Posted on 30 December 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World-

Thus with todays episode, Kino mets her greatest adversary, one to test her to her very limits and be her greatest obstacle on her journey so far. Kino’s Arch Nemesis is…Sheep. Yes, sheep. Of all the stories that could have been chosen for the finale for Kino, this has to be one of the most bizarre choices. Kino gets attacked by Sheep and must fight them off to escape with Hermes. What unfolds is a strange yet somewhat hilarious battle between them. This would have made for a excellent breather episode in the middle of the season and yet here it is right at the end. Besides so awkward CGI it’s an enjoyable episode but much likely my previous complaints about episodes like this, this isn’t what I watch Kino for. There isn’t really a deeper meaning to this one, only a action scene and the humor of Kino taking on sheep.

The only thing I found to be a interesting observation was the final revelation that those sheep were used to fight each other in a nearby country but were released into the wild due to animal rights groups. Now that country is oblivious to the fact that those sheep hang around outside and attack any travelers that come near. Even killing what is likely quite a number of people. An old tale of good intentions going wrong, in this case animal rights groups simply assuming that the sheep would forgot their fighting ways and go back to being docile naturally. Guess the lesson is that if you are going to do a good deed, make sure to consider all potential consequences of your actions.

My feelings towards Kino’s Journey 2017 are complicated. I will most certainly say this is not a bad season but when held up against its predecessor, it is a weaker one. The odd thing is that I don’t believe that it was how these episodes where adapted that was the problem. In fact I would consider the adaptations of these stories to be rather strong. No, the problem lies in the stories themselves and how they were laid out in this season is the thing that truly brings this season down. While Kino is an episodic series, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how these stories flow into one another. A perfect example is the episode showing various countries, were in a batch of comedic and lighthearted stories is one rather dark tale that it was almost mood whiplash. The stories where very poor choices as well, seemly chosen for making Kino look cool or showing off fan favorite characters.

This is the problem when you decide based on popular vote instead of actual quality. There are well over 200 stories written in Kino and yet the story choice in this season consisted of three remakes that frankly were not needed and far too many lighthearted/comedy episodes. I think that any new viewer would walk away from this series with a massive misunderstanding of just what Kino is actually about. I believe they would be quite surprised if they went back and watched the 2003 version to find it being a much darker introspective beast. Still I would like Lerche to take another shot at Kino as they have show they can adapt it. All they really need to do for another season is choose more wisely from Kino’s selection of stories and consider how they fit together in a season as a whole.

Posted on 29 December 2017 with categories: Anime Reviews, Shoukoku no Altair

It would not be an exaggeration to say that my favorite type of anime is the political-military epic. This comes partly out of my profession, I study war and politics, but also my hobby, as military and political history is something I enjoy. When it comes to anime there is a clear sub-category that can be called political-military epics that covers elements of politics and war. These shows are characterized by some commonalities. First of all direction wise, is the large cast. When your characters are introduced with subscripts for titles, you know you are in political-military epic territory. Second, there is narrator who plays a crucial role in moving the story along.

Story wise the shows can be place into a continuum anchored by the great Chinese epics. On the one side you have those stories which are closer to the thematic of the Chinese “Journey to the West”. Political and Military events provide a backdrop, but the stories essentially focus on the story of a hero within the world. On the other side are stories in which the politics and the military events are the protagonist. There is no real protagonist per se, but instead central characters through which we see the events unfurl. The literary example of this in Chinese cultures is “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Stories that go further and relegate characters to a truly secondary role cross into thematic territory that is more in synch with the ancient Greek history, “The Peloponnesian War”. Anime wise, a recent example of the first type was “Akatsuki no Yona”. Stories in the theme of the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, including directly based on it abound in anime, with “Shouten Kouro” being the most recent example in my mind. Finally, “Legend of Galactic Heroes” stands the closest to the “Peloponnesian War”, though it is still anchored around two protagonists.

Due the central role of the politics and military events in these stories, characters are either decision makers, or people who are privy to decisions. This is what differentiates from me the political-military epic, from what I would call only military anime (in which many times the characters are not privy to decisions-for example a lot of the Gundam franchise). Thus are protagonists are ministers, princes, kings, and generals, or the people who put into effect the decisions of such personages.

The two shows I will review here both wish to tell an epic story of politics and war. The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Arslan Senki) is the creation of the author behind Legend of Galactic Heroes, Yoshiki Tanaka. Thus we have a author who has experience in telling such epic tales. The animated version I am looking at is the recent one directed by Noriyuki Abe, based on the manga interpretation by Hiromu Arakawa, of Full Metal Alchemist fame. This is quite the pedigree of creators. There was an older anime based on Tanaka’s work, which I personally liked a lot, but which did not cover much of story (which is in progress). So I was looking forward to this new interpretation. The other show is based on a manga by Kotono Kato, a historian by trade, and is their first work of note. The anime was directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi who has some solid work behind them, but nothing exceptional per se. SuperWooper reviewed the first 12 episodes, but I decided that show deserves a full review, and he kindly let me take care of it.

Before going into the particulars let me summarize my review. Both shows suffered from a number of issues that denied them the character great, let alone exceptional. But ultimately I felt that Altair promises a lot more, and was able to craft the more interesting story. This was surprising, and to be frank after watching Arslan Senki I wondered if it really was written by the same person who wrote Legend of Galactic Heroes. It is not that it is per se a bad story, but quite underwhelming especially in the crucial area of characters. So let us go a bit more into the reasons for my conclusion.

