Anime Corner: Selector Infected WIXOSS / Selector Spread WIXOSS Review

Blog Selector WIXOSS Review Title

Selectors be crazy.

What’s the Story?

Ruko has always struggled to connect with other people and being the new girl at school doesn’t help. Her brother gives her a deck for this new game called WIXOSS in the hopes that it’ll help Ruko to make friends, but when she opens the pack she finds that the avatar card, known as an LRIG, can move and talk. Ruko finds herself propelled into a battleground with young girl’s hopes and dreams on the line, but does she have any right to take part in a battle when she doesn’t have a wish of her own to fulfil? Even when she finds her wish, it doesn’t matter because as the girls will soon learn, even if you win at WIXOSS, you’ll still lose.

The Review

Don’t come into this anime if you’re interested in the card game or if you want to watch an anime about a card game because you won’t get it. These first two seasons do a lot better job with the card game then the latest series, Lostorage incited WIXOSS did. I mean these two series actually show you the game mat and I have a very vague idea how the game is supposed to work with spells and energy and such, though my impression could be completely wrong. The card game isn’t what’s really important though, it’s just background noise, there as an excuse to force the girls through hell. The game isn’t completely superfluous though; you do feel the weight of the girl’s emotions behind them and as a representation of the struggles they’re going through it does work. Also they happen to be really prettily animated.

What makes this series is the characters and their stories, their crazy, crazy stories. I mean my heart goes out to these girls and the wealth of horrible things they have to go through just to get their wishes. Each character has their own stories to tell that will pluck at your heartstrings, even the psychotic twisted people (which is a good portion of the cast) made me feel sorry for them, I soon went back to hating them, but there was that moment of sympathy. I mean I can’t really think of a single character that didn’t have either some kind of psychological hang up or tragic path to walk.

There’s Ruko, our female lead, she doesn’t want to bother anybody so she never really puts herself forward or thinks of her own wants and desires, which tends to make it hard for people to get a read on her. She also happens to have a bit of an addiction to battling throughout the first series, though this is squashed not long after learning the real cost of the WIXOSS game. Then we’ve got Hitoe, a girl so shy and awkward that she genuinely believes the only way for her to make friends is to have a wish granted. Next we have Yuzuki, who is in love with her twin brother. Okay, personal feelings here, incest is icky and this part of the series was really uncomfortable for me, but at the same time Yuzuki really has it rough. I mean being in love with someone that you can’t ever be with? That is cruel, not the cruellest thing this show can come up with, but still pretty darn cruel.

Then we come to one of my favourite characters, even though I hate her so much, Aki-crazy, sorry that’s Aki-lucky A.K.A. Akira! Seriously this girl is a joy, I mean I know the pretty girl with a foul mouth and fouler personality buried beneath the skin is nothing new, but every time she’s on screen you’re just guaranteed for her to do something horrible or crazy and boy does she go crazy, especially during Spread. What can I say; I love to hate her.

Speaking of sadists, it was quite the sadist who came with the rules of WIXOSS and I do take a little bit of issue with this. There will be slight spoilers here, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid them. Okay, I get the first tragic event, the girls are battling for their wishes so if they lose then their wishes will be corrupted, anyone could see that plot twist coming from a mile away. Where it starts to feel like overkill is when you learn that even if you, you become trapped in a card as an LRIG while your former LRIG takes over your body and fulfils your wish for you, whether they want to or not. I mean the whole LRIG taking over your body is a cool idea, but it feels like a bit much. It’s unnecessarily cruel and when I first heard it I wasn’t happy because it meant the game could never be won. I didn’t think it was necessary, but then the series went into Mayu’s story and explained why the rules are the way they are and that’s where I came to like the idea more. It makes sense in context and the whole point it that they’re unnecessarily cruel.

In all honesty when the first series starts out it does have a whiff of Madoka Magica about it, which is not when the series is at its best. Drawing a comparison is a bad thing for this anime because it’s neither as smart or as artistic as that series. Madoka Magica was a fantastic series that was intricately plotted and a story of hope overcoming darkness, even if it comes at a terrible price for someone. That series was beautiful in so many senses of the word and I can’t help but feel that WIXOSS was the lesser when it tried to go for the same kind of darkness and tragedy. WIXOSS isn’t anywhere near a bad series though, it really is good, it just needs time to find its footing. Once the series starts telling the story of Mayu towards the end of Incite and throughout Spread, that’s where these two series really shine. This isn’t a dark series, there are plenty of dark moments, but this is a series about making choices, how crushing loneliness can really be and the power of friendship to overcome all (yes it does come down to a sappy ending, and yes that does jar with all the swearing and violence earlier, still cried though).

