Phantom in the Twilight Episode 2: Old School Vampire Alert

I was pleasantly surprised that episode two of this was reasonably decent given the first episode’s shortcomings. The focus is very much on Vlad but the other characters definitely get a little bit of a look in as this supernatural story continues.

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It has been awhile since vampires actually had issues with garlic, crosses, running water and were held to the belief that they couldn’t enter a building without being invited and while Buffy made good use of the mythology around vampires, most stories take great liberties with discarding the old legends or openly scoffing at them. While that doesn’t make this show any better, it does make me more interested in it if the characters are going to have a more traditional portrayal (despite all appearing to be generically good looking, young guys). If that was the only thing episode two offered, I’d probably still be more inclined to watch this show than I was last week, but overall I was generally left with the impression that this episode was better.

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Ton was still not what I’d consider a great protagonist, but on one or two occasions she actually called Vlad on keeping information from her even if she didn’t press the point. The introduction of Wayne was kind of entertaining and I can see him being immensely useful as a plot device but he was just kind of fun as a character. Even Luke and the other guy (I keep missing his name) got a bit more detail about who they were and there was groundwork laid for an ongoing story with Luke that looks like it will get fleshed out next week.

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Of course, the attention was on Vlad a lot and his vampire powers are pretty cool. He’s fairly stereotypical as a character and yet not annoyingly so, but he may not be all that interesting to some viewers. Plus he has absolutely zero chemistry with Ton so the scenes with the two of them that could have been charming or fun mostly end up being just a back and forth of flat dialogue that does progress the plot but isn’t overly interesting.

I think i’m in with this anime though. The heavy supernatural focus in this second episode really sold it to me and even though I’d like a bit more from the cast, there were improvements from episode 1 to episode 2 and hopefully they will continue.

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Karandi James

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Natsume Yujincho Seasons 1 – 4 Review: Great Characters, Great Atmosphere, and Just Pure Relaxation

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

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It might seem strange that I love Natsume. Given my usual tastes for faster paced stories, stories that are a little bit darker, or stories that do something a bit unexpected, there really isn’t any reason for me to be such a huge fan of Natsume.

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And yet there is something incredibly compelling and adorable about Natsume himself that manages to draw me into this world and makes me want to spend more and more time with him.  Natsume in the early episodes of season 1 is damaged, and that damage doesn’t just disappear. It fades and comes out in different ways at appropriate times, and slowly, ever so slowly, it is being healed, but there isn’t an instant fix.

In point of fact, it’s hard to even notice how far Natsume has developed as a character until you go from an episode mid-way through season 4 and maybe watch an episode from late season 1 or early season 2. Natsume is a dynamic character who continues to take on board the experiences he goes through and these become integrated into his overall character. While it is subtle development it is consistent and ultimately it makes this whole story feel authentic in a way few manage. And it isn’t just Natsume.

All of the characters in this show develop slowly but surely in ways that fit with the experiences they go through. You really feel like you are part of this group and watching this show is like catching up with old friends. There’s a strength of writing and character development that you do not normally come across. This is something Irina and I explored when we took on the Natsume Supporter Character Battle to determine who the best supporting character was in this story. It ended up being a heart-breaking experience as we pitted truly great cast members against one another.

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The plot also moves. While each episode really is the yokai of the week appears with either a problem to be solved or a desire to get their name back, each season feels like it is moving forward. Season one helps Natsume overcome his unreasonable hatred of all yokai. Season two sees him developing some actual human relationships that aren’t superficial or simply being acted out. Season three helps Natsume begin to understand Reiko (his grandmother) and her actions. The season four plunges us into finally facing some of Natsume’s child-hood trauma and finding some closure.


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NATSUME YUJINCHO ICHIBAN KUJI PREMIUM


The art style is also really pretty. There’s definitely a reliance on soft colours but the nature effects, whether it be sunlight, flowers, leaves, snow or rain are always gorgeous and the characters are simple but easily distinguished.

Music is used well throughout the series but again has a very laid back kind of feel to it. Sound effects are mostly understated which makes the occasional dramatic effect really stand out.

The fifth and sixth seasons of this show continue building on the compelling foundation and this is one story that just keeps getting better. I completely recommend this series. If you want something warm and fuzzy and don’t mind watching events unfold at their own pace, Natsume will be a very rewarding watch.


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Karandi James

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 16: A Ladle Seems Like A Slow Way To Sink A Ship

Mana takes a vacation in this episode of GeGeGe no Kitaro but wouldn’t you know it, Rat-Man is also on a ‘vacation’ and soon we’re going to have yokai trouble again.

