Anime Review: Schwarzesmarken

written by Laurie Tom


Schwarzesmarken takes place in East Germany in an alternate 1983 where aliens have landed and are slowly taking over the planet in a torturous land battle. The aliens do not appear to be particularly intelligent, content to win battles through sheer numbers, but since they cannot be reasoned with, humans have no choice but to fight.

Though the aliens can be slain with conventional weapons, mecha are particularly useful for taking out the living alien artillery, and the 666th squadron, nicknamed Schwarzesmarken, is East Germany’s best unit.

Though the series did not immediately grab me, the opening episode had enough potential that I decided to come back, and it grew on me more than I thought it would.

First of all, the show had several things working against it. 1) It’s a prequel to Muv-luv Alternative, which is a series I’ve passed on watching because it’s based on a visual novel with dating elements aimed at heterosexual men. 2) It has a predominantly female cast, which in anime doesn’t necessary mean they’re looking to expand the female audience as much as to provide fanservice. 3) I was afraid it would end up being a harem anime where the “luckless” male protagonist would end up with the affections of multiple women.

Fortunately, it’s not as bad as that. Even though it is a prequel, it’s watchable on its own with the understanding that the aliens will not be defeated by the end of the show. The female cast is varied enough that members of the main 666th squadron don’t get mistaken for each other (and there are women in incidental roles outside the squadron, including a middle aged woman in charge of a military base). The outfits are fanservicey, but there are few butt shots, outside of when one sleazebag male commander is around (presumably his POV) and he’s not in every episode.

But best of all, main character Theodor is a complicated protagonist. He might not have much luck, but he’s not hapless. As a teenager Theodor and his family tried to flee East Germany only to be captured by the Stasi, who were historically among the most effective secret police forces in existence.

His family’s capture, murder, and the fact he sold them out during his own torture, weighs on him. Though he’s now a soldier for East Germany and scarcely believes in the party line, he’s afraid of taking any steps towards freedom because he knows what that costs. The way to survive is to keep one’s head low and just do the job.

That begins to change with the arrival of Katia Waldheim, a defector from West Germany with an idealistic hope that both Germanys can work together again. Furthermore, Theodor learns that Irisdina Bernhard, his commanding officer, is not the Stasi informant that he thought she was, and in fact is willing to work against them.

Though this is a mecha anime, a lot of time is spent on political maneuvering between different parties and even within the 666th squadron. Aliens are the outside threat, but they are not the only one, and possibly not even the most dangerous one. What’s guaranteed though is that every episode will have a mecha battle, and the marvelous thing is that each of the battles feels like it earns its place in the story. The battles are never filler.

That said, there are some questionable decisions made throughout the series considering that East Germany’s very existence is at stake. (Poland isn’t a country anymore, it’s fallen to the aliens.) Cynics might feel unsurprised that when the country needs unity the most is when it’s least able to come together, but considering how remorseless the aliens are, I can’t help wondering if the human antagonists really think it’s worth winning a battle if they lose the war.

The body count is on the high side and the show doesn’t shirk from showing violent deaths, though most are concentrated towards the beginning and the end. There is some censorship of the graphically worst death (to an alien), but bullet and shrapnel wounds remain visible and people end up bleeding a lot.

One thing I do want to mention though, because it’s a trope I usually try to avoid, is that Schwarzesmarken seems to have this weird little sister attraction going on, both with Theodor’s younger (not blood-related) sister and another character who explicitly reminds him of his little sister. Theodor himself doesn’t seem to be interested in that train, but the writers have no problem putting him on board, and in the case of his adoptive sister, saying that the situation gets messy is an understatement.

Since this is a prequel I’ll note that the ending does not resolve the alien problem, but it otherwise comes together and all the plot threats as relevant to the characters involved are tied off.

Overall I think this is one of the better mecha series I’ve watched and if one is not immediately dissuaded by what may well be one of the world’s creepiest little sister characters, it’s worth checking out for the well scripted battles and the unusual setting.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: unusual period setting of communist 1980s East Germany, complicated worldview with few good answers, Theodor is an unusually damaged protagonist for anime making him a welcome change of pace

Minuses: spray-on bodysuits, even though the characters are mostly German they often behave in a culturally Japanese fashion, and what is with the little sister fetish?

Schwarzesmarken is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Prince of Stride: Alternative

written by Laurie Tom

prince of strideOut of all sports anime I could have watched as my first, I picked Prince of Stride: Alternative because I was a track and field athlete in high school, and the idea of a parkour/relay race would totally have been up my alley.

There are really two elements to the show. One is the story that follows the stride club of Honan Academy. The other is the sport itself.

Most of the characters aren’t terribly deep, but considering that this is more about the team rather than any one character’s experience I think that’s all right. This series is based on a visual novel aimed at the female audience (explaining the pleasing character designs of the male athletes), but to be honest I’m really watching for stride and showrunners seem to have taken the tack of making this a sports series. There’s no romance at all. Just friendship.

Stride is a made-up sport consisting of a five man relay team plus a relationer, for a total of six. The race is run through urban environments with a number of obstacles referred to as “gimmicks” in the way. There can be narrow bridges to prevent passing, boxes that must be vaulted over, etc.

The relationer comes in play during the most contrived part of the race, which would be the handoff in a regular relay race (but they high-five instead of using a baton in stride). Since this is on city streets and not a race track, the next runners in the relay cannot necessarily see the speed or direction their teammates are approaching. Generally they’ll start running at an angle compared to the main race track and then race into the track and takeover zone where they need to high five.

Since it’s a blind start, the relationer calls out the approach and how much of a lead they or their opponent have before cueing the next runner for a ready, set, go. A good relationer should be like the team strategist, making decisions based on how their runners are doing and advising whether high risk high reward shortcuts are necessary. However, in practice Nana, the only female cast member and Honan’s relationer, hardly ever does this.

