Anime Corner: The Price of Smiles Review

Blog Price of Smiles Review Title

Death flags for everybody!

What’s the Story?

On a planet far, far away from Earth, war rages between an ancient kingdom and a militaristic empire. Princess Yuki, head of the kingdom, is slowly gaining more responsibilities and learning what it means to rule, but she doesn’t know about the war. Her advisors keep her in the dark, hoping to preserve her bright smile and optimistic nature that they all treasure so much, but the horrors of war can’t be held off for long and soon the kingdom is pitched into a desperate situation. On the other side of the conflict there’s Stella, a loyal soldier of the empire, who always smiles despite how she feels inside. Stella and Yuki are on a collision course though and no matter how long it takes them to meet, when they do, they’ll have the fate of the whole planet to decide.

The Review

I’m struggling a bit with this review. My usual way of reviewing is that I tend to watch series as they air, one episode a week, until we get to the end of the season and then I’ll type up my thoughts after watching the final episode. Normally, by that point, my brain has had twelve or so weeks to form an opinion, I know what I think works and what I think doesn’t. Every now again though, I get a series like this one, where, having just watched the final episode as I type this up, (and I realise I’m going to be posting this well after I write this. Hello people of the future! Do we have hoverboards yet, or has the world ended already? I’m betting its the latter), I can’t quite put my finger on what I think. I’ve certainly enjoyed this series, I’ve looked forward to watching it every week, but at the same time if I break this series down and analyse it there are thousands of better series out there. It’s not bad, but it’s not mind blowing either and I don’t know quite why I’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. I am waffling at this point as my brain tries to work out the answer, but let’s go through the series and maybe I’ll have come to a conclusion by the end.

From a visual stand point this is fairly middle of the road. The action is decent and fast-paced and I like the majority of the character designs (weird anime hair aside), though there are several moments were you can see the budget is stretching so that it can be saved for more important scenes. There are a lot of nice shots in this series, there are several backgrounds and stills that I’d like to take from this series and hang up on a wall. It’s just a shame that it can’t keep that level of style and direction going the whole way through, but then maybe that’s an overall problem with the series. It has moments of brilliance, a perfect scene or character interaction, but then there are other times when the series feels like its falling back on clichés or into a pattern and that robs it of the meaning its going for.

That brings me on to the story and were the majority of my gripes with this series come in. Honestly, I’ve seen this story a thousand times, two empires at war and we follow the people caught up in the middle of it, learning the horrors of war first hand. We’ve got the loyal soldiers who begin to question orders and sunny optimists confronted with the fact that not everyone is going to reach that happy ending. There’s plenty of mech battles, trying to outsmart opponents with battlefield tactics and enough death flags to kill off whole nations, the series even throws in a vaguely relevant environmental message towards the end (it’s actually not that bad an addition, though I feel it should have been brought up more in the final episode). Now there’s nothing wrong with these story elements in and of themselves, many, many great stories have been built off the back of them, but The Price of Smiles never really does anything that new or inventive with them. The potential is there, but the show never seems to use it. It doesn’t help that the series quickly falls into a pattern, going from the first character death being something shocking and gripping, to significant characters lining up to be dispatched one after the other, each with their own emotional send off and it just gets played that many times that I quickly stop caring.

Speaking about wasted potential, let’s talk about Yuki. Now, personally, the idealist having their eyes opened to the greys and moral quandaries of the real world is one of my favourite tropes, and that did look like the path Yuki was on, but she’s never allowed to fully go with it. Yuki at the beginning is a happy optimist, seeing only the best in all around her and yet there’s also signs of a keen intelligence buried underneath her childish charm. When she finally learns about the war it breaks her heart and she struggles to cope with it emotionally, making rash decisions in an attempt to keep more people alive, only for said decisions to lead to more people dying. Now the natural arc for her is for her to abandon some, if not all, of her optimism and unleash that strategic mind of hers on the Empire, closing herself off as more and more people die, but if we did that then the series couldn’t wrap up in twelve episodes with all the conflict tied up in a nice little bow, so Yuki keeps her idealism until the end and as a result feels like a character that hasn’t quite finished her journey.

At least Stella gets to complete her arc, going from someone who’s closed off, burying all her feelings and smiling through it, to someone who wears her heart on her sleeve yet still struggles with her feelings. I wish we had more of the scene of her with her mother, but aside from that Stella feels like she at least got to complete her journey. The rest of the cast are all pretty enjoyable, a lot of favourites coming from Stella’s squad, but even those on Yuki’s side had some really captivating moments, even if that moment was right before they died.