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It’s probably a testament to how light-hearted this show is that even an episode that focuses on a yokai dragging sailors under water isn’t enough to make me flinch when normally any potential drowning has me on edge and reaching for the mouse to skip a scene. I actually had no emotional response at all to this episode which concerns me a little for the future of watching it. Previously I’ve had a lot of fun with this show, but I will admit to feeling very detached during the more recent episodes.

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Still, there’s nothing actually wrong with this episode. Mana visits family and one of them doesn’t return home from his fishing work. When seeking to rescue him, they realise that there’s a yokai that is claiming sailor’s and using them as yokai to bring up his treasure (though no one ever seems to really pin the blame on Rat-Man which is where it belongs given earlier in the episode he’s the one who opened the pot letting the yokai out).

I think where the episode may have dropped the ball a bit was in the town’s response. It is obvious they were using the yokai threat as a reason to unify a town that was being torn apart by opposing ideals on how to run a festival, but other than a bit of exposition early on the audience didn’t really have any connection to the plot about the festival so it didn’t really have much impact when they all came together to play tug-of-war with the ghosts.

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Ultimately, this episode works but for me it was kind of functional without being particularly interesting.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episodes 14 + 15: Dreams and Faces

Monsters of the week abound with episode 14 giving us a dreamland that you can’t escape from and episode 15 asking what price you would pay to be pretty.

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This pair of episodes are both pretty cute and both pretty pointless as anything more than just another encounter with yokai. There isn’t even any real character building within the main cast, save for a small moment of cool from Daddy Eyeball in the dreamland where he imagines himself in a body so that he can save Kitaro. That said, both episodes work well enough as they introduce our human victims of the week and then overcome the problem.

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Interestingly enough both episodes very much seemed to point the blame for misery at the human world rather than the yokai with the fired salary man escaping to dreams because he couldn’t overcome his daily challenges and the school girl changing her face because of mercilessly being ostracised due to her appearance. This isn’t a new theme for GeGeGe no Kitaro, but it has been awhile since that theme has been the only focus of a story.

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Perhaps the most disappointing thing from these episodes is Mana. She used to be quite an interesting character and in episode 12 she definitely stepped up only now the show seems to be determined to simply have her as a hanger-on. It would be nice to see her returning to being something more than an intermediary between whoever the victim of the week is and Kitaro.

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Still, if episodic yokai stories work for you, GeGeGe no Kitaro isn’t doing too much wrong on that front and remains pleasant viewing even while it isn’t exceptional.

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Phantom in the Twilight Episode 1: This Season’s Hot Guy Cafe Brought To You By Vampires and Werewolves

This is one of those stories where potentially it could end up quite good or it could end up being a mess, or it might just become formulaic and dull, and there’s really no way to tell from the early episodes. Welcome to Cafe Forbidden where the staff aren’t exactly as welcoming as you would think.

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Ton is our walking cliche of a protagonist who travels to London to go to school and immediately gets robbed. Only she gets robbed by an invisible assailant and end up running into a strange cafe that turns out was started by her great-grandmother. Ton really doesn’t have much going for her in this episode other than some over exuberant reactions to being in London and then getting to run around a lot.

I mean, the guys at the cafe aren’t exactly subtle when one of them clearly says he knew her great-grandmother who has been dead for 100 years and even though he gets cut off, Ton doesn’t question that for a single instant. She’s one of those protagonists who could quickly become quite annoying given she seems fairly happy to just let the plot push her wherever it needs to. About the only positive is that at least it is her friend who gets kidnapped at the end of the episode and not her.

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The one thing this episode did have going for it was that it didn’t draw out the supernatural reveals. Right from the theft it is pretty clear that magic is afoot and by the time we have a werewolf (or guy with wolf ears) fighting a pack of goblins it’s all pretty much a given and this is the aspect of the show I’m most interested in at the moment. Hopefully the second episode consolidates some of the better points of the show and maybe gives Ton some actual purpose other than to be the designated clueless person in the series.

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What did you think of Phantom in the Twilight?


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Tokyo Ghoul:Re Series Review: This Franchise Demonstrates How Not To Adapt Something

Given I stopped doing episode reviews after episode 4, it should be fairly clear that this anime didn’t really do much for me. And normally I would just drop it and call it a day, but I decided to finish watching it. Mostly because the madness of creating an anime season that follows on from the manga but not the previous anime season just struck me as being a particularly harsh slap in the face for anime fans.

Review:

Let’s get the biggest point out of the way and then I can get on with reviewing this somewhat troubled narrative on its own merit, or lack of it, rather than the perceived slight of being literally dropped into the middle of a mess without any attempt to bridge where anime viewers were left after the previous season and where this began. I actually do get that a lot of anime exists just to sell manga or for fans of the source material. That’s all fine. But I have to wonder if even fans of the manga are happy by how this played out. It isn’t as though they can watch the anime from start to finish and get a coherent story. Instead they’ll get an introduction, a trainwreck of original material and then a jarring leap back to the source. Without heavy reliance on the source there is genuinely no way to follow this leap because characters aren’t where they were and half of them are either unknown or poorly introduced. As someone who never read the manga, I can assure you it is incomprehensible without at least some reading on various wikis and fan sites.

And that is not okay.

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Who is entertained by this? Anime viewers can’t possibly be because this franchise has no rewatch on its own without using the manga as a bridge. Manga fans may as well just read the manga because at least the story might be cohesive rather than what this presented. This is possibly the worst decision they could have made. A full reboot would have been better. A filler original series to somehow skew events back in line with the manga might have satisfied. Honestly, a ten minute character narration explaining events from point A to B would have been something.

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But no. That kind of courtesy is apparently not given when there is a clear expectation by producers that people will watch this franchise regardless of what dribble they drop on them. And given I watched it all the way through, I can’t say they were wrong. And yet, I know on hearing the announcement that Re was getting a second season, my only thought was that I was done. I have no desire to revisit this franchise. Not even the first season which I actually quite liked. And that lack of desire for more comes from the issues in this story on its own rather than from the annoyance that they did nothing to soften the jarring change in narrative for anime fans.

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Standing on its own, Tokyo Ghoul Re is riddled with issues. The central conceit that Haise has no memories of who he is and somehow this is a journey to find himself is poorly executed at best. With a visible transference of hair colour to indicate his current mental state (something that doesn’t play well given Kaneki’s hair went white due to trauma and that is a believable phenomenon whereas hair changing back from white sure isn’t) essentially everything about this struggle is blunt forced into the story bringing the current action sequence to a screeching halt while Haise/Kaneki play around in mental la-la land.

While it might be argued this mirrors Kaneki’s original transformation with Rize acting as a guide, this lacks any of the finesse or poignancy of that encounter. Superficially it is much the same and yet it is inelegant and, to be perfectly honest, quite dull to watch play out.

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Equally, the new characters introduced under Haise’s care are incredibly flat and one dimensional. They barely get screen time and when they do it is to the detriment of the story. And while some new bit players isn’t the worst thing Tokyo Ghoul drops on its audience, it seems it doesn’t realise that nobody cares about these characters building to what is set up as a tragic moment during its final episode that falls flat because to be perfectly frank I was more than happy to see that particular character bite the dust. I only wondered why more hadn’t joined him.

They are clutter and distractions from the older cast members who really just make cameo appearances. Arima gets talked about a lot but barely appears on screen. Touka shows up briefly and Haise gets all teary, but nothing ever comes out of this sequence. He then just moves on. Tsukiyama spends the majority of his time being crazy for reasons unclear to anime only viewers, and then his fate makes up the majority of the final battle sequence and I’m still not sure why anything about that plot line mattered.

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Basically, this entry into the franchise lacks any kind of central theme or driving force. Done better, Haise’s identity might have carried the episodes, but it really didn’t have anywhere near enough power to do that in its current state. And there’s literally nothing else. They go out. They investigate ghouls. They fight. Occasionally a ghoul investigator gets killed (or lots do) and everyone acts all outraged. There are some large scale fights with even more ridiculous antics going on than earlier seasons and none of them look very good.

I guess if you are a really big fan of this franchise there might be something here to cling to, but I didn’t find it. I watched the final scenes play out and breathed a sigh of relief that I was done. So clearly I’m not recommending it.


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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 13: And We’Re Back To How Things Were

And after the nation changing events of episode 12, we’re back to exactly how things were before as if someone hit the reset. That was disappointing.

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Last week:

I wonder if the fact that everyone now knows about yokai will remain a thing or if people will go back to their ordinary lives after this episode?

While I get that episodic shows are prone to resets, it seemed like episode 11 and 12 introduced what could have been a very interesting element into future events by having the ordinary lives of people seriously and publicly disrupted by yokai. And yet,  GeGeGe no Kitaro chooses to abandon dealing with that plot line and instead we’re back to Ratman scheming and Kitaro doing his hero thing with everyone else just back to their ordinary, oblivious lives.

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While this episode was still pretty solid for this series, the let-down of what might have been a really fascinating story path being ignored weighed heavily on me and I found myself just a little less engaged. It didn’t help that the moral this week was about as subtle as a brick to the face. That said though, the episode isn’t any worse than any of the earlier ones and taken by itself, quite enjoyable.

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