Anime Corner: Lostorage conflated WIXOSS Review

Blog conflated wixoss Review Title

The Final End

What’s the Story?

The Selector battles. If you happen to play the card game Wixoss, you may find that one day a card offers you a very special opportunity, though the prize may change. Perhaps your wish will be granted, or you can have control over your own memories, the only condition is that you must battle and defeat other Selectors. The battles were meant to have ended though when Ruuko freed Mayu from the White Room, but they didn’t. Then Suzuko and her friends got caught up in another set of battles where their memories were on the line, they fought and defeated the big bad and walked off to their bittersweet ending. That should have been the end, but it wasn’t. The battles will not end. The cycle of despair will continue on and on, unless… this time the girls are fighting together rather than apart and everyone (and yes I mean everyone) is determined to bring an end to the Selector battles once and for all, you know, until they come up with another series.

The Review

It must be the year of the epic crossovers or something, I mean obviously there was the amazing Avengers: Infinity War and not too far off we’ve got all those Disney princesses turning up in Wreck-It Ralph 2 (anyone else super excited for that film?). Now we’ve got the grand finale to the Wixoss saga (even though they’ve already had one grand finale, but I’ll forgive them that), where the majority of the major players from across all three previous seasons turn up to join in the fun (or torment in some cases). I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed the Wixoss series in the past, they’re all good series, but I’ve never been as excited for them as I have for this series. (And just on a side note, this series is really at it’s best if you’ve seen the other series before hand. You can check out my reviews of them HERE and HERE).

This series has a different feel to it than all the previous seasons and that’s not just because of the promise that they’re really going to end the battles for good this time (I’ll believe it when I see it). The pervious seasons have all been about tormenting its female leads with either cruel twists of fate or horribly bad luck. Oh sure there’s been messages about battling darkness, how crushing loneliness and the importance of your own memories, but primarily I think it’s been about the torment (why do I like this series again?). This season however, while circumstances still have a tendency to pound on the girls, there’s more of a hopeful sense to proceedings. This time the girls are fighting back and slowly banding together to take on the darkness that has been forcing them to fight.

Also can I say how much of a joy it is to see to see some these characters back and to see them all interacting with one another. I didn’t realise I missed some of these people, except for Aki-crazy, I knew I missed her and she’s as crazy and vindictive as ever (yay!). There is a real tension to the series and I put that down to two things, one we know these characters and have already formed emotional bonds with them over the past series, so this one doesn’t need to waste time getting us invested and can just barrel straight into the plot. The second comes from a change of attitude from the characters. This time there’s no newbies, everyone has been through these battles before and they know exactly what they’re getting into. There’s no need to build a sense of dread in these characters because they already have it. I mean when things were building towards the Ruko vs. Suzuko match I had a genuine sense of dread, which I don’t think I’ve ever had with this series before.

The series does have its problems though. For one there’s the same problem that all the Wixoss series share, in that if you want to learn more about the actual card game then look elsewhere. The rules and any kind of explanation of how the game actually works are pretty much nonexistent, the game has slipped so far into the background by this point that it’s a wonder anyone even remembers to carry to their deck around with them. I mean there were points were one character said ‘she’s using a insert name deck’ and my reaction was ‘is that good or bad?’ or my when everyone gasped and went ‘She’s become a level 5!’ to which I went ‘is that impressive?’. It’s a good job this series has character dynamics and crazy people to overcome because it’s never going to get any tension out of playing the card game. Still this season, like the others, uses the game as a background to the personal struggles of the characters, which it still does very well.

Then we come to the villains. I mean Aki-crazy always has been and always will be great and it was nice to get a bit of a conclusion for her character. As for the others though they’re just a bit too generic. One is a battle junkie and the other just wants to watch the world burn. They’re not exactly deep characterisations and end up as nothing more than an obstacle for the girls to overcome in their fight to stop the Selector battles. At least the final boss battle is suitably epic with a massive free-for-all between all of the LRIGs.

On a last note I do have to say best girl for the series has to go to Kiyoi. Charting her character progression from the very first season all the way through to this one is a pretty great arc, and a good incentive for me to go back and rewatch those series. I love Kiyoi’s arc of wanting to make up for all the horrible things she’s done in the past by stopping the battles once and for all. Also I love how proactive she is in trying to get everyone together.

The Verdict

Lostorage conflated WIXOSS may be the best of the Wixoss franchise to date, building off of what came before it and using that to make a tense and exciting final instalment. All the characters get some sort of conclusion and every plot threat is tied up nice and neatly. If you’ve been watching the other seasons then you have to watch this and if you haven’t then go back to Selector infected WIXOSS and enjoy. Definitely 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.  

