Faith [Drama]: Lots to love, a little to hate…

I was in the mood for something historical, having recently re-watched a couple of my favourite episodes of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, and the 24 episodes of Faith (2012) was on my shortlist. It sounded interesting, and so I decided to check it out (I swear I didn’t know it was a Lee Min Ho drama until I started watching it, honest!)

faith

What’s it about?

King Gongmin (Ryu Deok Hwan) is returning to Goryea to become the next ruler with his wife, Princess Nogoog (Park Se Young), and the Wuldalchi; highly trained soldiers captained by the infamous Choi Young (Lee Min Ho). However, the Princesses’s throat is cut when the group is attacked by enemies, and Jang Bin (Phillip Lee), the highly skilled doctor of the group, states he is unable to save her. Desperate, the King sends Choi Young through “Heaven’s Gate”, a mysterious portal that lands him in modern-day Seoul. The first doctor he finds is cosmetic surgeon Yoo Eun Soo (Kim Hee Seon); stubborn, materialistic, and straightforward, she is kidnapped by Choi Young, and dragged back in time. She succeeds in saving the Princess’s life, but Choi Young breaks his promise of sending her back, blocking her entrance to the portal. Eun Soo is horrified as she watches it close, realising that she is stuck in the fourteenth century.

The Positives

Faith is one of the catch-all dramas that pulls on many different genres to produce something to have a popular appeal. And it’s a drama that does this quite well. Of course, you have all the political manipulation and tension you’d expect in a historic drama (more on that later), but you also have the action scenes from Choi Young and the Wuldalchi as they protect the royal couple and Eun Soo, plenty of romance, and also a healthy dose of comedy. I think the series balances between all aspects really well, making Faith a very entertaining watch.

queen

Go Princess Nogoog!

Secondly, I was really impressed with a lot of the characters (and the actors who portrayed them) in this series. Starting with our mains, Lee Min Ho is the perfect choice for the moody warrior Choi Young. He’s got the screen presence that we all know and love, and pulls off the character’s epic lines and scenes with ease. I feel like if another actor had taken on the role, these aspects would have fallen flat or been corny. Kim Hee Seon did a really good job of bringing Eun Soo to life. I liked that Eun Soo was so straight-forward, loud, and funny, despite being in a time period when she should have acted “seen and not heard”. It shows that her character wasn’t going to let something small like time-travel compromise who she is! I also have to give a special shout out to Park Se Young as Princess Nogoog. I think she portrayed the young queen perfectly with the kind of emotional subtlety you’d expect to see of an actor with many more years of experience. I also really love a good villain, [MINOR SPOILER/] and Park Yoon Jae as Prince Deokheung [\MINOR SPOILER] (the villain) was really, really excellent. I haven’t seen a villain as intelligent and interesting as him for a very long time, and I was really surprised by the character. Definitely up there as a favourite villain! Finally, the host of side characters, but especially the Wuldalchi, really bring the series to like with their various personalities and interactions.

warriors

The best soldiers you’ll ever see!

 

Finally, I really like the mix of myth, fantasy, and history thrown together in this series. The only other historic drama I’ve seen was set in later Joseon era (18th century), so the setting in Goryea (14th century) was something very different. Here, we see Goryea fighting for its independence from (what later becomes) China, and I think this uncertainty of the nation’s future means that all characters are already in a difficult spot. As much as I hate politics in real life, they play out very well in this series, with plenty of twists and turns. I also liked the mix of myth, fantasy, and history throughout the series. I think there was a good balance between the three, retaining some historical accuracy but keeping things interesting with a new twist.

