Posted on 30 April 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

You know, the actual goal of the orpheus order isnt’ bad at all. If they can figure out the kinks in the Orpheus bracelet and remove the parts that destroy the wearer’s brains, it could mean a very good way for humanity to evolve, and it’s certainly better than “let’s have humanity evolve by killing everyone.” It’s just that their methods are questionable, having them resort to use involuntary human guinea pigs who can easily die when things go wrong.

Also, this episode broke up the formula that the first episodes tried to set already: Gammon prevented his sister from getting brainwashed. Still, you could say that this all was part of the plans in order to challenge Kaito to a puzzle. This episode pretty much failed for the Orpheus order, because the reason why Kaito nearly became “Phi Brain” was by putting him under constant stress. That’s very hard to do with five of them together like that, supporting each other. Also, this episode revealed all of their names, and they are indeed as weird as the rest of the cast. The main villain of this series is a random card game.

In any case, the bad thing of breaking up this formula is that we didn’t really get to see much more about Gammon’s sister. The most logical solution for this will be that the Orpheus order will find some other way to use her. Can they keep these methods fresh enough for the entire side-cast?
Rating: * (Good)

Posted on 23 April 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

This episode confirms that we’re first going through the cast of side-characters, beign possessed by some sort of Orpheus accessory. The beauty of this is that it makes use of this to turn even the most minor characters into interesting ones by showing their worries. This time it’s the turn for the girl member of the puzzle club.

What was cute about this episode was that for the first time in a long while the puzzle wasn’t exactly deadly. From the way things were set up, it was indeed very likely that Nonoha being a damsel in distress again was one big lie, but it’s still great to see that the creators actually went through with it. It just makes the villains much more interesting than if they were just using the same methods over and over again. And of course it was quite hilarious to have them actually dig up and steal this model kit that Kaito has in his room.

I do hope that the other members of the puzzle club will also get their episodes like this, because at the moment, they’re probably the worst characters in this series. They’re always used as plot devices and have no character on their own whatsoever. Their behavior in this episode also was just plain weird and forced. They’re minor characters, so they only make a minor impact, but it would be a good choice to see these guys improve as well.
Rating: *+ (Great)

Posted on 16 April 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

What on earth is Root Gakuen? I mean, anime often tends to exaggerate schools and all, and this IS Phi Brain. But this episode revealed just how crazy that building actually is. Why on earth was a landing platform for helicopters installed? Were the giant metal sliding doors always there? Were the creators preparing for some nuclear war or something?

In any case, the second season just revealed how it plans to top the excellent first season: brainwashing. This is something akin to handling a double-ended chainsaw: awesome and very effective if you can get it to work, but you can just as easily slice your own fingers off. This episode established the rules for how the brainwashing works, and it has a lot to do with how the Orpheus bracelet works: by accelerating and changing the brain levels of its victims. Kaitou nearly succumbed to it, so it is plausible if you change its powers a bit.

The most important part however is that it is very much hinted that while the earrings will cause you do to things you normally would never do, there needs to be a reason for this. You can’t just go “Haha! Brainwash!”, but instead the victim will need to have a reason for getting rid of Kaitou. And that will be the key of whether this series is going to work or not. Provide interesting reasons, go deep into the characters for reasons to dislike Kaitou. Combine this with a lot of good character development.

At the very least the puzzles themselves are still interesting and haven’t lost their edge and still are very creative. The soundtrack also surprised me by being actually new, and the build-up of tension still is as good as it’s ever been. This really has the potential here.

