Girls’ Last Tour Episode 12: Parting At The End of the World

Review:

For a final episode of a slice of life/post-apocalyptic anime this episode this episode of Girls’ Last Tour hits all the right notes. First we look back at the journey the girls have taken courtesy of their catalogue of photos that they have taken since receiving the camera. Also, throw in the most overt reveal yet of what happened in the past to get the world to this point.

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Add in a dash of danger and a threat so that this final episode feels just that little bit more dramatic than previous ones. This sends Chito into action in a way we haven’t really seen previously from the character who usually freezes in the moment. It was a wonderfully done segment and also gave us a glimpse as to how Yuuri and Chito’s journey started.

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Then we get a glimpse of the future and this is probably the weakest part of the episode because even though we’ve had plenty of build up this explanation still felt weak and rushed. I would have liked a little bit more from this part of the episode and yet it was still narratively sound and certainly does what it needs to do as part of rounding out this series.

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Finally, we have our feels with the girls reaffirming what we’ve known all along. These two belong together as they perfectly compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There is no doubt that neither girl would be alive without the relationship of trust and understanding that they have. And then they set off continuing their journey upward through the layers even with no knowledge of what they may find or even if there is anything to find.

This show has been beautifully done from start to finish and there is no cause for complaint with this final episode. I look forward to writing my series review for this one.

In the meantime, the reader’s poll for best and worst anime of the season will close at the end of this week. If you haven’t voted click here.


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Girls’ Last Tour Episode 11: Painting a Grim Picture of the Past

Review:

While the whole time we’ve traveled with Chito and Yuuri we’ve been given hints about the society that was once upon a time, this episode is the most blatant yet at suggesting that the old society literally self-destructed through war and weapons. While it isn’t guaranteed that war wiped out most people, the obvious conclusion is that people just found new and better ways to kill each other.

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In this we had a really interesting response from both girls with Chito responding with horror to the weapon they uncovered and accidentally fired and Yuuri responding with childlike joy at the destruction (at least until Chito uncharacteristically punched her).

Of course, we had the ongoing mystery of the ‘cat’ where the episode also drew the parallel between it and the statues the girls found earlier which leads the audience to ask some really interesting questions particularly when you note it seems to eat weapons. However, if that isn’t enough cohesion for you, the series also finally addresses the girls’ helmets and why they wear them.

All and all, this series remains a truly interesting watch.


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Girls’ Last Tour Episode 10: Not Answers But Insight

Review:

Girls’ Last Tour continues to avoid the trap of exposition dumps as it doesn’t explain in detail how the world the girls are exploring came to be. Instead, we continue to be immersed in the world, gaining some insights as we go along and being left with many questions to ponder. It helps that neither of the two main characters really know what happened or why things are the way they are, but they haven’t felt the need to cheat by having them read a history book or find someone who simply spells it all out. The narrative has actually been better for the lack of explanations.

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This episode is pretty straight forward with the girls catching and riding a train, finding themselves somewhere new, the radio Yuuri has smuggled along coming to life, and then finding what might be a cat (I am hesitant to agree that it is a cat, but okay). Still, this show hasn’t been about what is happening, but more how the girls reflect on life and interact and that remains very well done in this episode with many good moments.

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It is amazing how such a seemingly light hearted story can take place in such a bleak setting and how the show manages to remind the audience of the situation the girls are in through subtle reminders such as the nearly empty ration container. These girls aren’t road-tripping for fun. They have to keep moving and looking for supplies in order to survive. Despite the fairly heavy themes, this remains pure joy to watch.


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Girls’ Last Tour Episode 9: Asking the Hard Questions

Review:

Girls’ Last Tour continues to probe at why people are the way they are, what our purpose is, and what it even means to be alive. That said, this isn’t the get a simple moral at the end of the episode kind of thing given the themes of this show are intrinsically woven in to every single thing that happens as Chito and Yuuri continue their mostly endless tour.

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As I mentioned last week, this show continues to draw on ideas and symbols introduced in earlier episodes to continue building cohesion in the world. So even though destinations are not revisited, the ideas and encounters from those locations are not forgotten and all of this makes the world they are exploring make more sense. They don’t leave one area behind to end up somewhere completely disconnected from the reality we were previously exploring.

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Basically, there’s been deep thought put into the construction of this world and narrative but very little clutter as the story delivers thematically complex episodes hidden beneath cute simplicity. It is a really magical combination for a truly relaxing and yet worth while viewing experience.


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Girls’ Last Tour Episode 8: What Is Left Behind?

