Phantom in the Twilight Series Review: This Series Could Be Renamed Saving Shinyao

While this anime isn’t exactly going to change the world it was perhaps one of the more fun titles from the Summer Season. If you like a bit of fun and action with vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night and you’ll probably find something to enjoy in Phantom in the Twilight.

Review:

I’ll admit straight out I didn’t think a huge amount of episode 1. It was another girl runs into supernatural hot guys and I kind of predicted that this show could become quite good or just be a mess. I also made a lot of disparaging remarks about the protagonist Ton and it took more than a few episodes before I finally got off her case because I finally started warming up to her. How is that relevant to the review? Well, it is my round about way of saying that this anime takes a little time to grow on you, but fortunately once it gets going the action is pretty solid and the characters are a lot more interesting than they might initially appear.

That said, it isn’t as though this show becomes some kind of sleeper masterpiece. It really is just silly supernatural fun and the final episodes don’t quite nail the landing leaving me at least feeling a tiny bit let down given the mid-season was pretty solid.

Phantom in the Twilight Episode 8

So what is this show about? Well, for the most part it is about Ton, our main character, attempting to rescue her friend Shinyao who gets kidnapped at the end of episode 1. And that’s more or less it for plot. Sure there’s a lot of supernatural business with Ton’s grandmother and learning to use powers and recruiting the members of Cafe Forbidden to help out, but the overall objective remains save Shinyao. This is a plot line that becomes almost a joke at points given how many times they get close to rescuing Shinyao before for whatever reason they don’t succeed and end up back at the cafe lamenting that they still haven’t saved Shinyao.

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What saves this anime from becoming pretty bad is that it isn’t asking you to do anything other than have fun with the characters and to go along with whatever supernatural silliness they just threw at you. There isn’t really any deeper message or idea going on as Ton storms her way through each situation gaining more and more power. There’s enough chemistry between the cast members that they end up being really enjoyable by the mid-season, and they have enough of a backstory that they are fun to learn more about.

Speaking of fun learning, one of my favourite parts of the show each week was the after credits sequence called Twilight Plus where the characters in Chibi form would discuss one of the characters or what was happening in the story. It was always amusing and was well worth hanging around for each week. My personal favourite was where they introduced Toryu and asked him how he managed to carry his weapons around. It was just such a great way to finish each episode.

Phantom in the Twilight Episode 9

Still, there are definitely some down sides to this story. Probably the most legitimate gripe, other than the overall simple nature of the plot, would be the absence of a decent villain or obstacle for the characters to overcome. They kind of try to set up a few of these but mostly they end up being pretty lame and realistically this would have actually helped the climax of the series along enormously. Earlier episodes where they managed to introduce a real sense of danger certainly were highly entertaining so it would have been nice to still believe any of the villains posed an actual threat in the final two episodes.

Phantom in the Twilight Episode 10 Ton

There’s not a lot more to say about this. Either you like supernatural anime with powers and fight sequences and you are happy just to go along for the ride, or you aren’t. For those who like that sort of thing, there’s a nice rich world of lore to explore here and while this particular season is mostly just scratching the surface, it really does feel like the supernatural elements have been nicely incorporated into the real world. It’s great fun and I’m glad I picked this one up during the summer season.

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The Master of Ragnarok & Blesser of Einherjar Series Review: Inept Isekai Harem Story

The Master of Ragnarok Episode 10

I wasn’t planning on watching this show this season but with an incredibly small watch list and some small number of factors introduced early on in the show that might have developed into something interesting, I ended up sticking with The Master of Ragnarok & Blesser of Einherjar. I probably regret that decision now but let’s get into the review.

Review:

There has been a very low bar set for isekai stories, particularly isekai harem stories. And that bar for the most part works in the genres favour because people expecting some deep and intellectual story don’t bother at all and those who are just wanting something to casually watch and maybe be entertaining are happy enough to jump on board and hand wave the occasional clunky bit of exposition, slight character breaking moments and definitely dismiss plot armour as just a staple of the genre. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great isekai stories out there and that harem stories can’t be well told, but the majority of the genre should definitely be taken into account.

Yet, even by those dangerously low standards, I would find it incredibly hard to recommend The Master of Ragnarok & Blesser or Einherjar. The sheer number of things this anime does to shoot itself in the foot along the way is nearly mind-boggling and that is before you get to a final episode that just left me shaking my head and wondering why on earth I’d just given the show three months of my life in episodic reviews. This story of boy from the modern world travelling with smartphone to the past and somehow becoming the biggest thing ever is hardly original but that wouldn’t be a problem if it managed to be competent.

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That isn’t to say there is nothing good about the show. I did in fact watch it every week for three months so there was clearly something about the anime that caught my eye and kept my attention even as  I dropped the likes of Holmes of Kyoto. So we’ll start with some positives before I tear this less-than-middling story apart.

