Black Cat Series Review: This is A Hot Mess of A Show

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in July 2016 and can be found here.

Review:

It’s hard to know whether Black Cat is truly amazing or truly dreadful or somewhere between the two. It’s a lot of fun but there are an abundant number of flaws with this show that only become more pronounced during a rewatch (and on rewatching again before the repost I’m more convinced than ever that it is hard to tell where this show actually lies). I’m going to start with the characters and then get on to the plot.

Train and Saya on the roof

Let’s start by looking at Train and Saya. Saya’s a sweeper and carries a gun and gives Train the very profound advice that if she doesn’t want to shoot someone she won’t. Somehow this is a revelation for Train, who other than being incredibly good at killing people and a friend to stray cats seems to have very little personality in the first few episodes. That doesn’t mean he isn’t cool. Train is very cool. The anime bends over backwards to make you feel that Train is cool. He’s an assassin. He’s the cool silent type and he has cat like characteristics. Not the nice house-cat kind. The aloof-stray-cat kind.

The relationship between Train and Saya develops super fast and ends tragically, which is essentially the catalyst for Train’s actual transformation and almost every event that occurs after this in the series (apparently Train is someone people become obsessed with on first meeting). A lot of my issues with the anime stem from the fact that I really feel Saya (given the number of flash backs she gets and given how profound her impact is supposed to be) needed to be a lot more fleshed out.

That said, Train and Saya’s relationship and the tragedy of her death is one of the better handled ideas in the show and to be honest if the anime had stuck with this initial plot line, and then had Train simply get his revenge, ultimately I’d probably have loved this show from start to finish. Instead it really feels like this sequence, while it is brought up endlessly as a motivator for Train, is merely a side-story to the overall plot. And the overall plot is messy.

Train finds Saya dying

Train as a whole isn’t such a great character. After being Mr Super Cool and aloof he goes through a moody hating the world stage before bouncing back as an absolute and complete slacker who occasionally snaps and goes homicidal. He’s all over the place and while a tragic childhood and really warped start to adulthood may account for some of his inability to cope with the world in any kind of coherent fashion it doesn’t make for fantastic viewing. It’s impossible to know whether he’s going to spring into action or simply yawn and go look for more food at any turn in the story. He regularly ditches his friends to pursue his own vendettas and he even places others at risk.

That said, I like Train as a character. He is hilarious and when in assassin mode he is ice cold. Plus, he has the characteristics of a cat which would make him kind of amazing regardless. Is Train a good or a balanced character? Absolutely not. Does he develop in a sensible manner? Not really. Is he at times completely boring due to a lack of actual personality traits? Yep.

And I haven’t changed my opinion. I still like Train but I still see him as a dreadfully unbalanced and poorly written character who is getting slung around by whatever the plot needs from him at that point in time. There’s also a lot of angst going on at times and when it puts his friends in danger it makes it really hard to see Train’s point of view.

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So with Saya being dead for a great deal of the story, and Train having almost zero to add to characterisation within this show, who are we left with? For better or worse we are left with an entire cohort of characters (some of whom you will have forgotten even if you’ve watched the show). We have the other numbers and various other agents for Chronos. Then we have the Apostles of the Stars which is a group made by Train’s other fanboy and which ostensibly exists to wipe out Chronos but mostly just seems like a place for various crazy characters to assemble and have their hearts broken. Then we have the Sweeper alliance and all of the members therein. Plus the people they regularly fight in their work as sweepers. And those that hire them. And a waitress who seems to follow them from town to town.

However, the three other characters that really get any development are Sven, Eve and Rinslet. Rinslet is a walking cliché so we aren’t going to go any further into the professional thief who tries to charm her way through any situation. Eve is a developed weapon so has the blank and robotic personality of one to start with and takes almost everything literally. While her growth as a human is impressive throughout the series and her combative/protective relationship with Train is one of the more interesting relationships formed, Eve herself is pretty dull.

And can we mention that every female character in this show is either dull or a trope of some sort. Okay, I’ll be fair, the male characters aren’t fairing much better but seriously, just one decent female character could have really added something.

Black Cat - Train, Sven and Eve

That leaves Sven. He’s actually good at his job (though his lack of finances would not have you believe that). He’s also forced into a father role with Eve and Train both having the world knowledge and coping skills of three year olds. Of all the characters in Black Cat, Sven is probably the least dynamic as his character regularly has to portray the voice of reason, support, complaint, and deal with the every day. It also makes Sven the most interesting in terms of his characterisation. His personality isn’t a one line wrap up about being a cute girl with powers or a flamboyant guy with a sword, gun or other weapon. Sven is very human (even with the power in his eye) and during this story he faces a lot of challenges well above and beyond his abilities and while calm isn’t the best word to describe him, he is quite sensible in most of his approaches.

It’s understandable that Sven and Train regularly clash. Train is like the rebellious and lazy teenage son who doesn’t really want to listen and doesn’t think Sven knows anything. Sven on the other hand takes his responsibilities very seriously and while he didn’t actively go out of his way to pick up a stray, Eve’s attachment to Train left Sven little choice.

Now onto plot.

