Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Series Review – No Twists, No Turns, Little Excitement, But Not Fatally Flawed

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Overview:

12 Zodiac themed warriors have been chosen to take place in the Juni Taisen (big death match) where the winner will have a wish granted. That’s pretty much it.

Review – There will be spoilers:

If you are looking for an anime with a clear grasp of the big picture (the how and the why and all those things) than Juni Taisen is not for you. Then again, if you are looking for an anime that treats its characters as more than just fodder for increasingly less shocking deaths, is consistent in pace and action, and occasionally manages to seem like you should perhaps care about the characters, you probably aren’t making it very far into Juni Taisen anyway.

Maybe that seems ‘overly pessimistic’ as one person told me I was being after my review of episode 1 where I raised concerns that killing off the only character the audience had any connection to was probably not a stroke of narrative genius and I wasn’t really sure how this show would manage to be interesting given it seemed locked into a 12 episode/12 hour fight sequence with fairly telegraphed deaths (okay, I wasn’t that specific in my episode 1 review though in hind-sight I should have been). So it might seem like I was being pessimistic then and now, but I actually have no reason to change that view. While there are some good things to be found in Juni Taisen, my main impression as I finished the series was one of relief because to be honest this was a chore to finish by the end. Crunchyroll advertising insisting there were twists and turns to be found just kind of bugged me given there wasn’t one twist from start to finish in a story that ended up being ridiculously linear and vague.

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Despite everything, I still would recommend this for a watch if it had explained why the war was taking place. And I mean, really explained. Not just some vague rich guys/countries are gambling on it and somehow we’ll redraw the map after it is done. The audience never sees the weight of the contest or the outcome in terms of the effect it has on the world so basically we just watch 12 characters try to kill each other and hope it amuses us. And again, that could work. I like horror. I don’t mind the occasional brutal death. However if you want to know who is next just know the order of the Chinese Zodiac (which unfortunately I knew all too well because it is the basis of a board game I played as a kid) so after week 2 it was more of less locked in who was next to die and who would win the game.

Does that mean it couldn’t be fun? We could still get some great action, couldn’t we? Episode 1 had an amazing display of animation where we saw the Boar training and becoming the awesome warrior she apparently was. It was spectacular. Yet everything after just seemed to have less energy and drive. None of the fights last any particular length of time so if you want to know what you will mostly be watching it is characters sitting around running an internal monologue. Usually this is closely followed by their death.

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One or two of the characters were interesting enough. I didn’t mind the Chicken or the Tiger and Rat (when he appeared) was always making me curious even as he slept through the tournament, but mostly the characters were characterised by arrogance or pride. None of them seemed concerned enough about their potential deaths and almost all of them died after severely underestimating an opponent. Once or twice this might be seen as an okay move but the repetitive nature of this became truly dull viewing.

The character designs are quite well done (if a little insane and I’m sure many people will have issue with the fan service like nature of the female warriors’ outfits (they certainly aren’t designed for defence), but they nicely exemplify the zodiac and at least there is no issue with distinguishing the characters. Besides, if you start throwing rocks at the girls you would have to wonder just what the Rabbit was wearing and that is a question that I think many people will have after just one episode. Again, that isn’t designed for defence.

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Visually, Juni Taisen is kind of interesting as the actual tournament is taking place at night with all the scenes being quite dark. By contrast, almost all of the flash back sequences are brighter as is the final episode when the victor is trying to decide what to do with their prize. This kind of attention to detail is appreciated.

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Basically, I loved the concept this show had and was looking forward to it, but found that the actual story and the execution was lacking even though it looks great and it is clear a lot of effort has been put into it. I don’t think I have any real need to ever revisit this series and it isn’t one I can overly recommend given what it is lacking, but it isn’t a complete train-wreck either. Basically it ends up being just kind of average.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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Juni Taisen Episode 4: Nobody Died, Though My Interest Took A Hit

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Review:

From the first episode with the Boar, this show has been a little bit peculiar. For all the good qualities it has, the one thing it has failed to do is grab my attention. The third episode with the Chicken came the closest because her character had a little bit of humour about her, and then we are hit with this episode.

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Rat talks to Monkey in the sewers. He challenges her about her pacifist stance (not aggressively mind you, because that would require being fully awake which is something he is steadfastly refusing to do).

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Monkey talks to Rat. She defends her position and we see many flash backs of her life up to this point.