The Verdict

In the end Selector incited WIXOSS and its sequel Selector spread WIXOSS do unite to make a pretty good story (though you do really need Spread to make this series work). It takes a while for the show to find its footing, but it really shines once it gets into the mystery of Mayu and the White Room and exploring how the rules of the Selector came to be. The card game is really just an excuse to have the drama occur, but it’s still good drama and however crazy some of the characters are, I’ve come to like them all in their own unique ways and its great to see them overcome the tragedy that was laid out for them. Friendship really is a beautiful thing.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: Trickster (Episodes 1 – 12) Review

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Well, I certainly feel tricked.

What’s the Story?

In the not too distant future a group of young men and their mysterious (and rather lazy) leader Akechi have formed their own detective club and tackle everything from finding missing pets to dealing with the evil machinations of the mastermind Twenty Faces. Things take a turn for the weird when one of the members, Hanasaki comes across Kobayashi, a boy with an impenetrable force field that will tear apart anything threatening that gets too close to him. Kobayashi longs for death, while Hanasaki is a thrill seeker and loves life. Can these two teach one another a thing or two, or will the plans of Twenty Faces tear them apart?

Okay, didn’t really know where to put this, but I reviewed this series after episode 12 because I thought that was the end of the series (though that could have been wishful thinking on my part), turns out it’s a 24 episode series. I really don’t want to watch the rest of the series, a part of me thinks I should give the rest of the series a chance, but at the same time my complaints are still valid and no amount of miracles is really going to improve this series. This is just to let you guys know this review covers the first 12 episodes, the ones after may improve, but that’s your risk to take. On with the review!

The Review

I don’t really know where this anime went wrong, but it definitely did. I enjoyed the first couple of episodes, I liked the idea of Hanasaki trying to drag Kobayashi into the world and teach him that life was worth living, and I really felt for Kobayashi and wanted him to get over his death wish. The cases they were solving weren’t exactly mind blowing and because they had to be squeezed into twenty minutes they did tend to feel a bit rushed and as if they were only there to have something nice in the background rather than it being important. The world is also seriously underdeveloped, I mean I’m pretty sure the only reason this is set in the near future is because they wanted to have robot drones and a bit of advanced technology because it never really affects the plot. The way life works here is pretty much how life works in the modern day, so what’s the point of it? If you’re going to set something in the future it gives you a wide array of opportunities, use them!

Okay I realise even though I was meant to be praising the first few episode I kind of came out with complaints, but I still sort of enjoyed it. I got a good feeling out of the episodes, I liked the characters and I liked where it was going, it was never going to be a great anime, but it could have been decent. Then we started the slow decent into, well, what can only be properly described with several proper swear words that I don’t want to write down. Kobayashi was the first to go, which is a shame because I liked the guy and it quickly went from me wanting him to find the joy in life to wishing he’d hurry up and get his wish and die. Yeah, that character got assassinated. I felt sorry for the guy, anyone who is so sick of life they want to die, I will feel sorry for, the world is full of so much wonder and joy no one should feel its better for them to go than stay. The trouble with Kobayashi is that my sympathy evaporates for the guy when he starts acting like a jackass 24/7. This tsundere elements are way too overblown and way too antagonistic, he never has anything nice to say and goes through the show being cold and, frankly, inhuman. He doesn’t seem to care about anything, so why should I care about him?

Then we get Hanasaki, who is the true marker of this series’ downfall. At one point he was fun, full of energy, a tad annoying, but good-natured and helpful even if he doesn’t think things through, then the angst set in. Seriously he became such a miserable character, always crying and whingeing and shouting, and this degrading into this character has a direct parallel with the fun slowly being leeched out of the show. I just wanted him to do something, to have a spark of the old Hanasaki about him, but nope, the old Hanasaki was dead and gone and we were left with this depressing person in his place. This show became a chore to watch this, I didn’t care about any of the characters or what was going on, I just wanted to get to the end of it.

After destroying Hanasaki and Kobayashi the series didn’t really have much to fall back on. I mean the lead detective Akechi was pretty intolerable at times; I get what they were going for the whole aloof detective who plays the fool but has this tragic past and has all these plans working about in the background. The trouble is that in his aloofness he can tend to come off as a jerk at times, especially as we get further into the series. He gives orders that are just going to antagonise people and that certain characters are just going to misinterpret. They’re trying to make it all dramatic, but its not drama when the situation is contrived and stupid. This whole mess could be sorted out by Akechi explaining himself for two minutes, but we can’t have that because then everyone wouldn’t hate one another.

There isn’t much else to the series. The world is underdeveloped, the mysteries aren’t attention grabbing, the animation is fairly standard, though there are a couple of good songs on the soundtrack. The rest of the characters kind of faded into the background, the guy in the wheelchair is a little interesting, but then I can’t remember his name so he didn’t make all that much impact on me. The villain, he’s generic. I don’t how many times I’ve seen the villain who torments the hero because its there twisted way of showing their love, but its getting a little boring, especially here because they don’t add anything new to it. He’s just a masked villain who outsmarts the good guys at every turn (impossibly so at times) and makes creepy speeches. Also, where the hell did Kobayashi get his powers from? No one explained that!