One thing  I did enjoy initially about this anime is that it didn’t start the story with Yuuto arriving in the past/other world (it is very unclear if he is on Earth even though he thinks he is – the people with seemingly magic powers kind of makes it hard to swallow). The story begins after he’s already been in the past for a number of years and has already risen to the head of the Wolf Clan. This by itself made the story stand out from so many others in this genre because we didn’t get the standard five to ten minutes of his everyday life before the confusion of landing in another world and befriending the cute girl. Nope, he was already there and established with the many cute girls by his side. The novelty of that, and the fact that it allowed this story to get straight into the fights between clans, gave it a little bit of a lift.

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I also liked that despite Yuuto being a complete push over to pretty much every female character, he did insist on the no marriage thing because he had someone he loved waiting for him in the present. He stood by this right until the end and I kind of respected that because at least we didn’t have another harem protagonist who couldn’t make a choice. He’d made his choice but just couldn’t really act on it because she wasn’t in the same time/world as him and all he could do was talk to her on the phone.

Finally, I actually liked that Yuuto did draw on real tactics (researched on his smartphone of course) and used these in the various battles he fought. I also liked that he seemed to be making a genuine effort to lead his clan into a more economically stable position. These ideas if properly fleshed out could have more than carried the show as maybe something of a mix between the likes of Lord Marksman and Vanadis and Maoyu. Tragically these were decidedly tagged on ideas that kind of got thrown at the audience one minute and promptly forgotten the next.  On that note, go watch either Lord Marksman or Maoyu instead, either one is far superior to anything you’ll find here and you’ll even get a decent amount of good looking anime girls wearing skimpy outfits in Lord Marksman if that is what floats your boat.

Master of Ragnarok Episode 5

However, these positives are not enough to offset a lot of the issues this anime has. The first I’ve already touched on and that is that the anime introduces ideas but does nothing with them or at least doesn’t give them enough time to develop. We don’t know why Yuuto went to the past (other than magic mirror and summoning) and we don’t know how his smartphone manages to work (I can’t even get internet access in my backyard so I’d love to know how his phone actually works across time and space). They introduce economic reforms, agriculture reforms, new technologies and none of these are given any real weight other than isn’t Yuuto awesome. We have an episode that for some reason focuses on school bullying but is resolved with shockingly little care for the lingering impacts of bullying. And finally we have an ongoing war with some conspiracies by the church and ultimately this goes absolutely nowhere. You won’t ever see the guy who originally gets the Lightning Clan to attack the Wolf Clan ever again. No one will mention it and nothing will be resolved.

So if they aren’t developing any of this what are they doing in this anime? Poorly animated fight sequences would be one answer. While I won’t say they are dreadful, they aren’t exactly impressive. Then on the other side of that we spend a lot of time with the girls in bathtubs, hot springs, and generally just trying to get as close to Yuuto as possible. Keep in mind the girls are quite aggressive in their affections and it is set up on a number of occasions where it seems clear that Yuuto has been assaulted off-screen by his harem on mass despite his protests. It isn’t exactly comfortable viewing if you try and insert any kind of moral reality into the viewing experience (then again that probably isn’t the best mindset to watch any harem with, but I can’t help but think how unforgivable such a scene would be if a male harem pounced on a protesting female – and what makes it unpalatable for me at least was somehow this was supposed to be amusing).

The Master of Ragnarok Episode 6

Also, the sheer lack of explanations about the runes and powers some of the characters have is frustrating. It is like the world we’re in is never fleshed out and we still don’t understand it even as the season ends. There are more questions then answers but the desire to ever see more of this is pretty minimal (so if they were aiming for a sequel please just say no).

However, the worst is the final episode where mid-episode they seem to legitimately just toss their own plot to the side and meander on with some rubbish before throwing a parade celebrating Yuuto. There is legitimately no explanation for what happened to the armies and the whole conflict that was going on. Just throw a parade, have a kind of wedding and hope no one notices that all the conflict that had been set up just kind of vanished for no good reason. This was a truly frustrating way for the show to end.

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I very rarely insist that my opinion is correct about a show and normally I believe that there is an audience somewhere who will appreciate what an anime has to offer, but in this case I’m simply going to tell you that this one is not worth your time even if you are mad keen on harem stories in isekai settings. There are simply so many anime that do similar things but so much better that there is no reason to watch this one.

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Attack on Titan Eren

Jormungand Series Review: She’s Going to Devour Everything

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

From my first watch to the most recent, I haven’t really changed my thoughts on Jormungand. It is still a problematic show to try to convince someone to watch because of the subject matter, but it is still a lot of fun to sink your teeth into. If you missed my original review, here it is again with some minor edits (probably just as many errors though).

Review:

Jormungand is a tricky show to sell to someone. It’s about an arms dealer and a child soldier. It’s about selling weapons and the perpetuation of violence and war. It has a child soldier in it and doesn’t continuously drive home the point that this is immoral and wrong (they touch on this occasionally but it isn’t the central theme). When you put it that way it kind of makes it tricky to convince someone that this anime is entertaining or that the subject matter is actually palatable.

