Dragons Unleashed! – event review: Dragons of Tarkir pre-release event.

*disclosure: this writer has no affiliation with Good Games Hobart or the Good Games franchise, nor does he have any association with Wizards of the Coast. What is written below is entirely opinion based upon playing experience & have not been altered or affected by any incentive or association from the store of the makers of Magic the Gathering. If you want to dispute that, then piss off elsewhere to do it.*

Midnight, Friday the 20th of March, Good Games Hobart & the Magic-philes eagerly await the handing out of their special Dragons of Tarkir pre-release packs. The air is tense, silent; everyone is expectant -wishing for the perfect seeded drop or rare rich booster. Sweat pricks brows as the 1st shipping box is opened & the 1st name is called. Possibility is in the air tonight.

Not really.

As we waited for midnight to rock around, we were all talking shit, chilling or, in some cases, people are playing other games -like Magic Modern or Dungeonquest. No one is silent, no one is tense but everyone, in their own way, is excited & expectant. Eager to see what they might get & how the new mechanics play out.

Dragons of Tarkir is the 3rd and final set from Wizards of the Coasts’ latest Magic the Gathering block, Khans of Tarkir. Set in a parallel world from the original Khans (a pseudo Mongolian inspired plane) after the events of Fate Reforged (yes, MtG actually has plots within the blocks/expansions) where the former extinct dragons are now rulers of Tarkir thanks to Sarkhan’s changing of history. The story isn’t really important, the cards & new mechanics are.

If you’ve played any of the Tarkir block you’re already familiar with the mechanics of Manifest, Morph, Delve, etc. DoT adds in new or altered abilities. Most of these abilities tend to be Colour or Clan related, so Blacks & Blues related to Silumgar have Exploit, Dromoka’s Green has Formidable & so on. Abilities such as Megamorph & Dash can go across colours after a fashion but you tend to find them more associated with factions again.

Here are some examples of that which I used or had used against me:

Megamorph, where if you have a creature with this ability & you pay the Morph cost, when you flip it right side up you put a +1/+1 counter on it & usually activate abilities which grant bonuses to either that or other creatures on the field.


The Gudul Lurker may seem weak but if you get its Megamorph in, it becomes a nice creature to wittle down your opponent’s life since it can’t be block (it’s still vulnerable to spells & such though if you don’t have Hex Proof)


When dragons have Megamorph, they tend to booster other dragons, which is a deadly thing to have because dragons are already so powerful. But makes them perfect for a Dragon EDH deck if you’re building one.

Exploit is another new mechanic, where in which if a creature possessing Exploit enters the field, you can sacrifice another creature on your side of the field to trigger an effect. This can often be damaging to your opponents, making them discard cards, lose life or grant bonuses to your side to name but a few of the things that it does. Exploit are great if you have a deck that produces tokens because you can sacrifice them to really screw with your opponents without losing any important creatures on your sides & there are a few heavy hitting creatures in DoT that drop some handy tokens -either when they enter the field or when they do damage.


This is a typical Black sapping skill but one you can cast without spending any mana, so it’s pretty handy to use if you can.


This is one card that I got & he’s really handy because he’s a low cost fetch. If you have a resurrect ability, you can Exploit Sidisi himself, find the card your after, bring Sidisi back again & keep going that way if you can. A nice & handy creature if played right, I think.

These are a few examples & when the block is fully released you’ll be able to see what cards have & do what as well as how these new abilities will effect other meta-games, such as Modern & EDH/Commander.

Since Dragons of Tarkir is chockers full of new dragons (well, duh), you’ll be seeing a lot more dragon decks in play. Mainly because these dragons bolster other cards -mainly other dragons- plus there are more cards which get granted special bonuses if you have a dragon card in hand (you reveal the card to get granted the ability). This seemed to have people fairly divided as to how affective it would be in meta-gaming but since I really want to build an All Colour dragon Commander deck, I’m excited by the possibilities that these new dragons offer -especially the dragon lord ones.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really pull much in the way of dragons from my boosters & no dragon lords.

Actually, my pull from my seeded pack & boosters overall was pretty poor. I went with Silumgar (Black-Blue) because haven’t played those colours in ages. I swapped my Ojutai box for it. It wasn’t a terrible drop that I got, because I wound up with some sweet non-Black-Blue cards but not a lot of good cards in the colours that choose to go with.

