Cartoon Corner: Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir Season 1 Review

Blog Miraculous Review Title

Spots on! Or should that be spot on?

This cartoon is kind of a marvel; heck the fact that it was even made is a marvel. Apparently conceived when French animator Thomas Astruc met a ‘certain lady’ in a ladybug shirt (which in no way sounds like the beginning of a superhero origin in and of itself). The series started as a bunch of drawings, but were transformed into a cartoon by Zagtoons and several animation studios across several countries. It’s a testament to co-operation and creativity and it helps that it’s a really fun show too. Oh also, I finally get my magical girl fix! What? So it’s not an anime, Japan doesn’t have the copyright on the genre and lets run down the checklist. A female heroine who gains magic powers and uses them to fight evil and get up to various hijinks? Check. A talking animal sidekick? Check. Transformation sequences? Double Check. It’s Sailor Moon as a French superhero, well once we get to all the other heroes who are due to pop up in season two.

The show follows the adventures of Marinette, you’re typical French/Chinese high school student living a content life in Paris. She dreams of being a fashion designer and one day being able to speak to the cute guy in her class (who also happens to be a model by the way). Then one day she met Tikki (though how they actually met isn’t told to us until towards the end of the first season, which is either really gutsy or really stupid and I can’t decide which. I mean I like to know the origin of my heroes, but on the other hand it does let us just get straight into the action and grab people’s attention. Maybe if the origin just happened earlier, even if not the first episode). Anyway, Tikki is a strange little creature that gives Marinette the ability to transform into the Miraculous Ladybug, a superhero with extreme agility, a deadly yoyo (what? I’ve seen weirder weapons) and the power to summon whatever tool she needs to save the day, though this does drain her energy somewhat.

Her adversary is the villainous Hawk Moth, a man who likes his solitude apparently, standing around in his little watchtower waiting for someone to get angry. Seriously, that’s how his powers work, when someone is angry or upset he can take control of their minds, giving them powers and transforming them into super villains! (Though, does only one person get mad at a time in Paris? And why is it almost always someone connected to Marinette’s school friends and their family? It must be Chloe. That girl would infuriate Gandhi). Now Hawk Moth’s plan is a simple one, so simple it’s used by every villain in every cartoon ever. He summons a monster of the week to go after the heroes, hoping against hope that he’ll win by attrition.

Oh right, I said heroes, that brings me to our second lead, Cat Noir. Cat Noir is the superhero form of Adrien, Marinette’s crush. His powers are more destructive, able to tear down anything he touches when activated, though again this drains his energy. He’s also a terrible flirt and even worse with the puns and jokes, which is interesting, but I’ll come back to that.

While I really love this show, I can’t exactly say it’s flawless. As I mentioned with the Hawk Moth discussion, this show is incredibly formulaic. Marinette will come across some trouble in her civilian guise, this will lead to someone getting angry and Hawk Moth will turn them into a villain. Cue Ladybug and Cat Noir to come to the rescue, beat the bad guy, Ladybug hits the magic reset switch and maybe they’ll be a lesson forced on someone. Hawk Moon swears to get them next time, rinse and repeat. However I’ve said it before, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Where the series lacks in an original formula it makes up for it with gorgeous animation, fun and creative adventures and charming and interesting characters. Of course the formula could get a shake up in season 2 when new heroes are added and the mythology is expanded upon. Season 1 is very much a set up phase, putting the building blocks in place and letting use get to know the characters before we move on to other things. I’m really looking forward to season 2.

Now if I haven’t sold it to you yet, let me bring out the big guns. First off our characters, now while a lot of them don’t exactly get a great deal of depth or exploration they still feel fleshed out enough for me to like them and we get to know all of their quirks as the series goes on. Where the series shines though is when it comes to our main characters and the interesting ideas it puts on display. What I find most fascinating is the differences in personalities between our leads and their costumed selves. First there’s Marinette who out of costume is nervous and awkward, especially when it comes to Adrien, she can’t utter a word to him without going to pieces. Yet once she’s got the mask on she’s confident, able to flirt with Cat Noir and uses her wits to overcome any obstacle. Adrien on the other hand is smart, kind and polite, yet once he becomes Cat Noir he gets to cut loose, make bad jokes, flirt with the love of his life and generally have a bit of fun. In his civilian life Adrien feels restrained, by his father and the expectations of him, but no one has those expectation of Cat Noir. They’re costumed selves are their real selves, unrestricted by social anxiety or standing, what makes things really interesting is that while Marinette loves Adrien, she’s not exactly falling for Cat Noir, (so she thinks he’s pretty but isn’t turned on by the goofball he actually is, that’s gonna be interesting when the two find out one another’s real identities). Meanwhile Adrien barely notices Marinette, but the super confidant Ladybug catches his eye. It’s actually a interesting romance, which was a nice surprise.

Now on to this show’s biggest selling point. The animation. It is astounding, there is no other word it, I mean 3D animation for TV has clearly come a long way. The animation is bright and bouncy, with a whole heap of energy to it. It’s really expressive and fluid, the action is some of the best I’ve seen on TV. I could watch Ladybug and Cat Noir leaping and running around Paris all day.

As a last attempt to sway you, let me list five of my favourite episodes.

Stormy Weather – Speaking of great action, this episode has some of my favourite action sequences from Ladybug and Cat Noir dodging cars falling out of the sky to a rooftop battle in the middle of a blizzard.

Timebreaker – Showing the series’ creative side. What happens when you get a villain that has time travelling roller blades? Why twice the villain and twice the Ladybug! Also on a side note, who was that girl’s ancestor who could make a holographic stopwatch? A wizard or a time traveller?

Copycat – Jealousy can be an ugly emotion, though I’m sure Marinette wouldn’t say that about Adrien. When a jealous artist frames Cat Noir, Ladybug has to figure out which is the real cat’s meow! (my god, the puns are contagious!) Also I love Marinette’s reaction to leaving an embarrassing message on Adrien’s phone.

The Puppeteer – What happens when you give a little kid superpowers, especially the power to control others! Also the return of several villains from previous episodes, which was a nice surprise considering the one-and-done nature of the villains.

Volpina – Is that a new superhero come to join the cast, or is this all an elaborate trick? Also, what’s this? A character’s emotional problems aren’t magically cured by the end of the episode? They’re still angry, what fresh madness is this?

Also there’s Antibug and the Mime and… oh there’s too many, just go watch the show. You’re bound to find something you’ll like. Bye-bye little butterflies!

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

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Anime Corner: Psycho-Pass 2 Review

Blog Psychopass2 Review Title

Water Closet, seriously who still calls it that?

What’s the Story?

About a year and a half has passed since the events of the first season of Psycho-Pass, the Sybil System is still in force, evaluating the people of Japan and deciding everything from what they should eat to where they should work, or maybe if they’re even a threat to society. Inspector Akane Tsunemori knows Sybil’s little secret and is even willing to go against the system if it means upholding the law, a notion that doesn’t always go down well with her fellow Inspectors. There’s a new threat to Sybil on the horizon though, a ghost who seems to be testing the guns the Inspectors use as well as leaving cryptic messages. As Akane tries to solve the case, she doesn’t realise just how much danger she’s in as someone close to her has a darker purpose in mind.

The Review

And we’re back! Sequels are always hard to pull off, I mean there’s the popular thought that sequels are never as good as the original and while that is rather a broad statement with plenty of exceptions that prove it wrong (Terminator 2 just off the top of my head), it’s definitely the case here. I mean to be fair to Psycho-pass 2 it was kind of doomed from the start, not only was this series handled by a different team than the original (everyone off of the original was busy working on the movie) but it only had half the number of episodes to tell its story. Now none of that meant Psycho-pass 2 had to be bad, it was concerning, but it could have still found a way to be good all it needed was a strong villain, inventive ideas and interesting character development. Well, one out of three ain’t bad, oh wait, it is.

Look, I mean no disrespect to the team behind Psycho-pass 2, but they’re not really on the same level as the team that did the first season. You just need to look at the opening couple of minutes of each first episode to see the clear difference in direction, lighting and animation; there is a vast chasm of talent here. I suppose the sad part is that there’s nothing terrible about the look of Psycho-pass 2, well outside of that moment in episode 4 where the animator had a heart attacker (because I can think of no other reason why animation that hilariously bad got aired), the direction and animation are perfectly serviceable, they just lack the flare and style we got from the first season.

Well, okay, so it doesn’t look as good, I suppose if the story is really good then that won’t matter so much, right? Sigh. Okay, the story, where do I begin? To give credit where its due there are a lot of fun ideas here, they just tend to either be completely wasted or executed poorly. I mean we have ideas like a bunch of criminals who can use Dominators to turn the Inspectors and Enforcers own weapons against them, or we have the really cool one about an Enforcer who takes a sadistic pleasure in turning the hues of the Inspectors he works with pitch black, heck this season even gives us a bit of history on the early days of the Sybil System.

Where a lot of these ideas fall down though is when you start applying logic to them. If the Sybil System knows that the criminals are faking an Inspector’s ID to use the Dominators, why not revoke that Inspector’s authorisation to use a Dominator? Also, why on earth would the Sybil System let an Enforcer run around turning people into latent criminals? They especially wouldn’t let said Enforcer set his sights on Akane, isn’t she meant to be their special little test subject? I don’t care whose in charge of the robot chief, the collective wouldn’t give that much free reign to anyone! The show never gives a good reason for why this stuff happens and it’s not like the series doesn’t want you to think, it’s a police procedural and given concepts like the omnipotence paradox, it clearly wants us to use our brains.

Let’s talk about the omnipotence paradox and our villain for the series, Kamui. Now the omnipotence paradox is that if you have an all powerful god-like being and ask it create a rock that it cannot lift, now as soon as it makes the rock it ceases to be all powerful, but if it can’t make the rock then, again, it ceases to be all powerful. The point of this is all meant to lead to the Sybil System judging itself (which is another logic error because the system is made up of criminally asymptomatic brains, surely its psycho-pass would just be zero). Kamui is a villain created towards that end and it really shows. He hardly has any presence or personality to himself and the reason behind why the system can’t judge him is really confusing, I still don’t get it, spoilers, he’s kind of Frankenstein creation of different organs from hundreds of different donors all sewn up together and I don’t get how having different organs makes you count as more than one person. After Makishima last season, this season needed a really good villain, and the scene were the Inspector wakes up minus an eye and with Kamui starting to brainwash her shows a lot of promise, but he quickly peters out after that. He’s more of a construct than a character.

Speaking of characters, let’s have a look in on the rest of the cast. None of them really get any development, I mean Ginoza gets a couple of cool scenes and we get to know that Inspector from Division 2 a bit better. We get some new Enforcers and they’re all pretty fun and I can’t wait to get to know them better. Akane is still awesome even if she’s still in the same position at the end of this series as she was at the beginning. One of the good things about this series is just seeing how Akane takes to being the senior Inspector of Division 1. I like her trying to talk people down, only shooting them once their crime coefficient is below 300 so she can paralyse rather than kill. She can’t bring down the Sybil System, but that doesn’t mean she can’t bend it to her own will. I also like little touches like her breathing in smoke from Kogami’s brand of cigarettes in order to channel him when she has to work something out.

One character I feel I have to talk about is Shimotsuki, now as a character she is a horrible person, she’s whiney, petty and quite possibly insane, but her mind is just so fascinating. She is ideal citizen in the eyes of the Sybil System, she believes in the system so much that it can do no wrong; even after she learns its secret her mind just breaks and still does everything it says. I wish she was more developed so I could get into why she thinks like that, is it something to do with her appearance in the first season that made her this way, or is it just the general indoctrination of the population? I mean there seem to be a fair few Inspectors who are quite happy to slaughter people if Sybil gives the ok (That’s another thing with this series, it’s as if it was trying to fit in as many gory scenes as possible, but this review has gone on way too long already so we’ll leave that for some other time).

The Verdict

In the end, Psycho-Pass2 is really a big let down, this is a fantastic world with great characters, but this season just doesn’t use them properly. There are some cool ideas, but they’re poorly thought out, the character receive little to no development and the series is hampered by not enough episodes to properly explain everything as well as some lacklustre animation and direction. If you skip this season and just go straight to the movie you honestly won’t be missing much, but saying all of that, I still kind of enjoyed watching this. I love Akane and I like spending time with her and it was nice to meet the new Enforcers and it was good to see the changes in Ginoza, none of that is enough to make this good, but it is enough to let it keep its place on my shelf.

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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: Psycho-Pass (Season 1) Review

Blog Psycho Pass Review Title

It takes a criminal to catch a criminal.

What’s the Story?

In the future you’d better watch what you think because with the advent of the Sybil System a person can be judged on how likely they are to commit a crime. This generates as a number and a hue known as a Crime Coefficient. If that Coefficient gets too high then the Enforcers and Inspectors are called in. The Enforcers are latent criminals whose own Coefficients are way too high with no way of recovering and its their job to track down criminals and dispense the Sybil System’s justice. The Inspectors are there to make sure the Enforcers don’t cross the line and become actual criminals, a job that is going to prove tough for rookie Inspector Akane Tsunemori. What happens when someone beats the system?

The Review

I love a procedural cop show. I love some interesting sci-fi future tech. I love Gen Urobuchi (yeah I know he can be controversial with some people but he’s a huge part of two of my favourite anime series, Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica). It feels like this series was almost made for me, or least at the dark sadistic corner of my brain that I occasionally find myself in. Now I do have to admit that Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica set fairly high up on my ladder of unmissable anime and Psycho-Pass doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but it’s certainly in the vicinity. This is a great series with a tightly written plot, interesting characters and a rich world just waiting to be explored (though I am hesitant to explore it after what I’ve heard about series 2).