Black Cat - Creed

My problem with the plot is that it essentially has two separate storylines (either one of which would have been fine) crammed together and as a result it gets messy. Not complex. Both storylines are pretty simple, but the telling and delivery becomes overly complicated leaving both storylines feeling confusing and lacking (I had a very similar issue more recently with B the Beginning for much the same reason).

The main plot seems to focus on Creed and Train. I’m going to call that the main plot because it is the one introduced in the very first episode with a fight sequence followed by a flash back to how we got to the fight and it is the one that seems the primary motivator for most of the series.

Essentially, Creed is in love with Train. Don’t really know why. Apparently it is something to do with Train’s eyes, which are adorable to be sure but somehow I’m not feeling homicidal because of it. Creed becomes convinced that Saya is corrupting and ruining his Train and kills her. Which seems pretty straight forward and a nice set-up for a revenge plot except that it also turns out that Creed has a power hidden from Chronos and an entire group (The Apostles of the Stars) and after totally destroying Train emotionally, Creed somehow thinks Train is just going to come join his group.

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Crazy, delusional and deadly. Great combination in a villain without any real purpose other than to occasionally stir Train into actual action. Yeah, I am certain there were various motives and plot points explained but you leave the anime without remembering them. And this is really kind of a problem because as I mentioned with Train’s character, if this had been the focus we could have developed Train more, Creed more, and Saya’s death would have felt more purposeful. Everything would have clicked nicely together. Alas, the story wants to do more.

We still have Eve, the developed weapon and the people that want to use her and the research to… do something bad? Again, not well explained and while there are references strewn throughout the episodes to this plot, you can more or forget it while getting caught up in other events and then somehow it comes back again.

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As I said before, the plot would have been better either just telling a revenge story or telling a story about helping a bio-weapon escape. The two together just kind of end up mangled and neither is as satisfying as it might have been. I’m not actually opposed to multiple storylines mind you, just poorly delivered ones.

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So after saying all that, the question is, do I recommend watching Black Cat?

If you like anime that involve crazy weapons and powers and you don’t really care about the villains motives and you can tolerate pacing that is all over the shop and characters that sling shot through the emotional spectrum a mile-a-minute, then you will probably have a lot of fun with this anime. I really had a lot of fun with this anime. It’s definitely a case where the whole is better than any of its parts. Certainly it is flawed and it feels like it is about three different shows mooshed together at times, but there’s just a fun kind of energy running through it and there are some great moments and scenes (even if the road to them is sometimes littered with the debris of the parts that missed the mark).

And despite all my complaints about it, I own this one on DVD and I’ve rewatched it quite a lot. It is good popcorn viewing even if it doesn’t really hold up to any kind of scrutiny.

Have you seen Black Cat? If so, what did you think?


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Karandi James

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Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Series Review: Will They Just Let The Franchise End Now?

How much mileage can you get out of a parody concept of magical boys who don’t really want to save the world? Well, this franchise has asked that question again and again but if there is one thing Happy Kiss has taught me, it is that Cute High Earth Defense Club Whatever needs to just stop now.

Review:

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On watching the original Cute High Earth Defense Club series I was sceptical but ended up pleasantly surprised that despite the formulaic monster of the week approach, it actually did a pretty solid job as a magical girl parody and it gave us enough interesting dialogue and random conversations between the boys to make it worth the while. It didn’t amaze me but I had a reasonably good time with it. Then we had a sequel. Which I didn’t finish. And an OVA. Which I didn’t watch. Most recently we were introduced to Happy Kiss with a whole new group of boys and I decided, probably poorly, to give the show another go. After all, it was a comedy show I’d finished a season of. It couldn’t be that bad.

And that assessment is probably right. It isn’t that bad, but neither is it particularly good. While the first episode has flashes of those intriguingly random musing between the boys and each character in the new group could potentially be interesting, as the season progresses you will realises that this series has absolutely nothing to say. While the first season was undeniably a parody and some of the monsters were truly inconsequential it still offered up some half-decent social commentary and just some random food for thought. Happy Kiss brings nothing to the table other than the tongue in cheek apathy of the main cast and giving the audience a knowing look asking us to find it hilarious as they bemoan yet another transformation sequence.

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But even then they couldn’t commit with the final episodes seeing boys joining forces with the henchmen of the previously evil brother and willingly throwing themselves into a fight against a suddenly propped up villain that the audience has legitimately no reason to care about. So the boys didn’t even manage to be consistent in their apathy.

Actually, I do have a couple of positives. I mean, I did get through the entire season so it isn’t like it is an unwatchable steaming pile of overcooked spinach.

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Firstly, I kind of loved the song that they played every single time the boys used their final attack. Well I say final attack but generally it the only one because mostly they just kind of made stupid comments until Karl (the talking otter who is actually a prince) tells them its time to make everyone happy and then they attack. But the song is pretty infectious and it definitely got stuck in my head every single week.

The other thing I really enjoyed was that at least the main characters called the villains on the pathetic nature of their complaint. It was something I always wished the Sailor Scouts would do when someone gave in to something really petty and transformed into a monster.