The Verdict

In the end The Price of Smiles isn’t a bad series, but it won’t blow anyone away either. The animation is decent with some nice direction in places, but the story has been done better before and often falls back on clichés and familiar patterns. The characters are all likeable and interesting and, even with my disappointment in Yuki’s arc, they are reason I think I’ve enjoyed this series as much as I have. The series has its ups and downs, but when the characters get their moments to shine, they really do shine and that was enough to carry me through some of the more mediocre patterns of this series. I do recommend it, there’s certainly worse you could be watching, but I’ll completely understand if anyone wants to give this a miss.

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

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Anime Corner: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Review

Blog Reincarnated as a Slime Review Title

All hail the Great Slime, Rimuru!

What’s the Story?

After being stabbed in the street, Mikami Satoru wakes up to find himself reborn into another world, as a slime! He’s no ordinary slime though, with the power to absorb and analyse pretty much anything, he soon becomes one of the most powerful beings in the area. Taking a village of goblins under his wing, this all powerful slime, now going by Rimuru, sets out to build a place were all are welcome, gathering allies from across the various countries. But there are dark forces at work, manipulating things behind the scenes and Rimuru faces many obstacles on his path, not that you’d know it from looking at him. Rimuru is pretty chill and it’s hard to blame him when he handles every situation within about five minutes of confronting it. It must be so hard to be all mighty.

The Review

I’m extremely grateful to this series. I started watching it at a time when I was having a lot of problems with isekai shows, genre fatigue had set in pretty badly with the same tropes and scenarios cropping up time after time. Outside of my Digimon reviews I was ready to call it quits with the genre, then this show came bouncing along and the clouds parted and light shone upon me once more. This series is a lot of fun, which is odd because when I break it down it still has a lot of the usual isekai tropes, several of which where driving up the wall at the time, and yet the way this show handles the majority of those tropes just has me smiling from ear to ear.

There are some tropes that the series manages to sidestep entirely, like the usual harem nonsense that a lot of isekai series fall prey to. Yes, a lot of the ladies in this series have a thing for slimes apparently (honestly I thought that would be more of a turn off, but this is a power fantasy so I guess we can’t have that), and yet Rimuru is so clearly not interested. He’s not clueless or oblivious like a lot of male protagonists tend to be, he recognises what is happening, but he just wants out of there, which I appreciate. The closet he comes to anything romantic is with Shizu and even then I take that as more of a respectful admiration rather than something truly romantic, though it could be read that way if you wanted to.

I think a lot of what makes Rimuru feel like such a breath of fresh air as a character is that he’s actually an older man. Sure his previous life doesn’t play much into his current life as a slime, but you get a sense of maturity from him. He’s not some starry-eyed teen who thinks they know everything or has a desperate need to throw around their power and save the damsel. Rimuru has some life experience behind him, he’s confident in who he is and fairly chill about life as a whole. He’s also knows how to coordinate and manage people, that and he’s fairly genre savvy. A lot of the fun of this series comes out of Rimuru’s reactions and observations as he, much to his own surprise, stumbles from one situation to the next until he’s the head of his own country, without ever really meaning to. The guy has some world class luck is all I’m saying.

That brings me to the story and the point where I’m going to struggle to recommend this series. If you’re after an intricate plot or lots of drama and action, then move along. Rimuru is so powerful in this series that nothing really challenges him, not for long anyway. The big fights in the series only go on as long as they do because the series lets the supporting characters have their turn before Rimuru steps in and solves the problem. The series walks a fine line because if you think about it, is there really any point in investing in a situation where you know Rimuru is going to fix it with a snap of his fingers? Not that the series spends a lot of time on its action, it knows that’s not it’s drawing factor and quickly moves past it once its done what it needs to. The focus is very much on Rimuru and his growing empire and all his subordinates and allies.

Speaking of allies, let’s talk about the supporting cast. None of them are especially deep or delved into in depth, but the majority of them are charming in their own ways. They’re so open and loveable and I don’t think any of them has a single bad bone in their bodies, they’re just adorable, the lot of them. The way they all follow Rimuru with such a fierce loyalty that it’s impossible not to root for them and cheer when they get their few moments to shine and you completely get why Rimuru is so dedicated to looking after them all. It gives me the warm fuzzies. It’s also completely unrealistic, but this is fantasy and I can live with that.

The Verdict

In the end, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime may not break away from the isekai mould too much, but it does it just enough to be a breath of fresh air in a genre that has far too many shows that are clones of one another. Rimuru is a likeable and admirably mature character, who can sell this series all by himself. The story is a bit of a let down in the action and drama departments, but that’s never what this series was aiming for, instead giving us a warm and funny journey across a fantasy world, even if it is a very rose-tinted one.

