Tuesday’s Top 5: English Dubbed Anime

While I’m pretty much a strictly sub-watcher under normal circumstances, there are the occasional anime that for whatever reason I’ve enjoyed in English or had to watch the English dub of. Today I count down my five favourite anime that I’m pretty happy to watch in English. At some point I’ll have to count down my top 5 least favourite dubs, but for now I’m counting down my favourites and I’d love to know what some of your favourite dubbed anime is and why.

Please note, there will probably be no spoilers this week.

Honourable Mentions: K

Number 5: Bleach

Fight-Bleach

Bleach is a weird one because I know the dub isn’t that great (not that bad, but not that great). However, given this was one of the earlier anime I watched and initially I was watching episodes in smaller than ten minute chunks on YouTube so the subs were not always done by the same group and some episodes were in English with Spanish subs, actually getting to listen to it in English and not try to work out what the slightly different translated term or name was in the subs was kind of a relief when I could access it in English. There’s definitely a fondness and a nostalgia factor at work here and realistically I mostly watch this one in Japanese now that I own the DVD’s, but when watching with others I’m pretty happy to watch this either subbed or dubbed.

Number 4: Soul Eater

Maka + Soul

Is it wrong if I admit I prefer Maka’s English voice over her Japanese? She’s one of my favourite female characters of all time, one I’ve bothered to cosplay, and I think she’s amazing but something about Laura Bailey’s delivery in the English dub really lifts this character. Again, no actually issue with the original Japanese and I prefer Black Star in Japanese to English (though personally I’d prefer him on mute) but overall this is one of my favourite anime and I watch it in English about half the time I watch it.

Number 3: Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood

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This is another anime I originally watched online, somewhere, because everyone said it was amazing and I didn’t have access. The version I watched just happened to be an English dub and I really fell in love with the characters. By the time I was able to by a DVD copy of this anime, I kind of felt the English voices fit things just right and I actually find it odd when watching this one in Japanese. There’s a real energy to the cast and the characters really do come through beautifully in the dub.

Number 2: Sword Art Online

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While I love the Japanese of this one, this is an anime that I’ve used on multiple occasions to get people into watching anime so I’ve watched the dub, a lot. At first it kind of bothered me but over multiple watches, the voices have definitely grown on me. There are some characters that really do give a fairly impressive performance in the cast and while I prefer Kirito speaking Japanese, he works quite well in the English dub. More importantly, most of the people I’ve watched it with have been impressed by the voice acting given most of them had previously had limited experience with anime and most of the dubs they had been familiar with were 90’s ones which we should probably all agree just weren’t very good.

Number 1: Steins;Gate

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Yes, it is the original Steins;Gate series. I’ve mentioned in more than one comment online that this one of the few series where I prefer the dub. Not only are the cast amazing, it relieves the problem of the very quick dialogue and multiple characters speaking at the same time. While I have no issues with subs, when the subs cover a third of the screen and pass so quickly you can’t read it all at times, it becomes a slight distraction from the overall enjoyment. Watching this in English is a joy and one I would happily recommend skipping the subs on and just switching straight to dub.

What are some of your favourite dubs?


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Karandi James

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online Episode 3: And We Reach The Beginning?

At the end of episode 3, we reached the beginning of episode 1. Okay then. What next?

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 I get we sometimes start a story in the middle and then find out how we got there. Sometimes that’s to ensure it grabs our attention early on or it makes us interested in something that we need to learn later on. GGO doesn’t seem to have done that. This anime dropped us into a decontextualised battle royale with characters we knew nothing about. We then spent two episodes seeing how the pink bunny girl got there and it wasn’t exactly a thrilling tale.

SAO3d

About the only point of interest is that they are strongly implying that Pito is the singer that LLENN likes and that letter LLENN sent seems like it would be a sure give-away. Whether that ends up being the case or not, I don’t think I care. From next week I’m going to swap out these episode reviews for something else. I might watch a bit more of this, but I’m not interested in reviewing it at the moment.

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Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature: Is Brand Familiarity Influencing Our Anime Viewing?

Spring bloomed with a whole pile of new anime to watch and as usual, more than a few of these are returning franchises with spin-offs, sequels, and reboots a plenty to be found in the line up (of course there’s plenty of new titles as well to be found across the various streaming services). However, when I was reading various first impressions I just kept wondering if some of these premieres would have gone so well without the brand recognition behind them.

There’s no doubt at all that brand recognition is having an influence. Prior to the season beginning, some of the most talked about anime were the returning shows such as My Hero Academia. A week into the Spring season and if you sort the titles on MAL by score, of the top 5 Spring anime, 4 of them are returning franchises. And while there’s nothing wrong with people being excited that a franchise they love has come back, I have to wonder whether there were some other first episodes that maybe did a better job of setting up the season that were overlooked due to the power of some of these brand titles.