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Outside of those two things though, there isn’t a lot to love about Happy Kiss. The cast don’t develop at all, the rivalry between the Defense Club and the Student Council seems forced and doesn’t really go anywhere until near the end and then it is kind of just over, and even the two princes don’t really do much more than repeat their formulaic lines week after week.

I’d honestly say that you would be better off watching the original than this if you’ve never watched anything in the franchise. The writing is undeniably better and more amusing. I’m clearly not recommending this anime and I’m kind of hoping this is where the franchise stops but somehow I doubt it.

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Black Butler: Book of Circus Series Review: Let’s Go To The Circus and Hang Out With Demons and Reapers

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

Review:

I’ve previously reviewed Black Butler (loved it) and Black Butler 2 (be gone from my sight). However, I wrote my review of Book of Circus after watching Book of Circus on Crunchyroll and fell in love with Black Butler all over again, which may seem inconsistent as it does a few of the things that I berated Black Butler 2 for doing. Revisiting this post just reminded me that my opinion of this one really hasn’t changed.

Yes, there are unnecessary appearances by characters simply because they are part of the original series. And there’s some timeline inconsistencies in this story (mainly due to Book of Circus apparently following something from the source rather than carrying on from the anime adaptation). Kind of on the same level as between Firefly (TV series) and Serenity (movie) where some of the key events are changed to better further the current narrative. That said, the minor discrepancies aren’t enough to break the deal with this show and the unnecessary character cameos are less intrusive than they felt in Black Butler 2.

So why should you watch Book of Circus?

1. The opening theme is incredible. I loved the original Black Butler opening but Book of Circus perfectly matches the circus theme with the dark undertones of the story and creates something really special. And clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so given how many YouTube channels have a version of this opening up to watch.

2. We revisit Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship and the complexities in their master/butler, contractor/demon roles and Ciel’s character arc in this narrative is possibly the best of the lot. While I loved Ciel in the original series because he didn’t undergo overt transformation but reaffirmed his existing status, Ciel in this arc actually manages to develop and grow (and break apart at times) without derailing who Ciel is at his core. It’s fascinating to watch and it doesn’t feel like they’ve cheapened his character. Plus, Ciel is adorable in his circus clothes (this is a point I have to reiterate – Ciel is at his absolute cutest in this story).

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3. The support cast are great. My biggest issue with Black Butler 2 was the introduction of Alois and Claude, both of whom I despised. Book of Circus bring us a colourful cast of interesting and flawed characters to follow and get to know, even if the end is inevitable from the get-go.

These characters probably deserve a bit more time and attention than I gave them originally in my review. The majority of the employees at the circus were orphans and they are incredibly close. It makes it hard to Sebastian and Ciel to infiltrate because even after they become employed by the circus they aren’t part of that inner group. The relationship between the supporting characters is an absolute asset to this story and makes everything feel more real and dramatic than it might otherwise be.

We also revisit some of the other characters from Black Butler and each one is used to fairly solid affect, though it should definitely be noted that this is a story about the circus and Sebastian and Ciel. The other characters are there to help connect this story to other stories in the Black Butler universe but they are not the focus.

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4. It’s a well told story. By focusing on one investigation and the steps Ciel will take to solve it, there’s no feeling that this is simply being rushed along as another bump in Ciel’s journey. It feels like the events were given the time they needed without lingering overly long. While it would have been nice for a villain with just a little more motivation (or sanity) the lack of this doesn’t detract from enjoying the journey and having a satisfying resolution.

5. Seriously, it’s just fun. Visually it’s appealing, the music works, the characters come together well, and for any criticism I could give this series, I could dismiss it just as quick because I really enjoyed watching it. And that is why I watch anime.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this instalment of Black Butler, however it was fantastic to watch through and it remains one of my favourite parts of this franchise.


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Karandi James

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Tada Doesn’t Fall in Love Series Review: The Classic Hollywood Tale That Doesn’t Quite Stick

Tada Doesn't Fall in Love Episode 10

I will admit that Tada Doesn’t Fall in Love was one of the more consistent titles of the Spring season, but being consistently above average isn’t really something that will get you a rave review. That said, while dismissing this title might seem easy, there’s still quite a bit of charm to be found here. That said, there will be spoilers in the review.

Review:

Let’s take our typical stoic high school protagonist who lacks parents, has a strong sense of responsibility, and a single hobby that we can exploit to make him seem well rounded and have him literally bump into a foreign princess on student exchange in Japan. It is all pretty formulaic and if you’ve seen the likes of Roman Holiday, you already know more or less what you are in for.

Tada Doesn't Fall in Love Episode 2

Teresa, as the blonde foreign Princess, is adorable in her excitement over Japanese culture, her involvement in the photography club, and her general outlook on life. She’s sweet but not to the point that it makes the viewer nauseated or unable to see her as a real person, and she’s certainly fairly responsible about dealing with her obligations regardless of personal feelings which becomes the major point of tension toward the end of the series as you might expect.

Tada Doesn't Fall in Love Episode 5

Even Tada, as dull as I made him sound in the opening paragraph, is actually quite a solid male lead. While on the surface he is much like any other anime protagonist, there’s a depth to how he represents his fairly repressed emotions that makes him quite an interesting guy to watch. Examining the clutter in the cafe his grandfather runs that he works in or around his house there are endless traces of the personality of Tada and his family. And that is something I have to praise the series on all the way through; there’s a phenomenal amount of background detail in most settings filling the club room, the cafe, and Teresa and Tada’s rooms with enough things to give a sense of who these characters really are.

