Posted on 30 July 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Finished Series: Mystery/Suspense, Reviews by Lenlo, Serial Experiments Lain, Throwback Thursday

Serial Experiments Lain is weird. It is a series unlike any other, wholly unique in anime, both modern and historical. Every aspect of it, from presentation to narrative, is best described as an experience. It is because of this that I believe Lain is a must watch, if only to experience a piece of anime history. That said, Serial Experiments Lain can hardly be said to be an “enjoyable” series. It is certainly evocative, Serial Experiments Lain will bring about emotions and force you to confront reality in a unique way. But I at least did not end the series thinking I would watch it again anytime soon, and this density will no doubt be off putting for many. However while these may keep it out of my favorites, it is without a doubt worth your time. Lets go.

(Disclaimer: I am working to make 50 the new “average”. 70 is not an average score people. 70 is above average. Carry on.)

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Posted on 18 July 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Reviews by Armitage

You’re walking along in your neighborhood, going about your daily routine. It’s a fine morning. The sun is shining brightly. But suddenly, you see something strange. You squint your eyes; even rub them, to make sure it isn’t a mirage before exclaiming with excitement, “Oh, look. It’s a bird. No, it’s a plane! No no. It’s a…penguin?”

That is how this particular morning started for young Aoyama, who is the perfect embodiment of a child you would call wicked smart. Smarter than almost everybody in his class. Barring maybe Hanamoto-chan, but Aoyama considers her a bit too complacent. He is a self-proclaimed pupil of science. A true man of research. Well, actually just about 3681 days short of being a man (he keeps count), but you get what I mean. He is secretly in love with the dentist woman. Who is much older but that doesn’t bother him. His love isn’t the sexual kind. Yes, he does think about her breasts 30 mins a day but that’s for relaxation purposes. His sole reason for visiting the dental clinic is so as to get to talk with her for a little while.

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Posted on 5 July 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Finished Series: Action, One Punch Man S2, Reviews by Lenlo

Often at the start of one of these reviews, I will wax philosophical about a series. Attempting to slowly draw you, the reader, in to whatever topic or anime I am discussing in that review. This time, none of that. This time, I have to come out and say from the beginning, that One Punch Man Season 2 is terrible. Though there are a few occasional gems throughout the series, thanks to one Kenichiro Aoki, most of the series is a mess. On every level. This review won’t even be comparing One Punch Man Season 2 to the original, as that is just unfair. Even if you didn’t like it, in terms of pure production, the first season was on the upper end. Sadly though, this 2nd Season can’t even stand up to the average show in it’s own season.

So all that said, lets get right into it.

(Disclaimer: I am working to make 50 the new “average”. 70 is not an average score people. 70 is above average. Carry on.)

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Posted on 26 June 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Dororo, Finished Series: Slice of Life/Drama, Reviews by Lenlo

In the modern anime sphere, getting a complete story, start to finish, is a rare thing. As is getting an adaptation for an older work. Dororo however has, through the grace of Twin Engine, managed to get both of these. Based on the 1967 manga of the same name by legendary Mangaka Osamu Tezuka, Dororo takes the viewer back to a time before tropes were commonplace. Predating Berserk by almost 20 years, with many of the same themes. A story much darker than what fit’s is original art style and time period, it truly is a series out of time. But how does this story, canceled after only 4 volumes with largely anime original content, fare in the modern anime sphere? Well, let’s dive in and find out. As always, spoilers after this point.

Let’s go!

(Disclaimer: I am working to make 50 the new “average”. 70 is not an average score people. 70 is above average. Carry on.)

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Posted on 30 April 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Finished Series: Mystery/Suspense, Paranoia Agent, Reviews by Lenlo, Throwback Thursday

In an era of the mundane, where every series is the same moe blob, the weird sticks out. Even the most mediocre series can get attention just by being weird. Paranoia Agent is not mediocre, and it is far beyond simply “weird”. Written and Directed by Satoshi Kon, Paranoia Agent is one of his last works before his untimely death. With only Paprika and Good Morning coming after it. Known for a radical style and a penchant for the odd, Satoshi Kon was an extraordinary director, unique to any other. Paranoia Agent lives up to this reputation, being unlike any other series I have ever seen. Its horror is Lovecraftian, its style chilling though as interesting as it is, this isn’t always in it’s favor. For the most part, the series is a joy, but when you try something new, it doesn’t all stick.

Welcome to Paranoia Agent, one of the hardest reviews I have ever written, lets jump in!

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Posted on 18 April 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019), Reviews by SuperMario

Just like the titular character, Boogiepop Phantom the series has become some sort of urban legend itself in this medium. Its Light Novels are amongst the first Light Novel ever released, dating back to mid-90s. Moreover, the franchise has endured the test of time, as it inspires anime, live-action adaptations and Boogiepop is a well-known face in Japan. This new version intends to adapt the Light Novels more faithfully as it goes through several arcs from the source. All in all I consider this an average adaptation to its classic source. It has tons of issues, both production-wise and character-wise, although the arcs themselves are all quite decent.

