Welcome to a sci-fi Anime Pocket Review!
We’ve scoured the galaxies for some of the best sci-fi series, and have three very worthwhile series to show you this week. Later on we have a look at a show we’re affectionately calling ‘Attack on Titan in space’, but first we cast our eye over a very western comedy.
Final Space (2018, S1, 10x22mins)
Science-fiction, Comedy, Drama
Set in a futuristic world, the story follows Gary (centre), a young man in the final days of his five-year prison sentence onboard an isolated spaceship-turned-prison. Struggling to keep himself sane amongst the robotic machines and the irritating prison companion KVN by recording a diary for his long distance crush Quinn, he is on the verge of being a free man when a strange green blob floats into his life. The miniature monster is being chased by bounty hunter Avocato, who warns that it is a planet destroying beast. However, Gary can’t help but protect it from the hunter, and when Avocato explains his true reason for hunting the monster, the two of them are sent on a journey to uncover the true nature of the monster – affectionately named Mooncake (left) – and its links to the phenomena known as Final Space.
Basically Plot: Wannabe adventurer Gary is on the verge of being a free man when the space ship he is held in isolation on is boarded by a cute green blob he is determined to protect from bounty hunters, despite being warned that it is a monster capable of destroying worlds.
This was a really enjoyable, and classically American anime series. Final Space is very much a comedy series that delivers consistent laughs throughout thanks to a lead character who, much like the rest of this series is just about original enough to get involved with. The key to this series is that fine balance it strikes between sticking with classic, much enjoyed sci-fi stereotypes while very rarely going too far as to become cliché and mundane.
It is worth noting that this is a small series with a simple story that was clearly not going to offer anything drastically new to the world of science fiction. It’s not terribly impolite to call Final Space something of a clash between Futurama and Rick & Morty, however its story does do enough in each episode to make this series attention grabbing for sci-fi fans. Like many series of this ilk, Final Space’s story is made by a really interesting cast of characters. Past Gary there are enough major characters with decent backstories, while another group of one-dimensional characters behind that deliver consistent laughs throughout.
In the end, Final Space is a series that will fill a gap for fans of other American sci-fi comedies such as Rick & Morty. However, past its simple comedy and engaging characters there is very little here to get deeply involved with. Thankfully, though, the comedy is enough for this to be an enjoyable space flick.
ANIME RANKING: #79 – A better spot than it sounds at first, Final Space sits alongside Netflix original B: The Beginning and just behind recent series such as Juni Taisen.
If you liked this you’ll love: Cowboy Bebop (#14) – With a similar blend of comedy, storyline and romance to Final Space, Cowboy Bebop is one of the finest space comedies ever made. Famous for its lovable lead and deep crew members, this series continues where Final Space left off, delivering quality laughs alongside a much broader story with some serious payoff for people who stick the episodes.
Space Dandy (2014, S1/2, 26x24mins)
Follows the misadventures of Dandy (left), a self-confident alien bounty hunter searching the galaxies for the rarest creatures alongside his robot companion QT (right) and his feline ‘friend’ Meow (centre). Despite their best efforts, their mishaps leave them regularly scrounging for money which is usually spent by Dandy to visit his favourite barely-clad restaurant Boobies, while the group are also unaware of being constantly pursued by the evil Dr. Gel.
Basically Plot: The story of Dandy and his makeshift crew of alien hunters struggling to find the rarest species in the galaxy.
This is a wonderfully refreshing series. On the surface Space Dandy doesn’t really have a lot going on. In reality I could have written the plot in one sentence, and that translates into the series. While it does try to reach some sort of conclusion during the final two episodes of the second season, that is the only time I remember where a plot took more than one episode to conclude. Played out like a sit-com, Space Dandy is filled with random, eclectic stories starring three truly quirky characters, creating a comedy series that is truly like a box of Christmas chocolates.
This is a series that likes to keep its hands clean, never really taking on a theme or subject and running with it. There are multiple potential love interests for the ladies-man Dandy, but none of them even get enough screen time to be considered a side-character in most series, which is the one thing this series might lack as a light-entertainment series. Part of the reason behind the decision to leave Dandy loveless, though, may be the amount of creative freedom that this series is permitted. It is hard to describe the creative licence given to this show. Set up perfectly by the plot – alien hunters scouring the galaxy for the rarest breeds – this series takes you through worlds and characters that, despite telling simple enough stories, do so with the most extraordinary creatures and worlds. These magnificent ideas are aided by a beautifully block-coloured style of animation that, with its vibrancy and dexterity, is probably the best animation I’ve seen in a comedy series.