The Negatives

As much as I’ve praised Eun Soo’s character above, I also have a lot to criticise. For a surgeon, a seemingly prestigious surgeon, she sure is stupid. This is a problem with dramas relying too much on the damsel in distress female lead, and it clearly shows in this series. Now I don’t mind her issues with adjusting to Goryea (and honestly, who can blame her for trying to figure out what to do after being flung so far into the past), and her materialistic streak is all apart of her character.  However, I really hate that her character is compromised in certain situations so that she can be saved. My favourite parts of the series were when her and Choi Young worked together, not when he was saving her from the consequences of a stupid decision she made. While we’re on characters, actually, let’s have a quick look at Dr. Jang. Without spoiling to much, I know that there were real-life issues going on here, but I still feel that this character was meant to be much more important. In the first two episodes it’s clear that he’s more than just the royal doctor, and it’s hinted that there’s some serious back story to his character, but he then sort of fizzles off into a side character. I was looking forward to discovery more about him, but left feeling extremely disappointed.

dr-jang

Dr Jang… clearly meant to be more than a shoulder to cry on…

The second criticism I have against this series… well, I guess it’s one that I have against anything involving time-travel in general. It hurts my head. I followed everything throughout the series until we get to the last couple of episodes and everything is tied up… but sort of not really? I feel that there was a major plot hole in the end (see below) and there were implications, that, if they had been addressed correctly, could have changed the direction of the series, and made it much more interesting. The ending also felt a little anti-climatic (in terms of the “baddies” that we’ve been dealing with) as the drama rushed to focus on Choi Young and Eun Soo’s love. I can’t explain these criticisms any further without major spoilers, so if you intend to check out this series, continue onto the conclusion section of this post, and don’t read the following spoilers.

couple

Cute and all, but I feel there could have been more to this drama…

[MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
Alright, let’s get straight into this plot hole business. It gets established early on in the series that Eun Soo has travelled to further into the past (i.e. a time period before Goryea) before her “current” travel to Goryea. Past Eun Soo leaves current Eun Soo tips about what to do and not do to keep history on course and save those she loves. Some of the instructions she leaves suggest that “Past Eun Soo” was in Goryea at a point in which Choi Young was killed. From there, she travelled further into the past and left her future self information about not letting him die for when she travels into Goryea for the first time. I’m not sure how much sense that makes, but the take away message is this: Eun Soo has travelled to Goryea on at least one other occasion from her “current” excursion there. Keep this in mind. One of the other clues Past Eun Soo leaves is how to calculate when the time portal opens. Current Eun Soo is so desperate to get to the time portal in the series because it wasn’t going to open again for another 60 years afterwards. Now, I would assume that the time portal opening is the “same” amongst all time periods that it connects to (past, Goryea, current times); i.e. you can potentially travel through the three time periods when the portal is open. Past Eun Soo, at the point in which she’s known as Hwa Ta, goes into the time portal that brings her back to Choi Young a few years after she first leaves Goryea. Where did this time portal come from because I didn’t think there was going to be one for sixty years?! How can she create time portals left, right, and centre to travel through at the plot’s convenience to make the Goryea trip at least twice?! Or am I thinking about this wrong? Do the time portals only work in certain directions, so the one Eun Soo uses to get from distant past to Goryea wouldn’t allow her to get from Goryea to the future (i.e. her main focus during the series)? Is her “Faith” in returning to Choi Young  meant to explain these random portals popping up? Did she calculate them wrong in the beginning (but she seemed to know where they are)? Would it have been too hard to explain this in the series? This is why time travel hurts my head.

Secondly, [STILL MAJOR SPOILERS] if it is the case that Eun Soo made the Goryea trip on multiple occasions (remember, we’ve established that by the end of the series she’s done this journey at least twice), wouldn’t her attempt(s) to survive in Goryea without screwing up history and her attempt(s) to get back to Choi Young be so much more interesting to focus on rather than, oh, I don’t know, her getting poisoned a second time?! Honestly, I was just about ready to get give up on the series when that happened. It makes Eun Soo look stupid and it’s just infuriating to watch when we could have something with much more substance to enjoy! [END OF ALL SPOILERS]

Conclusion

Story: 6/10. A really fun mix of everything, but some bad plot decisions leave you feeling sour.

Characters: 8.5/10. A lot of the characters are well thought out and developed, although this is compromised in a couple of moments. However, a great drama villain makes up for it all.

Faith is certainly not the best drama I’ve seen, but it is definitely enjoyable. Although I have issues with some of the characters and plot decisions, I really loved the characters and the mixed bag of different genres kept me entertained throughout. If you like the first two to three episodes, you can be reassured to stick with it. Overall I give it a 7/10.