Story

Ultimately a good political-military epic tells a good story. It posits a conflict that is both expansive and epic, but something that is beyond just a mere territorial spat. In LOGH Tanaka weaved into the story a whole semester worth of political science material ranging from questions about the trajectory of history, the meaning of war, to the relative merits of democracy and enlightened autocracy. I literally use parts of it in my lectures. Altair as a show is much closer to LOGH and the “Peloponnesian War” or the “Record of Three Kingdoms” than Arslan is. The word is more expansive, with many more powers, the politics are thus richer. Both shows try to invoke uniqueness by using as the basis of their world historical cultures that are not the usual staple of anime (or even western media). In Altair our protagonists are part of an idealized Ottoman Empire, active in a world with state that are inspired by ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, and with the antagonist being a much more aggressive version for the Holy Roman Empire. In Arslan, the titular character is a prince of Pars, a setting inspired by Sassanid Persia, facing a fanatical stand-in for European Crusaders, and surrounded by states inspired by Turkish and Hunnish tribes, and Indian medieval princes.

While both settings work to enrich their regions, I ultimately felt that Altair did a better job of showcasing its world, compared to Arslan. And this is despite its pacing issues it has (more on this later). To put it simply, I found the city -tates, empires and kingdoms of Altair much more intriguing, than those of Arslan. A lot of this might be though that Arslan in its first arc is more like a “Journey to the West” story, focusing on the travels of the protagonist and his coterie of characters. Now, Altair also does this. But here is the difference. In Altair the story of individual travel is well-meshed to the story of the politics. In Arslan it is not. Turghil Pasha in his travels not only to get companions, he crucially meets decision makers and comes to understand, and show us, the politics of his world. In Arslan, Arslan meets companions, and he learns about the world, but he learns by being told about it by said companions, rather than by experiencing it. This was crucial difference.

I also felt that despite the pacing issues of Altair, the political decisions there made sense. That was not always the case with Arslan.

The different approach to the story also meant that Altair could get way with weak characters, while in Arslan they doomed it. In Altair, you could forgive some of the characters because the characters were always enriched by the environment. The cultures of Rumeliana (the Europe of Altair) were all so unique and interesting, that they enriched characters who stood as their proxies. In Arslan that was not the case. In general I felt the story of Altair to be richer, and more intriguing, than that of Arslan. While both had an element of a coming to age story, I felt that Altair was more able to mesh it to the political and military situation. And this helped the characters. Speaking of characters,

Characters

It is unavoidable that with their massive casts, political-military anime while have a slew of underdeveloped characters. As long as those characters are given some singular trait that makes them interesting, and as long as the protagonists are fleshed out, this is not an issue. As long as characters are not caricatures, they can be forgiven a bit of thinness. This is why story and environment play such an important role. This of course cannot be forgiven with the protagonists. A good political-military anime will have multiple protagonists, shared by the two main warring factions, and even more. They will be decision makers, or close allies of decision makers. They will be essentially our eyes and ears into why things happen, and provide some investment in the politics by having their fate and beings tied to it. The problems start when the central characters are either uninteresting, or relegated to a secondary role by the other protagonists. Altair succeeds in avoiding this, while Arslan fails.

Now both Mahmud Turghil Pasha and Prince Arslan share some character traits. They are both seen as politically naïve by others, and they are both struggling to find their place in a complex world. The starting arcs of both anime are focused on their journey to maturity and wisdom. The problem is that while we can see and appreciate Turghil Pasha’s growth, Arslan’s is not as easy to learn. This is not because he does not grow. But his growth is tethered and ultimately smothered by his companions. Too much of Arslan is about Arslan asking his chief strategist Narsus (a bad character inspired for Zhuge Liang from “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”) about what to do. There is a lot of that. As a result, Arslan’s growth is always feeling as pedestrian, predicted, boring. Turghil Pasha is never completely eclipsed like that. His growth is not always predictable, and we always see it in action.

It does not help that by a large the secondary cast in Arslan is boring. Of his companions that only two I found interesting are the warrior Daryun, who is not a rich character, but he is a well done example of the warrior template, and the fun and adventurous bard Gieve. The others did not stand out. This expands to the secondary characters on the side of the heroes. Most are bland, and boring. In Altair, despite the fact that many of the secondary characters are just as “thin”, I did not find them boring. Whether Halil Pasha, Suleiman Pasha, or Kiros and Abriga, they never seemed to hold the show down. The mayors, princes, kings that populate Rumeliana are not anymore developed than the characters in Arslan, but the combination of smart focusing on a specific trait, and their close connection to their cultures makes them interesting.

The issue becomes worse for Arslan when it comes to the question of antagonist. Now it is true that neither show comes close to the almost excellent balance of characters on both sides that LOGH had. But Altair comes closer. To put it simply ad brutally, the enemy in Arslan is boring. You have the always scowling, yelling, always angry Prince Hermes. You have the scheming, scowling, perpetually frustrated Guiscard. You have the caricature coward, scowling Bodin. Indeed there is a lot of scowling and furrowing of brows, and yelling going on. And that that is it. None of these people are remotely interesting. What drives them is boring, and thus their schemes are boring. No great questions can be put forward by such characters, and thus the battle really is more like a black and white fight, despite the continuous talk by characters that this is not the case (for the sake of all that is holy, one of the secondary antagonists chose the enemy side simply because he felt it would not be fair if there is no one on the side of the guy with he himself does not consider ready to be a king!). Hell, the most interesting opponent of Arslan is his frenemy Rajendra, who is pretty much an interesting character because he has a level head on his shoulders. The more interesting questions in Arslan are always about Arslan’s plans for the future of Pars, and that is pretty much an intra-ally discussion.