Phi Brain, you are one of the very few series nowadays who can get 50 episodes and actually deserves it. Unlike the Jump series who drag on for way too long, you actually are using your time well and are quite balanced. This is a huge chance: now live up to it and show those endless Jump shows how a shounen adventure series is properly done!
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 8 April 2012 with categories: Phi Brain, Some Quick First Impressions

Phi Brain 2

Short Synopsis: Our lead character solves puzzles.
Okay, so the big question: how on earth will the second season be able to top the first? Well, for starters it’s got a new soundtrack, the graphics got a bit of an upgrade (seriously, the budget for this series isn’t big, but the characters look really good in the shots where some time was spent on). And the new set of villains also has potential. However, these villains use two tropes that can work really well or fail miserably, depending on the execution: amnesia and brainwashing. the exact how and why of things isn’t explained in this first episode, but it was very heavily hinted that these will be major themes of the new season, in which the creators really try to get Kaito’s friends against him. This has a ton of potential, especially with Sato Junichi (who by the way changed positions a bit: he’s now the main writer of this series, instead of the director). However, whatever you do: give these characters a good reason to turn against Kaito. Don’t just do some mumbo jumbo and completely change their character for the sake of drama.
OP: Love the use of guitars. Also dying to see that scene of Nonoha with her hair down.
ED: Such a shame that they didn’t follow up on the first ED by using some other clever visual effect. This was rather all over the place.
Potential: 80%

Pretty Rythm Dear My Future

Short Synopsis: Our lead character wants to become an idol.
It probably isn’t a surprise to most, but I hate the idol culture. The concept of huge corporations dressing up ditzy girls without any sort of talent and make them sing very cheesy J-pop that is the complete opposite of my taste in music… that is one part of Japan that I have no interest in whatsoever. And yet, I don’t dislike idol anime. There are a bunch of really good ones out there, like Fancy Lala, Full Moon wo Sagashite, White Album and of course Perfect Blue. On the other hand though… there is Pretty Rythm, which embodies every reason I hate idols. This, was an incredibly cheap cash-in that overglorifies idols. It was incredibly poorly produced, the graphics, especially when the characters are turned into CG, look horrible and every single character was incredibly annoying. By far the worst offender was the main character, though. She just keeps whining and whining over and over again about becoming an idol. Even in this season which is full of obnoxious characters, she stands out by being among the worst of them. “Baby… Twinkle Star! It’s… New World!”
ED: Very bad J-Pop
ED: “Who cares about animation? Let’s just advertise some random idol group of ours!”
Potential: 0%

Nazo na Kanojo X

Short Synopsis: Our lead character gets to date a cute girl.
Okay yes: I have a bias against series with a lot of moe. That played a big part in why I didn’t like Accel World and Sankarea, but this is a genre that has annoyed me so often by now. However, I do give all of these series a chance, and let it be known with this series that I’m more than willing to set this bias aside when the content is actually really good. At first sight Nazo na Kanojo X was a recipe for disaster. I don’t care if the manga was supposed to be good: the porn producers of Hoods could have easily turned this into this bore-fest solely dedicated to the people with a drool fetish. But they actually did it: they took the source material seriously and delivered a very fun and especially weird first episode. The drool doesn’t matter: the two leads play quite well off each other and actually bring something unique to the shounen romance genre. Also, this is a season with a lot of good soundtracks (Lupin, Fate/Zero, Kuroko, Zetman), but surprisingly this one turned out to have the best.
ED: Such a good soundtrack, and then they bring in such an annoying vocalist for the ED.
Potential: 80%

Posted on 6 April 2012 with categories: Anime Reviews, Phi Brain

Apologies for the delay on this review, but I first wanted to get all of the new episodes this season done. Phi Brain was a series that many people probably quickly discarded. It started really silly, and the entire premise takes a lot of suspense of disbelief to accept: “yeah, there is this kid who has to solve puzzles in order to battle this evil organization”. Most of the early episodes just consist out of Kaitou (the male lead) solving a bunch of puzzles.

Now, the puzzles are obviously a very big part of this series. If you can look past the silly premise, then you’ve got a series that can be quite creative when it comes to the puzzles that it throws at its main cast. The show actually presents its big puzzles so that the viewer can try to solve them himself, but only if he uses the pause button in the middle of each episodes. The characters in this series are usually very fast when it comes to solving puzzles, and it’s impossible to take everyone into account here. At a certain point int he series this series turns its puzzles into 1-on-1 battles anyway.