-S

choi-young

Lee Min Ho, why are you so handsome regardless of what they do to your hair?

 

Monster Hunt [Movie]: Funny, cute, and easy to watch

I watched this movie a while ago, on a flight between Sapporo and Bangkok. I needed something light and funny to fill the seven hours, and Monster Hunt (2015) was my first choice!

monster-hunt

What’s it about?

After a civil war in the Monster Realm, the pregnant Queens flees to the human world, pursued by supporters of the new regime. Although she runs the risk of being found out by human monster hunters, she is protected by the husband-wife duo Gao (Eric Tsang) and Ying (Sandra Ng). Young village mayor Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) lives oblivious to the turmoils of the Monster Realm when he encounters the small group, disguised as humans. He welcomes them to his small inn, but when hunter Huo Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) enters, chaos ensues as she tries to capture the group. Tianyin and the Queen have a brief encounter in which she ‘marks’ him, later to return to give him her unborn baby. Xiaolan stays with the now-pregnant Tianyin, and convinces him to travel with her to sell the baby, which she suspects will go for a high price. But now with both monsters and humans after the two and the baby they carry, will they simply be able to sell it and move on with their lives?

The Positives

What I really liked about this movie is that it’s just such a light and easy watch. The plot is straightforward, slightly predictable, but entertaining nonetheless. With a healthy mix of adventure, fighting, and romance, it was very well rounded, keeping me interested the whole time. I also found it really funny. Although the majority of the comedy is of one type (see below), there are also quite a few witty lines and more subtle humour flying around. It’s the kind of movie where you can just sit back enjoy, since it’s aimed at kids, there’s not too much to think about, but it still keeps you entertained!

Another thing I really liked about this series is that the characters have a really nice dynamic on screen. Tianyin, the ‘ordinary character’ of the movie, was really likeable. I liked that he either just rolled with what was happening around him or was completely oblivious. He continuously tries his best, despite all his failings, which is always a good quality for the hero to have. I think that it’s really interesting the writers decided to give him a physical disability, but then not focus nor expand on it, and have him as the hero despite it. It’s something you don’t see often in Western movies, and it adds a nice touch. The female main, Xiaolan, was also a character I really appreciated. She’s sly and cunning, a lot more clued in than Tianyin, but proves that she’s not as cold-blooded as she’d like you to believe. Separately both characters are good, and together they are fantastic. I really liked that they were the focus of the movie; their chemistry and interactions were one of the highlights for me. As for the other characters, they were all fairly likeable (at least all the “good guys”, the “bad guys” were what you’d expect for a kids’ movie), making enough of a presence in scenes to be memorable and distinct.

otp-material

Feeling the pains of (forced) pregnancy, Tianyin? Don’t worry, Xiaolan’s got you covered!

Finally, the mix of CGI animation and live-action works pretty well together. Sure, the CGI isn’t the top-notch Hollywood quality you’re probably used to seeing, but it was better than my expectations, and I think it worked really well. Throughout the movie, the interaction between the CGI and live-action is handled very well and is very convincing, really shining in the fight scenes. Plus the baby Monster King is so cute! The sound effects, personality, and animation made me want a little Monster King of my own!

wuba

Have you ever seen a radish this cute?!

The Negatives

This movie won’t be for everyone, and a lot of that has to to do with the style of comedy. It tends to be on the more physical comedy side (although not as much slapstick as you’d expect), and tends to be a little on the odd side. There are also a lot of elements that are over-exaggerated or over-played for comedic effect. However, this is fairly typical for family movies (in which kids are expected to be part of the audience), and is especially the case for Chinese comedies. Having said that, though, it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

On another note, one thing that I was disappointed by in this movie was the fact that not all plot points are explained or make sense. I’m not sure if there was something lost in translation, or the writers just assume that the audience will either forget about it, or later figure it out. A throw-away sentence here or there would have easily solved this problem.

Conclusion

Story: 7/10. Not breaking any story-telling boundaries, but enjoyable and enough to keep you invested in the movie. Lots of fun and laughs to be had along the way.