On a first glance Altair could also be considered weak on the enemy front. If there is one criminal failure for Altair, is that it never invests as much as it should in the enigmatic figure of Prime Minister Louis (a characterized for Machiavelli and Richelieu). This is partly because for a long part of the anime the “antagonist” is the equally interesting Zaganos Pasha. But the show in its second course presents us with an interesting array of Imperial opponents that give us an insight into what drives the Balt-Rhein empire forward. Their motives are much better than those of Arslan’s foes, and between Turghil, Zaganos, and Louis some major questions are put forward about the nature of hegemony, pacifism, and practical politics. The contrast between the perpetually yelling Hermes and Guiscard, and the calm Zaganos and Louis (whose voice actor is great) is in a way the encapsulation of the difference between the two shows.

Direction

Both shows suffer from direction issues. In a way they suffer for exactly opposite reasons. Altair suffers from an insane pacing, which leaves one bewildered about why and how things happen. Characters enter and leave before we have a chance to understand them or their place in the story. Essentially the fact that Altair is an advertisement for the manga can be seen in the terrible pacing, which tries to cram as much material as possible into the 24 episodes. . Arslan on the other hand, has pacing that is too slow, which means we get too much Narsus, being Mr.Perfect (I dislike Narsus, don’t I?), or Hermes scowling (GGRRR GRRRR). The pacing issues in Altair ruin a bit the enjoyment of unraveling the politics behind the scenes. But at least the politics unravels. In Arslan , we go through 36 episodes to just get back were we started, Arslan and companions on a trip.

Speaking of direction, the narrator, which is a character in these shows, was a bit more useful in Altair than that in Arslan. Also despite it pacing issues, I felt Altair was able to create some set-pieces that were quite nice, more often than Arslan. That said there was only so much the direction could do with the animation the shows got.

Animation

Well to put it simply animation in both cases was not something to write home about. While there were some well animated scenes (the fight between Turghil Pasha and Rod Orm, the fights between Hermes and Daryum), in general the animation was lackluster. Massive battles are the bread and butter of these shows and neither did a good job at it. Arslan opted for using CGI graphics, and the battles ended up having a rather Total War Rome feel to them (only TWR had more model variation). Altair, perhaps wisely, eschewed that for mostly still frames and traditional animation. They both get their story across, but there is none of that wow I got from the massive battles of LOGH.

Art

While I like Arakawa’s art I felt it plain compared to that of Altair. In general the world of Altair was more colorful and varied than that of Arslan. The Turkish, and Italian Renaissance basis of the clothes showed in Altair. There were some bad choices (the naval uniforms are too much One Piece like for my taste, and the uniform of the officers of the Balt-Rhein empire too LOGH Empire style) but in general they nailed the look. In Arslan the looks are servisable, but that is about it. One of the other blog commentators said that there was something whimsical in the art of Altair, and while initially I did not like it, it came to grow on me. I believe that if Altair had the animation budget of Arslan it would had been a much more beautiful show.

Music

The Opening and Endings of Arslan and Altair were in general generic and boring. I found the second Opening of Altair the most interesting, partly due to the good direction. When it came to soundtrack, Arslan had the better one, with the track Tenchi Rai Sanka standing out and being well used in the series for memorable scenes (Sher Senani! Sher Senani!). Altair was not graced with a soundtrack that was as good. It does its job, but that is it.

Final “Feel”

Ultimately I felt that the story that Altair tried to tell was a more epic and nuanced story, in a richer world. I felt that the political principles at stake were more expansive and interesting. It is not that Arslan does not have a good question at its center (the nature of kingship). It is more that the story failed to work with it well (since Narsus, has all the answers!). To be fair, nor does Altair really do a good job fully exploring its question. Indeed it more teases it. Perhaps the biggest thing holding Altair back, is that it is an anime conceived as a advertisement for the manga, with all associated issues in pacing, characterization etc. And to be frank it does that job well. Despite my initial dislike of the manga art, I came to be interested in it. Arslan’s issue is much more fundamental. It does not know what it wants to be. Is it a story of development like “Journey to the West”, or a war and political epic like “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. This is never clear, and to be frank from some summaries I have read of the books not animated, it gets worse, with fantasy elements invading with increasing vehemence.

Thus both shows fail to reach their potential. And perhaps I ask for too much. I mean LOGH had over 150 episodes to develop a sweeping and epic tale. That would be a fair rejoinder. But not in a world with Tanya Senki (Tale of Tanya the Evil). Tanya Senki is also a political-military epic. And despite its short course of 12 episodes, tight direction gave us tale that was rich enough. Tanya proves that you can tell a good political-military epic in 12 episodes. And thus the inability of both shows to do better in double the episode length is disappointing. With that said though, I believe Altair has the promise to tell a tale worthy of LOGH down the way. Arslan less likely.

