Apocalypse Zero Sense

The Horror… The Horror…
by Bolt Vanderhuge

This OVA is something of an oddity, and not just in a FLCL/Dead Leaves, “WTF is going on here?” sense (though there is no shortage of that). I’m honestly not sure whether Apocalypse Zero is supposed to be taken seriously or not. It’s like someone took elements of both Fist of the North Star and Neon Genesis Evangelion and mashed them together, but didn’t really care all that much about little details like plot structure.

What, you thought the fact there was an apocalypse meant you wouldn’t have to go to school?

The story follows a Gary Stu named Kakugo Hagakure, who poses as a transfer student so he can protect students and other innocent civilians living in the ruins of Tokyo. He wears the “Zero Armor” that gives this OVA and the manga it’s based on its name, which is a living exoskeleton made from the souls of deceased warriors. His main foe is actually his older brother, Harara Hagakure. They were both given armor by their father, but while Kakugo is able to keep the damned souls powering his armor in check, Harara isn’t, and turns evil, and also into a woman for some reason that’s never really explained all that well. Harara also turned into an environmentalist, which is why s/he has vowed to finish what the unexplained apocalypse started by wiping out all of humanity with his/her army of mutants and demons. Of course, in spite of having an entire army at his/her disposal, s/he insists on sending them one at a time. Worked for Rita Repulsa, right?

That being said, this OVA is a great example of weird old anime that is just so damn entertaining to watch. It is filled to the brim with graphic violence which includes things like a monster that is a literal man-eater, who will grab random guys off the streets and kill any woman who happens to be with him by squeezing them until their insides squirt out like toothpaste out of a tube.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

It also doesn’t shy away from gratuitous nudity, which is just as likely to be fan dis-service, like the six-breasted bear seen in the opening of the OVA, or really the majority of the monsters sent after Kukugo and his classmates. Most are dressed in very little, and one of them even uses his dick as his main weapon.

The weird visual design only adds to the oddness of this anime, and with the complete lack of story and plot structure it is very riffable. It is one of the most absurd animes I’ve watched, and it manages to keep just on the right side of funny while it indulges in its own stupidity. I would still recommend this anime, though, as long as you understand the dark weirdness you’re getting into. This is the kind of thing you watch with friends to get drunk and make fun of together.

Fuck Yeah! Check it Out!

Apocalypse Zero (2 episode OVA)
Based on the manga by Takayuki Yamaguchi
Animated by Ashi Productions and AIC
Produced by Big West Advertising, Victor Entertainment, and Tomy

Quiet Death, or Blaze of Glory?

Yasuke has it all, just not all together. Not unlike its title character.
by Bob Johnson

Here’s a show that came out exactly nine days too late last year: Yasuke. I do not know what chemical blend fuelled the production of this technicolor blur, but my friend has this desperate need to get some of it.

Livestreamed from the editing room.

Since there’s very little I can say about Yasuke that hasn’t been said more rudely elsewhere, let’s just start with the positives: This is a beautifully animated show with a killer soundtrack. We’re talking tunes that make you forget how direly anime needs another Nujabes — Flying Lotus could very well rise to the call. Lakeith Stanfield nails the VA for the title role. And well, I can’t really remember the last time I managed to hear about anime on NPR – maybe the FuniCrunch merger made the business section – but they talked up some Yasuke for sure. So Netflix indeed put some weight behind this and marketed the shit out of it, this is not one of the obscure, back-burner titles.

But the plot? It is… hot garbage. It barely budges from the through line of the standard sword-and-damsel plot, plus or minus certain squiggly arrows doodled on the storyboard, all hastily drawn around boxes with fresh Xs drawn through them. This is so palpable I’m trying to spit out the taste of red Sharpie. There’s so much that seems to occur “in between” episodes, almost as if entire extra episodes were meant to have taken place in the meantime. I’d call it Gonzo Ending, but the whole show is this way.

