No Game No Life Series Review: It’s Not Just a Game

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

This review was initially written in a style I very quickly dumped and that was separating out the characters, plot and setting under heading and discussing them in isolation. While I haven’t really changed my view on this anime, I have restructured the review quite significantly.

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This is a series I’d rewatched even before my first review and I noted that while the show remained ridiculously fun, the flaws of the series become far more glaringly obvious when the pretty shining colours and wow factor are less distracting and you already know the outcome of the games (though you kind of new the outcome in the first place it was more how they were going to pull it off).

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It is worth noting that realism is not what this anime was going for. All of the characters are complete and over-the-top parodies of human beings (even though the vast majority aren’t human). And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does make it hard to feel sympathy, empathy, or anything else for the characters. This problem was actually made worse when I finally got around to reading the first light novel hoping it would perhaps shed some light on some of the character’s back stories (note, it doesn’t at least not in volume 1).

And just when you think Sora and Shiro aren’t so bad afterall, Shiro’s outright lack of human emotion will punch you in the gut or Sora will follow up a truly brilliant dialogue with a panty joke or something equally jarring from the flow of the show.

That said, there is something amazing about these characters. My personal favourite is Izuna, who unfortunately doesn’t come along until close to the end but is actually the character I found the most sympathetic.

Jibril has some shining moments (anyone who values libraries and knowledge automatically gets some brownie points) and her adaptability is something to behold. But, those moments are contrasted with their attempts at using Jibril for comedic purposes that mostly fall flat. She was at her funniest when recalling the previous wars when she apparently single-handedly wiped out many elves. That was some pretty dark humour being thrown around in that scene, though that’s fairly consistent within No Game No Life. A lot of what you will be amused by within the context of the anime is actually quite dark and problematic when taken out of that context.

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The plot here is really where some people will start to drift away. They tell us early on that Blank  will NEVER lose. Seriously, they weren’t joking. Doesn’t matter what the situation or odds, these two are going to find a way to win. Whether you find the incessant rationalisation and explanations for how they managed to win charming and amusing or just pretentious will really determine how much you enjoy the story here.

More importantly, it kind of cuts off just as it’s getting interesting. They are progressing toward their stated goal but still have a long journey ahead of them and that’s it. Game over. Or, anime over. Perhaps we’ll eventually get a follow up, but for now, we’re left with Blank ready to start on their journey to challenge Tet (the god of Disboard) and yet we don’t get to see that journey.

There isn’t really anything resembling a subplot in this. There are supporting characters and something about a potential rebellion in Elven Garde but mostly this just serves as more fodder for explanations about how Sora manipulated the situation to win. What back story there is revolves around the previous King who lost a lot of Imanity’s (Humanity’s) territory to the War Beasts, and again, it isn’t a subplot so much as another piece of a long and convoluted explanation of victory.

However, where the characters might be questionable in how they are presented and the plot will only work provided you enjoy watching how they win rather than feeling any tension about whether they will win, the visuals are distinct, to say the least. Even on a rewatch, Disboard reamined beautiful.

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Okay, the colour palette is a little on the insane scale but it is supposed to be a fantasy world ruled by a god who thinks games are the best way to solve conflicts so we can probably let that go.

The music works but is reasonably forgettable and the voice acting is neither particularly good or bad. Shiro’s voice annoys me because it feels like everything she says has been put through a filter and is just that little bit too high and whisper like. Maybe this was supposed to make her sound cute but it drove me crazy by the end of the series. Fortunately, Shiro doesn’t talk anywhere near as often as Sora.

There’s fanservice here. Lots of it. Bathroom sequences and female characters losing their clothes for some fairly flimsy plot points. While bathroom scenes aren’t by themselves a problem their lack of purpose in this case is. It seems at times the entire plot just screeches to a halt while they chatter about random things while covered in suds. Could they at least talk strategy while showering? And seeing Sora using his phone to try to get photos of Stephanie in the bathroom is just all kinds of creepy.

Despite all the problems this series has that keep it from being a must watch, I like the set up and enjoy the games that are played. I like that the characters aren’t just proclaimed to be smart but they actually are planning ahead and have a vision of what they are trying to accomplish. The value of knowledge in this anime is expressed over and over again and that is something to be celebrated. That and the whole thing is so over the top and fun. While it won’t be for everyone, you can do a lot worse than No Game No Life.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Natsume Supporter Battle – Final Thoughts

Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) and I had a fantastic time on the series of posts where we put the support cast of Natsume to the test (although mostly we tested our own ability to make hard choices and eliminate characters from the contest).

If you missed any of these posts, check out my feature from the end of that week where I link to all of the posts in the series.

However, it is time to say goodbye to this particular project and with that I mean it is time to announce the reader’s pick for best supporting character of Natsume.