Review:

This week we get three short stories in the episode where the girls first visit a grave yard of sorts and start thinking about what people have left behind. Yuuri, as usual, has some interesting insights which she then contradicts with her next breath, but she’s still amusing and thought provoking. I also like how the camera continues to be used (and the return of the statues) as the series progresses so even though there’s no real over-arching story here there does feel like forward progress as the girls gain knowledge, memories, and items.

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The second story gives us another rare brush with action and danger as the girls climb another tower. Again, this links back with the previous story climbing the tower including looking at the lift that was broken which is what forced them to try to drive up the spiral. This was a nice break from the usual sleepy nothing and once again showed why the girls make such a good team and the strengths they bring to the partnership.

Lastly, what to do at the end of the world after you explore and don’t really find anything? Try the random golden fluid you found in a bottle of course. I’d be a little more cautious about drinking random liquids, particularly ones that look and smell more like petrol than water, but the girls down quite a quantity of beer under the shining moon light for a very relaxed and cute ending.

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This show continues to be a fun and relaxing watch with just enough poignant moments that you can’t dismiss it as fluff but it seldom gets too serious for too long. Very good watch so far this season.


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Girls’ Last Tour Episode 7: Two Types of People

Review:

It is always a bit of a risk having such a small cast but Girls’ Last Tour has managed to craft two characters that despite their moe like appearances really give the audience plenty to like and to relate to throughout their travels. Their contrasting views on a number of things lend themselves to numerous discussions that border on philosophical but don’t become preachy because both girls fairly readily admit that they don’t really know what is right in the end.

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This week begins with a hunt for the ration factory that Ishii mentioned in the previous episode and it sees Chito facing her fear of heights once again. This gives Yuuri some very good moments as it isn’t often that she gets to be the voice of reason and the calm and collected one of the pair. We also see why this partnership remains in-tact because sometimes it is difficult to see what Yuuri brings to the party but scenes like this one remind us that Chito would pretty much curl up into a ball and never move without Yuuri’s reassuring and fairly strong presence.

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However it is the discussion about the arrows that really brings their personalities into sharp relief. Chito believes it would be easy if life had arrows pointing the way but Yuuri disagrees pointing out it would be boring and wouldn’t it be more fun to see if you could get there a different way. She points to a hole on the other side of the pipe and suggests it would be better to see if they could go that way instead. I found Chito’s question of who wouldn’t follow the arrows quite amusing because I could relate so well to it. I like clear pathways and processes and when I have a marked path I’m not going to stray off of it, so I’ve found myself asking the same question of people. Why wouldn’t you follow the arrows? Yuuri however simply points out she’s a person who wouldn’t follow the arrows. The show doesn’t cast judgement on either side so regardless of whether you like marked paths or prefer to find your own way (or even if you sit on the fence) there’s something in this scene for you to relate to and to contemplate.

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All of this is wrapped up by the cooking sequence where the girls essentially make biscuits and their contented expressions here kind of says it all. They still don’t know where they are going next and they have to first find their way back to their transport. They can’t stay here because the food is almost gone but they have managed to get some supplies. Still, for the time being there is food covered in sugar so these girls are pretty happy with life. Honestly, it is impossible to watch this show and not feel better about things.


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Gilgamesh Series Review: When You Want Something Creepy and Unsettling

With Halloween just passing I really wanted to think of the perfect series to review this week that would fit the theme that I hadn’t already reviewed. Lots of possibilities presented themselves and then I remembered Gilgamesh. It was very odd how I came to find this series. I’d just started watching anime as an adult and had watched a few things on YouTube (downloaded a couple given streaming wasn’t a thing at the time) and I was really trying to branch out beyond the Sailor Moon and Pokemon titles that were kind of the only easily available anime at the time. Then the local video shop had this just sitting on the shelf to rent. I’d never heard of it, had no idea what it was about, but I rented it. When I went back to the shop I noticed they had the box set for sale and I bought it. Admittedly, if I had as much anime available to be me then as I do now, I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at this series, so as I revisited it for this year’s Halloween, I wondered how it had held up after all that time.

Overview:

I actually have no idea how to describe the story here. There was a terrorist attack on an archeological dig and somehow that caused the ‘shimmering sky’ to appear and that somehow stopped technology from working (making this a post apocalyptic story as we pick our characters up many years after this incident in a broken and rapidly falling apart world). Kiyoko and Tatsuya are siblings on the run from debt collectors when they are bought by a woman known as the Countess. She’s using children with special powers to fight some monsters and Tatsuya has the ability she’s looking for.  But you know that’s just kind of the set up and there’s a lot of other stuff going on.