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Anime Corner: Katana Maidens – Toji No Miko Review

Blog Katana Maidens Review Title

Save You, Save Me, Save This Show!

What’s the Story?

Since ancient times there have been priestesses in shrines who exorcise the creatures known as aradama from our world, with their swords! Now in the modern day the aradama are still very much a threat and the Toji, the modern form of the priestesses, work alongside the police and the government to help quell the aradama threat. Most of the toji are high school girls (because of course they are) and all of them are set to meet in an annual tournament to show off their skills. Kanami is really looking forward it as she loves nothing more than getting into fights with strong opponents (just think of her as Goku with a sword), but things don’t go according to plan when Kanami’s last opponent, a girl named Hiyori decides to try and kill Yukari, the head of the Toji. Is Yukari hiding a dark secret? And could it spell an end not only for the Toji, but the whole human race?

The Review

You know what I hate most about this show? It’s that it can be occasionally good. I know that’s a weird reason to get angry at a show, but to me it proves that when it tries this show can actually tell a concise, emotional and well-told story, which also means that eighty percent of the time it’s choosing not to. I mean the majority of the show isn’t terrible, but I can’t call it good either. From stupid character decisions to broken story logic and even the mountains of exposition they try to cram into episodes this show is watchable at best, but then there are moments, however brief, when suddenly everything just clicks and you see the show that could have been. I mean the last episode is pretty much the best things this series has ever produced, it’s quiet and beautiful. The animation takes a step up like it hasn’t really done before and the emotions really get you in the feels (seriously I was on the verge of tears and I didn’t think I cared enough about these characters for that to happen). If the whole series had been like that last episode, then I would be singing its praises from the rooftops. Unfortunately it wasn’t.

One of the main problems this series has is that I don’t think it understands how to use its plot properly. I mean on paper the first arc sounds pretty epic, but its so mishandled that any real sense of drama or pathos is removed before it can even arrive. (Spoilers for the first arc in 5…4…3…) I do think this first arc had potential with the reveal that Yukari is actually being possessed by an aradama. Dun dun dun! I mean the whole hero that saved the world and everyone adores secretly being a villain has been done before (not often admittedly), but it’s a great idea and one that has the potential to bring up a lot of interesting conflict. Also it means our heroines, Kanami and Hiyori have to become rebels, fighting against friends and people they’ve admired in order to get the truth out.

The problem comes in the execution of the story. The plot tries to do to things all at once and it ends up demolishing any drama in the story. At first the series tries to keep the possession a secret (for about an episode), so we get the mystery of why Hiyori would want to attack Yukari and make us question her character. This does make Hiyori interesting and make us want to find out what she’s about. Unfortunately it also makes Kanami look like an idiot, because it doesn’t have an excuse for why Kanami suddenly wants to help her, only having her talk about how she wants to fight Hiyori properly. Then when the reveal finally does come in the second episode, it just throws it out like its nothing. Oh, by the way, the head of the Toji is actually an evil monster, just thought you’d like to know. No build up, no suspense, nothing. Then again that’s how this series handles exposition, it just gives it out like complimentary hand towels. There are so many scenes of people just talking on and on and on and I’m sorry, but I came to this series to see a group of girls partake in epic sword battles; I didn’t come here to be talked at for twenty minutes!

I think the way to fix this plot problem is fairly easy. Just give us a hint about the possession, don’t sit down and explain it, just show us something that hints at the possession, Kanami sees this and then goes along with Hiyori to find out what that really was. This gives us a bit of build up to Yukari’s possession so that it doesn’t come right out of nowhere and it also gives us a logical reason for Kanami to go with Hiyori. That’s something that is missing a fair amount from some of the characters, logic. The mostly screaming example I can think of is the crazy president lady (and honestly I have such a void of feelings for that character I can’t even be bothered to remember her name). My question is simple, after the first arc, when all the bad guys were arrested, why wasn’t she? I mean she’s just walking around free and fine, no one’s even watching her! And guess what, this turns out to be a bad decision because she becomes involved with the bad guys of the next  arc! Argh, why does this show frustrate me so much?

