Anime Corner: Shadows House Review

If this show has taught me anything it’s that it’s important to question ‘trivial’ things.

What’s the Story?

High atop a cliff sits the mansion of the noble Shadows family, a mysterious clan whose bodies are constantly covered in soot. They are served by living dolls, very human-like creations that serve both as the cleaners of the mansion and the ‘face’ of their appointed master. Emilico is one such doll and, honestly, she couldn’t be happier. She loves her master, Kate, and can’t help but be curious about all the wonderful things she comes across, whether that’s another part of the mansion or the other dolls and their masters. Of course living dolls aren’t suppose to concern themselves with trivial matters, such as why their masters produce soot in the first place, or why a doll should get hungry and feel pain. Whatever the answers, I’m sure it’s absolutely nothing to worry about!

The Review:

Gothic can be defined as, of or relating to a style of fiction characterised by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious or violent incidents (definition courtesy of www.merriam-webster.com). At the time of writing this review, I can’t think of a single anime that better exemplifies that definition than this one. Oh sure there are plenty of anime that borrow the gothic aesthetic to add a bit of flair and style to proceedings (most of which I love), but there’s none that feel as gothic as Shadows House (if you can think of another series that’s as gothic as this one, please let me know in the comments). From the imposing mansion constantly surrounded by mist to the ever-present questions about just what is going on, this series is gothic down to its bones. Honestly all we’re really missing is a few grisly murders, but the way this series is going I’ve no doubt things are going to end up that way eventually (when we get a sequel. We are getting a sequel right?!)

Okay, before this just turns into me gushing about how much I love gothic stuff, let’s break this series down and really dig into it. To my mind, Shadows House has three very clear arcs, one of which I definitely feel is the weakest, but we’ll come to that in a little bit. The arcs, as I called them, are the Pre-Debut, the Debut and then, finally, the Children’s Wing. The Pre-Debut is very much what hooked me into this show and is probably the most gothic portion of the series.

It almost plays out like a slice-of-life with Emilico waking up in the Shadows House and going about her daily duties. Each episode she’s either introduced to a new concept or learning about another part of her duties. It would all be really sweet and innocence if it wasn’t for the pervading sense that something was very, very wrong here. It does a wonderful job of establishing the atmosphere of the show and letting you soak in it, all the while making ground rules of this place clear and introducing key characters. Honestly, I’d have been happy if this series remained in this phase for its entire run, but it’s probably for the best that it moved on to the next phase.

The Debut switches things up. Now that the basics have been laid out the series changes from a slice-of-life to a puzzle-based adventure. Instead of wondering about all these nebulous questions about what’s really going on, the characters are given more immediate challenges to face. Here the focus narrows in on a specific set of characters, both dolls and their masters, as we explore how they face difficult choices and begin to bond with one another. It’s a great deal of fun seeing how each doll thinks their way through problems and the relationships they build between one another. Also, I’m a sucker for a puzzle so seeing all the solutions that people come up with was a lot of fun too.

That brings me to the end of the Debut, where I think the series makes it’s only real misstep. The end of the Debut is where we get our answers to what’s really going on and I can’t help but feel like it takes some of the wind out of the series’ sails. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that we did eventually get the answers, you can’t keep stringing along your audience forever, but there had to be a better way to do it. The series just stops dead to dump all the answers into your lap, when surely the series would have been better off drip feeding them to us a bit at a time. I said you can’t string your audience along forever, but that doesn’t mean you have to give them everything all at once.

For me, this really hurts the final arc of the series, the Children’s Wing, which is definitely the weakest arc of the series. It was bad enough that my enthusiasm had dipped thanks to having the answers I’d been craving, but for this arc we move to a new location and we barely get any exploration of it. Prior to this the series had been so good at letting you get to know a new area, but here all that’s ignored in favour of setting up a quick bit of drama with our series antagonist. It doesn’t help that this arc gets the least amount of episodes dedicated to it, so it can’t quite build up the atmosphere it needs.

The Verdict:

In the end, Shadows House is a great gothic series, even if my enthusiasm for it had deflated somewhat by the final episode. The first half of the series does a fantastic job of building up this sense of dread and laying out all these mysteries to hook you in. You will get the answers eventually, even if I’m not a fan of the way they’re given to us, but by then you should have fallen for this series’ cast of sweet and charming characters. Throw in some great visuals and an atmospheric soundtrack (including a great op and ed) and you’re really on to something. When the second season releases I’ll be one of the first in line to see it.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: So I’m a Spider, So What? Review

Is this a bad time to mention I suffer from Arachnophobia?

What’s the Story?

You know how it is, one day you’re just sitting in class doing your usual thing, then suddenly there’s this giant explosion and you wake up hatching out of an egg as a spider monster. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Well you’ve got way more important things to worry about at the minute, like not being eaten by all your horrifying brothers and sisters, or the multitude of monsters that inhabit the labyrinth you call home. Meanwhile, on the surface, the rest of your class have found themselves reborn in cushy human lives, though they may not remain so cushy for long. War is coming and, if the history of this strange land is to be believed, the world is dying too. Well, no one said life was going to be easy, did they?

The Review:

One of the hardest parts of writing, for me at least, is finding the right place to start. Whether it’s a review or a story, pinpointing the perfect opening that sets the tone for what’s to come is a torment worthy of Sisyphus and I hardly ever feel like I get it right. Of course that task is made ten times harder when I just don’t know how I feel about a series, even after watching twenty-four episodes. That brings me neatly to So I’m a Spider, So What?, because, honestly, this series mystifies me. There are elements of this show that fascinate me, and the reason I stuck with it to the end, but then there are others that had me grinding my teeth down to their gums. If you told me you loved this series I’d believe you, and yet at the same time, if you said you hated it with all your soul, I’d completely understand. This show is such a peculiar mix of frustrating decisions and bad presentation mixed with a genuinely depth-filled and well thought out world that it boggles my mind.

Let’s start off by talking about the bad first and that brings me to the so-called ‘animation’. I’ve no idea what happened behind the scenes in the production of this series, but looking at the end result I can only imagine it was a nightmare. That’s not to say this is the worst animation I’ve ever seen, no that honour still goes to Ex-Arm, but there are moments when this show comes close. Terrible framing of shots, awkward movements and characters swapping between 2D and 3D models seemingly at random at times. It’s not good, and yet there are moments, brief as some of them are when this show actually looks decent. I’m assuming a fair chunk of the budget got poured into the spider battles and the early episodes because that’s really when this series looks its best, you know when there’s not a mountain of text clogging up the visuals.

Okay, let’s talk about our spidery protagonist for a minute. I get the impression from Crunchyroll’s comment sections that this is the aspect of the series that people love the most, but I’m sorry you can count me in the exact opposite camp. I mean the whole split narrative of the series is a problem to begin with, one half following the spider, the other following the rest of the reincarnations. On paper it’s a fine idea and I like the way it’s constructed and all fits together, but the tonal whiplash it creates is something else. One minute we’re listening to the zany fantasies and delusions of our main protagonist, the next we’re dealing with fantasy politics and legitimate drama on the surface. I will admit that the spider section would be so much harder to get through without the protagonist’s sheer strength of personality and gags, heck by the end of the series I was actually enjoying her shtick. My main problem comes down to personal taste. I’m not much of a gamer any more and even when I was grinding levels and reading through stats where my least favourite part of any game, and that’s exactly what the spider sections of the anime are about. Some of the fights she gets in are cool, but I’d much rather be spending time with the human characters.

Enough of the complain train though, let’s get on to what kept me watching this series to the end, the world! The construction of this series just fascinates me, not only running two separate plot lines, but setting them at different points in time and still having everything fit together and make sense? That’s skill right there. Plus this is an isekai where the fact that our protagonists have memories of their prior lives is actually important and a central part of the plot! I never thought I’d see the day. True, there are a lot of standard fantasy tropes in the human sections of the plot, and no one has as much personality as the spider, but I was captivated by watching how everyone reacted to their situation and the political manoeuvring of the factions that was going on in the background. Of course the biggest lure for me was the continual teases about what’s going on, with little tid bits of information laid out like breadcrumbs that I happily followed all the way to the end. Unfortunately the series ends before we get the full history of this world and what’s actually going on, but I’ve seen enough to have a pretty good idea. If only the present-day plot line didn’t end on such a massive cliffhanger!

The Verdict:

In the end, So I’m a Spider, So What? Is the definition of a mixed bag. There’s plenty to love and plenty to hate throughout the series. The animation is decent at best, but more frequently it’s just plain bad and the way the narrative is split between the main protagonist and everyone else is likely to give you a severe case of tonal whiplash. On the more positive side, the protagonist has a lot of personality and some of her antics can be a necessary breath of fresh air, especially in the later half of the series. A wealth of thought and planning has gone into the world and the way the plot has been constructed, which as a writer I can’t help but admire. I’d say the series is worth a shot, but I don’t think I can really recommend it with how all over the place it is.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun Season 2 Review

Bad Boy Iruma is Best Boy!

What’s the Story?

Iruma is the sweetest kid you’ll ever meet and, right now, he’s living his best life. He’s got a Grandfather that adores him, friends that cherish him and even a couple of ladies with their eye on him. For a kid whose no-good parents sold him to a demon and is now living in the netherworld, he’s doing pretty good for himself. Of course that doesn’t stop life from presenting challenges, from personality switches to a prison break at a theme park, life in the netherworld is never dull for long and Iruma’s going to need more than a winning smile and good vibes to survive this. The demon king’s throne has been empty for a while now, but for how much longer?

The Review:

Sequels are hard. It’s one of the unwritten rules of life that, the majority of the time, sequels are never quite as good as their original. I can think of a fair few exceptions to this rule off the top of my head, Terminator 2 and a chunk of the MCU films immediately spring to mind, but on the whole we all subconsciously agree that sequels are to be feared. It’s weird when you think about it, surely if you’ve worked out the magic formula to make the original a success then all you need to do is repeat the process for the sequel, but it rarely works that way. To be a good sequel, at least to me, you have to perfect the balancing act of not only recapturing the magic of the first one, but also adding in something new and continuing the story in a natural way.

I adored the first season of Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun, (you can read my review of it HERE) it surprised and charmed me until I was well and truly in love. So when the second season finally started airing I was a volatile mix of excited and scared. Would this new season stand up to the now high standards I have for this series? Would the characters still be the charming goof balls I remember? Will Clara still be Best Girl forever and ever? The answer’s yes to all of the above, though Clara does get some stiff competition from Ameri this season, but we’ll talk more about that in a minute. Season 2 gave me everything that I wanted from a sequel plus a whole bunch of stuff I never knew I needed. More of Clara and her family singing? Check. More of these characters and this world? Check. Iruma turning into a bad boy? Okay, this one I had no idea how much I would enjoy it, but it’s now my favourite arc.

This second season perfectly gets that balancing act that I was talking about before. It knows it’s audience and it knows what types of jokes and scenes worked last time, so it gives you more of that, but it also takes the time to expand and grow its cast and world. We see  more of the netherworld, we spend some time in the Student Council offices, in our character’s homes and while they’re on summer vacation we get to see a couple of theme parks. All the while we’re getting details added to the lore and history. Then there’s the characters and while I still can’t remember the names of Iruma’s classmates, I can now at least tell you their special abilities, which is progress. Congratulations guys, you’ve stepped up from background characters to secondary characters, and some pretty fun ones at that.

