Anime Corner: Bungo Stray Dogs Review

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

What’s the Story?

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

First Impressions: Winter 2017 Part 2

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

Spiritpact

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

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

Interviews with Monster Girls

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

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

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

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

Hand Shakers

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

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

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

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

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

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all folks, see you next week.

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

First Impressions: Winter 2017 Part 1

So 2017 is finally here, full of the promise and vigour of a new year, but what animated treats does the year have in its opening salvo? Let’s find out!

Fuuka

Yuu struggles to socialise with others, he’s an introvert and is only really comfortable talking to others using social media such as Twitter, but all that looks set to change when he runs into a girl named Fuuka. As romance blossoms these two could be perfect for one another, Fuuka dragging Yuu out of his shell and Yuu helping Fuuka finding a direction life. But we can’t have a teenage love story without a triangle can we? Enter Yuu’s childhood friend Koyuki, who is secretly harbouring a secret crush on Yuu and just happens to be a popular singer and Fuuka’s favourite artist. This will end well.

I’m kind of hesitant with this show. The plot and characters are fairly generic and the show tends to lean on fanservice a bit much for my liking. Yet there are a few glimmers of hope. A lot of the time the animation is just your standard fair, but on occasion it has a moment where the animators get to show their stuff. Also I like Fuuka, she’s generic but I’m glad that she’s finally found some direction to her life and figured what she wants to do. Much like the plot, if they can work on her and keep her interesting then this could be good, but at the moment it could go either way. The plot is moving a lot faster than I thought it would with the participants of the love triangle already meeting.

Chain Chronicle – The Light of Haecceitas

In your typical fantasy land there is a book, the Chain Chronicle, which has written in it everything that will happen to the world. Unfortunately our heroes obviously skipped a few pages as when the Volunteer Army takes on the Black King in a final climatic battle, they lose and the Chain Chronicle is torn in half. Now with the army disbanded, our heroes disheartened and the Black King’s influence spreading across the land, can the Volunteer Army find a way to pull itself back together and challenge the Black King once more?

The world of Chain Chronicle is fairly typical as fantasy settings go, I do like the designs as well as some of the characters. Also a special shout out to whoever does the fight choreography for Aram, watching that kid leaping around the battlefield is a particular joy each episode. Chain Chronicle does have a couple of things holding it back though, for one the series starts in a weird place. We start at the ending with the big final boss fight against the Black King and then the army splits up and so far it looks likes its going to be a job of going around everyone to get them to fight the Black King again. Why start with that fight and whole army united, if you’re going to go around to get back to that? It feels kind of pointless. Also the series just drops you into its world without any build up and acts like you should know everything already (was there a series or a film I was supposed to watch before this?) I mean you can certainly do that with a series, but Chain Chronicle acts like I should know and care about these characters, without actually giving me time to do that. Still, I like the setting and I’m willing to give the series time.

Akiba’s Trip the Animation

Tamotsu is a fairly average otaku prowling the streets of Akihabara for rare figurines, but something strange is going on. There’s a red-haired girl running around stripping people of their clothes and rumours of creatures called Bugged Ones that infect other people and are trying to take over the district! When Tamotsu tries to save his sister he finds himself pulled into a mission to save Akiba from invasion, you know, when he’s not obsessing over his latest fad.

I’m in two minds with this series. On the one hand there’s the fanservice and I’m sure I’ve ranted enough about that subject on this blog for you to know it’s not my cup of tea. Yet this show falls into a similar category as Kill la Kill where the fanservice is actually a part of the show, it kind of has to be considering that in Akiba’s Trip you beat the bad guys by stripping them. Where Akiba’s Trip stumbles though is when it takes the fanservice too far, when it stops feeling a natural part of the show and descends into the typical gratuitousness of fanservice, that’s when my mind splits in two. The rest of the anime is pretty good, not exactly mind-blowing, but fun. It’s got some decent action, though I have noticed a few off moments with the animation, the characters are funny and I like the gentle prods at fandom and otaku culture. I’ll stick with it, for now.

Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga

Season 2 of Blue Exorcist is here! For those that missed the first season (what are you thinking? You really need to go what season one, or read the manga), the cliff notes are as follows. Rin is the son of Satan and he’s training to become an exorcist so he can sock it (technical term) to his birth dad. Rin has few problems though, for one he’s an overly emotional teen and that means he has trouble controlling his powers and all his friends have just learned of his rather horned heritage. To say they’re not best pleased is an understatement, neither is the exorcist school for that matter. Now Rin is under strict supervision and training to control his powers while attempting to win over his friends. This also happens to be the time that an exorcist betrays the order and attempts to revive the Impure King! It never rains, but it pours, right?

Okay, quick review of season 1 since I’ve never posted a review on the blog. Season one was pretty awesome, great animation, interesting characters and a world I was dying to explore. The anime-original ending did kind of come out of nowhere, it felt rushed, but it at least fit the world, I guess. I’ve seen worse endings. The ending to season one does raise a slight problem with season two though, you see this season is sticking pretty close to the manga as far as I can tell, so those last handful of episodes of season one might as well have never happened. Also, while this season does start at the beginning of a brand new arc, a lot of the arc does deal with the fallout from the previous one, namely Rin’s friends finding out who his dad is. It’s been, what, five years since season one finished? I can barely remember what happened, but this arc throws you straight into the deep end, not even giving you a chance to reconnect with these characters. It doesn’t help that the Impure King arc is kind of a talky one at the start, which leaves season two feeling like its just plodding along and lacks the emotional punch its going for. If this had only come out a year or two after the first season I think that would have made all the difference, or give us a bit of filler to reintroduce the characters and the world. It still looks good and I do like these characters so I’ll be sticking around.

Masamune-kun’s Revenge

When Masamune was younger he was a rather plump little rich boy who was in love. Unfortunately the girl he fell for told him in no uncertain terms that it would never happen and even gave him the horrible nickname ‘Pig’s Foot’. Now, after years of training, he’s lost weight, he’s popular and all the girls are giving him dreamy looks. He’s got everything a boy could want; all except for the one thing his broken heart yearns for… revenge! Now Masamune is on the verge of getting his most fervent wish because you see the girl that called him Pig’s Foot just so happens to go to the school he just transferred into. Now he just has to make her fall in love with him and then he can dump in the most dramatic way possible! Revenge is a dish best served comedic!

This is a nice anime. Now I know the word nice isn’t exactly selling this series, it’s a very middle of the road word, but that kind of sums up this show. It’s not amazing, but it hasn’t done anything bad yet either. It’s a decent watch, the animation is good, it gets a couple of laughs out of me and I like the characters, which is a wonder in itself as I have this intense urge to hate Masamune. I mean he’s good looking, he’s popular with the girls and he actually managed to lose his childhood chubbiness (not that I’m jealous in anyway), but I do kind of root for the guy. Yeah he’s arrogant and over thinks things way too much, but childhood bullying and getting rejected are never easy things to deal with. This anime’s only real failing is that I can pretty much tell exactly where it’s going from the word go. Yeah, Masamune’s going to get his revenge and in no way fall in love with the girl all over again before his original plan is revealed to her and it all blows up in his face, that’s not going to happen is it? The maid girl’s behaviour is a little suspicious though, I still don’t get what she’s after but it’s definitely suspicious. The show hasn’t done anything wrong so far so I’ll keep watching; maybe it’ll surprise me.

Saga of Tanya the Evil

Once there was a cold and calculating Japanese man, he thought nothing of firing his fellow workers and was content to do it as long as it meant he was on his way up in the world. Well, that is until one of said fired employees pushes the man in front a train. In the moments before his death though, the man gets an audience with God (or at least a god-like being called Being X). Being X despairs at the lack of faith in the modern world and when the man makes the mistake of saying that people need to be in dire situations to foster belief. This gives Being X an idea and the next thing the man knows, he’s been reborn as a little girl in a world strikingly similar to our own in World War 2. Tanya joins the military in an attempt to hit the fast track and live the easy life; then the war breaks out. Tanya’s epic battle with God is just beginning!

