Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Anime Review: Sankarea

In case some people are wondering how I'm currently tackling my anime backlog, since it's certainly been all over the place, I'm trying to rotate between my queue on hulu, my queue on Crunchyroll, and any DVDs I/a friend/a local library might have, I'm determined to get this to-watch list down to a more manageable size by the new year! And this title was a long time coming anyway, I actually wanted to watch it when it came out last spring but by the time Funimation got the simulcast up on their site (I think they were three weeks behind this time, sheesh) my schedule was already set and I just didn't have room to add anything in. So I waited until I found time and made sure to do it before the DVD/BR set came out just in case I fell in love with the show so much that I wanted to get the LE edition of it. 


Summary: Chihiro has an obsession with zombies that goes beyond healthy and is rather creepy, poetically enough. So his family isn't entirely surprised to find out that he experimented on the late family cat, what is surprising is that he succeeds and accidentally resurrects a local girl as well!

The Good: When the show focused on what I expected, some rom-com with zombies, then I really enjoyed the show. Chihiro isn't the most likable character but he's alright and I rather liked Rea as well. I feel like the writing was a bit above the average for a shonen rom-com (which isn't the best moniker for the show but I don't know of a better one), both of the characters grow as people and closer to each other and stay that way, there's no one episode development to have it rescinded later for the sake of drawing out the story. And when the show focuses on that it's genuinely good and if anyone's worried about the gore don't be, there's actually barely any in the show.

The Bad: Whenever either the grandfather or the childhood friend/cousin (Wanko) appeared on screen my interest in the show sharply dropped since then it would bring out all of it's unfunny running gags and really generic love triangle antics (made even more annoying by the fact that there IS no love triangle and Wanko seems to acknowledge this half the time and the other half she's just to immature to know when to butt out). Sadly this happens pretty often and combine that with the fact that the show just didn't have quite enough material for 12 episodes (I do wonder why they didn't switch the Mero-centric episode out with the first OVA episode, 13, however, that would have made much more sense) so it seemed to wander a bit at times and I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped. 

The Production Values: Holy moley, someone at Studio Deen actually has some design skills! It varies from episode to episode, and it pops up more in the earlier episodes than the later one, but a lot of the scenes are styled and laid out very stylistically (for those who don't understand how that works, think of how deliberate Utena or Penguindrum were with their designs, just not at that level) and that was really nice to see. I even flipped through the first volume of the manga (since Kodansha Comics just put it out a month ago) and yup, this was all the anime's doing, I really wonder who was in charge of that. Other than that the story looks and sounds pretty average but even then those artistic moments are enough to make it stand out in a crowd, or at least from nearly everything else Studio Deen has produced.

In the end I'm giving this show a 3 out of 5 for having some great parts and then a lot of parts I didn't like (I still have no idea what was up with the second ova, episode 14, just, what the hell). There was enough I disliked that I don't feel the need to rewatch the series and/or buy it yet I would watch a second season since the show hinted at some even greater plots lurking in the backgrond and I'd like to see those. However, I doubt I'll read the manga since what I saw on my flip through didn't catch my eye, I'd have to see a lot of people praising it for me to pick it up. For those who want to try this out head on over to hulu where funimation has the 12 episodes of the tv series streaming (not the OVAs sadly).

TV Series Review: Ashes to Ashes (season one)

Some people might remember that I used to alternate between British and American tv shows fairly regularly and might have noticed that the only British television on this blog as of late is Doctor Who related so what happened? A few things actually, one is that I did try out Being Human (the UK version) in early January and after a couple of episodes realized that I had no motivation to continue watching and that this was probably a good reason to drop the show. Right after that my semester became so busy that I didn't have time to add anything else to my watching roster so even though I've wanted to check out this show ever since I finished Life on Mars I just didn't really have the time too. What's this connection to Life on Mars (again, British version) you might ask? Well, it's a campion series basically, some of the cast, same premise, although it does have a different setting and a different main character. You don't need to have seen LoM to enjoy Ashes to Ashes, although the first five minutes here spoil what eventually happened there, for the moment anyway, I'm told that the third season of AtA finally explains all of the details for these shows and that's what I'm here for so let's get started!

Ashes to Ashes (season one)

Summary: Alex Drake was the psychiatrist who treated Sam Tyler and when she's shot on the job she's pretty sure he left an even larger impression on her than she thought since she's ended up in a situation much like he described. She's in 1981, still working as a police officer and has no clue how to get home just like Sam but something doesn't seem right. Even if she is basing this world she's in off of what he told her how would she know all the characters Sam knew down to their last personality quirks?

The Good: While I wasn't sure how well I was going to like Alex as the main character (it turns out that watching a character embarrass themselves over and over no matter the situation just feels awkward to me) but I did end up liking the relationship she and Gene had more than the relationship he and Sam had had, after two seasons of watching him slug the main character it was nice to see him thrown off his game and have to take a bit of a different approach. And, while like I said it was awkward to watch Alex go "hey I'm in a dream, I'm going to do something that I would never do in real life because it doesn't matter!" it was fun to see her genre-savyiness come through and say things like "this is important!" "why?" "because it's in my dream and therefore it must be!"

The Bad: Much like Life on Mars I did find my mind wandering a bit during the episodes and since I still don't know any contemporary British history I was a bit lost at the beginning of some of the crimes since I simply didn't have a frame of reference. I fear that's probably the series biggest barrier to entry, for an older viewer (someone whose in their late twenties or older) this probably wouldn't be a problem, they would at least realize that the creepy clown following Alex around is from the David Bowie's music video for the song "Ashes to Ashes" which I didn't find out about until I was almost done with the first season.

The Production Values: Before I watched this show I thought that I knew a little more about the 1980s than the 1970s but it turns out I know nothing so once again I'm useless if you want to know how screen accurate this show is*. Everything seemed technically sound both setting/prop wise and sound wise but honestly it shouldn't be an accomplishment if a show manages to achieve just that much.

In the end I don't have a lot to say about the show so far, I like some parts of it more than LoM and some less, overall I think I like LoM a bit better at this point but there are still two more seasons for me to watch so that could easily change. For the moment I give this a 3 out of 5 and probably won't buy it since, well, it was actually never released on DVD in the US (as far as I can tell it was broadcast once on BBCAmerica and that was it) so I would have to import it from Australia or Great Britain and I'm only going to go through that hassle for something I really adore.