MAL - Spring.JPG

So let’s take a look at some of these first episodes and what they did and didn’t do. I’m going to look at My Hero Academia, Tokyo Ghoul: Re, and SAO Alternative: GGO. I’d look at Steins;Gate Zero but I’m honestly still trying to figure out whether it actually was a good start to the season or not. Keep in mind, I’m not bashing these shows. All of them have ended up my watch list and I anticipate varying levels of enjoyment from all of them, and some of them have actually delivered slightly better in their follow up episode, but I’m just going to focus on the first impressions we had of these returns. However, I’m aware that if I’d watched these first episodes cold, as an introduction to a series, there were some definite issues that lesser known titles would never have gotten away with.

My Hero Academia Season 3

With the exception of the opening song, which some viewers quite liked but for me just fell completely flat and kind of set the tone for the episode, My Hero Academia returned with its usual excellent production values including great animation and a vibrant colour palette that makes the whole thing just easy on the eyes. MHA is always a high energy and really engaging watch, even when very little is happening and this first episode was not an exception. So for those already hooked on the series and those who had waited with held breath for the return of their favourite class of super heroes, realistically it makes sense that the anime can get away with not doing much.

hero academia 3 three

But think about it. How many anime would get away with an almost entirely flash-back filled first episode with some minor filler story-line connecting the recap? No doubt this was high quality filler. There were some amusing antics, some reasonable character moments, and if you just wanted to re-engage with the cast it certainly succeeded. It even managed to hint at a direction for the upcoming season, though kept its cards fairly close to the chest so the specifics of what the season will focus on were still pretty much a mystery. But high quality filler is still filler and recaps are always best done as ‘specials’ rather than legitimate parts of the season. And episode 1? Really?

Couldn’t they have taken a page from Kimi ni Todoke and had an episode 0 for the season where we had the recap, if a recap was in fact needed?  The other excuses for recap episodes where the team have fallen behind don’t hold water when it is episode 1. This was planned recap. I know I’m letting my bias show here, but I just felt that after months of waiting for a new season this show needed to do more than this. Fans of the franchise don’t need a class roll call to remember the cast and newcomers won’t be jumping in at season three so this essentially served no viewers’ purpose.

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I’d have to compare this episode of My Hero Academia to the first episode of Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS. Also a returning franchise and also running a fairly recap heavy first episode, WIXOSS managed to do a lot more in its twenty minutes than MHA. For instance, some of the flash-backs were actually new sequences that gave us additional information on events that had happened during the last round of card games. Also, the sequences in-between recollections and exposition of past events set up a very clear direction and conflict for the coming season. While I didn’t really need the reminders of what had happened prior in this anime either, I felt it was far better integrated into a new plot and the episode as a whole just felt more meaningful. Not as fun, but then again an anime about a magical card game that essentially plunges all its players into misery isn’t exactly aiming to be high energy fun.

Tokyo Ghoul: Re

Alright, again we had a well produced episode that showed off some quite decent animation as well as the general dark tones we expect from Tokyo Ghoul. We also meet the new characters, set up a current conflict, get hints of political tensions within the organisation, and at the end of the episode get a strong hint of the character drama to come. All and all, a pretty decent first episode.

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No, Tokyo Ghoul: Re is on this list because it kind of assumes viewers have read the source material. Jumping from Season 2 of Tokyo Ghoul to this is sort of jarring and you are having to make a lot of assumptions and guesses about what has actually happened because season 2 didn’t follow events in the source and Re isn’t even trying to help fill the gaps. It’s just charging ahead full steam with its plot line. While fans of the source material are probably rejoicing that this has returned to the ‘story’ people following the anime are left more than a little confused and wondering if we’re going to get the explanations we need further down the track.

Then again, it is Tokyo Ghoul and it isn’t as though the first season wasn’t riddled with narrative and character issues, so maybe I should just make my assumptions and watch things unfold as they will without giving it too much though. The anime seems to go down better when you stop trying to make it be more than what it is.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

From reading other viewers first impressions of this, I’m guessing I was overall in the minority of people who found it kind of lacking. There were many reviews singing the praises of this new version of SAO. The regular descriptors included fun, ride, exciting, etc. One common comment came up again and again. SAO without Kirito. It must be better. Which I guess if Kirito is your main reason for disliking the original SAO that might be an appealing trait, but does that actually make the anime any better?

SAO1a

Possibly it might. That’s assuming of course that any of the new characters have interesting characters. Which is impossible to tell from this first episode. Basically, the first episode is like watching someone play a shooter. They are in a tournament and we follow a team of two as the discuss tactics and execute their plans. That’s it. It’s well produced with music, animation and visuals all working well enough and it all fits in with the general aesthetics established by SAO so this isn’t a jarring deviation from the anime and source that this has of course sprung from.

But after episode one, I had no idea what this show was actually about. Okay we have a girl playing GGO. I know from the synopsis she has a complex about her height. I still don’t know what the overall complication or direction for the story is going to be. In fact, I don’t even have a hint. There was absolutely no narrative construction in this first episode. It was watching two people play a game. We don’t know why these two are teamed up, or what they want, or whether there was any overall grand picture. All we know is, they played the game, and the pink bunny girl has got some moves – you know, she reminds me of someone.