There are reasons why Boogiepop still remains in the conversation of the medium till this day. The most distinguished feature lies in its non-linear, puzzling narrative. There’s a saying of “style over substance”, but for shows like Boogiepop it’s the styles that become the substance. Introducing dozen of characters within an arc, some have more significant roles than the others, floating in and out of time, sometimes within a dream; Boogiepop’s narrative is like a jigsaw puzzle. There’s bits and pieces the show throws at us during the arc, but until the last pieces fit in, should viewers see the full picture. This narrative style demands viewers’ attention throughout, and if you miss one bit of information you might feel at a total loss, hence I can see why viewers would turn off by it. But it’s a rewarding process for those who decide to stick with it as the story starts to add up and sink in the more we explore its universe.

The very strength of this disjointed narrative is that it provides multiple points of view, each character has different issues, they have different ways to view the world and all add up to bring the multifaceted layers of this universe. I also appreciate how each characters have different goals in mind, even the ones who don’t contribute much to the main plot like repressed homosexual feeling from one character in “Vs. imaginator” arc, or Makoto’s feeling of his father in “The King of Distortion” arc. They might not be relevant to the events of the arcs they are in, but they all speak to the same theme that Boogiepop trying to address since the first episode…

And that theme is adolescent growth. In Boogiepop universe, there are supernatural beings that exist beside us. These supernatural beings, however, are products of teenagers’ insecures. People’s fear and myth that form a physical manifestation of these beings. While I certainly approve this underlying message, the way Boogie presents these themes are both obvious and hazy at the same time. As for the former, the speech between Suema and Aya Orihata in “Vs. Imaginator” arc when Orihata about to jump off the balcony are way too heavy-handed when Suema tries to explain the whole “what does this series mean” speech to convince her not to jump. On the opposite spectrum, sometimes this underlying message can be too unclear and pretentious for its own good. I still can’t make heads or tails what progress Shiro Tanaka the Archer been through in the last arc since there’s little to no emotional attachment whatsoever. Indeed, this is the main weakness of Boogiepop, it’s more interest at being intriguing and not much about building up emotions or characters we can care for.

Boogiepop consists of 4 different arcs and an unusual 18 episodes airing. Out of these arcs I would say that the first arc “Boogiepop doesn’t laugh” is its worst (and the premiere isn’t the good way to introduce the show), not because the source isn’t strong, but it condenses the plot to much it becomes too linear for the show’s nature. Take note that none of these arcs are bad, they are messy, yes, but they all hold up well at the end and they bring the right atmosphere to the show. The only issue I can point out, is the visual where sometimes the characters go off-model, and CG crowds that stand out like a sore thumb. The score is at least intriguing and unusual. It uses electronic score with sometimes just stop abruptly in the middle of conversations, which again bring out the off putting nature of Boogiepop.

Finally, as I mentioned briefly before, the characters unfortunately isn’t the show’s strong suit. Part of it because of the disjointed narrative, and part of it because there are no real protagonist in this show. That is the reason why “Boogiepop at Dawn” arc fares so well because Nagita is the clear main character who drives the events. The worst of the cast, unfortunately, is Touka Miyashita. We learn little to nothing about her own character (except from she having a family issue as well) and for the character who supposed to be a vessel for the titular character, this is just not enough. Boogiepop is a mess, Boogiepop is emotional distance, Boogiepop can be frustrating to watch at times but its puzzle-like narratives can sink in and be rewarding for those who have enough patience.

Posted on with categories: Anime Reviews, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai, Reviews by SuperMario

Coming to Kotobuki, there are lots of aspect that catch my attention: it’s from a famed director Tsutomu Mizushima who can turn the most trashable and genre-able concepts into something intriguing; it’s an CG show about air pilots: it has extended aerial combat set-pieces. Watching it till the end, I have to tip my hat off to Mizushima. Kotobuki certainly isn’t for the mass, nor does it ever intend to, but there’s always a clear sense that this version of Kotobuki is how Mizushima envisioned it to be. For the strengths of it are pretty clear, at the cost of its own narrative, its characters’ depth or any thematic context. The thing is, I believe this show is a success, as it fulfills all goals that it set out to do. As for those of you who didn’t follow the show, Kotobuki is about the titular Squadron, an air fighter team for hire to protects goods from air pirates and the likes. As with his previous Girls und Panzers, Kotobuki spends a good chunk of its time for the CG aerial combats. It also benefits on a tongue-in-cheek style where the show pretty much eschews all the tropey conversations we usually find in anime for more realism and natural take. Lastly, Kotobuki favors small characters dynamics as opposed to conventional developments, as the result it might not have any deeper layer, the characters might not feel that developed, they are still a constant fun to watch.