*although I may have embarrassed my mother by showing her Alex Drake's perm and going "did yours look like this?" Although I only thought that since I remembered a few perms from the early 90s...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

This was a book I had seen before, in bookstores and on lists of good books to read, but had always ignored it because of the cover since, well, whenever I saw it I thought "Cowboys vs Indians? Pass, not my thing" and ironically it was the coverflip of the book that got me interested in it (for those who don't want to read the whole article, which is odd since you obviously want to read a book review, it's changing the cover of books if the author was of the other gender and how you think the marketing would have been done differently). This is ironic because that coverflip completely misrepresents the book and the book's actual, more abstract cover is closer to the real thing, although funny enough the blog where I pulled the cover image from seems to agree with me, having the book come off as "the problems of a girl" instead of "the problems of a guy" does feel just a bit more interesting and appealing to me. Hmm. In any case, shortly after that I saw it at the library, grabbed it, and put it high up on my to-read pile just to make sure I actually got through it this time and wasn't turned off by the cover again.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie Art by Ellen Forney

Summary: Junior lives on the Rez with his family and few friends and one day just gets fed up with his school and how his entire future is a bit hopeless and switches to the all-white school over 20 miles away to try and change his life.

The Good: Junior is more mature than realistically most kids would be at his age but I think that was a necessary choice since with all of the things going on in his life the book needs a more mature narrater who can pick up on and explain the situation to the reader a bit more fully than they might have (especially since the target age group is 12-16 year olds, I know that I would have missed one or two things at that age if Junior hadn't explained them). I also don't mind this choice since I ended up really enjoying this story and how it never shied away from the complicated parts of Junior's life and didn't necessarily try to provide solutions where none actually exist. Yet the story also didn't forget to show the good parts of Junior's life as well, such as how even though his parents were drunks they did love him and care for him as best as they can, that he loved them back and that this wasn't a bad thing at all, just another complicated part of his life. And I was also surprised by how much I liked the illustrations, not really on a technical or aesthetically level (although the notes in the back about how they chose all the different styles to include made me appreciate them more) but they just worked well with the story and felt like a natural part of it, not as if it had been added in later but as if it had been planned from the very start.

The Bad: I'm a little torn on how it ended, while things have changed in Junior's life for good and for ill in the end it felt like still not a lot had changed. I'm not sure what could have been done differently however, for Junior to have been at a crossroads in his life where he could have made major changes he would have needed to be much older, say about to go to college, and I don't think the story would have worked as well if it was set over so many years, I suppose I would have just liked this story to have ended on a definitive event instead of the "life goes on" ending it had which is ultimately the most realistic one it could have had. 

In the end I'm giving this book a 4 out of 5 for being a book I truly enjoyed and think would actually be a great book for middle/high schoolers to read, one I certainly would have enjoyed much more than many that I had to read, although I don't think I'll be picking up a copy for myself since it's not a book I think I'll feel the need to reread anytime soon.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Manga Review: Kitchen Princess

Last summer I checked out the first two (of ten) volumes of Kitchen Princess out from my not-so-local library and was surprised and pleased that I liked the series a lot more than I expected but didn't have time to read the rest before I had to go back to school. So naturally one of the first things I checked out from it this sumer was the other eight volumes, it just ended up down a little lower in my stack so I'd have enough time to read all of them at my leisure.

Kitchen Princess written by Miyuki Kobayashi illustrated by Natsumi Ando

Summary: Najika is an orphan from Hokkadio who has recently come to Tokyo to attend school and finds herself in the elite class since she is not only a fantastic cook but can accurate taste every ingredient in a dish and remember it later on. She does also have a second reason to come to the school however, years ago when she was saved from drowning by a young boy who cheered her up and gave her a flan with the school's spoon stuck in it and she's always wanted to find him again and thank him for not only saving her life but for helping her find meaning and a reason to keep on living.

The Good: While romance does play a large role in this series I was pleased to see that it wasn't the driving force of Najika's life, she remains passionate about her cooking throughout and her search for her flan prince remains something that comes up only now and then (although I almost want to give the series credit for creating at least a more interesting than usual love-polygon, even if it was clear from the beginning who Najika would ultimately end up with). The series never gets dark although it does veer a little closer to darkness and tragedy than many shojo do and while sometimes the way it handles that gives the story a little more depth and heart at other times it flounders and becomes simply melodramatic instead.

The Bad: This series likes it's melodrama and overuses it by the end of the series. The best example comes at the series final climax where Najika is at a baking competition when tragedy (from an event outside the competition) strikes and that overwhelms the story. In this particular case the tragedy had been foreshadowed, I could had sworn it had already been taken care of by that point, but it still was just too much for the story, the competition would have worked just fine and this was hardly the only time the series did this. I wish the story had instead had less drama and just had the characters struggle through it to create tension, I think this would have also made the series feel slightly more mature since instead it feels like the creators are so worried that they're audience won't stay engaged unless there is something happening all the time that it's also a tad insulting.

The Art: KP reminds me of Fruits Basket in a few ways including in the art style (which is a bit odd since KP ran in the mid-aughts while it's tall oval shojo eyes look is more of a trait from the mid to late 90s, ie when Fruits Basket started). It's not my favorite type of art style (I prefer slightly less exaggerated character proportions and less screentone, heck it  popped up as a translation note in nearly every volume since Ando was always mentioning it in the illustration notes) but the characters looked distinct from each other and everything flowed well so it technically more than fine.

So while the series didn't turn out to be quite as strong as I had hoped based on those first two volumes I still enjoyed it and will probably get Kodansha Comic's re-release omnibus editions at some point. Overall I'm giving this series a 3.5 out of 5 for being sweet, having it's heart in the right place, yet just missing the beat multiple times with it's fondness for melodrama.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Anime Review: IGPX

Back when Toonami was on tv (no not as the Adult Swim-esque midnight slot, when it was actually on tv at the time it's target audience was supposed to be watching tv) I remember seeing some ads for it on tv but dismissed it since I thought it would just be weird racing every episode without any changes. I know I've said similar things about other shows before which should really tell you what my general opinion of American cartoons from my childhood was. In any case, the revived Toonami was able to obtain the rights to broadcast the show again (probably because even though the show was put on DVD by Bandai it's actually a co-production between Cartoon Network and Production IG, weirdly enough this happened two years after the initial idea was rejected and they had Bee Train make a series of 5 minute pilots which apparently are more than a bit different) which got me excited until I realized the broadcast time was at 2am. Thankfully I have some friends who liked the show and were able to loan me their DVDs, silly people who think they'll get good ratings for shows aired at 2am. Although, that's what killed the show actually, half the show was broadcast in the Toonami slot mid-afternoon and the second half was broadcast around midnight where it did poorly and was canceled, sadly this kind of weird scheduling isn't that uncommon in American shows either.


Summary: In the future a new sport has captured the world's attention, speed skating mechs that go hundreds of miles an hour and compete in three person teams. Each year some of the best teams move up in the division and this year Team Satomi has just moved into the pro league. But as it's members, Takeshi, Liz, Amy and Luca, quickly see for themselves it won't be as easy to become champions and they've got their work cut out for them.