Speaking of characters though, we need to talk about Iruma for a second. There’s no real major change to his character, well outside of a certain arc I’m going to talk about in a minute, but there’s a definite sense of progress. Iruma is and always will be an eternal ball of gentle sunshine, but he’s gradually developing into the Demon King we all know he’s going to be by the time this series ends. He’s steadily becoming more adept at magic, but more than that he’s slowly forming his own ideology. In the first season he discovered that working towards a goal was fun and rewarding, and that’s why he started trying to raise his rank. This season he’s realised that he’s having a ton of fun with all his new friends and he wants to protect that, he wants everyone to be happy. Unfortunately not everyone else thinks that way and Iruma is going to have to get stronger to protect what he wants. It’s added a personal reason on to his goal and, yeah, that demon throne is beckoning.

Couple of last things to talk about, let’s start with that arc I keep hyping. Now the end of the first season teased us with this ‘edgy’ bad boy Iruma, but I had no idea he was going to be so much fun. I just want to hug regular Iruma, but I’d march into an impossible battle for bad boy Iruma. What makes it so fascinating is that Iruma’s personality doesn’t really change all that drastically, he’s still the same kind-hearted, supportive best boy, it’s just that his confidence has been dialled up to eleven, without giving him an ego to match.

Finally let’s discus the Clara/Ameri situation because the ships they are a sailing. I’d never thought about Clara and Iruma in a romantic way, but I can see why someone would ship them and this season certainly gives plenty of fodder in that regard. For my money though, I’m shipping Iruma and Ameri, I mean they actually go on a date together (which was hilarious) and Ameri has made it her goal to be with Iruma now. It’s always fun to see the ever-cool and badass Ameri flustered and panicking with the best of them. Also the jokes with her dad always have me laughing, the one referencing the Ring might be my favourite.

The Verdict:

In the end, Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun season 2 does what all good sequels should. It keeps a hold of what made the first season so endearing and funny, while also allowing the story to progress and the characters to grow. We get to know more of the characters, explore new locations and settings and there’s a definite sense that this is all heading somewhere. Season 3 has already been announced and I’m very excited by that tease they showed at the end of this one. I can’t wait for more!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: To Your Eternity Review

Beware the Onion Ninjas!

What’s the Story?

It began life as an orb, cast unto Earth by a mysterious figure with no thoughts, feelings or even a concept of self. For many years it stayed that way, inert and immobile, but then it met the wolf and become said wolf after it’s death. From there it met a human and it was happy for a time, but that soon came to an end. Now it has taken the form of the human, journeying the world with no real plan or goal other than to see the world and experience new things. It will meet many others on it’s journey and it will learn many things about what it means to live. There will, however, also be a lot of heartbreak on this journey, as for every hello there will inevitably be a goodbye.

The Review:

Some shows are designed to make you cry. I know, technically, all shows or films or just stories in general are designed to make you cry, or at the very least get an emotional response out of you. That’s what stories are for, to make us feel and think about things in different ways and it’s the great magic trick of all good storytellers that they can make us feel something for people that don’t really exist. Even if you know what the trick is and how it’s going to be done, if the storyteller plays it right you’ll still feel what they want you to feel. That’s ‘To Your Eternity’ in a nutshell, I knew this was an anime that desperately wanted me to cry from the very first episode, and I did, again and again. Not every story got to me, but a fair majority did and even when I wasn’t breaking down in tears this is still a solidly put together series, with a few exceptions that I’ll get to in a minute.

Let’s start by talking about our main character, Fushi, as they come to be known. Now, admittedly making an audience care about a shape-shifting orb that starts out with no personality, no dreams or desires of their own, is a really tall order and yet this show manages it effortlessly. The start of the series wisely chooses to focus on the people around Fushi, the ones who will teach them and have an impact on their life going forward. All the while Fushi sits in the background, endearing themselves to us as they struggle to wrap their heads around basic concepts like needing to eat to stay alive. Gradually though Fushi starts to take more and more of the focus as their personality develops and they feel the weight of events. It’s a joy to watch and a real master class in character development. By the end of the series Fushi feels like a fully fleshed out person, who I want to follow and see where their journey takes them to next.

Now, unfortunately, this review can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. There are parts of this series that are fantastic and I will continue to praise them, but it does have some definite strengths and weaknesses. In the strengths pile we’ve already got the development of our main character and we can add on to that the emotional gut punches that come from the earlier story arcs (as well as that final episode). That’s not to say the later story arcs weren’t trying to get me to cry, they definitely were, but they never had quite the same impact. For a while I was struggling to puzzle it out. Was I just getting wise to the tricks the show was using to get me emotional? No, I’d known what the show was doing from the first episode. Were the stories just not as good? I wouldn’t say that, there were still plenty of characters I liked and was invested in, plus some really interesting plot developments and decent action. It finally struck me as I was getting towards the end of this first season, the later arcs, they’re longer.

This series is at it’s best when it’s doing shorter, more contained stories. That way the emotions it wants to build towards can steamroller over you and leave you as a weeping puddle on the floor. When the arcs are longer, strangely, they get less emotional. I say strangely because in my brain surely longer story arcs should be more emotional. There’s time to build a connection to the characters and really invest in them, but that didn’t happen while I was watching this. Part of this is down to the fact that the animation quality clearly dips towards the end of the series, but If I had to put money on the real reason, I’d say it was a consequence of watching the show as it aired, week by week. The gap between each episode just gave me time to process and prepare myself so my feels couldn’t gang up on me as they undoubtedly would if I binged this show. So there’s my recommendation for this series, if you’re going to watch it, binge it.

On a final note, I’d just like to talk about the world-building in this series and how much I enjoyed it’s slow-burn approach. We never go into too much detail, there’s just a gradual build of information to give you a sense of different areas, their beliefs and customs, so with each arc the world feels a touch more fleshed out. I also really like the Nokkers as antagonists, they’re really creepy looking and I love that they evolve much like Fushi does. Trying out new tactics and really being the perfect foils for our favourite shape-shifter.