Out of everyone available, I mostly blame Netflix: its famously immutable budgets were unlikely to have covered a full 10 or 12 episodes once the bills started rolling in from MAPPA to draw up LeSean Thomas’ vision. The rest of this show, however epic it was to be, found itself on the cutting room floor.

So, legitimate question: if you were in the same bind, would you decide to go with dull, cheap animation to tell your whole story – or would you turn every knob up to 11, break them off, and spam “robots versus katanas” until your cash ran out?

As odd as it may seem to say, this show’s incompleteness may make it uniquely suited as a “gateway anime” – something to get the new anime viewer hungry for more substantial shows. Anime may be more popular than ever, but there are still plenty of folks out there who don’t fully grasp the capabilities of the medium. One look at Yasuke will cure anyone of that.

Word is that more of this show is coming. I don’t think that, at this late stage, it would make any sense to try to fill it in, as tempting as it may be to complete “missing” episodes. My vote would be for a prequel, as Yasuke’s personal history remains shrouded in mystery.

I would mostly recommend Yasuke for people who are less familiar with anime and want something that can, in about three hours, introduce them to a wide range of anime tropes. And if you like watching anime for the background noise, this is a must-hear.

Maybe look it up:
Yasuke
(6 episode anime)
Story by LeSean Thomas and Flying Lotus
Produced by MAPPA, Distributed by Netflix

Yearning for a More Complex Story

Reminiscing About a First Love
by Bolt Vanderhuge

You only get to experience having a first love once, and for me, the first anime I loved was Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I had seen other anime first, but I still consider this series to be my gateway anime, because it is the one that really made me take anime seriously as a storytelling medium. The first time I saw it was in the last part of its second season airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, way back in the spring of 2006, and even though I had no idea of what was going on, I was instantly drawn in by the drama and intrigue I saw and hooked. Thankfully, the series was re-run a short time later, and I was finally able to watch the entire series, and I soon found myself enthralled with it. Not long afterwards, I was invited to join my local university’s anime club by some friends, and I had begun my journey to become a Maximum Weeaboo. But while I have watched many animes since then, including some very good ones, this series still remains my favorite.

Based on a manga by Masamune Shirow and produced by Production I.G, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex follows the secretive and elite Section 9 of Japan’s Public Security, made up entirely of former members of the military and police and tasked with solving and preventing cybercrime. All of its members are cyborgs, running the spectrum of Togisa, the rookie of the group who only has an implant which allows him to interface electronically as well as to communicate using a kind of cybernetic telepathy with his teammates, to the mysterious and aloof leader of the group, known mainly as “The Major,” whose entire body is prosthetic.

Like Voltaire, I cannot help but wonder if it’s fully functional and anatomically correct.

While they run into a number of interesting cases that make the series semi-episodic in nature, they soon stumble upon a conspiracy that involves a major corporation and the government which begins to move into the forefront. One of the things I liked about this was that the main story arc started out as just another investigation into something kind of weird that was going on, in this case involving a super-hacker known as “The Laughing Man,” and slowly evolved into the main plot of the show.

While hackers can already be a headache thanks to utilities and infrastructure being connected to the internet, this series expands on that through the premise that advancing technology has allowed people to become cyborgs, and even become commonplace, such that most people can connect their brains to the internet, which in turn allows them to be “ghost-hacked.” This allows a hacker to do everything from altering a person’s perceptions, to remotely controlling their body. This is just one of the themes explored by this show which asks exactly what makes a human, since literally every part of a person can be replaced but their brain, and leaves them vulnerable to having their memories altered or erased, the way they sense the world around them being corrupted, or even having their minds and bodies taken over completely, and used like a puppet. There’s also a question of trans-humanism hanging there, with the possibility that humans might be able to live as a consciousness on “the net,” entirely free of a body. At the same time, AI has advanced to the point that it might be argued they actually do represent a form of life themselves.

