Welcome back to Anime Pocket Reviews! We hope you haven’t missed us too much!
There’s a reason behind the incredibly long delay. Regulars to the series will note that at the end of the previous episode we said that the next series will feature a review of Tsukigakirei. I said that because Ep.35 was posted at a time where we were not deep into any series, and we saw this years school romance hit as the likely next finished series.
The bad new is that finishing Tsukigakirei is becoming one hell of a slog! The good news, though, is that we now have a serious backlog of series to share with you, starting with Netflix’s new and original anime mini-series.
Castlevania (2017, S1, 4x23mins)
“I think I might like you.”
Based on the videogames of the same name, Castlevania takes place in 1400’s Wallachia, a land ruled over by religion, and the current home of Count Dracula. The church actively searches for users of magic, labelling them witches and burning them alive. Dracula’s wife is an extremely intelligent doctor capable of using science and techniques way past their time, but the church deems her a witch, burning her alive. An enraged Dracula gives the town a year to settle its debts before unleashing an army of demons on the land to wipe out all traces of humanity left. Trevor Belmont, last son of the disgraced Belmont family, once powerful demon hunters, is passing through the city of Gresit when he is warned about the demons. He comes across a group of Speakers – nomadic and charitable carriers of knowledge and magic – camped in the city, the leader explaining that they are searching for a sleeping soldier located somewhere underground with the ability to save mankind in its hour of need. When he adds that his granddaughter went missing in the catacombs while searching for the soldier, Trevor reluctantly agrees to help them and the city.
Basically Plot: Follows Trevor Belmont, disgraced monster hunter, as he searches the catacombs of Gresit for a mythical soldier (and the Speaker who went looking for him) to protect the city from Dracula’s demons.
This was an interesting one for me on multiple counts. Not only was this a strangely short series, but this was also my first experience with serious, non-comedic western animation (not including machinima series RWBY). I make a point of only watching Japanese animation in its native language, Japanese, whereas this is a completely English-spoken series, and I didn’t realise how much of a difference watching a series without subtitles would make!
I went into this series quite pessimistically given there’s only four episodes, but the story works surprisingly well. The plot is simple, almost working as an introduction to the larger 8-episode season two that was announced almost immediately upon release (which is something I have a problem with). The first episode, unfortunately, is the worst – in a ‘series’ with only four episodes, you cannot spend a whole episode spoon-feeding the background story to us. It’s the first of many examples of terrible scriptwriting that plagues an otherwise solid series. You almost lose track of the amount of cliché, cringe-inducing lines in this series. Castlevania tries to weave in comedy between its action horror moments in the same way as series such as Cowboy Bebop and the aforementioned RWBY. However, more often than not it fell flat, not bringing a smile to you face, just taking you out of the mood of the story.
Past that, this is a good little series. The voice actors are good, making the most of a disappointing script, and while the writing isn’t great the plot creates a decent small story, without twists but with plenty of character building and action scenes that look really good with the sharp-edged, detail-driven style of american animation more akin to Disney than Japan. This is probably one of the best examples I’ve seen of how to execute a tiny series in terms of plot, not only setting up the next, bigger season but also being a story in itself. I would recommend this series, because despite some elementary flaws it does hold promise heading into season two!
ANIME RANKING: N/A – While this is a decent little series, there’s no denying that this is ultimately a ‘demo’ to the larger (or full completion of the) series that will come in season two. At that point I will add Castlevania to the Anime Ranking, but right now it feels unfair to compare this 4-episode run to 12+ episode series that make more effort to juggle character development and story.
If you liked this you’ll love: Fate/Zero – Following a similarly cold-hearted killer, Fate/Zero is a story that excellently blends action and fantasy, with some of the most interesting fighters and best fighting choreography you’ll find in Japanimation. While it’s not set in a fantasy world, it is certainly a full-hearted fantasy story that will certainly please fans of Trevor Belmont, and particularly fans of Castlevania’s fighting scenes.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Sword Oratoria (2017, S1, 12x25mins)
Action, Adventure, Fantasy
“Miss Ais is strong and kind and beautiful… she’s perfect!”
Following the same timeline as the original ‘Is it wrong..?’ story, Sword Oratoria follows the adventures of the Sword Princess Aiz Wallenstein (front & center) and other members of the Loki Familia, master dungeon hunters in the fantasy world of Orario. The story primarily follows Lefiya (back & center), a young mage-in-training who deeply admires Aiz and tries her hardest to reach her incredible ability. However, the Loki familia is one of the biggest and most effective hunting familia’s, so when monsters start mysteriously rising out of the dungeon and onto the surface it falls to all of them to discover the source of the dangerous creatures.
Basically Plot: Set along the same timeline as ‘Is it wrong…?’, Oratoria follows the love interest Ais Wallenstein and her Loki familia, powerful dungeon hunters tasked with finding the cause of a recent monster outbreak.
