Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Series Review: An Improvement In Every Way on Season 1

After season one’s fairly atrocious start, Spiritpact slowly grew into a semi-decent story. Then season two came onto the scene and it is almost as if this story has finally found its place.

Review:

I really didn’t think much of the delivery of this story back in season one. In fact, my review of it pretty much points out that most of season 1 is pretty tragic:

Despite everything wrong with this show from a production and writing point of view it is telling a really compelling story (it just isn’t doing it well).

But that compelling story that was hidden under the mess that was season one’s delivery was enough to make me go back to season two when so many other shows (The Silver Guardian and Hitori no Shita I’ve just left on hold to binge at some point when I get really bored). Because underneath everything wrong with season one, the characters really won me over and I wanted to see their story.

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And that is where season two – Bond of the Underworld – has excelled. It cut out so much of the clutter and the unnecessary. The comedy elements that were almost a complete failure on every occasion barely appear at all. The focus is narrowed down to three central characters and their interactions and while the background of the complex inter-relationships between these families and their roles are still there, it really doesn’t matter. Not to the main characters and not to the audience. The fact that two of the characters we’re focusing on are actually already dead doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference to how well crafted these characters have become (and believe me, I didn’t see myself claiming You Keika was a well crafted character in any capacity during season 1).

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This focus is expressed clearly through the OP. While the music isn’t great (not bad just not particularly good), the connections between these characters are made clear and this is the focus of what is explored in these 12 episodes with an antagonist in the form of the brother of one of the dead characters who at times seems to want revenge, at others power, and at the core just seems really ticked off about his brother’s fate.

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For those who like a little bit of shounen ai, this season will deliver a fantastic relationship driven drama as You Keika attempts to understand Tanmoku who in turn is trying to come to grips with the death of a former body-guard/friend/potential love interest. These characters interact in the present world as well as walk through the memories they have of the past and learn to see each other in a different light and also learn more about themselves.

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What that means is not a lot actually happens given we spend multiple episodes just memory walking, but those memories are integral to how these characters have been forged into the people we met in season one and facing these memories helps these characters to find who they are going to be and to reaffirm their place and purpose.

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Visually this season has stepped it up a lot. While there are still the very occasional chibi moments, with the vast majority of the stupid comedy cut out and the focus on character driven drama, there seems to be far more effort in making these characters actually look like characters. There are also a lot of close ups of faces in this season. Still, fight sequences and spiritual powers are quite adequately done. They have been better portrayed in other series, but compared to season 1, there’s a massive improvement here.

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Basically, if you endured season one but decided not to go back to season two, I’d urge you to reconsider. This season is superior to the first in so many ways and the story it tells is moving and sweet. I really hope there is a season 3 of this at some point as I’d love to know what the story has in store for these characters next.

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Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Reasons You Should Watch Season 2 of Spiritpact

Spiritpact season 2 has finished, with some very weird timing, and I can’t help but note that very few people have been talking about it. That’s not very surprising given how season 1 started and usually I don’t really like the argument that something gets better, but in Spiritpact’s case, the it gets better argument is pretty solid. In fact, season 2 is actually a pretty amazing character drama with some shounen ai moments that will make fan-girls pretty happy. So, while my review is still a week away, for now I’ll give you 5 reasons why you should go and watch this anime (though I guess technically it isn’t anime given it is Chinese and not Japanese but let’s leave that point alone for now).

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mention: Keika’s magical girl transformation sequence. Tragically it only gets shown once, but it is still pretty funny.

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Number 5: The attempted break out.

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Tanmoku Ki is apparently crazily powerful and yet we so rarely see him do anything particularly note-worthy with that power. Fortunately teenage Tanmoku was a lot more impulsive and when Shouken was locked up he took action. That said, it doesn’t exactly end happily ever after, but it is still an incredibly cool moment and at least it now makes sense why Tanmoku is so incredibly reserved about taking action.

Number 4: Keika taking his role seriously

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In season one, it was difficult to understand why Tanmoku wanted Keika around and Keika really didn’t contribute much to anything except temper tantrums and really stupid moments (the second half was better but not by much). Right from the early episodes of season 2, we see Keika taking his role as Tanmoku’s spirit-shadow very seriously even if he isn’t the most effective at keeping Tanmoku safe. It leads to some incredibly touching moments early on and also sets a far more serious tone for the season and allows Keika’s character to be re-evaluated and moved away from the frivolous portrayal we were used to.

Number 3: Shouken and Tanmoku’s Relationship

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Seeing the memories of first Tanmoku and then Shouken meant we got two different takes on their relationship and the events that defined it, but both ways gave us an incredibly sweet and tragic tale and one that was actually worth seeing twice because of how it positions us to see Tanmoku then and now and the impact that changing his perception of some of those events is going to have. Shouken’s impact on Tanmoku was enormous and seeing the two of them together was definitely smile worthy.

