First Impressions: Summer 2018 part 2

And we’re back! It’s cooled down a bit for today here in Britain (finally!) and I’ve got a lot more optimism than I had last week, so let’s see what we’ve got!

Cells at Work!

Ever wondered what was going on inside your body? Well now there’s an animated show for you! (You know, if you never saw Osmosis Jones). Follow the daily lives of a directionally challenged red blood cell, a worryingly blood-covered white blood cell and the cutest platelets you’ve ever seen. They’ll deal with all sorts of infections and viruses, but how long can this setup go on before we get sick of it?

Seriously those platelets are the cutest characters I’ve ever seen. This is a pretty good show, though nothing that will change anyone’s world. I mean the whole humanized version of what goes on inside the human body has been done before, it’s just Osmosis Jones, but with a more educational, slice of life bent rather than a buddy cop show (with terrible live action Bill Murray if we’re bringing the film into this). It’s cute and fun and I like the designs of a lot of the various cells and viruses. Each episode is pretty much a seminar on what happens to the body when it encounters various afflictions with a little bit of mild comedy and action thrown in. It’s not the funniest show or the most action packed, but for now it’s a nice breezy watch when I want to just relax for a while.

Planet With

Aliens are invading! Again! (And boy are there some strange ones, even by anime standards), but fear not for there are seven magically transforming heroes here to save the day! Then there’s Soya who leads a fairly ordinary high school life, you know, aside from the fact that he has amnesia and a giant upright-walking cat as his foster dad. His only real complaint is that he wants to eat more meat. Then his memories come back and the maid and the cat that have been looking after him reveal that they’re actually aliens, aliens that want him to fight. Is he going to fight with the heroes to protect the world? Nope. He’s fighting against them. Why? Well the answer is in his memory.

I do really like this show, even if with each episode a bit more of the bizarreness fades away. As we learn more detail about what’s going on, honestly, it feels a bit more standard anime and I hope there’s some more weirdness along the way. Saying that there’s a lot of dramatic potential in this story and I like that we’re following the 6th Ranger (though I guess that should be 8th Ranger) whose going through a revenge arc and while the heroes aren’t the bad guys, what they’re doing could lead to something very bad. I also like that there’s factions to this, there’s more than two sides to the argument and each side thinks they’re doing good or right at least. I like the character designs and as I said before the creatures or weapons or whatever they actually are are really, really weird, but that’s the kind of crazy I come to anime for, so I’m all for it. Really looking forward to where this one is going.

Holmes of Kyoto

In an antiques shop in Kyoto there is a young man who is often referred to as ‘Holmes’. He has an expert eye for detail and can instantly read people and spot a counterfeit antique from a mile away. When Aoi, a high school student, starts working part-time in the shop he finds himself solving various mysterious across the city. Who has been sending a young woman threatening letters? Who burned a couple of scrolls? Holmes and Aoi will find out!

Don’t expect much from this series. The mysteries are very light and small scale, I don’t know if a detective slice of life is a thing, but that’s what it feels like. If you like the Sherlock Holmes type of mysterious where the detective basically talks to each person involved one after the other and then sits down to explain the answer it’s fine, sometimes it can only just get it within the twenty odd minutes, but that’s fine. The characters are decent, the animation is decent, actually that’s pretty much the word for this series, decent. It doesn’t do anything horrendous, but it’s not really blowing me away either. I feel what’s going to be a big problem for this series is the lack of stakes. There’s nothing really threatening or life endangering on the line here, everything feels a bit too mundane and relaxed. Now there was a hint of a counterfeiting ring for Holmes to go up against, but that has only been one hint, in one episode and not a sign of them since. Still it’s a pleasant and breezy enough watch, though it’s probably going to more something that I have on in the background than something I actively watch.

Phantom in the Twilight

Shortly after arriving in London, Ton and her friend are robbed! Giving chase after the thief, Ton stumbles across Café Forbidden, a place that was set up by her great-grandmother! There are creatures you see, Umbra, who live in the shadows, vampires and werewolves and the like and while there are those that wish to harm people, there are others who will defend them. The staff of Café Forbidden are four such Umbra and with Ton’s own emerging magical powers they will defend London from supernatural threats, and hopefully at some point get Ton’s kidnapped friend back!