The Good: Let me just say that even though the show was technically canceled from what I've heard it actually ends in a really good place, I suspect (and only suspect, I don't actually know) the show was planned to be either 13 or 26 episodes from the start and it just wasn't renewed considering how it ties up  a lot of things rather neatly (although it's still sad since the pacing was perfect for those last four or six episodes, I couldn't finish the series fast enough!). As for what was produced it's got a lot more heart than I expected, by the end all of the major cast and a lot of the supporting cast has had some development/insight given and Takeshi really is a better leader halfway through the show than he was at the beginning, even with his fluctuations (although I then have a hard time buying how they even got to the top racing group with such dysfunction in the first place). And by the end I got the impression that everyone was really having fun with the dialogue, there was just a liveliness and banter to it that not every show has. It was a fun show, not exactly a sports show and not really a character driven show either but I had fun watching it and I think I probably would have enjoyed it back in high school too.

The Bad: As I mentioned earlier, I had a bit of a hard time buying that Takeshi could have ever been the leader of Team Satomi given where he starts and I'm also always torn about characters who yo-yo in character development during a series, realistic portrayal of teenagers or lazy way of reintroducing conflict into the series? Also, this show left a few details unexplained that bothered me, such as if the pilots of the mechs can hear the other teams while racing or not. I assume not but the dialogue made it unclear, heck it's not until the very last episode that it's made explicitly clear that the rest of the team couldn't hear Luca, Amy's co-pilot cat which again I wasn't sure about since the characters seemed to talk and react like they could (actually, they didn't explain that idea immediately either so for the first few episodes I thought Amy was nuts for bringing her cat along and that people were just humoring her). Those could have been problems that came about from the dub presumably having to rewrite the script a bit to match lip flaps or that could have been a problem in both languages. This is a bit of a minor quibble considering this is just a detail, but considering how often the show has races and how much that changes the interactions in them it's a detail that came up to bother me quite often.

The Production Values: This show looks exactly what I expect a show from the mid-aughts to look like, letter-boxed, color scheme slightly muted (I think that shows become at least 5% more colorful with each passing year), completely obvious CGI (which they don't show with traditional animation in the same cut which makes it better), and simply nothing stunning. It all works, although I thin I'm actually more forgiving of CGI at this point than some so when I say it doesn't bother me it still undoubtedly bothers some people. What's really interesting about the show is the English dub cast, it's a mixture of people who never work in anime for the main three and a combination of anime regulars and people who voice American cartoons but again not anime for the supporting cast, it's a really strange mix. Actually, the DVDs I borrowed were a combination of the first box set and four singles for the second half, the set didn't have an option for the Japanese dub and doesn't have the Japanese opener and closer on it (it was only when those appeared in the second half that I realized there was in fact a Japanese dub). I have no idea if all of the singles had the dual audio option and both of the sets didn't or if they only added that on to all of the later episode DVDs but it's certainly odd, especially since you can't tell me there were fears of reverse importation for this show.

So I'm giving this show a 3.5 out of 5 for being fun and possibly worth a rewatch although I know of quite a few shows that used various elements of it better.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie Review: Fuse: Memoirs of a Huntress

I'm a bit confused by this film, one of the people on my twitter feed a few months back noted that it was streaming on hulu and I recently remembered that and went to watch it. Couldn't find any information about the creators on hulu for some reason, checked ANN and still not much information on it. If I'm reading this correctly, TMS Entertainment is the studio that made the film (which is odd since I feel like I normally see them attached to projects as a committee member or such, the actual studio within them is called Tokyo Movie anyway) and I can't find any US licensor listed with it and I can't think of the last time I saw a Japanese studio stream a full movie on a US site without it being licensed. Heck, while anime bloggers might not cover every film out there this one came out within the past 12 months and I don't recall seeing anyone talking about it, very very odd. In any case, wikipedia is also telling me that this movie was based on a book (which apparently was by the same novelist who wrote the Gosick series, had no idea that the author was a lady) which in turn was based on the Hakkenden which plays a rather large role in the movie but that's where the movie gets a bit, odd.

Fuse: Memoirs a Huntress (Fuse Teppō Musume no Torimonochō)

Summary: Hamaji was raised as a hunter by her grandfather and has continued to live that life in the mountains after his death. A bit lonely she jumps at the chance when her brother invites her to come and live with him in Edo and ends up being drawn into the hunt for half human half wolf (fuse, pronounced, fu-seh) creatures while trying to figure out what she should do next with her life.

The Good: No matter how many times I come across the setting I love seeing stories set in old-world Edo, there's just something cool about it. And on an amusing note I think I'm starting to recognize some of the locations, this movie had a climatic fight scene at what I believe was the same place that Katanagatari had it's final fight which rather amused me. In any case, it was interesting to come across the Hakkenden again but I do wonder if there is a straight adaption of it anywhere, I feel odd seeing adaptations before I see the real thing.

The Bad: There were several moments in the film where a character says something passionately and I thought "Oh, that's supposed to actually make me feel something but it just, doesn't" which was my main feeling about the film by the end. In some ways it feels under-developed, I'm not sure exactly what kind of character arc Hajami was supposed to have (accepting her feminity maybe? Except A that's a terrible arc because stereotypical gender roles and B It's not like she had any problems with that to start with) but I don't really think it was there. The pacing also felt a bit odd, this movie just took a while to get where it was going plot-wise and if it had spent that time developing characters and relationships or just showing off some really pretty art I would have been okay with that and said it just had a slow moving atmosphere or such. Yet here it felt like the story simply didn't know what to do with itself or that they were really having to stretch the source material to make it movie length. And finally, the Hakkenden; I'm familiar with the premise of it so once the movie started I went "ah, this is another interpretation of it, gotcha" and then it got, odd. Since this isn't a spoiler, we do in fact have 8 fuse siblings like the characters in the original story running down and being hunted in Edo but we also have a man who is writing the Hakkenden AND a play that is adapting the story for their play, yet it's implied that the play isn't exactly like the books (and that they aren't the first to do it). They never explicitly state what the backstory for the fuse are but I thought I was supposed to take the play as what really happened and now I'm even more confused, how did the author either create the exact same story or know of it?! In the end this is only a detail to the story, it doesn't alter the plot or the characters yet it's so odd that it just bothers me and I wonder if something important was lost in the adaptation (of this book to this movie, and this book was supposed to be an adaptation of the Hakkenden, ladies and gentlemen I believe we have achieved inception at this point).

The Production Values: I feel spoiled, after seeing so many lovely looking films in the past year this one just looked flat. Literally, everything felt oh so slightly minimalist and while I wouldn't confuse the movie for a tv show for a minute (the color palettes are too different, I rarely see anything using such subdued, almost pastel colors on tv) it was awkward when the movie would have a slow, loving pan across a landscape and all I could think was "eh, seen prettier". None of the action really stood out to me either but after thinking about it I realized that the movie doesn't actually have that many action scenes in it which is why. Still, in the end the art style just wasn't for me although I'm sure that some people will enjoy it quite a bit, the voice acting seemed pretty good throughout as did the music so it's certainly well produced, just not as "artsy" as I would have liked at times.

