Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anime Review: Blast of Tempest

This was a bit of an odd show for me, I was really excited for it going into the fall season, I had tried out some of the  manga beforehand and liked it, got a bit bored with it, and then right around where I had stopped reading (about the midpoint of the show) it picked up again for me and then I liked it for the rest of it's run. Interestingly enough, even though I consider one of Studio Bones' trademarks to me "really strange anime original endings" I think this might have been the same ending the manga had, they both ended right around the same time and from the poking around I did it seems like they stayed pretty similar up to the end at least. Although, guys who was in charge of the English title for this show? It already had the perfect subtitle/English title already, The Civilization Blaster, and while the title makes sense around 2/3rds of the way through (or even earlier depending how much time you spend thinking about it) it's still so awkward that I feel silly just saying it.

Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest: The Civilization Blaster)

Summary: One year ago Aika Fuwa died under mysterious circumstances and neither her brother Mahiro or his friend/her secret boyfriend Yoshino have really gotten over it. Mahiro has disappeared and one day when Yoshino is by her grave he's interrogated by a strange lady at gun point about Mahiro as a swarm of butterflies appear and herald the beginning of a strange and sinister plot  

The Good: One thing I wasn't expecting this show to do as well as it did was all of the relationships between the characters and the show wouldn't have worked nearly as well without it. Heck, around the two-thirds mark the characters have all split up, there are so many factions I couldn't begin to keep them all straight, and I thought "oh well I guess they'll be fighting against each other now and then will team up against whatever the even greater villain is at the end in a tsundereish fashion" and nope, the story was too smart for that which I was pretty thrilled about. And related to that, Yoshino and Mahrio (Mahrio especially) really grew more than I expected, for a show that I started because it had kind of a cool plot and some really cool looking action I got way more out of it than I expected.

The Bad: I'm still not sure however why I had a little slump in the first half of the series, around the one-third mark. Maybe it was because I had already read the manga up to that point and, since this show does rely more than a bit on a few key plot twists, it might not be something that holds up well if you already know them. Or maybe I was just bored, from what I can tell I was the only person who was bored/frustrated by the show at that point. There are however two other good reasons to get frustrated with those show, one is the afore mentioned reliance on plot twists (there are two, maybe four depending on how you count them) and I'm less fond of series that rely on "twists" more than "plot" to be entertaining. The other is that the series doesn't exactly go through a genre shift halfway through but it shifts from being more or less all action to 50-75% action, 50-25% new genre. I thought it pulled it off well but that might have been because I knew it was coming (I saw people complaining about it in advance online and managed to guess rather accurately what it would be) but again, some people aren't going to like it so just try to keep an open mind in the second half of the show.

The Audio: Right, I know I'm in the minority here but I really liked the first opening song, yes Engrish and all. The Engrish was comprehensible enough that I think it made sense (or as much sense as you could hope for) plus there was some fantastic timing with pairing up the lyrics and the beats to the images. The second opening grew on me after a few episodes but I was never really a fan of either ending, they were both a little too light and cheerful for me. All the voice acting was pretty solid as well, I've seen some other people praising the shows soundtrack but when I looked for it and gave it a listen I was only lukewarm about it. It worked just fine within the show but it isn't something I'm going to remember by the end of the year.

The Visuals: Pretty good looking art throughout the entire series and all the fight scenes looked great, I didn't see any drop offs in quality and the choreography and the camera work, as odd as it sounds to apply those words to a work of animation, were spot on. And that's about it, the animation was nice, the fights were good, the characters didn't look ridiculous, the color schemes generally made sense (although I do keep staring at some things, like Mahiro's really yellow jacket and go "why?"), there's just nothing really stand-out here.

I'm giving this a solid 3.5 out of 5, maybe a 4 and yes would like to own this on DVD. Which is in and of itself it's own problem, it's been licensed by Aniplex which generally means really expensive releases (I have some issues with the way they do their pricing scheme but that's a rant for another post). Hopefully this release will be a bit cheaper and simpler than some of their others since it wasn't a mega-hit like Madoka Magica or Sword Art Online (or Magi to an extent I guess), although hopefully this also doesn't mean they won't release it at all, I'm just going to be a bit nervous about this one until I see an actual product listing online. I also do hope someone brings the manga over since I'd like to read that again as well, it's a Square Enix title and Yen Press has brought over a lot of their stuff in the past so I think there's a pretty good chance it'll be licensed, just that YP is a bit slower these days to bringing out stuff that was on air recently.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Young Animator Training Project 2013/Anime Mirari 2013

I feel a little weird only talking about three out of the four shorts for this year's Young Animator Training Project but these three have been out for a while and I can't even find raws of Ryo (Studio Gonzo's short) after looking around. I know it must be somewhere since I saw someone commenting along the lines of "Gonzo was, ....Gonzo" which honestly doesn't make me want to search out the short, bad Gonzo is usually pretty boring and more than slightly terrible in the writing department. So, if I do ever find it I'll watch it and add onto the review, in the meantime let me tell you about everything else! 

Young Animator Training Program 2013 (Anime Mirai)

Aruvu Rezuru - Kikai Shikake no Yōsei-tachi (Alv Rezul - Mechanical Fairies, also seen it written Areve Rezere): This was an odd entry, this was made by Studio Xebec to fill in a slot that had previously been taken by Studio Perriot and I remember this showing up on anime charts for last summer, no idea if it was supposed to be a single OVA back then or a full series and was reduced to an OVA. The charts were listing it as a full series and it’s based on a light novel series, yet out of the three I was able to see this was easily the weakest. This one felt like a pilot for a full series and, while the others felt a bit like that as well, they managed to also feel complete in 30 minutes, this one felt like we had just started a series and that we wouldn’t have everything explained until it was done (or even the basic concepts fully explained until episode three). The concept was kinda cool, perhaps it was moved from the summer so it wouldn’t compete with the slightly similar in concept Sword Art Online, but the writing felt amateur, weak, and cliché-ridden the whole way through. Oooooh, mysterious organizations! Slightly incestuous sibling relationships which are okay because they’re not blood related and then plot shenanigans to make it even more “okay”! (which in case your wondering, even if you’re not related by blood you still feel pretty creeped out by that stuff, if my step-brother ever acted like this I would smack him in a heartbeat) The art was fine, although I was confused why Shiki always looked like she was drawn in a different style than the background, props, and other characters. I’m rather sad I didn’t like this since when I first saw it on the charts I thought it sounded rather cool, too bad it’s execution was poor.

Death Billiards: Studio Madhouse has made a lot of great things for many years so it’s no surprise that they made something great this time. The story goes that two men, one young one old, show up at a bar with no memory how exactly they got to it and have to play a game of billiards with their lives on the line. They don't know much more than that but it’s soon clear that pool is a game they both have strong memories of and that there is obviously more to the game than it first seems. I’ve seen a lot of people not like the ambiguous ending but I rather liked it, given the sense of mystery that permeated the rest of the short it makes sense that it wouldn’t explain everything to it’s viewers (or even it’s characters, of the other two characters present one of them doesn’t know the final outcome of the game either). I’m satisfied with this as a short yet I can also see it being fleshed out into a full, episodic series with an underlying story revealing more about the bar and it’s two attendants, although I have absolutely no idea how likely that is to happen.   