What a difference an episode makes. I mean seriously. Episode one was not a good start for this series, it was just another fantasy anime set in during one of the world wars (which has been cropping up a lot lately) and yes there were mages flying around and Tanya was revealed to be a bit of an evil little minion, but there was nothing all that original or amazing. Then episode two comes along and we get Tanya’s back story, which I’ve detailed in the paragraph above and it really does make all the difference. Outside of being a story I haven’t come across before, it’s also really interesting and while Tanya is indeed a horrible person, I can’t help but get a thrill out of watching someone trying to outwit an all powerful being when the odds are so clearly against her. It’s the underdog syndrome and I can’t wait to see where this is all going. The rest of the cast are pretty flat so far as we haven’t really gotten to know anyone outside of Tanya. Still, Tanya vs. Being X is enough for me, for now.

Well, that’s it for this week.  We’re back next week with more first impressions, including a woman getting a dragon for a maid, how to make auditors cool and a kid joins the police in spaaaaaaace!

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

Anime Corner: 91 Days Review

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Everybody’s dead Avilio. Everybody’s dead.

What’s the Story?

Avilio’s happy life was shattered when a mafia feud cost him the lives of his parents and younger brother. Seven years later he receives a mysterious letter giving him the names of those responsible for the slaughter. Avilio returns to the town of Lawless during prohibition to exact his revenge and he starts by convincing his childhood friend to sell his homemade alcohol to the mafia and befriending the Don’s son. It will only take 91 days for Avilio to complete his revenge, but vengeance can be a bloody business so the only real question is, will anyone be left alive by the end of it?

The Review

I haven’t seen that many gangster animes and if you’re a fan of the genre then I highly recommend this one. There are plenty of stories about gangsters blowing holes in one another and people seeking bloody vengeance out there and I don’t think this series brings anything particularly new to the table, but its told with such confidence and style that it is still definitely worth your time. I have to admit I sometimes have a weird back and forth with gangster stories, especially gangster stories set around prohibition, they are inherently bloody and violent (and this series is no different, the bounty count has to be knocking on three digits by the end). It’s not something that I particularly need to see. I can put up with it as long as it doesn’t go too gory or be gory for gore’s sake. Yet at the same the ones set in prohibition times are by historical necessity set around the 1920s, which stylistically is one of my favourite periods. I love the architecture and dress sense of that era (I partly blame Batman the animated series for this by influencing me at such a young age), so for me it’s great just to sit back and soak in the surroundings.

It’s also a great help that this anime is so gorgeously animated. Colour wise it sticks to a lot of browns and darker shades giving this whole series a very shady feel that perfectly suits the seedy world this show is putting on display. What really works is how the animation captures motion, it’s all the little details, the hesitation as a finger inches closer to the trigger or the way a throat moves as it gulps down some Lawless Heaven. I want to marry this animation sometimes. I also have to give credit to the directors, there are some really beautiful and well constructed shots throughout this anime and its always interesting to watch whether its two character going on a buddy-buddy road trip or an all guns blazing shootout in the streets.

The story as well is also really well written and just because it’s using the standard elements, it doesn’t mean it’s predictable. There are some great twists and deaths along the way that I really didn’t see coming and even when I did they still played out in spectacular fashion. I lot of the tension comes from just having Avilio and Nero sat in the same room together, you know at some point this whole revenge scheme is going to lead up to Avilio trying to kill Nero and you’re just waiting for the gun to go off. Avilio is a really smart guy though, sometimes a little too smart, always one step ahead of everyone else and manipulating all those around him into doing exactly what he wants. There are only a couple of times when he actually trips up and those are when the series is at its most tense because if Mr. Calm and Collected is in trouble then I really have no idea what’s going to happen next.

I suppose the most tragic part of this whole series is that, if it weren’t for the twisted joke fate was playing on all of the characters, I could see Avilio and Nero being really good friends. They have a great deal of chemistry and you believe the friendship that develops between them, if it weren’t for the fact that Nero was apart of the group of men that killed Avilio’s family, or Avilio’s blind obsession with revenge, then these two could go far together. It’s not even worth it in the end, Avilio’s revenge doesn’t bring him any kind of piece of mind or a reason to live, all the death and destruction he brings about and it accomplishes nothing except said death and destruction, in fact Avilio has considerably less after his revenge than before he started it.