In the end I was disappointed with this film doing, well, really nothing by the end (a few things have changed situation wise but the character with arguably the most development is a side one) so I'm giving it just 2.5 out of 5 stars. If you want to see it and you're in the US then head on over to hulu and NISA has licensed it as well.


Book Review: Nightspell

While I do have internet to get these posts up I also have a lot of family engagements which do take priority. So I'll be getting these up when I can, at the very least everything will be up this week. In any case, some people might remember that last spring I won quite a few books from a whole range of authors and my favorite out of the bunch was one called Mistwood and I was pretty excited to read the author's next book after it, and not just because the bookmark for it she put in was really pretty looking. On that note, I think I would have picked up the book regardless because of how pretty the cover is, lovely color scheme although I noticed that on the back they use the same image as a castle except blown up and, well, I'm rather surprised that such a pixelated image made it through quality control before it got to the printers.....

Nightspell by Leah Cypress

Summary: Year's ago Darri's sister was sent away from her family's plains to marry the prince of Ghostland but complications have arisen and Darri is sent to take her place with their brother making sure the deal goes through. Neither of them are happy about this however, like the name says in Ghostland the dead walk among and in places outnumber the living creating an uneasy truce with politics that neither are used to. But Darri is determined, if she marries the prince then she'll finally save her sister from this living death she doomed her to all those years ago.

The Good: As a quick note, I believe I saw the back of the book proclaiming it to be a companion novel to Mistwood but you certainly don't have to read it to understand this one (I'm not sure if there are even any references to it, if there were they were so small I missed them). Moving on, in Mistwood I really liked some of the aspects of the setting and the fairy tale feeling Cypress was able to invoke without using any "real" stories (that I'm aware of) and she's pulled off the same thing in Nightspell without feeling like she's just repeating the same story or idea. 

The Bad: I feel like Cypress chickened out on the ending here. At the climax the characters come to a tough choice and I felt like the choice that was made was rather out of character and Cypress didn't want to write something that ended in tragedy. I suspect that this choice was supposed to either show how Darri has grown and no longer has a one track mind or possibly that she is still young and scared for what this will mean to those close to her, which lets her consider the other option, but given her feelings for the entire rest of the story it just felt incongruent with her previous actions and that really bothered me. All three of the point of view characters bothered me actually but this I'm sure at least was on purpose, they're supposed to be flawed characters (and none of them realize that their flawed which was more than a bit cringe worthy) yet by the end I can't say that any of them truly developed which is what really frustrated me (and made it so hard for me to accept that the characters made the ending happen rather than the ending happened because the author wrote it so). In the end this story just didn't gel for me and I'm rather frustrated about it.

So just a 2.5 out of 5 for this book yet I do still want to see what Cypress writes next, it appears that while I consistently like her settings it's her characters who are hit or miss for me. Altough, a quick glance online shows that this book is from 2011 and Mistwood is from 2010, meaning that she hasn't had a new book in almost two years and that's never a good sign for a newer author, hope that her books didn't sell terribly and force her out of the business (this is pure speculation on my part, I had better not see anyone quoting this as fact as I've seen with one or two of my other posts).

Friday, July 19, 2013

Comic Review: Mercury

As a heads up, starting tomorrow I'm going to be out of town for a week and while I should still have wifi allowing me to post regular updates if they don't go up, well, assume that that didn't work out the way I had hoped. In any case, this was yet another grab from the not-so-local library, I think at this rate I'm going to achieve my goal of having read everything that interests me in their comic section by the end of summer after all!

Mercury by Hope Larson

Summary: In 2009 Tara is living with extended family after her and her mother's ancestral home burned down. In 1859 Josey is living in said home and her family is being tempted with the promise of a gold mine on their property. Since if there's one thing this family needs, and wants, in both time periods it's money yet this gold may bring more problems than it solves. 

The Good: While The Sight (not that the book ever explicitly names it as much) feels a bit gimmicky in Tara's story I liked how it was integrated into Josey's, actually I liked Josey's story more than Tara's in the end since it felt a little more complete and the character's seemed a tad more fleshed out. Although I do wish the story had been able to expand on the other supernatural elements that popped up later, they're so brief that I do wish the story had either expanded on them or just left them out all together (which would have been worse since they then pop up again in Tara's story).

The Bad: Both of the halves in this book, the past and the present are perfectly fine stories  with beginnings, middles, and ends yet I just don't think they work that well together. Either story could have easily stood on it's own yet putting them together hasn't given Mercury any deeper meaning or made it structurally any better. In the end I wish that the story had chosen to focus on just one story instead and gone a bit deeper, such as Tara's relationship with her mother which I felt was so superficial that I had a hard time believing it was even causing conflict. Finally, I found it rather odd that the story needed to have so many asterisks for Canadian slang instead of just putting them in a glossary or simply taking them out. Just about all of them I would have been able to figure out through the dialogue anyway and it was more distracting than useful to see "loonie* *a one dollar coin is called a loonie for the loon on the back" instead of just "dollar" or even "loonie, you can pay me back". 

The Art: I'm starting to realize that I'm just not as fond of the stark, black and white only with thick outlines style of art I've been coming across a lot lately since I just find it a little boring and, well, I don't want to read boring looking comic books. That aside, I also found the paneling layout a bit boring as well since it only uses rectangles and squares and I don't recall it even making the squares larger or smaller for dramatic effect. I read a lot of manga and webcomics where the creators go wild and try all kinds of layouts to get the look they want and while not everyone does that I seem to find more people in those two mediums than I do in US/Canadian produced comics which puzzles me since plenty of those webcomic artists are in the US/Canada. So in the end, while the art was solid and I could certainly follow the flow of the story it just didn't interest me and that's bad when something that's literally half of the story bores me.

In the end I can only give this 2.5 out of 5 stars and raised eyebrows over the fact that the cover proclaims that this was an Eisner Award Winner. While certainly not terrible I just didn't see anything in the story that I thought would elevate it up to what I would expect out of an Eisner winner, makes me wonder what the other nominees were that year (2010 I believe).

Monday, July 15, 2013

Anime Review: Chihayafuru 2

After the first Chihayafuru anime series ended I held off a bit on reading the manga since I had a feeling, no real reason but a feeling, that if we were going to get a second anime series that it would happen soon and I didn't want to spoil it if that was the case. And I turned out to be right and went in totally blind for this new season, although the fact that the manga still isn't fully translated means that there are less spoilers to try and avoid to start with.

Chihayafuru 2

Summary: Chihaya and the rest of the Misuzawa karuta team are back and another school year has begun which means it's time to recruit new members and to train up everyone for the upcoming high school championships. And this year Chihaya is greedy, she wants the team to win both the team tournament and each of the class tournaments as well, is that even possible with such strong players challenging them at every turn?!

