Anime Corner: We Rent Tsukumogami Review

Blog We Rent Tsukumogami Review Title

And the award for OP that least fits its series goes to…

What’s the Story?

In old Edo there is a lending shop run by a brother and sister (well, they’re not really brother and sister, they’re really distant in-laws, they haven’t even grown up together or anything and I’m spending way too much time explaining this right now). There is something different about their shop though, you see this brother and sister (not really) pair happen to stock Tsukumogami in their shop. Tsukumogami are household objects like combs and hanging scrolls that over time have gained spirits of their own. With the Tsukumogami’s help the shop owners can gather gossip from all over Edo and put that to use solving all the daily mysteries that plague the people of this city.

The Review

I wasn’t really expecting much when I started watching this series, I mean it started pretty late in the season and even now (so many months later) I haven’t heard anyone really talk about it. Yet I found myself enjoying this series more and more each week. I’m even more surprised at how invested I’ve become in the soap opera of old Edo, is this what it’s like to get into Coronation Street and the like? (You know, minus the talking objects that have their own spirits). Every week it’s ‘Oh this person has been seen behaving strangely around the city, we’ve got to figure what’s going on’ or ‘There’s a suspicious rumour going about, let’s figure it out!’ all the while I’m hoping that this week we’d learn more about the mysterious incense burner that our main characters are looking for, or maybe Seiji will get the whack on the head he needs to ‘fess up to his true feelings.

Don’t get me wrong, none of the mysteries are worthy of Sherlock Holmes or the like, they’re mostly small scale issues revolving around a missing item or a search for someone. Occasionally we’ll get involved with the love lives of the various supporting cast. There’s nothing overly dramatic and aside from the ongoing mystery of the incense burner all of it gets wrapped up in twenty minutes, but that’s really what I wanted from this show (even if I didn’t realise it going in). This is the perfect unwinding material for me, it’s easy to follow and nice to look at (I like this show’s use of colour and all the characters designs are all nice to look at). I like all of the characters and it’s fun to follow along with the mysteries, trying to work out what the final answer will be before Seiji gets there. Also there are a couple of really nice little stories in this, the one about the wife and the kiseru. That was really kind of sad.

That is another thing about this series, with it being set in the past you do pick up several little titbits of information about social customs in Japan. Since this is a series about a lending shop you get a lot of info on the kind of tools and items Japanese people used a lot back when this was set. You also get several of the social customs and practises displayed and put into context. It’s not that this series is a history lesson, but it’s a nice window into a Japan that was.

As I said earlier I like all of the characters and the supporting cast does grow by quite a bit by the end of the series. I suppose what surprises me most is that so many of them become recurring characters, aside from a very few, pretty much every secondary character makes a repeat appearance somewhere in the series, especially towards the end. It helps make a lot of the earlier stories feel more important to the overall story and not just an ‘issue of the week’. Also it helps build up a community in the series and that the results of one week actually do have consequences down the line.

Speaking about our main characters though I really like Seiji, he’s the kind of quiet and helpful guy I can get behind. He’s smart and always manages to figure out the answer, or what he needs to do to get the answer, even if sometimes he gets the wrong end of the stick at times. Oko, Seiji’s sister (but not really), is a fun character, though I feel like the series does her a disservice towards the end. During the early part of the series she’s quite forceful and throughout the series she does give Seiji a talking to when he needs one. However, I couldn’t help but notice as the series went on Oko was less and less involved in the mysteries and Seiji became the sole main character. I suppose thinking about it Seiji was always the lead on the investigation, but Oko certainly had more of a presence. By the end of the series it feels like Oko is purely there for Seiji to admit his love to her by the last episode, which is a shame (the series at least claws back one point by at least clearly showing that Oko makes her choice before Seiji, so this doesn’t become some stupid two guys competing for one girl thing).

Actually let’s talk about the romance for a second. It’s mostly kept in the background even if it is pretty obvious from the start. However, what strikes me as odd is how determined this show is make it clear that Seiji and Oko are not brother and sister. Maybe I’ve just seen too many anime where incest gets crammed in, but I kept getting flashbacks to season one of the Flash. ‘No, seriously they’re not brother and sister! She’s, like, his cousin and even that’s only through marriage. They didn’t even live together as kids and Seiji is also totally adopted into his family.’ I’m not complaining, it makes it so much easier to get into the romance, but it just stood out a bit was all.My question is, if you don’t want them to be related so much, why are you making them even tangentially related?

As for the titular Tsukumogami they’re okay. They’re probably the weakest part of the series. Each episode they tend to repeat their particular stick and they’re mostly there as plot aids to get the gossip Seiji needs to complete the mystery. Design wise they’re all pretty cute and colourful and none of them are bad characters, there’s just not much to them. We learn a bit about the back-stories of one or two of them, but it never makes much difference to the overall plot.