Tada Doesn't Fall in Love Episode 9

The romance that develops between these two is pretty standard and goes through more or less what you would expect. The very close friends but are they more position lasts through most of the first two thirds with Tada’s jealousy only really being triggered when Teresa’s fiance shows up. While there’s potential there for high school drama and tension with your standard love triangle, the show actually avoids going for the low hanging fruit and for the most part Charles, as the fiance in question, is quite an interesting contribution to the cast and ultimately the resolution of the series hinges on his decisions far more than anyone else’s. He definitely could have taken the ending in a very different direction had he decided to play the jerk.

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The rest of the cast consists of Tada’s family and friends and Teresa’s friend and bodyguard. While these characters will vary in their appeal, they each bring something to the mix. What needs to be remembered though is this is strictly Tada and Teresa’s story and while at times it might seem the support cast have a more critical role, they really don’t. Part of this is because of the episode run count and the other part of it is probably because less is more in this case. While these characters are all charming and work in varying ways, more of them on screen may have just left them open to the obvious criticism that they really don’t have much purpose or existence outside of either of the main characters.

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Visually this is a very pretty show. I already mentioned the detailed in a lot of the backgrounds, but just the colours in general and the many views of the sky (stars, rainbows, and clouds all feature heavily) make this a visually satisfying though not extraordinary show. The music is a little on the average side but works. Just don’t expect to remember much after it is done.

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That’s really all there is to Tada Doesn’t Fall in Love. It is a straight forward boy meets girl story where both characters are genuinely nice people who find something in common. While there are plenty of other stories that do something similar, this one does it well enough to make it worth the time for those who are inclined to enjoy these kinds of stories, but it isn’t great enough that I would tell people who aren’t into romance that they should spend their time on it.  I had a lot of fun and found it quite charming but I know even from reading reviews from other bloggers that mileage on this one varied greatly.

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Kamisama Kiss Series Review: Lose Your Home, Become A God, Maybe Fall in Love

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

This is a review of seasons one and two of Kamisama Kiss. There are some spoilers below but I hope you enjoy.

Review:

Kamisama Kiss is a romantic, coming of age, supernatural comedy? It’s kind of hard to define. Mostly it is a romantic comedy but some episodes focus more on the supernatural elements and others focus on Nanami developing as a person/god so it isn’t all about high school girl drooling over cute fox spirit. Though there’s definitely aspects of that as well. I think when I reviewed this the first time I felt that it somehow it lacked depth, but that isn’t true. While not every event is high stakes and world ending terror, Nanami is dealing with a lot being made homeless in episode 1 before having to learn about the supernatural world from scratch while coming to grips with her own power. Hard to blame her for clinging to Tomoe along the way.

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Originally I reviewed this anime using a plus and minus format. I’m going to keep many of the same points this time around but I’m ditching that format.

One the best things about the show is the relationship between Nanami and Tomoe. It is hard to say that they are a couple given Tomoe continues to declare that he won’t fall in love with a human, but at the same time they have a partnership that relies on a fair amount of trust and respect. This doesn’t just happen. It is built up slowly over the course of the two seasons as the begin with an absolutely terrible first impression of one another.

It is in the development of the two characters individually and seeing how that impacts on their interactions that a lot of the fun is being found. Nanami definitely gets assigned the role of damsel in distress a lot in the first season, but she isn’t just taking that lying down. She’s fighting to understand how to deal with this new role of god that has been thrust upon her. Tomoe for the most part seems like he’s got things under control, but he definitely brings a lot of baggage into the mix that season 2 begins to unravel.

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Then again, all of the supernatural support cast are pretty solid, and no, they aren’t all hot guys although a lot of the early characters introduced are. These characters come with vibrant personalities and complex relationships. Their problems feel very human and the recurring characters grow and change through their interactions with Nanami. Personal favourites include Kurama and Himemiko. Though Nanami’s shikigami is pretty adorable in season two as well as fairly handy.

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And all of this comes with a fantastic opening song (or at least season one does). I could happily sing along to this one for ages as it is just so incredibly relaxing.

But, there are some parts the show does less right. For instance the humans in the story. Seriously, there are only two other human characters in the story worth paying attention to. For all the time and effort spent on giving the spirits, yokai and gods personality and presence, the humans are all shallow and underdeveloped shells of characters. This is especially true of Nanami’s classmates. And even if this wasn’t the focus of the anime, do they really have to be that irritating.

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The other issue comes back to that seeming lack of depth. Almost every problem in the show ends up being neatly wrapped up. Nanami is sweet and wants to help people and spirits and everything else and somehow she just makes things work out. We could argue that this is a by-product of her being a land god and coincidences occur because of that power, but that doesn’t stop it being any less a cheap plot device to get a happy resolution. Though, season two was definitely starting to add in some more complex problems that weren’t one episode conflicts and it would be nice to see the anime continue on and continue in that direction.