Young Witch Academia: Hotly anticipated since it’s from the new studio Studio Trigger which, if I recall correctly, is formed from a number of people who used to work at Studio Shaft, and people were also excited because it looked just plain fun and it was! Akko has wanted to be a witch since she saw a fantastical magical show when she was young but now that she’s actually at magic school she finds the lessons either boring or just plain impossible. This story could have easily been stretched into a full length film but here neatly fits into the 22 minute run time with good pacing and nice visuals, the OVA almost looked more heavily influenced by American Saturday morning cartoons than anime in places and had a really distinct look the entire way through. And the animation itself looked fantastic, very few still shots and lots of complex movements, if this is the future of animation via animators in Japan then I think we’re good! Lots and lots of fun and I’m excited to see what else Studio Trigger produces, I think they have their first full series coming this summer but it sounds like there isn’t a lot of information about it out yet. Oh and it's legally on both youtube and crunchyroll now so catch it at one of those places when you have half an hour to spare.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: Code Name Verity

This was a book I had heard some things about, all good, for quite a while and so when I spotted it on the local library's shelves I of course grabbed it. I was a bit worried because it's set during World War II, emphasis on the war part, and in my experience that usually means that a lot of sad things happen. And even when some sad things started happening that wasn't enough to stop me from putting my computer away, putting my homework away, and reading a few hundred pages of it in one sitting in an afternoon.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Summary: Verity is in trouble, currently she's traded the last of the British military secrets she knows to the SS and her remaining time is running dangerously short. So while she endures her tortures she writes on the paper she's traded her country's future away for and begins to reminisce on how her best friend Maddie got into the military and slowly her own story unfolds as well.

The Good: This story spends it's first half bringing you down as low as it can and then the second half starts to bring you back up to which I must say thank god, even though the ending wasn't exactly a cheerful happy one (I don't think that's a spoiler to say since again, war novel, World War II war novel, it's going to have at least some bitter bits). This book always strikes me as a bit unusual since the most important relationship in the book, which is undeniably the backbone for the entire story (hell it's on the cover!) is the friendship between Verity and Maddie and I can't recall the last time I saw a story that was about a friendship between two girls to this degree (and boy I wish I could since I want more). I can see some people interpreting their relationship as one with a few romantic undertones, after reading the entire story I decided that I didn't see it that way, although I'm torn over whether I want it to be romantic (since fiction needs more non-straight couples) or not (since fiction also needs more stories about friends, especially girls, who are so close that they will literally go through hell for each other). And, if my introduction didn't make it clear enough, this is a really gripping book and I accidentally read over half of it in one sitting, once you get going you don't want to stop  

The Bad: Keep some tissues nearby folks, this book almost made me cry and I very rarely cry over works of fiction in any medium. Which isn't really a bad thing and honestly this was a really strong book without many faults. The second half was, how to put it, a little less believable to me (for reasons that are much too spoilerly to explain) but still flowed and worked well enough for me in the end for it to not be anywhere near a deal breaker.

So, 4 out of 5, hell maybe even a 4.5 out of 5 and I give this a hearty recommendation to anyone who likes young adult books in general or stories in general but friends who, well, will go through war for each other. I'm going to keep an eye out for this book at bookstores to get my own copy and will be keeping my eye out for Wein's other works (some of which appear to already be on my to-read list, excellent!). Oh, and since this seems like a good opportunity to recommend another book as well, Flygirl by Sherri L Smith. I didn't know a way to mention this in my review but Maddie's story is how she went from being a farm girl to a pilot and Flygirl is another fictional story about a female pilot in World War II, just this time in America and it stars an African-American lady who is passing for white so there is plenty of tension there as well. Another excellent book so if you like one go and read the other, you'll like it I promise!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Manga Review: Sugar Sugar Rune (volume one)

A few months back there was a manga moveable feast held for Moyoco Anno and, as if I needed any more convincing, I really wanted to try out at least some of her work. Funny enough I remember seeing ads for this in the back of various Del Ray manga I got back in high school but Sugar Sugar Rune seemed, well, childish and silly, something I wasn't interested in. Then I glanced at some of the reviews for it during the feast and discovered that I was completely off so when I spotted the first volume at my local used bookstore I grabbed it and hoped that I would end up liking it after all.

Sugar Sugar Rune (volume 1) by Moyoco Anno

Summary: Chocolat and Vanilla are two young witches who are both candidates to become the next queen of the magical world and are sent to Earth to capture the hearts of people as a contest to see who will become the next queen. But Earth is rather different from the magical world and both of the girls already have their own issues which means it isn't going to be easy for either of them to win.

The Good: Yup, this was much better than what I would have expected from the blurbs alone, although in retrospect I might have also been mixing this story up with Save Me! Lollipop a bit as well. I was surprised that Chocolat and Vanilla managed to be both rivals and friends, I've grown rather used to the "we used to be friends but now we're enemies" trope (which I rather dislike) that I was surprised to see how neatly Moyoco has subverted it so far. And in a way that sums up both of the girls as well, they have their own reasons to try and become queen, and plenty of pressure, but they aren't going to let that completely change who they are quite yet, even if the two of them have started to grow in more subtle ways.

The Bad: After just one volume it's hard to tell what's bad about the series, it's too early to say that Moyoco is hinting at something and then doesn't bring it up again or that the characters don't grow (which is wrong anyway since Chocolat and Vanilla have already started to change) and the pacing works well enough. So I'll just say this was a strong first volume without any big pitfalls, although if you go into this expecting a "dark magical girl" series you might be disappointed since while darker than usual this story doesn't quite fit into that genre.

The Art: Overall the art looks pretty cute although there are some elements which seem a little "less cute" (there's just something off about the proportions of the faces) but, given how this story does have some darker-than-usual elements to it I suspect that was completely on purpose (especially since I looked up a few other Moyoco's other manga quickly and her art style changes more than a bit each time to suit whatever genre she's working in). As an aside, I feel like I've only seen more neagtive things about the anime instead of the manga, which already makes me disinclined to search it out, but the color scheme for the clothes there is also really turning me off, I much prefer the colors shown on the covers of the books. 

So, so far so good and I would like more please! It sounds like even though the manga is OOP it's not too hard to find and at 8 volumes it's fairly short as well, and yes I do want to get to more of Moyoco Anno's work someday but I just haven't found the time (or the books near me) yet.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Anime Review: From the New World

To keep moving on, this was a show I had pretty high hopes for when the fall season started and never ended up fulfilling them. Of course, I expected the story would have a totally different plot than it actually did which can cause that problem, really there's not much I can say to introduce this title so let's just get to the review.

From the New World (Shin Sekai Yori)

Summary: One thousand years from now Japan, and presumably the rest of the world, is quite a new world where everyone has psychic abilities and there is peace everywhere. Yet to keep this world peaceful there are many dark secrets lurking and, whether by accident or design, young Saki and her group of friends keep running into them and as the years go by and they start to uncover the real truth behind their world the consequences for their discoveries become higher and higher.  

The Good: You know, I'm almost surprised that I haven't seen a real blend between science fiction and horror before (I'm sure it's out there, I simply haven't seen it) and SSY got really close to it at times. Despite that, I can't quite call this story a dystopian story but the way it played around with so many of the elements from it (the slow realization the viewer gets when they see how messed up Kamisu 66 has become in order to have a peaceful world filled with people with godlike powers, the history of how it got there, and the monster-rats in general) was great. Now, if only the last third of the show had been completely different in some ways (while still keeping the same revelations and twists if that makes any sense) then I could love it, as it stands I have some very deep problems with the show. 

The Bad: I had a problem with this series but it’s not exactly a problem with the story per-say. The way I see it, there are two broad types of stories out there, character driven (where character growth in the main focus, with it’s timeskips I can’t really call SSY this since we miss a lot of growth, that and the memory erasure) and plot driven. When you write a plot driven story just about all the time you focus on characters at a pivotal point in their lives or in the society they live in and how they change it, that’s what I was expecting here but not precisely what I got. Yes the show all leads up to one big events that changes their town forever but in the end this will just become another forgotten part of Kamisu 66’s history, it just wasn’t a pivotal enough moment. I was expecting something along the lines that I was half expecting, and now hope, that Psycho Pass would do, a lot of other people have noted similarities in their ending and since that does involve spoilers I’ll talk more about that in a footnote*.

The Audio: This show was a bit odd since it never had a proper opening sequence which, given the mood of the show, I think was a great idea since I'm not even sure what they could have done for one. It did have two different ending themes (and the second one started at a really odd point) and while I liked the music of the first more than the second neither just fit the show for me. I'm not sure at all what the visuals of the first one were supposed to represent, honestly they reminded me of a series of fan(?) songs I'd seen on youtube, although in this case I can actually come up with an idea for an ending sequence that would have worked with the mood of the show. I thought the voice acting for the characters at all ages was done fairly well, they choose to have different voice actors for the characters as 10 year olds which was a smart choice (since if you can do 10, 12/14, and 26 year old voices then you have some crazy vocal cords the rest of us don't) and I was surprised at how quickly I got used to the changes. Oh and I have no idea how Squealer's voice actor managed to do that voice, I'm fairly sure they didn't use many digital effects on it but if they did I can't blame them, that must not have been an easy voice to do, especially considering how often that character appeared.

The Visuals: The character designs took a bit of a while for me to get used to, there was something just a bit off there and I don't think it was on purpose, and if you saw the internet streams you can see that they really experimented with color, lighting, and animation styles in some episodes. Which of course made everyone whine (how come when I like it no one else does and vice versa? I'll never understand that) and I've seen some screenshots of the DVD/BR release and everything seems to have been changed to be in line with the rest of the show now.

Honestly I think I might need to just make a long, very spoilerific, tumblr post about my exact feelings for the show since I do appreciate some of the things it did but, in my opinion of course, just didn't do other things right and that combination really bothers me. It bothers me enough that I'm still not sure what to rate the show, I guess a 3 or 3.5 out of 5 and at this rate I'll probably want to rewatch it (although knowing what's coming is going to make it a haaaard rewatch) although I'm not sure how I feel about owning it. For those who want to watch it it's being streamed on both Crunchyroll and Sentai's websites and Sentai will come out with a release (no word yet if it's DVD only or BR as well) sometime within the next 12 months most likely. 

*in short, SSY does have a stronger ending than P-P because it does manage to wrap up all it’s ends but I found it to be a much bleaker ending where the remaining characters have accepted the good and evil of their society and merely hope for a better one, they aren’t actively seeking a way to create it. Again there was at least a small timeskip right before the epilogue, it is entirely possible that Saki is trying to change some things but unlike Akane’s determined declaration that she will turn off the Sibyil system, Saki seems content to live a more quiet life and the fact that she now lives on a farm raising the impure cats, which apparently in the novel were sent to kill her the night she awakened so she barely escaped death, creeped me out more than anything in P-P did. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

TV Review: Classic Doctor Who, Spearhead From Space

It's that time of the month again, well it will be next Sunday since that's when the Fourth Doctor Classic Serial will be anyway, time to dive into the BBC archives! And this is interesting, the only bit of the Third Doctor I had seen before was the Three Doctors special which apparently is the end of a story arc which starts with this episode, the very first episode of the Third Doctor (and I've already seen Two regenerate into Three). I went in a bit hesistant since I didn't really like Three in the special but hey, I didn't really like One there either and ended up loving The Aztecs so this should probably end well!

Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space

Summary: Directly after The War Games, the Doctor has been forcibly regenerated by the Time Lords who have also played with his memory (as well as his previous assistants/companions who are back in their own time and places) and left him stranded on Earth with a TARDIS that can't move. He's soon picked up by UNIT

The Good: The more I see of Classic Who the more I'm mazed at just how many aliens/villains they brought back for the new series, I had no idea that shop maniquens had been a source of terror for British children for decades! On that note, it's probably a good thing I never saw these episodes as a kid myself, while some things looked a bit hooky to my young adult self the basic idea is sound and certainly works. Also, as I mentioned earlier I was a bit worried going into this since I didn't really like Three in The Three Doctors (thinking back on that I just didn't like that special at all, I was a bit offended by how bad the costumes were to be honest) but yet again I ended up liking him. I caught a bit of the documentary about the third doctor beforehand and they were talking about how this Doctor was a bit James Bond like and yep, I can see that with how the Doctor was acting and it was a fun change of pace to see him more as a guy who is actively seeking out action rather than a guy who seeks out mystery and adventure and just happens to find adventure along the way.

The Bad: Weirdly enough, since I've seen episodes with UNIT in it before but they felt a little awkward here. Of course, that might have been the intention, setting up future conflicts with the Doctor since he's going to be stuck on Earth for a while, but I couldn't even tell if the Brigadier and the Doctor has met before, I think so but I'm still not 100% positive. It was also a little hard to keep some of the various characters/factions straight but I think that was more my fault for trying to knit and watch at the same time, overall I think that yet again the BBC made a really good choice here.

The Audio/Visuals: It's our first serial in color, yay! And, according to the internet, because there were some interesting production problems the serial was shot on film (as opposed to, erm, whatever they normally shot on, film is apparently superior to whatever that was) and apparently it's good enough to be released on blu-ray (the only pre-2005 serial to do so). The special effects seem less hooky than the cybermen last time, which is funny since the reason for the whole "the Doctor is grounded on Earth" storyline is because the BBC was having budget cuts. Then again, if Doctor Who ever manages to have a cheaper looking costumes than those cybermen ones then they probably had negative budget to work with.....

Not much to add one, bring on the Fourth Doctor and I can't wait until I'm near a library with more Classic Doctor Who serials again!

Book Review: Blameless

So I finally, finally! got a hold of the rest of the Parasol Protectorate series, it just took me a while to realize both that the nice hardcover editions could be bought secondhand on Amazon for a reasonable price and that I had a birthday coming up where I hadn't really requested anything. In any case, expect reviews for the other two books in the series pretty soon as well, I ended up tearing through all three books in less than a month. Oh and as was the case with the first two books, a plot even from the end of the second book is critical to setting up the third book so this review is going to have more spoilers than usual even though I've done my best to keep them as vague as I can, just avoid the summary.

Blameless by Gail Carriger

Summary: Following the reveal at the end of the previous book that Alexia is pregnant she is out on her ear with Conall accusing her of unfaithfulness and living with her family who are being, well, her family. Confused as to how this actually happened Alexia decides to track down the only group of people who know anything about prenaturals, the Templars, all while dodging a large number of assassination attempts from the vampires.