In any case, those who did keep watching were rewarded in the character department, because as soon as this show starts developing its character (I’d say with the arrival of Rook, around episode 10), it never stops. Kaitou in particular grows into a very sympathetic character, and the side characters all work around him, and all of them have a good backstory with especially good reasons for their actions. The creators actually convinced me that the entire premise was at least partly plausible. There are times when this show gets a bit too sappy, but the majority was really well directed and had this great combination between action and characterization.

Were the first episodes wasted then? Nah, they’re just silly. Beyond that are very creative puzzles and good stories, although this series does have its points where it completely ignores all of Newton’s laws. The characters are all enjoyable as well, and especially Gammon stands out in his quirky antics as not your ordinary rival.

Visually this series mostly stands out in its designs. Both the puzzles as the characters look unique. The actual animation of the characters is very inconsistent, but it’s nothing special or bad. The music is very well done, though.

This remains a shounen series, and it loses points for being a bit too sappy at times, but this nevertheless this was a very interesting attempt to do something different with the genre that is usually nothing but people throwing superpowers at each other. With some damn good characterization I do recommend this if you’re looking for something in that direction.

Storytelling: 8/10 – Well storyboarded and manages to make solving puzzles fun.
Characters: 9/10 – There is a surprising amount of depth to these charcters, which especially manifests in the second half.
Production-Values: 8/10 – Great designs, decent animation, good soundtrack.
Setting: 8/10 – Creative puzzles, but completely ignores the laws of physics at times. The whole premise of this show is also really hard to buy.

The Law of Ueki
Kaleido Star
Princess Nine

Posted on 2 April 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

Okay, so this episode broke about half of Newton’s laws and it was a bit sappy at times, but considering this series, that’s not particularly surprising anymore. What is surprising however is that this episode ended without any hint for the next season whatsoever, aside from the next episode preview. Not even a looming shot of the new villains. The preview that did show them, however, and again I still have no answer to a question I’ve been asking for weeks now: how on earth will they be able to top this?

In any case,Rook’s story finished here. I found it interesting that the creators found a creative way to use Nonoha in this episode, with her sweets and all. The most interesting part was the interplay between Kaitou and Rook during the puzzle here. One thing I really wonder is why Rook decided to leave on a journey of all things. “Yeah yeah, I’m repenting for what I did. To prove it I’ll go on a holiday…” – what?

Overall, I do think that the strange leaps in logic at times are what prevent this show from really becoming outstanding. Sure it’s about crazy puzzles and all, but the suspense of disbelief also wants something, especially when the characterization is this good.
Rating: * (Good)

Posted on 18 March 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

The reason why I was so baffled when this got a second season still stands: this show is really heading into a great ending here. Really, the series will end next week and I really would not have minded things to end this way. The only thing left now is for Rook’s final battle, and the only thing that will be left unresolved is Gammon’s storyline, who could have been easily written into this finale.

This episode really was a calm before the storm episode. And for a minute I totally forgot that this was supposed to be a shounen series. With Sato Junichi at the helm this was inevitable, but this series definitely has a ton of shoujo elements amidst the puzzle battles, and I have to say that these work really well.

Calm before the storm episodes are often boring. But really: Rook trying to have one relaxed afternoon with Kaitou just hanging out added a lot to his character. It’s a great way to flesh him out a bit right before the finale, at which he suddenly revealed that the whole “Puzzle of God” was just one huge red herring, and that it had actually already been achieved when Jin challenged Professor Pythagoras two years ago.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 11 March 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

The move to HD five years ago improved a lot for anime in terms of eye candy, but there also are drawbacks. By far the biggest is that the character designs of anime has on average become less interesting and often very similar. Of course there are exceptions, but compared to ten years ago, things look much more alike. The rise of moe and bishies certainly hasn’t helped. Overall I really like the character designs of the first half of the 200’s better, but it’s great that those exceptions are still there today, though. Phi Brain’s character designs are of the type that are very hard to animate, but the direction in this episode really made them work, and it showed how much they can do when used well despite the relatively low budget.

