Evil or Live Episode 2: Could There Be One Nice Character In This Story?

Review:

This week we move away from the instructors and their deliberate acts of cruelty (though they do get one fairly ominous looking scene) and instead we focus on the cruelty that people can inflict upon one another once they start forming packs and seem to have absolutely zero empathy. It wouldn’t be so hard to watch except that each new character you meet seems to be more warped and twisted than the previous, to the point where for a moment I kind of thought Hibiki wasn’t so bad (then of course I remembered he’s an obnoxious little rat of a human being).

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This is certainly not comfortable viewing as we have female ‘students’ publicly groped and stripped and deals involving females sleeping with a male in order to gain access to a phone. Though one has to wonder where the instructors were during any of that and how purple hair has seemingly unlimited information access (which opens up a whole other series of issues).

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Visually this remains odd and from a story point of view, uncomfortable. Yet it is kind of like watching a train derail in slow motion so I somehow don’t think I’m going to look away just yet particularly because despite finding every character in this show so far to be hideously obnoxious, I still actually kind of want to know what happens to them (even if what happens turns out to be very bad things).

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So, not recommending this one but not dropping it either.


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My Girlfriend is Shobitch Episode 2: And Dropped

Review:

No surprise here that this one didn’t last. Once again there were some sweet moments between the two main characters utterly and completely lost amongst over the top and poorly executed lewd humour. Though I think the girl rubbing the broom stick against her own crotch was more or less the final nail in the coffin for this one (complete with close up).

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Shows like this confuse me because they don’t seem to go far enough to really appeal to the ecchi crowd but they go too far for the casual viewer to really be overly comfortable with the viewing experience.

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While I’ve certainly seen worse than this, I am definitely not the audience for this anime and so I’m leaving it right here.


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My Hero Academia Season 2 Series Review: Shining the Light on Heroes and Villains

Overview:

There’s no denying that season 1 of this show made me sit up and take notice when I picked it up mid-season after reading many positive reviews. The second season continues Midoriya’s journey (as well as the rest of the students’ journies) to becoming a hero.

Earlier I covered some of the ideas in this series in Friday’s Feature: Not a Character, an Idea.

Review:

With the exception of Bleach (which even I’ll admit isn’t all that great when you break down the story) I’ve never been much for straight shonen action shows. I can’t stand the shouting, the long drawn out fight, the pointless arcs where a villain is built up to be beaten down, the random hero power ups, and all the other silliness that tends to infect those kinds of shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good action story, I just prefer something a little less aimed at teenage males. Surprisingly, My Hero Academia kind of has all of the qualities of a shonen story that usually annoy me and yet, much like Bleach before it, instead of turning me away it kind of manages to draw me in a little bit more with every ridiculous fight sequence.

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The first season was utterly charming and just plain fun to watch, and season 2, despite launching into firstly a tournament arc, and then a training/power up sequence, before going into an exam sequence (all of which should have killed any fun or momentum for me) managed to not alone maintain that sense of fun, it also fleshed out a very real and meaningful dialogue around the nature of heroes and villains. All of this while characters continued to grow and develop and come to a greater understanding of themselves.

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Now, there is nothing new to be found in My Hero Academia. We have seen each of these characters before and asking the question of what makes a hero is pretty much story-telling from cave-man days. So it isn’t the novel content that is keeping me fixated. It is all about the delivery.

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This world and these characters are bright and larger than life. Their actions, their ideals, their emotions, everything is heightened unapologetically and then dropped into a world is becoming more and more real with every point we learn about it. While we don’t have Quirks in the real world (or at least not that I’ve noticed), there is something extremely relatable about this social media, popularity focused society that has taken a noble calling (being a hero) and made it a vocation. One that is highly sought due to monetary rewards and social recognition. All of this makes for a very grand and highly energetic narrative even when not a lot is actually happening with the main characters. I’m pretty sure these students could make catching a bus entertaining at this point.

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Part of this is because of the sheer number of characters and their diverse personalities. While some of the less important classmates are still pretty one-note, a lot of these characters have had their moment in the spot light and have started to become far more interesting as the series has progressed. My Hero Academia is very big on giving characters clear motivations for their behaviours and attitudes and ensuring the audience understands these. That way, when a character begins to change or grow, or even just acts out of character, it is immediately apparent and the impact is even greater because we’ve understood why that trait was significant in the first place.

