The Silver Guardian Series Review

Overview:

The synopsis on Crunchyroll tells me this is the story of Suigin saving Riku Rei. It kind of starts that way from about episode 2 to episode 4 or 5. After that I’m not so sure even the writers knew what this show was actually about. I reviewed this show weekly so if you are interested in my episode thoughts click here.

Review:

While I will admit this show is not as toxic as something along the lines of Hand Shakers, it must be said that this is probably my second biggest regret for the year that I didn’t just drop it at episode 1. Part of me kept hoping this would turn into something like Spiritpact and build on its strengths recovering from a poor first episode, and while the first half of the series certainly showed promise, the second half just kind of gave up caring.

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But rather than just hit out with poor comparisons and the like, I should probably review the show itself. The problem is, I don’t have much to say because everything is still kind of in introductory mode even though we’re 12 episodes in. A season 2 is apparently on the cards (why I do not know) but it isn’t until next year and by them I’m pretty sure nobody is going to remember this even came out.

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Keeping it simple then, let’s look at characters. Suigin is the main character and he is generic, nice protagonist model C with a side dish of poor student / obsessed gamer just in case we didn’t think he had any distinguishing traits. Oh, and he wears a red scarf. This seems significant in episode 1 and in the opening but never after that.

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Riku Rei starts out looking like she might be a character. The opening narration is done by her in episode 1. She’s the kidnap victim that sends Suigin racing around trying to save her (for about half an episode before we just get into random game play situations). Her father developed the game that she’s apparently trapped in after his murder. It kind of seems like she should have some personality but nope.

Everyone else is pretty much forgettable including the one note villains who don’t have anywhere near enough presence to be considered memorable or interesting.

The story itself is simple enough but for some reason the show doesn’t want to focus on the story. Suigin, go save Riku Rei. This isn’t that hard a concept to get. Why are you raiding that tomb? Why are you out of the game at all given she’s inside it? Why haven’t you actually finished the tutorial yet? Oh, and why are we watching some random players randomly playing? How do they relate? The second half of this show is maddeningly frustrating in how it wants to stretch out its wafer-thin plot as far as it possibly can even if that means smashing the wafer to pieces and scattering the dust from here until wherever the end of the series actually is.

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Visually, it works. The music is pretty cool at times. individual fights are kind of interesting. But as a whole this is one to skip. Short episodes or not (13 minutes), we all have better things to do than wait for this show to find its own plot.


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Hellsing Series Review

Overview:

Alucard is a vampire serving the Hellsing organisation and pretty much eliminating other undead and things. This is a review of the 2002 anime series, not Hellsing Ultimate.

Review:

Seriously, this show sounds like it should be right up my ally. We’ve got vampires, horror, violence, secret organisations, it should be a blast. That said, I put off watching this for a fair while because I’d previously watched the first episode and was left feeling pretty meh about the entire series. However, this one came around on my list of watched and dropped anime to give a second go to and given it is available on AnimeLab I gave it a go and made it through to the end. But I probably shouldn’t have.

For an anime made in 2002, this already looks kind of dated. Alucard of course looks amazing as the creature of the night and his Japanese voice really suits him sounding both menacing and seductive. Outside of Alucard, the other character designs are all kind of flat when they aren’t outright ugly. They serve their purpose but they are hardly something to draw you in to the story. Similarly, the occasional setting will grab your attention but too often we’re in generic hallway A, or walking past generic building B. Visually it just isn’t a very appealing show and this is a show that splashes around copious amounts of my very favourite colour and it still didn’t manage to appeal.

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If I get over the fact that this looks its age and focus on the story, the issues actually get worse. While there is an ongoing narrative around an unusual number of vampires showing up and some chip creating vampires that they are investigating, mostly it feels like freak of the week shows up, the expendable human characters get expended (why were there even humans still working for these organisations), and then the vampire/s go in and clean up the mess. There’s the occasional point of interest with conspiracies and media interaction, but mostly its just a by the numbers set up and deliver kind of story.

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All of this is fine for a horror really. Low budget horror movies have kind of made me immune to poor visuals and generic storylines that aren’t that engaging, but there still needs to be some hook. Are the characters interacting well? Is there some sort of twist or surprise? Do we just deliver the same old horror with a lot of energy? Hellsing kind of doesn’t achieve any of these. Seras Victoria is about the only other character I vaguely cared about outside of Alucard, and she was still incredibly boring as she transitioned from human to vampire. Integra, as the leader of Hellsing, was probably my least favourite character and more than once I found myself wishing something would bite her, which given her limited screen time was impressive that she managed to irk me that much.