Oh, right, it can actually be really good when it wants to. I think the area where this show gets it right is in the character’s emotions. This show, when it wants to, knows how to convey emotions and really hit you in the feels. There are several moments, especially at the end of character’s arcs where it can really make you feel what the character has been through and just for that brief moment they appear incredibly human and complex (though I do wonder why they couldn’t have been portrayed like that the rest of the time). The show has a way of being able to redeem whole characters with just a few scenes and really make you care about them. The best example I have of this is one of the Elite Guard who throughout all of her appearances comes across as just your standard evil battle junkie, but then in just one episode we get some glimpses of her back story and its done in such a way that she suddenly becomes a really tragic character.

On a last note there’s the animation. For the most part the animation is serviceable, you get a good idea of the speed in a lot of battles, but it’s very rare when it gets to chance to show what it can really do (and when it tries it really is beautiful). I think one of the problems I have with the animation is when it comes to the action. I mean CG animation has come a long way and can be really good, but during every fight, when the girls gets swapped out for CG models it just sticks out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t help that a lot of the moves are the same all the time. I mean there’s talk of these different sword styles, but all you ever see is run in, swing down, run out again, rinse and repeat. At first the speed makes it fun to watch, but as the show carries on and you notice the pattern the fun quickly dries up. A shame really, which is kind of my feelings towards the whole series.

The Verdict

I can’t say that Katana Maidens – Toji No Miko is a good series, so much of the plot is poorly strung together with characters making incredibly stupid decisions and filling scene after scene with exposition. Yet, there are moments when this series shines, when it knuckles down, forgets the big plot and just focuses on the characters and what they’re going through it can really sell the emotions. It’s not enough to save this show though and in all honesty I’d just skip this one.

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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: The Dragon Prince Season 1 Review

Blog Dragon Prince Review Title

And then the Moon Nation attacked!

What’s the Story?

In a land not our own there are six primal sources of magic, moon, sun, stars, earth, sky and sea, but the humans discovered another source of magic, dark magic. Dark magic draws on the essence of magical beings for its power and the elves would not allow this to stand. A war began, dividing the land in two. After a great battle the Dragon King and his egg, the Dragon Prince, were both destroyed by the humans. Now a group of moonshadow elves have snuck into one of the human kingdoms bent on justice (and vengeance), but all that may change when two human princes learn the Dragon Prince may not be as dead as everyone thought.

The Review

I have to admit I was very excited for this series when I heard about it. One of the head writers from Avatar: The Last Airbender (and several other members of that team) bringing us a new fantasy animated series, yes please. Now while I feel it’s a little unfair to compare this series to Avatar, mostly because we have so little of this series (a point I’ll come back to later) and the fact that it’s doing its own thing with different influences to what Avatar had. However it’s inevitably going to happen, so I’ll just roll with it for this first chunk of the review. I realise I’ve never talked about my feelings towards the Avatar series on this blog before so a quick overview first. The Last Airbender is amazing (though the live action film can go burn in a fire), the animated show was a near perfect mix of world building, storytelling and characters. It never talked down to its audience and gave us such a rich and interesting world that I still enjoying exploring to this day (seriously if you’ve never picked up the comics go and get them, they’re great). Korra I have more mixed feelings on, but I’ll leave that for some other time.

Thankfully I never got the feeling that I was watching an Avatar clone with this series, which is a good thing. It takes much more influence from your more traditional epic fantasy tropes likes dragons and elves and a good dollop of medieval culture. It does manage to put its own spin on those things and in the spirit of Avatar, it paints a picture of a deep and interesting world to explore. There are only nine episodes to this series (which I’m blaming Netflix for, but that’s just because I have problems with their business model at times. I’ll come back to this too.) so while we only get the briefest glimpses of a lot of things you can tell a lot of thought has gone into this world. I want to learn so much about this place, about all the primal sources of magic, some of which we see and others are only hinted at, but all of it is fascinating. There’s also a lot of seeds planted for later developments so I’m guessing, or rather hoping, that they’ve already got this story all planned out and Netflix won’t mess them about like Nickelodeon did with Korra.

That about brings me to the animation, which does bring up some issues. There are times when the animation is fantastic, when it’s an action scene or something is moving really fast the motion is clean and quick and looks gorgeous. I love the colours and the speed and complexity of some of Rayla’s treetop fights are breathtaking. However, the problems come in when the animation slows down. When someone’s just stood there talking, or casually walking about the animation suddenly becomes oddly jerky. I can’t decide whether it’s a drop in frame rate that makes the motion so blocky or a lack of budget. I got used to it eventually, but it was awfully distracting for the first half of the series. Hopefully that’s something we can get fixed for season two.

