Kuromukuro Series Review

Overview:

Kennosuke is a samurai who lived 450 years ago when ogres attacked his home and killed/kidnapped his Princess. Trapped in some sort of suspended animation, he is woken when the ‘ogres’ return and finds the world is a very different place.

Review (there’s a few spoilers):

I haven’t watched a lot of anime on Netflix, mostly because there isn’t very much available in Australia, and most of what is there is already available on other services. Still, I’ve tried a few now of the Netflix originals and for the most part found them watchable, bingeable even, but not overly remarkable. Kuromukuro doesn’t do much to buck the trend there.

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In all seriousness, I actually finished a watch of this series in very quick order and then had to go back and rewatch bits for the purpose of review. Mostly because what this story does right is keeps you wanting more at the end of each episode. Things are happening. The plot continues to drive forward. It doesn’t matter that it is predictable and gimmicky, it just keeps driving onward and you get to the end credits and you are jumping straight into the next episode because anything else just seems silly.

I was going to review season 1 and season 2 separately (given Netflix so nicely insists they are 2 different seasons and labels them as such) but given episode 13 (final episode of season 1) ended with one of the main characters getting run through with a sword and being critically injured and that’s where it ended I kind of just kept watching. Even though I knew that’s why they did and even though it annoys me when stories pull those cheap emotional stunts to make you wait for the next episode or season. This show got away with it not annoying me because all of season 2 was already sitting there but if I’d had to wait 6 or 12 months there’s a good chance I’d have never gone back to it.

So other than my petty dislike of being overtly manipulated as a viewer, what works in this show and what doesn’t? Let’s go for a plus/minus approach.

Plus +

The cast works really well. Okay, every character is actually a walking archetype at various times but they also get small moments where they get to be real humans even if only momentarily, and there are enough cast members that none of them really hang around long enough to get too painful. I liked the dynamics of Yukina’s family, I liked her group of school friends, I liked the UN office workers and researchers, and I liked the soldiers. They all just kind of did what they needed to do. Are any of these characters going to make my favourite ever list? Not a chance, they are pretty forgettable. But, within the context of the story they are in they work remarkably well.

Plus, I really enjoyed the romance element that came into it later on. It was kind of clear from the start they were going to go there, but it was actually kind of sweet when that part of the story got moving.

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Minus –

The villains are all but cape wearing, cackling clichés. And no, they aren’t quite that bad but they get close at times. Initially one of the ‘ogres’ gets killed by Ken and then they said another, single warrior against him. Then they have this weird honour thing where they can’t return if they don’t win and they like one on one battles (though using puppets to pin your enemy down apparently doesn’t count as cheating). It’s all kind of depressing because it reminds me of Beryl’s minions in the 1990’s Sailor Moon and the main villain is about as useful as Beryl really. Turns out he isn’t the actual big bad because he’s also just a cog in the works of a much grander plan. Whichever way, there wasn’t really much satisfaction to be found from overcoming these villains because they were pretty much basic plot points derived from other stories and they weren’t particularly interesting. The only ‘villain’ who gets some points is the clone of Princess Yuki and that’s only because it ties in nicely with Ken’s story and Yukina.

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Plus +

While the fights are not using the smoothest animation ever, they actually give you a feeling of speed and you feel some real concern for the pilots at times (even though it becomes obvious fairly early on that this show isn’t interested in permanently knocking off any of its main cast even when they deserve it). As a result, the fights are pretty fun to watch even once the outcome becomes inevitable.

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Minus –

How many clichés can you pack into a single show? While this show probably isn’t the worst offender ever for this, some of these just felt so unnecessarily tacked on. We had the pool scene, because high school right, and yes the transfer student who is actually a 450 year old samurai, and the school festival of course, the overlooked love interest, the cosplaying best friend, the useless female teacher (hate that one), the teenage mecha pilots, the hot springs trip, the doppelgänger, the 450 year old machine that still somehow works perfectly, the internet obsessed guy, and so on. While some of these were used well within the context of this narrative, others, as I said, felt really unnecessary and like they existed just because the writers were told to make an anime so they did. Clichés aren’t always bad, but some of these just weren’t needed.

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Plus +

I kind of like how this ends. Yeah, there’s still plenty of story out there but it really feels like they brought things to a close. Particularly given the five year time jump (which doesn’t seem like enough given the changes but we had a dialogue line of explanation on that one) which gave us insight into what everyone had done and was doing and really gave the series a sense of closure. Such a rare feeling with anime.