Final Scores
Characters: Altair Record of Battles: 80/100; Heroic Legend of Arslan:70/100
Plot: Altair Record of Battles:80/100; Heroic Legend of Arslan: 70/100
Art: Altair Record of Battles: 70/100 ;Heroic Legend of Arslan: 70/100
Sound-Music: Altair Record of Battles: 70/100 /Heroic Legend of Arslan: 75/100
Final:
Altair Record of Battles: 75/100
Heroic Legend of Arslan: 70/100

Posted on 28 December 2017 with categories: Anime Reviews, Reviews by SuperMario

“How many decades have passed since our drinking contest?”
“It hasn’t been that long. It was only a few hours ago, this very night!”
That gap in time perceiving plays a significant role in Night is Short. For you see, it all depends on how our perception of the surroundings and time itself can affect our lives. In Night is Short, time runs much slower for those who enjoy life and speed itself up for those who afraid to live. Come our main protagonist, a “black-haired maiden”, an unnamed red-dress girl who keeps walking on, enjoys the night and let life lead her way. She runs through a seemingly endless night and encounters many absurd events: the wedding, the drinking contest, the bookfair, the guerrilla stage theatre and the massive cold outbreak and many random plot threads crammed in together. As a narrative line, like its protagonist, Night is Short’s never content to stay in one place for too long. It’s decided messy, full of random events with colorful, exxergarate cast and very loose animation. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to consider Night is Short as a spiritual concessor of The Tatami Galaxy, so those who already love the 2010 series will have a lot to enjoy here.

One factor you should expect, and I rather consider this as the film’s most detriment factor, is that it share the same spirits with the Tatami Galaxy. Written by the same author Tomihiko Morimi (which I happened a big fan of), and the distinctive visionary of Masaaki Yuasa (which arguably the best working anime director right now), Night is Short shares the same visual style, happens in the same universe, has the same simple character designs and even uses many of the show’s previous casts. The familiar in the look, the settings and the tone make it hard not to consider them as a companion piece, or a little brother of The Tatami Galaxy. Thankfully, Night is Short does just about enough to stand out on its own. Even without the knowledge of Morimi’s previous novels (the Tatami Galaxy, the Eccentric Family), you will able to enjoy the ride since those references never distract the flow of this hectic adventure.

As you can probably guess from the works of Morimi, this magical-realism Kyoto settings never fails to bring wonders and enjoyment. Every single setting, from the interior night bar, to the night book fair, to the river at night, have a warm, distinct feel to it that make it brimming with so much life. The magical-realism feel not only limited to the remarkable settings, however, but to the whimsy, over the top characters with exaggerated movements and the randomness, directioness of all the events crammed in together. If I have a word for it, it would be “randomness in a structured way”. Interior places that seem much bigger than their external appearances, time that is warped to be much longer than it is supposed to be. Characters who self-proclaimed as the god of whatever childish thing they can think of. Various mysterious folktales about their own cultural products. Night is Short is proud and obsessed of its own magical world, and be pretty happy to flood us with those details like a mother can’t stop praising about her child.

The animation of Night is Short, as pretty much expected from the legendary Yuasa, is distinctive and expressive. His loose animation style allows characters to be very lively with smooth animation to boost. While some might argue his style can be too much to take in, and it is certainly the case here, it fits the narrative well with a clear direction (I would argue EVERY decision he made has its merits), couple with nice shot-compositions, overwhelming use of color, and breathtaking cinematography make Night is Short a top-notch, albeit a bit for acquainted taste, production of the year. Most of the movie’s charm is hidden in visual language, as Yuasa plays around, experiments visual metaphors and symbolism in large amount of scenes. One certain visual thread that caught me completely off guard, for example, is the stage musical act. Great music aside, the various plays are displayed with a strong and keen direction that furthers blown me away on how confident Yuasa approached those scenes.

The characters, in addition, make up the most out of their screen time and they are certainly the biggest strength of Night is Short. We have 10 plus characters all running around at all times, but each of them is memorable and full-of-live, and the way they keep bumping into each other make a nice chemistry across the board. Most of them are absurd and weird, but they feel like they live in the picture, have their own hearts and run wild free all for themselves and many of them are surprisingly deeper than they initially appeared at first. But by spending too much time to flesh out such a large cast, the main protagonists, namely the Black-haired maiden and the unnamed male lead have little time to develop as much as they could. I can totally get behind the maiden since she’s the spirit of the film, but the same can’t be said to the male lead as I don’t think he deserve the attention Night is Short clearly intent him to be.

In fact, like Tatami Galaxy, viewers can find themselves overwhelming most of the time. Overwhelming by the rapid-fire dialogues, overwhelming by the hectic random adventures, overwhelming by crazy animation that keep pushing the boundary, overwhelming by excessive characters that too weird and absurd to sometimes take them seriously. But all that overwhelming feeling is the point of Night is Short. The movie is an examination of pulling out the maximum of our lives, in the spirit of our black hair maiden. The seemingly random events, the coincidental meetings with new people all point to the theme that all these things might be tied by the famous red string of fate.

All in all, Night is Short is an extraordinary mess of an experience. It’s a movie that I know I will enjoy multiple times because I love absolutely everything about it: its world, its characters, its tones, its central messages. Think of the movie as a companion piece to Tatami Galaxy (instead of comparing them together). Every single second is filled with passion and attention to details, as a result it has undeniable charms and unique imagination. Night is Short is ultimately a celebration of life, living life to the fullest. Let the night continues on forever, girl.