I figure that at the end of the day Kotobuki will mostly remembered for their extended CG aerial combats. Those set-pieces usually take up half the length of an entire episode, but to its credits the show makes it with styles. The lengthy aerial dogfights are well choreographed, the CG animation looks realistic and most of all, the sound designs are sublime. Whenever the bullets hit the plane, for example, we can hear the metal sound. That CG visual comes with a cost, however. The characters animation looks stiff and in some case, their facial expression and the way their heads move stick out like a sore thumb. Narrative-wise, the plot moves really straight-forward. Since it has a length flight sequences, the rest doesn’t feel flesh out enough. There are so much else that I want to know more, such as the dessert world building or the characters.

Another feature that differentiate Kotobuki show from the rest is its rapid fire dialogues in a casual manners. Right at the very first shot, we get that very sense. Characters go on and on in random topics, most of the dialogues are unimportant or have nothing to do to advance the plot or deepen the characters. So why include these lengthy conversations then? It is because it feels natural. Characters bounce off each other seamlessly, and they feel as if they’re belong to this very world. It’s also fun to see these characters having their own speech patterns, their own way of speaking and behaving interact with each other. It helps that Kotobuki’s smart enough to follow up those mini-conflicts with their own tempo (one such example: the drawing girl reappears in the Big battle to give the disloyal guy hell). The Squadron cast, like I said, doesn’t flesh out that much, but they all have their own distinctive personality traits, and Kirie or Reona can still carry the show by their own.

I’m not really sold on the final conflict, as I see the “holes in the sky” subplot kind of comes out from nowhere. But apart from that the show ties up its plot threads nicely. Kotobuki might not be a great show, but it never aims itself as one, instead it enjoys itself thoroughly.

Posted on with categories: Anime Reviews, Kemurikusa, Reviews by SuperMario

Kemurikusa is your very definition of an overlooked gem, one that never really gain much discussion anywhere, but one that has a distinctive style from an up-and-coming auteur who has full control of his projects. Coming to Kemurikusa, all the attention it has came from the fact that it is created by TATSUKI, a mastermind behind global surprise hit Kemono Friends, in a season where the actual sequel of Kemono Friend also aired. While at the end Kemurikusa would never achieve the crossover status TATSUKI’s previous anime had reached, in an essence Kemurikusa is his more personal, more ambitious and overall a better one. It was his indie project back in 2012 for one thing, and throughout these years he consistently released short OVAs that help fleshing out the world. Kemurikusa’s style is so distinctive that it brings a fair share of goodies and baddies. Naysayers often point out the clunky level of CG animation style, but for me the production values look rather impressive.

It’s no wonder that with the amount of attention to details TATSUKI has over this project, the intriguing post-apocalyptic world building remains its biggest selling point. The Kemurikusa concept, about artificial energy and its variations based on the colour concept are highly-detailed, and add up to the mysteries of this world. It helps that we start through the point of view of Wakaba and the Kemurikusa girls, and they are as clueless as the audiences. Watching all the secrets unfold is like letting the worldbuilding sink in more and more. Episode 11, in particular, is a one big flashback that not only explains the current events, but also helps exploring the richness of the world that for me rank it amongst the most well-written settings in anime in years. In addition, the show successfully delves into the origin of Kemurikusa girls and their attributes with satisfying explanations that help deepening its concept.

Production-wise, Kemurikusa is unique. It’s something that you don’t see very often in this medium, if at all, in both good and bad ways. On the negative spectrum, viewers who isn’t familiar with this CG style might pass it off as unpolished and amateurish. While I can argue otherwise, it remains true that whenever Kemurikusa depicts the “impact”, it doesn’t successfully land the force/gravity of the objects. There’s one sequence in episode 7 when Kemurikusa falling objects but it feels as if they are floating instead. In addition, the CG animation can be jerky at times. What it lacks for these production inefficiencies, it more than makes up by its attention to details to the backgrounds, the strong use of color palette and the score/soundtrack. There’s always little details or info in the world-building to the point you can see every bit in its world is there for a reason and  it can be satisfied to catch on multiple watches. Kemurikusa also has a strong penchant for bathing its world with strong blue tone mix with red mist. The result is a world with strong personality that says so much about the show itself. Lastly, the score remains solid throughout. It isn’t flashy by any mean, but it fits very well to the tone of this world.

The characters are mixed-bag. While they have very clear set of goals with established personalities (it says a lot that with limited screen-time the Kemurikusa sisters still manage to leave their marks) and at the end I legitly care for all of them, the dialogues in particular can be grating at times. Wakaba is super-annoying at the start that he was a turn-off point for many viewers, but he gets better as Kemurikusa goes. At heart, Kemurikusa is an adventure show with a keen sense of hopelessness. The world is in total destruction. Everywhere the girls go, the are red bugs that cause further damage. There’s absolutely no signs of life at all. It is then fitting that Rin has to say goodbye to the sisters in order to reach the final destination. Well, TATSUKI’s aesthetic isn’t for everyone and can take some time to get used to, but there’s no denying that his works have their own charms and the world he created here is simply impressive.