Review:

First and foremost it needs to be said that this series is too ambitious for its own good. It really wants to be an epic tragedy, on par with the legend of Gilgamesh, which it references ad nauseum (seriously, please don’t tell me the story again). The problem is, this story isn’t epic. What it contains are plenty of very small stories and moments that are interwoven, but at no point can any of these stories be seen as anything but petty. Which thematically makes sense because part of the overall message here is that people are petty and a lot of what happens is pointless, but it kind of steals some of the thunder of the grandiose narrative it feels like they were trying to weave together. Gilgamesh however does get the tragedy part as right as you can get it.

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This is not an anime for those who are squeamish about anything. Human experimentation, human trafficking, rape, child molesting, blood and gore, excessive use of military force… pretty much anything you can think of that would be horrible and depressing at the same time finds its way into this story. Which is fine for building a truly horrific atmosphere, and early on the show does an excellent job of setting the scene. The issue is that once the scene is established and we’re kind of waiting for something to develop from all this misery, all we get is a continuation of the same as all the characters are kind of emotionally in a holding pattern before the curtain literally falls on the story and the world. Other than a celebration of everything pointless and miserable about the world and living, there’s really nothing more to this story. Any turning points or small rays of hope are quickly shut down and we find ourselves locked into inevitable tragedy. It becomes hard to take overly seriously by the end of the middle act and as the story reaches its climax, while you are strapped in for the ride you realise that a lot of the earlier tension has evaporated. There’s very little more you could do to any of these characters that would make you feel worse for them so you kind of become numb to the horror of their lives.

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This loss of emotional connection could still be fine except that that narrative doesn’t hold up without the weight of those emotions. While there are plenty of explainers tossed around in the latter half of the series ultimately little of what happens makes sense from a logical point of view. Also, it kind of seems like nothing any of the characters were doing was ever going to stop the concluding act, most of them didn’t even know it was coming, so essentially we just sat and watched a whole bunch of factions fight it out for control of a world that was coming to an end regardless of the outcome of anything they did. While it might seem cool to kill off your cast of characters, when not handled emotionally well or for a strong narrative purpose mostly it just feels like you didn’t really know how to draw your story to a close. The afterward with Kiyoko and the final act of violence lends some narrative purpose at least to the resolution but it isn’t quite enough to make it seem like it was worth it.

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Before I get into characters I want to discuss the visuals of this show (I’m avoiding discussing the music because the opening theme is just wrong for the show and it is better if I don’t speak much about it). The character designs are ugly. Horrendously, distractingly ugly. Yet… Somehow they work for the story being told here. Everything about this world and the people is ugly so somehow having the designs reflect that is kind of an interesting choice. As is the cool beauty of the ‘monsters’ the children are fighting. In a hideous world having a monster that is charmingly alluring is a creepily good choice. The shimmering sky is also beautifully depicted though I note that go out of their way not to show you the sky except when the characters directly refer to it. A lot of scenes the camera angle is directed downward which certainly shows the powerless nature of the characters and also avoids needing to fill in the detail of what the sky should look like. However, visually this story manages to be pretty consistent in creating the atmosphere they seemed to be aiming for early on and the visuals serve their narrative purpose well (albeit with some incredibly obvious symbolism along the way). They just aren’t particularly pretty.

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Finally though I need to address the characters. Much like the story, the presentation of the characters is overly ambitious. They seem to want these characters to be multi-dimensional and layered human beings and they want to build a sense of mystery around these characters that all essentially keep their true self locked down inside. What that means is most of the characters come off as either pretentious or complete jerks. More importantly, as more of the ‘layers’ are revealed to the audience, what we mostly realise is that every character is pretty much the same. Self-centred drama-Queen who thinks the world should be all about what they want. It is possibly a statement that the show was going for but it makes it very hard to like or care for any of these characters.

Kiyoko at times seems like she’s going to be an interesting character as the older sister who is pretty much dismissed as excess baggage because she doesn’t have the power her brother does (she was born before the terrorist attack destroyed the world as everyone knew it). While part of Kiyoko wants to protect her brother, part of her is just sick of having to look after him and be the responsible older sister. She can’t stand the countess, for good reason, she’s got real issues with her parents, and deep down inside she just wants to escape and live her dream. Only even when she does get away from the countess she finds only failure and rejection. Her choice to help one of the monsters might have been an interesting turning point but the reason for her decision is never explored beyond her innate loneliness and sense of isolation so while this still makes her one of the more interesting characters, there’s still a lot missing that would make her seem just a little more real.