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Breaking it down, Jormungand is an amazing anime to watch. It is sometimes funny, sometimes action driven, sometimes character driven, sometimes thoughtful and thought provoking, and occasionally (but not too often) preachy.

It acknowledges that the main characters in this story are selling weapons and are not the ‘good’ guys. They aren’t fighting for a noble cause. They are selling guns for profit (and don’t try to pay Koko in drugs, it does not end well). It also does a great job of first convincing us to like these characters and yet strategically giving them moments where you see them as true villains. This rich contrast is actually quite interesting because you see them as real people. Yeah their job is kind of morally reprehensible but a lot of them fell into it after their former lives as soldiers or the like fell apart. Or they just enjoy the rush or they like Koko. They aren’t trying to make these guys out to be underdogs. Just showing a group of well trained soldiers brought together by Koko.

On rewatch, it is this group dynamic that really does sell the show. You spend a lot of time with this crew and they are all interesting in their own way but it takes time for you to get to know them. That’s what makes watching it again so great because you pick up more about these characters each time.

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Koko is a fascinating character. A little over the top in places and not as nuanced as she might have been, but her views on weapons and the world are interesting and provide a fairly ground perspective even as she acknowledges that she is becoming a monster of a human being. Running through both seasons of the show is the ongoing storyline that Koko is up to something outside of selling her weapons (and various agencies and parties are interested in finding out what). When it is revealed you realise fully that Koko is crazy. Somewhere along the road she was pushed too far and she has come up with a scheme that should never have been followed through with. It makes for an interesting frame to hold all the other missions and characters together because there isn’t a lot of coherence in the plot outside of Koko travelling around and selling her weapons.

And if you know the legend of Jormungand you kind of already know what Koko is up to though how they interpret that legend in this anime is unique.

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The relationship between Koko and Jonah is also intriguing. Throughout the story they develop what kind of looks like an older sister and younger brother relationship with Koko regularly imparting some ‘wisdom’ upon Jonah (who due to his background has an understandably warped view of the world). However, Jonah also acts to keep Koko from crossing too many lines (you know besides selling illegal weapons and travelling with a child soldier). While Jonah’s around, Koko maintains a facade of civility and rationality.

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We do delve into Jonah’s backstory. His reason for hating weapons and how he ended up being recruited to work for Koko. It’s a tragic story but Jormungand doesn’t really try to make you feel sorry for Jonah. It isn’t that sort of story. Mostly we see him develop from someone who simply follows orders, to someone who questions orders, to someone who becomes very confused because he doesn’t know what he should do, to someone who makes a clear decision. While we may disagree with his decision it is an important step as a character and an important step for Jonah as a human being. Most of his life was dictated by circumstances and to actually take control of his own life and make a choice is a massive progression. Jonah is a much more understated character than the extravagant Koko and he is also younger. At times he seems very mature but at others we see the child beneath.

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Of the other members of Koko’s bodyguards, R is my favourite. No spoilers on his character development but pay attention to him early on. I must admit the first time I watched this show when the episodes suddenly focussed on him I was like ‘who are you?’ but on rewatching you see he’s actually there the whole time. He’s certainly the character I remember fondly when I get to the end of the series.

The other bodyguards all have their moments and as I said earlier, the show tries hard to make you like this crew. In between action set pieces we see them trying to tutor Jonah, messing about at the beach, relaxing while eating, and generally just being people. The relationships between the members are realistic and feel comfortable despite their different backgrounds. They each have their specialities but at the same time, they all work together for common goals.

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While we are focused on characters I just want to say the American agents are probably the worst portrayed in the story. They are either idiotic, arrogant, clueless, a combination of all three, or just plain crazy. These characters do not get any real development or growth nor are they given any particular human characteristics. In a show full of characters doing horrible things, Jormungand really wants you to hate most of these agents and gives them very little in the way of redeeming features.

The other character who I haven’t mentioned yet is Koko’s brother, Kasper. Mostly because he is a bit of an enigma and a jerk. He is necessary for the plot but mostly he’s a pain in the neck and he doesn’t feature very much.

I’m not going to comment on the weapons themselves or whether or not any of the combat sequences are realistic. I’m not into weapons and I don’t really play first person shooters so to be honest I don’t really care whether it was realistic or not. Most of the action sequences were exciting or dramatic and they all served their purpose in the plot so that was good enough for me.

So down to business, should you watch this anime?

I’d say yes. It presents an interesting premise and doesn’t try to direct you to take a certain view of the situation. Rather it tries to get you to question the circumstances surrounding each event and draw your own conclusions. It has a rich cast (though at times they play them up a little too much in order to soften the quite dark themes) and develops some interesting characters. Visually it is interesting (not amazing but it does do some interesting things) and the diverse range of settings used actually makes it feel like these characters are travelling the globe.