Minus –

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Okay, this one is a minus I don’t normally point out or worry about and most people won’t care, but I found the sub-titles to not be great on this one. I’m aware subs don’t always direct translate and the people who sub things think about the intended meaning and flow and all sorts of other things (or at least if they are good they do, some terrible subs just direct translate everything whether it makes sense in English or not). However, there were a few instances in this where I had to wonder if the sub-title was making it less clear what the intended meaning had been. My Japanese isn’t great so I usually assume that the subs are closer than what I’ve translated and the problem is on my end, but there were a few times where I actually went back and re-listened because what I was reading was definitely not conveying the idea the same way I’d heard it. Again, the problem could definitely be on my end but it was a distraction from my viewing.

Mostly, this is a lot of fun, but there’s not a lot of depth and nothing much to take away from it. If you want to watch some giant robots smash each other with samurai swords, and a vaguely moralistic message about the general nature of human beings and organisations (and if you want aliens, ogres, and nanomachines thrown into the mix) then you’ll probably have a great time watching this. If you’re wanting something that requires a bit more thinking than maybe look elsewhere. Definitely a popcorn viewing anime but not memorable.


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Blue Exorcist Season 2 Series Review

Overview:

A continuation of Blue Exorcist (reviewed here), the story picks up with pretty much everyone being scared of Rin and Yukio still stressing about everything. Someone stole the eye of the Impure King so now we’re all going to Kyoto because clearly a world threat should be handled by students and a small branch group. I reviewed this week to week so if you are interested in my episodic thoughts click here.

Review:

It’s shows like this that make me hesitate when someone asks me if I’m excited about an upcoming sequel. Sure, the original may have been fun (in the case of Blue Exorcist I liked the first season well enough though I wasn’t a die-hard fan), but do we really need that continuation? And more importantly, is the continuation doing anything other than giving us more of the same?

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In the case of Blue Exorcist a continuation was actually kind of needed. Rin’s grand goal of defeating Satan was nowhere near being in sight at the end of season 1. However, season 2 barely even acknowledges that such a goal ever existed. If season 2 had progressed towards this and Rin had substantially grown and we could see some sort of end point that maybe eventually he’d have a chance at succeeding at his lofty and impossible goal, then maybe this could have worked.

Instead we get a side story about the Impure King which essentially means after a brief and pathetic struggle our cast shift locations to Kyoto where we meet Suguro’s family and a whole bunch of new characters, sit around and talk for most the season, and finally get an overly extended fight sequence against a villain who has literally no agency in the story other than to be the villain. It’s an entirely filler filled story that could have been told in about an hour for all the content it actually delivers.

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And still they could have pulled this off. The strength of Blue Exorcist wasn’t in its amazing plot (it had a great premise but didn’t do a lot with that anyway) or even the amazing characters (given they are all pretty much one or two note sound bits). The strength of season 1 was its crazy energy and the simple fact that it would embrace the absurd. It was fun. Logic could fail within the story but it was just fun to watch.

Season 2 failed to understand the concept of fun and absurd. And while a more serious tone for a show that probably needed it given the subject matter also could have worked, you need to give us something to replace the fun times of season 1. Characters sitting around talking and having group meetings, or watching a character repeatedly train and fail, or watching a character mope and wallow in self doubt, or hearing yet another speech about friendship… none of these things replace fun.

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It isn’t even that season 2 is not as good as season 1. As a story it has so many issues.

Firstly, Todo, who was kind of the catalyst for the story starting with his theft remains a complete enigma at the end. He didn’t die in that fight, we know that, and yet where is he at the end? Why did he stir things into motion? What’s his fascination with Yukio? Is he coming back? We don’t know anything, and while loose ends are fine in their own way, not knowing his motivation for stealing the eye and any of the events that follow make most of what happens pretty pointless to watch.

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Secondly, while we’re on the subject of villains, the Impure King himself is basically a giant mushroom growing out of control. There’s no personality, no presence, and given how late in the game he actually shows up, he really is just a plot device. The grand fear that he might be unleashed hovering over the series and then the final boss that no one cares about. Yes, he needs to be defeated, but there’s no satisfaction in seeing him defeated because I didn’t actually care about him as a villain.

Thirdly, the minor inconsistencies in the story itself. You know the coats the kids wore to rescue Rin that made them invisible, that they wear for the rest of the battle and yet people interact with them just fine. So they only make you invisible when you want to be? Really? This whole thing really annoyed me during those final episodes. They are having a conversation but isn’t that person invisible? It just kept distracting me from the incredibly repetitive dialogue. This wasn’t the only inconsistency the story served up but it was the most distracting.

