Up Close with Xianming Lin

From the moment we are introduced to Lin in Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens we know a few things about him. He has zero attachment to anyone, will do whatever he has to do, and for some reason he likes to cross dress. As the series continues to weave its tale of assassins, betrayals, and baseball Lin remains in the midst of a crazy story and along the way makes some progress as a person and the audience is given a little insight into how he got to where he was at the beginning of the series.

And yes, there are some spoilers ahead.

Hakata Tonktsu Ramens Episode 1 Lin
You have to admit – he knows how to make an entrance even if he isn’t aware of practical shoes.

At the beginning of the series we meet Lin. In one episode he takes out one target as an assassin, claims payment on another hit even though he didn’t actually kill the guy, and after his employer withholds payment we see Lin turn his back on him and actually protect his next target so that no one else can kill him until his boss pays him. It’s cold, fairly audacious, and done with a matter-of-fact manner from someone who has come to not expect much else from their day.

However, Lin is not a cold and hard killer. Nor is he an emotionless puppet. Even in the first episode of Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens we see a character driven firmly by his emotions. At first the motivation is paying money to save his family and then it shifts to revenge.

Lin isn’t disconnected from others because he lacks emotion. As we learn more about him, and see the flash back to when he was trained to become an assassin, it becomes clear that Lin is disconnected because he feels too much and is scared of trusting others because of the hurt of previous betrayals and losses.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 9 Lin

He sold himself in order to save his mother and sister from poverty. Making the best of a poor situation, he befriended his roommate in the training camp only to learn that the final test was that they had to try to kill each other and his roommate knew this all along and intended to kill him. Even working as an assassin for a boss he knew was scum, he felt betrayed when the boss first wouldn’t pay him, then tried to kill him, and finally that same boss sold his sister to someone he knew would kill her in a horrible manner. It is no wonder that Lin recoils from others and as he starts feeling comfortable in Hakata he begins making plans to flee.

Despite that, Lin ultimately stays. While Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is not the kind of anime where the power of friendship overcomes the big evil and they all go back to their normal lives, the connections Lin makes after meeting Banba in Hakata are what allow him to be saved toward the end and while things might not be normal they do go back to playing baseball (even if Lin still really doesn’t get the sport at all).

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The one question we don’t get answered about Lin is why he likes to cross-dress. The anime never once addresses it and the only time it even comes up is when he’s mistaken for a woman or deliberately uses his appearance as part of a plan. But the why never comes up and we know he hasn’t just done it his whole life because he wasn’t cross-dressing in any of the flash backs.

It is a mystery and one of many reasons why I’d love a second season of Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens. The main reason though is that these characters, assassins and flawed human beings that they are, were a lot of fun to watch and I could definitely watch them face and overcome some more challenges and be entertained.

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Karandi James
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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 1: Hitmen, Detectives, and Corruption

Hakata Tonktsu Ramens Episode 1 Lin

Overview:

Okay, I went in pretty blind but essentially the set up here is that there’s a whole bunch of hitmen and organisations operating within the town and then there’s apparently someone who specialises is killing hitmen. Don’t ask me what the title means. The individual words make sense but what it has to do with the show other than the location, I don’t know.

Review:

And here is another entry into the ensemble cast dark and violent modern urban crime story. While there aren’t massive numbers of these there are a few now and for me they are a bit hit and miss. I’m not a huge fan of such a large cast because it usually makes it harder to get an idea of who is who (and after watching the first episode of this I can remember maybe two names and I’m not even sure if we got names for some characters). Yet, I have to say this was a pretty interesting first episode.

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We move through four main focuses with the guy dressed as a girl who clearly has some tragic backstory involving a younger sister taking up a large chunk of the start and finish of the episode. We also have someone who I think is a private investigator, though time will tell, who is looking into the mayor (guy running to be mayor’s) after a detective was murdered. We have the staff working for the mayor cleaning up after his son’s idiocy. And lastly we have some newbie hitman who quickly gets himself in over his head.

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So despite the large number of cast members, this episode didn’t feel too disjointed as there are clear links between the stories so far and characters seem to be crossing paths fairly quickly so hopefully we’ll get to know the key players in the next few episodes.

Outside of that, the pace is quick but not rapid fire, there’s some violence and few scenes clearly intended just for shock factor but after the opening scene there wasn’t as much as I expected there to be. Character designs are quite nice and are distinct enough to recall which character is which and the backgrounds are all quite nicely done. All and all, for a show I hadn’t heard of and had no expectations for, this was quite a nicely done introduction and I’m looking forward to more.


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Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom Series Review

Overview:

A young man from Japan wakes up without memories and finds himself thrust into a world of assassins and betrayal. He’s a puppet for an organisation known as Inferno and he exists only to kill. However, he might not want to stay a puppet forever and as he grows closer to Ein, another of Inferno’s assassins, he’ll begin to think of a different future.

