Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episodes 4 + 5: These Guys Seriously Need An Actual Strategy

Review Episode 4:

You know, it sounds like a great plan for protecting time and all, but apparently anthropomorphized swords aren’t particularly good at strategy. After the last arc where they kind of knew the time and place of an attack and they more or less just waited around until it was mostly too late to stop it, at the start of this arc where they know the time and place they mostly just wait around until it is almost too late to stop it. Genius.

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We get more of the silent, surly boy sword this time and I’ll admit, I like his fighting style so I could happily watch more of him, but he gets hurt toward the end of the episode while the others flail about trying to regroup after utterly failing to realise where the danger was going to come from.

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Of course we end on a flashy arrival by another time traveller so I guess we’ll see what happens next, next week.

Review Episode 5:

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See, the enemy actually has a contingency plan and while they didn’t succeed at their overall objective, they certainly made a mess of the city by the end of this so you would assume there would be some fall out in the future. Meanwhile, the show attempts to bring some tragedy to the table but unfortunately that would require me to have made some kind of emotional connection with the character they chose to throw under the emotional bus and to have not have seen it coming from the minute they realised he wasn’t trying to get past them on the bridge.

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Oh well. Once again, some spectacular fight sequences to watch and some pretty good music.


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My Hero Academia Episodes 29 + 30: The Boys Are Back Together

Review Episode 29:

I remember back when the tournament arc started the reason I was disappointed with that was because tournament arcs just can’t do high stakes for real. The worst that will happen is they’ll lose (although My Hero Academia managed to put its own spin on that with Midoriya doing some permanent damage to his hand). Well, the internship is definitely making up for that. I wanted real danger and stakes, here they are, and watching Iida, then Midoriya, and then Midoriya backed by Todoroki facing the real world Hero Killer is truly spectacular and everything I could ever want from this show.

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Midoriya and Todoroki have both come so far to who they were back in the tournament arc, and Iida is having his moment now where he can choose whether he’s going to grow as a hero or really just fail as a hero. I’m hoping he steps up because this is a generation of kids who really could change their world once they got over their own baggage. Loved this episode and looking forward to the next.

Review Episode 30:

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Once again, My Hero Academia has left me completely speechless and just sitting as the credits play staring at the screen in silence. This episode was go, go, go with the exception of one fairly necessary flashback sequence for Iida.

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We finally got to see Endeavor actually act like a hero and it makes a pleasant change given our only previous encounters with him made me really question this world’s definition of hero. We also got to see the conclusion of the fight between the Hero Killer, Todoroki, Iida and Midoriya and that was a fantastic experience. Yet, even when the show delves into the darker side of this world, the watching experience remains one of fun and entertainment. This is a show that balances itself well and always remembers what it wants to give its audience. Fantastic episode, looking forward to what comes next.


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The Matrix Movie Review: What is acting? How do you define acting?

Overview:

Neo believes that Morpheus, an elusive figure considered to be the most dangerous man alive, can answer his question — What is the Matrix? Neo is contacted by Trinity, a beautiful stranger who leads him into an underworld where he meets Morpheus. They fight a brutal battle for their lives against a cadre of viciously intelligent secret agents.

– from unknown.

Review:

In 1999, when The Matrix came out, I was a teenager and I was becoming a fan of Keanu Reaves as I had really enjoyed him in Speed, Point Break, Chain Reaction and a range of other films (though he definitely had some real misses in the 90’s) so The Matrix was more or less designed to appeal to me.

And appeal it did.

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A dark and menacing future where humans had become enslave by machines but for a small group of freedom fighters who would enter The Matrix (which for a very convenient and quickly glossed over reason looked exactly like the modern world) to achieve a range of poorly defined objectives. Okay, my teenage self was not that discerning a viewer and the fight sequences coupled with the glossy leather outfits was pretty much all it took to get me on board with this one.

After the consecutive disappointments of both follow up films though, I kind of moved on and it was only recently when I had the opportunity to see this film again.

Visually, it still works. The designs chosen for the ‘real world’ compared to the simulated spaces the create for training compared to the actual matrix all fill their role and have their own kind of charm. There’s a lot of attention to small details in the sets and the spaces fill lived in (other than the training areas which are obviously supposed to feel a bit void of personality).

I didn’t really notice it as a teenager, but the sound design for this movie is horrible. I get the mix they were going for and the tone they were trying to strike but some of those sound effects just hurt the head and the thought of computers making any of those noises these days is kind of laughable. Though back in the 90’s days of dial-up internet I guess audiences were happy to swallow that because it was hard to imagine any sound more obnoxious than that one.