Psycho-Pass is a series that asks some difficult questions along the way, a lot of it centred around the Sybil System and how the population of this future Japan has given itself over a kind of automated living. Everything about life there is controlled and regulated by the system, whether deciding what career you should pick or the dietary requirements of your food and that’s without bringing in the constant evaluation of your psychological state and telling you what to do about it. Yet the system does kind of work, the majority of the population live content and carefree lives, there’s very little crime and for the most part people seem happy. Now the system is clearly wrong, it has some big gaping flaws in it that means if you’re one of the unlucky few that the system doesn’t work for then you’re screwed. It’s telling of how bad the situation is when a man goes crazy just because his hue got a little clouded and is so terrified of being persecuted for it that he snaps and then starts dragging other people down with him. The Sybil System brings peace, but it’s a very precarious peace that will only remain as long as the majority of people are blind to its flaws, one good shove though and it could all come tumbling doubt.

That’s one of the tougher aspects that Akane has to deal with and showcases the divide been law and order. To follow the ideal of the law would be to protect the people and prosecute those guilty of committing crimes, which in this case would mean the Sybil System is in for some jail time, but with this society being so dependant on the Sybil System that would bring chaos on such a grand scale that the whole country would self-destruct. To follow the ideal of order the Sybil System has to be protected to save everyone from untold death and destruction. Akane stands in the middle of these ideals and it’s a testament to her character that she finds a way forward without mentally tearing herself apart, she is the ideal of this society and hopefully one day more people will be like her and won’t need the Sybil System anymore.

Now while I love Akane and watching her journey from nervous rookie to badass Inspector leading Division 1 is glorious there are some other great characters in this show too, I just wish we got to see more of them. The two characters that get the most time spent on them are our male protagonist Kogami who’s your typical obsessed cop adamant that there’s this super genius criminal behind everything but no one else will believe him. He never feels generic though, he feels like his own character, as his own journey is even more interesting than Akane’s as he struggles over how to end things with our main villain Makishima. Should he follow his own sense of justice and vengeance and kill Makishima to prevent him from hurting anyone else, even though that means he’s crossing a line no person should. Or should he stick within the law and bring Makishima in, even though he knows the system can’t be trusted, but it will allow him to stay true to his ideal as a detective. It’s a tough one because neither answer is right.

Then we have Makishima who I adore as the villain. He’s the kind of charismatic puppet master that I love to watch as the villain. You can’t help liking the guy, even though you know that’s probably one of the worse things you can do is be drawn in by him (moth to a flame is no doubt the most apt metaphor). He’s intelligent, clearly passionate about people and you have to admit he does have a pretty big point about the Sybil System, if it wasn’t for the mass murder and anarchy that he breeds (and revels in) then I’d probably be on his side. My only real complaint about him is that sometimes his reams of exposition and discussions of philosophy goes on for just a touch too long, if only by a fraction of second. There are plenty of anime that go into talking head mode where my eyes glaze over and for the most part Psycho-Pass avoids this, 90% of the dialogue I’m on board with and paying attention to, but every now and again there’s a scene where the talking goes on just a little too long and I start to recognise that fact. Shave them down by a few seconds though and that problem is gone so it’s not a major issue.

I wish we got to spend a bit more time with the other enforcers because I don’t feel like I got to know them well enough. They have plenty of personality, enough that you feel you could sit down and talk to all of them, and we know a few details of their various back-stories, but I just want to know more. I want to know more about what it was like for Kagari to have been diagnosed as a latent criminal since he was just a kid. I want to see more of Yayoi’s transition form naïve love-sick musician to the much more clinical version we see in the present and how the hell did Masaoka get his metal arm? I want to know! Tell me, tell me, tell me! Okay, sorry, that minor frustration out of the way though, I do like these people and I have to admit that the majority of the plot is focussed where it should be, on exposing the flaws of the Sybil System and charting the development of our three main leads.

The Verdict

Psycho-Pass is a great series and one that I’d recommend to any fans of cyberpunk and even police procedurals. It was written by Gen Urobuchi so be prepared for some gore, violence and tragedy along the way. The animation is gorgeous looking and really adds to the atmosphere of the world and I love all the little details about how this world works and some of the future tech in it, more than that though I like these characters and this flawed system that runs the world. It leads to a lot of interesting ethical discussions along the way. So check it out, you just might need an emergency therapy session afterwards though.

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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.  

The Infallible Fish: Kubo and the Two Strings Review

Blog Kubo Review Title

“If I’m Beetle, and you’re Monkey, why isn’t he called Boy?”

If you ever need proof that animation is not only art, but one of this world’s greatest forms of magic, then look no further than the dark masters that reside within studio Laika. What they manage to put on the screen is nothing less than a miracle, how they blend computers and stop-motion animation can only be done by magic. I mean at the best of times stop-motion animation is a trade for either the most dedicated soul or a masochist (possibly both) and across all four of their films so far this studio has managed to create some of the most beautiful, jaw-dropping animation I have ever seen. One of the best parts of each film is in the end credits where we get to see all the machinery and time put into making the models move.