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

Anime Corner: The Promised Neverland Review

Blog Promised Neverland Review Title

The Great Escape!

What’s the Story?

Emma, Norman and Ray live an idyllic life, yes they’re orphans, but they’re looked after by the perfect mum. They’re warm and safe and well fed, with plenty of siblings to play with and to love and be loved by. All in all, their house is one big happy family, except for those that leave. When a child leaves their house and goes down to the gate, they’re never heard from again, no letters, no visits, nothing. So when the next child is sent and Emma and Norman realise she’s left something behind, they hurry after her before she’s gone for good. However when they reach the gate they learn the truth about their little world and suddenly those idyllic lives are gone forever.

The Review

Go watch this series. I’m serious, stop reading this, open a new tab on your browser of choice and start watching this show if you haven’t already (I realise that may only be a small number of people considering I’m at least a season behind with getting these reviews out and this was one of the best anime of its particular season). If you want a summary review though, it’s a fantastic show, it’s smart, it’s gorgeously animated, the characters are equal parts adorable and badass and it has an amazing soundtrack and plot. If you have yet to check out this series then do so, immediately, it has my full recommendation (for whatever that’s worth). I’m hesitant to say any more than that because, in my opinion, going in blind is the best way to watch this series (I didn’t and I’ve paid the price, mostly ‘cause I was an idiot and the couple of chapters I’ve read of the manga I read out of order, because poor impulse control is a defining quality of mine).

This is a series that is built on its twists and plot development, I’ve heard people class this series as a horror and while it certainly has horror-elements, for me, this is a mystery series. Unlike a lot of mystery series though, the overhanging question that makes up the mystery is less of a ‘why is this happening’ and more of a ‘how do we get out of this’. We learn relatively little about the world outside of the series’ location, we catch glimpses and can infer certain things, but we never get a good look at anything beyond the confines of the House (I suppose that’ll be season 2’s job). Instead our main characters have a general idea of what’s going on and instead the question becomes what do they do about it.

This series is a puzzle box, with Emma, Norman and Ray coming up with plans and strategies to reach their goal, while all the time those that oppose them seem to be ten steps ahead. They just manage to figure one thing out, and we cheer, and then it’s revealed that there’s a new problem that completely negates any advancement they just made. One step forward, two steps back, as the saying goes and while that can be incredibly frustrating, it’s also part of how this series gets you. I’d get frustrated, but then I’d be on to the next puzzle piece, working out how to get in that next step, thinking this time, this time, I’ll get it, only for the rug to be pulled out from under me and bring everything crashing down. It makes the characters so endearing as the watch the odds get stacked higher and higher against them and you wouldn’t really hold it against them if they just gave up, but they push through it and try harder and harder and until… well, that would be spoilers and you’ve got to go in blind, remember?

Of course the plot and the mystery aren’t the only great things about this series. I’ve mentioned the gorgeous animation and, truly, this series is a joy to just look at, the rich colours and how it uses shadows and light, I could take a screenshot of any single moment in this show and it would be perfect to hang on my wall. Not to mention that the direction is top notch, finding some really clever angles and there is an astounding amount of visual story telling. This show knows when to let a shot linger, to build that tension, to make you wait for the reveal and make sure it really hits you. Not to mention that a lot of stuff is simply shown to you, trusting you to know what it’s saying without a line of dialogue. Not that this is a completely silent series. There is plenty of dialogue, heck I’d say the majority of scenes are just characters talking and yet the show knows how to make that engaging. There’s always a new bit of information or a revelation to hit you, its storytelling at it’s best.

One final thing to mention (since I’m refusing to go into spoilers on this), the soundtrack. Honestly I need more words for beautiful because I’ll use them all to describe the sound in this series, not only does it have a killer opening and ending track, but the music within the series itself is just bliss for my ears. My two favourite tracks have to be 63194 (Emma’s theme) and Isabella’s lullaby. Emma theme is just this grand, dark masterpiece that you wouldn’t think would fit such a bright and cheery girl, but when you think about it and you see the steel in her eyes, you know it’s the perfect music for her. As for the lullaby, well, watch the series to the end and you’ll know why that is perhaps one of the most beautiful and tragic pieces of music I have ever heard. Also this series has a fantastic villain, just saying.

The Verdict

The Promised Neverland is a puzzle box mystery, with the characters fighting with everything they have to overcome ever-mounding odds against them. It doesn’t feel like I’ve seen an anime this well put together in a long time (not until this current summer season came along anyway), from the animation to the writing and the directing and even the music, everything just perfectly slots together to tell this tragic, yet hopeful series about overcoming all the odds. I am really looking forward to season 2. Watch this series, I know I’m going to give it a couple of dozen more watches.