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However, for all that this is a visual feast and there are still some really interesting ideas being thrown about, the overall storyline is plagued by attempting to be overly complex for what really amounts to a man vs machine conflict and their reasons for actually entering the matrix don’t make a lot of sense when the real conflict is occurring out in the real world (I know they throw around a lot of fast words and fancy rhetoric but ultimately none of the conflict needed to be based in the matrix so Neo’s ability to seemingly control it by the end of this first is more or less a pointless gimmick – and that is yet another reason why I should stop watching sequels).

And of course, I can’t actually avoid the main issue I found with the movie, which of course are the performances. For a film packing some real star power the performances delivered here are about as subtle and nuanced as the woman in red is in the training area. Most characters have at most 3 facial expressions and tend to wear one the majority of the film only changing to one of the other two at minor climactic moments I guess to remind us they can actually emote. While we might excuse Hugo Weaving for this, given he is playing a program, the human characters can’t possibly hope to escape from scrutiny.

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Yet, for all that I’ve just kind of run the film down, the one undeniable point is that it is still fun to watch (providing the volume isn’t too loud). Scenes transition smoothly one from the next, usually with a sense of movement and purpose, and where logical leaps fail the audience a character is usually quick to swoop in with an explainer to sweep away any pesky questions you might have about what the point of something is (even if that explainer doesn’t really hold up under closer scrutiny). The fight sequences are still impressive, even if the special effects, once pretty cutting edge, are now just same old or even dated. And did I mention the number of very cool leather jackets in this film? The wardrobe alone is worth watching this film for.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this film and how you feel it has aged.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episodes 2 + 3: Remaining One Step Behind

Review Episode 2:

As I said when reviewing episode 1, I’m just not feeling this. It isn’t actually bad, but the characters aren’t really clicking for me and I’m still pretty disconnected from the events. Despite the show spending five minutes having the characters sitting around introducing themselves I couldn’t actually commit any of their names to memory and mostly I’ve got the ‘loud and annoying one’, ‘the sullen one’, ‘the spear guy’, ‘the new guy’, and ‘the most boring guy so obviously he’s going to be the leader type guy’.

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Basically they are getting all worked up about time potentially being changed and maybe a war starting, but I just don’t care and am not invested in this conflict. It doesn’t help that they themselves seem to only care in as much as they’ve been told to do something about it. They don’t seem personally invested in the conflict. Oh well, next episode.

Review Episode 3:

Great, we’ve got the loud guy and the boring guy butting heads Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars style while the others looks on and do nothing. And still the only thing they care about is serving their master so they lack any actual agency of their own which keeps the audience at arms length from the events.

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There were some actually quite pretty scenes this week and less times when the characters felt like they were obviously popping out of the scenery and the fight sequences remain impressive. I’m neither particularly liking nor disliking this show at the moment. I kind of want to like it but I’m just not there yet.

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It would probably be nice also to know what the villains intend to get out of all of this as that might make the conflict something I can actually care about.


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Princess Principal Episode 1: This Might Be A Fun Ride

Overview:

At the end of the 19th century, London, the Kingdom of Albion has been split into East and West sides by a giant wall. Five girls attend Queen’s Mayfaire, a conventional and prestigious school. Under the guise of regular high school girls, they act as spies under cover. Disguise, reconnaissance, infiltration, car chases… Each girl uses their own set of special skills to dart around the world of shadow.

– From AnimeLab

Review:

This show was one of the few titles that has been getting quite a lot of praise this season that I actually have access to so I was looking forward to checking out the first episode. Even so, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much. It kind of reminded me a bit of Joker Game, but with a bit more energy and (let’s be honest) more cute added in to it. The combination might work but more importantly, it looks like we have a far more focussed cast so hopefully I won’t feel as disconnected from the show as I did when watching Joker Game.

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I really like the set up in this first episode. There’s still a lot we don’t know about why these girls are spies or what really caused the conflict or what the end game is, but you don’t feel confused while watching these girls carry out their mission. While one of the girls is of the overly cute, squeaky voice variety that might get on my nerves, the others all seem quite interesting and I look forward to learning more about them.

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That said, right from the word go, this show is making sure we know it isn’t all sunshine and roses just because young girls have taken the lead roles. This had some dark moments and it doesn’t look like we’re heading for a happily ever after any time soon. Definitely going to keep this one and see how it goes. It may not end up being amazing, but this first episode certainly hit the mark.


