Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Series Review

Their Fight Isn’t To Save The World – Just Their Corner Of It

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary was one of those odd titles that comes out each season where I haven’t heard of it, haven’t seen any promotional materials, and just kind of go in blind. A fantasy-action, according to MAL at least, it seemed like it could be quite fun. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a fantasy that wasn’t isekai and instead had a faintly historical setting though the inclusion of mechas and ultimately flying armour kind of threw any basis in reality right out the window.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 6 Cheng

Now, I am going to end up recommending this title, mostly because very few people watched it while it was airing and I feel it really got overlooked in a strong season. However, that recommendation comes with a caution. The animation goes from average to terrible and remains that way through most of the run time. So if you are someone who expects modern anime to have high quality or at least reasonably consistent animation, I’d suggest not even trying this one because you are not going to enjoy it. For those that don’t mind the slightly shoddy visuals, there’s a pretty decent story to be found here.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

The setting works very well in Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary. The Taibai Empire is expanding and wants to conquer the world and does so by brutalising the inhabitants of small villages. It is more or less the expansion of China though don’t expect historical accuracy here. Yin and Ning are two sisters whose lives are destroyed when their village is attacked. Yin is waiting outside the village at the time and escapes mostly unscathed but Ning loses both arms (in what becomes an ongoing trend in this story – seriously, how many sets of arms does she go through?).

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 6 Yin and Ning

With this backdrop we follow Yin and Ning as they join up with the rebels fighting the empire. However, their scenes are interspersed with Zhao (Yin and Ning’s childhood friend) and Cheng, the Empress. We see both sides of this conflict and the personal dramas of these four young people all propelled into a war they didn’t start but are now just kind of destined to get caught up in. It borders on melodramatic at times, but each of the characters is interesting in their own way.

Yin and Ning, despite being close as sisters, are changed by the events in different ways. Yin just wants to keep her sister safe and out of the war but Ning is far more violent and wanting revenge for Zhao’s ‘death’ as well as the loss of her arms. It is probably telling that Ning’s fate isn’t exactly wonderful given her motivation rides from one hatred to the next. Yin on the other-hand suffers ongoing heartache as she tries and fails to keep the war away from her life.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

Zhao’s transition to serving the empire seems really odd at first but ultimately his character begins to make sense as he consistently chooses the path of least resistance. He’s someone who just wants to get a little ahead in the world and find a small piece of strength for himself. But it is his wavering between his various allegiances that ends up costing him.

Lastly, we have Cheng who is torn between being a very young girl who lost her father and being the Empress of a vastly expanded nation. I really liked that Cheng got treated as a human throughout all of this rather than just being the face of the enemy. Her relationship with Zhao is complicated and interesting to watch unfold even if you know early on there is no way it will end well.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

With a cast that all hold their own ground and a setting rich with potential, it is almost a shame that the animation wasn’t up to the challenge. We have sword fights, magic, burning villages, explosive death machines, and impossibly awkward mechas. The story choosing to focus in on the young cast members caught up in events makes things feel more personal and allows there to be some resolution within the thirteen episodes but a lot of the plot is implied or occurs off-screen with plenty more to happen after the end of the final episode, should there ever be a continuation.

As I said at the start, I do recommend this one for people looking for a fantasy or action story though it isn’t without its problems. Still, despite it not being that great, it was a little different and certainly interesting enough week to week.

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Karandi James
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Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San Series Review

Skull Face Bookseller Honda San Episode 5

A Skeleton in A Bookshop? I Have To See That

Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San is an anime series that has one idea and that is we have a skeleton working in a bookshop. Everything that happens after that is either delightful or groan inducing depending on your tolerance for situational comedy.

It’s kind of well-known that I’m not big on comedy anime. Or slice of life anime. So a comedy/slice-of-life short form anime shouldn’t have ever appeared on my radar and certainly isn’t the kind of thing I would normally follow week to week for episode reviews. Yet, Honda-San had two very important attributes that drew me to it.