The Verdict

We Rent Tsukumogami is a pleasant and fun series. If you’re after big dramatic turns or huge plot twists then move along. This is a very sedate and small-scale affair, but that plays to its strengths. This is a window on a time period gone by with pleasant characters and intriguing little mysteries to carry you along the way. If you’re after something to unwind to after a hectic day this series does a pretty good job of that. I’ll definitely be visiting this store again in the future.

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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.

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Anime Corner: Phantom in the Twilight Review

Blog Phantom in the Twilight Review Title

Perhaps you’d like some tea with your Reverse Harem?

What’s the Story?

Umbra are creatures born out of people’s fears and imagination, meaning that everything from werewolves and vampires to haunted pumpkins can be found wandering down dark alleys. When Ton and her friend arrive in London the last thing she expected was to have her bag stolen by one of these spirits, but by a happy coincidence, and a little bit of magic, she happens across the café set up by her Great Grandmother. A café were all of the staff happen to be Umbra (and guys, of course). Ton’s life is about to get a whole lot weirder as she’s thrown into a world of spirits and battles, learning about her Great Grandmother and her own dormant power. Thankfully Dracula makes a really good cup of tea, so we can all sit down and have a chat about it afterward.

The Review

I’m of two minds when it comes to this series. On the one hand, if I look at this series cold and analytically, there isn’t much to it and I’m pretty sure it’ll soon be consigned to the black hole where all forgotten anime ends up (if it hasn’t already). However, on the other hand, there are parts of this anime that I really like and I had a lot of fun with. Maybe it’s just because the season this anime featured in didn’t really have all that much that interested me other than a couple of standouts, but honestly I think it’s more than that.

For one, I really like Ton, the main protagonist, she’s very much a step above the typical female lead when it comes to these Reverse Harem shows. For one she’s proactive a lot of the time (which is really something that should happen more, especially in these kind of shows). Ton wants to get involved in her problems and isn’t happy to just sit around while the men try and sort it out for her. When her friend gets kidnapped (which becomes kind of a running gag with how long that plot is stretched on for), she wants to get out there and find her and we see her doing research and coming up with plans. Also there’s the fact that she is a total badass. When Ton unleashes her power she is a beast and I find it kind of funny that all these guys are so desperate to protect her and yet she is clearly the most powerful member of the group.

When it comes to the guys, I know I’ve had a couple of digs at them, but I do like them all. While none of them really get much more than the usual stock archetypes associated with their brand of ‘hot guy’, yet their voice actors and the animators imbue them with enough personality that I care about these guys. One of my favourite scenes is one where Ton and Luke are just stood outside the Café joking around. It’s a completely pointless scene, but you really get a sense of the friendship developing between these two and there are similar scenes between most of the cast. Also I like the fact that the romantic options are never really pushed in the series, if you have a particular ship then the show will accommodate, but it doesn’t force a romance on you, which I appreciate. On another note I really like that this show uses elements of the classic monster mythology, like our vampire turning into mist or being unable to enter a home without being invited first (I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed stuff like that).

Unfortunately now I’ve run out of my favourite parts of the show and I’m going to have to dig into the rest of it. The animation is serviceable, but it’s the script and plotting where this show really falls down. I mentioned the best friend subplot and that really does get stretched out beyond belief, honestly I kept expecting Toad from Mario to turn up and say ‘I’m sorry, but the Princess is in another castle’. It doesn’t help that the series really struggles to find a purpose. I mean the series was okay while it was doing one off episodes with an Umbra-of-the-Week or examining one of the guys. The couple of episodes that where the introductory arc of Midnight Sun where good as well, after that though the series quickly loses what little steam it had.

I put most of the blame for this down on the villains. They never presented a clear danger, oh sure they were dangerous, but I never fully understood what they were after (in fact I’m struggling at the minute to even remember their names). Van Helsing was fun and easy to understand, he wanted to kill all Umbra and protect all humans. Also he was kind of an idiot, but an energetic and fun one. The other two villains I have a problem with (and now I really can’t remember their names). I still struggle to understand what their deal was. One was immortal and wanted power to continue to evolve or something and he needed Ton for this (what he was going to do with Ton I have no idea). The other was…err…a jerk with hacker powers? I think. They did state their intentions (in a pretty hilarious scene where they traded motivations liked they’d just started role-playing and were reading one another their character sheets), but I never got a sense of who either one of these guys were.

The Verdict

Phantom in the Twilight, when it comes down to it, is an above average show. I don’t think it’ll stick that much in the collective consciousness of the audience, but it’s certainly better than a lot of Reverse Harem fantasy-action series. Ton is a proactive, on occasion badass, lead and the rest of the main cast are fairly fun too. It has some inventive uses of powers as well as some classic monster abilities, which I appreciate. However the series struggles with its plot, it often meanders and the villains (aside from Van Helsing) fail to make any impression whatsoever. Unfortunately the series runs out of steam just past the halfway mark, but while it lasted the ride was fun.

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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: Planet With Review

Blog Planet With Review Title

“I won’t forget the happiness I had, but I will forget the hate.”

What’s the Story?

Soya lives a peaceful high school life, despite the fact that he has no memory of his past. Then one day a strange structure (and boy is it strange) begins floating its way towards the city. Seven superheroes arrive to defend humanity, but then Soya remembers everything, including his brother and the dragon that destroyed his world. Now with the help of gothic lolita Ginko and the giant two-legged cat Sensei (really the cat should have been a give away that not all was normal for Soya), Soya sets out to get his revenge and defeat the superheroes that are the planet’s only hope. Be prepared for a three-way battle for the fate of the human race, will they choose death and destruction, to be sealed away forever or could they possibly choose…love.

The Review

I originally went into this series blind and maybe that’s the best way to approach it. It’s not that knowing the plot will ruin this for you, but this show is like a magic sleight of hand trick that keeps getting more and more elaborate without ever crossing into convoluted. I’ll admit my initial draw to this series was just how weird it is. You’ve got a giant cat that goes around on two legs, continually trying to peek up the skirts of his anime figures, and don’t even get me started on the Nebula Weapons (seriously can we check on the guy who designed all of them, I think we may need to confiscate whatever he’s been smoking). Yet, the more I watched this show the more I got drawn in and the more I fell in love. (I mean I was on the verge of tears watching a show that involves a spaceship shaped like a giant dog! What is going on here?).

Planet With, when you boil it down, is a show with something to say and while said message may become more and more obvious as the series goes on, that doesn’t stop it being any less important. Planet With is a show about love, about seeing things from different perspectives and even forgiving those that have wronged you in the past. The show even throws in a line in the final episode where it point blank tells you that it doesn’t mind if you don’t agree with it, just try to see things from someone else’s point of view. I feel that kind of message is so important, and especially relevant nowadays.

What I find most surprisingly is how it manages to weave this message into every aspect of the plot without screaming it at you from a soapbox. The plot of this series is so laser focussed and constantly moving, the first few episodes do have a slightly episodic feel to them, but that quickly changes and the show just keeps growing and growing without ever losing focus. I’m surprised by just how much world building, background and plot that this show manages to fit in without any aspect of it ever feeling rushed. Everything is perfectly balanced and paced to give you the prefect ride towards that finish and every episode is packed full of action, humour and charm.

Actually there is something that I wanted to bring up about the action in this series. I know this is an original work, but there’s something about it that just feels so old school, in a good way. I can’t work out whether it’s the pacing or the soundtrack (which is awesome), but so many of the fights have this old school feeling that I can’t quite put into words. They feel epic to a level that I haven’t felt in a while. Maybe it’s just that I’m invested in all of the characters, and I do mean all. There are no real villains in this show, oh there are opposing forces for certain, but as we get to know each group in this conflict we learn that all of them have their reasons for what they’re doing (something that I always love in a story).

With the main characters I suppose its best to start with Soya, seeing as he’s the main character. Like a lot of the characters and some of the plot itself, he’s a bit of a slow burn. Oh he’s likeable enough as a protagonist at the start and it’s fun to see him interact with the people around him, and how unfazed he is by being taken care of by a giant cat (no, I’m not dropping that). Yet as the show continues and we learn more about him, we get to see him grow and develop into a fine young man and one that I can easily root for in any conflict. Even characters that at first you assume are just there to be funny little side characters turn out to have a surprising amount of depth. Ginko is a treasure trove of hidden depth and the moment when she told Soya that she sees him as her little brother was seriously one of the most heart-warming moments I’ve seen in years. Even Sensei (the giant cat), has a lot more to him than you first realise and I was surprised how much of this story was actually about him. That’s something this series continually did, surprise me and is the reason this has been one of my favourite series of past couple of years..

The Verdict

Planet With is a surprisingly deep and enjoyable series that more people should be talking about. It is perfectly paced with a story that continually surprises and characters that are all loveable. The action is epic and the animation bright and colourful (it even manages to integrate its 3D animation in a good way). I know there has been a wealth of great shows of late, but if I can convince anyone to add this to their ‘Must Watch’ list then I shall consider my job done. This series is more than worth it.

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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: Digimon Adventure 02 Review

Blog Digimon Adventure 02 Review Title

Tai X Sora Forever!

What’s the Story?

