The Battle of the Magical Girls Begins

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10 Review

With the invasion of the military base and the parallel invasion of Naha city occurring at the end of last episode it was clear that this week Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka would be focused on the battle at hand. What follows is a fairly scattered affair with the audience jumping from one scene of the battle to another and seeing Tamara and Mia in action at their respective locations as well as following the actions of various soldiers and Nozomi and Sayako in amongst the fight before we finally get down to business in the bunker with Rapture, War Nurse and the main villains of this fight.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10 Disas

While it is a scattered affair frantically jumping from one point where the soldiers are being beaten back to another, interspersed with civilians fleeing and dying and ordinary police being incredibly heroic before dying, all of this cut with scenes of the military commanders glaring at their screens and musing about potential strategy, it works really well because the set up for this fight was put in place last episode. Even though the overall motives of the villains is still unclear, making that the weakest link in the whole series, the basic parameters for this sequence were clearly laid out and the target of the General in the basement was pretty straight-forward, even if it turns out they were after something the general had rather than the general herself.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Nozomi and Sayako

Action sequences in this anime remain very entertaining to watch with a real sense of pace and movement about them. It makes getting screen caps kind of difficult because of the amount of motion blur at times but at the same time, watching the sequence it is very solid portrayal of a frantic fight sequence. It’s also fun watching the transition between the soldiers and their standard tactics compared to the Magical Girls who are almost a whole army on their own and have their own way of fighting.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 10 Mia

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Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka Vol. 1

While characterisation gets put to the side for a large majority of the episode, Asuka still manages to deliver a decent effort at remembering that she was traumatised by the previous war and has yet to really accept that she’s back involved with the conflict. While many an anime hero would have committed to fighting and then never mentioned their trauma again, Asuka is wearing hers on her sleeve and it really is only Kurumi’s presence at her side while they wait that keeps her grounded and prevents her from breaking down entirely as they listen to the sounds of battle and dying over the radio.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10 Kurumi and Asuka

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka remains a fairly decent viewing experience and while it has at times pushed the violence a little further than some people would like, its been delivering a reasonably compelling story and it seems to be heading to a decent climax. Now whether or not we get a decent end point or are left hanging is really all that’s left to find out in the next two episodes and that could really change my overall opinion of the show.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10
Well, I’m scared.

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Karandi James
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This Is Not How One Puts Together A Solid Plan

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Review

Nozomi is pretty much in a horrible situation made worse by bureaucracy that is worried about relationships and power struggles rather than saving her life. This isn’t easy to watch and at the end of the day I’m still feeling like the villains really need more motive than what they’ve been given. Perhaps there’s a grand plan but it isn’t overly clear yet so this just seems like pain for pain’s sake.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Nozomi

Which is something this anime had tip-toed around previously but avoided. It had heaped pain upon the characters but there always seemed like a sound narrative reason, whereas the torture sequence here with Abigail grinning over it while she holds her camera just feels very much unnecessary. We’ve seen enough already in this anime to know the stakes are high so just seeing the set up in the room would have been sufficient to create a sense of urgency and terror without actually witnessing the torture of a young girl. While some anime show too little to really create a sense of menace, this one had already firmly established what could happen. We could have figured it out. Ultimately it just ends up being an uncomfortable viewing experience.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Nozomi's father

More interesting though is what is happening in the background with the father desperately trying to get permission to rescue his daughter but being blocked by bickering factions. It is far too believable and fairly tragic that the girl’s life isn’t the number one priority from the point of view of organisations that apparently exist to protect people. More time on this angle would have really been appreciated as it made this somewhat fantastical situation feel very grounded in our reality.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Asuka

Less pleasing is the lack of planning by Kurumi and Asuka before charging in to the rescue. Equally, the villains still don’t have much in the way of a clear objective. Abigail has said she wants to capture a magical girl alive and there’s some scheme there but details are scarce and mostly the villains seem kind of foolish. It will be interesting to see if there’s more going on here or if the villains really are just going to remain cackling lunatics.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Abigail

I’ll admit, this episode took some of the shine of this series by focusing on the pain rather than the impact of it and by not really giving enough attention to motives and characters. That said, it isn’t a train wreck and provided it leads somewhere this could still be quite compelling. We’ll see what it does next.

