Land of the Lustrous Series Review: Beautiful But Not Without Flaws

Overview:

Land of the Lustrous kind of took me by surprise during the Autumn 2017 season as its CG animation made it stand out from the crowd but for once in a truly beautiful manner. The story follows Phos, the youngest of a group of living gem stones who are hunted by Lunarians who wish to break them up and take them back to the moon. Phos, being incredibly weak, has no job or purpose though over the course of the season will undergo a startling transformation.

Review:

Previously I discussed Phos’ transformation as a character and the cost in a feature post because while watching this is the part that consistently stood out to. Phos wasn’t just bitten by some radioactive spider and then getting a training montage and poof, superhero material here we are. Instead, Phos’ personal growth and transformation are characterised by the extreme loss of identity and the pain that self-awareness can bring as well as the understanding that just getting stronger doesn’t mean things will work out okay. It is a powerful idea and one that is delivered in a glistening package.

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Land of the Lustrous was one of my favourite shows of the Autumn season because it felt unique. Part of that is because of the visuals and animation. These characters won’t be confused with characters from any other show (at this point) and the world they are in is truly vibrantly alive. However, I’m not enough of a sucker for pretty visuals that just looking sparkly and pretty would be enough to really capture my interest for the season. Phos was also a major draw as a character who started out semi-annoying but by mid-season had become one of my personal favourite characters of all time. But what really sells this show for me is that despite this really being Phos’ story, hers is only one story that is ongoing in this world and though we only see glimpses of the other stories when Phos’ journey intersects with the other characters, it all creates a sense that this world we are seeing is genuine and complex (even if a lot of the characters seem quite simple at a glance).

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However, that leads logically to the show’s greatest weakness and that is that 12 episodes barely scratch the surface of anything. The only real narrative arc that we’ve seen is Phos seeking and finding a purpose and while that was glorious it leaves the audience with so many unanswered questions about the gems and the Lunarians and the weird snail things that appear for about two episodes and then cease to have any presence in the story. Basically, this show is crying out for more. More time to develop these ideas and this world. More time for the story and characters to evolve and find their way. Just more of everything.

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And there’s a lot that this show has in it that you are going to want more of. The ridiculously cute moments between the pairs of gems or when they were chasing the 108 puppy things around are just adorable. While this might seem vapid in the context of the rest of the story it shows you how normalised the gems are to the events unfolding around them. They live a very, very long time and their lives have been fairly much stagnant. They throw themselves into these small moments of joy in a way that you would expect of a six year old to go from tears to full smiles in the space of handing them a chocolate anything (yeah, don’t let me baby-sit your kids, it will end with chocolate for sure – and tears but that).

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Then there’s the action sequences. Episode 10 in particular showed an extended fight sequence that crossed multiple locations and just found the perfect mixture of nail-biting tension and fantastic movement and fighting. But all the fights, as brief as some are, managed to impress visually and ramp up the tension of their episodes. Also, unlike so many other shows, our main characters are never guaranteed victory or protected by plot armour. Loss and failure loom large as themes and pave a lot the way for Phos’ transformation so you can never tell the outcome of a battle before it begins.

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The supporting cast are fantastic if slightly under-utilised and at this stage quite a number are still fairly background with little known about them. However, while the focus has definitely been Phos, other characters such as Bort, Dia and Cinnabar have all been given some decent depth as characters and Alex, Rutile and Sensei were starting to get a bit more of a look toward the end of the series.

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While the opening theme probably won’t be one you are going to bop along to, it fits the show really well and like everything else it is gorgeous to look at. The music and sound within the episodes is something really well integrated into the story and the ideas it seems to be trying to convey. There’s some heavy religious undertones at times and the sound direction (particularly when the Lunarians are on screen) most definitely reflects that. But even just the sounds of the world are beautifully portrayed and help to bring the setting to life.

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Basically I loved watching this. My only real issue is that it ends without resolving everything but it didn’t leave me howling in frustration either as it did bring Phos’ journey to a reasonable resting place. Please let there be another season of this and in the meantime I would definitely recommend giving this one a go when you can if you didn’t watch it while it was airing.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ Series Review: Nowhere Near As Impressive As The Amount Of Punctuation in the Title Suggests

Overview:

Set in the Victorian era, Cardia is alone in a tower when the military come for her. She’s then kidnapped by a thief. Turns out she has some weird poison in her that burns pretty much everything and there’s some terrorist plot to destroy London and then the world. However this is based on a game and at times that probably shows.