Of the characters Rayla is my favourite (though General Amaya is a total badass and also very cool), but that could just be because she gets the most development, that and she gets all the best fight scenes. Callum, the older prince, is funny and charming and while he does grow across the series I can’t help but feel a lot of his development is still to come (particularly with how the series ends, it’s going to be interesting seeing how he reacts to certain consequences of the finale). Ezran, the younger prince, is cute and just a great big bundle of innocence, but he doesn’t change that much. Still I’m looking forward to seeing where he’s going. Rayla meanwhile is one of the moonshadow elves that comes to the kingdom to assassinate the king and princes in the first episodes. On the one hand she has a duty to fulfil and, as she sees it, some past wrongs that she must make up for, but when it comes to actually taking lives she always hesitates. There’s a great deal of mistrust and misconceptions about elves in the humans kingdoms and Rayla herself struggles to trust, both others and herself. Basically she’s got a lot to deal with and that internal conflict makes for a really interesting arc.

The series is really well written, always managing to find a balance between its humour and lighter moments and the darker, more epic moments. Whether it’s the King talking about how much freedom a child has compared to how much they imagine adults have, or the goofiness of a bunch of kids just joking around with one another, it walks the tightrope of its tone really well. Every character has a lot of believability and personality to them, I care for each and every one of them, including the villains. The bad guys may just be my favourite part of this series, while it’s clear that they are the bad guys and are doing bad things, I can’t help but like them. Part of it is that they get to be funny just as much as the protagonists and get to join in the jokes and show off just as much personality. The brother and sister come across as just a nice couple of kids who don’t even realise they’re on the wrong side, yet. The main villain, Viren, is clearly a dangerous man on a very dark path and he does do unforgivable things and may be self-deluding himself. Yet there’s are still shades of a good man in him, in the early episodes when he’s talking to the King he’s not some scheming, cackling villain, he’s just a guy trying to help his King, if in the wrong way.

The Verdict

The Dragon Prince is a great start to a fantasy series. A few bits of jerky animation aside this series presents us with a rich and full world, ripe for exploring. The characters are all funny and full of personality, even the villains have more shades to them than you’d expect. My only real complaint is that at only nine episodes long this series feels incredibly short, more like a teaser for what is to come rather than an epic first season (thought could be because thanks to Netflix you can binge the whole thing in one day and we have no idea when the next set of episodes is coming, rather than having it spread out across several weeks to make it more satisfying). No matter what I am eagerly looking forward to more of this show.

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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: Megalobox Review

Blog Megalobox Review Title

Something to do with death.

What’s the Story?

In the not too distant future boxing has evolved to a new level. Now called Megalobox, the contestants aren’t content to just beat one another senseless, now they strap on mechanical arms, Gear, to increase the damage they can do. One contender, known only as ‘Junk Dog’ makes a living in the more disreputable arenas, throwing matches for his manager. Yet ‘Junk Dog’ wants more, he wants to actually win a match for once and despite the promises of his manager it doesn’t look like that’s ever going to happen. After a chance encounter with the champion, Yuri, ‘Junk Dog’ thinks he’s found his dream opponent, but to get to him he’ll have to battle his way past ruthless opponents, all of them after the top spot. Taking the name Joe, he aims to enter the Megalobox tournament and get into the ring with Yuri once more. Of course he’s going to do this without any Gear of his own because the guy’s suicidal.

The Review

I don’t know where to start with this one. I know I’ve said that before and usually it’s a precursor to me disliking an anime, but here it’s the exact opposite. I have no idea where to start because, well, I love every single part of this anime. Okay, not every part, but a good majority and my issues are really just nitpicks. Everything from the music to the animation, to the writing to the sense of drama, I spent pretty much every episode of this series on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next one.

On paper this show wasn’t for me, I mean it’s about boxing and I don’t like boxing. I’d rather keep my violence to the screen where I know it’s not real (sorry if boxing’s your thing, if you enjoy it then go enjoy, I know they try to make it safer and more about the skill involved, but I don’t want to watch two people punch one another regardless). Then the series goes and straps mechanical enhancements on to the guy’s arms just so they can make it even more brutal? Yeah, no, not interested. What caught my attention though was the little thumbnail for this show on Crunchyroll. One of the things that stands out so much about this show is the animation. I mean outside of being gorgeous and fluid and with some real weight to it, it also has an almost throwback style to it. The character designs and the look and feel of everything is very reminiscent of the nineties for me. I especially love the scratchy line work for the characters, it stands out so much compared to all the clean and polished animation that you find everywhere else. It gives the dystopia this series is set in such a feeling of grit and grime that a more polished look would just struggle to convey.

