Rare Case When Naive Heroism Doesn’t Win The Day

The Price of Smiles Post Title Image

The Price of Smiles Episode 4 Review

The Price of Smiles is still definitely a mixed bag four episodes in, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even if it doesn’t nail its narrative, I’m happy I stuck with it because it at least feels like it is trying a few things. After this week’s episode I’m particularly impressed with how they are handling Yuuki, post Joshua.

The Price of Smiles Episode 4 Yuuki

Does anyone else find it odd watching the opening and seeing Joshua smiling and waving in central position in so many shots given he lasted all of two episodes and gets some flashbacks?

This episode sees the Princess’s military still fighting a losing retreat as they try to hold a line and evacuate cities being attacked pretty much continuously. At first Yuuki is completely unable to cope with the new situation (keeping in mind that everyone has worked to keep her completely in the dark). She screams at them and asks why they want her approval now when they’ve never asked her before or told her anything. It is a legitimate complaint and one that probably wouldn’t come up under normal circumstances. She doesn’t just smile bravely and do her job but has to take the time to process the new situation.

The Price of Smiles Episode 4 Princess Yuuki

We get a lot of backstory about the death of Yuuki’s parents and a lot of this explains how Leila came into the picture as someone close to Yuuki. Now this is where I felt they were laying coincidences on far too thickly as Leila was also in the explosion that killed Yuuki’s parents and during the course of events she lost her own family, including a blue haired daughter who I’m guessing is not so dead after all and isn’t that a convenient plot development, but Leila also saved Yuuki’s life when she was an infant.

The Price of Smiles Episode 4 Leila serves Yuuki

Still, as interesting as learning what triggered the war all those years ago was, it wasn’t half as interesting as what happened when the Princess decided to actually step up. She went to where the leaders were directing the evacuation and listened as they told her they’d used the technology she’d already told them wasn’t for war. Instead of flying off the handle she accepted that it was necessary to save lives.

The Price of Smiles Episode 4

Then we realise that in the evacuated city there are some civilians making their own stand. Yuuki asks the military leader to save them and he sends in a team to do just that, and they all get killed.

In so many other stories they’d have narrowly saved the day or come up with some clever plan. But here, under-resourced and under-pressure, they try and they fail and the soldiers sent in and the civilians are killed. Yuuki’s face sells the whole scene and it is curious to wonder just how many more blows she can take emotionally given her whole world has literally been upended over the past few days.

The Price of Smiles may not be amazing or revolutionary, but there’s enough interesting ideas being thrown about here and the cast work well enough. I’m having a good time with it and if it actually can develop these ideas without feeling rushed in its run then it could end up being fairly solid. Even if it doesn’t, it has so far proven entertaining enough.

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Karandi James
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TENGEN TOPPA GURREN LAGANN: YOKO
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Why Emma’s Lack of Compromise Is Both Foolish and Brilliant

The Promised Neverland post title image

The Promised Neverland Episode 2 Review

After one of the best premiere episodes I’ve seen in a long time, episode 2 of The Promised Neverland had a lot to live up to, and while I can’t say it 100% did, it was still a very solid episode that has definitely moved the plot and characters along nicely while still managing to ooze atmosphere and tension. The majority of the episode focuses on Norman and Emma considering how they are going to escape as Mother gives a few indications that she’s got her eye on them and messes with their heads a little, before Ray joins the two in their plans. It doesn’t sound all that exciting but much like with episode 1 it is all about the execution. (Some spoilers below.)

The Promised Neverland Episode 2 Mother finds a kid.

However, this is where I did pick a few faults this week. Where episode one had the consistent clock motif throughout the episode, and that is still present in episode 2, a lot of the visual effects this week seem a little disjointed or don’t seem to quite hit the mark. Notably early in the episode where Emma is sitting up in her bed and we seem to be looking at her from the clock’s perspective and the scene sways back and forth like a pendulum. It is kind of clear they are trying to show us how unsettled she is and how unstable things are and yet mostly I just felt queasy and like the scene went on too long. It didn’t pack enough emotional impact for the time it took.