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Overall, what we have is a sweet show with some great characters (and a few not so great ones) with a predictable but adorable story, all told with some nice music, vibrant artwork and reasonable voice acting.

I completely recommend this anime to anyone who likes romantic comedies and even just people that don’t mind the coming of age story with a bit of supernatural silliness thrown in. While the comedy doesn’t always hit the mark, the moments that do will have you laughing aloud. A scene that I always remember is when Tomoe transforms Kurama into an ostrich and then chases him through the school building with a fox fire. Utterly ridiculous and yet totally funny (and apparently I’m not alone in that given a recent conversation I had with someone on Twitter).

What are your thoughts on Kamisama Kiss? Do you have a favourite moment or character? I’d love to know.


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Karandi James

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Libra of Nil Admirari Series Review: Pretty Boys and Books

I can’t help but wonder if maybe this story would be more fun if it were interactive and allowed you to follow along with one guy’s story rather than chopping and changing to ensure each guy got screen time, but no chance of development.

Review:

Libra of Nil Admirari

During the spring 2018 season I chopped and changed a lot with my watch list. There were a lot of shows that potentially could have been interesting, or I wasn’t sure if they would stick, so I ended up watching quite a few shows without reviewing and then as I dropped other shows that didn’t work out I would end up picking them back up. Libra of Nil Admirari was one of those series. And really, the first episode defines the entire viewing experience:

  • It is reasonably unremarkable but has some potentially interesting ideas.
  • Characters are introduced but they don’t really seem to have any overly defined traits.
  • Small moments of danger are inserted to created drama but it never feels like things are actually going to get dangerous.

Libra of Nil Admirari Episode 1

Basically I ended up feeling luke-warm about this whole series. It didn’t help that mid-way through the run the subtitles changed from Ruze to Kuze (or maybe I just paid more attention) and I realised that most of the guys running around in the show I never knew the name of and was left looking it up at the ends of episodes if I actually wanted to talk about that character.

While that might make it seem like a fairly terrible viewing experience, it really wasn’t. The show isn’t bad at any point. However it fails to be interesting or memorable for the most part. The one thing it has going for it are the cursed tomes, and pretty much any episode that dealt directly with a cursed book had at least one moment that really grabbed my attention, but even this story-line ultimately didn’t go very far. While we do get to see who is behind the distribution of the cursed books and they even resolve the story well enough, it’s a pretty unsatisfying story when you simply look at that plot line without the clutter of all the issues the pretty boys bring into the story.

Libra of Nil Admirari Episode 5

And each of the boys does have a story to share. It might have even been an interesting story if they’d been given four or five episodes to develop it but instead we shift the focus to the guy of the week, learn a little about him, and then Kuze either gets herself in trouble and is rescued by him and somehow that results in him feeling better about whatever, or Kuze actually talks to them and makes them realise something about themselves, but either way it is usually resolved before I’ve had time to get invested. Some of the boys were lucky to have their story carry over more than one episode and Hisui was one of the few that actually had quite a reasonable build up. The tragedy of that was they then just kind of wrapped his story up because we were nearing the climax and it didn’t feel like he really had the screen time he needed to make his story actually work.

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So what this mostly leaves us with is an anime that actually has some reasonable ideas, is pleasant enough, has a cast that work and individually are each potentially interesting but underused, and ultimately a fairly forgettable plot. The one thing this anime definitely has in its favour is a very upbeat OP and some interesting visuals during the ED, though I’m not entirely sure if either of these is enough to offset the mediocrity of what lies between those two things.

Libra of Nil Admirari Episode 12

As for a recommendation, I really can’t. If you happen to really love historical settings or reverse harems, then perhaps you will enjoy this more than I did, but mostly I think what was good about this show just served to highlight all the opportunities it missed. By the end I was mostly just wanting it over because I kept thinking about how it could have and should have been much better. So not inherently broken but neither is it recommendable.

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No Game No Life Series Review: It’s Not Just a Game

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

This review was initially written in a style I very quickly dumped and that was separating out the characters, plot and setting under heading and discussing them in isolation. While I haven’t really changed my view on this anime, I have restructured the review quite significantly.

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This is a series I’d rewatched even before my first review and I noted that while the show remained ridiculously fun, the flaws of the series become far more glaringly obvious when the pretty shining colours and wow factor are less distracting and you already know the outcome of the games (though you kind of new the outcome in the first place it was more how they were going to pull it off).

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It is worth noting that realism is not what this anime was going for. All of the characters are complete and over-the-top parodies of human beings (even though the vast majority aren’t human). And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does make it hard to feel sympathy, empathy, or anything else for the characters. This problem was actually made worse when I finally got around to reading the first light novel hoping it would perhaps shed some light on some of the character’s back stories (note, it doesn’t at least not in volume 1).

And just when you think Sora and Shiro aren’t so bad afterall, Shiro’s outright lack of human emotion will punch you in the gut or Sora will follow up a truly brilliant dialogue with a panty joke or something equally jarring from the flow of the show.

That said, there is something amazing about these characters. My personal favourite is Izuna, who unfortunately doesn’t come along until close to the end but is actually the character I found the most sympathetic.