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Fourthly, Rin. Arguably the only point to this whole arc is watching him finally gain control of his flames so that maybe people will trust him (and you know he won’t get executed). However he just doesn’t care. He’s so happy-go-lucky that the threat of execution is kind of just dropped into the story by Yukio as a major downer every now and then and then we just kind of push that aside and get back to Rin being Rin. Even his final drawing of the sword and defeating the Impure King (flames finally controlled because of friendship) is kind of half-hearted. So yes, Rin grew over these 12 episodes, but not significantly enough to justify the rest of the viewing time.

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Finally, Yukio. Yukio, please go get some professional help for your issues and stop taking them out on your brother. preferably before you end up turning into a demon. Yukio is quite possibly my least favourite character in this show and this season just kind of emphasised why. Its odd, because normally I like the character who thinks about things as opposed to the characters who rush in, but Yukio is so boring and so contradictory that I just want to slap him most episodes. In his defense, he did get a few good moments in the fight against Todo but that hardly makes up for everything else.

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People who really enjoyed season 1 of this and really like the characters, may find enough here to enjoy. For everyone else, I just don’t see it as being worth the time it takes to watch. It is watchable, but there’s just not much point in it. So while I did have some fun with this, mostly I just kind of watched it. And as the season progressed and it became increasingly clear they were stretching out a very small amount of material, I became increasingly more critical of this. There are some good moments but overall I’m probably never watching this again.


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Attack on Titan Season 2 Episode 4

Reivew:

With the beast titan having climbed the wall last episode I kind of thought that having sent the titans after the group in the tower he was done. Oh no. He’s hanging around to cause more problems and it is just the kind of cruelty you expect from Attack on Titan.

However, rather than just get into the fight we’re skipping back two hours (what is with this season and time skips?). Connie is still obsessing about his village and it seems like he is trying to convince himself everyone survived but the common sense part of his brain keeps rejecting that notion.

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Ymir is far more vocal this episode than I ever think we’ve seen her and it is to her detriment as she let’s something that seems like it should be important slip (however the show is not lingering on this point as there are titans to fight).

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Anyway, the fight actually starts out pretty well. Given how the soldiers have done previously against titans I wasn’t convinced it was going to be a long fight, but the scouts are actually pretty good. You know, until the beast titan launches boulders at the tower, they run out of blades and then gas. It all kind of goes downhill from there. Leading to the final scene and the big reveal of the episode, which most of us saw coming about midway through the episode but was still pretty cool.

This episode was excellent. It hit all the points I loved about the first episode of Attack on Titan ever. The feeling of being desperate and trapped, actual fear of the titans, the inevitable deaths, the few shock moments of survival, some reasonable action in amongst frantic action and waiting. It just kind of kept you on edge and waiting and was satisfying in what it delivered. More like this, please.

Attack on Titan is available on AnimeLab.


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Grimoire of Zero Episode 2

Review:

Grimoire of Zero on paper probably looks like a really great anime. All of the ingredients are there. You’ve got witches, humans and beastfallen all with their own agendas, prejudices, and ignorances in various states of conflict, you have a paired up witch and beastfallen on what amounts to a magical fetch quest, and you have sufficient obstacles to create some interesting action sequences on their travels. So why and I finding it so dull to watch?

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Part of the issue comes from not particularly caring about any of the characters yet and episode 2 did little to make me care any more about them. Other than the mercenary stating he hates witches, repeatedly, and then at the end apologising half-heartedly for it, we learn nothing about him in this episode. Zero can’t decide if she wants to be mysterious, wise, passive or smug and just kind of pulls on whichever personality suits the moment. New witch boy, who I cannot remember the name (sorry, alias) of is an angry ignorant witch but deep down he’s a good person.

Other than not caring about this group, last week they set up a quest to find the grimoire and this week yellow haired boy tells them, oh yeah, that’s in our hideout. Okay, that was easy. I assume getting it back won’t be easy but really, way to shortcut a quest.

And did we seriously need an arrow to the knee joke here?

Grimoire of Zero is available on AnimeLab.


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Attack on Titan Season 2 Episode 3

Review:

Sometimes this show gets its logic just right. While I still think my theory that the people in Connie’s town turned into titans is sound (and nothing this episode refuted that even overly optimistic girl) the group continued onto the wall to look for a hole. At that moment I started thinking if the villagers turned into titans there wouldn’t necessarily be one. And sure enough not long after group coming down the wall one way runs into group going the other along the wall and neither group found a hole.

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It’s unbelievable that you can say this with a straight face because even if the villagers had actually fled, it’s unlikely they outran Titans.

