Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Blog Gotham by Gaslight Review Title

Wait, it was him?!

Okay, I’ll admit I’ve been staying away from the DC universe animated movies of late. They seem to have lost something recently, I keep seeing clips and sneak peeks and my interest just isn’t there. There’s either an overabundance of darkness and violence where it isn’t needed (Batman: Bad Blood, I did not need to see a guy’s head explode thank you very much) or they just get terrible reviews (Batman and Harley Quinn). Gotham by Gaslight though, that had my attention and yes I know I just complained about excessive darkness, and this film gets incredibly dark, but if there’s any place that that kind of thing feels appropriate it’s a story about Batman taking on Jack the Ripper. Batman can fit into almost any setting, but a Victorian one feels more appropriate than most. It adds to his gothic appeal, those smog covered streets, that architecture against a moonlit night, I don’t know why this sort of thing doesn’t turn up more.

Now, this movie is based on a comic, which I have never read. So speaking to this film’s adaptation is kind of out of the window (I will get round to the comic eventually it’s on a very, very long list of comics, books, films and TV shows that I must own at some point). However, this film gives me pretty much everything I’d ask for from the concept. A host of characters reimagined in this new period? Check. Steampunk gadgets for our caped crusader? Check. Rooftop chases, contests of strength and intelligence as well as some detective work (i.e. the stuff Batman is really good at)? Check. Mystery and drama as our hero hunts through the back alleys of Gotham all leading to an epic final confrontation? Check. Could there have been more characters and namedrops, more gadgets and such? Sure, but I think they would have probably cluttered up the film too much if you tried to cram absolutely everything in. This is a pretty simple film with a simple story, it’s really an introduction to a world similar to the one we’re all familiar with, but not entirely (I’ll come back to this).

Characterwise Batman is Batman, obviously. Bruce Greenwood puts in a really good performance as a dark knight who’s just starting out. He’s guarded and clinically minded, but still makes mistakes and has a ways to go in the brawling department, which I appreciate. I like a Batman that hasn’t evolved into the Bat-God yet. Also the film makes use of his detective and observation skills, which I always appreciate. The other characters all feel like themselves too, even if on the outside they’re wildly different. Such as the street urchins that are Dick, Jason and Tim (the robins to those that don’t know) and the two-faced Harvey who shows his ugly side without the need of getting half his face burnt off among others. Though if I can take a moment, and please excuse the language, but…you bastards! Not only do you give my Ivy precious little screen time, but you let the Butcher have her! How dare you! I’ll…(Sound effect: being restrained and sedated.)

I’m back. Sorry, I…I…have a thing. I’m better now. Anyway, my favourite character has to be Selina. She’s smart, intelligent and won’t take any nonsense off of anyone; you feel the chemistry between her and Batman. She’s his equal and that’s the way Catwoman should be.

I suppose that brings me to Jack himself and while I’ll try not to spoil it I do want to talk about it. So, if you want to go in completely blank about the Ripper, skip this paragraph. So, Jack, I can see the reveal upsetting a fair few people. Like I said before I’ve never read the comic, so I don’t know if it was the same there, but damn you’ve got some balls. It takes one of the fundamental pillars of the Batman mythos, a character that should be unshakable, and twisted them into a completely new direction. It’s just…It’s…I don’t have the words. My jaw hit the floor when they did the reveal. “You can’t do that!” I cried and yet it made perfect sense. It fit this version of the character and that’s the thing. These are not the characters we all know and love, they may be similar, so very similar, but this is not the canon DC Universe. This is a different world and here there are no rules. There are no characters that are untouchable and I admire this film so much for taking something I thought to be fundamental and smashing my expectations into pieces with it. If the rest of this film was as daring as this reveal I think we’d have a classic on our hands.

On the animation front I like the style they’ve gone for. It’s clean and simple and allows the focus to be on the action and the performances. I also really like the designs of all the characters, simple, but effective. The action is great with lots of fast motion and heavy blows, I especially like the fight between Batman and Jack on the blimp. Though this film isn’t entirely action, it also does a good job of building tension, giving a real feel for this gas lit world.

When it comes down to it Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a short and sweet story, giving us a glimpse of a world very similar to the one we know, but not quite. It’s driven by good performances, good writing and good animation, and while I don’t think it’s going to change anybody’s world, I’m glad I saw it. I’d love to spend more time in this world with these characters. I’m hopeful for the DC Universe movies again and, strangely, that’s the note the film leaves on too. Despite the horror that came before, there is hope for the future, a chance to build something better.