Okay, now that my little moment of worship is over (seriously, I’m considering making a shrine at this point), let’s talk about the actual film. Like I said before this is Laika’s fourth animated film and one of the aspects I love so much about this studio is that each film is completely different to the ones that came before. We’ve got a dark fairy tale in Coraline, a poignant story about differences and misperception in ParaNorman and a charming and funny little story about trolls wearing boxes in The Boxtrolls. Now we have a classic Japanese quest in Kubo and the Two Strings. Which is best? I honestly couldn’t say, it depends on personal preference and what you’re in the mood for. ParaNorman probably has one of the most heart-rending and powerful thirds acts I’ve seen in a film, but then again Coraline is definitely more my cup of tea (it’s a dark fairy tale and based on a Neil Gaiman story, what more could I ask for?) Kubo though, I think Kubo is definitely the best all-rounder of the Laika films.

Kubo has pretty much everything you could want in a family film, action, adventure, comedy and a whole lot of heart. It’s also outstandingly beautiful. With this film Laika have built a world that is brimming with fantastical things, from ancient caverns and mythical monsters, our heroes will have to cross snow-covered mountain, explore gloomy caves and find battle-scarred fortresses, and every single second of it shall be gorgeous. Enough gushing though, what’s the story?

Kubo is a storyteller with a very special talent (outside of being pretty darn good at his occupation), you see Kubo can make origami (you know, the folding paper thing) move with his mind! He puts this talent to use in his shows and everyone loves them, the only real problem though is that Kubo’s stories go on for a very long time and he never quite managers to finish one before the town bell rings for the drawing night. You see Kubo’s mother has warned him never to stay out past dark. The Moon King, his grandfather, is out to steal Kubo’s remaining eye (lovely family there, plucking out eyeballs, though at least it gives the kid a badass eyepatch), and if he’s ever out past dark than the Moon King and Kubo’s aunts will see him.

Then, one day, Kubo stays out past dark (oh come on, we all knew it was going to happen, at least the kid has an excuse, he just wants to talk to the spirit of his dead dada). Thus, his aunts find him and Kubo’s mother sacrifices herself so that Kubo can escape. Kubo wakes up on a snowy mountain in the company of a very serious monkey that used to be the figurine his mother always made him carry (wait for it, this film gets weirder, yes weirder than a moon king for a relative and living origami). So the quest begins, Kubo must gather up the three pieces of magical armour that his father once sought in order to face and defeat the Moon King. Along the way he’s companied by Monkey, the monkey, a little paper solider that points the way and may just hold the spirit of his father and a samurai cursed into the form of a giant beetle. They’ll battle a giant skeleton with swords in its head, a hypnotising sea monster and of course the evil aunts before Kubo finally comes face to face with the Moon King to avenge this family.

Okay, so this film is pretty much your standard quest, find mcguffin, face big bad at the end and avenge family (well, actually no, I’m not going to spoil the ending, it’s too beautiful to put into words). What makes this story stand out though, outside of the breath-taking visuals and great acting, is the characters and the imagination put into it. Kubo and the rest of the characters feel like real people, Kubo is just a kid and acts accordingly, being rebellious and joyful in equal measure, despite how hard life has been on him. He never knew his father, he’s had to take care of his mother since he was little, before finally losing her and then the rest of the family is out to steal his remaining eye (the kid has a right to be seething with anger, but he never gives in, more on that in a minute). The rest of cast could so easily have been stereotypes, but they’re filled with so much personality and emotion that you can’t help but care for them, there are some truly touching and beautiful scenes throughout this film, you feel all of their sorrow and their joy.

Heck, even the villains have the feels, they could so easily just have been 2-dimensial evil, but instead they have so much emotion, so much bitterness and anger. From their point of view they’re doing something good (as all great villains believe they are). Hey the good guys aren’t always right, they let their anger blind them and give in on occasion to same kind of bitterness that is driving the bad guys. In the end though, anger is not the solution and I’m not going to tell you what the actual solution is, you’ll have to see the film for that.

I also have to mention the fight scenes in this film, now I’ve seen Laika do astounding things with animation before and they certainly know how to do action, but it’s just the choreography and speed with the characters move that raised things to another level. My favourite has to be the fight between Monkey and one of the aunts, fighting on the ship made out of leaves that’s slowly sinking (I mentioned this film was imaginative right?)

I will shout the praises of Laika until I can’t speak any more, they are a studio that produces wonders and Kubo and the Two Strings is no different. It’s a film filled with beauty and imagination that has something for everyone to enjoy. It also has a heart as big as they come, Kubo is a hero to be admired, despite all the tragedy in his life, despite all that has been taken from him, he can still be kind and smile. This is a film about humanity, about it’s strength and how, if you can remember someone, they’re never really gone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get some tissues and cry.