The races are dramatic and individually well choreographed, though after a while it’s a little surprising that there aren’t more races that are plain blowouts one way or another. I realize that’s not as dramatic as a down to the wire finish, but having seen a lot of high school relays, I know it happens from time to time. Even a hint of those off camera would have been nice.

Perhaps because of my background I found there were some elements of the sport that I didn’t necessarily understand. Several times I would see characters jumping around for no reason, or going around an obstacle that was clearly in their path when it seems like they should be obligated to go over it. There doesn’t appear to be a scoring system other than time, so unnecessary jumping should actually be bad (as a hurdler, I learned to spend as little time in the air as possible), but there are times where they jump around in preference to straight running.

When the show is not focusing on the races themselves, they’re usually focused around team building, either through training or by having the five boys and Nana hang out together. Most of the show’s focus is on Nana, Takeru, and Riku, who are the three first years who join the stride club at the start of the school year when it’s on the verge of nonexistence.

In addition to the races, there is a subplot involving previous members of the stride club and how Honan’s stride team dropped to the point that without the new first years they couldn’t field a full team. It’s probably not the strongest storyline and only necessary because otherwise Takeru and Nana wouldn’t have gone to Honan in the first place to become talented but plucky underdogs (enrolling because Honan was renowned for stride).

Prince of Stride is strongest when it focuses on the more realistic parts of races and what it’s like being part of a sports team. The animation is by the studio Madhouse, which regularly turns in beautiful work (like last year’s Death Parade), and captures the energy of being in a race and screaming for teammates all the way down to the finish line.

The rest of it can be pretty forgettable, and I wish the production had focused more on the sports part of the show than the interludes where the team is horsing around. They face a lot of other teams on their way to the End of Summer race finals, and while it’s not realistic for them to get to know every set of opponents, even their rival team doesn’t have much opportunity to be more than a few surprisingly friendly faces. More stride would have fixed that, and I actually was a little disappointed in the episodes that didn’t have any races.

Still, it was a fun watch, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s been through high school team sports. There was a lot of nostalgia in this one.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: exciting and well animated races, excellent soundtrack

Minuses: non-stride segments can get pretty goofy, other than Nana there is a serious lack of recurring female characters

Prince of Stride: Alternative is currently streaming at Funimation and Hulu and is available both subtitled and dubbed (though dub requires a Funimation subscription). Funimation has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Erased

written by Laurie Tom


Erased is based on the manga Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (The Town Where Only I am Missing) and while I’m sorry to lose the more poetic title, the story itself is no less meaningful.

Satoru Fujinuma is a 29-year-old man working a dead end job as a pizza delivery guy. He used to have dreams of becoming a manga artist, but like many people, those dreams didn’t pan out and he’s doing what he can to get by.

Unlike most people though, Satoru has what he considers a bothersome ability. Every now and then what he calls Revival kicks in and he flashes back a few minutes in time. After the rewind, if he makes the effort to look around, he can find out where something has gone wrong and take the opportunity to change it. This allows him to save a kid’s life, though the reason he considers the ability bothersome is that his intervention usually costs him in some way, like ending up in the hospital after stopping a wayward truck.

When Satoru’s mother visits he’s visibly annoyed, because he’s trying to be independent. He doesn’t like her prying into his friendships or the fact he’s still single without a girlfriend, but circumstances rapidly change when she’s murdered in connection to a serial killer case from his childhood and Satoru is framed as the culprit.

The shock of his impending arrest by the police triggers his Revival ability and sends him all the way back to his final year of elementary school, a few days before his eleventh birthday, and a few days before his classmate Kayo Hinazuki is abducted as the first in a series of child murders.

Once he gets over his shock, Satoru concludes that if he manages to save Kayo’s life, then he’ll save his mother’s life as well, but as a kid he’s a person of limited means. What Satoru has in his favor though is that he knows the future. He knows the last time Kayo was seen alive and where. He knows who the accused will be even though he believes that person is innocent.

As he works on his plan, Satoru doesn’t entirely behave like a kid on the verge of being eleven (since he’s mentally his adult self) and though he tries to fit in, his friends notice the change in him, his sudden drive and maturity.

But while in the past, perhaps more importantly, we see Satoru’s relationship with his mom, who is still alive as her younger self. Satoru realizes what he lost when she was killed and he now trusts her implicitly, understanding that she always has his back. And Satoru’s mom is really the world’s most awesome mom, allowing him an incredible amount of freedom because even though she’s not aware of his Revival ability, she understands he’s trying to do something incredibly important to him.

When his mom was murdered in the opening episode, I was disappointed, because even in the first episode it was possible to see her as a fully realized character with her own agency (she figures out the serial killer’s identity, which is why she gets killed in the first place), so I was very happy that she plays an active role in the events of the past.

Watching Satoru relive his childhood with a better appreciation and understanding of his mom and his friends is the real joy of Erased, and his plan to foil the serial killer is easy to buy into. It never goes out of the realm of what a real live kid could accomplish (given the appropriate drive and knowledge), and the way he befriends the lonely and abused Kayo so she never has reason to be alone is one of the show’s charms.

If there’s any fault to Erased it’s in the villain. Narratively there are very few potential culprits and most viewers who think about it will correctly conclude who the killer is long before any proof comes out. It’s a little frustrating because Satoru himself doesn’t have enough information for him to realistically identify the killer before the reveal happens. He doesn’t have the benefit of knowing that he’s in a story.

There is also, perhaps, a little too much time spent on the villain’s motivation, which I don’t think the show really needed. It’s hard to justify why someone would kill children in a way that would make sense to the audience and it feels like it had to be shoehorned in to make the climax work.

Aside from that weakness, the rest the show comes together in the end, giving a real feeling that things have changed for the better. I like how Satoru emerges from his experience as a more confident person, at ease with himself, and it’s easy to see how he’s grown between the beginning and the end of the series due to his determination to save Kayo, his mother, and the other children who were killed.