The Verdict:

In the end, To Your Eternity, is a solidly put together and well executed show. It knows exactly what it wants to do, make you cry, and it does it’s level best to achieve that. The later arcs struggle to maintain the same level of emotional intensity due to their length, and some poorer animation, but this could be fixed by binging the show instead of watching it weekly. For me, the development of our main character and the world around them are more than worth the price of admission. Just remember to bring the tissues.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Back Arrow Review

My conviction is ‘I will watch all the anime!’

What’s the Story?

Lingalind is a world enclosed by the Wall. The Wall protects and nurtures the land. The Wall is God. That is until one day when a man falls from the sky and lands in an inconsequential little village in the middle of nowhere. The man calls himself Back Arrow and he makes the impossible claim that he comes from outside the Wall and he wants to return there. His journey will cause the very foundations of Lingalind to be turned on their head as alliances are forged and ancient truths are revealed. Can a man with no conviction of his own really stand up to God though? If he can’t, then the whole of Lingalind will face it’s ultimate destruction. Summon your Briheight and declare your conviction, this is going to be one heck of a fight.

The Review:

I don’t really know where to start with this series. It’s a good show and I enjoyed it from beginning to end, but I don’t feel like it’s made much of an impact on me. By the time you’re reading this the final episode will have aired at least a couple of months ago and, I’m fairly certain, I’ll have forgotten the vast majority of this show. I feel bad saying that. There’s a real nostalgic vibe to this series, whether it’s the character designs or the vibrant, almost plastic, colour scheme, it feels like a show that’s wandered straight out of the early 2000s. Maybe if I’d seen this show back then, in my early teens, it would stick better in my mind. There’s a lot that I typically love in these kind of series, flamboyant characters, a constant and quick sense of escalation and some truly ridiculous twists, there’s a lot to get me cheering. Yet, when the credits of the final episode rolled around my reaction was just a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘that was fun’, and I can’t help but feel this show was wanting more from me.

It’s taken me a while to pin down where I think the problems are, for me at least. Part of it is that I never fully engaged with the events of the series. This show is ridiculous and it makes that clear from the start. I mean the method of summoning each character’s mecha is through the sheer force of their own willpower, which clues you into the fact that a lot of resolutions are going to come down to people just wanting stuff really hard. There are some clever plans and twisting of established rules to win the day, but it never really escapes the feeling that there aren’t all that many consequences to actions.

True, several characters do die, but even then they find their back into the series at the moment they’re most needed, and if death can’t stop our heroes what exactly are the bad guys supposed to do? There’s this constant cycle of the heroes pulling off some trick at the last minute to overpower the enemy, only for the enemy to turn back around and prove their even more powerful than we ever imagined. Rinse and repeat. Add on the quick escalation and things soon get out of hand, the back and forth between the good guys and bad guys just going on and on without any real resolution until the very end.

That’s another problem this series has, some times it holds on to ideas for just a little too long. At the start of the series the villagers that initially find Back Arrow are very reticent to trust him, personified by the grouchy grandpa character. They’ll turn him over to the bad guys at the drop of a hat just for the promise of an easy life and I do get it. It’s made very clear that their village is struggling and unlikely to survive, so the promise of a new home with peace and security is very tempting. Also Back Arrow doesn’t really do much to endear himself to them, he’s only really concerned with his own goal of going back beyond the Wall and he doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions much. If this happened just the once I’d be perfectly fine with it, twice at a push, but it keeps happening throughout the first half of the series! It got to the point where I was really starting to hate the grandpa character because he was always the one complaining and suggesting to throw Arrow under the bus. This isn’t the only plot point that carries on like this though, there are a couple of others and while liked them initially they just went on for a bit too long.

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but bash on this series and I don’t want to. As I said, I’ve enjoyed every episode of this series, even if I’ve not been as invested as I wanted to be, or how often I wanted to wring the grandpa’s neck. I like these characters, Arrow is a charming guy and he gets some much needed development later on to think more about those around him. The rest of the villagers are a lot of fun, as are Prax and the warriors of Rekka. Shu Bi has to be the best character though, the mad genius always with a plan or a scheme and generally ten steps ahead of anyone else. I like the mecha designs and just the whole aesthetic of the show. That’s actually where this series leaves me, I like it, but I don’t love it.

The Verdict:

In the end, Back Arrow is a fun show, but that’s as far as it gets for me. I’m sure there are people out there who will adore this series, and there’s a lot to love. The characters are generally fun and engaging, the mecha designs are great and while the world is ridiculous, it is well built. Where it struggles for me is the constant escalation and a lack of consequences really dent my investment in what’s going on. Add on a couple of repeated or stretched out plot points and some times it’s hard to engage with this show. It’s still worth a watch though and, if nothing else you’ll have some fun.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: ODDTAXI Review

Where to?

What’s the Story?

Odokawa is a taxi driver who lives a pretty mundane life. He has no family and his only real friends are his doctor and an old classmate from high school. He very much lives for his work, ferrying the somewhat-odd patrons of his taxi around town to wherever it is they want to go. From a college student obsessed with online fame to a struggling comedy duo and even an idol group with some shady connections, there’s all sorts of people he gets to meet. Odokawa’s mundane life isn’t going to last though, as he soon finds himself tangled up further and further in a story of murder, blackmail and warring gangsters. Our innocent walrus is in for one heck of a ride. Let’s hope he survives the journey.

The Review:

Writing is hard guys. It feels self-aggrandising to say it, but it’s true. There’s always the misconception out there that writing a story is easy, that all you need to do is sit down with your laptop and this great master work will come flooding out of you. Well, as a writer I’m here to tell you that’s not how it works. Writing takes time and effort, you’re constantly thinking about the minutia of your world, building the story and characters piece by piece. And that’s before you even try to put it all together, heck that’s before you even know whether what you’re doing is any good or not. The reason I’m going off on this little ramble is because, all hyperbole aside, Oddtaxi has one of the best constructed stories I’ve come across in years and I want everyone to appreciate that.