As a sci-fi fan, this kind of stuff really appealed to me, and I can’t help but feel completely in love with this show in spite of its flaws, like how it takes a bit of time to randomly bash the United States because someone at Production I.G apparently has an axe to grind. But this aside, the series has an interesting premise and plot, with characters I can care about and root for, as well as a beautiful semi-realistic visual design. While I know some people might complain about fan service (check out the original manga sometime), it’s clear that the story is first and foremost, unlike so many shows that have come out since this one.

Fuck Yeah! Check It Out:
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (52 episode anime)
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow
Produced by Production I.G, Licenced by Funimation

Streaming (press time): Adult Swim, Funimation

Love and Friendship in the Hivemind Age

Kokoro Connect takes mistaken identity to a whole new level
by Bob Johnson

Today, we have 3D virtual reality experiences, even people who literally just walk around and livestream their eye-level headspace to the whole world. Most human beings have a great deal of capacity for empathy and reflection, and think easily of what they might do in another person’s place. Yet *literally* walking around in someone else’s shoes is still the stuff of science fiction, and alien body snatcher horror. Smash these ideas together with a high school slice-of-life anime, and suddenly, you have Kokoro Connect on your hands.

Club advisor Goto in Exposition Dump mode.

The setup is plainly stated: A jerkwad alien going by the name of Heartseed wants to play “New Rule” at a level never envisioned by Bill Maher, decreeing bizarre psychic swaps and brainleaks between these erstwhile BFFs, and presenting a monotone spiel that makes it clear that the level of regard for their lives is on par with a collegebound kid debating whether to keep or burn an ant farm. Every few episodes, Heartseed returns to shake the ant farm and observe if our characters manage to tunnel out again.

Seeing these concepts play out with random variations over 15 episodes is both wonderful and annoying. Annoying in that we get to see in detail how much certain people “literally can’t even” with whiffs of Shinji Ikari wafting off the steaming pile of certain episode scripts. But also wonderful to see these concepts woven into a semi-realistic tapestry of ordinary lives, which despite all this adversity, still manage to muddle through and find happiness.

Heartseed’s experiments mess only with members of Yamaboshi High School’s Cultural Studies Club, another one of those catchall do-nothing low-membership student clubs so common in anime. The energetic club president, Iori, is joined by just four others: the serious Taichi, the carefree Aoki, icy Inaba, and anxious Yui.

You couldn’t ask for a more average-looking student club.

When every day is Freaky Friday, the clubmates have to adapt to strange situations on the fly, occasionally with hilarious results. As they attempt to live their lives without tipping off others to their strange predicament, they’re helped along by the lackadaisical club advisor, Mr. Go, and Iori’s capable, well-organized class rep, Fujishima. Of course, nothing’s perfect, as Mr. Go slips into Jekyll-and-Hyde mode whenever Heartbleed wants to appear, and the romance-obsessed Fujishima often meddles in their already strained relationships.

Class rep Fujishima says hunger (and love) is the best spice.

The show’s 17 episodes are split into one 13 episode season and a 4 episode OVA. While it’s often easy to skip extra episodes, in this case the OVA really is essential to wrap things up, so if you decide to watch and don’t otherwise drop off from the show, go ahead and finish it all. In addition to the anime, otaku fond of a quiet sitdown can look at any of the 11 original Kokoro Connect light novels, also translated into English.

The show is alternately sweet and bittersweet, dramatic and comedic, dark and silly. Suffice it to say, it is a moody, non-stop feels train. It’s hard to suggest as a starter show to newbie anime viewers, but it is very much in the same lane as other complex works at the interface of sci-fi/fantasy and relationships, like Revolutionary Girl Utena, Orange, Haruhi Suzumiya, or Your Name.

Despite its complexity, as its overall focus is squarely on relationships, I think Kokoro Connect is worth a watch at this time of year. Sure, you could watch dozens of other romance shows, the ones that dither about clothes and flowers and which member of the harem is best, but where’s the *edge*? Kokoro Connect will hit you right in the gut, and set you back up again. Not bad if that’s what you’re looking for.

