As the spring anime season comes to a close, it is time for another round-up review.
Let me address the elephant in the room first. So… Shiyan Pin Jiating. English subs for the series were stalled for ages after episode 4, but they finally came out all at once a few days ago. I unfortunately do not have the time now to do an episode-by-episode review for the remaining eight episodes of the series, so I’ve decided to just write up a review for the show as a whole here.
Shiyan Pin Jiating:
Despite having a rather awkward start, I have to say that this is a really phenomenal series, especially coming from a Chinese animation studio. While it has some fantastical elements in that most of the main characters have been experimentally altered in some way, Shiyan Pin Jiating is essentially about a group of physically and emotionally abused teens/kids who are trying to make a new life for themselves in a world that can be quite cruel. Yes, the animation can be rough and a bit jerky at times, but I am willing to overlook that as the characters of this show are just really wonderfully characterized.
I absolutely love the strong relationship that Dennis, Tracy, Ashley, Alsace, and Snow have with each other. I also love the amount of depth we are given for each of the siblings—each of them have their own dedicated episode, which explores their relationship with the other siblings, as well as their insecurities and traumas. I’ll be honest, this series can be pretty raw and hard-hitting at times. Although Shiyan Pin Jiating thankfully doesn’t show us the worst of the experiments conducted on Dennis’ sisters and brother, it does not shy away from showing us how neglectful and emotionally abusive their parents were. Growing up in this sort of environment definitely left deep emotional and physical scars on all of the siblings; even on Dennis who was treated “the best” out of all his siblings. While all of this can be a little hard to watch, I appreciate that Shiyan Pin Jiating doesn’t engage in what I call “angst porn”—we are shown just enough to get the gist of how bad things are, and nothing more. Because what’s important is not the characters’ trauma and pain, but rather how they overcome their struggles to live a happier life. I also really appreciate that the latter half of the series introduces some great characters, to show that the world isn’t inhabited solely by uncaring and cruel adults; and that good people do exist.
Other than the (at times) wonky animation, Shiyan Pin Jiating does have some additional faults. This series is fond of using the “flashback” method of storytelling. I didn’t mind this for the most part, especially when the flashbacks were used to explain the siblings’ living situation at the lab. But there were a few places in the show where there were some gratuitous and unnecessary flashbacks, like the one that occurred in the latter half of episode 5.
While the five main siblings were fleshed out well, I can’t say the same about the supporting/minor characters that appeared. Some of them have conflicting or downright bizarre character motivations (like that tutor from episode 3). And, outside of his siblings, Dennis’ relationship with everyone else is just not explored much. His relationship with Jin (she’s called “Sumire” in the Japanese dub) strikes me as especially odd since they’re shown to be “close” yet we’ve barely seen them interact in the series itself. Additionally, there’s also a pretty massive plot-hole induced by episode 1—Dennis takes his siblings out to dinner in public, where they fully show off their un-human abilities and Dennis just seems embarrassed by it. But as the series progresses Dennis suddenly falls into a panic about hiding his siblings’ abilities, as if they were supposed to be hiding them from the start? What?
This series also commits a pretty big animation sin: while the story arc introduced over the course of the 12-episode series does wrap up, Shiyan Pin Jiating ultimately ends in a “to be continued” fashion. Despite everything, I still enjoyed this series. It’s just a really wholesome series about five siblings caring about and looking out for each other, because they just love each other that much. While the animation isn’t perfect, the backgrounds present in this show are lovely. The soundtrack for this show is also quite good. I pray that Shiyan Pin Jiating someday gets a second season. This series was amazing and I would love to see more of it.
Out of five:
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc
I have been pretty busy the past few months, so I was unable to keep up with very many series this season. But I am glad that one of them was CCS: Clear Card Arc. Is the series actually good? Does it hold up to the original CCS series? Unfortunately, that is a tough call to make. As someone who has fond memories of watching CCS as a kid (albeit as the butchered “Cardcaptors” dub), my opinion will most likely be incredibly biased. There’s no denying that nostalgia definitely plays a large part here—many people tuned into this series due to their love of the old CCS anime.