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Basically, this was my own fault. The first episode of this didn’t grab me the first time I watched it. Even this time, I wasn’t really keen on it and yet I just kind of pushed through. I became increasingly distracted during the watch and started making excuses to delay the next episode. That’s probably why my review is light on details. I wasn’t paying enough attention after about episode 4 so maybe it has some amazing plot twist that just went straight over my head.

At some point, I do want to check out Hellsing Ultimate, but I’m not going back to this series again. I’ve made it to the end, it is watchable, but ultimately I just don’t see that this is really worth the time investment when there are more interesting stories out there.


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Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions Series Review

Overview:

Yuuta Togashi suffered from a condition known as Chunibyo in middleschool where he pretended he was the Dark Flame Master and had magic powers. Now he’s going to high school and he’s chosen one where no one from his middle school will know him looking for a fresh start as a ‘normal’ student. Unfortunately for him, on his first day he meets Rikka Takanashi who not only seems to have Chunibyo, she’s determined to drag him into her delusions as she searches for the Unseen Horizon.

Review:

If you’re thinking from the overview that this is another high school kids learning how to grow up and find out who they are anime, you aren’t entirely wrong. That is at the core what this show is about. How we grow as people and what we give up or choose to hold onto as we transition between being a child and being an adult. In that sense this show is truly wonderful because it looks at this idea from a number of different views that I’ll get into later but that isn’t all the show has on offer.

I actually watched this anime after watching an AMV someone had put together about it. I knew nothing else going in so was kind of surprised about the more serious topics in the anime. The AMV had essentially clipped every scene of make believe, the visual representations of Rikka’s fights against the Priestess (her older sister), and other ‘delusions’ the characters have throughout the series and it made it seem like the show actually was a fantasy. Actually, even watching the show, at times you had to question whether the twist at the end was going to be that these characters actually did have some unseen power because they intensely believe and buy into their own concepts at times and the way these play out are quite brilliant. But no, not a fantasy. And the characters aren’t actually all that delusional given at their core they know the difference between reality and their dream but at times choose to take refuge in the dream. The only difference between them is how strongly they deny certain aspects of reality.

So this show offers some fairly complex questions about characters, how we perceive and accept reality, and also some excellent visual spectacle resulting in some truly awesome fight sequences that bring quite a bit of excitement in short bursts throughout the series.

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Still, the selling point of the show is undeniably the characters themselves. Yuuta and Rikka are absolutely charming in their lead roles. While Yuuta has decided to accept the world’s definition of normal at the start of the series and has packed away all of his paraphernalia collected during middle school into boxes, Rikka is truly still embracing the world she herself has created. The contrast between the two and their initial clashing as Rikka tries to convince Yuuta that as the Dark Flame Master he is essential on her quest and his insistence that she act a bit more normal plays out well. And the series could have left it as being that simple. Guy who previously strayed from being normal guides weirdo girl back into the world, thus saving her from social ridicule. But that isn’t where this show chooses to leave its narrative.

Yuuta’s vision of what it means to be normal might more firmly align with the rest of the world, but it is a vision he has constructed of a ‘normal’ high school life. It is every bit as delusional as his idea about being the Dark Flame Master. It’s a new role with a new costume and new rules, but it is just another role he is playing, and even he realises at times that his insistence that Rikka is in the wrong early in the series is unfair. At the same time, he doesn’t allow himself to all totally back into the delusion because he does have to function in society. By the end of the series, Yuuta very clearly takes on the role of a bridge between Rikka and the rest of the world. He understands where she is coming from but finally realises that imposing his view of normal upon her is equivalent to destroying or denying her very identity.

This isn’t a transition that happens instantly and Yuuta sways back and forth between the normal and delusional poles crafted by the show. Early on he’s convinced not to throw away all those boxes and he puts them back in his room. Later they get opened and some of the objects get put back into use. He isn’t entirely casting aside a highly significant part of who he was. The thing is, he’s happier as he accepts his past and those aspects of him that still feel the need to strike a pose when holding a toy gun or sword. Rikka may be ‘weird’ but by being with her, he finds a way to accept himself and some of those parts of him that others might deem childish or delusional.

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In contrast, Rikka stays true to who she is for most of the series. However, the final act delivers the inevitable. The understanding that to get on with others (in this case her mother) and to move on in the world, Rikka realises she needs to be ‘normal’. What follows is a truly bizarre couple of episodes where this once vibrant person becomes a shell of who they are. Questioning everything they do and say and trying to determine what is normal anyway. Seeing Rikka in this state is distressing and watching Yuuta encourage her efforts while being inwardly torn (because while he understands this is part of growing up – or at least he thinks it is – he actually misses Rikka being Rikka) is almost heart breaking.