The Verdict

Trickster was never a series destined for greatness, but I had hoped it was destined for somewhere other than the avoid pile. Unfortunately the few good characters were thoroughly assassinated and whatever story potential was there was left by the wayside as all the fun was sucked out of the series. The rest of the characters and the paper-thin world just weren’t enough to hold up the withered husk that remained. I’m sad now and I have to go watch something good.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: Izetta: The Last Witch Review

Blog Izetta Review Title

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s a tank being thrown by girl riding an artillery gun! Duck!

What’s the Story?

In a world not too dissimilar to our own (seriously, the names are like just a couple of letters off), a conflict mirroring our own World War 2 is going on, the country of Germania is ever expanding and has currently set its sights on the neighbouring country of Eylstadt. Now Eylstadt is only a small country and doesn’t stand a chance against the might of the Germanian war machine and the other countries are too tied up in their own battles to intervene. When Princess Fine is captured by the Germanians though, she happens across a childhood friend, a witch named Izetta. Together the two escape and Izetta decides to fight for Fine’s country. What will magic do to a war were technology is at the forefront and Germania certainly won’t sit back as the balance of power is so dramatically shifted.

The Review

I do think this series has some great ideas. I mean from a visual front this anime is wonderful, watching a young witch flying amongst tanks and against fighter planes is a treat for the eyes, then you get said witch throwing around buildings and trailing torpedoes behind herself and that cool factor goes up even higher. I mean for nothing else other than the awesome fight sequences I’d recommend watching the final episode, watching a magic duel with trains cars flying around like whips and someone throwing the Eiffel tower, it definitely registers on the awesome meter.

I also really like the attention to the detail this anime has and the world it builds. It is pretty much a carbon copy of our world, just with new characters taking the place of famous figures and, yeah, the names are laughably similar but that’s something you just have to roll with (though you could have put a bit more effort in guys). I like how the military strategists use propaganda as its own weapon, just as it was used during wartimes and the new reels looked quite authentic. If a witch did turn up in World War 2, I can imagine the first handful of episode of this series being pretty much how things would turn out. I also like the fact that the fairy tale of the original White Witch who came to help Eylstadt in its time of need turns out to have a darker truth behind it, as most fairy tales do and the hints that things might not end so rosy for Izetta. The parallels with the atomic bomb were an interesting talking point, I like that Fine is aghast at the monster she’s unleashed by bring magic into warfare.

What I’m trying to get at is that Izetta, the series, has a lot of good and interesting ideas, I just wish the rest of the series would properly use or develop them. The novelty of seeing Izetta, the witch, flying over trenches and throwing spears and torpedoes at tanks and ships is all well and good, but it starts to wane over time and the series doesn’t really have anything to replace that with. I mean there’s talk of the Germanians developing weapons to combat the witch, but the most prominent piece of technology we see is just a plane that can actually keep up with Izetta. After that things quickly devolve into a fairly clichéd plot with the Germanians getting their own witch. I mean you can pretty much exactly where are heading as soon as mention is made of their being another witch and its just really disappointing that this smart and inventive story about magic taking on more modern warfare runs out of steam like this.

There are still a couple of good moments after the we gets past the set up (roughly around where they’re releasing the first propaganda about Izetta), I do really like the episode about the darker ending to the White Witch’s fairy tale, Izetta’s torpedo run against the ship is exciting to watch and as I said before the last episode gets a thumbs up due to the sheer craziness of the magic duel between Izetta and Germania’s witch. The rest of it, well it’s not bad, but none of it really wows me. I think this series could have done with being longer, just give it a bit more time to explore this world, I mean nothing feels rushed, but I do feel like there’s a gap in the middle, I mean we have the start of Izetta fighting in the war and then Germania’s witch turns up and the series because less about the World War 2 stuff. I would have liked to see more of Germania trying to come up with ways to counter Izetta before they dragged out their own witch.

Probably the biggest failing of this series though is the characters. I think a lot of this anime could have been saved if the characters hadn’t been so… flat. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, they’re not bad characters, except for the guys that are meant to be bad like the bad guys, but again, none of them wow me. Everyone has a role and they fulfil that role in the story perfectly fine, but they never do anything other than meet expectations. Izetta is the awkward and shy girl with the badass power and pure heart. Fine is the noble and good-intentioned leader of her people who will always do the right thing. The rest, well, I can’t name names because I honestly don’t remember any of them, I mean there was that soldier girl who got a couple of laughs and that shady guy who did bad things for a good cause, they stood out a bit from the background, but again, they never blew me away. The final episode did show some promise, what with the comeuppance of the shady guy that was well done and Fine shone a light as she got teary-eyed over Izetta.