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Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Episode 1: Boys, Swords and Time Travel

Overview:

The year is 1863, Japan is split between the pro-shogunate and anti-shogunate factions. In this chaotic time, the era of the swords is coming to a close. Horikawa Kunihiro has manifested as a Sword Warrior and is joined by Izuminokami Kanesada, a warrior who served under the same master as him. Sword Warriors are “Tsukumogami”, spirits and willpower that reside within a sword. These spirits are awakened by Saniwa to protect the world from the “Time Retrograde Army,” who were sent by historical revisionists from the future to alter history.

– From AnimeLab

Review:

My honest opinion of this is that I’m not really feeling it. Despite spending most of the episode with Kunihiro and Kanesada, I don’t actually know anything about them or care in the slightest about the conflicts they get involved in. Even the random saving of a child that apparently shouldn’t have happened but we’ll all just agree didn’t, isn’t enough to in any way make these characters anything more than shiny characters on a screen surrounded by gorgeous backgrounds that don’t really fit together at all times in a way I’ve come to expect after Tales of Zestiria the X.

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That isn’t to say it looks bad. For most of the episode it looks amazing. However, there are other scenes where the characters look beautiful, the background looks beautiful, and they both look like they belong in two different shows. I won’t harp on that though given even if I watched this on my usual set up I’d be viewing it in fairly low resolution and given I snuck a watch of this while travelling I had the video quality on the lowest possible setting just to get it to play.

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Outside of the visuals and characters though, we have some guys trying to change the past and other guys trying to stop them. The whole personified sword thing is neither here nor there in making this any more interesting and the sudden appearance of a whole bunch of characters at the end of episode 1 made  for a visually interesting fight sequence but not a lot else.

I’m not dropping this because it wasn’t bad, but neither am I feeling particularly compelled to stick with it after episode 1. We’ll see what happens next and whether I can start caring about the characters enough to get into the story.


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Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale Movie Review

Overview:

Yeah, there’s a new game using augmented reality rather than virtual reality that Asuna and all of Kirito’s friends are into. But like every other game in this series it has just a little bit of a catch.

Review:

As you may have picked up from my series review of Sword Art Online yesterday, I am a fan of SAO. I am not oblivious to some of the faults with the story or the characters, but I genuinely get a lot of joy and fun from watching and rewatching the series. So I was super excited when I found out I’d be in a city with a cinema when SAO was still showing and it was showing in a cinema in the city I was going to be in. Given I only usually get to see a movie in the cinema every six months or so, this year has been pretty good to me in terms of my actually getting to see cinema releases. Still, SAO was my very first anime cinema experience and I’m really glad I had this experience.

That said, and as much as I really had a lot of fun, the movie is not good. Fans of SAO who are still fans despite all the rocks people throw at the series and despite some legitimate complaints about the plot will enjoy this movie but otherwise it just isn’t that good. Mostly this is because it does all the things anime movies tend to do that annoy people.

Firstly, every character of note from the previous four arcs is going to make an appearance. Doesn’t matter if they are relevant or not (or apparently whether they previously died or not), they are showing up. This is stretching run time for the sake of it and some of these characters just kind of pop in and out for no other reason than to say they were there. Realistically, this movie needed Kirito, Asuna, Klein, and maybe one other from the usual crew and the story would have not been altered in the slightest except there would be less clutter and we’d be able to just focus on the story rather than random cameos from characters who were mostly pointless. I get it is an SAO movie and you want all the fans to see their favourite character but are you pandering to fans or making a decent movie?

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Secondly, because they are trying to introduce a new concept and villain and wrap it up in the length of a single movie, what we end up with is a lot of rushed exposition and a really poorly realised conflict. Seriously, none of the villains in this can be taken seriously. They either have the mentality of a six year old or they are simply going through the motions of duplicating the actions of previous characters and they haven’t actually thought through their actions in any realistic way. Not to mention, the final climax really just suddenly upped the stakes for no discernible reason other than the characters said it was suddenly going to be more dangerous (seriously from memory loss to permanent brain damage and no actual reason other than it was going to – they did babble an explanation at us but it boils down to we want a more dramatic climax and why haven’t they just stopped playing the game yet).

My third issue with the movie is just the usual one about characters being needlessly stupid for the sake of plot. Ghost girl is pointing. Gee, I wonder what’s over there. Wait, you seriously didn’t ask until the third time she did it? Great, now you can triangulate but why hadn’t you already asked?

In case that makes it sound dreadful, it isn’t. The final act is almost laugh out loud ironically bad but the build up is good SAO fun with some good fights, characters sassing one another for laughs, the introduction of interesting game concepts that make you think about games and life, and you do get to see all your favourite characters whether you want to or not. That might be detrimental to the plot but for fans it is kind of rewarding.