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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: Digimon Adventure Tri: Coexistence Review

Blog Digimon Adventure Tri 5 Review Title

It’s the end of the world as we know it and that means it’s time for one thing and one thing only… ghost stories!

What’s the Story?

The end is coming, with Meicoomon digivolving to protect Meiko, she’s given in to anger and done exactly what Dark Gennai wanted all along. Now digimon are invading the real world and causing havoc. The Digidestined are powerless to stop it as they’re trapped in a Digital World that appears to be rejecting them with every byte of its data. Even when they do make it back home there’s little they can do as the two factions fighting over the Digital World bring their struggle to the city and the kids have no idea whose side their really on, and when tragedy strikes they realise that they’ve done more harm than good.

The Review

This should have been a trilogy. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to with this film series and I know I still have one more film to go, but I have to say, for the majority of this film I was immensely bored and that should not be happening with the penultimate chapter of an epic showdown with two worlds at stake. The ideas are there, the conflict is there, but it all seems so dull. How do you make giant cyborg dinosaurs, armoured knights and a whole host of other monsters battling it out boring? This film found a way! There are layers of problems to this film, but I think it mostly comes down to pacing and focus.

Let’s start with the pacing. The film spends long, long sequences with characters just talking on and on about the same thing over and over again, you can feel the wheels of the story spinning, but we’re getting precisely nowhere. That’s without even mentioning the goofy antics in the middle where any momentum that the story had managed to gather came screeching to a halt. I liked the high school antics early in the series, but that was because, one, the majority of it was character focussed and, two, it was still early in the story, the stakes were lower and there weren’t Digimon blowing up power stations and threatening the whole world yet! We’re in the endgame now, we should be barrelling towards the conclusion, there should be epic clashes, planning out strategies and confronting villains, not telling one another ghost stories! Ugh. A part of me wonders if this a budget issue, the number of still shots has been increasing with each film and I’m convinced the final film is just going to be pencil sketches so maybe they don’t have the money to animate huge battles and can only manage one talking scene after another. Well, if that’s the case, why are the animating six films?! Make it a trilogy and converse your budget! Again, ugh.

Budget can’t be the whole problem though, because if the animators can only afford to do talking scenes, why don’t they at least get to animate interesting talking scenes. There are plenty of good ideas in this film franchise, I like the idea of different factions fighting it out over the Digital World and I like it even more that both sides can be antagonistic to our heroes, King Drasil wanting Digimon supremacy and Homeostasis wanting balance by any means necessary. Then there’re the human antagonists like Himekawa who has gone completely off the deep end to try and get her partner back. All of these are really interesting opponents for the digidestined to go up against, it’s just a shame we spend barely any time with them. Here’s the thing, the conflict is great on paper, but the Digidestined feel like they’re hardly involved with it. They’d had two conversations with Homeostasis, only one of which was arguing against her actions, the other was vague hints and exposition. We’ve never seen King Drasil and I’m not even sure if the Digidestined are even aware of Himekawa’s descent into madness. These should be big things and the main characters should be confronting the bad guys about their part in everything. In the original Digimon Adventure the gang always had multiple interactions with the main villain of the arc, but here they just stand around looking confused and asking who they should be fighting, which could be interesting. Have the Digidestined argue, fight over who they should side with, but instead they just feel like a bunch of onlookers.

Okay, positives, positives, let’s think of some positives. I am starting to like Meiko more and more. I’m not sure how I feel about the film pushing her and Tai together (I’m a Tai x Sora man until I die), but she’s showing more of a personality and being a bit more assertive. I wish she wasn’t such a complete downer so much of the time, but I’m definitely seeing her more as an actual character and not just some walking stereotype. I wish we got to see more of her childhood with Meicoomon as that looked both fun and ominous, with Meicoomon taken away for testing. I want to know what sort of tests they were doing to her and maybe it could have given us more of a peek into how the Government sees Digimon and what measures they’re willing to take against them. Also, wouldn’t it have been an interesting if the experiments were what gave Meicoomon her infection powers in the first place, rather than her just being born as this Libra thing or whatever she is. Also, wouldn’t it have been really interesting if it was made clear to Meiko that Himekawa, someone who Meiko trusted, has been manipulating her to get Meicoomon into the position she’s currently in. Wouldn’t it have been interesting, not to mention dramatic, to see Meiko confront Himekawa over that. Nah, that’s actually interesting, we can’t have that, let’s make some jokes about Matt being scared of ghosts instead.