The Good: This book manages to both have Alexia leave England to explore more of Europe and yet still include the most interesting characters (either as part of her entourage or by including a POV back in England). I think that’s always the hardest part to pull off when a story is set in a different location than the previous installment was and Blameless pulls it off better than a lot of stories do (although in retrospect we don’t actually see a lot of the rest of Europe, maybe that’s what the Parasol Protectorate Abroad series will be about). Also, while I’m sure someone out there will disagree with me, I thought the pregnancy plotline was handled fairly well, especially since the “oh the lady is magically pregnant and it’s scary!” plotline is sadly more common than you’d think. Alexia is her normal self, the pregnancy is unexpected but doesn’t threaten her health and, well, it’s not very scary. It’s treated fairly sensibly and much better than I expected it to.

The Bad: As just about every character points out, this is a rather flimsy reason to separate Conall and Alexia, although since it was necessary for the Templars to actually appear on page sooner or later (both because of what they know and because of their connection to Alexia’s father) and this was a good fit for that plotline. As an aside, it is slightly frustrating that it’s nigh impossible to have a good summary of these books without spoiling the events of the previous one, although that’s not really a problem with the books, especially considering that I enjoy books that are that plot reliant normally.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Manga Review: Sailor Moon volume 9 & 10

Sorry for the delay, forgot to mention I had a con this weekend and was just busy all day Friday and Saturday with no room for reviewing. Although I could suppose you could say that this review is even more delayed, I read this volume back in March during my webcomic review month and got a hold of ten recently so it only made sense to squish together the two of them into a single review. Especially since the two of them cover an entire arc and, since this is the third (or fourth, maybe even fifth) review I've done of the series by now, I'm going to skip the art section and will simply say that it hasn't changed much, if at all, from the previous volumes in both composition and actual art.

Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi

Summary: The circus has come to town and it's a rather strange one at that, it sticks around longer than most and seems to be putting down roots, almost as if it's inhabitants plan to stay for a while. While the senshi investigate Mamoru has his own trouble since he seems to have caught a deadly illness and even Chibi Usagi is having her own adventures as she receives messages from a mysterious pegasus asking for her help.

The Good: I was glad that the story didn't wait too long to bring back the outer sailor scouts since I really liked them, crossing my fingers that they'll be present in the last arc as well. And, although this may sound a bit odd, I was surprised and happy at how much screen time Chibi Usagi got and how she grew as a character as well. It seems a bit odd to say this since this arc isn't focused just on her but this arc isn't focused on just any one of the characters, Usagi is actually gone for chunks of it with Mamoru and the inner senshi get trapped multiple times, it's a bit of an odd arc like that. Of course, odd doesn't always mean interesting....

The Bad: Yeah, by now the story is starting to feel rather repetitive and I'm glad there's only one arc/two volumes left. The characters grow a little each time, get some new power-ups but frankly nothing else seems to change, you could probably swap the order of the arcs around and a new fan wouldn't notice at first. I guess some of this could be dismissed as "oh this manga/anime was made for kids and they don't notice!" but that's not true, as a kid I got tired of the fact that nothing changed in Pokemon rather quickly, although who knows if I ever saw enough of the anime of Sailor Moon to feel that way. In any case, while you can't exactly skip this arc (just enough stuff happens to make it important) it did temper my enthusiasm for the series just a bit.

Even though I didn't like this arc as much, just because it was so similar, I am eager to finish up the series although I have no idea when I'll be able to do it. The next volume comes out close to my graduation so I have no idea if the library will get it before I leave town for good and who knows where I'll be able to read volume 12 (legally, I'm not going to be a manga-cow in Barnes and Noble and read an entire volume) since that's not out until the summer. I would say that at least I have the prospect of the new series to tide me over but there are rumors going around that it's been delayed, well crud.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Anime Review: Robotics;Notes

The other noitaminA show from last season which frankly was a bit of an odd fit. While noitaminA hasn't had it's own real, genre I suppose in recent years, R;N is the third series in video game publisher 5 pbs "sceince;adventure" visual novels, the first two of which were Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate all of which are set in the same worldline so there are small references to each other, a far cry from noitaminA's original line-up of josei titles. But hey, I liked S;G quite a bit and when I saw people saying they didn't like the game of R;N, no big deal, I figured that a lot of them simply had over inflated expectations and were disappointed, which happens all the time with sequels, so I went into this with positive hopes and came out feeling, well, much less positive.


Summary: The year is now 2019 and while some technology has changed a lot, people seem to be using min-tablets as computers/cell-phones which have a virtual reality app built into them, but in other ways life is still rather normal. Kai is the put upon friend of Akiho who doesn't want to help her complete her sister's dream of making a life sized robot from their favorite show but he's not heartless enough to completely ignore her either. One thing leads to another and Kai slowly begins to realize that there is something strange going on both in the background with mysterious reports appearing on his tablet foretelling the end of the world and even things going strange in his favorite video games. The more things he discovers the more things he starts to uncover until he seems to have stumbled upon the greatest conspiracy of human history. 

The Good: The mecha genre (or the giant robot genre in general) like all others has gotten a bit stale and boring after decades of stories and it can be hard to make it interesting again. I'm not saying that R;N did quite that but I did like how they paired together the mecha genre with slice of life and I generally amused at how for once our heroes have to build their giant robot, there's no secret government organization that's already made it for them. As contradictory as this is about to sound, while R;N was originally a visual novel with dating sim aspects in it (there were about four girls, each with a different route and ending to the story and only one of them was the "true ending") and did focus on each route a bit none of those events took away from the rest of the story or felt like they were abandoning some of the mysteries in favor of romance. The romance isn't as well integrated as S;G's was (although that story had a bit of a cheat to make it work better) but I certainly think that this means it was easier to adapt than a lot of more traditional dating sims.

The Bad: As mentioned earlier, I already knew that a number of people either hadn't liked or had simply been underwhelmed by the original visiual novel, wrote that off, and expected a show that I wouldn't adore as much as S;G but that would still be rather solid. Sadly no, even knowing that this story just wasn’t anything above mediocre by the end and failed to make some of it’s plot threads come together in a cohesive and emotionally pay-off-y sort of manner (heck, there are some details that were either addressed so quickly I missed it or not at all, important ones) and by the end of the series I just didn’t care what was happening. I guess lighting doesn't strike twice since whatever that spark of specialness that made S;G come together and work, plot wise and character wise, for me just never happened here and I was frustrated that I never got the payoff that I had every logical reason to expect was coming.

The Audio: I liked the first opening and ending songs a bit better than the second set but none of them have really stuck with me the way some of the other OPs/EDs from the winter season did. The voice acting was all fine and a bit more memorable, there was only one crossover character from S;G and they actually had the same seiyuu (which rather surprised me given the 18 year gap between the shows) and I don't have much more to say here. The actors gave the characters the right emotions that matched up with what the characters were doing on screen so they did their job just fine, even if I thought what the characters were doing was dumb a lot of the time. 

The Visuals: Production IG actually worked on both noitaminA shows this season and thankfully R;N did not suffer the random decrease in quality that Psycho-Pass had once or twice. I actually really liked the design of the Gunvarrel (you can tell that the same designer also did some of the mechs in this season's Gargantia), although the CGI for some of the later scenes wasn't as well integrated as I would have liked. The character designs were likable, the scenery looked fine, honestly there was nothing spectacular here that I can talk about but the show didn't look bad by any means either.

