Transformatively amusing – Gugure! Kokkuri-san

65665Title: Gugure! Kokkuri-san
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, supernatural
Series Creator: Midori Endo
Series Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 5 – December 21, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs


Synopsis:

Kohina Ichimatsu is an expressionless elementary school girl who lives alone, proclaims herself to be a doll, and eats nothing but instant noodles. One day, she plays the Kokkuri game by herself and summons the fox spirit Kokkuri-san who, upon seeing her unhealthy lifestyle, takes it upon himself to become her guardian and raise her properly. Thus starts Kohina’s new life of being haunted by various unique spirits.


Critique:

Once again, this year has proven that the best anime have been 4koma adaptations, such as Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun, & now Gugure! Kokkuri-san stands a top the list of the best anime series of 2014.

The premise is simple but clever but also tricks you into thinking that it’s going to be worse -in terms of hypersexualisation & fan service- than it really is. Whilst it does rely on a bit of both, it actually twists it around a fair bit into very humorous scenarios. This is seen especially when the titular Kokkuri first appears, panting & flushed when accidentally summoned by Kohina. This is meant to make that think that Kokkuri is a stalking pervert who’s been waiting for the lonely Kohina to summon him so he can devour her, body & soul. Where, in fact, he’s been following her around because of her odd behaviour & habit of referring to herself as a doll, which turns him into her over-protective, yet doting, guardian, who only wants to correct her strangeness so she can have a happy life.
kokkuri-san-10
Unfortunately, due to Kokkuri’s neat-freak & overly controlling nature, this means that he basically becomes a housewife -cooking every meal so Kohina won’t eat nothing but Cup Ramen & cleaning because Kohina doesn’t concern herself with looking after her huge yet strangely empty house.

Like all great 4koma adaptations, the humour is mainly derived from the various characters & their interactions with & reactions to each other. Kokkuri & Kohina more up the core of the series, with much of the perspective being from their point of view, but the ensemble cast is also utterly brilliant -even if they do bring in many of them late in the series.

The other great strength of the 4kmoa format is quick fire & running gags, which Gugure! Kokkuri-san does exceptionally well by being able to hark back to a joke in an earlier episode without making it seem like it’s just telling the same joke again & again like other (mainly American series) tend to do.

The one problem in talking about the jokes themselves & what makes so them funny &/or clever is that it’s like a child dissecting a frog: you don’t really learn anything & the frog dies.

What does make the jokes work however is how they are tailored or based around the various personality quirks & habits of the various characters, with the narrator often adding a little stinging tail to it all at the end.

Such as with the titular Kokkuri, who as mentioned before acts like an overprotective guardian and housewife but he is also exceptionally vain, demanding & prone to hysterics when overwhelmed by various situations or other characters. This often means that other characters, such as the sadistic Inugami, go out of their way to torment Kokkuri over his appearance (such as looking older) or getting him so worked up that his temper explodes & or he goes into an emotional melt down.

The other strong running gag in the series is Kohina’s claims that she’s not human but rather a doll. She talks in a semi-staccato almost robotic tone (another running gag is her getting dolls & robots confused & Kokkuri having to point it out). She is also incapable of smiling; whenever she tries to force a smile her face collapses, terrifying everyone around her. Only when something genuinely makes her happy -such as Kokkuri assuring her that he’ll always be by her side- is she able to show genuine emotion & her depiction changes from a stripped down semi-chibi form to a beautifully animated character.
Gugure-Kokkuri-san-gugure-kokkuri-san-37842385-1920-1080
Kohina’s other running gag is her utter addiction to Cup Ramen (the instant noodles that you cook in the bowl-like container by pouring hot water into it); doing anything in order to collect rare types or eat them without Kokkuri finding out. This usually means some mischievous on her part, such as goading one of the others in the house into distracting Kokkuri. Her desire to eat & obtain Cup Ramen shows a certain moral flexibility on her part but she’s a good girl deep down.