Jibril has some shining moments (anyone who values libraries and knowledge automatically gets some brownie points) and her adaptability is something to behold. But, those moments are contrasted with their attempts at using Jibril for comedic purposes that mostly fall flat. She was at her funniest when recalling the previous wars when she apparently single-handedly wiped out many elves. That was some pretty dark humour being thrown around in that scene, though that’s fairly consistent within No Game No Life. A lot of what you will be amused by within the context of the anime is actually quite dark and problematic when taken out of that context.

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The plot here is really where some people will start to drift away. They tell us early on that Blank  will NEVER lose. Seriously, they weren’t joking. Doesn’t matter what the situation or odds, these two are going to find a way to win. Whether you find the incessant rationalisation and explanations for how they managed to win charming and amusing or just pretentious will really determine how much you enjoy the story here.

More importantly, it kind of cuts off just as it’s getting interesting. They are progressing toward their stated goal but still have a long journey ahead of them and that’s it. Game over. Or, anime over. Perhaps we’ll eventually get a follow up, but for now, we’re left with Blank ready to start on their journey to challenge Tet (the god of Disboard) and yet we don’t get to see that journey.

There isn’t really anything resembling a subplot in this. There are supporting characters and something about a potential rebellion in Elven Garde but mostly this just serves as more fodder for explanations about how Sora manipulated the situation to win. What back story there is revolves around the previous King who lost a lot of Imanity’s (Humanity’s) territory to the War Beasts, and again, it isn’t a subplot so much as another piece of a long and convoluted explanation of victory.

However, where the characters might be questionable in how they are presented and the plot will only work provided you enjoy watching how they win rather than feeling any tension about whether they will win, the visuals are distinct, to say the least. Even on a rewatch, Disboard reamined beautiful.

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Okay, the colour palette is a little on the insane scale but it is supposed to be a fantasy world ruled by a god who thinks games are the best way to solve conflicts so we can probably let that go.

The music works but is reasonably forgettable and the voice acting is neither particularly good or bad. Shiro’s voice annoys me because it feels like everything she says has been put through a filter and is just that little bit too high and whisper like. Maybe this was supposed to make her sound cute but it drove me crazy by the end of the series. Fortunately, Shiro doesn’t talk anywhere near as often as Sora.

There’s fanservice here. Lots of it. Bathroom sequences and female characters losing their clothes for some fairly flimsy plot points. While bathroom scenes aren’t by themselves a problem their lack of purpose in this case is. It seems at times the entire plot just screeches to a halt while they chatter about random things while covered in suds. Could they at least talk strategy while showering? And seeing Sora using his phone to try to get photos of Stephanie in the bathroom is just all kinds of creepy.

Despite all the problems this series has that keep it from being a must watch, I like the set up and enjoy the games that are played. I like that the characters aren’t just proclaimed to be smart but they actually are planning ahead and have a vision of what they are trying to accomplish. The value of knowledge in this anime is expressed over and over again and that is something to be celebrated. That and the whole thing is so over the top and fun. While it won’t be for everyone, you can do a lot worse than No Game No Life.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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The Disastrous Life of Saiki K Series Review: Increasingly Diminishing Returns

Right, so we know I don’t like comedy anime and I’m not a big fan of anime set in a high school, but I do like supernatural stories or stories about characters with some sort of power. Hmm. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K really is one of those anime I just had to watch to decide whether or not I liked it.

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Review:

I’m going to save some people some time and just come out and admit I didn’t like this anime and I won’t be watching the second season. And yet, I did watch all of the first season because as much as I didn’t like this anime, there was something quite interesting about it. The problem was, none of the jokes ever landed for me so I was never particularly amused by the show and as interesting as the premise is and as each new character who is introduced is, unless the humour is actually working for you it isn’t as though there is some grand plot of the like to keep you hooked. So once you’ve figured out what each character is doing and how they interact with the rest of the cast, you’re just kind of waiting for the next character to come along.

That isn’t really fair to the show. Some people find this very funny and entertaining and that humour manages to carry them through the whole season. But it’s kind of like a story that relies on being able to distinguish colour and being colour blind – a show relying on zany humour when you don’t find it funny is kind of just bland.

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What got me through the show for the most part was the title character. Kusuo is an interesting guy in that he’s incredibly powerful but become entirely jaded by life because of it. He spends his days avoiding interactions with others and generally trying not to get too annoyed by the mundane world and fails miserable at doing so. Being able to read people’s thoughts he generally has a low opinion of humanity in general and while he isn’t on the path to being a super villain, he’s certainly become fairly dispassionate towards everyone including his parents.

One of the things I really appreciated about Kusuo is that he hasn’t given himself needless and petty restrictions about not using his powers in general. Kusuo uses his powers whenever it suits him, however because it would be a bother he does make sure to keep it low key as he doesn’t want it to become public knowledge. There’s no rule breaking or guilt about using his powers against his parents or classmates when it suits his current purposes. This allows him to also walk a morally grey line without the whole is he good or bad coming into the discussion. It isn’t about right or wrong. He’s a teenager making choices and mostly working off of self-interest. It makes for a change and is kind of refreshing that someone with powers isn’t forced to decide whether they’ll be good or evil. He’s just living his life on his own terms.