The Good: I was a bit hesitant about the two new characters (actually they're the reason why I thought we might get a second season, they were pictured on the box set of the first season's DVDs) but they actually worked rather well. Tsukuba already liked karuta so it was easy to integrate him and the story went out of their way to build up Sumire and make her into a more likable character (and oddly enough into a bit of an audience surrogate at times), although then the story didn't end up using them as much as I expected for their character development. This is also one of the few sports shows where even the viewers can see how much better the characters have gotten at the game. I feel like it’s sometimes hard to convey that easily through story-telling, in real life the actors obviously just act and special effects may help (like the Doctor from Doctor Who playing soccer a few seasons back and they simply added in the ball later with CGI) and for sports shows, well, it’s hard to animate anything to look perfectly the way it does in real life especially with less than awesome players. But here we can see how the characters remain calmer, how Chihaya is taking more multi-syalbell cards, how the characters begin to move faster, and for once I can really believe that they’ve all improved.

The Bad: In the first season the show had a really fantastic pace, nicely balancing the matches and the character development outside of them but here that pace slowed to a crawl. From what I can tell this is the result of the manga slowing it's pacing, not from the new series composition staff, and having seen where the manga ended and knowing how little there is left beyond it I'm not sure what the staff should have done instead. It would have been great if the individual matches themselves had been sped up so the story could focus on more people. Chihaya and Taichi obviously got a lot of screen time and Arata got much more this season, Nishida and Tsutomu got some time devoted to their feelings but not much, those two, Kana, and the newbies seemed to vanish at times during the Omi Jingui matches and that did make me a bit sad. 

The Production Values: I don't know if they started doing this this season or just did it more frequently than in the first season but I loved how they would often have a small line of words, a character's aside or inner thoughts, alongside them, unvoiced in a lot of scenes. It reminded me a bit of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood actually and the trouble that series had in adapting the humor and snarking that often came in the middle of serious scenes that worked perfectly well in print but not so well in anime. Here it worked well, breaking the tension or providing a tiny insight but without completely breaking the flow or the mood of the scene. Aside from that, I liked the new additions to the soundtrack (need to track that down soon actually) and again I adore that soundtrack, it knows how to use it's uplifting, dramatic, and inspirational tracks so well that I find it impossible to not get excited whenever it plays. I did feel like the art looked a little cheaper this time around though, I know it's common practice on the internet to take screenshots of far off background characters, blow them up, and laugh at how silly and crappily drawn then look but some of the foreground characters here looked a bit off as well which was more than a bit frustrating.  

I'm still frustrated by that slow pacing but in the end this season covered just as much as the previous one did, another 45-ish chapters which means the story ended at chapter 92 or 93 out of about 119 chapters. Clearly this means it'll be a long time before we get more anime, if ever, so once those manga scanlations get up to date (yup, still not there even with two teams working from different places!) I'll probably start following it. In the meantime however I give this season a 3 out of 5 and even with these problems I'm still crossing my fingers for an American home release (if not, well, there's always Australia to import from!).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

TV Series Review: Doctor Who (The Edge of Destruction)

In case anyone is going "geeze, I wonder why Helen hasn't talked about that classic sixth doctor special BBCA ran!" well I didn't see it since they changed up the schedule on me and showed it Saturday night instead of Sunday so I plain missed it. I don't plan on having that happen again though, especially since I really like what I've seen of the seventh doctor so far. In any case, again no production values section on this one but I will note that this is what is referred to as a "bottle episode" (well, plural, two 30 minute episodes in this case) where they reuse the sets they already have and bring in little to no extra cast members, which in this case means our core four characters and the Tardis. Which is amusing since short of Journey to the center of the Tardis this season (and maybe The Doctor's Wife a few season's back) we've barely even seen the inside of the Tardis in NuWho, it's funny to think how the BBC actually had more than just a console set for it in the 60s!

Doctor Who: The Edge of Destruction

Summary: The Tardis is mysteriously malfunctioning and everyone is on edge as a result but nobody can figure out what's going on or how to fix it. 

The Good: Finally the characters are starting to match up with the characters I met in The Aztecs, I actually hadn't been planning on seeing this episode (it was bundled together with The Daleks) until I looked at the summary for it and noticed that was the main point to this episode. The Doctor especially but even Susan and Barbara are changing a growing (Ian seems to be changing the least but he starts out the most "developed," already someone with a logical head on their shoulders with leadership skills). And it was a bit fun to actually see more of the inner workings of the Tardis, although considering how old the film is you still don't actually see that much of it.

The Bad: I was a bit thrown at how the Doctor was starting to be nicer in the previous serial and then goes back to being mean and suspicious here at first, I wonder if not all the writers were talking to each other and that's where the inconsistency comes from. And I also had a bit of a hard time following just what the characters were trying to do to fix the Tardis and why everyone was getting so mad. Part of this can be blamed on the quality of the footage and I'm sure some of it was because I had a damaged DVD again but I do think part of it was that the writing wasn't as clear as it could be (or maybe it just needed more camera angles so I could better see what was going on).

So, to watch or not? Well, it does help show how the Doctor of the very first episode becomes the nicer Doctor of later on and the serial is only an hour long, but I did find it a bit boring. There isn't exactly a better serial I can recommend instead but if you're not trying to watch every single serial and just casually picking and choosing then you might want to skip this one.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: Fox and Phoenix

My eye was caught by the cover of this book at one of my library's teeny-tiny branches and wow that is a pretty cover. As I've said in the past, I tend to prefer illustrated covers to ones that are photographs since it seems like the most elaborate covers I've seen, like this one, tend to be illustrated (I suppose it's simply cheaper to pay an artist to draw something rather than to shoot an image/shoot several images and composite them/search for stock images that you can composite together). And as far as I'm concerned, judging a real, physical book by it's cover, whether or not it's actually illustrated in the same style inside, is a perfectly reasonable way of choosing what to read!

Fox & Phoenix by Beth Bernobich

Summary: Kai used to be a street rat king but after winning the competition for the princess's hand he's had to settle down and become respectable, learning magic at his mother's shop instead of running through the sewers. But something is amiss in Lóng City and he and his old friend Yún are going to have to bring the princess back from her studies and the journey to her school isn't a simple one under the best of circumstances and dangerous when there are backstabbing political factions that would rather they not succeed. 

The Good: As the cover indicates this book had a rather cool setting, a mixture of magic and technology with a lot of detail put into it*. Plus, hopefully the cover, title, and character names made this clear but it's also an Asian inspired setting which makes me happy since those are less common (which means that it tends to feel a little fresher/we're getting a bit more diversity in YA which is always excellent). And that was easily my favorite part of the story, seeing a nicely thought out setting with plenty of details, although I did feel like Lóng City and the Phoenix Empire had a disproportionately large amount of the descriptions.