On a last note the animation and music for this series are fantastic. The animation has a real sense of speed and flow, during some of the more fast-paced actions scenes you really feel Izetta flying around and all of it is really bright and colourful. The music has this real mystical quality, and there are some really beautiful songs that kick in when they’re needed.

The Verdict

All in all Izetta is certainly a good looking anime, it was some interesting ideas that lead to some great visuals and the animation and music are both equally as good, so at the very least the visual spectacle is worth the admission, unfortunately after a strong start the story soon peters out into something predictable and the flat characters can’t do a thing to save it until the very last episode. If you’re interested, give it a shot, but be prepared for the magic to fade.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: Flip Flappers Review

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It’s like an onion, it has layers and I love love love it!

What’s the Story?

Cocona is a model student who in reality is just drifting through life, like a boat caught in the current, she’s hesitant to make any decisions and doesn’t really know who she is. All that changes when she meets a strange girl called Papika, taking her hand and dragging her off into a world of adventure, whether she likes it or not. Together the pair travel the bizarre dimension known as Pure Illusion, searching for gems and having fun along the way, as well as learning a thing or two about one another. Nobody ever said self-discovery was easy though as there are dark forces both within and without Pure Illusion.

The Review

I don’t really know where to begin with Flip Flappers. I feel like I could spend hours dissecting this series and still only scratch the surface of its myriad of themes, symbolism and storytelling techniques. I’d probably have to write an essay to properly explore and examine this show piece by piece, which isn’t something I feel I can do right here and now (for one I’d have to watch the series a dozen or so more times to make sure that I caught everything, which isn’t a bad thing and I’m planning on re-watching it anyway). Instead I’m going to do what I normally do and ramble on for a bit and try to convince you to watch it, which shouldn’t be too hard. If I had a good video editor, and didn’t mind getting on the bad side of copyright law, I would just post several videos of the utterly astounding animation this series has to offer and that should convince you.

Seriously this show is gorgeous. The animation is fast and fluid, but also brimming with eye-catching colours and striking visuals, I cannot put into words how gorgeous this show is, every scene is a treat for one reason or another. It’s more than that though as this anime also gets what it means to be a visual medium, I know this is animation and being a visual product is kind of obvious, but the amount of anime I see where they forget the old rule “show, don’t tell” can be mind boggling. Flip Flappers gets it though. Flip Flappers much prefers to show you things, whether that be wild and imaginative worlds or hiding its meaning behind a veil of symbolism, you have to watch this show (again, kind of obvious with it being a visual thing) and you have to keep your eyes peeled at all times. There are so many little hints and meanings buried throughout this show that I’m sure I’ve missed half of them (one of the reasons I’m going to be rewatching this show when I get the chance).

The leaning towards visual story telling does have its downsides though. Sometimes the story of Flip Flappers can feel a bit obtuse, if you miss a plot point or don’t pick on a visual cue, the show will not wait for you. There were a couple of times where I’ve stared at the screen in confusion or had to go back a bit to work out what I missed, this show wants your attention and you’d better give it (though to be fair even in the few moments were I was confused I could always just sit back and enjoy the pretty pictures).

Luckily the story is layered so that you can enjoy it on multiple levels depending on what mood your in, on the surface it’s a wacky adventure visiting mad worlds, one episode your in a Studio Ghibli film on acid, the next you have a mix of Mad Max, Fist of the North Star and Sailor Moon all in one episode. Each episode brings a new world and a new set of influences to the animation and the story. Just beneath the surface though there is more than wild imaginations to this series (though I would be perfectly happy with this series if that were the case). When it boils down to it this is a story about self-discovery. We follow Cocona as she learns to take hold of her life and get a sense of agency for herself (this is a good example of visual storytelling as at the beginning we have Cocona clutching on to Papika for dear life, her eyes clamped shut as they fly around on Papika’s hover board, mirrored against the ending where they’re back on the hover board but this time Cocona has her eyes wide open and her arms lovingly around Papika).

While a lot of the series is focussed on Cocona, with the worlds of Pure Illusion reflecting her own self back at her and revealing different sides of her, Pure Illusion itself also gives us a look into the surrounding characters. Each world is a representation of someone’s self, or at least one of their selves, it’s fascinating to walk through someone else’s mindscape, you just have to work out who the mindscape belongs to. I also like the fact that the anime acknowledges that people have different sides to themselves, there is no one true self, that is something you decide for yourself. No, people are complex and often contradictory and this anime shows that, whether giving Cocona an army of wildly different Papika’s to pick between or the fact that our final boss is in fact the darkest aspect of one of the characters.

I could sit and go on about this show for hours, but I should have convinced you to watch this show by now (or at least I hope I have), so enjoy this series the way it was meant to be enjoyed, go and watch it! There is so much in this anime, from the visuals to the influences to the exploration of a person’s self, I’m pretty certain there’s at least something for everyone.