SAO1d

All and all, this first episode of GGO left me with a pretty bad taste in my mouth. Sure, it has potential to be quite good. They could introduce the characters and have some overall plot going on, but realistically this first episode gave us nothing to go on and not even any reason to think maybe there’s something going on. As much as people like to criticise the original SAO I at least left the first episode knowing the basic personality of the protagonist and what the overall goal was for the story. It was pretty straight forward but it worked.

So what?

Ultimately, this isn’t news to anyone that brands and franchises influence our perception. There’s a reason the various super-hero movies keep making major money at the box office despite varying quality between them, and there’s a reason sequels, prequels, spin-offs, origins, and whatever-elses keep getting made from recognised titles and characters. They sell.

And when something is known to sell, it is more likely to be suitably funded in the first place. Bigger budget leads to bigger spectacle, so even if the story isn’t as rock solid and the performances and characters not quite as nuanced, the overall quality of the production will be there and sometimes that’s enough to keep people watching and happy. Plus, its entertainment. Provided it is entertaining, does it really matter if it isn’t the be all and end all in storytelling?

As much as I would love to be blown away by a narrative populated by incredibly diverse and fascinating characters who consistently hit their mark, I can’t say that I’m not happy just watching the kids from MHA play at the pool, or the ‘not-Kaneki’ reconnecting with himself, or even pink bunny girl going all rambo against professional soldiers. These were all fun first episodes in their own ways. But, I think sometimes even while having fun, it is worth stepping back and wondering what more something could be or do and more importantly, whether some of those dodgy first episodes with poor animation due to less experienced teams or smaller budgets, might actually have delivered a somewhat more solid narrative.

But that is probably a long enough ramble from me. I’d love to know your thoughts on the big franchise anime that have come out this season and how they’ve started.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online Episode 2: So, No Plot Then?

Other than tall girl enjoying playing gun game as short avatar, is there actually a plot in this anime?

SAO2b

What happens when you take an anime focused on life or death in an alternative reality and instead cast an insecure girl and take out the life and death part? Well, probably this. LLENN is adorable as the pink devil and all but other than watching her freak out over various avatar designs before dancing happily because she finally got a short avatar and then watching her show prodigious skill at ambushing more experienced players, I still know pretty much nothing about her or the point of this anime. Sorry, she likes music. Including movie soundtracks.

SAO2e

I can kind of see that this will appeal to some viewers quite a lot, but it isn’t SAO. Not by a long shot. And as I’m really not finding any connection with the main character and still have no clue what the story is actually going to be, I’m not convinced that I’m signing up for a whole season of watch girl play game. I’ll give this one more episode, but if no story emerges I’m going to drop this, much like I did the DanMachi spin-off. If you take out all the parts of the franchise I actually like, regardless of whether you put that name on the product, I’m still not liking the product.

I can kind of see where people who weren’t as in to the original SAO might prefer this though. Still, so far not really to my taste.

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Karandi James

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online First Impressions

While I love SAO, I have to say Gun Gale isn’t my favourite part of it. Mostly because of the whole gun thing rather than swords. Still, this wasn’t a bad start. What did you think?

SAO1d

Well, if we wanted to know what the actual plot of this spin-off series was going to be, this first episode isn’t exactly big on revealing. Mostly it seems to be intent on distinguishing itself from the whole sword and magic fights of the main stream SAO and plunges us straight into a gun battle just to show us how COD it can be (or pick your favourite shooter game).

That doesn’t make it bad as visually it was fun to watch and I kind of love the main character’s pink outfit and matching gun (inappropriate thought it is), but if I wanted to explain to someone what this is about so far all I’ve got is shooter game fantasy. A little bit more of an idea about the character or plot development to come might have been appreciated.

SAO1c

Still, despite not being a fan of shooters, this is part of SAO and so I’m pretty much signed on to watch it unless it becomes totally abysmal and this first episode was actually pretty reasonable (most enjoyable if you actually like watching gun fights). I guess I’m signed up for a season.

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Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Reasons To Like Kirito

As far as anime characters go there are many that are beloved and held up as shining examples of amazing characters. Kirito from SAO isn’t usually one of them and to be honest, I’m not actually going to argue he should be. However, I really like Kirito as a character and so my list today are my top reasons to like him. Feel free to share reasons why you don’t like him, another character you think isn’t given enough love, or even your reasons for liking Kirito in the comments below. Just remember to play nice.


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SWORD ART ONLINE: LOST SONG


Please note: There will be spoilers below.

No honourable mentions this week.