We’ve said on this blog many times before that Shinichiro Wantanabe is our favourite anime creator, with a catalogue of series that could keep any anime fan satisfied for a lifetime. While his input in this series is much less than in his more notable works such as Cowboy Bebop, you can see how his eye for alternate storytelling comes through here in a series that is very different to his usual works. Space Dandy is a fantastic comedy series, with creativity by the bucketload and animation to match, but the inclusion of Wantanabe’s knack of bringing quirky characters together with a relatable tale makes this a really good watch. Supplying enough over the series for committed viewers, while also providing easy entertainment and quick stories for the most light-hearted of viewer, this is probably one of the most versatile and, by the same token, recommendable anime series I’ve ever seen!
ANIME RANKING: #25 – Breaching our Top 30 anime ever, Space Dandy is ahead of series such as Bojack Horseman and next to 2018 smash hit A Place Further than the Universe!
If you liked this you’ll love: Samurai Champloo (#47) – While Dandy’s setting inclines you to check out Wantanabe’s most famous work, the comedic content actually has a lot more similarities with another of his series. Despite the drastic difference in setting, this Edo-era series featuring a disjointed trio of poor, wandering souls through ancient Japan hits many of the same notes as Dandy, namely its short individual storylines taking place over one-to-two episodes. If you enjoyed the easy viewing, creative side of Dandy, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this series’ hip-hop blend!
Terra Formars (2014, S1, 13x23mins)
Terra Formars takes place in a world which has attempted the colonisation of Mars by sending a collection of the strongest living creatures on earth, cockroaches and algae, to terraform the planet in preparation for humanity’s arrival. In the year 2619, Akari (centre) is working in an underground fighting ring in an attempt to make enough money to treat his childhood friend’s illness until he is double-crossed. Saved from his own uncontrollable rage by government agents, he is told that his friend was untreatable. The world is slowly being plagued by an untreatable virus that is traceable to the failed Mars colonisation, and Akari, born with unique animalistic powers, is offered the chance to become part of an expedition to the planet. Over 500 years since the initial colonisation, the cockroaches have somehow grown to the size of humans, developing incredible strength and speed and making Mars incredibly hostile. Selected people from all over the world, led by experienced agents, are surgically implanted with animal powers similar to Akari’s before heading out to Mars in search of a cure for the virus. However, the mission quickly spirals out of control.
Basically Plot: After a failed colonisation of Mars involving cockroaches and algae Akari, born with a mysterious animalistic power, is chosen to be part of an expedition to the hostile planet in search of a cure to a newly spreading virus.
Terra Formars is one of the most intelligent, and at the same time ridiculous action series I’ve ever seen. With a story strangely reminiscent of Attack on Titan, the series predominantly follows the near complete demise of the operation to explore mars as young, inexperienced kids fall victim to grotesque, overly powerful monsters. The backstory to how this happened is cleverly, for the most part, woven through the story, helping to deliver the sense of mystery and fear that the soldiers themselves feel. The story itself plays through really well – the build up and detailed explanation given to each character’s animal powers is really interesting and brilliantly thought out – although part of you feels like you’re watching little more than a demo, a prequel of sorts. This is a deep series with a strong backstory, so instead of doing what most series succumb to and shortening their story to fit the episodes they’ve been given, Terra Formars instead just goes at the pace it likes, not only ending without any sort of conclusion but not even threatening an end result of any sort at any time. It’s the strangest thing and in its stubbornness, you almost forget that it’s happening, but ultimately this thirteen-episode series follows the start of the expedition and that’s about it.
The cockroaches are a creative enemy, aren’t they? Somewhat ridiculous at first, when their strange appearance is looked past you are left with some seriously impressive monsters. Very similar to the titans from that other really popular anime, the Terra Formars keep their intensity throughout by seemingly developing before your eyes. You feel like you’ve worked them out before they suddenly pull something else out of the hat! That goes up against soldiers who, combined with incredibly specific animals like a needle-tailed swift and a blast ant like a mature kind of superhero, are not just creative but incredibly intense. With a constant air of alpha masculinity emitted from the main cast (including some women), the fights can be tragic when necessary but also incredibly awesome portrayals of some superbly interesting ideas.
That occasional dash of charismatic conversation is the gloss for what is an excellent action series with a deep storyline. It’s a shame that this isn’t a 24-episode series – there is a season two but it didn’t air for over a year after this season’s conclusion – because this Terra Formars does everything right except the fact that it has no intention of concluding.
ANIME RANKING: #57 – I am secretly hoping that the second season, which we will certainly watch, will bump this up the ranking. For now, though, this promising but unrewarding series sits alongside other reputable anime such as the recent Tokyo Ghoul:Re and The Perfect Insider.
If you liked this you’ll love: Attack on Titan (#2) – As mentioned earlier, this series’ premise shares a lot of themes with one of anime’s most famous titles. A young, powerful child, through the loss of a loved one, is thrust into humanity’s biggest fight against seemingly unconquerable, frighteningly violent monsters. While the setting changes quite dramatically, the two series don’t just share a base idea but many of the same story points. However, Attack on Titan does a much better job of delivering its rich backstory throughout a series that, despite ongoing, does deliver meaningful conclusions.
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