The Verdict

Flip Flappers is a beautiful series in more ways than one, from the masterful visual storytelling to the exploration of characters, even just in terms of sheer imagination this anime stands above so many others. Back in my first impressions I described this series as weird and wonderful and while I think this series can’t really be summed up properly, that’s as close as I’m going to get. Flip Flapping!

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: Magical Girl Raising Project Review

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Blood and guts, ‘cause that’s what we want from our magical girl shows.

What’s the Story?

Magical Girl Raising Project is a popular game that everyone seems to be playing, though there’s a rumour floating about on the Internet that some of the players actually get the chance to become real magical girls. Middle schooler Koyuki is one of these lucky girls and as someone who has been a fan of magical girls since she was little, this is a dream come true. At least, it is at first, but then Fav, the administrator in charge of the game, decides they need to cut the magical girl population in half. Let the bloodbath begin!

The Review

Urgh. That’s it, that’s the review of the series. Urgh. I can’t think of a better way to sum my feelings towards this show, I mean it started out really good, okay that’s a lie, it started out decent and then quickly buried itself and just kept digging (roughly about the time that they started getting killed off). Maybe this is my fault, maybe I expected too much. I admit that I’ve been searching for another darker-toned magical girl series ever since Madoka Magica (I need my fix dammit it!). I mean I don’t expect to find a series to match the near masterpiece of Madoka, but I’ve had a void in my life ever since I watched that show and I haven’t found anything to fill it since. I’d hoped Magical Girl Raising Project could be the show I needed, but in the end I’m just sat here feeling dejected and little bit annoyed.

I think this series’ main failing is that it just doesn’t get how to do darkness. I mean there are times when violent deaths and a bit of gore can work in a story, maybe you want to shake up the story or shock your audience, personally I prefer it if that kind of thing is left to a minimum as that means it has a bigger impact and doesn’t lose quite so much meaning. I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a market for stories about bloody death matches, I’ve enjoyed a few myself, but those series don’t just rely on violent murder after violent murder to draw me in. There are interesting characters, an enthralling plot and an examination of the dark aspects of human nature, or at least one of those things. This series though, it’s just death and blood. Each episode is pretty much there to set up the murder of one or more of the girls and an interesting series that does not make.

It would maybe help if I cared at all about any of these girls, but the series never really gives you much of a chance to. For one I think there’s just too many characters, there’s sixteen girls and twelve episodes, that means we have to lose more than one girl an episode, how do to you expect to give the audience enough time to care when they haven’t even a full twenty five minutes to get to know them? A lot of the time the closest we get to knowing the characters is the flashback sequences they normally parade in front of you right before that character gets the axe. Don’t get me wrong, some of these back stories are harrowing and I feel sympathy for what these girls have been through, but there’s no connection and they’re gone before there was even a point to care for them. We hardly ever get to see the girls in their civilian identities, so we never really get to see them as themselves, only the magical girls they’ve imagined for themselves.

This really ticks me off when we have some really interesting characters I was just dying to have explored. I mean there was La Pucelle, the only guy to become a magical girl, he was just begging to be explored. Has he ever wanted to be a girl? We know he’s a massive magical girl fan, but when he fantasised about being one was he a magical boy or a magical girl, that is some meaty character exploration right there, use it! Then we have Swim Swim the psycho serial murderer who happens to be a little girl, I really want to know what her deal is, I think it’s fairly obvious that something is wrong with her. She’s so restrained and emotionless all of the time, following Ruler’s rules like they’re some kind of gospel. Has she always thought like that? Did something happen to her? You’re fond of flashbacks anime; show us!

And do not get me started on Snow White! What the hell is the point of her character? She does nothing throughout the whole of the series, she is entirely pointless and she’s the main character! I suppose I have to give a couple of points for not going the route I was expecting, I was predicting she was either going to go crazy and kill everyone or she’d be the true magical girl she always wanted to be and find a way to end this bloodbath. None of that happened. Everyone else just died while she sat around and moped. I couldn’t quite figure out how she could do anything, I mean her power is to hear people in trouble and that’s it, but the one thing I’ll give this series is that in its latter half it had some pretty interesting battles with bizarre powers, like a girl who can swim through solid objects and another that can make holes just by touching something (that was a particularly nasty death). So how was Snow White going to fight with her power? Answer? She doesn’t! I had to laugh with the last episode, with Snow White training and learning how to fight, bearing in mind at this point that the actual fighting is over and so is the damned series! Urgh.

