Happy Nerd Year for 2015

Digital Fusion TIFF File

As 2014 draws to an end, I have to thank my regular readers for taking the time to go over this random corner of the geek-net. As well as thank all the random readers & spambots who up my page count & search rank -you’re doing Cthulhu‘s work.

Next year I plan (but may not deliver) on expanding this blog to cover things like Trading Card Games, interviews fairly well known online people -such as webcomic artists/creators, receiving input from other contributors as well as adding some animated video blogs (if the animator comes through). As well as actually writing more literal, manga, comic & television reviews & articles like I had originally promised that I would do.

I should also rank some of the best & worse anime of the year (since that’s my focus).

The best series of the year is without a doubt KILL la KILL because it was so original, twisted & fun to watch. It came out of nowhere, challenged so many assumptions & tropes & held your attention for the entire 24 episode span with twist after bizarre twist. If the DVDs weren’t only 4 episodes were pack, I’d be buying them to rewatch again.

KilllakillpromoOther notable titles of the year include the yet to be reviewed Gugure! Kokkuri-san because of how funny it is, Akame ga Kiru! because of the delicate balance that it strikes, Tokyo Ghoul because of it’s originality & brutality & Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun because it was just fucking funny & completely original.

There are a few honour mentions too but am too lazy to make a list.

The worse anime of the year: well, there can only be one winner of that & it is Seikoku no Dragonar.

No other series that I personally watched (meaning there might have been others that I didn’t see) was as disgusting or pathetic as this series. The thought of it still sickens me but not as much as the fact that there is a dedicated fan base for such awful shite!

There were other series this year backed with disgusting or objectionable content but Seikoku no Dragonar was the one that struck me as the utter worst. I listed the reasons why in the review & I really don’t want to revisit that trauma.

I hope that next year’s anime doesn’t stoop to such levels but I am afeared that things can & will get worse in that stake.

At any rate, 2014 is drawing to a close as I type.

I’m genuinely looking forward to what 2015 will bring in terms of anime/manga/light novels, books, films, comics & all kinds of geeky sundries. there is already a lot to look forward to & sure to be more than a surprises on the way.

So, I wish everyone a Happy Nerd Year for 2015 & for everyone to have a joyous & hangover free time if you’re partying it up.

tamayay

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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.
Akane2
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.
kamui-shisui-psycho-pass
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

A Delicate Balancing Act- Anime Critique: Akame ga Kiru!

Title: Akame ga Kiru! (Akame ga Kill! Akame Slashes!)
Format: TV anime
Genre: Shonen, fantasy, action, pseudo-harem, gore
Series Creators: Takahiro & Tetsuya Tashiro
Series Director: Kobayashi Tomoki
Studio: White Fox
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 6, 2014 – December 14, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs

Manga cover
Manga cover

Synopsis:

Tatsumi is a fighter who, accompanied by his two childhood friends, sets off to the Capital in search of a way to make money to assist his poverty-stricken village. After being separated from his friends, Tatsumi not only fails to enlist in the army, but is swindled out of all his money. He is then taken in by a noble family who offer him help, but intend to torture and kill him, just like they did with his friends and dozens of other people. Tatsumi is rescued by a group of assassins known as Night Raid; who are also part of the revolutionary forces assembled to overthrow Prime Minister Honest, who manipulates the young emperor for his and his men’s personal gain, leading the rest of the nation to poverty and strife.


Critique:

In my view, Akame ga Kiru! is one of those rare series that takes established genre tropes and not only subverts to a degree but comfortable balances them with other common & uncommon elements -such as humour, emotion, fan service & extreme (& I do mean extreme) violence.

This delicate balancing act is the key strength to the series -but it is also its greatest weakness to a degree- as it takes many of the ideas of your typical Shonen narrative -such as ideas of justice, self-empowerment, overcoming more powerful opponents through strength of will & ignoring powerful female characters- and skews them into something basically other to the narrative norm.
Akame-ga-Kill
Primary to this is the central protagonist, Tatsumi, who seems like your typical Shonen manga hero. In that he is idealistic, naive & stubborn in his beliefs. The way that he is set up in the beginning, as a teenager coming to the capital to meet up with his two best friends so they can make enough money to save their village which lies along the farthest boards of the empire. Even though he is rejected for the army, swindled & exposed to the corruption of the capital, he maintains his naive idealism & is eventually taken in by a young noble woman who promises to help him find his friends and get into the army with her father’s connections. When the noble girl and her family are targeted by the assassins, Night Raid, Tatsumi does his upmost to protect the girl he believes to be his saviour -even going blade to blade against the titular Akame- but when it is revealed that the girl and her family tortured & killed his friends for their own sadistic pleasure, he shows no hesitation in being the one to kill her where she stands.