Posted on with categories: Anime Reviews, Ballroom e Youkoso, Finished Series: Sports, Reviews by SuperWooper

In the weeks leading up to the summer 2017 season, Ballroom e Youkoso was one of the most buzzed-about new series. Produced by the Production I.G. team responsible for the smash hit Haikyuu!!, and set to air on Amazon’s brand new Anime Strike service, the series had no shortage of promotion or hype behind it. All that remained was for the creative staff to carefully transfer Takeuchi Tomo’s manga to the small screen, and they mostly succeeded – at least, in conveying its individual images and moments. But sports anime have evolved beyond an upper limit of simple panel-by-panel adaptations, and in the end, Ballroom didn’t manage to keep pace with its contemporaries. While its characters deserve some praise, both for their designs and their personalities, the series is limited by shounen clichés, haphazard progression, and an inadequate sense of movement during dance competitions.

The show’s lead character is one Fujita Tatara, whose general listlessness is gradually transformed into passion after he accidentally discovers ballroom dance. Tatara’s timid nature stands in stark contrast to the more dominant personalities he encounters throughout the series, and the show makes good use of that difference to portray Tatara’s personal growth in tandem with his improvement as a dancer. Though he is initially intimidated by rival characters both aloof and hotheaded, he learns from and ultimately befriends them as the series goes along. His relationships with three girls, all of whom serve as his dancing partner for some length of time, are even more central to Ballroom’s formula. Tatara struggles with the traditional notion of male-dominated performances, and aims to cooperate with his partners as best he can. There might have been some interesting social commentary to be had here, but the show smothered that potential during its second half by pushing the idea that its protagonist ought to become a perfect leader, but never satisfactorily explaining what that meant or how to do it.

Despite some muddled goal-setting, Ballroom’s characters are fun to spend time with, and worth learning about in detail. The show frequently explores performance anxiety, feelings of inferiority and stagnation, and even digs into the dark personal lives of its cast once or twice. But more common than these positive tendencies are competition-interrupting flashbacks and clunky comments from nameless observers, which become more common and more frustrating the longer the show goes on. Even Tatara’s biggest rival, an unflappable genius by the name of Hyodo Kiyoharu, begins seeing into the heads of other dancers by the show’s end, describing exactly what they’re feeling and perfectly evaluating their performances as a stand-in for the writers. This may have been necessary, however, in light of the show’s most glaring issue – for a show about ballroom dance, there isn’t nearly enough dancing to be found.

Many of the show’s problems intensify in its second half, but its poor dance animation is more noticeable in the early episodes. Even with an eventual uptick in the number of prolonged choreographed sequences, however, the damage is done at the start, with plenty of panning stills, reaction shots, CG dancers, and speed lines instead of honest-to-goodness dancing. Audience members aren’t given a proper introduction to the sport in motion, so we have to fall back on snippets of verbal speculation about whose stamina is giving out, or whether Tatara has finally learned how to execute a proper hold. This robs several key scenes of the impact they deserve, though others are bolstered by Ballroom’s frequent use of visual metaphor during competitions. If you cut your teeth on sports anime from the 90’s or early 2000’s, these techniques may not be too bothersome, but fans of newer titles in the genre may find the lack of dynamic movement disappointing.

This aspect of the show does improve as the series draws to a close, but there’s a trade-off to be made. Several characters are marginalized to make room for a brash newcomer, and her transition from manga to anime is less than seamless. The series also succumbs to a shounen tradition with which most anime fans will be quite familiar, though for the sake of potential viewers I won’t get too specific. Still, Ballroom ends well, and my original affection for the show did return for the final episode, so there’s reason to hang in there if you’re already halfway done. There’s little hope for a season 2, based on the lack of remaining source material, but if you’re reading this in the future and a sequel has emerged, you may be wondering whether the original is worth your time. My advice: if you’re a fan of sports anime, sample three episodes and see how you like it. Otherwise, give this one a pass.

Posted on 27 December 2017 with categories: Anime Reviews, Inuyashiki, Reviews by Lenlo

Do you know what the average age of an anime protagonist is? Neither do I, but I’d wager its in the upper teens. For obvious reasons, most anime focus on high school and have high school aged protagonists with similarly aged problems. Its not often that we get a good older main character, who has to deal with more adult issues such as MonsterGreat Teacher Onizuka and Rakugo. Well, this season we can add another to this list. Even with its faults, Inuyashiki‘s characters remain strong and worth watching just for them.

Lets jump in!

To start, a quick synopsis. Inuyashiki focuses on well, Inuyashiki, a middle aged salaryman who feels useless and unloved by his family. One night, he heads to the park where he and a young man named Hiro Shishigami end up in an extra terrestrial hit and run. To cover their tracks the aliens rebuild them as cyborgs! These new bodies destroy their sense of humanity, and in the ensuing weeks the two must rediscover what it means to be human! Watch as their ideals clash and Japan pays the price! Onto the review!
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Posted on with categories: Anime Reviews, Juuni Taisen, Reviews by SuperMario

With a battle royale concept about 12 Chinese Zodiac warriors fighting against each other for a grand wish and penned by Nisio Isin, Junni Taisen had a lot of high expectation from the anime fandom. We’re pretty much guaranteed to have colorful larger-than-life characters, creative killings, cool lines and exciting battle sequences. The involvement of Nisio suggested that the show might be a tad bit talkier, focus more on characters instead of the overall battle and it could be a deconstruction to the battle royale premise. Well, in the end, Juuni Taisen isn’t what you expect it would be, but not for good reasons. What we have instead is a half-baked story that never quite spend enough time for its cast, a plot that has too much flashback and too little present plot-progress and a production that falls apart like a mutilated zombie.