Oddtaxi’s story structure is, in a word, beautiful and I’m in awe of it. What started off as this funny little show about animal characters getting into comedy skits in the back of a taxi, morphed before my eyes into a tense and complex crime drama! There’s so many different plot threads, so many characters you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no possible way to pull them all together, I certainly did. Yet, somehow, this show manages it. Every character has a purpose, every line, every bit of imagery it all circles around and weaves together into this incredible whole.

The series starts off with a couple of mysteries to hook you in, like a missing girl and Odokawa talking to someone in his closet. While they just sit there and stew, the show spends its time developing its characters and building the connections between them. Before you even realise it suddenly we’re dealing with gangsters, corrupt police and a maniac running around with a gun. It’s like a magician’s trick, distracting you with a funny interaction or one plot thread, before revealing this other part of the story that you hadn’t even noticed yet. Add on the expert way in which this series lays out breadcrumbs for its various mysteries before revealing the answers with perfect timing and this series is something to behold. Seriously the scripts for this show should be dissected in script-writing classes.

Okay, so the story for this series is pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned, but what about everything else? Animation-wise the series is fairly basic and really that’s all it needs to be. The anthropomorphized animals all look cute and have their own distinct looks, there’s nothing overly flashy here and considering the amount of care and thought that’s clearly gone into this series, I can’t help but feel that’s intentional. The stripped back nature of the visual really highlight the story and helps you to keep your focus where the story wants it to be. Plus who doesn’t want to look at a walrus driving a taxi, that’s just a cute image.

I want to go on praising this series forever and ever, because it deserves nothing less, but I should really be wrapping this review up. On a final note, I’ll give a word of praise to the characters. As great as the story is and no matter how much the visuals support that, this show would be nothing without it’s wonderful cast. I’ve well and truly fallen for Odokawa’s charms and I want to do nothing more than take a ride in his taxi and have a conversation with him. Every character gets their own little arc and while some are explored more than others, everyone gets a little bit of the spotlight and some time to shine.

The Verdict:

In the end, Oddtaxi is a master class in story-telling. From the hook of the initial mysteries to the moment when all the many, many plot threads get woven together, this series will grab you and not let go. It’s like staring into a pond and slowly realising just how deep it goes. The attention-to-detail and level of craftsmanship to this series just makes me want to applaud non-stop. Every character has a purpose, every plot is relevant and it all comes together in a satisfying package. What more could you really ask for? If you haven’t already checked this series out then you’ve done yourself a disservice. Check this out now!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Megalobox 2: Nomad Review

Hasta ver la luz.

What’s the Story?

Megalobox, the advanced form of boxing were competitors wear metal frames known as ‘Gear’ to face one another in the ring. When the first ever Megalonia tournament was held, a man, a legend, took to the stage, taking on all comers without any Gear at all and thus the name ‘Gearless’ Joe was etched into history. Even legends must end though and several years later Joe is a shadow of his former self. Using drink and dodgy painkillers to push down the agony he feels, he spends his nights fighting in underground matches. He has nothing and no one, but how did the former champion get this way? What’s more can he possibly face up to his past and make amends to those he wronged? A chance encounter with a fellow boxer might just show him the way. It’s a lonely road, but we all get lost from time to time.

The Review:

I adored the original series of Megalobox (you can check out my review HERE, but honestly just go watch it, you won’t regret it). It’s an incredible show, full of pulse-pounding drama, fantastic music and stylish animation that I just wanted more and more of. So you can imagine how excited I was when this sequel was announced. Still, sequels can be a tough beast to conquer, does Megalobox 2 hold up to the original? Are you kidding me?! It’s even better! This show is absolutely fantastic, if I had a review score higher than ‘Unmissable’ I’d be giving it to this show. Of course all of that is dependent on what you’re expecting to get out of Megalobox 2, if you’re after another tournament arc or even crazier boxing matches, well, then you’re probably going to be disappointed.

The focus for megalobox 2 is set firmly on the characters above everything else. Now the characters in the original series were hardly the most deep or defined, heck we never really learnt anything substantial about Joe or where he comes from. What we did get was enough to understand who he is and why he fights, enough to cheer him on and be overjoyed when we reach his eventual victory. The same can be applied to all the other characters, they each had their own problems and arcs that we explored through each of Joe’s matches. Megalobox 2 however takes a different approach, starting with a time skip. Now don’t worry, I’m sure anyone who saw Promised Neverland 2 is having terrible flashbacks at the mention of a time skip, like I did, but this is how they should be used. The characters have some history to contend with now and though we don’t learn what happened straight away, it’s enough to see them dealing with the ghosts of their regret and guilt.

There’s a very melancholy feeling to Megalobox 2, especially during its first half. Joe is dealing with, or rather refusing to deal with, whatever happened to him and the first arc, as it were, deals with a community of immigrants who just want to have some place to call their own. It’s a harsh world, the world of megalobox, and it’s often shown that people have to fight for every scrap they can get a hold of. This was also the case in the original series, but it’s amplified here and put more under the microscope. Yet, for all the rough edges and struggle, there’s a burgeoning sense of hope that begins to emerge from the series. A parable about a dying man and humming bird is repeated several times in the second half (I’ve no idea whether it’s been made up for this series or if it’s based on a real story, either way it’s good and used well throughout). To me it gives the message that, even if you think you’ve lost everything, there’s still things worth carrying on for and it’s heart-warming to see Joe and a few other characters come to realise that.

That brings me to the music and, again, it’s another winner. There’s a strong Spanish influence to the music, and a lot of the show really, given that all the episode titles are in Spanish. There’s a lot of melancholy tracks to squeeze your heart and carry you way on, as befits the mood of the series, but when it needs to get you pumped up and excited it knows just what to hit you with. I wish I understood more about music so that I could properly explain what makes its so, so good, but I could listen to the soundtracks for both series for the rest of my life and never be happier.