Once the nostalgia wore off, however; people did start becoming more critical of Clear Card Arc. Was a CCS sequel really necessary? The original Cardcaptor Sakura anime had a decently satisfying conclusion in the form of the “Sealed Card” film. Furthermore, there is supposedly an established “CLAMP canon timeline” involving CCS and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (which I am not even going to bother touching). But if a sequel had to be made at all (even if possibly for merchandise reasons), then I think this was the most suitable sequel that could have been made. It’s charming, it’s cute; and overall, it’s just a really pleasant show.
I’ve seen people rag on CCS: Clear Card Arc for being “boring” because the characters spend far too much time engaging in mundane activities. These people must have forgotten that the original CCS series also had a ton of slice-of-life moments. The most clear example of this that comes to mind is the “Sakura and the Rainbow of Memories” episode, where Sakura doesn’t even capture a card. But I suppose people were expecting there to be much more action or card-capturing. Unlike the original series, there does seem to be a little less focus on the aspect of card capturing itself, and much more time devoted to character development. By this, I mean that in a usual episode; the bulk of the episode’s run-time will be spent on character interactions, and then only towards the end are we introduced to a new card—which Sakura quickly captures. While I do somewhat miss episodes where a card’s presence was present throughout the entire episode, it makes sense that Sakura can capture cards fairly quickly now. She’s already gone through two seasons of capturing cards, and then another season where she had to master them; so she’s fairly experienced by now. Even so, there were some new clear cards that Sakura had trouble capturing, which required some support from Syaoran.
…Which brings me to another point of complaint amongst Clear Card viewers: that Syaoran doesn’t get very much focus. This is one complaint I have to agree with. While Syaoran’s lack of presence is explained away due to “mysterious plot shenanigans,” it’s still somewhat disappointing, especially for those who were expecting a ton of cute Sakura x Syaoran moments in this series. Actually, not very many characters get much focus in this series compared to Sakura and the newly introduced character, Akiho. There are definite plot reasons for this (which I won’t spoil here), but your mileage may vary on how much you can stand Akiho. I personally think she’s fine, but I don’t really strongly like or dislike her.
An important thing to note is that, while the Clear Card anime is roughly following the events of the manga, it is definitely following the original anime’s canon—meaning that anime only characters appear again here, and the Sealed Card movie (taking place at the end of the original anime series) is also canon. Being able to see Meiling again was pretty great, and I’m glad they were able to incorporate her back into the show (if only for a few episodes).
Overall, I would say that Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc is a pretty solid series in the magical girl and “shoujo” genre. Even with its minor faults, I still greatly enjoyed it and looked forward to a new episode every week. But I can tell that this series is definitely not for everyone. This series is pretty clearly aimed at fans of the original CCS. (If you haven’t watched that yet, I strongly recommend watching the original series before watching Clear Card Arc.) Furthermore, CCS: Clear Card Arc is a very “slow-burn” type of series in regards to its overarching plot. Serious plot points and story elements don’t get set into motion until well into the second half of the series. It is also an extremely cute series—perhaps overwhelmingly so. If cutesy, slice-of-life anime with a touch of magic isn’t your thing, then you might want to consider giving this a pass.
The animation in Clear Card Arc is very nice for the most part, although there are some episodes that are noticeably lower quality than others; which is fairly typical for a 20+ episode series. At this point, the biggest “fault” I can see with Clear Card Arc is that it ends at a pretty unsatisfying place—not too surprising as the Clear Card manga is still ongoing. I have no doubts in my mind that another anime season will come out eventually (as the CCS revival is raking in tons of cash at the moment in terms of merch sales), so I will be excitedly looking forward to that.
Out of five:
Hakyuu Houshin Engi: (huge rant incoming)
TLDR; version of this review: the HE remake was bad.
Non-TLDR; version: Holy hell did the anime producers screw this remake up.
I do not understand why anime producers/studios insist on making anime aimed solely at “fans of the manga.” That’s really the best way I can describe the “creative” process involved in the making of the HE remake. Making an anime with this mindset is never a good idea, because it only pisses off manga fans AND alienates anime-only fans.
“This anime is aimed mostly at manga fans, so they’ll have a clear idea of what is going on! Which means we can just skip over all this important plot and characterization to get to the ‘good stuff’!”
