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[Review] The Legend of the Legendary Heroes

As The Legend of the Legendary Heroes ends, I guess that I’m still waiting for this series to still show me why it should be called Legendary. Twenty-Four episodes in and I can see that all of the elements for a great sequel/conclusion to this series are in place. Yet, the evidence already presented suggests that even if there is a sequel, it would not be able to adequately combine those elements into a polished final product for a variety of reasons. That said, LOLH does offer a fairly interesting cast of characters and it occasionally delivers interesting action sequences, which  makes it an above average show, if only barely.

Though he was only in like 3 episodes, Tiir was probably the best developed character in the whole series

First, the good. Some of the characters in this show are genuinely interesting, and furthermore, they actually develop over the course of the series. If you’ve been reading my posts on this series, than you probably know how much I love Ferris, and for good reason. Her development, while a little cliché, from a generally cold and sarcastic character who is scared sh*tless of her brother to a person who seemed to genuinely seemed to care for Ryner, as she continually sought to be by his side. Though the series failed to capture on some of the chemistry it generated between the two early on,  the promise they made later on in the series shows  how close they have become, and it also seemed like a pretty interesting plot point.

Both in comedy and drama, these two were top notch characters.

Unfortunately, every good interaction between these two seemed to be followed up by some side character of the week. In general, these weekly guests, if you will, seemed to take time away from the main story. If you’ve watched the show, do you remember who the hell Fiole, Toale, Salawell, or Arua are? While some of these characters, the ones still living at least, may play some sort of role in the future, do I care? No. Even some of the side characters I did care about and who received some development, like Tiir and Noa, seemed like they only showed up for one or two episodes and then disappeared for months at a time. This lack of continuity from week to week is never a good thing in my opinion.

Then there was Sion Astal. If you want to know how not to develop a character, I would suggest looking no further than this guy. Early on, the series made many interesting comparisons between him and Ryner or Riphal, by showing the differences in their moral character. Then, the series does a complete 180 by dropping what it spent 7 or 8 episodes building up to focus on Sion’s personality crisis. Though the show eventually combined the moral fiber thing with the explanation for his dual personality, this shift was far too sudden and poorly introduced for it to have any real basis in reason.

Sion's strange development almost ruined this show for me

However, the sudden jumps from one topic to another were not limited to the characters. I never really got a good idea about what the focus of this series was, or that matter I never really understood the logic behind the magic and the relics the characters used. Episode one gave the impression that the series would focus on Ryner and Ferris collecting relics and fighting monsters. Then the series seemed to shift to Ryner’s Alpha Stigma and Roland’s politics. Then there was that five or six episode stretch in the middle of the series where the show didn’t really do much at all. I will say that the last eight episodes were pretty entertaining, but the transitions from one episode to another were never handled well, and we only really got one cliffhanger.

Plus, the show never really explained to us what exactly the legendary relics were, how many of them there were, or what kind of past they had. Sure, you could infer some things from events after the fact or from the occasional flashback, but the critical information always seemed to be lacking in the moment.  Same thing applies to the magic used in this series, though to a lesser extent.

Though not mentioned anywhere else in this post, Luke is an awesome character

Perhaps the biggest issue I had with Legendary Heroes was with its pacing. From the material that was included in the series, did Legendary Heroes need to be 24 episodes long? The simple answer is no. Too much time was spent rehashing old points and flashbacks seemed like a common occurrence. During the second half of the series it seemed as though every week featured Sion trying to come to terms with his past decisions and Ferris somehow trying to reunite with Ryner. Since I assume this was a result of following the source material, I’m not really going to fault the show for including it, but did I need week after week of Ferris semi confessing to Ryner, or Sion moping for weeks on end? Again, no.

But on the flip side, this series could have easily been longer had they explained some of the unclear parts in more detail. I mean, how was Clough able to get his arm back after Tiir consumed it? How did Ryner and Ferris end back up in Roland at the beginning of episode 15? Who or what is controlling Sion? What exactly can a rule fragment do? To what lengths did Riphal go to when investigating Kiefer? Ok, that last one probably isn’t that important, but I still wanted to see it. The creators could have easily taken some of the time they devoted to the constant flashbacks and superfluous character development to flesh out these issues, but they didn’t. I’m not going to say they are lazy for doing this, but it does leave you wondering if they are crazy.

Knowing more about Gastark, Rule Fragments, etc. would have been appreciated.

One thing the show did do a better job of over the course of the series was improving its animation. Early on it seemed like Legendary Heroes utilized a lot of blank spaces and had difficulty with lighting. Whether this was on purpose or not I don’t know, but I found it pretty annoying. Over time though, it seemed like there were fewer occurrences of this, and the animation as whole looked a lot sharper, especially in the last eight episodes.

There was also just enough comedy to keep me interested in Legendary Heroes when I might have otherwise dropped the show. Obviously Ryner and Ferris were the source of most of this comedic relief, but a few other characters, like Sion, Noa, and Clough occasionally got in on the act. It did seem that the show pushed the Ryner X Sion jokes a bit too far, especially considering that Legendary Heroes doesn’t seem to be on the viewing list of people who like that sort of stuff, but I’ll let it go.

Best screen cap from this show.

As for the fighting scenes, they were a mixed bag in my opinion. Anything with Tiir was awesome, because let’s face it, he is awesome, but every other scene that featured a large number of combatants never really impressed me. It seemed like both Ryner and Ferris were powered down to meet level of their competition in these situations, and there were multiple occurrences in which the show had poor choreography for its fights, in that some characters disappeared for long stretches of time during fight scenes. That said, fights featuring few combatants were almost always interesting and well done.  Episode four’s fight between Ryner and Ferris, Episode 17′s Clough/Tiir fight, and Episode 24′s fight between Ryner and Sion are prime examples of this. Of course, almost any scene in which someone used a legendary relic was an instant win as well.

So even considering the possibility of a second season and that the source material is supposed to be much better, this anime series on its own didn’t really stand out to me. Sure, it is a far better waste of your time than some generic moe show, but when compared to some of the more “involved” shows that are out there, this one just isn’t up to par. To sum it up, this show is just too inconsistent, but it does have a lot of good points. I’ll probably rate this as an 8 on my MAL list, but in reality this show belongs in 7.5/10 territory.

You know I've never actually had Dango, but this show has made me want to try it. That's something.


[Review] The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Movies, Reviews, bandai, fantasy, haruhi, kyoani, kyoto animation, lvlln, mystery, romance, school, science fiction, scifi | Wednesday 13 October 2010 2:28 am

Here’s the short version: whatever you’ve heard about it is true; it’s really that good. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an absolutely stunning film that succeeds on every level. It does not make up for the horrible second season, but if you liked the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and long for more of something of that caliber, this is a must-watch. You will not be disappointed.

If you actually want me to expand on those thoughts, proceed downward (note: like any proper review, this will contain no spoilers, although I will delve into story bits when necessary).

Let’s first make one thing clear: you must watch the TV show The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in order to understand Disappearance. It is a sequel that depends on the first work, and there is just no getting around that. Of course, if you’re reading this, chances are high that you’ve already seen both seasons of the show. But in case you haven’t, make sure to watch it in the following order: 1. Season 1 in airing (not chronological) order, 2. Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, 3. 1st and last episodes of Endless Eight, 4. The Sighs of Haruhi Suzumiya. Don’t make the mistake of watching all 8 episodes of Endless Eight.

As I write above, Disappearance is a direct sequel to the TV show, taking place in December of the protagonist Kyon’s first year at high school. The movie starts off with a brief set up to Kyon’s daily school life before he awakens one day to find that the entire world has changed around him, with him the only one aware of this. Haruhi Suzumiya has literally disappeared, and the one sitting behind him is, well, I won’t spoil that bit for you. Gone along with Haruhi is the should-be transfer student Koizumi Itsuki, and while Mikuru Asahina and Yuki Nagato are still at the school, the former doesn’t know him, and the latter is still the glasses-wearing girl, the sole member of the literature club whose room that Haruhi had taken over when starting the SOS Brigade in the show. That’s when the story really begins, as Kyon attempts to untangle the mystery of this sudden shift in timeline, to find the one responsible for it, and to figure out a way to go back.

Technically speaking, Disappearance follows Kyoto Animation’s tradition of being ridiculously well animated. It sometimes takes things a step too far, and the over-smoothness of some of the animations look unnatural, but all things considered, that’s a good problem to have. The cinematography is excellent throughout, reminiscent mostly of the anime original episode, Some Day in the Rain in its wide angle shots of rooms and long single-take cuts. The music is subtle and serves its purpose, though the use of new versions of the same tunes from the show will definitely please the fans. Unusual for a movie, it features an opening sequence, using the first season’s opening song, Bouken Desho Desho? – as if to help us forget about the epic failure that was the second season.

At the surface, the movie is just plain fun. It doesn’t lose the lighthearted sense of humor of the show. Most of the comedy is at the beginning, as Kyon first discovers the differences of this new world, leading to some very embarrassing situations. His run in with Mikuru involving the mention of her unique mole was particularly humorous. But the movie remains amusing throughout, revitalized when Haruhi finally makes her triumphant reappearance and acts in ways Haruhi only could. Throughout, Kyon’s narration is as dry and sarcastic as ever.

The scifi/mystery-thriller aspects are also well executed. The pacing is sublime, never lingering on any situation for too long, but also never feeling hurried or rushed. The movie keeps you hooked with its constant twists and turns, always leaving you in anticipation and maybe even a bit uncomfortable, but never frustrated. The fact that this movie is 163 minutes long may scare some away – it certainly scared me, though obviously not enough to keep me from watching it – but this is one that uses every bit of time it has to the fullest extent. There are some awesome OHSHI- moments as well, which would be criminal for me to spoil for you here.

But simple entertainment was never the hook for Melancholy. Though the show succeeded in that regard, what made it special was the subtle emotional and personal story taking place, specifically between Kyon and Haruhi. The show was ultimately a high school romance story of those two characters with the science fiction/fantasy comedy genre being used as a vehicle, and it was that layer that had made it, in my humble opinion, the best TV anime of this past decade. And Disappearance exploits that same method to be not just an enjoyable movie, but also a deeply meaningful and emotional one.

In that context, Disappearance is the story of a couple separating and realizing that they can’t go on without the other. It’s mainly told from one end, Kyon’s, but both parts are there. Perhaps for the first time ever, Kyon is actually honest to himself about his feelings regarding Haruhi and the SOS Brigade. Kyon performs far more introspection than he ever did in the show. Some of his internal scenes are reminiscent of the scene at the train crossing from the episode The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Part 5, in which Haruhi explains to Kyon how she decided to be the way she was. Kyon’s inner struggles feel honest and heartfelt, and there is a powerful feeling of release and relief when he reaches epiphany.

But the movie takes things even a step further than the show and examines the relationship Kyon has with other members of the SOS brigade. Nagato is the one that receives the most focus. Perhaps the purpose of Endless Eight was to give us just a small taste of the pain that Nagato had to go through during the 15,000+ cycles she had to live through. And the conversation that Kyon has with Nagato at the very end of the movie simultaneously leaves us feeling ache and hope in the heart.

Indeed, one could interpret that the whole movie was about Nagato and designed to make us sympathize with a character whose physical manifestations of emotion have only been subtle up to this point. It makes us ponder, what issues face one who is effectively omnipotent, but at the same time is not allowed to make any decisions in how to use that power? How does she, quite literally a slave, deal with them? More than that, it makes us sympathize with her, to feel for her plight, and to want to fight for her. This is a somewhat common theme in the realm of science fiction, and Kyoto Animation presents it to us in a way that can only be presented in the world of Haruhi Suzumiya. I don’t consider that to be the main focus of the movie, but it is undoubtedly a key element of it that is integral to making it as powerful as it is.

The other members get their moments too, though they are mainly there for fanservice. An adult Asahina gets to spend some time alone with Kyon and reminisce about her fun days. And Koizumi, the one who has always seemed easygoing and bright shows us a small glimpse into the pain and heartbreak he must experience due to his position. Besides the members of the SOS Brigade, Kyon’s friends Taniguchi and Kunikida get plenty of the screen time they couldn’t get in the show.

All in all, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an amazing film. Don’t let its near 3-hour run time or the bad taste from season 2′s Endless Eight scare you off. If you are lucky enough to live near one of the places it is showing in theaters, go see it. Does it make up for the debacle of Endless Eight? No, but nothing can. This movie comes as close as possible, though, and reminds us of why we first fell in love with the world of Haruhi in the first place. In not only recapturing the magic of the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya but expanding upon it, Disappearance truly is a marvelous achievement.

I’m not much one for attaching numbers to reviews, but, for what it’s worth, I give it 5 out of 5 stars, a perfect 10/10, A+, etc. This is the best anime movie I’ve seen since… well, Evangelion 2.22, which I saw earlier this year. So that’s actually not saying much. But this is a movie that easily ranks right along with it, far above anything else in the past decade. Melancholy showed us that Kyoto Animation was capable of creating anime that was not just entertainment but also deeply emotional pieces of work. Disappearance proves to us that that wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and they are very capable of doing it again.

Now, to get them to stop adapting banal 4-koma or vapid visual novels and keep making anime based on award winning novels…

Notes

  • I watched this film at its screening last Friday at the New York Anime Festival. I also made a post on the cosplay I saw at the festival.
  • Disappearance was originally released to Japanese theaters on February 6, 2010. The DVD and Bluray of the film will be released in Japan on December 18, 2010. The film has been licensed by Bandai Entertainment and is currently set to be released on DVD and Bluray in the US sometime in spring 2011.
  • Given the technical excellence of the film, I recommend that you avoid watching the camrip that is floating around and rather wait for the movie proper to be available.
  • All art contained in this review are official art by Kyoto Animation from various sources.

Review – Giant Killing

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Giant Killing, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, drama, football, seinen, soccer, sports, studio deen | Sunday 3 October 2010 9:22 pm

Prior to the premiere of Giant Killing, I had never watched a sports anime in my life.  I couldn’t even remember the last time I had seriously sat down and watched a sport.  I used to watch basketball a lot.  I remember rooting for the Bulls, who were my home team mind you, and then after them the Lakers.  At some point, I simply lost interest in sports altogether.  I have certainly never watched a game of football.  So, not only does this series serve as a gateway to an entire genre of anime for me, but also an introduction to soccer and a reintroduction to sports in general.  I am far out of my element and easily the outsider in the viewer pool.

This is me at the start of this series.

I’ve always liked the story of David and Goliath, from which the term Giant Killing derives its name.  Really, it’s a concept we want to believe in.  We want to see the underdog, with every disadvantage, somehow come out on top against his opponent.  This is what originally drew me toward the series.  Tatsumi, arguably the main character of the series, used to be East Tokyo United’s star player.  However, he quit and went overseas, having a successful stint coaching an amateur team to compete on a professional level.  He comes back to ETU a shadow of its former self.  It has struggled with relegation for years, essentially running on life support.  His job?  Save the club.

You already know this can’t be easy, but the problem is far more delicate.  Everyone has their own opinion of ETU and its current place in the Japanese leagues.  The veteran players believe ETU needs to bide its time in the defensive position they’ve developed over the past few years.  The fans view Tatsumi with outright scorn, seeing him as a traitor for leaving the team in the first place.  Other teams look down on them as little more than a joke.  Then there’s the new blood, who really don’t know what to do.  Put on top of this Tatsumi’s penchant for flippancy in his manners and speech and you have a powder keg just waiting for a spark.

Keeping that in mind, Giant Killing does have an overarching plot of taking a ragtag team and overcoming impossible odds.  However, it serves as more of a goal for the series.  The real plot is developing the team, both as players and characters.  Naturally, all of them need to improve their skills on the field, especially the new additions.  However, they all have personal issues.  Tsubaki has a lack of self-confidence, Sera struggles with an inferiority complex, Kuro gets easily discouraged by failure, and so on.  As the series progresses, they all get a spot in the limelight to overcome their shortcomings.  It all threads together in a climactic match against a “giant” which spans the last third of the series.  This gives us a character driven series, as opposed to story driven.

Meet the Team

The series could simply develop ETU and call it a day, but it strives to build up the supporting cast as well.  In fact, some of the most memorable characters are only around for a single game of the series.  The Brazillian Trio from Nagoya has great chemistry and is largely entertaining both before and during the game.  The finale’s opposing team also has a lot of effort put into defining their players strengths and weaknesses throughout the arc.  Even the Ramen Guy, who is on screen for all of two minutes, has a surprising amount of character built put into him.  It does have some low points though, specifically the reporters.  I also wish the older fans had received more thorough and satisfying development.

The vocal work really backs up the characters in this series.  Nobody feels like they’re out of their element.  Seki Tomokazu plays an excellently flippant Tatsumi.  Tyotaro Okiayu nails the gruff and experienced center of the team, Murakoshi.  Perhaps my favorite actor, though, is Daisuke Ono voicing superstar Gino.  Even when he compliments someone, he maintains that condescending tone which says “Why yes, I am better than you.”  I could continue to praise it, but you get the idea.  Really the weak point of the voice acting comes up whenever a character tries to speak in English.  It’s a bit more authentic from the multicultural perspective of the game, but it comes off as forced in execution.

Where the characters and vocal work excel, the art and animation is a mixed bag.  The anime stays true to its source material, which is good for fans of the manga.  On the other hand, the somewhat minimalistic art style might turn off some viewers.  It struggles with perspective at times.  For example, the scene where Tatsumi and Dulfer shook hands looked ridiculous. I also recall come complaints for using CG animation to handle the crowds and some of the game play on occasion.  However, both the CG and drawn animation look fluid, so I have no complaints.  On the positive side, the series has some very powerful still frame shots to punctuate moments of the series.  They’re very stylized and for the most part, look beautiful.

You know he's doing well because this is a stillframe.

Here’s the bottom line.  If you like football, then why have you not watched this yet?  If you like sports or sports anime in general, you can’t really go wrong with this series.  Even if you have little interest in sports, if you like strong characters, you should definitely give it a shot.  Giant Killing does have a few weak points in every facet, like a somewhat formulaic approach to Tatsumi’s strategies, a few weak characters, wonky English, and some poorly executed graphics.  However, as a whole, the series shines beyond its difficulties, and remains a very entertaining ride from start to finish.  I definitely recommend it.

Final Score: 8/10


[Review] Black Rock Shooter – Wait for it… wait for it… wait for it… OK, it’s over.

After much delay and, depending on where you hang around, much hype, the 50 minute OVA Black Rock Shooter was finally released yesterday, July 24. Despite the solid visuals and music, the poor pacing and storytelling make this an anime that I can’t recommend, even to die hard fans of Vocaloids or Supercell like myself. You’re better off just waiting for the soundtrack and seeing some of the highlights.

For those who don’t know that much about Vocaloids or Supercell, here’s a brief introduction to Black Rock Shooter. Ryo, the only musician in the now professional band Supercell, got his start uploading his songs sung by Hatsune Miku onto Nico Nico Douga. One of his most popular ones, perhaps second only to Melt, was Black Rock Shooter, a song that he had written based off of a picture drawn by an artist who goes by the name of Huke. It was uploaded in June of 2008. You can see the original video with English subtitles on Youtube.

Some time since then, anime studio Ordet decided to pick it up and to create a 50 minute OVA based on the song – which itself was based on a picture. It was originally supposed to be released in September 2009, but it got pushed to Spring 2010, then again to Summer 2010. And yesterday, on 7/24, it was finally released, for free on DVDs that came with the September issue of Hobby Japan. There are a couple other magazines will also have the DVDs packed for free.

An iconic shot from the original Nico Nico Douga animation, rendered in the anime.

One of the biggest questions I had going into this was what the story would be like. After all, the OVA is ultimately based on an image, and the lyrics to the song don’t exactly build up a cohesive world. Well, contrary to the more fantasy oriented images associated with this production, Black Rock Shooter tells the story of a middle school first year named Mato Kuroi (Kana Hanazawa) and her friendship with classmate Yomi Takanashi (Miyuki Sawashiro). The 2 become friends on their first day of school and grow closer throughout their first year despite their being in different sports clubs (basketball for Mato, volleyball for Yomi). About half way through, the basketball team manager Yuu (Kana Asumi) gets into the mix as well. The main conflict manifests itself as jealousy when Mato and Yuu get put into the same class for their second years while Yomi gets put into a different class, stuck outside looking in.

Interspersed in this story are brief scenes of the eponymous Black Rock Shooter – an obvious stand-in for Mato – chasing and fighting against Dead Master – Yomi’s stand-in – in the dark fantasy world most associated with the work. The action scenes are short and inserted fairly evenly throughout the OVA, and it’s only at the end when Yomi disappears that a clear connection between the 2 settings is shown.

Dead Master looks down at Black Rock Shooter, both about to fight.

The core problem with Black Rock Shooter lies with the storytelling. The pacing is horrid, with pretty much nothing happening in the first half. 50 minutes is longer than a TV show episode, but it’s still not a long time, and you simply can’t waste that much time with the set up. The more action packed fantasy scenes inserted throughout that half didn’t do anything to help the pace, because they felt unrelated – at best, only loosely connected – to the main story in the real world.

The first clear indication that the 2 worlds are connected, about 2/3 of the way into the OVA.

On that note, the story just doesn’t tie together. There is a fundamental disconnect between the scenes in the fantasy world and in the real world. There are hints at how the events in the two settings relate to each other, but it is only at the end that a clear connection is made, and even then, the explanation is unsatisfactory. Clearly, the fantasy scenes were meant to serve as a metaphor for the emotional conflict taking place in real life between Mato and Yomi, but the rest of the connections, including the reason for Yomi’s disappearance or her blank text to Mato at the end, are left as exercises for the viewer. Same goes for the opening fight between Dead Master and Black Rock Shooter, which clearly happened before the events of the show. Having an open ended story up to the viewer’s interpretation is one thing, but this is either laziness or ineptitude by the director.

The orange, yellow desert background contrasts with the dark green castle background of the other fantasy scenes when this character appears. That's about all this character does before she disappears.

Heck, there is even3rd character in the fantasy who never does anything. Perhaps the entire purpose of this OVA was to set up a series. At least, that’s what it feels like with its open threads and the cliffhanger-style ending.

Even the fantasy scenes, while containing entertaining, visceral action and beautiful art, suffers from the fact that nothing about these characters’ motivations is revealed until the very end. There were hints here and there at the bigger story, but the mismatching chronology – the fantasy scenes have no connection to the real life scenes being shown at the same time – meant that I was left wondering why Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master were fighting for most of the time. And fights in which you have nothing invested in the outcome just aren’t as fun to watch.

It doesn’t help that neither of the two show any emotion through most of the fight. As they get hit, thrown, shot at, and tied up, their faces rarely change from their monotone dead stares, as if they were both Terminators programmed to fight each other. The closest thing up until the climactic moment was Dead Master’s evil smirk. They don’t talk, and they barely even grunt as they fight. The brevity also hurt these fight scenes, as none of them lasted long enough for a real story to develop within the fights. Just as the fights started to get into their grooves and made me excited, the OVA would cut back to a plain real life scene. There are things that can be done with single long action scenes that can’t be done with many shorter ones. They need time to build a sort of rhythm, something that Black Rock Shooter never managed to do.

The action, while pretty, doesn't make for very good still shots. Hence why I'm showing shots from still scenes.

That being said, Black Rock Shooter is still a very pretty anime. The real life scenes have the level of detail you expect from an OVA, and the stylized animation of the action scenes work very well. Some of the backdrops in the fantasy scenes are obviously created using CG, but they almost never stand out. The use of the color and light, as well as the architecture in those scenes do a wonderful job of creating an oppressive, dark, almost depressing mood to the speechless fights. I’m a fan of the character designs as well. The purposeful contrast between Black Rock Shooter’s tall, lanky, unbalanced design with Dead Master’s curvaceous and symmetrical one was not lost on me. Heck, they even put scars on Black Rock Shooter’s stomach in order to emphasize the straightness of her design (ironically, Yomi is taller than Mato).

And the music was very enjoyable as well. No, there was no Hatsune Miku music; not even Black Rock Shooter was played. Instead, it was a largely classical score, fitting for a school story. In some scenes, the music really took center stage in communicating the emotion to the viewer. One of the first scenes, in which Mato climbs the hill near her house before going off to school, sticks in my mind. In the world of TV shows, where usually some plot has to be fit into a 24 minute less 1:30 OP less 1:30 ED slot, the background music almost always stays right there in the background. Without such limitations (in fact, one might argue that they didn’t even fill the pressure to fit a story into its 50 minute slot), the OVA was free to implement more movie-like usage of background music, to good effect. There were also call backs to Supercell’s Black Rock Shooter song as well, with some of the music, particularly at the beginning and end of the OVA, using themes pulled straight from that song.

This picture kind of summarizes Black Rock Shooter. So much badassery when free to act, but chained and restricted by the plot, unable to fulfill its potential.

Ultimately, Black Rock Shooter is two separate stories connected only loosely by theme and character design, with 80% of the time spent on a, though heartfelt, tragically generic story about friendship, and the other 20% dedicated to the good parts: the fun, even if meaningless, action scenes. The uneven pacing and storytelling unraveled a technically solid production, and as the credits rolled, I felt sorry for all the people whose hard work went into producing what amounted to essentially nothing.

The only way I can see this OVA being somewhat redeemed is if it turns out to be just the 1st part of a longer series, one which explores the fantasy world that this one only briefly touched upon. Both the pre-credits ending and post-credits ending tease a possible continuation. But as a stand alone work, it is incomplete and not worth the time to watch it.

This is when the story finally begins, right? It couldn't possibly be that the ending credits are about to start in less than a minute, right? Right?

Notes:

  • As always, screenshots galore at Tenka Seiha and Random Curiosity.
  • The free magazine-packed DVDs include 7 different languages of subtitles, including English. The other 6 are Japanese, Chinese, Italian, German, Spanish, and French.
  • Other magazines that will have this DVD are Megami Magazine (7/30) and Monthly Animedia (8/10). (source: Anime News Network via Vocaloidism)
  • The character Dead Master was never named in the OVA. I got her name from the figures of her they’re selling, such as this one.
  • This is the 2nd anime for which Ryo of Supercell did the music. The other one was Cencoroll, and it also starred Kana Hanazawa as a leading role.
  • Kana Asumi starred as Poplar in last season’s Working!!, in which one of the running gags was that she would always mispronounce the main character’s name “Takanashi” as “Katanashi.” Her character Yuu has no problem with that in Black Rock Shooter, however. The OVA also made the same pun as in Working!! regarding Takanashi’s name being able to be confused with “Kotori” (Takanashi’s name when he cross-dresses).
  • At the point when Mato was giving Yomi the star cell phone strap, I started wondering if the fantasy world was far in the future, given the post-apocalyptic style of the setting. I was hoping that there was some falling out between the 2 that the OVA would show, before they somehow became Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master. I think that would’ve been a better twist than, “It’s a metaphor, lol.”

Review – Jet Set Radio Future

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, Video Games, grafiti, jet set radio future, sega, skate, tag | Wednesday 16 June 2010 9:00 pm

I haven’t written a game review in quite some time, and I can attribute it to not playing anything particularly noteworthy.  However, I managed to come into some Xbox games recently, and one of them stuck out to me.  I remember years ago I played a demo of Jet Grind Radio for the Dreamcast, and I always wanted to really play it.  I had my opportunity with its successor, Jet Set Radio Future.  It’s been nearly a decade since its release, so let’s see how it holds up over time.

The game has a fairly simple framework.  The city of Tokyo-To has come under siege by various gangs vying for control of the major city sectors.  In addition, a corporate enterprise led by the mayor of the city wants to enforce police rule and take away the people’s freedoms.  You play the role of the GGs, a group of teenage skaters intent on taking back the city.  Really, the story does nothing more than provide a means to move you from point A to point B to point C.  Along the way you seize control of sectors by tagging over your rival’s graffiti.  Taking the area prompts them to come out of hiding and confront you for a challenge.  In addition, you have to fight off the corrupt officers who want nothing more than your body on slab in the morgue.  All of this roughly translates to 10-15 hours of game play to complete the chapter-formatted storyline.

You might easily mistake this for one of the great number of “extreme sports” games like the Tony Hawk series.  You would make a terrible mistake.  JSRF is actually an action/adventure game with roller blades glued onto your feet.  Thus, you work with a stripped down control scheme.  The analog stick moves you around, and it must always be engaged to move.  Touching a rail with your feet immediately attaches you to it, and you do not need to deal with balance.  Pressing the X or Y buttons in a rhythm changes your grind and increases your speed.  You can only attain max speed while grinding, so you want to stay on rails as much as possible.  Air tricks automatically execute when you jump with enough speed, and you can again press X or Y to chain more air tricks together.  You need to pick up spray cans to tag objects, and you can sacrifice 10 of them to activate a speed boost.  Two big problems exist with the control scheme.  First, everything in the game handles loosely, including collision detection.  Second, the only way to disengage from a rail is to jump.  This can make for a frustrating time trying to get off a rail to land in a specific area.

You spend much of the first half running around the city reclaiming areas by tagging them.  This sounds very simplistic until you realize these gangs put their graffiti in the most out of the way locations.  A mechanic like this almost demands some level of customization.  The game provides many premade tags, and also gives you the option to design your own.  When the police show up, you switch into combat mode.  Your objective is to make the targets vulnerable and then spray them with paint.  Rival skaters and gangs will pose a variety of challenges.  Some areas naturally resemble a circuit, and so they challenge you to a lap around the area.  A team race also exists, where you and a CPU ally have to complete a lap without losing possession of a ball.  At other times, they literally challenge you to a game of tag, where you must spray them down until they submit.  All of these different styles of play help keep the action from becoming too repetitive.

In a game about the streets, much of the experience rides on the style and atmosphere provided by the game.  Over eight years, the graphics have lost a bit of their edge, but they still look decent.  The designers went with cell-shaded models, and all the characters have their own special touches.  The game also plays up the slightly futuristic setting in the main character designs.  The total area covered spans over a dozen different maps.  Each one of them contributes to a cohesive whole while incorporating new designs to make them unique.  You start in the bright streets and bustling bus station of the city.  Over time, you expand your influence to cover the suburbs, sewage system, slums, and skyscrapers.  My favorite area is a continuous hill made up entirely of houses, which you navigate by riding crisscrossing power lines.  The game provides a decent variety of music with 30 tracks in total, mostly in the hip-hop and techno genres.  Each area has a preset selection of tracks it plays in a cycle.  The soundtrack has some real winners, such as Aisle 10, Funky Dealer, and I Love Love You.  It also has a few very poor choices, like Birthday Cake, which made me want to mute the game every time it played.  Since you have no control over the playlist, you just have to take the good with the bad here.

Time for the bottom line.  The game will turn some of you off right away with its style and themes.  I can’t blame you, it’s not for everyone.  The game can be difficult at times, but for the most part, it maintains a fair difficulty curve.  They developers also packed the world with optional goals and collectables to keep you playing after the credits roll.  JSRF does have flaws, but they never detract too much from the experience.  If you can find the game used, it is definitely worth the low price of admission.

Final Score: 8.5/10 GGs


Anime St. Louis 2010

Anime St. Louis is really the impulse convention of the year for me.  I always decide to go at the absolute last-minute, and then somehow the arrangement just works.  This year, I have Heidi to thank for providing the little convincing needed to go.  Seriously, those puppy dog eyes are powerful stuff.  I also need to thank Alisa for providing lodging during the convention so I could attend all three days instead of just one.  Now, without further ado, the convention coverage!

First, the attendees and staff really had it together this year.  Gone were the crazy registration lines from last year.  The setup for this year avoided clogging an entire area of the convention.  When I got there, they opened a third line when only five people were waiting to get people through faster.  I still think the form asks for too much information, but I complain about that for every reg form.  Then with the lost and found this year, one of my friends lost her badge.  In the 10 minutes it took for us to realize it was missing, it was already turned in by someone and waiting for us.  I heard similar stories from others in passing.  We had a tornado warning during the convention as well, and everyone handled themselves very well despite the scare.  So, props to everyone who attended this year.

Now, I am not the panel attendee by any means.  I normally go to conventions to socialize and shoot group photoshoots.  I run panels because I enjoy doing it, and because it has some perks.  However, I don’t know nearly as many people in the central Midwest circuit as the eastern circuit, so I looked into it for this convention.  ASTL suffers from the same programming headaches as everyone else.  There were scheduling conflicts, a few blank spots on the list, and I felt the schedule overall was a little underwhelming.  Despite this, I feel the situation has still improved over last year.  I think I’ll try to get into the mix a bit next year.

The first panel on the talking block is Soul Eater, one of my favorite series.  I want to say this was the first time these girls ran the panel.  It was a little bare bones for my liking, but they were certainly enthusiastic about the subject material.  They also didn’t fall into the “tech trap” that occurs when you suddenly realize the projector will not work for you.  I’ve seen several panels in the past get totally derailed by tech failures, so my hat’s off to them for continuing with what they had available.  They have a lot of room for improvement, so if they get the slot next year, I expect some growth.

The only industry panel I went to this year was the “free-for-all” on Sunday.  Unfortunately, only three guests were still at the convention and available.  Voice actor Troy Baker, Internet personality Doug Walker, and musician Tadahisa Yoshida talked with us for about an hour.  I loved the former two and I regret missing their panels at the convention.  Fortunately, I have another opportunity to see Doug at Matsuricon this year.  Tada was a bit of a fish out of water at the panel, but I have to give him credit for showing up at a Sunday afternoon event.

Then I have the duo of Brad and Derek.  They ran the Code Geass panel with Kira on Friday, and the Naruto panel with Wyatt on Saturday.  These are truly fantastic panelists.  They know their material thoroughly, injecting both insight and humor.  They can also manage the freeform panel setup I enjoy so much more than dissertation style.  If you’re in this region and they have a panel on a series you’re interested in, go to it.  Seriously, if I ran programming at a convention, I’d offer them slots immediately.  I’ve run out of ways to suck up to them for now, but rest assured I have an R&D division working around the clock to develop new methods.

This year ASTL split up the Masquerade into two portions.  The first covered the walkons, and the second had all the skits.  It’s kind of odd when most conventions do both segments together, but I think it works out better.  You only have to attend the Masquerade for the aspects your interested in, which prevents people who just want to see walkons from blocking those who just want to see skits from having a seat.  From the attendance, many people just wanted to see the walkons.  A show of hands at the skits showed only a small portion of those people in attendance.  That’s a good thing because the skits pretty well filled the room.

The staff hosted two dances this year, and I went to both of them.  Friday was the 80s dance, which I liked simply because it was different.  I think song choice needs to improve for next year, but I still had fun in a setting different from the normal fare.  The rave techno dance was also a lot of fun.  The music had some nice variety and a good flow.  Nothing irks me more than a DJ who sticks to the same basic beat, or “safety zone”, for 15 minutes at a time.  I didn’t have that problem here.  I do have to say calling the rave a techno dance is about as effective a euphemism as calling H1N1 the flu, but whatever works for them is fine with me.

Finally, we have the Dealer’s Room, Artist’s Alley, and Game Room.  I’m not much of a shopper myself, and because I went to this convention on impulse I also had no money set aside for buying anything.  The Alley was somewhat small, and the Dealer’s was somewhat big.  The Dealer’s Room also felt like Colossalcon where they had a lot of stuff but it still felt underwhelming.  Maybe the likes of Acen and Otakon have spoiled me.  The Game Room, however, was more than satisfactory for a convention this size.  They had plenty of TVs and consoles setup, including a full Xbox 360 LAN.  They provided a DDR Extreme machine as well, but it fizzled out at some point on Friday.  I suppose you just can’t have everything.

TLDR: I thoroughly enjoyed Anime St. Louis.  In just two years, it has come from being a clustersuck to a solid performer in the region.  There are still faults but the staff has still improved year over year.  In 2011, I intend to plan my attendance instead of just showing up.


[Review] Metroid Manga

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, TheSpeedGamers, action, adventure, manga, metroid | Saturday 13 March 2010 12:00 am

As this post publishes, TheSpeedGamers will begin yet another charity marathon.  This time, they will run the entirety of the Metroid series.  In honor of this and out of my curiosity as a fan of the franchise, I checked to see if Nintendo had sponsored any anime or manga adaptations of the series.  Sure enough, to celebrate the release of Metroid Zero Mission, the company approved a two-volume back story to the games and the life of Samus.  I read it, and now I’m going to tell you about it.

Metroid’s story is typical for a space marine style series.  Samus grew up on a peaceful planet that contained a prized energy source.  The resources caught the space pirates’ attention, and they raided the planet.  As the sole survivor, the Chozo took her in and began training her to become a warrior and protector of peace.  As a teenager, she leaves the planet and enters the Federation.  Her unit manages to capture a space pirate, alive, and the interrogation leads her back to her home planet.  She returns to find the space pirates seizing control of the planet, under the directive of the Chozo’s own computer, Mother Brain.  She flees the planet, but years later, fate requires her to venture once again into the twisted world she once called home.  The last few chapters cover events you can actually play in the game, Metroid Zero Mission, up to but not including the final encounter with the biocomputer.

Metroid historically relies on the environment to tell a story, so while this two-volume series is light on progression, it is good for adding personality to the already established characters.  Samus starts as a traumatized girl whom the Chozo protect.  Over time, she fights out of an obligation she feels to defend the galaxy.  Of course, “obligation” only gets you so far, and when forced to stare down her past, she breaks down completely.  After the experience, she becomes a free-spirited bounty hunter who can fight for causes in which she truly believes.  The Chozo, who only show up in the games through their remaining technology, strive for peace in the galaxy.  Despite high hopes for their special projects, they fell woefully short and, in the end, set into motion all the events in the Metroid canon.

On the antagonistic side, the series reveals that the space pirates respond only to the strong, in a sort of hive-mind mentality.  Ridley, Samus’ nemesis and the leader of the space pirates, is portrayed as constantly sadistic.  He enjoys killing people, and even eats the corpses of his victims to regain his strength.  Mother Brain, however, starts the manga as a docile biological computer for the Chozo.  As time goes on, she develops a sense of fear, that the Chozo will leave her behind as they focus their efforts on Samus.  This eventually evolves into an egocentric god-complex that causes her to rebel against the galaxy.

From an artistic standpoint, the manga is simply sufficient.  Most of the problem rests on Samus, who has a disproportionate feel.  That’s a problem when she’s the main character.  I realize this manga occurs before the sexualization of Samus, but her body just looks too stocky for an acrobatic and agile bounty hunter.  It might just be me, but it seems like the artist made her head too big in some places and too small in others.  It has a weird rubber-band effect that steals your attention.  The space pirates lack detail, and Ridley looks kind of like a convoluted caricature of a demonic dragon.  The backgrounds also suffer from this same unpolished feel.  For a series that prizes detail in the environment, this is an unfortunate letdown.  On the other hand, I really liked the design of the Chozo.  Their avian features are a bit exaggerated, but they still look distinguished in their simple, formal robes.  The Metroids also have their traditionally interesting character design, and seeing Mother Brain’s slow but steady design progression is a nice addition.  In addition, the sci-fi space setting lends itself to many battle sequences, with the focus on firearms and explosions.  I found these enjoyable.

Your enjoyment of the Metroid manga will largely depend on how much interest you have in the accompanying franchise.  If you have never played the games but have thought about trying them, these volumes are the obvious starting point.  If you love the franchise already, then the story will shed some light on the characters and their backgrounds that will enhance your playing experience.  However, if you fall into the third group that has no real interest in the games, much of this will be lost on you.  The Metroid manga’s prominent weakness is its inability to stand alone as a single work.  You might enjoy the battle sequences, or the progression Samus makes, but there just isn’t enough here for a real recommendation.  I see it as a lost opportunity from Nintendo to explore the story in a different perspective.

Final Score: 6.5/10 Wave Beams


[Review] Darker than Black – Ryuusei no Gemini [MAJOR SPOILERS]

Posted by Author | Anime Review, CJ, Manga Review, Reviews, darker than black | Sunday 7 March 2010 7:12 pm

I honestly didn’t think I’d ever recover enough to write a review about this series. I mean. That ending. T-That ending.

After a while, though, I’ve come to terms with the depressing mindscrew end, and have decided to enjoy the show (and its fandom) for what it is: a quasi-psychological sci-fi exploration of characters and “what if?” scenarios. As I’ve said before, Suou captured my attention enough to make me watch the show, but it was also worth watching thanks to the exploration of Hei and Yin’s relationship and the extraordinary plot twists. Close to the end, it seemed like Bones had written itself into a hole, but the revelations at the end of episode 11 pulled things back together surprisingly well.

(A/N: Still haven’t managed to see all of season one, but fandom has spoiled me enough to allow me to put this review quasi-in-context of Kuro no Keiyakusha. Therefore, it may contain minor spoilers for season one as well.)

The series’ opening scene was attention-getting, but I loved how it was essentially ripped to shreds by the end of the season. Throughout the first 10 or so episodes, the viewer is mainly focused on Suou, with Hei mainly being a catalyst for her development. As a new character, Suou was going to be either hit-or-miss, and I sense that a lot of fans of season one were really wondering where the heck Yin is.

Suou’s character was extraordinary well-rounded thanks to her interactions with  others, especially Tanya and (for the short time he was alive) Nika. Her worrying and confusion were rarely overdramatic, and most of her other emotions were superbly executed as well. This, of course, is partly thanks to Kana Hanazawa, Suou’s seiyuu, as well as Tensai Okamura’s directing awesomeness. The changes in Suou’s relationship with Hei at the end caught me by surprise – the two of them didn’t get along well for so long, and now he’s all huggy and stuff? Perhaps she had begun to remind him of Bai or something.

Either way, I found her quasi-hatred of Hei to be one of the most heartbreaking parts of the show. This was what made her really tragic: she had the powers (and, arguably, responsibilities) of a Contractor, but her emotions still spiraled out of control at the drop of a hat. She tells Hei she hates him, then turns to him when she can’t figure out what’s happening to her. Between that, her family-related angst, and her vain attempts to save Tanya, she’s a character I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Hei’s an odd character for me to discuss, because he’s so much less likable when he’s not with Yin. Legitly. You have him all worried and puppy-loving on Yin at the end of this season and in the OVA, but for most of this season he beats up Suou, is very unsupportive of her emotionally, and makes her do pervy dances. Some of his actions are partly justified by the circumstances, especially since he’s a Contractor, but I still wanted to slap him at times. I can’t really get a good grasp on his overall character, though, and that may be partly because I haven’t finished season one.

July, on the other hand, I could never slap… <3! I didn’t care for him much during the first 10 or so episodes, but toward the end when he apparently began to “evolve,” I found myself wishing for a happy ending for him. The shot of him in Suou’s new world was a relief, to an extent, though I’m left wondering if he was still a Doll in that world. It would have been interesting to see him continue to evolve, especially considering what happened with Yin.

All I ever hear about on LJ is how most of DtB’s female fans don’t like Misaki, but she continues to be one of my favorite characters. (Second to Suou, of course, and perhaps tied with Yin.) Maybe part of why I like her so much is her subtlety; she’s relatively calm and collected, but not unreasonably so, and that’s what makes her a believable law enforcement/detective character. She’s a little flat, but as a supporting character, you can’t be her to be super-complex or anything, can you?

Of course, some of the other side characters REALLY confused me, and that’s also partly because of me not finishing season one. Take, for example, the blonde twins that talked kinda creepy and popped up at creepy times. While I eventually figured out their general purpose in the series’ development… were they in season one at all? Or did they just magically appear in season two to be (very adorable) objects of mystery for the first 8 or so episodes? Some of the other side characters I adored without hesitating, though, especially Hazuki and Youko.

Speaking of Youko… holy crap, a lot of people died in this show. Did this many people die in season one? You have Nika, Tanya, Shion, July (arguably,) Suou (arguably,) that one chick in episode one, Youko (; A ;), and a couple of quasi-random characters, clones, civilians, etc. The violence in the series didn’t surprise me, but I expected it to mostly be concentrated at the end, not scattered throughout.

The final two episodes do a nice job shifting the focus from Suou to her relationship with her family, Shion’s powers, and Yin’s fate. It had all the potential to be a trainwreck of an ending, but Bones managed to tie things together without totally closing off the potential for another season or OVA placed after the events of this season. Yeah, it was an absolutely heartwrenching final episode, but it was the kind of heartwrenching that made sense (sort of) and didn’t feel too horribly cheap. The shot of the Yin look-alike waking up at the end was especially tantalizing, as was the shot of Hei carrying away Yin. I sort of didn’t like the part with Misaki randomly hovering over Hei and Yin; was that a reference to something in season one that I didn’t get? It seemed like a deus ex machina to make Misaki (and the viewer) think Yin and Hei were possibly dead.

Regardless of the possibilities for another season, Darker than Black season two is surprisingly well-plotted and creative. The whole Izanami/Izanagi prophecy thing was arguably a bit uninspired, but when executed in the Darker than Black universe, it works pretty well. The characters are what make this series continue to be outstanding, despite the changes in the main cast (and over9000 deaths.) Hopefully the new OVA will help explain the more confusing parts of this season a little better, especially with regards to Yin; but even if it doesn’t do a particularly good job, Ryuusei no Gemini should still be hailed as an impressive accomplishment by Studio Bones.

CJ’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10 California rolls


Review: Himitsu – The Revelation

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Himitsu, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, drama, memory, mystery, psychological, science fiction | Monday 8 February 2010 9:24 pm

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (read: years), you might remember that I watched a series for Himitsu for a short time.  First, thank you for reading us for such a long time.  Second, Animada finally finished subbing this series a few months ago, so over the last two weeks I’ve been watching it between this season’s episodes.  It has definitely been a long time coming, but now I can evaluate the entire series for you.

Himitsu’s basic premise is interesting and makes good fodder for ideas.  In the future, scientists have created a system to record and view people’s memories post-mortem.  The world has entrusted this unique computer system to Japan’s Public Security Section 9.  The men and women in this small department must examine the memories of murder victims to find the motive, means, and hopefully the assailant as well.  They not only bring people to justice who might normally escape their crimes unscathed, but also learn about the thought process that goes into committing the crime so in the future they can prevent them.  This mystery sandbox makes for some interesting cases and Himitsu does a good job of keeping the formula fresh as the series progresses.  Some episodes look at the memories of the killer, the blind, the insane or delusional, and even a mass murder that shows viewpoints from multiple perspectives.

The cast of characters can really help a series like this, and the main characters do not disappoint.  Aoki is the main character and plays the role of the everyman and the newbie in the show.  He knows how to read lips, which is an invaluable skill since the memories have no sound.  His thoughts and actions will likely mirror yours as you progress through the series, and he easily grows the most out of the cast.  Maki sits on the opposite side of the spectrum as the jaded boss of Section 9.  He has dealt with a lot in the past few years and drives his team to perform at the best of their abilities.  His specialty is a photographic memory and extreme attention to detail.  He also has an uncanny ability to appear exactly when needed.  The pairs’ abilities drive most case breakthroughs, fitting their role as core protagonists.  In addition, their interpersonal drama allows us to see the series from both extremes.

The rest of the characters, are more of a mixed bag.  Each character’s personality is decent, and all of them have at least one episode devoted to them.  Unfortunately, none of them fully develops.  Amaichi plays the heroine in this mystery drama and has the most development of the supporting cast.  She has a minor sixth sense that occasionally comes into play.  She also has a sizable crush on Aoki, though he’s too busy with his work to notice much.  Okabe is a married and experienced agent who has dealt with his fair share of difficulties and has a more experienced perspective.  Soga, to contrast, is a recent academy graduate who still has much to learn and needs to get his impulses under control.  Michiru and Onogida are the two technicians that program and maintain the machinery, and naturally, there’s a lot of interplay between them.  They round out the core cast.

While much of Himitsu is episodic in nature, an overarching plot does exist.  The main story focuses on a criminal named Kainuma.  His case sent ripples through the division and deeply affected Maki and his outlook on life.  Even after his death, he still manages to cause tremendous grief for Section 9.  On top of that, the source of his influence may not be what it first appears.  Toward the end of the series, this prompts a number of plot twists, some of which are genuinely surprising and moving.  Unfortunately, it feels like the directors pushed far too much into the last episodes.  It culminates in an ending largely based on convenience to tie the plot line together as quickly as possible.  While this weakens the series, it still doesn’t drive it into the ground.

Himitsu really shines in the moral drama that plays alongside the story.  Much of this deals with privacy.  After all, Section 9 views the memories of the victims, and some of these may be embarrassing or potentially incriminating for others.  The characters also have to come to grips with viewing the memories of those close to them.  The mind of someone you may interact with every day is far different from the mind of a complete stranger.  Finally, there’s the ever-present allure of using information gleamed from the videos to benefit oneself.  Beyond the obvious implications lie other problems.  The series probes religion, body modification, and other societal issues.  It does occasionally falter in this area, but overall the morality play is interesting and engaging.

The character designs are mature to match the subject material.  However, they also have a derivative feeling to them.  For the longest time I couldn’t tell the two supporting males apart.  Additionally, while I don’t expect the artists to put a lot of effort into the victims and other one-time characters, perhaps a little more imagination would have helped.  On the other hand, the background elements get their due attention, befitting a mystery series.  Much more effort goes into detail here than in the characters.  A variety of settings helps keep the artwork fresh and make sure the viewer doesn’t burn out on the urban core of the series.  However, it often feels like the setting is literally too dark, which might put a bit of strain on your eyes.

Himitsu’s vocal work is competent, and none of the characters are unduly grating.  The voices fit the characters well, though at times it does feel like the actors needed to put more feeling into the performance.  While the designs may have been uninspired, we do get a lot of variety in the voice work for the one-shots.  The background music does a tremendous amount to help the mood of the series.  In particular, the composer manages to drive the chilling feeling home when it’s required.  The opening and closing themes are relevant to the series’ premise and devoid of any unnecessary Jpop influences.

Despite its faults, Himitsu is a does have its high points and some unique devices going for it.  It’s probably the series from Spring 2008 that everyone missed. If you enjoy a good mystery or moral drama, take the time out and give it a shot.