The Verdict

I won’t say that Digimon Adventure Tri is beyond salvation at this point, but I will say that the final film has a lot to work to do if it wants to me to do anything other than scream at my scream for an hour and a half straight. There are plenty of good ideas in this film, the problem is that it does absolutely nothing with them. This isn’t helped by an endless supply of cyclical conversations and more focus on goofy antics rather than our villains or the conflict with them, we should be barrelling towards our conclusion, but instead there’s a distinct impression of going nowhere fast. Hopefully I’ll feel less ranty with the next, and final, film.

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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: SSSS. Gridman Review

Blog SSSS Gridman Review Title

Access Flash!

What’s the Story?

Yuta wakes up one day to find he has no memory whatsoever. Even stranger he can see and hear things that no one else can, like the robotic figure calling out to him from an old computer, or the giant monsters stood motionless around the town. Combining with the figure in the computer Yuta transforms into the giant Gridman, able to defend the town from all sorts of monster attacks. However all is not as it seems, the world is not real and God is losing her patience.

The Review

I’m a little stumped by SSSS Gridman. I definitely enjoyed the show, immensely so the majority of the time, yet as I’ve come to sit down and write this review I find that I don’t have all that much to say about it. I think I’ve wandered yet again into that reviewer’s wasteland that is know as the ‘middle of the road’, but I also feel that that’s a disservice to this series. Like I said, I enjoyed this series and when I break it down to its core elements there’s a lot that I like, yet, and I think this is the crucial point, there’s not all that much wow factor.

It’s surprising, especially when I consider that it was studio Trigger that made this show and I’m often a big fan of a lot of their work. Their shows usually pack so much punch, whether its crazy over the top storylines or full throttle visual explosions there’s always something that has grabbed me, but not here. Don’t get me wrong a lot of the battles do look epic and there’s some really cool kaiju designs, but there’s just something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’d be tempted to pin this on the more sombre tone of this series, there’s a lot of scenes that are just quiet and there to build atmosphere (and this show does have a lot of great atmosphere, there’s this feeling that everything is just a little off kilter and that plays great with the story), however I don’t think that’s the problem because Darling in the Franxx had a lot of sombre, serious moments and that was anything but boring (it’s wasn’t exactly good, but that’s another thing entirely).

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this and I think it all comes down to the fact that SSSS Gridman just doesn’t surprise me. I mean I worked out fairly early on that this show SPOILERS! wasn’t set in the real world and that a certain character was in control of things behind the scenes. Sure the details were withheld by the series (though the series does tend to leave a lot of the finer details up to your interpretation by the end, which I’m okay with), but I could make good educated guesses at a lot of the plot. There were some surprises along the way and a few things that happened that I hadn’t guessed, but all of it fit within the framework of the story. I think back to Kill la Kill where the plot was constantly getting more and more ludicrous and epic along with it, or even Little Witch Academia where the truth about Shiny Chariot is a reveal that had my jaw hitting the floor. Nothing like that happens here.

The problem may be that the series fits too neatly into the mould of the previous Gridman shows and other shows of its type. It has a formula and it’s sticking to it. On the other hand, I don’t think sticking to a formula is a terrible thing. I do have a real soft spot for monster-of-the-week type shows (probably because I grew up with so many of them), that and I have vague memories of seeing an episode of the dubbed version of Gridman back when I was a kid. Add on to the fact that I’m also a big Power Rangers fan, which run along a similar formula and this series has been hitting my nostalgia bell pretty hard at times.

However, and I do want to make this clear, it’s not just nostalgia that has made me enjoy this show so much. There is a clear love for the source material and the genre in this series, I’m not certain, but I get the strong impression that the scene with Shou and Akane talking about different kaiju in a shop is pretty much the creators living vicariously through their characters. Somebody has put a lot of love and attention into this series and you feel that passion coming through, whether its through some beautifully directed shots of the city that give off this eerie vibe or the theme song kicking in during an epic fight, somebody been having a lot of fun with this series.

Lastly, the characters, and while I do like all of them, it’s Anti and Akane that take the spotlight here. Probably because they’re the characters that get the most development, Anti going from a revenge-obsessed monster to brooding ally (hello sixth ranger trope) or Akane who is just fascinating. One of the things I like most about Akane though is that we never learn too many details about what’s actually going on with her. I mean I could make a fair few educated guesses as to what’s going on, but it’s left to our own interpretation as to the specifics, which is one of the things I like about this series. It’s not afraid to leave things open and let you pick up on little details without having to point them out with great big neon sign. At the same time all the answers that it does give us are more than satisfying to answer the main questions of the series.