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Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka Vol. 1
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12 Days of Anime Characters – Lin Xinming

12 Days of Anime Title Image

Onto day 8 of the 12 Days of Anime. While on Day 7 we looked back at  Shizue from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, today we turn our attention to the hitman with a sense of style, Lin from Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens - Episode 5 - Lin

Lin is one of those characters that you just come to love fairly instantly. The series never really addresses why he cross dresses, he just does, and it just becomes part of his character, like his frugal nature and distrust of others. I will admit though, that Lin is only as interesting and likeable a character as he is because of the connection he forms with Banba in the first episode. And what a greeting. 

Hakata Tonktsu Ramens Episode 1 Lin

Considering the situation Lin finds himself in he is a remarkable together character. He’s trying to save money to free his sister, he sends money to his mother, and all he has to do to earn that money is kill people for a boss he hates. However, when the boss refused to pay him because of a double booking, Lin decides it might be time to find new employment leading to a chain reaction of events and reveals (including that all his efforts to support his family up to now have more or less been for nothing). 

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 9 Lin

The thing about Lin is that he’s a character you can sympathise with but not really relate to. You haven’t been sold as a child, trained as an assassin and then worked as a hitman trying to support a family from back home that turns out isn’t being assisted by you in the slightest. So there’s no relating to the character, but you can be sympathetic to his plight and more importantly, he never comes across as pathetic. Lin’s a fighter through and through and has a great sense of humour considering the situation.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 12 Lin

However, it is Lin and Banba together that make a truly compelling viewing experience. Where Lin is cold and distant, Banba is very much in your face and intrusive. Lin is cut off from others whereas Banba has an entire support network. Where Lin is frugal and careful with his money, Banba is loose and fairly carefree. The two make a good odd-couple pairing and their contrasts work well. 

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 7 Lin and Banba

The only regret here is that we don’t have any word of a second season so we’ll just be left with the 12 episodes we have. And on that note it is probably time I gave the series another watch through.

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Red Rum / Murder Inc Card Case
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Castlevania Season 2 Series Review: Oh Look, We Got The End Of The Season

Castlevania Season 2 Promotional Image

I mentioned repeatedly in my season 1 review of this that it really wasn’t a season. It was a taste test. A preview or introduction to a series that hadn’t been fully made before release. Here, with the so called season 2, we get the rest of the season bringing the total episode count now to 12 which is pretty much a standard season. So other than a prolonged gap during which time I forgot most of the pertinent details forcing me to rewatch the first four episodes before getting into this, was there any real purpose to this? All I can figure is that they really weren’t sure of their market and wouldn’t commit the resources but that’s a really terrible way to deliver a story as all it really did was make the faults of this second season more apparent.

See, there’s a flow to stories. When you get caught up in them, it is easy to miss small details or to stop yourself from asking hard questions or picking at the edges to see what falls out. But once the story has had a jarring pause and you’ve had months plus a rewatch to contemplate, it is much harder to become immersed in the world. Particularly when the series itself seems to be doing everything possible to stop you.

Castlevania Season 2 Camilla and Hector

Now, that isn’t to say Castlevania is bad. Because, it actually is quite a fun little romp of a story provided the copious blood and guts being splashed around aren’t a problem and the clear sequel bait endings for the surviving cast members doesn’t annoy. If this had come out in a solid chunk and I’d binged the 12 episodes altogether, I’d have had an absolute blast and while I still probably would have noted a few of the flaws, I don’t think I would have been as disappointed.

I was going to try to start positive but I realised that every positive I have for this season comes with a caveat so we’re just going to have to wade right in and hope we don’t sink.

If you like your blood and violence (and if you made it through the first four episodes the answer to that is probably yes), then season 2 is going to deliver. However, there’s a different kind of feel to it. Whereas season 1 had kind of a cruel humour with its demons running from the city carrying an infant (the excess of this imagery just made it more amusing than horrific and maybe that’s saying something terrible about me) and Trevor’s whip cracking removing eyes and the like. It was excessive but fun. It was almost pushing things to the absurdist level as it rained fire and blood down upon the masses. Season 2 sadly lacks any of this kind of edge and instead we are left with vampires tearing through small packs of fleeing humans and a few fights between various demons and Trevor, Sypha and Alucard. These conflicts are still bloody but nowhere near the same level as the city slaughtering madness that the first four episodes threw at us.

