I knew of Ex-Arm before the series was announced, as in i red the first volume of the manga, and thought that was.. alright.
Then in early november 2020 i discovered there was an anime planned for it, and apparently it was supposed to launch earlier, but got delayed a couple of times, post-poned until its January 2021 release on Crunchyroll, as one of their “Crunchyroll Originals” exclusive projects.
I heard about it on Twitter, alongside many baffled comments on why the hell is a live-action director with no experience in anime directing a 3D CG anime and also tasking a production company that also has no experience in anime… and i immediatly knew i would just “have” to review it, to witness the monstrum and write a report about what could be found in its wretched bowels.
Get confortable, as this autopsy-review will examine all the guts and decomposed organs, and there’s a LOT of those to rifle through with this one!
Then again, you could tell something had gone wrong from the trailer alone, and i would like to apologize for criticizing Berserk 2016 (or Kemono Friends, which i quite like) back then, because this is somehow worse, immediatly you could have told this is bound to be an even bigger disaster, something for the ages.
Heck, while i will concede GITS SAC 2045 animation and 3D CG style is disappointing and not that good… damn, i would take Appleseed Alpha any day of the week instead.
When the trailer for a seires is so brutally bad BUT it also has the gall to literally challenge all other sci-fi anime series…. i know i had to document the trainwreck in real time, for my own pleasure and to see why no one learned a fuckin thing from Final Fantasy The Spirits Within, which happened 20 years ago. Yeah, Yoshikatsu Kimura, the director, first filmed the scenes in live-action, then processed them in 3D animation, the intent being to try and deliver a more realistic feel.
Which is pretty much the only reason this dreck costed so much to make, and it’s a pointless, stupid reason. Yeah, good call Crunchyroll, but i feel a second season will never happen, not just because being the dumpster fire everyone talked about wasn’t worth it as publicity for how much they invested in this crap, maybe if it was also cheap to make they would have embrace it doing rounds as one of the worst anime series of the last decade… or decades, but let’s not push our luck.
I feel this isn’t the same situation were hatewatching leads to Netflix ordering more seasons because the view counter doesn’t care if you’re here for “ironic viewing” or not, otherwise i would have enjoyed it the same way most people were, ready to see if would get any worst, camping out and roasting marshmellows on this figurative dumpster fire… but i wouldn’t be writing this piece.
That aside, why does this look worse than RWBY? At least that one was made by a small team and very early in 3D anime CG, so it can be excused, this series doesn’t.
I do like how the trailer itself it the perfect counter-argument to this stupid idea, it’s no fuckin wonder the anime made in “reverse” by people that never made anime and with a director lackin any experience in anime… look exactly as it does. The director never saw anything anime or anime related after Time Gal was released for the Sega CD, did he?
I’m seriously bamboozled on how such a stupid fuckin project wasn’t nipped in the bud, there was really no other studio available for an anime adaptation of Ex-Arm?
Seriously, it’s no wonder Crunchyroll didn’t show the trailer for the series at his own virtual EXPO. No friggin’ wonder.
In this case, it doesn’t matter if the plot or script are godlike, the animation alone completely undermines whatever quality the show might hold. But Ex-Arm isn’t just your average bad anime, as you will find out.
So, the story. It follows a dude who’s not too fond of technology that gets hit by a truck like a dumbass, but it’s not one of those “isekai trucks”, so they keep his brain alive in a comatose state, and we go… 16 years into the future of 2030, to a cyberpunk Tokyo, where he gets to basically get linked to a super police woman, Minami, and his android partner, Alma, as he has been turned into an EX ARM, a supposedly “advanced IA” that’s also a superweapon, and apparently was once a menace against the humanity (as shown in some glimpsy flashbacks/visions),
It sounds like a GITS & Appleseed rip-off of sorts with a touch of Birdy The Mighty, which could be fun, but before massacring the animation some more, i would like to point out that the story itself it’s not good at all. It’s a cyberpunk shonen anime, and this already feels like a bad compromise, as in it won’t appeal to people that expect more mature themes or intriguing dystopias from cyberpunk, and its pretty damn disperate how it wants to appeal to the younger crowds with fanservice and incredible stupid shit like a policewoman having to kiss the sexy gynoid in the group so the main character can use the gynoid body and amplify his hacking power.
Yeah, they made “two ladies kissing” a pivotal plot point method. Enough said.
Even if you roll your eyes and ignore that, the plot has a bad mix of cyberpunk and fantasy with the titular EX-ARMs, basically OOParts that caused a great calamity once and are more powerful than any other technology. It fits in stuff like 666 Satan… but really doesn’t mesh well in a cyberpunk story.