Firstly, it featured a skeleton in a bookshop. Seriously. That idea never stops being visually amusing no matter how many episodes we have. And then episode 12 puts the skeleton in a Christmas hat and that image is just perfectly hilarious by itself.

Secondly, it is set in a bookshop. More specifically, a Japanese bookshop where our main character works with manga. Playing spot the reference is a delightful way to pass the time in this series and more importantly, what book-lover hasn’t thought at some point of working in a bookshop (until you remember that it is retail and working with customers).

Skull Face Book Seller Honda San Episode 10

Both of these aspects were actually enough to carry me through the whole twelve episodes of this anime, even when some of the comedy didn’t quite hit its mark.

Part of the problem is that this anime relies very much on exaggeration, particularly exaggerated reactions from characters, as its primary form of humour. And while this works well enough and some of the facial expressions (although that isn’t quite right given all the characters wear masks) are fantastically done and the timing works beautifully. Other times, you just kind of sit back and wonder why the characters are freaking out so much. For instance, the episode where the characters were thinking about one of the workers who actually manages to keep their stock organised and how amazing that was. I just kept wondering why they didn’t all keep their stock organised and spend less time freaking out.

Skull face Book Seller Honda San Episode 8

The best moments for Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San are far and away Honda’s interactions with the customers. These can be positive, negative or just weird, but each time a customer came to the counter or approached Honda in the shop there was a sense of anticipation. These encounters were great mostly because there was a ring of truth around each one as anyone who had worked in customer service had probably encountered someone just like that at some point.

Skull Face Bookseller Honda San Episode 7

I am going to have to mention the visuals though. Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San is very much a basic anime in terms of its animation and visuals. There’s a heavy reliance on simple backgrounds or no background. Character reactions are repeated. The character designs, while distinct, are pretty basic and there is limited character movement. This anime stands out from others of its season and is recognisable, but it isn’t pretty, sophisticated, or even particularly well done.

However, the OP, “ISBN ~Inner Sound & Book’s Narrative~” is pretty distinct and fairly amusing to listen to. Likewise, for the most part the voice work by the characters serves its purpose and gets across the tone very well. They aren’t heavily nuanced performances, but given the material they don’t really need to be.

I’d certainly recommend giving this one a go. It gets a little repetitive as the season wears on and depending on how well the humour works for you will really have a big impact on your relative enjoyment, but this one is an interesting title from the Autumn season and one that has enough positives to recommend at least trying it.

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Karandi James
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JAGGED ALLIANCE: RAGE!
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Jingai-San No Yome Anime Series Review

The Happy Marriage Should Be Just The Beginning

There isn’t a lot to say about this short anime from Autumn 2018. With just three minutes each episode and over a minute of that being the theme song played at the end of each episode (with only episode 12 actually continuing the episode during the credits) there just wasn’t much substance to Jingai-San no Yome.

Jingai San No Yome Episode 6

I’m not even really sure why I watched this each week. Part of me was drawn in by the premise because the idea of a normal high school student being told that they are now married to a monster and they have to move in with them seems kind of interesting. However, the fundamentals of how this works or why it happens are never actually touched upon or explored (that would probably require them to get off their happy floaty cloud and actually deal with reality for a moment).

And Jingai-San is definitely not interested in touching base with reality.

There’s no real problem with a romantic fantasy and all, but even if we just accept the premise at face value and never question it, the relationship itself just kind of happens. The protagonist, Hinowa, more or less liked the monster’s (Kanenogi) fluffiness and from almost episode one we see him regularly blush and hug Kanenogi but any actual basis for a relationship is never explored. They do get a few sweet moments together where they look out for one another during sickness, or cheer the other on at the sports carnival, but there’s never any real grounds for their relationship other than it simply exists.

Rather than doing anything to develop the premise, the story instead has Hinowa encounter other students who also have monster partners and then they all hang out. They talk at school, they walk home together, they spend time with their partners, and that is all there is to this anime.

