Here it is, episode six of our Anime Pocket Reviews!
This time we have two stories that are almost complete polar opposites – the happy-go-lucky fairy tale; and a bloody, unforgiving wonderland…
Sword Art Online II (S2, 2014, 24X24mins)
Action Adventure, Sci-Fi, Video Game
Check out our review or Sword Art Online S1 here!
Following on from the end of the first SAO, this series can almost be split into three stories. Firstly, having saved themselves from the people behind the Sword Art Online incident, Kirito (centre, in black) is called upon by the government to investigate a similar situation developing in the latest VRMMORPG, ‘Gun Gale Online’. In GGO, a game seen as a much tougher and rougher version of Kirito’s previous adventures, a man who calls himself Death Gun appears to have a weapon of the same name that when shot not only kills the players character but the person themselves. When in the game, he teams up with expert sniper Sinon (second left), a girl who is using the game as a way to get over a gun incident from her youth that in the real world results in panic attacks over the sheer though of a pistol.
After that, the group from the previous series unite again to try and obtain the holy sword Excalibur in ALO (a game from the previous series). When they head to attempt the mission they are contacted by the Queen of the Lake, an NPC which tells them they have to obtain the sword to save the world from turning to ice.
Finally, as Asuna (on Kirito’s left) and Kirito and everyone else settle into their old way of life in ALO, they hear rumours of an ‘unbeatable player’ called Zekken challenging other players to duels, even beating Kirito. After Asuna challenges Zekken more than anybody before her, Zekken opens up to Asuna. She reveals herself as Yuuki, and explains she was searching for somebody to join their guild, the Sleeping Knights, as they try and defeat the next floor boss with just their small party – stating that it’s their last chance to adventure together this winter.
You do really have to consider this as three separate series – or two series with a bit in the middle, because the middle story doesn’t really have any sort of weight about it. I though the first story was actually really good. It had a slightly rougher edge that SAO has always seriously lacked, and the character Sinon had great depth and purpose (although a general lack of character depth is a criticism of SAO). The first story is very much Hunger Games-esque, where players are thrown into an arena and the last one standing wins, pitting Death Gun and others against Kirito and Sinon. Make of that what you will, but I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would.
The second story, looking back I’m not really sure why it’s there at all, so I’ll skip that. The third story is much more like the last series. With only a handful of episodes to build it up, it doesn’t really have much substance in terms of what happens in the game, but the last few episodes, when Yuuki’s identity is revealed, are really poignant and sweet moral moments.
My major gripe with this, and the series before, is the lack of humanity in SAO. Very rarely do any of the characters put a foot wrong, and I’m fairly sure the writers think lead character Kirito is the second coming. He never puts a foot wrong, says the perfect thing every time and just conducts himself in such a way that you could easily mistake him for Jesus Christ. It’s almost ridiculous.
Overall, I believe this is an improvement on the first series. The problems that showed their faces in series 1, and cause a major divide of opinions on this anime, are still there and won’t be going anytime soon. However, the first story is a substantial improvement, and the last finishes the series with some serious feels! It has much more to it than the original SAO, but the insane and unnatural level of perfection will always stop this being considered a truly great anime.
Deadman Wonderland (S1, 2011, 12X23mins)
Action, Sci-fi, Horror
The story follows Ganta Igarashi (front and centre), a normal kid attending a normal school in Japan. His life is transformed when one morning a strange man covered in in blood floats through the classroom window and proceeds to murder his entire class except him, instead implanting a red crystal into Ganta’s chest. As the sole survivor, he is framed as the murderer and sentenced to death at Deadman Wonderland. Deadman Wonderland is the only privately owned prison, which doubles up as a theme park where the convicts are the main event, forced to take part in mortally dangerous games for the amusement of the crowd. As he tries to survive in the twisted prison with the help of the strange girl Shiro (background), he discovers that the ‘Red Man’ that murdered his class has ‘gifted’ him, and others at Deadman Wonderland, with a strange blood-based power.
I should start by saying that this was discontinued after these 12 episodes, the ‘series’ ending on something of a cliff-hanger. Not only that, the studio that made the series, Manoglobe, has now gone out of business (albeit years later). That should really tell you everything that has to be said about this.
On a more positive note, this is a really good idea, and it doesn’t surprise me that the source material has a strong fan base. The idea of an amusement park built on top of a prison, a house full of nut-jobs and a show not scared of bloodshed (this is by far the bloodiest and goriest anime I’ve seen so far) was so enticing, and the name just sounded so cool I didn’t give watching this a second thought! It starts off strong, but like many 12-episode animes it starts to fall apart as it rushes towards a conclusion. After the first episode I was really excited to see more of Deadman Wonderland, as in the amusement park and the events that they explain at the end of episode 1 (with a bunch of montage clips of games you never see again) all the prisoners get put through. Instead it turns into a dark, glum series. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it would have had a lot more success if there was even the tiniest smidge of fun somewhere. That’s why Shiro is so popular…
While the character Shiro is really good (and something of a cult hero in general anime culture, I think), and there’s a few other cool fighters in the show, there’s too many paper-thin characters led by a kid who you can never really feel anything for, or have any attachment to. The way he acted, and the way he spoke, almost felt cliché and that’s to someone with as limited anime experience as myself!* Come to think of it, he reminded me a lot of the lead from Tokyo Ghoul, but just not executed as well.
Overall, this had potential but I feel like it’s almost been rushed to TV on the cheap, and like Manoglobe themselves, has tanked as a result**. Don’t get fooled by the pretty lights and bad-ass name, this really isn’t that great…
*I don’t know for how much longer I can keep playing the ‘new to anime’ card. I think I’ve seen plenty now! There will be a general anime catch-up/awards style thing soon, I’m just waiting until I get to a good round number, you dig?
**Also, I think I’m being a bit harsh on Manoglobe, it’s just a perfect analogy for what happened with the TV series. They’re not that bad – in fact I hear that their original series (something SUPER rare in anime, and I guess western cinema too…) were quite good, especially Ergo Proxy.
As I like asking questions at the end of these things, this time I’m interested to hear what you people think is:
a) The softest ‘action’ genre anime, a la SAO, and/or;
b) The most grusome anime out there, a la Deadman Wonderland!
Also, make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for the next episode of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring the huge global (yes, I said global) success Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion!!