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It also helps that the characters are just fun to spend time with. Even Bakugo, the overly angry and shouty one, is always great fun on the screen. If he could learn to focus some of that rage he could be a truly awesome asset in the future, though at the moment he’s more of comic relief and occasional bringer of tension to an otherwise fairly happy group of kids.

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This season saw Todoroki and Uraraka both gain ground as characters. Each had a number of moments to shine throughout the series and learned from their own actions and the actions of others to progress toward their goals. Seeing the these two characters finding their way and seeing how that changed their relationships with other characters in the story, felt very rewarding. Both kind of gained ground in terms of being my favourite characters from this show by mid-season.

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However, the real spot-light this season needs to go on All Might and Midoriya’s relationship. If growth along a journey was the theme for the season, Midoriya truly personified this as he fought hard to gain control of his ability and also really considered why he wanted to become a hero. Early in the season he loses a fight in the tournament to Todoroki, not necessarily because he couldn’t win (although arguably at the time he couldn’t) but because he needed to help Todoroki. Midoriya chose a tournament loss to ensure a greater victory, helping a friend. And that more or less defined who he was. But, there are greater dangers coming and All Might is trying to prepare Midoriya for those. We see the greatest change in Midoriya, spurred on by Bakugo, when he actually strikes All Might during the exam. Season 1 Midoriya couldn’t have even tried to strike All Might. This transition from idolising All Might, to working to surpass him as a symbol of justice, is just another step on the road for Midoriya though for the audience, there’s the added tension of kind of suspecting All Might’s time is more limited than Midoriya knows. All Might is definitely holding back from telling Midoriya everything so that is one puzzle piece we’ll all be waiting for in the next season.

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Turning our attention to the villains, we see the Hero Killer rise up during this season and his impact on both the narrative and the characters is enormous. Even other villains are launched into renewed vigour because of the Hero Killer’s actions. For me, this part of the season was by far the strongest and most interesting. Mostly because the rest of the season focused on the growth of the future heroes but didn’t really give them a real world challenge to face. Though, the final episode this season leaves little doubt as to where the story is going.

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To begin bringing things to a close, I wasn’t overly thrilled with the openings this season. They worked and they definitely grew on me after several episodes, but initially I was kind of underwhelmed by them. Also, some of the fights in both the tournament and the exam arcs just felt like they were there for the sake of completion rather than for adding anything into the story. But these are minor complaints when considering the season as a whole.

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Season 2 gave me more of what I loved about season 1, and continued to grow both the world and characters in an  immensely satisfying manner. While I would have liked a little bit more from the narrative as we seem to be moving very slowly forward, this is a minor nit-pick to what is a fun series to get into.

I’d love to know your thoughts on My Hero Academia so be sure to leave me a comment below.


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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Episode 3: Points for the Episode Title

Review with spoilers:

I’ve made it fairly clear that so far Zodiac War hasn’t exactly been amazing viewing and this week isn’t an exception. That said, I actually enjoyed this episode significantly more than episode 1 or 2 because the Chicken was actually kind of a fun character: you know, before they inevitably cut down the one character we’ve actually learned about during the episode.

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This show has clearly set its formula in stone with giving us glimpses of a character’s past and the messed up life they have had, as well as their internal thoughts about the other characters and the fight, before terminating their life in a gory and what seems to be an attempt at surprising twist at the end of an episode though given it has now been repeated three times that leaves something to be desired.

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However, the Chicken had far more personality and was far more interesting to learn about than either the Boar or the Dog, though no better at making me sympathetic for the ending we all kind of saw coming. If we get another plus out of this episode it is that the Boar is finished for good and isn’t a walking zombie boar anymore.

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Although, as the post title suggests, this episode has a pretty fun title though ultimately that gives away not only the death of the Chicken (though I guess that was kind of inevitable) but also the one who will strike the blow:

Cutting a Chicken with a Beef Cleaver

Clever? Yes. Leaving any room for any kind of surprise in the episode? Not really.

And once again we learn nothing of why the zodiac’s are fighting or who is in charge of setting up this match or even what they actually achieve if they win. I was pretty sure I was going to drop this show this week but then I kind of liked the episode despite having issues with the overall story (or lack of overall story other than ‘kill each other’). Still, looking at the good points of this show (it looks great, the character designs are interesting if a little crazy at times, there is definitely potential for the story, and well it is hard to really stuff up a battle royal too much) I’m probably keeping this on my watch list and maybe it will grow on me.