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

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A Shameless Plug – Twisted Fairy Tales

Hey! Like fairy tales? Even better, like dark fairy tales? I happen to be in anthology so if you fancy a film noir Little Red Riding Hood or a look at what happens after The Little Mermaid you’re in luck. Plus there are some real gems from the other members of my writing group. If you’re interested in seeing some classic fairy tales, and some not so familiar ones, taken down a dark path then click on the cover below to see it on Amazon!

Infallible Fish Reviews: Tangled Before Ever After

Blog Tangled BEA Review Title

“Piece of cake! Have you not seen the seventy feet of my-father’s-going-to-kill-me growing out of my head?”

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Disney fan and Tangled in particular is a favourite of mine (it’s on my top 10 Disney films list HERE). Tangled was the film that got me back into Disney after those dark teenage years were I thought Disney, and even cartoons in general, were just for kids (I can only admit that I was an idiot and throw myself on the mercy of our Mouse Overlord). Tangled was, and still is, smart, funny, gorgeously animated and Princess Rapunzel herself was brave, hopeful and strong in all the ways that’s needed.

Yet, when I heard that Tangled was getting a TV movie and even a series to follow, I will admit to some trepidation. On the one hand its great to have a chance to further explore Rapunzel’s world, however, Disney sequels tend to be notoriously…bad and we’ve yet to get to Frozen 2 or Wreck It Ralph 2 (please be good. Please be good.), so I didn’t know if the curse was broken. That and it’s a TV movie and no offence to the TV branch of Disney (you’re wonderful people, keep up the good work), they don’t have the budget or the full might of Disney animation backing them up, so, yeah, I was nervous.

The DVD has finally been released over here in the UK though and I am so glad to report that this is a good movie. I just slipped right back into the world and it was as if I’d never left, probably helped by the fact that Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi are here to reprise their roles as Rapunzel and Eugene respectively. Sure things look a little different that the original movie due to a new animation style (I’ll come back to this in a minute), but the characters and the world are all as they were and yet more at the same time. The characters get to evolve in logical and understandable ways, we even get a bunch of new characters to add to the cast, the script is smart and funny and we even get a quick look around Corona with a little bit of added history and plenty of mystery.

The story picks up six months after the film, and before the short Tangled Ever After, with Rapunzel finally returned to her loving family, getting used to being a princess in a fancy castle and with her boyfriend, Eugene, always by her side. Things couldn’t be more perfect, or could they? Something doesn’t feel right to Rapunzel and while she loves her family, she can’t help but feel restrained by all the rules and expectations now placed on her as the one-day-to-be-Queen. You can’t help but wonder if Rapunzel has just traded one tower for another. Things aren’t made any better when Eugene puts her on the spot and proposes! Rapunzel can’t take this and storms out. She just needs to breathe. She just needs to get out! Luckily Rapunzel’s new friend Cassandra has a way to sneak her outside.

Which just about brings us to the songs. There are two new songs in this film (well, technically three, but the last one is a reprise of the second) and in an example of how the creators behind this film really wanted the best for it, they got the Alan Menken back to do the songs. He’s really on form with ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘Life After Happily Ever’, both are catchy and great and brilliantly preformed, especially by Mandy Moore. I really love some of the lyrics, with them ranging between poignant and funny.

Back to the story though and I do have to commend how it treats the characters so maturely. This could so easily have been such a clichéd story, but it’s the writing and the performances that really raise it above the bar. My hat especially goes off to Levi and Moor who effortlessly fill their characters with such familiar warmth its as if they never left. Moments like the King stood at the window, hearing the night that Rapunzel was taken from him all over again, help you to get inside his head. Yeah he’s being harsh and frustratingly overprotective, but you get why. He’s afraid. He doesn’t want to lose his daughter all over again and he’ll do whatever he deems necessary to protect her. There’s a beautiful line where he admits that the night she was kidnapped the best part of him died.

Even Eugene is handled maturely, admitting that while he doesn’t understand why Rapunzel turned down his proposal, he’s going to keep trying until he figures it out. It’s nice to see an actual relationship in Disney that goes past the initial honeymoon period, with a few bumps in the road, but that doesn’t dent their love for one another. Well done Disney.

Anyway, plot, Rapunzel and Cassandra sneak out and find a bunch of mysterious black rocks that are unbreakable. What’s more, once Rapunzel touches them, the rocks start multiplying, growing out of the ground and chasing after the two. Then Rapunzel’s hair starts to glow and grow until she’s back with the long golden locks she’s known for. They manage to escape the rocks, but now Rapunzel has the small problem of hiding her, now unbreakable, hair from her family, something she can’t do when a bunch of thugs crash her coronation party and try to kidnap the king. This is my only real complaint about the film, the villain. While Lady Cain is a good villain, she’s a threat and has a good motivation (hinting further at the tyrannical rule of the King of Corona, but that’s for another day) the problem is she’s hardly in the film. She hardly interacts with Rapunzel and her motivation is something that we never get to see, it’s just told to us. I couldn’t help but feel she’d be a much better antagonist if the film had an extra twenty minutes to give some time to her.

Finally, the animation, I will admit it took some getting used to, but I like it. It’s simple and clean, very much looking like a flash cartoon, but in a painted style and is done in these gorgeous pastel colours. It moves well and there are a couple of shots and camera movements that are just breathtaking. It’s very much 3D animation masquerading as 2D and if this is the way Disney is going I’m on board with it. The greatest strength this movie has though in the visual department is its use of colour. There are some achingly beautiful uses of colour in this film, from the bright and vibrant colours of the castle and the town to the darker shades of the kingdom beyond the wall. Everything just really pops and I really like it.

All in all Tangled Before Ever After is a great continuation of the original film, allowing the characters to evolve and grow in a natural way. It’s filled with great performances, catchy songs and smart writing, even if the villain could have used a few more scenes. True there isn’t much resolution to the mystery of the unbreakable rocks and Rapunzel’s return to being blonde, but that’s for the series to deal with. This move is very much set up for that, but with enough warmth and effort put into the production that it’s clear that isn’t the only reason for its existence. Now, when’s the series coming out on DVD?

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

First Impressions Winter 2018 part 2

No time to lose, on with the first impressions!

Maerchen Maedchan

Hazuki is a girl with no friends, I mean literally not a one, because she has this odd little habit, whenever something stressful or upsetting happens she has to run off and read a book. It’s an odd affliction I know, some might even say impossibly contrived, but it’s what she has to deal with. Then one day all her storybook fantasies seem to be coming true as she comes across a witch and a portal to a magical world. In this world there’s a school where magical girls are trained using the power of stories and Hazuki may have the power of a particularly powerful story, Cinderella, that is if she can learn how to actually use magic.

Ugh. I wanted to like this show, I mean its storybook fantasies and magical girls, that has potential. Yet I get the feeling I should have done some research before getting my hopes up. The minute I saw the fanservice in the opening credits I knew I was in trouble. To be fair, it’s not been played up as much as in the first episode (well, until we get to the hot springs fight, but that’s another story), but even without that this show has a big problem. It’s just not well told. First off you’ve got how contrived the main character is, sure you can have an awkward main character, one who prefers books to people or finds comfort in stories, but the series in no way justifies the extremes of Hazuki’s condition. I don’t believe for a second in Hazuki as a person, she’s just a plot construct, there to get things going and hit certain beats, which is not how you make an engaging character. Add to that the plot points you can see coming from a mile away and some clunky dialogue and I’m not hopeful with this one. Also, on last note, there’s the fact that after four episodes Hazuki is yet to gain even the basic form of her magic, there’s building tension and then there’s dragging your feet.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody

Ichiro Suzuki, aka Satou, is a game programmer in the middle of a death march (i.e. working himself to death non-stop until he hits the deadline. There’s way too many references to death in that sentence, although now I do have a need to play the “Working Dead” song from Steven Universe). Anyway, “Satou” decides to take a nap and wakes up in a fantasy world that is strangely familiar to the game he’s been working on. In a younger body with maxed out stats and a harem of girls waiting in the wings, Satou does wonder if he’s just dreaming or has actually been transported to another world. It’s too similar to the game to be a coincidence, but everything feels too real for it be a dream. Whatever the answer Satou decides to heck with it and to enjoy his unplanned vacation in another world.