This episode sets up quite a lot. The scouts by the wall for some reason take refuge in a castle ruin (why there is a ruin inside the walls where space is short is still something I’d question) and as soon as they set up there I just kept thinking death trap. End of the episode, they are besieged by Titans and half of them don’t have any gear or weapons. Awesome. Hange and Armin continue to theorise about Titans from limited and incomplete knowledge but at least they are trying to use their heads and the end of the episode sees them, Eren and Mikasa heading to the castle (though they don’t actually know that the other guys are there or that the Titans are attacking it). This could be an interesting next episode.

Also, Beast Titan makes a brief cameo doing a King Kong over the wall.

Attack on Titan is available on AnimeLab.


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My Hero Academia Episode 16

Review (some spoilers):

There was no denying that this episode was kind of fun. Full of frantic effort by the characters, introductions to new powers, desperation to win, and just some novel uses of powers within the context of the game. But two things overshadowed my fun. The first was the inevitable catch up of Midoriya. Admittedly, even I didn’t think he’d actually win the first event but the whole race I was just kind of waiting for what obstacle or twist they’d pull out to allow Midoriya to not get swept under the rug.

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I will throw a positive in before I get to the second issue I had. All Might is awesome. I love how he’s willing Midoriya to succeed and reflecting on his choice as well as criticising Midoriya for being a cry-baby even while he’s praising him.

The second issue is of course the set up for the next game. As soon as they finished the explanation my first thought was, ‘that’s not fair’ which then meant I had David Bowie in my head telling me, ‘You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.” Labyrinth reference. But it really is blatantly unfair. While I get the point of this competition is for future heroes to show off their stuff and that the real world isn’t all that concerned with being fair, but seriously? Are the teachers trying to get a student killed?

One more positive from the episode before I admit I’ve gone way over word limit yet again; the villain from season 1 is watching the competition and he’s also got his eyes on Midoriya. Now that could make things entertaining.

So mixed bag of an episode. I won’t deny that I had fun watching but from an overall narrative point of view I’m still finding this whole tournament thing fairly pointless.

My Hero Academia is available on Crunchyroll.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 50

Review:

This ends exactly as you would expect though I will give them points for one or two surprises (such as Ride’s future which I didn’t see coming). Still, any potential character growth for Mikazuki ends rather abruptly mid-episode much as it should given what they were up against.

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However, the general tone of the episode is reflective. More importantly, after all is said and done and all the battles and fighting, things resume pretty much the status quo. There’s some changes in how the different organisations are run and Mars does gain a bit more freedom, but these are changes that could have come about just through negotiations if people had been willing to talk. And overall, the people in charge are still the people in charge. Given the massive cost and number of deaths Gundam remains true to its general message that war really doesn’t get us very far.

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While you can mostly pick where the characters will be in the future, the second half of this episode progresses through them one by one and we see where they have ended up. For the most part this is satisfying, though very little is as satisfying as seeing Iok finally get his on the battle field.

All and all, I didn’t love this second season but it holds it together well enough. I’ll do a full review soonish.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Attack on Titan Season 2 Episode 2

Review:

From an action point of view, not a lot happened this episode. We probably should have expected that given how many characters are not currently geared up for a fight. Sasha, however, manages to shine. Through flashbacks of her past we learn a bit more about our food obsessed character and then we see her taken an axe to a Titan, even knowing that realistically there’s no real way for that to be effective. Still, Sasha manages well enough for someone practically unarmed and then poorly armed given the threat (and let’s just be happy there was only one Titan because otherwise this would be really hard to swallow). Eren, Levi and co get a small moment in this episode but they aren’t the focus and it is more like the show is just reminding us they exist and the final moments of the episode are given to Connie who is having a less than fantastic return to his home village. It does look like next episode is going to crank up the action a bit from the preview, but I actually really liked this episodes focus on Sasha.

Attack on Titan is available on AnimeLab.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime With Action

Alright, I’ve looked at romantic anime before but this time I’m shifting my focus to action. It is really hard to get a definitive classification on whether something is action or not. Does one fight sequence really make for action? And how do you compare action used for comedy with gritty realistic fight sequences, and then how do you compare those to the over the top craziness that is most action in anime? In the end my criteria for this list was that the fight sequences themselves were a strength of the show and integral to the narrative. So yes there are anime out there with more action and maybe even more impressive action sequences, this is the list of anime that I came up with.

I’d love to know what action anime you love and why. Please comment below.