Finally, let’s talk about the animation. It’s still completely top notch, the line work is a little cleaner, but the great character designs and aesthetic remain intact. As I’ve mentioned there isn’t all that much action so the animation doesn’t get as many chances to show off, but there are a plethora of examples of great directing and visual story-telling. That said, when there finally is a match and the animation gets to flex a little, it really flexes. I just want to chef’s kiss this anime until my lips fall off. Go watch it guys, right now!

The Verdict:

In the end, Megalobox 2: Nomad is one of those rare instances where the sequel outmatches the original. The music, animation and directing are as fantastic as they were in the original, but with more of a focus on the characters and their emotional journeys the drama gets turned up to eleven. This is a more melancholy series and there’s less matches if that’s what you were looking for, but the continual gut punches of the story more than make up for that. We even manage to end things on a much more hopeful note and I couldn’t be happier with this series. I would love another series, but if this is where this story ends then I am more than content. Check this out!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

First Impressions Summer 2021 Part 2

And we’re back ! Yes the First Impressions have at last returned so let’s not waste any time and get straight to them!

The Detective Is Already Dead

Kimihiko is a teenager with a peculiar knack for getting himself into trouble. Take the day he was just walking down the road, minding his own business, when suddenly these guys grabbed him, drove him to an airport and told him to take a mysterious package on to a plane. Thankfully it wasn’t as sinister as it sounds, it was just the manipulations of a silver-haired detective named Siesta who needed Kimihiko’s help to thwart a hijacking by a secret criminal organisation! Wait, that still sounds pretty sinister doesn’t it? Oh well, for the next few years Kimihiko joined Siesta as her sidekick, taking on worldwide conspiracies and solving cases. Then, a year ago, Siesta died and that was the end of that. Or is it?

I’m a sucker for a good detective story, unfortunately this isn’t one. I knew I was in trouble the minute Siesta mentioned that a detective should know the answer to a mystery before they even walk in the room. Ok, so we’re doing one of those detective shows, right. In case you don’t know the kind I’m talking about it’s the kind where the detective purposefully holds back key information and just drags you along until the climax when they finally give you the answers that you’d never be able to work out yourself. There are some fun detective series that follow this formula, but for me it does take some of the fun out of it if there’s not even a chance of me solving it before the detective. Still, I was willing to give the series a chance, then the second episode came along. We’re told that Siesta died a year ago and then, only a few minutes later, a new girl explains that she had a heart transplant a year ago and that heart has been in search of someone ever since. You can work out where things go from there. So this series is either going to withhold information and not tell you anything until it wants to or its going to give us such blindingly obvious clues it might as well beat us over the head with a baseball bat. Then the episode ends with another girl turning up, this one with an eye patch. Yeah, no, I see what you’re doing show and I’m not interested in the slightest. I’m out on this one.

The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace

800 years ago the human race was on the brink of annihilation thanks to an unstoppable wave of demons that wanted nothing more than to destroy everything. Then the Idaten, gods of battle, appeared from the heavens and swiftly defeated the demons, sealing them away forever. The world has been at peace ever since, at least as far as the Idaten are concerned, but that means the majority of the current generation have never even seen a demon, let alone know how to fight one. Only the battle-hardened last survivor of the previous generation would stand even the slightest chance if the demons were to suddenly reappear, but that’s impossible. I mean it’s not as if a group of demons have been secretly hiding out in a warring country waiting for their time to return, right?

I’ll warn you now, don’t let the highly saturated colour palette and more stylised character designs fool you, this is one violent series. When there’s not buckets of blood hitting the screen, we’re seeing people tore apart or beaten into pulp, strong stomachs are required here. Also there is a rape scene in the first episode, it’s artistically done and you don’t see any real detail, but the implications are all there so if that’s a turn off for you stay well away from this series. If you can get past all of that though, this is a really fun series. The action is kinetic and fluid, the way this show chooses to use colour is just fascinating and I’m so intrigued about the world it’s presented us with. So far the series has been good about answering questions about how this world works and what things mean, while also laying out a whole load of breadcrumbs for ongoing mysteries. I’ve already used the word, but this show is just fascinating and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Sonny Boy

It was just another listless, average day for Nagara, until his whole high school was sucked into another dimension! Now, alongside 35 other students, he’s adrift in a black, empty void and has no real clue as to what he’s supposed to do about it. Of course that’s when people started developing superpowers just to makes thing extra difficult. Why did this happened? Will they ever find their way home? All good questions, but the most pressing for me is, how long before they start killing one another?

Anime does Lord of the Flies! I have no idea if that’s actually what this series has in store for us, but it’s all I’ve been able to think about since the first episode. The minute the kids decided that they needed to set their own rules and how quickly things spiralled out of control was just a huge red flag to me. Honestly I’m just surprised people didn’t start dropping dead right there and then, but that’s just me putting my own expectations on this series. What this show has actually been about so far is the mystery of how the kids ended up like this, seeing how they all react and working out the rules of the new locations they find themselves in. It’s all solid sci-fi stuff and I can see a lot of people really loving this series, with good reason, but it’s just not clicking with me. I think must of my issues stem from the fact that the first episode started in medias res, with the school already transported to another dimension and people already having powers. Rather than letting me see this all happen, the show decided to just tell me it happened and that doesn’t work for me. I spent so much of the first episode wrapping my head around what had happened that there wasn’t any time left to get invested in the characters. Again, this was just my reaction and I’m sure other people will enjoy this just fine. As for me I might come back to this one later, but I’ll skip it for now.

The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!