The Verdict

In the end SSSS. Gridman is a fun series. Will it change the world? No, I doubt that and I do wonder how much of the series I’ll remember in a few months time. However I enjoyed watching this series and will probably come back to it in the future. Both Gridman and the kaiju have some really cool designs and I like the eerie, quiet atmosphere that a lot of the scenes in this series have. The characters are all likable, though the villains have to be favourites. If we’re going to get more anime from this genre than I’m definitely up for 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: Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Review

Blog Xuan Yuan Review Title

And then the Taibai Empire attacked!

What’s the Story?

The Taibai Empire expands across the land, using their mighty Constructs (giant robots) to conquer all that they see. Many have had their lives torn apart by the Empire, including travelling entertainers Yin and Ning, Ning having lost her arms in an attack on their village years ago. When they come across the ruins of a village Yin finds a strange bamboo writing strip, that begins to glow and a girl magically appears out of. Then there’s Zhao, childhood friend of Yin and Ning. He was taken as a slave, but after befriending the Empress and showing a talent for building Constructs he begins to rapidly rise through the ranks. Neither pair knows of the other, but when they finally do meet there is only tragedy and despair waiting for them.

The Review

Is it wrong to enjoy an anime purely for its concepts rather than its execution? I hope not because that’s pretty much what’s happened with this series. Xuan Yuan is not a good series, its horribly written, riddled with clichés and to call the animation a travesty is an insult to travesties, yet I enjoyed watching this series. I like the characters, or I should say I like the ideas of the characters (it’s hard to like characters with such clunky, lifeless dialogue as this lot spit out). I like the idea of childhood friends finding themselves on different sides of an evil empire, one rising through the ranks of said empire, the other joining the rebellion and having to come to terms with killing for a cause. There’s also the little sister’s slow descent into madness and despair. It’s all good meaty drama rife with potential, all of which is dashed on the rocks on ineptitude that make up so much of this series.

I feel bad for being so harsh with this series because I’m sure the creators put a lot of effort into this series (or maybe they didn’t and this review is exactly what they deserve), either way it doesn’t change the fact that this is a bad show. It’s been an odd viewing experience for certain, on the one hand I’ve been watching a train wreck happen in slow motion for thirteen episodes and yet I’ve never gotten mad at the series, which is unusual for me. Normally when I see a series wasting its potential I get so frustrated that, if I do make it all the way to the end, I’m frothing at the mouth. Yet I’ve enjoyed watching this and I can’t exactly call it a ‘so bad it’s good’ series. True, “laughable” is a good description of the animation, but I do get the feeling that someone, somewhere is putting in some effort. Whether it’s the voice actors or whoever plotted out the series, someone, somewhere is giving it a go, it’s just the rest that doesn’t hold up.

Yes a lot of the story elements in this series has been done before, and better, in one place or another, but I can’t escape the feeling that if someone had scripted some better dialogue and given the animation budget a boost, this could have been a great epic fantasy. Then again maybe not because there are some clear structural issues in this story, most of it coming down to character motivation. Let’s talk about Zhao first. I like the idea of following a slave as he rises through the ranks of an empire that enslaved him, even him bonding with the Empress leads to some good drama and bits of character interactions. The problems come in when the series fails to come up with an adequate explanation as to why he’s happily building the same types of Constructs that destroyed his home. At the beginning there’s no explanation whatsoever and we’re left to assume that Zhao is either impossibly naïve or suffering from memory loss. When we finally do get an explanation it’s that Zhao has become accustomed to power and he wants more of it so that he can protect the people he cares about, except we see no evidence that his thinking is turning that way prior to him mentioning it. Character development shouldn’t really come out of nowhere.

That brings me to Yin and Ning. Yin I feel kind of sorry for. Heroes who don’t want to fight and are troubled by the killing they have to do have been done before and it’s a good character to explore (especially when we have so many series with young protagonists getting involved in wars). Unfortunately for Yin it’s her only note that she gets to play, and even then it’s dropped about halfway through the series. The rebels are honestly the most boring side of this anime, I’d much rather be watching the intrigue around Zhao and the Empress than I bunch of people with no personality and only a colour-coded superpower to distinguish them. Yin never really develops across the series and often comes across as whiney, despite me understanding where she’s coming from, she never seems to really go anywhere. It doesn’t help that her sword and the bamboo scroll get a vague explanation and then we never really explore that part of the series’ mythos.

That leaves us with Ning and it says something when it’s the little sister character who gets the most development in a fantasy series, going from bloodthirsty rebel to insane murder machine (actually when I put it like that it doesn’t sound like she changed all that much). When I think about it the main problem with the characters in this series is that it feels like a lot of stuff is happening to them, but its because the plot is dictating their actions, rather than all this being a natural evolution of their characters. I do think a better script for this series would make it a million times better, something that will let us connect with the characters more and really explore their turmoil and follow them as each of them goes off the rails. The potential is all there, but I’ve never wanted a series to get a do over more than this one.