You care for all of these characters even though most of them are murdering psychopaths; they feel like ordinary people, people you could laugh or cry with. You get what drives most of them, even if you can tell that it’s not going to end well for them and it is sad to see the majority of them go. Spoiler alert, but I was really upset when Fango went, I mean he really had to go, the man was two sacks of crazy inside a suitcase full of crazy and had it coming to him, but he was just so much fun to watch. Maybe some people would think he’s a little too over the top with his lunacy, but every scene with him in it was a joy because you just never knew what he was going to do.

The Verdict

91 days is stylish, smart and beautiful. As a story of the mafia and revenge, it doesn’t really bring anything startlingly new to the table, but the characters are all relatable and interesting in their own ways and the story itself is so well written and enjoyable that that doesn’t really matter in the end. I recommend this to everyone, not just fans of gangster shows, it’s a great series, just be prepared for a high body count and a tragic end.

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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: Orange Review

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Post via black holes. Well, that’s a new one.

What’s the Story?

One day high school student Naho gets a very strange letter. It claims to be from herself ten years in the future and lists all of the events that are going to happen over the next year. They tell her that she will fall in love with a new transfer student called Kakeru and that he will die come the winter. At first Naho doesn’t believe it, until the events in the letter start to come true. Can Naho change the future, erase her regrets and save Kakeru?

The Review

Don’t let the time-travelling letter fool you the fantasy element of this series is really just an excuse for the story to take place (I’m not calling it a science-fiction element because again, postal service by black holes, I prefer my science soft but that is non-corporeal right there). Instead at first glance this is a story about a teenage romance with a little twist and a lot of heartache. The story is a very slow burn, it takes a realistic approach to dialogue and emotions, a lot of the time it’s just characters chatting away about nothing really as normal people tend to do. This can sometimes mean that it takes a little while to get going, especially when our two romantic leads are so awkward and nervous about admitting their feelings for one another, sometimes you just want to smack their heads together and tell him to get on with it.

I know I said the whole letter thing was an excuse, but it does help the story a great deal. It adds a level of tension to those earlier scenes were things are taking there time to get going, because you know this is all going to go wrong at some point down the line. You need it in those earlier episodes until you’ve built up a bond with all of the characters. It also adds to the frustration as you know unless Naho pulls her finger out there’s trouble ahead, but she’s so meek and doubting of herself that she can’t do anything. It takes a letter from the future and her friends to get her to take a step, even if it’s only an agonisingly small one.

This series isn’t just about a couple of kids getting together though; it does tackle some fairly heavy issues such as depression and suicide. There are several scenes with Kakeru that are tough to watch, a lot of them revolving around how Kakeru blames himself for his mother’s death and beats himself up over the fact that his last words to her weren’t the nicest things, they weren’t terrible, but he regrets them. So much of this series is about regret, mostly regret of actions not taken or apologises ungiven, every character is carrying a regret around with them and these letters are their future selves way of trying to erase them. Kakeru’s regrets are the deepest though; driving him to hate himself and even begin to believe that he’s life isn’t worth living. You just want to see the guy be happy and forgive himself, but he keeps getting pulled back into that dark place no matter what his friends do, now I’ve never had suicidal thoughts (morbid certainly, but not suicidal) but to me that is what I imagine it’s like for people going through stuff like that.

Orange knows where to hit you where it counts, in the feels. It’s frustrating, it’s agonising and quite often tear-inducing and at other times so heart-warming you’re likely to melt. You feel for Kakeru and you’re constantly cheering on the others to save him and screaming whenever something gets in the way, especially when it’s the characters themselves tripping themselves up. Seriously, Naho, girl, I will shake you until you find your courage and tell Kakeru how you feel (and it is such a relief when she finally does).