Review:

Phantom is one of those series that is really fun to watch and you get drawn into the story and the intrigue but when you think about it after all the plot holes that you kind of saw at the time just become more and more apparent. That said, this isn’t a story that wants you to look closely at it. It’s a story that wants you to journey with the characters to their end point and it wants to shock you along the way.

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Fair warning, shocks in this series come in the form of nudity, sexual encounters, murder (obviously), torture, brain washing, and the young age of certain characters and the situations they find themselves in. If you can stomach that (and while it isn’t overly gratuitous it is at times confronting) then you’ll probably have a blast watching the boy named Zwei become the best assassin ever before trying to get away and reclaim an actual life.

The story very much follows Zwei (and we do learn his real name but given even the character realises he’s gone too far down the road to return to that life this revelation doesn’t really change the fact that he has become Zwei whether he did it willingly or not). We meet him after he’s had his memories stripped and he is forced to endure a fairly harsh training regime to become an assassin. While he doesn’t strike the audience as particularly formidable early on, you realise he’s accelerating through the training sequence quite quickly and when we get the flashback to find out how he came to be in Inferno’s hands at all you realise why the crazy guy keeps carrying on about natural talent. (Yes, crazy guy has a name and no I don’t remember it.)

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But as much as the story follows this action and Zwei’s transformation, it also builds some intrigue and solid character relationships. That’s probably the strength of this series is it manages to balance some very cool action with those slower character building moments and it gives us a sense of the world Zwei has found himself in but never tries to info-dump on us. Mostly because everyone is pretty keen on keeping Zwei in the dark so it isn’t as though he knows much about what is going on or why.

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Once we progress to carrying out missions, we see Ein and Zwei and the clear difference between them. Ein is undoubtably a killing machine but while Zwei is talented he never has the outright blankness of personality that afflicts Ein. Nor is he technically all that rebellious and it is the intrigues within Inferno and the manipulation of some of its members that ultimately tip Zwei’s hand.

What I like is that Zwei tries numerous times to get out of this life he finds himself in, and to help remove Ein from it, but they continuously get drawn back in. It is only during the later stages of the series that a break is made and fortunately that bit of boredom (and probably the weakest moment of the series given we end up in a Japanese school setting which serves no real purpose other than anime and its ongoing obsession with Japanese schools) only lasts a short period of time.

Cal’s arrival in the story in the later half is both confronting and a brilliant move for the story. Zwei has been in the organisation for a long period of time when he takes Cal on and ends up doing much the same thing to her that was done to him before he abandons her. This leads to a major confrontation between them later, though the actual confrontation sounds better in theory than the delivery of it.

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And this is probably the major criticism of Phantom. It has a really solid first half but the second half with Cal and the running away to Japan and other events is decidedly weaker. It doesn’t help that many of the main players introduced in the first half are no longer in the story or have taken on new roles. This is where we start seeing major plot holes and start seeing the cracks in the characters and the reality that have been constructed.

Most likely, this won’t ruin your viewing experience but it does change a series from being a must watch to just being a good time with a few bumps along the road. That said if you like something a bit dark and assassination sounds like a nice plot device then definitely jump into this series. I had a lot of fun with it though I’ll admit it is far from perfect.

If you’ve seen Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, let me know your thoughts.


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Blade and Soul Series Review

Overview:

Alka, a member of the clan of the sword (an assassin) is on a mission for revenge after her master was killed. However, she’s got a long road ahead of her.

Review:

I did my first impressions (when I was about mid-way through this series) awhile ago. I don’t really want to change any of my opinions having finished it, so I’m going to keep this prettty short.

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Alka is an incredibly dull protagonist. She does not improve as the series goes on, though she does at least emote a bit in the second half.

The other characters are all one note personalities and a lot of the characters exist only to get cut down and give their tearful and blood-choked last words. Too bad we aren’t given any reason to care about any of these characters and so their deaths just become another speed-bump on the road as we drive… well that’s an interesting question. Where does this anime try to take us?

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Originally we had Alka hunting down the one who killed her master for revenge. Then just after the midway point that character is killed in a fairly unspectacular fight sequence (lightning does not make your lame fight look any cooler). Right. Central villain dead, many episodes left… What now?

Clearly we now have the betrayal of the character who has been oh-so-helpful up to now (only we all kind of knew she was shady from the start) and her motives are ridiculous. Okay, Alka did kill the supposed love of her life when Alka was an assassin. But, she doesn’t go after Alka. No she, helps Alka, get’s her to make friends with someone else and then said friend bites it. And you justify this how?

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Also, the underlings of the first villain escape that mid-point fight and you just know they are going to be a pain later on.