“Erased” is lovely combination of a second chance to be a better person and a mystery thriller. It’s not perfect, but definitely worth a watch.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: engaging characters, child Satoru is interesting to watch and cheer for, his mom isn’t a passive character and is in fact one of the show’s active players

Minuses: killer’s identity is narratively easy to figure out, villain’s motivation is nonsensical and doesn’t really add anything, Airi is an overall superfluous character who could be cut from the story but was presumably left in so adult Satoru could have a love interest

Erased is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Aniplex of America has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Spring 2016 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

There are a lot of high profile anime series for the 2016 spring season, most of them being returning shows, but the new kids on the block have left me less impressed with only one series becoming a must watch. Ushio and Tora is back though, and that’s a good thing.

Of the new shows, there were six that I found worth checking out.

Ace Attorney

ace attorney

Why I Watched It: I’m a big fan of the Ace Attorney game series, which typically stars the defense attorney, Phoenix Wright (Ryuuichi Naruhodou). He bumbles his way through cases buoyed by sheer determination and a belief in his client’s innocence. The series is meant for humor, with many characters’ names being a series of bad puns. Interestingly enough, there are two sets of subtitles, one which uses the American names (which approximated the puns for English audiences), and one with the Japanese.

What I Thought: I opted to watch the subtitles with the Japanese names so they would match the audio and ended up wondering if that was a mistake as the whole episode (which covers the first trial of the game) did not feel quite as funny as I remembered. It may also be that the nature of the medium, game vs. TV series, did not allow for the same translation flexibility. The adaptation is fairly by the book, offering little for someone who has already played the game, but it’s easy to follow and I think people who haven’t played will be fine.

Verdict: I will probably end up watching it out of nostalgia when I have the time since rival prosecutor Edgeworth (Mitsurugi) is one of my favorite characters ever. The first case wasn’t the strongest even in the game since it was intended as a tutorial, and the real make or break point will be in the second when the female lead, Maya (Mayoi), is introduced.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Bungo Stray Dogs

bungo stray dogs

Why I Watched It: Early 20th century mystery and crime authors work together to solve supernatural mysteries. Sure, there have been variations of this over the years on Western shores, but I haven’t seen any focusing on the Japanese authors of the genre (though I’m told Agatha Christie will later make an appearance).

What I Thought: Despite the fact the authors come from a fairly uniform time period and their costumes are definitely period, this is not a period piece (there’s a modern skyline and modern motorcycles). I’m not entirely sure the members of the Armed Detective Agency are even supposed to be the authors in-universe, but they don’t appear to be named after the historical authors since even the newcomer/audience surrogate is named after an author. Despite a good action sequence at the end between main character Dazai and a giant tiger, the rest of the episode was slow and the humor forced. For some viewers, the fact suicide is used for humor will be offensive.

Verdict: I think I’ll pass. I wanted to like this one, and it’s really hard for me to turn down something with a weretiger who will likely use his transformation abilities quite often, but the show can’t seem to find its legs.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Flying Witch

flying witch

Why I Watched It: I wasn’t going, probably because of its generic English title, but I was hearing good things about this day to day, slice of life story about a witch in modern times that I decided to give it a shot.

What I Thought: Flying Witch has a Studio Ghibli-ish charm to it, with a young witch moving out to a rural town to live with a distant cousin. Magic simply exists in this world; some people know about it, some people don’t. While it lets Makoto fly on a broom, neither she nor her mundane cousin Kei see it as anything more unusual than being able to play the piano, which lends the opening episode a quiet bit of magic. Sure Makoto is a witch, but before she’s a witch, she’s a teenage girl who wants to make friends and get along with the family members she hasn’t seen in years.

Verdict: I might watch it. Slice of life isn’t my favorite anime genre, but this lightly supernatural take on it has the potential to be a lot of fun with the magic and the mundane combining (the mandrake at the end of the first episode was particularly entertaining). Fans of similar shows will probably be able to jump right in.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto

haven't you heard?

Why I Watched It: At one point this was voted the manga that most needed an anime adaptation. It’s a gag story about an impossibly cool high school student named Sakamoto who is the envy of all the boys and the idol of all the girls. No matter how his would-be rivals try to foil him, they only make him look cooler. Naturally, I want to see if he is that cool.

What I Thought: This isn’t a show I would normally watch and it didn’t live up to the hype. Though Sakamoto does evade the pranks of his classmates in unusual and unexpected ways, and they are as outlandish as I’ve been led to believe, they rarely hit my sense of humor, so there was more eye rolling than laughing. Even though Sakamoto is voiced by veteran voice actor Hikaru Midorikawa, it’s not enough to save him from being a one note character. Sakamoto is intended to be perfect so there’s really nowhere for his character to do. Either the audience is going to enjoy the gags or they’re not and I’m mostly in the latter.

Verdict: I’ll pass. Might work better for fans of slapstick. I’d still be willing to give it a chance in its original form as a gag manga, but it doesn’t have enough meat as an anime.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Joker Game

joker game

Why I Watched It: I’m a sucker for period pieces, especially any with intrigue in them, so when I heard of Joker Game, I was very interested, because it could be either very good or very bad (in more ways than one). It’s set during a problematic time period, 1937, and stars a bunch of spies. To give this context, WWII is coming in two years to the rest of the world, Japan has already invaded Manchuria, and the Second Sino-Japanese War has just begun. I’m curious how the show will handle the heroes being on the side of the invaders.