This is a strange one. ‘Is it Wrong…?’ was a really popular series, and one of the very first series that we reviewed here! I remember even at that time people were eagerly awaiting a sequel, but time dragged on and talk of it died off. I don’t know for what reason – my best guess is voice actor schedules – but somebody decided that instead of creating the second season, they would animate Sword Oratoria, a spinoff to the original novel that follows the exact same timeline except from the point of view of the love interest. Bell Cranel, lead character of the main story, is barely involved here, and the story feels different enough for this to be considered its own series, just.
Sword Oratoria is an okay series. The story’s best moments come when referring to the original series or, like in the original, classically over-the-top romance moments, although these moments are fleeting. The actual plot of the story does have some good moments. Sword Oratoria, like its predecessor, excels with its use of graphic violence in a childish, fantasy setting to create real moments of drama, while there are also some interesting twists in the storyline. However, the ending feels hollow, and the actual action sequences feel very basic in comparison to other fantasy series out there.
Overall, while fans of ‘Is It Wrong…?’ will be happy for a return to Orario, despite this series working as a stand-alone I can’t imagine it will bring many extra fans to the series. Sword Oratoria does excel in the same areas as the series before it, namely its harem-esque romance moments and the exciting contrast of a happy-go-lucky fantasy world filled with bloody violence. However, for many people this will feel like another fantasy anime, with a basic storyline and lack of any clear direction or idea throughout.
ANIME RANKING: #53 – Unsurprisingly this series ends up sitting just a few spots behind its predecessor, a just about respectable spot that puts it ahead of series such as Alderamin on the Sky and Mirai Nikki.
If you liked this you’ll love: Akame Ga Kill – Obviously if you haven’t seen the original ‘Is it wrong…?’ series I would highly recommend you watch that, as it’s literally a better version of this. However, for fans of colourful fantasy worlds laced with romance and more than a spoonful of blood and gore, there’s no better series than Akame Ga Kill. Akame ticks all those classic fantasy world boxes that you see here, but with superb conviction and an unrelenting story that I’m convinced you’ll love!
And finally, here’s a special little comedy series for fans of one of the biggest anime of this year:
Attack on Titan: Junior High (2015, S1, 12x17mins)
Comedy, Parody, School
“Attention! Homeroom for Attack Junior High’s 104th Year 1, Class 4 begins now!”
A spin-off of the original Attack on Titan action series, JH imagines the characters as children starting their first year of junior high, following them through festivals, clubs, confessions and everything else. Meanwhile the titans, studying in an adjacent building, keep stealing their lunch, and Eren won’t rest until he’s had his revenge!
This was a cute little series! A while ago we reviewed Koro-Q, a series that is a similar parody for its parent series, Assassination Classroom. Assassination Classroom was a comedy, so its parody worked very simply. Attack on Titan is one of, if not the most dramatic and tragic action series there is, so the fact that they managed to create this parody without making it look completely ridiculous is quite something. The series does appear to try to follow the events of AoT series one, instead it is a simple checklist of every cliche school anime landmark episode. The series ticks off everything you would expect to see in a school-based series – first day, sports day, festivals, love letters, clubs, exams and tests of courage are just some of the classic school quips that you see here.
In reality, this is not a series about a story. If it was, this would be terrible, as there is almost no understandable or realistic story in each episode, let alone throughout the series. This is a series for little more than a cheap laugh, and for the most part this is a funny series. There are the odd hilarious moments thanks to your favourite characters – previous Best Female Side-Character winner Mikasa delivers most of these, nonchalantly following Eren wherever he goes – and there are certainly more hits than misses throughout the episodes. It goes without saying that this series will look terrible if you haven’t seen Attack on Titan, but fans of the mega show will find some laughs here, in a series that isn’t exactly hilarious, but at the same time doesn’t sully the image of the original either.
ANIME RANKING: N/A – In the same way that the aforementioned Koro-Q isn’t ranked here at The Culture Cove, AoT: Junior high won’t be joining the ranking. This is because the series is not capable of standing on its own without the existence of another series – Attack on Titan – yet it is different enough that it can’t be grouped with said series.
If you liked this you’ll love: Tanaka-kun is Always Listless – It’s hard to find a recommendation for a comedy that is so attached to a series that is the opposite of comedy, but taking that link out and looking at this series on its own, you will find similar patterns in one of our favourite school comedies of all time. Like Junior High, Tanaka-kun doesn’t necessarily follow any strict story or plot, instead focusing on creating laughs through the incredibly relaxed lead character. For fans of funny school-based series that are low on plot but high on laughs, I urge you to watch this!
I think if I’ve learned anything over the last few weeks while we’ve been away it’s this: Never judge a series after a handful of episodes! That’s what happened with Tsukigakirei, a series that really impressed me at the beginning with its original ‘light over shade’ anime style – I would recommend watching the first episode just to see that, by the way – but now leaves me having to force myself to watch it against my will. The same message also applies to Castlevania – wait for season two – and Sword Oratoria, which I thought looked excellent at the start of the series before petering away. By the same token, any series that is able to keep matching expectations into its seventh/eighth episode deserves particular credit!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 37 of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring highly-rated action mystery series Baccano!