You could argue that at three minutes an episode there wasn’t much else they could do, and given this is apparently based on a 4-koma manga (essentially 4 panel), it would be kind of a mistake to expect depth. However, I think after twelve episodes we needed a little bit more other than a blushing Hinowa to carry the anime.

Visually this one is quite soft looking, though the character designs are a little odd. The two toned hair thing is just a bit bizarre and I’m not sure why they’ve done it. Otherwise, the characters are distinct enough, the monster designs are suitably cute but monster looking, and the backgrounds are pretty simple but work well enough.

Jingai San No Yome Episode 8

Now, given almost half the run time is the closing song, it is a good thing that it is a high energy song that is just kind of fun to bop along to, but you have to wonder if the time would have been better served on actually writing a plot.

Realistically at 3 minutes an episode you can watch this whole series in under forty minutes, though I suspect binge watching it may cause your brain to liquefy under the gooey-sugary-sweetness of the protagonist, but it actually is entertaining enough for the time commitment. However, as I said on Twitter, more than once, I just don’t know what the point of this anime is. Maybe there is no point other than being a cute little diversion. However, that makes it very hard to actually recommend.

Ultimately, this isn’t bad, but there just isn’t much substance here.

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Karandi James
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Happy Life Spectacle [Regular Edition]
Happy Life Spectacle [Regular Edition]

One Punch Man Series Review: One Punch – One Joke

One Punch Man Saitama Flying

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

I’ve not made all that many changes to this one as my opinion really hasn’t changed. I did however, get rid of the plus/minus format. Still, if you read the original post, that kind of covers it.

It’s really difficult to review One Punch Man. On the one hand, it is awesome. The main character defeats his enemies with one punch. It’s funny. It’s visually striking. The music is really well chosen. On the other hand, essentially the plot is about a guy with almost zero motivation who instantly kills his opponents removing any tension from any conflict and once you’ve seen the punch line to most of the jokes there isn’t a lot of rewatch value. And in honesty, rewatching this one was kind of dull. While there are a few moments that still really shining, without the novelty factor there just isn’t much here.

onepunchman_forreal

At the centre of the story is Saitama. He really feels like a character for the modern world. He’s self-centred, lazy, and reasonably ignorant of things that don’t particularly impact on him (not saying that everyone in the modern world is like that but it is certainly a recognition of a social trend). He also has a very high opinion of himself and his value and at times seems to carry a giant chip on his shoulder about the lack of credit he receives for his work. Compared to the superheroes of the past (or the current Hollywood trend of dark and edgy heroes), Saitama is a fantastic breath of fresh air and fairly easy to relate to.

And he has even more depth than most of us initially give him credit  for. There are times when he could receive recognition but because of the ramifications to others, Saitama deliberately plays down his part in a job. Given his usual self-involved attitude, these moments are really important to making him feel like a genuine character and someone who is becoming more aware of the world around them even as he seeks recognition.

Basically, this character has toed the line and managed to make us not hate him, even while he plays up some of the less desirable traits of the modern culture. Its an interesting mix and one handled more deftly than you might at first assume, but a lot of that gets lost under a fairly one note plot.

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Sticking with characters though, I want to give a shout out to Genos. My favourite character from the show (and someone who deserves some kind of award for the sheer amount of determination he has and how little it actually gets him). He is your typical hero in every sense of the word. Tragic childhood on quest for revenge and to save others from the same fate. Willing to sacrifice himself and always working to improve. He is also the only one who really recognises Saitama for what he actually is (even if his perception is a little tinted by rose coloured glasses).

Genos also brings about some of the more amusing and tragic moments of the anime as he tends to attempt self-destruction fairly regularly (to save others of course) or gets swatted into pieces. You feel bad for him but can’t help but laugh and given how much damage he sustains in early episodes without lasting impact (because apparently being a cyborg means anything can be fixed) it takes a lot of the trauma out of his injuries. While Genos couldn’t carry the show by himself (he is too weighed down with clichés), he is an excellent support character and adds just the right notes of earnestness, dedication, and over-zealous stupidity to most scenes.