Kakeru isn’t the only guy I feel sorry for though, my heart goes out to Suwa too. He is in love with Naho just as much as Kakeru and in the alternate future ten years from now the guy is even married to her and they have a kid, but by trying to save Kakeru he’s preventing that from ever happening. Sure the way time travel works in this show is that the present we are watching is creating an offshoot reality to the one that sent the letters, so when you think about both are running concurrently, which means there’s one where Naho is married to Suwa and one where she’s with Kakeru both existing at the same time. It’s a bit of a cheat, but still Suwa is willing to let go of the girl he loves and watch her potentially married someone else, just to get rid of his own regret. It also kind of speaks to just how affected these people have been by Kakeru’s death, I mean ten years on and all of them are still so haunted by it that they’re willing to risk erasing their timeline (because they’re not sure how time travel works). Now that’s friendship, also a deep-rooted obsession, but hey no one’s perfect.

The only area where this anime really trips up is in the animation and that’s only ever so slightly. It’s not that the animation is bad, it does its job perfectly fine, I believe in the characters and the setting, but there are no real moments where it pulls out all the stops to awe me. It’s a very quiet and slow anime and the animation reflects that, though there are a few moments that feel a little cheap, like the shots of crowds and the classroom to save on anything really detailed while people are just talking. Or the weird framing of the scene where Kakeru kisses Naho on the cheek (I had to watch that a couple of times to work out what even happened). I’m not the biggest fan of the art style either, again not bad, but there’s just something about the way the faces are drawn, especially the eyes and mouths that just feels off to me.

The Verdict

In the end Orange is a really emotional story, it’s not about love or time-travelling letters, but instead it’s about regrets and being saved from them. The characters all feel genuine and likeable, even if sometimes they can be really frustrating. But it’s only that way because this anime makes you care about them and their goals. This can be really tragic at times and tackle some heavy themes, but in the end it’s a truly unbreakable friendship that pulls everyone through. Get your handkerchiefs ready if you’re going to watch 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. 

Anime Corner: Re:ZERO – Starting Life in Another World Review

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AKA The Dissection of Subaru

What’s the Story?

Subaru was just an ordinary high school student (supposedly) until he’s transported into a strange land straight out of a fantasy. There he meets a beautiful silver-haired half-elf who he instantly falls for and everything looks like a dream come true for Subaru, you know, until Subaru and the elf lady end up dying horribly. Luckily (or unluckily depending on how much you like mental torment) Subaru discovers he has a special power that lets him redo the last day or so when he dies, like going back to a previous save point. And so begins Subaru’s long and torturous journey to find his happy ending and win the love of Emilia the half-elf.

The Review

Warning, to watch this anime is to watch the fragile mind of a young man crumble and fall into an endless pit of despair before attempting to piece himself back together again. I know that’s kind of a spoiler, but I think this series needs it as the show doesn’t give any impression of just how dark and sometimes awesome it’s going to be. The concept for this show isn’t that original, there must be a thousand shows about some kid waking up in a fantasy land, making pop culture and genre-savvy remarks to the bemusement of the locals and gathering a harem of girls to live the dream life with and the first couple of episodes certainly give the impression that this is where the show is going, but it’s a lie. Even the little twist about Subaru getting a do over every time he dies isn’t that original, but I’ve said it before it’s not necessarily the concept, but how you use it and this series uses it’s concept very effectively.

A lot of what makes this anime something different comes down to our lead, Subaru. Now the character can get a lot of hate and I can certainly understand why, Subaru is very much a marmite character. He can be very, very annoying at times, his jokes and poking fun at familiar tropes aren’t all that funny and sometimes he can just be a bit of an arse. Also he’s arrogant, selfish and has this sense of entitlement about him like this world owes him something, which is precisely why I think he’s such a great character, not always a likeable one, but still great. Subaru is human and comes complete with a myriad of flaws like any normal person. Unlike a lot of shows that feature someone ending up in a fantasy world, he’s not some idealised hero that the audience can use as a placeholder for themselves so they might escape into this world. Subaru is probably a more accurate account of what would actually happen if someone did find themselves transported to another world.