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And Kiyoko being the character who gets the most development just makes Tatsuya’s lack of character even more apparent. He’s good at baffled younger brother who after getting a taste of power becomes a little bit arrogant over baffled younger brother. But he’s not clever enough or interesting enough to pull off anything more than this and when things start falling apart, his initial personality reasserts itself and he ends up more or less hiding under Kiyoko under the guise of protecting her.

So having rewatched this through for the first time in a number of years, how did it hold up? Well, it was more or less exactly as I remembered it. It is fascinating and the first third does a beautiful job setting up what feels like it should be an amazingly dark and twisted tale. What follows on from that isn’t a failure but it never quite delivers on what it has promised early on. All and all, one for people looking for something a little bit different, but there’s a lot that could have been improved.


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Black Bullet Series Review

Overview:

In the near future a virus called Gastrea that can turn humans into monsters has broken out. Highly contagious, and very feared, war breaks out but very few survive. Those who do, live in regions surrounded by massive monoliths made of a material called Varanium which repels/hurts the Gastrea. To fight the gastrea, partners made up of a promoter (human) and an initator (one of the female cursed children who contain the Gastrea virus but have a slow rate of infection) fight as civil servants to defend the growing threat to what remains of Tokyo.

Review – This one is going to be spoiler heavy:

I watched Black Bullet once, a few years ago (probably just after it finished airing or sometime around then) and I remember not having liked it very much. Recently I stumbled upon this series on Crunchyroll and tried to remember what my problem with the series was and I drew a blank. Actually, I drew a blank on more or less everything to do with this anime other than the fact that the title didn’t really make a lot of sense. Sure, main character Rentarou does use a gun occasionally, and yes, his bullets are made of varanium which is black, but as he tends to punch or kick things as often as shoot them and the gun has no significance to the story, I’m still totally lost on why the show is called Black Bullet.

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Yes, he is a villain. Can’t you tell?

What I realised while rewatching this was that sitting underneath all the things that either annoyed me or made me feel a little disconnected from the events, is actually a pretty intense story full of rich emotion and great (if slightly obvious) questions about humanity as a whole. Unfortunately, the anime seems determined to help you overlook all of its positives in exchange for the generic and the lame and the balance between the two isn’t great.

Kisara is the best character to exemplify what I mean by this. Going heavily into spoiler territory.

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For most of the series I was wondering why Kisara even existed (having forgotten how the story ended her character seemed entirely superfluous and mostly I’d written her off as the character who would probably die right before the final battle – I know now why that wouldn’t have worked but possibly the story should have done a bit more with her earlier). Anyway, Kisara’s role is completely ill-defined and as a result she’s either absent for extended periods early on (to the point where you forget who se is) or she’s shifting into whichever anime trope they’d currently like her to portray.

Basically, she’s Rentarou’s boss. Though other than one scene early on where she’s telling him off and another later on where she essentially orders him to let her work underneath him (that makes sense) you almost always forget that she ‘runs’ the company. Mostly because the company makes no sense. Why do civil servants need a private company when essentially they get hired more or less directly by the leader of the city anyway? Cut out of the middle man, or lady, so to speak and nothing would have changed.

And it is this absence of any meaningful role that hurts Kisara. As the story goes on you learn that she feel indebted to Rentarou because when her parents died he was horribly injured… tragic back story, childhood promises, angsty teens, got it.

At one point the story sends an assassin after her, because why not? I’m guessing technically they did that because Rentarou was protecting the target but why not send the assassin after the actually civil servant rather than the civil servant’s boss? For a few moments, Kisara gets to show off her cool sword skills that we’ve seen her practice but never use and then somehow, right before Rentarou shows up, she gets to fall and become helpless. Then, a few moments later, she gets to ‘save’ Rentarou before collapsing into his arms all frail and helpless again. Pick a side already. Are you strong and fiery or are you the damsel?

Another point in the series has both Kisara and Rentarou begin teaching at an open air school for the cursed children. They all fall in love for Rentarou (another issue with the show I’m going to get back to later) but Kisara mostly just stands at the front and occasionally interjects a comment. Her presence there would have been completely unmissed if they’d just not drawn her. When the school and all the students are blown up, Rentarou is the one who walks in on the police doing the clean up because Kisara slept in. Rentarou is the one who identifies the bodies and mourns at the hospital before having to deal with Enju (his partner and also a cursed child) as she discovers what has happened and mourns. All Kisara does is wait for him to come back. She taught at the school too, so why doesn’t she get any of these moments?