It’s a few years after the end of the first Digimon season and all is not well in the Digital World. A human calling himself the Digimon Emperor has taken control, enslaving Digimon with his Dark Rings and making them fight for his own pleasure. When the original Digidestined return to the Digital World they find that their Digimon can no longer Digivolve and they’re powerless to stop the Emperor. It’s up to a new trio of Digidestined (as well as Kari and T.K.) to use an ancient form of Digivolution called Armour Digivolution to defeat the Emperor and save the world. However, there are others forces at work, manipulating events behind the scenes and hoping to plunge both the Digital and Human worlds into darkness.

The Review

I feel sorry for Adventure 02, it’s not exactly a bad series. It has its convoluted and downright stupid moments, but when its characters and plot are on point then it’s really, really good (even better than the original series in some cases), but those moments are just too few and far between. When I compare this series as a whole to the original Adventure, and Tamers that followed, this series just pales in comparison. I can’t help but feel that if this series had happened at any other time, maybe a few years down the line, then I’d have a bit more fondness for it than I actually do. As it stands it’s a decent series with some good episodes, hampered by the fact that it never knows which direction it wants to go in and just keeps tripping over itself as it stumbles towards its finale.

Let’s talk about some of those ideas though, for starters the set up is actually a very good one and as a sequel to Adventure I can’t really think of a better way to go (okay, maybe one that involved the original cast more, but if we have to have new digidestined than them getting the spotlight instead was the right call, however much that annoys my inner fanboy). The Digimon Emperor is the first human enemy in the Digimon franchise and he is one of the best villains the series has ever produced. He’s cunning and completely evil, laughing manically as he makes Digimon fight one another and constantly coming up with new plans and strategies to challenge the Digidestined. They beat one of his minions, he’ll send an army! His Dark Rings aren’t powerful enough, he’ll invent the Dark Spiral! One of my favourite mini-arcs in this season is when the Emperor captures Tai’s Agumon and takes control of him, forcing the Digidestined to fight their friend and argue over the best way to deal with it.

The Emperor is also the best developed character in the series. He’s a Digidestined gone bad, angry and abusive to his partner Digimon, but the longer the arc goes on the more the cracks start to appear. Even as everything is falling apart he’s still convinced that’s he’s the best and is going to win. It takes the sacrifice of his partner to finally snap him out of his madness, which is also the point where he realises this isn’t just some game and he’s been abusing living creatures all this time. Then we learn about the grief and jealousy that led him down this dark path and his redemption begins. It’s seriously one of the best character arcs in Digimon and has some truly great moments along the way. The only problem is that you have to sit through so much tedium to get to those good parts.

Here’s one of the big problems with the series, the Emperor, Ken, gets more than the majority of the character development this season (some might even say all of it). The new Digidestined, Davis, Yolei and Cody are, well, I like them well enough I just don’t feel like I know them at all. When they get character focused episodes their problems always feel like an issue of the week, rather than something that defines them as a person. Adventure 02 is far more interested in its plot than it is its characters and that’s a shame because one of the strengths of Adventure was the quieter character moments it had. Here it’s just are continual cycle of taking on the Emperor and destroying his Control Spires and that just gets boring after a while.

Adventure 02 on paper should be this grand epic, it certainly has the scale for it and some really dark moments. However 02 just comes out lacking in several areas and it’s the small decisions that are the result of this. There’s less urgency, less sense of adventure, and that I put down to the fact that at the end of the day the kids can come home. In the original the kids were trapped, struggling to find a way home and there was also the mystery of figuring out what exactly the Digital World was. Now we know exactly what the Digital World is and we know what to expect from each adventure. Also I find it kind of heartless that while all the Digimon are suffering under an evil overlord the kids are just like “well it’s almost dinner so we’re all going to head back to our warm, safe homes now. See ya!” There’s a sense of safety to proceedings, like you don’t need to worry because the gang will always  make it home at the end of the day so everything will be okay, which dulls a lot of the threat.

It doesn’t help that once the Digimon Emperor arc is over the series has no real idea where its going. I know there was a lot of upheaval behind the scenes, with different creative forces fighting over where to take the show. The show develops a split personality, sometimes being goofy and silly and then at others going dark and creepy. Plotlines will appear and then disappear with no resolution whatsoever or just stumble into a lacklustre conclusion. The best example I think of this is the whole BlackWarGreymon arc where he spends several episodes wandering around, angsting all over the place and having an existential crisis only for it to end when another Digimon tells him to work it out for himself. Then he just wanders off. Sure he gets a bit more resolution in the final arc, but still, that’s how you choose to end a major plot line? Really?

The series becomes so focussed on expanding the lore and connecting everything back to the original Adventure (whether it makes sense or not). Don’t get me wrong I like learning about the Digital World and some of the forces governing it, but there are times where it feels like the show is just reading from a Wikipedia page for twenty minutes to try and explain every little thing. I suppose there’s also the fact that the more that gets explained about the Digital World and the more rules it puts in place, the less surreal it gets. I liked the surrealness of the world at the beginning of Adventure and that has slowly faded away across this series. Also, again going back to character, I can’t help but feel that if the series spent less time explaining then it would have more time to develop its cast.

Okay, I’ve stalled on this long enough, the epilogue. I joke about it, but honestly a lot of my ire has faded over the years. I still think it’s stupid and was a bad idea to begin with, but it doesn’t make me mad anymore, just disappointed. Actually when I think about I can’t think of any series that ended with a ‘and they got married and had kids’ flashforward that I find interesting. I’d be interested in seeing how they got there, but just plonking the adult version of characters on screen doesn’t appeal to me. Then again 02 has possibly the worst of these types of epilogues. Mostly its down to just the random nature of some of these adult versions. Yes seeing how everyone in the world has a Digimon is interesting, but the kids are just carbon copies of their parents, maybe a few hair colour and gender swaps, but the jobs, I mean really? Matt becomes an astronaut, when he has at no point mentioned any interest in space? His main thing throughout the series was that he’s in a band and I’m not saying you can’t go from being a band in high school to being an astronaut, but there’s surely a few steps inbetween. So motivation maybe, a moment of inspiration, anything? No, okay.

There’s also the fact that the epilogue hooks up Matt and Sora and I’m a Tai and Sora shipper so that was bound to annoy me. As far as I’m concerned Tai and Sora were the couple the series was aiming for, it didn’t do a lot with the relationship, but there was chemistry there and then all that gets thrown out by 02. Actually I can feel my ire coming back so I’m going to wrap up.

The Verdict

Digimon Adventure 02 is not a bad series, but it is an uneven one. There are a few great character moments scattered throughout and the Digimon Emperor is one of the best villains the series has ever had. Unfortunately that gets bogged down by tedious and repetitive story elements as well as a confused tone and meandering plot. We never truly get to know the new Digidestined aside from Ken and the old Digidestined are mostly there for moral support and exposition. If you’re going to watch this series I’d do it on fast forward.

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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.

Cartoon Corner: Hilda Review

Blog Hilda Review Title

Just North of Normal

What’s the Story?

Hilda lives out in the wilderness with her mother and her deer fox Twig. She loves nothing more than to go out exploring and sketching, encountering everything from trolls to forest giants along the way. However when elves threaten to evict her, Hilda is determined to do everything she can to keep her home, but it may not be enough. Still the city isn’t that bad and it even has its own weird and wonderful adventures to offer, for anyone who’s willing to take them on.

The Review

I’m annoyed with myself. It took me way too long to get around to watching this show and after finishing all thirteen episodes I just want to scream. Entire months went by without me knowing about the existence of this show and that surely has to be a crime. This series is beautiful, by so many definitions of the word, start to finish and I adore it so much. I’ve heard a lot of people compare this series to Gravity Falls and while I don’t feel that’s wholly accurate, I can see where they’re coming from. Kids with quick wits dealing with the strange and bizarre things going on around town, often meeting a quirky creature along the way, also the location is kind of similar in look, if you squint really hard. Hilda is a very smart and fun and funny character as well, but that’s kind of where the Gravity Falls comparisons end to my mind. Hilda isn’t really like anything else, it’s more interested in doing its own thing.

For one there’s no over-arcing story to this series, yet at the same time the story is constantly evolving. There’s go grand conclusion to head towards or mystery to solve, it’s just the days in the life of a kind-hearted and brave young girl as she tries to adapt to what life throws at her. It gives this series a very gentle atmosphere that just carries you along, oh there’s certainly moments of drama and excitement, like the nightmare sequence with the marra or the storm spirits attack on the weather station, but every episode leaves you with a warm glow by the end of it (well maybe not the weather station one, but then that one hangs off a pretty particular cliff by the end).

The two things I love most about this series is that, one, there are always consequences and, two, it never quite goes in the direction you’re expecting. Now I’m going to talk about the ending of the second episode here to illustrate my point so if you haven’t seen that yet either skip to the next paragraph or go watch the episodes (you won’t regret it). Those that have seen the episode will know that Hilda has spent the past two episode trying to find a way to live peacefully with the elves, while also helping two giants find one another. It ends with Hilda rescuing the king of the elves and being declared a friend of the elves. Problem solved you think and clearly the next episode will begin some new problem to deal with, except the giants Hilda was helping earlier step on her house. In a beautifully illustrated moment we have Hilda’s mum comment that the giant hasn’t even noticed, while she herself is standing on an elf house. It’s at that moment that Hilda realises she’s going to have to move, as she was told earlier ‘the world’s just gotten too small’. It’s an incredibly mature moment and way more than I was expecting, as well as completely catapulting the series in a new direction.