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For Sanae, one of the supporting cast and another character who has fully embraced Rikka’s delusions, she is genuinely heart broken by this transition. Seeing this enforced and highly artificial normalcy and the impact it has on these characters sends a truly powerful message about our expectations of people and how we view the world.

It is a shame that we view Rikka’s internal struggle through the eyes of Yuuta. Admittedly, the story would have been far too fractured to be affective from her perspective, and we would have already known why she chose to embrace her particular delusion if it had been from her point of view, but in this sequence seeing her thoughts on this process would have really hit hard. Still, Yuuta’s own inner conflict as being the catalyst for a lot of this pain has a pretty powerful impact and it takes away the potential argument that Rikka wanting to return to how she was is a selfish act. If it had been her perspective, it would have been too easy to write her off as willful. Viewing the conflict externally and through others really allows you to feel true sympathy for her as a character.

This theme of everyone embracing a delusion to a certain extent is carried across most of the support cast and becomes part of a conversation between two characters toward the end of the season. I honestly think the show would have been better without that conversation as it kind of took a message that had been powerfully demonstrated and hit us over the head with it like a blunt instrument, but at least thematically this show is very cohesive.

I haven’t touched on many negatives with this anime. They exist. Some of the characters will wear on your nerves at times while others you’ll find charming. Development of characters outside of Yuuta and Rikka exists but to a far lesser extent and some characters remain very much a one line descriptor. Certain events early in the show really do end up being just filler and there’s a few obligatory high school anime moments that don’t really add much to the overall narrative. Still, I had a lot of fun with this show. It won’t be for everyone because it is a high school anime with cute girls and all the usual tropes, but I think the overarching narrative here had enough solid ideas to really keep my interest and the visual spectacle of the delusions playing out certainly keep things exciting.

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I’d strongly recommend at least giving the show a go though it won’t be for everyone. There are some very cool moments, some very funny moments, and if you make it through to the end of the season you will probably cry at least once. There is a season 2 of this which I will review after another rewatch (I’ve only watched season 2 once so need to watch a bit more carefully). I don’t like it as much but it actually does take Yuuta and Rikka’s relationship a bit further and continues the overall idea of what growing up is like.

If you’ve seen this anime I would love to know your thoughts so please leave a comment below.


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Shugo Chara Series Review

Overview:

Amu is an ordinary girl but her classmates see her as having a cool and spicy personality. She just wants to be cute and normal and find the courage to confess to the Prince of the school, Tadase. After making a wish one night, she wakes up to find three eggs in her bed. When the eggs hatch, Amu’s life is going to change as the school Guardians know she’s got them and suddenly want her to become the Joker.

Review:

In case you didn’t pick it up from the super shiny pink colour scheme or the overview, Shugo Chara is another magical girl series, though technically there are as many magical boys in this show as girls so we’ll leave that to the side for now. Essentially if you are up for transformation, ridiculous costumes, a monster of the week that mostly seems ineffectual but somehow helps our hero learn more about herself and others, before building to a massive overly emotional final battle, then Shugo Chara is the show for you.

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In this version of the magical girl/kids with super powers story various young people have a guardian egg and for those with particularly strong dreams or wishes the eggs become visible and may hatch into guardian characters. The guardian characters can do a character change with their owner which gives them some power though they are still strictly human at that point. For Amu, when she does a character change with Ran, she becomes very enthusiastic and becomes really good at sports (cheerleader). Going a further step, they might be able to do a character transformation where they get a full transformation sequence and then the powers get really over the top. By the way, don’t break the egg. Bad idea.

Though it probably wouldn’t be fair to simply leave it at that because even within the magical girl genre there’s quite a bit of variety. Shugo Chara manages to be one of those adorably sweet shows that has just enough actual drama and heartache to keep it from tipping into cavity territory. Mostly that is because of the two older characters in the cast, Ikuto and Utau. Even though they are still students, admittedly older than our fifth grade protagonists, they have enough of a tragic back story for to fill an entire young adult novel all on their own.

So rather than skipping all over the place with this I’m going to take a plus/minus approach to this show.