What I Thought: The first shot post-opening credits contains a message over the bottom half of the screen saying that this is a work of fiction, events portrayed are unrelated to real world events, etc. I suppose that is at least some acknowledgement of the precarious ground the show is treading. It helps that the spies of D-Agency are specially trained from recruits outside the imperial army and their goal is to provide information to the government and prevent Japan from negotiating from a weak position with western countries (which had happened before in the face of western imperialism). Our viewpoint character is Lt. Sakuma who is a dyed-in-the-wool representative of the imperial army and completely baffled by D-Agency’s unorthodox tactics, which gets him tangled in a trap because he doesn’t understand the concept of or how to play the Joker Game.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. It still has a chance to take a hard turn south, but what it has happened so far has an excellent sense of tension and political intrigue. I like that Sakuma, who embodies the traditional Japanese military mindset (down to the assurance that sacrificing one’s life in the line of duty is expected and even a logical course of action) is ridiculed by the leader of D-Agency, who more or less tells him that his views are stupid and impractical. The opening episode is the first of a two-parter so I’m not sure yet how Sakuma is going to emerge alive from the game between his superior and the spies of D-Agency, but I’m looking forward to it.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

The Lost Village

lost village

Why I Watched It: It’s a mystery from the mind of Mari Okada, the series composition writer of m3: the dark metal, which I had enjoyed. Thirty people go on a bus tour to a mysterious village that turns out to be deteriorating and uninhabited when they arrive. Naturally they have to find out the truth about it before they can leave.

What I Thought: We don’t get to the village by the end of the first episode, which is probably the biggest disappointment as it robs the episode of a good hook. What we know is that almost everyone on the bus is there to start over so they signed up for the “First Life Do-Over Tour.” Nasaki Village is an urban legend where people disappear as if they were spirited away, but according to the tour guide, what actually happens is that they start new lives cut off from the old, and everyone on the bus is there to do just that. Nearly everyone is using a pseudonym, even if they already know each other.

Verdict: Not sure. I really want to like this one, but the first episode is pretty lackluster and it seems the mystery isn’t going to start until the second episode, since the first ends with the bus poised on the bridge that will finally take them to Nasaki. I’ll probably at least go to the next episode before making a decision.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Dance with Devils

written by Laurie Tom

dance with devils

Dance with Devils was a pleasant surprise considering that I almost didn’t watch it, and it ended up being one of my must-watch shows of the season. It’s not a brilliant show, but as a guilty pleasure? Hell yeah!

Ritsuka Tachibana thinks she’s a normal high school student, until her house gets ransacked by vampires looking for a mysterious Grimoire and kidnap her mother in the process. The various members of the student council turn up alternately trying to help or seduce her, as they’re all devils who are similarly after the Grimoire and believe she is key to finding it. And to top it off, her brother comes home from overseas and he’s secretly an exorcist, but that doesn’t mean she can entirely trust him either as there’s a lot he’s not telling her about their family history.

This sort of story has been done before, and in the anime format looks particularly like an adaptation of an otome game (dating game for girls), but surprisingly the game is actually coming later as it’s not out yet even in Japan. What makes Dance with Devils different from others of its kind is that it’s a musical, and things that are not quite so original, or even laughable, when taken as straight dialogue, are perfectly permissible when done in song.

The student council introduction number where each of the four male devils is singing about how badass they are pretty much won me over, and every episode since then finds a way to work in at least one song which showcases the personality of the character singing it. Not all the numbers do it for me, but the sheer absurdity of having singing devils and vampires goes a long way. It’s also hard to hold it against a show that manages to work in a number that features a chorus of demonic Pomeranian dogs.

As for the plot itself, there is one, but it’s fairly bare bones. Most of the series is comprised of Ritsuka trying to find her kidnapped mother and getting baited by vampires (who are definitely the bad guys) and sometimes by devils (who are the “good” guys but not necessarily nice people) while her brother goes full-on overprotective sibling over her.

Each of the devils falls in love with Ritsuka in his own strangely warped way which culminates in all of them fighting for her in the inevitable devils versus vampires showdown over the fate of the Grimoire. It’s clear from the narrative just which devil is the one intended to be her main love interest, though they oddly do not spend that much time together since this is a short series and each major character has at least one episode focusing around them.

Through the show, Ritsuka exhibits questionable judgment (walking down dark alleys with the last people any sane girl should be walking with), but she is ultimately responsible for saving herself in the final confrontation, which was much appreciated even though it felt a little too late.

That said, I did like her decision at the end of the story. It makes the ending a little bittersweet rather than the happily ever after one would expect in a show involving a single girl and a bunch of suitors, but I liked it for taking a more realistic route as Ritsuka is still a teenager and the choice she made feels like the right one.

Surprisingly, there is a stinger at the end of the series, leading to the possibility that there will be a sequel of some kind. If that’s the case, I would happily watch that one as well.

As a series on its own Dance with Devils is solidly B-material, but as a musical, it works so much better that I recommend it to anyone looking to try something new.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: musical, protagonist is ultimately architect of her own destiny, devils versus vampires if that’s your thing

Minuses: characters are fairly unoriginal, protagonist spends a lot of time being pulled around by other people, most of the romantic leads are real jerks

Dance with Devils is currently streaming at Funimation and Hulu and is available both subtitled and dubbed (though dub requires a Funimation subscription). Funimation has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Young Black Jack

young black jackLet’s start from the beginning with this one. Black Jack was an extremely popular manga that ran from the early 1970s to the early 1980s written and illustrated by legendary manga creator Osamu Tezuka (best known in the US for Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion).

Black Jack is the titular unlicensed surgeon who charges exorbitant amounts of money to perform his job. He gets away with his fees because he’s a medical genius who can save a life when no one else can, but despite his money grubbing image, he’s not as mercenary as he pretends to be.

Young Black Jack (based on the manga written by Yoshiaki Tabata and illustrated by Yuugo Oukuma) would presumably be the story of what turned Kuroo Hazama from a brilliant medical student into the unlicensed rogue surgeon known as Black Jack. Unfortunately, despite having a brilliant era of upheaval to work with by setting the story in the 1960s and having plotlines that run through Vietnam, American civil rights, and the Japanese medical student protests, it mostly manages to fall flat.

Any one of those events in the 1960s could have been enough to twist young Hazama’s ideals from becoming a doctor who helps everyone to the black market surgeon who notoriously only operates on people who can afford his price, but instead he goes through all those events and largely comes out the way he started, robbing him of the kind of growth we expect.