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However, that one note plot is a problem as is the inability to escalate tension throughout the story. When you start your anime with city destroying monsters, giants, cyborgs, gorillas and life sucking mosquitos, how do you up the ante? Sure, aliens? Why not? Only they don’t come off as any more threatening than the hoodlums or any of the other villains we’ve seen. I think they are supposed to, given all of the heroes are seemingly gathered to face them, but what we end up with is a series of small group fights that lack punch (sorry about that) and then Saitama squaring off against the leader of the aliens and… well winning with one punch. They may draw out this battle sequence for longer than others in the series, but to be honest the outcome is obvious and you’re not sitting on the edge of your seat waiting but rather just waiting for the inevitable punch line.

Genos.png

And so our plot line boils down to a single manta. “Saitama is strong. Saitama is good. Saitama hits things and kills them in one punch.” Possibly this is a story about the organisation for heroes and maybe there’s more to the whole thing there but in the first season (which is all we have at the moment), there is genuinely no real plot. There are a series of incidents that get dealt with and in the process we see Saitama and Genos interacting more and more with other heroes (all of which have their own agendas and motives). This is not actually a plot. The series is a collection of set-ups and punch lines with just enough world building packed around it to make it feel like maybe there is some plot progression. Certainly there is space for there to be a plot. You know, the hero guy who seems to be wanting to take over, and the other guy who… wait we just don’t know what they are actually up to and they probably made up less than 5% of the screen time so let’s not justify that as a plot.

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But the weak plot isn’t enough to take away from the fact that this show knew what it wanted to bring. This is high energy fun. I may make fun of the obvious ends to battles but the show continues to find ways to make these amusing and visually appealing regardless. More importantly, they keep finding ways to make battle sequences look and feel different (even knowing they will end the same way). The sheer variety in the enemies and the use of lesser heroes and even the stronger heroes in the early stages of fights keeps things feeling fresh and moving.

wanpanman207-noscale

For me a lot of the jokes fell flat. Even the ones that were pretty funny the first time round weren’t particularly amusing when I tried to watch it again with a friend. A lot of the humour relies on shock and spectacle and unfortunately that just doesn’t hold up to a second viewing (and a third viewing for this review just killed it – there’s almost nothing left that sticks when you have already seen it and you know where its going). The character related humour worked better but even that didn’t have the same impact on rewatch. There are definitely some satirical elements at work here, but the show isn’t really cohesive enough to call itself a satire. Mostly, it’s just going for amusement and entertainment and for the most part it succeeds.

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After all of this, I’m still going to recommend this one to people who haven’t tried it. The first watch is great fun and you’ll have some great laughs with it. However, I don’t see myself ever wanting to buy this one on disc and I probably won’t go for another watch of it anytime soon.

What did you think of One Punch Man?

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Karandi James
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ONE PUNCH MAN ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
ONE PUNCH MAN ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Say I Love You Series Review

Say I Love You Mai and Yamato

It’s Sweet, Right?

Love stories are a dime a dozen and in anime particularly, high school romances are prolific. While not quite as notorious as isekai stories, these roll out with at least a handful every single season premiering. Some to great fanfare, most quietly appearing and disappearing with little comment or noteworthiness. Every now and then though, a romance comes along that really grabs my attention and even after it is done I still remember it and in such cases, while I’m still very much more fond of action, horror and fantasy, but in such cases the romance may very well work its way into my heart and become a story that I treasure.

Say I Love You didn’t quite succeed at that. However, it also wasn’t one that passed by without needing comment. It’s a story that actually deserves quite a bit of attention, even if ultimately it wasn’t one that really moved me in the way that something like Kimi ni Todoke did. 

To understand my feelings about Say I Love You, I kind of have to point out that what makes or breaks almost every romance story for me are the main pair. From a plot point of view, romance stories are incredibly formulaic, and while there are a few variations on the theme, once you’ve got lonely high school girl and popular high school guy together there really aren’t that many paths for the story to take and for it to still stay grounded in any kind of manner.

