Autumn 2016 Week 13

This is my last overview for Autumn. Though I don’t think many of the Winter shows are starting straight up so not sure what next week will bring yet. Anyway, this is my final list and tomorrow I’ve got my reflection post with the best and worst for the year as well as the result of the reader poll coming out.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this season in the comments below.
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I Must Keep Watching

  • Yuri on Ice (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep 11 – Finished)
  • March Comes in Like a Lion (Ep 11)

March Comes in Like a Lion is odd. Not that the show itself is odd but it is more the enjoyment I get from watching it is odd. When  I step back I have to wonder why it has taken me in the way it has and while I am loving it, it is a show I will really have to think about and probably rewtach before I can really explain what’s actually good or not about it. Still wondering how it is going to stretch content for another 12 episodes but looking forward to what it does.

 

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Still On My Radar

  • Lostorage Incited WIXOSS (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Days (Ep 24 – Finished)
  • Iron Blooded Orphans (Ep 37)
  • Bungo Stray Dogs (Ep 24 – Finished)
  • Flip Flappers (Ep 13 – Finished)
  • Izetta: the Last Witch (Ep 12 – Finished)

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS was never really brilliant but it has been consistent in its narrative and after 12 episodes I can honestly say I’m glad I watched it. Certainly there are better shows and this isn’t one I’d say was  must watch, but it was certainly worth the time this season.

This far in to Iron Blooded Orphans I’m unlikely to drop it but the last two episodes have definitely been less fun to watch and I’m currently really disengaging from the viewing experience. I’m hoping it picks back up soon.

Flip Flappers left off without really ever giving me much satisfaction. It is kind of fun to watch and visually it is gorgeous but the characters and story just never quite accomplish anything so while I liked this more than Izetta in the end it is still a series that I wish could have been better.

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Not Dropped But Not Sold On These

  • Kiss Him, Not Me (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Trickster (Ep 12 – No episode this week)
  • Bloodivores (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Nazotokine (Ep 12 – Finished)

Another one I am glad to see finished. Kiss Him, Not Me is probably not a terrible anime but I was never the right audience for it and watching it was more of an endurance test than anything else. Well, done now and just have to review.

 

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Dropped

  • Cheating Craft (Ep 4 – Dropped)
  • Girlish Number (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • Nanbaka (Ep 2 – Dropped)
  • Magical Girl Raising Project (Ep 2 – Dropped)
  • Matoi the Sacred Slayer (Ep 2 – Dropped)
  • Touken Ranbu – Hanmaru (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • To Be Hero (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • Occult;Nine (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • Dream Festival (Ep 1 – Dropped)

Autumn 2016 finished!

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Shion no Ou Series Review

Overview:

When Shion was four her family were killed and the murderer was never found. Now 13 years old, Shion is a female shogi player who does no speak but is determined to continue getting stronger. However, as she continues to play clues about the past begin to surface.

Review:

At 22 episodes, this anime is a slow moving piece of drama that at times feels more like a slice of life except that all of the characters continue to push toward their goals throughout. At the centre of the story is Shion and while her Shogi is apparently amazing her characterisation isn’t. You end up watching events unfold from a distance but, for me at least, emotional investment never actually occurs which leaves you cold to the revelation of who the murderer is (assuming you didn’t figure it out at around the half-way mark).

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I’m going to approach this review in a plus/minus format. It’s been awhile since I’ve done it and it’s the best way to organise my thoughts on this show. I’m also trying to avoid obvious spoilers about the identity of individuals but if you like to be surprise maybe you should give the review a miss.

Plus +

The support cast of this anime manage to hold up the show. While Shion is a fairly passive protagonist (about the only thing she actively does is play Shogi), the other characters are all very driven individuals. They make life choices, work to protect Shion, continue to seek self-improvement and generally are fairly entertaining to watch.  That said, there are no big personalities here (with a few notable exceptions and most of these are characters you are not supposed to like). Still, it’s a large cast and you still feel you’ve gotten to know the characters pretty well by the end of the series.

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Minus –

The animation looks stagnant and dated (even though the anime is from 2007). Normally I don’t criticise the animation but in this case there are far, far too many still shots of characters staring at shogi boards or close ups of that character closing is fan again, or that one clenching their fist, etc. When the characters are actually in motion it looks truly bizarre and you realise early on why they never bothered to actually animate the murder itself or anything to do with the crime other than the game of Shogi played between Shion and the murderer. Even then, there were more close ups on fingers and eyes than anything else.

Plus +

We have a male who cross dresses as a female (for well explained motives and reasons) and not every character is totally oblivious to it. Early on several key characters figure out what is going on though few of them ever directly confront the issue. Probably the weakest part of this is when they finally cut their hair and show up as a male and a few characters can’t immediately see what has happened. Still, this was interesting and played well early on in the series. The show also puts the distinction between male and female Shogi players front and centre for a large part of the series so while it doesn’t really make many inroads in challenging accepted stereotypes it at least addresses that they exist.