Now I know a lot of our readers couldn’t vote because they haven’t watched Natsume Yuujinchou yet (what are you waiting for), or they hadn’t watched through to the later seasons. However, we do have a clear winner from the readers and while it isn’t a character that either Irina or I chose, I don’t think either one of us would be that unhappy with who won.

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And there we go. It is official. Hinoe rocks.

Not that Irina and I didn’t already know that given how hard it was to see her lose out in her particular match up.

The part of this that I was interested to see was that our choices (Natori and Matoba) weren’t even in the top 3 of the reader’s choices. Part of me wonders if that was because people were helping those characters we knocked out or if the exorcists just aren’t that popular (though fan art would suggest otherwise). So, I’d love to know if you voted and who you voted for and why.

Still, the really important take away is that Natori did beat Matoba in the poll by 2 votes. Sorry, Irina, I couldn’t help it. I love Natori. Matoba is one of my favourite antagonistic characters and incredibly valuable to the Natsume universe, but Natori is going to remain my favourite character outside of Natsume, Reiko and Nyanko-Sensei.

It is actually kind of sad to say goodbye to this project but hopefully it won’t be goodbye to Natsume forever. Fingers crossed for many more anime seasons in the future.

Natsume’s Supporter’s Battle For Supremacy Round 3 Part A

This is a collaboration between Karandi and Irina.

If you need to catch up:

Be sure to check out Irina’s blog tomorrow for the conclusion to Round 3.

Matoba vs Natori

 

Krandi: Irina, why did we do this to ourselves? Seriously, what were we thinking?

Irina: Clearly we weren’t...

Karandi: After two rounds it has come down to exorcist vs exorcist. Both complex and interesting characters walking different paths along the moral spectrum and yet at this point in the anime, neither one has had their overall motive or character fully revealed leading to plenty of speculation.

We have said good-bye to some truly fantastic characters in rounds one and two and I think that is what needs to be remembered most about this show. While it is Natsume’s Book of Friends, the story that unfolds is made truly interesting by the love and care put in to each and every member of the support cast, no matter how minor a role they may seem to play within a season. These are characters we can relate to, can sympathise with, be wary of, be annoyed at, and characters we might want to meet ourselves. So this series of posts has accomplished its goal of shining the spotlight on this series and one of its core strengths, the supporting cast of characters.

For this final round, we’ve decided to reflect on our views of both characters rather than going head to head. But if you take nothing else away from this series, I’m taking away that I won the first round.

Irina: Pffth second place is just first loser unless I lose this round in which case second place is awesome, better than first even! Somehow…

For this round Irina will make her final case for Matoba.

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Irina: Through six reviews for the various seasons of  Natsume’s Book of Friends, Matoba has been my favorite character twice, a distinction only shared with Nyanko and even then only in specific incarnations (Nyanko as Natsume forever!) There’s a reason for that and a reason my boy Seiji made it all the way to the final round. He rocks.

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Matoba is a slap in the face of a character, a spark thrown into the Natsume story that makes everything more exciting. I have always enjoyed characters in series that I would not necessarily like to meet in real life. Although this may not be the case here… I got a soft spot for attractive troublemakers. Matoba is definitely ruthless and singularly determined. This leads him to act in ways that can appear brash. He lacks the gentle touch everyone else in this series seems to possess. But when considered as a whole, he is undeniably rational and, if nothing else, diligent.

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His entire life, Matoba has carried the burden of responsibility. The responsibility for the livelihood and safety of his clan, the unique duty one has when they are one of the few who can see Yokai and the weight of his particularly well developed talent. All these elements have made him into a man that cannot afford to take chances. A man whose misplaced kindness could end up hurting those who depend on him, and so he is sparring and greedy with it. It is unfair to ask others to pay for your altruism and that is a lesson Matoba seems to have learned well. He isn’t flighty or selfish. Childishly pursuing whatever strikes his fancy or playing the good guy. Matoba does what needs to get done. It may not be as instantly likable but it’s a trait that deserves respect and one that makes the story so much more affecting.

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The characters that push aside emotionality in favour of common sense are absolutely primordial to framing the story and putting everyone else in proper context. Matoba’s perfectly justifiable conflicts with Natsume become that much more interesting because they are not a question of right and wrong. They allow for introspection and questioning that ultimately make the story much deeper than it otherwise would have been.

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Moreover, Seiji knows when to take a bow. There has never been a moment when Matoba was onscreen and I was bored. His appearances have been used to such optimal effect that his simple presence confers a sense of excitement and anticipation. You know somethings going to happen if Matoba’s there and he always leaves you wanting more.

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A lot more in fact. We have only gotten crumbs of his backstory so far and clearly there’s a lot more left to tell. What we do know is that this man holds most of the secrets of the Natsume Universe and exploring his character will unlock a whole new world for both the viewers and the actors.