I really loved this anime. I thought going in it would be a bit too confronting but was pleasantly surprised. Certainly there are moments of sickening violence (more so because unlike a lot of anime this isn’t a fantasy or set in a future time but is firmly grounded in the world we know) and there are confronting ideas at times but it makes for a thought provoking piece of entertainment. And it is entertainment rather than a diatribe against weapons and arms dealers. At no point do the themes get in the way of telling the story.

If you’ve watched Jormungand, what did you think?


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Doreiku The Animation Series Review: Another Cool Premise Gone To Waste

Doreiku presents viewers with a very cool set-up. What if there was a device that would allow you to play a game with someone and the loser was made to become the winner’s slave? There’s so many places such a concept could be taken and yet what we find in this anime is that we’re just going to tread over the usual vices we’ve seen before with nothing really new on the table.

Review:

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There’s nothing wrong with stories that want to explore the darker side of human nature or even human misery. I’d argue that stories are a good place to explore such things and to make audiences think about situations they might not otherwise understand or to ‘safely’ experience emotions that might otherwise be pretty traumatising. With the initial set-up of Doreiku I was kind of hoping once it got over its shock factor in the first episode (and believe me, it is trying to be shocking with its rape and idea of total enslavement being paraded around front and centre) that it would actually look at the motives and desires of those involved or maybe explore the notion of freedom overall.

And while you argue that the anime does explore these things, it ultimately ends up being a very shallow dive. Meanwhile the viewer is subjected to a meandering plot, an unnecessarily large cast, and more than a few illogical plot points that kind of exist just because someone somewhere must have thought they were cool.

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It all just kind of ends up being an empty viewing experience. Every character (with the possible exception of Eia), seems to think they are amazingly smart and that somehow there’s no chance of them losing. And every character ultimately cheats at the games or resorts to violence and intimidation to set the game up in such a way that they can’t lose. And as the number of masters gets fewer and fewer and the number of slaves gets larger, what we realise is that no one writing this show really thought about what these characters would do with slaves.

Yes, there are the usual sexual antics in places and a lot of the male characters are used as muscle. But scene after scene will show a master talking, and boy do these characters like to talk and yet say nothing, while a handful of slaves stand pitifully in the background. Is that really the best they could do? You enslaved multiple other humans and now you just have them kind of standing around.

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Though Eia and her original partner Oota aren’t all that much better really. Oota’s just thrill seeking and uses Eia for insurance. And once he gets a taste of power he gets nasty yet we’re still somehow supposed to hope Eia saves him. Eia gets swept up in Oota’s scheme because… well I think it is meant to be because she’s bored or wants a challenge but it never really becomes clear. Midway through the series, Eia suddenly decides she wants to free all of the slaves by, naturally, enslaving them. I just wonder if after all is said and done if their brains are going to permanently fried but the series also isn’t interested in answering that sort of question about the devices in question so don’t ask.

So the characters are pretty dull, there’s no real theme or message to wait for, and the plot is a meandering and cluttered mess held together only through who currently owns who, what does that leave us with? Visuals that are okay but not great. Music that works with the show but isn’t memorable. A cute puppy, but it is also wearing a device and is a slave.

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If you’re just kind of curious, it isn’t the worst thing ever, but there’s not a lot to recommend this one. That and if you are easily upset by difficult subject matter, then definitely give this one a skip. It is deliberately confronting at times but doesn’t really address any of these issues.

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Black Cat Series Review: This is A Hot Mess of A Show

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

Review:

It’s hard to know whether Black Cat is truly amazing or truly dreadful or somewhere between the two. It’s a lot of fun but there are an abundant number of flaws with this show that only become more pronounced during a rewatch (and on rewatching again before the repost I’m more convinced than ever that it is hard to tell where this show actually lies). I’m going to start with the characters and then get on to the plot.

Train and Saya on the roof

Let’s start by looking at Train and Saya. Saya’s a sweeper and carries a gun and gives Train the very profound advice that if she doesn’t want to shoot someone she won’t. Somehow this is a revelation for Train, who other than being incredibly good at killing people and a friend to stray cats seems to have very little personality in the first few episodes. That doesn’t mean he isn’t cool. Train is very cool. The anime bends over backwards to make you feel that Train is cool. He’s an assassin. He’s the cool silent type and he has cat like characteristics. Not the nice house-cat kind. The aloof-stray-cat kind.

The relationship between Train and Saya develops super fast and ends tragically, which is essentially the catalyst for Train’s actual transformation and almost every event that occurs after this in the series (apparently Train is someone people become obsessed with on first meeting). A lot of my issues with the anime stem from the fact that I really feel Saya (given the number of flash backs she gets and given how profound her impact is supposed to be) needed to be a lot more fleshed out.