I'm going to be a bit mean and give this a 2.5 out of 5 for just not explaining some important details in the end and being, well, boring. Don't feel the need to pick this one up for Funimation (they're streaming it and have the physical rights I believe) or even rewatch it, next show please!

*How Helen would have re-ordered the anime, the spoiler edition. Basically we discover what was going on with Misaki, Akiho’s sister, very close to the end and it seems like she had a very tense, interesting story to tell. So I would propose a rather radical re-writer where the first half of the story is half set in 2019 with Kai and the others meeting up and slowly learning about the reports and the other half (so alternating back and forth within an episode) with Misa’s story, slowly showing how everything started going wrong years ago to add more tension and to well, help pad out the story. I figure that by around the halfway point her story would be done and the story could then focus exclusively on the 2019 part with the current events, just given how this show meandered a lot I think this would have at least forced it to be tighter in plotting and execution and that Misa’s story was probably a heck of a lot more interesting than a lot of the stuff that actually transpired.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Radio Drama Review: Neverwhere

These days I spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen working on homework and while sometimes I don't want to listen to anything and just want to focus on my homework often I do want something playing in the background. I prefer podcasts to music, since it's too easy to end up fussing over music and not getting anything done, but after burning through a dozen podcast episodes in a few days I enjoy listening to something else and radio dramas are just the thing. Sadly I know of basically no other radio dramas (the only other one I listened to regularly, the Fruits Basket fan one, seems to have died again) and have no idea where to start looking for recommendations so when the adaption of Neil Gaiman's book Neverwhere popped up on the BBC website I gladly gave that a listen.


Summary: Richard Mayhew was living a fairly average life in London when he takes in an injured young woman off the streets for the night. Come the next day he's discovered that no one seems to notice him and that those who do have no idea who he is. He manages to track the woman down again (Door) and she tells him that since he helped someone from London Below, which is quite literally what it sounds like, the people of London Above won't notice him as well anymore and with no better options he joins Door on her quest of revenge for her family's death and hopes that he'll find a way to return to his former life in the process. 

The Good: I hadn't realized at first that this story was based on an actual novel (erm, that was adapted from a tv series apparently), I thought it had been written as a radio play, and it seems to have been adapted rather smoothly. There are enough details, both spoken and as sound effects, to set the scene and it's easy to tell who is in what scenes and when the story has switched from one character's point of view to another. The acting was rather nice as well, I never had trouble figuring out what emotions any of the characters were going through, despite the lack of facial cues, and yet it never felt like the actors were overacting and hamming it up to make those emotions clear. Finally, while the podcasts I listen do don't have terrible production values by any stretch of the imagination, they clearly have people working on them who know how to work the equipment and what to do in post-production, there was still a noticeable difference switching between those and these episodes. There's a richness  to all the sounds which may be simply from having more advanced equipment or might be from having actual sound engineers to work on the show. Regardless, this sounds great in every respect, from the acting to the foley and other sound-effects, if this is the level of quality most BBC radio productions have then I really want to track down more of them. 

The Bad: There were a few minutes for multiple characters that just felt, well, rather odd for them. There's a turncoat character whose reasons I never quite found to be understandable, I of course knew how Richard's story would end but still felt like it was a little too neat (which might have been more of a result of condensed pacing than anything else) and other small moments like these. I also wish that the story had explained a little better why people in London Above stopped noticing Richard (the story might have explained it and I just missed it or it could all just be a very unsubtle metaphor for people not noticing the homeless and such, although I don't think that's quite right either), although I was fine with how the rest of the magic in the story worked.

I suppose another bad thing is that while the BBC website has the first five episodes up and will until mid-March next year they only had the final episode up for one week and I'm not sure where people can listen to it. I would imagine that they'll have a complete set for download on itunes or maybe even produce a CD sometime later this year but it does seem like a bit of a strange strategy. Regardless, I give this production 3.5 stars out of 5 and if anyone knows of any other great radio dramas (I believe the director also did the recent radio drama of The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy which I would love to hear) by all means comment and tell me about them!  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Review: The Broken Lands

A few years back I read Boneshaker by Cheri Priest and was pretty meh on the book in general. And then shortly afterwords confused since I saw people talking about a book called Boneshaker that was completely different from what I read, turns out it was this book by Kate Milford. I'm still a little surprised that Milford's book kept the same title since I can't have been the only person confused by these two but in any case I wasn't that interested in the book and the cover art was just odd enough to keep me uninterested. The cover for the prequel however grabbed me a bit more and something about the synopsis made me curious and, well, while some might disagree I think it's best to read a series chronologically so this was also the most logical place to start!

The Broken Lands by Kate Milford, illustrated by Andrea Offermann

Summary: It's the 19th century New York and, while the Brooklyn Bridge isn't quite finished yet the city of New York and Coney Island are becoming more and more joined regardless. And as any afficando of fairy tales knows, a crossroads, especially as one so massive as the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River, is a source of power and some, people, have come calling to NYC to take it over for their own purposes. Cities have protections however for these times but out villains already know about those and seek to twist them to their own dark needs. Sam is only a cardshark living on Coney Island and Jin is even less connected to the city but when both of them end up in the wrong place they become determined to do what they can to save the city and keep all of it's people safe.

The Good: There is just something about the way that this story unfolds which makes it work and it's one of my favorite books so far this year. Maybe it's the setting, I suppose you could call this book urban fantasy and it does a remarkably good job at focusing on both the mundane (urban) parts of Sam and Jin's lives and on the fantastical elements that have worked their way in. Often when I read urban fantasy I see stories that would rather focus on the magic and how another world, in a sense, lurks behind street corners and focuses on the fantastical instead of the ordinary. That's fine but here the city of New York is so pivotal to the story (and the time, the story is set roughly during the Reconstruction after the Civil War which isn't a time period I see many books set in, especially middle grade/young adult) that if the story had tried to focus more on the magic than the normal then it would have been hard to see where the characters got the motivation to save it. Much like the setting, the story balances out the page time that both Sam and Jin get quite nicely and both develop very well (and the development also feels very natural given that the story takes place over about a week, it's not too much yet with the circumstances the two face it's believable that they do change). After looking at the summary for Boneshaker I was sad that I didn't see either of their names in there since I would love to read more about their adventures and I'm crossing my fingers that they do appear after all.

The Bad: There were some moments towards the end where things just seemed to work out too well for both Sam and Jin which threw me out of the story a bit. Yes good/advantageous things will happen to characters in stories, that's what happens in real life. However, it was just the way that some things right near the climax occurred that frustrated me, other than that this was a really good book and I don't have any major complaints about it. I am curious to find out how it connects to Boneshaker, once I was completely finished with the book I looked up a summary for it but couldn't figure it out which also makes me wonder what purpose this story served then.