Minus –

You are going to be watching a lot of Shogi matches and that characters are going to discuss the tactics a lot so if you go in with no knowledge of the game, prepare to google and learn. Admittedly, the overall plot still makes sense without knowledge of the game but I’m thinking your missing out on the vast majority of what this show is about.

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Plus +

The mystery is resolved. Everything in this anime stems from Shion’s parents getting murdered and everything links back to it. Okay, things might be a little too nicely tied up and connected in a way that only happens in television mysteries but it leaves you with an absolute sense that things have come to an end and now everyone can move forward. I also like that it isn’t just Shion who has been crippled emotionally by the murder.  The event sent ripples through the Shogi community and so many characters were ultimately touched by it.

Minus –

The police investigators that just seem to hang around waiting for clues about an eight year old crime. While they might get some time to investigate new threats and the like, it seems really unlikely that two people would have that much time to move around the association just casually inquiring about things that may or may not significant. For a large part of this series that police are clueless and useless and what little they do manage to solve is all too late because the other characters have pieced things together by then for us so the investigators don’t even get to explain what has happened. They just get to march the criminal out at the end.

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All and all though, Shion no Ou is an interesting if slow watch. The series has its issues but with a likable cast and clear end point it is certainly bingeable. Whether you like it or not will probably be determined by how many games of Shogi you can stand watching and whether you find Shion herself completely bland in the main role. Clearly they were trying for cute and determined but mostly she comes off as an empty doll that occasionally smiles to show that she can emote (okay, that was harsh and she does actually exhibit a larger range of emotions toward the end of the series but early on she’s pretty one note).

If you’ve seen the show, what were your thoughts?

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 11.5

Review:

Well, you should know I hate recap episodes by now so 11.5 isn’t exactly going to do much for me. That said, at least the timing on this makes sense. If you didn’t pick up this show in Autumn but are considering it (given it is continuing on in the Winter season), 11.5 does an excellent job of catching you upon the pertinent plot points and characters so you would be right to just continue on from this point. What it also does, however, is point out how much this show relies on atmosphere over substance given this one 25 minute recap actually did cover all of the major plot points. There isn’t very much happening in this show in terms of plot. The recap fails at capturing the spirit of any of the characters though, and that is perhaps the more charming part of the show. Pretty much watch it if you are wanting to start this show and haven’t or skip it if you’ve been watching the show.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.

Friday’s Feature: Consistently Inconsistent – Or Why I Would Struggle to Recommend Bungo Stray Dogs

I know I covered a lot of my issues with Bungo back when season 1 finished airing. In case you missed it here’s a link to my review of the season. One of my biggest complaints then was the inconsistency of the series. So now that season 2 is done, has the issue been resolved? (I will actually write a review of the show at some point rather than nit-pick at individual points.)

I’d really have to say no. The one thing I can rely on from Bungo Stray Dogs is not knowing from week to week what I’m going to get. More importantly, not knowing from minute to minute within the episode. Is this threat going to be serious or not? Are they actually going to develop that plot thread or is this just another throw away idea that will come and go in the blink of an eye?

Sometimes I really feel that Bungo would benefit from an absolute do-over. There are so many good ideas in the show and there are some really interesting moments that are well delivered and well thought out. Then there’s everything else in the show.

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From season 1 to season 2 there have been some changes. Spending the first four episodes of season 2 in flashback (giving that arc at least a bit of consistency and a more serious tone) was a bold choice. The end of season 1 left us waiting for the next move in the three way war and instead we got back story on a character and more information about the Port Mafia and the show benefited overall from both of these things. It made Dazai a little more human and a lot less of a comic relief character and it allowed us to see the Mafia as an actual player in the battle to come rather than the throw away third wheel.

But this wasn’t enough to really say that this show found its tone. While the episodes following the flash back did tone down the comedy aspects that consistently plagued season 1, the comedy is still there (and rightly so given its an established part of the show). The issue is that they still aren’t really finding the right timing or placement of some of these ‘humorous’ moments and a lot of them still aren’t hitting their marks.

Okay, there are worse things for a show to be than inconsistent in tone but inconsistencies are a major problem. When a show doesn’t have consistent tone or pacing they risk alienating everyone. A lot of people will put up with bad or mediocre but when we’re not sure what is coming and we go from soaring heights to crashing to rock bottom in the space of half an episode it makes you start to resent the show.