Review:

There’s a lot about Code: Realize that makes you think this anime feels it should be more epic in nature than it actually is. Firstly, the overly grandiose and punctuation filled title. Secondly, the scale of the conflict. Finally, the large and mostly under-realised cast of characters. Basically this story has a lot going for it but ultimately ends up pretty mediocre as it plods through introduction episodes of the cast of pretty-boys who seem to exist only in reference to source material before we finally get around to a fairly run-of-the-mill defeat the bad-guy kind of conclusion with a bit of romance thrown in.

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That isn’t to say there is a single thing wrong with any of that. It actually works fairly well and as a story and an anime it remains highly functional. It is visually fairly appealing and while the sound track is forgettable it isn’t bad and even the characters work well enough even if none of them are particularly exceptional. And that’s where reviewing this show is challenge. Everything is there and works well enough and yet nothing stands out or makes you want to take note.

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I would have liked more of Van and Drac’s story. Learning more about Fran rather than one episode of focus and then fade into the background would have been great too. Less of Nemo (and there wasn’t much) would have been fantastic. A narrative more focused just on Cardia and Lupin could have been amazing. Yet, what we get instead is superficial skimming over a range of characters’ and a plot that will get us from A to B but not make you want to remember the how or why of it.

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I could continue but basically the end result is everything about this story was pretty average. The one complaint I will level at it is a personal one and that is Cardia’s personality. She starts almost completely blank and it takes about four episodes before she’s really exhibiting anything close to a personality and then she essentially stalls for the remainder of the series wavering between damsel in distress and tragic heroine. Neither is particularly appealing though her interactions with Lupin remained fairly entertaining.

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All and all, if you really like this style of story with the girl who is loved by all the guys and you happen to be a fan of kind-of Victorian settings, than you will have some fun with this. If you are after a deep and meaningful story line or characters with some depth and substance, look elsewhere.


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Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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Kino’s Journey (2017) Series Review: Aimless Wanderer’s Journey Fails To Connect

Overview:

Kino travels from country to country with her talking motorrad Hermes. She stays in each country for three days and then moves on.

Review:

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for episodic stories (even highly formulaic ones) so Kino’s Journey was something I thought I could get in to. I’d never seen the original (hadn’t heard of it until this new series came out) so I didn’t go in with expectations or comparisons like some viewers, and yet after my initial fairly positive impressions during the first 2 – 3 episodes, the show essentially bombed. So what went wrong?

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A lot of the blame needs to be placed on the lack of cohesion in this story, which is a weird criticism to give something that is episodic and yet makes sense. When I think about something like Natsume Yuujinchou that used a fairly episodic approach through most of its seasons, each season still has an over-arching theme that is developed and most stories somehow connect us to that theme. Even something like Ghost Hunt has characters who develop over the course of their encounters and relationships that change so even though the individual stories can be viewed in isolation, watching in order adds something to the experience as there are solid narrative connections.

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Kino’s Journey lacks this. Kino is not an interesting enough (or explored enough) character to make their development (not that there is any) the linking thread (plus Kino is missing from a number of episodes of Kino’s Journey). And there seems to be no central idea other than one of selfish desire and even that isn’t really explored it just kind of is.

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As a result, individual episodes have to be judged on their own merit as stand-alone stories and not one of these episodes has sufficient depth or strength to really hold up. Some of them are outright badly written and completely pointless.

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That isn’t to say there are no good ideas or interesting moments in Kino’s Journey. There are plenty. However, the story isn’t interesting in delving into any of these or giving them the exploration they need to be something more than a throw away line or idea. You will swiftly be moved on to more mediocre moments and wondering just why you bothered to watch the next story at all.

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Overall, this one just wasn’t worth the time. It looks good enough but isn’t dazzling. The basic premise is solid but nothing is every really done with it. Some of the support characters we meet along the way are interesting enough but as this is an ongoing journey, none of them hang around long enough to save the show. And episode 12 is a joke gone wrong so just spare yourself. Definitely not one I can recommend.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

 

King’s Game Series Review: Only For True Fans of Bad Horror

Overview:

Something happened at Nobuaki’s old school and all of his classmates are dead. Starting over at a new school he is understandably reserved but slowly gets drawn into friendship with many of his new classmates. Then they all receive a text message informing them that the King’s Game has started and they cannot stop playing.

Review:

This show more or less took a shopping list approach to cheesy horror and then delivered an unevenly paced, poorly gore censored, poorly characterised approach giving us what could possibly be described as the best of what B Grade horror has to offer. You want over the top deaths and reactions to those deaths? Check. You want a totally implausible and inescapable villain? Check. You want a large cast of characters to serve as cannon fodder? Check and check given we get to see the current class bite the dust as well as the previous class Nobuaki was a member of through flash backs.