—Some anime director probably
Okay, okay. I understand that making an anime is actually quite difficult, requiring tons of planning and tons of cash. For a such a lengthy manga series as Houshin Engi, it really would be difficult and risky to create anything more than a 20-something episode series; especially for a series that’s fairly old. But us HE fans would rather have had a faithful adaptation of the series that ended on a cliffhanger, rather than… whatever the hell this was. There’s no way a 200+ chapter manga series could be fully adapted into just a 23-episode series. The only way this could be accomplished is to either have the series cover only a part of the manga; or to have a super rushed version of the story. The anime, unfortunately, chose to combine both of these elements IN THE WORST POSSIBLE WAY.
The anime rushed through the beginning part of the HE manga at ludicrous speed, even skipping several plot-important arcs just to get to what is called the “Senin War Arc.” After which it just floundered about for the remaining part of the series. And THEN it had the gall to skip several more plot-important arcs just to animate the epilogue chapter in the remaining five minutes of the last episode. Seriously? What the hell? The ending of the Houshin Engi manga is incredibly poignant and satisfying. This garbage fire of an ending is FAR from it. There was no build up or lead in to the ending, the series just… ends. It felt like a slap in the face–an afterthought that the anime producers slipped in just so they wouldn’t have to deal with animating another season of HE.
A lot of plot points/characters were re-written or twisted in some way to fit the new “narrative” of the remake–all of this was done for the worst. My biggest gripe with the HE remake is that they totally missed the mark on Taikoubou’s character. Well, every other character also suffered from shoddy characterization, but Taikoubou (being the lead and the most important character) definitely got the brunt of it. Since nearly all of the comedy was sucked out of the remake, Taikoubou’s true personality did not get to shine. Taikoubou is a character who smiles–a lot. I feel like, in the remake, he rarely ever actually smiles happily because of the much more serious tone of the anime. The remake also completely toned down just how clever Taikoubou is, thanks to all the skipped manga chapters. This makes Taikoubou seem like your generic shonen protagonist when he’s got so much more depth to him than the anime remake portrays.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, several important supporting characters were just plain cut out, and there were a crapton of bizarrely placed flash-backs; and INCREDIBLY pointless flash-forwards. These flash-backs and flash-forwards were shoved into the series to reference whole story arcs that had been entirely skipped, but they really only served to make the series even more of a confusing mess. I feel sorry for anyone who went into the Hakyuu Houshin Engi series without any prior knowledge of the manga, and still stuck with it to the end. You people must be incredibly confused at all these random character cameos and plot-important events that aren’t touched on properly in the anime.
To add insult to injury, there were two whole episodes that were essentially just recap episodes. What the hell. The number of episodes available for the HE remake is small enough as it is; and you’re gonna waste two of those episodes just for unnecessary recaps??? What is the logic behind this? To add even more salt to the wound, an incredibly important story arc and character arc got relegated to… a special episode exclusive to the DVDs/BD set. Wow. Really? You’re gonna pull that bullshit Hakyuu Houshin Engi?
My anger at the horrible story direction aside, the animation of the HE remake is admittedly passable. While it’s nice to see the characters animated in a more modern style, with character designs that are much more faithful to the manga (compared to the 1999 anime); there are some pretty noticeable animation shortcuts taken and some of the animation effects can look pretty… lazy. There’s also a horrid “stylistic effect” applied to the outlines of the characters’ hair, which makes high-quality screencaps look extremely low-quality. As far as the new voice actors for the characters go… they’re alright. Everyone’s new voices are fitting enough; and even though I did think Taikoubou had too deep of a voice initially, it grew on me as the series went on. However, I do have to complain about Tenka’s new voice actor. Tenka seems to have no consistent voice—his voice fluctuates pretty wildly over the course of the series. Sometimes it’s passable, and other times it’s… bad.
While I am still somewhat happy that we got a Houshin Engi anime remake at all (we are getting tons of shiny new HE merch and it’s very exciting); I am honestly very disappointed about the quality of the remake. It’s nice to be able to see minor characters that didn’t appear in the 1999 anime get animated and voiced, and it’s nice just to have some new HE content in general. But it’s very saddening to think that this is likely the best we’ll ever get. And what we got was an incredibly butchered adaptation of a wonderful manga series.
Out of five: