WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? Series Review: Someone Save Us From These Titles

Overview:

This is a story that takes place after the world has ended, humanity has been destroyed, and the species that survive now live on floating islands. However, the beasts still attack and so fairy weapons are kept to use magic swords to fight them. Willem, the only surviving human, is recruited to take care of the fairy weapons only he learns they are young girls who are basically being sent to their deaths.

I reviewed this week to week so if you are interested in my individual episode thoughts click here.

Review:

I was not planning on watching this show this season. The excessively long title, the cute characters, everything about it just screamed that this was a light novel train wreck waiting to happen. But I did watch the first episode because I like to give things a go, and amazingly enough the first episode of this show is actually really, really good. There are issues even in that first episode with how the characters are set up and the story being a little bit nebulous, but the delivery is great, the music goes perfectly, and it is just kind of a joy to watch.

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Then what happens is we have a whole series of ups and downs. There are some truly spectacular and emotional moments in this series. There are some great character moments. There’s some funny moments. Then there’s a lot of cute girls being cute, long drawn out side stories, too many characters being given focus when they aren’t really needed, an absence of the overall plot feeling like it is progressing, and the main characters just never quite clicking into their assigned roles. The show is working hard, I’ll give it credit for that, but there’s a lot of moments during the series where dropping seems like a perfectly fine option because while this never gets to terrible, there’s a lot of episodes that aren’t good.

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Then we get to the final episode and it is like that first episode all over again. You could walk away and feel great that you made it through, stuck it out, and that it was all worth it. And really, it is. Not watching week to week, this show would be signficantly better because a lot of that fluffing about in the middle wouldn’t feel so drawn out and the bits of narrative would feel closer together. Not to mention, you would get that excellent ending so much earlier and you probably wouldn’t be trying to pick it to pieces.

So I’m left wondering if I enjoyed this series overall or not.

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I’m going with yes. For all that there are definitely lows in this series and they probably could have halved the character count and actually ended up with a more focussed story, I really did enjoy spending time with Willem and Chtholly. Okay, part of my enjoyment comes from just how broken both of these characters are inside even while they smile and joke and try to carry everyone else (I really do have a thing for characters like this and I’ve never understood why but if I lined up my favourite characters they would all be very broken people). But part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that they are characters that you want to know more about and you want to see them somehow get through what they are facing even when you know they aren’t going to. While the romance aspect didn’t work so well for me with these two, I definitely feel the two connected and needed one another and that worked really well and made the final all the more satisfying.

Oh and did I mention the music. The music is a real selling point for this one.

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However, I’m certain I said this somewhere in my write ups while watching this, I feel that now that the show is done, I’d like a different team to take it apart, cut out all the excess and unnecessary bits, and put together that much better story that runs through the whole thing. It would end up half the length but I think it could be spectacular. Those moments are there already, but they are getting buried beneath average sequences and scenes and scenes that are good but have no purpose here (and while they might be setting up later events for the story, they don’t do anything for the narrative in this series).

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Overall, I’d definitely recommend trying this but just know going in that this show is very uneven in its tone and delivery. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, smiling, crying, nodding along in one sequence and in another you’ll just be sitting back wondering when they are going to get back to something that matters (and please can something squish the green fairy girl now, I don’t want to go shopping with her again).


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Grimoire of Zero Series Review: Witches, Mercenaries & War, What More Could You Want?

Overview:

Zero is a witch who wrote a grimoire (magic book) only it has been stolen and now she’s travelling to get it back. She runs into a Beast Mercenary (no name given) and recruits him to guard her until she retrieves the book. As payment, she offers to turn the Mercenary back into a human which would allow him to finally live his dream of living a quiet life and so after some bickering he agrees to the deal, but things aren’t as simple as they seem.

I reviewed Grimoire of Zero week to week so if you are interested in my episode reviews, click here.

Review:

I’ve always kind of felt that the worst thing a series can do is be boring and Grimoire of Zero walks perilously close to boring for a lot of its run time. Even when watching something terrible like Hand Shakers, at least I can sit and make fun of it. With Grimoire of Zero, there really isn’t anything wrong. All the key elements of a good show are sitting right there on the screen. Yet at no point did this show actually ask me to get invested or to care in the slightest about the fate of any of the characters or the events in the story. Admittedly, this was a problem I had with a few shows this spring (Granblue Fantasy being another), where it seems like the story should be really interesting and right in line with my usual preferences, and yet I’ve been unable to actually care about what is going on.

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Despite my general lack of engagement, there are some good points to Grimoire of Zero that deserve to be mentioned. Other than a few scenes in the second half, it is a really pretty anime. The characters, the world, the magic are all just well done and great to look at. Admittedly, there are a few moments in the second half where group shots of the cast have a few of them looking a little rough around the edges and a few moments where you have to wonder which direction they were actually looking or who they were talking to. It isn’t a deal breaker by any means but there’s definitely a downward turn in the overall appearance as the show goes on so it is probably good that it started out so strongly in that department.

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Zero as a character is quite okay. A lot of people really like her, the young confident witch stepping out into the world for the first time with a little bit of sass. I found her more than a little cliché at times and at other times just found her lack of communication skills with regards to Mercenary far too convenient for the plot given just speaking could have solved a lot of issues, but mostly she’s an enjoyable character.

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Mercenary too is quite okay. He has some genuinely good moments, he looks pretty cool in a fight, he’s a little thick but not painfully stupid, and his personality plays well against Zero as the two of them have a competition to see who can be the most ridiculously stubborn while genuinely forming an attachment for one another.

While neither of these characters are sweeping me off my feet, they both serve their purposes well enough and given a stronger storyline probably could have been quite fascinating.

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And that’s where we hit the real snag of the show. It has a cool concept with the missing grimoire and the new system of magic that Zero had created, and even the world itself with the Beastfallen and the witch burnings was inherently interesting, but the story itself just kind of meanders around from one thing to another. There’s no intensity or drive, and while all the issues are more or less connected, it seems more that one plot idea gets thrown under the bus for another one to take the focus for a bit, and you aren’t really given any reason to invest in any particular issue.

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If we add to the unfocused and undriven nature of the narrative the absence of any antagonist to care about it really starts to hurt the enjoyment of the show. For awhile it seemed like they were actually trying to build Thirteen up to take the role of that antagonist. The show really needed something for the group to overcome and he seemed like a great stumbling block. He was powerful, seemed to have a plan that was contrary to what the others wanted, he could direct others so could match numbers with our protagonists, and it all could have worked really well. Then in the second last episode he just decides that if Zero doesn’t actually want the mass disaster he’s been planning he’s done with it.

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Now at that point there is another group rising up, but it is a group that we as the audience don’t much care about. They’ve been mentioned a few times and we’ve even met a few of them, but their motives are incredibly weak and their plan is rubbish. You don’t think for a minute they might succeed so you don’t actually care. Yet the main characters go through the motions of countering them like they are an actual threat. You can see they’d like you to care about what is going on in this sequence but it is all just kind of there. And then they solve that problem, make a few announcements and somehow everything worked out. Hooray.

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Even the fantasy fan in me couldn’t get into this one. While there are some elements to the magic I would have liked to learn more about, the show really isn’t interested in getting too explanatory about that, so while there are some parts of the world that aren’t generic, the overall feel of the world is pretty ordinary. The fight sequences are done well enough, although as another blogger pointed out possibly a magic battle between two high level magic users should involve more than just coloured lights and intense glares. There are some good character moments and scenes and just enough points of interest to keep this rolling a long but ultimately the entire show is pretty forgettable unless you really like those two main characters.

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Before I end this review there is one more point I have to make and I know it isn’t really pertinent to the review but I have to say it. ‘Arrow to the Knee’ jokes should not be appearing in anime in 2017. I’m a big Skyrim fan and I loved these jokes and memes when Skyrim first came out, but that time passed and the joke is not that great that it needs to be revisited. What makes this worse is that the Arrow to the Knee joke is probably the most memorable thing Grimoire of Zero offered me.

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As for a recommendation, basically if you like fantasy you won’t dislike this. You may not get super into it either, but there’s nothing overly broken about it and it does look very good, particularly early in the series. It’s worth checking out and if you connect with those two main characters you may even have a lot of fun with it. Otherwise, it is a show that happened and now I’m moving on.


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Karandi James.

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KADO: The Right Answer Series Review: The Higher They Rise, The Further To Fall

Overview:

One day a giant cube appears off the coast of Japan, swallowing a passenger plane. Turns out a visitor from the anisotropic (or outside of the known universe) has come to Earth to give us some gifts. One of the passengers on the plane is a negotiator and he begins the process of communicating with and negotiating with zaShunina as the world is inevitably changed.

I reviewed KADO week to week so if you are interested in my individual episode thoughts, click here.

Heavy spoiler warning on the following review.

Review:

Two thirds of this show is absolutely brilliant science-fiction. There’s no excess, no silliness, no teenagers in giant robots, no random power ups for the sake of it, no actual fighting, but just new ideas and humanity reacting to those ideas. Here’s an unlimited power source. Okay, who is going to control it? What are the economic implications particularly for countries that rely on the export of fossil fuels? Are there any risks? It’s smart and incredibly thought provoking and while it may not be the most exciting thing to ever grace your screen, it is compelling and it was distinguishable from so many other first encounter stories. Yes, we’ve had peaceful first encounters before, but they are few and far between. Even with the nagging feeling that the benevolent zaShunina was up to something, and even if he had turned out to be evil, this show could still have maintained the tone that had really set it apart from the other anime in the Spring season.

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Alas, it was not to be. The final third of the story plunges us headlong into conflict, introducing a second anisotropic being, before going into a finale that really just needs to be scrapped and rewritten (more on that later, be warned about heavy spoilers coming). Previously, I wrote a feature about anime that end badly and some of the ways that anime manage to stuff up their endings. It is a frequent problem with anime in that resolutions seem to be really hard for them to get right. I’m not expecting a happily ever after for all involved but I would like my endings to make sense and that is where KADO failed completely. Somehow I left that option off the list of ways endings annoy me but KADO has definitely made it clear that this is worse than pulling a power of friendship card.

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However, I shouldn’t start by reviewing the end of the anime. Despite the appalling conclusion we arrive at, there is plenty to admire about this show and I would still argue that for avid anime fans it is worth the watch. At the very least, the first two thirds are quite compelling and even when it falls apart, it is more the disappointment of it that hurts rather than the story itself. There are plenty of worse endings out there. While the disappointment you feel as the show veers away from being that must watch, must talk about show of the year to something far more average is palpable, overall the show remains above average as a viewing experience because even at its lowest point it is still perfectly watchable (just no longer brilliant).This one just feels much worse because of how much better it could have been and that’s really an unfair scale to judge it on (though it doesn’t take away that bitter taste in your mouth after you watch it).

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Visually KADO is impressive. I know some people hated the look of it and that’s fine. And yes, there are some scenes where the CG doesn’t sit quite right particularly in some character movements, though fortunately they don’t move a lot because there’s a lot of standing or sitting and talking (it was a show about negotiation for the most part). There are some really beautiful sequences and moments and at the very least it is visually striking. The characters are easily distinguished and the settings are appealing to look at. Overall, it is a visual feast for the eyes and while it won’t be to everyones’ tastes, it certainly worked for me.

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The music is equally grandiose and memorable. The opening theme is one of my favourite for the year (not sure if it is my favourite yet but it is certainly a contender) and throughout episodes the background music is suitably subtle or dramatic depending on the requirement. I really enjoyed the music in this series and felt it really added to the overall tone.

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For the first two thirds, I really liked the characters. I liked how the different representatives in the government and on the UN council were portrayed. I liked how average citizens, reporters, the military, scientists, and a whole range of people and their reactions came across as the world essentially changed after the arrival of the cube. Other than a small group, very few of these characters progress beyond being a stand in for a larger section of society but that is the role they’ve been given and they do it well. Shindo and zaShunina and their interactions were thought provoking and occasionally even amusing. As the central characters they really had a lot of work pulling us along through what was an otherwise fairly dry first encounter portrayal and they did it really well.

I also liked the themes and questions this show raised. The discussion about the wam being a gift to humanity and not countries was clever and thought provoking as were many of the observations by characters in the early stages of this anime.

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And then it all went wrong.

Keep in mind, that up until episode 12, they hadn’t done anything that could not be salvaged but a lot of eyebrows were raised when they revealed that one of the human negotiators was actually also an anisotropic being and wanted to send zaShunina away because she didn’t like him messing with the world. Then they had a fight between the two anisotropic beings that ended with Shindo getting severely injured and a really cliché anime encounter as the female anisotropic being first healed him and then got really embarrassed because she wasn’t wearing clothes. This was not good. First we’d moved away from negotiations to combat, we’d introduced another super being so they could have a fight sequence (no human could have) and then we went smack into teen drama territory. Where did the clever and intriguing writing go during this phase?

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Episode 11 tried to raise our hopes. Shindo had a plan. He reconnected with various characters who had assisted him throughout the series and humans worked on a solution to the problem. Okay, so we’re not just going to leave it to the super beings? Awesome. We might get back on track.

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Turns out, no (Final Warning – MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW).

The final episode delivers a mind-numbingly stupid twist.

In addition to the plan that the audience were let in on, a plan Shindo clearly knew was absolutely going to fail given the actual reveal, Shindo and anisotropic being number 2 hatch a second plan. Manipulate time, have a daughter, and have her deal with the problem.

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What?

Are you kidding me?

Now I could break into a rant here about feeling betrayed and all the rest but here’s the thing, just because this didn’t end the way I wanted it to or thought it might doesn’t actually make it bad. Certainly we’re left with questions and there’s a lot of logical gaps in how this concluded, and most certainly this isn’t exactly a satisfying ending when those of us who followed the show from the beginning followed it because of the different approach it was taking and not because we wanted to see super power beings babble at each other and then just end the fight. But, it does resolve the overall plot and given events in the final four episodes and zaShunina’s increasingly erratic behaviour in the final episode it kind of forced itself into this kind of conclusion.

I still think though if you are going to bring in time manipulation have the future daughter show up about twenty minutes earlier so that Shindo doesn’t die a completely pointless death. That wouldn’t make this ending any easier to swallow but at least wouldn’t make it a complete waste of space.

The show is actually a victim of its own earlier episodes. It set a tone and standard for its plot that the second half utterly failed to live up to. Most of us went in expecting nothing because we hadn’t even heard of the show until it started, and then it was amazing. It was well written and interesting and seemed to be heading somewhere a bit different. It just couldn’t hold onto that for a full 12 episodes. Pretty much everything after the introduction of the Sansa is questionable as to where this started going wrong. But, if I take away the expectations I gained from those first episodes and just look at the second half, this is still one of the better shows I watched this season. So for all that I want to rant and cry foul at such a travesty of an ending, stepping back I realised that while I am hoping for a fan-fiction ending that actually does the show justice, this is still not the absolute piece of dribble it could have been. It isn’t as though it all becomes a pointless dream sequence.

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But that then makes me wonder what the point of the ending was. Was that supposed to be a touching ending?

We had an incredibly pointless and avoidable death, followed by a dull and pointless chase and fight sequence, followed by dialogue that did nothing to answer any of the actual questions that people are sitting there thinking about. Where did the clever and thought provoking writing go? Where did an emphasis on dialogue and negotiation go? Hey, here’s a plan. It still sucks but might have worked a bit better. Why doesn’t future daughter actually try talking to zaShunina rather than turning him into pretty coloured lights? I might have believed her as Shindo’s daughter or legacy then. Some sort of compromise could have been reached once she showed up given zaShunina finally had someone who could stop him. Of course, future daughter is really an incredibly stupid plot device in the first place so it would have been better if Shindo had just figured out how to actually get zaShunina talking again given that would have actually fit the tone of the show.

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Basically, I’m annoyed because this show got my hopes up. It was so good. It was great. And then, it wasn’t. It doesn’t invalidate the good things earlier in the series. It doesn’t mean that this is a show that should be avoided at all costs. What it does mean is that you have to go in knowing that the ending won’t be as satisfying as you would like and just accept it for what it is. It is a science fiction that almost got it right but, despite its name, ultimately missed being the right answer.

Sorry that this review kind of flip flops around. I kept having to delete sections as I just went in to full rant territory because I was so disappointed by that ending.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Series Review: How Much Trouble Can One Tanuki Get Into?

Overview:

As I went to write this, it occurred to me that I have yet to actually review season 1 of this show so I really must bump that up my priority list given reviewing season 2 without season 1 just seems odd. That said, season 2 picks up the story in the year following the events of season 1 and the tanuki are still trying to elect a trick magister and Yasaburo’s way too serious brother Yaichiro is still trying to follow in his father’s footsteps and assume the role. However, Yasaburo is not content to just have one thing going so once again he is interfering in tengu and human affairs as things get more and more out of control. I reviewed this week to week so if you are interested in my individual episode thoughts, click here.

Review:

The Eccentric Family is one of those very odd anime where there is a story and you could boil it down fairly simply in terms of the main plot, and yet that is almost incidental to what you are actually going to be watching. Season 2 follows the same format as season 1, in that we’ll mostly be following Yasaburo on his rambles around as he stirs up trouble and mischief, offers ‘advice’, and generally seeks out trouble for the sake of having a bit of fun. That said, season 2 seems to have decided it was time for a number of the cast members to grow up and so we have far more focus on romance and relationships outside of the family than in the previous season. There’s also a few quite dark moments (though season 1 did deal with the fall out of their father getting eaten so even though it is a comedy it isn’t as though it wasn’t always dealing with tragedy in one form or another).

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Because of the large cast and the rambling nature of the plot, it is more or less impossible to summarise the story given any summary is going to leave out massive amounts of subplot, all of which come back into the main storyline eventually. Basically season 2 follows yet another attempt at tanuki society electing a new trick magister only this time things seem to be going relatively smoothly for Yaichiro with almost no-one in tanuki society standing against him. The issue comes that Akadama-sensei has refused to be the tengu representative and has instead appointed Benten (who eats tanuki) and so the tanuki ask the recently returned not-tengu (his own insistence), Nidaime, to oversee the election instead, which really upsets Benten. Clearly that’s not all that is going on given we have a trip to hell, the return of the banished uncle, not one but two budding romances, the Friday Fellows seeking out yet another tanuki to eat, and multiple other storylines just bubbling along. Despite the sheer amount of content this show packs in it never feels overly rushed and even when things initially feel random, you know they will make sense eventually so you kind of just wait for them to twist back into the main narrative and then it all just kind of clicks.

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Basically, if you liked season 1 and enjoyed this eccentric cast walking around and having off beat conversations while stuff happens and they react, then season 2 gives you more of the same with a slightly more mature tone at times and with Yasaburo having a few more moments of reflection given even he realises that eventually his actions are going to get him killed.

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My favourite part of season 2, other than the music and the character designs which I loved in season 1 as well, was the inclusion of Nidaime. Any scene where he and Benten appeared together was fantastic. The tension between those characters and the occasional explosive encounters were well worth waiting for though I regret that they didn’t get a chance to meet in the aftermath as it would be interesting to see where they’ve ended up after that final encounter.

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Benten is still a fantastic support character in her own right, stealing literally every scene she is in, but this season she isn’t alone amongst a seemingly male dominated cast as Kaisei and Gyokuran (the two tanuki love interests) definitely step into the spot light at times (and isn’t it nice that these fool brothers are finding some fairly sensible matches to help keep them from going too far).

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The one complaint I would raise is that the ‘magic’ seems to have gone missing from a lot of this season. Yes, the tanuki still do transform but this is for the most part no big deal. There are a few encounters between Nidaime and Benten, however the last of them ends in hair pulling and barely anything of note (other than a storm being summoned and how jaded am I that this barely registered as magical). Basically, season 1 had a sense of wonder about the supernatural even as it worked to integrate the magical world into the city of Kyoto. Season 2 makes everything fairly common place and a lot of the wonder has just kind of fizzled. Admittedly, it was replaced by higher emotional stakes but I missed that feeling as I watched this season.

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If you’ve never given The Eccentric Family a go, don’t start with season 2. It assumes an understanding of the events of season 1 and the relationships between most of the characters are already pre-established and assumed knowledge. That said, this is one anime worth trying because it is kind of zany fun with a lot of drama thrown in and certainly feels a bit different.


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The Royal Tutor Series Review: I’m Certain This Was Listed as a Comedy

Overview:

Heine Wittgenstein has been called to tutor four of the royal princes with the task of training them to be future kings (the implications of potentially five candidates clamouring for the throne are hinted at but never dealt with). On arrival, Heine has his hands full winning over the four princes who aren’t exactly welcoming a new tutor with open arms.

I reviewed this show week to week so if you are interested in my individual episode thoughts, click here.

Review:

Going in to this review, I should probably admit I only even tried the first episode of this show because it seemed like the kind of thing I could quickly learn to dislike, drop and move on from. Then the first episode, while it didn’t totally defy my expectations, certainly made me rethink my position. While most of my joy from the early episodes comes from watching the stoic Heine interact with the fairly over the top Princes, I soon became quite attached to most of the cast and as the show continued I really found myself looking forward to each new episode. As a result, this anime became one of the most pleasantly surprising views I’ve had in awhile.

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However, just because it wasn’t a stupid comedy filled with empty headed pretty boys swanning about a palace doesn’t mean it was actually going to be good. I know that other reviewers actually ended up not liking the direction this anime took because while the comedy is clearly apparent in early episodes, this anime transitions from a comedy with some more dramatic moments to a drama that occasionally remembers to throw some comedy in. Given my preferences in viewing, this fit me perfectly and I found myself enjoying the show more and more as the season went on, except for the final episode but I’ll get back to that later.

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What I think worked with the transitioning tone is that it seemed to match where the Prince’s were in their character journeys. At the start the Princes were quite immature in their views and actions and the comedy was pretty fast and frequent. Then there was some growth and the comedy started tapering off a little to be replaced with more serious conversations about the future and what the Princes actually wanted from their future. Finally, the story looks at the Princes taking independent action and at that point the comedy pretty much gets tossed out the window (though there are still some moments that will make you smile as the Princes ‘investigate’). Because the tone always seemed to match the events in the story, I didn’t feel that this was a jarring change but rather a more organic one and it meant that the series didn’t feel like it lacked cohesion or like it was suddenly taking an unexpected turn.

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Of the cast, Heine is definitely the stand out. As the characters around him change in response to his presence, he is the absolute rock. His personality is set from the get go and he faces each situation in an expected and determined manner. This works because Heine is rarely at the forefront of the action or the solution to the issues. He offers a word of advice or encouragement, teaches a lesson when needed, and generally watches over his charges so that they don’t go too far out on a limb. One of my favourite moments was the flashback to childhood Heine as his personality was still pretty much identical. However, after a certain incident, we see younger Heine in one moment of actual vulnerability and it really makes you wonder how much he is hiding beneath that deadpan face of his.

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The four princes, Licht and Leo initially irritated me, Bruno started out arrogant, went through a weird overly servile phase before finally finding himself (and if one of these four ever becomes King and not the elder brother, please let it be Bruno). Kai remained fairly enigmatic for a large part of the opening due to his laconic nature so I couldn’t really make a judgement on him until well into the season, but like all the others, Kai goes through some excellent growth and by the end the four of them work together fairly effectively and all demonstrate some great characteristics.

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As this is a story about Kings and succession, there is of course a darker side to the story and in this case it is essentially the efforts of someone to remove Heine from the role of royal tutor (apparently he’s a bit too good at training future kings). There’s also the eldest Prince who we don’t see at all until the end of the show who one would suspect is actually the one who is going to be King one day. The conspiracy is basic enough given it really only gets a handful of episodes focussed on it, but it does keep things moving after we’ve gone through the initial teaching the Princes phase.

So, onto the final episode so spoilers below though I’ve tried to keep it fairly generic.

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The final episode is just cheesy. I didn’t much like it on first watch. It wraps up the story well enough and the Princes supposedly get to show off their new and improved ability to deal with things in a Kingly manner, but basically the writing fails them. If you are going to have four Princes deliver and impassioned speech then it really needed to have a bit more affect as what it ended up sounding like were four spoilt children whining because someone took their toy away and making grandiose statements and half-hearted arguments in a desperate plea to get it back. If the show was trying for a dramatic final moment and wanted to hit us with the emotions, it kind of missed its mark for me.

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Despite that, I really did enjoy watching The Royal Tutor during the Spring season. It isn’t the most memorable show and I doubt I’ll revisit it, but it was most definitely pleasant viewing for the season and you could certainly do worse.


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School-Live Series Review: Does a Zombie/Cute-Girl Mash Up Actually Work?

Overview – Spoilers if you haven’t seen the show:

The School Live club are a club that live at school. They sleep there, they eat there, they attend classes there, and they check the barricades to make sure they are alone there. Yes, this is another zombie story however School-Live decides to combine the cute girl genre in anime with zombie horror and the results are kind of interesting.

I started watching this after reading D’s initial impressions when they watched the show about two months ago. I’ve also posted my episodic thoughts previously so if you are interested check them out, but be aware of spoilers if you read beyond the first post.

Review:

As I said above, I initially started this anime after reading about it on D’s blog. I’d heard about it before but never paid a lot of attention. The art for it with the cute girls in school uniforms (even if they were hanging around a decrepit school room) just didn’t really leap out and say it was a must watch.

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I mean, you’ve got all your cliché’s in one. The pink haired and bubbly girl. The tough girl who is actually really sweet and loyal. The conservative girl that ends up being used for fan-service way too often. And then the serious leader type girl who acts like everyone’s big sister. Throw in a cute puppy and there you go.

Then again, it is also a zombie anime. I don’t know about you, but if I were taking bets on who would survive a zombie apocalypse, group of cute girls in a high school with a puppy wouldn’t be my first pick. Even after watching the anime I’m still not convinced on this point. Given only one of them actually ever even carries any kind of weapon for defense (until the very end), and one of the characters seem perpetually stuck in her own fantasy land where normal classes are continuing and all her friends are still alive, you kind of  have to just accept the basic premise that these girls through a series of coincidences did survive and for some sort of reason the school seemed prepared to house survivors in the case of a zombie outbreak. They never really get back to that point though so if you are after a full explanation of the reason why you will walk away disappointed.

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My overall thoughts after watching this anime are that I absolutely loved it until the half-way point. The first six episodes were brilliant. The direction, the way the reveals were handled, the characterisation, everything just worked. There were some really clever choices made and there was suspense, laughter, and enough creepy horror to keep you completely engaged even during the more mundane meal sequences and playing around the girls got up to.

Then we went into the second half. Three of these episodes kind of just focussed on the cute girl aspects and they kind of lost the suspense and mystery. The show that had balanced its elements nicely (or at least in a way that was highly entertaining) suddenly seemed to throw itself far too far toward the cute girls hanging around a school mode. These episodes dragged and just didn’t hold my interest. Even the direction, which had been exceptional earlier on, kind of became fairly ordinary during this sequence of episodes.

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Then the final three episodes switched again and went into full blown zombie horror. Admittedly, as a bigger fan of horror than slice of life and cute girls, I liked these episodes much more but that unique feeling where these two aspects were working together that had been so prominent during the first half of the series was gone.

I mentioned earlier that there are plenty of mysteries about the school and about the zombie outbreak that will never be solved. That isn’t a deal breaker for this show. This show isn’t looking at a government response to the outbreak or following a group of scientists or someone involved in the release of the virus. This show follows four high school girls just trying to live (not just survive). The distinction between living and survival comes up a number of times throughout the series. Sometimes it is addressed carefully and subtly and other times it just kind of smacks you in the face (Kei leaving Miki behind in the mall being one of them).

Because of the characters we are watching and their limited knowledge and limited access to knowledge there’s a lot we’ll never know about this world, and that’s okay. This story is built on tropes. Audiences know what cute girls in high school should get up to. These girls take a field trip, visit the library, do some gardening, have a sports festival, and camp out, a pool party, and more or less anything else you would expect from that sort of story. Audiences know what to expect from zombie horror. There’s been an outbreak. Does it actually matter why? Unless the story is focussed on finding a cure, I’d say probably not.

Yet, that reliance on the audience knowing the genres is also a weakness in the story.

And we’re plunging headlong into final episode spoilers so please bail out now if that’s an issue.

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Toward the end the girls learn that the highschool was prepared for a zombie outbreak, including the possibility of a cure for the recently infected being hidden in a sub-basement. This essentially tips the hand of the remaining plot (what little there is) as one of the four receives a bite  from a zombie. Not because she was overwhelmed but because of who the zombie had previously been and her inability to bash the brains out of a former friend (another issue the story touches on that I’ll get back to). Admittedly, this character getting bitten had been foreshadowed far earlier when she’d made the leader of the group promise to kill her in an instant if she got infected. Seriously, raise a death flag much.

Rather than actually follow through on the promise, the girls work together to get the antidote that essentially serves as the most convenient deus ex machina ever given why does this exist? Why is it in the school? Why isn’t there more of it already made if people were expecting and preparing for a zombie outbreak? It kind of kills any tension or suspense for this final sequence of events.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t something there though.

Delusional girl has finally snapped to reality and realises her friends are in big trouble because there are zombies. Turns out though that even when she’s in the real world, she has some interesting ways of viewing things. Instead of going gung-ho zombie killer, she makes her way to the school announcement room (or whatever it was called) and essentially tells the zombies she knows they love school but it is time to go home. And they leave.

This is probably the best thing School-Live does in the second half of the series. Even in the first half the girls had observed that the zombies seemed to be repeating events from their life, drawn to things they liked or did, and certain zombies in particular seem to act to protect things. This idea of zombies not being entirely brain-dead and having some part of their original personality isn’t new, but it is kind of interesting and throws a whole moral spanner in the works of shows where zombies exist only to be mowed down in interesting and violent ways. I’m going to touch on this later in an actual feature post rather than getting into that discussion now.

Alright, I’m done with spoilers.

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Basically, this anime works incredibly well. The first half is superior to the second in terms of cohesion, tone and suspense, but the second half isn’t exactly a train wreck. In fact, it manages to pull out some great character moments, asks some interesting questions, and while the ultimate resolution isn’t perfect there really wasn’t any other way for the show to end given the initial premise.

I’m glad I spent some time at school with these girls. I’m glad I watched it all the way through. I’ll probably do a rewatch someday and I think that despite my issues with the second half that this is an anime worth checking out.


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Akashic Records of a Bastard Magic Instructor Series Review: Or Let’s Get Glenn Sensei To Save the Day.

Overview:

A new part time teacher is appointed at a prominent magic academy only he doesn’t seem overly interested in teaching, at least at first. Enter some life or death situations for the students and then enter a heal the teacher/impart some wisdom on the students dynamic that will persist for the rest of the series.

If you are interested in my thoughts on individual episodes click here.

Review:

I’m going to have to take a plus/minus approach to this review. The thing is, this show probably isn’t as bad as I found it but because of its nature, and the nature of the main character, I really didn’t like quite a bit of it. There were a few shining moments though and that kept me watching right until the end.

+ Plus

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The first lesson that Glenn actually bothers to teach where he explains how modifying a spell will change the effect is fantastic. If they’d given us more episodes and lessons like this I would have hated Glenn less and enjoyed the show far more. This element of the story, how magic actually works in this world, is one of the better parts and it would have been interesting to get more into just how far you can push a spell modification. Unfortunately, after this lesson, other than a few references to students adjusting spells on the fly, there’s really little to look forward to in this department.

– Minus

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I’ll get it out of my system: I hate Glenn Radars. It isn’t that he is a poorly written character or that he has no development or anything like that, though there are moments where he could certainly afford to more nuanced. He’s a perfectly functional character within the story. I just hate him. His disrespect for his students and his job in the first episode really got under my skin and his continual deliberately putting people on the wrong side or allowing them to misunderstand his intentions just reinforced my dislike. Everytime I thought we’d finally moved on – the lesson he taught that was so interesting, the few times he stops acting like a jerk long enough to actually help his students without teasing them, his cool moments during a fight – almost immediately after Glenn would do something incredibly frustrating and infuriating that just reminded me I didn’t like him. For me, this made most of the show a fairly frustrating viewing experience and one I think most anime fans are familiar with. It doesn’t matter if a show is brilliant, if you are actively hoping for the main character to fall into an active volcano, you probably aren’t enjoying the show.

+ Plus

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The three girls who end up being the main focus most of the time, Rumia, Sistine and Re=L, actually have a fairly good friendship dynamic even if the inclusion of Re=L originally felt incredibly forced into the plot. Once she was an established part of the trio the scenes where these girls interacted felt fairly genuine. Now we could argue that pretty much all these girls were just taking it in turns to be the damsel in distress, but that doesn’t take away the strength of their friendship.

– Minus

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Other than characters who seem missing in action more often than present, are there any female characters who don’t need to be saved by Glenn Radars? Seriously. Just looking at the main 3 girls, they are incredibly capable and hard-working. These girls should not be designated victim of the narrative arc. And in case you want to point out the final fight where one of them did get to fight, I’d respond with pointing to how that fight ultimately ended and why. And just so I don’t have to add it as its own point, can I raise the issue of the stupid female uniforms that serve their actual purpose of fan-service very well but serve no other point whatsoever particularly when compared to the design of the male uniform.

+ Plus

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The stories get moved through fairly quickly so we aren’t really allowed to become bored. A problem comes up, we spend an episode or two running around, and then the problem is solved, ready for the new one. Most of these problems have some loose connection to either the politics of the world or some weird cult (so also probably political) and I’m guessing eventually someone will tie these plots together but at the moment they are more a disconnected series of events that occasionally have a recurring villain, but the point is that each story does not overstay its welcome before we move into the next arc.

– Minus

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What exactly is the overall point of this series? Glenn kind of actually becomes a teacher by the end of the story so maybe it was about his journey but he probably could have checked that box back at episode 4 if he’d wanted to. We still don’t know enough about Rumia, what the Akashic Records are, why there’s so much political discord, or anything of actual significance to the world the story is set in. We also don’t really know anything about the villains introduced other than they are all unhinged. So we’ve watched 12 episodes and while a continuation of this might be able to give us a bit more of a point, really the point of this just didn’t become clear.

– Minus

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This is again an incredibly subjective one but almost every moment of ‘comedy’ in this fell pretty flat for me. Mostly this was because a lot of it centred around Glenn and my active dislike for him made it difficult to find anything around him funny. But moments like Sistine blowing him away with a gust of wind, three times in one episode, came across as more tedious and desperate than actually funny. Again, that was my feeling and that was because I didn’t like the main character and I’m not a huge comedy fan in the first place.

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Basically, even with my instant dislike of Glenn and the comedy missing the mark more often than not, I still watched this series through. There are enough decent moments spread throughout and the stories are tolerable enough even if they become a little predictable as the series progresses. It looks pretty good, the music is fine, there’s some cool magic effects and magic lore, and every now and then they throw in a touching and dramatic moment. For people who don’t mind Glenn so much and find the comedy more appealing, I’m certain they’ll actually have quite a lot of fun with this series even though it will still not exactly be a stand out in any particular department. For everyone else, there’s probably other magical high school shows you could get into that might be a bit of a better fit.


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Natsume Yuujinchou Roku Series Review

Overview:

After six seasons now, most of us know the story. If you are new to Natsume, check out the review of seasons 1 – 4 and the review of season 5. As much as I love this show, diving in at season 6 is definitely going to make this a fairly complex story as all of the relationships being dealt with are now pre-established.

Natsume can see yokai and because of this he was isolated for most of his childhood. Having made a new beginning when he was taken in by the Fujiwaras, Natsume has slowly been building connections with both human and yokai as he learns how to live and to accept himself for who he is.

I reviewed this show week to week so if you are interested in my episode thoughts click here.

Review:

I’m actually going to keep this one relatively short or otherwise it is just going to turn into a gush about how much I love this show. I think that’s the true beauty of Natsume though. Season after season and I still love just the sweet and relaxing nature of the story and just enjoy spending time with these characters. They really do feel like old friends a and a new season is just a chance to catch up with how they are all going.

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Getting the usual stuff out of the way, I am going to say that I absolutely loved the music and the art this season. While Natsume openings are always mello and relaxing, this season just added a slight bit of upbeat to it and I came out the otherside of the opening smiling every single week. I don’t remember who, but someone actually analysed the flowers used in every scene in the opening on their blog and there’s a lot of detail and thought that has gone in to that opening sequence. I wish I could remember the link to that blog post because that was a really great break down. The art is the usual style for Natsume so fairly soft and relaxing. It isn’t overly detailed but it isn’t overly simplistic either. It just strikes a nice balance.

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There were a couple of moments throughout the season where Natsume himself looked a bit off. Sometimes it was his face looking a bit too sharp or a certain movement didn’t quite fit with the scene, but for the most part season 6 looks amazing. At times there are some truly vibrant and dazzling colours but those darker moments still hit home, all of this contrasting nicely with the usual muted colour scheme.

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As usual the characters are the big draw with Natori and Natsume’s relationship stealing the lion’s share of this season. That isn’t to say we don’t still get the occasional yokai of the week, a return of a childhood friend, a focus on Natsume’s school friends, some Reiko and Nyanko-Sensei, but really there are a lot of episodes focussing on Natori this season and how he sees Natsume and Natsume’s relationship with Yokai. For me this is a major plus and probably part of the reason I would say this season is my favourite ever. Natori is a great character. He experienced a similar childhood to Natsume but rather than befriending a yokai he found his way to the exorcists. As a result, he has an understandable resentment toward most yokai and finds Natsume’s softer approach a little hard to understand. That said, he understands that Natsume can’t give up the connections he’s made at this point as they are a necessary part of Natsume. Anyway, the play between the two is fantastic and while this series doesn’t resolve Natori’s intentions, it certainly gives the audience a lot to think about in regards to the two characters.

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Reiko is also a common feature, as always, though I must say the Reiko focussed episode this season was possibly the weakest for me. I found myself not overly invested in her trial. While I’m interested in Natsume learning more about the book and I’m interested in learning more about Reiko as she got older, the episode just felt very much like a filler side quest. If this was live action I’d suggest the actor playing Natsume got sick and they rewrote the lead to be a flash back for his grandmother.

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Another win this season was the ongoing development of the themes of self-discovery, acceptance, and friendship. These are beautifully handled and while occasionally Natsume’s monologues may feel you are getting hit over the head with the message, you realise that Natsume is quite emotionally dense due to his strange upbringing so sometimes he needs to process what has happened and sort out his emotions. From that point of view, his observations make sense and don’t feel quite so forced.

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Basically, I loved this season of Natsume. I would love to know another season is coming and coming soon. If you’ve never tried the show you really should give it a go.

If you watched season 6, let me know your thoughts below.


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The Laughing Salesman Series Review

Overview:

This is an episodic anime with two stories per episode linked together through the character of the salesman, Moguro. Each story he meets someone new and offers to heal the hole in their heart. This is usually followed by the person abusing the gift they are given and revealing their true and ugly nature before suffering some form of punishment.

I reviewed this show week to week so if you are wanting to know my thought on individual episodes please click here.

Review:

There’s something to be said for simplicity and The Laughing Salesman certainly has that going for it. There’s no gimmicks here. No sudden twists or turns or attempts to develop Moguro or to understand him or his motivation. He is the plot device offering a new character each story exactly what they think they want and then flipping things at a critical moment to lead us to a fairly tragic end for each and every character. It works very effectively and for week to week viewing this is quite a relaxing story to take in however it is equally forgettable. There’s no reason to care whether you catch the next episode or not or even if it takes a month or so to get around to it. The story isn’t ongoing and you won’t forget any crucial character information because other than Moguro and a bar-tender there are no repeat characters.

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It makes this an interesting anime to try to recommend because I actually don’t recommend this to buy on DVD or binge watch. It isn’t the kind of story suited for marathon viewing or repeated rewatches. Each story is interesting as a once off. You go in, you meet the person, see their true face, see their consequence and then you move on. So while I wouldn’t recommend this for DVD or binging I do strongly recommend watching the occasional episode or two in-between other shows. And seriously, don’t try to binge watch this. The repetitive nature of the story will most definitely do you in.

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The characters are caricatures and archetypes. There’s no getting around that. You won’t find a single well-developed, well-rounded or realistic character anywhere in this series. But that’s kind of the point. Each character we meet has a vice or an inner selfish desire that just needs a little bit of encouragement to come out. The simplistic nature of these characters makes them relatable to almost everyone in the audience because we’ve met someone with that tendency in the real world. Which is kind of necessary because it takes a simple story and gives it greater meaning.

