Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Anime Review: Kokoro Connect

So that DVD only arc that I was waiting to watch before I wrote my whole review was actually shown on television back at the end of December so hurray I'm writing this review before April! Heck at this point I'm wondering how many people remember hearing about this show since it aired back at the summer, people probably remember the scandal (here, also checking the cast lists it doesn't look like he even had a part in this DVD special arc) more than the show itself. Based off of the initial reviews I wasn't going to try it but after a couple of episodes were out it seemed like people's opinion on it changed and when I got around to seeing the show it was very different from what those initial reactions said it was. 

Kokoro Connect

Summary: Taichi, Aoki, Inaba, Iori, and Yui all make up the Cultural Research Club at school which is more of a way for them to fulfill the requirement of belonging to a school club than a real club per say but they all get along fairly well. Then their club advisor becomes occasionally possessed by a being called Heartseed who says that he is bored and therefore he will mess with the club members until he becomes bored again. From body-switching to random emotional outbursts they're in for a stressful year and none of them are going to make it out without cracking.

The Good: This show is almost less of a story and more of a series of character writing practices, how would X, Y, and Z characters react if A suddenly happened to them but since the show uses all of this to build up character development I think it does hold together and as an interesting one at that. All of the characters have a few issues, larger in the case of the three girls it seems, and none of these issues are completely resolved after a single arc, many of them pop up again later and it's that detail that really makes the show work for me. Yes there are plenty of terribly unrealistic situations here (the general premise of each arc aside) and yes it's a bit awkward when you realize that it's basically Taichi running around to solve all of them (it almost feels like a VN in that way, although apparently one of the later arcs is designed to break Taichi in just that way) but the show acknowledges that character change is slow an incremental a lot of the time and that it's hard to do any of it alone.

The Bad: As noted above, the show has a tendency toward the melodrama (the last arc was about to resolve itself in a very normal way and then they had to throw in some extra drama, again), Aoki and Taichi both seem to get the shaft for character development, the few prominent side characters in the story also come off as rather bizarre, and the character development isn't as nuanced as it could be. That last bit is the part that frustrates me though, I think the writer (of the original light novels took a really good first stab at writing characters who are complex but can change and just didn't take it as far as he could have and that is one of my biggest pet peeves. Still, I stand by my statement that this show turned out much better than I expected and did make an honest attempt at having more rounded characters.

The Audio: I have to commend the main cast for the first arc they esentially had to act as five (and in some cases six) different characters, since each character used the voice that went along with the body when they switched, and they all did a rather good job. I’ve heard some complaints that this studio Silver Link isn’t known for hiring really great actors but I think they did a fantastic job this time (heck, as far as I can tell the same voice actors also did the characters at all different ages, this show must've been a work out for them!). The show also had a different opening and ending theme for each (or almost each) arc and while they fit and sounded nice none of them really stand out to me after this time. 

The Visuals: Nothing to write home about the art here, the designs are pretty basic and share a character designer with K-ON (well, the original designer is the same person but it looks like they had someone else adapt the designs for the show, small difference). What is worth noting however is that the animators made a real effort to give each character body language which really helped in the first arc. Obviously it’s not as detailed as if the show had been live action or if it had been done by a studio with a really large budget but it is noticeable and helped make the body switching a little more believable since you could not only hear it but see it.

So I give Kokoro Connect a 3 out of 5 and would watch more if the last three arcs were animated (sadly it sounds like that scandal killed any chance it had at selling well since 2ch decided to boycott it, read that as part of a blog write-up on the whole thing which I can't find at the moment) and I would like to get this from Sentai when they put it out here (rather curious how they'll do it though, I hope it's in just one set but it's 16 or 17 episodes long which makes it a bit awkward). Everything expect the DVD special is streaming on Crunchyroll and they might get those episodes once the actual DVDs come out, if not I'm sure Sentai's release will have them.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Movie Review: Rataouille

I didn't see this film back when it first came out (2007 which was high school so this was probably during the period where I was a bit snobby about American cartoons, oh well) and suddenly thought of it the other day. 


Summary: Remy has always had an unusual interest in food for a rat, he's practically a gourmet but the rest of the family is content to keep their heads down and eat garbage. It takes some some extraordinary circumstances but he does find a way to make his dream of becoming a famous chef come true, it just involves a few lies along the way.

The Good: I really liked a lot of the characters here and I liked them quite a bit more expected. When I saw Colette in the commercials I thought she would just be a rather tsundere love interest but then she had a great little speech about being the only female cook in the kitchens which I thought rang true with a lot of male-dominated careers. And then the food critic also had a great little speech in the end about reviewing that I also liked, heck even the "villain" of the story (erm, not the critic) starts off mostly reasonable, this was a pretty good movie for characters and the plot turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected.

The Bad: The ending did seem to resolve itself a little too neatly and I didn't think that Linguini had enough character development as he should have (he's not the lead character or the main character, that role is unquestionably Remy's, but considering how important he is to the story and how prominent he is in all the advertising). Really though those are my only two real complaints with the story and they are hardly major ones, this was a pretty solid film all in all!

The Audio: While I liked the voice acting and the background music none of it was very memorable for me. The voice acting was a bit more memorable than the music and it certainly wasn't bad, this is just one of the times when I remember the visuals and the store more than the music.

The Visuals: Since this is a few years old it doesn't have the more photo-realistic look that Pixar is moving to but I rather like their more cartoony style as well. Everything looked polished, finished, and it never seemed like they were restrained by technological limitations. Sometimes I think it's rather silly that modern CGI cartoons are aspiring to look more and more like live action films so I'm rather happy to see cartoons that aren't afraid to look, well, cartoony.

So I'll happily give this film 4 out of 5 stars and will have to keep an eye out for it the next time I'm at the local used bookstore. Now I'm wondering if there were any other Disney/Pixar films I missed during that time period that are worth catching....

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Grave Mercy

I've already seen a few lists of books coming out in 2013 which people are excited for and I was thinking "man, it seems like assassins are the new in thing (which is kinda odd but o-kay)" and then remembered that I had heard a lot of good things about a book which involved an assassin in a medieval sounding setting that came out in 2012. Lo and behold my school library even had a copy of it, hurray!

Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers

Summary: Before Ismae was born her mother tried to abort her but she was born anyway prompting the local herbwife to say that her father was actually Death himself. After a rather miserable life Ismae finds herself at the convent that serves death and is trained in all kinds of things including fighting, poison-mixing, and killing. She has no reason to question the sisters who took her in but when she's on an extended mission to keep the young duchess of her country safe and out of the hands of the invading French she begins to question whose will she is really following, Death's or the convents.

The Good: I really liked Ismae's character, she both loyal to the convent but still thinks for herself, even before all the facts start piling up in front of her. And all of her character development is paced well, it's a thick book (I believe it was a bit over 500 pages) but it never felt like the book was stalling for time or got lost and was wallowing around. The side characters also have some character development, or at least turn out to be more complicated than they originally seemed, and I'm happy that this is part of a series since I really want to see where Ismae goes after her big choice. As a side note, it's actually rather interesting to read this book so soon after Seraphina, both of them have very similar settings, conflicts, and character archetypes yet Ismae and Seraphina come from completely different places and it's interesting to compare how you can have two different characters in similar situations and seeing how they approach the problem.  

The Bad: I have absolutely no clue what is up with that tagline across the top of the book, Ismae rarely (if ever?) scorns the people around her for not knowing all the secrets of the court or for living simpler lives and it's almost the opposite of the character development she goes through. Bah, in any case, I'm also quibbling over the fact that the duchess is so young, just 13, I had wondered why she wasn't as active as I had expected but seriously, would it hurt or even change the character dynamics if she had been a bit older? After learning that I'm now questioning what she can really do in the next book or two with such little experience of life, hopefully I'll just be able to ignore it and not let that bother me too much.

So a 3.5 out of 5 for this book, not 100% if I'd buy it (since right now I don't have the urge to re-read it) but I'm certainly excited for the next books in the series (called the His Fair Assassin Series). I'm a little worried since it sounds like the viewpoint is switching over to another character (who did appear briefly so I have no idea where it'll fit timeline wise) and there were a few things left unresolved in this book but I'll just cross my fingers and hope that Lafevers makes it all work!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Manga Review: Heroman (volume one)

Another manga that I won in a contest recently, this time Alexander Hoffman of Manga Widget was giving away a few volumes of various Vertical Inc series and I obviously ended up with the first volume of Heroman. I was familiar with the title thanks to the anime (which I think technically came first) but held off watching it back then since people were predicting that it would get picked up and dubbed fast and I prefer to watch shows set in the US with dubs. Well, no license yet (it's still streaming on Crunchyroll for those interested) so there's no point in waiting any longer and I've never read any of Stan Lee's works, although I would love to know how much of the writing here is his or if he provided the basic plot points and scenarios and if someone else is responsible for adding in the details and putting it all together.

Heroman (volume one) by Stan Lee, Bones, and Tamon Ohta

Summary: Joey Jones is a sweet, hardworking boy who lives with his grandmother and is decidedly not one of the cool kids at school. It seems that even getting his hands on a transforming robot and helping save the town several times over isn't helping with that but it's certainly catching the eye of the girl he likes.  

The Good: While formulaic the story did manage to move at a much quicker pace than I was expecting and it was nice to see that the girl Joey is crushing on, Lina, already seems to like him back (especially since it's more common for it to take the girl a while to notice the nerdy guy in American fiction). The side characters get a reasonable amount of screentime and I was impressed at how well the story makes the eponymous Heroman feel, well, not just like a robot, especially since he doesn't talk at all. 

The Bad: This book just didn't grab me at all. The pacing seems a bit odd, like it's trying to cram in down time for the characters while still moving the plot forward as fast as it can and it's a balancing trick that doesn't quite work. Also, after a full volume of characters, many of which with a lot of page time, I just can't care about any of them since they all still feel so flat. Even Joey, who fares better than the rest of the cast, is still only a mash of character traits without any reasons behind them to make me care. This could obviously change quickly depending on how the story progresses but, well, after this volume I have no motivation to pick up the next one. 

The Art: Man, Joey has one of the most feminine looking designs for a guy I've seen in quite a while, heck if he was a girl that might've made the series a bit more interesting since that would have been a little more different. Regardless, there's nothing really special about the art here. It has a nice level of detail and that artist (whom I think is Ohta but I'm not 100% sure) knows how to use screentones well so everything looks fine, but it just doesn't have that special thing that makes the art stand out and grab me. In that respect it feels rather generic, maybe it works better in the anime where it's full color.

So a 2.5 out of 5 for this volume and I'll probably take the anime off of my to-watch list now as well (or at least file it under "if you and a friend really need something to snark at this might work" which isn't a good place to be filed). Maybe this would work better for a younger audience who hasn't seen every story trope out there done to death already, there's no age rating on it but I'd say it's probably 10+ or maybe 12+, but that's not me so I guess this series just isn't for me.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Anime Review: Sword Art Online

Alright, sorry for the sudden schedule shift, I was just really tired and decided to push everything back, although for this title there's already been so much talk about it online that I'm probably not really adding anything to the discussion. But that's fine by me, if I tried to have an entirely new take on everything I reviewed it would take me longer to come up with that than it would take me to say watch a 25 episode anime series.

Sword Art Online

Summary: Sometime in the near future full immersion gaming technology has finally appeared and the first MMORPG created for it is what everyone is talking about. So when the lucky 10,000 users who got a copy log in on the first day they expected a few bugs but not one where the logout button has vanished. But quickly enough the truth is revealed, the game was a trap and now those 10,000 souls have two options, die in the game where they die in real life or survive until someone beats all 100 levels of the game and releases them all. 

The Good: Yes yes yes, people have done the "oh no they're trapped in a game!" story before, that's hardly a reason to knock the initial premise of the show. And, while there are some logical failings for how this all happened there are enough little details (sadly most of them were in the light novels but didn't make it to the anime, which was a bit of a bizarre choice for some of them) to make me buy the premise. And I am also fine with the way the story is set up, having more or less a two year timeskip since it makes sense that in a game with 100 levels that something important isn't going to happen very often. So I guess you can say that the premise is alright and the characters are okay, most stay flat-ish but have moments of development, I just wish the story had been a bit more polished (and a lot more edited) since with this foundation it could have had a much better story built on it.