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At the end of the day, most stories, even ones as peaceful and sensitive as Natsume’s, need some form of conflict and few things can elevate a narrative quite like a worthy and interesting antagonist. Matoba is exactly that. He is build with the same care and nuance as any  hero. He manages to be relatable or at least understandable, while still undeniably menacing. The element he brings is completely unique in the story and no one else can play this role.

KarandiIs Irina right? Tomorrow, I’ll make my case in part B on Irina’s blog.

Natsume’s Supporter’s Battle For Supremacy Round 2 Part A

This is a collaboration between Karandi and Irina. If you are just catching up the previous posts are:

Be sure to check out Irina’s blog tomorrow for Round 2 Part B. Or, you know, just check out some of her great posts in general.

Irina: We said goodbye to some truly lovely characters in round 1. It speaks to the quality of the story that both of us found it so painful to cut anyone out. It’s very tough to argue your case when you truly love the other character as well but we did what we had to. This said, we had a clear winner in round 1 as 3 of Karandi’s characters advance to the second stage but Matoba is a strong contender! He may save me yet!

I’m not sure who will make it out of round 2 but there’s a chance neither of *us* will survive it. After ripping Natsume away from all his peers and actual friends in round one, the cruel hand of fate (a random number generator) now demands that we further shatter the boy’s social circle and support structure by pitting all the closest and most important people in his life against each other.

The mysterious and slightly ominous Matoba will take on our last Yokai and one of Natsume’s strongest allies: Hinoe, while the closest thing he’s even had to a family will be torn apart as Touko and Natori face off. I’m not going to lie, this is going to be way harder on me than it is one any of you…

Matoba vs Hinoe

For this match Karandi will be arguing for Matoba and Irina has taken on Hinoe.

Karandi:  For all that Matoba has had a significant influence on Natsume and the plot of Natsume Yuujinchou, he’s all up appeared in 6, maybe 7 episodes. However, that just speaks of how notable his presence is. Amongst a pastel sea of sweet and misunderstood characters, Matoba represents something quite a bit darker and his fixation on power and later on Natsume always adds a bit of a thrill of danger to an otherwise placid story.

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In fact, Matoba didn’t appear in the show until season 3, though the idea of exorcists and those that were not even as nice as Natori (who was definitely already a fairly grey character) had already been clearly established. And Matoba did not disappoint. Generally clad in black and with his eye covered, Matoba looks every bit the part of someone with shady intentions. His callous disregard for his servants (human and yokai alike) has been demonstrated several times, as has his overall ambition and desire to become more powerful.

While his view can be understood, the exorcists are serving a fairly important role in keeping dangerous yokai sealed, there’s always a sense of malice about him and a question about what he is truly seeking in the long term. The way he looks at Natsume and desires Natsume joining his family certainly has some darker undertones.

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One thing that has become certain for me is that when Matoba makes an appearance, I’m going to love the episode. And it is going to get dark. Whether it is because Natsume is going to find himself captured and confined once again needing to escape or because there are going to be more yokai deaths, these episodes stand out from the others and yet perfectly compliment the darker themes that are constructed throughout the series. Over and over again, Matoba has proven himself a force to be reckoned with and as his views directly contradict Natsume’s views about yokai, the two are going to clash again and again. The episode where Natsume grudgingly helped Matoba was really interesting as it didn’t paint Matoba in a favourable light, but Natsume started moving toward understanding him a little bit more.

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As much as I love Hinoe, and argued for her case in round one, I would strongly suggest that Natsume needs Matoba’s character and this is one character where despite limited screen time, he has made his presence felt and it sends tangible ripples through the entire rest of the series.

Irina: Hinoe is not a mere character, not a simple emissary representing the Yokai in this grand competition, more than any other person in the series, Hinoe is the living embodiment of the thread of faith that binds Natsume’s legacy to the turmoil he yet faces. As Karandi deftly pointed out in round 1 “Hinoe also forges a direct connection back to Reiko”, and this may prove much more important than we have been led to believe.

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Reiko’s shadow looms large over Natsume, it always has. She is the only one he can truly relate to even though he has never met her and in a very real sense, the one responsible for everything in Natsume’s life, both good and bad. Unraveling the riddle of Reiko’s life will be primordial to Natsume’s continued growth and evolution. Without gaining a better understanding of what came before, he will be stuck repeating old mistakes or ultimately throwing away what makes him unique. The ominous repeated fact that Reiko died young and *alone* may also prove to be an omen that Natsume cannot afford to ignore.

The only person that is still in a position to offer any real insight on Reiko’s life and the lessons she had learned, is Hinoe. Without her, Natsume is set adrift.