You add on top of that some top-notch story telling and directing and I’m already marking this show as a classic. If you want to see how to tell an underdog story, watch this series, pick apart it’s story structure and you will have a blueprint for how to tell your tale (all you’ve got to figure out then is what you’re going to add to the blueprint). Every scene in this anime is filled with a sense of purpose and drive, we know the end goal from the very beginning and each episode is a step towards that, even if it’s just a lighter one where we’re getting to know the next opponent before the next match, everything is perfectly paced and built up. Every fight feels like a challenge and every opponent has their own unique skill that Joe must overcome to reach the next bout, it’s pretty formulaic, but it never feels that way. Every match is as tense and as exciting as the last and the next one will be even more so, all up to that final fight with Yuri.

The show doesn’t shy away from how brutal this sport can be either, Joe is constantly covered in scars and blood and more than that it shows that Joe can be scared. There’s one match where Joe is on the verge of a panic attack because he’s just realised he’s stepped into the ring with a guy who’s part motorised punching machine and all Joe has to defend himself with is a pair of gloves. It’s moments like that, that are willing to show the character’s vulnerable sides that stops this whole series from completely falling into the macho bravdo trap (though it does stumble in on several occasions, but I’ll forgive it that because the rest is so good).

The characters are all very likeable, even Joe and that is really surprising considering we never really learn anything about him. He has no past, no birth name and no family outside of the one he makes for himself, and yet his never-give-up attitude is so admirable, even if at times he takes it past the point of ridiculousness. I mostly put it down to the writing and the acting, because Joe just oozes personality. We do get to see different sides of him, from his anger and frustration to his clear recklessness and sometimes self-destructive sides, all of which is very understandable.

On a last note, and skip to the verdict section to avoid any trace of spoilers, the ending. Yes I know the ending to this series has upset a lot of people, it’s not what some were hoping for and frankly I don’t care. Yes the fight wasn’t as focussed on as in previous matches, but I think that’s missing the point. Sure the fights have all been fun and amazing, but the fights are not the point of this show. It’s about taking on challenges and living in the moments. Besides I spent the whole episode biting my fingernails praying for Joe not to die, so the same level of tension and drama was there. (Also Joe won! End credits prove it. No arguments).

The Verdict

In the end Megalobox is a fantastic series. It’s an underdogs tale that manages to stand out from the crowd thanks to its unique art style, but becomes something truly great because of it’s writing, it’s directing and it’s acting. Also there’s the music (my god the music), which is not my usual thing, but adds so much atmosphere to the show and is so catchy I can’t help but listen to it again and again. I realise I may be over hyping this show and so is everyone else, but if you haven’t seen this show yet then you need to. It’s a knockout.

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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: Record of Grancrest War Review

Blog Record of Grancrest Review Title

How not to write a fantasy story.

What’s the Story?

In an Age of Chaos the land is beset by monsters and demons. Only the Lords with their ability to use ‘Crests’ have any hope of defeating these dark times, but often spend too much time fighting amongst themselves to ever accomplish anything. If all of the Crests were joined together though it would mean the end of the Age of Chaos, but to do so would either mean defeating or gaining the allegiance of every other lord in the land, a near impossible task. For wandering lord Theo, such things are far too ambitious for him. All he wants to do is gain enough power that he can return to his land and overthrow the dictator that is currently ruling over it and with the help of the mage Siluca he might just accomplish that and so much more.

The Review

Oh boy. Where do I even start with this series? I think if I was going to tell someone the best way to not write a fantasy, I’d just show them this and tell them to do the opposite of everything that it does. I mean the premise is solid enough; we’ve got a land in chaos, plenty of monsters and warring factions. Theo, our hero, is naïve, but determined and at first glance makes a very good noble figure to lead the series, while Siluca is the brains of the operation, using sly tactics and manipulation to turn situations to her and Theo’s advantage. If the series had just stuck with that and chronicled Theo’s rise through the ranks with and Siluca battling attacks from all sides I do think it could have been great. Even though, technically, on paper that is exactly what it did, in my opinion it did it completely the wrong way.