Lastly, another big failing for the series is just how it’s plotted out. A lot of the time it does just feels as if the whole point of this series was to kill a bunch of girls. I mean a lot of the explaining for stuff that I would regard as a major reveal is just delivered in the most boring and inept way. Want the girls to learn that they actually die if they stop being a magical girl? Have Fav just tell them. Want an explanation as to why this game became a bloodbath? Have Fav just sit down and explain it, again! I get the feeling that they want Fav to be a Kyubey-like bad guy, they wanted him to look cute but be this manipulative demonspawn that you just love to hate (and fantasise about beating with a shovel, god I hate Kyubey), but he’s just boring and lazy, only there as a construct to spout off exposition and make comments in bad taste.

The Verdict

In the end, if you’re into watching magical girls being maimed, murdered and probably something else being with m (I’m so annoyed with this series I don’t even want to waste the effort looking for the right words), then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this. For me though, it was terribly written, there were too many characters and the few goods ones didn’t get anywhere near the development they deserved. The one thing I will give this series is that in the later half is does have some interesting battles and use of powers, if only they could have ended up in a better series.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Anime Corner: Bungo Stray Dogs Review

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The eye of the tiger, and the legs and the fists.

What’s the Story?

Kicked out of his orphanage and on the verge of starving to death, young Atsushi has a run in with the suicidal Detective Dazai, but you see Dazai is no ordinary detective (you know, outside of being suicidal). He’s a member of the Armed Detective Agency, a group of super powered individuals who deal with cases the police and military can’t handle, usually involving other powered individuals. Once Atsushi learns he too has super powers he ends up joining the Agency, at first its all wacky hijinks and bizarre powers, but soon Atsushi is pulled into an escalating conflict as different powered groups vie for control of him.

The Review

Bungo Stray Dogs is an odd series, it’s both it’s own weird little thing while at the same time following along certain story paths that have been done before. I mean once the series finds its footing and starts to take shape you can tell a lot of the structure, you can see who’s going to end up fighting who and how the various character arcs are going to be resolved, you just don’t know the specifics. That’s where Bungo Stray Dogs shines the most though, while this kind of plot has been done better elsewhere, the sheer bizarreness and inventiveness of the characters and their power is worth the price of admission.

I seriously love the characters in this series, the majority of them have a screw loose and some of the weirdest powers I’ve ever seen. I mean we have a doctor who can heal any injury, as long as said injury is near-fatal, there’s a guy in season 2 who can trap people in the books he’s written (talk about drawing your audience in) and, my favourite, a guy who can solve any crime just by putting on a pair of glasses (except he’s not actually super powered, he just thinks he is and no one has the heart to tell him otherwise). That’s without even getting to the lemon bombs and the creepy doll that drives people crazy. Add into this that all of the characters are full of personality and energy, they’re a bunch of hyperactive lunatics at times and always fun to be around. Individually they’re all a great laugh, but when you get them in a room together that’s when the sparks start to fly, I love how all these guys bounce off of one another and it’s where a lot of the humour of the series comes from.

Tonally the series is a bit all over the place. I mean at the start of the series we get Dazai’s constant jokes about the ways he wants to commit suicide, which is all kinds of ‘I don’t whether to laugh or be concerned’, but then you’ll have the characters laughing and joking with one another and the next minute we’ll have Atsushi flashbacking to how he was beaten in the orphanage and told he was utterly worthless. Yeah, the show strikes this weird tone, trying to be both light and dark at the same time and never quite getting either one right (at the start anyway). It doesn’t help that for a lot of season 1 the plot meanders about all over the place, giving us random cases as a way to get to know the members of the Agency one by one, it’s enjoyable, but not exactly mind blowing.

As we start to move towards the tail end of season 1 and throughout all of season 2 things improve a great deal, more serious storylines take over as the Agency, the Port Mafia and later on the Guild start to clash (there’s also that wonderful flashback arc at the beginning of season 2 which is without question the best the series has to offer, seriously check those episodes out if nothing else). It probably helps that the jokes are cut back at this point and the humour is just left to the character interactions and Dazai being his wonderful mischievous trickster self. Also season 2 is where the action takes a serious shot of adrenaline. I don’t think there isn’t a week that goes by without something awesome happening, especially as we get into the conflict with the Guild.

Let’s talk a little bit about our main character, Atsushi, like the series he takes a while to get going, but once he finds his footing he’s pretty great. At the start he’s mostly the straight man for Dazai and a few of the other weirdoes in the Agency, he can’t control his powers to save his life and I’ve already mentioned his rather dark past with the orphanage and that is his main driving force. Atsushi has no confidence in himself; mostly because he’s never been told he’s anything other than useless, and while it does take a long while for him to start to gain some confidence (possibly a little too long), when he does start to see his own worth, it’s a powerful moment.

My favourite character though has to be Dazai, yeah the suicide jokes are a bit weird for me to wrap my head around, but he’s always entertaining, purposefully teasing the other members of the Agency and bringing out a laugh. As the series goes on though we start to see the deeper shades to Dazai, such as the fact that he’s a master manipulator and that his past might be a lot more bloodstained than you expect. As you get to know him, you can’t help but wonder what exactly is going on behind that carefree smile. The flashback arc at the beginning of season 2 (seriously, go watch it), gives us a glimpse of the Dazai of the past and showing us that he makes a pretty effective bad guy.