This episode once again was wonderful. This was the climax for Kaito’s inner struggles, and the creators came up with a great puzzle for that indeed. The cast got brought back together, and Ana’s return also worked really well. And the best thing is: we’re not even halfway yet!

I’m really puzzled as to what the second half will be about, but the more I watch this series, the more this is in a good way. I mean, at this rate the finale will wrap up the POG: Pythagoras is dead, and the finale is really set up as a battle between Kaito and Rook. I can see parallels between two other series right now: The Law of Ueki and Kaleido Star. To remain as vague as possible for the sake of spoilers, both wrapped up their first half fairly well, and then used their second half to bring in new characters, only to grow even better than they already were by developing their characters in a totally different direction. Since Sato Junichi directed one of those, I can really see the same thing happen here. At this point I just cannot fathom what that new organization is going to have to be in order to beat the POG.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 5 March 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

I really am amazed: this show was already doing incredibly well. And here it surpassed itself yet again. This episode once again was stunning, acting like there’s not going to be anything such as a sequel, and packing some awesome plot twists. I mean, this is the episode where everything comes together. Seriously, I’m not kidding when I say that Phi Brain has just become my favorite Sato Junichi series since Kaleido Star.

At my February Summary, I remember someone asking whether the puzzles in Phi Brain improved somewhat. Like, a big criticism of the first few episodes was that we as the viewer weren’t given an opportunity to solve the puzzles ourselves. And to that, I have to say: at this point, that doesn’t really matter anymore. This episode had no puzzles whatsoever. At this point it’s not about solving puzzles, especially once the puzzles changed into actual battles. Right now what’s important is how this completely warped organization exists who trains kids into puzzle solving and making machines.

Jin’s background was awesome. He really changed many times in the different flashbacks in this episode. There was a point at which I really thought that he’d be Baron Pythagoras, but with this episode that theory also seems dead. Speaking of which: him being dead was a great twist for Rook, not to mention how in the visions of the future, it was Kaitou who stood there, rather than Pythagoras who apeared in Jin’s visions.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 26 February 2012 with categories: Phi Brain

This episode… was full of flashbacks. And with that, I mean a lot of repeated scenes of previous episodes. At first I thought that this would mean that this would just end up being another build-up episode. And here it ended up being one of the most genuine episodes of this series so far. I actually got a bit teary-eyed near the end of it. Yeah.

Nonoha. She’s at the moment doing exactly what a token female who has no talent should do. Instead of just standing there and be useless, the emotional support that she’s giving Kaitou is just getting better and better. She has no talent in solving puzzles, and even if she had, she would always just remain in Kaitou’s shadow. This way though, they turned into a very engaging couple here.

The side characters too are also just getting better here. I really didn’t expect this series to head this way, but Kaitou losing himself to that bracelet of his turned out to be a wonderful central conflict of this series. Cubic and Ana also finally returned here, and I also the twist that Jin has been reduced to some vegetable state also has a lot of potential, especially for the headmaster.

There were a few weird things going on in this episode, though. First of all there were those weird spy cameras. I do admit: I kept wondering how POG kept getting such accurate footage of Kaitou, but to think that both POG and Cubic came up with these is a bit… random. Also, I do have to wonder why that headmaster was allowed to roam the POG island freely. I mean, I get that he can’t exactly leave, but with Jin on that island as well, it’s like Rook wanted the two of them to meet or something.

Oh, and POG must be very confident if their sole security is based around on solving puzzles. Heck, it’s like asking Kaitou to break in when he finds out about it…
Rating: *** (Awesome)

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