Gee, a story about someone transported to another world and living inside of a video game. Everyone else getting a sense of déjà vu? Good, just checking. Okay so this doesn’t exactly have the most original plot, but I’m strangely enjoying it. It still has a long way to go before it gets anywhere near good, what with the generic fantasy setting and our overpowered main hero. I mean I do like the fact that he’s an older guy in a younger body and passes comment on some of the oddities of the game, also he’s clearly more of a strategic player than someone who just runs in guns blazing (also magic gun, awesome). Where it worries me though is the fact that Satou pretty much knows how to do everything from the start and picks up new skills like other people breathe. Also he is easily the most powerful character we’ve seen so far and that robs any danger he might get into of any threat, not that there has been much danger so far. I’m still going to keep watching it in the hopes that the series will surprise me.

How to Keep a Mummy

Sora’s dad is often travelling to far flung places and tries to make up for this by sending back presents to his son. Unfortunately those presents often turn out to be weird or creepy. This time he’s sent Sora a mummy! Expecting the worst Sora is prepared to face an undead Egyptian, but doesn’t quite get that. The mummy is in fact tiny, big enough to fit in the palm of his hand and is just adorable. Naming the mummy Mii-kun, the creature quickly becomes attached to him, but looking after something so small and fragile may prove a challenge for even the most practical of youngsters.

It’s soooooooooooooooooooo cuuuuuuuuuuuute. That’s pretty much my reaction to this show, I sit staring at the screen repeating that over and over in my head. Mii-kun is adorable and so is the show. It’s light-hearted, fluffy fun and nothing much more, but then it doesn’t really need to be. If you want to watch a cute little mummy run around and make adorable faces while handling objects much bigger than himself, this is the place for you. If you’re after something else, move along.

Hakyu Hoshin Engi

A Doshi named Dakki has made the kingdom’s emperor her puppet and thus rules over the land. She has been doing this for generations, manipulating and controlling all around her so that she can indulge her passions for chaos and death. The other Doshi have had enough though and charge a young Doshi, Taikobo, with defeating and imprisoning her and her minions. With only a flying hippo and his own strength to rely upon, Taikobo goes to face Dakki, but he soon realises he’s in over his head and it’s going to take a lot more to save this kingdom.

This anime has a huge world and that may be its biggest flaw. Every episode so far has been a huge info dump of some characters’ back-story or the world at large. Episode one itself had enough content to fill out at least half a series. It’s kind of bewildering and a shame as well. This world sounds really interesting, it has a terrifically horrible villain, complex characters driven by their own flaws and desires and a hero who could be pretty fun. I say ‘could be’ because my brain is too busy trying to process all the information that the show is throwing at me to actually connect with our hero. Also I’ve noticed a pattern forming over the first few episodes. After episode one they’re split into two threads, one with Taikobo meeting some new future ally, getting a hint of what their deal is and then they disappear at the end of the episode to do some more training while swearing to return when needed. The other one is following Dakki and whatever twisted, sick scheme she’s working on next and that is by farther the more exciting plot. Dakki is a really good villain so far, there’s a sense of tension whenever she appears because you just know she’s up to something and I already hate her and am eagerly awaiting the moment of her take down.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens

Fukuoka is a town riddled with crime. From hitmen to torture specialises, if there’s killing or maiming to be done then you have only to walk the street for five minutes to bump into someone with the necessary skills to help. There are even rumours of a killer who specialises in killing professional killers. Out of all these killers and professionals, several individuals are about to collide, including a private investigator, a rookie hitman and a cross-dressing hitman, in a tale of murder, revenge and frame ups. Somehow I don’t think this will end well, or bloodlessly for that matter.

I think I love this series, which is a little worrying considering some of the content, I mean this is a show about killers and psychopaths. Still this is shaping up to be a great series, loads of different characters, loads of different plot threads and all of them would make a riveting show on their own. Together they’re just all the better. I do have to marvel at how all the different plots are crossing and bumping into one another, while still letting each story be coherent and easy to follow. I do get the feeling that this show would be even better to binge watch, though that could just be that I’m desperate for the next episode pretty much as soon as the current one ends.

Darling in the FRANXX

In the distance future the world has become a wasteland, with strange giant monsters wandering the land and humanity surviving in a mobile city. Then there are the children, raised for only one purpose, to pilot giant robots and defend humanity from the monsters. These robots, known as FRANXX, must be piloted by one boy and one girl and their lives have no meaning if they cannot fulfil their duty. Hiro is one of these children and he cannot pilot a FRANXX, that is until he meets a mysterious girl with horns, Zero Two. It is said that anyone who pilots with Zero Two will die after the third time, but what will Hiro’s fate be?