The Bad: Just for the record, the title is a bit misleading since it refers to the companion spirit animals of characters who appear rather late in the story, although I suppose it's more romantic saying than a more accurate version, Pig & Crane. Also, some people might remember that a few weeks ago I talked about the book Throne of Glass and my mixed feelings on having the story start the way it did, basically starting a series with what would have normally been the second book since quite a few important things have already happened to the main character and made her who she is (and the story doesn't elaborate on much of it). Fox & Phoenix is rather similar, Kai and his band of friends have already had some grand adventures and now they're settling into their lives after and, while the characters could see how everyone was growing up and changing the reader couldn't as much because we never got to see where they started from. I think this would have been less of a problem if their previous adventures hadn't been brought up with quite as much frequency as they were because it made me feel like I had missed part of the story which is a rather unsettling feeling. And because of that the entire story felt underdeveloped to me, I wasn't able to care about the characters as much as I should have and even though I found the setting cool more often or not the characters were just talking about how cool something was instead of letting me come to that conclusion on my own. 

So just a 3 out of 5 for me since while the setting was nice and the book worked the plot wasn't original enough to be memorable a few years down the road and I just felt like it could have handled how it talked about earlier events a bit smoother. I am a bit curious why I've suddenly come across two books published relatively close together that have used that set-up when I've rarely seen it before in YA, I wonder why that is....

*if I say "magic punk" will anyone else get what I'm trying to say? Like, somewhat anocrasnic technology with lots of magic mixed in (basically steampunk with magic instead)? No, hmm, must figure out a better phrase then.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Manga Review: Q-ko-chan

Another random pull from the not-so-local library for me, I barely looked at what this one was about or I probably would have noticed the "from the creator of FLCL!" tagline and put it back. Turns out Hajime only did the manga adaptation, he's not the original creator of the show, although I can still see some similar themes between this manga and what I've heard people say is the heart of that show.

Q-ko-chan by Ueda Hajime

Summary: Aliens are ravaging the Earth and countries have fractured as small military groups vie for power and people flock to where ever seems the safest. Kirio and his sister Furiko live in one of the safer areas but even it gets attacked by aliens fairly regularly, although Kirio seems to have made a contract of sorts with a robot that's rather good at fighting them off.

The Good: This is going to sound a bit odd considering all the problems I had with this story but I was actually enjoying the story when I could figure out what was going on. This meant that for a lot of it I was reading it with a very confused look on my face but for the rest of it I thought it worked and that it was telling a bit more of a cynical/sarcastic/world-weary story of aliens attacking (heck it even parodies the gung-ho "children will save us from the aliens!" at one point) and I liked how it flowed. However, while I did like parts of it I found it to be outweighed by all the problems I had with it.

The Bad: While I was able to follow the basic plotline of the story, aliens have been invading Earth for a while and people are fighting back there was a lot of the story I wasn't able to pick up. Like the dolls (robots), are they working with humans, just with human children, or are they actually working with the aliens? And what the heck is up with Kirio and Fumiko's antagonistic relationship (which seems to be one of the central themes of the story)? Just when I thought I figured out some of the characters they would go and say something completely different, I still don't know what the goals of any of the military characters were and I really did try. This manga is only two volumes long and I can't help but wonder if it was planned to be longer originally and shortened or if it was cut off suddenly, if it hadn't been for the "So What Happened?" page after all the translation notes I wouldn't have even notice it ended, so many things and character motivations were left unexplained and I don't feel like the characters had even developed much by the end. It's a frustrating story since while I'm sure some people could puzzle out a few of the things I had trouble with that there really are some loose ends that even the American staff couldn't work out. 

The Art: The art style is loose and sketchy at times and simply minimalistic at others which I think fits well with the tone of the story, there's not a lot of explanation from either conversation or imagery here. It was easier to tell the characters apart than I expected after a bit and I didn't have as much trouble following the action sequences as I did with the plot.

So, 2.5 out of 5 stars for this one since while confusing it wasn't terrible, if that makes sense:I could see a story in there, I could see some character development and some distinct themes running through it, the tone was consistent, it just didn't have an ending. I'm sure that some fans of FLCL will like this so if you are one go check this out (although it was a Del Ray publication so it's out of print now) and if anyone can figure out the answer/an interesting interpretation to any of my questions then please comment! 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer 2013 Anime Round-Up

First things first, Gatchaman Crowds doesn't air until tomorrow so I'll be updating this post for that tomorrow, heck I would have had this up earlier except apparently crunchyroll doesn't let you use multiple guest passes in a one week period which threw a wrench into my plans. Second, normally I talk about the shows that carried over for me from last season but I actually wrote a rather rambly write-up of the spring season over on my tumblr which covered those shows. TL;DR, still following Space Bros and Doki Doki Precure but other than that I'm starting with a clean slate, let's get started then! oh one more thing, each of these impression is made after seeing just one episode of the show, some of these shows do have a second episode out by now but I just didn't have time to get to them.

Blood Lad
Vampire boy is obsessed with Japanese stuff.
This is an aggressively shonen show from the way the visuals are designed (lots of sound effects on screen, word bubbles at times, things you usually see only in either a 4-koma or shonen based adaptation, I'm trying to figure out why Brains Base has pushed this show back by an entire year since it certainly wasn't because of the art!) to the humor (look at this girl! she has boobs! and not much else on!). Heck even the character designs are a bit more shonen-y than usual now that I think about it and it's been so long since I've watched a show like this I had forgotten, this isn't really my type of show (and yes, this is technically based off of a senien manga, knowing that doesn't make it feel any less shonen plus sometimes you do get weird overlaps with those categories). I'm going to give it a couple more episodes to see if I warm up to it, the entire Manga Bookshelf seems to really like the manga and their tastes often line up with mine and it's certainly a a different take on vampires (but let's face it, by now almost every story with vampires is "a different take!") but at this point I don't see myself following it's entire 10 episode run.

Blood Lad has been licensed by Viz Media and is streaming on their site and on hulu so Canadian viewers are sadly out of luck this time.

Danganronpa the Animation
Super highschoolers trapped in murderous school.
Initially I thought "oh I'll give this a shot since I'd rather watch this than read the summaries/translations and don't have a PSP to download the game/patch (plus, these games never get licensed in the US)" and then NISA licensed the game (and someone else got Steins;Gate in the same day which had previously been my basis for "these games that super popular anime are based on don't get licensed"). Well then, don't have much reason to check out the show then (even if I don't have a PSP Vita to play the actual game on) and I'm a bit relieved, this just didn't flow well for me. It's odd but I dislike books and tv shows with this kind of setting, murder-mystery with the player character having warped morals by the end, but I do like games with it (I adored 9 hours 9 persons 9 doors which is a bit similar, I joked to friends that the setting and some of the characters kept giving me flashbacks). There it's fun to play as an asshole-ish character and see how much you can screw everything up, it's less fun to watch other people do it (although I know that mountains of Let's Play videos out there contradict me on this point). So with all of that in mind, I wasn't able to take anything seriously enough to enjoy it, and you're clearly not supposed to take a lot of this story seriously to start with, and hopefully someday I'll be able to give the game a try and enjoy it much more.

Danganronpa the Animation has been licensed for streaming by Funimation but the first episode won't be up until this Friday the 12th.