Number 5: He’s Got Moves

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Okay, the Black Swordsman might be overpowered (depending on how you want to define that) and maybe we know plot armour is going to see him through regardless of the challenge (which kind of points out he isn’t that overpowered given he needs plot armour in addition to being crazy strong) but Kirito has some genuine moves with those swords. While a slightly more detailed animation style rather than colourful spam movement effects might have been nice in order to see more of that style, that aesthetic kind of matches the trapped in a game feel more or less perfectly so I can’t really be that critical. However, I put Kirito’s fights against some of the floor bosses (the few we see) just below Bell from DanMachi in terms of epic fight scenes to watch (and by epic, I mean I really enjoy watching them).

Number 4: Despite Having Moves, He’s Also a Klutz

Kirito - food

Maybe it is the Sailor Moon fan in me coming out but Kirito is at his most charming when utterly failing at simple things. That’s probably the reason that despite all my complaints about the Ordinal Scale movie, I still genuinely enjoyed it. Kirito spends the first part of the movie more or less out of his depth and tripping over himself before he finally switches into a more serious mode. He’s definitely less fun then.

Number 3: Though there’s a gaggle of girls surrounding him, Kirito has eyes only for Asuna

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Say what you want about Kirito’s harem, Kirito being surrounded by girls, none of the girls having any purpose other than to fall in love with Kirito and Kirito not deserving to be liked by so many girls (and all the other things that people like to say) the simple truth is Kirito has been completely loyal in his affections from start to finish. While he helps others out, and those others are regularly girls who then do stare at him with puppy dog eyes for a fair while, it is quite obvious that Kirito feels real love for Asuna and that it is mutual. The two have a bond that is incredible to see develop and to watch over the course of the first two arcs. The boy is loyal and he’s standing by Asuna no matter what and literally watched the end of a world with her by his side.

Number 2: Socially awkward teen who remains socially awkward, I’m in

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Kirito starts season one of SAO mostly isolated from his family, unsure who he is, and not overly social. He struggles to communicate with others and while Klein forces his way into Kirito’s attention, Kirito remains strictly a loner for a fair length of time inside the game. Much like his klutziness, his socially awkward moments that continue through large parts of the series remain one of my favourite parts because it reminds us that though Kirito does begin to open up to others and slowly builds up a circle of friends he still isn’t exactly well practiced in social graces.


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Number 1: Sound advice about enjoying the moment, no matter how messed up it might be

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While at first Kirito responded to the game with fear for his life and a genuine drive to escape (a drive that never went away entirely), he did come to an acceptance of his circumstances faster than many other characters. He continued to look for a way out of the game, a way to win, but he also remembered to take time to enjoy the world they were in and the life they were living. It was a game so many of them had wanted to play and a rich virtual world that was truly beautiful. Kirito realised the positives of the situation even while he didn’t resign himself to never escaping. It was a lovely thought about appreciating the moment and taking what you can from it, even while keeping sight of what you want.

And that is my list for this week but be sure to check back next week for a new list, or you can check out all of my Top 5 lists here. For now though, leave us a comment sharing your love for Kirito (or otherwise).


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Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Isekai Stories

With my current light novel fixation and the majority of these being isekai stories I decided to look at some of my favourite isekai anime. Now this list started with just being set in another world and then clearly made a distinction of stories where someone starts in one world and crosses to another (which ruled out huge numbers straight away and that was probably a good thing). The other self-imposed rule I made was that there needed to be some element of being stuck in the new world, which unfortunately took GATE out of my list so it is going in the honourable mentions.

As always, this list is my opinion and my favourites, feel free to add yours in the comments below. I’m certain there will be some Re:Zero fans out there.

Please Note: There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions in this list go to GATE and Drifters.

Number 5: The Familiar of Zero

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I don’t really know why I like this over the top, harem comedy anime, particularly with the initial interactions between Louise (the titular Zero) and Saito (ordinary guy from Earth who gets summoned as Louise’s familiar during a high school magic exam gone wrong). She literally treats him like a dog or a slave at first and it isn’t great (and there is some highly excessive fan service throughout), however somewhere along the line an actual story begins to develop and the world Saito has been summoned to ends up being quite interesting. All and all, by the end of the first season of this I was pretty hooked even if it is incredibly bad at times.

Number 4: No Game No Life

No game No life

Again, this one has some appalling fan service moments going on in it, but once again the world itself is really interesting. A world where there is no war and literally everything is decided by the outcome of games seems really fascinating, particularly when the participants of the games set and agree to the rules so it isn’t as though you have to be good at one particular game. Shiro and Sora are siblings who play as Blank online in the real world when they get invited to play another game and end up being transported to Disboard. While some people find the predictability of the victor a bit of a let down, I really enjoyed this anime and my only real complaint is the anime ends just as the story seems to really get going.

Number 3: The Devil is a Part Timer

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This one is kind of the reverse situation to so many other isekai stories. Instead of some normal everyman from earth finding themselves in a magic world, here a hero and a devil find themselves stuck on Earth where magic is pretty hard to come by. While they do find various ways in the end to travel home, for some reason, they never seem to go and Maou finds more and more reasons to stay. This one is funny and if you ever believed that corporate culture was evil you will probably find the devil’s aspirations to take over the world by working his way up the food chain at a knock off McDonald’s hilarious. Again, the story feels unfinished, but it is a fairly entertaining ride.