The best example is found in the 5th episode, where the police special unit goes in a VR simulation to see how Akira, the main character, would react if they acted out like his incident never happened, in order to learn more info about him, but a character called Yggdrasil appear to stop them. I thought she was an IA, but no, she shows up later and she’s actual real and tangible. Even at end of the series, i didn’t know what exactly she was, because explaining stuff is for animators and writers, not for Visual Flight.
And they have even the gall to call the fake VR scenario “B-grade anime crap”, when the writing wishes it could be classified as B-grade. It has been a while since i was writing this bad and a shit plot of this magnitude, with characters that appear or re-appear and now they’re evil, mysterious characters are introduced in scenes that end in cliffhangers… which are never followed upon, so you’ll wonder who the fuck that was and how exactly did anything lead to the situation you’re currently witnessing.
Even when you’re given an explanation, you’ll still wonder why exactly the arabian man needed to get naked to follow the faint scent of blood from an EX-ARM equipped villain. I for one have no clue at all. In most cases, you won’t even get a proper explanation or even know what a character was named, but sure as shit you’ll get years long coveted vengeances disarmed in 5 minutes by saccharine shonen spiels about the good of humanity, the unsatisfactory nature of vengeance and the power of positive “emotion”. This could have been easily written by a 15 years old.
Or David Cage. He met William Dafoe, you know.
Attempts at any sort of deep themes are flimsy at best, one-line bullshit at worst, stuff happens way too fast at times, lingers a lot on padding at others, conflicts are more often that not instantly AND unsatisfactionally resolved in a flash (we wouldn’t want them to actually have any weight) and it all comes down to an absolute sloppy mess of cyberpunk shonen bullshit constantly on the verge of total non-sense, all ending on a crappy and fittingly childish solution to all the problems.
Not that you get to see much of the resolution, it happens offscreen mostly, like an important character who is unceremoniously killed off in a flashback, like they forgot to tell or show it, so yeah, now he ded, no time to elaborate or linger on it, there’s shitty action scenes to not show you.
Not even the post-credits scene seem capable of telling anything proper, as if they planned for it to be longer or have dialogues, but it’s short, barely tells you anything, and makes one wonder why the even bothered to put it there. All quite fitting for this absolute, pathetic pile of dreck, which of course still leaves many questions (even last-second ones) unresolved.
This would be bad already, but then the animation will shock you in many different ways, with almost every new episode bringing to the table another incredible fuck-up, another shocking low, even more because it never feels like anybody was trying to make this bad. You get the feel the team behind it really tried, but it’s beyond obvious they had absolute NO IDEA what the hell they were doing. Just absolutely no clue whatsover in any way, which is incredible and may sound like i made shit up to mock this series. I don’t need to, as EX-ARM does a terrific job itself on that front.
Saying that animation here makes Berserk 2016 look like a joint effort between ufotable and MAPPA may sound like hollow hyperbole, so let me elaborate.
It’s not just the 3D CG character moving like models in a machinima video from 2002, feeling like uncanny dolls moved around more than character moving on their own volition, not only the models and animation are unconvincing, just alien (don’t look at the mouths moving, or it will get even worse, as they look like ventriloquist dummies unhinging their wooden jaw), but often you get a 3D CG model of a character sharing the frame with one (or more) 2D animated character/s, and it always lingers more than enough to make it obvious how the 2D character is far better animated.
And don’t ask why some secondary characters are 2D animated and others aren’t, because i have no answer for the reasonable question at hand, nor i feel there’s an actual reason or logic to the choices. Not that it would help to know the “whys”.
It feels like it’s a joke, but it’s not, as in, not intended to be, and it happens pretty much all the time, it’s not a one-off error, it’s by design. Often you’ll get gold like the scene changing camera angle, letting you see even better how dissonant the two animation styles are, and even the traditionally 2D animated characters still look quite bad, just not as bad as the 3D CG characters models that countinuously have their lips clip together, with the voice acting never in any proper sync.
And you can bet the team realized it could get away with not animating the mouth moving at all after a while, since you can do the “cyberpunk telepath talk” or have people speak from stuff that isn’t the mouth… even if there’s no reason to assume they need a voicebox for medical reasons or stuff. Again, when the team doesn’t just plain forgot to make their mouths move, this happens.
One would be tempted to say that this a similar case as Berserk 2016, where at least in some still shots you could say that, at at glance, the models look kinda alright, but this would be an insult to Berserk 2016, without hyperbole. Here the 3D CG models don’t even look good when standing still (not even in the long distance shots) as you can then notice how – depending on the episode – the 3D models can be even more rounded for no reason, have disproportionaly huge hand-to-arm ratio, perform esoteric poses, when they don’t just downright skip essential interim animation frames.