Trigger and A-1 Pictures Unite! If nothing else this show looks really good, the fact that the rest of it is really good only makes this show all the better. While post-apocalyptic worlds with giant monsters is hardly anything new, there’s a real effort put into the world and the characters here. There’s still a lot to be learned about both, but I’m liking what I’ve seen so far (in that I find it interesting, not that this dystopian future is in anyway a pleasant place. I mean raising kids purely to be fodder against the big bad monsters is just low). The characters are also interesting, each with their own quirks and flaws and there’s a real focus on their development rather than giant robot action (the action is good, but its not the be all and end all of the show). My only real quibble so far is in how the FRANXX are piloting, mostly revolving around the position the girls have to get into to pilot. Look, FRANXX, I get that you’re not really being subtle with your themes here, but can we have a less…uncomfortable driving position or at least don’t put it on screen as much.

Well, that’s all the first impressions for this season. Back to regular reviews next week and boy have I got a lot to get through. Onwards!

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 2018 part 1

Well it’s a new year and we’ve got some branding spanking new anime, hopefully they’ll be able to wash out the taste of the last season. Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing series like Ancient Magus’ Bride and Garo (that thankfully are continuing this season), but they were very much spots of light in the dark when there was other stuff like King’s Game and Dies Irae. This season is looking really good though, with a new show from studio Trigger and A-1 Pictures, plenty of fantasy and adventure, oh, and a new series of Cardcaptor Sakura (I’ve died and gone to heaven). So enough blabbering, let’s get on with this.

A Place Further Than The Universe

Mari Tamaki has written in her diary that she will make the most out of her youth, but when she wakes up on the first day of the second year of high school she’s dismayed to realise that she hasn’t actually done anything! Yet still she can’t find the courage to step outside of her safe little world, that is until she meets Shirase, who’s saving money to go to Antarctica (not your usual trip for a high schooler). Joined by two other girls with their own reasons for going on the trip, Mari finds herself swept up in the adventure she’s always wanted, that is if the girls can even get on the boat.

I have to say, excluding my nostalgia-tinted joy for Cardcaptor Sakura, this is in the lead for my favourite show of the season. I love everything about this series, from the gorgeous animation and music (seriously, go watch the chase scene from episode two I was almost crying with how beautiful that was, in every sense of the word), to the characters and the story. The whole show is shot with a cinematic attention to detail and just pure emotion that oozes off of the screen. This show captures everything from the fear and trepidation of these girls, to the utter joy of, as they put it, youth in motion to just the fact that the girls are hilarious. It’s pointed out in series that they all barely know one another and yet they have such electric chemistry, their reactions and expressions to one another and the world around them are superb. Go. Watch. This. Show.

Laid-Back Camp

Nadeshiko, having just moved to the area, wanted to see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately she’s a bit of an idiot and biked all the way there, only to collapse at the last hurdle. Fortunately for her an outdoorsy girl called Rin saved her. Rin likes to go camping and shared her food and phone with Nadeshiko, as well as the view of Mount Fuji. This experience has given Nadeshiko a taste for the outdoor life and upon discovering that she and Rin go to the same school is determined for them to go camping properly. Will this interfere with Rin’s love of solo camping though?

Ah. That’s kind of my reaction after each episode of this show so far, a nice content sigh. This is a calming and relaxed show; it takes its time just to give you a feeling for the surroundings (even if feels like a promotional video for various camping sites at times). Still it’s cute and informative when it comes to the tricks of the camping trade. The characters help sell this shows, Nadeshiko especially, she’s a complete idiot, but an endearing one. I can’t help but laugh at her antics and quietly hope that she manages to get through to Rin and pull her out of her solitude and into a group.

Katana Maidens – Toji No Miko

Monsters known as Aratama plague Japan and the only defence the country has against them are schoolgirls with magical swords (because of course schoolgirls are used to fight giant monsters, there are traditions damn it!) These girls are trained in special schools, but when a tournament is held between the various academies one of the students decides to attack the head of their organisation rather than her opponent. Now Kanami and Hiyori are on the run, chased by their friends and fellow students, but that’s not their only problem. Something sinister lurks at the very top of the Sword Association and if the girls can’t find a way to stop it, random Aratama attacks are the least of their problems.