Number 2: Sword Art Online

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Yes, I like Sword Art Online. This one is also a bit different from others on this list in that it is a game world and not some sort of magic world the characters are in, and they voluntarily entered it even if they didn’t know they couldn’t leave, and by the end of the first arc they aren’t trapped anymore, but I love this show. I’m putting it here. It is great fun and Kirito is awesome. If you like boss fights, some random questing and levelling, and seeing characters getting on with ‘life’ when removed from the real world, this show is great fun.

Number 1: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Grimgar

It is no surprise when I decided to dip my toes into the pool of Light Novels that I started with Grimgar. I loved this anime so much and fell in love with the world and the characters and desperately wanted more. Now that I’m reading the light novels I really want to know why there is no second season of this anime. Certainly it is a much slower pace and not as comedy heavy as some on this list, but I think that is for the better in this case as it provides a darker view of normal guy being transported to a world where he’s suddenly expected to know how to fight and survive. Well worth watching but you may need some tissues mid-season. One major difference in this story is the anime never confirms where the characters came from before they woke up in Grimgar so we know nothing of who they were before they encounter this world.

So that is my list of top 5 isekai anime. Please add your own favourites in the comments below because I would love to know what is on your list.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Guys with Black Hair

Last week we did the list of top 5 anime females with black hair focussing on the cool beauties of the anime world. This week my attention shifts to the male characters and I think my main focus here was focussed and dependable. That said, there are an enormous number of males with ebony hair that I just could not fit onto my list so I would love to know your thoughts and who would have been included on your list.

Please note there are some spoilers in the descriptions below.

Honourable Mentions: Jiroh (Black Blood Brothers), Kazuya Shibuya (Ghost Hunt) and Gilbert Nightray (Pandora Hearts), plus the dozens of others that were considered and ultimately left off the list.

Number 5: Hei (Darker Than Black)

Whether he’s on a mission, infiltrating an organisation, reporting in, apparently having a break, Hei is always focussed on his primary goal, find out what happened to his sister. He might be a crazy powerful contractor but even before he became a contractor he was feared for his skills. he is one guy you do not want to cross because once he sets his sights on something, one way or another he’s going to make it happen and he’s going to look really good while doing it.

Number 4: Kirito (Sword Art Online)

Another highly focussed character and one I very much enjoy watching in action, Kirito does not let anything stand between him and his current goal, not even death. Plus, once you get through his protective shell and anti-social exterior, he’s actually a genuinely caring person who looks after those he considers his friends. While his tunnel focus might work against him when he gets fixated on single points and sometimes misses the bigger picture, in terms of drive it is hard to argue against his actions.

Number 3: Kuroh Yatogami (K)

If you are looking for dedication and loyalty than you can’t go much further than Kuroh. Not to mention the guy can cook and rocks that pink apron. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a disconnect between his good looks and personality when fighting to his more laid back persona and he definitely has some personality traits that are a little questionable, such as listening to the recordings of his dead master for guidance on a daily basis. Still, he’s a strong fighter, wields a sword, has an absolute sense of duty, and ultimately does what he believes is right. He is one very cool character for this list.

Number 2: Shinya Kougami (Psycho Pass)

I’d like to let the pictures speak for me on this one. Kougami is tough, focussed, and relatively unstoppable once he puts his mind to things. He’s also really great to watch in action. However, he isn’t a muscle head who only relies on his fists, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and knows when to use it. A pure joy to watch as he unravels the mysteries in Psycho Pass and seeks out his revenge.

Number 1: Sebastian Michaelis (Black Butler)

Was there ever a moment of doubt that Sebastian would not be number one on this list? The guy can do anything and look amazing while doing it. Okay, he might be a demon so has an unfair advantage. In a fair world, Kougami would be the number 1, however fair or unfair, Sebastian is perfect, except for the whole eating people’s souls things. That’s a minor hiccup in an otherwise flawless persona.

Alright, I’m done so I’m handing it over to you for your top 5 guys with black hair.


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Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale Movie Review

Overview:

Yeah, there’s a new game using augmented reality rather than virtual reality that Asuna and all of Kirito’s friends are into. But like every other game in this series it has just a little bit of a catch.

Review:

As you may have picked up from my series review of Sword Art Online yesterday, I am a fan of SAO. I am not oblivious to some of the faults with the story or the characters, but I genuinely get a lot of joy and fun from watching and rewatching the series. So I was super excited when I found out I’d be in a city with a cinema when SAO was still showing and it was showing in a cinema in the city I was going to be in. Given I only usually get to see a movie in the cinema every six months or so, this year has been pretty good to me in terms of my actually getting to see cinema releases. Still, SAO was my very first anime cinema experience and I’m really glad I had this experience.

That said, and as much as I really had a lot of fun, the movie is not good. Fans of SAO who are still fans despite all the rocks people throw at the series and despite some legitimate complaints about the plot will enjoy this movie but otherwise it just isn’t that good. Mostly this is because it does all the things anime movies tend to do that annoy people.