The Bad: I've heard that the author, Reki Kawahara, is planning to rewrite the Anicard arc (the first arc which takes up two novels and half the show) to which I must say, why didn't they wait until he did that to make this?!? Or better yet, why didn't the screenwriter/director take initiative and smooth out the story themselves! I know why the first two volumes were originally written strangely* but that still doesn't excuse the anime in my book. The first half had odd pacing problems and the villain of the second half was the flattest character I've seen in a long time. Honestly while I could recommend this show to a lot of people I don't think I would recommend it to any of my close friends since there's nothing that hasn't been done elsewhere and generally better.

The Audio: A lot of people, especially early on, were quick to say "oh this sounds just like .hack//Sign!", especially whenever someone mentioned that the novels were originally written around the same time. Frankly I don't find them that similar at all but I am rather amused to see that they do share a composer, Yuki Kajiura and honestly the two scores are pretty different. Where .Hack went for over the top choral songs that almost drowned out the story here Kajiura reserves the ominious chanting for just the most tense moments. I liked both of the soundtracks and I've been told (by people who can actually recognize music) that the background music for the second arc is just reworked music from the first arc which I think fits perfectly. No real comments on the voice acting, the way the characters were written varies quite a bit so there's a limit to what the actors could work with but no one sounded out of place or terrible and that's always a good thing. 

The Visuals: This is a great looking show, from the character designs and the backgrounds to the many action scenes, I think that the visuals are by far the best part of the show. Although, really there's not much to actually say about them, I like the color schemes and all the details but it doesn't do anything wild or inventive, it's simply great looking yet it probably won't be remembered in 10 years as a great example of animation/art.

So a 2.5 out of five for SAO, would I buy this? Nope, would I watch more of it? Weeeeelll, yes I would since it does look great and it works fine as a popcorn flick (especially when I watch with friends and snark the entire way through it), although it would have to be a medium to empty season as well. Probably for the best, Aniplex has the license so while it is streaming on Crunchyroll I'm sure that when they put out a box set it's going to be for more than I'd want to pay.

*he was trying to submit the novel to a contest with a page limit so he had a big two year timeskip and later filled in what happened to try and flesh out Kirito

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TV Series Review: Veronica Mars (season two)

Through some careful planning I managed to watch the entire second season of Veronica Mars courtesy of the college library I used this past summer for it, although sadly my library has changed their website around so I don't think I can use the inter-library loan system to check out the final season now instead of waiting until May or so. It would just be too easy if I could watch shows that have been out for years and years over a streaming service right?

Veronica Mars Season Two

Summary: It's the beginning of Veronica's senior year and after all of the crazy events of the past year she's put her private work aside. Well, for the time, in a town like Neptune there is always something going on, and usually multiple somethings, so it's only a matter of time before she's back and digging into the seedy underbelly of this messed up town and discovering things that shouldn't even be there.

The Good: More character development for the returning cast which is always a nice thing, although I do feel like Veronica's character arc was rather similar to the one in the first season. Logan, Wallace, and Jackie go through the most but even the smaller characters get a little more fleshed out.  This season was a lot like the first season so this time around it was the details that I appreciated more, like how the show never shames any of it's (teenaged) characters for having sex and never victim blames any of the characters who were raped (although, in browsing the tvtropes page, I'm afraid that one might change next season, crud). And overall I found this season as interesting and engaging as the first season and it even made me realize stuff about my own high school years that I hadn't thought about before. 

The Bad: So at the end of the first season I was so confused if my disc was missing an episode or not that I went to wikipedia and accidentally spoiled myself on the conclusion of the Lily Kane murder trial and I thought "well, at least that won't take too long right?" Nope, it takes them until the end of this season as well to wrap it up and frankly while trials can take a long time in real life they really should've made that one move more speedily. The show also didn't feel quite as tight by the end, looking back on it it had even more large, over-arching plots than the first season did and, even though the show does a pretty good job getting me to suspend my disbelief 90% of the time, some things just got too contrived (one of those things was executive meddling however I've learned) or didn't get addressed as much as it should've. Also, something that's almost a quibble but not quite, it did bug me that the only other girl to appear in the main credits/on the box (Jackie) was someone who spent the first half of the show being an ass and whose personality was almost exclusively defined by her romantic relationship to Wallace (and it sounds like she doesn't come back for the third season, great). She does get much better by the end but I do wish this show had more female characters, it breaks the Bechdal test easily    

The Audio: Nothing really to speak of here, the show keeps the opening and ending themes from the first season, Veronica still has some voice overs and none of the background music really stood out to me so I don't think they added anything to the soundtrack either. Next!

The Visuals: Well, to be honest, there isn't really anything to comment on here. The show  didn't have all the flashbacks/encounters with Lily and they didn't try any tricky camera work or strange filters. The show doesn't really need it now that the supernatural element is gone so as long as everything looks consistent.

Thinking about it I don't think I liked this season quite as much as the first season but I still really enjoyed it, although I'm bracing for disappointment with the third season since I heard that not everything was answered by the end there.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage

Some people might already be familiar with this title and are going "Helen, why are you reading this if you haven't finished The Parasol Protectorate?!" Well I still haven't been able to get a hold of books three through five and since this series is set 25 years earlier I figured it would be safe enoough (what you guys should be asking is how I got an ARC before a book was published for once, Unshelved had a link to where you could request one of a few different books from Little, Brown and I guess I was one of the first people to request since I got a copy). As a note this book actually isn't out until February but within a month you should be able to find a copy at brick and mortar bookstores or online.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Summary: When Sophronia is sent off to finishing school she expects something boring and conventional, after all her sisters are quite dulled and they've already been "finished". She certainly wasn't expecting a school on an airship where dancing and poisons are taught side by side and the teachers include a vampire and a werewolf. But somehow this all suits her rather well and gives her an almost respectable outlet for the mischief she gets into.