What was terrible, however, was my playing.

I really do suck at this game.

One is because I don’t know how to build decks properly, another is that the rules have changed so much since I stopped playing & I’m trying to catch up with it. The last reason is that I always play against people who are really good at the game. That last one isn’t a gripe because I learn so much from them & they always give me good advice on how to play & build decks when I ask; as well as being patient for being so slow on the uptake with various things in game (not to mention getting confused over rules since I play so many different games).

Overall, the pre-release midnight gathering was really fun -even if I did come dead last in everything.

Good Games has the best set up for such events, because it has so much space as well as drinks & food (good when locked in so late & everything else is shut). The staff member we had running the event is also an official MtG judge (meaning that he adjudicates at official tournaments & events), so he handled any confusion over the new rules (& the conflict with some of the old ones too). The space that the store provides is also a boon because it means you can walk around & stretch your legs between rounds.

With the Tarkir block wrapping up & WotC moving onto the next block-expansion, I think I’ll get a lot of use out of collecting the Tarkir stuff, especially the new DoT block. A lot of it sits well with my broken play style & I’m guessing that they’ll bring a few of it’s mechanics into the next block to save time & hassle.

I’m also enjoying these pre-release events & Good Games puts them on well with a fun environment. Though I’ve only attended two re-releases so far & both at the same store, so that may show a limitation in experience & opinion.

At any rate, I look forward to the possibilities that this new set can bring, to both the standard & meta-games & my bank account shall be new empty buying what I can, when I can -as is the way with being a consumer whore.

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Tweaks, Changes & Updates (plus possible begging for donation)

tamayay

Since am reaching the end of my Masters work & our other contributors are busy, I thought it was time to add a few tweaks to the blog as well as add a new category for reviews & articles.

The latest section is on Trading Card Games (TCG) -which are also referred to as Collectable Card Games.

I’m doing this because I recently got back into playing Magic: The Gathering & Yu-Gi-Oh as well as starting slightly more obscure games like Weiβ Schwarz (Weiss Schwarz -German for White & Black). Soon I’ll be moving into Pokemon TCG & other series like Cardfight!! Vanguard & Future Card BuddyFight because there are enough people were I live who play it regularly. Also want to get WIXOSS cards but they’re still only available in Japanese (but seem to be popular over there).

This will move into reviews of the various TGC, their various flavours/decks/series as well as talking about the different decks & play styles out there. This will lead into recording How To Play guides with other players as well as filming the different types of matches.

For that I was considering setting up either a Patron or other similar donation system so I can afford to buy new cards/decks/booster packs as well as improve software & equipment to record things. I set up a PayPal donation button on the side widget if you care to donate either $1 of $5 USD to me. Every little helps really (since am living hand-to-mouth being a post-grad student & all).

I was also thinking of using this donation system to shift the blog from the free version to the full paid subscription model so can host videos & other things as well as have a customised domain name.

Also: if you have any old TCG stuff lying around that you’re happy to get rid of, please let us know & we’ll arrange compensation & postage stuff.

If any of my readers are interested in helping with this, please leave a comment below.

I’ll also be posting more retro reviews & hopefully finishing up my various manga/comic reviews as well. This is mainly so I can publish the half finish stuff that I have sitting around but also to flesh out the blogs content more.

As always, thanks for reading this tiny corner of the Net’s Geekdom & for your current & future support. Will try to get more regular updates from now on.

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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.
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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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Magically Stupid – Anime Critique: Majimoji Rurumo

Title: Majimoji Rurumo
Format: TV anime
Genre: comedy, ecchi, supernatural
Series Creator: Wataru Watanabe
Series Director: Chikara Sakurai
Studio: J.C.Staff
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 9 – September 27 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan sub

manga cover
manga cover

Synopsis:

