I have not seen many Kamen Rider series, least of all Showa-era ones; as a result, any frame of reference I have for discussing the franchise is limited to select individual series rather than the franchise as any kind of whole. Nevertheless, I am currently watching Kuuga, and it is proving highly enjoyable television and quite watchable without any foreknowledge or wider sense of what one can or should expect. Taken outside of its franchise, it is a series that does superhero origins and self-discovery very well, and creates a world that realistically adapts to the sudden arrival of supervillains. It manages to be dark and atmospheric without necessarily being graphically violent or exploitative, in part owing to the understated creature designs and simple, easily-read hero suit.
Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory had a very strong opening arc that, while it played with quite stock action-film scenarios, did so in a way that was a good payoff for viewers who had come to like its cast. It ended on a strong cliffhanger for the second arc’s setup, introduced a strong villain with a commanding personality and generally was pacy and thematic. The second arc goes a long way in two episodes to undermining that goodwill by taking the themes of the first and presenting them in a significantly less interesting setting and in a fashion that seems predictably reductive.
There is a formula to most Ultraman series episodes that initially seems repetitive and counter to the often weird and interesting setups; no matter what happens, there will be some kind of fight against a giant creature, because ultimately that is the franchise’s core motif. Indeed, the episodic monster-fighting nature of several entries may possibly seem different to viewers (like me) introduced to the franchise by the very interestingly continuity-driven Ultraman GEED. GEED had a shorter running time, and while it frequently had the giant fights to cap off episodes compounded with a veritable stable of heroes and forms, it told a fairly strong plot which itself tied into (in a fashion that used neat metatextual trickery) a wider cinematic universe.
Anyone keeping abreast of the latest news in anime will probably be aware that there is a new Cutie Honey series airing, and it definitely opens with a well-rounded pair of episodes that are significantly more interesting than one might expect from something so self-evidently lurid and lewd.
It’s a big, in-your-face kind of series with everything on display from the start, which I feel does a fine job of modernising the original concept without quite being so trashy as some of the OVA versions. Of course, this assessment is based only on the show’s opening episodes, amply front-loaded as they are with action and also exposition to provide a firm backstory for the hero.
There’s no shortage of foreshadowing, suggesting at least there is the intention of telling some kind of deeper story, and I think the decision to hold off on the exposition and origin story until the second episode works.
It is hard to easily express in which ways Grancrest War is bad; it is, in my opinion, such a combination of failed attempts to be interesting it ends up a singular kind of ridiculously uninspiring. Even trying to consider it from within its genre, a teen-focused power fantasy series, it feels alienatingly stupid. When writing about anime it is often easy to forget that much of it is written as mass entertainment for young people, and that approaching it with the expectations of an adult fandom is rarely fruitful. So anything that seems alienating and other may simply be something that an older audience are out of touch with, a reflection of, ultimately, a foreign country’s trends in youth culture. That is as maybe; I maintain Record of Grancrest War is still not very good.
Ultraman GEED was the first series in the franchise I had watched to completion, and it proved consistently impressive – not least because of the enthusiasm and love the cast seemed to have for it, which came across very clearly in the performances. It was a series that managed to make something quite continuity-heavy accessible; by this point there is a fairly established Ultraman mythos, so to speak, and the relationships between the various heroes and villains are quite central to the main plot of GEED. Nevertheless, it used various different angles to make itself accessible to its family audience – if anything, Ultraman is interesting in the long-running superhero franchises because it is very focused on referencing and maintaining its canon, but at the same time doing so in a way that attracts, rather than puts off, new fans.
Special Rescue Police Winspector (1990) is a series that regularly has me overreacting to its stupidity; it is gloriously over-the-top, often nonsensical in its approach to science and science fiction, and feels at times like it has perhaps two or three stock plots that are recycled in different settings. At the same time, though, I would absolutely recommend it to people looking for an entertaining and frequently plain daft superhero series. It may be stupid and contrived, even within the standards of its genre, but it is stupid in a very sincere and heartfelt way which manages – often enough – to make the viewer feel like they are laughing with the writing not purely at it.
I think three things motivate the player to continue playing the Danganronpa games; firstly the desire to “win”, and see the villains defeated and the survivors escape. Secondly, the morbid curiosity of detective fiction, the desire to see who dies and how those mysteries occur. And thirdly, the – in this case – equally morbid desire to see justice done for those murders. Ordinarily the pursuit of justice in detective fiction is not, per se, a perverse act to desire; the police intercede, or the detective pursues the crook, and they are sent to court and tried and that is that. But Danganronpa makes the act of justice into its own grotesque game that culminates in a parodic execution after the class become in turn judge and jury. The extreme, horror-movie tone of the executions – death by piano-shaped iron maiden, by fairground wheel of death, by baseballs, and so on – is just as memorable as the resolution of the mysteries and I would argue a driving factor in the game’s bizarre, horrific entertainment.
This article contains detailed discussion of the plot of Danganronpa V3, as well as Prey (2017)
In a lot of computer games, moral choices can be reduced to personality tests; they may be interesting dilemmas, but my enduring memory of games even as enjoyable as Mass Effect and Dragon Age is the choices still led you, eventually, to a fight or not a fight and a vaguely equivalent reward. This is not inherently a bad thing, the games still had memorable character moments, and generally hold up well as stories. Even something like The Witcher 3, which does not simply fall into good/bad decisions, generally has a lot of situations where the options are bad/worse and you as a player are not quite sure what will be worse (because the people the characters interact with are irrational, bigoted or stupid). But, nevertheless, it is not for no reason that moral decisions in video games became typecast as “do a good thing for a small reward, or a bad thing for a possibly bigger reward and a fight”; idea like Mass Effect‘s Renegade and Paragon points provided clear mechanical incentives for making choices that were often empathy versus utilitarianism. Bioshock was probably the weakest example of all; there, moral choice was “do you murder someone who looks innocent for immediate fiscal reward, or spare them for a larger reward later”. Hardly an interesting dilemma and almost a purely mechanical one.
A key part of the quality of Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-Hen is its pacing and use of processions of dreamlike, almost wordless scenes; characters will move around and say little and yet the series uses visual and body language to make up for the lack of dialogue. It quite fits the characterisation that has been established in episode 1; Kenshin is willingly emotionless, childish in thought and deed, and Tomoe – the girl whose fiance he killed without knowing – is herself repressed and alone. I mentioned in my previous article on this OVA that it was rejecting, in a sense, all of the conventions of the typical assassin’s backstory; even now there is a humanising element (the thing that one would expect would lead to a sharp turn into mawkishness and saccharine cliché) it is in its own way different. It is two people both suffering unspoken emotional trauma (because the series has not even begun to address that Tomoe’s fiance is dead by Kenshin’s hand) talking at each other not about their problems.