The most interesting aspect of the series though the gender fluidity of the characters. That is: how some of the characters can switch their genders at will. This is one of Inugami’s primary traits, since he/she’s a dog spirit who can’t remember their own gender when they died, so even though he primary has a male form, he changes to a female one whenever the mood takes him. Kokkuri, also being a spirit, has this ability but refuses to use it because he’s a pretty woman who’s good at housework, everyone wants to marry him. Unfortunately, he’s transformed into a woman because of a spell he found in Kohina’s family store house (one basically designed to mess with people). The humour of this situation is that they keep asking him how it feels to be a woman but he still retains his vanity from his male form, so he sticks with is usual beautification routines, but it also explores some ideas of male-female interactions & emotions.

The fem-Kokkuri that laughed a million hentai comics
The fem-Kokkuri that laughed a million hentai comics

There are also random side characters that are constantly drawn to Kohina & Kokkuri’s life. Which include the aforementioned gender-swapping sadistic dog spirit Inugami -who is utterly devoted to Kohina after a single act of kindness during his original life as an abandoned puppy; yet he’ll destroy or torment all who aren’t Kohina, especially Kokkuri who thinks Inugami is a demented pervert trying to seduce a child. They are joined by the shiftless tanuki (racoon dog) spirit Shigaraki, a NEET who was Kokkuri’s former roommate who is after a free place to live -targeting Kohina because she owned a large house but was unaware that Kokkuri already was living there. Shigaraki has a habit of bringing bad luck to houses he dwells in but this is actually from his stealing money to go gambling with, yet he has a soft side, as he often uses his winning to support the orphanage where the children of the homes he destroyed ended up. More whacky characters enter the mix later in the show, such as the doll obsessed cat spirit Tama who keeps stalking & trying to steal Kohina because she believes her to be a possessed doll.

Whilst this show is incredibly funny there are a few let downs & annoyances. Aside from a bit of random fan service, which isn’t so bad compared to other shows, you don’t get any sense of Kohina’s personal history or backstory. Especially she’s living all alone in such a huge house & why she wants to believe that she’s a doll so she doesn’t have to engage in normal human interaction. This is vexing because even if you have Kokkuri’s reasons for wanting to look after Kohina, you don’t know how/why she’s abandoned in the 1st place, which means that you’re still at a distance with the character. The ending is also left open, so there is no resolution for the characters & backstories outside of a token effort to conclude things.

After those few negatives, I’d like to end with one other great positive & that’s how cute the entire series is. Each of the animal spirits has a chibi animal form, with Kokkuri turning into a fluffy golden fox & Inugami turning into a tiny wittle purple dog in a suit! So Kawaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!

cough

At any rate, even if I can’t really talk about the jokes, I can strongly recommend this series as something that is painfully funny to watch as well as being very clever in it’s visual gags. It’s a great series to watch if you are feeling low & just want to see something utterly silly to cheer you up.

fafuru fafuru!!!
fafuru fafuru!!!
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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.

The Magic & Mundanity of Romance – Anime Critique: Glasslip

Glasslip_Prmotional_ImageTitle: Glasslip (Gurasurippu)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, romance, slice of life
Series Creator: Junji Nishimura
Series Director: Junji Nishimura
Studio: P.A. Works
Series length: 13 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 3 – September 25, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Tōko Fukami’s family runs a glass-working business in a small seaside town named Hinodehama (“Sunrise Beach”). She hangs out with her four best friends at a cafe called Kazemichi (“Wind Way”). During the summer break of their senior year in high school, they meet a transfer student named Kakeru Okikura, who claims that a voice from the future talks to him, and that it has led him to Tōko.


Review:

This was a series that I thought may be great. A gentle blending of teen romance with a touch of magical realism but with more of an emphasis on the former than the latter. The supernatural/magical realism aspects are minute, driving part of the characters’ motivations but not having an affect the larger world at all. Unfortunately, towards the end of the series, when they try to explain what the supernatural power is, everything begins to falter & become confused. Leaving no explanation as to the nature of the two central protagonists’ abilities. In fact, the series leaves a lot in the air but at the same time resolves other aspects that similar series would more happily leave hanging in the air.