Part of Subaru’s problem is that he has expectations for this world even though he’s never been here before. It’s his genre-savvy nature that holds him back more than anything else, he expects to be the chosen hero here to save the day and get the girl and acts according, which often ends up backfiring on him. It brings in that arrogance and sense of entitlement I mentioned before, he saves Emilia and expects her to love him for it because that’s the way these stories work and it’s kind of a smack in the face when Emilia admits she doesn’t feel that way about him, at least not yet and not with the intensity he’s expecting. It also doesn’t help that Subaru is kind of pathetic, he’s in good physical shape but that doesn’t really mean much when he’s going up against curse-ridden dogs, knights and a giant flying whale. He spends most of his time getting his behind kicked across the screen and I do have to applaud the show for never giving Subaru any kind of amazing power to save the day with, he gets a little bit of magic but most of the time he has to rely on others to get the job done.

Subaru’s story is a really touching one, though at times it can be tough to watch. We see Subaru getting torn down again and again and the constant dying and coming back to life doesn’t help. He goes through a mental implosion as he realises that he can’t do anything by himself and his constant struggles to get things to work out as he wants just end up blowing up in his face. I know if I had to go through anything like this I’d have cracked long ago. It’s a testament to Subaru that he’s able to put himself back together, recognising all of his flaws and moving forward to save the love of his life, just this time without the need for any hero-like gratification (though clearly he’s an idiot because Rem is so the best girl in this series). The story is spoilt somewhat by the fact that Subaru does end up as the hero and gets the girl, but that’s kind of a necessity of a narrative having a happy ending.

I know I’ve spent most of this post just dissecting one character and not talking about much else, but that’s just how interesting his character is to me, though there are a few problems with him and how the story uses him. For one, the show can’t seem to make up it’s mind whether Subaru is an idiot or a genius, he wavers between the two depending on what the plots needs of him. One minute he’s taking two to three episodes to work out that he’s actually redoing the same day after dying, the next he’s able to negotiate between a bunch of people and come up with clever strategies. It’s not that consistent and it does dent his ‘realistic human’ image. Another thing that dents the realistic side of him is that fact that the show wants you believe that Subaru is your typical shut in nerd, but he’s way too physically fit and full of self-confidence to be that, I’ve certainly never met a nerd like him before.

Okay, there are other characters in this series, most of them fulfil one archetype or another, but most of them are fleshed out enough or have just enough personality for you to like them. Some characters get brief appearances and are made out to be really important only to never appear again, but that’s only because the source material is still ongoing and I image they’ll have a point there (Heck season 1 ends with the defeat of one of the bad guy’s generals with another six waiting in the wings somewhere). The fantasy world they inhabit is also pretty interesting, even if we might not get that much detail on it  and it could do with another season or two to explore. It’s at least very prettily animated.

The Verdict

In the end, Re:ZERO is a series that’s definitely worth a watch. It might not be to everyone’s taste and the main character can sometimes be a pain to deal with, but it’s worth it just watch the level of torment Subaru goes through and watching him fall apart and put himself back together again (I just realised, I’m a sadist aren’t I?). The series is beautifully animated and has a rich world and some fun characters, they may not always get the attention they deserve but hopefully some future seasons can fix that. This series is one worth starting a life with.

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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: Alderamin on the Sky Review

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Fighting the lazy way

What’s the Story?

Ikta Solork is lazy, a bit of a ladies’ man and absolutely hates war, which is kind of awkward since he ends up joining the Imperial army after a shipwreck and saving the life of the Empire’s young princess. Thanks to Ikta’s scientific way of thinking though he actually has the potential to become one of the Empire’s best generals, you know, if he can survive the idiotic orders of his current commanding officers. With his friends at his side, including the elite swordswoman Yatori, Ikta must survive several battlefields if he wants to protect the people of the Empire.

The Review

Alderamin kind of surprised me, I mean I enjoyed it from the start but I really wasn’t expecting something this smart and character-driven. There were plenty of warning signs for this anime to either go into clichés or just generic plotlines. There was Ikta as the jerky character with a heart of gold who of course all the women would fall for (I was really worried this would turn into a harem, but thankfully that never happened, even with Ikta’s womanising tendencies. We see him hit on women and hear stories about him, but we never actually see him romantically involved with anyone.). Then we’d no doubt have Ikta being the only one speaking sense against the idiots in charge and of course he’ll be the only one that can possibly see the path to victory and pull it off against all the odds (this does kind of happen, but it’s a testament to Ikta’s character that it never comes off as a cliché).