Plus +

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Pretty much every encounter between Amu and Ikuto is golden. Whether it is early in the story where Ikuto is strictly set up as the dangerous bad-boy, or later on where you start to see him as the stray cat, or further down the story where you realise he really is just a lonely teenager starved for actual relationships, his encounters with Amu really are the highlight of the show, and not just because his character change turns him into a cat boy and quite adorable with his ears out. This relationship is enough to keep you going through the many episodes of this series (there’s 51 in the first series of Shugo Chara and then it just keeps going).

Minus –

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The rest of the guardians from the school (King, Queen, Jack, and Ace). While each of them get a moment at some point in the series, and the King, Tadase, is technically set up as Amu’s actual lover interest early on, to be perfectly honest I’m not sure these characters serve any point other than this show decided it wanted a team of 5 people. For a large majority of the series the other guardians can’t do character transformations so their powers are pretty limited, and to be honest Tadase’s character change is incredibly annoying. Even after they can do character transformations, most of them aren’t overly helpful. Yaya in particular has the most ridiculous costume ever and her attack remains laughable. I kind of get that Amu developed as a character through the support these guys gave her, but they could have easily given her one or two friends who would have served the same essential role and then they wouldn’t have had to keep coming up with excuses to make the rest of the cast relevant.

Plus +

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If you want something kid safe, this one is more or less a winner. While some of the themes around Ikuto are a bit more mature there is no foul language, no overt nudity (although a couple of the costumes are a little on the skimpy side), and the violence is fairly limited to magical attacks rather than weapons (with one or two exceptions).

Minus –

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Do not expect a complex storyline. The plot is strictly formulaic. At first the guardians are on a quest to find the embryo, some magical thingy that will apparently grant a wish. The evil company, Easter (not joking), is also trying to seek the embryo. Incidentally, both Ikuto and Utau are either working for or controlled by Easter for a fair amount of the series, as does a teacher who comes to the school. The guardians have the genius plan of randomly running around and hoping they spot it (seriously, I don’t think ever come up with a better plan because they are strictly reactive in terms of seeking the thing) whereas Easter has the even more genius plan of corrupting other kid’s eggs and turning them into x eggs, which sends them on a rampage requiring them to be purified by Amu etc, etc. Occasionally Easter comes up with plans in order to collect large number of heart’s eggs at once and are essentially ripping the dreams out of small children but seriously, their plans kind of remind me of most of the throw away villains from Sailor Moon. Some of the subplots fare better with Utau and Amu at one point swapping eggs and being forced to confront each other and their own weaknesses and Ikuto’s entire plot line is fairly interesting, but the overall story is as cookie cutter as they come in this genre.

Plus +

There is some really good music in this series. Okay, the theme songs are catchy but fairly horrendous when you think about them but within the show itself you have Utau who is an idol and regularly performs. Because Easter runs an entertainment company there are quite a lot of episodes that feature performances from various bit characters. However, the true stand out would be Ikuto on the violin. It is no wonder Amu tracked that sound down in the park because it was beautiful.

Minus –

It never really felt like there was much point in Amu having 3 and then 4 guardian characters. Admittedly, it was used as a plot point toward the end and early on it was showing that she didn’t have one clear dream but other than Ran, the other two guardians don’t get to do much, and the final one doesn’t come until very late into the show. It just felt like they could have done more with that.

Plus +

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A final plus to finish on, Amu is the kind of heroine I could get behind. While she tries really hard sometimes to be upbeat, most of the time she is full of self doubt and confusion. She doesn’t really get the guardian eggs or why she needs to fight and she certainly doesn’t understand her feelings for either Tadase or Ikuto. I like that she is essentially a good person but she is a kid. She starts the story in the fifth grade and while her outer persona may be super cool sometimes, you never really forget how young she really is. Over the course of the series I came to really admire her because she didn’t run away from her problems (although she did occasionally sulk) but neither was she the super positive, we can do it, kind of protagonist that just kind of gets on your nerves after awhile.

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Realistically, this show is kind of average in every respect. It is completely watchable and if you are in to the genre it is very binge worthy, however it is also quickly forgettable save one or two minor plot lines. It is cute and adorable and if you want a show where love, friendship, and dreams will eventually win the day, it is well worth checking out.


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Cuticle Detective Inaba Series Review

Overview:

Hiroshi Inaba is a part human and part wolf detective who can extract amazing amounts of information as well as develop certain powers from tasting hair (so yeah, hair fetish incoming). Anyway, together with his two assistants, Inaba works to foil Don Valentino’s schemes.

Review:

This show was not for me. I don’t even remember why I watched it though I suspect this was the result of a random draw on Crunchyroll and a lack of desire to make a decision so just went with it. The basic concept of genetically modified people with the characteristics of animals is kind of cool. Inaba could have been a great character and some of the different powers he gets from consuming different coloured hairs are pretty amazing. Unfortunately the show is determined to be a gag comedy and not actually develop any of its interesting points.

