Trying to climb back on top of this blog thingy.

For the tiny amount of regular readers that I had, you may have noticed that this blog isn’t really updated like it has been previously.

Many reasons for this.

Mainly to do with poor mental health (Bipolar with delusional psychosis -basically a low-end psychopath) & lack of mood & time to watch any series to its end &/or write about it once done.

Other reason is not spending as much time watching anime or other things. Would say I’ve been playing more TCG stuff but that’s hardly the case either.

Anyway, am back to watching & critiquing things & will hopefully have a few catch up pieces posted over the weekend as well as finishing up some half completed retro reviews & other articles that I left on the wayside.

Want to be able to post an article at least once a week at minimum & get back to bulk critiques at the end of each anime season.

No promises but no one has hopes up for such a tiny tiny speck on the internet anyway.

TFW all your dreams come true
Can’t hide my excitement.
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Oh, the title’s a pun! – Anime Critique: Psycho Pass 2

PsychoPassvol1Title: Psycho Pass 2 (Psycho Pass 2nd season)
Format: TV series
Genre: sci-fi, dystopian, cyberpunk
Series Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani
Studio: Production I.G
Series length: 11 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 10 – December 18, 2014
Reviewed format: High def download with fansubs


Synopsis:

Little time has passed since the Shogo Incident & Enforcer Kogami’s disappearance before a new incident has Unit 1 of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division scrambling for answers. Criminals are able to commit the most brutal crimes without affecting their Psycho Pass -the measurement for judging everything. Inspector Akame Tsunemori, now head of Unit 1, must guide her rookie detective, Mika Shimotsuki, and two new enforcers to find the criminal mastermind that no one, not even the ever present Sybil System, believes exists.


Critique:

To begin with: this series should’ve been much longer. It never had the time to develop & play with it’s new ideas & characters. If it was allowed to be a run of 24 episodes, it wouldn’t feel so much like Season 1.5 than a fresh 2nd season, despite the new things that it brings.

The original season of Psycho Pass appeared pretty much out of nowhere & took many people by surprise with its interesting take on a dystopian future where Thought Crimes are the Evil of the Day.

The conceit of the series is in the year 2113, in the unnamed city (which is pretty much Tokyo) citizens’ psychological levels are routinely & constantly cymatically scanned to measure their base stress, stability & “Crime Coefficient” levels -also referred to as a Psycho Pass (oh, what a clever pun!). If anyone goes above the thresholds for these is deemed a criminal & arrested for rehabilitation or, if their numbers are too high to return to normal, routinely executed by other an Investigator or an Enforcer -who is a criminal who can’t be rehabilitated but has skills useful to the system. The rub being that such a conforming system itself is a constant generator of stress & instability, so much of the population is either seriously medicated or practising various forms of Cognitive Dissonance in order not to notice the horrible things in front of them. This creates a world that, upon the surface, seems like a twisted mix of Ghost in the Shell and Brave New World.

Central to this narrative dystopia is Tsunemori Akane, an Inspector for Public Safety Bureau. She’s matured greatly since the events of the 1st season, now able to delegate tasks to her unit’s Enforcer’s based upon their personal talents as well as be able to understand the minds & motivations of criminals without being affected by them. This is the true conceit of Akane, in that she always maintains a clear Psycho Pass no matter what she is exposed to but still doesn’t let her judgement become clouded. She is also the only person to know the secret of the Sybil System, in that it is a collection of the greatest criminal minds the city has ever known who are sustain to judge the rest of the city because they are the only ones who can understand the criminal mentality.
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Akane is one of my favourite female characters in a long time, because she is not only given her own sense of agency within the narrative but she is never portrayed as or treated like a victim. It was a conscious effort on the part of the series creators not to sexualise or victimise her in any fashion as part of their Anti-Moe agenda (which is why there are more half naked men in the series than women). Of course, bad things happen to Akane over the course of both seasons but they are used as points of development to make her stronger, better, more competent. & she’s not just a Mary Sue either. She has her faults, lacks confidence to mack difficult choices, is still emotionally dependant on the memory of Kogami to help her make difficult choices (she lights his brand of cigarettes in her room so she can remember his scent) & is prone to moments of weakness. Yet all this serves to make her a more rounded & realistic character in a fantastical narrative.

Unfortunately, this development isn’t extended to the new characters, especially the antagonists.
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The main antagonist is Kamui Kirato, a strange figure whom the Sybil System is unable to recognise. At first, you may think that this is just a rehash of Makishima Shogo character from the 1st season, who couldn’t be judged by Sybil or the Dominators (the weapons that the Public Safety Bureau use to incapacitate or kill criminals) but they actually, & smartly, make the two characters completely different. Kirato can’t be recognised by the Sybil System at all, his existence is anathema to it, thus he cannot be judged because he cannot be seen. The reasons for this & for his attacks on the Sybil System as well as the Public Safety Bureau (who are the hands of the Sybil System) are very interesting & pretty original but ultimately underdeveloped.