Basically, it’s a mess. When it isn’t being obvious it is only because it dove off the cliff that was sign-posted turn back in some failed attempt to add tension through surprise (and it fails miserably at every turn and then has to claw itself back out of the ravine it just flung itself into).

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About the best I could say for this show is it is watchable. It isn’t interesting or exciting and it doesn’t ever really improve, plus any interest I had in it kind of failed after that mid-point battle anyway, but it also doesn’t do anything so horrific you would contemplate throwing the disc (or at least I didn’t). Not much of a recommendation but that’s the best I’ve got after finishing this.

 

Bloodivores Episode 3

Review:

This has been the best episode so far in this series (though episodes 1 and 2) didn’t set the bar particularly high. Though they never managed to actually get me to feel worried for any of the characters, I’m at least now mildly interested in a couple of them which is more than they had going for them before. I’m also a little bit more intrigued about Aori and what it actually is because it’s starting to look more like another dimension and that would just be weird. Anyway, two things I learned during the start of this episode. If someone tells you they are an assassin and have an arsenal of blades, be nice to them. Secondly, if an explosion knocks down a whole bunch of stuff from the roof it will only fall on monsters.  Clearly, I’m not dropping this yet but I hope it can continue to improve and maybe I’ll eventually genuinely care if these guys ever escape.

Bloodivores is available on Crunchyroll.

Akame Ga Kill Impressions

I’m not ready to fully review this yet. I watched it awhile ago and remember not being terribly impressed (especially with the title character, Akame). That said, I decided to give the series another go because I didn’t really remember much detail other than not liking the main characters.

At the time of writing, I’ve watched the first five episodes again, though if I’m honest I was ready to give it away at episode 1. I’m kind of glad I pushed through that because I am enjoying the show more than I remember the first time. That said, I’m still not really liking the show.

What I like:

  1. Some of the fight sequences are quite interesting.
  2. The weapons, while crazily improbable, made for some really interesting attacks.
  3. Sheele. I seriously don’t remember paying her any attention at all last time but I quite liked seeing her back story and I love how she transitions from air-head to ruthless killer in a split second. I also vaguely recall that I shouldn’t get too attached to her because I don’t think she hangs around much longer so this could be a problem.
  4. The way Tatsumi’s grief is dealt with over the first few episodes at the loss of his friends from his home village.

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What I don’t like:

  1. Most of the characters. None of them click for me. Tatsumi is only barely tolerable and when he starts off on yet another idealistic spiel before being mocked by the other members of Night Raid it just makes me bang my head against the back of the couch. I get that he is supposed to be idealistic and young and not as jaded as the seasoned assassins, but does he have to come off that stupidly naive that often? Akame is dull. She may fight well but as a character she just kind of fills the screen occasionally. And she cooks. And eats. A lot. The other members of Night Raid each have various quirks but none of them really feel like wholly developed individuals. They feel like placeholders for various events and necessary comments in the dialogue.
  2. The extremes. Everyone in the government is either corrupt or too scared of those who are corrupt to do anything. The assassins are fighting for the revolutionary army which is clearly in the right and going to make things better. Okay, it is a petty complaint given it’s the set up of so many other stories but just every now and then it would be nice to see the rebels do something that makes them seem like they are worth backing over the the current government. Just being told they are going to help make things better (and being told that repeatedly) does not make it so.
  3. The general tone at times – and this one is entirely on me and the way I perceive it. This show doesn’t feel dark enough to really deliver some of the scenes with the impact it really needs to. Tatsumi’s friends die in a truly horrible manner, but because of the way Tatsumi has been set up, the way the battle outside was handled, and what follows after, the true grief and pain that scene should bring kind of get’s buried. Admittedly, they do let Tatsumi grieve properly over time, but the show delivers hard hitting content but seems afraid to just let it be dark. It doesn’t help that I’m not a fan of the way the show tries to deliver the lighter moments and I find these really intrusive to the mood.
  4. Esdeth’s introduction. Great, she’s a sadistic general and super powerful. So why exactly do we need to introduce her with a naked man licking her boot? Is there no other way to show a powerful, evil woman?

So, I’m going to finish my rewatch of this series over the next little bit and then I’ll write my final review.

 

Taboo Tattoo Episode 3

Review:

This series isn’t getting any better but it’s also not getting any worse. Or, maybe the bath scene with the female assassin constitutes as getting worse? Hard to tell. Whichever way the fight sequences from last week kind of became non-events at the start of this episode and then we went through some more explanations and training sequences as well as bonding moment between childhood friend and justice boy. I’d like to drop this but it kind of feels like it replaced Twin Star Exorcists in that space of I dislike you but I want you to get better.

Taboo Tattoo is available on Crunchyroll.