The Verdict

In the end, Bungo Stray Dogs is an unusual anime. It does take a little while to get going, but it’s definitely worth the effort to stick with, the characters are fun and lively and the best of the humour comes from their personalities bouncing off of one another. The powers are creative and while the plot may struggle to find its tone at the start, once it settles in it does lead to some great character development and some exciting battles as more powered people come into play. The animation is also above the standard and has some truly gorgeous moments when the action demands it. Hopefully we will get that third season that was teased with the last episode.

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

First Impressions: Winter 2017 Part 2

And we’re back! On with the first impressions!

Spiritpact

You (No, not you, the character You, sorry that joke was just begging for it.) comes from a famous line of Exorcists, but ever since his parents disappeared he’s fallen on hard times. Currently he just about survives as a street fortuneteller and working part time in a computer shop. Then one night he comes across a powerful Exorcist battling an evil spirit, and just to prove that the universe hates him, he dies. Now a spirit himself the Exorcist offers to make a pact with him so they can fight Evil Spirits together.

Huh? Sorry, fell asleep there for a second. What was I doing? Oh right the review portion. Avoid it! There you go, bye. Okay, okay I’ll do this. I think what really puts me in a bad mood with Spiritpact is just how disappointed I feel in it. I mean the story on paper doesn’t exactly offer anything revolutionary, but it could be a fun little fantasy adventure. In practise though Spiritpact is just dull. The characters are all flat and 2-dimensional (when they’re not completely annoying, looking at you our two leads), the action is either poorly animated or nonexistent, even during the fight scenes and there is just so much talking that everything grinds to a halt. I get no sense of excitement from this series, no joy. I’m out on this one.

Interviews with Monster Girls

Takahashi Tetsuo is a teacher who’s interested in demi-humans, or demis as they prefer to be called. He’s spent ages searching for one to talk to with no luck whatsoever, then one day a Succubus transfers in as a new teacher. Also there happens to be a vampire, a dullahan and a snow woman in the classes. Tetsuo gets to know each one in turn, learning about their daily struggles and habits.

Gentle is probably the best word to sum up this series. It’s warm and sweet and really lovely, it’s like a hug straight after you come in out of the cold. What I really like about this series is how it’s something completely different from the rest of the monster girl genre (a genre I have very little experience with because it doesn’t interest me that much). A lot of monster girl shows that I’ve seen clips off or even watched an episode of tend to go either for frantic comedy or fanservice. This show doesn’t, it treats the monster girls like actual people with genuine problems and things they have to overcome. It’s a slice of life and I appreciate the amount of thought and detail put into each characters. So it’s a plus that we get some non-standard monsters, I mean vampires and succubi turn up all the time, but dullahans and snow women not so much, or if they do I certainly haven’t seen them. I could do with it taking a few risks and tackling some bigger issues down the line, but there’s time for that. This is one of my favourite shows of the season so far.

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Middle school student Chuta has heard a voice in his head since he was little (that’s nothing I’ve got tonnes of voices in my head, that’s why I write). Chuta’s voice makes him a bit of an outsider though as he just can’t help talking back to it, which can lead to some embarrassing moments. Then one day Chuta learns that the voice in his head is nothing to do with his subconscious and instead is an alien lifeform. Now Chuta has been recruited into the space police and along with his new headmate (a roommate for the head, kid called Yugi had a similar thing), Chuta must track down and prevent aliens from committing crimes on Earth.

You know, I think I might have liked this series when I was a little kid, before I’d seen all the clichés that populate this series. There are some wacky designs to a few of the aliens and the director is clearly trying to inject some style into proceedings with a couple of clever transitions and backgrounds. Chuta, while for the most part is just the usual bland flavour of main character, has some potential. Due to a massive guilt complex over a childhood accident Chuta is often crippled by self-doubt and loathing and watching him push through that could make me care for the guy. Unfortunately the rest of the series is rather slow and by the numbers, along with a couple of characters I’m starting to actively hate. First there’s the alien who shares Chuta’s body (I can’t even be bothered to look up his name), he is so annoying, he never shuts up and every time the show is having a quiet moment where Chuta’s confidence is growing, the little guy bursts in to tell us what we can already see is happening! We have eyes, we can see, shut up! Then there’s the girl (can’t be bothered with her name either) I know what the show is going to do, she’s Chuta’s ideal girl but has a terrible attitude and is hostile towards him, right up until the point where Chuta proves himself and they fall madly in love. The problem (outside of it being done to death) is that the girl is too hostile. She’s horrible on every level and I hate her, which is not what I’m supposed to feel for a main character! I’ve gone on way too long with this one, suffice to this one is being ejected into space.