Not to mention, while the ending is bad from a narrative point of view, from a visual spectacle and awesome boss fight point of view it is a really riveting experience. Okay, there’s about a million holes you can poke in everything that happens in that final stadium fight, but switch your brain off and watch it. That is all kinds of awesome and when you compare the plot holes here to the plot holes left in most big action movies, they are kind of on par (I just expect better from my anime, even SAO, which is probably why I was laughing so hard).

Of course Kirito is still going to save the day because despite everyone else having more experience playing the game, Kirito is the protagonist and severly protected by plot armour at this point. In the first arc of SAO there was always the possibility he might actually die but since then it has become increasingly clear that Kirito is just going to be fine no matter what so let him do his thing. I’m positive he broke traffic laws as well as common sense laws during one sequence of fights where within a ten minute window he participated in multiple fights in multiple locations in the city. But you know, there are worse things that the movie could have thrown at us.

On that note, I did go to see the movie with a friend and after it ended (and we got the tease for yet another SAO story after the credits – this series never intends to just go quiet does it) we went to dinner and talked the movie over. He isn’t as big a fan of SAO as I am but he enjoyed the first arc and has watched the rest. Basically we came to the conclusion that everything else in the movie could be excused except the villain. He was so lame and his motive so ridiculous. Even if he had succeeded it was unclear what he intended to do next. More importantly, why can’t you copy the memories rather than wiping them out of people’s brains. Doesn’t that make more sense if you are digitally stealing memories in the first place?

So recommendation for this film is watch it if you are into SAO. You’ll enjoy it and have a bit of a laugh and you will certainly see some very cool fights and a game that you’ll definitely want in real life right now. Otherwise, this one is an entirely skippable experience. There’s really nothing here for non-fans.


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Sword Art Online Season 1 Series Review

Before I get into the review today, I just want to have a minor celebration as this is my 150th anime series review (admittedly, I am counting the SAO abridged series review that I did so maybe this is actually review 149). Whichever way, I was tossing up between SAO and Psycho Pass but I think I want to wait a bit more before trying to review Psycho Pass so SAO it is. Thanks to everyone who keeps reading these, hopefully they are either helpful or entertaining.

Overview:

I’m pretty sure everyone knows the story of SAO but essentially there’s a new game that uses technology that allows players to pretty much completely enter the game (or at least feel like they have) and on the day the game is launched the creator of the game essentially traps them all inside telling them they have to clear all 100 floors before they can log out. No problem then. Oh, and they’ll also die in real life if they die in the game due to some design in the equipment that allowed them to enter the game (because people are really likely to sell you a helmet that can fry your brain). Of course, that’s only the first arc and that takes up about half the season before we move into the second arc of fairy dance which is mostly about rescuing a Princess in a cage.

Review:

In case I seemed overly snarky in my overview, I’m just going to say this straight out, I love Sword Art Online. I get that the story has its flaws and that you could throw insults at most of the characters if you really, really wanted to, and yes there are some technical issues with the delivery of the show in some scenes while others are really beautifully done which kind of leads to an inconsistent viewing experience, but you know what, none of that actually matters to me. I loved this anime from episode one and through the entire first arc. I completely and totally fell in love with the virtual world and with watching Kirito face each challenge and overcome it. To point out how much I loved it I will say I only have three anime plush characters and Kirito is one of them (the other two being Maka from Soul Eater and Sailor Jupiter from Sailor Moon). So while I will admit there are issues with this anime, this review is more of a reasons why something doesn’t need to be perfect to be good.

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To be a bit logical about my approach I’m going to start with the plot. It is really incredibly simple and that’s fine. Here’s all these people trapped in a game that can kill them. Here’s the way out. Get from point A to point B and don’t die along the way. It can’t get much simpler. Of course with all of those different characters trapped in the game responding to this threat and challenge in different ways, there’s plenty of material to keep the story interesting even as the basic narrative works because it isn’t trying to be anything more than what it is. There’s no convoluted twists or surprise rules that come out of nowhere. Even Kirito admits SAO’s rules are always fair even when they suck. Although, that’s kind of what kills two moments in the first arc that should be really amazing.

