determination to not ever be caught by anyone, but he was trying my patience for a while.

Eriko is in the hospital for unknown reasons and seemingly hates him now. She’s unpleasant.

Kei’s ‘friends’ at school are two-faced jackasses.

The only one here who seems likable is Kai, who, despite being dumped as a friend, still goes out of his way and risks his life and future to help Kei in the end.

I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything to mention that Kei’s an ajin. He discovers this out of the blue when he gets hit by the truck. Now everyone and their brother are chasing him down.

I say this isn’t really a spoiler because the episode makes is really obvious that Kei’s an ajin even without him getting hurt or nearly killed. His focus on being a ‘fine human’ his inability to ignore news about ajin even when he flatout says he should ignore it because it has nothing to do with his studying, his suggestion that ajin are still humans despite their abilities, showing sympathy for them etc.

I’m a bit concerned that the show might lose tension with this. Immortal characters are, by default, typically boring because you’re never concerned for their welfare. Why would you? They can’t die.

So if you’re not really worried about their safety, you either have to worry about the safety of other characters, of which the only ones I’m really concerned over are Kai and maybe Eriko, or you have to make the immortal character more interesting.

As a first episode, it did introduce us to the world and characters fairly well, and it kept itself grounded enough to maintain a true sense of realism even with immortal beings as the forefront of the plot.

The art and animation are fully 3D CGI, and I have a real problem getting accustomed to that style. It works pretty well here. I don’t feel like I’m watching a half-hour long video game cutscene or anything, but I find myself being pulled out of immersion every so often when I notice the art and animation.

The music is really good so far, even if the background animations for the ED were really depressing. We just keep seeing silhouettes of people killing themselves in various ways.

Final Verdict:

Continue Yes

While I am a little wary here as I’m concerned this will be an endless diatribe as to why humans suck, which wears on my psyche as episodes go on, I am looking forward to where this story will go.

(Status Update Pre-posting: Completed watching – will post the full anime review sometime soon.)

Recommended Audience: While there wasn’t a whole lot of graphic stuff in this episode, mostly just a couple of people getting shot and Kei getting hit by the truck, neither of which was very notable, THEM Anime Reviews warns that this should be NC-17 due to the intense amounts of gore they’ll presumably have later on, particularly when experimenting on the demi-humans. I can’t make that determination yet, so I’ll just say 16+

 


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Episode One-Derland: Terror in Resonance

Plot: Nine and Twelve are two teenagers who survived a mysterious incident as children. In the fire and chaos, they managed to escape and live their lives independently.

Today, they appear to be domestic terrorists attacking Japan while posing as high school students. While they’re carrying out their latest attack, Twelve, in an effort to get Nine to overcome a past trauma, puts the life of their classmate, Lisa, on the line. He can either let her be another casualty or try to save her life. Likewise, Nine gives Lisa a choice – die where she stands or become an accomplice.

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Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe with music by Yoko Kanno?

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Ahhhhhhhh, I’m just joshin’ ya……..Okay, not really. It’s going to get that verdict. Just scroll a tad. But I’m not the type of person to fangirl over directors or composers.

Terror in Resonance doesn’t give a lot of information off the bat. All we know is that Nine and Twelve escaped from some facility when they were kids with some other children. Nine watched some kid fall behind him and get murdered, which traumatized him.

Today, they appear to be domestic terrorists, but I doubt it’s that simple. Their first viewed act of crime is stealing something from a nuclear repurposing facility. Six months later, they’re posing as normal teenagers in a high school and planning a multi-bomb assault on a huge building.

We don’t know why they’re doing these things, due to this series being a thriller, but it’s an interesting concept.

The role of Lisa could be interpreted as someone just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She’s initially helped out by Twelve when she’s being bullied by some bitches, but he later decides to reel her into their plot one way or another to help Nine out with his childhood trauma. Twelve believes if Nine chooses to save her, he’ll stop having nightmares because it’s his guilt from being unable to save the other children from their escape that keeps him up at night.