That said, Train and Saya’s relationship and the tragedy of her death is one of the better handled ideas in the show and to be honest if the anime had stuck with this initial plot line, and then had Train simply get his revenge, ultimately I’d probably have loved this show from start to finish. Instead it really feels like this sequence, while it is brought up endlessly as a motivator for Train, is merely a side-story to the overall plot. And the overall plot is messy.

Train finds Saya dying

Train as a whole isn’t such a great character. After being Mr Super Cool and aloof he goes through a moody hating the world stage before bouncing back as an absolute and complete slacker who occasionally snaps and goes homicidal. He’s all over the place and while a tragic childhood and really warped start to adulthood may account for some of his inability to cope with the world in any kind of coherent fashion it doesn’t make for fantastic viewing. It’s impossible to know whether he’s going to spring into action or simply yawn and go look for more food at any turn in the story. He regularly ditches his friends to pursue his own vendettas and he even places others at risk.

That said, I like Train as a character. He is hilarious and when in assassin mode he is ice cold. Plus, he has the characteristics of a cat which would make him kind of amazing regardless. Is Train a good or a balanced character? Absolutely not. Does he develop in a sensible manner? Not really. Is he at times completely boring due to a lack of actual personality traits? Yep.

And I haven’t changed my opinion. I still like Train but I still see him as a dreadfully unbalanced and poorly written character who is getting slung around by whatever the plot needs from him at that point in time. There’s also a lot of angst going on at times and when it puts his friends in danger it makes it really hard to see Train’s point of view.

Black Cat - Train Heartnet

So with Saya being dead for a great deal of the story, and Train having almost zero to add to characterisation within this show, who are we left with? For better or worse we are left with an entire cohort of characters (some of whom you will have forgotten even if you’ve watched the show). We have the other numbers and various other agents for Chronos. Then we have the Apostles of the Stars which is a group made by Train’s other fanboy and which ostensibly exists to wipe out Chronos but mostly just seems like a place for various crazy characters to assemble and have their hearts broken. Then we have the Sweeper alliance and all of the members therein. Plus the people they regularly fight in their work as sweepers. And those that hire them. And a waitress who seems to follow them from town to town.

However, the three other characters that really get any development are Sven, Eve and Rinslet. Rinslet is a walking cliché so we aren’t going to go any further into the professional thief who tries to charm her way through any situation. Eve is a developed weapon so has the blank and robotic personality of one to start with and takes almost everything literally. While her growth as a human is impressive throughout the series and her combative/protective relationship with Train is one of the more interesting relationships formed, Eve herself is pretty dull.

And can we mention that every female character in this show is either dull or a trope of some sort. Okay, I’ll be fair, the male characters aren’t fairing much better but seriously, just one decent female character could have really added something.

Black Cat - Train, Sven and Eve

That leaves Sven. He’s actually good at his job (though his lack of finances would not have you believe that). He’s also forced into a father role with Eve and Train both having the world knowledge and coping skills of three year olds. Of all the characters in Black Cat, Sven is probably the least dynamic as his character regularly has to portray the voice of reason, support, complaint, and deal with the every day. It also makes Sven the most interesting in terms of his characterisation. His personality isn’t a one line wrap up about being a cute girl with powers or a flamboyant guy with a sword, gun or other weapon. Sven is very human (even with the power in his eye) and during this story he faces a lot of challenges well above and beyond his abilities and while calm isn’t the best word to describe him, he is quite sensible in most of his approaches.

It’s understandable that Sven and Train regularly clash. Train is like the rebellious and lazy teenage son who doesn’t really want to listen and doesn’t think Sven knows anything. Sven on the other hand takes his responsibilities very seriously and while he didn’t actively go out of his way to pick up a stray, Eve’s attachment to Train left Sven little choice.

Now onto plot.

Black Cat - Creed

My problem with the plot is that it essentially has two separate storylines (either one of which would have been fine) crammed together and as a result it gets messy. Not complex. Both storylines are pretty simple, but the telling and delivery becomes overly complicated leaving both storylines feeling confusing and lacking (I had a very similar issue more recently with B the Beginning for much the same reason).

The main plot seems to focus on Creed and Train. I’m going to call that the main plot because it is the one introduced in the very first episode with a fight sequence followed by a flash back to how we got to the fight and it is the one that seems the primary motivator for most of the series.

Essentially, Creed is in love with Train. Don’t really know why. Apparently it is something to do with Train’s eyes, which are adorable to be sure but somehow I’m not feeling homicidal because of it. Creed becomes convinced that Saya is corrupting and ruining his Train and kills her. Which seems pretty straight forward and a nice set-up for a revenge plot except that it also turns out that Creed has a power hidden from Chronos and an entire group (The Apostles of the Stars) and after totally destroying Train emotionally, Creed somehow thinks Train is just going to come join his group.