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The first is the reveal of who or what Yui actually is. Up until that point, the programs and the game have run incredibly smoothly and all in the way in which the one who designed the game intended. So Yui as a program being cut away from the players makes no sense. Why create her in the first place if you aren’t going to let her function? And if you decided you didn’t need that function, why not just delete her? More importantly, why can she act outside of her program at all? I know they try and do an exposition dump explanation for this but it really doesn’t work with the rest of the setting and plot and mostly just feels like they really wanted to add in a cute child for Kirito and Asuna, which certainly works but you kind of have to check your logic at the start of the episode to really accept that.

The second part that is kind of faulty is the end of the arc itself. Previously, Kirito had received an item that would allow a dead player to be revived within 10 seconds of their death (which didn’t help him at all given the character he’d been trying to revive was well past that). The implication being that between your health bar hitting zero and the game frying your brain you had a 10 second grace period. So what’s with the conclusion to the arc when Asuna clearly gets herself killed and Kirito then does his game breaking move to win the fight though it ends in mutual destruction and there’s Asuna waiting for him, not yet dead. If they are trying to say that sequence took less than 10 seconds they are seriously kidding themselves.

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However, outside of those two issues where the rules the show itself has established seem to fall apart, the plot during the first arc is really well handled. We get the first episode where the world is established and we meet Kirito and Klein as they kind of stuff around and teach the audience the main game mechanics before we get the shock reveal that they are trapped. Then we time jump to the first boss fight which takes a major emotional toll on a lot of people. We keep time jumping for a bit given the series covers two years of time in half a season and we aren’t made to watch the players grinding. Instead we see the major events, we consider how they might affect the characters, and then we jump ahead and can see how the character has coped or not with previous events. For some, this method of narration is jarring and feels like a cheat, but to me it was kind of the perfect way to just get to the points we needed to see and yet still have that epic feeling of being trapped for two years. I honestly think seeing anymore of the boss fights or floor clearing would have been incredibly dull because they aren’t necessary to the overall character or plot development. Sure, they may have been cool fight sequences but without purpose it would just be filler.

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Unfortunately, then we move into the second arc and while my bigger concern with Fairy Dance is the characters and how they are treated, the plot itself is needlessly cluttered. Essentially everyone was saved at the end of the first arc except for those players who weren’t. They just didn’t wake up. Turns out they are trapped in a new game as experimental subjects, except Asuna who has just been put in a bird cage. As I said, I have issues with the treatment of the characters but this plot is so incredibly unnecessarily complex. If you want to experiment on people you have heaps of people logging in and out of the game every day. Surely you could run a few tests on them, alter their memories a bit, and send them home. Why trap someone in the game world forever? More importantly, why run an experiment inside a game? Why not just move that data outside of the game world altogether and then no one could come and release them because they wouldn’t be able to ‘beat’ the game?

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The other issue is that the events in Fairy Dance happen over an incredibly short period of time in the real world and it really felt like a story and scheme as grand (or insane) as that one, needed more time and to be properly fleshed out.

Basically, while I will rewatch the first arc of SAO endlessly, Fairy Dance isn’t anywhere near as interesting or compelling. The story is a victim of its own premise which was characters trapped and need to be free. End of first arc sees the characters get free. Its kind of done and no matter how you force scenarios after that to make dangers in the game world for them to face, the best story has already been completed. And that complaint could probably carry over to character development as well, particularly for Kirito. I like how he progresses during the course of the first arc but then he seems literally frozen in time after that just going through the motions of saving other characters.

But that’s kind of jumping ahead. Let’s wrap up plot. Regardless of whether this story has an intricate or deep plot, what SAO does is tell its story in a way that draws the audience in (and given the initial popularity of the show, even if people are on the hate wagon now, when it aired they were drawn in). The sweeping grandeur of the first episode is an effective hook and while events afterwards may not quite live up to that, they at least logically flow on for the most part and issues and complications are resolved in a meaningful way. Not to mention, it is fun. It’s fun in a way that other trapped in a video game stories haven’t really captured for me. Certainly there’s the high stakes threat of characters dying in both the game and the real world, but for the most part they are just kids bouncing around a video game world and it is fun to be a part of that.

Onto the characters then.

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Okay, Kirito does gain quite the harem by the end but that’s in the most superficial sense of the word. It becomes quite clear early on that Asuna is the only one Kirito actually sees as a real person and not a ‘little sister’ or ‘damsel in distress’. So while he certainly helps the other cast members out and they certainly do follow him around there-after, it isn’t the usual harem like setting where the protagonist hasn’t made a choice. More importantly, even the girls themselves seems to realise Kirito has already made his choice and so seem fairly happy to take on that ‘little sister’ role. So with that out of the way, what is Kirito actually like as a character?