The Good: While the book itself isn't clear that it's set 25 years before The Parasol Protectorate (although seeing some familiar character names did tip me off) you certainly don't have to read those books to read this one and enjoy it, an especially good idea since those books were adult fiction while this one is young adult. Sophronia and the rest of the main cast are rather fun characters, although I did find them a little young for my taste (the characters aren't quite young enough to cross over into middle grade but come off as a bit too clever for 14-16 year olds). Regardless, this was a fun book that embraces the quirks and strangeness of the setting and I hope the next one is even stronger. 

The Bad: At times I was wondering if I was reading a parody of the steampunk genre (I'm sure that one group of characters was meant to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous costumes you find at conventions) since it gets well, odd at points. It's a little hard to articulate what exactly is weird (the characters attitudes? the fact that a school for mad geniuses is considered a normal part of the setting? the strange technology?) since Protectorate had it's moments of oddness as well (especially involving the technology) but here it's just a bit stranger. It did pull me out of the story a bit at times, hence why I'm calling this a bad thing, but it shouldn't be a deal-breaker for most. The ending also feels a bit unresolved, it's the first in a four book series so while it's understandable that not everything is wrapped up I just felt like this book didn't have it's own, distinct arc (sure there was the hunt for the missing technology but just didn't feel completely wrapped up to me). 

Despite the fact that this book felt a little off/like a little was missing I'm still giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars for entertainment and fully plan on reading the upcoming volumes (and buying my own copy of it, ARC's are just a bit too flimsy for my tastes).  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Manga Review: Please Save My Earth (volume 1)

Ash Brown once again had a manga giveaway on their site Experiments in Manga and this time the entry comment had to be about shojo science fiction, a phrase which sums up why I will never knock on shojo manga. Sure it doesn't seem to be in-style right now to have epic, sprawling sci-fi/fantasy shojo stories like you found in the 1980s/1990s (or if there are some like that out there now I just haven't been able to find them) but how can I completely dismiss shojo manga when it's given us so much awesome like this list Ash complied? So of course when they had a giveaway for a manga I had already been convinced that I needed to try (thanks to House of 1000 Manga on ANN), heck I'd already grabbed two random volumes of the series at a con after that column, I was going to enter and hope my luck held out.

Please Save My Earth (volume one) by Saki Hiwatari

Summary: Alice is having a hard time adjusting to her new school after her family moves and things aren't helped by the fact that her elementary school neighbor keeps messing with her. But then two things happen, she stumbles across two classmates who are having strange dreams of a past life they shared on the moon (causing them to act a bit strangely) and then her neighbor also starts acting strangely after getting into an accident.

The Good: At the risk of using a bad pun, the story was much more "down to Earth" than I expected and I liked all of the small moments between Alice and her classmates (I've seen so much shojo manga that isolates it's protagonist that it's nice to see one that remembers that teenagers can be mean or nice and sometimes they're just unsure of what to do). Actually all of the important characters feel more rounded than I'd expect out of a first volume and I'm really curious to see how they handle the fact that they're reincarnations of aliens.

The Bad: I read ahead a bit and I really hope that future volumes of the manga come with a character guide, the story introduces characters just a bit too fast for me and so trying to keep track of all of them, the past lives, and everyone's relationships is a bit much for me. Also, this volume has a problem that a lot of long series does, the basic premise pretty much spoils the entire series (hence why my own summary is a bit vague) so I almost felt like I wasn't to the "new" material yet. I did expect that going in however (the series is 21 volumes long after all)

The Art: The art didn't look nearly as dated as I expected (I actually thought the series started in the 90s from the art, it has a lack of crazy 1980s hairstyle/clothing) although the character designs look different enough that it's clear the story isn't from the Noughts. The art works well for both it's more serious moments and it's silly ones and I rather like the more minimalist style for the eyes, it certainly makes the art distinctive.

So, bring on more volumes, I'm game! Although checking on ANN it looks like some volumes are going for truly outrageous prices, so far I haven't had to leave a series incomplete (well, I haven't finished collecting books for plenty of series but I've grabbed the most expensive ones for great prices, like Twin Spica and Afterschool Nightmare), fingers crossed that this won't be the first series where I can't get them all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Winter 2013 Anime

As a quick note, one of Crunchyroll’s unexpected pick-ups was the second season of AKB0048 which was already on my radar since it showed up on a number of people’s end of year lists, sometimes as a “this turned out way better than expected!” entry. So, even though I’m a little put off my how silly the premise is, I remind myself that I was okay with a silly premise for Aquarion Evol so I’m trying out the fansubs (since crunchy isn’t streaming the first season) and so far so good!

Our heroine has collapsed at the maid cafĂ© where she works and upon waking up can’t remember a thing. A floating spirit tells her that her missing memories are his fault, he came from another world and seems to have displaced her memories by coming here and, while she can regain them by interacting with those around her if she doesn’t she’ll eventually forget how to do even everyday things and slowly die.

Well then, it’s always amusing to see what circumstances an otome game comes up with to explain how you ended up surrounded by attractive and eligible young men, at least this time there’s also a reason why the character was so damn boring to start with. Sadly the guys weren’t anymore interesting than the girl, I’m told that what makes this game unique is that you can actually give the girl a personality based on how you play the game but I’d guess that comes later, this was a really dull episode. Honestly I have nothing against otome games, they actually look like they could be fun to play but watching someone play a dating game is not my kind of entertainment so I’m passing on this one. Honestly the only good thing I can say about this is that the episode was ridicously colorful and rainbow-y, other than that it seems like not even Brain’s Base could save this title (and considering it’s been a number of years since Akikan Brain’s Base is overdue to produce a terrible show).

For those people who don’t mind watching what’s basically a Let’s Play of a Visual Novel can find Amnesia streaming on Crunchyroll and Sentai has licensed the show as well

Chihayafuru 2
Continuing from where the first season left off, Chihaya and the rest of her club continue to improve their karuta skills while persuing their personal goals in the game.