It’s obviously an odd form of therapy considering they’re the ones planting the bombs in the first place, but I can see where he’s coming from. In this instance, Twelve is particularly intriguing because he bounces back and forth between his goofy nonchalant self and a clearly more sinister personality.

Back to Lisa, she spends much of the episode hiding in the bathroom and dodging texts from her mother, of which I can’t read. In addition to finding the restroom as a hiding place from the bullies, she also seems to have stomach problems. She flushes her lunch down the toilet and nearly throws up several times. I might say she has bulimia, but she doesn’t seem to be triggering her regurgitation on purpose.

Lisa just happens to be in the building that Nine and Twelve target, and the rest is history.

Despite the fact that she seems to be incredibly depressed, perhaps to the point of physical illness, she chooses life over death, even if it means that she’s an accomplice to the crime.

This episode does a great job at setting the stage for the rest of the story. While I will admit that we don’t learn much about these characters or the backstory of this whole situation yet, I don’t believe we’re meant to do so, given the genre.

The art and animation is gorgeous…..except the people. Their bodies are designed just fine, it’s the faces and hair that put me off a little. Some of their features seem either scrunched or stretched too much, and this series has an annoying quirk I liked to call ‘hooky mouth.’ No matter what angle the characters are looking in, their mouths are always curved to a slight hook. This is merely a pet peeve, but it’s still there.

While we’re on the subject of animation, it is downright amazing, and just to fangirl a little, some of the choices in direction are simply mind blowing. That scene on the snowmobile during their escape was one of the best action scenes I’ve ever watched. It sucks you into the scene in an instant and brings you along for a great ride.

I don’t believe I even need to mention that the music is great. I’ll admit that nothing’s jumping out at me as a song that I can’t live without, but it’s still wonderful. Yoko Kanno’s style always has a very dreamy feel to it that I just love.

As for the voice acting, I watched the English version on Funimation’s website…..and…it’s okay. No one’s voice is annoying, but Christopher Bevins plays Nine in a very boring and monotone fashion. I can’t say if that’s the way he’s meant to be conveyed, though it very well might be because Nine is the stoic dark bad boy to contrast Twelve’s goof-ball nature, but it comes off poorly.

This episode also solidified that I am no longer a fan of Aaron Dismuke. I feel like an ass for saying that because I loved him as Al in FMA, and puberty is a massive bitch to young voice actors, but it’s true.

He definitely still has his acting chops, but his voice is, for lack of a better term, weird to me. Not annoying – just weird. And I didn’t make any snap judgments going in – I had no clue who was voicing whom until I watched the end credits. I thought him sounding weird in FMA:B was just him trying to adapt to voice acting with his older voice, but it’s been a few years now and it still sounds off to me.

Final Verdict:

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It looks like this will be a great thrill ride, and I can’t wait to see where the rest of the story is heading.

Doubt (Manga) Review

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Rating: 7/10

Plot: There’s a new game called ‘Rabbit Doubt’ in which a bunch of people, connected by cell phone, take the role of a rabbit with one person being ‘the wolf.’ As the game goes on, rabbits start dying, purely in the game of course, and the remaining rabbits have to figure out who the wolf is.

As a group of friends who play Rabbit Doubt enjoy a day of fun, they suddenly find themselves trapped in a weird warehouse with barcodes tattooed on their necks that open one door each. That’s not all; one of their own is found to be murdered, and they realize that Rabbit Doubt has turned into a real game. But who’s the wolf?

Breakdown: I was honestly conflicted about my feelings for this manga for a while. On one hand, I was really getting into it and enjoying it quite a bit. Like many of you might know by now, I do enjoy ‘death game’ stories as they usually have nice mysteries, strong characters, good stories and some creative premises. This isn’t the most creative premise in the world, but it still a pretty good one.