Number 2: Tanmoku Redefining His Relationship with the Family

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There are so many obligations and nuances that guide life in the Tanmoku family, and seeing Tanmoku Ki finally take some time to figure out who he is and what he wants, even if it took most of the season to get there, was a pretty satisfying experience. But he isn’t the only one trapped by the family and the traditions. Jiun, basically a cardboard cutout of a character in season 1, really finds her feet this season and plays a pivotal role. I’m glad she finds a path for herself by the end of the season and I look forward to seeing what happens next to this character.

Number 1: Tanmoku and Keika’s relationship

Seriously, this was brilliant. Watching these two characters move beyond a contract, from being a necessity to one another, and actually forging a real and incredibly close relationship was pure joy. Listening as Tanmoku explains why Keika in the final episode is one of those moments that can just melt your heart as it redefines the idea of selfless love. Certainly these two characters both still have a long way to go, but the journey they took us on in season two was extraordinary.

If you watched Spiritpact, what are some of your favourite moments from the series? I’d love to know so leave me a comment below.


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Karandi James

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Special A Series Review: Rivals, Friends, More Than Friends?

At a school that for some reason there is a special class with the top seven students in it who hang out in a green house drinking tea all day and here Hikari and Kei challenge each other continuously, but Hikari just can’t seem to beat Kei and it drives her absolutely angry.

Review:

I’ve often wondered when anime are set at schools with ridiculous set ups such as a class with seven students that don’t actually need to go to class, why? Is there some reason why these characters need that kind of flimsy excuse to hang out together? They couldn’t just be some sort of after school study club and do more or less the exact same things without the absurdity of that premise?

Admittedly, there is some tension during one episode in the series when a normal student challenges one of the seven to take his place in the class. But really what does this set up accomplish? The students in the class are either admired or looked at enviously by the other students, the students in the class are either oblivious to others or genuinely look down on them, and essentially it fosters a sense of elitism that makes it hard to really connect with any member of the cast.

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However, if we put that to the side and look at the rest of the anime, we end up with a fairly run of the mill story told with massive exaggeration. Hikari was the best at everything and then she met Kei. She cannot beat Kei but he takes great delight in taunting her and getting her riled up (it must be love). They aren’t children anymore but their basic relationship hasn’t changed even a little bit partly because Kei, who seems aware that a change needs to occur doesn’t ever actually say anything, and Hikari is the standard oblivious protagonist who at the first hint of anything resembling a romantic relationship either blushed ridiculously or gets angry.

Again, it makes it hard to really care about the cast when they are acting out poor stereotypes and doing them in a grossly exaggerated manner.

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Despite everything standing against this anime though, it does actually have quite a bit of heart to it and the interactions between the students within the class are sometimes quite sweet. So while watching this I kept moving back and forth between being annoyed at it and genuinely wanting to like it.

Where did I end up? Mostly in the camp of realising that for people who like high school comedies, this one works well enough, but also realising that I probably won’t watch this one again.

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That said, visually it is looking dated and it’s only ten years old. But the character designs and animation look a little older than that and I can’t see it having a lot more longevity as it is going to look seriously aged fairly soon. The soundtrack is passable but nothing all that remarkable, though I probably could have done with less shouting from Hikari at times.

Still, if you are looking for a high school comedy, you could do far worse than this. As I said, it has quite a bit of heart in it so even the poorer aspects of the show seem slightly better and if you like the cast a bit more than I did you will probably have a great time with it.


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Karandi James

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Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Episode 12: A True Pact

Why did this have to end? Are we going to get a third season?

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There is one major advantage of this show running at a slightly different time to Japanese seasonal anime. The season final occurred when most other anime are in a mid-season slump or still getting their momentum, so a final right now stands out and has even more impact than it might have had if it had to go up against a plethora of other season finals.

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That isn’t to say that this isn’t a really great final episode in its own right, but with so many loose ends screaming for a season 3, it isn’t the most satisfying either. Essentially the Tanmoku family turn things on their head fro the Shinryuu family and Tanmoku Ki and You Keika make a real pact which apparently gives them some amazing powers but we’re not actually going to get to see them use it right now.

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The confrontation itself ended in a fairly ordinary fashion and it is the emotional connections between the characters that are the real heroes of this episode and fortunately the show delivers. Whether it is the Keika and Tanmoku’s ongoing relationship, Jiun finally coming to terms with her jealousy and finding a new path to walk or the relationship between the brothers in the Shinryuu family, everything comes to a head and it does so in a glorious, if creepy in the case of the last one, fashion.

I’ll be doing a full series review of this shortly.

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Karandi James

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Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Episode 11: Confrontation

Time for final revelations and the show-down. Things are coming to a fairly exciting conclusion.

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On the one hand, I kind of get where Shouken’s brother is coming from. The Tanmoku family did keep his brother’s body and bind his soul and really that’s kind of wrong and distasteful. On the other hand, Shouken was in fact betraying the family by sending out information and ultimately Shouken took his own life. He wasn’t killed by the family. He made his own choice. So it is a little hard to be overly sympathetic to the brother as he binds a whole bunch of spirits and tries to drive Tanmoku Ki to his death.

