Juni Taisen Episode 8: So… Do We Just Skip This?

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Review:

Hand up every viewer who signed up for 19 minutes of flash back into the lives of two brothers. Where one character we never met in the present in a living state because he’s been dead since episode one. And the other character has so far had combined about ten lines total since episode one in the present day. See, these two are just so compelling they definitely need two episodes focussed on them, the second one spending almost its entire run time on a court case that then led to a further flash back of some random job the brothers pulled. And what is the payoff for the audience of sitting through all this? The brothers are angsty teens that like killing time and killing people works for them as a way to do that, as long as they get paid. Not that they care about the money.

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At this point, any hope I had of this show becoming a passable show in its completion kind of died. I kept thinking, if it ended well and had a good twist in its final episodes, I’d probably watch it again because binged, it probably doesn’t feel as long and the animation has been very good and there have been some interesting individual moments. But no. Nothing is worth sitting through these last two episodes. They’ve accomplished nothing and given the audience nothing. Maybe someone out there really connected with the walking corpse and was desperate to know his back story, but that wasn’t me. And maybe someone actually finds floating dragon kind of interesting, but again, that wasn’t me.

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There’s four episodes left so I’ll finish this. And if it does do something interesting in the final episodes, I’d be grateful, but regardless, this is a title I won’t rewatch and I’ll happily move on from and forget about. Which is a shame because the opening is pretty epic to listen to and I’ve enjoyed watching the visuals more and more as the season has unfolded. Too bad about the plot and the characters.


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Anime Quotes – Autumn 2017

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Yes, this is another fairly random post where I have collected my favourite quotes from this season (so far) in one place. I’d love it if you would share your favourite lines or quotes from the season in the comments.

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Juni Taisen Episode 7: Is It Wrong That The Corpse Is More Interesting Than The Character?

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Review:

At this stage I’ve more or less resigned myself to the story walking through predictable patterns. Even the possible showdown between Ox and Tiger was kind of inevitable if the story didn’t change path given they are the second and third animals in the zodiac. Still, I kind of wanted more from Snake and Dragon. Twins sent into a death match where only one is likely to survive should have something interesting to offer in terms of back story – right?

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Turns out, not really. In addition to having a dull and fairly meaningless back story the visuals seemed a little lacking this week and so far the great animation has been this anime’s best selling point. While a mid-season slump is fairly typical but then you kind of need your story and characters to do some leg work.

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Tiger probably got the best moments this episode and even then you can only carry the joke of drunken warrior so far before you have to accept that other than being an emotional ball of crazy she really hasn’t exhibited much personality. Reeling from over the top giggles and lethargy to killing machine, she’s amusing but that’s not quite the same thing as being a good character.

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So Snake is still kind of around (though in addition to having lost his head he has now lost both arms – not that it seems to bother him) and Dragon is doing pretty much nothing (as he has for most of the show). Somehow I’m not really caring how part two of this resolves but at this point in the season dropping this also seems pointless and I’m still really wanting this show to actually do something with its story other than go through the motions.


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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Episode 6: I’m Sure Someone Thought That Was Clever

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Review (with heavy episode spoilers):

My first take on this review was a little bit sarcasm heavy but then I realised I was being needlessly harsh on this show. It isn’t that the show is all that bad, more that it continues to look like it should be a better show than it is and that is bothering me. So here is the revised version, and yeah, sarcasm is still coming through a bit.

You know how the first three weeks this followed a strictly linear and less than thrilling pattern of character gets back story and character dies? And the order we were introduced to said characters exactly followed the reverse order of the zodiac? So, the show has a formula. Fine. We can work with that even if it makes it a bit dull.

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Then we went two whole weeks where we got back stories on characters who didn’t die. It was still following the zodiac order in reverse but it didn’t kill them.

Ooh, a twist in the story. Does that mean I should expect something new and different to happen at the mid-way point? I didn’t really think so, but I was kind of hoping for something.

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And then we get episode 6 where in very quick succession we’ll knock off both the previous characters (in correct order for the reverse zodiac) and take out the third character who we get an extremely brief flash back of in this episode that tries really hard to be action packed but kind of just prolongs skirmishes that we’re already seeing the outcomes of while characters still talk and think too much.

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Yep, they killed Monkey, Sheep and Horse in that order during this episode leaving only the Snake (zombie), Dragon, Rabbit, Tiger, Ox and Rat in the game. And the obnoxious thing is the whole time I felt like the show was looking at me smugly with a ‘you didn’t expect that’ expression even though it just reverted fully back to formula.

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Actually, there were some cool moments in this episode. It is just the overall story and characters in this show that are doing my head in. Although, on the bright side, Rat seemed to finally get his head in the game and has bounced into the lead for being the character I like the most out of this cast. He doesn’t have a lot of competition mind you, but at least there’s someone in this game I’m finding amusing.