In order to understand how Juuni Taisen structured the way it was, it’s best to look into their own backstory. Juuni Taisen is an adaptation of a Light Novel that served as a prequel to an one-shot manga about granting one’s wish (my thanks to the commenter who pointed it out), as a result, with the winner pretty much known and the basic groundwork about the Zodiac Wars already established, Nisio decided to narrate the Zodiac War in the reserve-order of the Zodiac signs, as well as its death order. Which comes to straight to the first issue of Juuni Taisen, it becomes predictable that kill half the fun of the battle royale concept. “Predictable” isn’t the same as bad, I must add. But my issues lie in the fact that this tournament doesn’t need to be predictable. Unless you have a sound reason to kill the Zodiac Warriors in that order (which the show doesn’t), it makes no sense whatsoever to rely on such arrangement.

Which also comes to my second point, if viewers come to Juuni Taisen expect a spectacular, brainless action show, they will bound to be disappointed. The fight sequences are decided short and anticlimactic. The pacing doesn’t flow very well because sometimes it spends too much time on flashbacks. There is a significant chunk in the middle part where the present-day moves so little it adds nothing to advance the plot. The huge amount of flashback, its talky nature and the decision to focus on one character per episode mean that Juuni Taisen is more a character-driven piece than action-oriented.

In fact, memorable and colorful characters are Juuni Taisen’s greatest assets. They are not particular deep but they all stand out in their own ways and fit to the narrative of this show like a glove. At its best, Juuni Taisen can develop characters with heart and soul, characters who we can identify and root for. The female cast, in particular, all are developed just about enough for us to care and still want more from them. Chicken, Monkey and Tiger’s stories all have their tragic side that make them utterly relatable. At its worst, Juuni Taisen can ponder too long to the flashbacks that halt the story progression, and worse add next to nothing on what we already know about the characters (hello Snake and Dragon) or too short that we don’t have time to learn more about them (Horse’s flashback is entirely about him trying to enhance his physical body. Dog’s flashback, likewise, is all about his strategy). In the last episode when the show spends some more time to flesh out the entire cast by having Rat asked them about their wishes, it hits home again because those characters are vibrant enough to lighten up the show.

Judging Juuni Taisen in a story department, in the end I consider this story branch fairy weak and uninteresting. Since this is a story about Rat as a protagonist it comes as a given, but I would love to see the retake of other possibilities as I still believe many characters still aren’t developed to their full potential. Not only the characters, but the settings and the implication that powerful people use the Zodiac War as a real-world proxy war are under-explored. For example, the tournaments that occur every 12 years sound nice in concept but inadequate in practice, because it suggests that the tournaments only happen in one animal sign only. Running through the series I still don’t know for sure how popular the Zodiac War is to the common people. If this War is supposed to be a Warrior’s pride then the show fails to develop it properly too.

Aside from the plot progress of the current tournament, the Warriors’ flashbacks usually fall neatly into 2 extreme settings: their mundane normal lives (Monkey, Sheep, Tiger, Rat) as a way to show those Warriors as normal people, and the battlefield (Boar, Chicken, Sheep, Horse, the twins, Tiger, Bull) where it serves to underline our characters as Warriors. Juuni Taisen seems to have a cynical attitude towards the war. War does affect badly to some of our warriors, and the violence of war is sudden and cruel, but that’s the world they live in so they have to accept and make the most out of it. You see, its central message isn’t really profound, or plausible, but I suggest don’t delve too deep into that because Juuni Taisen doesn’t seriously care about it either. All the show cares is to displaying those characters with different viewpoints and attitudes about war and the violence it brings.

Graphinica studio is mostly known as a CG anime studio, and with Juuni Taisen as their first full hand drawn project, it does hint us something about the production values of this show. For the first few episodes, the production was solid with some dynamic fight sequences, but as the show goes on it starts to fall apart with off-model characters, clunky animation and overall unattractive aesthetic. The character designs, on the other spectrum, is so outrageously ridiculous and over the top they stand out as one of the most memorable feature in the series. I would never forget a character with stripper suit, a bunny tail and a high heel. As a whole, Juuni Taisen is decidedly not an action campy show it allures people to be, and that’s not often for its benefits. But still, I would recommend Juuni Taisen to other viewers, since it can provide many deliciously striking sequences, memorable dialogues with its memorable cast. You will have a delicious – if a bit uneven – time, just don’t expect a full-blown action show or a solid show with deep message.

Posted on 26 December 2017 with categories: Currently Watching:, Houseki no Kuni

And this phenomenal anime has come to an end, at least for now. This finale is pretty much a calm before the big arc coming up, and further solidify the extend Phos has been growing so far. Well, Houseki isn’t very subtle on this by showing the parallel between this finale and the first episode. Again, we have the meeting between Phos and Cinnabar as the emotional chord, now with Phos’s offering the new job to their Crimson friend. Again, mirroring the very first sequence of the show  we have other Gems calling out for Phos to meet Kongou-sensei. While in the first episode Phos was lying on the grass doing basically nothing, this time they’re standing at the edge of the cliff and clearly have a goal in mind. It comes to a full circle, which is kind of appropriate for a heavily-Buddhism theme like Houseki. Many viewers might consider this ending anticlimactic, but I really like the steady progression of how the story unfolds and particularly how Phos has matured slowly but firmly since the start of the season. Even Phos reflects on the change with sad sentiment, a loss of innocence that they will never go back to the way they were before. This is one of the most well-developed anime character arc I have seen in awhile. Well done Houseki.