Castlevania Season 2 Trevor

And that seems to be a reoccurring theme of season 2. We get more of things given there are more episodes, but at the same time it is less. There’s less impact, less care, and generally less involvement. The church that was such a threat in season one gets some mentions but otherwise are completely absent from the conflict. The vampires spend more time squabbling amongst themselves inside the castle and Trevor, Sypha and Alucard spend an inordinate amount of time investigating the museum that is Trevor’s family vault. With the three main groups separated for vast spans of time (and the church more or less vanishing) there’s a lot of waiting for things to get moving. It doesn’t help that the vampires barely attack anything during the run of the eight episodes here so unless you are fresh on the memory of season one you may not even really remember why we should care about Dracula’s whole kill all the humans plan.

But, we’ve just gotten to my big issue with this second season. Dracula. In season one, the time we spent with him was not great but it was well used time. They built up a very strong impression of this character who was literally larger than life. His love for his wife, his fury at her loss, the pain he felt and his anger being distributed amongst the masses in a slaughter that wasn’t justified but understandable. Here, well Dracula is just a hollow shell waiting to be killed (as more than one character points out). There’s a clever line from Alucard about this whole massacre thing just being a really long suicide note, and he’s right but that just kind of makes Dracula’s character seem even more hollow. The fire and fury is gone and we never even got to see it fade. We went from this extraordinary and imposing menace to the guy who spent nearly eight episodes sitting in his chair staring at the fireplace and occasionally having one on one chats with the various minions who were all scheming around him as he sat more or less oblivious or indifferent.

Castlevania Season 2 Dracula

Perhaps if we’d seen this transition and the slow loss of his connection to the war he started and the drive he had, it might have played out more emotionally. However, the transition happened off screen. One season we see him in one form and now here he is a different and much less interesting one.

They do fill a lot of the screen time with his followers though. The majority of the vampire characters are either glorified extras or just annoying, with Camilla being a notable exception. That said, her character remains more or less on the side of things and ultimately hers is a story unresolved so there’s little satisfaction to be found in this one. Also, her sudden swearing at various points might have been amusing but it kind of seemed vastly out of character for her (plenty of other characters swear and that’s fine, but it just sounded so wrong coming from Camilla – and not just because she was female but rather because it seemed like it didn’t fit with the rest of her persona). The two human generals Dracula acknowledges could have both been interesting but instead they come off as fairly cheap characters with contrasting ends just for the sake of it.

It might be fair to say that none of these characters left an impression, except that even when they are just stuffing around in a library, Trevor and Sypha have real chemistry and the addition of Alucard’s comments and provocations actually just worked really well. Every moment spent with the main group (and admittedly, there weren’t enough moments spent with them) was purely fun and once the fighting started things got very good very quickly. It’s just a shame that there’s so much down time focusing on things that aren’t really all that interesting first.

Sypha - Castlevania

I mean, there are questions about Sypha’s seemingly unlimited magical reserves and Trevor not being totally dead because even though he’s from a family of monster hunters he is actually a human, and Alucard just kind of does whatever because apparently half-vampire means worse than a full vampire though how that works is unclear… but none of this matters. This group is awesome fun. Let’s see more of them.

All and all, watching both season 1 and 2 of Castlevania together won’t be a bad watch. There’s plenty to enjoy – again though with a warning about the blood and gore, it is definitely a feature. However, this isn’t something that is unmissable and it probably won’t be remembered for long. But hey, whips, swords, magic, vampire killing… It is all good fun just remember not to ask too many questions.

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DEMON CASTLE DRACULA X: NOCTURNE IN THE MOONLIGHT ORIGINAL GAME SOUNDTRACK

Are You Alice? Volume 1 Manga Review

While I’m not the biggest manga reader, I was kind of looking forward to this one having read some fairly positive reviews. How does this gender bending tale of Alice in Wonderland go?

Review:

There’s nothing overly original about reworking the classic Alice in Wonderland. Even Ouran High School Host Club had an Alice episode thrown in. However, my issue with Wonderland inspired tales remains the same; too many of them rely on people just accepting weird things happen in Wonderland and don’t really consider how they might make that setting believable other than telling us it is Wonderland.