They know from the get-go that one of them is ‘the wolf’, so the group, despite being friends, are pretty paranoid of each other and that paranoia only gets worse as clues to the wolf’s identity are strewn about and more people get killed.

The characters themselves are pretty decent, though none are horribly memorable, especially the main main two of Yuu and Mitsuki who basically encapsulate every average nice guy and gentle childhood friend/love interest/person Yuu swears to protect couple ever.

Now, obviously the meat of this story is the ending as it will reveal who the wolf is and what their motivations are. The ending, however, is the weakest part of this story to me.

Jump down to the Bottomline to remain ending-spoiler-free.

Now, noticeably, they put a lot of focus on talking about this girl named Rei before the actual game ever starts. Yuu and the others meet her as they’re hanging out, and Yuu recognizes her as a psychic hypnotist who used to be on TV but fell from grace when she was accused of being a fake. They spend an inordinate amount of time talking about her and more than one conversation arises about her before the game starts. It really makes you think that either she’s the wolf or she’s a gigantic red herring. She even carries around a rabbit doll.

When the group are all knocked out and brought to the warehouse, the first person found dead, before anyone even wakes up mind you, is Rei. For anyone taking this story as a mystery, which it should be, or has read or watched plenty of stories like this before, you’re likely confused at this point yet still focused on Rei. Why was she killed at the very beginning before the actual ‘game’ ever starts? Why have a game if you’re not going to give one of the players a chance? Why did we spend so much time focusing on Rei before the game started if she was going to be superfluous by chapter three?

Here’s the thing, I tend to jump to conclusions when it comes to first suspects in stories like these, but when a character is found dead I typically just accept that they’re dead unless I have reason to suspect otherwise. This leaves Rei as just being a dead body in a room for much of the manga and not really paying it much mind outside of how they’re going to use her barcode key and what she had to do with the big web of crime and lies that is revealed at the end.

Another character that seems like a big red herring is Mitsuki as she doesn’t play Rabbit Doubt. She was merely hanging out with the group since Yuu was playing. Her presence and the fact that files are found with profiles on everyone, Mitsuki included despite her not meaning to be there, put a lot of suspicion on Mitsuki near the middle.

And it does turn out that Mitsuki was one of the wolves…

Yes, you heard me, one of the wolves.

There are technically three wolves for this game; a man they find watching the security monitors, Mitsuki and someone I’ll reveal later. Now having the man be one of the wolves is fine since he’s really just someone helping things along and not the real wolf. He’s not the alpha, so to speak.

However, Mitsuki being a wolf and having another character be another wolf means that the structure of the mystery is ruined for the reader. If we’re meant to take the rules of the game as gospel and have no given reason to think that there’s a mastermind’s mastermind, then it seems like you’re ‘cheating’ us out of figuring it out for ourselves.

The reason Mitsuki is doing this is actually pretty dumb. She loved two people in this world; her father and Yuu. Her father was scammed out of his money by some people and he tried to kill himself by hanging. He lived through the hanging, and after a week went by she wanted to talk to Yuu about it. However, he said he couldn’t do it right then as he was told to go home early and not make any stops along the way.

Mitsuki later saw Yuu hanging out with a girl named Kei, who isn’t a part of the group. Thinking they’re dating and realizing Yuu kinda lied to her, Mitsuki essentially lost the only two people in the world that she loved. So she decided to murder Kei for her ‘betrayal’ and create the game to punish liars since everyone in the group, in one way or another, was a liar.

However, she purposely refused to give a barcode to Yuu. Supposedly this was to protect him and give him a chance to tell her the truth, giving him a bit of an out. However, him not having a barcode when everyone else did just threw all of the suspicion on Yuu. In fact, when Mitsuki is called out as a suspect, they suspect Yuu too since he brought her there and has no barcode.