If the year in review post didn’t make it clear, I fell hard for this show and I’m thrilled that it’s back for more (I think it’s 2 cour but I don’t think I’ve seen an actual source for it). I haven’t had a chance to check the staff list but I think some people were changed (I heard it was the people in charge of the series composition, I’m not 100% sure what they actually do to be honest) but the director is the same and this first episode was a seamless transition from the first season to the second. It starts in a good place, shows how Chihaya has already grown, and introduces us to one of the two new club members (the girl Sumire) whom I’m trying to like. I already know from the promo art that she’s here to stay, so I at least need to tolerate her, and her inner thoughts are at least honest about her goals so that makes it easier to like her (plus, she immediately picked up on the meaning of one of the poems and has a great line, “I don’t want to write poems about regret!” which means that oddly enough she might be in just the right club). Now to hope that the pacing and everything else remains as solid as it was in the first season.

Despite my regular pleas the series has yet to be licensed, however Crunchyroll is streaming it (and may have been forced to announce it earlier than they planned because of the number of people bugging them about it, I’m not sorry).

Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East
Several years ago a village burned down under strange circumstances and there were three survivors who were taken in by the local church. However, given that the two boys who survived aren’t exactly normal, it seems like there are even more mysteries surrounding them than the local villagers have guessed.

To be honest I’m not sure what this show is trying to do yet, on one of the forums I frequent someone posted a summary of the original novel (which was odd) and then speculated how that had translated into the manga (which the anime is based on) which was also odd. So I’m having to give it the three episode trial here, so far it was actually more entertaining/engaging than I expected but I’m just hoping it doesn’t go so far that it becomes cheesy.

In a move most people probably expected, Hakkenden has been licensed by Sentai and is being streamed by Crunchyroll.

Maoyuu (Maoyuu Maoh Yuusha Archenemy and Hero)
Based on a novel that was originally serialized in 2ch threads, Hero has struggled to get to the demon lands where he plans to end the war between humans and demons by killing the demon king. Who then turns out to be a very scholarly demon queen who procedes to lecture and prove to him how killing her won’t change anything for the better and, through the power of economics, will actually make things worse for his homelands. She then tries to seduce bring him over to her side to help her end the war in a way that won’t destroy both of their countries.

Everyone has probably already seen this show compared to Spice and Wolf and is sick of it but seriously guys, if S&W was micro-economics then this is macro-economics which holds up fairly well under scrutiny (or so I’m told, economics is not my strong point). The art is an odd mixture of good (lots of detailed backgrounds with textures over them that mimic the original novel art) and the bad (CGI people everywhere!) maybe if they had fewer boob jiggles they could fix this which I hope doesn’t get even worse as the story goes on. I’m a bit worried that the story is only slated for 12 episodes since when the 2ch threads were edited into an actual book it ended up being rather dense and the opening sequence shows events all the way up to where the Kotowaru! Manga is and I have no idea how they’re getting there in only 12 episodes, much less beyond that.

Maoyuu has not been licensed yet but is streaming on Crunchyroll for interested parties.

Tamako Market
An anime original story from Kyoto Animation, Tamako’s family owns a mochi store in a shopping arcade and she’s now being followed around by a talking parrot from a far off land.

I’m not exactly sure what I just watched, I’m fairly sure it wasn’t a parody but it certainly seemed like it at times and at others, well, it was just a bit bland. I remember another blogger (I honestly can’t remember who) saying that they might be more interested in the show if Tamako was an elementary school kid instead of a high schooler(? don’t think she’s in middle school anyway) and I have to agree, if the show is going to be sweet and simple why not age down the character so it feels less forced? Although even that wouldn’t be enough to keep me interested in the show, I also recall reading what the original pitch for the show was like (supposedly, it was more fantasy-esque) and that probably would have kept my attention, at this point I’ll spend my time watching other things instead.

Tamako Market is streaming for US/Canadian audiences on The Anime Network’s website since Sentai has licensed this show as well.

Okay then, what’s carrying over from the fall season that’s keeping me from completely losing faith in this season? Quite a few things it turns out!

Blast of Tempest
By now we’ve passed where I stopped reading the manga and it’s been a pretty wild ride. I’m not exactly sure why there was some anime original stuff (how Yoshino and Mahiru met) in there, padding so the twist matched up with the halfway mark I guess, and I have no idea from here on out what’s anime original. So that’ll be interesting, often I can tell and I’m almost positive that’s what’s going to happen since Bones really likes to do anime only endings. The problem is, lately I haven’t liked any of their endings (for either shows that are adaptions where they’ve had to create endings or the shows that were anime original from the start) and that’s what’s really going to define if I want to buy this show or not.

From the New World 
I’m liking show a bit more now but man the pacing is just a bit uneven. I think part of my problem is that, upon reflection, the story really is from Saki’s point of view (even during flashbacks or when the characters split up we only know what happens when they relate it to Saki) and she’s an accidental unreliable narrator. So it’s rather frustrating to see timeskips where the characters don't remember much about other really important events and I really wish they had included a few scenes to show the viewers that yes, the characters are being manipulated, this isn’t the characters trying to fool the system. But in any case, we’ve one more timeskip coming up and I’m hoping that once the (remaining, I’m totally expecting everyone to be dead by the end of this) characters are adults that that problem will be gone and that I’ll enjoy the show even more.

Well I’ve fallen for this show pretty hard. The setting is still a bit shaky at times (thankfully some fans pieced together that it’s around 100 years in the future which in my mind is far enough along for a major societal shift that would explain the people allowing this psycho-pass system and not revolting, too bad I can’t say that about all of the technology though) but I like the characters. There seems to be two opinions of Akane, a positive and more negative one, and I take a more positive view of her (that she’s smart but young and still learning, and just can’t shoot a shotgun one-handed her first time) and I’m wondering what exactly she’ll develop into. The show is also slowly fleshing out it’s side characters and as long as it keeps doing that and keeps world-building I think I’ll be happy with it, no matter how it ends.