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

Anime Corner: Alice and Zoroku Review

Blog Alice and Zoroku Review Title

“I’m going to give it a good talking too.” Zoroku talking about Wonderland

What’s the Story?

Zoroku is an elderly florist, a bit grumpy, a bit set in his ways and he definitely doesn’t like anything shady. Yet when he comes across Sana, a young girl with the power to make whatever she imagines materialise in the real world, he finds himself put into a strange situation. Can Zoroku’s steady hand help to guide Sana through the strange new world she’s ended up in and to control her power as well. Or will the shadowy organisation that has kept Sana locked up all this time get their hands on her (You won’t realise it until you watch the show, but that’s a decent pun there). Personally I don’t think the bad guys stand a chance, Zoroku is the man who at one point gives a stern talking too to an entire alternate dimension. Now that’s a superpower.

The Review

Probably the best virtue of Alice and Zoroku is that it never does what you expect it to and that does mean there’s a great deal of variety to proceedings. One second this anime can be doing a sweet little slice of life anime as Sana learns about the world, the next its got women with magic powers battling like it’s a shonen anime and then we’re on to hard-hitting emotional drama as young girls learn what its like to have unlimited power and no idea how to control it. You’d think that would make this series a bit of a hodgepodge, but surprisingly it manages to sew all of this together into a cohesive hole without breaking a sweat.

I think the reason a lot of this series manages to hold together so well is because it keeps focus where it should be at all times, the characters. Yes there’s an epic fight between a maid with an endless array of weapons and a woman who can summon a multitude of giant arms (told you you’d get the hand pun), but that’s mostly background noise to the heart-warming relationship between Sana and Zoroku. It gets these people exactly right, well the main cast at least, the motivation of the lady with the giant arms is kind of one note. I mean it’s sad and all, but she’s really gone off the deep end, though I suppose that could be said of anyone who thinks it’s okay to threaten a little girl for their own desires.

Speaking of little girls, that’s exactly how Sana acts, a fact I appreciate so much and it makes sense. Sana is new to the outside world and obviously very young, but it’s just the little things, like how excited and wonderstruck she gets. One of the best examples of this comes from the final episode where Sana gets her first school backpack and is so overjoyed that she not only flying tackles Zoroku, but won’t let got of the backpack, even when she goes to bed. I mean I think I may have actually seen too many anime where teenagers get magic powers and have to deal with the problems from that (as well as battle one another), it’s nice to see what happens when little kids face similar problems and how they deal with it.

My favourite character though, by far, is Zoroku himself. He’s something we don’t often see in shows like this, he’s a rock of stability in a world of magic and wonder. He’s a steadying hand and force of calm, able to stop all these super powered children with the tone of his voice alone. He’s the adult that can be relied upon, the mentor (one who doesn’t die at a pivotal moment). Due to his influence it changes what this story is about, it’s not about the powers or the fantastical Wonderland where all of this stems from, instead it’s about a young girl coming to terms with her emotions and working out just who she is.

I’m not sure what else there is really to talk about, this is a unique and wonderful little anime that you should check out. I suppose the difference between the first and second arcs could throw some people, it did me for a little bit, but then that’s just another part of this show never doing what you expect. The first arc is pretty straightforward, with Sana coming into the real world and the fight against the shadowy laboratory that wants to take her back. It goes kind of shonen at the end and could leave you with the impression that that’s were this series is headed, but it’s not. The second arc is much more of a slower burn and, in my opinion, is the best the show has produced. It has a magical battle, of sorts, but this one is more about the emotions than actual fisticuffs (actually I don’t think a single punch is thrown in it). In it we get to see what happens when someone gets powers who doesn’t have a Zoroku in their life as well as Sana dealing with her “frazzled” feelings and showing off a just a bit of what she can do with her power. Just go watch it people.

The Verdict

Alice and Zoroku is a sweet, sometimes dark, sometimes thought-provoking and always heart-warming story of a young girl trying to find herself and learning to deal with the big wide world. It puts a different spin on several genre archetypes and approaches the subject of girls with powers in its own unique way and I love it for that. If it wasn’t for a couple of other really good shows this season I’d probably be saying this was my favourite. This anime is a dream come true.

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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: Twin Angels Break Review

Blog Twin AngelReview Title

If it’s broke…well fix it, obviously.

What’s the Story?

Meguru has always wanted to be a hero and when she leaves her island home to go to school in the big city, she may just get the chance. Together with the closed off Sumire she becomes apart of the magical girl duo Twin Angel! They’ll have to learn to work together, taking advice from a talking hedgehog (as long as it’s not a manipulative bunny-cat we’re okay), battling Russian doll robots, mad geniuses and the lovesick Mary who, well, clearly can’t afford a wardrobe seeing as she has nothing to wear (I know female villains have a tendency to wear less, giving evidence to the theory that villainy is related to skin temperature, but come on, underwear and stockings a costume does not make).