Since he never fessed up to Mitsuki, didn’t even remember what he lied to her about, Mitsuki decided he needed to die too. It’s not until Mitsuki shows him photos of Kei’s body that she reveals what he lied about it, and Yuu counter-reveals that he wasn’t dating Kei at all. Kei was a good friend of Mitsuki’s and she was helping him pick out a great gift for her birthday, which he was keeping in his pocket but lost somewhere during the game.

Without the gift as proof, Mitsuki doesn’t believe him so she tries to kill him again only to end up getting badly wounded by accident. Yuu attempts to free them from the building with Mitsuki’s barcode which should open every door since she’s the wolf, but is baffled when it’s shown that a door won’t open when her barcode is scanned.

As footsteps approach, the real alpha wolf is shown to be none other than Rei.

Now this just raises all sorts of questions. Why didn’t they check her pulse to ensure she was really dead? They checked up on her body a few times, did she just sit insanely still for hours while still somehow orchestrating this game? How is she connected to the man and Mitsuki?

Well, prepare for a very weird ending that is only unpredictable because it’s just so silly.

Remember that Rei was a hypnotist? Well, when the rumor spread that she was a fake, she was bullied pretty harshly and her parents were even harassed quite a bit. It got so bad that her parents entered into a murder-suicide pact that included Rei against her will. They rammed their car into a tree and died instantly while Rei was left alive.

Yup instead of just laying low and waiting until no one gave a crap about some TV hypnotist girl anymore or trying to prove that she actually has psychic hypnotism powers or moving away or transferring her to a different school or some other logical thing, they decide murder-suicide, with their young child, is the best option. Especially using such an iffy method as a car accident. Dumbasses.

Now left an orphan, Rei wanted revenge on all liars in the world, so she created Rabbit Doubt and spread her hypnotism through one last TV broadcast. I don’t know why she’d get another TV broadcast when she’s been so firmly labeled as a fake, but there ya go. She specifically sought out people who had lost loved ones recently, and Mitsuki actually had her father die that week instead of just being in a coma like Mitsuki believed under the hypnotism. That coupled with her devastation over losing Yuu made her a great candidate to be hypnotized and made into a wolf.

On one hand, this is a pretty decent twist since you really never suspect Rei since she was ‘dead’ the whole time. On the other hand, this is really too big of a pill to swallow.

The wolf is really someone with magical hypnotism powers. And I don’t care that Rei outright says it’s not magic; she’s controlling people through hypnotism, through the TV and cell phone tones no less, to partake in a death game. No, she can’t make anyone kill another person, supposedly, but she can manipulate their minds and memories to the point where they’d be pretty okay in doing so.

It’s clever in that, despite being told of these abilities beforehand, you’d never expect that this is what’s going on…..but the reason you don’t suspect that this is what’s going on is 1) It’s never proven before the game that Rei was actually some psychic hypnotist, thus the reader has no idea that her ‘powers’ or ‘abilities’ are real, and 2) Jumping to what is essentially a supernatural conclusion when absolutely no indication of there being any such abilities or powers being used in this universe at all is a big hurdle to jump for any mystery reader.

I’m not going to say it’s unfair to the reader who wants to figure it out on their own since they did say she was a hypnotist and they did spend a lot of time giving her focus, but it just seems….underhanded to bring this up so late in the game.

Everything that is revealed to us at the end is either something we had no clue or indication to prior to the reveal, thus giving us no opportunity to solve that particular mystery, or it resorted to quasi-supernatural means that weren’t properly established, thus making us feel foolish if we said ‘Oh it’s Rei. We know she’s dead, but she was a hypnotist, so she’s probably pulling the strings and making them believe she’s dead.’

By the way, Mitsuki is the only one in the group who is hypnotized, so Rei’s not making the group think she’s dead with hypnotism. She was just laying about in realistic death effects for hours on end.

I’m not going to go so far as to reveal the actual solidified ending here, because there’s not much else wrong in that part that isn’t just a reflection of what’s wrong here just on a slightly bigger and even less believable scale.