This juxtaposition of being naive morality and responding to the harshness of reality is what makes Tatsumi -& the series as a whole- interesting. Because even though he wishes to be moral, freeing the citizens of the empire from the corrupt tyranny of the manipulative Prime Minister -ironically named Honest- he is aware of the practicalities of achieving this. He accepts that he must become a murderer -even if the people killed are the worst humanity has to offer- but he does not let such darkness cloud that what he does is for an ultimate good. Yet a good that must always come at an exceptionally high price as people will suffer & die, even if you have the power to stop it.

The majority of the characters are also subversion of the standard genre tropes & cliches -for the most part that is.

They often fall into the typical archetypes that we come to expect -such as the unemotional one, the tsundere, the perv and the homo (how they refer to him in the series)- yet, for the most part, the characters are given context as to why they are like they are and are even given a change for develop, so that they have an arc to journey. What gives another good twisting to convention is that this development is also offered to the major antagonists of the series -the Jaegers- so that they aren’t just cardboard cutouts being bad for the sake of it (for the most part that is).

While Tatsumi is the naive idealist who grows to accept his roll as a killer, he is never shown  having the typical weakness of trying to spare his enemies or get them to see his point of view (such as Emiya in Fate/Stay Night). He grits his sense of mercy against having to do what is right in the situation, even if that means performing a brutal or underhanded act to win. He does gain more strength and power as the series progresses, as well as gathers a kind of harem around him, which are typical of the Shonen genre yet his development is never as clear cut as it would be in a more down the line (cliched) story like Bleach or One Piece. Since the manga is still continuing, the team behind the anime made an exceptionally brave way to resolve Tatsumi’s story arc, which was extremely unexpected & whilst a lot of people will be upset by it, I salute them for such a brave way of ending.

Tatsumi isn’t the only one who undermines standard Shonen characterisation, because his friends & enemies -whilst being cliched or archetypes at time- tend to have fleshed out backgrounds to explain their personality & behaviour.
Akamegakillcast
The titular Akame seems to be the usual taciturn killer obsessed with food but because she was raised solely and brutally as an assassin she lacks social skills and she constantly needs to eat to fuel her incredible abilities; also: despite appearing utterly emotionless, she cares deeply for all of her comrades, even if Tatsumi can’t understand how she does this at first. The sniper Mine (pronounced like mine as in the game Minecraft) seems like your typical tsundere but her emotion and arrogance fuels the power of her Taiga (Relic/Imperial Arms) weapon, Pumpkin, which grows stronger the more trouble its wielder is in -as well as the fact she is a half-blood child, which meant she was ignored & bullied all of her life, so she uses her arrogance to hide her fragility. The lion-like Leone (see pun in name) seems like your typical morally dodgy hedonist, actually swindling Tatsumi out of all of his money when he arrived in the Capital, but she has an exceptionally deep sense of loyalty to her friends & believes in personally punishing those who commit the most wicked sins upon the innocent -acting both as Night Raid’s spy & powerhouse in a fight. She also has a softer side, caring for Night Raid, insisting that they all refer to her as “onee-san” (big sister), which Tatsumi dutifully does despite their 1st interaction. Lubbock is seen as your typical amoral pervert who’d do anything to see the female Night Raid members naked but he never lets himself fall for enemy tricks -especially those involving beautiful- because he will do absolutely anything for his beloved commander, Nijenda.

Unfortunately the two remaining characters, Bulat & Sheele don’t really get time to develop but do have interesting backstories.

Bulat at first is shown as the butch homo (the translator’s term for him) with flamboyant hair but he acts like an older brother and mentor to Tatsumi (who refers to him as “aneki”). Despite his pretty boy appearance, he is a powerful fighter who is trying to make amends for the slaughters he committed when he was a soldier in the imperial army. I would’ve liked to have seen him develop much more outside the tender tough guy/queer trope but, alas, media has no issue in killing off homosexuals or deviants.

Sheele isn’t deviant in the traditional sense but she also doesn’t get time to shine. She’s shown as clumsy, airheaded & a tad useless but one of the most brutal killers in the team when armed with her giant scissors (yes, scissors like you do Arts & Crafts with). She claims a neurological condition, a “twisting inside my brain”, makes her useless at everything life but fighting & killing. After saving her best friend from a brutal assault & near rape, she discovers her talent for murder, becoming an assassin before being recruited by Night Raid. Unfortunately she’s turned into a sacrifice to demonstrate the power & brutality of the series’ main antagonists, the Jaegers (German for Hunters even though Germany doesn’t exist within the series).

The Jaegers I find a really interesting set of characters, proving the axiom that for a series to work you must have deep, complex villains who are twisted reflections of the heroes. Each member of the Jaeger is given details on their backgrounds & time to develop on screen, with each not only mirroring Night Raid but also displaying the issues inherent within the corrupt Empire.
The_Jaegers
The Jaeger’s leader is the insanely powerful & brutal General (Shogun) Esdeath, who’s motto is “the strong survive and the weak die”. She also wields one of the most powerful Taiga in the series, the power to manifest ice in any shape or amount from out of nowhere. Her utter brutality lies in stark contrast to how she cares for her subordinates, even if she believes that if any of them die it was because of their inherent weaknesses (also blaming herself for not helping them overcome their weakness). She also wants to know what it is to be in love, falling for an undercover Tatsumi when he won a tournament set up to find her to perfect mate. Her devotion towards him boarders on the Yandere but she is shown to have genuine affection for him, even though he keeps trying to escape her.

The other really interesting members of the Jaegers include the flamethrower using Bols, who hides his face behind a gasmask & comes across as intimidating because of his huge, scarred body. Whereas, in truth, he is a gentle soul who cares for his team members, is a skill cooked & likes being as helpful as he can. He also has a loving wife & daughter but is fully aware of the atrocities that he has committed in the name of bringing peace to the empire -including burning an entire village to ash so to stop the spread of a plague. He knows that he will one day be judged & punished for the crimes that he has committed but that doesn’t stop him from being open & caring for everyone around him -despite his painfully shy nature & dark self awareness.

The other interesting member of the Jaegers is Seryu Ubiquitous but for opposite reasons as Bol. She’s utterly obsessed with justice & with becoming a Hero of Justice like those whom she idealised. Unfortunately those whom she idealised were either murderously corrupted -such as the Capital Guard leader Orge- or dangerously insane like Dr Stylish. Her version of justice is twisted & absolute, with no room for subtlety or reason; so she responses with extreme violence. Often using her dog-like Taiga, Koro, to devour the so-called “evil doers”. Her mentality is further twisted when Sheele severs her limbs at the cost of her own life, making her believe that “good” (herself) will always triumph over the forces of evil (everyone else). Though when she is introduced she is shown as your typical, bumbling & airheaded “ally of justice” type because that is what she believes herself to be. Except her mind is so twisted that even her comrades don’t trust her -especially Wave.

Wave is Tatsumi’s mirror. In that he is also naive & idealistic, believing that he must serve the Empire no matter how twisted it is. Because a righteous heart can heel any wound if they stick to their path. He isn’t entirely stupid, seeing the wrong doings enacted upon the populace -especially by other Jaegers (mainly Seryu)- but he still acts, along with Bol, as their anchor to normality & morality -especially for Kurome, Akame’s mentally-warped younger sister.
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Both Kurome & Akame share many similar traits, such as insatiable appetites & incredible, inhuman fighting skills. Yet whereas Akame feels the burden of all the lives that she has taken, Kurome feels their comfort. More considering that her Taiga, Yatsufusa, can turn anyone it slays into undead puppets. Her sense of being abandoned, stemming from being separated from her sister & experimented on, shows through in the use of her weapon to keep those whom she loved close to her -usually by mercifully ending their lives or murdering them when she thinks that they’ll leave her. Her character arc is minor yet interesting in how she develops outside seeing herself only in relation to her sister, especially when dealing with people as emotionally open & supportive as Wave.

There are heaps of other characters in the series too but in translated many from an on-going manga to a 24 episode series meant that they often appear, are introduced & then killed off without much fanfare.

In fact, there are several aspects & characters from the original manga that are removed or completely changed to fit with the new format but this doesn’t detract from it. I actually like how they were brave to give a solid ending to an continuing narrative rather than leave everything up in the air for a series that may never come (oh, how you betrayed me Horizon In the Middle of Nowhere!). Whilst some may quibble with the ending, I felt that it fitted for the most part but do be prepared to have your heart torn out a little if you’d grown attached to characters.

As well as playing with narratives & tropes, this series is also exceptionally violent. Surprisingly so in fact if you’ve never read the original manga. With blood spumes & dismemberment par for the course. Often shown in unflinching & uncensored fashion (unlike the TV broadcasts of Tokyo Ghoul or Gokukoku no Brynhildr). Yet the series does flinch away from the more sexually violent aspect, such as hints of rape & molestation. This is a positive in my view but it does mean that they cut out one of the best mini-arcs from the manga, where naive girls from the country are brought to the Capital, spoilt for a day before being assaulted & molested then addicted to drugs until they die a brutal death. This segment is important to show how vile the Empire has become & the lengths Night Raid go to in order to dispense their brand of justice.

Yet, as it shies away from aspects of sexual assault & molestation, it still has a lot of blatant Fan Service. Which is many cleavage on display but occasionally taut male muscle for the ladies. The Fan Service is never graphic or ogling, never really lingering or shoving your face in it but it can distract from the overall scene and series. This was also an issue in the manga but felt more satirical there, whereas the anime just has the jugs out on display (although covered up in some aspect).

TITTIES!!! Covered but still titties!
TITTIES!!! Covered but still titties!

The Fan Service and Sexualisation aren’t deal breakers or annoying but they do feel jarring out of place at time.

The fight scenes are often exceptionally well depicted, with fast paced brutal action always centred so you know what’s going on. Unfortunately, it still falls into many annoying Shonen tropes, such as taking time to explain “Special Moves” and attacks as well as every character having a hidden “trump” (turumpu) card ability that they always expound upon during battle. I personally find this trope to be overused & very annoying but the fights themselves are bloody & enjoyable (bloody enjoyable you might say, gauffered laugh).

The series is also beautifully animated, with interesting anachronistic designs that juxtapose our modern with classic fantasy -especially in regards to clothing design. With Tatsumi & Akame both wearing what look like school uniforms. It’s also vividly colourful, using lots of scenery, such cityscapes & nature, but it does look all the same after a while because they reuse the same backgrounds a lot (cash saving measure).

Overall, I thought that this was a brilliant series that translated many of the positive & transgressive aspects of the manga to the TV medium whilst still maintain a delicate balancing act of using & subverting standard tropes & cliches.

Whilst it might not be for everyone, I still found it immensely enjoyable -especially with its tender moments and quick fire humour. Some may not be able to get passed the extreme violence with it’s rivers & fountains of blood or forgive it for killing off characters whom you’ve come to love but stick through it all before casting your judgement -just like I’ve done.

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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.
hitsugi_no_chaika-01-chaika-coffin-gothic_lolita-mysterious-quiet
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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I Couldn’t Think of an Ink Based Pun – Anime Critique: Barakamon

Barakamonv1Title: Barakamon
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, slice of life
Series Creator: Satsuki Yoshino
Series Director: Masaki Tachibana
Studio: Kinema Citrus
Series length: 12
Original Airing dates: July 6 – September 27, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Seishu Handa is a pro calligrapher, despite his young age. When the elderly curator of an exhibition criticizes his calligraphy for being too unoriginal (“like a copybook”), Handa gets angry and punches the curator. In the wake of this faux pas, his father sends him off for a retreat on Goto Island, near Kyushu. There, he meets the colourful villagers, interacts with them, and begins to learn.


Review:

Barakamon more or less follows the typical Japanese reaction comedy formula. You have one or two baka (idiot) style characters, saying or doing outrageous things whilst the straight man reacts, either with vocal outrage or a burst of slapstick violence. Barakamon doesn’t attempt to break this mould in terms of routine but it honestly doesn’t have to. This is because it’s also a situational comedy as well as a fish out of water story. Yet all of these cliched comedy tropes do nothing to detract from the actual humour within the series.