I’m kind of torn over this series. On the one hand I really like the world this series is building and the concepts at work in the story, on the other I really don’t trust how they’re telling this story. The whole schoolgirls fighting big monsters has been done to death and I know it’s a subgenre that’s not going away anytime soon, but this series doesn’t focus on that. No instead, we’ve got the girls on the run and some dark secrets revealed about the supposed ‘hero’ who’s in charge. It’s exciting, full of potential and gives our hero a really big and threatening enemy to fight. The problem however is in the plotting and pacing. The most worrying part is the big plot twist reveal in episode 2, I mean I’m grateful that we have an explanation for why Kanami is helping Hiyori (the lack of reason was kind of bugging me), but its such a monumental reveal and its just blurted out like its nothing. The show needs to slow down at certain points, because the way it just rushes over certain aspects is robbing them of their impact. Hopefully the show can sort this out and we can really dig into this rebellion that the show is building.

Record of Grancrest War

In a land ruled by chaos, the people live under the protection of Lords who use magical crests to stake their claim to the land. However the Lords are not as noble as they once were and fight one another for their crests, stealing them to further expand their own domains. It doesn’t help that the country is divided by war. One lone knight, Theo, wants to help protect his home and with the help of a mage named Siluca he gets the power he needs. However Siluca has plans for Theo that are far grander than just protecting his homeland. Can these two save a kingdom?

This a decent fantasy series. The world is interesting, even if it does need a bit more explaining and exploring, it does worry me that each episode so far pulls out a new ability of the crests. I hope at some point we’re going to get a proper explanation of how they work and their limitations otherwise I can just tell that they’re going to be a macguffin the hero can use to pull a victory out of nowhere. I like Theo even if I can see his naivety and honesty are probably going to get him into trouble down the line. Siluca is a good character too, she’s clearly smart and knows how to manipulate people, also she’s not too shabby with her magic either (although I do wonder why she’s still in the outfit that she’s already said she doesn’t like, you know, apart from fan service). There’s plenty of potential and room for the series to develop, my only real worry is that the pacing feels a little too rushed, which seems to be a common problem. Things are moving, but so much that it’s robbing what should be big moments of their impact.

Slow Start

Hana is starting high school one year late due to illness. For her it’s a big deal and one she keeps beating herself up over. She feels so far behind everyone else and doesn’t know anyone at school, but thankfully she manages to make friends fast. It’s a slow start (title drop), but that doesn’t mean she can’t cross the finish line in time.

Kind of a light synopsis, but then plot was never going to be this show’s main focus. Sweet is the best word I can think of for this show, the characters are all very likeable and I like that Hana’s character development is front of centre. In just three episodes we’ve already seen her gain a bit of confidence and cheer up and her situation is one that’s easy to relate to and root for. Over all the show is bright and colourful and just a pleasant way to spend twenty minutes. I don’t think it’s going to change too many people’s worlds, but it’s fine as it is.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card

Sakura had finally collected all of the Clow Cards and transformed them into her own Sakura Cards. The story should be over, but then one night she has another dream, this one of a mysterious hooded figure and when she wakes up all of the cards have turned clear. Now with a new key and mysterious forces causing mayhem in Sakura’s peaceful life the adventure has begun again! With her friends’ help and Syaoran returned from Hong Kong, Sakura must collect these new cards and solve the mystery of just what is going on.

I may have mentioned this before, but I love Cardcaptor Sakura (hence why its on my top 10 favourite anime list here). It’s the reason my nostalgia encrusted heart has a soft spot for magical girl anime, I fell in love with this show back when I was a kid (when I knew it as Cardcaptors on Saturday mornings), heck I’m such a nerd for this show that I made my own Clow Cards back when I was ten. So upon hearing there was going to be a new series with a new story, well, I practically died and went to heaven there and then. The fact that the show is so stunningly beautiful is only a bonus, seriously this is some movie-level animation. Outside of that it’s pretty much business as usual, which I would be tempted to complain about in any other series, but Cardcaptor Sakura knows its formula, it knows what works and dammit it’s going to stick to it! This show is a perfect little bundle of innocence that just makes me smile, though of course that could be the nostalgia talking, but I don’t care, I’m enjoying myself here.

Next time! A city full of assassins! The cutest Mummy you’ll ever see! And, a robot powered by a boy and girl doing what?!