Likewise is the other antagonist, Togane Sakuya, an Enforcer assigned to Unit 1 with a dark history. Rated as having the highest Crime Coefficient every recorded & is known for tainting the Hue (how Psycho Passes are rated) of every Inspector he’s ever worked with. He has an obsession with Akane & her near absolute purity of Hue &, again, the reasons why are fascinating but wasted because of the brevity of the series.

& that becomes the crux of the entire series: amazing, fairly original ideas ultimately hampered but the lack of space to develop & mature. I don’t know the reasons why they went with an 11 episode season & I’m far too lazy to bother trawling through forums, websites & Tumblr to find out why. It’s exceptionally vexing to see so many cool ideas stunted because they just don’t have the room to grow.
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On the positive side, the series is still exceptionally beautifully animated. The glowing neons of this future-scape shine through, as does how the holographic technologies acting as shields from reality. The visual-scapes of Psycho Pass have always been incredibly interesting, rich & filled with a wealth of details. The series producers said that they were heavily inspired by films such as Blade Runner & Minority Report, which shines through in the neon-billboard heavy design. The way that holograms are integrated into everyday life is also interesting. Allowing people to turn their tiny apartments into anything that they can imagine, as well as changing their clothing (when at home) & cars almost at will (for the Investigators activating the police mode on their vehicles).

Another brilliant aspect of the series is the opening theme Enigmatic Feeling by alt-rock group Ling Tosite Sigure (the lead singer of which performed the opening track from Tokyo Ghoul). This track alone will surely put the band on international music radars, with it’s complex layering & tortured multi-singer vocals.

In the end, unfortunate, this season just isn’t really developed enough to fully enjoy -despite all the brilliant ideas, plot twists & designs.

What I would recommend though is binge watching both series together, so you see how ideas & characters develop together. This way you can truly appreciate the intentions & ideas within.

Psycho-PassIIcharacters

Again: why did I bother? – Anime Critique: Hitsugi no Chaika ~Avenging Battle~

Title: Hitsugi no Chaika ~Avenging Battle~ (Coffin Princess Chaika: Avenging Battle, Chaika of the Coffin ~Avenging Battle~) [2nd series]
Format: TV anime
Genre: fantasy, action, steampunk, spellpunk
Series Creator:  Ichiro Sakaki
Series Director: Soichi Masui
Studio: Bones
Series length: 10 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 8 – December 10, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fansubs

Light novel cover
Light novel cover

Synopsis:

“After the events of the 1st series, Chaika, Toru & their companions are still searching for the remains of Emperor Gaz. But now Chaika is beginning to question her own identity as well as her mission. Spurned on by the mysterious Guy, Chaika leaves Toru & heads to a hidden island to recover the ‘Emperor’s Fortune’ & learn the secrets of her past. Toru, unable to abandon his duty as a saboteur & realising his growing affection for the mysterious girl, sets off the save Chaika from whatever dangers she may face -even if that danger is the truth of her own being.”


Review:

I vaguely recall not being overly found of the 1st season of this series when it screened earlier in the here. In fact, my review of it was rather blunt in my general dislikes of it -especially the unresolved ending- because of its rushed yet dragging narrative, dull visuals & loli fetishisation. In fact, re-reading my original review, I saw how nice & generous I was being towards the series as a whole. No idea why but that’s how it was.

Anyway, now we have a 2nd season of Chaika, which does bring resolution to many dangling plot points & backgrounds but it all feels meaningless in a way. No matter how it all resolves, it still feels both rushed & slow. The pace is broken, the characters flat & uninteresting & motivations as murky as some of the visuals.

What it does have going for it is resolving the mystery of the various Chaika who pop up & why the character Vivi was turned into a half-Chaika at the end of the previous series (at the shock death of her beloved captain who, surprise surprise, isn’t actually dead -yeah, who couldn’t see that coming except for mister thicko over there).

Going to go into SPOILER territory right here & say that our protagonist Chaika Trabant (AKA the White Chaika) isn’t actually the real Chaika. In fact: there never was a real Chaika. They were all orphaned girls programmed with magic & reacting to certain triggers to transform into Chaika. Each pre-programmed with various skills & reasons for wishing to gather Gaz’s remains. This revelation is spread out over the entirety of the series, making it the focus of it, unlike the haphazard “collect the parts” driver from the previous. Of course, Chaika (& Red Chaika) can’t accept this but central Chaika begins to question her reasonings & resolve to see her mission through -which in turn affects Toru’s resolve & motivations.

This should’ve been a big emotion kick & play but since the characters are so poorly rendered, it doesn’t do anything. The twists to whether or not Chaika is actually the REAL Chaika don’t matter in the end.

This is because the characters are so poorly rendered, cliched & two dimensional (aside from the fact they are traditionally animated that is) that nothing that happens to them matters in the end.