The cynical part of me thinks that might be to angle for a 2nd season as well as push the side manga & upcoming Light Novel. I may be right but that doesn’t really address how a series that started out with so much promise ended up so poorly dregged by the final episode.

The supernatural conceit of the series is that the two central protagonists, Tōko & Kakeru, possess similar yet different abilities to experience what they believe to the future. Whenever Tōko sees light refracted through an object such as glass, she sees visions; whereas if Kakeru is prodded by various aural stimuli, he hears fragment of what may come to pass. It is these abilities, which seem to compliment each other, that draws our two protagonists to each other but stirs ripples amongst Tōko’s established circle of friends.

The Chibi versions from the end credits.
The Chibi versions from the end credits.

Like more than a few other series this season, Glasslip (the confusing title comes from the fact that Tōko is a glassblower) is a romantic, more shōjo aligned series (although lacking in the grotesque art style of the shōjo genre. Instead on dwelling on the magical realism aspects of the protagonists, it’s more concerned with the changing relationships between & around Tōko & her friends. More so how suppressed emotions are brought to the boil by the arrival in town of Kakeru -whom Tōko accidentally dubbed David because he reminded her of the statue.

I feel that if the series actually made the relationships between the 6 characters the focal point rather than flirted with the two genres it would have been a much stronger series. Unlike so many other recent anime this year, the characters actually get a chance to develop, growing as the story progresses. They do start off as typical anime archetypes though. With Tōko being the kindhearted ditz; Yanagi as the bitchy yet insecure tsundere who is not so secretly in love with her step-brother (not incest like WIXOSS) & secretly jealous of the attention that he gives Tōko; her step-brother Yukinari, who tries to act cool & aloof but is actually feeling hollow since he may have to give up on his dream of professional running after suffering a knee injury & feels threatened by how Tōko is drawn to Kakeru; Hiro, who is the energetic dunce who thinks of things that the group can do & has a poorly hidden longing for the fragile yet beautiful Sachi; while Sachi is the physically wracked glasses-girl who appears to have a lesbian lust for Tōko & an intense hatred for Kakeru on sight because she feels that he may take Tōko away from her.

The central cast.
The central cast.

How these weird love polygons play out becomes the core of the series. With various misunderstandings, manipulations & confessions of emotion driving the drama inherent in the romantic genre. Yet because it’s filtered through the lens of magical realism, with Tōko & Kakeru’s glimpses of the future, the weight of the emotion if more muffled than it otherwise should’ve been if they strengthened one aspect over the other.

What I’m saying that if Glasslip was more content to more be more of a character drama it would be excellent. Instead a lot of the emotions of the characters are muted & ideas get lost. There are some interesting dynamics involved with the relations -such as with the step-siblings or Tōko’s & her little sister Hina (who has her own manga) or even Sachi’s quiet protective love Tōko & how that changes throughout the course of the series.

Unfortunately, the series really loses its way in the last few episodes -where they try to explain the nature of Tōko & Kakeru’s ability. With hints that they aren’t seeing the future & that it might be something passed down through the bloodline. There are no real explanations & no real resolution to that plot arc. In general, things in the series just end with little resolution. It might be because they have a Light Novel coming out in October or that they want to make another series but I found it weak & annoying. More so after such a promising start.

At least on the list pluses that this series has is that it is exceptionally beautiful. That’s honestly one of the best things about so many recent series is that they are so damn pretty. Glasslip uses a lot of nature scenes, with the location being set in a city between the mountains & the sea -so you get to see a lot of both. There’s a lot of interplay with light, either the glare of the sun on the ocean or being filtered through the leaves of the trees. Colours & layers are played with to great effect -especially in Tōko’s glass works.

How's the serenity?
How’s the serenity?

Overall, Glasslip is a good series that could have been utterly fantastic but it leaves too much up in the area & gets muddled as to whether it wants to be a teen romance or magical realism series. There is still a lot to enjoy about it but I personally wanted more resolution & a closed ending. If they make a 2nd series, I will watch it but I won’t forgive it for faffing about. Still, this is an enjoyable series that I would recommend; more so if you are sick of the action oriented harem loli-fest dross that has plagued us this year.