But not only Phos, this episode also shines on bringing other Gems to light with many hints of their backstory, while further highlights their colorful personalities with surprisingly relatable traits. Take Padparadscha for example, the beautiful Swiss-cheese holes Gem just waking up, having a walk at the shore and then falling back to sleep all too soon, but they sure catch up well with the situation and leaves a lasting impact. They’re the one who give Phos a much-needed advice: keep their composure and be mindful with their actions. Adding to that wise advice is the way he wears the uniform: loose shirt, uneven pair of socks and cool demeanor make him a total winner to me. But even Alex (Lexi), Zircon and Yellow Diamond all give their own stories that rooted deep in their insecurities when it comes to their roles and the fear of losing their dear comrades. Phos, on that note, had experienced both those issues, but it becomes apparent this time that the other Gems also have experienced them in some degrees too. Alex determines to learn all about the Lunarians as a reminder that they took Chrysoberyl away (the way they love trivia and cosplay Kongou sensei, by the way, are awesome). Zircon, on the other hand, feels deeply nervous around Bort, and their insecurities of having Phos surpassed him despite being the same age.

The biggest hint about the Lunarians comes from Phos’ attempt to isolate one of the Lunarian and try to talk to the figure. The Lunarian’s eyes come back into focus, or to put it better, they regain conscious. They even mutter something before got swept away by the toxic of Cinnabar. This makes me thinking what if the Lunarians are mind-controlled as well, just like the poor Admirabillis? All we know at the moment is the Admirabillis were captured and lose their consciousness in the Moon land, and the Gems are systematically controlled by Kongou-sensei, so it’s reasonable to assume the same fate with the Lunarians? Kongou-sensei obviously is the key to open the door full of secrets here, although Phos’ current decision to come over the Moon to see their side of story is a very logical move. After the Moon, the next target should be the Snails, right?

I still can’t put my finger on how much Phos still remembers Cinnabar and their promises, but it sure isn’t a good sign that Phos starting to lose their memories and Houseki suggests that as time goes on, when Phos loses more of their body parts, they will no longer have those important memories too. But their last encounter brings a lot of raw emotions to the forefront. Cinnabar still leans on what Phos promise, every single word of it, and the scene where they ran off Phos and showed their vulnerability speaks volume considering how they tend to avoid showing any emotions towards other Gems. It’s a hard job, and not necessary a rewarding one, where they team up with Phos to offer an opinion, or rather a contrasting opinion. I’m looking forward to see how the outcast duo will fare when they go up to the Moon for an enlightment.

Overall, what a ride! While I still bemoan for Houseki ending too soon and we have to wait for a certain amount of time for the sequel to come, if ever, I would definitely say that Orange studio had succeeded on their gambles of using fully computer generated to the entire show. The animation is dynamic and inventive, the visual is striking with symmetrical visual, moody color palette and the comedy is unexpectedly slapstick-y that somehow fit the tones of this little gem. Houseki is a treasure and I really hope they greenlit for the second season. This story is deserved to receive a full adaptation. The Gems must live on.

Posted on with categories: Currently Watching:, Girls' Last Tour

I am glad that this little dark moe show that mostly flies under the radar in this Fall 2017 ended in a high note, and Girls’ Last Tour has been really consistently solid to begin with. This is a fitting ending for a slice of life show like this, further reconfirming many elements that make Girls’ Last Tour stand out in the first place: its intriguing world setting, the bond between our two girls Chi-chan and Yuu, and still manages to surprise us in many ways. The only element was missing in this last episode is, surprisingly, its laid-back slice of life theme. This finale takes a look back to the past where humanity was still dominant, then to the present with those no-leg white caterpillar turn mushroom creatures, while at the same time give those girls a push to realize the importance of each other in their lives.

This first half is easily my favorite chapter of Girls’ Last Tour. As the girls taking pictures of themselves, the camera’s automatically syncing with the big screens and all sort of pictures, and videos from the past come into play. The girls obviously don’t aware much about those old storages, so it’s a nice surprise for them to witness the old world, the traditions, the people that no longer exist in the world. It’s a whole world’s history that play in front of the them: a group of girls presenting their latest project, a newborn baby, a sport event, the ongoing war… and the toss and mix between the tones of those events that gather a grand and epic feeling to the girls, and to us the audiences as well. Here I must compliment the precise editing of Girls’ Last Tour. Those video segments from the past play out seemingly out of order, but they hold the emotions very well, even the music helps strengthen the feeling. Those videos play a nice contrast to this wasteland the girl’s living right now. Full of people, full of life with vibrant colors in contrast with this dull, grey world, but in essence the dull world is one part of the rainbow color that makes life so interesting and full of wonders.

The second part focuses on the new creatures that appear out of the blue, swallow whole Yuu. At that point of time Chi-chan has to experient the important of losing Yuu in her life. Those creatures turn out do not look for human flesh, but rather the energy left over after the human race destroyed itself. Their objective is to swallow and “clean up” all the remnants of warfare, and effectively put the world into an inactive state, and that will be the new state of the world (they need to destroy all the bads before resetting the world again), albeit at the cost of the human race, and our two girls in particular, who were deemed as the last human on Earth by their calculation.

Those creatures transform into a flying Mushroom is weird but pointed criticism towards the consequences of war (Mushroom smoke anyone?). They are, after all, the very product of the destruction the human race had left behind. Their companion Cut is gone way too soon too, and now, with nothing better to do except knowing full well that the world is going to be destroyed, the girls confirm their bond to each other and continue on with the journey to the highest level. I had never expected Girls’ Last Tour to be this consistently great so it was a nice surprise for me and I love every moment watching and blogging this under-the-radar show. Amidst the post-apocalyptic hopeless world, the girls prove once again that all you need to do to survive is enjoying the little things in life and keep moving on.