The Review

I have mentioned before that I have a soft spot for Magical Girl anime and that’s probably the reason why I stuck with this show until the end. There are a few glimmers of hope, some neat ideas and plotlines, but overall this show just isn’t, well, written well enough for me to consider it to be good.

I think one of the main issues is pacing, this series has a lot of ideas and has a tendency to rush through them in order to get it all fitted in. Sometimes this can be a good thing as we’re not spending ages stuck on some cliché element, but on the other hand several events lack impact because they’re just not given the time they need. For example, the first bad guy they face, he comes across as just your typical villain of the week, but at the end of the episode we learn that this guy was one of the 4 Generals of the bad guys. A guy that was taken out in one episode, an introductory episode with very little time for an actual fight, by a couple of newbie heroes, and this guy’s a general? Yeah, not intimidated by the bad guys at all, at this rate we can finish the series by episode 4.

The odd thing though, is that sometimes the pacing works. I mean the arc in the middle with the twin idols, that’s kind of the best the show has it. I mean it still moves fast, but everything gets build up and pay off and there are some interesting moments. For one thing one of the villains works out the secret identities of Twin Angels and it’s like, wow, actual villain competency, I was not expecting that. We get to know the bad guys (the idols at least), learn their back story and actually feel some sympathy for them. We’ve got the bond forming been one of the bad guys and one of Twin Angels while their respective partners try to keep them apart. We’ve got a wedge developing between Meguru and Sumire and of course the eventual learning that their new friends are actually their enemies and what are they actually going to do about that. If this was better written, this would be really dramatic. Now the writing isn’t bad, it’s just…serviceable. It gets the job done, it gets the point across, even if it can be full of clichés and worn-out dialogue.

The tone is another odd thing about this series, half the time I had no idea whether this show was trying to be serious or parody itself. Let’s go back to the twin idols, that is a section of the series that is trying to be dramatic and heart breaking as we get towards the end of it. Yet how are we introduced to them? They’re a pair of twins who put on concerts that involves making sushi while they sing. Making sushi. While singing. Now I’ll admit I’m not all that knowledgeable or into the whole idol thing, but that’s weird right? I mean that’s something somebody came up with as a joke, right? Nobody would actually…what am I talking about, it’s Japan, of course somebody would come up with this stuff. Some of it can be funny, but it just takes me out of the show for a moment as I try and work out the heck I just saw.

Going back to the villains, let’s talk about Mary. Okay, admit it, which member of staff just wanted to draw her? Come on, I mean we’ve all drawn stuff like it, we don’t all put it in TV shows and inflict it on other people, but each to their own. That ludicrous costume aside, she is an effective villain. She’s smart, she’s manipulative and she is powerful, posing a legitimate threat to our heroes. It does bug me that her motivations boil down to reviving some guy just to meet him again, a guy who we never actually get to see. I mean he’s built up as this whole great evil thing and then he disappears in two seconds flat. The final episode is kind of a microcosm of what’s wrong with this show, it’s so fast-paced, moving from one, what’s supposed to be epic, set piece to the next with no time at all to take it in. It just leaves you sitting there, saying “Oh. That happened.”

I haven’t really spoken much about our heroes Meguru and Sumire and that’s really because there isn’t that much to say. They stick to their archetypes, Meguru is the bubbly optimist who never stops believing and will always help a friend, even if at times she’s a little too energetic and air headed. Sumire is the cool and aloof honour student who doesn’t believe in friendship and is feels better off on her own, until she learns the true value of friends. Honestly the most interesting part is when Meguru starts to slip into a depressed state at the end of the series, weighted down by some pretty serious grief, that Mary is happy to exploit. There’s also their untold back story that, again final episode, goes by the blink of an eye and you barely get a second to take it in.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from this show. I know why I’m here, I want to recapture that feeling I got when I first saw Cardcaptor Sakura (or Cardcaptors as it was called over here) or even Sailor Moon, but I can’t seem too. Maybe I’ve grown up too much, maybe this sort of show just doesn’t appeal anymore and (damn it!) I don’t want that. On the other hand this could just be a poorly executed story and nothing to do with my own personal gripes. Either way, the search continues.

The Verdict

Twin Angels Break isn’t a terrible series, but it’s nowhere near a good one either. It has it’s moments with some decent ideas and plotlines throughout, but the majority of the show is too fast paced for its own good and has a tendency to either fall back on clichés and tired dialogue or just forget what tone it’s trying to establish. You might get some enjoyment out of it, but there are better shows you could spend your time with. Hang on a minute, I just had a thought, this series is called Twin Angels Break and they mentioned a Break System. Did they ever actually explain, or even show, what that is? Damn it now there’s something else wrong with it!