Demonstrating Toko's clutziness.
Demonstrating Toko’s clutziness.

Getting real sick of your shit, Shinbo! – Anime Critique: Mekakucity Actors

61519Title: Mekakucity Actors (Kagerou Project)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, tragedy
Series Creator: Jin (Shizen no Teki-P)
Series Director: Yuki Yase, Akiyuki Shinbo
Studio: Shaft
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 12, 2014 – June 28, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Shintaro Kisaragi is an 18-year old hiki-NEET who has not left his room in two years, engrossing himself with his computer and the internet. However, on August 14, due to the messing about of the cyber girl Ene, who lives inside his computer, Shintaro spills soda on his computer keyboard and is forced to go outside to buy a new one, due to the fact that during the Obon festival none of the stores will deliver until August 17. Shintaro- goes to the department store, where a group of criminals break in and hold the people inside hostage for ransom. Here he comes in contact with a group of teenagers calling themselves the “Mekakushi Dan” (lit. “Blindfold Gang”), who stop the robbery with their mysterious eye powers and force Shintaro into joining their group.


Review:

Mekakucity Actors is the latest work from the prolific & strange director Shinbo Akiyuki, his 2nd series after Nisekoi earlier this year (review here), & based upon the multimedia project Kagerou Project that combines Vocaloids & Light Novels.

It also combines two of my (current) pet hates.

The rushed brevity of this current anime season (which I complained about here in my Chaika critique) & Shinbo’s idiosyncratic style that was once great in Bakemonotagari series.

Shinbo’s distinct style that he 1st brought to the fore in Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei that featured a combination of lingering shots, rapid cuts, flashcards inserted over scenes describing characters’ internal thoughts, weird positioning/posing of bodies as well as non sequitur shots of almost random objects, characters or buildings. This crossed over into the aforementioned Bakemonotagari series, where is was considered bold & refreshing from your standard animation style but now Shinbo has used it so often without variation that it feels trite, tired & cliche.

Separate of Shinbo’s direction, the plot & delivery of the series does not do anything great, interesting or original to give it much merit.

The framing device of each episode is that it focuses on certain characters as part of their story is told in am almost non-linear fashion; where it intercuts past & present experience as characters tell their stories & perspectives, as well as jumps to seemingly unrelated events. Each episode finishes with an also seemingly unrelated coda in a childish/storybook animation style about a lonely (then murderous) monster looking to understand its place in the world.

Because of this disjointed narrative style, flitting between characters, you don’t actually get to spend much time getting to know them all (or the ones that are meant to be important) in any significant way. Plus all of these narrative arcs are told in parallel with each other, so when all the characters do finally come together & the meaning behind their powers, past & connections are all revealed, it has no weight -thus is lacks any true impact. The last few episodes where they do finally get to explain everything have this vexing feeling of being pretty token & hollow efforts; like not much thought was put in to connect things properly. Especially the revelation that they’re operating on an all too cliched timeloop that wasn’t even hinted at in any early episodes.

The characters are frankly pretty annoying & underdeveloped. Some fans have really latched onto them, especially the Hatsune Miku parody/clone Ene. But that is more related to the usual non-canon fan nonsense which I can honestly never be bothered with or can be bothered to understand.

The weird head twist is Shinbo's most cliche & annoying visual form
The weird head twist is Shinbo’s most cliche & annoying visual form

I honestly don’t have the heart to critique this series any further. It’s not something that I can willingly recommend. If you enjoy Shinbo’s previous auteur style work, you’ll dig this but if you want something interesting with substance to the story & characters, you’re far better off looking at any other series out there in all honesty.