So it appears R;N is taking a cue from it’s older sibling Steins;Gate and waited until around the second half to really pull out the stops and go crazy, if that trailer for the second half is anything to go on. I’m content to let the plot build up and see how it all comes together and so far I’m happy with what it’s done and the pace it’s set, now to see if the writing in the second half will be at least as good (and hopefully stronger) for the last bit.

Space Brothers 
Are we really entering the last part of the show now? I ask this because I found out recently that the show has been, padding itself out so we’re only on around the 8th or 9th volume of the manga out of a planned 30-ish volumes. I’m mostly happy with the pace set (just wish it would speed up a bit!) and it’s still quite refreshing to see adult characters be the main characters and the show has fleshed out everyone really well. Heck, at this rate they’ll have to make the cast even larger just so they have more people to flesh out, think this is the first time I’m saying that! 

Anime Review: Kamisama Kiss

Continuing along with the just finished fall series (although I only had three, one-cour series this time, just about everything is carrying over into the winter but that's the subject for tomorrow's post), I had actually heard of this series before the annoucement since Viz Media has licensed the manga over here in the US (under their Shojo Beat imprint). So I tried reading some of it, kind of got into it but not really into it so I was pretty excited for the anime and hoped that it would just flow a bit better this way. Sadly the anime ended right where I stopped reading the manga so it didn't cover any new material, really wish I had planned that better but oh well.

Kamisama Kiss (Kamisama Hajimemashita)

Summary: Nanami lost her mother at a young age and now her father has run away from his gambling debts and all their assets have been seized leaving her with literally nothing. She's determined to do something about it but before she can think of anything she finds herself helping a man get away from a dog and he offers her a place to stay in return. What he didn't mention was that his place was in fact a dilapidated shrine and in the process he just made Nanami a god.... 

The Good: Since there's no good place to mention this otherwise, the title translates more or less into "I Became a God", best guess for why that was changed for English is for alliterative reasons/American idea of god is pretty different. Moving on, this show almost feels like it was based on a story from the early 2000s since it's so, clean in some ways. No fanservice (unless you count fox boys with long hair and all their clothes on fanservice), the romantic pairing is established pretty early on, no gimmicks, the characters never have too much trouble overcoming the problems placed before them, it just has a cleanness to it that I don't see that much these days (or maybe I'm not reading as much shojo so I'm just not coming across it as often, also totally possible). Funny enough, considering how they share a director, I think this show has the potential to be to a lot of early high schoolers what Fruits Basket was to me and my friends, a gateway anime which I think is a good thing (although my inner cynic says it probably won't work out that neatly).   

The Bad: When the director (Akitaro Daichi) was first announced I said I was a little worried since I just didn't like how he did parts of Fruits Basket (and it's no secret in the fandom that he and the manga-ka disagreed so much that that's why there's no second season) and yeah, again I didn't like the ending he had here. As I said earlier, I had read up to this point so I remembered a bit so I went, checked, and yep, not only did he squish in parts from the next arc (and they only had two episodes to wrap up!) but a lot of the stuff I didn't like (Nanami running away) was anime original. I'm guessing he felt like there wasn't enough drama already and wanted to add in more but I thought it was a poor choice. But mostly my problems lie with the source material, while there are some underlying plot threads throughout the entire story (which were brought up here, and ended up going no where since they haven't yet been resolved) the story has a ton of silly side stories and I do wish it underwent Cerebus Syndrome to an extent, or at least had fewer side stories (hell, I was starting to wonder if the anime was making up filler for some unknown reason).

The Audio: I might get pelted by the fans for this but, I didn't really like neither the opening song nor the ending. There wasn't anything wrong with either of them (Funimation translated the lyrics so I can say that they matched the show well enough) but they both had the wrong tone for me, they were too girly and simpering and I just wanted something a little more upbeat (or at least a more upbeat opening and make the current opening the ending). Didn't have any trouble with the voice acting however, every one sounded good 

The Visuals: I don't know what it is but Nanami's design just doesn't quite work for me. It's almost there, and I like around 75% of the other character designs in the show, but there's just something a little off. Maybe it was the color scheme, that also seemed oddly bright and cheerful and I would have liked it to have been a little more muted, although looking at the manga book covers I can say that I can see where they got the general scheme from.

So I give this show a three or a three and a half out of five and I'm not sure if I plan on buying it. I probably should, and probably will, since obviously the only way to convince Funimation to license more shojo (yes, even thought Viz had the manga Funi has the anime) and I'm sure they'll dub it well as well, it just fell a little flat with me in the end. Thankfully it does seem to be doing well in Japan (apparently the streaming numbers for Funi were either the best or among the best they've ever had for a simulcast) so we *might* get a second season, it would be a shame to leave the few things they set up just hanging, although if not there's always the manga (although sadly not on the VizManga site yet).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Movie Review: The Sky Crawlers

Unlike last year, I actually made sure to look up the hours of the university library near me over my winter break and managed to watch quite a bit of stuff in just a few weeks. This was the only thing I grabbed from their animation selection (by now I've seen just about everything they have that I'm interested in) since I remembered hearing some good things about it when it came stateside a few years ago which is pretty much all I need to try something out.

The Sky Crawlers

Summary: Sometime in the future war has practically been eliminated but, to prevent people from getting bored and starting real wars, now companies wage war against each other with Kildren, an experiment gone wrong that produces people that never age (mentally or physically) beyond their teens. These Kildren live hazy lives, it's hard to remember their own pasts and it's also hard to comprehend the dangers they face in every fight, is there anything more to their lives than this blur of similar days? 

The Good: Well that was a cynical take on war, I've seen a few other stories take the same idea (that wars are now fought by groups for the entertainment of others/to prevent people from fighting "real" wars) but even though this story never showed gore or the characters breaking down from their messed up world they live in it was certainly a sober story. 

The Bad: This film was excruciatingly slow and I really should have just bailed on it and watched something else. The problem was what little I remembered from the reviews mentioned a plot point which I thought was going to be the driving force of the movie and wanted to see if I had remembered correctly or if I had confused this film with another. It turns out that I was right, just that plot point (which was sorta-kinda alluded to but not exactly) which I thought was the most interesting part of the whole film isn't brought up until the last twenty minutes of a two hour film. I think I can see what Oshii was trying to do with this film, expressing how war can just become a part of life that no one questions and such, the problem is that A) I completely disagree with that sentiment and B) he chose such a boring way to do it that I don't see a single reason to question my beliefs and try to think differently (which means the film has failed as both entertainment and as an intellectual problem for me, never a good thing). 