There is literally nothing good about this show. The plot, the characters, the execution are all sub-standard at best (okay, the opening theme is pretty cool). Yet, it is undeniably fun viewing for people who are fans of movies along the lines of Scream, Urban Legend, Disturbing Behaviour, etc, etc. While I might have liked less of the flash backs to the previous class, the current class to be more fleshed out, and better animation and visuals (particularly on some of the deaths), this is more or less exactly what I want when I say I want to watch bad horror. It hit the spot exactly and I had a blast watching it (though enjoying watching something and actually recommending it to others are entirely different things).

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For those who didn’t watch it during its airing, I should probably be more specific about what the story does and does not do.

Probably the biggest flaw this show has is you won’t ever get an answer as to what the King’s Game is and why it exists and how it does what it does. It just does. Deal with it or watch something else. In a show like Juni Taisen where it was heavily implied that there was a purpose to the fight and then we just never got any detail, this sort of thing bothers me. In King’s Game, it didn’t really matter. A killer text message will still kill you even if you know its exact origin. What little explanation we got was mostly conjecture by the characters and unconfirmed conjecture at that (and that’s probably a good thing because it was insane). Basically, don’t expect a satisfactory motive for any of the game by the end.

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That said, even character motives get murky at times. While there are some clear ones for the survivalists in the group, other characters’ have very confused motives and at times you can’t really see the sense in their actions. You can dismiss most of this because of the extreme situation they find themselves in and because they are young, but after awhile you have to wonder if this class was full of students who were all just a little bit stupid. Also, the absence of reasonable responses from the school, parents or the community to the deaths certainly makes you wonder just what the context for this story is because unless they all got transported to another dimension at the start of the game where no other humans existed outside of the class, it just makes no sense that nobody seems to care that these students are literally dropping like flies.

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Nobuaki (the main character) is brilliant and dreadful all at the same time. Outside of the context of this show, he is a dreadful character. He’s inconsistent, whiny, defeatist (except when he decides he can’t give in), stands on the corpses of his friends but insists cooperation is the key to survival without a shred of evidence. He’s brilliant to watch in the insanity that his very nature brings to the story. A walking contradiction. A survivalist who seems to genuinely believe in the protection of the herd yet somehow always comes out on top.

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By himself, he may have become unbearable, but when countered by Natsuko (also a previous game survivor) who is an undisguised survivalist and will openly trample on anyone and anything, he becomes much more interesting. The two clash over and over and yet they both desire to live. And again, Natsuko is an individually unbearable character and if you removed her from the context here and just examined her actions and motives, you would wonder why she wasn’t edited out of existence. But she works here. She stirs the class and adds tension where it is needed and provides a human face to the horror that might otherwise only be conveyed through blacked out smudges of blood and dismemberment or text messages.

The story also deals with the large cast by very quickly whittling it down with a large number of deaths upfront and the group splitting until very close to the end so that you could spend more time with handfuls of characters. Unfortunately most of the support cast aren’t up to the task of being interesting, but at least you remember their name when they finally bite the dust.

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I do want to address the King’s commands though. From the flash backs it is clear that not every punishment is death, yet in the current game the punishments are almost always death. The challenges themselves escalate, super fast.  Going from confessing, to sleeping with someone, to smashing your own hand with a rock and worse, very quickly with no steps back where an easy task is given. I feel this is one element of the show that should have been played with more with easy tasks being given and more tension building when a punishment was coming because you wouldn’t know if the punishment would involve death, injury, or maybe just embarrassment. There’s certainly a lot that could have been done with this story element that really didn’t get developed.

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Still, I stand by the title of this posts. If you like bad horror, this will be a treat. Otherwise, this isn’t the show for you.

I’d love to know your thoughts on King’s Game if you watched it.

Episode Reviews:


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Series Review – No Twists, No Turns, Little Excitement, But Not Fatally Flawed

Overview:

12 Zodiac themed warriors have been chosen to take place in the Juni Taisen (big death match) where the winner will have a wish granted. That’s pretty much it.

Review – There will be spoilers:

If you are looking for an anime with a clear grasp of the big picture (the how and the why and all those things) than Juni Taisen is not for you. Then again, if you are looking for an anime that treats its characters as more than just fodder for increasingly less shocking deaths, is consistent in pace and action, and occasionally manages to seem like you should perhaps care about the characters, you probably aren’t making it very far into Juni Taisen anyway.