Mekakucity-actors

A weird way to advertise your TCG – Anime Critique: Selector Infected WIXOSS

indexTitle: Selector Infected WIXOSS (AKA selector infected WIXOSS)
Format: TV series
Genre: shojo, magic girl, fantasy, drama, trading card game adaptation, psychological, horror
Series Director: Takuya Sato
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 epsides
Original Airing dates: April 3, 2014 – June 19, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download


Synopsis:

WIXOSS (short for “Wish Across”) is a popular trading card game in which players battle against each other with fighters known as LRIGs (??? Rurigu?) (girl spelled backwards), using cards to support them. Ruko Kominato, who receives a WIXOSS deck from her brother, discovers that her LRIG, which she names Tama, can speak. She soon learns that she has been chosen as a ‘Selector’, girls who must battle against other Selectors. Should they be victorious in battle, they will be able to have any wish granted, but should they lose three times to other Selectors, they will lose that chance and lose all memory of the game. As she and various other Selectors battle it out for the sake of their wish, Ruko finds herself drawn into the dark sinister world of WIXOSS, discovering that win or lose, there is always a cost.


Review:

Mahou Shojo Madoka Magika truly has a lot to answer for, in now making every once light fluffy female demographic target anime into something dark & painful. Now, I don’t mind dark, twisted, violent &/or brutal anime series but it seem a bit of an extreme way to promote a Trading Card Game.

This season just finished had at least 5 anime series (don’t know, didn’t watch them) based around the promotion of new TCG franchises in what is essentially a very crowded marketplace within Japan. Selector Infected WIXOSS was designed as a way to promote awareness of the new Otome (Maiden) Card Game yet this series is so far removed from the practicality, cards & promotion of the series than something like Yu-Gi-Oh is.

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During the course of the 12 episode 1st series (something that I didn’t find out about until the last coda of the last episode, wondering how they were going to wrap it all up), you learn basically nothing about the real card game, how it’s played, the colour/element relationships or even what most of the cards look like. As a way of promoting a TCG series, it’s most odd but the plot of the series pretty much kills any chance to promote the game as something fun to play with friends.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Selector Infected WIXOSS is pretty dark -both visually & in terms of the general narrative. The basic plot resolves around girls who are chosen to be Selectors by being partnered up with LRIG (girl backwards or the mirror of a girl), who are trapped within special WIXOSS cards. The Selectors then use the LRIGs to battle other Selectors (with the LRIGs as their proxies) so that they can have a wish granted. Unfortunately, in order to achieve their wishes, they must first suffer the pain of knowing that they have destroyed the wish of other girls (if you lose 3 times, you lose your memory of the game & your wish) as well as having to suffer the possibility of having the same done to you, losing your bonded LRIG partner in the process. & boy! Do these girls suffer! & suffer! & suffer some more!

This unfortunately is a common trope in Japanese media. The worse things get in society &/or with the economy, the more the figure of the girl (especially in the shojo genre) is subjected to some brutal psychological treatment. It’s a topic that Dr Susan J. Napier has written a lot about in her career, saying at one point that the shojo genre has become geared toward “dark and damaging introspectives” (Napier 2006 p 296), with the female characters “becoming victims as they abandon their personal agency to ‘fate’” (Napier 2006 p 296). Basically, Napier is saying that the worse Japan feels as a nation, the more the media creators feminine objects that people (regardless of gender) feel the need to protect & hide away from harm. Because the feminine objects represent Japan as a whole & promoting the idea that populace needs to protect the nation from the harm caused by outside influence. This is a subject I’m becoming exceptionally well versed in & will write more about it at a later date but for now I will explain how it related to this anime series in particular.

The opening credit animation as well as the general set up makes series seem like will be something like a lighthearted shonen style cross promotional anime; where the girls form bonds of friendship as they struggle to help each other’s wishes come true. Instead what we get is an emotional & socially damaged & isolated girl learning the pain & hardships that come from lacking in personal desire/goals & watching her friends suffer as they come to terms with what it means to have their dangerous desires fulfilled. & it touches on some pretty dark subjects to bring that point across.