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Land of the Lustrous Episode 1: A Visual Feast

Overview:

In the distant future, a new immortal and genderless life form called Gems populate the Earth. The 28 Gems must fight against the Moon Dwellers, who attack them regularly to abduct them and to turn them into decorations. Each Gem is assigned a role, such as a fighter or a medic.

Being only 300 years old, Phosphophyllite is the youngest of the Gems and has no assignment yet. He wants to help to fight the Moon Dwellers, but is too weak and brittle for battle. One day the master of Gems, Kongou (Adamantine), assigns him the task of creating a natural history encyclopedia.

– from MAL

Review:

From the very beginning this episode is both beautiful and interesting. The premise is odd enough that it draws you in and as the episode progresses small details about the world and the characters are introduced. Never too many that you feel you are being subjected to an information dump, but a steady trickle of ideas that mean that by the end of this first episode it feels like enough has been stated to get the story started.

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While not much is known about any particular character at this point, the few we have met have been given definite personality traits that will hopefully flesh out with time. The shared desire to have a purpose in life kind of permeates all the interactions but never feels particularly heavy handed at this stage.

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However, where the show shines is in its visuals. While the CG may not work for everyone and the characters move oddly at times, given they are anthropomorphized gems it actually really works and the world we’ve been introduced to is beautiful. Fight sequences are stunning and the entire thing just feels well thought out from a visual point of view.

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Really glad I got to check out this episode and looking forward to the next one.


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Friday’s Feature: Characters To Make the Horror Real

This was not my intended post for this week however having started two shows that both seem intent on killing off their cast members in spectacularly gruesome and unrealistic fashions for the entertainment of the viewers this season the importance of the characters in making these sorts of stories anything more than visual spectacle has been thoroughly on my mind. This month my features are all focussing on horror and so far I have looked at visuals and the unnamed victims so if you missed either of those posts be sure to check them out.

Starting with a non-anime example I want to look at a movie from my teens, Scream. Scream is not complicated. It is self-aware of its derivative nature, to the point of having the characters openly list the rules and requirements of a horror film even as they themselves go through the motions of being in a horror film. There isn’t a single character in the film you can point to and claim they are unique or particularly interesting as it is an ensemble cast of horror tropes and they work beautifully together to craft a story that actually makes you want the designated heroine of the story to survive and leaves you feeling happy when the killer is ingloriously shot down before getting his final jump scare.

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This is where we as an audience need to understand that these trope like characters serve a valuable narrative purpose and their most important role is to get the audience to react to them. You are supposed to be suspicious of this one, disgusted by that one, roll your eyes at her, and feel sympathy even as you want that one to stand up for herself. It is manipulative viewing and evokes the same emotional response in more or less any other decent teen horror but it is a formula that works.

When you throw competent people into a horror/thriller kind of story the struggle becomes giving them an opponent they can’t easily defeat. This is seen quite clearly in Predator. Here we have tough, trained soldiers who don’t come off as inept as soon as things go awry. They are just severely outclassed by an alien. All except Arnold but I think most of us suspected that he could beat off an alien hunter even before watching this movie.

And that kind of brings us to King’s Game and Juni Taisen: Zodiac War. King’s Game lands squarely in the high school students being terrorised by unknown forces and freaking out whereas Juni Taisen has trained warriors who have walked into and signed up for a death match (for reasons still unknown). Both shows have their flaws and strengths but in terms of the characters drawing me into the story, King’s Game is kind of winning even if the story doesn’t seem as strong (okay, it is rubbish but no one ever claimed horror was a genre filled with examples of brilliant writing – there’s some and we do appreciate it when it exists, but basically we’ll take what we can get) and the presentation has been far rougher. So what is actually going on here?

For me the issue squarely comes down to how the characters are reacting to the horror of their situation.

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King’s Game may suffer from pacing issues, character over-reactions and general poor writing, but the kids are scared. Inexplicable multiple deaths in a single night have them gathering in a panicked mob willing to lurch toward any potential solution. They want to stop the horror and they want out of the situation. That makes the horror feel real to me as a member of the audience. What is happening is actually a threat and one that is causing these characters to freak out. It makes me wonder what I would be feeling in their shoes or wondering if their idiotic actions might be justified even as I roll my eyes at mob-mentality. So far very few of these characters are anything more than a name (when I remember it) and a type (if they’ve even had a line of dialogue) but as a class of teenagers they excel at grounding the horror into something that becomes relatable and therefore something I am more likely to invest in emotionally.