Posted on 5 April 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Finished Series: Slice of Life/Drama, Mob Psycho 100 II, Reviews by Lenlo

Upon finishing this series, the only question on my mind was how many animators did Bones sacrifice on ONE’s altar to achieve this. Following their prior season, Mob Psycho 100 Season 2 continues Bones adaptation of webcomic and manga author ONE’s 4th work, Mob Psycho 100. ONE has also authored the critically acclaimed One Punch Man series, redrawn for Shonen Jump by Yusuke Murata, and was later also adapted to anime by Studio Madhouse. Both were fantastic, and both pushed the envelope in terms of animation for TV anime. Following these up was no easy task. And yet, somehow, some way, Studio Bones did just that. They created an anime that you can find, almost in its entirety, on Sakugabooru. A blog dedicated to beautiful animation. But is there any substance, any depth, to what that animation portrays? Let’s find out.

Welcome to Mob Psycho 100 S2, lets jump in!

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Posted on 3 April 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai, Reviews by SuperWooper

Anime draws on many different media types in its endless search for properties to adapt, but manga is still the king of the bunch. And why not? It’s a distinctly Japanese art form, their main demographics have significant overlap, and manga’s panel-based layout means that some of the anime staff’s work is already done. Plenty of adaptations stick very closely to their manga counterparts (hopefully out of respect for the original), but some receive bold reinterpretations. Kaguya-sama doesn’t go quite that far, but under the guidance of director Mamoru Hatakeyama, it does manage to take on a life beyond that of its source material. Hatakeyama’s work on screwball comedies with Studio Shaft near the start of the decade gave him an eye for tricky camera positioning and outrageous character expressions. Since the show came to a conclusion several days ago, I’ve been skimming the manga and noticing the ways in which he embellished scenes by making full use of the student council room, where at least half the anime takes place. This is probably why that environment is rendered using cel-shaded 3D models, since it would allow extra freedom in deciding which angle of the room to capture.

Kaguya-sama’s move to television works to its benefit in plenty of other ways, as well. Its comic timing is terrific – I vividly remember the moment when a dump truck unloaded a towering pile of flowers directly onto Kaguya’s head. The slow, quiet manner in which the petals piled around her sold not just that scene, but a whole seven-minute segment. Things get loud when they need to, as well, with each battle of wits between Kaguya and Shirogane feeling more critical than the next. The show’s use of bright red and blue backgrounds (representing the two main characters) and urgent string accompaniments pushes their mental matches to absurd heights, only to bring them crashing down when fan favorite Fujiwara unwittingly interferes. Special mention must also be made of the series’ stellar casting, which put newcomer Aoi Koga in the lead role and reaped immense rewards as a result. Her blend of haughtiness and vulnerability made Kaguya my favorite character by a mile, but the other student council members had great actors behind them, as well. Even Ishigami, who I wasn’t originally fond of, found his stride once Ryouta Suzuki embraced the bitter, world-weary nerd at the heart of his character.

All these elements made Kaguya-sama successful as a comedy, but director Hatakeyama’s experience with drama paid off as well. Having headed up the masterful Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, he clearly knows how to frame more serious material. The two-part finale “I Can’t Hear the Fireworks,” which dug deep into Kaguya’s isolation and sorrow, is all the evidence one might require to support that claim. The moments when she reunites with her friends and realizes the depth of her affection for Shirogane are among the most heart-stopping in recent romcom history. Towering though that achievement may be, though, the blending of comedy and romance in simpler scenes also carried a kernel of drama, which was crucial in constructing a plausible on-screen relationship. Tropes like shared umbrellas and backseat bicycle rides felt more satisfying in Kaguya-sama than in other series, since Shirogane and Kaguya’s famed intellects gave way to their passion at just the right moments. Not all of these scenes were perfect – I had my reservations about a couple chapters near the end of the show’s run – but the hit-to-miss ratio favored the former by a sizable margin.

So what’s the final verdict? That’s up to each viewer to decide individually, but mine is quite positive. The comedy is clever and visually inventive, the romance is cute, and the dramatic conclusion alone is worth the price of entry. In fact, the series was so good out of the gate that my expectations went soaring for the second half, which didn’t always meet them. Still, I enjoyed my time with Kaguya-sama, and if you like shows that skillfully walk the line between silliness and sweetness, I think you will, too. It might not be on par with the Kare Kanos or Toradoras of anime, but it’s a thoughtfully-directed romantic comedy that ought to be watched by fans of the genre.

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