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I’m going to keep this review fairly short because I haven’t really got much to say. There are some interesting cast members in this show and even the ones who end up one-note characters repeating the same joke episode after episode, had the potential to be interesting. However, the show insists on squandering characterisation and any potential growth you might see in a character is very quickly squashed.

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Kei is the straight man of the group with his only real hang-up being his poverty and unfortunate attraction to cats given his allergies, but even then he is underused. At times he breaks the 4th wall to provide commentary but mostly this is also used as a gag and offers little actual insight that couldn’t have already been observed. His own comments throughout the episodes are mostly obvious and never quite go far enough for him to be particularly note worthy in any way shape or form.

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The villainous goat, Don Valentino, could have been fantastic given how over the top he is but his schemes end up looking like something Wile E Coyote would give a pass on and the inevitable conclusion to most of them just makes it a bit tiresome after awhile.

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Basically, this show is functional enough and it tries really hard to make you believe it is going to be zany fun but for me it was mostly a miss. I just wanted more from the characters and the story and this show just couldn’t deliver.

Have you seen Cuticle Detective Inaba? What were your thoughts?


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Friday’s Feature: My Hero Academia and Hero Culture

Okay, I’ve been reading a lot of My Hero Academia posts over the last couple of weeks as my recent In Case You Missed It post kind of highlighted and what I’ve really loved about these posts is the range of issues and topics they have covered. Given how excited I’ve been about this show the last few weeks it did make me want to write about it but I’m pretty sure my thoughts are still really confused as this is a series the packs a lot of social commentary into what is otherwise a relatively simple shonen anime.

So while I’d like to delve into the school system and a few of the other issues bubbling along in this show I decided I’d start with the main point of the show and that is the idea of being a hero. When I first read the premise for season 1 of My Hero Academia and realised in the world they were creating almost everyone had a super power I couldn’t help but think of Syndrome from the Incredibles.

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It seemed like by giving everyone a hero that having powers would cease to be something special and as a result things should just level out and everyone be back on the usual playing field so how would they make that setting unique. Obviously the few without powers really did get a raw deal and would probably face discrimination (kind of directly opposed to something like X-Men where it is the minority with powers who are facing continuous discrimination) and the story was going to focus on a character who wasn’t born with a power so maybe that would be something. However, they rapidly overcome that particular hurdle by transferring a power to him (admittedly one he still can’t control properly). Whichever way, back to the original point in that you have to wonder how a story where everyone has some sort of power will actually be interesting and not just a case of endless one upping.

What Syndrome’s theory fails to take into consideration is that even in the world of The Incredibles, some super heroes stand above others. This is an issue My Hero Academia takes very seriously even if it isn’t always front and centre.

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The obvious example from season one is All Might (that name is so pretentious). He’s the epitome of heroism if one assumes all the typical clichés for someone being classed as a superhero hold true. From physical appearance and prowess to his courageous acts of rescues and even the way he speaks with confidence and yet just enough humility that you don’t want to smack him one for being completely egocentric. This is a very deliberately contrived persona that All Might has donned and his motives for it are clearly explained as is the consequence of his power quickly failing him. All Might is a symbol in this world. A world full of people with absolutely incredible powers and yet someone who is strong, fast, and good for the sake of being good, still stands above as an icon and something to strive toward for young people, and something to fear for villains.

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But what happens when his power leaves? Midoriya, being Midoriya, has learned All Might’s secret and knows All Might’s time as a hero is limited but still looks up to and admires All Might. For Midoriya, it isn’t just that All Might was strong, it was his attitude and way of living that inspired and even the loss of his physical prowess is insufficient to snuff out Midoriya’s fan boy focus.  However, I think we might all agree that Midoriya and his overall attitude is something of an anomaly in the world of My Hero Academia.

How will the rest of the world respond once All Might’s power leaves him for good, or even leaves him when he is exposed to the public? Will his many years of service and hard work be respected or will he be ridiculed and cast aside? Worse still, would he be left to the mercy of the villains who so far have been kept in check by his mere presence?

From what we’ve seen of this world and the way that it measures strength and worth, you would have to unfortunately believe that even if he wasn’t scorned he would most definitely be cast aside. Serving no further use as either a rescuer or deterrent he would literally just become another has been and fade into the dark recesses of some history book that maybe future heroes would read about. That seems a tragic ending for someone who actually served a greater good even while he built quite a good brand name for himself.