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Episode two was not good. There is no way around that as a reviewer. It was not a good episode by any measure. Yet, there was this one moment where a character is forced with a choice of not following the King’s Order and dying, or of texting ‘die’ to someone and have them die. She knows the game is real now. She knows it won’t just be a joke  to text someone that single word. The look on her face, even through questionable animation and visuals, is one that brings the horror of that choice straight to the audience. What would you do? Do you die or do you sentence a classmate to death? Does it make it okay if you choose someone that the others don’t like? This is the best part of these sorts of horror stories, these small moments that drive the emotions home. Admittedly, King’s Game is hiding these small moments under a pile of mud and other unpleasant oozing substances and there’s a reason quite a few people have dropped the show.

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Juni Taisen however hasn’t had one of these moments. In the first two episodes we’ve met characters who are arrogant, cool, confident or disinterested. They aren’t shocked or scared by their situation and they don’t feel like they are in over their head. In fact, a lot of them just seem bored by the situation, or gleefully and unpleasantly excited by the prospect of killing. Even Boar’s surprise death lacked impact other than a momentary shock because she didn’t see it coming, had no time to feel helpless or pathetic for failing. There was no moment for the audience to empathise with her plight and even though she was in over her head the audience never had a moment to feel that way.

The fact that the Zodiac Warriors aren’t helpless teenagers isn’t a deal breaker in terms of making that emotional connection. Even trained soldiers can feel helpless or cornered and it is brilliant when done well because you can’t criticise the character for being useless. You know they are strong but the enemy is stronger or has managed to get the upper hand. This actually works impressively well when done well, but so far Juni Taisen seems fairly determined not to really allow the audience that connection that would make these deaths anything more than spectacle.

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Moving to the second episode and we meet the Dog. He’s as arrogant and self-assured as the Boar, possibly more so, and once again he never once sees his death coming. It is over in an instant. If I was to map out my emotional responses during the second episode it would be mostly a flat line  as we go through rounds of exposition, introductions, waiting around, and then a quick blip when the inevitable death occurred before returning to base.

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So while I’ll admit fairly readily that  Juni Taisen is far superior to King’s Game in terms of its animation quality, so far from an emotional point of view and from just wanting the horror to actually connect, King’s Game has been winning out for me. I know others have a different opinion and that’s what makes discussing these shows so much fun. It has been great reading about how others have taken to these two shows (or not). Neither show is particularly great yet in terms of narrative as there’s still a lot of unknowns and a lot of potential for both to fall pretty flat. The thing is though, when you set up your story with the understanding that the characters exist mostly to die, if the audience doesn’t care about these characters that makes it pretty hard to care about anything else.

Before finishing, I just want to touch on the other ‘horror’ I started this season: Evil or Live. I use quotations for a reason on that horror because other than the fact that it is listed as such, I so far haven’t seen any evidence of it being a horror (unless you count the writing as being horrific and maybe that does scare you). While the characters are horrible and in a horrendous situation, the show is far more teen drama than horror. A very dark teen drama where rape is a possibility and vomiting in someone’s mouth is potentially supposed to be a comedic moment (possibly?). Maybe it will later shift things up a gear but all things considered, I somehow doubt it is going to hit the mark if you look at it being a horror.

Okay, handing over to you and your thoughts on characters in horror and whether they can make or break your enjoyment of a horror story.


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200 Word Anime: Black Clover Episode 3

The third week of the Autumn anime season and  Weekend Otaku and I are sharing our thoughts on the third episode of Black Clover. If you missed it last week, here is our post on episode 2.

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Karandi’s Review:

I really don’t want to harp on about Asta’s voice and yet as I reflect on this episode the one thing that stands out to me is just how annoying it is. Over and over again he shrieks out repetitive dialogue for no apparent purpose and the inflection he puts on so many words is at best described as ear grating. This wouldn’t be a problem in a minor character, but Asta’s continuous screen presence with barely a minute between lines means that the audience suffers an ongoing assault by that voice.

Otherwise this is pretty standard train and prepare for the upcoming exam. Meanwhile everyone is still pretty much tearing Asta’s chances down (logical maybe, except this is shounen so there is really no way that he won’t eventually succeed even if he did fail the exam there would be some weird event after and he’ll get to move forward). This show has now had three episodes and while it is passable, it is really not going out of its way to impress.