Let’s start with our leads. First, Theo, the man is an idiot of the highest order. I mean I get what they were trying to do with him, at first anyway. He’s strong and principled, a good noble figurehead who can be used by Siluca to be the perfect Lord and then eventually his honest heart and unbending principles would win her and the rest of the Lords over. The problem is…what am I talking about there are several problems here. The first problem is that Theo is boring. He’s so good and so kind-hearted that he is just dull. He’s too perfect, even when he struggles he never really suffers for it and through the convenience of plot armour he always comes out on top. He did improve a fraction later on in the series when they started to show how upset he is by all the people dying in his name, which is interesting, but nothing is every done with it. Oh, another person has died in Theo’s name and the would-be emperor is sad, moving on! It doesn’t help that not once does he prove how he’d make a good emperor. Not once in the whole series have I felt he contributed to a clever plan or that he could really lead an army or even manage a government. He has his principles and plot armour so thick a meteor couldn’t dent it, but that’s it. Every time the show tries to portray him as this great leader it just comes across as things going in Theo’s favour because they have to for the plot to move forward.

Another problem with Theo (and I swear I’ll get off this topic in a minute), is a problem that the whole of the series shares. He has no idea where he’s going. When he first appears he wants to gain power so that he can free the people of his homeland. Then he gets wrapped up in Siluca’s plot to raise the perfect Lord. Then he gets put into the service of another Lord. Then, his original mission to free his homeland gets resolved, as a damned subplot! Then he has to avenge the Lord who’s service he used to be in and get all the other Lords behind him. Then he wants to be Emperor and has to take on this super secret organisation that has, apparently, been plotting away in the background. The thing is, outside of the first few episodes, none of what happens to Theo feels like his own desire. The plot is just carrying him along and that does not make for an interesting story arc.

The whole series has this wayward quality to its plot that is just annoying. It wanders around like a magpie, going from shiny thing to shiny thing, never keeping its focus or attention on any one thing for more than a couple of episodes. Oh, here’s Theo and Siluca. Hey what are those Lords over there doing? Hey why don’t we throw some werewolves and vampires into this thing and see what happens? Hey, this is a medievalish fantasy series we’ve got to have some impromptu nudity right? Ugh. I feel like someone should have made this story go sit in a corner until it calmed down. There’s just so much happening and so many characters it’s all over the place. Nobody gets a satisfactory character arc or resolution. Plot threads will just pop up out of nowhere at random. The vampire I mentioned before? Appears near the beginning of the series and doesn’t become relevant again until the last damn episode! And even then he’s only there for a pointless fight. The last few episodes are just a rush to get to the end before they run out of episodes and I can’t help but think that if this series cut half its cast it would be so much the better for it.

Now, on to the animation. There are moments when this series does look good, either with a nice backdrop or a fluid bit of action, but as the series wears on those moments get less and less. It’s kind of a marvel some of the animation in this series, there were moments were I thought my screen was melting the character models became so boneless and sketchy. I’m not even going to go into that scene where the Viking dude had so much blood spilling out of him he could have filled a couple of oceans. I did question if this series was trolling me at that point, because nobody in their right mind could take that seriously.

The Verdict

In the end, Record of Grancrest War is a series it’s best to run and hide from, unless of course you wish to study how not to put together a fantasy series and learn from its mistakes. There are too many characters, too many plot threads that either go nowhere or come across as completely random, so much so that the plot of this series crumbles under its own weight. Theo is a boring lead and Siluca becomes strangely neutered after the first handful of episodes. The other characters are so forgettable I can’t even remember their names. Avoid this series like the plague.

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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: Disenchantment Part 1 Review

Blog Disenchantment Review Title

Well it’s a start.

What’s the Story?

Welcome to the kingdom of Dreamland! They’ve got everything from Land Vikings to dysentery, rampant poverty to lonely Griffins and don’t even get me started on the singing walruses. The princess of this kingdom is Bean, a kind-hearted soul with a drinking problem and poor impulse control (also she has a tendency to get people killed in such a quantity that you could only get away with in a medieval setting). She longs to find her place in life, as long as that place isn’t a princess’ and is situated near a tavern. She just wants a little acceptance and maybe some affection from her family (which may be some time coming). In the meantime she has her friends to help her make poor life choices, Luci, Bean’s own personal demon who’s her enabler, and Elfo, an elf that got sick of the happy-go-lucky nature of his home and decided to find somewhere more miserable. This is the chronicle of their misadventures, oh and there may be an ongoing subplot about finding the elixir of life that may well doom the entire kingdom, you know, for comedy!

The Review

Okay I’ll be honest and admit I’ve tried to avoid reviews for this series so I could come into it without any expectations. Even without reading or watching anybody’s particular thoughts though, I do get the general feeling that the Internet is disappointed with this series. Which I can understand, but I don’t agree with. I enjoyed this series, a lot, especially towards the end, which I think may be part of the problem some people had. This series is a bit of slow burn, which is odd for a ten episode series.