The Audio: There was almost no background music throughout the entire movie, or if there was some it was so low that I didn't have my volume up loud enough to hear it, and while I could see why this stylistic choice was made I would have preferred a bit more sound myself. As for the voice acting, I watched this in Japanese and there was a lot of random English in the movie. The characters (who speak Japanese the entire rest of the time) only speak in English in the cockpits (TvTropes tells me that English is the international language for aviation so I guess that makes sense) and then when showing tourists around there's more English which sounds, well, a bit awkward. Certainly not the worst Engrish I've ever heard but it was just rather bizarre. I've seen countless shows, in English and Japanese, in a setting where the characters wouldn't be speaking either of those languages and I think the best thing to do is to have them just stick to one language and let the audience pretend it's being translated for it's convince. This can cause trouble if the story is also imply that multiple languages are being spoken but that wasn't the case at all here, I'm just confused why they made either of those choices.  

The Visuals: I do wonder if this film was made just so the animators would have a chance to make photo-realistic CGI airplanes, I was running around doing a few others things during the opening scenes so from a distance I was wondering if I had the right disc in, the CGI was so good that it fooled me from the back of the room. Aside from all of that (which does make up a good portion of the movie admittedly), everything looks a bit dull. The Kildren (or at least the male ones) have practically the same face (and, unless a character in-universe comments on how similar two or more characters look, I take this as a sign of laziness) and Kusangai looks like a younger, more emotionless, and crazier version of the Major from Ghost in the Shell

So I give this one and a half or two stars out of five and am really regretting checking this out and not Perfect Blue right now.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Review: Kieli: In the Sunlight Garden Where It All Began

Well this is quite a bit later than I expected, I had originally hoped to have this review done months ago but I got delayed purchasing the second book and then I just had so much to read that it got pushed to near the bottom of the stack. But we're getting close to the end folks, the last two books come out this year in English and hopefully I'll have a chance (ie, the money) to pick them up at some point from a TRSI sale.

Kieli volumes 5 and 6, The Sunlight Garden Where It All Began Written by Yukako Kabie  

Summary: Kieli and Harvey, still searching for Beatrice, end up in a town that has a lot of memories for Harvey and Kieli learns more about his past than even Harvey can remember.

The Good: Well the story has finally shed some light on Harvey's past and while it didn't do anything I didn't expect it was still solid and brought up one or two interesting ideas (like the fact that the Undying literally are different people than they were in life, so different that you can have a ghost of their past selves that's not just an impression left on a place). The colonel also got a bit more backstory, really by now the story has explain all the main players pasts so I'm curious what it's going to spend the last three volumes doing. 

The Bad: While I was really optomistic that a two book story would really work here it just felt like Kabie was puttering around a lot of the time, trying to fill space with a story that was a bit more than one novel but not big enough for two. There are a surprising number of side stories in here and, even though they all feature characters who become important later on, most of the time they felt like fluff and I was annoyed. I really do think there was a better way to structure this story, even if I'm not sure how to do it myself. Also, we seem to have hit a bit of a dead end for Kiele's story (which was to find out more about her mother and, to a smaller extent, the Undying she had been traveling with) and it's going to take an extremely contrived coincidence to get that subplot moving again which is already bugging me.

So, certainly not one of the series stronger entries but a very necessary one. I think I can see what's turning in the background that will become important in the later books, now to hope that those books meander a bit less than this one. But first, I think I need to catch up with Book Girl (which also ends soon-ish, next January I think) and Spice & Wolf, curse you Yen Press for putting out so many series when I don't have the time or money for all of them!  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Manga Review: The Good Witch of the West (volume 1)

So, year ago I found scans of this manga (not scanlations but outright scans of the TokyoPop translation), liked it, and then heard it was based off a series of light novels that Tokyopop was also translating and decided to hold off reading the manga to see if I could read those instead (plus reading scans just feels dirty to me). Like most (all?) of TokyoPop's light novel translations they never finished (I think two out of eight were finished) and TokyoPop didn't finish the manga before they went under as well. However, JManga picked it up and if I'm reading the Japanese wikipedia page correctly translated the entire series (seven volumes plus one side story volume) and since I had some points I decided to give the series a whirl again and see if it still interested me or if I should save my points for other series instead.

The Good Witch of the West Written by Noriko Ogiwara, Art by Haruhiko Momokawa

Summary: Firiel Dee has been raised more by a kind couple than her scholarly father and while she does resent how he has a closer relationship with his assistant, a boy her age named Rune, than her she's a cheerful girl none the less. But she discovers that her father has been keeping even larger secrets from her than she could have guessed when she learns that her dead mother was in fact a princess and that she is now a candidate to be the next queen whether she wants to be or not.

The Good: Perhaps it's just me but I could tell that this story was from either the early 2000s or the 1990s, although the art did help clue me into that. There's just a particular style to fantasy (and sometimes science fiction) works from that time in anime and manga that I've noticed over the years and this story fits into that style well, with characters mumbling about the end of the world while the main character is swept up into intrigue (and some magic it looks like) which is practically a world away from her previous life. While I do tend to get cynical about stories like this if I read too much of them it was hard to be with  Firiel as our spunky lead character (another thing a lot of those stories have in common). Plus the story was paced well, it didn't linger on anything too long and flowed well from one scene to the next.

The Bad: Most of the complaints I have have to do with the art more than the story itself, it was a bit unclear what was going on in some scenes (which also struck me as a bit overly dramatic) but I was still able to follow what was happening more or less. I'm a little cautious about how just seven volumes of manga will cover eight light novel volumes (I know there was a 13 episode anime adaptation as well but that must have covered even less), I'm afraid that I'll be left hanging at the end with no way to read the rest, but unless I can find someone who's familiar with both mediums then it's just a risk I'll have to take. 