How I feel when trying to write reviews in public.
How I feel when trying to write reviews in public.

That is because the comedy is based in the location as well as the fairly unique characters or usurpation of trope. With Handa-sensei (called so because he’s master of a skill, not really a teacher) acting as both straight-man & foil to his own embarrassment created punchline. He’s an excellent dichotomy between the confident artist & the neurotic self-critic. Unable to control his impulses & always pushed to his limit by those around him -especially the tomboyish 6 year old Naru, one of the locals of the island he finds himself living on after his exile from Tokyo.

This form of comedy thrives on an ensemble cast, each existing to provide a contrast to the protagonists or set up punchlines for others to trip over -usually in the form of an outlandish reaction or over the top verbal outburst. The humour has to be fast paced & the reactions to extreme for the situation, so the series is filled with both quick punch jokes or slow boil scenarios -both of which work exceptionally well.

Naru: the face of fun.
Naru: the face of fun.

Yet, as mentioned in the first line of the previous paragraph, it is the characters that surround Handa-sensei. Primary to this group is Naru, the aforementioned little tomboy, who instantly latches onto Handa-sensei because he’s entirely new to the island. Most of her humour is derived from her either trying to get his attention or trying to cheer him up when he makes himself depressed over his lack of progress -both of which usually results in him getting physically injured or scared by her. Despite his outward antagonism towards the little girl, he shows genuine concern for her & plays along. Partially out of concern for her but mostly because he spend all of his childhood practising his calligraphy he never got to play like other children.

There are other characters too, who had to the humour or Handa-sensei’s frustration -like the mischievous girls Miwa & Tamako- or take on the role of straightman to the lunacy around them -such as Hiroshi & Tamako’s younger brother, Akihiko. Out of the four, Miwa & Tamako get the most screentime, since Handa-sensei’s house used to be where they secretly hung out & they are unwilling to let that go. Whilst Miwa does more on screen, I personally found Tamako a lot funnier as a character. She wants to become a manga artist, drawing brutal Shonen stories. She’s also drawn to BL/yaoi manga but denies this since she doesn’t want to be labelled as a fujoshi, or Rotten Woman, but is always imagining Handa-sensei being in love with Hiroshi because Hiroshi cooks for the calligrapher in exchange for some lessons. This usually leads to Tamako having huge outbursts at Handa-sensei whilst trying to subconsciously pair them up.

Fujoshi fury unleashed!
Fujoshi fury unleashed!

The series isn’t all frenetic sight gags & slapstick. In between the heavy paced comedy the series gets to show off some beautiful visuals, the ocean & landscapes of the island -all of which go to inspire Handa-sensei in finding his new unique style. Like so many other series this season, the visuals for so many incidental details are topnotch. The sparkle of the sun upon the sea, the dappled shade as light filters through the leaves. They’re not as great as in say Glasslips but they are pretty speccy to look at. Naru’s varied expressions are also adorable, even when they’re referencing some other obscure (in the West at least) works.

Kids sure do grow up quickly these days.
Kids sure do grow up quickly these days.

If I were to critique (which I am doing anyway) one major drawback of the series, it is that it doesn’t really break any new ground & a few themes & characters are introduced a touch late. Mainly Handa-sensei’s overprotective mother, Emi, who resorts to outbursts of physical violence (beating her fists up & down) whenever she gets frustrated. Her husband & son naturally are able to shrug these off but Handa-sensei’s best friend & manager, Kawafuji Takao, is unable to do so -copping a real & humorous beating from her when he makes fun of her overprotective nature. Kawafuji himself is a well rendered foil for Handa-sensei’s demanding ego & neurosis but similar finds himself out of his depth when he ventures to the island to see his friend. There was a lot of potential for more original humour & ideas there but it all fell back into basic ideas of community & belonging. With Handa-sensei coming to feel that the island is the only place that he can truly be happy because everyone accepts him for who he is, not because of his prodigious talent as a calligrapher.