The main problem I think this series has is over hype. Every single poster or ad I’ve seen for this series has it plastered across it that this is ‘from the creator of the Simpsons!’, which I get why that’s a big thing. The Simpsons and Futrama are hugely popular (or at least they were), so I get people being excited. Heck I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was Matt Groening’s name that first caught my attention. Here’s the thing though, I enjoyed the Simpsons (I haven’t watched it in years and judging my the internet’s opinion of recent episodes I’m not going to anytime soon) and I enjoyed Futurama, a lot. However neither one of them is making it on to my favourite cartoons list any time soon, I do really like them both, but there’s other stuff that’s more in my wheelhouse that I prefer watching (Batman: the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender and so on). So while I was excited, I wasn’t bursting at the seams waiting for this. It meant I could see this series from a neutral field and appreciate what it does, it has problems sure, but it gets better (so much better) by the end.

That brings me back to the slow burn problem. This series does struggle at the start. It’s not bad, I like characters and the setting. There are some gorgeous backdrops scattered throughout the series and even some pretty funny jokes hidden in the background. There are some jokes that are really funny, but there are also jokes that miss the mark entirely. I think part of the problem is that several of the jokes are kind of predictable. We know the kind of humour that Matt Groening has in his shows and also parodying fantasy tropes is not a new thing. There are several set ups that you can see the ending to from a mile away, for example Bean wants to off this Prince she’s set to marry, so arranges for him to get on a party barge to the mermaid island. There happens to be a walrus island right next to it and the sea captain even mentions it’s best not to get the two mixed up. I think you can get the punch line from there.

The thing is though, the longer the series goes on the funnier it gets. The first three episodes or so are very much the settling in period of the show as the actors and the writers feel out the show and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Episodes four through to seven are where the series starts to find its groove with more one off misadventures that you feel things clicking into place. The jokes hit more often, the characters really start working together and it fells like a nice, funny little show. I didn’t laugh every second, but I did laugh. Then we come to the last three episodes. This is where I feel the series really finds itself. One of the things that was surprisingly enjoyable about this series that I really like was the subplots and the semi-serialised nature of it. Events that happen in one episode will have a knock on effect to events in the following episodes. For example in one episode Bean tries to throw a party while the king is away, which then gets crashed by a bunch of Land Vikings and a lot of people end up dead (seriously Bean is like the Black Death incarnate). The next episode then begins with Bean being shipped off to a convert to try and sort herself out because of said party massacre.

All of this comes into play in the last three episodes as the ongoing plot of the king trying to get a hold of the elixir of life leads Bean and co on to a pretty epic adventure. The stakes are raised, we get a wider look at this world and some of the surrounding lands and it gets kind of emotional too. The ending of the penultimate episode was giving me a serious case of the feels. If the next part of the series (whenever that’s released) keeps up this level of drama and comedy then I think we could be in for a really good show. I’m looking forward to it.

The Verdict

Disenchantment may not be the instant classic that comes storming out of the gate like everyone expected, but I think it’s a solid show with great potential. It does take a while to find its feet and it’s never a laugh a minute, but as the first part nears its climax it does reach a good balance of comedy, drama and emotion. I want to know more about these characters and this world and I’m eagerly awaiting Part 2.

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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: Fate/Extra Last Encore Review

Blog Fate Extra Review Title

“I think I kind of get it, but it’s still confusing”

What’s the Story?

Right, let’s give this a shot.

A new Holy Grail War rages, though this one is a little bit different. Instead of seven masters being chosen to battle it out in a city or the countryside, instead hundreds of masters have been selected, their souls digitised and sent to the moon. There they can summon heroic spirits, former warriors of legend and myth, to battle towards the 7th Level where the Moon Cell and the Holy Grail are, to have their wish granted. However something went wrong. The Moon Cell’s original intention was to study humanity and instead all it has brought is death and misery for a hundred years. Now the Moon Cell is breaking down, still with no victor in this Holy Grail War and with life deteriorating back on the Earth this could be the end of humanity itself.

However things are about to change. At last a new master has arrived, Hakuno, a strange young man who wakes after being stabbed to death. Together with his servant Saber and the help of the mysterious Rin, he climbs through the levels, battling the Floor Masters even though he doesn’t know what his wish is. You see Hakuno has no memories of who he was, only an unbridled hatred that sometimes takes over him. Just what is a Dead Face?

Okay, I think that’s what was going on, I may be totally wrong but I don’t feel like rewatching the anime again to try and figure it out.