Say I Love You Mei and Yamato

Tachibana Mei is an amazing romantic heroine. She starts out as the typical loner who has chosen not to even try to make friends having been burned when she was younger. She deliberately keeps everyone and everything at arms length, save her mother and her cat. She tries not to let the ridiculous taunts of those at school get to her.

Yet one day, having had to put up with too much already, when a boy goes to pull her skirt on the stair-case, she snaps. And she does it in the fantastically amusing manner of a round house kick, that unfortunately doesn’t hit the idiot who actually deserves it, Nakanishi, but instead collides with Yamato, Nakanishi’s friends and one of the most popular guys at school.

This ends up resulting in Yamato pestering Mei and giving her his phone number among other things but she more or less resolves to ignore him, until she realises she’s being stalked and can’t get a hold of her mother. The romance begins and Mei gradually learns to open up and trust others. It actually is a fairly authentic character development and wasn’t a ‘get boyfriend and life gets better’ kind of deal. Mei has to work hard and want changes to happen for them to happen and even then there are set backs, failures, and misunderstandings. 

Through it all, Mei’s basic character doesn’t change, but her outlook on other people slowly expands and she starts to see potential that she couldn’t see before. This actually allows her by the end to help two other characters as they struggle with their own personal demons and is a nice circle to show us how Mei has overcome her own drama.

You know, if the story had focused entirely on Mei, I’d have been okay with that.

Say I Love You Cast

No, my mixed feelings and problems with this show come from Yamato. He is, by anime high school standards, incredibly good looking… and you know what, that’s about it. We don’t know if he is particularly good at anything. People just kind of converge around him and he puts on the face they want to see, and that’s kind of him. Even around Mei, he seems to just change to fit her mood and tone rather than being genuine. And while there are people like this, chameleons, who slide in and out of social groups and fit in everywhere and nowhere, they don’t make for a compelling romantic lead.

It also bothers me that Yamato defends his friend Nakanishi as being a good guy, despite the fact that he’s bad mouthed Mei even before we know who he is and then tried to pull her skirt. Sorry, not a good guy. The fact that the rest of the anime portrays Nakanishi as a ‘good guy’ who actually just wants to be Asami’s boyfriend and doesn’t mean any harm also doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll admit, if we cut the first two episodes off, Nakanishi is an idiot, but a good guy. However the impression left after the first episodes sticks for me and mostly I just want him to get kicked down a flight of stairs. And the guy I’m meant to believe is the romantic lead in this story is not only friends with him but rationalises and excuses his behaviour. It all makes it a bit hard to get behind Yamato from the outset.

I’ll give the anime props in that it did try to build Yamato’s character as it went. We see him as a doting big brother, protective boyfriend, slightly oblivious high school guy who ends up hurting his girlfriend without really thinking about it, and also typical teenager who has regrets about not helping a friend in middle-school who was being bullies.

The problem is that he never really becomes a cohesive character. We just kind of deal with whatever mode the anime has switched him into at the time. Over the top of all of these faces though is the teenage guy who fairly regularly pushes physical contact with Mei. And while he doesn’t go into inexcusable territory, he still moves a lot faster than Mei is ready for and he’s constantly pushing the agenda by kissing her or sitting way too closely.

Basically, I end up liking Say I Love You as a character study because Mei is fantastic and each part of Yamato is interesting enough, but the romance itself is more just a vehicle and not something I emotionally connect with enough to really get carried by.

But as a character study, Say I Love You is extraordinary as the support cast that grows as the series continues are pretty fantastic. Each character flawed in some manner and using others to hold themselves up or to recover from past traumas. 

Say I Love You Yamato and Megumi

Megumi is perhaps the one who undergoes the largest transformation, which makes sense given her impact on Mei and Yamato’s relationship. Still, her story still felt a little undeveloped and while the ideas were there it really did feel like we needed a little more insight into what was going on with Megumi for her story to stick. It is also very hard to sympathise with her plight when you see some of the stunts she pulls to get Yamato away from Mei.