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However, as much as I appreciate Kusuo as a character, the support cast only work in that they give Kusuo obstacles and interactions to deal with. While some people might enjoy each of these characters, for me each one was progressively more painful than the last and the episodes where lots of the support characters converge were particularly painful. My biggest issue being that because we only see these characters through Kusuo’s lens they really are all one note characters who exist to bring one specific type of conflict into Kusuo’s life. Potentially less characters and giving each character more depth would have worked, but I kind of realise that doing so would kind of undermine the entire point of most of these characters and kill the humour that they are supposed to be a part of.

I will also note I wasn’t the biggest fan of the art or colour scheme on this one. It all works and is consistent enough, but it just wasn’t to my general taste. The music is functional but outside of the OP I don’t really remember any of it after the fact so it didn’t leave much of an impression.

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I kind of knew going in that The Disastrous Life of Saiki K was unlikely to work for me given what I had read about it. Still, despite thinking that when I started it, and despite not laughing once while watching, I don’t feel bad that I watched this. It was an interesting enough series for what it was and there were sufficient interesting moments with the main character to feel that it was worth the time. Still, I won’t go on to another season and I’ll never revisit this series.

Over to the readers: What are your thoughts on this one?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Super Lovers Series Review: Not Sure About the Super Part – But They Are Working on the Lovers Part

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

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My overall impression of this anime isn’t great and that hasn’t really changed since my first viewing of it or during the second season. To be honest, this is kind of one of those shows you watch because you really want more or a particularly genre but given how little there is you just kind of watch anything that is available. While there are certainly warm and touching moments and some really interesting dialogue exchanges there’s just too much sitting around and waiting for one of the many emotionally stunted characters to say or do something that should have already happened.

Outside of the main relationships, everything that happens in the plot happens because of narrative convenience, including amnesia, success in business with very little risk, admission into school, friend appearing, mother returning to Japan. While each of these events is plausible in and of itself, they really feel forced on the characters to make them act in certain ways because the plot demands it.

Last time I reviewed this I steered away from really getting into the age gap, and to be honest I’m not going to debate the morality of it in the real world, because quite frankly it isn’t appropriate. Is it problematic for a work of fiction to establish a relationship like this? Well that entirely depends on how far you separate fictional what-ifs from real experiences and some people will find this distinctly uncomfortable and so would be better off steering clear. I will admit, I find Haru very hard to take seriously as a character because of some of his choices and general lack of impulse control but ultimately that is a minor nitpick in an anime full of other general issues.

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Starting with the problems (and that way I can end on the positives):

01. Haru and Ren’s relationship doesn’t get a fair chance to develop in a cohesive manner. The time and continent jumps, and then the other characters who distract from this central story line just mean that everything about their relationship seems forced. Okay, some people are more concerned with the age difference and the fact that Haru is technically Ren’s key carer and with the power imbalance there is a lot wrong with the relationship in the first place. As I said above, I’m not getting into that one, but asking me to accept that Ren somehow imprinted on Haru as a child and just never got over that, despite having very little reason to continue feeling that way and even after being exposed to a larger group of people, just makes no sense. Granted, people do get fixated on others, but Ren’s level of mindless devotion is at times disturbing (more so then anything else about their relationship).

02. Haru’s brothers are all but completely unnecessary to the storyline and their characterisation is inconsistent at best. Is Aki actually angry with Haru? Apparently but then somehow he gets over it, except when he forgets he is supposed to be over it. Shima is little better when at times he seems all knowing and other times is just completely dense. And while a lot of what Haru does early in the season is so his brothers can all live together there just doesn’t seem much reason for this to need to happen. Particularly as the story then finds endless ways to send Aki and Shima off to school or work and remove them from the story. Just remove them in the first place and have them drop by when the occasion calls for it.

03. Haru’s mother, Haruko. Okay, Haruko needs her own entire post focussing on truly bizarre things anime parents sometimes get away with. Playing it off that she is super smart and probably has some master plan doesn’t make her a good mother. Or even a decent human being.Haru was hospitalised after returning to Japan and his parents were killed. He was not welcome in the house that took in his brothers. Why on earth would Haruko not do something to support her child in this situation? Why is he having to work as a host to save money to send his brothers to school? And even before then, who tells their kid they are dying in order to get them to fly by themselves to another country? Wow, she is horrible. Her final return at the end of the series did little to endear her to the audience or win her any points for mother of the year, either.

04. The pacing. After the initial time jumps and back and forths this anime settles into a very slow and languid style of story telling where time just doesn’t seem to be moving at all. That wouldn’t be so much a problem if the characters were interesting enough or if there day to day had some memorable moments scattered about but essentially they go to school or work and come home. Oh, I forgot, they found a dog.

05. Finally, the visuals. Normally this is not usually an issue for me with anime unless there is something particularly unusual about character design but I found the constant disappearing faces and vacant eyes when they weren’t doing a close up on a character really disconcerting. Again, not something that normally bugs me, but in this anime, when so much of it was characters sitting around talking so there wasn’t much else to distract, this really bugged me. I’ve read a lot of reviews with people saying how beautiful this anime is, and at times it really is; but that makes the times when it isn’t stand out more.