Maybe look it up:
Kokoro Connect (13 episode anime + 4 episode OVA)
Based on the light novels by Anda Sadanatsu
Produced by Silver Link, Licenced by Sentai

Streaming (press time): Crunchyroll, HiDive

Chargin’ My Disgust

Beating Other Bad Anime Out
by Bolt Vanderhuge

In the world of infamous anime, there are a lot of names that tend to get brought up, at least among us older otaku. This isn’t one of them. Instead, this one has a personal connection to me, from back when I first started really watching anime. I probably heard about this one thanks to TV Tropes on one of my reading binges, and since it’s an ecchi anime that really walks the line of just being straight up porn (and occasionally just hops right over it in my opinion), it was probably something that caught my interest for pervy reasons.

I am not above enjoying the occasional tentacle hentai, after all.

Essentially, this is just another ecchi with a gimmick, that gimmick being that there is a parallel dimension inhabited by a business that utilizes magical girls who use a kind of electro-shock therapy to make depressed humans feel happy and revitalized again – to “charge them up” to put it another way. They are thus called “charger girls” (at least in the localization), and the moé-blob protagonist we end up following is called Plug, with many of the other characters using this electrically-based naming scheme as something of a joke. These characters are able to fly and remain completely invisible and intangible to humanity, along with the tools they have hidden in human technology to accomplish their mission of charging up depressed humans. I’m not entirely sure how a business is built around this “service,” but the writers probably had no idea either, as its only real function is to fit into the typical trope of the perpetually poor screw-up fan service girl because Plug so often manages to fail at her job and destroy equipment in the process, and this is supposed to be funny.

And really, that’s the problem with the series as a whole. It just tries constantly to be funny, but fails basically every time at it. Which makes for a parallel with its protagonist, now that I think about it. In any case, I just feel like the humor completely misses, in part because of just how horrible so many aspects of this show are.

I hope that my earlier admission makes it perfectly clear that I am not some prudish snob who just hates fan service, and with that a given that you’ll also believe me when I say that I don’t use the M-word lightly. That word tends to be thrown around a lot these days, so I tend to reserve it for something I feel obviously deserves it, and this one does – like a baseball bat to the brain pan.

I bring this up, because so much of the “humor” of this show is based entirely around the fact that the male lead, a rather ill-tempered restaurant worker named Sento, is actually able to see these charger girls, and his default reaction is to grab an aluminum baseball bat (or whatever else is handy), and hit them in the head as hard as he can. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this is usually accompanied by the charger girl peeing herself. This is also occasionally conflated with orgasm (such as during their magical girl transformation sequence), especially in the case of an especially uptight, asshole charger girl who reveals that she actually enjoys being beamed in the head so hard that she loses consciousness and pees herself, and even develops romantic feelings for Sento because of it. And this is all played as humor.

I really just don’t have anything to say beyond that, other than maybe “shit’s pretty fucked.” I guess the only real faint praise I can give this series is that, at least it’s completely up front about what it is, right from the opening scene. Needless to say, this is not something I would recommend anyone to watch. This is also probably about the only time that I’m kind of happy that a show has actually stayed pretty obscure (which is admittedly not helped by me writing an article about it), but if you are a glutton for punishment, you can actually legitimately stream a subtitled version of this on Crunchyroll, completely for free, albeit somewhat censored. Surprisingly, this anime actually did get a dub, as it was one of the many sleazy animes licensed by Media Blasters, and there are probably used DVDs of it still floating around out there. This is actually kind of anger-inducing in its own right, not because it got a dub exactly, but because there are so many other animes out there which still haven’t been dubbed but would deserve one way more than something like this does. In any case, I really hope that if you insist on watching this frankly insulting anime, that you don’t waste any money to do so.