Shibaki is a high-school boy whose only interest is girls. Except he’s been branded as the most perverted boy at school and girls avoid him like the plague. One day he finds a book in the library about how to summon witches. He tries it as a joke, but it turns out to be the real thing. An apprentice witch named Rurumo appears to grant him a wish. Shibaki helps Rurumo and she in return refuses to take his soul. When the story starts, Shibaki wishes he could see Rurumo again. His wishes is granted immediately as Rurumo falls from the sky and crash lands in front of him. He finds out that as punishment for not taking his soul she’s been busted down to an apprentice demon. Now, she must complete the task of getting Shibaki to use up 666 magic tickets that grant wishes before she can become a witch again. However, what she doesn’t know is that each time he uses a ticket it shortens his life. When the last ticket is used up, Shibaki will die. Shibaki knows this because Rurumo’s familiar black cat Chiro tell him as part of the “contract” for giving him the tickets. Now, Shibaki has a choice, make a wish and help Rurumo become a witch again or resist the temptation and try to save his own life.


Review:

Oh, for fuck’s sake! Why did I ever bother with this show & keep watching it?!

Why do I keep watching shite like this?!

Majimoji Rurumo is another entry in the ever expanding subgenre of “hentai with a heart of gold”, where the central protagonist is an utter deviant but still manages to do the right thing whilst not ever growing up in any way, shape or form.

I pretty much lay this subgenre as part of the major problem as to why geek culture is so fucked up right now. Filled with self-entitled deadshits who think that the universe owes them copious amounts of poontang for the simple reason that they were born with external genitalia & haven’t raped anyone yet.

Douchebag du jour this time around is Shibaki Kota, who is only obsessed with getting near girls. To the point he will contemplate near sexual assault (or perform it in a cough comical fashion) but often gets beaten for his efforts. Due to his lecherous attitudes, no girl will go near him & they all call him Hentai (Pervert) Shibaki, before he is physically punished by the 3 all female members of the Discipline Committee. His shortsightedness in achieving his pervert goals means that he misses out on real opportunities to get to know women on a personal level. What makes it worse is that he is fully conscious of his habits & yet does nothing to amend them -even if he gets savagely beaten.

I do like the fact that Kota suffers punishment for his stupid perversions & at least he tries to act like a decent human being when he’s called upon to do so. Yet for all the good acts that he does, it doesn’t redeem him in the slightest for being an utterly useless perverted prick the rest of the time.

The basic plot is one that has been seen in much better (better being an utterly subjective & relative term here) series such as Sora no Otoshimono (Heaven’s lost Property), where hopeless pervert acquires access to a a stoic & slightly stupid girl who provides him with supernatural wish fulfilment -which me manages to always to screw up.

The provider of supernatural chaos in this case is witch-in-training (although was once a full witch) Magi Mojiruka Rurumo -who is utterly blank faced & quiet in every situation. Yet approaches every task, even though she is useless at them all, with utter diligence -despite constantly failing at everything besides most forms of magic. After she made a mistake granting Kota’s 1st wish (made accidentally whilst being ordered around by the Occult Club’s President), she was going to be punished again, until Kota saves her. She then returns with a book of 666 Wish Tickets but doesn’t know that once Kota uses them all, she has to take his soul.

The main thrust of the series is Kota basically doing his best to help Rurumo adjust to the human world whilst trying not to give into his selfish desires & use the tickets. When he does so, it’s usually for a selfless or ridiculously stupid reason (yet not perverted ones). Sometimes he helps the people around him but usually he’s aiding Rurumo in some way or trying to protect his porn stash from the Disciplinary Committee. Kota also helps Rurumo connect with those around them & it was probably these side characters that kept me watching.

Mainly the Disciplinary Committee, because they show several levels beyond their cliche rolls. The Chairwoman, Sukimo, despite being stern wants to be treated like a normal girl. Something which Kota does but, naturally, in a perverted way. Masako is the otaku secretary of the DC who keeps her cosplaying hobby secret from everyone but is drawn to Rurumo because she thinks that she’s a witch cosplayer (& because Kota told Rurumo to tell people that she is a cosplayer if anyone asks her about her witch clothing). Overly tall & exceptionally physically powerful Kyōko, whom I wish was developed more -both in terms of character & muscularity. The other highly shown & developed character is Chiro -Rurumo’s talking cat familiar. She often explains things to Kota as well as tries to protect Rurumo from the harsher aspects of her life. Including how she is bullied by the other witches for not having any real skills & being so trusting of everyone around her.

The character splash at the end of the opening credits.
The character splash at the end of the opening credits.