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Moreover, you cannot simply disregard the fact that she is a Yokai. I don’t want to sound specieist or anything, but how exactly can we think of Natsume’s Book of Friends and not have a single “friend” to speak of. The Yokai, their presence, influence, simple existence, are the singular most formative and important element of Natsume’s entire experience. They are a completely inextricable part of his world. Of course, Hinoe is hardly the only Yokai but she is one of the closest and kindest.

Because of her unusual willingness to interact with humans, Hinoe has managed to have one of the greatest impacts of Natsume that any of her kind (save Nyanko) have had. She has been a reliable big sister, a gentle guide and a comforting helper whenever Natsume has needed one. There is absolutely no one else that can bring these elements to Natsume’s life and without her, the Yokai side of the story becomes dreadfully unbalanced.

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Yes Matoba’s influence is a catalyst and an important narrative element, but it is useless without the counterbalance of kind hearted Yokai to pull Natsume’s loyalties their way, and Hinoe is chief among them.

Karandi: Okay, if we’re arguing their knowledge of past events, Matoba and his clan have certainly indicated they have had past links with Reiko and have already done quite a bit of digging into Natsume’s past – a plot thread I definitely want to see developed. However, the point is well made that Hinoe has been one of Natsume’s strong links to the past and to the yokai from the beginning.

Irina: I’m sure that sneaky Matoba clan knows a whole lot more than they let on but are they willing to share? What good is that knowledge if it remains locked away?

Karandi: I don’t know. I like them both. They are both needed.

Honestly, I’d cast my vote for Matoba for the simple reason that he does bring those darker elements to the forefront of the show and I just truly love his episodes.  Irina?

Irina: Yeah it’s Matoba. Let’s face it I always knew it was going to be Matoba but you have to admit, Hinoe put up a good fight!

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Natsume’s Supporter’s Battle For Supremacy Round 1 Part A

A collaboration between Karandi and Irina. Be sure to check out Irina’s blog tomorrow for Round 1 Part B. We’ll be posting each day this week.

Karandi here: Toward the end of last year I started thinking I’d really like to put together some sort of feature about Natsume Yuujinchou. I’m completely in love with the show and have certainly written a number of posts about it previously, but I wanted to do something different. Knowing that Irina had recently watched the show and had also fallen in love with the series, I reached out and asked if she was up for a collaboration and so after many emails an idea was born.

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I don’t think either one of us quite knew how challenging this would be when we picked the idea of a tournament style match up between members of the support cast to determine who the best supporting character was. (I think we both thought this would just be a bit of a laugh but eliminating anyone from this list has been incredibly tough.)  Just coming up with the entrants was a killer task as there are just so many great characters who appear throughout the course of six season. To make it a bit easier we agreed that they had to have appeared in more than one season to be considered and we ruled out Nyanko-Sensei and Reiko as being main characters from the start.

Still, we finally cut it down to 8. However, there were dozens of other characters we’d have liked to include (I think both of us would have loved Aoi to appear in the list but he was a one episode character, and I know that cutting how Shigeru was harsh but at least Touko made the cut).

We ended up with:

Then we had to decide on a criteria for the matches. Ultimately we decided to discuss character design, character growth, their interactions with Natsume, and their impact on the plot (at least for round one).

Finally we were ready for round one. We each had our four contestants to try to defend and we knew who they would be matched against, still some of these contests were just harsh. And can I point out how hard it is to argue in favour of one character when you are hopelessly in love with the one you are about to throw out of the tournament. And yet, I wouldn’t really have wanted any of these characters to lose their match (except maybe Satoru, but Irina made a pretty good case and made me see him a little differently).

However, through working on this project with Irina I definitely gained a deeper appreciation of just how well this show has built up its characters, even the fairly minor ones. All of them bring something amazing to the show and losing any one of them would leave Natsume somewhat worse off. I also realised once again what an amazing person Irina is. I loved working on this collaboration with her and I’m glad we got to spend some time sharing our thoughts on such an incredible anime.

Anyway, that’s it from me in terms of an introduction. We’ll get to the first round of matches and see which characters make it through to the semi finals.

Round 1:

Taki vs Hinoe

For this match Irina is defending Taki and Karandi is taking on Hinoe.

Character Design

Irina: I’m starting off at a bit of a disadvantage. Humans in Natsume’s universe all tend to look very similar and a little bland in contrast to the Yokai but Taki does have one big thing going for her, she’s a redhead! We all know gingers are special and both Satoru and Natsume seem to have noticed as well.

Karandi: True enough, Taki is a redhead and they are awesome, but Hinoe is rocking that gorgeous blue hair and sporting quite the adorable hairpin. Throw in her outfit and her pipe and she strikes quite the distinct figure even amongst the yokai.