Add to the fact that the entire last few episodes of the series are rushed & clumsy because they only had 10 episodes to work with rather than the 12 of the previous series & because the source material is still going. They basically pulled an ending out of their arse but unlike Akame ga Kill! (Akame ga Kiru! -review coming soon), this one feels haphazard, inconsequential & relying on a sudden, stupid case of Apò Mèkhanès Theós using a typically emotive device that evokes no emotions & a boring Good End coda to finish that also does nothing to stir the heart strings because it is entirely riddled with cliché.
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In fact, things that were once interesting become boring with explanation. Primary how magic is created & used within the series. I had complained that they didn’t really go into this in the last season but their explanation for magic & Emperor Gaz’s desire for it just seems so ham-fisted & half explicated that it becomes an entire waste of a plot point. More so with Gaz’s Treasure (also translated as Fortune) being a gundo (magical weapon) that then becomes a useless Apò Mèkhanès Theós is also a waste. Same with Gaz’s ultimate plot & resurrection, how he manipulated almost all events to achieve his goals. It was so all rushed & hand-waved through that I stopped caring.

A lot of the plot seems, again, both rushed & dragging. It had the grand ambition of wanting to philosophise on the ideas of war, human nature & what it means to be true to yourself vs. a task that you are driven to achieve but it just rings so hollow. All of these themes we have seen tackled in much better anime over the decades & it just gets stuck on such basic concepts. Mainly the idea that once someone has tasted war or conflict or been solely designed/trained for it, they cannot live in peace because they cannot change their fundamental nature. I personally find such concepts to be bullshit & utterly demeaning to those who have suffered through conflict & trauma. Saying that they can never find peace or cannot be happy unless they are killing. Some people do get trapped in such mindsets but there are those who can move on -especially when aided by others (such as I have done over the years with people I know with PTSD)

It also has to be mentioned how blandly this show is animated. There are so nice notes in the character design but the scenery & extra details are so fundamentally lacking that they might have well just reused any generic fantasy anime background. The fights are still fairly well done but lacking in excitement. The colour palate is dull, especially the toned down blood splatters.

The only good thing to note is the reduction in Fan Service & the (hyper) sexualisation of the loli-like Chaikas. They still have fetished appearances but so do most of the females in the series. I pretty much chose to ignore it this time around between it becomes “Sky blue, water wet” syndrome (stating the fucking obvious in other words).

In the end, I have no idea why I bothered with the series overall & curse my compulsion to find narrative resolution, even in things that I don’t really like or care for. Can’t recommend. Try the manga & original Light Novel, they actually look good & tell a better story.

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Japan’s Two Favourite T’s: Trains & Tits – anime Critique: Rail Wars!

Rail_Wars!_light_novel_volume_1_coverTitle: Rail Wars! (Rail Wars! Nihon Kokuyu- Tetsudo- Koantai, Rail Wars! Japanese National Railways Security Force)
Format: TV anime
Genre: action, alt universe, harem
Series Creator: Takumi Toyoda, Vania 600
Series Director: Yoshifumi Matsuda
Studio:  Passione
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 3 – September 18, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs


Synopsis:

“The series takes place in an alternate version of Japan where the nationalized railway system was never privatized. Naoto Takayama is an ordinary high school student who aspires to a comfortable life working at Japanese National Railways. He ends up working as a security force trainee, where he unwillingly has to deal with his strange colleagues and all the mayhem that they cause.”


Review:

Once again, off the bat, this series is for people who are obsessed with one or both of two things: trains & large bouncing breasts.

They can’t be escape in the series.

Always taking up the centre of the screen whenever they are show.

The only difference is that there are longer, more porno graphic linger shots of the trains.

That is not to say that breasts are also the entire central focus of series. It also shows arses, legs & hips every chance they get. Putting women in awkward, insipid, impossible poses -yet doesn’t go for any panty shots for some reason. Like after showing so much strange jiggle physics suddenly panty shots are beneath them.

It's like looking at a Lava Lamp.
It’s like looking at a Lava Lamp.

The whole excessive boobage/female body thing aside, Rail Wars! truly fetishises trains. With characters pouring out extensive details of their models, uses, origins, running dates & tones of other surplus information. It’s basically stuff that only s true train otaku could get &/or appreciate. I lived with a guy who really liked machines, engines & vehicles, so I learnt a bit about railways & trains from him but even the level of info that Rail Wars! pours out would be too much for someone of his incredible understanding of machines. More so that they are all Japanese trains & engines, going into the minute details of running -often making them vital plot points or easily seen twists. The creator obviously loves trains, as does the producer(s) & director of the anime.

Yet the series isn’t about anthropomorphic trains, like Thomas the Tank Engine with tits (although that may be an awesomely fucked up so to make!), there has to be actual human characters involved. & that is where my biggest gripe begins; this also being a harem series & all.

The thing to be said is: SATAN SAVE US FROM FECKLESS, IGNORANT, NICE GUY PROTAGONISTS!

They are so criminally the staple of harem (& most male centric) anime these days. I’ve already bitched & moaned about it in my Strike The Blood & Dragonar reviews but this time I’ll go a step further.