In the end, this is a very fun, sweet & silly series that, despite not breaking any new ground, is definitely worth the time to watch. It has a playful sense of humour that uses good callbacks to earlier gags, especially in the post credit coda scenes. It is visual exceptionalness beats any drawbacks that the plot might have. Plus it doesn’t have many gags that are restricted to limited cultural & media references that only the most hardcore cultural otaku would get. A great series to watch when you want a sweet pick-me-up or just to laugh your manboobs off with.

Basking in work well done. Or he had a wank. One or the other.
Basking in work well done. Or he had a wank. One or the other.

The All Singing, All Dancing Lesbian Troop – Anime Critique: Hanayamata

8b4d6a16fc4574fefd0438507a3030651402376724_fullTitle: Hanayamata
Format: TV series
Genre: slice of life, comedy, Girl’s Love
Series Creator: Sou Hamayumiba
Series Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Studio: Madhouse
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 7 – September 22, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Naru Sekiya is an ordinary 14-year old girl who likes fairy tales, but is worried about her lack of other interests. She has a chance encounter with a “fairy”, a foreign girl practicing dance at night. On a spur of the moment, Naru asks to join her and is introduced to the world of yosakoi dancing.


Review:

Hanayamata fits nicely into the Cute Girls Doing Cute Things subgenre, not dissimilar to the aforereviewed Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka from last season. The general gist of it is a group of early teenaged girls getting together in order to have fun, gain confidence & strengthen their bonds of friendship. I mentioned lesbians in the title because this series leans towards to the Girl’s Love (similar to Yuri but lacking the sexual side of things). Outside of paternal figures, there is an absence of males within series. & the girls show blushing cute attraction to each other that leans more towards extreme/deep friendship attraction than Sapphicism.

Also, unlike the aforementioned Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu, Hanayamata is less a situational based series than a driven narrative-based story.

The general thrust of the series is the shy Naru, who hides from everything & would rather lose herself in her fairytales, finding someone & something to give her the passion & confidence to face reality. Naru finds this through her encounter with the pixie-esque foreign girl, Hana N. Fountainstand, whom Naru initially mistakes for a fairy wanting to take her to a magical kingdom.

Hana is a pretty typical Weeaboo, who is obsessed with all things Japanese to the point that she wishes to reshape her entire cultural identity. Her primary focus is on Yosakoi, because she witnessed a dance trope when she was a little girl visiting Japan. Hana’s goal is to start a Yosakoi club at her new school & she has chosen Naru to be the first member.

The kawaii! It burns!
The kawaii! It burns!

Naturally, Naru’s painful shyness & extreme lack of confidence means that she refuses but Hana’s persistence & overall adorability means that Naru eventually offers to help set up the club. In order to do this, they need more members -who are often driven away by Hana’s over-eagerness- a supervising teacher & to get passed the very strict Student Council President, Machi. This driving arc is combined with the other protagonists: Naru’s overprotective & slightly self-centred friend Yaya & the epitome of Japanese feminine grace, Tami -whom Naru views as a big sister & princess-like figure. They both strive to find their own passions & dreams in the face of others trying to control their lives or people unwilling to push themselves to take that final step to break through the barriers before them. Machi finds herself in a similar position, wishing to overcome her sister-complex; a sister how just happens to be Sari (AKA Sally-sensei), the Yosakoi club supervisor -who only took on the role because of the pressure that Hana applied to her through begging.

Super excited Loli set to execute snuggle-attack,
Super excited Loli set to execute snuggle-attack,

Each character has to overcome their personal struggles in order to gain confidence. This is central to the construction of Naru, who thinks of herself as weak & lost yet it does not ring entirely true with her. Her emotional weakness & crippling lack of confidence seems to stem more from perceptions of social pressures & her indulgence in escapism rather than face reality. These unto themselves are hardly original ideas for media to explore but in the case of Naru they seem contradictory. That is because she claims to have no physical strength or coordination yet from the outset we are told that she’s practiced Iaido from a young age, having gained a high proficiency in the art from her father, who runs a dojo from their home. I found it strange that these martial art didn’t confer any ability to Naru’s confidence & dance motions but that may lie more in the schismatic nature of her personality then within her actual flesh.

The Tsundere exposed.
The Tsundere exposed.