The whole thing could work if I actually found either of these characters even vaguely interesting. And yet… Rat is an incredibly boring character. He is literally sleeping through this series. Monkey’s pacifist stance means she is pretty straight forward and predictable and just a little cringey to watch.

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The last five minutes saw us reintroduced to Rabbit and while a flock of zombie birds is pretty cool I’m just not thinking the brief chase sequence and minor skirmish we got between Rat, Monkey, Rabbit and zombie twin boy was sufficient action to make up for the nothing that had happened for the entire rest of the episode.

However, one positive I took away from this is that I really enjoy the opening theme. It didn’t do much for me the first time but it is definitely growing on me and was my favourite part of this episode.


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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Episode 2: Dead Boar Walking

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Review – Minor Spoiler:

After episode 2, I’m still pretty underwhelmed by this one. It looks fantastic, I have no complaints about the visuals or animation. Yet, I was bored during a lot of this episode.

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The Boar was dead at the end of the previous episode and is now shuffling about in true zombie fashion, marching to the beat of the crazy rabbit’s drum. Therefore we go into this second episode pretty much knowing nothing about anyone else, save the Boar’s opinion of them and then things begin. We chop and change from character to character spending time with the Monkey and the Rat who are hiding out in the sewers, also the Ox gets a few lines of monologue on, the Horse has a brief appearance, the old guy who’s animal I’ve forgotten entirely sits on a step and plots, some girl who has some tail sticking out as an easily grabbed accessory meanders by in a shot, and then we sort of focus on the Dog and Chicken as they team up.

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The issue of course being that we already know that any alliance here is going to be incredibly short lived and we know nothing about either character save a brief flash back we get of the Dog which just made me suspect he was going to be the next designated victim. Then he starts narrating much the same way the Boar did and he also has some incredible confidence. He kind of walked into that death flag. But again, we don’t know enough about him to care or the Chicken girl and the Ox’s encounter with the Horse is all but completely meaningless to us given they are but names at this stage and have no substance.

It is interesting in that they haven’t even told me enough about the characters to make me dislike them. They are just nothing at this point and time. As a result, it doesn’t matter how hard this show tries to shock with gore, betrayals, twists, or super powers because I have no reason to be invested. I still don’t know why this war is happening because no one ever bothered to explain it. I don’t know why these characters are participating or even bothered to show up and none of them have really been given a motive save the Monkey who may be trying to stop it but joining a death match doesn’t seem the best way to end it. I still don’t know who organised it or what they get out of it.

Basically, if you can simply enjoy watching the characters roam around and kill each other I guess there’s something here and maybe sooner or later they’ll get around to explanations, but right now it all just seems like they expect that killing someone dramatically will make for interesting viewing regardless of who that someone is and what reason there is for their death.


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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Episode 1: Not Entirely Sure you Can Get A Season Out Of This

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Overview:

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?

– From Crunchyroll

Review – Episode Spoilers Ahead:

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Okay, seriously, how is this a whole series? This episode is told from the boar’s perspective and she gets to the venue, finds out the rules for the seemingly idiotic death match (I assume we’ll get some justification though this story does not seem big on rationalizing), the match starts, an alliance almost forms and after that someone blows up the floor and we see boar girl face off with bunny boy and then the one character the audience has had any chance to connect with is killed.

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Um, right. So was I supposed to be interested in the other guys who may have combined spoken 100 words this episode? Am I meant to look forward to endless flashbacks of their traumatic childhood as they were prepped for this insanity?

Basically, other than ‘hey, cool death match’ this episode doesn’t do anything because the only characterisation they offered us ceased to be relevant by the end. The match itself isn’t actually interesting yet because other than vague ‘you’ll get a wish granted’ comment, there’s no actual motive or reason for this match. No motive, no characters to care about yet… it isn’t a great start.

Plus, they gave all the characters poison which will kill them in 12 hours. So each episode is going to be like an hour in real time and using flashbacks to fill in the rest of the run time (speculation)?

I guess there were supposed to be some shocks and gasps at some of the violence, gore, and trauma, particularly of the childhood the girl endured, but to be honest it all just kind of felt flat. It was more a shopping list of shocking imagery rather than an actual emotive viewing experience.

So, maybe this will draw me in more once I know some of the other characters, but my honest first opinion of this is it isn’t exactly getting me excited for what is to come. Which is kind of a shame because this is one I was kind of looking forward to. Oh well. I’ll give it another couple of episodes and then decide.


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