I’ll admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this show. When I first saw it I was kind of fearful. It just reeked of a reverse harem and I could see it descending into all these vampire romance clichés, but so far it’s avoided any of that. Despite how basic the set up and a lot of the character backstory is, this show knows how to have fun and to use its concept in interesting ways. For one I’m really grateful that the vampire in this series sticks to the majority of the ‘classic’ vampire powers, turning into mist, hypnotism, can’t come in unless you invite him. It feels like so long since I’ve seen that that I’m actually really grateful. Also it can use powers in interesting ways, like with the ghost. Instead of just having a floating spectre, he has no form and instead has to possess things, whether that’s a mannequin or a radio or even a mobile phone and we get some creative uses of that power. One other thing that really surprised me with this series is how much these characters have grown on me and how much I just enjoy them interacting with one another. As an example I really love the scenes outside the café between Luke and Ton, you get a great sense of warmth and friendship off of the two of them and I’m looking forward to where this series is going.

Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion

In the 13th Century the Mongolian Empire was a force to be reckoned with, rapidly expanding across the globe and seemed to be unstoppable. Then in 1274, the Empire set its sights on Japan, aiming to first conquer the small island of Tsushima before moving on to the rest of the land. With nothing but an aging general, a wholly unprepared army and several convicts sent over to help out in lieu of an actual death sentence, the small island must hold its own in a battle against one of the most deadly armies in history.

Okay, first off we have to talk about that filter; it is horrible. I get what they’re trying to do with it, they’re trying to make everything feel painted or textured to give the animation that old school feel to it, but just sticking a filter over every frame is an incredibly lazy way to do that. Heck, last season Megalobox managed to get that old cel animated feeling by just roughing up the line work. The filter just makes some of the scenes ugly, but that aside this is a pretty enjoyable show. I don’t know much about this period in Japan’s history, but the whole small island fighting back against a bigger enemy is fairly standard. So far it’s actually a pretty standard take on the plot and we haven’t really dug into many of the character so are lot of them are just coming across as stock. The series is enjoyable though, I like these characters and I want to see them survive. This is a solid show and considering the amount of below average shows (or shows that I just have zero interest in) this season, that feels like high praise.

Lord of Vermilion: The Crimson King

A strange sound rings through all of Tokyo and anything that hears it falls unconscious. When people finally start to wake up they find a red mist surrounding the city that no one can pass through and strange occurrences are rumoured to be happening, such as people disappearing and monsters turning up out of nowhere. Chihiro is the last person to wake up and his tragic, and possibly bloody, past is the least of his worries when he returns home to find his adoptive father transformed into a monster and then even weirder, though kind of expected with this being an anime, Chichiro turns out to have magic powers that lets him fight the monsters.

I’m of two minds with this series. It has a few story elements that I like (though there are some that I don’t), but what has me concerned is that I really don’t trust the writing of this show. Any show that plays the ‘I’ll explain it later, when it’s most dramatic’ card three times in the same episode so blatantly is in trouble. Doesn’t help that the episode immediately after it is pretty much an exposition dump from start to finish. All of which is a shame because there are parts of this that I really like. I like stories with factions and villains that have a reason for what they do and that believe they’re in the right, that is if they even turn out to be the villains by the end. Also I know the whole protagonist with a secret tragic past is a bit of an overplayed trope, but I think Chichiro’s morality struggle of coming to terms with having to kill people to protect others has a lot of potential. It’s just that so far the execution has been pretty substandard. This will probably turn out terribly, but I’ll hang in here to see what happens.

Attack on Titan Season 3

Eren and the gang are back! This time though its not Titans that are the problem. After the death of the pastor who knew more about the secrets of the Walls than he would say, the group becomes aware that someone within the Walls is trying to keep secrets. If the Scouts want to learn the truth to this mystery, or even survive to tomorrow, they’re going to have to take on their most deadly opponents yet, other humans! One of whom has a connection to Captain Levi’s past.