There are other characters who pop in & out but none are as memorable as the Disciplinary Committee but at least there are a couple of moments of genuine emotion & redemption.

The main one is Episode 6, in which Kota tries to hide the fact that he’s picking up some discarded swimsuit magazines in front of them female classmates & instead picks up a box with 3 abandoned kittens in it. He takes them home but his mum refuses to let him keep them, so he works hard to overcome the prejudices that the school has of him to find new owners for the 3 kittens. One of the kittens forms an immediate attachment to him, always saving the Magic Tickets whenever they fall out of his pocket. So, naturally, that kitten gets ill & dies -showing to Kota that even magic has its limits & can’t heal those destined to die or bring back the dead.

This should have been a growing moment for Kota, instead it’s forgotten about in the next episode & any progress in his development is abandoned as he goes back to stupid perverted slapstick gags. But at least Rurumo’s character develop progresses, as she begins to show signs of emotion & attraction towards Kota. For the simple reason that deep down he’s a good guy.

I could wail endlessly on about the hypersexualisation & fan service within the series but I’ll just end up hoarse. The boobs are bouncy, all the girls/women are drawn as cute as they can be but still have something odd about their face designs -hard to place really, might be the eye shape & size.

To be honest, I think one of the only reason I kept watching was because of the uber cute & catchy opening theme Seiippai, Tsutaetai! by Mimori Suzuko.

Overall, this series wasn’t great but it could’ve been a whole lot worse than it was. I still don’t know why I bothered with it, probably to see his Kota would redeem himself in any way. Since this is still from an on going manga, there wasn’t much major resolution but it wasn’t focussed on anything huge. Just Kota helping Rurumo as best he could whilst trying to still be an utterly useless pervert.

I will continue to blame series like this for the terrible behaviour of boys out there but like the human (read: hypocrite) that I am, I’ll keep watching such series until they series cross a line & make me feel physically ill.

My expression during most of my viewing of this series.
My expression during most of my viewing of this series.

Not quite a Darkness in the Light – Anime Critique: Gokukoku no Brynhildr

56657Title: Gokukoku no Brynhildr (Brynhildr in Darkness, Extreme Black Brynhildr)
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, action, tragedy, gore, horror, harem
Series Creator: Lynn Okamoto
Series Director: Kenichi Imaizumi
Studio: Arms
Series length: 13 episodes (+ OVA)
Original Airing dates: April 6, 2014 – June 29, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

“The story revolves around high school boy Ryouta Murakami, who cannot forget his female childhood friend whom he let die in an accident. Feeling that he must fulfill their promise of proving the existence of aliens, he has continuously looked up at the starry sky as a member of the astronomy club. One day, a girl named Neko Kuroha who looks exactly like his childhood friend appears as a transfer student. She displays supernatural strength when saving Ryouta from a foreseen accident. It turns out that Neko is a magic user that has run away from an alien research lab. From then on Ryouta supports these magic users, hoping to live normal lives regardless of being pursued. How will Ryouta’s life change now?”


Review:

With such a cross section of genres focussed around a harem here is where I’d pull out The List! But unlike Strike The Blood, Seikoku no Dragonar or DATE A LIVE II, Gokukoku no Brynhildr has absolutely no need for such a bashing in terms of being a generic superpowered harem tale.

That is mainly because the male protagonist isn’t an utter twat who is over confident in his own powers/abilities but constantly needs to be save by more powerful female characters who all want to ride him like the allegorical pony.

No, Ryouta actually possesses a form of agency & intelligence all of his own, which he uses in combination with the powers of the female protagonists in order to ensure their collective, continued survival -even to the point of sacrificing himself so that the others can live a happy life (with whatever days remain to them).

Yet, for all the positives this series does in terms of genre reconstruction, it still falls to some pretty appalling tropes. The usual hypersexualisation rears its ugly head but all nudity is censored by steam (bathing scenes) or random rays of light. Although it’s interesting that after a certain point Ryouta doesn’t get flustered by seeing any of the girls naked (usually by mistake or in a rush to convey devastating news) or mocking Kasumi’s lack of curves. Though what I find most unsettling is the violence directed towards female characters. Granted, it is the female characters who are the ones empowered yet vulnerable, so they take the lion’s share of the brutality but even with the censored violence, it’s not very comforting to see so much violence directed at woman. Granted, it’s not at the levels of Freezing! which combined violence & nudity to disgusting new lows, Gokukoku no Brynhildr doesn’t set easily for someone like me.