It is the Nice Guy Gets All The Poon Because He Is a Nice Guy trope that is pretty much creating generation of self entitled fucktards who think that they if pretend to be nice & do all the right things, women will sleep with them. It’s series such as this that has a hand in fuelling their pathetic delusions, causing them to turn into whinging little maggots online & then go attack anything with a vagina online to reinforce their fragile dissonant belief that the universe owes them sex due to some force, affected behaviour. Anyone who does this is scum! Anyone who uses it as an excuse to attack, threaten & belittle women -online or in real life- are worse then scum. & THEY’RE FUCKING TRILBYS YOU’RE WEARING NOT FEDORAS! LEARN THE FUCKING DIFFERENCE!!!

pant pant

Am OK. . . Am OK. . .

I’ll write more about that at a later date, so will continue on with the review now.

The feckless wonder at the centre of this story is Takayama Naoto, who has no less than 5 women eventually competing for his affection. With a possible 6th but she shows a more big sister approach to him & a lesbian-like relationship with the head of Railway Security.

the 3 other feckless wonders of the team: Haruka, Aoi & sho.
the 3 other feckless wonders of the team: Haruka, Aoi & sho.

The first 2 are his co-workers in 4th Guard Squad. Both polar opposites of each other & what they want from Takayama.

The first is the calm, quiet, highly intelligent Komi Haruka, who has supposedly carried a crush on Takayama since a chance meeting in childhood. She’s physically in the weakest on the team but makes it up for her exceptional knowledge of the technical aspects & designs of trains -especially the safety features of little known or older models. She also has the largest breasts of the main female casts, which seem to bounce free from gravity’s constrants.

Aoi doing what she does best: fucking up & hurting people.
Aoi doing what she does best: fucking up & hurting people.

Her eventual rival is the amazonic tsundere Sakurai Aoi. Her violent, impatient & overbearing nature often gets Takayama into trouble. She constantly berates him for not being a better guard because he wants to be a train driver but it is his unwavering nature to protect the passengers that eventually makes her turn her affections towards our inept hero.

Nao the idol, looking decent so you know she's going to be a bit of a bitch.
Nao the idol, looking decent so you know she’s going to be a bit of a bitch.

The other 3 include: a tsundere idol, Nao, who comes to love Takayama because he risks his life to protect her from a crazed fan; school friend & fellow train otaku Mari, who loves Takayama because of his passion for trains & his general niceness; & a female crossdresser whose name I forget right now, who falls in love with Takayama because of a mixture of why the other two aforementioned girls love him.

Naturally, Takayama is totally oblivious to how all these ladies feel about him, despite them being very very veeeeeeeeeeeeery obvious & open about it at times (especially Haruka, who’s always shoving her tits in is face). Of course, Takayama is always awkward & embarrassed whenever he is left alone with any of these ladies for more than a few minutes; blushing red like a baboon’s arse.

There is also a 4th member of the 4th Guard Squad: Iwaizumi Sho & he is, to put it lightly, a fucking idiot.

He’s also pretty much a non-entity during the majority of the series. He tends to stay in the background, say something stupid that’s related to food or being macho & then go off to eat or do something man related -or something macho that involves food. He only really plays part of the plots towards the end of the series, where he helps run a small proto-train with the rest of the team but nothing much beyond that.

The series as a whole doesn’t go much on character or plot development. The basic plots revolve around some criminal activity around the trains & in areas easily reached by trains. It reeked a bit too much of the old Simpsons gag Knightboat (can’t find a video for it unfortunately). Yet it is logically, because a lot of it are terrorist or ransom demanded related to the rail system, which in this alt world was never privatised & stripped down. Making it carry an old sense of nostalgia for the railway & the type of crime that should go along with it. The only thing they didn’t have was a damsel tied to the rails but they did the rope would lift up her tits & she’d spout facts about the train that’s about to hit her.

As harsh as I’ve been in this critique, I honestly found it hard to hate this series -although that might’ve been the hypnotic nature of the jiggling breasts. Aside from the usual fan service sexualisation, there wasn’t anything really terrible about it all. It entertained well enough, didn’t drag along or make me want to throw something at the TV (too much, aside from the feckless wonder Takayama). It’s not the best series but it’s far from terrible. The animation, especially the trains, is exceptionally well done. The action scenes are all brilliantly rendered, with lots of nice details that come from the blending of traditional & CGI animation without any obvious clumsy seams separating the two. There are the aforementioned annoyances with characters & plot but nothing terrible or offensive (or terribly offensive). There are some logic issues but it all breezes by at a good enough pace that you don’t really linger on them too much, nor do they jar or break the flow of the episodes.

If you like trains, you’ll love this. If you like tits, you’ll enjoy. If you love both, you’ll be in One Hand Heaven.

Pretty much how train fetishists will react to the series.
Pretty much how train fetishists will react to the series.

A film for some of the fans – Anime Critique: Persona 3 ~#1 Spring of Birth~

Persona_3_The_Movie_1_The_Spring_of_Birth_Promotional_PosterTitle: Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth-
Format: feature film
Genre: supernatural, game adaptation, action
Director: Noriaki Akitaya
Studio: AIC ASTA
Reviewed format: blu-ray download

 

 

 

 

 

 


Synopsis:

Makoto Yuki is an orphaned teenager who transfers to Gekkoukan High School at Tatsumi Port Island and much to his confusion, finds himself experiencing strange phenomenon on his way to the dorm. Arriving at the Minatodai Dormitory, Makoto is greeted by a boy named Pharos and signed a contract the boy has prepared, before being drawn into a strange battle with entities known as Shadows. He joins with S.E.E.S. who venture into the Dark Hour to fight the Shadows, Yuki must wield the power of Persona and the Arcana to save the people of Tatsumi Port Island.