Fuck No! Don’t Check it Out:
Charger Girl Juden-chan (Faito ippatsu! Juden-chan!!)
based on the manga by Bow Ditama
Produced by Studio Hibari, Licenced by Media Blasters

Binary Stars and other BS

Infinite Ryvius and Twin Spica both serve to bother space otaku
by Bob Johnson

I’m a huge space nerd. But I need to say something about space anime. So many of my favourite anime are set in space: Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, just to name a few. For obvious reasons, Space continues to be a common setting for SF anime. That also means that there’s plenty of disappointing space anime out there (cough Glass Fleet cough). Here, I give half a chance each to two space-themed shows on the wobbly soft end of the space-opera scale, Twin Spica and Infinite Ryvius.

Twin Spica

Kei-chan agrees: Twin Spica kind of stinks.

Twin Spica is an uncommon fusion of soap opera and supernatural mystery, all overdosed on space science trivia. It is also thoroughly Shojo and Slice of Life, and that means it is SLOOoooOOW. It’s about Asumi, a disaster-affected moéblob whose aspiration is to become a “rocket driver” for her dad and her ghost friend. And since this is future-Japan, sure enough, there’s a high school in Tokyo for that!

Shu-kun knows where he’s going.

I think the real height of the show was episodes 4 and 6 (a two-parter split by E05, a filler episode). 4/6 showed the real essence of spaceflight, disguised as an entrance exam. The rest of the show — mostly boredom punctuated by frenzied moments of excitement — is also very on the nose for the flight experience in general.

While there are a fair number of active moments, even borderline awesomeness in this show, it’s important to note how wabi-sabi this all is. Asumi’s quest is not simply a trip to space camp, but a heart-wrenching tale of loss, loneliness, and quiet desperation.

Asumi-chan spills a bunch of CGI on the floor.

Though Twin Spica was crafted to be an edutainment show for younger kids, Japanese sensibilities intrude to prevent me from calling it kid-friendly everywhere. I don’t think a dubbed version was ever officially released in North America, but there is one of those Animax english dubs floating around. Thus, my occasional quest to find chibi-compatible shows continues to strike out. I may personally finish it, though.

Infinite Ryvius

Infinite Ryvius is boring! How do you make space boring? Mainly… have people fight for no reason! Shout and scream all the time and don’t actually do anything! Infinite Ryvius reminds me a bit of Stargate: Universe in this respect. Instead of sending professionals out there, just send a bunch of untrained cadets and chaos agents on your important space mission. That’ll work, right?

Infiinte Ryvius in a nutshell: it’s all there ready for you — but why am I not hungry anymore?

Essentially, generic anime protagonist and too many of his classmates are stuck on a sinking space station. Sinking into what? Good question! Not a gravity well or planetary atmosphere though, that would be too obvious. Infinite Ryvius aspires to be a tokusatsu disaster epic, but there is just so much trouble establishing the suspension of disbelief. I despise half of the cast from the get-go, I don’t care for the all-too-obvious mystery elements, but probably its worst offence is that it doesn’t even use real science — much like Space Battleship Yamato 2199’s space-submarine episode, they invented a new form of reality to allow their space station to sink into a space-ocean. I have no doubt there are new discoveries to be made in physics, but I strongly doubt there is any kind of dimensional rift within the solar system that makes this show even remotely plausible.

What’s good about this show? Uhm, well, It’s vaguely actiony and has a hip-hop soundtrack. The dub – tastefully cheesy – may be enough to put this show on a “so bad it’s good” groupwatch. But I just cannot get past the third episode on my own without falling asleep.


Maybe look it up:
Twin Spica (Futatsu no Spica) 20 episode anime
based on the manga by Kou Yaginuma
Produced by Group TAC


Don’t look it up:
Infinite Ryvius 26 episode anime
Written by Yosuke Kuroda, Directed by Goro Taniguchi
Produced by Sunrise, Licenced by Sentai

Blander than Maruchan

Dear Naruto, “more” doesn’t mean “better”. Believe it!
by Bob Johnson

Team Kakashi is always high on morale.

Sometimes you don’t want to eat anything special, just a big bowl of ramen. Maybe you pop in an extra pack because you have dozens laying around. Maybe one of those generic microwave pot stickers today, too. Maybe you bought a few too many and now you feel stuck eating the same thing every day. Welcome to Naruto, the endless soup and dumplings of anime. It’s not over (nor do I think it ever will be), but I can tell you my thoughts on the entire first series.