This may fit into the social conditioning that violence, even when directed by a strong narrative, should never be directed against (attractive) females. At least in Gokukoku no Brynhildr it’s not truly gratuitous or indulged in but it may put some viewers off. As will some of the other general extreme violence.

One reason for this level of hyper-violence can be found in the series creator, Lynn Okamoto -who is the man behind the creation of the series Elfin Lied -which many fans considered to be the most brutal anime ever made (oh, ignorant, child, you know nothing of anime brutality). Yet at least Okamoto uses violence as a means to discuss human nature & why we are so able to inflict harm on those we consider as non-human (in this case the magicians) then using it for it’s own gratuitous sake. Although Gokukoku no Brynhildr is pretty liberal is splashing the claret around, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll only be struck by a metaphysical impact.

One factor that can mentally mitigate the violence is the fact that, at its core, Gokukoku no Brynhildr is a story about survival in extreme odds.

The Mahou/Magicians can die in so many ways, despite all the power that they have. In fact, it is because of this extreme scientifically created power that they are so vulnerable. Each of them are implanted with a chemical command where if they don’t take a form of medication, they will melt into a puddle of goo. Also, if their Harness (the source of their powers) are damaged or a certain button is hit on them, they’ll self destruct & melt. This is done in order to keep them under control & prevent them from escaping. The are also hunted by other Magicians who work for the Lab, all of whom are more powerful then our female protagonists. Not to mention that if they overuse their powers, they’re locked out in a cool down period, leaving them open to attack.

Gokukoku no Brynhildr - 04 -5

This is where an interesting twist on genre trope comes in.

Instead of attempting to beat their enemies head on, growing more powerful in each battle, our heroes use intelligence to utilise their skills & abilities in the most effective ways. This is usually done with Ryouta, using his high level intelligence, figuring out the limits of their opponents or how they use their powers & instructing the others -usually Neko Kuroha (the main female protagonist)- the best way to proceed resulting in the least risk to them. Yet even if there is a high level of risk, Ryouta will do his best to see everyone safe, even sacrificing himself so that, at one point, a Magician with the ability to rewind time by a minute, is forced to use her power after he fatally wounds her -even though she kills him for his effort.

Ideas of love & sacrifice overcoming self interest are at the core of this series, raising it above so many other action based series of recent seasons. Redemption also plays a huge factor. With Ryouta being unable to forgive himself for the being the cause of death for his childhood friend, so he works to redeem that act by saving Kuroha, who resembles his deceased friend, as well as making the other Magicians happy in their short lives. Yet it does have some moments which bother & confuse me (aside from those already mentioned).

Yeah, River Song quote here, but in the final episode, Kasumi literally gets cut in half by the series big bad, Valkyria, & dies; yet in the coda of the episode she’s standing there completely healed & alive. One reason could have been she was revived by other Magician with healing power yet no hint of that is given. Same with how, Kana, once completely paralysed, is suddenly able to appear in front of Kuroha to save her from Valkyria’s attack. In the manga is it explained she can give up her future telling ability for super speed but the anime makes utterly no attempt to explain this.

Other issues that I have is with the rushed-brevity that plague other series this past season yet that is mostly due to having to condense a 9 volume manga into a 13 episode anime. The open endedness of the final episode was also annoying but that is from the aforementioned adaptation factor.

In the end, if you can get passed the hyper-violence & hypersexualisation, Gokukoku no Brynhildr is a series that is worth watching for how is attempts to subvert so many standard tropes of harem & action narratives. It is pretty emotional & brutal but worth the watch, from my point of view.