In episode 1 he’s great and a lot of the reason I was sold so heavily on this series. He’s a gamer cliché and what little we learn of his life outside of the game is that he has some issue with his family, spends a lot of time alone in his room, and is obsessed with games. he then enters the virtual world and we see him come alive. This resonated so well with me as I kind of had the same experience as a teenager where I just didn’t feel like I fit and games and stories were something that could make me feel alive. Despite being built off a cliche, they spend a bit of time showing us that while he is anti-social even in the gaming world, he does want some human connections so he isn’t willing to sever ties instantly with Klein but nor is he willing to take on Klein’s friends as part of his responsibility. The process of Kirito making the decision on how to act at the end of that first episode really made him feel real. He did make a rough call and he did end up abandoning everyone else to try to secure his own survival, but he’s a teenage boy who doesn’t get how to be around others in the first place. He was human enough to try to reach out and save Klein because he thought he could without exposing himself to unnecessary danger, but he wasn’t willing to risk his own life for strangers. It just made him a very believable person to me.

The time jumps after really do track Kirito’s progress as a character. While each event we see isn’t crucial to the overall plot, each event they jump to is crucial to the changes we see occurring in Kirito that take us from the guy who fled the town of beginnings by himself to the guy who challenged the creator of the game in order to save everyone. Every episode we see a slightly different Kirito. These aren’t massive changes or a totally reinvented character, but one who has experienced weeks/months/years in a death game and reflected on each of the previous encounters and grown from it.  While he’s never going to be the biggest people person and his first priority remains his own survival (although you could argue he prioritizes Asuna’s survival over his own after about episode 10), he slowly learns to let people in.

Why is he so slow about it?

Because the first time he tries to join a guild and actually make friends his own indecision and poor judgement gets them all killed (or at least so Kirito thinks). It isn’t necessarily true because even if he’d told them how strong he was they might have still walked into that room and Kirito may have still failed to save them, but it doesn’t matter what the reality was it is more how Kirito views the situation. That may have been enough to stop Kirito ever letting anyone else in except that he receives Sachi’s message later on and that allows him a small window to move forward.

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He doesn’t then just become champion of justice and all around good guy. We see through his encounter with Silica that while he’s acting the hero on the surface, he’s mostly just going through the motions. In fact, he’s been hired by someone who experienced the pain of seeing his friends killed and Kirito could relate so he decides to exact ‘justice’ given he can’t do anything about his own situation. Silica is initially just someone Kirito uses to achieve his goal however that encounter again changes him. Later episodes we see him actually seeing the person and finally actually caring about others.

Admittedly, the other characters in SAO don’t get a lot of love as the first arc at least is all about Kirito and his journey. There’s certainly a wide range of characters and each time we re-encounter them, they’ve changed a bit because of their own experiences but we don’t really know what they are so it has less of an impact. While Fairy Dance brings in some new characters, it is the core group from the original game that are the more interesting characters (amazing what putting a group of people through a near death experience will do to them).

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However, something does need to be said about the villains both of the first and second arc. While the first arc one could argue doesn’t really have a villain and his motives remain fairly confusing, the second arc introduces a pure scum type villain who ends up being so cartoonishly over the top you can’t help but wonder if you are watching an entirely different show. The only real positive of the villain in Fairy Dance is the real world crisis that the villain presents to Kirito as it points out clearly that no matter how amazing Kirito gets at playing games he still can’t control the real world.

This has gotten quite long so I’m going to quickly go through the last few things. Visually, I love this anime. I like the look of the game world and the action is great. The equipment the characters have and the way the towns and cities operate just reminds you of being in a game world. I love the sound effects and music and think that really adds to the immersive experience of the show.

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As I said at the beginning, I love this anime. I won’t try to tell you it has no faults and I won’t tell you that everyone should love it. What I will say is that this is a fun anime to watch and should be watched for fun. While it touches on some more complex issues, the basic narrative works because it doesn’t clutter itself up with too many different ideas. Basically, worth giving a go to if you like fantasy/action type anime. It may not work for you, but you may just find yourself having a lot of fun at least in the first arc.


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Blame Movie Review

Overview:

There’s a city with builders that just keeps getting built and humans somehow lost control of it and are now treated as pests to be exterminated by the various safeguards and things. Zuru lives in a village that is protected by a barrier but they are running out of food and so must venture into the city for supplies.

Review:

There’s something very disappointing about a movie that has a really cool setting and premise and then essentially does nothing with world or character building to bring either to life. Blame has everything it needs to be a pretty good sci-fi film and yet it settles for being a mediocre action viewing experience that spends so little time on its characters you’d be lucky to even remember three names by the time you get to the end of the film. Certainly it isn’t working at building any kind of emotional connection to these drone like and interchangeable cast members.