Review:

Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth- is an adaptation of the Playstation 2 (& Playstation Portable) game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, which in itself is part of the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise. As the more canny regular readers out there no doubt would have already guessed, this is connected to Persona 4 Golden which I had previously reviewed on this blog but unlike Persona 4, they adapted Persona 3 into a series of movies rather a series.

There in lies the 1st fault.

Because Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth- is a film it tends to rush the plot, skip character development but still stick to the calendar date formula of the games & Persona 4 anime series.

This conceit works well when you have time to play with it & develop, such as with a series, but it gets confusing when the film just skips to seemingly random dates because it leaves you, as the audience, wondering what’s gone on between those dates because the plot just often appears to continue on with the previous scenes. This means there is no development of characters or situations, just a void between scenes in which nothing obviously must’ve happened.

Yes, there is no time in a film of 140 minutes to show every little thing like the game does but Persona 4 did show how well the conceit can work in serial format.
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The other issue it brings up is that the characters get ZERO background & development. You get some token pieces from some; Junpei being jealous of Makoto’s ability & Yukari’s own guilt over her self-perceived weakness as well as the societal enforced guilt over her father being part of what created the Shadows & the Dark Hour. The other side characters don’t really get much of a look in, with the exception of Fuuka, but that is more plot driven development.

The biggest issue with the lack of development lies in the central protagonist Yuki Makoto, who -like Narukami Yu from the now oft mentioned Persona 4- is meant to be a Tabula Rasa but since he lacks a true Raison d’être, he doesn’t have any real growth outside of the token.
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He is silent, aloof & does what he is told without questioning why. He doesn’t fear death yet he does not truly live. He has no connections to others nor does he long for them. It is only when confronted by the horrors of possible loss that others may suffer does he act.

This in & of itself should be enough to push a sense of agency upon Makoto but I personally feel that it falls flat because it happens in jumps rather than being woven out properly through interactions & understandings. It all plays too much like a deus ex machina than genuine progression.

Other reviewers like Richard Eisenbeis from Kotaku & Elliot Gay both sang praises for Makoto’s development from an ambivalent cold teen to someone willing to risk themselves for others, yet I do not in any way feel the same.

Maybe, as I shall again harp on & on, if it was a series it would’ve felt more natural but felt like it was all a bit of a cop out. Especially since Makoto isn’t meant to be the main focus, rather his interactions with the various support characters from whom he gains his powers & emotions.

Another thing that will affect people’s viewing of it is the constant suicidal imagery within the film.

That is what originally got the game banned for release in many countries & it may also affect international releases for the films.
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In order to summon their Persona powers, the characters stick gun-like devices called Envokers to their heads. Pulling the triggers causes their Persona to appear but also makes their heads jerk violent, like they have actually been shot. & this animation is played over & over again in the almost pointless fight scenes between our heroes & the Shadows of the Dark Hour.

If you have a sensitive disposition you may find these scenes & actions disturbing.

& it’s not really helped by the characters not actually explaining the need for Envokers or what the Persona ability is.

A mixed thing within the film is the return of all the music from the games.

If you are familiar with the soundscape, they do act a bit like spoilers for what the scene represents but are actually orchestrated well from their video game origins.

There are also other little Easter Eggs for fans, with Social Link characters appearing in various roles or just in the background doing what they do but without context as to why the protagonist is interacting with some of them, it does feel a bit needless & fan servicey (new word, deal with it).

The plot is also so slavish to the formula of the game that only fans will get much from it.

Such as the battle with the Big Shadows once a month (every full moon), which means the plot tends to skip to those dates without concern because they are the big marks to hit. After the introduction of the dungeon-like tower of Tartarus & some basic rules of the Dark Hour.

In the end, this is a film for fans that is coming a bit too late, since the original games are already 8 years old.

Yet it is something that can’t be let go of, with releases of new games that crossover Persona 3 & 4 on the way. As well as a new Persona 4 Golden series being made, based upon the changes made in the PSVita game.

If you are invested in the series, you may get something of the film, but personally it just made me want to get a new battery for my PSP so I can actually finish the game.