Posted on 24 December 2017 with categories: Seasonal Previews

We reach years’ end and looking over it we got a pretty good year of anime. Quite a lot that I actually need to catch up on and this winter season might give me a chance to do so. I don’t mean to say this upcoming season is bad, but rather it’s just looking to be a season full of shows that don’t appeal to me personally. There is a large portion of slice of life feel-good anime here which isn’t really to my tastes. Even without that, we just came off what I consider to be a pretty great season of anime so anything after that is going to be a step down no matter what you do.

Anyway let’s lay down the ground rules. Naturally I checked out all the source material I could so I can give you all an idea of what we are in for. Vote for as many shows you like in the poll below and the writers will use that as a guide for what shows to cover.

Which series should we cover for the 2018 Winter Season?
1635 votes · 0 answers
vote

Let the games begin.

The sequels/Shorts I don’t care about

25-sai no Joshikousei (short)

Ashita wa Doyoubi

Basilisk: Ouka Ninpou Chou

Dagashi Kashi 2nd Season

gdgd men’s party (short)

Gin no Guardian 2nd Season

Gintama. Gin no Tamashii-hen

Hataraku Onii-san!

Kaijuu Girls 2nd Season

Mameneko

Overlord 2nd Season

Pochitto Hatsumei: Pikachin-Kit

Saiki Kusuo no Ψ Nan

Takunomi. (short)

Yowamushi Pedal: Glory Line

Zoku Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru

Series I don’t care about

Dame x Prince Anime Caravan


Studio: Studio Flad
Director: Makoto Hoshino
Script/Series composer: Naruaki Kobayashi
Source: Video Game
The story of the game follows Ani, a princess from the minor nation of Inako. Ani is sent to the signing ceremony that will bring peace to the rival nations of Mildonia, a mighty military country, and Selenfaren, a powerful theocracy. Ani is supposed to help steer the signing ceremony along, but she runs into trouble when she encounters a handful of obstinate princes.

It’s an otome game adaption, therefore it’s terrible. Now I wouldn’t be judging a book on the cover here normally but frankly I have yet to see a good otome adaption. Maybe it’s a fault with the source material or something but these anime adaptions just end up pretty bad. This most certainly looks to be falling into the same pitfalls as its predecessors. Director of Uta no Prince-sama and Series composer did Nanoha Vivid. Sorry but I really don’t see this changing my opinion on Otome adaptations.

Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku


Studio: Silver Link.
Director: Shin Oonuna
Script/Series composer: N/A
Source: Light Novel
29-year-old programmer Suzuki Ichirou finds himself transported into a fantasy RPG. Within the game, he’s a 15-year-old named Satou. At first he thinks he’s dreaming, but his experiences seem very real. Due to a powerful ability he possesses with limited use, he ends up wiping out an army of lizard men and becomes a high leveled adventurer. Satou decides to hide his level, and plans to live peacefully and meet new people. However, developments in the game’s story, such as the return of a demon king, may cause a nuisance to Satou’s plans.

And the Isekai quota for the season is filled. Yep, this is an Isekai anime alright. Everything you would expect from one. Protagonist is transported to another world, this time no real explanation as he falls asleep at the job and bam! Isekai-ed. WIthin minutes in the world he becomes a overpowered god. Enter harem and from there it’s the escapist fantasy adventures of everyone bowing before the protagonist’s glory. I read a bit far in this one but I certainly got bored fast. The big problem with this Isekai besides the usual stuff is that it lacks any sort of direction. It’s never really made clear what the protagonist’s objective is in this world, and as the story goes along it becomes clear that there wasn’t much thought put into what the protagonist should even do in the fantasy world. Also fair warning, if the slavery aspect of Magus Bride rubbed you the wrong way then this will most definitely condemn this series. For out of the harem of girls the protagonist acquires, five of them are his literal slaves. The story goes out to say he has no intent of sleeping with them but this aspect is rather sleazy nonetheless. We got the director of Baka no test, Prisma Illya, A sister’s all you need, Watamote and Ef. Certainly a divisive portfolio. Unless you happen to like Isekai no matter what I wouldn’t recommend this, and even then I am sure your Isekai fix is satisfied with Overlord 2.

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Posted on 23 December 2017 with categories: Finished Series: Adventure/Fantasy/Science Fiction, Inuyashiki

Welcome everyone to the finale of Inuyashiki! Its been quite the roller coaster to get here, filled with sympathetic serial killers and interesting philosophical questions. So lets jump in, one last time!

To start off, I want to talk about Hiro, and his ending. I’ll get into the asteroid nonsense later, for now I want to focus on Hiro. As one of the main characters, arguably the one with the most screen time, Hiro deserved a good ending. For the most part I think he got it. His meeting with Ando, up to the Asteroid, showed what he really is. A scared child dealing with the existential question of humanity. At the end, all he wanted was to take care of those close to him, to spend time with them, to protect them. He protected Ando by dealing with his bullies, he protected Shiro by stealing money and by trying to end his war with the police. What he did was terrible, there are no excuses, but you can understand why. In his final meeting with Ando, he just wanted to spend time with his friend, not realizing or not accepting that his actions had destroyed that friendship. It’s beautiful and the complete opposite of Inuyashiki.

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