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Which actually highlights the entire issue of hero culture as it is presented in My Hero Academia. There are new up and coming heroes appearing every year. The new generation of students graduating from UA and probably plenty of less well known schools that still train students to become heroes. Each one of these would-be heroes has a reason for wanting to be a hero as we’ve seen exemplified by the students in the class. They all want to be a hero but to get there and to succeed they are going to have to beat their friends, they are going to have to put themselves first, they are going to have to brand themselves, and even then they still only have a small chance of success in an already over crowded market. Essentially heroism has become the new Australia’s Got Talent (or equivalent) and ultimately just being good at being a hero isn’t going to be enough. Everyone who got into the school is potentially good at being a hero but the world doesn’t need entire classes of heroes running around. They have to stand out even at the cost of those around them and that by its very nature would lead to some fairly unheroic personalities making it through the rigorous training processes and reaching the top.

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What I find interesting about this set-up is that normal people on the street have stood back and watched as fairly low level villains have committed crimes. They wait for a hero rather than taking action even though some of their own Quirks are more than capable of dealing with things. They hold the ‘heroes’ of the story in awe even as this show goes to great lengths to humanize the current group of students and to help us realise they are all just kids working toward a dream.

Heroism as a commodity isn’t a new notion in anime or any other story telling medium. Even Clark Kent made money off Superman through writing stories about him and we know Spider Man wasn’t above peddling his own acts of heroism for cash. And it is maybe this part of the story that really sums up this show’s comment about the modern world. Everything has a price and everything is for sale. Even acts of heroism, morals, and dreams.

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But in case that seems a little depressing, just remember Midoriya has so far managed to defy all common sense in his optimism about more or less everything so maybe, just maybe, the seeds of change are already being spread amongst the students in his class.


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Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet Series Review

Overview:

Ledo is a sixteen year old pilot  with the Galactic Alliance fighting for the survival of the humans against the enemy (giant squid type things that can apparently survive in space). Unfortunately, during a battle he pretty much gets tossed through space and ends up being submerged on a small blue planet. Unable to contact home, Ledo is going to have to learn to coexist with the humans he has found on this world.

Review:

As much as I ended up enjoying this anime, I really feel this one has been horrendously mislabeled. MAL lists it as an action, sci-fi, adventure, mecha. And you know what, all of those elements are in the anime but what you’ll mostly get is Ledo learning how to live a new life with the cute messenger girl (Amy) he happened to abduct in episode 1 who then shared her fish with him. For all that stuff happens and there are some small scale battles between pirates and scavengers and the like, this really is just Ledo learning to actually live and then we’ll introduce a conflict at the end so that we remember it is actually a mecha.

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The first episode is pretty misleading about the tone of the show though it does set us up nicely to understand why Ledo really can’t just learn to relax and live peacefully. In a very short time frame we learn a lot about Ledo’s world of constant fights, loyalty, and almost no human connection. His strongest emotional attachment is to Chamber, his mecha or the computer AI on it, and really that is one of reliance rather than an actual friendship. So while the tone of this opening battle does not reflect anything that is going to happen later in the series, it’s a nice quick bit of character building to set a scene and it doesn’t linger too long before we’re on the water logged planet and watching Chamber get salvaged from the bottom of the ocean.

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Once the story gets going, it kind of follows fairly predictable patterns. Ledo tries to do something, usually tries to use his advanced technology to take a short cut, people get all upset and shocked because it isn’t the way it is supposed to be done or it damages something, Ledo feels sorry for himself and Amy comes along to give him a pick-me-up pep talk. That’s a slight over simplification but it essentially covers the majority of the episodes until we start building toward the final.

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I am left with the question of where did the squirrel come from? All things considered it just seems kind of random when there don’t appear to be many other land animals running about the ship.

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The narrative has some great ideas that seem to continually be pushed to the sides for the usual slice-of-life antics that anime loves to foreground. We do eventually get back to that massive space conflict notion with the space squids and why there are humans on a planet that don’t know anything about what is going on in space. The answers are pretty obvious fairly early on but it is still nice that the narrative does attempt to get back to the sci-fi part of its story before the end.

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Plus the characters are actually kind of fun to watch. Ledo starts out pretty emotionless, for good reason, but becomes a more well-rounded person even if he still has a way to go by the end. Amy is cute, occasionally used too much for fanservice, but is mostly the heart of the show and brings everything together. The rest of the people on the ship all serve their purpose even if they are too set in their ways and never really consider that maybe there are other options.