The Review

Yeah, this is a confusing one, I mean the Fate franchise has a reputation for being quite a dense mythology to dig your way through, but this series takes it to a whole other level. There’s so many times where I had to listen to a conversation two or three times just to grasp what they were trying to tell me. Sure, Fate likes its long, overly poetic and rambling dialogue at times and in other Fate series I’ve been able to either put up with it or genuinely enjoy what they were talking about. Here though it makes the story near impenetrable, so many of the episodes are just wall-to-wall exposition and yet they say so little. I think one of the main problems this series has is that we see so little of what is actually going on. There’s talk of the population of the Earth either collapsing or being on the verge of that and yet we never even so much as a frame of what the state of the Earth is in with our own eyes.

There’s also a distinct lack of set up to the actual setting, in the first episode Hakuno is just going through the motions in this generic school setting and we’re left by ourselves to piece things together from the scraps we’re given. I really think this anime should have started by showing us the Earth, then the Moon Cell, then explained about the century long Holy Grail War (actually thinking about, the series doesn’t even explain what a Holy Grail War is). After all of that, once the series has given us our bearing, then we can go into Hakuno’s story. If the series had been done that way I think I would have enjoyed this so much more because I could have spent my time getting to know the characters, rather than trying to work out what was going on.

Then again it’s not as if the characters are that revolutionary. Hakuno is okay in a generic main character kind of way, honestly it’s probably Billy Kametz’s personable performance that makes me like the guy more than anything else. My main problem with him is that he keeps going on about how filled with hatred and anger he is, but he never acts like that. Hakuno comes across as a very nice guy, wanting to help and save others and he can even smile and trade jokes with Saber. The whole hate thing just feels like forced angst because it never comes through in his personality. Saying that the whole Dead Face thing is an interesting concept, I just wish it were put to better use.

That brings me to Saber, who I feel could have been a fantastic character, I just never really connected with her. I mean everything was there on paper, she’s always fun and has an interesting back-story when that’s revealed. I often found myself smiling whenever the show’s spotlight swung back to her and yet I can’t say I’ve really fallen for her, not like the Saber from the regular Fate universe (or even Saber of Red from Apocrypha). I think it again comes back to me having to spend so much time trying to work out what people are saying that I couldn’t devote enough of myself to investing in the characters. However, I will admit that during the later episodes the exposition calmed down a little (only a little mind) and I did find some of Saber and Hakuno’s conversations really heart-warming. I won’t discuss her outfit here, I’ll just say that I had some issues with it (of course that was when she was actually wearing it. Someone in charge seemed determined to get in as much Saber fanservice as possible during the early episodes)

There are two other problems that I feel really cripple this series. One is the length of the series, at only ten episodes long this is an incredibly short series and I can’t help but feel if you doubled the length of this series it might help with the exposition so that it can be spread out a bit. Also it might help some scenes breath, as there are several that fly past in the blink of an eye before you can even properly register what happened. Now I know there’s a movie that’s supposed to be coming out later in the year, but honestly I don’t think that’s going to help much, though it may give an actual conclusion to the series as at the minute it ends without one.

The last problem I have with the series is the story structure. What I’ve always like about the idea of the Holy Grail War it that it’s a proper battle royale, anyone can fight anyone and you never know exactly who’s going to win (outside of the main protagonist) or exactly what match ups you’ll get. The anticipation is part of the fun, in this series though there’s no anticipation. Each Floor Master is introduced as we come to them and I know this series is based on a game, but do we have to have the battles laid out like such? I mean every couple of episodes is just Hakuno and Saber arrive on a floor, we learn about the Floor Master, then there’s a fight, Hakuno and Saber win and carry on to the next floor, rinse and repeat. Also throw in some weird yet possibly symbolic imagery and copious amounts of exposition for good measure. It’s not as fun or interesting just to have Hakuno face each new enemy one after the other in a straight line like that. There’s no chance really get invested in an opponent because as soon as Hakuno arrives I know he’s going to beat them in an episode’s time so I generally stop caring there and then. The old formula works so much better.

The Verdict

In the end Fate/Extra Last Encore is a confusing mess of a series that only the most die hard of fate fans should attempt to watch. There is some bizarre yet interesting imagery, especially in the backgrounds (but then again this was made by Studio SHAFT), but the series is crushed under the weight of its own exposition and lack of proper set up. Maybe if the series was longer to give it time to breathe or put some effort into establishing its setting, but it didn’t, which is a shame as I feel there’s a lot of potential in this story. However we’ve got what we’ve got and I won’t be asking for an encore of this performance any time soon.

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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.