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Fortunately, Keika is showing the amount he has grown over two seasons of this show and is finally stepping up as a spirit-shadow. While it probably isn’t going to be enough, he’s managed to keep things together long enough for the sister to show up and maybe that will be enough to turn the tide of the fight.

All things considered, this has been a pretty dramatic second season and the conclusion seems to be doing a good job of bringing things to a satisfactory close.

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Karandi James

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Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Episode 10: Clarity

Finishing Shouken’s memory walk and it seems things are about to get very intense in the present. This show continues to get better and better.

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I really appreciate that this anime managed to show us Tanmoku’s past from his perspective with Keika looking in, and then showed us nearly the same sequence from Shouken’s perspective with Keika and Tanmoku looking in, and at no point did it feel repetitive, unnecessary or dull. It feels like every scene has added to our understanding of these characters and their relationships both then and now and realistically it has really helped to make me love them.

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Admittedly, it kind of looks like we’re going for a spiritual smack-down type ending between families and meanwhile Tanmoku’s heart is just a little bit broken and Keika is probably still being manipulated, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was really having fun watching the drama play out. Looking forward to next week and what happens next.

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Karandi James

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Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Episode 9: Shouken’s Reasons

Another flashback episode for this anime, this time showing us Shouken’s perspective on past events.

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This whole second season, the shadow of Shouken has been looming over everything. Three episodes we followed Keika as he wandered through Tanmoku’s memories of his former bodyguard and now, at last, we’ve found Shouken himself and entered his memories. While there’s a lot of the same events playing out, they are minimising the reused material and even dialogue we’ve heard before takes on a different meaning through a slightly different angle on the visual or through Shouken’s internal monologue outlining his motives at that time.

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While not the most exciting of episodes, it is one that makes the audience reconsider their assessment on a few situations and it does set up the conflict that is obviously about to happen with Shouken’s brother firmly in a position now to act. Definitely interesting and if you are caught up in this story, this was another solid step toward a resolution.

 

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Karandi James

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Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Episode 8: The Spirit, The Ceremony, and the Looming Disaster

Tanmoku Ki holds the ceremony but between his emotional and physical turmoil things aren’t going to be easy. And yet, worse awaits these characters as the anime seems to be getting ready to go into its final episodes.

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Keika has definitely had a run of being very cool this season. Which given he was such a disaster of a character in early season 1, is kind of surprising. Yet now, we get these incredibly sweet moments between him and Tanmoku where Keika is exactly what Tanmoku needs to get through some incredibly emotionally taxing situations. Still, possibly forcibly holding Tanmoku down during the ceremony and kissing him (okay, exchanging spiritual energy) was not the brightest move, but it can’t be denied it was effective.

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Still, the ongoing drama with Tanmoku’s past continue and the manipulation Keika suffered earlier in the series comes back in a fairly decent manner to really escalate what is already a pretty tense situation. Unfortunately, that means we end the episode on a cliff-hanger. However, for those watching this anime for the relationship between the two main characters, this episode was definitely a delight. For everyone else, the plot is moving along at a nice clip at this point without feeling rushed and it definitely feels like it is heading somewhere.

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Karandi James

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Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Episode 7: Cutting the String

Finally we get to the end of the flash back and now we know what happened with Shouken. Where to now?

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Three episodes of Keika wandering around in Tanmoku’s dreams and we finally see how Shouken met his ‘end’ and the impact this had on Tanmoku. These episodes have done an excellent job of humanising the regularly inhuman feeling Tanmoku and have also given Keika a chance to not play the ditz for awhile as for once he is pro-active and actually helpful to Tanmoku even though his is entirely without guidance.

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While not all of Shouken’s secrets have been revealed and clearly they are going to continue on with this particular plot point for a bit longer, this was a reasonably satisfying way to wrap up this sequence of dreams. Though part of me wonders what the ongoing impact will be on Tanmoku now that he knows Shouken isn’t really dead.

I’m looking forward to find out what happens at the ceremony and the preview looked kind of interesting.

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Karandi James

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Spiritpact – Bond of the Underworld Episode 6: Bound to the Past

I really could start this review the same way as the previous episode, as in this episode Keika continues to float around in Tanmoku’s memory, though this time we see that perhaps he had some small influence over events back then leading to Shinryu actually being able to save Tanmoku. While some anime that spend two plus episodes walking around in the past might end up being a bit on the dull side (or you might at least wonder what the point is), here is is feeling incredibly rewarding to see the events that have shaped Tanmoku and ultimately the relationship he has with Keika.

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Meanwhile, Keika’s earnest desire to save Tanmoku from his nightmares is pretty adorable even if he doesn’t really have a clue how to do it. I also liked that while at first Keika was unreasonably jealous of Shinryu, he now sees just how much of an influence he had, and still has, over Tanmoku and realises how important he is to him. So while he is still definitely jealous, he’s starting to realise that the Tanmoku he knows would not exist without Shinryu.

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This continues to be a fairly rewarding viewing experience this season and hopefully this arc resolves in a satisfying manner given the time they’ve committed to it.

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Karandi James

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