Speaking of this series never doing what you expect, one aspect that I have to mention is Hilda’s mum. Again, in any other series she would be just the mum, she’d be someone that Hilda would have to get around or hide all the fantastical things from, and while on occasion that can be the case, a lot of the times it’s not. Hilda’s mum, and pretty much every one else in the series, knows there’s trolls and the like out there and Hilda’s mum will often get involved in the adventures herself. Hilda’s mum is a source of comfort and trust and Hilda often gets farther by confiding in her than hiding things from her (which is actually a remarkably rare thing in fiction, normally it’s the worst thing ever when a parent finds out what’s going on, which isn’t really a good lesson for kids).

That brings me to the animation and, to put it simply, I love it. I love the colours, all the soft autumnal shades mixed in with the bright and eye-catching. I could take any single frame of this animation and it would make a perfect poster for my wall. This may also be the most seamlessly blended 3D animation I have ever seen, so much of this series looks like a living, breathing comic, then a character turns their head or there’s a swooping camera shot and you realise, that has to be 3D. Again, it looks like the comics this series are based on (which I’m now in the process of collecting) have just come to life and are moving around on their own. Also a shout out to the soundtrack, which is equally beautiful and I’ve been listening to it on loop for the past few hours.

The Verdict

In the end Hilda is a cartoon that everyone should watch at least once. Aside from some utterly beautiful animation, the story is mature and fun, constantly evolving and going in directions that you’re not expecting. The characters are all great and a lot of fun to be around, especially all the weird and wonderful creatures that Hilda meets across her adventures (also it’s nice to see some lesser known bits of folklore for Hilda to deal with). Do yourself a favour, find some time and watch this series, you won’t regret it.

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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 2019 part 2

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

The Promised Neverland

Emma is a happy child, living in an orphanage with her 37 brothers and sisters and the ever-wonderful Mom. She truly couldn’t be happier. All that changes though when the time comes for one of the kids to leave the House. Emma and Norman make a trip down to the gate to return the child’s forgotten toy, but instead of a final goodbye they learn the horrible truth behind their idyllic life. There’s a reason the kids have been told not to go to the gate.

This was the anime I was most looking forward to this season and so far it hasn’t disappointed. The animation is gorgeous full of crisp movement and it really knows how to use colour and shadows to their best advantage. I also like the focus on strategy with the kids outmatched at every turn and struggling to figure out a world they know nothing about. There’s a real sense of dread for the kids as the deck gets continually stacked against them and you wait for that one ray of hope that might be their salvation, only for something else to come along and snuff that out too. My only real complaint so far is that the episodes go by way too fast, which on the one hand is the sign of a really good and interesting show, it has also left me with the feeling that the story isn’t progressing all that much. Sure each episode has added to the situation and the threat our characters are facing, but sometimes it feels like they’re only taking the smallest of baby steps in the direction they need to. I suppose I’m just waiting for the big escape attempt, but this show is great regardless.

Girly Air Force

Humanity is left on the back foot when the Xi, mysterious flying craft, launch a series of devastating attacks, outclassing anything any air force can throw at them. The only hope seems to be three equally mysterious planes, each one controlled by machines in the shape of young girls (because of course they are). However the last line of defence has a problem, one of these planes, referred to as ‘Daughters’, is unstable, except when she happens to be near a young boy, a refugee she saved from the Xi. This calls for only one solution! The boy must date the plane! …Oh brother.

However much I make fun of this show in my head (which I do a lot, but only because this show deserves it), it’s actually not half bad. I mean I hate the title and the core premises is stupid. Really, the human avatars for your planes are all girls and this young guy has to hang out with them to make sure they work properly? We’re doing that plot are we? I can only be grateful that there hasn’t been that much fanservice so far. Then we get the Xi, who as villains are really lacking. I mean they look cool and they’re definitely a threat, but we know nothing about them. We have no clue as their motivation or goal, heck even their personalities are non-existent. They’re not characters, they’re just a plot point to up the drama when it’s called for. Putting that aside though, this show is far from terrible. It’s bright and colourful and all the characters are likeable. Kei’s dialogue may be a bit expositiony and cliché at times, but he has a good motivation and a good character arc ahead of him as he learns to deal with his grief and anger. Gripen is also cute and fun and I like the scientist character who’s name is escaping me at the moment. What’s probably going to hold back this series the most though is that the story is very predictable. You can make a good guess at the majority of the plot twists and I don’t expect that to change as the series continues. The dialogue has a tendency to repeat itself and over explain characters back story and feelings and all the background characters are pretty one note. It’s a fun show, but nothing special.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka

When a terrible, if somewhat deceptively cuddly, threat came to the Earth, humanity turned to their only hope for salvation, Magical Girls! The battle was long and bloody and not all of the Magical Girls survived, but even those that did were left with scars both physical and mental. Asuka decided that she wanted nothing more to do with Magical Girls and tries her best to return to a normal life, but trauma and battle are not so easily left behind. There is a new threat on the rise and Asuka may just need to call on her powers to defend those she cares about, but can she survive a second go through the meat grinder?