As much as I love Taki, I would definitely say Hinoe wins for design.

Irina: This is a though one. Hinoe has one of my favorite designs and cosplay goal but I’m going for a last ditch attempt here – Taki’s design is special precisely because of how normal it is. She represents a visual cue for normalcy and stability in Natsume’s world….Ok Hinoe rocks….

Karandi: I’ll just take that as a win for Hinoe on design.

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Character Growth

Irina: Admittedly, Taki hasn’t undergone any dramatic transformations, most of her personal evolution really takes place during her first appearance and even then it’s more a question of her getting out of a bad situation and being able to relax and be herself again, rather than her evolving through lessons learned. But she’s so lovely as is, why should she need to grow.

Karandi: In the present day, we haven’t really see Hinoe grow at all. She’s a yokai and they kind of pride themselves on long lives and not really changing. However, we did see a flashback with Hinoe before she met Reiko and while we don’t know all the ins and outs, she did go from hating humans to being fairly accepting of her friendship with Natsume.

Still, I would probably have to concede this criteria to Taki.

Irina: Like Karandi – I do think we have clues to indicate the Hinoe has undergone some pretty radical evolution but we haven’t *seen* it. I agree Taki.

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Interactions with Natsume

Irina: Taki’s influence on Natsume is undeniable. She’s is one of the gentless and most understanding people in Natsume’s life which is saying something as he is literally surrounded by love. Taki is clearly in the human camps as she can’t naturally interact with Yokai in any way but her family history has given her a much better understanding of the spiritual world than most. As such, Taki essentially represents the possibility for Natsume to have completely honest relationships with “normal” people. She is completely unique in that regard and absolutely essential to Natsume’s acceptance of himself. She’s also a lovely age appropriate human girl which opens up a wealth of potential interactions not available to anyone else!

Karandi: Her human appearance not just for show, Hinoe is one of the more calm, collected and certainly more understanding of Natsume’s situation than most of the other yokai. That said, I do recall a scene where Hinoe came running with a scythe after Natsume got kidnapped so she’s proven herself to be fairly loyal as well. Ultimately Hinoe offers guidance and advice to Natsume on many issues and while she still pretends to be fairly aloof she’s clearly very interested in Reiko’s grandson and in making sure he stays safe.

I honestly can’t call this one. Irina, your thoughts?

Irina: I love Taki and I’m so very glad Natsume has her friendship but if we are to be completely honest, her role is a little redundant with Tanuma’s. On the other hand, Hinoe is the closest thing he has to a big sister. I think Hinoe for this one. She has his back in a way no one else does.

Karandi: I’m glad you mentioned that her role is a little redundant given Tanuma plays much the same role. It would be different if more of her grandfather’s knowledge came into play as that would give her a more unique role. Still, Hinoe it is.

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Impact on the story

Irina: Not only has Taki had an impact so far by being a human that can’t see Yokai but is still fully accepting of Natsume but considering the hinted at wealth of interactions, her possible impact on future plotlines is probably one of the most important of any character in the series.

Karandi: Hinoe has literally saved Natsume’s life from being consumed by a curse and continues to watch over him, providing guidance when needed and makes some attempts to keep the middle ranked yokai in check (when she’s not drinking with them). Hinoe also forges a direct connection back to Reiko and unlike Madara, she seems more willing to talk about her past with Natsume’s grandmother.

While I love Taki’s role, I’d say that Hinoe being a literal life saver back in season one kind of tips this one to her.

Irina: I agree, Taki’s impact is much less direct that Hinoe’s. Her absence would be less obvious.

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Karandi: Taki vs Hinoe: I’d vote for Hinoe. Irina?

Irina: I’m honestly stumped. I’m going with pure subjective gut feeling here but I agree – Hinoe.

Karandi: We agreed. Fantastic. Let’s see if that can happen in the next match up which will be out tomorrow on Irina’s blog. In the meantime, you can have your say on who you think the best support character is in Natsume Yuujinchou. We’ll release the results of the poll after we finish the tournament.

Tuesday’s Top 5: Characters I’d Like To Be Able To Call If I Needed Help

You know how in Superman people call out for help and he hears them and then just zips to their side, particularly if they happen to be Lois Lane? Well, I was thinking if I had someone like that, who would it be? And then, being me, I started listing anime characters rather than actual people. So here’s the list I came up with of characters I’d like to have on call if I needed help. I’d love to know which character you would call so leave a comment below.

Please Note – There will probably be no spoilers below.

Honourable mentions this week: Karma (from Assassination Classroom), Anna (from K) and Nyanko Sensei (from Natsume Yuujinchou).