Hand Shakers

Tazuna is a helpful kid, always offering to repair stuff for friends and even passersby. One day though that helpfulness lands him in a whole heap of trouble when he answers a request from a university laboratory. There he meets a girl named Koyori who’s been bedridden for years and when he takes her hand the two of them find themselves in a strange new world. Seems ‘God’ wants an audience, but like most maniacal emperors he’s got a taste for the gladiatorial games. Now Tazuna and Koyori must battle through the other chosen ‘Hand Shakers’ in order to meet ‘God’. Oh and Tazuna can’t let go of Koyori’s hand, if he does, she’ll die.

This show is improving slowly… marginally… fractionally episode by episode. Episode one was a hot mess with some of the strangest direction I’ve seen in a while and way too much fanservice, episode two was a bit more coherent but not all that thrilling, episode three was simple, straightforward and a decent fight at the end, if the camera can sit still for five seconds. Honestly, the way the stories going it’ll probably just be average, the plot’s generic, the characters are okay but a little bland, but it’s the style that puts me off. For on there’s the direction and I can’t work out whether there’s some kind of deeper meaning that I’m missing or if the director is just putting together these shots because they look cool. Some of them do admittedly look cool, but there kind of needs to be a point in there somewhere and there’s so many of these bizarre shots that it makes me feel like someone’s either drunk or on drugs and I’m fairly certain it’s not me. The visuals aren’t to my taste either; the contrast is too high (I can barely see that Koyori is there sometimes she’s so white) and there’s an odd colour palette and texture for everything. I’m out on this one.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

The Kingdom of Dowa had had 99 years of peace, thanks in part to an organisation called ACCA that overseas the 13 autonomous regions that make up the country. Jean is the vice-chairman of the inspection department and it’s his job to go around the various districts to see if anything foul is afoot, but could there be something wrong with Jean himself? He complains about his job and talks about quitting, but never does, then there are all these rumours about a revolution revolving around him. Not to mention the fact that he’s constantly smoking cigarettes, which are supposed to be ridiculously rare and luxurious to have. Just where is Jean the ‘Cigarette Peddler’ getting them from?

This series is cool, from that jazz-infused opening (seriously, best opening of the season without a doubt) through every damned frame of animation that follows. This series just oozes style and grace. The character designs put me in mind of old school anime, but everything is very clean and there are all these soft pastel colours wherever you look. This series is nothing like what I was expecting, for one it makes audits interesting, for two the mystery revolving around Jean is way more engaging than the mystery-of-the-week stuff I was expecting with the visit to a new district each episode. Surprisingly little has happened, but I’m hooked all the same, this series gets mystery and is effectively building up the tension each episode with the idea that this is all building to something big while leaving it open as to what that could be. Jean’s either a patsy about to find himself in hot water, or he’s the mastermind that the rumours say he is, it could go either way right now. I’ve changed my mind; this is the best show this season, no contest! However, just to engage the brakes on this hype train for a moment. While I love the mystery, I would like some kind of payoff sometime soon, just to prove that the plot can move forward. I really hope this show doesn’t turn into style over substance.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

One day Miss Kobayashi opens her door to find a dragon on her doorstep, one who wants to be her maid. You see last night when Miss Kobayashi was walking home drunk from a bar she ran into said dragon and invited her over to stay. Now Miss Kobayashi lives her day to day life with a dragon, teaching her how to cope in the modern world and learning a thing or two about dragons along the way. More dragons are on the way though, Miss Kobayashi’s going to need a bigger apartment.

I tell you, you wait all this time and two monster girl series jump you at once. This one’s on the lighter side like Interviews with Monster Girls, but taking more of comedic look at slice of life. It’s more a gentle sense of humour, it ambles along nicely and if a joke turns up that’s fine. A lot of the comedy comes from the absurdity of the situation, but I like these characters and the series has a pretty big heart and has already pulled at the strings of mine a few times. Also I love me some dragons and this series has plenty, plus a few whose names I recognise. Well done show, well done.

Konosuba – God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World! 2

Kazuma and the gang are back! Ever since being reborn in another world all Kazuma has wanted is to live the good life as famous adventurer with riches and girls galore! Unfortunately the party he’s put together to accomplish that includes a vain and idiotic goddess, a witch obsessed with explosion magic and a knight hiding her inner masochist. It’s almost sad watching them stumble from one mishap to the next, but then you remember they probably deserve it and laugh instead.

Check out my review of the original series here. My opinion remains pretty much the same, which is nice since this series picks up pretty much straight after the last one. The characters are still just as stupid and hilarious as ever, the animation is still shoddy (thought thankfully not so much of those weird boob animations so far) and we’re even getting new characters and little expansions of the world! If you enjoyed the first season then definitely check this out. It’s more of the same and with Konosuba there’s nothing better.

That’s all folks, see you next week.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.