Dark Magical Girl anime have been around for a while now and while I always make the effort to check them out (I’ve got to fill that Madoka Magica hole in my heart somehow), if I’m honest, the majority of them leave me feeling disappointed. That may just change with this series though. It’s just as bloody and violent and gory as those other series, but the key difference here is that this series feels like it has a point. It’s not just horrible things happening to Magical Girls or Magical Girls beating the snot out of one another, though it could go in that direction. I like the central concept of a person with incredible powers trying to find a way to deal with their trauma and so far the series has done a great job of portraying that. Asuka is a really likeable main character and it’s so easy to invest in her struggles. The villains aren’t that impressive so far, but I’ll put that mostly down to us seeing so little of them. I’m sticking with this one and hopefully this time I’ll come away smiling, if a little bloodstained.

Endro!

Whenever a Demon Lord appears to threaten the land, a Hero will also arrive to defend it. This is the cycle that has repeated throughout the ages and so it is for Yusha and her party of friends when they come to face the latest Demon Lord. Except, not everything goes as planned and the Demon Lord finds herself transported back in time to the era when Yusha and her friends were just starting out at Adventurer’s school. Now with plans to sabotage the Hero before she can take on her destined role, so begins the daily struggles of a girl who wants to be a Hero and her friends.

I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this show. I mean all the visuals were very brightly coloured and sugar coated, but then you’ve got that set up which is just begging for an epic fantasy series to go along with it. What we get instead is a cute and funny gag comedy as the Hero and her party deal with learning to be adventurers, which is fine. I can’t say I’m not imagining that epic fantasy in my head with a time travelling Demon Lord out to stop the Hero before they become the Hero, but at the same time I’m happy with what I’ve got. This is a very warm and gentle series, the perfect thing to watch on a lazy afternoon. It’s not laugh out loud funny and the Demon Lord’s plot haven’t been that great, but it’s a pleasant way to spent twenty odd minutes. I like how the series will poke fun at the characters, but never the setting. The world and the history that this series has build up are treated seriously and lets the comedy have a little extra punch to it.

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.  

First Impressions Winter 2019 part 1

New year, new anime. There’s plenty of shows and films that I’m looking forward to this year, but there’s also a whole stack of shows that I don’t have a clue about so let’s crack on and see what gems we’ve got waiting for us this season.

Boogiepop and Others

Takeda Keiji was hoping to have a pleasant date with his girlfriend Miyashita Touka, but she never showed up. Finally giving up and deciding to go home he spots a clearly distressed man wandering through the crowd and, like the rest of the crowd, decides to ignore the man. Then a mysterious girl in a cape and funny hat approaches and chastises the crowd for not showing even basic compassion, but that’s not what gets Keiji’s attention. No, it’s the fact that this mysterious stranger has the face of his girlfriend. What follows is a story of murder, mysterious powers and split personalities, just not necessarily in the right order.

I get the feeling this is going to be one of those shows where if I don’t give it my full attention I’m going to get lost easily. This is a non-linear story, which is always a hard sell, but the anime doesn’t help itself by jumping between timelines and perspectives with no indication as to where you are in the story (seriously is a ‘the day before…’ along the bottom so hard to type out?). The sell gets even harder when you realise that there isn’t a main character to this series, you think it’s following one person and then it’ll jump to another and then another and then another until you’re at the point where you’re wondering who you should invest in (not to mention that there are several characters with the same sort of hair and faces so it becomes a hard to tell who is who at first glance). Now I’ve been ragging on this series so far, but I have been enjoying it (for the first three episodes at least). I like stories that mess with narrative and while I don’t know if it’s the whole series that is going to be like this or just the first story arc, but I’m definitely interested. Having said that I’m probably going to keep this one for an end of season binge watch, mostly because I can get into twisted narratives so much easier when I’m watching them episode after episode (if I watch it week to week I’m likely to forget something important between episodes).

The Price of Smiles

Princess Yuki wants her whole kingdom to smile. Though she’s only twelve years old, she is the head of the monarchy (which should make her a queen, especially with both her parents being dead, but princess is cuter I guess) and takes lessons in politics and other important subjects to one day be a great leader. However some things are being kept from Yuki, like the fact that the world is already at war, a war that will have many causalities, some of which will be close to home for the princess. On the other side of the conflict is a skilled and obedient soldier, one who is always smiling.

