JUNI TAISEN: ZODIAC WAR – Anime Review
Synopsis: The record of the bloody battle between the twelve proud warriors— The 12th Twelve Tournament that gets held every twelve years… Twelve brave warriors who bear the names of the signs of the zodiac fight each other for the lives and souls. The participants are twelve very strange warriors: “Rat,” “Ox,” “Tiger,” “Rabbit,” “Dragon,” “Snake,” “Horse,” “Goat,” Monkey,” “Rooster,” “Dog,” and “Pig.” The victor of this tournament gets to have one wish granted, whatever the wish may be. The one wish they want granted— Who will be the final survivor? (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Note: Linny is still on vacation, but has provided her final verdict, on the series, below.
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Juni Taisen is a series that pigeon holes itself, appealing to one very specific corner of the anime audience: Fans who enjoy character work. When the art fails, as it did for most anime this season, and the story becomes predictable, the one thing Juni Taisen still has going for it is its character exploration.
Indeed the greatest appeal over its twelve episode run is how Juni Taisen devotes plenty of time to flashing back through many of its twelve warrior’s origins and showcasing how each individual came to be who they are today. There are a few notable exceptions, like Ox and Rabbit, two, somewhat, silent warriors of death who never get the origins exploration everyone else does. Even Rat, another quiet individual, gets less screen time for his past than the other nine warriors. But otherwise the majority of the series follows a near strict formula: Explore a character’s backstory, only to watch them die moments after we understand who they are. It seems like a pretty big spoiler, but it’s something you’ll have picked up on within the first two episodes, as Juni Taisen telegraphs its plot far in advance.
That’s perhaps Juni Taisen greatest detractor: How painfully predictable the entire thing is. Outside of its first episode it never once tries to move away from audience expectations. Even episode titles, offered after the credits as previews for next week, and clearly displayed just as a new episode begins, frequently give away the events of the series, not unlike a Dragon Ball episode title. Even when the series doesn’t telegraph itself, it takes the most obvious avenues forward, killing characters you’d expect to die next and crafting a formula that becomes altogether transparent, the very thing I mentioned above: Offer backstory and insight to a character, then kill them.
So what does that mean? If the series is predictable, to the point where its formula is so transparent and obvious, what’s left to enjoy? Juni Taisen attempts to pride itself on two alternate forms of keeping the audiences’ attention: Its action and character work. While the character work remains Juni Taisen’s out and out greatest strength, Action is another area in which Juni Taisen, sadly, crumbles.
Early on Juni Taisen showcases competent visuals that help to craft wonderfully chaotic battles, particularly when the Juni Taisen combat first kicks off with a Boar vs Rabbit fight. But unfortunately, like so many other anime this Fall season, that initial quality is just not to be. Most anime drop off a little in terms of visual fidelity, schedules too tight to keep everything looking quite so fresh and crisp as early on. But Juni Taisen, like much of the Fall season, crumbles hard. Episodes become difficult to enjoy, with rough, detail-lacking visuals that hardly impress, let alone captivate. Juni Taisen begins to look more frequently unattractive than engaging, with characters so off-model, so devoid of greater detail that it almost feels like an entirely different series at times.
This is somewhat saved late in the game, as the anime makes a sudden and hard switch to CGI for a couple of climatic battles. It’s a jarring maneuver, one of which you’d have to be outright blind not to notice, but in some ways improves the series’ ability to craft impressive combat. While the CGI is obvious, and a jarring match for the 2D work, it’s so much more fluid, uniform, and altogether able to depict the frantic fighting that made Juni Taisen so appealing in its first episode. In fact, it generally works so well, it’s a shame they didn’t switch to its usage sooner.
Where action fails, character is there to try and lift things back up. While it’s enjoyable to explore the origins of many of the series’ fighters, it hardly feels a proper band-aid for the overly predictable nature of the series. What’s perhaps more surprising though, is that none of this character work is present in the original Light Novel this series has been adapted from. In fact, all the fighters in the Light Novel get little more than a paragraph describing their origins. The anime expands on their histories, greatly, and turns that into the focus.
While most Light Novel anime tend to adapt multiple volumes to one anime season (Ex: Devil is a Part-Timer is a culmination of two Light Novel volumes for its single anime season, plus some anime only content) Juni Taisen is twelve-episodes for a single volume. A Single Volume. The character work, the season’s sole boon, is also responsible for really padding things out. It almost makes me wonder if Juni Taisen would’ve been best experienced as a two-hour anime film, offering some expanded character exploration, but keeping the action and mayhem front and center, paired down to a, ultimately, shorter run time.
In conclusion Juni Taisen’s character work isn’t enough to fully ignore the troubled art and predictable nature. It continually hamstrings the series. While the Light Novel is already getting a sequel, the anime seems a one off, with an ending that’s slightly more definitive a conclusion than the Light Novel’s closing moments. Juni Taisen isn’t awful, but by the end of its run it’s not much of a stand out either. If you’re someone who enjoys exploring characters, with decent action from time to time, Juni Taisen is a fun, if overly predictable romp.