It’s here, episode 26 is here!
And what an episode it is. Two fantastic series on show here, alongside one of the biggest online series there is! Our review of season four of RWBY is coming up, along with a really surprising series, but first, here’s a very different action anime…
Black Lagoon (2006, S1&2, 24x24mins)
The story follows Rokuro Okajima (right), a young, single man who has become disillusioned with his relentless, undermining corporate life in Japan. While on a business trip, the ship he is travelling on is attacked by mercenaries, who take him as hostage. The group reveal themselves to Okajima as Black Lagoon, a mercenary group who run odd-jobs – primarily goods trafficking – for whoever will pay them. When his company send another mercenary group to attack Black Lagoon, declaring Okajima’s life worthless, he decides to give up on his life in Japan and join Black Lagoon. While the two men welcome it, the decision irks American woman Revy (left), the group’s feared gunman known as Two-hands, who thinks that he is playing pretend.
Basically Plot: An ordinary man decides to jump into the dark world of mafia and outlaws, accompanied (somewhat unwillingly) by a dangerous and unwelcoming woman.
Black Lagoon, I think, is the first series that I’ve seen that I would class as ‘adult’. I’ve seen violent and graphic shows before (Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul are two notable cases), but in anime this violence is usually dulled somewhat by the bright colours and exaggerated, clean language. However, Black Lagoon is a dark, expletive-ridden series that despite not having as much gore as some other series, has such a dull colour pattern and cold characters that the feeling of distaste that you should feel is heightened.
The story itself is okay. It’s slightly easy to read, and while there’s a few twists, it often feels as a vehicle for what is the main attraction, the characters – and there are some great individual characters in Black Lagoon: Rock is a really solid lead, and Revy is a real enigmatic presence. It’s not just them, either, as there’s a real collection of exciting and dangerous people who float in and out from behind the scenes. I think Balalaika and Roberta are two of the best ‘boss’ characters I’ve seen. However, while these characters are exciting on their own, their conversations with one another always come off as a little unintentionally abrasive. You can half-understand that when it comes to talking with dangerous people, but camaraderie between the four members of Black Lagoon should really be a given; in fact, the show doesn’t really do the long-standing relationship between the member’s justice, instead opting to focus on the individual growth of Revy and Okajima. I can’t remember the blonde guy’s name, for example, and it’s not like there’s a huge group, there’s four of them.
Black Lagoon has felt like a really unique experience. Anime is often seen as this somewhat childish medium, and after watching so many shows I can confirm that’s not the case. However, even as an anime fan I thought this was a particularly dark show. Yes, the storyline is a little basic, but the characters and location, with dull colours, really plunges you into this wild world. For people who like anime as a medium, but are perhaps put off by the bright colours and cute little girls, this might be the perfect anime for you!
If you liked this, you’ll love: Tokyo Ghoul – As mentioned, I haven’t seen a show before that is as ’18+’ as this, so if you’re looking for another expletive-ridden, rough and ready series, so am I! However, Tokyo Ghoul is another violent, graphic show that puts a well-mannered boy into a dark underworld. Tokyo Ghoul is a fantastic, dark action series, that despite having some YA tendencies is still a great series to watch!
Noragami (2014, S1, 12x24mins)
Action, Supernatural, Comedy
“The gap between the rich and the poor exists even amongst the gods.”
Literally meaning ‘stray god’, Noragami follows failing god Yato (left). While some gods have shrines and global followers devoting their lives to them, Yato doesn’t have a single shrine, and must find wishes to fulfil by writing his mobile number across town. To make matters worse, his Divine Instrument – people who can take the form of a weapon that the god can wield – leaves him. With everything falling apart even more than usual, while on a miniscule job, he nearly gets run over, only to be saved by Hiyori (right). The accident leaves Hiyori in a unique situation where her soul keeps accidentally slipping out of her body, causing her to drift in between the world of the humans and the world of the gods. Rightly blaming Yato for her condition, she joins him to force him to fix her body. The two of them eventually encounter Yukine (centre), a young, troubled spirit that Yato adopts as his Divine Instrument. As the three of them continue to fulfil what wishes Yato gets, Hiyori begins to learn more about Yato’s less-than-good past, and Yato struggles to keep Yukine from going off the rails.
Basically Plot: A poor, hopeless god drags two less-than-qualified people into his world of monsters and deities.
I’ve learned over my time that a 1st impression is really important. Often you can tell very quickly whether you’re going to really enjoy a series, or give up on it before its conclusion. Noragami hooked me from the first moment, and while it might have calmed down over the final third, as many shows do, I have really enjoyed watching this.
First of all, this series has some incredibly charismatic characters in it. The lead, Yato, is an excellent character that you find yourself supporting right from the first moment. Hiyori and yukina are also decent characters, but looking past that, Noragami does a great job of really building a premise and a world around them. You begin to understand his problems, and the inclusion of the other gods gives weight to the fact that Yato is generally a lowlife in terms of this world. The world is also fantastically brought to life by the animation. While I would be lying if I said it was the best animation I’ve seen, but the sleek style of movement, along with the fantastic contrasts of cool and vivid colours, create a world that is distinctly Noragami’s, and suits it to the ground.
The actual story plot is okay, but at the same time is probably my biggest criticism of the show. Like many shows that have been adapted from minor, on-the-cusp* manga serialisations, Noragami had a tendency to jump erratically from story to story, and in the end probably didn’t do better parts of the story justice. It looks like, at around the halfway point, that the rivalry between Yato and Bishamon will be the main focus, and it starts really well, only for the story to suddenly veer off in another direction, leaving her as little more than an afterthought. I was looking forward to that rivalry developing; in the end, the final enemy is one that is hurriedly introduced for the sake of creating a showpiece conclusion to the series, and it all ends up lacking depth.