Firstly, every character of note from the previous four arcs is going to make an appearance. Doesn’t matter if they are relevant or not (or apparently whether they previously died or not), they are showing up. This is stretching run time for the sake of it and some of these characters just kind of pop in and out for no other reason than to say they were there. Realistically, this movie needed Kirito, Asuna, Klein, and maybe one other from the usual crew and the story would have not been altered in the slightest except there would be less clutter and we’d be able to just focus on the story rather than random cameos from characters who were mostly pointless. I get it is an SAO movie and you want all the fans to see their favourite character but are you pandering to fans or making a decent movie?

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Secondly, because they are trying to introduce a new concept and villain and wrap it up in the length of a single movie, what we end up with is a lot of rushed exposition and a really poorly realised conflict. Seriously, none of the villains in this can be taken seriously. They either have the mentality of a six year old or they are simply going through the motions of duplicating the actions of previous characters and they haven’t actually thought through their actions in any realistic way. Not to mention, the final climax really just suddenly upped the stakes for no discernible reason other than the characters said it was suddenly going to be more dangerous (seriously from memory loss to permanent brain damage and no actual reason other than it was going to – they did babble an explanation at us but it boils down to we want a more dramatic climax and why haven’t they just stopped playing the game yet).

My third issue with the movie is just the usual one about characters being needlessly stupid for the sake of plot. Ghost girl is pointing. Gee, I wonder what’s over there. Wait, you seriously didn’t ask until the third time she did it? Great, now you can triangulate but why hadn’t you already asked?

In case that makes it sound dreadful, it isn’t. The final act is almost laugh out loud ironically bad but the build up is good SAO fun with some good fights, characters sassing one another for laughs, the introduction of interesting game concepts that make you think about games and life, and you do get to see all your favourite characters whether you want to or not. That might be detrimental to the plot but for fans it is kind of rewarding.

Not to mention, while the ending is bad from a narrative point of view, from a visual spectacle and awesome boss fight point of view it is a really riveting experience. Okay, there’s about a million holes you can poke in everything that happens in that final stadium fight, but switch your brain off and watch it. That is all kinds of awesome and when you compare the plot holes here to the plot holes left in most big action movies, they are kind of on par (I just expect better from my anime, even SAO, which is probably why I was laughing so hard).

Of course Kirito is still going to save the day because despite everyone else having more experience playing the game, Kirito is the protagonist and severly protected by plot armour at this point. In the first arc of SAO there was always the possibility he might actually die but since then it has become increasingly clear that Kirito is just going to be fine no matter what so let him do his thing. I’m positive he broke traffic laws as well as common sense laws during one sequence of fights where within a ten minute window he participated in multiple fights in multiple locations in the city. But you know, there are worse things that the movie could have thrown at us.

On that note, I did go to see the movie with a friend and after it ended (and we got the tease for yet another SAO story after the credits – this series never intends to just go quiet does it) we went to dinner and talked the movie over. He isn’t as big a fan of SAO as I am but he enjoyed the first arc and has watched the rest. Basically we came to the conclusion that everything else in the movie could be excused except the villain. He was so lame and his motive so ridiculous. Even if he had succeeded it was unclear what he intended to do next. More importantly, why can’t you copy the memories rather than wiping them out of people’s brains. Doesn’t that make more sense if you are digitally stealing memories in the first place?

So recommendation for this film is watch it if you are into SAO. You’ll enjoy it and have a bit of a laugh and you will certainly see some very cool fights and a game that you’ll definitely want in real life right now. Otherwise, this one is an entirely skippable experience. There’s really nothing here for non-fans.


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Sword Art Online Season 1 Series Review

Before I get into the review today, I just want to have a minor celebration as this is my 150th anime series review (admittedly, I am counting the SAO abridged series review that I did so maybe this is actually review 149). Whichever way, I was tossing up between SAO and Psycho Pass but I think I want to wait a bit more before trying to review Psycho Pass so SAO it is. Thanks to everyone who keeps reading these, hopefully they are either helpful or entertaining.

Overview:

I’m pretty sure everyone knows the story of SAO but essentially there’s a new game that uses technology that allows players to pretty much completely enter the game (or at least feel like they have) and on the day the game is launched the creator of the game essentially traps them all inside telling them they have to clear all 100 floors before they can log out. No problem then. Oh, and they’ll also die in real life if they die in the game due to some design in the equipment that allowed them to enter the game (because people are really likely to sell you a helmet that can fry your brain). Of course, that’s only the first arc and that takes up about half the season before we move into the second arc of fairy dance which is mostly about rescuing a Princess in a cage.

