Happy New Year everyone!
As it’s the first Anime Pocket Review of 2017, I thought that I should pull out all the stops and start the year with a bang! Therefore, in episode 22 we have what is certainly the biggest and best APR ever made!
Later on we review two of the biggest and best anime of the previous cycle, but first, here’s our review on one of the most famous sci-fi anime there is.
Psycho-Pass (2012-2013, S1, 22x24mins)
Dystopia, Crime fiction, Cyberpunk
“Everything you’ve been taught is based on theories and logic. Soon, you’ll come to realize how pointless they are.”
In a future version of Japan, law and order is maintained by something referred to as the Sibyl System. The Sibyl System, using cameras and drones, continuously measures every person’s mental wellbeing, giving them a Crime Coefficient, a likelihood of that person committing a crime. If someone’s Coefficient gets too high, the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division are called, and depending on the level of the Coefficient, the person is arrested or executed. This system has led to the creation of what is supposedly the most peaceful society humanity has ever created. The story follows Akane (second from left), a young girl whose Crime Coefficient is so low that she’s able to work with Division One at the Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division, a job off-limits to most people due to its stress levels. As she begins to work with them, she starts to understand why the job is off limits to normal people, as threats . She takes a particular interest in Shinya Kogami (first from left), a Division One Enforcer – elite officers whose crime coefficients are too high, who do the dirty work of inspectors – who was once an Inspector, until an unsolved case drove his Crime Coefficient too high.
This is an exceptional series. The story of Psycho-Pass has to be one of the best stories I’ve seen in a very long time. Not only does Psycho-Pass build a deep, detailed world, but it also fills that world with characters that are incredibly detailed in themselves. The core four-or-five characters in this story have genuine individuality in their emotions and their actions, and portray a realism that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before in anime. They might not necessarily be the most exciting individuals, but they are certainly individuals in every sense. However, while the characters are really good, I think the success of Psycho-Pass lies in its storytelling. The overall plot line of the series develops so nicely – what started as solving simple cases at the beginning becomes bigger and bigger over time, as each case links together and a bigger, world-changing plot is revealed. Everything that was sold to you at the beginning is later questioned, and the line between right and wrong becomes so questionable that it is impossible to not feel passionately about what’s happening. What appears as a simple sci-fi, dystopian show actually deals with a lot of mature issues: trust, friendship, father/son and upper/subordinate relationships are all looked at in a series that will certainly be, for me, one of the best dystopian tales I’ve ever seen.
The creators of Psycho-Pass openly admit to being heavily inspired by western cinema in the creation of Psycho-Pass. At a time where anime adaptations could be about the break into western cinema (I’m thinking Ghost in the Shell, and I think I heard something about a Death Note film, although I can’t be sure), Psycho-Pass shows all the characteristics of a show that would appeal to a western audience. While the intros and outros throughout were lukewarm, the actual soundtrack for the show was exceptional, and brought serious emotion and subtlety to the series. There was countless small moments during Psycho-Pass that were brought to life through a perfect blend of timing, direction and sound that wouldn’t look out-of-place on the big screen.
Overall, this was an exceptionally well-told story that is very hard to find faults in. It delivers on detail, animation, composing, setting, characters and plot. This was an anime through-and-through, not adapted from any other material beforehand, and I think that has led to telling a very dramatic story that must rank upon one of the best I’ve ever seen.
If you liked this you’ll love: Steins;Gate – This was a really hard show to find a recommendation for, because I’ve never seen a show do ‘mature sci-fi’ as good as Psycho-Pass. However, while it might not be as mature, there is certainly a smart sophistication to Steins;Gate. A bland colour palette, along with two methodical leads – man and woman – and a smart story means that there’s enough in Steins;Gate for fans of Psycho Pass to enjoy.
Occultic;Nine (2016, S1, 12x24mins)
Mystery, Paranormal, Comedy
The story centres around Yuta Gamon (bottom-centre), a teenager who runs a blog called Kirikiri Basara, which is mildly successful, according to the man himself, for its coverage on paranormal happenings. He is often accompanied by best friend Ryoka (right of centre), who follows him around, spouting childish nicknames and shocking Yuta with her strange stun gun, the Poya-Gun. Over time, the occult happenings occurring around them and others draws a group of seemingly random people together, which is when a mystery of incredible proportions reveals itself, revolving around mass suicides happening in the city. The group, some of them working together, some looking themselves for answers, and some passionately denying the scenes around them, begin to uncover the mystery behind the recent events, involving the deaths of hundreds of people.
Occultic;Nine is created by the same people who created one of the classic anime sci-fi mysteries, and one of the first shows I ever watched, the aforementioned Steins;Gate (notice the’;’ in both titles). That was a show that had a complex, and more importantly, strange mystery, but grounded it with dull colours and natural characters. You can tell that Occultic;Nine is made by the same people, as it shares that blend of mystery and general strange happenings. However, the difference here is that Occultic;Nine has no interest in any grounding or naturality.
I would love to say at this point whether the mystery itself was any good. However, what strikes you the most about this series is the incredible speed at which it moves. In all my time reviewing and watching anime, I have never come across a show where the characters spoke as quickly as they do in Occultic;Nine. It’s outrageous how fast the dialogue moves! I can imagine that this works well for a Japanese speaking audience, but when you’re trying to read important dialogue in the subtitles and look at the constantly changing camera angles, it’s inevitable that something’s going to be missed. I want to say that it was a good mystery story, because I’m still confused! It’s the type of story where you will probably have to watch it three, maybe even four times through to fully understand everything that happens.