Patrons, be sure to check out my lesser top 5 list. The anime on the list this week are all actually decent anime (in their own way – okay one of them is terrible no matter how you slice it) but the action in them is not so awesome.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions this week go to Full Metal Alchemist and Claymore.

Number 5: Soul Eater

While I’d love to put Soul Eater far higher on this list (because Soul Eater is just plain awesome) when looking just at the action of the series I have to admit there are some really wasted moments and some fairly disappointing outcomes in some of the fights. The reason this stayed on the list at all is Maka. Her fights, right from episode 1, are some of the most amazing fight sequences I’ve seen from a female character in anime. She’s not using a ranged weapon, she’s not moral support, she’s out there in the thick of the fight and swinging around a weapon that realistically she shouldn’t be able to pick up. If we ignore the final fight (which, please do), all of Maka’s battles are just a joy to watch. If you’re interested my series review is here.

Number 4: Gangsta

This one is a bit more realistic than Soul Eater but still goes for spectacle and humans who can perform inhuman feats. Nicolas, as a tag, really shows off what he can do and given he seems to just like the rush his fights aren’t about efficiency, they are definitely about fun. Of course, most of his opponents also seem to be enjoying themselves so while the fight might be about life and death, you can’t help but get caught up in the enthusiasm of the clash itself. Again, I’ve reviewed this series so if you are interested the review is here.

Number 3: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

I know I just heard the sound of jaws collectively hitting the ground but there is a reason for this choice. While Grimgar is a sleepy little fantasy that is focussed very much on the main character’s internal struggle to cope with this life he finds himself in, the action sequences are an absolutely integral part of this story. More importantly, because every fight is literally a matter of survival for both sides and the tragedy of death is introduced early as a central theme, every battle has a feeling of absolute finality. There are no small conflicts when a single arrow might bring you down and hesitating for a moment could be all the difference between life and death. If we couple this with Grimgar’s distinct art style then the action sequences here are not just deadly they are beautiful. So, while this might be a slow moving story, the action is anything but and if you haven’t given it a go you should probably check out my review and then go check out the anime.

Number 2: Owari no Seraph

This one I haven’t reviewed yet but it will definitely happen. I think what draws me to this is it is a vampire story but it doesn’t really try for horror or atmosphere. It really is a straight up us vs them battle for the right to rule and we have some pretty cool weapons and characters thrown into the mix. Certainly there’s a few issues with the story, particularly in the second half of the second season, but if you like humans (or mostly human) fighting against a superior supernatural force with high stakes than this anime is well worth a watch.

Number 1: Full Metal Panic

 

Again, I’ve yet to review this anime but it is a great action anime. You have military conflicts, robot fights, explosions in school shoe lockers, and pretty much any other kind of action you could be looking for in a story. The weird mix of serious narrative and high school comedy somehow works and actually the Fumoffu season which is pretty much entirely focussed on the mercenary’s day-to-day school life delivers some pretty amazing action in and of itself. Season 1 and Second Raid give us hostage situations and dramatic rescues, chase sequences, straight up military fights, and just such a range of scenes to enjoy it is kind of hard to overlook this one. As being a fighter is an essential part of Sousuke’s character and the action is used so much for both dramatic and humorous effect I just had to choose this as the number one for the list.

There we go, my top 5 action anime recommendations, though not necessarily the most action filled anime out there. What would you have put on your list?


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The Silver Guardian Episode 1

Overview:

Crunchyroll’s synopsis says that Suigin is a pro-level gamer (though little evidence given in episode 1) who meets some girl and they get sucked into a game. Again, no real confirmation of this storyline in episode 1.

Review:

We’re flashing back as the start of the episode has the girl (Riku Rei) monologuing about some mysterious guy who is out there fighting for them. Then of course we go to some fantasy world where an impossible number of skeleton things have surrounded some monument that has said guy standing on top of it.

Two things came to mind here. If the protagonist isn’t taking the threat seriously, why should the audience? Also, when the guy runs down one side to fight the horde, why don’t the ones just standing around run up the other side and claim the treasure?

Anyway, we then jump back to a year ago where the guy meets the girl in a contrived near drowning experience (good thing I have no emotional attachment to anything in this show and they didn’t to make us care that someone might drown).

All and all, this episode sets up a few ideas, looks a little intriguing, but the execution is dreadful and the fight sequences are a joke.

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That said, because I’m a sucker for punishment I’m giving this a second episode before I’ll walk away. If it actually attempts to give some cohesion to the plot I’ll probably end up sticking with this even though there is almost no chance this will end well.

The Silver Guardian is available on Crunchyroll.


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