At times i feel the source material does accidentally adds fuel to the fire, with some incredibly stupid, awful designs, especially for the villains, like the catgirl combat gynoids, just, what crappy design is that? Even for a fetish robo-doll design, it’s just awful, this is Haydee level trash.
Even the catgirl from Appleseed that was in the story because Masamune Shirow was horny and didn’t care to hide it at all, even her design looked better, and i’m reminded of him as most of the fairly generic cyberpunk character designs do feel a lot like Ghost In The Shell or Appleseed hand-me-downs. And both the “cyber-dive” sessions and the opening song confirm it.
This to say nothing of the crappy CG locales and background these monstrosities inhabit, with barren interiors and items that look they could fit from a PS1/Saturn era videogame, but this show isn’t capable of even making a character rise from bed believable, as the crappy models never seems to exist on the same plane, even when prospective would force us to say they are. Watch out for random pedestrians in the background more sliding on the ground than walking on it.
I really could go on and on, as i said this show is incredible. You think it has fully shit its pants, but NO, it had another set of pants under the other one, and when you think you’ve accostumed yourself to its crap factor, it fucks up things that shouldn’t be possible in a new way. I would discuss how astonishingly bad the action scenes are, they do are just ghastly and embarrasing to behold, but i will just tell you at one point, there’s a crazy psycho villain who attacks by using his EX-ARM, which gives him the ability to conceal itself from sound and vision…. and this means at one point, for almost 2 minutes straight, there’s almost complete silence, some dialogue and no soundtrack outside of some fleble stuff your dog could pick up.
Even when i know exactly why they did, i can’t believe they did it.
At one point, i wondered if maybe it would have made more sense to just have the director and studio make a live-action EX-ARM movie, i mean, since you already decided – in all your ignorant arrogance – to shoot most action scenes in live-action first anyway, it would have made some sense.
But even that thought, that grasping theory fell apart, because even if this was live-action, the direction would have still been crap. Odd pauses between dialogues leading to awkward seconds of silence, bad camera angles for action and non-action scenes alike, random zooms into a character’s dead eyed face, often too close so to make the quality of the CG model even more apparent, again, for no reason, but feeling like accidental attempts at memes.
Bad direction combined with befuddling animation makes it hard to assess what the fuck happened in some moment, and the less i said about the action scenes, the better, but of course there’s overabundant use of slow-mo, to the point it’s clearly to have some mercy on the animators more than a stylistical choice. Either way, the fights are often slightly better choreographed than the first Time Crisis, the way enemies often just robotically drop dead in mid-air reminds me of that.
It’s amazing how completely clueless everyone working on this was, just 100 % clueless.
What is even more shockin is finding the odd occasions where the team and director had a glimpse of good sense in deciding what NOT to animate: when they enter the floating illegal casinò i fully expected them doing a musical number with robo-bunnygirls that would have made the PPP’s idol concert from Kemono Friends look like Moulin Rouge… but for the “better” or the worst, they didn’t.
Of course there’s also an example of the opposite case, where they should have animated something…. but didn’t. In the aforementioned 5th episode, the group founds themselves blocked in the VR simulation, so they try to shock him out of it by re-enacting the truck incident that killed him… without animating the truck moving.
Sure, a character makes it vanish before it hits Akira, but you don’t even see the truck exist, aside from a vague shadow in the very bottom of the screen for 2 seconds.
You would think this 3D CG anime couldn’t be bothered to even show CG vehicles….but they do 3 minutes later. Not well, but they do, and they didn’t for the thing that was actually a literal “plot point on wheels”, that was important to the story. AMAZING.
You can’t even trust this show to be consistent in its own stupidity and incompetence.
One last example (i could go on and on, like how this show treats the usual “machines gaining coscience of self” theme, but don’t worry, its so fuckin stupid it’s hilarious), also from the 5th episode, is when they do the “accidentally hugging the female friend and she retaliates by punching him in comical rage” school anime clichè… but they can’t even do a smack effect, they just use a “flying frame rotating inwards the center”, like they just discovered 2000’s transition effects.
The only good thing this anime has… is the japanese voice acting, it’s alright, the intro song is utterly mediocre (and also seems to be ripping off GITS 2045 intro song in tone), but not even the intro is ok, as it showcases clips from the series, sadly quite representative of the actual show.