With Naru occupying the space of the pitiable stalwart looking to overcome their own feelings of inadequacy, it’s up to the other girls to fill the other roles. Yaya is the typical tsundere who wants to be the centre of attention, especially from Naru, & is a little jealous that her friend has finally found something outside of her admiration for & reliance upon Yaya herself. Tami wants to be the epitome of the perfect woman, in order to gain her father’s approval but she also is shown to be a little ditzy & mischievous, looking to break the role that she’s forced herself into. & Machi wants to escape from the shadow of her once successful sister & conquer the feelings of abandonment that stem from her relations with Sally-sensei as well as the academic pressures that her hospital running parents are putting her through now that Sally-sensei has abandoned the role of heir to their tiny medical empire.

Whilst, so many other shows this season, Hanayamata is exceptionally beautiful look at. With its bloom & shimmering use of colours & well rendered action sequences -especially the dance choreography for both the girls & the passing troops. Yet, as a whole, it’s a series not without its faults.
hanayamata-ep3
My main criticism of the series that its aimed at boosting Japanese consumer & cultural confidence, but once again showing a foreigner entirely obsessed with an aspect of Japanese culture/history that they are willing to move & reshape their entire personal identity in order to conform to their perceptions of what it means to be Japanese. Hana fundamentally exists (at least in the anime) to push a form of Japanese superiorism, reinforcing the belief that Japan is the superordinate in terms of its ongoing cultural practices.

The other negative in my point of view is how they push the emotional drama side of things. Bringing out the tears & ramping up the reacting, coupled with some irritating voice acting at times. It isn’t a deal breaker but it detracts from the sweetness of the comedy & the beauty of the anime. Especially the expressions & the reaction shots. There is some mild sexualisation & fan service but that at least palls when faced with the drama & comedy.

Everyone has a goal. Some girls have goals to get boobies.
Everyone has a goal. Some girls have goals to get boobies.

Overall, this is a worth addition to the “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things”. It’s fun, it’s fluffy & silly but also deep & touching when it has to (but not in the yuri sense). Whilst it does have some negative, all the good that it does completely outweighs my basic (& typical) complaints. There are plenty of kawaii moments as well as other random comedic moments -such as with Yosakoi supply store owner Ofuna Masaru, who looks like a stereotypical Yakuza but is passionate about Yosakoi & helping the girls.

If you can get passed some of the minor irritations, you’re sure to enjoy this series. It’s a good balm to some of the bloody & hypersexualised offering this past season. It’s all about what you can achieve if you have self-belief & friends by your side to support you. More so if you push yourself in order to support them so you can find your own strength to face the harshness of reality.

hanayamata-girls

It’s Like DLC for Anime – Anime Critique: Persona 4: The Golden Animation

Persona4GoldenAnimationTitle: Persona 4 The Golden Animation
Format: TV anime
Genre: video game adaptation, action, supernatural, comedy
Series Creator: Atlus Games
Series Director:  Seiji Kishi, Tomohisa Taguchi
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 11 – September 25, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Persona 4 The Golden Animation follows Yu & the gang as they try to help new friend Marie regain her memories, as they battle the evil that is invading both their town & the Televison World. An alternative retelling of the events of Persona 4 The Animation based on the events in the PSVita game Persona 4 Golden.


Review:

If memory (& the search function) serve me, one of the earliest critiques that I wrote was about the PSVita remake of the Shin Megami Tensei game Persona 4 -entitled Persona 4 Golden. Within that critique I may have mentioned my fondness for the anime adaptation of the original PS2 game. Two years on & A-1 Pictures brings us Persona 4 The Golden Animation; which serves as both a bridge & an extension of the original anime series as well as an adaptation of Persona 4 Golden.

If that sounds confusing that is because it is.

Persona 4 The Golden Animation is a fan series for seriously invested fans of both the game remake & the previous anime. This is because P4tGA doesn’t retell the full story of previous series, rather is focuses on the Social Link events of the new P4G character Marie as well as other exclusives events & locations found within that game. There are no great battles with Shadows or our previously exploded protagonists coming to terms with themselves & their repressed feelings. Rather is helps build their lives outside of their struggle to find the hidden murderer & helping the mysterious Marie find out more about her own past.

Marie as both pretty & pitiful.
Marie as both pretty & pitiful.