Let’s talk about Ikta. It does take a while for him to warm up, he’s always fun, but the character doesn’t really hit his stride until the characters head to the North. Doing the tactical genius character is always hard because, well, a lot of the time they come across as annoying know-it-alls who are only so smart either because the plot makes everyone else stupid or they happen to know something really specific that turns everything around. They can to come across as manufactured a lot of the time, which I suppose they are. Ikta isn’t like that though. We see him struggle with his decisions (mostly in that arc in the North) and it’s apparent that he’s not afraid to come across as the bad guy if it meets with his end goal. Seeing Ikta mourn the soldiers killed by his own decision or doubting himself as he finally meets his match does a lot to make Ikta feel like a real character.

Another aspect of Ikta’s character that helps him feel more genuine as a person is that his tactical genius actually has an explanation. He looks at things in a scientific way, something that is frowned upon about the rest of the Empire, though it does lead to a very interesting philosophy from Ikta, that the best way to be a soldier is to be lazy. Do just enough get the job done and no more, don’t over exert yourself and don’t do things that aren’t necessary. He’s not interested in fame or glory, he doesn’t care about being some hero and he definitely isn’t bothered about protecting his country, deep down all Ikta wants to protect is people. It’s why he hates war so much, outside of being unscientific it’s such a terrible waste of life and even though he’ll claim he’s lazy to the end, Ikta will do everything in his power (including removing his own finger, this happens) to save as many lives as possible. It’s this that makes it easy to root for Ikta and feel sorry for him because no matter how smart he is; he can’t save everyone.

Ikta isn’t the only interesting character in this show though, we also have the scarlet badass that is Yatori. I seriously love her, she’s smart, she’s funny and confidant and a demon with a pair of swords in her hands. I’d call her the brawn to Ikta’s brains, but that would imply that Yatori isn’t smart, which she is. She’s studied scientific methods with Ikta and can often see along the same lines as him, even if she doesn’t get that final piece that turns everything around. Where they stand in regards to the Empire is what makes things interesting. Ikta can see that the Empire is on its last legs and after the unceremonious way they treated his father, he doesn’t really have a lot of love for those in charge. As I said, he wants to protect the people, not the Empire. Yatori on the other hand comes from a long line of warriors who are supposedly the guardians of the Empire and no matter what happens to the Empire, that will always be the case. Yatori is a warrior through and through and will fight to her dying breath to protect the Empire (an idea that is ridiculous to Ikta), she’s less of a person and more of a living weapon which adds a real note of tragedy to her character.

The rest of the character all feel pretty relatable, even though they may only turn up for a couple of episodes. None of them are quiet as interesting but then they don’t really get that much time devoted to them to properly explore them, we do see them progress though, developing as both soldiers and people. A lot of the characters are well written, you get a sense of who they are and what they believe in with how they talk, there are a couple of nice scenes with the characters just sat around talking as I imagine real soldiers do (respect the lonely path of the warrior!).

The one aspect of the series that I wish was expanded further would be that of the spirits. We see the little guys in the first episode and every character has one, but we never really get a good idea of what they are, they’re just there. Are they an extension of the character’s self? Are they mystical being that have some kind of symbiotic relationship with the characters? We never get a sense of what they are or what they’re about, they barely have any lines and we never see any unique personalities from them.

The only real downside with this anime is that its just thirteen episodes long, especially when the last episode sets up so many great ideas that I want to see come to fruition. There had better be a second season or I’m going to, well, go buy the source material, which is probably what the makers of this anime want. Damn it!

The Verdict

Alderamin on the Sky is a series that starts off looking like its going to your typical genius characters proves all his superiors are idiots and saves the day story, but instead proves to be a smart and intriguing story about a young man with an interesting philosophy in a kingdom on its last legs. The characters are relatable and interesting and though the stuff about why war sucks has been done plenty of times before, you feel for these people as they struggle through it. I just wish there were more than thirteen episodes!

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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.