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But the biggest plus this anime has going for it is that it is beautiful. Whether it is space or the ocean, this anime is glorious to look at. The night scenes with the stars above the ocean just feel incredibly real and draw you right into this world that they are working so hard to construct.  Even when the story seems to be on hold the visuals manage to keep you watching the screen.

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So I did end up enjoying watching this but mostly because I liked how it started and ended. The bits in the middle I feel get a bit too slice-of-life like for my tastes and not a lot seems to happen, but I didn’t end up abandoning the show, because it had some great concepts, was great to look at, and the characters were kind of charming so I wanted to know where they were going.

Have you seen Gargantia? What did you think?


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Tales of Zestiria The X Season 2 Series Review

Overview:

I previously reviewed season 1 of Tales of Zestiria the X, the story of Sorey the Shepherd on his journey to purify the malevolence of the world. Season 2 continues Sorey’s journey as he eventually gets around to dealing with the Lord of Calamity. I reviewed this week to week here.

Review (spoilers for the final battle included – fair warning):

While I will freely admit that based on a game adaptations have a terrible reputation, there are quite a few that I enjoy. The original Resident Evil movie is highly entertaining (if silly) fun and there have been a number of anime I’ve enjoyed before later finding out they were based on games I’d never heard of. Tales of Zestiria I knew was a game because unless I disconnected from the internet entirely it would have been impossible to miss that, and yet season 1, despite some issues, was fairly enjoyable.

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Season 2 spent a lot of time correcting that and came into line with the expectations of based on game adaptations. The sense of fun disappeared from the series entirely and a lot of the second season lacked direction or purpose. We spent a lot of time with Rose early in the season but in the end she and Alisha kind of seemed like excess baggage by the time we got to the final fight sequence. Some characters seemed to appear only because they must have actually been significant in the game but all they did here was distract and clutter an already cluttered narrative. They had no impact because in the anime they served no purpose.

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Though perhaps the biggest issue season 2 had was the final episode just didn’t come out. No announcement in an obvious location about what had happened. It was a week after I stopped looking for the episode when I read on someone else’s blog the episode was delayed until the end of the month, but it wasn’t like anyone was going out of there way to make it known why there was a delay or that the delay had even happened. Part of the blame for that has to go on to the distributors though who just didn’t put up the next episode and didn’t bother to put any kind of notice on their blogs or email out to their subscribers. Amazingly enough, people don’t get half as annoyed by delays when informed about them.

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Still, when you are already mid-way through a final boss battle and then the next episode just doesn’t show up, it really does break the flow. And when the show was already so problematic you had considered not watching further about mid-season, if not for my fairly insane levels of curiosity I may never have gone back to watch the final episode.

All things considered, it didn’t matter whether I watched it or not. By the time we get close to the final episode we already know what to expect from Tales of Zestiria. They have no commitment to theme. No commitment to actual narrative. Sorey is good because he is. There’s no other reason. He believes he can save the world because he does. There’s no other reason. Others have faith in him because they do. Some of them kind of have reason for this, but most just blindly listen to his unsupported assertions and after a half-hearted counter-argument, accept them as truth from that point forward.

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There’s lots of shared smiles, hand holding, and pep talks, but little to support the connections that are supposedly existing between the main group. Even Sorey’s final solution for dealing with the Lord of Calamity is just him asserting that he can do it and it will work and the others once again accept it on faith that it will happen. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan.

It’s overly optimistic foolishness at best, and even if you put your own logic on hold and also just accept that whatever Sorey says is right for whatever reason, the narrative is still deeply unsatisfying. Most of the season they just kind of go from one minor issue or character drama to the next until the henchmen for the bad guy shows up and tells them where he is. She even escorts them there, before she gets turned into a dragon and ceases to have any relevance to the plot. Then again, the bad guy couldn’t have just sent Sorey a carrier pigeon and a map for all the impact said henchmen had so maybe her turning into a dragon was the most useful thing they could do with her.

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They finally get through all the dragons and face the Lord of Calamity and suddenly we can combine powers and meanwhile, Calamity guy is just going to stand there and wait for them to discuss it, do it, and then get used to it. As a villain he kind of sucks. I know someone will argue that the human inside him actually wanted to be purified or killed all along and so was allowing Sorey the chance to do so, but then why is he actually scary? And why did the human inside allow him to stir up so much chaos and slaughter at the end of season 1 if the human actually cared about what was going on? It is inconsistent and makes no sense.

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Still, we could have at least had a dramatic ending if the show had actually been willing to commit to self-sacrifice for the greater good and yet even then it fails to follow through.