Instead the show feels more like a dry run of his future life, narrated oddly enough, by Akio Ootsuka, who is traditionally the voice of Black Jack (though Yuuchirou Umehara plays the younger Kuroo Hazama in Young Black Jack). Many of the early episodes and surgeries parallel chapters and scenarios from the original Tezuka manga, with the primary difference being several recurring characters and Hazama’s position as an untried medical student.

For instance, in the opening episode, a boy is injured in a train derailment and loses his limbs. When the hospital doesn’t think the limbs can be reattached, Hazama names a large price to the parents and promises to save the child’s limbs.

At first the parents are shocked, because it’s assumed that he’s being greedy, but Hazama immediately arranges for half his fee to be paid to a surgeon at a different clinic so he can use his operating room (the hospital being overwhelmed with other victims), and as promised he reattaches the child’s limbs. After the successful surgery the parents find out that he’s unlicensed because he’s still a medical student, and only pay him half the requested amount since they didn’t like being ripped off by a greedy man who isn’t even a real surgeon. This, of course, means that Hazama did the surgery for free.

Aside from the fact that he’s way too good at his first ever surgery (even for being a genius), it’s a very Black Jack story, but the problem is, we’ve seen it done before and the show doesn’t bring anything new to the table, not even when deliberately making it a period piece. Young Black Jack makes stabs at shaping Hazama through the events of the era, but instead it feels more like a greatest hits tour of the 1960s simply because that’s the time period when he would have been in medical school given when the original manga was published.

I do have to say though that the American civil rights arc did not offend me as much as I feared it would (Japan does not have a good track record of portraying characters of African ancestry), but it still feels like a gross simplification of real world events. Perhaps because the original audience is assumed to be unfamiliar with the civil rights movement, this was necessary to give them a baseline, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

Still, it’s encouraging to see African Americans represented not just there, but among other Americans in other story arcs. They might not be particularly deep characters (none of the Americans are, except for the one who is a surprise cameo of a character from the original Black Jack), but they’re represented, which is very rare in anime and probably owed to Tezuka, who was more conscious of race than most of his contemporaries.

Young Black Jack is a bit of a curiosity because it doesn’t seem entirely willing to be its own beast, and by retreading ground Tezuka himself has covered, it doesn’t feel nearly as fulfilling as going back and reading the originals. Oddly enough, the show also seems unwilling to let Hazama lose a single patient (short of outside interference), which despite being a genius, the older Black Jack does from time to time as a reminder that he’s not a god. He’s just a really good surgeon.

Though we see the road being paved for Hazama’s transformation into Black Jack by the end of the series, it doesn’t feel entirely earned, nor does it feel informed by his experiences. If it wasn’t for the fact this is tied to the original Black Jack property I probably would not have finished.

It’s not that it couldn’t have been good. The manga version of Young Black Jack might well be, considering it’s nine volumes and still running. But there are too many missed opportunities that I can’t recommend it except as a curiosity to existing fans.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: interesting time period, a chance to see a rookie version of one of anime’s most enduring characters

Minuses: time period underutilized, start of Hazama’s transformation into Black Jack does not feel earned, Hazama is oddly more competent than his older self

Young Black Jack is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: Fafner: Exodus

written by Laurie Tom

the perfect insiderFafner: Exodus is a series made for the hardcore fan. It’s a sequel to the 2004 Fafner: Dead Aggressor TV series and 2010 Fafner: Heaven and Earth movie, both of which have made it to the US, and also makes nods to the direct to video prequel Fafner: Right of Left, which did not make it to English language audiences. As such, this review will contain spoilers for previous entries.

Exodus makes only the barest attempt to catch up the audience on anything, and what does come out is mostly because of the three year time skip since the movie. The high schoolers of Dead Aggressor are now young adults whose time in a mecha is coming to an end due to the reduced compatibility that occurs as a pilot ages, so it’s natural to show how everyone is moving on. I think it’s telling that all but one of them has chosen a non-combat-related line of work prior to the start of the series. They’ve put in their time and none of them have been left unscarred.

The alien Festum menace still has not ended, but the Festum are no longer a united front, and there is a new hivemind (Mir, in the show’s parlance) that is heading towards Earth. If the humans of Tatsumiyajima Island can contact and befriend it before one of the other Festum, then there is a chance it can be persuaded to side with humanity.

Unfortunately, there are more than other Festum trying to stop them. The humans of the outside world (those who do not live on the island) were secondary antagonists before, but take center stage through most of Exodus, which results in a much different sort of show as the young pilots are not used to fighting people instead of aliens. Not even an alien invasion that has decimated most of the planet is able to keep humans united, but we knew that from the first series.

As in previous installments, Exodus introduces new pilots in preparation for losing the old. There is a lot of torch handing in the beginning, as a third set is drafted through a familiar sequence of Commander Makabe and Dr. Toumi visiting the parents of each pilot candidate to inform them that their teenage children are being drafted.

This once again results in a large cast of characters that needs to be juggled about, but though the new characters and the second set of pilots (who debuted in the Heaven and Earth movie) get a fair bit of screen time, they don’t feel quite as well developed as the older characters.

I think part of it is that Exodus is terrible at giving itself room to breathe, particularly in the first half of the series when it needs it the most. The original was very good at building the bonds between the pilots and their families, and then showing the cost of battle when those bonds are broken by death, which was frequent and unexpected. Pilots became casualties arbitrarily, and not because someone was clearly a less important character.

Exodus only has one casualty early on, and knowledge of it is limited to the viewing audience so there is no chance for it to affect the other characters. At times the series seems afraid to kill even tertiary cast members, which creates two problems:

Firstly, from a numbers perspective, there are just too many people to keep track of. The second set of pilots were prepared because half their predecessors were dying in the line of duty, but the third set is not replacing any casualties. Add in the assorted supporting cast, both allies and enemies (even different factions within enemy forces), and there are somewhere between 30-40 named characters. In the original series this was tolerable because of the high death count across the board, preventing too many people from sharing the stage at the same time, but with Exodus it gets out of control.