Visually this anime is functional enough but unremarkable. Character designs are great and each character has a look appropriate to who they are, but the overall colour scheme is pretty bland and ordinary. Animation is fine but there’s little to show it off and the music works well but other than the OP is fairly forgettable.

I would recommend trying Say I Love You. It is a fun story and the characters are interesting. There’s some really good exploration of social issues such as self-image, friendship, bullying, social media use, and so on. And ultimately, the romance works well enough. I do have a friend who fell head-over-heels in love with this story, which is the reason I watched it more than once. I certainly think this is one that gets better the more you watch it because the strengths of the characters come out more and their flaws become more understandable when you know where the whole story is going.

Right, I’d love to know what you thought of Say I Love You so if you’ve seen it, let me know in the comments.

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Karandi James
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TOKYO GHOUL:RE 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: TOUKA KIRISHIMA
TOKYO GHOUL:RE 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: TOUKA KIRISHIMA

Erased Series Review: Weak Mystery, Great Character Drama

Erased Title Image

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

I first watched Erased when it aired and it was an anime everyone was talking about. Being apart of the conversation was fantastic particularly as it was a bit of a mystery so we all got to sit around on social media speculating about where it was going. That said, there was a lot of hype going on at the time and there was also a wave of enthusiasm around it. 

Going to be honest, I loved this anime then and I still really like it now. But it was an anime that benefited from going in cold, having to wait each week and being able to mull over what you’d learned and where it might be going and to engage in those conversations, and it also just benefited from the community behind it. In the absence of those things, Erased ends up being good enough, and still tells a fairly good story with interesting characters, but a lot of the ‘magic’ is kind of gone. The live action series is fairly solid as well though if you’d like to try the story again but a little bit differently (apparently it follows the manga closer or something like that).

Live Action - Erased

Though, it is a mystery anime which makes any kind of review hard. Particularly a re-visited review. There’s only so much you can say without giving the game away, particularly in a mystery like this one where it already seems pretty easy to figure out where things are going. Ultimately, mystery is a poor label to give this one. While technically the main character is playing ‘Whodunit’ the audience can figure it out far too easily and while the reveal is still very worth the price of admission, if that was all there was to Erased it would be a fairly easy to dismiss.

Erased

The plot however works well. The tie-in of the mystery with Satoru’s ability of revival is well managed and while they don’t explain the phenomenon, it almost doesn’t need to be. It is established that he can and does jump back in time and they use it appropriately as a vehicle to keep the story moving. Any explanation would have been pretty silly anyway so passing on that and just letting it go was actually the better option. And it does allow for a compelling story with a villain returning after a considerable length of time and seeing adult and child Satoru attempt to overcome his schemes with limited knowledge and at first few allies.

I’m not changing this next paragraph because I stand by it entirely from the original review.

“With Erased, it is the characters who sell the show. And even then you couldn’t point to anyone character and say that character is amazing. A lot of people liked Satoru’s mum but I found her one of the least interesting characters because she really didn’t seem like a realistic mother and was more a plot device that existed only to Satoru the advice he needed when he needed it, cause him distress with her death in the original timeline, and filled in any parts of the plot that you really couldn’t expect a child to succeed at overcoming. The friends Satoru has as a child are also a little off and at times serve no purpose. The first potential child victim is interesting but not overly believable as a character. However all of these characters complement each other perfectly and create a show that has a lot of heart and at times emotional depth. Even if they don’t shut up and like to endlessly articulate things that really don’t need to be said.”

Erased

Erased is a fun story. It isn’t an edge of your seat thriller but it will get you caught up in the mystery even after you figure it out and the characters will warm your heart. The OP is amazing so be sure to listen to it, and some of the visuals are really beautiful. Ultimately, Erased is an anime where lots of small details and moments add up to something that feels great to watch even though there are some issues with pacing, the ability to believe the plot, and the overall mystery falls a little short. Still, two years on I would still firmly recommend this anime for those who have never seen it.

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Karandi James
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Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Yona [w/ DVD, Limited Pressing]
Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Yona [w/ DVD, Limited Pressing]