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Crazy, delusional and deadly. Great combination in a villain without any real purpose other than to occasionally stir Train into actual action. Yeah, I am certain there were various motives and plot points explained but you leave the anime without remembering them. And this is really kind of a problem because as I mentioned with Train’s character, if this had been the focus we could have developed Train more, Creed more, and Saya’s death would have felt more purposeful. Everything would have clicked nicely together. Alas, the story wants to do more.

We still have Eve, the developed weapon and the people that want to use her and the research to… do something bad? Again, not well explained and while there are references strewn throughout the episodes to this plot, you can more or forget it while getting caught up in other events and then somehow it comes back again.

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As I said before, the plot would have been better either just telling a revenge story or telling a story about helping a bio-weapon escape. The two together just kind of end up mangled and neither is as satisfying as it might have been. I’m not actually opposed to multiple storylines mind you, just poorly delivered ones.

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So after saying all that, the question is, do I recommend watching Black Cat?

If you like anime that involve crazy weapons and powers and you don’t really care about the villains motives and you can tolerate pacing that is all over the shop and characters that sling shot through the emotional spectrum a mile-a-minute, then you will probably have a lot of fun with this anime. I really had a lot of fun with this anime. It’s definitely a case where the whole is better than any of its parts. Certainly it is flawed and it feels like it is about three different shows mooshed together at times, but there’s just a fun kind of energy running through it and there are some great moments and scenes (even if the road to them is sometimes littered with the debris of the parts that missed the mark).

And despite all my complaints about it, I own this one on DVD and I’ve rewatched it quite a lot. It is good popcorn viewing even if it doesn’t really hold up to any kind of scrutiny.

Have you seen Black Cat? If so, what did you think?


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Karandi James

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Nier Automata PS4

Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Series Review: Will They Just Let The Franchise End Now?

How much mileage can you get out of a parody concept of magical boys who don’t really want to save the world? Well, this franchise has asked that question again and again but if there is one thing Happy Kiss has taught me, it is that Cute High Earth Defense Club Whatever needs to just stop now.

Review:

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On watching the original Cute High Earth Defense Club series I was sceptical but ended up pleasantly surprised that despite the formulaic monster of the week approach, it actually did a pretty solid job as a magical girl parody and it gave us enough interesting dialogue and random conversations between the boys to make it worth the while. It didn’t amaze me but I had a reasonably good time with it. Then we had a sequel. Which I didn’t finish. And an OVA. Which I didn’t watch. Most recently we were introduced to Happy Kiss with a whole new group of boys and I decided, probably poorly, to give the show another go. After all, it was a comedy show I’d finished a season of. It couldn’t be that bad.

And that assessment is probably right. It isn’t that bad, but neither is it particularly good. While the first episode has flashes of those intriguingly random musing between the boys and each character in the new group could potentially be interesting, as the season progresses you will realises that this series has absolutely nothing to say. While the first season was undeniably a parody and some of the monsters were truly inconsequential it still offered up some half-decent social commentary and just some random food for thought. Happy Kiss brings nothing to the table other than the tongue in cheek apathy of the main cast and giving the audience a knowing look asking us to find it hilarious as they bemoan yet another transformation sequence.

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But even then they couldn’t commit with the final episodes seeing boys joining forces with the henchmen of the previously evil brother and willingly throwing themselves into a fight against a suddenly propped up villain that the audience has legitimately no reason to care about. So the boys didn’t even manage to be consistent in their apathy.

Actually, I do have a couple of positives. I mean, I did get through the entire season so it isn’t like it is an unwatchable steaming pile of overcooked spinach.

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Firstly, I kind of loved the song that they played every single time the boys used their final attack. Well I say final attack but generally it the only one because mostly they just kind of made stupid comments until Karl (the talking otter who is actually a prince) tells them its time to make everyone happy and then they attack. But the song is pretty infectious and it definitely got stuck in my head every single week.

The other thing I really enjoyed was that at least the main characters called the villains on the pathetic nature of their complaint. It was something I always wished the Sailor Scouts would do when someone gave in to something really petty and transformed into a monster.

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Outside of those two things though, there isn’t a lot to love about Happy Kiss. The cast don’t develop at all, the rivalry between the Defense Club and the Student Council seems forced and doesn’t really go anywhere until near the end and then it is kind of just over, and even the two princes don’t really do much more than repeat their formulaic lines week after week.

I’d honestly say that you would be better off watching the original than this if you’ve never watched anything in the franchise. The writing is undeniably better and more amusing. I’m clearly not recommending this anime and I’m kind of hoping this is where the franchise stops but somehow I doubt it.

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Karandi James

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Black Butler: Book of Circus Series Review: Let’s Go To The Circus and Hang Out With Demons and Reapers

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

Review:

I’ve previously reviewed Black Butler (loved it) and Black Butler 2 (be gone from my sight). However, I wrote my review of Book of Circus after watching Book of Circus on Crunchyroll and fell in love with Black Butler all over again, which may seem inconsistent as it does a few of the things that I berated Black Butler 2 for doing. Revisiting this post just reminded me that my opinion of this one really hasn’t changed.