Review:

In case I seemed overly snarky in my overview, I’m just going to say this straight out, I love Sword Art Online. I get that the story has its flaws and that you could throw insults at most of the characters if you really, really wanted to, and yes there are some technical issues with the delivery of the show in some scenes while others are really beautifully done which kind of leads to an inconsistent viewing experience, but you know what, none of that actually matters to me. I loved this anime from episode one and through the entire first arc. I completely and totally fell in love with the virtual world and with watching Kirito face each challenge and overcome it. To point out how much I loved it I will say I only have three anime plush characters and Kirito is one of them (the other two being Maka from Soul Eater and Sailor Jupiter from Sailor Moon). So while I will admit there are issues with this anime, this review is more of a reasons why something doesn’t need to be perfect to be good.

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To be a bit logical about my approach I’m going to start with the plot. It is really incredibly simple and that’s fine. Here’s all these people trapped in a game that can kill them. Here’s the way out. Get from point A to point B and don’t die along the way. It can’t get much simpler. Of course with all of those different characters trapped in the game responding to this threat and challenge in different ways, there’s plenty of material to keep the story interesting even as the basic narrative works because it isn’t trying to be anything more than what it is. There’s no convoluted twists or surprise rules that come out of nowhere. Even Kirito admits SAO’s rules are always fair even when they suck. Although, that’s kind of what kills two moments in the first arc that should be really amazing.

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The first is the reveal of who or what Yui actually is. Up until that point, the programs and the game have run incredibly smoothly and all in the way in which the one who designed the game intended. So Yui as a program being cut away from the players makes no sense. Why create her in the first place if you aren’t going to let her function? And if you decided you didn’t need that function, why not just delete her? More importantly, why can she act outside of her program at all? I know they try and do an exposition dump explanation for this but it really doesn’t work with the rest of the setting and plot and mostly just feels like they really wanted to add in a cute child for Kirito and Asuna, which certainly works but you kind of have to check your logic at the start of the episode to really accept that.

The second part that is kind of faulty is the end of the arc itself. Previously, Kirito had received an item that would allow a dead player to be revived within 10 seconds of their death (which didn’t help him at all given the character he’d been trying to revive was well past that). The implication being that between your health bar hitting zero and the game frying your brain you had a 10 second grace period. So what’s with the conclusion to the arc when Asuna clearly gets herself killed and Kirito then does his game breaking move to win the fight though it ends in mutual destruction and there’s Asuna waiting for him, not yet dead. If they are trying to say that sequence took less than 10 seconds they are seriously kidding themselves.

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However, outside of those two issues where the rules the show itself has established seem to fall apart, the plot during the first arc is really well handled. We get the first episode where the world is established and we meet Kirito and Klein as they kind of stuff around and teach the audience the main game mechanics before we get the shock reveal that they are trapped. Then we time jump to the first boss fight which takes a major emotional toll on a lot of people. We keep time jumping for a bit given the series covers two years of time in half a season and we aren’t made to watch the players grinding. Instead we see the major events, we consider how they might affect the characters, and then we jump ahead and can see how the character has coped or not with previous events. For some, this method of narration is jarring and feels like a cheat, but to me it was kind of the perfect way to just get to the points we needed to see and yet still have that epic feeling of being trapped for two years. I honestly think seeing anymore of the boss fights or floor clearing would have been incredibly dull because they aren’t necessary to the overall character or plot development. Sure, they may have been cool fight sequences but without purpose it would just be filler.

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Unfortunately, then we move into the second arc and while my bigger concern with Fairy Dance is the characters and how they are treated, the plot itself is needlessly cluttered. Essentially everyone was saved at the end of the first arc except for those players who weren’t. They just didn’t wake up. Turns out they are trapped in a new game as experimental subjects, except Asuna who has just been put in a bird cage. As I said, I have issues with the treatment of the characters but this plot is so incredibly unnecessarily complex. If you want to experiment on people you have heaps of people logging in and out of the game every day. Surely you could run a few tests on them, alter their memories a bit, and send them home. Why trap someone in the game world forever? More importantly, why run an experiment inside a game? Why not just move that data outside of the game world altogether and then no one could come and release them because they wouldn’t be able to ‘beat’ the game?

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The other issue is that the events in Fairy Dance happen over an incredibly short period of time in the real world and it really felt like a story and scheme as grand (or insane) as that one, needed more time and to be properly fleshed out.

Basically, while I will rewatch the first arc of SAO endlessly, Fairy Dance isn’t anywhere near as interesting or compelling. The story is a victim of its own premise which was characters trapped and need to be free. End of first arc sees the characters get free. Its kind of done and no matter how you force scenarios after that to make dangers in the game world for them to face, the best story has already been completed. And that complaint could probably carry over to character development as well, particularly for Kirito. I like how he progresses during the course of the first arc but then he seems literally frozen in time after that just going through the motions of saving other characters.

But that’s kind of jumping ahead. Let’s wrap up plot. Regardless of whether this story has an intricate or deep plot, what SAO does is tell its story in a way that draws the audience in (and given the initial popularity of the show, even if people are on the hate wagon now, when it aired they were drawn in). The sweeping grandeur of the first episode is an effective hook and while events afterwards may not quite live up to that, they at least logically flow on for the most part and issues and complications are resolved in a meaningful way. Not to mention, it is fun. It’s fun in a way that other trapped in a video game stories haven’t really captured for me. Certainly there’s the high stakes threat of characters dying in both the game and the real world, but for the most part they are just kids bouncing around a video game world and it is fun to be a part of that.