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You might think from that I hated this series, but that isn’t actually the case. At no point did I want to drop this show even on a second viewing. I did however want it to speed up a bit and maybe have a little bit more happening in each episode. So what is good about the series?

01. Ren. That might seem odd but Ren is a character I found very interesting. The best parts of this anime were the parts that dealt specifically with the trauma Ren had encountered prior to Haru and his adjustments to Japan and then to school life. What I particularly like is that Ren’s development as a person (not his relationship with Haru) seems fairly logical and cohesive. There aren’t sudden 180’s in his personality but there are small changes that build up over time. Even Ren engaging in conversation with some of the sub-characters was usually interesting but would have been better if I’d cared just a little bit more about the other character.

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02. Haru opening the cafe. Right, so his instant success is not particularly believable (no matter how many friends offer a helping hand) when you consider how many small businesses fail, but this move was a good one for Haru’s development. It showed him growing up and having an increasing sense of responsibility and allowed him to actually be in the story rather than at work or asleep. In terms of narrative devices the career change worked really well and seemed to fit with what we knew of the characters at the time.

03. The tone. This anime plays its story seriously and while there are sad moments and dark moments, mostly it has a very sweet tone. It feels consistent without abrupt changes in the writing style or music and while this does at times make it feel a little bit flat you aren’t suffering from the emotional whip-lash some of the other shows have given us this season.

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On balance there are less positives here than in the problem list but that isn’t a deal breaker. Watching this through it flows nicely if slowly and it tells its story affectively even if there are occasional distractions and detractors from it.

That said, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend watching Super Lovers. Even after the second season, there just isn’t enough going on with the characters and the plot and progress is pretty glacial. There’s certainly better out there to watch. 


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Space Battleship Tiramisu Series Review: A Glimmer Of Hope Lost In Space

Short form anime is never really overly appealing as to me it seems like they always struggle to do more than insert a few gags due to run time. Space Battleship Tiramisu seemed like it might break that trend but ultimately abandoned its plot in favour of repeat gags.

Review:

While it probably isn’t fair to hold an anime’s form or genre against it, given I knew this was a short form comedy when I started it, and yet there were glimpses throughout Space Battleship Tiramisu’s run-time that hinted at a fairly interesting plot that could have been explored. Where this anime really annoyed me was in presenting the plot elements mid-season and then abandoning them in favour of more gag comedy. It is more the inconsistency of this show’s approach that ultimately makes me feel this anime is somewhat lacking.

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That said, people who really like gag anime, might get a laugh out of this. Of course that depends entirely on your tolerance for jokes at the expense of someone with clear OCD, jokes about talking pubes, and various jokes involving questionable hygiene choices (and now I’m wondering how I managed to get to the end of this). Despite all of that, there are some really great moments throughout this season.

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With seven to nine minutes per episode, one thing the anime had in its favour was even when an episode didn’t click for me, it was over fast. The other thing that worked with the short form was that if a joke was particularly distasteful, it was usually done by the next episode. There were only a couple of jokes that carried over between episodes.

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Unfortunately, the jokes they carried over usually didn’t need to be. The episode early on that focused on adopting a dog that then grew massive was actually pretty cute and funny. The return of the dog later for space-walkies was just a jarring interruption into what should have been a decent climax to the story about Subaru’s brother and his clone. Though apparently they didn’t want to deal with that because there is apparently a second season coming. I don’t intend to watch is so I guess I’ll just have to imagine a resolution for the story, though given how incompetent most of the characters seem  I might just imagine all of the spaceships blow up simultaneously and cause the end.

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Subaru as a character is at times quite interesting. his obsession with his cockpit early on is fairly well portrayed and most of the jokes stick at this stage. Where the anime fell down was despite introducing family to Subaru and having flash backs to his father who apparently designed mecha or whatever, we never really got a sense of how Subaru became the person he is. While he could have been a rich and interesting character, a look at someone who needed order in a disorderly world, instead we get mostly a character who gets pushed into dirty situations for cheap laughs and doesn’t really get much in the way of development or character progress. Also, at times he actually acts too stupid for words and some of his losses in space make you wonder why anyone still lets him pilot anything.

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Equally, the members of the support cast are all potentially interesting characters who end up being one-note gags of forgettable due to the anime’s lack of interest in doing anything more with them. Whether this strikes you as a failing or not I guess will depend on how entertained you are by the gags.

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Though I’m pretty certain most people are glad the robot had its head detached even if it meant we still had to listen to the thing.

Overall, I liked the look of this show, though animation is minimal with movement and the like often just being portrayed in a series of lines. Despite that, it had a distinct visual identity that stood out compared to many other shows in the Spring line up and I must admit my eyes were very much drawn to it initially because of how the characters looked. The OP is also really fun. It has a very old school kind of feel to it and a lot of energy. Definitely one of the highlights each week.

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Ultimately, if you are chasing a narrative, this anime isn’t going to work for you. If you just want a laugh or two in space, this might very well be exactly what you are looking for. As for me, while I made it to the end of this season and had a pleasant enough time for most of the season, I won’t be going for a second season. Definitely done now.

Linked Reviews:


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Karandi James

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