The second effect that I had to look at a couple of times and still didn’t really click with was when Mother and the other children walk past Norman and Emma back into the house and they are trailed by after images. I’m not entirely sure what tone this was supposed to hit but it was another moment where it didn’t draw me into the scene but rather pushed me out of the moment and had me puzzling why they went with that effect rather than following the characters and the scene.

The Promised Neverland Episode 2 - Norman and Emma

Though, with the exception of those sequences, I really liked how this episode was put together. Again we have some very interesting angles used on the characters to show their emotions and relative power, there’s a lot of thought put into the music and sound, and mostly the pacing works exceptionally well at making you feel uncomfortable and waiting for the next moment and then lingers just that little bit longer before moving on.

For me, Emma was the real champion of this episode. Not so much because I like her as a character. She’s pretty generic in terms of the big sister character who wants to be cheerful and protect her family. I like her more because of what she has done for the plot.

The Promised Neverland Episode 2 - Norman and Emma

Because of Emma and her shock and inability to just act like nothing happened, Mother seems suspicious of Emma and Norman. This is the first factor that escalates tension in this episode and ensures we are very carefully watching Mother all throughout the episode to see if she actually knows or is just suspicious. If Norman alone had been the one to find out about Conny, there’d be nothing happening in a lot of these scenes because he’s beautifully playing the role of someone who has no knowledge.

Also, the escape plan that Emma and Norman are cooking up involves saving everyone. All of the children. As Ray points out when he is included in the conversation, that’s stupid. It is nearly impossible and even if they all escape how will they survive afterwards. And honestly, Emma, Norman and Ray believably could escape in a couple of days after snooping around some. But then, where would the excitement be?

The Promised Neverland Episode 2 - Norman, Ray and Emma

No, Emma puts her foot down hard and insists everyone is going to escape. She won’t sacrifice anyone. And Norman sides with Emma because despite being super-logical, he likes Emma and he’s 12. Emma’s decision and her lack of consideration for any compromise, turns what is already a steep task into one that might be insurmountable.

For other shows wanting to raise emotional and narrative stakes, take notes from The Promised Neverland. You don’t have to randomly and gruesomely kill off your cast to make things seem more dangerous. Yes, this anime did kill a character in episode one to establish the overall stakes, but without a single drop of blood being shed, episode 2 managed to build on that drama and craft a compelling path for the story to take. I am very much looking forward to where this story goes from here.

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Karandi James
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The Promised Neverland, Vol. 1
The Promised Neverland, Vol. 1

The Promised Neverland’s First Episode Promises Much, Will It Deliver?

The Promised Neverland post title image

The Promised Neverland Episode 1 Review

I kind of wanted to go with a Peter Pan reference for the title. Something along the lines of, “These kids really won’t grow up,” but it seemed a little bit facetious particularly as I’m going in blind to this series. While I did buy the first volume of the manga it is currently sitting in my reading backlog though after this first episode I’m kind of desperate to go devour it because while I know not everything is out yet this season, but this anime is kind of the one I’m most excited about right now.

The Promised Neverland Episode 1 Emma and friends

There was a lot of hype in the pre-season about The Promised Neverland, but after the snore-fest that Angels of Death turned out to be I have definitely become better at filtering out pre-season chatter. I went in to this episode expecting very little and instead found a well directed, well structured, and beautifully paced premiere that instantly drew me into this story and these characters. Every single scene feels meaningfully thought out and nothing takes up more screen time then it should. The establishment of the happy orphanage with the understanding that things are not what they seem is beautifully portrayed and while you may not know what the actual reveal is going to be, you have a fair idea of Conny’s fate.

The Promised Neverland Episode 1 Conny

See, this isn’t relying on shock factor. It isn’t relying on a jump scares. It is genuinely building up a world where things are genuinely horrific for the characters and while the audience is let in on the wrongness of the world through a myriad of visual cues, we discover exactly what that wrongness is at the same time as the characters in a sequence that manages to make our protagonists look as small and vulnerable as they actually are in this world.

The Promised Neverland Episode 1 Emma and Norman

While I won’t deny things might go south for this series, the first episode was a fantastic introduction to this world. It revealed enough to make it feel purposeful while giving us a million questions. At the same time, it has given me the confidence to believe the answers to those questions are going to be explored.