Onto the characters then.

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Okay, Kirito does gain quite the harem by the end but that’s in the most superficial sense of the word. It becomes quite clear early on that Asuna is the only one Kirito actually sees as a real person and not a ‘little sister’ or ‘damsel in distress’. So while he certainly helps the other cast members out and they certainly do follow him around there-after, it isn’t the usual harem like setting where the protagonist hasn’t made a choice. More importantly, even the girls themselves seems to realise Kirito has already made his choice and so seem fairly happy to take on that ‘little sister’ role. So with that out of the way, what is Kirito actually like as a character?

In episode 1 he’s great and a lot of the reason I was sold so heavily on this series. He’s a gamer cliché and what little we learn of his life outside of the game is that he has some issue with his family, spends a lot of time alone in his room, and is obsessed with games. he then enters the virtual world and we see him come alive. This resonated so well with me as I kind of had the same experience as a teenager where I just didn’t feel like I fit and games and stories were something that could make me feel alive. Despite being built off a cliche, they spend a bit of time showing us that while he is anti-social even in the gaming world, he does want some human connections so he isn’t willing to sever ties instantly with Klein but nor is he willing to take on Klein’s friends as part of his responsibility. The process of Kirito making the decision on how to act at the end of that first episode really made him feel real. He did make a rough call and he did end up abandoning everyone else to try to secure his own survival, but he’s a teenage boy who doesn’t get how to be around others in the first place. He was human enough to try to reach out and save Klein because he thought he could without exposing himself to unnecessary danger, but he wasn’t willing to risk his own life for strangers. It just made him a very believable person to me.

The time jumps after really do track Kirito’s progress as a character. While each event we see isn’t crucial to the overall plot, each event they jump to is crucial to the changes we see occurring in Kirito that take us from the guy who fled the town of beginnings by himself to the guy who challenged the creator of the game in order to save everyone. Every episode we see a slightly different Kirito. These aren’t massive changes or a totally reinvented character, but one who has experienced weeks/months/years in a death game and reflected on each of the previous encounters and grown from it.  While he’s never going to be the biggest people person and his first priority remains his own survival (although you could argue he prioritizes Asuna’s survival over his own after about episode 10), he slowly learns to let people in.

Why is he so slow about it?

Because the first time he tries to join a guild and actually make friends his own indecision and poor judgement gets them all killed (or at least so Kirito thinks). It isn’t necessarily true because even if he’d told them how strong he was they might have still walked into that room and Kirito may have still failed to save them, but it doesn’t matter what the reality was it is more how Kirito views the situation. That may have been enough to stop Kirito ever letting anyone else in except that he receives Sachi’s message later on and that allows him a small window to move forward.

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He doesn’t then just become champion of justice and all around good guy. We see through his encounter with Silica that while he’s acting the hero on the surface, he’s mostly just going through the motions. In fact, he’s been hired by someone who experienced the pain of seeing his friends killed and Kirito could relate so he decides to exact ‘justice’ given he can’t do anything about his own situation. Silica is initially just someone Kirito uses to achieve his goal however that encounter again changes him. Later episodes we see him actually seeing the person and finally actually caring about others.

Admittedly, the other characters in SAO don’t get a lot of love as the first arc at least is all about Kirito and his journey. There’s certainly a wide range of characters and each time we re-encounter them, they’ve changed a bit because of their own experiences but we don’t really know what they are so it has less of an impact. While Fairy Dance brings in some new characters, it is the core group from the original game that are the more interesting characters (amazing what putting a group of people through a near death experience will do to them).

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However, something does need to be said about the villains both of the first and second arc. While the first arc one could argue doesn’t really have a villain and his motives remain fairly confusing, the second arc introduces a pure scum type villain who ends up being so cartoonishly over the top you can’t help but wonder if you are watching an entirely different show. The only real positive of the villain in Fairy Dance is the real world crisis that the villain presents to Kirito as it points out clearly that no matter how amazing Kirito gets at playing games he still can’t control the real world.

This has gotten quite long so I’m going to quickly go through the last few things. Visually, I love this anime. I like the look of the game world and the action is great. The equipment the characters have and the way the towns and cities operate just reminds you of being in a game world. I love the sound effects and music and think that really adds to the immersive experience of the show.

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As I said at the beginning, I love this anime. I won’t try to tell you it has no faults and I won’t tell you that everyone should love it. What I will say is that this is a fun anime to watch and should be watched for fun. While it touches on some more complex issues, the basic narrative works because it doesn’t clutter itself up with too many different ideas. Basically, worth giving a go to if you like fantasy/action type anime. It may not work for you, but you may just find yourself having a lot of fun at least in the first arc.


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