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Uh, yeah, well, that’s about it really – Anime Critique: Hitsugi no Chaika

chaika 01Title: Hitsugi no Chaika (Chaika of the Coffin, Chaika ~the Coffin Princess)
Format: TV anime
Genre: fantasy, action, steampunk, spellpunk
Series Creator:  Ichiro Sakaki
Series Director: Soichi Masui
Studio: Bones
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 9, 2014 – June 25, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fansubs

 

 


Synopsis:

5 years ago, the 200 year war between the alliance of six nations and the Gaz Empire comes to an end when Emperor Arthur Gaz, the Immortal Emperor of the Gaz Empire, is finally killed by eight warriors known as the Eight Heroes. After the war, the Empire’s lands were divided by the alliance who later formed the Council of Six Nations to bring peace and order to the land. In the present, Toru Acura is a former Saboteur who lives with his sister Akari. Toru is unable to settle in this peaceful era as his Saboteur skills are useless and sees no meaning in his life. While out foraging at the forest, Toru encounters Chaika Trabant, a white haired Wizard with a white headband and a coffin, saving her from a man eating unicorn. Seeing their skills as Saboteurs, Chaika hires Toru and Akari for an important task; to steal the remains of Arthur Gaz from the Eight Heroes.”


Review:

I’ve detected a trend in this season of anime (other than sexual assault & the hypersexualisation of underage girls) & that’s that pretty much all series that I’ve seen so far seem both rushed & drawn out.

That is to say: they seem to skip a lot of important character & background development, rushing through so many what should be crucial foundations to understand & enjoy a series yet they get bogged down on certain scenarios or tags of information, devoting too much time what isn’t really important or using vital time to dangle plot threads that might never get resolved within the span of the series.
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I really wanted to love the anime of Hitsugi no Chaika, I truly did because the universe is full of amazing ideas & details. Almost all of which are skipped over & then we are hit by a huge chunk of background at the end (leading into a 2nd series in October). This is very particular to the primary characters, Toru, his adopted sister Akari & the titular Chaika.

I genuinely wanted to know Toru & Akari’s backgrounds, especially their roles in the last days of the war. What we are left with is unexplained info, just showing Toru as a moppy spod longing for the action & mindlessness that the war provided whilst Akari is rendered too much like Mikasa from Shingeki no Kyojin -in that she’s a total bro-con who is obsessed with protecting & deferring to Toru despite being the better of the duo (’tis a pity that she lacks Mikasa’s bitching abs). At least Chaika is supposed to be mysterious with trickled out development but they tend to rush over what should be crucial emotional development of the character.

You see, Chaika claims to be the daughter of the Wizard-Emperor Gaz (or Good Old Gazzah to his mates) yet that affirmation is constantly called into question by those who seek to stop Chaika in regaining the magically imbued pieces of the Emperor’s body that were taken by the 8 warriors who killed him. Primary to counter her claims are other Chaika’s, who look similar to her in terms of face but the two others seen within the series (referred to as Red & Blue Chaika) have differently rendered bodies. Yet all have silver-white hair (denoting supernatural connections) & scars around their necks like their heads have been severed. This confrontation of the self should cause an ideological & psychological schism & in most others (darker) series this would carry a lot of the internal action yet it’s pretty much brushed over in favour of focussing on less important things (in my opinion at any rate).
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Similar rushed development can be seen in the erstwhile antagonists, the Post-War Kleeman Agency (similar to Section III from Pumpkin Scissors but with a cat-boy instead of a tank killing super-soldier). I think it took about 3 episodes before I learnt their names & what their goals were. They appeared at first to be agents of violence, under the command of the driven & uncompromising Captain Alveric Gillette, seeking to stop Chaika through any means they can but as the series progresses you see that they are more a desperate group trying to stop a return to a war that could destroy the world. Again: I really wanted to know more about them & how they came to be formed. Especially the cat-boy Leonardo, who was supposedly created as a tool for war. His backstory should have naturally parallelled with Toru & Akari’s, who come from a village who’s only function is to produce Saboteurs to fight in the once endless (200 year long) war. There should have also been parallels drawn between the driven nature of Gillette, who is willing to do whatever he must to ensure a stable peace, & Toru, who is so willing to give up his agency as a human & become a tool for Chaika to use just to feel as though he is of some use.
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The strengths of the series though lies in its fairly original use of magic & technology. Wizards are actually a form of sniper or riflemen, who use weapons called Gundo to channel spells. Since these often take a bit of time to set up, they either do this from afar or under the protection of mid or close range fighters. The spells that the Gundo can cast range from complex attack formulas to silencing spells to producing simple light sources. The Gundo, & all other magical technology, are powered by Magic Fuel which is produced from fossils because it relies on memories & trauma to convert thought into energy. In a pinch, a Wizard can use their own memories to operate their weapons or vehicles but they can’t select which memories to use.
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The nature of the magic & the technology of this world is fascinating but under-explained in the series. With a lot of exposition being dropped on you in the last three episodes, where supposedly major antagonists are brought into the fray yet they basically do nothing. The idea behind their floating fortress was pretty cool but under played & developed.