Characters: 7.5/10. A really good male and female lead, who had a really good dynamic.

I wouldn’t consider this movie a “must watch”, but if it sounds like your kind of thing, or you’re looking for something simple and easy to entertain you for a couple of hours, you should definitely consider watching this movie. It’s funny, the characters are interesting and likeable, and it’s just a lot of fun. Overall, I give it a 7/10.

-S

family

The most adorable family of 2015!

A Werewolf Boy [Movie]: Beautiful and heart-wrenching

This movie has been reviewed by several other awesome reviews recently. I had written this draft way back when I watched the movie last year, but didn’t have it ready to blog before I went away… so since I’ve already shared by opinion in the comments of a few others’ posts, here’s it a little more refined 😉

Initially this was one of those “watch because my favourite actor is in it” movies, but it completely blew me away, and is now one of my favourite movies of all time. Released in 2012, A Werewolf Boy is a beautiful romantic drama.

a werewolf boy2

What’s it about?

Set in the 1960s, a widowed mother (Jang Young Nam) moves her family into the countryside in hopes of helping with her oldest daughter’s lung problems. While her younger daughter Soon Ja (Kim Hyang Gi) seems to enjoy the change of scenery and her new found friends, Soon Yi (Park Bo Young), her oldest daughter, is sullen and unhappy. However, when the family discover a grown orphan (Song Joong Ki) with little social skills, they chose to take him in, and later name him Chul Soo. Chul Soo turns the house to chaos with his animal-like behaviour, until Soon Yi decides to teach him some manners, sparking an unexpected interest between the two.

The Positives

This movie has some beautifully crafted characters in it, and, thankfully, the character-driven plot in the first half of the movie really allows them to be showcased. My personal favourite was probably the mother (I don’t remember if she’s actually named during the movie), who was just a very sweet, down-to-earth character. I loved how readily she accepted Chul Soo into her family’s life, prepared to change their way of life to accommodate him, and just how she takes all of Chul Soo’s peculiarities in her stride. The mother plays quite a central movie, but even the other characters with less screen time still added just that little bit of realness to the plot; Soon Ja’s abrupt rudeness to strangers she doesn’t trust, the friendliness of the country folk, and even the desperation for Soon Yi’s attention in the actions of antagonist Ji Tae (Yoo Yeon Seok), just to name a few. However, the focus of the plot is obviously Soon Yi and Chul Soo, and the development of the two characters, both in their sense of their personal growth, and the growth of the bond between them, plays out on screen perfectly. The development is naturally paced and makes sense, and there’s this real sense of subtleness to it, which means that it’s not hammered into the viewer in every scene.

otp

So cute ❤

Of course, these characters would be nothing without the actors that bring them to life. This movie has one of the best casts I have seen in a long time. From Jang Young Nam catching the mother’s character perfectly, right down to little Kim Hyang Gi playing the role of Soon Ja, everything is acted out just right. Song Joong Ki, is, of course, amazing. I’ve loved Joong Ki in every role I’ve seen him play so far, and just his dedication to capturing his character perfect blows my mind every single time. In A Werewolf Boy, he gets every detail of Chul Soo’s animalism perfect without losing the character’s sense of being human. As kfangurl pointed out in her review, with next-to no lines, Joong Ki still expresses all of Chul Soo’s thoughts and feelings without an issue. This is the first time I’ve seen Park Bo Young, and I was deeply impressed by her acting; she brings as much naturalness to her character as Joong Ki does. Both actors showcase so much raw emotion in all of their scenes that you can’t help but get caught up in everything.

wait

And so the training begins…

I can drop a whole bunch of adjectives to describe the story of this movie; cute, funny, tragic, sweet, beautiful, etc.; but what I really want to highlight is just how well-told and subtle the story is. The writers don’t need to spell out everything for the viewer; they don’t need that “oh I realise we’ve fallen in love” moment or anything similar, instead the story naturally plays out on screen. I also really liked the focus is kept on Soon Yi and Chul Soo, and particularly Soon Yi’s experience of meeting and befriending Chul Soo. Although this movie provides ample opportunity to delve into philosophical questions about what it means to be human, it doesn’t, keeping to focus on the two mains and on the story at hand.