Overall, this is a really good 12-episode series. Almost invariably an anime story that only lasts 12 episodes (there is a season two, but that came out nearly two years later, and S1 does find its own conclusion) will always struggle with its story – which is something I go into further detail about later on. However, the world is large and has fantastic depth, and the relationships between the main trio and the world around them are very well-played. Noragami is a strong-minded, classically anime mix of action, fantasy and comedy that I would seriously recommend.
If you liked this you’ll love: Mob Psycho 100 – While it might not strike you as a clear recommendation at first, there’s plenty of similarities between these action-comedies. Both of these share a similar balance between supernatural-based action and simple comedy, and while Mob might be a bit more ‘wacky’ than its counterpart, I think it’s a great follow-up to Noragami!
*by ‘on-the-cusp’ I mean smaller manga that, when they were starting out, were understandably worried about their story being cancelled. Published as one-of-many in weekly or monthly magazines, the authors, who will get culled if their story loses the reader’s interest, often create and complete scenarios in a few chapters/episodes, which causes stories that look a bit ragged when converted to anime. The Bakuman series covers this in detail.
RWBY (2017, S4, 12x17mins)
Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Wait! Check out our HUGE review of the RWBY series 1-3 here!
Following on from the end of Volume Three, the individual members of team RWBY, now separated, each have their own personal demons to banish. The story primarily follows Ruby Rose (front), now joined by members of team JNPR (behind) as they make the long trek to the city of Mistral. Meanwhile: Yang struggles with the loss of her arm at the end of Vol 3; Blake heads home and becomes wrapped in more shadows by the ever-darkening White Fang, a rebel group that still holds ties with her family; and Weiss finds herself trapped under the command of her powerful and respected father.
It should be clear to any long-time followers of this blog that I am a huge fan of the RWBY series. I think they have created something with a real uniqueness and classic action-adventure feel, and also made it free for everyone to watch online!
Since its somewhat humble beginnings, RWBY is now a huge franchise, spawning videogames, a mini-series, comics, figurines and a 5th volume that was confirmed before Vol 4 ended. To put it bluntly, I think they have taken on too many tasks for their own good. Their vision is blurred, distracted by other activities, and as a result, volume 4 is comfortably the worst series to date.
There’s always some problems with the story in RWBY because of how small the episodes are. The 17 mins written above is an average, propped up in a big way by the final episode, which is 27 minutes long but only features 20 minutes of content. I often say that 12-episode anime struggle to develop a plot, but RWBY Vol 4 is nearly 90 minutes – or over 3 episodes – less than that! Minus a handful of solid ‘episodes’, most of them featured an action sequence, a bit of plot development and the closing credits. To be fair, I think even if you watched every episode back-to-back, the story would come across as a bit thin. In the end, I can’t think of a single episode that I would call good. Not even the soundtrack is good this time! I loved the music on the originals, but the song ‘Lets Just Live’ is just so blunt and unimaginative, and the general composition in the background doesn’t do much to save the story.
Another problem this series has, although it was completely unavoidable, was RWBY’s separation. The show always revolved around the four of them, but after being separated at the end of Vol 3, the show really struggles to juggle the separate stories. I say stories, but the truth is you could probably have covered the other three’s (Yang, Blake and Weiss) individual stories in one, maybe two episodes, another sign of the show’s flaking story. I think they were all decent individual stories, and I think the only shining light in this series is probably Yang and Blake’s personal developments, but the way it’s all put together – the occasional glance here and there – and the actual length of the story leave a lot to be desired.
Overall, while some of the original magic is still there, an incredibly thin story, poorly directed, will leave RWBY fans frustrated more than anything else. As mentioned earlier, Vol 5 was already confirmed and set before the conclusion of the series, and this all feels like a set up for that, like those really bad ‘Part 1’ movies. If RWBY has been a runaway train so far, then Vol 4 is a sign that it’s starting to stutter. If Vol 5 isn’t the barnstorming success that I’m predicting – given they took all this time to set it up – then serious questions about its continuity have to be asked.
If you like this you’ll love: Akame Ga Kill – RWBY does (or did) a great job of introducing this colourful world of warriors, each with unique personalities and abilities. I don’t think I’ve seen any anime do that better than Akame Ga Kill. Despite a differing, slightly darker story, Akame shares that sense of fun, along with an engrossing series of fighting scenes starring all manner of people and weapons. If you miss the RWBY of volumes 1 & 2, then I urge you to watch this!
I would love to hear the opinions of hardcore RWBY fans. I’m a fan, but I was aware of the potential problems it had, and Vol 4 just falls head first into every pitfall it could have possibly fallen into! I struggle to believe how anybody can see RWBY Volume 4 as a success, but somebody will, so if you do then please explain to me how!
Also, with this APR, we have reached the milestone of 50 different anime series reviewed!
Or, so I thought.
Yeah, so I went and re-counted all our reviews, and turns out we reached 50 last time out! With the addition of Black Lagoon and Noragami – RWBY already being a part of the collection before this – we are now, in fact, at 52 anime shows reviewed!
I thought about postponing this episode until after the 50 Anime Review, but then I thought the number 52 had a good ring to it. So, with this APR complete, next up in terms of anime at The Culture Cove will be the start of our mega 52 Anime Review!
Subscribe to The Culture Cove to receive our 52 Anime Review before anybody else! The fun starts in the next few days, so stay tuned!