There’s a reason I follow the three episode rule and this show is a prime example of it. Each and every episode has improved upon the last. The first episode wasn’t bad, but it had a definite feel of ‘been here before, got the t-shirt’. A world at war with mechs and an innocent and naïve young protagonist who is soon to learn the horrible truth of war. Then we get episode two, which is more of the same until we get to the end. I’ll give the series this, I was not expecting the ending (at least not this early) and I can’t wait to see how it impacts the characters going forward. Episode three however has been my favourite, mostly because it introduces Stella and her squad and they’re the most likeable characters so far. Again it’s very much, ‘been there, done that’, but I’m enjoying the series more than I was expecting to. I want to see where these character’s stories are going and I’m really hopeful for this series.

Mob Psycho 100 2

Everyone’s favourite overpowered yet socially awkward esper is back! Mob just wants an ordinary life and maybe the chance to talk to his childhood sweetheart, but between his overflowing psychic powers and his con man boss there’s not much chance of that. Whether it’s facing down urban legends or his first potential girlfriend, Mob has got a lot of troubles waiting for him and I’m literally counting down the moments until he explodes again, does that make me a bad person?

Let’s keep this short. Mob Psycho 100 is back. It’s awesome. Make sure to watch it. ‘Nough said. Okay, to expand on that a little bit, I love the first series of this show, I even ranked it as Unmissable in my review way back when, and I’m so glad the series is back. The animation is as great as ever, the characters are as fun as ever and I love the strange, and hilarious, situations Mob finds himself in. If I had one complaint it’s that after three episodes there isn’t much of a direction to the plot, we haven’t even seen much of Mob’s counter. Having said that there seems to be much more of a horror vibe this time around. Either way I’m just happy to spend time in this world again.

The Rising of the Shield Hero

Naofumi is living a fairly ordinary life, until he picks up a fantasy book in the library and is transported to another world. Along with three other arrivals, he is declared one of the Four Cardinal Heroes and is even given his own magic weapon, except while his fellow heroes get a sword, spear and bow, he’s stuck with a shield. Still Naofumi is determined to enjoy his other word adventure, but then things start to go wrong. Falsely accused of a terrible crime, Naofumi finds himself without money, without friends and a terrible reputation. Yet the young hero can’t go back home until the disasters that threaten this world are stopped and he’s going to have to find a way to survive in a world that hates and fears him.

This is probably my second favourite anime of the season so far. I have mentioned before that I’ve been having problems with the isekai shows of past seasons, for a while I was completely burnt out on them, but that seems to be changing of late. Between this, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and my Digimon marathon I’m enjoying the genre again and for different reasons in each case. As far as this series goes I like the general flip on the power fantasy elements of a lot of isekai. Yes you’ve been sent to a fantastical world full of magic and heroes, but that doesn’t mean everything is going to go your way. I like both Naofumi and Raphtalia and the shield has some really unique and interesting powers and I can’t wait to see what else it gets down the line. My only real problem I have with this show is the pacing. Most of the time it’s perfectly fine, but Naofumi’s turn from optimistic noob to closed off and cynical was just a bit too quick in my opinion. For me it needed another minute or so of him processing how screwed he was before deciding that he’d never trust anyone ever again. It kind of just went straight from “But I’m innocent!” to “Right, screw you all!” in seconds flat. The character transition just needed a moment to properly sink it, but it didn’t get that. Looking forward to the rest of this series regardless.

My Roommate is a Cat

Mikazuki Subaru is a novelist who doesn’t do well with other people. Actually scratch that, he doesn’t do well with the outside world at all. He’s struggling for a new story idea until he comes across a cat with a look that could kill. Taking the cat home for more inspiration a bond begins to form between the two, much to Subaru’s alarm. This is the story of a man, his cat and their daily struggles to understand one another.

I’m not crying, you’re crying! Damn, episode 3 got me right in the feels. I was going to have this as my chillout anime for the season, but if it’s going to go for the emotional jugular like that again I may have to recategorise it. This is a really sweet and heart-warming series, with the occasional need for tissues. I love the fact that as well as giving us the emotional journey of one character as he deals with his grief and opens up to the world, we also get the beginners guide to what your cat really thinks. The series so perfectly captures the thought processes of a cat, or at least as best as we humans could ever understand them, giving really well thought out reasons and exploration as to why cats do the things they do. I’m sticking with this series, though I may have to guard my heart a little more carefully by the end of it.

Next time! We go back in time to an adventurers’ school! We meet a magical girl dealing with PTSD and we meet some delicious orphans! Wait…what?

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