The Negatives

I haven’t too much to criticise this movie for. I will say, however, that I’m not convinced that the supernatural element was really  needed that badly. I get why it becomes important for intensifying the conflict in the latter half of the movie, but I think it would have been interesting just to see how Chul Soo changes as a regular feral child. But then I guess I would be reviewing a movie called “A Wolf Boy” and not “A Werewolf Boy”.

wolfboy

Chul Soo’s not-so-pretty introduction.

The second issue I had with this movie is the ending (and by ending I literally mean the last few scenes), and this is largely because of Soon Yi’s decision at the end of the movie, which, despite discussion with other fans, I still can not accept. It might be more personal than a direct criticism against the movie, but this is the just about the only thing that I got hung up on whilst watching.

Anything else I should consider?

As mentioned, this movie actually has two endings, and I would recommend you see both the original and the director’s cut.

Conclusion

Story: 9/10: Subtle, unique, and well-told, the story has all kinds of emotion sewn into it, and is a pleasure to watch unfold (until it gets freaking sad, then it’s just tears all the way).

Characters: 9.5/10: I loved almost every character in this movie. There’s been a lot of thought put into all of them, and they are bought to life perfectly by their actors.

If it isn’t already obvious, I adore this movie, and I seriously recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something a little different than most romance movies. There’s a good balance of cute and sad, and the acting and characters will blow you away. Overall, I give it a strong 9/10.

-S

so pretty!

I forgot just how pretty this movie is!!

The Devil is a Part-Timer! [Anime]: Entertaining and fun

What does a demon-Lord do after fleeing to our world to escape his enemies? Why, starts working for McDonald’s MgRonald’s, of course! The-13 episode comedy anime The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Hataraku Maou-sama!) (2013) is based on this premise.

Hataraku Maousama

What’s it about?

In an alternative world, Ente Isla, Dark Lord Satan is defeated and has no choice but to flee with his loyal Demon General Alciel to another world. They arrive in modern-day Tokyo, and, because magic doesn’t exist, they find out they are both powerless. Living as humans, Maou Sadao (Demon Lord) and Ashiya Shirou (Alciel), they are introduced to the reality of this new world; working, rent, and money. However, with pursuers from Ente Isla not far behind, including the Demon Lord’s sworn-enemy, Emilia the Hero, and the pressures of being a star-worker at MgRonald’s, the two struggle to get by!

The Positives

Whilst the entire series doesn’t quite keep up the hilarity of the first couple of episodes, this anime is genuinely funny and certainly entertaining. I like that it has a bit of a unique concept, and, although comedy is its main pull, there’s a fun mix of action, a couple of dark themes, and (very slight) romance thrown in. It certainly keeps you entertained and it’s very enjoyable to watch.

Although you can’t deny that the characters in this anime are pretty stereotypical, they are still strong enough to carry the story through to the end. They are all likeable, bright characters, and their interactions on screen are funny. Similar to the characters, the art is pretty standard, but the colourful palette and good styling makes it stand out (with the exception of Emi’s styling, which looked a little odd to me).

priorities

Priorities… even the devil has them!

 

Another thing I really liked about this anime was the creation of the two words; Ente Isla and our world. As mentioned, the colours were very bright and catchy for our world, but for Ente Isla, the world is a lot darker. I also really liked the different language that they speak; it’s English but with the constants reversed (see more here). You also get a brief insight to the different institutions at work in Ente Isla, and what ordinary life is like. It’s not much, but it is a nice touch and adds a little more atmosphere to the anime.

The Negatives

You may find that the comedy gets a little old in the second half of the series, when, as with most comedies, jokes have to be recycled. However, given that this anime is only thirteen episodes long, it really isn’t much of a big deal. The only other slight negative is that the last episode feels slightly out-of-place compared to the episode that precedes it; it’s obvious that the writers were expecting a second season (no announcement as of yet). Given that is doesn’t introduce anything new, though, it’s hardly a negative.