Number 5: Maka from Soul Eater

Maka really should be higher up the list but the issue is that by herself Maka isn’t that strong (she’s not exactly weak but she really does need a partner to bring out her true potential). That said, she’s a hard worker, she’s book smart, she strategizes, she never gives up, and she’ll fight to protect her friends. That actually makes her pretty versatile in terms of what help she’d be able to give.

Number 4: Sebastian from Black Butler

I know, he definitely should be number 1 given there isn’t anything he can’t do. There are two reasons Sebastian got stuck at number 4 on this list. Firstly, he’s in a contract with Ciel which makes him unavailable so probably not going to answer my call anyway. Secondly, there’s the whole contract and having your soul eaten by a demon thing. Not that it wouldn’t be fun having Sebastian show up and save the day but that’s a pretty high price tag.

Number 3: Kirito from Sword Art Online

Not as capable as Sebastian, but still able to break the rules of a computer game through sheer will and determination, plus mighty handy with a sword (or two), Kirito definitely needs a spot on this list. Plus, he’s a gamer so after he helps me out we can chat for awhile and maybe get lost in our own gaming world. He’s another one that’s pretty good at strategizing but isn’t against using brute force to get the job done, plus we know Kirito prefers to play solo so not having his friends won’t really hold him back too much.

Number 2: Erza from Fairy Tail

At some point I actually have to get back and watch more of Fairy Tail. I started it and got a few arcs into it but then got distracted and never went back. Still, Erza is fantastic and given the range of weapons and armour she’s carrying around with her, not to mention her tough attitude and big heart, there’s probably not all that many situations Erza couldn’t help out in.

Number 1: Yato from Noragami

The guy is a god. Okay, a stray god without a shrine, but still a god. Plus, you only have to pay him 5 yen. That’s way cheaper than Sebastian’s asking price. Also, Yato would be great fun just to hang around with. Seriously, I want this god’s phone number and I’m putting it on speed dial so that when I need help I know it is going to come quickly.

So that’s my list of the top five characters I’d like to able to call for help. Who is in your top five?


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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Friday’s Feature: Are There No New Ideas?

I’d suggest that those who haven’t watched Your Lie in April and haven’t read yet what happens, that you might want to try one of my other posts and come back after you’ve either watched the end or someone else has spoiled it for you.

It’s a common criticism of television shows, movies, and of course anime, that the storyline is old. We’ve seen that before. Oh, it’s just like such and such. However, is this a fair criticism? Depending on which theorist you’d like to believe there are only between 5 and 10 storylines in the entire world and we’ve just been recycling them and giving them make-overs for thousands of years. So should originality really be an issue when writing a story?

That said, the main purpose of most stories being made into television shows, movies and anime is to entertain (there are other purposes but that’s the main one – unless you are cynical enough to believe that the only purpose is making money) and in order to entertain there needs to be an element of novelty. Can you be novel and unoriginal at the same time?

And that’s where we have to start looking at the quality of the story telling and the way the elements have been combined. A simple fairytale  can feel like a masterpiece in the hands of someone who knows how to weave it into something magical whereas an epic story might feel like the longest and most boring time of your life in the hands of someone who just doesn’t get how to tell a good story.

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Let’s look at Your Lie In April. With 22 episodes to fill you would think we could cover a fairly complex plot in that time. Over the course of 22 episodes we meet and get to know four characters (and only two of them are really developed). We have the initial refusal by Kousei to accompany Kaori and then we see them getting closer and in the process we learn more about Kousei’s trauma, and then we have our hearts broken into tiny little pieces by a death that was incredibly foreshadowed and obvious but still emotionally crippling to watch. That’s it. They meet. She makes him face something he doesn’t want to face. They grow. She dies. The end. There’s some other moments with some of the support cast and while the characterisation of the main pair and emotional weight of the story is well developed, the story itself is that straight forward.

Do we have any other stories that follow this path?  Well, lots if you really start looking but the one that immediately jumps out is Love Story from 1970. No, it isn’t exactly the same however the impact of two characters meeting and growing together before a death that leaves the survivor with a new direction is kind of the same. And no, I’m not suggesting that Your Lie in April is a rip-off of anything. But we have seen this pattern in stories before. The events themselves aren’t new.

So why is Your Lie in April effective as a story? (Okay some of you will say it isn’t but everyone has their own opinion and that’s fine.)

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If you were to ask the viewers what they like about the story, you will get a whole range of different answers. The music and the way it perfectly complements the themes. The visuals and the way they show Kousei’s anxiety on the stage. The relationship between Kousei and Kaori. The connection they felt to the characters as the story played out. For me it was the connection between the character’s mental state and emotions and the sound of the music. It’s the way this story has been told and the way the different parts have been put together that draws the audience in. That said, all of these other elements could still be there and if the writers had decided not to let Kaori die (after all that foreshadowing) I’m pretty sure most people would have ended up feeling rather indifferent. Despite the ending being obvious fairly early on, and by the half-way point outright inevitable, the way this story is told makes the journey memorable even if it doesn’t pull a last minute twist of any kind or really seek to break new ground.