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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Episode 5: And The Old Guy Rambles On

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Review:

The Sheep gets some backstory. Is anyone surprised that rather than focusing on the Rat, Snake, Monkey, Rabbit face-off from last week we instead listen to an old guy ramble while he plays with animal models and makes plans about people who are already dead? Good luck partnering with Dog or Boar.

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On the other hand, it seems like the pattern of dying in order of the zodiac isn’t broken yet because the Horse isn’t dead and no-one died yet this episode the Monkey may yet still be the next one to bite the dust. And everyone is so dismissive of Rat and his chances of winning it just kind of makes me think that’s where this is going and that would be incredibly disappointing.

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Though not as much as the reveal of why the Juni Taisen exists which they hit us with in the beginning of this episode. I wasn’t expecting much of a reason given how long they held off on telling us anything, but really? Great. Let’s have a war between twelve warrior,s place bets on them and somehow use that to redraw the global map every twelve years? That’s totally rational. As I said, wasn’t expecting much but this was kind of the minimum possible effort to give a reason for the premise.

Oh well, at least there is some promise of something changing once we are down to half the number of warriors so they’ve managed once again to hook my curiosity sufficiently that I don’t just roll my eyes and walk away and at least this remains really pretty to look at from an animation point of view even if both the story and the characters are leaving me feeling just a little bit uninspired.


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Juni Taisen Episode 4: Nobody Died, Though My Interest Took A Hit

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Review:

From the first episode with the Boar, this show has been a little bit peculiar. For all the good qualities it has, the one thing it has failed to do is grab my attention. The third episode with the Chicken came the closest because her character had a little bit of humour about her, and then we are hit with this episode.

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Rat talks to Monkey in the sewers. He challenges her about her pacifist stance (not aggressively mind you, because that would require being fully awake which is something he is steadfastly refusing to do).

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Monkey talks to Rat. She defends her position and we see many flash backs of her life up to this point.

The whole thing could work if I actually found either of these characters even vaguely interesting. And yet… Rat is an incredibly boring character. He is literally sleeping through this series. Monkey’s pacifist stance means she is pretty straight forward and predictable and just a little cringey to watch.

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The last five minutes saw us reintroduced to Rabbit and while a flock of zombie birds is pretty cool I’m just not thinking the brief chase sequence and minor skirmish we got between Rat, Monkey, Rabbit and zombie twin boy was sufficient action to make up for the nothing that had happened for the entire rest of the episode.

However, one positive I took away from this is that I really enjoy the opening theme. It didn’t do much for me the first time but it is definitely growing on me and was my favourite part of this episode.


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

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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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Friday’s Feature: Characters To Make the Horror Real

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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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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Episode 2: Dead Boar Walking

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Review – Minor Spoiler:

After episode 2, I’m still pretty underwhelmed by this one. It looks fantastic, I have no complaints about the visuals or animation. Yet, I was bored during a lot of this episode.

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The Boar was dead at the end of the previous episode and is now shuffling about in true zombie fashion, marching to the beat of the crazy rabbit’s drum. Therefore we go into this second episode pretty much knowing nothing about anyone else, save the Boar’s opinion of them and then things begin. We chop and change from character to character spending time with the Monkey and the Rat who are hiding out in the sewers, also the Ox gets a few lines of monologue on, the Horse has a brief appearance, the old guy who’s animal I’ve forgotten entirely sits on a step and plots, some girl who has some tail sticking out as an easily grabbed accessory meanders by in a shot, and then we sort of focus on the Dog and Chicken as they team up.

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The issue of course being that we already know that any alliance here is going to be incredibly short lived and we know nothing about either character save a brief flash back we get of the Dog which just made me suspect he was going to be the next designated victim. Then he starts narrating much the same way the Boar did and he also has some incredible confidence. He kind of walked into that death flag. But again, we don’t know enough about him to care or the Chicken girl and the Ox’s encounter with the Horse is all but completely meaningless to us given they are but names at this stage and have no substance.

It is interesting in that they haven’t even told me enough about the characters to make me dislike them. They are just nothing at this point and time. As a result, it doesn’t matter how hard this show tries to shock with gore, betrayals, twists, or super powers because I have no reason to be invested. I still don’t know why this war is happening because no one ever bothered to explain it. I don’t know why these characters are participating or even bothered to show up and none of them have really been given a motive save the Monkey who may be trying to stop it but joining a death match doesn’t seem the best way to end it. I still don’t know who organised it or what they get out of it.

Basically, if you can simply enjoy watching the characters roam around and kill each other I guess there’s something here and maybe sooner or later they’ll get around to explanations, but right now it all just seems like they expect that killing someone dramatically will make for interesting viewing regardless of who that someone is and what reason there is for their death.


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