Occasionally Emilia's head looks oddly shaped and her forehead massive

Occasionally Emi’s head looks oddly shaped and her forehead massive

Apart from a slightly bland sound-track and opening and ending themes, there’s not too much to fault this anime on.

Conclusion

Art:  7/10: Pretty standard animation, but bright colours and good character styling.

Story: 6.5/10: The plot is straight-forward and simple, but the anime is very entertaining.

Characters: 6.5/10: Although the characters are stereotypes, they are still strong and funny.

The Devil is a Part-Timer! is a great anime for a bit of good, enjoyable entertainment. It never tries to accomplish more than what it sets up in the first few episodes, it’s genuinely funny, and the somewhat-stereotypical characters are strong enough to carry the series. The first episode is definitely worth a watch, and if you like it, don’t be afraid to follow through to the end. Overall, I give it a 6.5/10.

-S

Episode 1

I laughed so much during the first episode!

 

Sword Art Online [Anime]: Disappointing for the hype it received

Hailed by some as an amazing work of art, and earning a lot of good reviews when it was first released, Sword Art Online (2012) is a 25-episode adventure/fantasy anime. A special was also released, although I haven’t seen it, and a second anime has been announced

Sword Art Online

What’s it about?

Sword Art Online is a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (bit of a mouthful). Just newly released, the game attracts thousands of players on its official launch day, but after a day of playing, they notice that they cannot log out. Now trapped it the game by its creator, Akihiko Kayaba, and the others learn that a death in the game means a death in real life, and the only way to win is to beat all 100 levels of the game. One of the players is Kazuto Kirigaya, going by the name of Kirito in the game, who was an original beta-tester, and the main character of the anime.

The Positives

The art in Sword Art Online is of a high quality; I really liked all of the character styling, and the action scenes were all animated well. However, what the art in this anime does best is bringing the virtual world of Aincrad, the name of the world in the game, to life. Whilst setting an anime in a game is not an original idea, the world in the game of Sword Art Online is so absolutely fantastic, with so much attention to detail, I find it next to impossible to fault. Even the world in the second game (I won’t tell you too much about the second game because of spoilers) is beautifully put together. I really liked the idea of the different races in the second game, and the fact that they had different skills. The anime’s soundtrack also fits in well with the art, and truly brings it all together.

Breathtaking!

Breathtaking!

I already mentioned that this anime does action scenes well, and there are quite a few action scenes scattered throughout the series. These scenes are tense, exciting, and overall enjoyable to watch.

Another thing I liked about Sword Art Online is that there were enough death scenes to give the anime a real tragic touch. These scenes were done very well and are quite emotional, although they only took place in the first half of the anime.

The Negatives

Let’s get the biggest and most noticeable negative of Sword Art Online out of the way first; its plot, particularly the second half. However, I first want to point out some pacing issues that occur in the first half. Although it took a while to get used to the massive jumps in time between episodes, I think what the writers were attempting to do was better than the alternative. However, what this pacing does is sabotage consistency with characters; many are in it for one episode, making the tragedies in the series a little less powerful than what they could be. However, despite this, the plot still held up pretty well… until we got to the second half, where it crashed and burned terribly. The plot became disjointed and inconsistent, which is a shame, because it could have explored some interesting territory. Not to mention there’s some distasteful fan-service and the development of Kirito’s little “sister”, Suguha, both of which will leave you feeling a bit gross. By the time the series concludes, everything’s all over the place, plot devices are laughable, and I was pretty much just waiting for it to end.

Blah tears blah

Whenever I see this image now, I can only think of this

Another problem I had with this anime was in terms of characters. I initially really liked the female lead, Asuna Yuuki. It was good to see a strong female character; someone who was potentially as tough as Erza Scarlet from Fairy Tail, but less intense. However, once the romantic relationship between her and Kirito develop, she turns into a boring, useless, typical female character- yawn. Meanwhile, Kirito was so much the “perfect hero” that he was boring. Don’t get me wrong, he was far from unlike-able, just uninteresting. Because of the way I felt about the two main leads, it’s not surprising that I found the romantic relationship that develops between them to be pretty generic, although I do admit it’s nice to see an attempt at romance in an anime of this type. 