Maybe that seems ‘overly pessimistic’ as one person told me I was being after my review of episode 1 where I raised concerns that killing off the only character the audience had any connection to was probably not a stroke of narrative genius and I wasn’t really sure how this show would manage to be interesting given it seemed locked into a 12 episode/12 hour fight sequence with fairly telegraphed deaths (okay, I wasn’t that specific in my episode 1 review though in hind-sight I should have been). So it might seem like I was being pessimistic then and now, but I actually have no reason to change that view. While there are some good things to be found in Juni Taisen, my main impression as I finished the series was one of relief because to be honest this was a chore to finish by the end. Crunchyroll advertising insisting there were twists and turns to be found just kind of bugged me given there wasn’t one twist from start to finish in a story that ended up being ridiculously linear and vague.

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Despite everything, I still would recommend this for a watch if it had explained why the war was taking place. And I mean, really explained. Not just some vague rich guys/countries are gambling on it and somehow we’ll redraw the map after it is done. The audience never sees the weight of the contest or the outcome in terms of the effect it has on the world so basically we just watch 12 characters try to kill each other and hope it amuses us. And again, that could work. I like horror. I don’t mind the occasional brutal death. However if you want to know who is next just know the order of the Chinese Zodiac (which unfortunately I knew all too well because it is the basis of a board game I played as a kid) so after week 2 it was more of less locked in who was next to die and who would win the game.

Does that mean it couldn’t be fun? We could still get some great action, couldn’t we? Episode 1 had an amazing display of animation where we saw the Boar training and becoming the awesome warrior she apparently was. It was spectacular. Yet everything after just seemed to have less energy and drive. None of the fights last any particular length of time so if you want to know what you will mostly be watching it is characters sitting around running an internal monologue. Usually this is closely followed by their death.

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One or two of the characters were interesting enough. I didn’t mind the Chicken or the Tiger and Rat (when he appeared) was always making me curious even as he slept through the tournament, but mostly the characters were characterised by arrogance or pride. None of them seemed concerned enough about their potential deaths and almost all of them died after severely underestimating an opponent. Once or twice this might be seen as an okay move but the repetitive nature of this became truly dull viewing.

The character designs are quite well done (if a little insane and I’m sure many people will have issue with the fan service like nature of the female warriors’ outfits (they certainly aren’t designed for defence), but they nicely exemplify the zodiac and at least there is no issue with distinguishing the characters. Besides, if you start throwing rocks at the girls you would have to wonder just what the Rabbit was wearing and that is a question that I think many people will have after just one episode. Again, that isn’t designed for defence.

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Visually, Juni Taisen is kind of interesting as the actual tournament is taking place at night with all the scenes being quite dark. By contrast, almost all of the flash back sequences are brighter as is the final episode when the victor is trying to decide what to do with their prize. This kind of attention to detail is appreciated.

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Basically, I loved the concept this show had and was looking forward to it, but found that the actual story and the execution was lacking even though it looks great and it is clear a lot of effort has been put into it. I don’t think I have any real need to ever revisit this series and it isn’t one I can overly recommend given what it is lacking, but it isn’t a complete train-wreck either. Basically it ends up being just kind of average.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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Recovery of an MMO Junkie Series Review: Recommendation of the Wonderful Virtual Life

By the way, if you missed it, check out the previous post which has a special blog announcement.

Overview:

Recovery of an MMO Junkie follows Morioka, who has given up work and going out doors to become a NEET by choice who plays an MMO. Her avatar is a male and she is partnered in the game with a healer called Lily. However, everything changes when on her way to the convenience store she runs into a man named Sakurai.

Review:

If you are looking for something amazingly new and different, then MMO Junkie isn’t going to be your thing. It is a fairly standard rom-com with a few gimmicks thrown in (as there always are) to try to give it the tiniest bit of differentiation so that you can remember which particular couple of emotionally inept characters you are following in the particular series. Despite that, there’s something fairly entertaining about MMO Junkie as it manages to execute standard rom-com in an engaging way with most of the material hitting the mark.

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I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by this series. From the synopsis I wasn’t expecting much (actually I was expecting it to be pretty average) and the whole they met in the game and then in real life thing has been done many times at this point. But where MMO Junkie quickly managed to win me over was in the characters of Morioka and Sakurai.

Neither of the two characters are teenagers and while some of their reactions are exaggerated for the sake of entertainment, most of the way through the show they respond in a believable naive but amusing manner to most of the things that happen. Small details like Morioka delinting her rug when she was stressed or thinking about something (a recurring visual gag) and Sakurai’s pink computer keyboard really helped to flesh these two out beyond the standard trope they might otherwise have represented.