The Art: As a quick aside, I do wish that JManga had chosen a different typeface for some of the dialogue, the more "mystical" (song, prophecies, etc) bits have a hard to read type and I just skimmed over it hoping that if it was really important that the other characters will repeat it later. Other than that, you can also tell that the manga is a bit dated (it started in 2004) since some of the designs have a bit of an oddness to them that I've seen in a lot of 1990s/early 2000s sci-fi and fantasy anime and it's also completely lacking in more, how to say this, moe style art. The layout of some of the pages was also a bit hard to follow but I'm hooping that it becomes a little smoother in later volumes.

I liked this, more than I expected, and I'll have to add the rest of my volumes of my quickly growing to-read list over on JManga. Like I said earlier, books from particular times have a different feeling to them and I like the strange vibe from a lot of 90s anime/manga series and I haven't read/watched anything like that in a while so this also makes a nice change of pace, now to get the rest!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Anime Review: K

Good lord, how did I fall so hard for such a silly show? I only tried out K since it was a streaming title and I wanted to give it a shot. After the first episode I wasn't going to continue but a lot of people on my twitter seemed to enjoy it so I decided alright, I can give it another episode, it's giving me plenty to snark about anyway. And then I realized by the end of the second episode that I really liked the chemistry between the main trio and I was sorta-kinda hooked. So you can imagine how this show, which I saw someone else compare to a deep fried Snickers bar, surprised me when I realized it was plotted just a bit better than I was expecting.....


Summary: One night in December Tatara Totsuka went up on the roof to film a video and was shot dead by a crazed young man who declares himself to the seventh, the colorless, king. Tatara was a member of a the street gang Homra which was under the third king (who like the seventh king is all part of a larger system of kings and clansmen all with supernatural powers) whom are all rather pissed off about this and out for the blood of the guy who did it. And this is all rather unfortunate for Yashiro Isana, a regular high school student who has a striking resemblance to the guy in the video but no memory of murdering someone and has to go on the run when even more groups of people (all also related to the various kings) pop up and are after him as well. 

The Good: As I said earlier, this show turned out to be much better plotted than I expected, especially for a show that spends it's first episode being style over substance and it's second episode having a catgirl run around naked for most of it. The trick is that while the show does heavily foreshadow it's biggest twist it's mostly visual foreshadowing (some of which might have been coincidence on the animators parts but other parts were certainly deliberate) which, judging from the reactions I saw online, a lot of people missed (I wouldn't have caught the foreshadowing myself but did pick up on the other clues). And as I also said earlier, some of the characters, especially the main trio, have really great chemistry together and I liked seeing them just interact together on screen (especially since all of them got a bit of character development, the other characters in the show not so much). I'll be rather sad if they aren't part of the main cast for the sequel since for me anyway they were what made the show fun.

The Bad: There are two basic camps in the fandom for this, either you liked the characters Yata and Fushimi (in the red and blue clans respectively who have backstory) or you think they had too much screentime. I'm in the latter group although I was fine until they had a really out of place flashback in the last episode (which I wish had been instead used for one of the more important characters, like on the past of the red and blue kings who are important to the story unlike those two). The whole story is a bit unbalanced, the red clan gets way more screentime than the blue clan (even though both are about equally important than the end) and sometimes the story forgets that there are seven kings, not four, two kings (/their followers) never even appear and I wish they had gotten more than a passing mention since it doesn't make sense that they are completely absent from the situation at hand. 

The Audio: By the end of the show the opening song had grown on me (and when I finally looked up the lyrics they fit the show a bit more than I expected, I love when that happens, although the biggest "clue" from that is actually in Engrish so I really should've caught it) and the ending song wasn't that bad either (just beware of naked catgirl, the show is a bit NSFW but if you're an anime fan you've almost assuredly seen worse). The cast worked fine for me, everyone seemed to be acted well enough, I didn't dislike any of the voices/voice actors, although I was sad to learn that apparently one of the voice actors is a native German speaker and the story had a legitimate reason for him to use that talent and they never took advantage of it (and even I, who speaks no German, could tell that the brief snippets in there were as terrible as the Engrish in the very first episode). Oh and I was frustrated that it took Viz Media until almost the last episode to subtitle the little bit of German that was in the show, thank goodness for fans and google translate for the rest of it! 

The Visuals: Alright GoHands, you really need to learn how to spread out your budget earlier. Yes I know it's important to have a flashy first episode to draw people in, but there are "good looking (but the quality will probably drop a little by the end)" and "hey let's have a RANDOM really high budget scene that contributes nothing to the plot that couldn't been accomplished more cheaply otherwise!". You might think I'm being a bit hard but if you pause and look at later episodes everything just looks cheaper and more rushed, hopefully the DVD releases will look a bit better. But what everyone really notices about K are it's omnipresent filters, mostly of the blue variety for some unknown reason*.

So, K gets a three out of five for being just that damn entertaining (who would have thought that having seven different light novel authors writing a story would work out so well?) and heck yeah I'm looking forward to a second season, more to snark at while being amused! No idea if I would buy this if Viz was to ever release it on DVD, while I might want to rewatch it with friends I can always use the Hulu stream for that, guess I'll just cross that bridge when it comes. Until then I will continue tracking down the copious amount of side materials (two spin off manga, K: Memory of Red [focusing on Homra shortly before the anime starts], Stray Dog Story [focusing on Kuro between the last colorless king's death and Shiro's rise to notoriety], two light novels, K: Side Blue [which I believe is how the current blue king became king and focuses on characters not in the anime] and K: Side Red [set a bit earlier and explains how Anna came to be with Homra, provides more information than the anime did on the gold clan, and generally explains more about Strains], the upcoming light novel focusing on what the trio was doing when they were hiding from everyone [answer, hiding out in a love hotel], and various other short stories explaining character's backstories that are floating around) which yeah, is enough to keep me going for a quite a while.

*there was a theory that they reflected which king's territory they were in but as of now that doesn't seem to have been the case, shame because that would have made for some more great visual foreshadowing AND given the show an actual reason to abuse them as much as they did.