In the Dark Realm, the Great Jahy was second only to the demon king himself! Feared and exalted by all, she spent her days in endless pleasure and luxury, but that changed when a magical girl suddenly attacked and destroyed the source of her power! Now she’s trapped in the human realm, eeking out a living in a tiny run-down apartment while she spends her days actually serving people in a bar! But you can’t keep a good demon down and if Jahy can gather enough mana crystals she can not only restore the Dark Realm, but return to her carefree life! All she has to do is find them first…

Let me know if you’ve heard this one before, a high-ranking demon is besieged by a holy warrior. After the confrontation, they find themselves in the human world with very little of their tremendous magical power remaining and are forced to work in the service industry to survive. Yes, I’m getting strong Devil is a Part-Timer vibes from this too, and I’ve seen that comparison a lot in comments, but I’m not entirely sure it’s fair. If you look past the synopsis these two series don’t really have that much in common. Both are comedies sure, but Devil wasn’t what I’d call a ‘gag’ series. It’s humour just naturally came out of the characters and their situation. Great Jahy on the other hand has a definitive set up and punchline to all of its jokes. I’ve no idea what the source material is like but I’m guessing it’s some type of four-panel gag series. This series is a lot of fun and I chuckle at the majority of the jokes, even if I have to admit that Devil is a Part-Timer is more my style of humour. Still, I’m going to stick with this one for a while, I just have one note to give. Can we please give Jahy’s child form some trousers, or shorts at the very least, I’d really appreciate that, thanks.

Fena: Pirate Princess

Fena Houtman is a young woman on an adventure. She’s spent most of her life as a prisoner in an island brothel after washing up there as a small child, but with the help of some old friends she finally manages to escape. From there she’s taken to a mist-cloaked island that an elite group of samurai call home. These samurai have sworn themselves to protecting the Houtman family and fulfilling the last request of Fena’s father. But with only a clear glass blcok and a single word, ‘Eden’, to go off of they don’t really have much of a clue as to what it is they’re expected to do. So Fena sets off on a journey with her samurai pirate crew, to discover where it is that her father was taking her all those years ago, and what destiny has in store for her…

Honestly this series had me sold the minute I saw ‘pirate’ in the title. Throw into that some drool-worthy animation, a spunky heroine and, well, the fact that said pirates are actually samurai pirates and I don’t know what more I could ask for from this series. I love how animated Fena is, and I know that’s a weird thing to say about a series that is animated, but she just brings so much energy and personality to every scene she’s in. I’d watch this show just for her and her reactions alone. I’ve only seen the first two episodes at the time of writing this, but the show has already done a lot to impress me. The plot is moving at a fairly quick pace, but it doesn’t feel like anything’s been rushed so far. We’ve got a good idea about each locale before we move on to the next one and I can’t wait to see what comes next. My only real complaint is that I’d really like Yukimaru to stop hitting Fena on the head so much, I’m quickly beginning to dislike the guy (My god, is this what it was like for all those One Piece fans that complained about Nami hitting Luffy all the time back in the day?!).

That’s it for this week, and while there’s plenty of shows that I’ve added to my drop list, there’s also a good few gems that I’ve found as well. Hopefully you have to. Next week I’m back to regular reviews, so grab your gear and get ready to step back into the ring, Megalobox is back baby!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two

I believe in Harvey Dent.

What’s the Story?

Gotham City is changing. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone’s family and illegal business operations have been devastated by a bizarre string of holiday-themed murders. While both the police and the Batman search for the killer, Carmine has been forced to new extremes to keep his grip on the city. He’s entered into dealings with the so-called ‘freaks’ of Gotham. Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter each bring their own brand of insanity to the streets, but they won’t be the only ones. DA Harvey Dent is feeling the pressure, under suspicion for the Holiday killings and fighting a losing battle in the courts, the cracks are finally starting to show. What little justice there is in Gotham may, in the end, come at the other side of a coin flip, even if it costs everything…

The Review:

It’s time for judgement, and ironically (or appropriately depending on which way you look at it) I may need to flip a coin to reach a verdict here. If you want my thoughts on the first part of this adaptation, and the comic it’s adapting, then you can check out my review HERE, but let’s not beat around the bush and just jump straight into things (much like the film does). How does The Long Halloween Part 2 stand as a film in it’s own right? Honestly, it’s not good and it hurts me to say that. The voice cast is superb, perfect for each and every character, I’m quickly falling in love with this animation style and some of the character moments just shine with pure brilliance. The problem is, as great as all those elements are by themselves, when you try and fit them all together the film just doesn’t work. It’s an unwieldy beast of disjointed scenes and terrible pacing. If you do plan on watching this film, which I will still probably recommend, then please watch Part 1 and 2 together. It won’t fix all of the problems, but it might help.

Okay, let’s break this down a little bit because there is actually a lot I want to praise in this film, even if none of it is quite enough to save the whole thing. We’ll start with the voice cast who, again, the only word I have for them is perfect. In my Part One review I singled out Jensen Ackles and Naya Rivera, and while they’re still just as fantastic as they were in Part 1, this time I want to take my hat off to Josh Duhamel. His performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face is outstanding, you really feel like he’s a man on the edge and then when he starts using his Two-Face voice, chills went down my spine. I also really love that little speech he gives at the end to Carmine about why he’s using his famous coin to decide what ‘justice’ is. It’s the character moments that make this film for me, there are some really great action sequences (like the Poison Ivy/Catwoman fight that starts the film off), but it’s the little conversations between people where this cast are firing on all cylinders.

Unfortunately, as great as the majority of the scenes are by themselves, it’s once you start stringing them one after the other that things come apart. In my previous review I mentioned that I was worried they were going to rush through elements of this story and that’s exactly what happened. The beginning of this film either blitzs through or just plain skips over several issues of the comic and, as sacrilegious as it feels to say, I think they should have just left it all out entirely. As much as I adore any time Poison Ivy gets on screen, or the brief Scarecrow nightmare sequence which is the best animated sequence in this film, they add little overall. There’s some minor plot beats that you need from their appearances, but I really think the time would have been better spent on showing Batman investigate the Holiday killings. Once we reach the halfway point it feels like this film forgets there’s even a serial killer on the loose, abandoning the little title cards it established for each killing in the last film and at the start of this one. There’s just too much stuff that it’s trying to do and it detracts from the moments that really needed the focus.