So I didn't give the illustrations their own section this time since 1) I don't have the book with me so I can't really talk about them without looking at them and 2) while okay I didn't feel like they added anything really important to the story that was worth mentioning. That doesn't mean I didn't like them, technically the ones in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series didn't add anything either and I loved those, so I just didn't really have anything to say. Regardless, I give this book four stars out of five and now that I've finally reviewed it I'm going to go ahead and get a hold of Boneshaker and hope that I like it just as much.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Comic Book Review: Cat Burglar Black

Getting back into the swing of things here with another book from the North American publisher First Second. As I think my reviews on their past books has shown they're really a hit or miss publishing house for me, either I like their stuff or hate it and it doesn't even matter who the actual creator is! So I came across this one at my school library and hoped it would be another hit and, well, it didn't work quite like that.

Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala

Summary: K has had an unhappy life, orphaned at a young age she was raised in an orphanage where all the kids were taught how to steal and punished when they wouldn't so she's happy to finally have left that life behind and to be starting at a new boarding school. But her bad luck seems to follow her since her new school also has plans for her which she's less than pleased about. 

The Good: K is a pretty likable lead character and the three girls she befriends are fairly likable as well. And the setting works well for the story, there are hints and details the suggest that the school and the town are even more sinister than the reader initially guesses and I liked that. Apparently Sala's other works also have that element of sinisterness to them and I don't think this story would work at all if it didn't have those little details sprinkled throughout.

The Bad: There are stories that are "family friendly" which are simple enough for a child to follow but have a depth to them that adults can enjoy and there are "for kids" stories which are so simple that they feel flat. This book falls into the later category, it rushes through the story so quickly that it's hard to feel bad about anything that happens to the side characters or even K, there's just no downtime for the reader to process what just happened (I seem to recall complaining about this in Sailor Moon recently as well). As a result of that, and the ending which felt a bit off tone/moodwise, this story didn't leave a good impression on me and I don't think I'll be recommending it.  

The Art: After reading a bit of the book I had a niggling feeling that something looked off about it and finally figured out what it was, every single page was laid out the exact same way, either four square frames (in a 2 by 2 configuration) over a large panel or a large panel over those square frames, I can't remember exactly which. Regardless, obviously I like comics that are innovative and creative in their use of panels and how it makes the story flow (I like manga after all and half the time you can't figure out which order to read the panels in) so this isn't my style and honestly I just don't think that such a formulaic approach to the art works. You might be able to pull this off in some story, perhaps, but a story should be told in comic form because the visual aspects adds to the story and when it's so rigidly defined does it really add anything? Add that to what I was already feeling about the writing and this layout makes the whole story feel rather amateurish and as if Sala needed to wait a few more years to further refine this idea before creating it.

So, 2 or 2.5 out of 5 for this one, won't be recommending to really anyone, if anyone really needs good graphic novels for girls ages 8-12 I'm sure I can come up with some better recommendations than this one.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spring 2013 Anime Round-up

And the spring shows have started folks! Trying to get this out a bit earlier than usual so for all of the shows here I’ve seen just one episode and I’m cramming everything into one post, should be fun to check back in three or six months to see what I actually kept/dropped. And as a quick note, I’m still following three shows from the winter season, Chihayafuru 2, Doki Doki Precure, and Space Bros. So far Chihayafuru feels a little weaker pacing wise than the first season (they only spent a few episodes at Omi Jingui and had completely wrapped that arc up by episode 15 but here we’re at 13 and still in the team matches, I’m wondering if the rest of the season will be spent at Omi Jingui and I really hope not) but it still has my attention and it’s managed to flesh out the two new club members better than I had hoped and the rest of the gang continues to grow (even if Arata still isn’t showing up on screen much, I finally found a word to describe him though guys, he’s a tritagonist!). Doki Doki Precure isn’t as good as Heartcatch so far but it’s self aware enough to make me laugh along with it and have fun casually watching it each week, although I’m having real trouble with the villains each time (instead of focusing on the monster/victim of the week like Heartcatch did we see a quick shot of them thinking a selfish thought, being mature and saying “naaaaah” and then they turn into a monster anyway, this idea is as awkward as it sounds in writing). However, unlike most of the shows I watch I don't feel super motivated to find fansubs for it each week and if this season gets busy I'll probably drop it and check back on it later to see if it's worth picking back up. And finally it looks like Space Bros is in for the long haul, it sounds like the anime is somewhere around volume 10 out of 20 volumes so far and I want to say I heard that the manga-ka is predicting it to go on for around 30 volumes. I’m really curious how much longer this one is going to be sticking around, it would be hugely impressive if it went all the way to the end, at the current pace they have about a year’s worth of material to animate still and in the past the manga-ka churned out an impressive four volumes a year but last year only produced two. I guess in theory the manga could stay far enough ahead (and it seems like the anime pads a bit with recap bits to help with this) and the show just got placed in a new timeslot which is right before Detective Conan on Saturday afternoon/evenings which is apparently a really really good sign. Regardless I still enjoy it’s humor, all the space stuff, and all the stuff involving it’s multiple sets of siblings now which makes me reflect on my own relationship with my siblings, although I do feel like a mediocre big sister when compared to Mutta.

Arata the Legend (Arata Kangatari)
Arata (no not that one) switches places with Arata (again, not that one) from another world.
Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure this is Yuu Watase’s only non-shojo work and it’s always interesting to see when an author (of any medium) who is very heavily associated with one genre (in her case shojo) switch to a different one (shonen) and seeing just what tropes carry over. You could actually make this into a shojo very easily so I'm wondering what this genre switch will bring besides male main characters (which she's had before, Alice 19th had them for sure and a lot of her earlier works have a good amount of action as well). Also, I noticed on a scanlation site the other day that in Japan that the story is over 150 chapters yet the show is only going to be one cour, how the heck is that a good idea? With a story that long I can almost guarantee that individual arcs in the story are going to be longer than 13 chapters and, even if the pick up the pace and put multiple chapters into one episode (like they did here) they’ll still have a freakisly hard time making that work. Really at this point that’s what’s keeping me from getting really excited about this series, while it has potential I just don’t know if it has the time to make it work.

Arata the Legend is streaming on crunchyroll but only for United States and Canadian viewers and it might be for subscribers only. If it is subscribers only, the wording is a bit strange, I 'll have to drop it since I'm using a free subscription now to save money and won't be continuing with it.  

The Devil is a Part-timer (Hataraku Maou-sama!)
Satan escapes a crusading Hero and flips burgers.
Someone pointed out this one to me a few months back when they noted that a voice actor I had heard and liked had landed the leading role here so I checked out the manga (adaptation of the light novels this is based on that is) and found that the humor worked surprisingly well there. And here the humor continues to work, the first episode starts off a bit slow as it gets through the backstory of “how the hell a conquering demon lord is now trying to become a full time McRonald’s employee” but once it hits the second half it pulls off the situational humor pretty well. So I have high hopes that the entire show manages to stay funny and keep my interest, if that manga adaptation is any indication then it should fulfill those expectations very nicely.

Funimation has picked up the show for streaming and can be viewed either on their website or on hulu.

Devil Survivor 2 the Animation
Kids summon demon’s with their cell phones.
Initially this wasn’t on my to-watch list since I’ve never played any of the Shin Megami Tensei games of any franchise but, since I saw a number of good reviews for it and that reasoning hardly stopped me from watching Persona 4 the Animation, I gave it a shot and yeah, that was pretty solid. Thankfully here they’ve chosen to give the main character, in the game the player avatar, a real personality instead of trying to develop him as the show went on a la P4tA and the story gets to the action pretty quickly. I can still see that this was adapted from a game (“oh here is the exposition, this one is probably the tutorial fight” etc) but it doesn’t feel like I’m just watching a Let’s Play of the game so for the moment I’m sticking with it.