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It also helped that I found them both likeable characters. I know some people were frustrated with Sakurai’s lack of initiative, but I found him to be quite a nice guy and to be honest, what he said to Morioka in the final episode while they were washing dishes was adorable. I think if a guy had said that to me in that context I’d have gone weak in the knees. It was just such a sweet moment. That doesn’t mean he’s exactly assertive, but despite his earlier dithering he does slowly but surely make progress towards actually asking Morioka out.

I mentioned this in my episode reviews but the story is significantly better when the focus is on the real world rather than the virtual one. It isn’t that the virtual world is bad or poorly constructed, it just works better as a background to the more interesting story taking place in the real world. So the first episodes that are more heavily focused inside the MMO, while cute enough, are decidedly weaker than later episodes where the characters interact more in real life. This is a problem because I know quite a few people gave this show up early on and it is only ten episodes so this ‘wasted’ time in the series run kind of hurts it overall. And it is difficult to argue that the time isn’t wasted because they initally spend a lot of time explaining how things in the MMO world work or show us Lily and Hayashi fighting a character or just hanging out. While it establishes the bond they have in game, this could be none with much more economy and ultimately it does detract from what is otherwise a pretty solid show.

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The support cast are hit and miss. Koiwai is probably the best example of this where he serves an absolutely essential narrative purpose so removing his character is impossible, but his character is incredibly obnoxious for most of his screen time. Even though his brash personality is what allows him to move the plot along in the way he does, overall his presence is one I’d have really liked to see diminished in the story. However, Kanbe (one of the characters in the MMO) who’s real life controller works at the convenience store Morioka and Sakurai frequent, is almost unused. What little narrative purpose he has is quickly swept away and by the final episode when you get your final look at his character you just have to wonder what the intention was behind his role because ultimately he didn’t do much.

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That might make it seem like there are more flaws to this show than quality but I’d disagree. From the opening song, to the sweet romantic story, as well as the comedic elements that most of the time hit their mark, this show was pretty much pure enjoyment. There are a few slower episodes at the mid-way point but given it is such a short series it doesn’t take long for it to pick itself back up. All and all, if you’ve got a bit of time, this is one worth checking out. You won’t be blown away but you’ll probably leave with a smile on your face.

If you wanted Recovery of an MMO Junkie I’d love to know your thoughts.

Episode Reviews:


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

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Psycho Pass Series Review: No System Is Perfect But This Anime Is Pretty Fantastic

Overview:

With the introduction of the Sibyl System Japan finds itself at peace as those who would put the system at risk or might be a danger to others are identified by examining their mental state and passing judgement. Akane has newly been appointed as an inspector and now has the job of supervising enforcers as they hunt down latent criminals, however she soon learns that things are not as perfect as they might seem.

Review:

I have to give Psycho Pass credit for taking an idea that has been used in so many dystopian stories before and yet managing to make it feel fresh. From the first episode this country controlled by the Sibyl System feels like a plausible future even as it reaches to shock its audience and to make us start to question notions of justice. That doesn’t mean that the show is flawless by any means as there are definitely some moments where I might have wished for the narrative to have had a bit more polish, but the overall experience of watching Psycho Pass is one that is greatly entertaining.

For me the introduction Akane gets to the job, while thrilling, seems very unlikely in such a world. to plunge someone into the field (short staffed or not) without sufficient training or supervision seems like a reckless way to destroy someone’s psycho pass if something had gone more wrong than it did. Also, Akane’s knowledge of how things worked seemed too lacking at times for her to have received any training even if it was convenient for the audience to have things explained from the beginning.

Some of the cases are not quite as thrilling as others, though ultimately all of them feed into the main narrative. The issue then is that the final reveal, while it works well enough, borders a little bit on the too fantastical to really feel as satisfying as I might have wanted. Certainly, it does work and it doesn’t contradict any of the internal logic of the story, but there’s definitely a moment of incredulity when you finally get there before you can take it in.

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Part of that is because the characters in this anime work very well both individually and collectively. While each presents a different view of the system and their approach to the job (whether in the role of inspector or enforcer), they still manage to build a personality beyond just being a placeholder for a view point. This makes them feel genuine and also makes what might have otherwise been an average sci-fi police story something quite special.

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Kagari is the support character I ended up growing most attached to throughout the show’s run time and his role is quite interesting. Flagged by the system at a very young age he’s been detained most of his life, choosing the dangerous role of an enforcer to gain some semblance of freedom. While most of the time he doesn’t let his bitterness at this fate come through, there are one or two moments where Akane’s naivety breaks through his carefully constructed cheery persona and the resentment of one caged by an inherently flawed system comes through loud and clear.