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Twists, Turns & Curves but not Confusing – Anime Review: ⌈K⌋

k-anime_oTitle: ⌈K⌋ (K Project, King Project, Kings)
Format: anime series
Genre: supernatural, fantasy, action, comedy
Series Creator: GoRa
Series Director: Shingo Suzuki
Studio: GoHands
Series length: 13 eps
Original Airing dates: October 5, 2012 – December 28, 2012
Reviewed format: blu-ray
Distributer: Madman


Synopsis:

Yashiro Isana has lived a relatively ordinary, simple life. He lives in the technologically-advanced Shizume City and attends Ashinaka High School, a notable high school that is located on an island just outside the areas. Yashiro is friendly with everyone. Nothing ever seems wrong about him, except perhaps his habit of forgetting where his school-issued PDA is. However, nothing normal has been happening since the recent murder of Tatara Totsuka, prominent member of the infamous HOMRA. No one knows who exactly killed him but the man responsible bears an uncanny, identical appearance to Yashiro. Seeking vengeance, the Red Clansmen of HOMRA set out to get Yashiro and kill him. Everyone suspects that Yashiro is the murderer. Isana Yashiro was not the person who killed Tatara Totsuka but yet another mysterious character is pulling the strings behind the curtains, a person who is quite dangerous and powerful.


Review:

Two years ago I came to this mysterious series through nothing but an action based trailer but ⌈K⌋ quickly became one of my favourite anime series of the past decade.

The primary reason for this is because it mentally challenged me & kept me guessing as to what happened before we entered the narrative & what actually is going on. To me, this is a rarity because I’m so well versed in narratives that I often guess what will happen from gleaming tiny bits of information & whilst I figured out a lot of what was meant to be happening, it still cleverly kept me engaged & wanting to know more & more until the true unfurling of the background of things. This series is by no means perfect -which will be addressed later- but narratively speaking it is exceptionally clever & fairly original in many ways.

One reason as to why is because you are drip feed information & clues that are more easily picked up in later viewings. Nothing is deliberately obscured or confusing, there is a strong internal logic within the series, even if it is not always apparent at first glance. There rules & exceptions are set forth along with the draw backs of power & what lies outside of the defined Clans & Domains (& that which isn’t explained in the series is later explained in the various manga & Light Novel spinoffs).

The story literally begins in two parts.
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The first is of two superpowered & warring Clans, who serve under the Red King & the Blue King respectively. You are given absolutely no context as to their powers & why the Red Clan (who call themselves Homra or HMR) are on a rampage in a American mafia office or why the Blues (also referred to as Scepter 4) wish to stop them. You are only given clues to their natures in how they are depicted. The Reds are dressed in Street Punk & Hip Hop Gangsta clothing, using street weapons as well as the power of flames & fire, whilst the Blues are all in matching uniforms, based loosely around 18th century European military style, completely with sabres & rapiers for combat, wielding blue energy slashes & shields.
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After this confrontation between the wild Reds & the ordered Blues, we jump to the other part of the story.

Which is based around the cliched, idyllic futurists mega-school built upon an artificial island that does so seem to dominated so much sci-fi anime. Yet it is a cliche & a set up that serves the story well & so much better than other recent series who used the same trope (looking at you again Valvrave the Liberator!). It is meant to be a juxtaposition to the (yet) unexplained supernatural nature of the early confrontation between the Clans by presenting the viewer with something familiar and relatable as well as introducing us to the central protagonist, Isana Yashiro, or simple Shiro (White) to his friends. He is seen as a carefree trickster, getting free food from his schoolmates as his classmate Kukuri tries to both control his behaviour & get him to eat healthily, yet she is completely unable to explain her need to care for him.
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It is only when Kukuri sends Shiro on an errand for the school council that the two halved narratives collide & the idea of sides, powers & the various Clans are begun to be woven together.

This is because Homra believe that Shiro, claiming to be the 7th & Colourless King, murdered their clansman (& the cohesion of their group) Tatara. So they chase Shiro until the Black Hound, vassal to the former Colourless King, Yatogami Kuroh (or Kuro [Black]) rescues Shiro, only to vow to execute him on the spot for his crimes.

& this is all within the 1st episode!

The plot moves at a fairly fast pace, with little wastage -even in the slightly stupid chase scene between Shiro & Kuroh in the 2nd episode where the strange character Neko (who switches between being a cat & a naked girl [will address that in a moment]) uses her powers to confound Kuroh in his pursuit.

There is little exposition from the characters, instead weaving in flashbacks throughout the narrative to establish past relationships & how things got as they are between the various clans. Even the concern between the rival Kings of Red -Mikoto- & Blue -Munakata- & trying to avert a repeat of the never really explained (in the anime) Kagutsu Crater Incident. In fact, the majority of character development is done by flipping between past & present yet you don’t get to know many of the characters outside of their physical appearances & habits during the course of the series.

The characters are a strange dichotomy in so far as the male characters seemed to be designed for or by fujoshi whilst the female characters (the few that there are) seemed to have been designed for & by horny teenage boys.

Yes, now I shall beat my usual hypersexualisation drum!

Outside of Kukuri, there are only three other female characters who appear in the major of episodes. They are Neko, who protects Shiro around, Scepter 4’s 2nd-in-Command Awashima Sera and Homra’s mascot & gothic lolita Anna Kushina.