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

Anime Corner: WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? Review

Blog WorldEnd Review Title

Okay, Light Novel adaptations, we need to have a word about the word economy in your titles.

What’s the Story?

The world ended many centuries ago, the human race wiped by mysterious beasts that came out of nowhere. The beasts survive still, roaming the surface of the planet, but life goes on, various anthropomorphic species having escaped and evolved on several floating islands. They’re not entirely safe though as some of the beasts are able to make it up to the islands. The only weapons against the beasts are young girls, who are able to wield ancient swords once used by humans. Willem has just been made the caretaker of these girls. He’s the last surviving human and in the end the girls may take care of him as he much as he takes care of them.

The Review

This isn’t the series I was expecting. I mean it’s a light novel adaptation and one that’s supposed to be set around girls fighting monsters with magical swords (Gee. Haven’t seen that before), so the image I had in my head was one of lots of action and probably way too much fan service. It’s a fantasy series though, so I gave it a chance and I’m so glad I did. This series is much more interested in its characters and mythology than the fights and monsters. It plays out a bit like a slice of life mixed with a dark and tragic fantasy. This is a series about saving people and you don’t always need a magic sword for that.

We’ll start with the characters, first up is Willem. He’s a decent guy with a big heart and quick to help, though a lot of that masks a deep vein of depression, which is understandable. He’s the last human alive, everyone that he knew and loved is dead and gone and while we only get fleeting flashbacks to those people, you still feel the weight that Willem is carrying around. He’s not your typical main character and very easy to invest in emotionally, you want this guy to find some happiness and he may just do that. The Leprechauns, the girls with the magic swords, become a surrogate family for him, one that he tries to protect, just not as much as he would like.

See Willem was once a warrior and though he does have a few superpowers stored up he can’t use them without risking his already fragile life. Now while a lesser anime would have Willem save his power for some out of nowhere save at the crucial point to rescue the girls, WorldEnd is much better than that. No, we instead get to explore Willem’s frustration as he finds the boot is on the other foot, with him having to stay at home and worry while somebody else goes off to fight. That’s what this series does best, come at a familiar set up from a new, and far more emotional angle.

On the other side of the coin our female lead is Chtholly, and while she’s a badass fighter (though as I said the fights are never really the focus, they’re more background noise to the character drama) she’s more portrayed as an innocent and naïve young woman whose hoping for a little bit of happiness before she meets her inevitable end. (Have I mentioned there’s an air of depression about this series, just saying, take it as a warning. Happy Endings not guaranteed). Now while the whole “I must make myself good wife materiel for Williem” section of the plot does make me shake my head profusely, I kind of give it a pass because I like so much of the rest of the series, and Willem and Chtholly make a cute couple. She also has a bunch of other things to deal with, such as strange visions filled with nonsense rhythms and a red haired little girl, as well as losing her memory bit by bit. The series doesn’t shy away from exploring the emotions of these situates either, giving Chtholly plenty of opportunities to work through her feelings and probably one of my favourite scenes is a certain moonlit conversation with one of the other girls.

Speaking of the other girls, though a lot of them tend to fall into archetypes and common tropes, they never stop feeling like proper characters. The kids act like kids and the other girls all get their moments to shine, either in a fight or an emotional scene. Nephren, for me, definitely wins the award for most Badass Female this season. Throughout the series she’s been fairly cute and funny, always on the lookout for Willem and Chtholly, but for me her biggest moment is in the last couple of episodes. The relentless way she takes on wave after wave of never-ending enemies, pushing herself well beyond her limits, it’s the kind of stuff epic poems should be written about. I know this series isn’t about the action, but the final episode certainly gives us a host of epics moments accompanied by some gorgeous animation and the ever-beautiful soundtrack comes in in full force. This series is worth watching for the final episode alone (even if it is frustratingly open-ended).

Another strength this series has is its mythology. There’s clearly a great deal of work that has gone into the history and lots of little details that give you a better idea of the wider world out there. The series is pretty good with its mysteries too, even if at sometimes it can get distracted by its slice of life hijinks, but for the most part it does a good job of moving forward. It gives you hint after hint, slowly peeling back the veil to reveal what actually happened to the humans in the past and how that relates to the situation in the present. I won’t spoil it as that would take some of the fun out of it, but it has some interesting ideas on old concepts, which as I said, is what this anime is very good at.

The Verdict

WorldEnd (Not writing out the full title again) is a surprising little gem, less concerned with fights and more interested in its characters and mythology (and not a trace of fanservice baring a couple of scenes!). The series is a heartfelt and often heart-breaking story, filled with epic moments both emotional, and towards the end, action-packed. I can’t promise a happy ending for all involved and while it’s not perfect, it is a good story. So go watch it, I’ll get the tissues.

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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.