I will definitely be watching this one. For an anime title tagged with horror, this one comes across as fairly smart and so far has been incredibly engaging, and I will admit I am far more intrigued by the sci-fi aspect after the second half of the episode. All and all, this one has hooked me and I am hungry for more.

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Karandi James
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HAIKARAWALKER BY SPLATOON 2
HAIKARAWALKER BY SPLATOON 2

Caligula Series Review: Virtual Reality is Cool – Do You Really Need Plot?

Caligula Episode 5

Caligula Series Review

Caligula has the distinct honour (dishonour) or being the anime I watched this year that I just cannot find any merit in having sat through it. That isn’t to say that there aren’t a few good moments scattered throughout the 12 episodes, but I will admit that I was definitely breathing a sigh of relief as that final episode ended because it meant it was all over.

Caligula Episode 5

I think what frustrated me with this show was that I very much went into it wanting to like it. Virtual world with people trapped inside is a formula that’s been done more or less to death at this point but I’m a fan of a lot of these types of stories so that wasn’t a problem. There were cool character designs, some interesting music, and the basic idea of an AI wanting to make people happy and failing at it miserably all could have been interesting.

Caligula Episode 11

Even if the plot had just kind of dribbled along as it did, if the characters had been compelling or if they’d actually gotten into any of the ideas of whether living in the virtual world was real or not, or looked at the Musicians (the villains) and their motives with any kind of depth or desire to really explore the human condition, I still might have  really enjoyed this. Unfortunately, each episode I walked away and just kind of felt the entire thing was a little bit (okay a lot) juvenile.

Caligula Episode 9

Massacres and emotional releases/revelations are littered throughout the episodes of this series but none of them are ever given any weight. It is more that the writers seemed to get bored with all the talk and endless snack eating and so suddenly dropped one of these scenes in. The powers the kids unlock within themselves look cool but are poorly explained and ultimately serve little purpose. And given we’re almost at the end of the series before the characters decide to reintroduce themselves to one another (I guess they realised no one in the audience had a clue who these characters were or why we should care about them) it becomes really apparent that the characterisation and writing in this anime just aren’t up to scratch.

Caligula Episode 10

Now, I know some viewers had fun watching this. And I guess if you just want to go along for the ride there are some flashy fights, the music is pretty great (the one thing I won’t criticise), and it does in fact resolve at the end even if that resolution makes no sense. But for me, this is the anime I wish I had walked away from this year. It just didn’t do anything for me in the end except make me think about how much better it might have been.

I’m not going to drag this out anymore. I just didn’t like this anime. I never connected with a single character, the plot at first kind of meandered giving us glimpses at some possibly half-decent discussion about psychology and the like and then it derailed itself and just kind of blew stuff up for awhile before it got to some kind of ending, and so many of the ideas it presented just never went anywhere. Part of me really wishes that maybe this will get another anime one day just to tell the story with less clutter. In the meantime, I’m clearly not recommending this one. There are plenty of better anime out there.

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CALIGULA: OVERDOSE [LIMITED EDITION] (CHINESE & ENGLISH)
CALIGULA: OVERDOSE [LIMITED EDITION] (CHINESE & ENGLISH)

Space Battleship Tiramisu Zwei Episode 4: Velcro Wallets and Cockpit Stickers

Space Battleship Tiramisu Episode 4

Space Battleship Tiramisu Zwei continues the trend of focusing on the minutia for its humour with this week both Isuzu and Subaru getting called on fairly petty things by minor characters.

Space Battleship Tiramisu Episode 4

In Isuzu’s case, one of his compatriots who has clearly been given an artificial universal sense joins him  for a drink which he then makes her pay for. That said, it isn’t that part that tips her over the edge. She’s still a little put out but she’d probably have coped. No, what tips her over the edge is firstly that his wallet is a velcro one and very different from her illusion of what he would carry and then that he asks for her points on his card. In a show that sets brothers against each other in an epic space battle, this is what we spend half an episode on, and yet it is where this anime actually manages to hit its mark because it is all just so overblown it ends up being funny.