The other plus of the series are the numerous action & battle scenes, where you see Toru & Akari in full effect. They are both agile combatants, leaping & dodging as well as throwing blades in the midst of close quarters conflict. Akari is more of th powerhouse that Toru, wielding a spiked hammer whilst Toru has twin blades with wires hidden in the pommels, allowing him to escape or entrap opponents. Both the siblings also use what is called “Iron Blood Transformation” which heightens their abilities & lessens any pain felt -although there are some logically inconsistencies in their use but that stems from the lack of explanation. The Red Chaika also wields a Snake Sword to great visual & battle effect.
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Visually, the series is pretty fantasy standard. Not as flashy as it could’ve been, not as visually dull either. There is an odd thing with the blood in the TV broadcast being toned down so it’s a weird browny colour & the series does get pretty bloody towards the last few episodes. Nothing to complain about but once you notice it, you can’t stop seeing it throughout.

One last complaint & it is pretty petty but I DESPISE the fashion in which Chaika (& Red Chaika) speak. It’s a clipped broken fashion where so can only say the most basic form, usually object & action without any joining words. So, if she wishes to express her belief that Toru is safe she’ll say “Toru, safe!” or similar such thing. Yes, it’s a petty petty gripe but enduring 12 episodes of it is pretty annoying. Plus I do DREAD how they’ll render her speech in the eventual English dub.

I’m genuinely hoping that they put more development into the upcoming 2nd season because there is so much to otherwise recommend the series. I managed to read a few chapters the manga adaptation (originally a Light Novel) some months back, so my expectations were high for the series. Yet it is still highly original in parts with interesting visuals. I will make my usual criticism of the hypersexualisation of a (gothic) loli character (the main Chaika) as well Akari’s cleavage always being on display but it seems like a moot point right now. The Blue Chaika is also hypersexualised but she’s depicted as an adult with a loli’s body rather than a child or teenager (unlike so many other series this season).

This is one that I’ll leave up to you, the reader, to make a decision on -especially if I am right or wrong about the rushed yet dragging nature of the series. I dig have high expectations coming into the series, so that would’ve affected my opinion somewhat but as long as you, the reader, likes it, it’s all good.

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Been There, Criticised That – Anime Review: Strike The Blood

Strike_the_Blood_Volume_1Title: Strike The Blood (Sutoraiku za Buraddo)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, ecchi, action, comedy, shonen
Series Creator: Mikumo Gakuto
Series Director: Yamamoto Hideyo
Studio: Silver Link, Connect
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 4, 2013 – March 28, 2014
Reviewed format: censored TV downloads

 

 

Synopsis:

“The 4th progenitor—the world’s strongest vampire who should only exist in legends. Accompanied by twelve Familiars and spreading calamity, this phantom vampire appeared in Japan. For the observation and obliteration of the Fourth Progenitor, the government and Lion King Organization decided to dispatch an attack mage known as a Sword Shaman. However, for some reason, the one chosen for the observation was an apprentice Sword Shaman girl, Himeragi Yukina. Wielding the strongest anti-progenitor spirit spear, Yukina arrived at Demon District, Itogami City. What is the true identity of the Fourth Progenitor, Akatsuki Kojou, she encountered over there?!”

Review:

OK, girls & boys, cliche checklist time!

  • One male protagonist with hidden power? Check!
  • Also slightly perverted? Check!
  • Redeems himself by having a pure heart & protects his friends to the risk of his own life? Check!
  • Tsundere style violent love interest? Check!
  • Female characters as potential love rivals for the female protagonist? Check!
  • Secret supernatural powers? Check!
  • Plenty of useless fan-service? Check & motherfucking check!

And that’s what we get with the Supernatural Shonen Ecchi comedy series Strike the Blood.