The end card art and fan-service heavy eye catches shouldn’t be the graphically more pleasant and competent pieces of visual content in an animated series, but this is EX-ARM’s anime, that peaks at the end card showing promotional artwork made by the manwha’s author for the series.
YES, there is far worse, somehow, i know it, most people do as well, but when you’re just one step above from animated abomination like the Video Brinquedo, Dingo Pictures and similar strand of uber cheap knock offs of Pixar or Disney movies, just barely…. is it reason to celebrate? It really shouldn’t.
As much as i hate to say it, i at least have to give it this: it’s animated. It’s one step above the Netflix adaptation of Way of The Husband, which is pretty much a motion comic, as they basically redraw each frigging panel and made them move a bit, not really animate these. And half the panels did actually look better in black and white, i don’t even.
Since i saw the PV that fateful night, i just knew the EX-ARM anime was gonna be something special, a huge disaster, especially when the trailer comes with a challenge to ALL other sci-fi anime series in the world, while displaying animation so bad not even Crunchyroll, who actually funded this as part of its Crunchyroll Originals exclusives, put money into this, not even they had the courage to feature it during their own EXPO.
And the trailer was quite indicative of the final product, exactly what you could expect from a director and team that not only never worked on animation, but thinked so little of this craft they shoot the scenes live-action and then processed them via computer animation, which was totally unnecessary, incredibly time consuming and way too costly, all to produce something so hideous and defective to make Berserk 2016 look like an ufotable high budgeted project.
This was not done bad on purpose, you can clearly tell the team tried its best with the absurd task at hand, but it’s also obvious nobody knew what the fuck they were doing, or how to make it work with absurd requests from a director that clearly knows NOTHING of animation… and arguably of directing, as there’s plenty of random zooms, bad camera angles, the action scenes are just laughable, and it’s often hard to tell what the fuck is going on, as the narrative goes ahead anyway, not caring to explain most of it, and bombarding the viewer with random character redemptions, sudden revelations or character appearing from nowhere.
It’s a pile of cyberpunk non-sense, incredibly badly written and stupid as well, which i think its due to the material being what it is, as in a shonen manga heavy on fanservice and very badly done cliches from the genre, with characters that are -at best – bidimensional, and sport a lot of fairly generic cyberpunk designs, alongside sci-fi cyberpunk ideas used to the death by other, better authors. I haven’t read all the manga, but enough to see how maybe this wasn’t the best cyberpunk high quality material to adapt, not that i wish this trash fire of an adaptation on any series.
At least it could have been a stupid but well animated adaptation…but it wasn’t.
I really could have stopped after the first episode, with something this catastrophically embarassing there’s no “3 episodes rule” that holds, nothing could have saved this thing from itself, because there’s nothing i could ever say or do to shame this series… that the series itself didn’t already do.
Not that i wanted to beat it down, i just stuck with the series because it looked like a nice disaster, a crapfest of incredible proportions, and in that sense, it delivered big time, managing to get worse or sink to a new unthinkable low each episode in a new, different way, and i fully enjoyed it.
Most people were never gonna go that far, just take a look at it, recoil in horror, hear similar critiques from stunned reviewers, and never bother to watch it, but just use it as an example of crap and what you don’t do in anime. You’re gonna be a fan favourite for clips on Youtube of embarassing examplea of animation, for memes, you’re gonna be that series that people couldn’t believe was actually real and intended as a legittimate product and not an elaborate practical joke by Kbub or the PopTePic anime guys. You’re gonna go down in anime history as a legendary dumpster fire of pantagruelic proportions, EX-ARM, fully deserving all of it.
Outside harassment, i never condone it, it’s already shit in itself (like i even have to point it out), but even more cruel when you wanna harass the people that had to put the EX-ARM anime out. Just don’t.
That said, i hope something has been learned out of this situation by the people involved… but experience leaves me quite doubtful on this regard. Thanks for the laughs and the unbelievable display, Visual Flight, but please, go away from the animation industry, because it’s one of those cases where it doesn’t feel that hyperbolic or savage to say” the manga had better animation”.
Don’t come back to the industry until you actually learn your craft or hire people that know something about the medium and the process. It was fun once, there’s no need for a replica where you’re in on the joke as well, we already know it doesn’t work and it’s just kinda sad. We have stuff like Samurai Cop 2 as proof.
I say this because i seriously doubt Crunchyroll will bother to adapt the sequel series, EX-ARM EXA, let alone hire Visual Flight again, but then again, it’s unbelievable to think Crunchyroll would have said yes to a project like this to begin with… but it did and didn’t canned it halfway through, but shown to the world in 2021.
You never know, we’ll just have to see.