Bottomline: The ending has quite a few problems. The first wolf turns out to be someone who is seemingly a red herring, while the alpha wolf turns out to be an even bigger seemingly red herring made into the bad guy through somewhat ridiculous means that you really wouldn’t be able to predict unless you’re fine with breaking the laws of reality within an established realistic world.

The story is pretty good outside of that, and the characters are decent enough, though Eiji is a bit abrasive. The horror aspect has some good ambiance to it, and you care about the characters enough to worry about them, especially since both the wolf and the rabbits may be threats to them. You’re never really worried that the rabbits will actually kill each other, but they lock each other in rooms that only the wolf has access to, and they leave them unguarded half the time leaving them as wide open targets.

Art wise, it’s pretty nice. They get really nicely detailed on closeups and splash pages, and I especially like the designs of the rabbit heads.

Overall, this is a pretty good ‘death game’ manga. Maybe a bit too cheap with the ending, but an enjoyable and suspenseful ride the whole way through.

Additional Information and Notes: Doubt was written and illustrated by Yoshiki Tonogai and it was published in Square Enix’s Monthly Shounen Gangan. In the US, it was published by Yen Press. Doubt has two spiritual successor manga called Judge and Secret.

Volume: 4

Year: 2007-2009

Recommended Audience: The manga is essentially self-censored, leaving disembodied heads and hanged people slightly blacked out, but there is quite a bit of violence, blood and mild to moderate gore. No nudity, no swearing or sex, though. 13+

13 Club (Manga) Review

Rating: 7/10

Plot: The 13 Club is a website run by a mysterious man named Kudan and his associate Kasuka. The website is dedicated to exploring and spreading weird stories from true events to urban legends to possibly supernatural tales. The manga is a collection of various stories making up a sort of anthology.

Breakdown: While I did really enjoy this series both for its intriguing stories and the plot twists, I do have have to say that it felt very disjointed.

The first chapter, for example, is much more detailed in in its art style. It goes for a much more realistic look only shifting to a more traditional anime style when it came to the girls. It was also most notably fully shaded, offering a feeling of great depth and detail in the scenes that I adored.

However, after that, the realistic style and deep shading were gone and we shifted back to a more traditional style, which isn’t that bad considering that the manga is still very detailed, but why make the first chapter so beautiful when other chapters weren’t going to stand out as much?

Next, while this is an anthology of sorts, the third story goes on for way too long in my opinion. It spans over six chapters in this 11 chapter long series – over half the series is just this one story. It’s a good story, but it definitely didn’t need to go on as long as it did.

Finally, there’s no real theme with the stories. Some are supernatural based though we’re given no explanation as to what is going on with the stories, magic-wise, some are merely urban legends, and one’s a murder mystery. I guess that fits with the fact that their website covers all of these, but reading the stories in succession makes for a slightly weird read.

All of these factors made it sometimes feel like I was reading a different manga. For instance, the final story feels so much more different, almost a Zekkyou Gakkyuu vibe over the murder mystery.

I also don’t know who or what Kudan and Kasuka really are. They obviously have some form of supernatural capabilities, but they’re not explored at all.

Those complaints out of the way, as an anthology/short story lover, these stories do have a lot going for them on their own. Kudan is a pretty interesting character that I wish we got to see more of, and while the twists for some of the stories were predictable, they were still really fun rides. Even if the execution could use some work and I feel like it should’ve gone on for longer, especially since there’s no real ending, it’s still a fairly short and pretty cool read that I’d recommend to pretty much anyone.

Additional Notes and Information: 

13 Club was written and drawn by Tatsuya Shihira and it was published by Ultra Jump.

Volumes: 2

Year: 2008-2009

Recommended Audience: There’s some brief nudity and some pretty damn freaky concepts. One little tidbit by Kudan actually made me pause my reading to cringe….Uegh….god, why did he have to say that?

There’s some mentions of sex, but none actually shown. The language is also a bit coarse. 14+