Secondly, it’s harder for the audience to get what the pilots are going through. Exodus can blow up hundreds of nameless civilians, but it’s not the same as losing a single pilot that the audience knows and cares about (either by proxy through a more established character, or for their own sake). For a show that spends so much time worrying over the human costs of war, it fails to make the audience understand what that means.

This creates a disconnect between the audience and the second and third sets of pilots who don’t feel as mature as they ought to be, given that the audience’s expectations are at the level of the original, retired pilots. When the originals are called back into service, it ends up feeling like a storytelling failure, as if the writer realized that the newer characters couldn’t stand on their own.

Not that I didn’t like seeing my favorite characters back in action, but I felt I should have enjoyed watching their successors just as much, and I didn’t. The return of the older pilots adds a layer of tension we don’t get with the newer cast. Not only is the situation desperate enough to need them despite their reduced compatibility (Sakura in particular is still physically handicapped from her trauma in the original series), but we’re aware that one way or another this is likely to be their final mission.

When the original pilots are deployed, you can see the difference in how they fight versus the newer pilots, and they’re more willing to make tough calls based on their past experiences. While it’s wonderful to have them back in action, it feels like their presence defeats the purpose of introducing a newer cast. Even with the pilots split between two locations for much of the show, they have more active mecha in each location than the first series ever did at one time.

The result is a jumbled narrative where dozens of characters are going places because that’s apparently where they need to, fighting because enemies happen to be there, and characters alternately dying or coming back from the dead depending on the needs of the story. It doesn’t always make sense and if you’re invested enough to make it to the second half the best advice is to just roll with it. With all the alien junk going on everything probably makes as much sense to the audience as it does to the pilots.

I suspect that if I had binged watched Exodus I would have been able to make more sense out of it, but as a weekly show I kept losing track of who all the people were in the Neo UN (why so much infighting?) and what everyone’s long term objectives were.

If the pilots weren’t such sympathetic characters it would have been a lot harder to watch this show.

In the end, Exodus is probably best read as a confusing love letter to the long time Fafner fan. Those who have been along for the ride since Dead Aggressor are the most rewarded as the surviving pilots from the first show have grown up for the better.

Number of Episodes: 26

Pluses: sympathetic protagonists, rewarding relationships for long term Fafner fans

Minuses: nonsensical story, alien phenomena just happen rather than being expected based on prior experiences

Fafner: Exodus is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Review: The Perfect Insider

written by Laurie Tom

the perfect insider

The Perfect Insider is based on the Mephisto Award winning mystery novel Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider by Hiroshi Mori. Unlike most anime novel adaptations, which are based on light novels (Japan’s equivalent of YA), Everything Becomes F is geared towards adults, and it shows in the sensibilities of the characters, the subject matter handled, and the ages of everyone involved.

Professor Souhei Saikawa and his students visit a remote island as part of a university outing, but also because it’s part of a research facility housing the infamous genius, Dr. Shiki Magata. Fifteen years ago, when Magata was a child she killed her parents, but was found non compos mentis (not of sound mind).

Instead of a more conventional way of isolating her or integrating her back in society, it was decided to shut her away in this research facility where she could work to her heart’s content. The benefits of her genius could still be reaped and she would be unable to kill again. For her part, Magata insists that she never killed her own parents, but that the deed was done by a doll.

Moe Nishinosono, one of Professor Saikawa’s students, is one of the only outsiders who has had a video call with Magata (who has never left her quarters or taken any visitors in those fifteen years). Intrigued by Magata, who seems to know details about Nishinosono’s past, she convinces Saikawa to go with her to the facility to try to get another audience with her.

Unfortunately the AI and security program that runs the facility malfunctions, causing the door to Magata’s quarters to open for the first time in fifteen years, and Magata’s fresh corpse rolls out on an automated cart dressed in a wedding gown.

It’s a locked room murder mystery!

How did someone get through the heavy 24/7 security and enter Magata’s quarters without being seen? How did they leave? What is the meaning behind the wedding dress? What happened to the rest of Magata’s body? (It’s only her head and torso on the cart. Her arms and legs are missing.) Why did the AI fail at this one moment when it was supposed to have been a perfect system devised by Magata herself?

Due to the island being an isolated research station, help is not coming anytime soon so Saikawa, Nishinosono, and the research facility staff promptly look into what could have possibly happened, realizing that the killer is likely still with them, somewhere inside the facility.

The Perfect Insider is not a thriller, so even though there is one additional murder early on, it’s more mystery than action series. To solve the mystery, Saikawa and Nishinosono need to learn more about Magata’s history, the stories of the other staff members, and do a lot of thinking. Not just how the murderer got in, but what needed to happen in order for the murderer to get in. (The former casts too wide a net, but the second narrows the possibilities considerably.)

Not a lot happens in each episode, possibly a result of trying to stretch a single novel into a 11 episode TV series, but there’s enough to keep the suspense going, and that’s a feat considering that the majority of the story takes place over a few days on an island with people mostly sitting around (at times literally sitting) trying to figure out the crime.

The mystery plays fair in that the audience is given all the same clues the protagonists are, but those with a programming background will have a considerable leg up on figuring out how the security system was foiled and the meaning behind the mysterious phrase left behind on Magata’s computer.

The rest of the mystery takes a considerable logic jump that I wouldn’t have made. Yes, it works, it doesn’t contradict any previously given material, and the meager evidence supports it, but it is such a jump that I don’t know anyone could have realistically made it except in hindsight.

For pacing reasons it’s worth noting that the 11th episode is just an epilogue and is mostly skippable as it does not answer further questions, so prepare for everything to be answered by the 10th. A single cour show is usually 12-13 episodes, and even before this point it’s possible to see how thinly the story is stretched to go even this far. I suspect the production team couldn’t get away with less than eleven episodes for broadcast scheduling reasons, but for the end viewer it works better as ten.