The Verdict

In the end Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary is a series with potential. If it had a better script and better animation is really could have been great, all the pieces are there from the set up to the character drama to make an epic fantasy. Unfortunately that’s not the series we got. The animation is laughable, the script is clunky and lifeless and the characters are little more than puppets of the plot. There isn’t much that I can recommend with this series, except for the series that we could have had, but that’s no reason to watch this one. Skip it.

fish stamp avoid

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

First Impressions Summer 2019 Part 2

And we’re back! No time to waste, on with the first impressions!

Astra Lost in Space

In the not too distant future, eight high school students, and one ten year old, are all preparing for a survivalist camping trip on another planet. Five days with no adults, just themselves and whatever they’ve packed, it sounds like a lot of fun. However once they arrive on the planet an ominous orb appears, warping the kids over 5,000 light years from home and straight into space. With a bit of quick thinking they all manage to make it to a nearby abandoned spaceship, but that is only the first of the challengers they’re going to face. With no supplies to last them the journey they’ll have to gather what they can from the various planets along the way home, tackling mysterious flora and fauna, as well as the possibility of a saboteur onboard. It’s going to be a heck of a journey.

I’d heard a lot people praising this series before I went into it and, I have to say, it doesn’t disappoint. It feels like forever since I’ve watched a sci-fi anime full of spaceships and bizarre alien planets, maybe its just the sheer amount of isekai shows over the past few years, but it does the sci-fi loving part of my heart good to watch this series. It’s got a funny and likable cast of characters, each with their own quirks and faults and while we’ve only learnt about a couple of them so far I’m looking forward to getting to know the rest. I like that the show knows when to be serious and when to deflate that tension. One minute everything will be going wrong and we’ll have a very tense scene where everyone is panicking and the next we’ll have some character trying to show off or dip into a cliché and someone else will come along to burst their bubble. It keeps things light and fun, but also appropriately dramatic. It’s a hard balance to keep up, but so far the series has shown that it knows what it’s doing. I wholeheartedly recommend this.

Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files (Rail Zeppelin) Grace Note

Waver Velvet is a survivor of the Fourth Holy Grail War, but now he’s also a teacher and Lord within the Clock Tower, the home of some of the most prominent mages in society. Yet it’s not just his old teacher’s class and title that he’s taken on, he’s also got a mountain of debt and a scheming younger sister to deal with. All that plus navigating the weird and often complicated world of magecraft means that Waver and his students have their work cut out for them, tackling various mysteries from around the Clock Tower.

Fans of Fate/Zero rejoice for one of our favourite characters, Waver, has returned to us! Honestly this show feels like it was made for me, not only do I love episodic procedurals where you have an investigator looking into a case of the week, but it’s also a sequel to one of my favourite anime, following one of my favourite characters. I’ve died and gone to anime paradise. So far this series has been exactly what I wanted, fun little mysterious with quirky characters, decent action and letting me see how things turned out for the former Master of Rider. The mysteries haven’t been anything too complicated, well, except for when it gets to the explanations of the magic at work, which like a lot of the fate series can be overly wordy, but then I’ve never really looked into how magic works in the fate series too much, still I’m learning as it goes along. I do get the sense that’s there’s a lot of things I’m missing with this series, there’s lots of lingering shots on characters that leave me with the impression that I’m supposed to know who that is, but having only watched the various anime series, I don’t have a clue. Not that any of that matters, I’m enjoying hanging out with Waver and the rest of the cast and the mysteries are fun, as I said. Definitely sticking with this one.

Isekai Cheat Magician

Let me know if you’ve heard this one before, a typical Japanese high schooler is walking home one day when he’s suddenly transported to another world! But wait, there’s a twist! Someone else tags along with him, that’s…that’s about it. Now Taichi and Rin must find a way to survive in a world full of magic and monsters, but luckily for them they both have off the charts magical power making them two of the strongest adventurers around! But who summoned them and for what purpose, and just who is it that keeps calling to Taichi in his dreams?

Another season and yet another Isekai show, because it’s not a season of anime without a dozen new Isekai on offer. Okay, the Isekai fatigue may be setting in again because I’m being awfully bitter towards a show that, at its worst, is average. The animation is fairly subpar and the magic system needs more explanation, especially when it starts throwing out numbers without giving us any proper context for what they actually mean, but aside from that this is a fairly pleasant anime. There’s nothing much original here, but I like both Taichi and Rin and they have a good rapport with one another. Honestly if this season wasn’t packed full of amazing shows I’d probably stick with this one, episode three was starting the build up some interesting mysteries, and while I know the villains will in know way threaten to our protagonists, they’re in a situation they can’t just punch or blast their way through, at least for the moment. Maybe, if I find myself at a loose end, I’ll come back to this one, but as of this minute there’s not enough to keep my attention.