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The artwork and character designs also need to be noted. At first I found this show fairly ugly. Not unwatchable, just had that old timey anime feel and that never really goes away (I assume this is due to this being a remake or something similar). That said, by the end of the series I was used to the odd visual choice and actually found it quite striking and interesting (still not pretty though). Mostly, I remember The Laughing Salesman visually because it was different from everything else I was watching.

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However, my favourite part of this show is undeniably the music. I loved the opening theme and that just got better listening to it each week. The music within episodes was pretty basic but did the job, but the ending was also kind of interesting. Still, an episode of this show is worth checking out if for no other reason than to bop along to that opening song.

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That said, I need to touch on some negatives. I’ve already pointed out the show is very repetitious. Don’t expect any kind of surprise reprieve or change in the status quo. This story has its formula and it is sticking to it regardless of what might be a clever twist that just seems easy enough to slip in every now and them.

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The other negative I will point out is Moguro. He could have been such a fascinating character. While it is nice in a way leaving him as an enigma, he’s really the only recurring character (other than bartender guy who I’m pretty such has zero lines) and gaining some knowledge of Moguro other than the fact that he actually is quite sadistic would have been nice. Early in the season I would have given him the benefit of the doubt but as the show progresses you realise that no matter how bad or good the person is, Moguro is going to force their inner ugliness to the surface and exploit it for all its worth. A few half-hints about Moguro would have been lovely. Just enough to kind of watch again looking for that additional information to piece together his story. But sadly, this is lacking and with Moguro, what you see is what you will get and he is as unchanging as the plot formula.

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So yes, definitely worth trying an episode or two, but nothing to write home about. If I were a rating kind of person I’d hit this one directly down the middle of whatever scoring system I used. It functionally works as entertainment and a narrative but that is pretty much all it does. For me, I enjoyed it for the mental break it gave me each week and the novelty factor as it was just that little bit different from the other series I picked up during Spring.

If you’ve watched it, what were your thoughts?


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Brave 10 Series Review

Overview:

I started this one as a random roll on Crunchyroll and went in more or less blind. Yukimura Sanada is gathering ten warriors that will be known as braves during the Warring States era in Japan. And that’s pretty much all I knew before watching.

Review:

Brave 10 is one of those odd little series that doesn’t really tick any of my usual boxes for enjoyment but is still perfectly watchable providing you don’t object to the occasional bit of swearing and fairly revealing costumes on both male and female characters. That said being perfectly watchable isn’t exactly being good and Brave 10 never really rises above watchable.

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In it’s favour it does have a truly great sound track for what it is doing. The music picks up at just the right moments, the sword and other weapon sound effects are suitably over the top, and even leaves and other natural sounds come through really well. While it isn’t going for orchestral masterpiece each bit of music perfectly conveys the right mood for the right scene and it is all very enjoyable. Of course, given my first positive point for a series is the music doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of it.

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Continuing with positives, despite there being eleven characters of significance, the story really focusses on Saizo and Isanami for the most part (Isanami having fled her shrine when it got attacked and roped Saizo into escorting her to Ueda where she met Sanada). All things considered, and given the focus of the climax, that’s pretty much where the focus needed to be. While a lot of the side characters get almost no development, these two remain relatively entertaining and their relationship grows throughout the series fairly well, provided you accept in the first instance that Isanami has inexplicably imprinted on Saizo despite absolutely nothing happening that should convince a girl that he’s a good choice for a friend. I guess the whole supernatural/destiny thing that comes into play during the climax might explain their ridiculously fast attachment but after that, the rest of the relationship develops fairly logically.

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This is also a pretty fun series. Other than a few moments toward the end, it doesn’t take itself overly seriously with over the top action, outfits, and of course the music, so you don’t feel like you are being dragged through a history course or a blood bath. While not every bit of comedy lands cleanly, the general tone is one of entertainment and you rarely finish an episode on a low note.

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Onto the less fun side of the show and the first criticism I have is that this story introduces way too many ideas that it does nothing with. Sanada is involved in some political manoevering but nothing ever really comes of that. Masamune makes an appearance to kidnap Isanami and later to try to kill Yukimura, and even at the end is about to ride out to plunge the world into war, but he basically serves no purpose in the central narrative and his actual goals remain totally unclear.  Even Saizo, who arguably gets reasonable treatment as a character, is apparently some well known, prodigal ninja, but after the first few fights is kind of just ordinary and then we never get back to his back story or his own goals (I guess he found the power of friendship or something).

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However, worst plot thread of the whole show goes to Hattori Hanzo (who also gets an award for worst outfit – see above). He actually seems like a pretty cool villain in that he is an incredibly over powered fighter (which given who he is facing is kind of necessary) but we never know what his goal is. He openly admits that they needed more information toward the end of the series but then he shrugs it off, says they have enough, and go to claim their prize, only he has no idea at all how to use it so you have to wonder what he was actually going to do. His cackling and laughing declarations would have you believe he just wants to destroy stuff but that doesn’t quite click with some of his earlier statements. Ultimately, he gets swept aside as completely irrelevant because this is Saizo and Isanami’s story even if they don’t know it.

If we then look at the sheer number of scenes that seem to exist only to show off various female characters in revealing outfits (although in fairness the outfits on some of the men are pretty revealing as well), and just some random side missions they go on while recruiting the ten braves in the first place, for 12 episodes there’s a lot shoved in and very little of it seems focussed enough to get us to a satisfying final.

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And there is a final episode that seems to be an attempt to bring some resolution, however there are so many character motivations and plot thread just left either unexplained or insufficiently explained, it ultimately doesn’t feel particularly satisfying. Not to mention the plot armour every character we’re supposed to care about seems to be wearing.

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I’m not really going to recommend this unless you happen to be a major fan of any anime set during that time period. But, if you are bored and looking for something to kill a few hours, you could do worse than Brave 10.


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