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Then what if we consider something more complex like Baccano. You might argue that Baccano has a unique storyline and there isn’t anything else like it. And it is true that when you watch Baccano it certainly feels novel and different. But that isn’t because of the story. What Baccano does is combines multiple storylines together and then presents them in fragments with each story interconnecting with every other through either a character, object, or event. If we were to untangle each character’s story we actually get a whole lot of fairly simple plot lines. Again, this is not a criticism of Baccano. The presentation of the story (or stories) is really interesting and there is rewatch value in that some of the connections are missed the first time through.

What do you think? Are there new ideas for storylines or are there just new settings, new characters, and new ways to deliver the story? And does it even matter?


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Haikyuu Episode 2

Review:

Well, I decided to watch this for a bit though episode 2 didn’t really impress me much. To be honest, the petty bickering between the two main characters kind of drove me a little crazy (kind of reminded me of Endride and I really didn’t want to be reminded of that). While the show is clearly still in set up mode if I can’t get into the characters I’m probably not going to be able to stick this out to the end because there isn’t a lot else going for the show given it’s a show about volleyball. So here is hoping the next episode or two helps me make up my mind about whether to continue with this or simply put it in the not my thing pile.

Haikyuu is available on AnimeLab.

Tuesday’s Top 5: Female Characters from 2016

2016 was a great year for anime and while I don’t really ever intend just to do a list of top 5 characters ever I kind of feel I can pick a favourite from a single year. Much like my reflections post, this one is entirely my own opinion so feel free to add your favourite females from 2016 in the comments below.

So how did I choose my top 5 female characters? Pretty much they played a significant role in their anime, were entertaining to watch, and, for whatever reason, memorable. They also had to be in an anime that aired at some point during 2016 (either continuing on from 2015, completely in 2016, or at least started before the end of 2016).

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions go to: Izetta (Izetta: The Last Witch) and Manami Okuda (Assassination Classroom Season 2).

Number 5: Ubukata Chikako (Days)

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And before you ask ‘who’ she’s the female manager in Days who comes on board after first trying to convince Tsukamoto that it’s hopeless and he should just give up. While her screen time is fairly limited and she plays very much the angry girl (a lot), she’s actually a pivotal character for Tsukamoto when he’s at his lowest and is also the one who quietly assists when Kazuma and Tsukamoto have their near falling out. It’s what I like about her character. She’s there is most episodes doing what she needs to do and she doesn’t intrude on screen time for the same of it. Plus I like how we see her change from angry with the world and fairly pessimistic, to grudgingly accepting that hard work will work out for some, to genuinely hopeful even as she still holds on to her basic cynicism. I also love her ongoing relationship with Tsukamoto. She kind of takes on the tough older sister role and it works really well.

Number 4: Edna (Tales of Zestiria the X)

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Even before this character ever made an appearance, fans of the game were going on and on about her. It kind of made me think she couldn’t possibly live up to that hype and then we met her. Admittedly her screen time in the anime is low but she was certainly one of the more interesting characters. Okay, I just love sarcasm and Edna nails a good sarcastic comment. She’s also one of the more interesting characters in the previews at the ends of episodes. All and all, definitely a fun character to watch and one I think Sorey needed given Alicia and Mikleo don’t exactly push him out of his comfort zone.

Number 3: Shirayuki (Snow White with the Red Hair Season 2)

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This one should have been an obvious choice. I was already in love with this character after season 1 and season 2 just continued to show how amazing she is. Unlike season 1, Shirayuki faces some real danger in season 2 and she really manages to hold it together even while they show us her inner turmoil. Throw in progress in her friendship with Raj, her romance with Zen, and a bit of back story with her father and season 2 really helps round out her character and the world.

Number 2: Tomoe Hotaru (Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3)

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It was hard narrowing down which of the Sailor Moon Crystal cast really left the largest impression. It came down to Chibi-Usa and Hotaru and when all is said and done Hotaru was the more interesting character. The tragic and frail girl that is befriended by Chibi-Usa we see a genuine friendship form between the pair before Hotaru’s body is forcibly overtaken. If that wasn’t enough, turns out she’s also Sailor Saturn and may very well destroy the world so the Outer Guardians are aiming to kill her before she gets the chance. A very memorable character and an awesomely powered one as well. Would have loved more of her in the series.