Finally, I feel that the anime could have done much more in terms of exploring the psychological effects of being trapped within the game, as well as how the characters dealt with it once they were free. Although briefly touched on, this anime could have been so much more if the creators had put a little more time and effort into it.

Conclusion

Art:  9/10: Fantastic throughout the whole series, with action scenes done particularly well.

Story: 5/10: Although not perfect in the first half, the second half destroys any chance it had.

Characters: 5.5/10: The mains are generic, and the other characters don’t get enough screen time.

This anime had a lot of appeal, and definitely delivered in terms of the setting and action. However, it lacks in plot and characters. Perhaps I expected too much after all of the hype it received? I felt that the short-comings of this anime were not enough to combat the excellent visuals. It’s not a terrible anime, but it’s not amazing either. You will probably enjoy it if you are a gamer, particularly if you like role-playing games, but overall I give it a 6/10.

-S

Thank you. Good bye.

Tower of Druaga: Sword of Uruk [Anime]: A disappointing ending to the Tower of Druaga series

Oops… it’s a day late, but here it is…

Continuing off from last week, Tower of Druaga: Sword of Uruk (2009) is the sequel to Aegis of Uruk, continuing the story half a year after the end of the first anime. Like its predecessor, it is an adventure/fantasy anime and is 12 episodes long. 

Sword of Uruk

What’s it about?

After saving a little girl by the name of Ki from a group of soldiers, Jil must climb the tower again after agreeing to take her to the top. He teams up with his brother’s old team mates, Fatina and Utu, as well as a new character Henaro, to do this. They make it to the top successfully, but are forced to follow Neeba and Kaaya in travelling beyond the tower when Ki and Henaro are kidnapped.

The Positives

It’s clear quite early on in this anime that it tries to be a lot more serious than Aegis of Uruk. There are still a few funny moments, but they’re a lot more sparse, and there are only a couple of quasi-parody episodes very early on. However, there are much more serious and emotional moments, such as the group reuniting with Ahmey and Kally, and a couple of scenes concerning King Gilgamesh. Furthermore, there is more action, and a couple of more intense moments, particularly towards the end.

We've missed you!

We’ve missed you!

Another positive of this anime is that you finally get explanations for some of the odd scenes or events from the first anime. For example, *spoilers if you haven’t seen Aegis of Uruk*, you find out why King Gilgamesh didn’t die when he was assassinated in Aegis of Uruk, as well as why Kaaya betrayed everyone.

Finally I liked the dual plots that focused both on Jil and the various groups as they continued to climb (?) the tower, as well as Ethana and Kelb witnessing the increasing cruelty of King Gilgamesh, and their attempt to stop him.

The Negatives

Compared to Aegis of Uruk, the plot of Sword of Uruk is a lot more complicated, and there is a lot more happening. You would expect this to be a positive, but I found myself having to read episode summaries on Wikipedia to keep on track with what was going on. Some of the events are a little too abstract, and aren’t explained fully, making the anime a little too hard to follow. Furthermore, despite everything that is happening in the anime, I still found myself getting bored during the episodes… something that definitely shouldn’t be happening.

Finally, a lot of the new characters don’t mesh well with the quirky characters from the first anime. In particular, the Coffin Knights don’t sit well in the anime, are uninteresting, and seemingly unnecessary.

There are some new concepts that do not fit well.

The Coffin Knights- not well explained and not integrated well

 Conclusion

Art:  7/10: Continues its good animation from Aegis of Uruk, with plenty of details.

Story: 5/10: Although the story’s good once you’ve figured it out, the anime doesn’t present it in an interesting or clear way.

Characters: 6/10: Most of the characters from the first anime are still quirky and entertaining, but new characters aren’t as good.

Although it attempts a little bit more maturity, the plot of Sword of Uruk is hard to follow, and new characters don’t fit well into the series. Furthermore, Sword of Uruk doesn’t have the same entertainment value as Aegis of Uruk, and marks a disappointing end to the series. I would recommend watching it only if you were completely hooked on the first series. If you really want to know what happens, reading a summary online would be a better way to spend your time. Overall, I give it 5/10.