That brings me to the ending, and I need to talk about the comic one more time. I said in my previous review that The Long Halloween comic isn’t perfect, and it’s the ending where I feel it really falters. Honestly when I first read the comic it was the resolution to the big mystery that was my only disappointment with the story. Not with who the Holiday killer turned out to be, that made sense (and was a lot less convoluted than Hush’s mess of an ending), but I had to mull it over for a long time. The ending leaves a lot open to your interpretation and you have to really go back over things and work out the logistics on your own, the comic gives you no help in that regard, which I can argue both for and against. No, what bugs me is the lack of a cathartic ending, which I guess this is meant to be a grand tragedy and so it should be bitter sweet, but Batman never confronts the true Holiday killer. In this film though, that’s changed. Batman does indeed have a final conversation with the killer and, honestly, I’m not sure which is better. On the one hand, it makes things clearer and allows the killer to dig into their motives a little more, but it creates a giant plothole in that Batman just walks away from the killer with no real explanation as to why. Just a line would have done, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, he wanted to respect Harvey’s wishes, heck even a ‘I’ll be watching’ would have sufficed, but no.

The Verdict:

In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 is a film that leaves me in two minds (again either ironically or appropriately depending on your point of view). It has some fantastic moments, a terrific voice cast that excels with every line delivered and a great look to it, but the parts are definitely stronger than the whole. All together this film feels disjointed, trying to give its attention to too many plot elements without putting its focus where it should be. It’s a shame as with the proper care and time I think this adaptation could have been one of the best in Batman’s history, but cutting it up as two movies probably wasn’t the way to go about it.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Vivy – Fluorite Eye’s Song Review

A Song from the Heart.

What’s the Story?

In the future, A.I. have become an intrinsic part of everyday life. From the many varied humanoid androids who take on all manner of jobs throughout human industry, to the Archive that monitors and records everything, they are everywhere. For a century the world has been at peace and content with this state of being. Then, one day, that all changes. Suddenly the A.I. begin singing and turn on the humans, killing them indiscriminatingly. To try and prevent this from ever happening a specially designed A.I., Matsumoto, is sent back in time a hundred years to alter key moments in history. Of course Matsumoto can’t accomplish this alone and he enlists the help of another A.I., a singer named Vivy. But what can she do to help when she’s struggling to understand her own mission? What does it really mean to make everyone happy with your singing?

The Review:

This series is fantastic. I’m cutting straight to the chase on this one because I am very aware that this post is about to become a full-on gushfest and I thought I should give you all fair warning. Sorry those of you who were hoping for a reasonable, well thought out dissection of the show, but that’s not happening here (then again I don’t know if I’d ever call any of my reviews well thought out, they’re all written stream of consciousness style. I’m getting sidetracked.) There are many aspects of this series that I want to discuss, from the stunning visuals to the blistering action sequences and engaging plot, but there’s one thing that makes me want to stand on the rooftops and sing out my love for this show more than anything else. As corny as it may sound, it’s the heart of this show that’s captivated me.

One of the strongest aspects of Sci-fi for me, is it’s ability to examine the human condition from a different perspective and drill down into the core of what makes people, well, people. Vivy’s struggle in this series, her central one at least, is figuring out what ‘pouring your heart into something’ means and we see her stumble and fumble her way to an answer by the final episode. Despite the fact that Vivy is made out of all sorts of plastics, metals and computer programs, she is one of the most human characters I’ve seen in a while. You feel the effect that each and every one of her missions has upon her, whether that’s for good or ill, and watch as she processes and learns from it. This series is a century’s worth of character development compressed into thirteen episodes and it is brilliant, really anyone who’s interested in writing good character progression should check this series out.

Okay, putting Vivy herself aside for a moment (though if that’s all this series had I’d probably still be gushing about it), what else does this series have to offer? Well there’s the amazing visuals for one. Every frame of this series looks great, from the character designs to the general aesthetic. I particularly like the slight plastic sheen that’s given to all of the A.I. characters so you can always tell who’s human and who’s not. The fight sequences are also fantastic, well choreographed and full of energy and impact. Admittedly some of the action can get a bit too frantic and so the visuals get a little messy sometimes, but even then I feel like that’s on purpose as it as adds to the tension and kinetic power of the scenes. Throw in some good songs and an innate understanding of what visuals to pair with a particular musical sequence and we’re really on to a winner.

That brings me, finally, to the plot of this series and probably the area I could pick the most holes in if I wanted to. Time travel stories are hard, this is an established fact in writing. The minute you start bending the hard rules of causality for your narrative is the moment you’re asking for problems. It immediately opens the door to questions like ‘if they can go back in time why don’t they do it over and over again until they get it right?’. They hang over a series like this and the moment you start picking the whole thing falls apart. I’m not saying you can’t do that with this series, you absolutely can if you’re of a mind to, but the series is very good about providing answers to any question that’s likely to pop into your head.

Why does Matsumoto recruit Vivy into his mission when her own mission has her as a singer not a fighter? What if Vivy wants to change something that isn’t to do with saving the future? Plus a myriad of other questions, the series gives you an answer either just as the question comes up or shortly after. It doesn’t plug every single logical hole, but it’s enough to satisfy and on the surface level everything makes sense and works out. Also I love some of the way the time travel events have been plotted out, so you can see the ramification that earlier missions have had on later events. There has been a lot of thought that has gone into this series, but it’s the feels where this show shines the brightest.

The Verdict:

In the end, Vivy – Fluorite Eye’s Song is a fantastic series and one that I will recommend with every single beat of my heart. It’s story is well thought out and engaging, it looks great with some blistering action sequences and, most importantly of all, the characters are the heart of the series. Vivy’s journey, trying to find the answer to her mission and reconciling all of her myriad experiences and trials is a joy to watch. I’ve fallen hard for this series and I regret nothing. Check this out as soon as you possibly can!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.