DS2tA (DeSu2A?) is streaming on crunchyroll for people in : USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Scandinavia..

Gargantia on the Verduous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)
Mech pilot accidentally space-warps to backwater Earth
This was one of the shows I was most excited for going into the spring season. Scratch that, I was curious about a number of shows but only really excited for this one, it's a low-key season for me this time around, and I had such a hard time waiting for the second episode that I eventually found a fansub of the second episode (ripped from a DVD given out a few weeks earlier) with subpar subtitles and still enjoyed the heck out of it. Somehow this one just worked for me, I've seen a lot of people say that the first half moved a little too slow for them but I like space battles and space operas so I was just fine with epic-scale outer space fighting (and no the CGI does not look bad, it's not quite as nice and neat as Majestic Prince's was but it's perfectly fine guys, the show in general looks fantastic) and I was also okay when the story did a pretty large genre shift for the second half of the episode/for the rest of the series it seems. I’m okay with how they’re handling the shift to a quieter, not exactly slice of life but certainly smaller in scale story following the remnants of humanity on Earth living on boats and endlessly moving on the all-encircling ocean.

Gargantia is steaming on Crunchyroll for United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil, and Portugal. 

Two boys get entangled in secret, colorful, organization.
I’ve been a bit worried about Karneval for a while now since I’ve read the manga and I can say first hand that this series has it’s strong points and it’s weak ones and the beginning is most certainly one of the later. The anime works with the source material as best as it can, namely by compressing the first three chapters into one episode which does cut out some problems (I don't think the manga-ka even knew what they wanted Circus to be in the very beginning) but the pacing as a result just does not work. I’m tempted to say that the staff spent more time trying to figure out how to make the story look cool than how it was going to make sense and I’m really hoping that it gets smoother as the series goes on but that’s another thing I’m worried about, the length. This has been confirmed to be a one cour series and based on what characters have been posted on the website I can guess at least how far they’ll go and frankly I don’t think there is a really good stopping point after just thirteen episodes. All all I'm nervous about this series, I've seen manga fans say "yep that made about as much sense as the manga did at this point" and non-manga fans optimistically say that they think they like where it's going but yeah, I'm going to hold off recommending this show until it ends and I can say whether or not it worked.

For those willing to risk dazzlement and confusion, Karneval is being streamed by Funimation for Region 1 viewers.

Majestic Prince (Ginga Kikōtai Majestic Prince)
Five failing teens are flung into mecha fights.
Another of the mecha shows this season and one where I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into it. The good news is that the snark I saw in the trailers was present in the actual show, but a bit of snarking alone isn’t enough to make me keep watching a show especially when it’s got weird character designs (seriously, here are the original designs, here’s some promo material, and here’s an actual screenshot, I think a side character in the first few minutes stole everyone else’s noses in order to have a large schnoz, this is even worse than the Moyashimon Returns character design changes) and nothing new about the premise in general. Heck, while it is also fast paced and has some nice fight scenes it’s seriously lacking in the explanation department (or perhaps the common sense department, I want at least a line about why they took the worst teen mecha pilots and gave them the best robots they had AND someone at least noting that they seem to be working much better as a team than they were just a few hours earlier) and sure that can be remedied in further episodes but with so much other stuff coming out this season I’m not going to stick around to find out.

Majestic Prince is streaming on crunchyroll for USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand and has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru or literally My Youth Romantic Comedy is as Wrong as I Expected)
Teacher forces student to join service club.
Intially this wasn't on my to watch list since, well, the premise on the lists and charts of the upcoming spring season didn't interest me and it sounded like Brain's Base was just redoing a less interesting version of My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) half a year later. But after seeing a couple of good reviews, plus the fact that I wasn't interested in that show before trying it either, I gave it a shot and nope, my instincts were spot on. The show actually reminded me more of Bakemonogatari in how it sets up two of it's lead characters, the guy's appearance to a small extent, how it tries to be artsy with flashbacks and such, and guys, if you're going to be similar to another show you had better be better than them and that's not what happened here. I'd like to say that I'm not saying that one light novel series copied the other here but this one is certainly the weaker of the two and I'm not a huge fan of the -monogatari series to start with. Also, as I was watching this I thought "the author here feels young" and yep, the original author is only 27 and since this series is now on it's fifth or seventh book he must've started when he was even younger and it shows. Neither he (I believe it's a man) nor the director/writers of the show were able to make the characters believable or even interesting and the idea of a group/school club that helps people is a pretty tired premise yet they didn't do anything to spice that up either. 

Another dropped show for me but those interested in checking it out can go over to crunchyroll, provided you live in United States, Canada, South Africa, Finland, Norway, Sweden, or Denmark. 

Red Data Girl
Girl breaks computers and boy is broken.
So I caught one of the rips of the niconico stream a week or so back and man, maybe the fact that I was watching the worst quality video I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a copy of a copy (etc) of a VHS tape but this first episode just didn’t grab me. Looking at other’s screenshots I can say now that yes the art looks fine, lesson learned there, but the first episode just felt a bit awkward. We can see the characters acting but we don’t know why, why is cutting Izumiko’s hair so important (it’s not like this is Crime Edge, heck that makes this the third anime this year to place a focus on hair so I'm declaring 2013 "year of hair" at this rate) and why is Miyuki’s dad so insistent that he’s going to help her? Since there are a few more episodes out I’ve seen some people say it gets stronger I am going to give it a few more episodes (especially sine Funimation is streaming it) but there's another problem, the legal streams (and the tv broadcast) are a full three weeks behind, almost a month in Funi's case, the internet streams which is going to make avoiding spoilers for the series nigh impossible. I have absolutely no idea why there's such a huge delay, it was weird enough last season that there was a three day delay between when the first tv stations showed From the New World and when the main station/crunchyroll did and this is even stranger. Oh well, at least I'll have something to watch on Wednesdays.

As noted above, RDG is being streamed by Funimation, also make sure you use the hastag #rdg_anime on twitter or apparently you'll offend a small town in England.

Valvrave the Liberator (Kakumeiki Valvrave)
Average teen meets mech, gets messed up
And the award for the show which made me snark the most this season so far goes to Valvrave! Seriously folks, this show has some okay moments (when part of the what looks to be a good sized cast chilling in school), some bad moments (maybe I'm getting jaded but I couldn't take any of those military operations/people seriously), and then, well, one rather large WTFDIDIJUSTSMOKE moment at the veeeery end of the episode, make sure to watch past the credits guys. I seriously don't know how to feel here, the show looks great but the plot alternates between being generic and feeling like the creators are trying to hard to replicate their past successes, namely Code Geass. Here's the thing, I liked Code Geass (or at least the first season, the second season promised to reveal some things which it didn't and that annoyed me) and even Guilty Crown (which I believe also shares a lot of the same staff) didn't have me snark-raging as much as this did. Honestly in that respect the show reminds me a lot of K but with K I tried the second episode and went "you know, I think the writers are aware that what they're writing is kinda silly and they're just rolling with it, I can deal with this" and enjoyed the show, I don't think that's what Valvrave is doing. I'm going to give it another episode or two (mainly because of how pretty it is) but if this doesn't get at least more amusing then I'm going to find other shows to spend my Fridays watching.