The central protagonist is Ruuko, a high school girl who lives with her grandmother in a small apartment after her mother abandoned her as a child because she (the mother) felt terrified by Ruuko’s strangeness. As such, Ruuko doesn’t feel the need to have friends or form relationships outside of her grandma or older brother, Ayumi. In order to cure this, Ayumi gives Ruuko a deck of WIXOSS cards, saying that to play she’ll have to make some friends. As fate would have it, inside Ruuko’s deck is the LRIG Tama, who is -let us say- remarkably simple (pretty much borderline retarded), who can only communicate in simple words at first (begging to battle mainly). Because of the mindlessness of her company, Ruuko (& thus the audience of whom she is the proxy) have no idea about the fantastical nature behind the WIXOSS game, which is why we are introduced quickly to Yuzuki, her fraternal twin brother Kazuki & Yuzuki’s (red) LRIG, Hanayo. Kazuki & Hanayo introduce Ruuko to the Selector Battles, which are in a pocket universe where the LRIGs are given a physical (if diminutive) forms so they can draw upon the power of their respective decks in order to become an Eternal Girl, so their wishes can be granted. With the aforementioned rule of 3 loses means losing all rights to becoming an Eternal Girl as well as all memories related to the Selector Battles.

These wishes are not some random fancy, like wanting to be a princess or other such drivel. They reach to the core of desire & the person darkness/grief that heavy & hidden desires can bring. In Yuzuki’s case it’s her desire to have an incestuous relationship with her twin, Kazuki.

This was something that came out of nowhere early on but also wasn’t taken lightly. Yuzuki is shown as knowing how socially & morally wrong her wish is but it’s that knowledge as well as the possibility of having that wish answered without true consequence or punishment that causes Yuzuki’s personal schism. Struggling for what she wants with all her heart yet knowing how vile such a love & desire is as well as how society will react to learning the truth of her desire. A theme that is played out with other characters yet without much actually development of them or the background to their desires. More so when you are introduced to the other 3 characters & their individual desires.

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The opening credits makes it seems as though these other 3 will somehow be friends with Ruuko, & 2 of them are constantly dropped through the series because they are famous models, but all pretense of them being sweet, kind & normal is swiftly fucking curbed stomped by the big gritty boots of the Dark Narrative Fairy.

You see early mention of Iona & Akira in the first few episodes because they appear on advertisements & in magazines that background characters read but the 1st character you get introduced to is the shy & panicky Hitoe -whose wish is to be able to make true friends. Hiteo is a sweet girl whom Ruuko & Yuzuki quickly take to after battling her but not so much their reactions to meeting Akira & Iona.

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Iona is cold, dispassionate & bored with everything, carrying around an air of superiority & longing whilst her LRIG, Ulith, is a psycho who takes pleasure in the weakness of others. In this, Ulith is a mirror for Akira, who appears cute & sweet on the surface -speaking in a trendy-talk mixing in English words (Aki-lucky being her catchphrase)- but, in truth, she’s an opportunistic sadist who takes pleasure in discovering her opponents’ wishes & turning it against them by mocking them over it. She targets girls who have just lost, promising them easy victories so she can destroy them, all for her own wish of knocking Iona off her perch of Top Model, yet is terrified to face her in open battle because of Iona’s superior skill. So she uses tricks & bullying to become an Eternal Girl instead.

    Talking Akira & her sadistic habits brings up the other dark social issue that is the form of bullying known as Ijime -which I’ve previously spoken about in my Witch Craft Works review. Ijime is where groups pick on an individual using both physical & psychological attacks. Ijime is seen in various forms throughout the series but rears its disgusting visage when Akira tricks some of Ruuko’s classmates into bring her along so Akira can battle her. Naturally, Akira promised these girls a tour of the modelling studio, filling their heads with dreams of being discovered as models but as soon as they bring Ruuko to her, after chasing her & Yuzuki all over the school, she abandons them having got what she wanted. Yuzuki is also subjected to a more subtle form of this bullying, when she refuses to set her brother up with one of the girls in her class. This girl later threatens Kozuki by saying she’ll spread rumours of incest if she doesn’t kiss him, causing him to storm off in disgust. Yet these rumours are spread anyway by someone else, causing the twins’ school life to suffer.

& the series just gets darker from there as the nature of the Selector Battles & the truth of the Eternal Girls is revealed.