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Akane’s senior as an inspector, Ginoza presents another view of the system again. As someone with a parent that was flagged as a latent criminal, he lives with the pressure of not succumbing to the same fate while inner fears continue to eat away at him. And that fear wasn’t helped by his former partner also being flagged as a latent criminal. This makes his external personality quite cold at times even his responses to Akane’s youthful view is fairly understandable. However Ginoza presents an interesting perspective on the system as someone who fights to maintain a system even while fearing the results of being on the other side of it. While he doesn’t take the path that many citizens have of medicating to a near comatose state in order to maintain his psycho pass, he acts as a bridge for the audience of someone walking a very fine line between ‘healthy’ and ‘criminal’ in this society.

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This is a line that Kougami crossed. After the death of someone who was his responsibility he recklessly pursued revenge even though it damaged his psycho pass and ultimately he ended up an enforcer. However, unlike other characters, Kougami has gained a degree of freedom in being allowed to think of his revenge and to pursue it because he’s already a criminal in the eyes of the system. He also doesn’t bother with social graces and simply acts. That said, he isn’t a simple character. Well educated and with a sharp mind, he pursues his goals with purpose and no longer has any real desire to answer to the system for his actions. While ultimately this will put him at odds with the Sibyl System, for Kougami revenge is more important as a goal and yet the enemy remains out of his reach.

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Which actually leads us to the best part of Psycho Pass, and that is that it brings us a villain who is worth caring about. As the Sibyl System cannot judge him he feels excluded from society and as a result he acts out. But for the most part he does this via proxy. He sets up others who are discontent and gives them the means to act before sitting back and watching the show. Cold, manipulative, highly intelligent, and yet completely unbound by any kind of societal morals as the system has left him outside of it, he is a fascinating villain to watch in action.

Now, I should probably put a violence warning on this one. Given the first episode has a rape before they kind of blow up the perpetrator, it kind of sets the tone for the remainder of the series. I’m going to suggest that a story about law enforcement with the ability to use lethal force to neutralise targets in pursuit of a serial killer was probably never going to be overly peaceful, but there are some quite graphic moments that have a fair amount of emotional impact because of the believability of the society constructed.

However, if you are in the mood for a dystopian story with some action and gore and reasonably solid themes, Psycho Pass is definitely one to check out. It is one of those binge worthy series that just gets better with more watches.


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Karandi James.

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Devilman Crybaby Series Review: It’s Making A Splash But Does It Have Substance?

Overview:

Ryou, a teenage professor, tells Akira, his childhood friend, that demons are going to take over the world. They go to find evidence and Akira ends up fusing with Amon, a powerful demon, becoming a Devilman (demon with the heart of a human).

Review – some spoilers:

There’s been a lot said about this series already, but just in case you missed all the other blogs that have written about it, this is a Netflix anime that is not for the faint of heart. Whether it is the gratuitous violence and gore or the sex and body horror, this is definitely not for those who are squeamish about anything. Even my fairly high tolerance for fictional violence was pushed while watching this and it didn’t help that some of the imagery (the sex and body horror elements) ended up being a little  disturbing. But if that doesn’t put you off, let’s discuss whether or not this show is living up to the hype surrounding it.

While I might be in the minority, I really didn’t enjoy watching Devilman Crybaby. From the start, the visuals just didn’t sit well with me as I didn’t particularly like the style. There are some really striking scenes where they do some wonderful contrasts with colour and the like, but it just didn’t appeal visually. Then again, possibly the ugly and overly simplistic art style fit with the nature of the story but it certainly wasn’t a selling point for me.

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Then the characters came along and my issue is each one is very much one thing with potentially one twist up their sleeve. From the beginning Ryou is portrayed as lacking in human emotions so by the time the reveal as to why comes along you’ve mostly figured it out anyway and it isn’t in the slightest bit surprising. In fact, it makes some of his earlier actions a lot easier to swallow because it makes sense that no sensible person would suddenly start slashing random strangers with a broken bottle in order to collect proof of demons.

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Akira, on the other hand, apparently has a very warm human heart. Let every character tell you about it, over and over again. Oh, Akira’s a crybaby? He cries for others? Oh, how empathetic. Over and over again this point gets hammered and the real issue is Akira has no other personality trait other than his apparent abundance of empathy for others. Even his anger and rage later in the show is produced because of his empathy.

The side characters are all much the same, with Miko maybe being the exception. They are introduced as one thing, if they are a more important character there might be a later reveal but the show isn’t spending a great deal of time on fleshing these characters out. They are stand-ins and place-holders for the rest of society.