This series started at about the same time that KILL la KILL did & I didn’t really know anything when I first watched it. The first episode was decent but still riddled with cliches but what do you except? It’s very hard to produce entire new ideas & it does come from a fairly popular Light Novel series?

Anyway, the plot resolves around Akatsuki Kojou, a once human who was turned into the most powerful vampire known as the 4th Progenitor through mysterious means. This garners the attention of the Lion-King Organisation, who sends the powerful & obedient, but very naive, Himeragi Yukina act as his observer in case he goes out of control.

Due to this being a world where magic & monsters are known & have been given their own territory where they can freely interact with each other as well as normal humans, Yukina gets involved in a fight with vampires, causing Koujo to reveal his powers to her as he steps in between them. From there the general plot follows Yukina & Koujo coming to terms with not only the immense power that dwells with Koujo but also there feelings for each other.

I stuck with this series because the first half was very well constructed, with nice little story arcs that build upon the last & develop the various characters, main & side, in small ways. Unfortunately it falls apart a bit in the 2nd half (eps 14 or so onwards) because there isn’t really any developments to be made. Just more female characters added to stir up the fan service & harem angle as well as setting up plot threads that will go unanswered because is doubtful it will get another series.

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One of the major problems is that it is so cliched & spins up all the stupid ecchi, fan-service stuff. It plays out a lot like IS: Infinite Stratos in many ways. The ignorant male lead always being protected by those stronger than himself, so he fights to justify his masculine position even though he keeps getting his stupid arse kicked. Which means he struggles to control his power but also means that he stumbles into situations that make him look like a pervert & no one listens to him when he tries to explain, so he gets his arse kicked again.

& his stupid, stubborn need to protect everyone despite his own lack of skill seems to rev the motors of all the ladies around him, so they flock to have him drink their blood, which fuels his powers.

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At least that’s a fairly interest an angle but having ecchi activated powers isn’t all that new in an anime. The whole slightly perverted protagonist who gets caught in compromising situations that get blown out of all proportions is one of the most common & annoying Shonen genre Light Novel tropes -usually it’s innocently picking up panties (again: see IS: Infinite Stratos). This plays into the whole idea that “a kiss is pure & innocent, only to be done with someone special” but “hey, here’s a whole heap of underage tits bouncing around. Enjoy & feel no hypocrisy in it!

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Anyway, enough bagging, let’s get into more serious discourse. With some critical kicks from the side.

Basically, what does make the series good is the tightness of the first half. You get several small story arcs, usually 3 to 4 episodes per arc, that actually progress the story & character development while setting up future plot points & arcs. Like your typical Shonen work, each new challenge requires more power/strength to overcome &, while getting that power is often more Deus Ex Machina, it actually has some logic to it. What’s actually unlike typical Shonen stuff is that the female characters, whilst being hyper-sexualised, still have their own sense of action & agency. They aren’t sitting around waiting for Kojou to save them, though they are always happy when they do, but always performing actions that will either prevent disaster or protect those they love.

The best example of this is the character Aiba Asagi, the resident computer expert. In fact, she has a supernatural power over computer systems & is considered the Demon District expert on it all -to the point she was once kidnapped due to her talents. Whenever something bad happens -& it always does- she will do anything to see the Island & Kojou (her unrequited crush) protected, even if it means putting herself in danger.

More often than not, even though it is Kojou who defeats the BBEG of the arc, he wouldn’t be able to do so without the female characters. Who either save his stupid arse or provide him with the blood needed to activate his magic powers & thus destroy the ultimate enemy of the arc.

In the end, Strike the Blood isn’t anything new to anime as a whole. It is riddled with cliches & annoyances but does stand above many others of its ilk because of the focus of its stories & the characters within. Unfortunately, possibly due to its source material & translation, a lot left out in terms of background info & development & the 2nd half of the series doesn’t feel as good or refined as the 1st.

It’s not a bad thing to way really but nothing I’d say you should go out of your way for. The blu-ray will be uncensored if you are into that kind of thing. It’s pretty much for genre fans or those who like what I call annoying Fan-Service but it does have some merit in terms of Female Agency, which I’d like to see picked up more in other series (but minus the jiggle factor).