[SPOILER WARNING]

    What the girls painfully learn is that when one of them lose 3 battles, not only do they lose their memories of the Selector Battles but their wishes are reversed. So a girl with a serious disease wishing to live dies straight away, Hitoe -wishing for friends- lose all chance to ever made friends again, wracked with pain if Ruuko or Yuzuki touch her. Akira too loses her 3rd battle against Iona & gets a scar across her face, driving her even more insane (if that were possible). What makes it harder is that the LRIGs know about this but are forbidden to reveal this knowledge in case it stops the Selectors from battling.

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    Which leads into why the LRIGs are so eager to see the battles continue.

    It’s revealed when Yuzuki finally clears the preconditions for her wish that she is not granted her wish but rather her LRIG Hanayo is. Hanayo takes over Yuzuki’s body whilst Yuzuki is transformed into a LRIG (who, as fate would have it, is paired up with the near catatonic Hitoe) & forced to continue to battle so she’ll be released from her card but placed in the body of another girl. Thus perpetuating the cycle.

    This drives Ruuko to chose to use Tama’s unique power to free all of the Eternal Girls & LRIGs but this plan is broken by Maya -the ruler of the LRIG realm- who manipulates Tama into breaking the Eternal Girl Oath, thus causing Ruuko to lose to Iona, who then becomes Ruuko’s LRIG (her wish being to battle forever because she’s hollow inside & only feels alive during combat). Which is a bit of a downer ending for the series but turns out there is a follow up -Selector Spread WIXOSS due out later this year (Northern Hemisphere Autumn according to the coda).

[SPOILER ENDS]


In all honesty, this might be a very rough series for a lot of people to watch. It deals with some heavy issues -those mentioned above but also issues of physical & emotional abuse from parents & the inability to connect with others.

I think it might have had a touch more impact if you got more development from Ruuko & Tama, since they are the central partnership.

Tama is pretty annoying, because she talks in such a childish way with a bit of a grating voice -always demanding that Ruuko finds other Selectors to battle & repeating things said to her like a mentally damaged parrot. It is hand-waved away that Tama is both special & empty, symbolised by her white colour & ability to level up more quickly than other LRIGs. Yet Tama knows nothing about being a LRIG or the rules of the Selector Battles, so it’s left to Hanayo to explain everything for Tama, Ruuko & the audience.

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Unfortunately, like the series as a whole, Ruuko’s development is also terse.

She speaks in an immature manner (calling herself Ruu in the 3rd person, an affectation that Tama also does) & you are told that she has had past trauma with her mother abandoning her but you don’t get a full sense of why & how in this series. Ruuko is also shown to be obsessed with battle, coming alive much in a fashion like Iona does, but she’s always chastising herself for lacking a wish to have -believing that she has no right to battle since its pointless if she wins because it will achieve nothing. She also falls quickly to despair upon learning all the truths of the Selector Battles yet, like an addict, keeps coming back to them, willing to sacrifice herself to save her friends.

She isn’t a bad character over all; just too thinly render. Which is common across all of the cast, unfortunately. You get more time with Yuzuki’s backstory than any other but I really wanted to know why Akira was so insane, driven to destroy Iona, & why Iona herself is willing to destroy her own life just to be able to find the perfect Selector to use her in battle (which is Ruuko since she believes Ruuko is the perfect embodiment of battle).

Still, even with all the darkness & heaviness, this is a series that I would recommend to those looking for something that goes against many current media trends (unfortunately not the ones about abusing &/or torturing young female characters). I really want to see the 2nd series because I genuinely want to see what happens to the characters as well as the truths behind the Selectors & LRIGs.

Also, there is a lack of hypersexualisation within the series. There is still sexualisation (mainly around the designs of the LRIGs) but not to an offensive or grating level. I would still have preferred to have seen more explanation of the game itself (since it is a marketing tool after all) but the story does honestly hold up on itself own without being tied to an existing merchandising product. It might be stronger if it wasn’t a branded entity but if you can look past the product tie-ins & narrative terseness, you might be intrigued by what you see.

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

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


Synopsis:

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


Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

& this is all within the 1st episode!

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

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

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

Yes, now I shall beat my usual hypersexualisation drum!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

K

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).