Because this anime very much wants to make a POINT. It is a deep metaphor, a reflection of society and the social disharmony and disconnect of youth culture… And it wants to make sure you never forget it. Not for a single instant. Like Akira’s empathy and heart, let the anime tell you again and again about characters with broken dreams, feeling disillusioned, lost, unsatisfied, and how society doesn’t value those who work hard or genuinely feel for others.

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Now, there is nothing wrong with being an allegory and filled with metaphorical characters and imagery, what takes the enjoyment away from Devilman Crybaby is while it wants to have that deeper message, it also wants to shock and titillate its audience. And it does this with as much subtlety as it constructs metaphor so large chunks of early episodes are given to the sabbath, to sex, and to violence between demons played out on scenes nearly too dark at times to really catch the detail of what is going on but with a plethora of squishy and unsettling sound-effects.

The balance is lacking and by the time the show switches into full allegorical mode none of the characters or ideas have really had a chance to be developed or to sit well with the audience because so much time has been given to extended sequences of sex and violence. So the show falls back on imagery we are familiar with from other stories and myths and to replaying ‘critical’ segments over and over again to once again hammer a point home that could have been made more easily with a bit more legwork in the earlier episodes.

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Miki’s appeal on social media particularly bothered me. It felt so much like the writers wanted to directly state their message and simply put the moral into Miki’s typed messages. Miki’s subsequent death for sending out messages of peace and love lacked impact as it was mostly lost in a sea of other deaths and she hadn’t been built up enough for the audience to care. Therefore, Akira’s rage when he sees the result is understandable but not something the audience can share with him. We’re kept at arm’s length and in honestly her appeal was naive at best giving me little reason to sympathise with the result.

The sudden gathering of an army of devilmen is also kind of convenient and simply allows for an overblown final battle which visually is a mess of colours, attacks, and spinning. There’s very little detail to that final fight, though one scene definitely gave me Evangelion vibes which was kind of weird.

Thematically, Devilman Crybaby is solid but for me the execution failed to engage. It was watchable, and had some dramatic moments, but without ever really getting an emotional response other than occasionally flinching at the visuals in earlier episodes. I get some people will have fun with this but it just didn’t work for me and I probably won’t do a rewatch at any point. Actually, if you just watch for the over-the-top violence and a story that pushes forward (even if it doesn’t get into much depth) this would kind of be the perfect watch, however I just found myself wanting more from it.

As always, I’d love to know what you thought of the show so please leave me a comment below.


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Karandi James.

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Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun Series Review: He’s Just Never Going To Get It

Overview:

Sakura Chiyo has a crush on Nozaki but when she tries to confess she mistakenly tells him she is his fan. To her surprise he gives her an autograph. It isn’t until later she realises that Nozaki is actually a famous shoujo manga artist and she’s just been recruited as an assistant. Surrounded by a cast of zany characters this show follows Sakura’s quest to get Nozaki’s attention and Nozaki’s ongoing search for manga inspiration.

Review:

Previously, Nozaki landed himself a place on the list of boring title characters. The guy is seriously dull as an individual having almost no variation in his expression or tone at any point and essentially just being the rock around which all the other characters interact in this anime. However, just because I find the title character a little bit lacking doesn’t mean this isn’t a fun anime. The support cast are phenomenal and even Nozaki and Sakura’s interactions stay pretty fun even if they are repetitive with her making puppy dog eyes at him and Nozaki completely missing the point.

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However, the show seems to acknowledge that its set up isn’t very original and often links the events in the character’s lives to the events Nozaki is using as inspiration in his manga. The reversal of gender roles from characters in reality to the manga works well as a point of humour with the Mikoshiba (Mikorin) being the unknowing model for the heroine of the manga he assists Nozaki to produce.

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As a main character, Mikoshiba would annoy me. However, in the support role and with Sakura and Nozaki’s fairly deadpan reactions to his silliness, he works quite well at injecting some needed colour and energy into the series and doesn’t overstay his welcome.

The same is true of the rest of the cast who slowly get introduced as the story goes on. When on the search for a Prince type character, Mikoshiba introduces Sakura and Nozaki to Kashima, star of the drama department and super annoying human being to the director even as it is clear he has quite the crush on her. Their antics deliver physical humour and liven up the screen with short bursts of action.

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When looking for a side story, Sakura introduces Nozaki to Seo, a classmate where the gap between her angelic voice and her personality couldn’t be wider. Through a series of events that could only happen in a manga or an anime, Seo ends up on a date with Wakamatsu, a stressed out guy who can only sleep when listening to a tape of Seo’s voice even though Seo is actually the cause of his stress.