Out of the 3, only Anna isn’t sexualised in any way. She is only portrayed as an imouto (little sister) style character who is an emotional anchor for the Red King Mikoto so he doesn’t destroy himself through over using his powers.
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When we first see Neko, she is totally stark naked -with only her long hair covering her nipples (which you never see during the series). In fact, she totally shuns clothing where she can & is seen during the ending credits starkers as the camera pans up her naked, prone body. Yet Neko plays a central part within the story & can even be seen as a driver of much of the plot. She is loyal to Shiro, claiming that he belongs to her, but she doesn’t try to sexually posses him or dominate him. She acts very much like a cat owning a human, especially in her constant demands for food & attention.

Awashima on the other hand is always in her uniform (or otherwise fully attired) but she might as well not be, since her body is so emphasised in a sexual way. Whenever she uses her special sword slash attack, the camera starts at her barely covered arse & twists around her massive boobs up to her cold face. This happens every time (though more because they want to save money by reusing the same footage) & almost every other shot incorporates her barely covered backside or boobs in some way. She too has narrative drive & is a force to be reckoned with in battle. She is even given the strange quirk of adding Red Beans Paste to almost everything she eats & drinks -much to the disgust of everyone around her.

Even Kukuri isn’t spared the sexualisation & is used for the occasional incidental pantie-shot (which is more disturbing than just focussing on a characters tits in a way).

It is very much unneeded or even undemanded in my view yet is somehow balanced & counteracted (but not enough) by the fujoshi fan service.

Amongst the paired male cast, there always seems to be a weird sexual tension. With Shiro even blushing in Kuroh’s presence & embrace whenever he is being saved. Shiro even jokingly refers to Kuroh as his ‘wife’ after Kuroh makes him & Neko lunch for school. There is a far more brutal sexual tension between Mikoto & Munakata as well as something fairly disturbing between formerly friends & clansmen Yata & Fushimi.

In fact, the entire male cast seems to run the typical gamut of yaoi (Boy’s Love) tropes. From the feminine Shiro to the cold but protective Kuroh, the wild but emotional punk Mikoto to the cool megane Munakata, the insane megane Fushimi to the tough but virginally innocent Yata. There are more than a few “now kiss!’ moments for the female (& homosexual) fans yet it doesn’t really push any boundaries nor becomes blatant in any way -yet that doesn’t distract from the hypersexualisation of the female characters.

One day I’ll stop beating that drum but not today, even though I will now move on.

One thing you must keep in mind when watching it getting a good sub where they keep the honourifics intact because they play strongly with the character relationships.

Primary to this is relationship between Yata -who is young, passionate & almost uncontrollable- & his in the field partner/offsider Rikio, who refers to Yata as ‘Yata-san’ despite being older than him. Where as most other Homra members call Yata ‘Yata-chan’ because of his small size & feminine 1st name of Misaki.

Visually, the series is utterly beautiful & only enhanced in the blu-ray release -where they’ve added more background & incidental details into the backgrounds as well as made the special attacks prettier. There is so much detail packed into the alt-world Tokyo, yet still keeping it visually on par with the city as it stands today. There are many flat-screen holograms showing various forms of information but they don’t clutter the mise-en-scene or distraction from the action.

The fight scenes are frenetic but handled smoothly, so you never lose track of who is the centre of the action. Most of the attacks are done with twisting or circular motions but the characters always stay within focus (apart from the aforementioned emphasis on Awashima’s body) & the different powers -such as Kuroh’s ghost hands- are clear in their intent & destructive capabilities.

I also utterly adore the opening theme KINGS by the talented band Angela, who many know from various other anime openings -such as Valvrave & Coppolion.

In the end, this is a most worthy series because of how it keeps you guessing as to what is going on within the story yet it doesn’t bring anything out of nowhere. The clues are always there, which adds to the enjoyment of watching it again & again. There is a sequel movie due out later this year as well as all the side manga & Light Novels to round out the narrative universe as well as character backgrounds.

Highly recommended.

K

Good But The Manga Is Better – Anime Review: Noragami

58139lTitle: Noragami (The Stray God)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, action, comedy
Series Creator: Adachitoka
Series Director: Kotaro Tamura
Studio: Bones
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 5, 2014 – March 23, 2014
Reviewed format: HDTV download


Synopsis:

Hiyori Iki was a regular middle school student until she was hit by a bus while trying to save the life of a jersey-wearing person named Yato. This incident causes her to transform into a half-phantom. Soon after she learns that Yato is a god, her life is never the same.


Review:

The manga is way better.

Harsh way to start but its true.

For however good you may feel that this series is, the manga better & the anime would’ve been better if it followed the 1st manga arc -which is about an attempt to corrupt the War God(dess) Bishamonten & her past with the central protagonist Yato- instead, that is just flirted with & we are left with an entirely new invented arc that makes little sense in context to the earlier episodes.

The anime also starts in the wrong place.

Basically, the manga begins with the wandering god Yato & his shinki Tomone responding to the pleases of a high school who is bullied & used as a target for the stress of her classmates. This mini arc serves to introduce Yato & the narrative world in which he functions & more especially the Ayakashi (evil spirits). Yet the anime starts at the end of this arc & doesn’t explain the reason why Yato & Tomone is there. Only having Tomone demand her release without showing the previous tension between her & Yato.