Yes, there are unnecessary appearances by characters simply because they are part of the original series. And there’s some timeline inconsistencies in this story (mainly due to Book of Circus apparently following something from the source rather than carrying on from the anime adaptation). Kind of on the same level as between Firefly (TV series) and Serenity (movie) where some of the key events are changed to better further the current narrative. That said, the minor discrepancies aren’t enough to break the deal with this show and the unnecessary character cameos are less intrusive than they felt in Black Butler 2.

So why should you watch Book of Circus?

1. The opening theme is incredible. I loved the original Black Butler opening but Book of Circus perfectly matches the circus theme with the dark undertones of the story and creates something really special. And clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so given how many YouTube channels have a version of this opening up to watch.

2. We revisit Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship and the complexities in their master/butler, contractor/demon roles and Ciel’s character arc in this narrative is possibly the best of the lot. While I loved Ciel in the original series because he didn’t undergo overt transformation but reaffirmed his existing status, Ciel in this arc actually manages to develop and grow (and break apart at times) without derailing who Ciel is at his core. It’s fascinating to watch and it doesn’t feel like they’ve cheapened his character. Plus, Ciel is adorable in his circus clothes (this is a point I have to reiterate – Ciel is at his absolute cutest in this story).

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3. The support cast are great. My biggest issue with Black Butler 2 was the introduction of Alois and Claude, both of whom I despised. Book of Circus bring us a colourful cast of interesting and flawed characters to follow and get to know, even if the end is inevitable from the get-go.

These characters probably deserve a bit more time and attention than I gave them originally in my review. The majority of the employees at the circus were orphans and they are incredibly close. It makes it hard to Sebastian and Ciel to infiltrate because even after they become employed by the circus they aren’t part of that inner group. The relationship between the supporting characters is an absolute asset to this story and makes everything feel more real and dramatic than it might otherwise be.

We also revisit some of the other characters from Black Butler and each one is used to fairly solid affect, though it should definitely be noted that this is a story about the circus and Sebastian and Ciel. The other characters are there to help connect this story to other stories in the Black Butler universe but they are not the focus.

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4. It’s a well told story. By focusing on one investigation and the steps Ciel will take to solve it, there’s no feeling that this is simply being rushed along as another bump in Ciel’s journey. It feels like the events were given the time they needed without lingering overly long. While it would have been nice for a villain with just a little more motivation (or sanity) the lack of this doesn’t detract from enjoying the journey and having a satisfying resolution.

5. Seriously, it’s just fun. Visually it’s appealing, the music works, the characters come together well, and for any criticism I could give this series, I could dismiss it just as quick because I really enjoyed watching it. And that is why I watch anime.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this instalment of Black Butler, however it was fantastic to watch through and it remains one of my favourite parts of this franchise.


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Karandi James

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Kamisama Kiss Series Review: Lose Your Home, Become A God, Maybe Fall in Love

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

This is a review of seasons one and two of Kamisama Kiss. There are some spoilers below but I hope you enjoy.

Review:

Kamisama Kiss is a romantic, coming of age, supernatural comedy? It’s kind of hard to define. Mostly it is a romantic comedy but some episodes focus more on the supernatural elements and others focus on Nanami developing as a person/god so it isn’t all about high school girl drooling over cute fox spirit. Though there’s definitely aspects of that as well. I think when I reviewed this the first time I felt that it somehow it lacked depth, but that isn’t true. While not every event is high stakes and world ending terror, Nanami is dealing with a lot being made homeless in episode 1 before having to learn about the supernatural world from scratch while coming to grips with her own power. Hard to blame her for clinging to Tomoe along the way.

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Originally I reviewed this anime using a plus and minus format. I’m going to keep many of the same points this time around but I’m ditching that format.

One the best things about the show is the relationship between Nanami and Tomoe. It is hard to say that they are a couple given Tomoe continues to declare that he won’t fall in love with a human, but at the same time they have a partnership that relies on a fair amount of trust and respect. This doesn’t just happen. It is built up slowly over the course of the two seasons as the begin with an absolutely terrible first impression of one another.

It is in the development of the two characters individually and seeing how that impacts on their interactions that a lot of the fun is being found. Nanami definitely gets assigned the role of damsel in distress a lot in the first season, but she isn’t just taking that lying down. She’s fighting to understand how to deal with this new role of god that has been thrust upon her. Tomoe for the most part seems like he’s got things under control, but he definitely brings a lot of baggage into the mix that season 2 begins to unravel.

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Then again, all of the supernatural support cast are pretty solid, and no, they aren’t all hot guys although a lot of the early characters introduced are. These characters come with vibrant personalities and complex relationships. Their problems feel very human and the recurring characters grow and change through their interactions with Nanami. Personal favourites include Kurama and Himemiko. Though Nanami’s shikigami is pretty adorable in season two as well as fairly handy.