Space Battleship Tiramisu Zwei Episode 4

Then the robot head decides to leave Subaru and ends up going to the cockpit of the Neo-Durandel where he meets the AI. Now the AI is also incredibly petty having finally found someone to voice complaints to. And of all the things it could complain about, it gets stuck on the fact that Subaru has been sticking stickers to his outside.

Space Battleship Tiramisu Zwei Episode 4

However, all this means that once again the overall plot has screeched to an absolute halt and while the episode was amusing enough it all amounts to very little other than six minutes of filled in screen time.

On that note, this is probably my last episode review for this one as it really is just the same thing each week. I will do a full season review once it is done provided I get to the end of the season.

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KAWAII KAWAII NEKO NO KABURIMONO - 2019 DESKTOP CALENDAR

Steins;Gate 0 Series Review: Here We Go Again, Again

Right from episode one of Steins;Gate 0 I kind of sat on the fence about whether or not I was on board with this most recent addition to the Steins;Gate anime world. Overall it was an up and down experience but now we come to the final review and I have to figure out exactly how I feel about this show.

Review:

Steins;Gate 0 takes on the task of exploring an alternative time-line, one in which Mayuri lets Okabe stop trying to save Kurisu and as such we see an Okabe Rintaro we have never seen before. This is an Okabe who has given up his delusions, his manic laughter, and even the white lab coat because he’s just a student suffering from some severe depression with a huge fear that something will happen to destroy the peace he sacrificed so much to achieve. But things are never that easy (that was easy) and soon Okabe is going to be plunged back into conspiracies and time travel intrigues whether he wants to be or not.

We also have the involvement of America and Russia, the need to stop World War 3, and an AI based on Kurisu who may or may not be a real character but ultimately is fairy unexplored compared with what they could have done.

Steins3d

I will admit, the idea of seeing Okabe as a more ‘normal’ person and seeing him dealing with the fallout of failure is an interesting concept. The problem is how this impacts on the overall tone of the show. It isn’t just Okabe who lacks energy and charisma. The entire cast takes a hit and the beloved chemistry and rapid fire dialogue that permeated the original Steins;Gate anime is gone for the vast majority of 0’s run-time. This could have worked if they’d spurred Okabe into action earlier after giving us a taste of this alternative version of him but it went on for so long and even after he’d been given every reason to get back to time travel he continued to dig in his heels and refuse. While this is believable as a human to not want to change a hard made decision, it doesn’t make for overly compelling viewing.

That said, it isn’t as though this season is devoid of good moments. We get some fantastic moments between Mayuri and Okabe. Mayuri was a fairly underused character in the original as she ended up more of a plot device than anything else and in Steins;Gate 0 she becomes the driving force for a lot of the action. She fully understands that it is her fault Okabe has essentially lost sight of who he was and while she isn’t planning on abandoning him anytime soon, she very much wants to bring Hououin Kyouma back to life and she’s happy to break time and space to do it.

Steins;Gate 0 Episode 17 - Mayuri

We also get a great episode where Okabe for whatever reason ends up in an alternative time line where Kurisu is still alive and essentially she gives him a pep talk before sending him back. This was one of the few moments in the first half of the show where we see the rapid fire dialogue and chemistry that is sorely missing from so much of this anime. Not to mention it is Kurisu and Okabe together again in a way that just makes you realise how lacking Amadeus, the AI based on Kurisu, is as a substitute.

I’ll also say that from episode 20 to 23 we get a fairly solid run to a conclusion and these episodes are actually very entertaining. Part of me almost wishes they’d done this series in 12 episodes and condensed everything before episode 20 into 8 episodes and then maybe it wouldn’t have felt so bloated and it could have been a tight series keeping us on our toes. It is very rare for me to wish less episodes on an anime but I really feel content-wise this anime just didn’t have enough for its run time.

Steins11a

And that brings us to some of the real issues I was having, other than just not enjoying the characters very much this time around. The question of should we or shouldn’t we mess with time lacks weight here because we’ve already had it explored. We get that Okabe is scarred but his arguments for not building and using the machine are weak and ultimately we know he’s going to have to. With this central premise more or less dead in the water, there are other avenues the anime could explore but ultimately not a lot came of them.