Alice2.jpg

Are You Alice? very much fell into this camp of stories that introduces characters that are given names connecting them to the original tale, but little is done outside of that to establish their character, background or motive. It is like the write feels you can short-cut all the things that would help the audience connect with a character simply because they are the Hatter or whoever and of course we should know their nature. However, that leaves us with a shallow impression of characters. They wear a facade similar to something we know but they undeniably are acting in different ways in a narrative that actually is interesting, but we’re not given the time to establish anything in its own right as they want to jump into people doing things without providing context.

And maybe that works for some people. They’ll happily just nod and accept the setting as Wonderland and the base starting point for all characters is the established trope that we’re all familiar with.

For me though, it was an ongoing issue while reading this. The Alice but not Alice vibe permeates everything and while I actually like the idea that accepting a name is the same as accepting a role and the journey the ‘Not-Alice’ is on, I never really clicked with anything happening in this volume.

It’s also visually pretty ugly. Not the character designs. They are quite nice and clearly some time and attention went into them. But backgrounds, especially the streets which we spend a long time walking up and down, are all kind of basic ruled lines and while the characters are suitably zany given the setting, Wonderland itself is not portrayed in anyway as being ‘wonderful’.

So this series is going to get a pass from me as I don’t really intend to continue on. I am really curious about how the rules work and about the Alice’s that have come before, and even the White Rabbit, but there were too many things that didn’t work for me in this series to consider reading on.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

 


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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 1: Hitmen, Detectives, and Corruption

Hakata Tonktsu Ramens Episode 1 Lin

Overview:

Okay, I went in pretty blind but essentially the set up here is that there’s a whole bunch of hitmen and organisations operating within the town and then there’s apparently someone who specialises is killing hitmen. Don’t ask me what the title means. The individual words make sense but what it has to do with the show other than the location, I don’t know.

Review:

And here is another entry into the ensemble cast dark and violent modern urban crime story. While there aren’t massive numbers of these there are a few now and for me they are a bit hit and miss. I’m not a huge fan of such a large cast because it usually makes it harder to get an idea of who is who (and after watching the first episode of this I can remember maybe two names and I’m not even sure if we got names for some characters). Yet, I have to say this was a pretty interesting first episode.

Hakata1c

We move through four main focuses with the guy dressed as a girl who clearly has some tragic backstory involving a younger sister taking up a large chunk of the start and finish of the episode. We also have someone who I think is a private investigator, though time will tell, who is looking into the mayor (guy running to be mayor’s) after a detective was murdered. We have the staff working for the mayor cleaning up after his son’s idiocy. And lastly we have some newbie hitman who quickly gets himself in over his head.

Hakata1b

So despite the large number of cast members, this episode didn’t feel too disjointed as there are clear links between the stories so far and characters seem to be crossing paths fairly quickly so hopefully we’ll get to know the key players in the next few episodes.

Outside of that, the pace is quick but not rapid fire, there’s some violence and few scenes clearly intended just for shock factor but after the opening scene there wasn’t as much as I expected there to be. Character designs are quite nice and are distinct enough to recall which character is which and the backgrounds are all quite nicely done. All and all, for a show I hadn’t heard of and had no expectations for, this was quite a nicely done introduction and I’m looking forward to more.


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Karandi James.

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Dies Irae Episode 6: Shiny Lights and Stuff Goes Boom

Review:

So I am not confused about the plot anymore. I was seriously over thinking this under the assumption that there was some deeper meaning to any of it and once this episode thoroughly convinced me that this was not the case everything kind of fell into place. The issue being that what I’m not looking at is a plot which is rivalling Hand Shakers for being ultimately completely pointless.

Dies6c

Now that is not to say that this couldn’t somehow turn things around and maybe show that there was some actual thought put into this, but so far evidence suggests that this is a concept focused on a highly adolescent version of what might be cool and not an actual well thought out or developed plot.

Dies6a

But hey, if you just want to see glowing characters beat each other up and throw trucks and each other and generally cause chaos, you might genuinely enjoy the mess that Dies Irae continues to be. I, unfortunately, am stuck in the same space I was with Hand Shakers in that I really don’t like this show but that small chance that it might, just somehow, pull off some sort of amazing twist is going to make me watch it through. Expect more hate as this series continues.


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Karandi James.

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