Given

Ritsuka Uenoyama just wants to crash in his favourite napping spot at the school, but today his spot has been occupied by a quiet young man clutching a guitar. The young man is Mafuyu Sato and he knows nothing about guitars, or music or, well, anything really, so when Uenoyama fixes the broken string on his guitar, Sato begs to be taught how to play. Uenoyama resists at first, but soon caves and quickly finds that his passion for music, which had been missing recently, is coming back to him, among other passions. Hint hint.

I really like this anime, I mean I fell in love with Uenoyama the moment I met him. The guy just wants to nap in his favourite spot and has to go through so much hassle, honestly frustrated Uenoyama is the best Uenoyama. I also like the rest of the cast too, Mafuyu has a lost puppy vibe and the other two members of the band are very fun and likeable in their own ways. The four of them together is just perfection, the entire episode could just be the four of them sitting around chatting and I’d love it. The animation is decent, though I do like the colours and lightning that this shows uses for most of its scenes and the music, what there has been of it so far, has been good to listen to too. I’m preparing myself for having my heart broken with this one, but I’m more than willing to stick around for that.

Fire Force

When spontaneous human combustion becomes a reality, transforming people into fiery monsters called Infernals, there’s only one small corner of the world that can still hold on to a semblance of everyday life, Tokyo. Thanks to the Fire Force, specially trained fire fighters, most with pyrokinetic abilities of one degree or another, the people of Japan have a way to fight back against the Infernals. For Shinra, he’s dreamed of nothing more than joining the Fire Force and proving himself a hero, and not the ‘Devil’ he’s been branded as since he was little, but are the Fire Force completely benevolent? Who, or what, was it that started the fire twelve-years ago that took Shinra’s mother and baby brother from him? Most pressingly of all, what is the cause of spontaneous human combustion?

This is one of the anime I was looking forward to most at the start of this season, an adaptation of a manga from the creator of Soul Eater? I’m in! Thankfully this show hasn’t disappointed so far, I mean from a visual standpoint alone this show is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The speed, fluidity and ferocity with which Shinra unleashes his fire attacks is stunning to watch and I often end up watching fight scenes two or three times just to drink it all in. It’s not just the action though, this show really knows how to frame a scene and even keep ‘talking head’ scenes interesting, seriously there’s several stills I want of this anime hung up on my wall (that shot at the end of episode 3 with the stars in the background melted me). Now while I would just watch this show for the pretty pictures alone, you need more than that to make a great anime, you also need engaging characters and an interesting plot and that’s exactly what Fire Force is offering up so far. Shinra is an easy protagonist to like and you can’t help but root for him and the questions it raises about which parts of the Fire Force you can trust as well as the big question of what’s causing Infernals to appear in the first place all offer up tonnes of story potentials. I’m burning to see where this one is going.

Cop Craft

15 years ago, a hyper-dimensional rift opened above the Pacific Ocean, linking the Earth to another world, one filled with magic, fairies and more than a few monsters. Now, while there is peace on the surface, the criminal underworld has taken advantage of these new opportunities and begun new trades in smuggling in fairies and turning them into drugs. It’s up to the police to stop them, but when a bust goes disastrously wrong, Sergeant Kei Matoba finds himself partnered with a knight from that other world, Tilarna, as they track down a deadly wizard and his ‘psychic bomb’.

Honestly, I loved this show the moment I heard about it. A cop show, mixed with fantasy? Okay, someone’s been peeking at my TV show wish list again because this is right up my alley. Unfortunately I have to engage the analytical part of my brain when watching this show and when I do that I can’t really grade it as anything other than decent. The animation ranges from serviceable to ‘My God What Am I Watching?!’, with a lot still shots and what I refer to as ‘moving the cardboard cut out’ bits of animation and the story is, well, after three episodes I’m pretty sure we’ve ticked off the majority of the cop show clichés from the partners not getting along at first to going it alone and an expected betrayal. However, I am still really enjoying this series and that comes down to two reasons, one is the relationship between Kei and Tilarna, I really like their chemistry and how the bond is growing between them, and the other is the world building. I like how the show is slipping in little details about the magic and how the world works a little bit at a time to give us the sense of the deeper world that is out there and ready to explore.

That’s what I’ve been watching this season and, again, I just have to marvel at just how many great shows there are this season. I’ve certainly got a lot to watch, which is never a bad thing. See you next week!

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