Final Score: 8/10 MRIs

Review: Seitokai no Ichizon

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, Seitokai no Ichizon, comedy, ecchi, harem, parody | Thursday 7 January 2010 1:07 am

You might recall that I made one of the 12 Days of Christmas posts about this series.  That was after I had watched one or two episodes.  Now I have managed to complete the entire series, so it’s time for a better look at the whole and see if this is really something you might be interested in.

You'd like to think that, wouldn't you...

First off, we’ll start with the characters.  Sugisaki is our main character, and his personality is easily described as a pervert with a heart of gold.  Unlike many other ecchi or harem series, it’s quite explicit that he’s a pervert.  He constantly thinks of situations in terms of hentai games and his goal in life is to achieve the “harem ending.”  That said, he is fiercely loyal and protective to the girls in the student council and is a generally kind and unselfish person.  The quartet of girls, for the most part, fit into stereotypes of the genre.  Kurimu is the student council president, but she is also the most childlike out of the quartet.  Minatsu is literally made of hot blood, shonen action, and a booming voice.  Mafuyu is a borderline hikikomori yet has a surprising amount of inner strength.  Finally, Chizuru is the aloof big sister type character, and can at times be downright dangerous.

Again? Try all the time, Chizuru.

Most of this series rests on the comedy aspect.  Parodies of various anime series and aspects of Japanese culture abound, and if you’ve been watching anime for the past few years, you should be able to keep up.  The one that really sticks out in my mind is a very long salute to the Sentai genre where they all try to figure out what color ranger they would be and what kind of plot their supposed series would have.  They also poke fun at genre archetypes.  In one episode, they all attempt to write a novel of their lives in the student council, which all vary wildly based on their interests.  There’s also a two-minute segment where the cast manages to make a joke about almost every drama archetype in existence.  Since tropes are my thing, I really enjoyed how the writers played with them.  The writers make sure nothing is safe here, and stretch out enough that everyone will have something to laugh at.

Personally, I like a challenge.

The series is not entirely episodic though, there is a bit of a plot involved, but it’s quite nonstandard.  You see, all the character development that would usually take place in an anime series has already happened.  You get the characters as they exist in the present.  The story aspects, which usually take place in the first and last few minutes of each episode, trace back the characters and their pasts.  Every girl gets a small piece of the story, and all four have suffered some kind of trauma.  Sugisaki serves as the focal point that connects all the girls together.  Once you finally get to the end of the series, the individual threads converge on him as they play what would have been the opening seconds of the series as the ending.  What we would laugh off at the start is actually kind of a touching moment at the end.  This is no deep plot, but it’s enough to nicely tie the series together as one collective work.

Yes, and frankly... it's disturbing.

From an animation standpoint, the series is executed very well.  I honestly have to say that I have never seen a locker portray so much emotion before, just wait for episode 5 to understand that.  Given that the vast majority of the series takes place in one little room, the artists put a lot of detail into the design, but that doesn’t leave the few scene changes in the lurch.  Also, since this is a parody series, there’s a lot of call for style shifts and costume changes, in addition to the change in uniform as the seasons pass.  The voice acting is one of the areas where this series shines the most.  All four women in the student council have rookie seiyus, and they nail their roles to the wall.  Takahashi Kondo voices Sugisaki, and he really conveys the pervert quality to his speech and tone.  The OP is your standard Jpop fare, while the ED is somewhat nonstandard.  A lot of series like this have different EDs for each episode, and while Ichizon does that, it always uses the same tune, just different lyrics or inflection.  Unfortunately, one or two of the rookie team can’t quite stand up to the task.

Too bad it took you the entire series to figure this out...

All things considered, Seitokai no Ichizon is a fairly standard series.  The series doesn’t manage to break any new ground within its genres, but it does everything well enough that I feel it warrants a look.  It also manages to do it in such a way that it doesn’t grate on people who traditionally avoid its core genre, such as myself.  It might be worth a look for you.

Final Score: 7.5/10 Kaichos

Review: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

Posted by Author | 358/2, Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, Video Games, ds, heartless, kingdom hearts, nintendo, nobody, roxas, rpg, square-enix | Wednesday 7 October 2009 5:38 pm

I spent the last week of my life blazing a trail through this game, partially at the request of friends and partially because I enjoy beating things down with a large key.  30 hours of gameplay on Proud mode later, I completed my mission.  Now it’s time to reflect on the whole experience.

First, we’ll consider the story portion of the game.  358/2 follows Roxas during his experiences as part of Organization XIII, from inception to the events that start Kingdom Hearts 2, as well as the “XIIII” member, Xion.  Additionally, and perhaps more importantly in some ways, Axel also plays a focus as his friendship with Roxas develops and his ideals slowly start to shift.  The story content evolves along with Roxas development.  He starts out as a “zombie” who says very little and doesn’t really think for himself, and the story is very brief and shallow to match.  By the end, he is a fully thinking individual, questioning his lot in life and the Organization, and the story content keeps pace with that.  It can be somewhat off-putting to some people to have almost no story for the first third of the game, but I think it’s an interesting way of story progression.

In the case of the other characters though, I was a little disappointed.  Saix does play a fair role in the game’s story, being the second in command, but he doesn’t develop at all and it feels like his placement is just cursory.  The rest of the Organization gets no development at all.  Sorry Luxord fans, you’ll just have to wait for another game.  The Disney cast also takes a major backseat; though you will run into them from time to time, you have very little direct interaction.  By comparison, Square-Enix’s cast is non-existent, except in one or two references.  The overarching theme is “What measure is a (non)human?” and is rather fitting for a game filled with Nobodies.  Unfortunately, it loses a bit of its impact because you know what must happen by the end of the game to prevent any major retcons from occurring.

On the gameplay side, this is your standard hack-n-slash Kingdom Hearts affair.  They do try to mix the formula up a bit with Objectives, which is admirable, but you know why you’re all here.  The difficulty seems a little schizophrenic at times, where you’ll go from rooms that you’re absolutely dominating to rooms where the designers hate your existence.  The lack of any repercussions for death is a double-edged sword here: it does make it much more bearable to clear these areas, but it cheapens the experience by promoting character suicide over strong tactics.  The leveling system is unique; it’s kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  You’ve got a grid of squares with a series of abilities in a variety of shapes and sizes, and it’s your job to maximize the space available with the abilities you need.  Even raw character levels have to be placed on or removed from the grid, making this a great game for self-imposed challenges.

Normally you wouldn’t think much about replayability, but this game has a surprising amount.  Upon completing a level, you can unlock challenge variations by picking up the appropriate badge during normal play.  These challenges add restrictions to the level and grade you on different criteria, such as completion time.  It does keep track of high scores.  The game also includes a Mission mode activated in much the same manner.  In this mode, you can play as any member of the Organization, as well as a few extra characters.  Enemies have their health attributes increased and you can freely tweak other aspects of the level.  This mode also supports multiplayer, and should you have the overwhelming desire to kill one of your friends, you are free to do so.  Players can trade in emblem rewards from both modes for a few unique prizes.

On the audio and video fronts, the game also delivers.  Visually, this is one of the best and most intensive games that I’ve seen on the DS.  The models lose a lot of resolution from the weaker graphics processors, but they still look good and animate well.  That’s good, because there will be a lot of models on screen at any given time.  The same can be said about the environments you’re playing in, though I do think they stand up to the transition a little better.  You’ve seen the majority of these areas and enemies before, but there is some added content in there to keep the experience fresh.  Audibly, the game sounds great as well.  The majority of the music has been recycled from the other games in the series, which might disappoint some, but I personally couldn’t imagine places like Wonderland having different themes.  The small bit of vocal work sounds good as well.

The game does have faults, but they are largely cursory to the experience.  Bottom line, you Kingdom Hearts fans will probably eat this game right up, and you probably already have it.  For everyone else, this is a solid entry in the action-RPG genre, worthy of checking out.

Final Score: 8/10 Sea-salt Ice Creams.

The Last Remnant Review

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Rakuen, Reviews, Video Games, last remnant, pc, rpg, strategy, xbox 360 | Friday 11 September 2009 12:47 am

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been pushing through The Last Remnant, one of Square-Enix’s new IPs for 2009.  This is old hat for some of you, but there’s a surprising number of people that I’ve talked to who were interested, but never actually went to pick it up.  So, let’s take a look at it to see how it delivers.