For instance, episode 12 spends a great deal of time constructing a bootstrap paradox. One of the characters from the future (travelled with Suzuha) is singing a song that she heard from someone and they try to track down the song’s origins. We go around in circles before realising that Okabe taught it to the others but he heard it from the girl when she’d travelled back in time and so the question remained where did the song come from. It was an entire episode to set up a paradox that ultimately served zero purpose. And while it still could have been fun given time travel shows inherently do have paradoxes in them and this one seemed to plunge us into it just for the fun of it, ultimately it just felt like more clutter and distraction from where we knew the story would have to go.

Steins2c

The AI is perhaps the part that suffers the worst from this. There are so many ideas and questions that could have been explored with Amadeus. And while the anime certainly walks around the edges of whether or not the AI is a person given it has the same thoughts and memories as a person, very little is done with this. Nor do they open up obvious questions such as how this will change people if we could in fact copy our thoughts and memories into a program. Or what it could be used for. Or even the ethics of erasing it. While we get an emotional sequence where all the characters kind of say goodbye, the anime isn’t really interested in asking whether or not this could be considered murder if we could consider the AI a character. I’d have loved for them to do more with this.

There are also a whole bunch of characters who ultimately just don’t serve much purpose here and lots of red-herrings just because.

Steins;Gate Episode 22 - Daru and Miho

Steins;Gate 0 did introduce us to Maho though and while at first I wasn’t really sold on her character she actually did a good job integrating with the core cast by the end. At the very least she served a fairly valuable plot point and her interactions with Daru and Okabe were pretty good by the end.

And while we’re on that point, Daru certainly came out of Steins;Gate 0 leaving a better impression than the original. So in terms of fleshing out Daru and Mayuri, this spin off really succeeded.

Steins23d

Ultimately that is what will determine your overall enjoyment of this show. If just seeing more of these characters is enough and those few glimpses of development are sufficient to make you happy, here are 23 episodes for you to sink your teeth into. However, in terms of giving a great story, Steins;Gate 0 relies to much on nostalgia for these characters and it stretches things out and has too much that feels like filler to really be something amazing. I’m not unhappy that I watched this but it isn’t exactly blowing me away.

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Steins Gate 0 Soundtrack

The Girl in Twilight Episode 3: She’ll Never Become Chocolate Banana?

The Girl in Twilight Episode 3

I kind of decided early in this episode I really don’t like Nana as a character. Despite her turning point this episode she just really rubbed me the wrong way early on in this episode and her inconsistencies and incredibly silly decision making just made me hope that somehow she’d be left behind in the parallel world.

The Girl in Twilight Episode 3 - Nana

Firstly we get the ridiculousness of her deciding to stay in the world because she’s getting married to a hot celebrity. That’s a really random decision to stay in a world that forces girls to get married at seventeen and you have no idea what else is changed in this new world, plus you are giving up your entire world and friends that you actually know. Then she changes her mind because she finds out his real last name when combined with her first name makes it sound like chocolate banana and she vowed she would never marry someone who made her name sound sillier than it was (how shallow is she).

The Girl in Twilight Episode 3

However, if that wasn’t enough we then learn that the step-father is actually a pretty nice guy who saved Nana’s crystal radio from the rubbish when he first moved in with them and is actually trying to protect her. So her hissy fit last week is even less warranted. We also learn that Nana’s stubborn refusal to join the radio club is just more childish actions on her part.

The Girl in Twilight Episode 3

Despite everything I just said about disliking Nana as a character, this episode was a decided step up from last week. It isn’t just that we got a cool fight sequence in which Nana, the girl of the hour, got a transformation sequence. It is just more intrigue into this whole idea of what twilight is and the ‘King of Twilight’ that not-Asuka is trying to find (though part of me wonders if there is a King of Twilight or if the Twilight world itself is sentient which would be a cool twist but hard to fight.

The Girl in Twilight Episode 3

Anyway, I enjoyed this episode well enough but it seems this anime is going to be a rolling case of some moments that really work and others that make me want to bang my head into the key-board. Inconsistencies aside, there are some good ideas at play here.

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FIGMA NO. 392 POKEMON: LIVELY LILLIE