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All and all, Tales of Zestiria season 2 is full of pretty light shows and transformations, has a few minor character moments that are half-way interesting even if the overall plot gets thrown aside for these to fit in, it does bring things to a resolution, but is mostly a disappointment to watch and to be honest there’s plenty of better things you could be watching.


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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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Rokka- Braves of the Six Flowers Series Review

Overview:

Legend says, when the Evil God awakens from the deepest of darkness, the god of fate will summon Six Braves and grant them with the power to save the world. Adlet, who claims to be the strongest on the face of this earth, is chosen as one of the “Brave Six Flowers,” and sets out on a battle to prevent the resurrection of the Evil God. However, it turns out that there are Seven Braves who gathered at the promised land.

From Crunchyroll

Review:

I copied and pasted the overview this time because essentially this is supposed to be a mystery and given the series ends at an episode titled “The Time To Reveal The Answer” kind of means that if you have already been tipped off as to who the seventh is there isn’t a lot of point in watching. Mostly because even though the established premise of this series is that the braves have to go and fight the demon god, the series ends with them going to fight the demon god. Way to shoot your storyline in the foot.

So we end up with something that kind of feels like a prequel series to the story of how the braves defeat the demon god, and admittedly, it is interesting enough. As the characters point out about episode 4 or 5, it is a locked room mystery that needs to be solved. We’ve got a limited cast in a confined area and while there is no murder yet, all of them believe it is only a matter of time before the seventh tries to kill them so why not kill the seventh first.

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This is pretty much my biggest issue with this series. It ignores the grander plot of the world to focus on one step of a journey these characters are on (which would be fine if this were the first installment in an ongoing saga but as far as I am aware there’s been no announcement of a continuation of the anime) and the characters fall back on the silliest of all assumptions. They assume suspecting each other and trying to find the culprit is actually the best option when all it does is nearly lead to them taking each other out (which is more likely the plan in the first place). If they’d actually just looked for a way to deactivate the seal from the start and decided to not worry about whether someone was a fake or not, the fake would have had to act (giving themselves away) or would have simply failed.

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Having got that gripe out of the way, I really enjoyed watching this. Adlet is a really fun protagonist. Yeah, he boasts a bit and at times plays the fool, but he’s a lot of fun to watch in combat, to travel with, to see the other characters from his perspective, and he doesn’t have amazing plot armour saving him from harm though he does rely heavily on luck, a fact even he acknowledges toward the end. There are a few inconsistencies in how injured he is at times where it looks like one minute he can’t move, then he’s standing, and then he’s collapsed again, but this is a minor nit-pick.

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Actually, the four of the seven braves we meet are really fun characters (even if they aren’t entirely likeable). Unfortunately that leave three that mostly just fill a particular plot point or role and don’t really endear themselves as actual characters. This is kind of a problem for the simple reason that it really limits the number of suspects the audience actually has when putting the mystery together. There’s really only two probabilities from a fairly early point in the series and by episode 8 it should become reasonably obvious which on is the culprit and which one is the red-herring. They did try a small twist at the end by making you believe the red-herring was the culprit but that didn’t last particularly long before attention turned to the one who was the obvious suspect. I’m going to leave that line of speculation there because anything further just spoils viewing for others.

I wasn’t a fan of the theme song for this series. It isn’t bad by any means but it is just kind of there and the visuals are kind of ordinary. Considering the tone of the show and the over-the-top nature of some of the characters it would have been great for the opening to really get you ready for the show but mostly it was just kind of there and then we began.

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Visually this show is interesting. The fight sequences were fun to watch. Right from episode one where Adlet interrupts a sacred tournament, I enjoyed watching the combat in this show. Each character has a truly unique style and weapons and they tend to use tactics more than brute strength (though there is definitely an aspect of brute strength in a few of the fights). I liked the designs of the temples and cities with its very central/south american feel even as none of the character designs or weapons matched that particular setting. What it ends up feeling like is something wholly unique and it works even if it isn’t particularly logical at times.

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Really, this was fun to watch. I started it because I had a long weekend and wanted just to declutter my mind and ended up not really being able to stop watching. I did stop at episode 8 the first day and finished the remaining four episodes the next morning, but otherwise did this almost without pauses. I knew going in that the overall plot line wasn’t going to finish so that was less annoying than it might have been and the mystery was wrapped up neatly even though they then threw some sequel bait at us. Basically, if you haven’t given this one ago and you’ve got some free time, it will probably be an enjoyable few hours of viewing.

What are your thoughts on Rokka?


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