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

Anime Corner: Katsugeki Touken Ranbu Review

Blog Katsugeki Review Title

The Era of Swords

What’s the Story?

History is in danger. Mysterious figures known only as the Time Retrograde Army are popping up all across the timeline trying to alter the course of known events. From the future a man sends back warriors to protect history. These warriors are Sword Warriors, former spirits of famous swords, given human form and with the skills of their former masters. How does one protect history though? Is it just a case of making sure events go as they should, but what about the people caught in the crossfire? And what would happen if the swords were to meet their former masters?

The Review

Can an anime be saved just by looking absolutely fantastic? No, no it can’t, but this series gives it a damn good try and at least it’s pretty to look at. The animation for this series is done by ufotable and it is breathtakingly beautiful, as you’d expect with this studio’s past work. The action is blisteringly fast and well choreographed. You feel the impact the every hit and the sharpness of every blade. The character designs are crisp and clean and when they pan out to do a shot of the landscape it is just jaw dropping. There are so many scenes where I just wanted to pause it and pin that image up on my wall.

On to the actual story though, which is shame really because there isn’t all that much. To give credit were its due the story does raise some interesting questions and ideas, but unfortunately a lot of that stuff is in the later half of the series. In order to get to that you have to slog through a lot of fight scenes, which are great to watch, but not all that engaging. I struggle to invest in these characters, especially when they’re so overpowered and the enemies so vague. A lot of the ideas within this series revolve around two main points. The first being about what it means to protect history and how our heroes go about this. Do they just ensure that history happens as it’s supposed to without any questions? But what about all the people getting caught in the crossfire of their battles? Should they be protecting them? Even though in the grand scheme of things they don’t really matter all that much. It’s the only character development we actually get, seeing our heroes struggle with this and come to their own conclusion.

Of course things get a bit more stressful for our characters when in the later half of the series they actually start running into their former masters (which when you think about it in a time travel series was bound to happen sooner or later). Honestly the last few episodes of this series is actually the first time I felt invested in this series and these characters. All of sudden it’s not just long-winded musings and character banter, but there’s a conflict we can actually understand (I’ll have a tangent on this in a minute). Imagine you’ve spent your whole existence alongside someone, fought alongside them and were even there in their final moments. Now imagine that you suddenly find them in front of you again and you have to chance to talk to them, but you also have the temptation to warn them. It’s no wonder that most Sword Warriors avoid their former master in case they let anything slip.

It comes back to the question of how our characters are going to protect history, and just as importantly, where do their loyalties lie? This even causes some divisions in the group and more conflict. Now what did I mean earlier by understandable conflict? Let me jut say that the Time Retrograde Army are terrible villains. They are just faceless goons with no mastermind behind them. We have no idea why they do what they do or even how. I’m pretty sure the series tired to give us some explanation with that guy that turned into a bloodthirsty demon, but the series makes no attempt to connect this to the larger army or explain anything that’s actually happening.

It’s why I struggled to connect so much with these characters in the beginning, I mean they all appear nice enough people, but without understanding what they were up against or why things were happening, I struggled to see the point of it all. I just needed a bit of dialogue or a scene, heck I’d have settled for some narrator’s exposition just so I could have a bloody answer. It doesn’t help that the characters keep harping on about it and trying to work it out without ever coming to an answer. It’s frustrating and it was only because of the animation that I actually stuck around.

Another reason I struggled to connect with this series is that I have no clue about the Japanese history the Sword Warriors are trying to protect. The show doesn’t try to explain either, well not much, it just throws a bunch of names at you and the barest explanation as to the time period. I’m assuming this stuff is more commonly known in Japan, but for me it’s just another barrier between me and caring. What it boils down to is that this series is really just one battle after another until we get to the meat at the end and sometimes that feels like an awfully long wait.

The Verdict

Katsugeki Tauken Ranbu isn’t a bad show, but for me it’s a long way from good. The animation is gorgeous, as you’d expect from ufotable, but with a nameless threat and barely fleshed-out characters it’s hard for me to invest in what’s going on. As the series gets towards its end it does raise some interesting questions and has some heartfelt conflict, but it just takes too long to get to it. Unfortunately this is one history lesson I’m likely to sleep through.

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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: Fastest Finger First Review

Blog Fastest Finger First Review Title

Because the Question Is There! Renee Montoya? Where? (10 points if you get that reference).