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Weekend Otaku’s Review:

When I saw the intro to this episode I thought the show was getting into something epic until I realized it was a sort-of flashback. If that’s what Asta imagined the Wizard King to be like, I can’t blame him for being enthusiastic. In any case, that sort of sequence might have served better for the series intro rather than the protracted start of a journey that this episode offered. While not a whole lot is actually happening, that’s not necessarily making the series bad. It’s kind of similar to how Hunter X Hunter started, but where that series had some charming characters to start off with (and some actual motivation for Gon), this one has a protagonist that really challenges viewer enjoyment.
I don’t know if Gakuto Kajiwara is to blame for the assault we’re getting on our ears each week or the directors for having him deliver that same annoying scream over and over, but just like Karandi (and I’m sure all of you as well) I’m having a really hard time putting Asta’s yelling aside and trying to focus on the rest of the episode. As for his character, I can see what they’re trying to do through his conversations about how someone’s station in life shouldn’t limit them. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s been a bit on the nose so far and there’s little else to garner any investment in him.
Thanks Weekend and just a reminder, if you missed our review of The Ancient Magus’ Bride episode 2 you should hop on over to WeekendOtaku’s site and check it out.

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Sengoku Night Blood Episode 3: Sake, Herbs, Bees and an Attack

Review:

If the goal here is to walk through a loosely based on actual history historical setting where the cast have been replaced by pretty boy vampires and werewolves than this episode accomplishes its goal wonderfully. If there was an intention of actually helping us learn anything about these characters (other than the name of the person they are supposed to be) or to progress some sort of plot than this episode comes up short.

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That isn’t to say this isn’t still kind of fun. The vampire group meet with the werewolf group and drink sake before a contrived fetch quest sends the girl into the woods to look for herbs where she conveniently and for no apparent purpose steps on a bee hive. Seriously, they do nothing with that other than scene transition. Why even include it?

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We do however see that every single guy is going to fall for the girl regardless of her seeming lack of personality. So yes, plenty to criticise, but this still works from a switch your brain off and enjoy the pretty visuals kind of  perspective and there is still the possibility of the plot going somewhere as they do have a few scenes that indicate more is going on than drinking and flirting.


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Just Because Episode 1: Just Life

Overview:

At the end of the second semester of third year of high school, four students are prepared for graduation and feel the ending to their high school life. But that changes a little with the arrival of a transfer student.

– From MAL

Review:

Normally this is the kind of show I kind of hesitate to start because no matter how good it is I just know I’m going to end up wondering what the point of it is. Fortunately for me, it seems like most of the characters in this show are in search of a point or have accepted that mostly there isn’t one as they go about their frantic activities as their school lives wrap up.

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So instant relatability. We also don’t just follow one person through an entire day at school but rather move fairly fluidly from group to group with multiple individual problems, dilemas and ideas being introduced. While that makes it more or less impossible to remember all the character names after one episode, it gave a sense of forward motion that I usually don’t get from these kinds of stories and I greatly appreciated it.

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All and all, these characters have the potential to be charming enough, and there’s certainly enough possibilities for future events that could come up from the set up. While there isn’t anything new from a narrative point of view, I really did like the execution and pacing of this episode and am kind of keen to see more at the moment.


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Girls’ Last Tour Episode 1: Deceptively Charming

Okay, I kind of decided to give HiDive a go given it has a couple of series from last season I want to watch and this season it picked up a few titles I wanted to try. Not sure if I’m keeping the subscription long term but we’ll see how it goes.

Overview:

Civilization is dead, but Chito and Yuuri are still alive. So they hop aboard their beloved Kettenkrad motorbike and aimlessly wander the ruins of the world they once knew. Day after hopeless day, they look for their next meal and fuel for their ride. But as long as the two are together, even an existence as bleak as theirs has a ray or two of sunshine in it, whether they’re sucking down their fill of soup or hunting for machine parts to tinker with. For two girls in a world full of nothing, the experiences, and feelings the two share give them something to live for.

– From MAL

Review:

I’m not big on slice of life, but slice of life post apocolyptic style had a certain appeal and so I’m kind of glad I got to check this out. The first episode, while bringing you face to face with the horror of civilisation being dead, is utterly and completely charming.

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This is kind of helped along by the two leads who are adorable and their interactions, while fairly sparse considering they are the only two characters we see, are fairly grounded and yet both sweet and revealing. At times the themes seem to hijack the dialogue with some heavy handed anti-war statements but all and all, this is a pretty solid first episode.

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I’m looking forward to watching a bit more with these characters.


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