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That said, this problem isn’t exclusive to Bungo Stray Dogs though it’s probably been the one anime I’ve kept watching this year where inconsistency has been a problem. Prior to Bungo the anime I’d have pointed to with this as a central issue would be Samurai Flamenco. I never had any clue whether that show was supposed to be serious or not and whether it was supposed to be funny or not and the way it threw us around made me wonder sometimes if the writers actually knew what they were aiming for from scene to scene (and I know I just annoyed every fan of Flamenco but wow that tone shifts around a lot).

Addressing the other side of the coin though, some anime are deliberately all over the shop  when it comes to tone and it works for them. D Gray Man, which is admittedly one of my all time favourite anime if not my favourite, is horrendously inconsistent when you consider the sharp shifts from comedy to character driven drama to shonen action and then to the darkest and nastiest things your could do to characters. And yet in D Gray Man the tonal shifts are actually a strength rather than a detriment in the long run (at least for me). While occasionally the comedic moments are jarring, they are placed strategically to either energize a section where the pace has slowed down for exposition or at a moment when things have been too dark and tense for too long and they are trying to bring us back into the flow of the story.

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What the comedic moments never do in the original series is step on an important piece of character development or a truly dramatic moment. While Allen and Kanda will shout and yell at each other in the cafeteria or prior to a normal battle, when faced with a truly dangerous foe the characters don’t waste time with quips or other silliness. They respond to the situation they are in and that makes them feel more real. In the everyday (and facing the normal enemy that they are well used to fighting) they are more relaxed then in other situations.

The other reason it works is because ultimately the central narrative continues to drive forward. We are always moving toward stopping the Earl. It doesn’t matter what side missions they get sent on or what intrigue happens or how dark or light the tone of the show it because we are still moving toward something that was established early on. Basically the story has purpose and all the jumping around in tone just makes 103 episodes of this show actually interesting because the characters go through a lot of different things and you are going along for a ride with them. If they hadn’t had the variations in tone we might have been buried under an avalanche of depression about twenty episodes in.

Bungo lacks this drive toward anything because from episode 1 we know nothing. We don’t know what any of the characters ultimately want and we don’t have a central conflict or villain to deal with. Everytime we think we’ve met something that could be a that villain or goal, it is quickly revealed to be just another distraction in an already cloudy narrative. And that may actually be the main reason Bungo struggles to find its feet. While there may be an overall purpose, the audience aren’t in on that secret and so very little of anything it is presenting has any weight. At the end of season one we meet the Guild but are they really all that much of a threat? And will defeating the Guild mean everything is fine? None of this has been established and other than the fact that the leader of the Guild seems crazily destructive for the sake of it, if the Guild actually won this three-way battle would it matter?

What are your thoughts on inconsistent tone in anime? Does it bother you?

Flip Flappers Episode 13

Review:

This episode gave me a sinking feeling fairly close to the start. While part of me just kept hoping that Flip Flappers would actually do something noteworthy other than the visual spectacle the final episode overly relied on the power of love and friendship (without offering anything interesting thematically about either) and pure coincidence. No answers about who funded research into Pure Illusion, where the weird cult came from, who is funding Salt and his group now, who is looking after any of the kids even though clearly the weird cult was responsible for raising them and has now been destroyed, and no real answers about what gathering the shards would have actually done given apparently none of it mattered at all. Let’s just narrowly focus down on Cocona, Papika and Mimi and not give Mimi any real character. She’s either evil, controlling Mimi, or sweetness and light Mimi and neither side of her has any more depth than that. The one moment I genuinely enjoyed in this final episode was when a second  Salt appeared and more or less echoed evil Mimi’s words from a few episodes ago but Salt wasn’t having any of it and just shot his potential evil twin. Just think how much better off Mimi would have been if she’d done similar. And that was the best moment to get you thinking in the entire episode as everything else was pretty visuals and frantic energy but little substance. While this series is still very enjoyable it is definitely the biggest disappointment for me this season. I’m going to give myself some time before reviewing it because right now I’d be pretty negative about it.

Flip Flappers is available on AnimeLab.

Poco’s Udon World Episode 7

Review:

Now that a whole bunch of other shows finished I decided to pick this one back up and try to finish it. Episode 7 is still ridiculously sweet. Souta’s made the decision not to stay in Tokyo and he’s adjusting to his new lifestyle and reconnecting with the people who thought for sure he was about to move back to Tokyo and not return. It’s all going just a bit too smoothly given he’s transition from stable work to free-lance and he’s still adjusting to parenting but I guess that’s why it is a slice-of-life and not a hard hitting drama. The episode was still entertaining and felt like it was over very quickly.

Poco’s Udon World is available on Crunchyroll.

Die Hard Movie Review

Oh look, another non-anime review. Actually, this was holiday viewing because it is about the only movie everyone in my family agreed on that had a Christmas theme so here we go.