What’s the Story?

Koshiyama Shiki is a shy and awkward boy. He’s often found more comfort in books than actual people, but one day he’s forced into an impromptu fast-buzzing quiz and discovers a new world, the world of quiz bowl! Now Koshiyama can put those considerable book smarts of his to use and maybe even build up some confidence and meet people he has stuff in common with. Still, it’s going to take more than a font of knowledge to become the King of Quiz Bowl. After all, it is fastest finger first.

The Review

Sports anime aren’t normally my thing, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this somewhere before, but there’s a couple of reasons why. The first is obvious to anyone that knows me, I am not a sporty person, unless you count typing, I must be a world-class typist with the amount I write (whether any of what I write is actually good is another question entirely). Second issue, all sports anime tend to follow the same formula. You either get a kid who’s full of passion and enthusiasm for a certain sport, but not very good, or you get a kid who’s shy and awkward, but has an unknown talent for a certain sport. Through circumstance and hijinks they end up falling in with a ragtag team and must work their way up the ranks, making friends, suffering losses and battling rivals all the way. Every single sports drama I have seen or even heard of follows this plot. They can be a bit predictable is all I’m saying, which I could put up with if I was interested in the subject matter, which due to the first reason I’m usually not.

Why am I talking about sports anime in regards to a show about quiz? Because this is a sports anime, that formula I just described? It’s here (they went for the shy and awkward option) and there’s just so much that screams ‘sports anime’ at me. Now I admit I’ve never really thought of a quiz as a sport before, but it fits the criteria, it’s competitive, there’s all sorts of rules and techniques and the characters are certainly passionate enough about it. That’s really how this series sucks you in, that competition and that passion.

This series does what all good sports anime do, it grabs hold of you, gets you invested in the characters and then has you sweating it out while you wait to see how this will all play out. Yes there’s a formula, yes you can predict what’s going to happen, but maybe this time it won’t, maybe this time there’ll be a twist. Then of course it all sticks to formula, but you share in the characters relief and joy when the inevitable happens.

On the character forward, while our cast may not be the most revolutionary of characters or have the most in depth back stories (well, there are only 12 episodes to the series), I still like them. It’s their passion that wins me over, because they really get into this whole quiz thing. It’s an easy way to get an audience to invest, because if a character is passionate about something, then we’re more likely to sympathise with someone because we all know that feeling. It also might, just might, make you want to see what all the fuss is about. Of course your characters have to be the right level of loveable and this series manages it, no one’s too weird or passionate to the point of arrogance. I do want to mention something about our lead, Koshiyama, while I know his archetype is nothing new, his arc is a really satisfying one. Going from the loner who struggles with others to this confident guy who will stand up for what he’s passionate about and let that become his driving force.

Of course this series is also really good at doing tension, letting it build and pacing every note perfectly. Most of the episodes just fly by as I get sucked into the contests, waiting for the answer to that pivotal question that will decide it all. It does help that they mix up the quizzes, so it’s not just straight question/answer, question/answer. No they throw in a variety of different rules and competition mechanics to keep things interesting, like playing in pair or being able to deduct points from other players. It keeps it interesting and then there’s all the different techniques that go into the quiz. It’s not just pressing the buzzer first, it’s knowing when to press and how to pick up clues from how the question was read to lead you to the answer. I do like how we get to see the character’s thought processes as well, we get to go through the panicking and the mad scrambling of deductive reasoning as they come to their answer. That also helps to build the tension and keep the excitement going. Also it helps show that our character’s aren’t infallible quizzing machines, yet.

On a last note, animation is really good. It doesn’t really get that many chances to stretch its muscles, but everything looks very clean and vibrant. It’s nice to look at and works well with the action. It knows just when to cut or hold on a shot to keep that tension and excitement going.

The Verdict

Fastest Finger First follows the typical sports anime formula and I doubt it’s going to blow anybody’s mind, but it’s a fun, fast-paced little show. The characters are all likeable and really passionate and that makes you care for them and want to see them do well. It’s also really good at building tension and drawing you into its drama. If you’re after something fun and fast, they’re worst anime you could watch. Also, it’s only twelve episodes long and while it makes it clear there’s loads more of story left, the series ends at a good enough climax to be satisfying (wouldn’t mind a series 2 though).

fish stamp good

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