I don’t begrudge the folks who loved this show because it aired at just the right time in their lives. But I do see this for what it is, a middle-of-the-road long-running shonen. The gag comedy has been done before. The strategy and fighting has been done before. And it’s just so … generic and all-pervasive that it became its era’s definition of stereotypical anime, much like Pokémon or DBZ had been just a few years before. I might never have watched it without 2019’s avalanche of Yang Gang memes making me feel left out. Fortunately enough, Naruto seems to be at least a cut above its progenitors on the list of “I don’t really watch anime” anime.

When it comes to the show itself – well, there’s a big difference between wanting to be the strongest and actually being the strongest. For the entire series, the character of Naruto straddles the line between these two categories. Plainly irresponsible and inexperienced, his discipline level keeps him in the first bin. Yet if he had full control of his raw power, he could very well be in the second and achieve his dream of being village chief.

Even among ninja who walk on water and run-fly spread-armed through forest canopies as an animation cost-saving measure a basic chakra ability, Naruto is special. The power of the Nine Tailed Fox deep within him can grant him supercharged powers, which he uses almost as much for pranks as for training and fights.

Along for the ride is Sakura, his perpetual un-girlfriend who expresses herself primarily through skyward right hooks, and Sasuke, a too-cool-for-you ninja at the top of the class, who has little but contempt for Naruto’s silliness, or anyone else for that matter. They are assigned to a fighting team lead by Kakashi, a teacher and senior ninja.

Bound together in more of a rivalry than friendship, they take on jobs that need a surprising amount of strategy (and civil engineering!) until sinister agents upend the safety of their hometown, succinctly called “The Village Hidden In The Leaves”. Conveniently, this is exactly at the time of their final exams for ninja school. So naturally, as the protagonists in a kids’ anime show, they wipe the floor with the invaders and send them packing in a comedy gag?

You’d think so … except, no. This is when the kids get to grow up and deal with the real world. As much as it is about the title character’s antics, the show is also about an untold history, and from this point, as the tale unfolds we see the tapestry of prior generations unravel as Naruto learns their secrets.

Naruto aims to be Fire Lord. Problem, Prince Zuko?

But even as I admit that there’s more to this show than meets the Sharingan, I still have to take it down a peg. Older folks who remember the show fondly may find it’s not exactly small-tyke stuff when Naruto’s Sexy Jutsu or Jiraiya’s penchant for hotsprings pops up. All of that is baked into the modern streaming editions; the old TV edit isn’t particularly easy to find anymore.

And of course, this show is many things but it is not in a hurry. Naruto takes 40 episodes to “get good” – in that same amount of time, you could have watched 3 whole shows instead! The full run of 220 is positively languid, many of them just filling time. I’m not even complaining about the anime-original stuff versus the manga (a topic I’ll leave to the true believers), but how it pads things out with inner dialogue, fight windups, pointless gags, and recaps. Even today when you can click ahead and watch at accelerated speed, it can get annoying to deal with.

All this filler is starting to bug me. (No offense, Shino)

If you’ve already seen it, you know what’s up, and you know the parts that deserve a skip or a rewatch. But why would you ever watch this monstrosity if you hadn’t already? First, its cultural bigness can be considered a feature rather than a bug. Wearing a Naruto shirt can get you easy street cred far and wide, even on a hiking trail in the wilds of South Dakota. Fans of better anime need much better luck sporting their colours in the wild.

But perhaps more importantly, Naruto teaches life skills. This is a place where our heroes are always digging deep for that last bit of energy and doing their best to grow and improve. There’s immeasurable value in holding to that same stick-to-it-ive attitude in one’s own life.

Maybe Look It Up:
Naruto (2002) 220 episode series
based on the manga by Masashi Kishimoto
Produced by Pierrot, Licenced by Viz