Overview:

John McClane has been invited to a Christmas party at the company his wife works at. While there, a group of armed terrorists take over the building and take the party goers hostage. Now, John, a cop from New York is trapped in the building and has to face the terrorists to try to free the hostages.

Review:

Okay, if you watch action movies you have already seen Die Hard. It is a classic and a staple of the genre. Bruce Willis, when he still had hair, making sarcastic quips on the radio while limping around the building carrying a gun and wearing the signature white singlet (ignore the part in the movie where it obviously changes colour and then returns to being a dirty-white singlet, nobody likes you pointing out too many continuity errors) and the police outside being totally useless. It is a classic for a reason and while most of what happens is now considered cliche and Die Hard didn’t do it first, it definitely did it well.

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Breaking it down, probably the best thing the movie did was cast Bruce Willis. I am not a massive Bruce Willis fan, I find his movies hit and miss, but Bruce Willis is John McClane. I can’t imagine another actor delivering those lines and giving a performance as believable as Bruce Willis did and to be honest when the terrorists were having hissy fits and his wife pointed out that nobody can drive someone crazy like John I totally believed it. This casting is so important to everything in this movie as it is the glue that holds all the other parts together.

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As for the remaining cast members, they are a bit hit and miss. More of less anyone could have been the wife and most of the minor terrorists are only there to add to the body count. The cops outside are all kind of cookie-cutter characters with various levels of incompetence and the limo-driver serves pretty much no purpose. But, Alan Rickman, as Hans and the leader of the terrorists, is perfect. He delivers a great performance as a villain and the play between Hans and John has some great chemistry which just adds to the experience and you genuinely want to see these two face off. The other character of note is Sgt. Powell, one of the only cops outside who seems to have a functioning brain and the one John spends a lot of time on the radio with. Though these characters don’t actually meet until the end, they build a fairly solid relationship over the course of the movie.

As a narrative there are no surprises. You have your hero of the story who goes through a series of trials and set backs on his way to accomplishing a single, established goal.  The only real surprise you will have is the wonder of how John McClane has not died at least six times before we get to the end of the film.

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But, what it gives us in exchange for a very by the numbers plot are some truly memorable set pieces and lines. Yeah, the hero takes out each of the baddies, working his way up to the leader with the stakes getting higher as he runs out of weapons, and blood given how many wounds he accumulates, but what really makes this film memorable is that each scene is crafted to be memorable. There’s the C4 in the elevator shaft moment, the jumping off the roof with the fire hose moment, the glass shooting scene, the dead man in the elevator in the santa hat, etc, etc. Each action set up works and is striking in how it plays out so you aren’t getting bored by the same sneak up, shoot and kill over and over, or just guns blazing and shouting every single scene. Too many modern action movies go for repetitive action while changing settings rather than changing up the actual action itself. And, that carries over to all the Die Hard sequels (though some of those are pretty terrible). The action sequences are diverse even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

So, if you haven’t yet seen this movie and you were looking for a ‘Christmas’ movie that has a touching resolution but doesn’t get so sweet it makes you roll your eyes, Die Hard is probably a good choice. There’s definitely blood, violence and a little bit of swearing, but by today’s standards it’s a pretty tame movie visually but it is good mindless fun.

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 37

Review:

And they are still fighting the thing from the desert only due to various systems that make no sense the two main fighters are getting taken out of the fight, at least until Mikazuki decides that he doesn’t much care about the consequences. I guess this was supposed to build tension and nearly taking Ride out was supposed to somehow make you feel this was dramatic but mostly this episode is a lot of shouting and dust clouds. Iok is still a moron and the fact that he hasn’t been killed, either by the armour or by his companions is really starting to bug. I guess he’s hanging around for the crazy factor for awhile. Mostly, I just want this fight over because I’m not invested in it.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 11

Review:

While this episode is beautiful (nothing like a fever to justify some truly fascinating visuals) given Rei is bedridden for most of it and the rest is taken up with the sisters enjoying New Year’s there isn’t really a lot going on this episode. Realistically, it kind of felt like a pause or the calm after the storm of last week’s emotional outburst from Rei, something he probably needed given the stress he was under. As a viewer, I was still interested in what was happening but when the episode ended I felt vaguely disappointed that little to nothing had progressed or changed or been revealed. Still really enjoying this series but it is definitely more the overall feel of the show than the accomplishment of any individual episode at this point.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.

3 Day Quote Challenge – Day 3

So this is the end of the 3 day challenge. If you missed days 1 and 2 (book quotes and movie quotes) you should definitely check them out. Today I’m sharing 3 of my favourite anime quotes to end the challenge. I’m not nominating anyone but if you want to take part the challenge is 3 quotes a day for 3 days and nominate 3 people per day.

My quotes today:

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(Bleach)

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Challenge completed now. I really had fun with this as I really like thinking about quotes from various stories.