Eccentric Family (Uchoten Kazoku)
Humans, Tanuki, and Tengu live in Kyoto.
Based on a novel written by the same man who wrote the original The Tatami Galaxy novel this first episode didn't grab me as much as it seemed to grab some other people which was actually what I expected, Tatami didn't grab me until I tried watching it again about two years later after all. Although I suspect it won't take me nearly as long to get around to the second episode, while this first episode might not have grabbed me and taken me for a ride like other shows have done it was still interesting enough to make me curious about the rest of it. This was an introductory episode, we see a lot of the main cast, get a sense of the different factions in Kyoto, possible conflicts and mysteries are mentioned but nothing super exciting has happened yet, it's all set-up. But I am curious what this show is setting up and I like Kyoto quite a bit so I'm not going to turn down a chance to see it as a setting. So, unless the next few episodes are deadly boring I'm going to stick with this one and see just what it develops into.

Eccentric Family is streaming on crunchyroll.

Gatchaman Crowds
Super-powered humans fight rubix cube aliens.
While it didn't start out that way this ended up being my most anticipated summer show and it's not perfect but so far it's pretty fun. Well, fun if you consider being on a rainbow colored roller coaster for 30 minute fun (although strangely enough the episode was just 22 minutes long, not 25) and it's already clear that this series is a shorter one since the pacing is frenzied and feels even faster with how bouncy lead character Hajime is. I really do hope the next few episodes slow down a bit since there was a lot to take in here, it's the complete opposite of tsuritama (which shares a good chunk of it's important staff) and I can easily see how the fast pace and Hajime are putting people off, although it seems to have no connection to the original Gatchaman so newcomers like myself don't have that to worry about. Regardless, I'm in this one for the long run since I'm just in the mood for a super-colorful, fighting aliens show with a female lead, fingers crossed that it ends well!

Crowds is streaming on crunchyroll and currently unlicensed, however considering that Sentai recently licensed the original series many suspect they'll license this series as well. 

Kinmoza! (Kin-iro Mozaic)
Cute girls have intercontinental friendship
Not initially on my to watch list but after hearing so many people call it adorable I had to check it out and yep, that was a pretty adorable show. I liked it so far, this first episode is a flashback to how the main characters (a Japanese girl and a British one) met and became friends (in a rather romanticized Great Britain) and yep, not much happened but it was adorable none the less. I want to give the second episode a try but I have to ask, what is it going to do now? Are these girls with their friends going to form a club about Great Britain things? (since forming a club is all the rage now in anime-schools) Just do slice of life daily cute things with some culture shock? I'm okay with either of them but would like to know what they're going to do since I am worried about getting bored quickly, this isn't my normal type of show for a reason after all.

Kinmoza! has been licensed by Sentai and is streaming on Crunchyroll.

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
Boys strip and swim.
I almost feel like this series needs no introduction considering how much the PV for it was being bandied about across the internet with various cries of "YES!" and "OMG IT'S OBJECTIFYING US [men]!" being thrown around. So to make things clear, no this anime was NOT made because tumblr wanted it (guys just look at it, you think that you can animate something with that much detail in the amount of time that passed between tumblr flipping out and the premiere? Hell no) and it doesn't really objectify men either, Zac of ANN articulates quite well why not so I'm just going to link to his review (it was his first so scroll of the bottom if you don't see it immediately). So, my thoughts? Well, fanservice in general isn't my thing (neither is swimming, I like the gymnastics part of the summer olympics much better) but I'm glad that they made the show so campy since that made it pretty fun to watch regardless. I doubt I'll continue it since there's so much else out there I want to watch right now but if I want to watch a mindless, well-animated show with a sense of humor then this one is at the top of my list.

Free! has not been licensed yet however it is streaming on Crunchyroll.

Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist
William doesn't believe in demons, oh-well.
So a few months back when this anime was announced I went off, read the manga, and started worrying. I've seen a lot of people compare this one to Black Butler and Pandora Hearts for thematic reasons (they both have the Victorian England inspired setting with gothic elements) but structurally they're the similar as well, they're all shows whose manga took a heck of a time to get to the meat of the plot (I gave up on Black Butler before finding out if it ever got there actually). So, judging from what I know, the pacing of this episode, and what was shown in the OP and ED (which by the way has a heck of a spoiler for one of the characters) this one is probably going to have a fast pace and either an original ending or an inconclusive one (which I think is more likely) since I can't really think of a place to end it as the manga currently stands AND the story is bland enough that I doubt it's going to sell well enough for a sequel. Which is rather sad since I tried out since I liked the premise, demons trying to become the new king of hell by bothering a British kid, and while the manga did grow on me it really wasn't because the characters or the plot turned out to be super interesting, the style just got a bit better and I liked the eye-candy. At this point I'm willing to give the show another episode or two for the eye candy reason (even though I'm not that happy with some of the voices in here, it's been a while since the voices have been the complete opposite of what I've imagined), the character designs really do look great in full color I'm most likely going to end up dropping it by the end of July.

Devils and Realist is unlicensed but streaming on crunchyroll. Seven Seas manga also picked up the manga recently and plans to release the first volume in early 2014.

Servant x Service
Civil workers work.
Hmm, this series didn't grab me as much as I had hoped a series about working adults would which makes me a little sad. Of course, one of the most common comments I've seen on this show is "Working!! but less zany" so perhaps that's what I should be watching instead, heck I have much more experience with weird food-industry work than weird office/government work (the libraries I've worked at have been fairly tame comparatively speaking). In any case, this looks to be a straight-forward, slice of life (in the really literal sense) story of a few different civil workers and for the moment I'm going to give it a few more episodes to see if the characters click with me but I feel that if the characters don't click with me then there's going to be no point in watching the show.

Servant x Service is streaming on crunchyroll and unlicensed.

Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji)
Boy enrolls in agricultural school, hijinks.
The lone noitaminA show of the season (since now it's AnoHana's time to do reruns) and a bit more anticipated than most noitaminA shows since it's based off of a manga by the creator of FullMetal Alchemist. I read a bit of the manga a few years back and while it wasn't bad I just wasn't really grabbed by it either which was the same reaction I had here. We've only had one episode to meet the characters and see the setting so not much has actually happened, although the egg gag got old really fast (guys, I'm a girl, I know EXACTLY where eggs come from), although that did end in some really excellently animated food which really makes me wish there was a food anime with that kind of animation out there. However, since it's not bad by a long shot, noitaminA, and could certainly get more interesting once the characters start developing and such I plan on following this one for the long run (literally, it's split cour so 11 episodes now and another 11 next January) and I'm really hoping that the show ends up growing on me (it is set at a farming school after all....).

Silver Spoon remains unlicensed but it is streaming on crunchyroll.

Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3
Cute girls form war games club.
Wow I have seen mixed reactions on it, I honestly tried out the show because I at first saw some people saying it was fun and then others saying that, as a result of the gun culture in the US, it made them uncomfortable and I wanted to form an opinion on my own. And I have to say, even though I'm not a big fan of guns I can easily see the appeal of running around shooting each other with fake guns (probably because a lot of my friends in high school did just that) but this show still came off as a bit odd. It's trying too hard to emphasize the juxtaposition of  "they're cute girls! And they like imitating Rambo movies!", honestly it wouldn't have felt as weird if it hadn't done that. Which puts me in an odd position of being interested in watching another episode but probably not sticking with the show for the long run, this is just turning out to be an odd season for me.

C3 has been licensed by Sentai and is streaming on Crunchyroll.

High school girl has delusions of popularity
Yet another show that wasn't initially on my to-watch list but decided to give it a shot after seeing a number of other people mention it. And, ehhhhh, I don't think I'll be continuing with it after all. As many other people have commented, so far this is a dark comedy with only one joke, oh look how Tomoke has no friends/no social skills/doesn't even know it! Sure I've seen people like that in my years of high school and college, although usually the painfully socially awkward nerds I saw instead of not talking at all had no idea when was a good time to talk or that they weren't actually funny (and most started getting better at it after a few years!) and I was never like that, so I'm not getting that much kick out of the "oh ha-ha, it's like someone you know!" humor which I think I should be feeling just a bit. However I did think it got one point especially spot on, when Tomoke is mocking all the girls in her class who hang out with guys and look cute, calling them bimbos and sluts, and yet you get the feeling that she really wants that in her own life. That I think a lot of people of all genders go through, I know that on some parts of the internet there's a lot of "oh I'm better than other girls because I am/do_____ instead!" (my first thought actually was of this meme but apparently this was actually a parody of the situation, still gets across what I meant however) which also feeds into a lot of other assumptions about what's feminine, what's not, stereotypes (both as a result of media and as a reaction to said media) and all kinds of nasty stuff. I have no doubt that giving Tomoke that viewpoint was quite deliberate but that's not enough to keep me interested in what happens next sadly.

Watamote has both it's anime and manga licensed in the US, by Sentai and Yen Press respectively, and the anime is currently streaming on crunchyroll.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Anime Review: Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Just chugging along with my spring anime reviews, this one is the only one out of the three mecha shows that I watched to completion (although I might pick up Valvrave again and then review the whole thing in one fell swoop in December, maybe) which did surprise me a bit. I was expecting that I wouldn't like all three mecha shows and would probably drop one of them but I was expecting to be so disappointed by all three, although I was the least disappointed with Gargantia in the end, I feel more ambivalent on it than anything else.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)

Summary: Ensign Ledo lives in the far future where humanity is engaged in perpetual battle against space-squids who want to destroy humanity and while returning from a skirmish he is accidentally wormhole-d across space to Earth, the homeland that humanity had long forgotten the location of. People still live on this water covered world however yet it's going to take some time for Ledo to adjust to this new culture with morals and values the complete opposite of those he was taught.

The Good: I'm a fan of both slice of life and space opera settings (which isn't the best description of Gargantia's settings but it gets the point across) so I didn't mind the shifts back and forth and thought that they actually worked well together and Ledo's character development (which I think is at the heart of this show) wouldn't have worked if he had experienced that shift. I do like how Ledo eventually ended up developing, although I had some problems with it as well so more on that later. Finally, I was a bit worried when I saw Amy since Cute Genki Girl who is the side character in a story with a Male (Straight) Brooding Main Character often involves some tropes I'm not fond of. But thankfully Amy's character is written more smartly than this character normally is, she's perceptive enough to realize that many of Ledo's actions are out of ignorance rather than meanness (so we're spared of any tsundere scenes between the two of them) and has her own troubles and joys in life as well. Finally, early on in the show the people on the ship Gargantia have to explain to Ledo pacifism, how it works and why they do it and while a lot of viewers seemed to take issue with it I totally understood their philosophy and loved that it was included. This post on tumblr (both the initial link at the top and an author's reply in the linked page) help spell it out, I am of the belief that most of the people in the world, except in the more dire of circumstances (which the people on Garganita were not yet at) would have trouble killing people. It's just too emotionally difficult to acknowledge other humans as people and then be fine with taking away their lives and the philosophy of the people on Gargantia matches with this perfectly so it would have been more jarring if they hadn't been at least semi-pacifistic. Yet a lot of writers would prefer to take the simpler way out and have them simply kill the characters instead of wrestle with that choice and then find a way to live with it and I do really respect any of the writers involved with that decision to make that call and then make it work. 

The Bad: This is a 13 episode show and for short shows your pacing and timing has to be nearly perfect to make the show amazing, there just isn't the time for filler the way that longer shows have. Sadly Gargantia flounders in some of it's middle episodes, instead of using them as a way to show how Ledo's character is developing from point A to point B we instead get a little bit of that and then more fanservice than the show has time for (and I'm still a little creeped out by the dancing scene when I remember that the characters involved  are just 14 or 16). And then as if to make up for that the show races off in a bit of a different direction and focuses on different side characters around Ledo so in the end while he develops we neither get to see all of the steps of his development (which leads to some rather abrupt changes of heart) nor do any of the side characters develop as fully as they should and it makes this show come off flatter than I think the staff hoped it would be.

The Production Values: Holy smokes that was a stunning looking series, the backgrounds were rich and detailed and you can tell that some of the staff put some serious thought into both the lighting and color schemes for this show. Heck, the lighting alone on the very last mecha fight looked downright cinematic and then it was followed up with great animation and wonderful usage of the fact that you can put the "camera" for animation where ever you want. I will admit that that last fight was so great looking that it did help make me think more highly of the show overall, it was that awesome and I really did like a lot of the other designs throughout the show (although I also questioned some of them, not entirely sure why the ladies always seemed to be running higher body temperatures and therefore always needed a tad bit less clothing than the guys). The voice acting seemed fine, apparently this is one of the first big roles for Ledo's seiyu and I thought he did just fine along with everyone else. Although, while I don't think that either the OP or ED were bad I just never got into them and felt like they didn't fit the series as well as I wish they had.

In the end, I give this series three starts out of five (3.5 if I'm still feeling hyped up about that fight) and I'm not sure if I want to buy it. I saw the series streaming on crunchyroll but it has since been licensed by Viz and they plan to bring it and the OVAs over (according to some Anime Expo sources they may even stream the OVAs which would be great), dub it and release it which doesn't help me decide. On the one hand, they've making a concerted effort to actually interact with anime fans instead of chasing after a more "mainstream" audience that doesn't seem like it'll ever materialize and even put out a survey asking about LE sets (I'll admit I'm quite jealous of the fans who can afford the Japanese BR set with the art book, I'd love to see scans of that). But on the other hand they don't do combo packs and by the time this is out I won't have a BR player (and there's no reason for me to buy something this pretty on DVD) and I tend to not like their dubs very much either. So for now I'm on the fence, also on the fence about recommending it since I feel like the middle brings down the series that much but it's certainly not terrible and at this point I do recommend it more than Majestic Prince and Valvrave