This format annoyed me at first because I didn’t know it was happening but it did take away the concern that the majority of the season would just be a total rehash of the previous one. If you didn’t know in advance that it focuses on only certain events, the huge time skips would be both confusing & vexing. Supposedly it’s done in a way that you can slip/exchange episodes of P4tGA into the original but am not entirely sure how that would work. P4tGA works better as a stand alone from the original anime but as the previous paragraph mentioned, it is more for already invested fans.

Those who never played P4G wouldn’t really understand the context for the new characters. This isn’t such a big problem in Japan, since both the Megami Tensei franchise & its Persona subseries are still immensely popular in Japan. Yet they are more cult hits in the West but, hey, you’re fault for not being born in Japan, right?

Who can resist those smouldering eyes?
Who can resist those smouldering eyes?

Besides Marie, the other thing this new series is introducing the perspective of the murderer (won’t spoil who it is for those whom haven’t yet played the games or watched the previous series). It brings out some of the feelings as to why they did what they did but, like the game & other anime, still comes across as a convoluted mess. Especially when central protagonist Yu goes off on his own to urge the murderer to turn himself in when his lack of conscious is already obvious.

In fact, they shift the character of Yu somewhat as well.

Marie's opinion of you in non-tsundere mode.
Marie’s opinion of you in non-tsundere mode.

In the game, being a tabula rasa, Narukami Yu (if you chose to call him that) was a basic non-entity, reacting to everything as the player did. In P4tA, Yu was given a more snarky attitude as well as a heavy persistence to see things through. In P4tGA, you are immediately shown that Yu is a far more open & jolly character, making quips & putting himself out there. Because his & other characters have already been exploded, there’s no real point in reinventing the wheel with any of them. So the focus can be on some of the characters who weren’t properly exploded last time -like the murderer- or entirely new -like Marie.

MARIE FAN SERVICE, EVERYBODY!
MARIE FAN SERVICE, EVERYBODY!

Marie is a classic tsundere who has your typical form of tabula rasa amnesia but her immediate personality is brusque -snapping at people whenever she can’t handle the emotions that she’s feeling. Often speaking in clipped, embarrassed words. Marie is also designed to be really really sexy, with the shape of her face, visible lips & pleading eyes. Basically existing to draw in male views & make them feel something (possibly horny) for her. She’s not really exploited in a hypersexualised fashion (although there is fan service in episode 3) but all the characters, including the males, are sexualised in some fashion. This is fundamentally a hallmark of the broader franchise & whilst vexing to a degree, it’s not really lingered upon or used to exploit any of the characters (except for the male character Kanji).

I present: the Birth of Venus!
I present: the Birth of Venus!

What was more annoying then the usual sexualisation was how much the series felt like it was falling apart towards the end. Without the stable plot of chasing down the murderer & solving the larger mystery of the Persona powers & the Television World, there really isn’t a centre that the series clings too. The revelations of Marie’s true identity follow the game close enough but her motivations for action deviate enough that they feeling stretched & vexing. Same without having the tangible connections of her to the overall Persona & larger Megami Tensei universes. If you know the games you can understand but they are still disconnected enough from this anime that something feels frustratingly askew. Plus the end really feels rushed, cramming in as much new game content as they could with focus or sharp relief of situation.

The series still holds up the humour side that marked the last series very well. The characters are still strong as well but lacking the context & connection of the previous series. Which means a lot of their new actions seem hollow because they are only in relation to Marie or new scenarios from the game. Like the previous series, P4tGA is exceptionally pretty to look up. With excellent animation quality & character designs. Even going into some new details for already establish characters & showing some previous unseen Persona that Yu wields.

In the end, this is a series almost solely for those who are already into both the various Atlus animation adaptations as well as the Persona games. You don’t really gain anything new from it, nor is it as brilliant as Persona 4 The Animation but it does have some lovely little touches to it. These being the character relationships/interactions, the stunning visuals & quirky, clever humour. If you are already into all this, you’ve probably already watched it. If you aren’t, you won’t lose much. Although it does give you an excuse to go watch the original adaptation before starting on this one. Not like you have anything else happening right now, right?

horriblesubs-persona-4-the-golden-animation-01-720p_12-jul-2014-23-06-17