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And all of this comes with a fantastic opening song (or at least season one does). I could happily sing along to this one for ages as it is just so incredibly relaxing.

But, there are some parts the show does less right. For instance the humans in the story. Seriously, there are only two other human characters in the story worth paying attention to. For all the time and effort spent on giving the spirits, yokai and gods personality and presence, the humans are all shallow and underdeveloped shells of characters. This is especially true of Nanami’s classmates. And even if this wasn’t the focus of the anime, do they really have to be that irritating.

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The other issue comes back to that seeming lack of depth. Almost every problem in the show ends up being neatly wrapped up. Nanami is sweet and wants to help people and spirits and everything else and somehow she just makes things work out. We could argue that this is a by-product of her being a land god and coincidences occur because of that power, but that doesn’t stop it being any less a cheap plot device to get a happy resolution. Though, season two was definitely starting to add in some more complex problems that weren’t one episode conflicts and it would be nice to see the anime continue on and continue in that direction.

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Overall, what we have is a sweet show with some great characters (and a few not so great ones) with a predictable but adorable story, all told with some nice music, vibrant artwork and reasonable voice acting.

I completely recommend this anime to anyone who likes romantic comedies and even just people that don’t mind the coming of age story with a bit of supernatural silliness thrown in. While the comedy doesn’t always hit the mark, the moments that do will have you laughing aloud. A scene that I always remember is when Tomoe transforms Kurama into an ostrich and then chases him through the school building with a fox fire. Utterly ridiculous and yet totally funny (and apparently I’m not alone in that given a recent conversation I had with someone on Twitter).

What are your thoughts on Kamisama Kiss? Do you have a favourite moment or character? I’d love to know.


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Karandi James

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Libra of Nil Admirari Series Review: Pretty Boys and Books

I can’t help but wonder if maybe this story would be more fun if it were interactive and allowed you to follow along with one guy’s story rather than chopping and changing to ensure each guy got screen time, but no chance of development.

Review:

Libra of Nil Admirari

During the spring 2018 season I chopped and changed a lot with my watch list. There were a lot of shows that potentially could have been interesting, or I wasn’t sure if they would stick, so I ended up watching quite a few shows without reviewing and then as I dropped other shows that didn’t work out I would end up picking them back up. Libra of Nil Admirari was one of those series. And really, the first episode defines the entire viewing experience:

  • It is reasonably unremarkable but has some potentially interesting ideas.
  • Characters are introduced but they don’t really seem to have any overly defined traits.
  • Small moments of danger are inserted to created drama but it never feels like things are actually going to get dangerous.

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Basically I ended up feeling luke-warm about this whole series. It didn’t help that mid-way through the run the subtitles changed from Ruze to Kuze (or maybe I just paid more attention) and I realised that most of the guys running around in the show I never knew the name of and was left looking it up at the ends of episodes if I actually wanted to talk about that character.

While that might make it seem like a fairly terrible viewing experience, it really wasn’t. The show isn’t bad at any point. However it fails to be interesting or memorable for the most part. The one thing it has going for it are the cursed tomes, and pretty much any episode that dealt directly with a cursed book had at least one moment that really grabbed my attention, but even this story-line ultimately didn’t go very far. While we do get to see who is behind the distribution of the cursed books and they even resolve the story well enough, it’s a pretty unsatisfying story when you simply look at that plot line without the clutter of all the issues the pretty boys bring into the story.

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And each of the boys does have a story to share. It might have even been an interesting story if they’d been given four or five episodes to develop it but instead we shift the focus to the guy of the week, learn a little about him, and then Kuze either gets herself in trouble and is rescued by him and somehow that results in him feeling better about whatever, or Kuze actually talks to them and makes them realise something about themselves, but either way it is usually resolved before I’ve had time to get invested. Some of the boys were lucky to have their story carry over more than one episode and Hisui was one of the few that actually had quite a reasonable build up. The tragedy of that was they then just kind of wrapped his story up because we were nearing the climax and it didn’t feel like he really had the screen time he needed to make his story actually work.

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So what this mostly leaves us with is an anime that actually has some reasonable ideas, is pleasant enough, has a cast that work and individually are each potentially interesting but underused, and ultimately a fairly forgettable plot. The one thing this anime definitely has in its favour is a very upbeat OP and some interesting visuals during the ED, though I’m not entirely sure if either of these is enough to offset the mediocrity of what lies between those two things.

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As for a recommendation, I really can’t. If you happen to really love historical settings or reverse harems, then perhaps you will enjoy this more than I did, but mostly I think what was good about this show just served to highlight all the opportunities it missed. By the end I was mostly just wanting it over because I kept thinking about how it could have and should have been much better. So not inherently broken but neither is it recommendable.

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Karandi James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Karandi James

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