There aren’t many anime mystery shows that encourage the viewer to try to solve the mystery along with the protagonists, so I would recommend this to mystery fans.

Number of Episodes: 11

Pluses: audience is privy to all the same clues as the protagonists, significantly more mature offering than most anime fare, mind blowing how they did it

Minuses: pacing is slow, mystery is probably not solvable by most viewers, most characters are not particularly sympathetic

The Perfect Insider is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Winter 2016 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

The winter season has arrived, and there are no holdovers from fall for me to watch, so my schedule is completely free! As usual, I’ll pick two or three series to watch, though a fourth might make its way in if it comes highly recommended.



Why I Watched It: The original Japanese title Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (lit: The Town Where Only I Don’t Exist) is evocative and the premise is that the twenty-nine year old protagonist has a limited ability to go back in time to fix events that will prevent people from dying, but when he’s framed for his mother’s murder his jump back takes him all the way to 18 years ago, one month before a classmate of his goes missing.

What I Thought: Wow! There’s a lot crammed into that opening episode, covering not only Satoru’s unique ability (which usually only takes him a few minutes back, not 18 years), but also a serial kidnapping/murder case that was not actually solved even though the books had been closed with a culprit found guilty. The statute of limitations just ran out because, guess what, it’s been 18 years. Satoru’s mom is a very canny woman and figures out the events of 18 years ago didn’t actually end, and presumably the real party responsible is the one who then murders her to keep her quiet, leaving Satoru to take the rap, except that Satoru’s ability then yanks him back in time to stop the real reason for her murder.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! I was disappointed Satoru’s mom got fridged so early because as far as anime moms go, she’s awesome, but we’ll presumably be getting more of the past her now that Satoru’s gone back in time. My biggest concern is that the manga is still running, but it’s ending soon and the anime production team is promising that the anime itself will have an ending as well, so it won’t finish unresolved.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

grimgar of fantasy and ash

Why I Watched It: Can there be too many series about people trapped in a medieval European fantasy RPG world? Apparently not. This is not the only one this season, but the only one I’m watching. The twist in this one is that the participants seem to be unaware that they’re in a game, or even what a game is.

What I Thought: It’s not clear whether they’re actually in a game, but as a portal fantasy it works fine too. Somehow, a group of about a dozen people from our world wake up in a tower with no memories of their prior lives, but sometimes words and concepts spill out and they have no idea what they mean or how they know them. They’re escorted to a town where they’re told they can make a living as volunteer soldiers since the real army is too busy to focus on local dangers. The POV party collectively fills roles common in fantasy and gaming fiction, but they’re comically terrible at it (as might be expected of random people from our world); unable to handle the weakest monsters in the forest. I was turned off by the odd 2-3 minutes spent debating the bust size of one of the female characters, but if that’s a one off I can move past it.

Verdict: I’ll probably watch this one. I like Manato (the priest and party leader), and being the most competent person in the group he probably should have taken a different role so they could actually earn some money, but then maybe if he hadn’t the rest of the party wouldn’t be alive.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation


Why I Watched It: I only checked it out because I dropped a lot of hours into the original Phantasy Star Online, which was an Diablo-style RPG. The sequel never made it to English speaking shores, but its anime adaptation has. Unfortunately the word is that it’s terrible, so this is strictly a curiosity viewing. Rather than taking place inside the world of the game, it follows teenagers who play the game. Wha?

What I Thought: Not as horrible as I thought it would be, but PSO2 seems to be be suffering from trying to do two different things at once. It wants the game world to be its own entity with its own set of stakes, but at the same time it wants a plot that runs through the offline world and the people who play the game. I suspect that the in-universe PSO2 will end up being more than just a game and conflict will spill over from the online to the offline, but it doesn’t quite come together, especially since this is a real world game that exists in our world. The characters go to Seiga Academy! Say it out loud. Yeah, the reference is that blatant. And if that’s not enough, the fountain in the center of their school looks like Sonic the Hedgehog.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. While it’s nice seeing some of the designs animated for a game I had dropped well over a hundred hours on when I was just out of college, it’s just not what I’m looking for.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Prince of Stride: Alternative

prince of stride

Why I Watched It: This seems like a slower season compared to most and I’ve never watched a sports anime before so I figured I’d try one. In high school I did hurdles and the high jump for track and field, so a series about a parkour/relay race team seems up my alley.

What I Thought: I had no real expectations going in, so I was pleasantly surprised. If stride was a real sport (I don’t think it is) I would certainly have considered it in high school. It’s very showy and well choreographed. I loved the detail the animators paid to warming up, with one of the athletes doing a common ankle exercise. Even though the show will presumably showcase their matches, the first episode gets the tension rolling with a more mundane concern when protagonist Nana Sakurai comes to Honan Academy only to find out the stride club possesses so few members it can no longer race competitively. Though they get enough people by the end of the episode, it’s clear the reason for the stride club being in such bad shape will come up later.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! It looks like fun, and even though I probably won’t try another sports anime after this one, this hits close to my heart.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu



Why I Watched It: Even though it’s a prequel/spin-off to the Muv-Luv series (which I haven’t seen), there aren’t many anime set in East Germany, so that piqued my interest. The art style is less cutesy than its predecessor and closer to my tastes so I figured I’d give it a shot. Schwarzesmarken translates into “Black Marks” and is the name of the 666th Squadron the story follows.

What I Thought: I’m not sure what year it takes place (1980-something?), but East Germany still exists and they’re fighting invading aliens with mecha. What makes this more unique compared to other mecha series is its setting, with the protagonists being soldiers in a communist state who aren’t necessarily happy with their country, as seen through the eyes of Second Lieutenant Theodor Eberbach, who appears to have made an attempt to flee the country at some point before being forced into the military. I’m not entirely sure where the series is going since the aliens are pretty brainless and being a prequel they’re likely here to stay, but there’s stuff involving a West German pilot defecting to the East in search of someone, and Theodor’s CO might be a Stasi informant, and nobody wants to mess with the secret police.