Although, for the 1st half of the series, it does get so much extremely right in terms of it’s relationship with the source material as well as being a good series in its own right.

The characters are one of the reasons for this.

In terms of narrative, narrative world & character creation, Noragami is fairly original on so many levels. One reason is that it is based on a solid foundation of Shinto traditions & beliefs as well as mythologies but also isn’t afraid to break away from them to try something new & interesting.

Yato is a prime example of this.

He is a wandering Kami (god or high level spirit), which means that he doesn’t have a shrine to serve as a focal point of his worship. Thus he is forced to take any requests, for the price of 5 Yen (a reference to base level Shinto offerings), so he can eventually build his own shrine. He is often depicted as being shiftless & egotistical, acting like a tyrannical villain at times whilst doing almost anything in order to get attention & gain followers but this merely a surface facet of him. It hides a lot of pain at his dark past, his fear of being forgotten (which means death for any god), being left alone as well as his utter devotion to his friends, willing to endure the worst if it means that they see the best.
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This is exemplified through his interactions with Hiyori, who wound up having her soul being able to level her body when she tried to save Yato thinking that he was a normal human. Like Yato at his best, she is selfless & devoted to her friends but she is also idealistically naive, to the point of willful ignorance. Unfortunately this naivety is drawn out in an inconsistent manner in the anime then in the manga, which Hiyori often acting hypocritical towards Yato, especially in regards to him trying to protect her & him training his new shinki Yukine.
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Yukine is also a brilliant but wrongly depicted character creation. Despite being a reconstituted human spirit, Yukine is also the closest to being human because he is so young. & being young he is more given to rage & temptation at his situation -realising that he is dead & cannot have the life that others have. This also comes about from Hiyori babying & spoiling him because of her own longer to have a connected family, especially a younger sibling.
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Unfortunately, whenever a shinki succumbs to temptation or commits an evil they inflict a “sting” upon their master; which inturn becomes a blighted curse which manifests Ayakashi upon the shinki & eventual death upon their masterful god. Thus, in this fictional world, any shinki that causes the slightest sting upon their master is released from their godly name & forced to wander until either picked up by another god or devoured by Ayakashi.

This is the main conceit of the first half of the anime series, where Yukine must come to terms not only with his death & the fact that he can never have a mortal life but that he will receive punishment in one form or another for his transgressions. Because Hiyori’s ignorance & protective nature shelters Yukine from many of the surfaces consequences of his actions, lying to herself over what he does because she feels sorry for him, it ends up almost killing both Yukine & Yato. Yet she is the one who sets about doing her upmost to save them both because she feel responsibly.

Unfortunately this responsibility becomes muddled in the hypocrisy of her anime depiction as well as the machinations of Yato’s 1st & former shinki Nora (meaning Stray, a cursed name given to shinki who serves multiple masters without severing their former names).

Nora is a quiet antagonist of the series. Not an outright villain, but the one behind almost all the action within. All because of her twisted devotion to Yato.
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To this end, she attempts to destroy Hiyori’s spiritual form & corrupt Yukine so Yato will reject him & take her back. In the anime arc, she also resurrects the god of calamity Rabo, who was both contemporary of & rival to Yato in his original incarnation as a murderous god.

Here is the massive divert from the manga series & I personally find that it just doesn’t work well or logically.

There was so much time spent building up Yato’s past with Bishamonten & her desire to destroy him. Which means Yato, despite his weakened state, defends both Yukine & Hiyori from her blind wrath. Rabo’s half arc is meant to show more about Nora’s desire to reclaim her position at Yato’s side by making her turn back into the destructive, murderous god whom she seems to love utterly but no real context or background is developed. & the pay off for it, whilst visually spectacular, doesn’t feel all that satisfying.

Same with the episode dedicated to building the side character of Kofuku, the goddess of poverty & misfortune who ends up cursing anyone & anywhere she spends too much time with or around. Whilst very funny with its 4th wall breaking jokes, it doesn’t lead to much pay off.

Yet the overall humour, especially Hiyori’s violent overreactions to things does save a lot of the series. The humour is balanced with some real harsh emotional stuff centred around ideas of suicide & redemption yet the existence of one doesn’t cheapen or ruin the value of the other. They are juxtaposed & balanced nicely for the most part, especially with how Yukine comes to terms with himself as his role as shinki to a fairly feckless divinity.

Visually, Noragami is exceptionally beautiful, with clean distinction designs & smooth action scenes. The destruction of the Ayakakishi is rendered in an interesting broken pattern, whilst all of their designs are based upon twists of the insect or reptile world. The shifts of expressions, such as Hiyori’s outrage & her tail are very well done -as are the emphasises on some of Yato’s cat-like traits (such as eyes or facial expressions). If I can praise anything in their series is how amazing it looks & how great the quality of the animation is with a rich use of colours & shades.

Ultimately, I say go into this series openly & to be prepared to be drawn to extremes of love & hate. For every misstep there are still so many good things about it.

But, if you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend reading the manga after watching the series & hope that they make that into the 2nd series.