Still, it isn’t bad. Blame’s biggest issue is that it isn’t as good as it could have been and that left a really sour taste in my mouth which made it hard to really focus on what it was doing well. I  said it was mediocre action viewing, but the action is pretty good. From a visual point of view the movement and explosions are all very effective and if you just want to watch desperate people trudge about for most of the first act and then scurry in fear as the few major players duke it out in the second, you’ll actually get a fairly solid viewing experience.

Still, if you are after explanations, character motivations (beyond the obvious), a world that feels like more than a group of set pieces strung together, Blame is going to fall short of the mark. And no where is this truer than in Killy.

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Killy originally rescues Zuru when she has led a group of younger people out of the village in search of food and of course for the sake of narrative convenience they run afoul of the exterminaters. I will point out over half of the party die and other than a few uncomfortable moments when they first get back to the village no one ever mentions these dead characters again. Considering how much fuss is made later over another character dying (and again she wasn’t the only character to die in that scene) it just seems really unnatural. Blame wants the audience to care about this death so the characters will make a fuss. These deaths were just to show you how spectacularly powerful these machines are. Don’t worry about these characters and the other characters won’t either.

Back to Killy. With very little discussion or actual reason, Zuru brings Killy back to the village. Zuru actually seems to have imprinted on Killy because she spends most of the rest of the movie either following him or hovering in his vicinity. They don’t seem to actually interact much and I don’t actually know why she’s hung up on him or if they ever even speak together again because as far as I can recall they don’t. Yet for some reason he has this incredible impact on her and that’s something the closing monologue wants to emphasise but it makes no sense because nothing we saw really warranted that kind of connection to have been forged.

The other characters to just seem to accept Killy. No one actually asks him the questions the audience would like answered. We get a few hints here and there and an antagonist pretty much tells us something we’d mostly figured out by sheer guess work in the end but where did Killy come from? Why was he so fixated on his mission? How did he survive that long? Nothing. Silence.

We know nothing about him. We know what he is seeking and that is the full extent of our knowledge of this character. Seriously, even Arnold as the Terminator had more personality.

There’s some cool technology and ideas floating around in this movie but again, don’t go waiting for any kind of explanation or elaboration. This is a case of cool concept, where’s the detail.

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Basically if you have a couple of hours to kill, you could do worse than watching Blame, but it isn’t exactly something you should prioritize.


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Attack on Titan Season 2 Series Review

Overview:

Continuing on from season 1 after the fight with Annie, the scouts are trying to investigate when reports of titans inside the walls come in. Then we spend a lot of time running around and screaming. It is attack on titan afterall. I reviewed individual episodes of this while it was airing so if you are interested in my thoughts on the episodes click here.

Review:

This season was very much like season one for me in that I really loved the first half and let myself get swept away with it, and then in the second half the nagging feeling that this show can’t remember that it is actually supposed to have a plot started kicking in. The difference being that season one started with that incredible titan attack sequence that just blew me away and sucked me straight into the story whereas season two’s first episode, while it had its own charm, just isn’t going to stack up. The other major difference being with half as many episodes, things derailed a bit faster this time round then last time.

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Before I get into the positives, of which there are many given despite my complaints I’m still watching this show and still actually hopeful season 3 will come out next year as announced, I am going to go through my major issues with this season.

The first is the pacing and the way plot points are introduced and dealt with. Attack on Titan does not have good pacing. It didn’t in season 1 and it hasn’t fixed the issue in season 2. The Beast Titan makes an appearance early on, we get one other appearance and then he vanishes until the tease right at the end of the series. Delaying information is a fine tactic for building suspense when done right. Something like ACCA did it very well. But in this instance we don’t have any clues or ideas and there’s no reminders of this particular plot point. It just kind of appears and then goes and nobody even seems to mention it thereafter. Much like the titans in the walls who seem important only no one seems to be in much of a rush to deal with that issue. Or what happened to Annie? Or the key from last season? And when did Eren actually become the hope for humanity? Stuff happens or is said but nothing is built on.

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Another problem, the first half of this season deals almost entirely with the side cast as each seems to get an episode focus and then once they are reunited the focus shifts entirely onto Eren and Reiner. And while some of these episodes are very good (more on that when I get to the positives), there isn’t really a lot of cohesion between these stories and when we eventually slam all these characters together only a few actually survive all these plots being crammed together to have any further relevance. It kind of feels like most of those episodes exist only so you stop calling Sasha ‘potato girl’ and can actually distinguish characters from the support cast if you have never read the manga.