By the time we get to the end, there’s so many other things happening that Kisara becomes a point that you just kind of toss to the side, which is kind of a mistake given where they take her character in the final episode. If Kisara had been introduced in episode 8 or 9 (as a lot of other characters were) and had taken that character arc to episode 13, it could have been brilliant. From trained fighter but inexperienced in actual combat and starting out with a new partner under someone uncertain of his own command, heart burning with revenge for a previous wrong that was linked to the current wrong, to the character who coldly executes her revenge without another thought and clearly understands that she’s drawn a line between herself and Rentarou, it is an excellent character arc. But you don’t get to enjoy that arc because of all the other rubbish that this character has been put through prior to them using her for anything of value.

Spoilers continuing.

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As I said before that extended ramble, it kind of exemplifies everything I loved and found problematic with this show in one character. Black Bullet has some truly heart wrenching moments and some really interesting moral conundrums to throw at the characters and the audience. It has moments of poignancy that just hit home hard. The final scene with Enju and Rentarou on the train where Rentarou finally lets everything that has happened over the past few days hit him and he breaks down weeping, head buried in Enju’s lap, is the perfect final note for these two characters after everything they’ve gone through. When the show plays the drama and emotion of the scene it gets it right and it does this enough throughout the series that you can’t just dismiss this as frivolous. Yet, it can’t commit to those moments either.

Rentarou could have been a truly interesting protagonist but he is plagued by the every single cursed child falling in love with him syndrome and self-aware harem and pervert jokes being thrown at him by all of the older women in his life (boss, patron, doctor who saved his life and now… hangs around). The relationship Rentarou is forging throughout the series with Enju is touching and heartwarming but when he plays the same big brother character to Tina and the blind girl and everyone else and they just sign up for the ‘I love Rentarou’ club it kind of buries some of the better Enju and Rentarou moments.

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Enju’s insistence that Rentarou is going to marry her isn’t as irritating as it might be in other shows where an overpowered little sister character makes such a declaration. In this, it is heart breaking. You know Enju doesn’t have the time and any dreams she has of growing up are just that, dreams. They will never be fulfilled so Rentarou has no need to puncture that ideal of hers, but you can see it twists a knife into his heart every time she says it.

There’s a moment fairly early in the series where Enju has been to the doctor and they’ve checked her ‘corrosion’ level. Essentially once it hits 50% Enju is going to be killed because otherwise she’s going to turn into a Gastrea. Rentarou lies to her and tells Enju her level is somewhere in the 20’s when in fact she’s in the 40’s. Enju’s time is really close. That’s dramatic and you can see the look on Rentarou’s face as he lies and then in case you didn’t get it, he looks deliberately at the charm she gave him which was meant to break if he didn’t tell the truth and he’s removed it prior to speaking to her. It’s a great moment. That never, ever gets revisited. Enju’s corrosion level never comes up again in the entire series.

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One final issue I had with this before I get on with recommending why you should watch this show anyway despite the fact that I did just spoil most of it, and that is Takuto. I get that in all of these types of stories there’s that one idiot who is out for his own agenda and has it in for the ‘hero’ to the point where he’ll do something stupid. But there’s a time and a place for stupidity. This guy takes it to a new extreme and what really bothers me about this is he doesn’t do it alone. A whole group of soldiers help him sabotage the only line of defence the city has in that final battle. What were they thinking? Even if someone successfully argued that Takuto was just mental, what about the others who contributed to this scheme? If the line falls, all of you are going to die. Did that not somehow sink in? Anyway, Takuto gets the award for an act that is just too stupid for words and that is in a series where one of the earlier antagonists ends up just joining in the final battle because, why not.

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So, yes, Black Bullet has its issues (not the least of which is a title that keeps making me type Black Butler and then having to correct). There’s a ridiculous harem set up, there’s overly cutesy moments thrown in to what is otherwise a fairly grim tale, there’s boob grabs, and totally unnecessary rivalries, and there’s some obviously stupid decision making along the way. Countering all of that though are some truly touching moments, some scenes that know exactly what they are doing, a lot of moral gray areas for our characters to walk, and fight sequences that are pretty good. There’s also a lot of violence and gushy purple/blue liquid usually stained by blood.

There’s no problem when a show tries to mix drama and comedy. Many shows manage to successfully add levity to fairly heavy plots in order to not depress the audience entirely. The issue with this show is it never finds the right balance and you are never quite sure if this was ever supposed to be a serious drama (though the ending kind of leaves no room for doubt that this situation was dark and the cost of survival is high). But that means that for a lot of the run time you are switching between cute girls doing cute things, cute girls killing things, two teenagers out for revenge/justice/money, a whole bunch of other characters with similarly ill-defined motives, and then some monster bug things thrown in just to stir things up. All and all, it is just a little bit messy.

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For my second watch I had a lot of fun with this though I honestly don’t see me going for a third watch. Providing of course I remember it this time.


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