-S

Too hard to follow!

Even the characters look disappointed with the series!

Tower of Druaga: Aegis of Uruk [Anime]: Predictable but full of laughs

And for the final post of the week; Tower of Druaga: Aegis of Uruk (2008). This is the first series of an adventure/fantasy anime that is the continuation of a video game franchise that started in 1984 with “The Tower of Druaga“. The first series is 12 episodes long.

Aegis of Uruk

What’s it about?

Climbing to the top of the Tower of Druaga is no easy task; not only do you face many traps and monsters on the way, the god Druaga must be defeated at the very top. However, it is worth the peril, for the climber who succeeds will gain the Blue Crystal Rod, which will grant any wish. Jil is the hero of the story, and after his older brother Neeba kicks him out of his climbing group because of incompetence, he is recruited by the oracle Kaaya. Forming a team alongside the two are Ahmey, Melt, and Coopa, however, the group have to learn to work together to conquer the tower.

The Positives

This anime has great strengths in its sheer entertainment. It’s light hearted throughout, although there are some nice action scenes to complement it. The first episode “The Great Tower of Druaga (Inner)” is an enjoyable parody for anyone who has watched any adventure or fantasy anime before, or enjoys RPG’s. However, after this episode, the series begins its plot development, but still retains a lot of the parody and comicality of the first episode. Although a little too tame to consider ecchi, a couple of the comical moments are a little more mature that what you’d expect. This is quite clear in the fifth episode, “Ziusudra’s Trap”, which is another episode that is focused on comedy rather than plot.

Episode 5

Our heroes looking drained after the events of Episode 5

Secondly, the characters are entertaining and interact well during the series. This is especially true of Jil’s team; Coopa is Melt’s very serious servant, who is often disgusted at her master’s behaviour and acts at least twice her age. She is also incredibly strong, and this is played upon a couple of times in the series. Ahmey’s the quite, serious, leader-type, but is shown on a number of occasions that just below the surface is a sweet, naive girl. Kaaya is a fun little oddball, and says a couple of things that will make you question her sanity. Mixed in with Melt, the lazy son of a once-rich family, and Jil’s constant attempt to please everyone and be a hero, you have a solid group of main characters that will keep you laughing.

As you would expect, Tower of Druaga: Aegis of Uruk focuses on both the hero development of Jil , and the development of the team’s ability to work together. This is done in an incredibly standard and predictable way. I consider this a positive, however, because it is more enjoyable than what you’d expect. Having this done well is an unexpected strength of this anime- it’s surprisingly refreshing to have something straight-forward with entertaining characters.

The Negatives

The main negative of this anime is its predictable and unremarkable plot; you can pretty much already call what happens. It follows the standard fantasy/adventure format a little too well to make it anything but mediocre. Any ideas in the plot are very brief with no explanation. Only the final episodes manage to deliver something a little more interesting.

The only other problem I had with this anime was the way in which it transitioned from funny to serious moments- I wasn’t sure if I was meant to take them seriously or not.

Conclusion

Art:  7/10: A little bit of an older style, but the anime is quite rich in detail. 

Story: 5/10: Predictable and unremarkable, but there are plenty of laughs along the way.

Characters: 7/10: The main characters are quirky and fun.

This lighthearted anime is good for a giggle and is easy to watch. If you enjoy fantasy or adventure anime, or you’re aware of the game that this anime is  a sequel to, or if you enjoy RPG’s, you will probably enjoy Tower of Druaga: Aegis of Uruk, especially the parody episodes. However, don’t expect too much from it. I’m going to have to finish of the week with another overall score of 6/10.

That wraps up my three reviews for this week. It’s interesting to see that they ended with the same overall rating, although the three had differing strengths and weaknesses. I’ll go back to one review next week… that is, unless I’m too lazy and skip it again 😛

-S

Looking worn out; (L-R) Kaaya, Ahmey, Gil, Coopa and Mest take a nap.

(L-R) Kaaya, Ahmey, Gil, Coopa and Mest take a nap.