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Honestly, the show really only knows how to deal with one thing at a time. There’s never any subtlety in the presentation and as a direct result when we are investigating the titans in the wall, that’s all we’re doing. When we are learning about Ymir’s back story, that’s all we’re doing. While some shows might get away with that, Attack on Titan has created the problem of far too many ideas, and if it is only dealing with one at a time that means it has shelved everything else and the audience is just left waiting. I think Eren’s basement got mentioned once in this second season. Season 1 it seemed like a big deal but apparently it isn’t a big enough deal that we actually need to mention it or even seem to remember it. More importantly, once the action starts, all of the ideas kind of get tossed and instead we just get to see this show be cool action.

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Of course my final major issue is our supposed protagonist, Eren. He says it himself that he hasn’t changed at all and while he might have said that in the midst of understandable depression and desperation, it really rang far too true. He hasn’t changed. He’s the same angry little kid shouting at the world and just kind of demanding that it fix itself in a way that benefits him. While he has had some development over the two seasons, he’s still just plain unlikable. The fact that the other scouts seems to realise he is the single most irritating person in the world doesn’t help. It isn’t exactly surprising that his return to the main group at mid-season marked the down-turn in my enjoyment of the show.

So now that it sounds like I hate the show, I’m going to turn this around and tell you why you should probably watch this season anyway (if you haven’t already).

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For all its faults with story and character, Attack on Titan gets one thing right every single time. It gets into the audience’s head and it moves the audience. Whether it is the visual spectacle and tragedy of Mike getting torn apart at the start of the season, the horrified expressions on the young scouts faces as they realise that the older scouts (the only ones with weapons) have finally lost and are being eaten alive by titans, Reiner’s casual but show stopping declaration that he was the armoured titan, of the final episode of this season where they mirrored the death of Eren’s mother right in front of him yet again, this show manages to make you sit up and take notice. It might be shock, it might be sadness, it might be anger, but while watching you feel these emotions surging through you and these images and the sounds stick in your head after the episodes are done. Plus, the titan tossingmoment in the final battle was kind of fantastic. This season is worth watching just for the touching Eren/Mikasa moment in the final episode. As much as I dislike both of those characters, that was one excellently handled emotional point.

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Part of this is due to the artwork. The world, the titans, and the characters while not beautiful (not the right descriptor) are perfectly suited to the story they are telling. There’s an enormous focus on character reactions to the horror surrounding them and this is told largely through their eyes and they are impressively expressive. The titans this season no longer had the surprise factor that season one gave them, but they still managed to make them suitably creepy and devastating. Even the smaller titans were made incredibly terrifying, particularly when Sasha was facing off with one without and gear. There’s a few moments where the animation might be off, but this show is still incredibly impressive from a visual point of view.

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The music also remains on point. It took nearly half the season before the theme song grew on me but it certainly did and while I still don’t understand the point of some of the visuals in that opening, I actually began looking forward to it as it framed the episode nicely. However, it is the music and sound-effects throughout the episodes that will really just drag you in. They aren’t intrusive but rather add to an immersive viewing experience. The show also makes fairly affective use of silence in the final episode which was a pretty excellent choice.

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So pretty much if you are going to sit a pick faults with the storyline, you will most definitely find them. If you want to pull characters apart and look at whether they seem like real people or have real motivations or any kind of normal reaction to situations, you will probably find it fairly easy to fault this season. If you think too hard about all the story threads that seem to get pulled into the spot light for a brief moment and then tossed aside, you will absolutely be disappointed. However, if you strap in and just watch, you will probably get swept away by the grandeur of the moment and watch some pretty cool fights and some really tragic deaths.

My review of season 1 finished like this:

It’s beautiful, fast paced, and dramatic and when it is at its best it truly shines and those moments will carry you over the slower bits. If we actually get a continuation that matches the feel and quality of season 1 then this could be a very memorable anime. Otherwise I think it is one of those ones that had its moment in the sun but without finishing won’t have staying power.

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My thoughts have changed a little as season 2 was far better during the first half when it did finally focus on some of the more interesting characters. However, it still suffers from a lack of ending and without knowing where all these conspiracies and plot threads are going there’s little other than a wait and see mind set when thinking about how I feel overall about this show.

That said, I’d love to know your thoughts on season 2 if you’ve finished watching it. I know some of the bloggers out there loved this season a lot more than I did but some have been more critical please feel free to share your stance now that it has concluded.


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