Verdict: I might end up watching, I’m not sure yet. I’m a bit put off by the spray-on body suits the female pilots wear, but I like the unusual setting and the fact that Theodor feels threatened by human enemies just as much as the alien ones. I feel like in most mecha anime Theodor’s army would be the bad guy’s side, but instead they’re up against aliens and they’re the dubious good guys.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

showa genroku rakugo shinju

Why I Watched It: I’m not sure there’s a good way to translate this title, but suffice to say it’s a Showa era (1926-1989) period piece steeped in Japanese culture about an ex-convict who wants to become a rakugo performer; rakugo being a centuries old art form where a single storyteller/performer entertains the audience with a verbal performance of a comedic story.

What I Thought: It’s a slower sort of show, but definitely takes newcomers through what rakugo is by including the entirety of a single performance in the opening episode and making the telling of the story reflect upon the character who is telling it. Main character Yotaro is not terribly bright, but is very enthusiastic, wanting to learn rakugo because it was the bright spot during his incarceration. Being an ex-con with no money and no place to go he manages to convince his idol to take him as his first apprentice, even though Yotaro is the last person anyone would expect to become an artist. Trouble follows him around so things never get too easy, but he takes to the art faster and more successfully than I expected he would.

Verdict: I’m not sure. It felt more educational than entertaining. Though I did laugh at some of the rakugo performance, the show needs more than that to hook me and I’m not sure where it’s going to go from here.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Conspicuously missing:

Ajin – Some people are mysteriously discovered to be immortal, but only after being killed, so no one knows how many there actually are, and being immortal is a raw deal as the government is capturing those immortals to find out what makes them tick. This has been licensed by Netflix, which means that it will not be simulcasted. In an era where localization companies like Funimation are trying to get even their dubs out faster to the online audience, Netflix’s half year delays on releasing licenses feels like a backwards way of doing things.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Japanese Drama Review: Death Note

written by Laurie Tom

death note live actionDeath Note is the story about Light Yagami, who discovers a notebook (the titular Death Note) that allows him to kill anyone just by writing their name inside it. It originated as a popular manga series that has been translated thus far into an anime, a series of live-action movies, and even a stage musical.

Most recently, it has become a live action TV drama series, and because the story of Death Note is known fairly well by the target audience at this point, the drama made a point to promote that it would feature a new ending.

Though Death Note the live action series is certainly watchable by those who have never experienced the original material, I think those who have either watched the anime or read the manga will get more of a charge out of it, as there are some changes made specifically to sway the expectations of those who think they know what’s coming only to throw them a curveball.

To go along with that, they make some fundamental changes to some of the characters. Light is now an easy-going college student of no notable skill level instead of the genius high schooler he is in the original. He works part-time at a restaurant and is hoping to get a decent job in civil service after graduation. Nothing crazy. Living a contented life is one of his biggest desires.

Unfortunately, he discovers the Death Note dropped by the shinigami (death god), Ryuk, which comes with instructions on how he can use it to kill people. Unlike the original Light, who takes to murder like a duck to water, the drama Light is horrified by the realization that the Death Note is no joke. It really works.

It’s only when his police detective father is taken hostage by a killer that Light intentionally uses the Death Note for the first time, to save his father’s life.

This results in a differently motivated Light than before, and while the story hits many of the same beats as the original, this Light is much more sympathetic because we can see why he chose to use the Death Note to punish the criminals the police could not stop themselves. At the same time, there are moments where making drama Light follow the manga plot doesn’t work as well because he’s a different person. You can see the show strain to justify why this nicer, more compassionate Light would justify murdering people and becoming the supernatural serial killer known as Kira.

As we know, power corrupts, and though Light is a more sympathetic character, he still slides down the slippery slope. This adds an element of tragedy that wasn’t in the original, because we can see how far Light has fallen, and that he had started down this path out of a sincere wish to make a better world.

One of the best changes from the original is the dynamic between Light and his father. Soichiro Yagami is one of the best middle-aged characters in manga. He’s devoted to both his family and his job as a police investigator, and though a supporting character, he does some pretty smart things to save the day. So I was surprised by his drama incarnation, who is much more distant and has a strained relationship with Light to the point where they are no longer close.

But even if they have difficulty talking, it’s clear that drama Soichiro still loves Light, and it makes their relationship that much more tragic as Soichiro is duty-bound to stop Kira while realizing that Kira is probably his son.

Overall, the drama condenses a lot of the manga plot, often running through a volume or two in a single hour long episode, which makes for breathless viewing, but on the other hand, there is no such thing as a filler episode. Something is always happening.

Despite all the stabs at upending the expectations of viewers already familiar with Death Note, the drama always manages to get back to the main plot, without ever completely breaking the backbone set by the manga. It might be kinder to some characters, who survive the story when they did not in the original, but even the ending was not as different as I expected.

The ending might actually be the weakest episode of the run. After the breakneck pace of the previous episodes, the last one hits the brakes with the last two-thirds happening in a single location, with a lot of ranting and talking that could have been done in half the time. While it might have been interesting if the show had ultimately gone in a different direction, the deviations from the original were not strong enough to put up with all the verbal recap of how things came to be. With some edits the final episode probably would have been fine.

I’m not sure that I would recommend Death Note the drama to people who haven’t read the manga or seen the anime since it can be a bit uneven, but for those who have it’s a strong alternate take on the story.

Number of Episodes: 11

Pluses: sympathetic protagonist, Light’s dynamic with his dad, fresh takes on same situations

Minuses: overly drawn out last episode, some plot changes seem arbitrarily done just to yank the chain of experienced viewers, can’t seem to decide how original it wants to be

Death Note is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and is available subtitled.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, andCrossed Genres.