Valvrave is streaming on crunchyroll for  US, Canada, United Kingdom, and Ireland. 

SO, now that I've finally gotten through everything, my final verdict? I am following Gargantia, Chihayafuru, Maou-sama, and Space Bros for sure (and most likely Doki  Doki) and I'm gonna be pumped for them each week. And I'm going to continue with Arata, Karneval, RDG, Devil Survivor, and Valvrave for now, if any of them fail to keep my interest for a few episodes I'll drop them with no hesitation. And dear lord, all of those shows except Precure and Space Bros (maybe Devil Survivor, Valvrave is apparently confirmed as split cour) are going to end this summer, I am going to be very busy come late June/early July with reviews.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Anime Review: Psycho Pass

And now to start the first of many anime review covering shows from the fall and winter which just wrapped up, as a heads up I'm going to try and get my post out about all of the new shows either tomorrow or the day after (Wednesday or Thursday), trying to get better about not being super late on that post but all of these delayed simulcasts are not helping me out there. This show however was not delayed at all so I finished it a few weeks back and I have to say, when the fall season started I was expecting to like Robotics;Notes (the other noitaminA title) more than Pyscho-Pass, since that one was based on an existing property and I had liked Steins;Gate (although it's true that I had also liked Fate/Zero, ie I had enjoyed the writing by the same people in both cases) but in the end I really liked Psycho-Pass better and I'm going to have to remember it when I talk about my favorite shows of 2013 since it has a really good shot at being on that list.

Psycho Pass

Summary: Roughly one hundred years in the future Japan is once again a closed nation and enjoys relative peace and not as much large crime as it used to thanks to the Sybil System, a seemingly all-knowing computer program that helps weed out the good people from those who might commit a crime. Sybil helps people make most of the important decisions in their lives so young college graduate Akane Tsunemori is overwhelmed when she realizes that she scored high enough and has a good enough rating from the system to do anything she wants. When she realizes that she was the only person in her class to be recommended to the police however she decides that's what she'll do, she'll enforce the system along with some of those people Sybil has already declared irredeemable possible criminals and in the process ends up seeing what a dark system it can be. 

The Good: I was thrown when I realized it was the girl with the bad haircut in the promo pieces  who was the point of view character in the first episode (I didn't use one of those pictures for this review because it really is that hard to tell) and wasn’t sure how I felt about it, after all we've all seen the "naive newcomer learns the job on the go and presents a way to give the audience exposition as well" done to death. But I made up my mind on how I felt about Akane after she tazed a coworker to prevent them from killing a victim due to a fault in a system, something she even wrote a large paper about. Honestly that sentence sums up Akane, she’s determined, becomes rather badass, and ultimately goes through a character arc which I don’t see happening to female characters that often. Essentially, we have a woman in a position of power challenging the system she’s a part of with her power, normally when you see a woman challenging a system in a story she will have no power in it, she’s a rebel on the outside rather than a plotter on the inside and I rather liked that difference. She and Kogami, the guy with the spiky hair that I had thought was the main character from the promo pieces, carry the show, both become very well fleshed out and it’s interesting to watch characters who know they are flawed go about their work and the contrast between the two of them; Kogami knowing he’s flawed but not knowing a better way to do things and Akane fighting to find that better way. The other characters get varying amounts of character development but at least some and even the main villain, Makishima, has some not-quite-sympathetic-moments but points at which it’s very easy to understand his logic even if his methods are hideously wrong. And in the end I think that's what will determine if you like the show or not, the show has no bones about showing what a messed up world Japan has created in it's effort to have peace from the first episode so you have to root for one of the characters/one of the methods for trying to protect or change this system and if you don't end up agreeing or sympathizing with any of them then the entire story will have been a waste of time.

The Bad: The ending did a remarkable job of both wrapping up and feeling like an ending and leaving plot threads dangling which bothers me a bit. Since this does involve spoilers for the end of the series I’ll talk more about this in a footnote but, after ruminating on the ending a bit, I think I’ll be unhappy in the long run if they never give the story the last bit I think it needs*. Apparently at Sakura Con some of the staff present indicated that if the show sold well (I think they meant both in the US and Japan) then they would be able to produce more and it sounds like there are more stories they want to tell (some side stories but I don't know if they also meant a direct continuation). In any case, other than that, I had some major issues with the setting which can be summed up with me yelling “TECHNOLOGY DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY!” Thankfully I had an idea what the Sybil System would be early on and in most cases the technology works well enough with the plot to keep this from being a large problem but there were so many nonsensical background details that I truly wondered if all the creators were neo-luddites and had no idea how things like holograms or mass worked. Oddly enough, the criminal scanning technology, the one that seemed really far out there, is starting to be developed and perhaps it was because I was suddenly paying attention but I saw a number articles like this one from Wired pop up during or right after the shows run which certainly made me a bit worried for the future.

The Audio: I greatly prefer the first opening and ending songs to the second set although I'll admit the second opening grew on me (never became fond of the second ending song though, probably didn't help that it felt like the designers ran out of ideas for what to show along with the song and threw in whatever they had lying around). Actually, since Egoist did both ending songs you can actually purchase both of those on itunes (or at least the US one) which was rather nice considering that I really liked that first ending theme. The voice acting was also pretty strong, a quick browse through the cast list reveals no newbies but a lot of people who I've heard in other works and didn't recognize which is good. Although I did hear a rumor that the voice actress who did the voice of the dominator (the guns the police use) also has done a lot of voice work for GPSes in Japan which, if it's true, I refuse to believe wasn't done on purpose.

The Visuals: Aside from one episode in the second half where quite frankly the production values were in the toilet (you know it's had when the director apologizes on twitter beforehand for how it looks, oddly enough after seeing the rest of the show I still can't figure out why they ran out of time for that one particular episode), which will be fixed for the physical releases, the show looks pretty solid. The technology looks slick, even if it makes no sense, the backgrounds are detailed, and it uses color and color schemes pretty effectively. I'll admit that I'm not crazy about the character designs, they did grow on me some but I keep wanting to give Akane just a few more inches of hair, but I think I'm in the minority there.

All in all this ended up being a really solid, good show for me that I enjoyed and would like to see more of, provided that it tells the kind of story that I hope it does anyway (I've just been burned by too many sequel series in the past couple of years that seem to have forgotten what the show was about). So I'm giving this show a four out of five and I'm happy that Funimation plans to put it out sometime next spring. In the meantime people in the US/Canada can catch the show streaming on their site or on hulu.

*to get detail specific, so SPOILERS the story ends similar to how it begins with Akane now in charge of Division 1 and we’re shown how she’s both grown and yet hasn’t become jaded by the system. That’s all fine but there are a number of scenes shown during the ED that suggest that there is something more going on and earlier in the episode Akane makes a speech about how society needs Sibiyl now but someday they’ll be able to pull the plug on it once and for all. To me that sounds like the story declaring that we’ll see it happen, especially given how Akane’s personal philosophy has been shown throughout the show. However, someone on twitter pointed out how this could be social commentary about how Japan needs to change but ultimately isn’t doing so and, if I take that point of view, it doesn't seem likely that there will be a second season. I really do want one though since I think it would be poetic to see Kogami become something similar to Makishima and to see Akane finish her growth.