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For a comedy anime that really is just a series of set ups and punch lines and repetition of its core jokes over and over, Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun manages to keep things fresh enough through the slow introduction of new cast members and comedic elements, and through its overall set up of Nozaki being a manga artist which allows for discussions about the nature of some of the set ups which gives them slightly more impact.

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While this one isn’t going to win my heart over for best anime ever or anything like that, it is a pleasant watch and while it might be a bit silly it never crosses a line into just ridiculous. The support cast each have their charming and annoying points but because of the range of characters the focus never lingers to long on any one of them and overall it is quite an enjoyable viewing experience.

I’d love to know your thoughts on it is you’ve given it a watch.


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Karandi James.

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Maoyu Maou Yuusha Series Review: Understanding the Economics of War

Overview:

Fifteen years have passed since the war between humans and demons began. Dissatisfied with their slow advance into the Demon Realm, the Hero abandons his companions to quickly forge ahead towards the Demon Queen’s castle. Upon his arrival at the royal abode, the Hero makes a startling discovery: not only is the Demon Queen a woman of unparalleled beauty, but she also seeks the Hero’s help.

– From MAL

Review:

Maoyu is a strange little anime that kind of came out, got a little bit of attention and then disappeared from sight. I’d like to pull it back out from under the bed, dust it off, and remind people that this gem exists. Certainly it isn’t going to make any of the big anime titles tremble in fear because the audience for this is going to remain fairly small, but I have a deep respect for an anime that sets out to achieve a goal and succeeds admirably even if the story here is decidedly unfinished and there’s a number of obvious fan-service choices cluttering up some of the screen time.

It is actually easier to describe Maoyu by talking about what it isn’t. It isn’t a good vs evil fantasy fight between a demon king and a hero. It isn’t really focussed on action at all despite the war setting. It also isn’t an actual introduction to Economics though I’ve seen it described as such. Certainly war and good and evil and Economics all come into play in this story, but while you might gain an appreciation for why war and Economics are intrinsically linked, you aren’t going to walk out the other side of this anime able to have a conversation on Economic theory.

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This story, for me, felt like a critique of war stories and how these stories all end with the heroes overthrowing the villains and then declaring peace and happiness when the end result of most wars is anything but even for the victor. It also felt like a critique of the real world and the way we continue to ignore real issues due to convenience and comfort. With these two ideas forming the base of the narrative, the story that unfolds is fairly average but the message it constructs is on point.

So what is a demon king (or queen) to do when the hero has come to kill them? Lay down their life? Fight to the death? Recruit the hero into a campaign of economic reform so that neither side needs the war to continue to ensure prosperity? Let’s take option three for a change and see what happens.

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None of the characters in this story are given a name. Each are referred to by their job or role. This makes it much easier to generalise the ideas of this story beyond the narrative itself and see these characters as placeholders for people/nations/ideas that we are familiar with in other narratives and in real life. It is a bit awkward at times and discussing the anime by talking about the ‘female knight’ or the ‘senior maid’ might seem a bit odd to someone who hasn’t watched it, but it actually works quite well within the context of the story.

However, it isn’t all smooth sailing. Of course they want to paint a romance into the story that sometimes just feels very contrived and convenient. There are also far too many complications introduced. While on the one hand this makes the setting more true to life with multiple factions both supporting and rejecting reforms, on the other it makes it impossible to bring to any kind of satisfactory resolution to the overall narrative within the anime. Basically, it bites off more than it can chew in its run time and ends up leaving the audience hanging, which would normally be an automatic shelve the disc and never watch again point for me, but somehow this anime managed to make me not care so much about where it was going and more about the journey to get there.

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The other point I will make is there is a lot of times where the characters will sit or stand and discuss farming or trade or politics. And I mean, a lot of times. So if characters sitting and discussing things isn’t what you are looking for, then this anime will end up being a firm pass. However, if you don’t mind that as long as you are interested in the topic being discussed, this won’t be an issue.

I really enjoyed this series for what it was and it just felt a little bit different. While I know it has a lot of similarities to Spice and Wolf, I found this one a little more engaging and liked the characters a bit more (sorry fans of Spice and Wolf). I’d have loved for this anime to get a second season but that seems very unlikely so I’ll just have to rewatch the DVD again and enjoy this odd little story.

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I’d love to know your thoughts on Maoyu if you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, do you think you would watch an anime like this or does it sound like something you will firmly pass on?


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Karandi James.

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