Occultic;Nine is, more than anything, a really creative anime. While obvious comparisons can be drawn between Occultic and Steins, this is a really individual piece. Using a colourful pallet as its base, Occultic;Nine creates a strange world where even the normal characters have a ridiculous side. The way the anime is shot is also unique, with off-angled camera shots that change just as quickly as the conversation. It’s traits like this that make Occultic;Nine a show that is constantly balancing on the fine line between serious mystery and ridiculous anime fantasy.
Overall, this is a really interesting show that is bursting with individuality and creativity. However, ultimately, a mystery show lives and dies with the quality of its story, and while there’s probably a really good story in there, the boundless creativity that gave birth to the extremely fast dialogue means that the main body and the mystery is lost in a sea of bright colours and extreme camera angles.
If you liked this you’ll love: Re:Zero – Probably my favourite anime from 2016, Re:Zero has set the standard going forward in terms of blending quirky characters and interesting, developing plot. The two leads in each show – both of them self-proclaimed NEETs – are very similar in the fact that despite having a front that is all about childish acts, they are both trying to think their way out of the situation they’ve been thrust into. Re:Zero is fantasy, whereas Occultic;Nine is more sci-fi, but these shows share that same childish emotion.
Bungou Stray Dogs (2016, S1A&B, 24x24mins)
“Justice is a weapon. It can be used to cause harm, but it cannot protect or save others.”
Bungou Stray Dogs follows Atsushi (right, centre), an 18-year-old who is abandoned by his orphanage due to his ‘destructive’ nature. The world of Bungou Stray Dogs is led by people with extraordinary gifts, and Atsushi’s – named ‘Beast Beneath the Moon’ – transforms him into an uncontrollable white tiger with extraordinary power. Left on the verge of death, he is rescued by Osamu Dazai (right, top-right), who has the ability to cancel any person’s ability through his touch. Dazai welcomes him into the Armed Detective Agency, a self-operating group of detectives, each with their own special abilities. He joins at a time where tensions between the Armed Detective Agency and major criminal organisation Port Mafia (left picture) are reaching fever-pitch, and Atsushi becomes the Mafia’s number one target when a price is put on his head.
In the second half of the series (aired months later) we learn about Dazai’s past, where he was an executive in the Port Mafia, before the Agency is faced with a new enemy in the Guild, an extremely powerful western collective of gifted people who come to Japan to claim the lucrative permit that allows the Armed Detective Agency to operate legally.
While this is strictly a review of seasons one and two, Season on was a long time ago. The only thing I can remember that is of specific significance to season one is that the characters were really good individuals, but were also given enough screen time each to develop into really interesting characters. One such character was Dazai, who is part of the trio of characters that take the starring role at the beginning of season two.
It is worth saying at this point that I have seen many second series of anime so far, and anime, like TV, music and everything else, often suffers when it comes to the second season. On that point, I think Bungou Stray Dogs is the best anime second season I’ve ever seen, and even improves on what was a very good first season.
Instinctively, I’m always wary of flashback episodes. They are usually there because of a lack of creativity and ideas to fill the full number of episodes. However, BSD creates almost a mini-series of flashbacks at the very beginning, being so patient and deep with it that I thought the whole series was going to revolve around that story. This is how flashbacks should be done, because not only was it a good story in and of itself, but its relevance also slowly revealed itself once the current timeline continued. Overall, this is a story that is told with a lot of confidence in its characters, who create memorable moments out of a relatively simple plot. Also, the second season is the only time so far that I’ve enjoyed both the intro and outro sequences of an anime!
What really helps this show stand out – past the awesome trick of all the characters being named after historic authors, and their powers being inspired by their books – is an edgy, comic-book style of animation. Using a palette of simple, but vibrant colours, BSD gives everyone a thick black outline, creating scenes that look like they’ve been stripped straight from an American comic-book. It’s a style that works in both action and comedic moments, and while it might not be as bright as in other shows, it deserves recognition nonetheless.
Overall, this is an excellent series. It delivers cool action scenes and excellent characters, some of the best I’ve seen. What stops this being an elite piece of anime, in my eyes, is a lack of thoughtfulness and subtlety in enough key moments, but this is still a good, action and comedy-filled, character-led blockbuster that certainly has a place in every anime fan’s collection.
If you liked this you’ll love: Akame Ga Kill – A story in which a young man with nothing left is taken in by a group of evil-fighting assassins, the comparisons between these two stories are easy to see. They both share an excellent selection of characters with unique abilities and personalities, along with a good sense of fun. Akame is slightly more childish, both in terms of colour and the lightness of plot, but it is still a serious and well-respected show that I’m sure you’ll love!
How about that? In an interesting turn of events, Steins;Gate, made by the same people behind Occultic;Nine, was actually a recommendation for a separate show ahead of being a suitable recommendation for their own creation!
It might seem strange, but there was more similarities between Steins and Psycho Pass than there was between that and Occultic. You could tell that Occultic was by the same people, but they certainly made this show something very individual, and really, that has to be commended.
Make sure to 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 90’s classic, Cowboy Bebop!