Unfortunately, the main story for this game is mediocre.  The world contains a number of Remnants, ancient artifacts that contain a variety of powers and have lead to wars throughout the ages.  Rush is the main protagonist, he does exactly what his name implies.  His sister was kidnapped by some incredible power, and now he’s trying to find her and save her.  In the process, he stumbles into a battlefield and is then taken in by the lord of a small nation, David Nassau.  They set off to wage politics and continue Rush’s quest, all the while learning that they’re part of a much larger plot set in motion by the Big Bad, the Conqueror, who does exactly what his name implies.  It’s a mildly interesting story that’s also fairly predictable, you’ll probably figure out the ending long before you get there.

The story probably suffers the most from a bad gameplay to story ratio.  Many have complained that Xenosaga’s was far too low, and amazingly Last Remnant has the exact opposite problem.  You’ll be fighting for ages before you get any story advancement.  Some auxiliary story is offered in the sidequests, which are mostly required anyway as without them you’ll never be leveled high enough.  There’s a decent conservation of detail, and some of the quests do tie into the main story.  In fact, you can meet all of the enemy’s generals before they ascend to their respective positions if you’re ambitious enough.  Character development is a mixed bag.  For the main plot, only Rush, his sister, David, and the Conqueror are fleshed out to any real extent.  However, many of the unique party members have their own backstory that you can read about over the course of several visits to their hometown.

I feel the combat, on the other hand, delivers.  It uses a different mechanic than you’re used to.  Individual members are organized into unions that act largely like a single member themselves.  The union has all their health and action points pooled together.  You can alter the stats of the individual characters through the use of formations, which are also critical in determining damage from the many multi-target attacks in the game.  Actions are decided at the beginning of each turn.  Every union chooses an opposing union to target, with a list of basic strategies like “Attack with mystic arts!” or “Hurry up and heal them!”  The available strategies are influenced by the skills the members know, and can be heavily influenced by the union leader.  Combat then ensues with the various unions meeting, flanking, and intercepting each other, with the latter two granting bonuses to the attacking union.  A morale bar shows which side is favored more in the battle, yielding damage and command bonuses to the side with the upper hand.  If you mindlessly press buttons in this game, expect to be taking a lot of dirt naps.

Now for the graphics and sound.  The game runs on the Unreal 3 engine, so it looks pretty.  The CG sequences are, of course, stock impressiveness from Square-Enix.  The larger battle spells and unique skills are also nice to look at.  Unfortunately, the 360 version was not optimized very well, resulting in framerate issues in combat and lots of popin throughout.  The music in towns and dungeons is pretty good, but there are very few battle themes in the game.  You’ll probably want to turn the music off for long combat sequences and start playing something yourself on the computer.  The voice work I think is of good quality.  Johnny Yong Bosch plays Rush, and you should know exactly what to expect there.  The other voice actors also do a decent job playing their characters.  I did like the battle chatter; your characters will vocalize the changing battle conditions and their current actions.  There’s also a larger pool of voice actors for the non-main unique characters, so you’re not going to be hearing a lot of voices used over and over again.

Finally, something important to consider is which version of the game to get.  The 360 version of the game feels like a beta version.  It’s got the graphic issues I mentioned, it’s got some bugs in the system, and it hasn’t been balanced very well.  There’s downloadable content, but some of it you’re going to have to pay for.  On the other hand, the PC version is much more refined.  Bugs have been fixed, the graphic engine runs much better, and combat has been retooled to be more balanced, and overall even more difficult.  The DLC from the 360 version has been worked into the game, being unlocked by completing guild tasks.  For the truly masochistic, there’s also a hard mode campaign on the PC that becomes available after you clear the game once.  If your computer can handle it, PC is definitely the way to go.

On the bottom line, The Last Remnant has a largely typical JRPG plot that’s been coupled with an much more expansive and fulfilling world, as well as a unique, fun, and challenging combat system.  Strategy fans should definitely give it a look, as well as those that are looking for a change of pace.

360 score: 7/10 Omnistrikes

PC score: 8/10 Gae Bolgs

Swag Post: Yutaka Trading Figure, Death the Kid & Thompson Sisters Mini Figure, and Shana Pendant

Posted by Author | Anime Review, CJ, Manga Review, Merchandise, Reviews | Thursday 10 September 2009 1:23 am

Matsuricon’s pretty much been my best source for merchandise over the years, partly because Ohayocon’s dealer’s room is always more crowded. Though I’m usually not huge on merch, a few things have caught my eye over the years: the Lucky Star trading figures, the Shakugan no Shana cosplay necklace, and the Soul Eater mini trading figures series. These are probably the highlights of my merchandise collection aside from my battered and yaoi-fied Edward and Toushirou plushies. And fortunately, they’ve all turned out to be relatively high quality products, though each with their own flaws.

Lucky Star Trading Figure: Yutaka

At Matsuricon 2008, Lucky Star was THE thing in the dealer’s room. And when I spotted the second Lucky Star trading figures series boxes for $7 apiece, I was a happy fangirl. I knew I’d be happy with anything, especially Hiyori, but imagine my excitement when I pulled out…

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Yutaka! <3 She’s about 2.5 inches high and came in 8 pieces, including the stand. Upon assembling her I was pleased to find she’s a well-constructed, good-looking figure.

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She came with 2 right arms – one bent and one straight. Both result in pretty cute poses, but the straight one seems to fit far better than the bent one (as shown in the above right pic.) The stand fits nicely into her back and doesn’t distract from the rest of the figure.

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And yes, her head is capable of turning all the way around. This is a pretty nice touch and, of course, allows for a greater variety of poses. Another feature is the removable skirt, but in an attempt to keep the blog family-friendly I didn’t include that. (Yes, she has panties underneath, and yes, they are white.) Though the paint job isn’t perfect, it’s still quite nice for an inexpensive figurine like this. A great find for any moe fan, regardless of your views on Lucky Star. I mean, those hair ribbons… how can you resist?!? Let’s just hope the rest of the trading figures series is this nice.

CJ’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10 California rolls

Soul Eater Mini Trading Figures: Death the Kid, Liz & Patty

There was practically a fistfight in the dealer’s room at Matsuricon this year over these trading figures. Rakuen will back me up on that. Soul Eater’s the object of fangirl affection this year, with the anime being released in November, but the trading figures were some of the only merch at Matsuricon. They were also $7 each, but unfortunately, they’re a notch below the Lucky Star ones in quality.

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The figure in question actually contains two different bases – and a total of three characters. Patty and Liz have their own base, but are only visible from the hips up. Still, their poses and expressions are quite adorable and suit their respective personalities.

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Kid’s a little dull, really – while his pose is fun and true to the series, his expression is bland. Not normal. Bland. Yeah, Kid’s not exactly known for being uber-animated (pun not intended) in the series, but he certainly has cooler expressions than this.

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Another near-fatal flaw is the paint job, which looks fine from a distance but sucks up close. Hair is rendered sloppily and facial details miss their intended location – you can see the line where Liz’s closed eye is supposed to be, but the actual paint is well above it. Still, some of the details look better than expected for a figure of this type.

Other cute perks include the text on the bases (”Death the Kid” and “Thompson Sisters”) and the way the bases fit together. Overall, it’s a nice little set for Soul Eater fans, but don’t expect the best of quality. (Let’s at least hope Soul and Maka got a better paint job than this…)

CJ’s Rating: 7 out of 10 California rolls

Shakugan no Shana Cosplay Necklace

I’ll be honest: I’m not keen on Shana as a series. I do, however, love Shana’s character, with all her rage and tsundereness. (I’m a sucker for tsunderes, what can I say?) And I’ve always loved her amulet, Alastor, and everything it symbolizes, so when I saw it Matsuricon it was an instant get. A tad pricey at $12, but it’s such nice quality I really shouldn’t complain.

The amulet itself is roughly the same color as in the series, though I really think it should be a bit darker. Additionally, instead of being totally round (as it appears in the series, though I may be wrong,) the red part is just a dome; the back is flat and metal.  The only truly noticable difference from the series is the chain it’s on – it’s supposed to only be a black cord. The upgrade from cord to chain is definitely a nice touch, though, and makes the necklace as a whole more durable and appealing for everyday wear.

I’ve had no problems with the clasp sticking or the chain doing hinky things in the past week and a half. Despite the minor design differences, it’s a nice accessory even for non-Shana fans. Cosplayers capable of making their own jewelry might want to forgo this and create a more faithful and exact reproduction, but casual fangirls (and even guys) should love this.

(quick disclaimer – as I went to publish this, I spotted a photo of an “official” Shana pendant and it seems more accurate than the one reviewed above. Perhaps this one’s a bootleg? Be careful~!)

CJ’s Rating: 8 out of 10 California rolls (minus 1 if you’re going for accuracy)

~CJ




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