Number 1: Igsem Yatorishino (Alderamin on the Sky)

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Fiery red haired beauty dual wielding swords on a battle field and able to keep a hopeless womanizer in check? Yatorishino is all kinds of impressive and the fact that she also has a personality and isn’t just a stoic yes-man soldier girl (though she can certainly play that role when needed) just makes her even more interesting. The best parts of Alderamin on the Sky came when Ikta and Yatori were on screen together as they perfectly complement each other and yet each of these characters has a personality by themselves. Besides, none of Ikta’s plans would have ever worked without her skill. He could do what he did because he knew that Yatori would have his back and he knew just how dangerous she could be.

That’s my list of top 5 female characters from 2016. Who were yours?

Tuesday’s Top 5: Bleach Characters

Much like my Top 5 Sailor Scouts, it was kind of inevitable that I’d eventually do a list for Bleach (and trust me favourite Captain, best attack, best fight sequence, worst joke, and several other options have been considered and written down for future posts because Bleach is one of those anime that I just can’t leave alone). It seemed reasonable for my first Bleach list to focus on just my top 5 favourite characters from the show. That said, those of you who have followed my blog for a while will already know my 1 and 2 as they’ve appeared in other lists before (but the question is which order did I put them in when I made this list). The thing is, with such a huge cast, narrowing this list down was actually kind of difficult.

Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.

Honourable mentions go to Rukia Kuchiki, Renji Abarai, Ulquiorra, Aizen, Grimmjow Jaggerjack, and Urahara.

Number 5:  Soi Fon

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that Soi Fon’s personality stinks, but as a character she’s kind of fun. Her desperate and clingy nature early on disguised very thinly by loathing for Yoruichi eventually passed and what we have is a fairly capable leader who isn’t above underhanded methods if it means success. Also, her weapon is fairly interesting even in a show full of strange and interesting weapons. Not the ridiculously large and overpowered kind, hers requires a lot of skill and precision to maximise the effect (okay, later they go for ridiculously large but it is Bleach). It lends itself to a different kind of battle and that makes Soi Fon stand out from the crowd. Possibly the worst thing for Soi Fon though is she is a background character and that means that she doesn’t win all that many fights. That must be all manner of frustrating for a perfectionist like her.

Number 4: Hollow Ichigo

So much cooler and more interesting than Ichigo on most occasions, Ichigo’s Inner Hollow is hilarious and terrifying (usually at the same time). Whether he is taunting Ichigo inside, giving him vague clues to his power, or just taking over and over-powering Ichigo’s enemies, an appearance by Hollow Ichigo is always exciting and definitely entertaining. Sorry Ichigo, but I spent a lot of my time watching Bleach wishing Hollow Ichigo would take over for awhile.

Number 3: Yoruichi

Right, given my thing for cats and strong female characters, this one was kind of a give-away. Yoruichi enters Bleach in cat form but later reveals her female form to Ichigo (and in true anime fashion isn’t too picky about how much of her he sees). Anyway, Yoruichi, other than being the object of Soi Fon’s obsession,  among many other titles was once known as the Goddess of Flash and she is pretty amazing. Actually, I spent a lot of time wondering why Yoruichi and Urahara needed Ichigo at all given the two of them together seem pretty unstoppable. That said, she’s an amusing character and seems a bit flippant at times, but when the battle is on she is all business.

Number 2: Uryu Ishida

I said in my post about Top 5 Characters Who Wear Glasses that Ishida was second only to my number 1 choice when it came to Bleach characters. It isn’t hard to see why.  He thinks and strategizes, has an array of interesting attacks, continues to evolve and get stronger throughout the series and is quite amusing at times because he plays the straight man in a show full of crazy people. My one complaint is that Ishida is not the main character so his plans fall apart (usually through Ichigo racing in and doing something stupid), his attacks regularly don’t finish an enemy (because then what would Ichigo do), and all his evolution seems to be for nothing when the series continues to take the best moments away from him. That said, I’ll still put him as number 2 on my list.

Number 1: Toshiro Hitsugaya

It had to be. I already gave him a rave review when I did my Top 5 Cool Users of Ice Magic (amazingly Hitsugaya didn’t top the list but that is mostly because while Hitsugaya does in fact use ice he isn’t exactly relying on magic). Hitsugaya is an amazing character. He’s serious and hardworking and has an incredibly cool sword. Add to it his complete freak out when his childhood friend was in danger and just how scary he can look when angry and you have a truly fantastic character. Did I mention his sword? I’m sorry, his sword (which he carried on his back due to its length), allows him to control water and ice and he can use water in the air to regenerate his bankai (which is interesting), he can create ice pillars to encase his enemies, make a shield out of ice and so on and so forth. It’s a highly versatile weapon compared to the hack and slash some of the characters in this show are saddled with. Hitsugaya, can we get a spin off show just about you, please?

So that’s my list but I’d love to hear from other Bleach fans who they would have put on their lists. And yes, I know I left Ichigo off my list. That was a deliberate choice and not an oversight.