Well this series certainly came back with a bang. Full of adrenaline-fueled action and pitch-black moral quandaries as our heroes have to do terrible things if they just want to survive. I’ve really been looking forward to this series, not only because this series is always good (even if the central mystery has been stretched beyond breaking point), but because, yes, I did skip ahead and read the manga so I know what’s going to happen in this arc and that is going to be awesome (also some actual answers!). I have been really impressed with the first few episodes of this season, they’ve really hit the ground running with some big fights and some big reveals in a short space of time without any of it feeling rushed. Also yes, on paper the downgrade from fighting giant, merciless monsters to just people may sound like a bad idea, but in action it’s anything but. The manoeuvre gear on manoeuvre gear fight through the town in episode two may just be the best action scene this series has ever done.

We Rent Tsukumogami

There is a shop in old Edo that leases items to its customers. Some of these items happen to be Tsukumogami, objects that have developed a personality and spirit of their own after years of being loved and treasured by someone. With the help of these Tsukumogami the siblings that run the shop help solve mysteries in and around the town.

I’m actually really enjoying this series. It’s cute and fun. I like the personalities of the Tsukumogami and how they bounce off of one another. The mysteries while not huge, earth-shaking storylines are well done in how they present the issue and then solve it. I also like the fact that while there is a different mystery each week, there is also another mystery slowly being developed in the background as well as a progressing story. I don’t think this series will change anybody’s life, but as a something to just chill out to while watching I think this series works pretty good.

And that’s all for this season. I started off in a pretty abysmal frame of mind from what was on offer, but I’ve found some little gems and a few big ones. This season may be better than I first thought. Back to series reviews next week and we’ve got…Darling in the FRANXX…oh boy.

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

Advertisements

First Impressions: Summer 2018 part 1

The summer is here! And that’s about as much enthusiasm as I can summon. I don’t know if it’s because this season’s line up, so far, is paling in comparison to last season’s stellar showcase, or maybe it’s just the heat (seriously Britain has been going through a heatwave the past few weeks and I am literally melting.), but I’m just not in the mood. Still there are some good shows on the horizon and who knows what hidden gems we’ll find, so let’s dive in.

How Not To Summon A Demon Lord

Takuma Sakamoto is an avid gamer, in fact in the MMORPG Cross Reverie he’s so powerful that he’s earned himself the title of Demon Lord and is nigh on invincible. Then one day he finds himself summoned into the game in the skin of his character, Diablo, by an elf and a cat girl. The two summoners try to cast enslavement magic on him, but Diablo has a ring that reflects magic and the two girls find themselves enslaved to the Demon Lord instead. Whoops.

Oh boy. Normally I stick to the three episodes rule with anime, to give them a fair chance to get their story going and try to hook me, but honestly I’m dropping this one after one episode. It’s not the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but there are two reasons I am completely done with this. The first is that I am extremely tired of Isekai anime (where someone from the modern worlds gets transported to another world. You can check out my review of Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody HERE to see my breaking point). So now I’m operating under the rule that there are so many of these series around at the moment, unless they do something to really grab me, I’d dropping them at the first opportunity it gives me. The second reason is that opportunity, the fanservice. I get these types of shows are a power fantasy and this probably appeals to somebody, but not me. I come to anime for interesting characters and stories and, I know this may come as a shock to some, but boobs don’t make a story interesting! I’m sick and tired of fanservice as well and maybe if this show was really amazing I could grit my teeth and put up with it like I do other shows, but it’s not. The only thing this series has from what I saw is our main character, I mean he’s pretty generic, but he’s also fairly funny. I like the contrast between his internal monologue, which is a lot of panicking vs. what actually comes out of his mouth, where he can’t break out of character. That’s not enough to make me watch this show though. I’m out.

Island

An amnesiac man wakes up on a beach only certain of one thing, he’s from the future and is here to kill someone. Unfortunately he’s not a terminator and is instead a rather average anime protagonist who likes to hit on teenage girls (seriously, what the hell!) and may or may not be the reincarnation of someone from one of the island’s many legends. Can Setsuna figure out exactly what it is he’s been sent here to do and untangle the island’s myriad of myths? Or are we just going to keep having teenage fanservice thrust upon us? Unfortunately I’m fearing the latter.

I’ll admit the first episode had me marginally interested, though I swear if the clearly older gentleman gets pushed into a relationship with one of the teenagers (which, horribly, is the way I think this is going) I’m going to set fire to the Internet and leave. Anyway, back to the point, yes the elements of this series are pretty generic, we’ve got amnesia and harems and wall-to-wall generic as far as the characters are concerned. On the other hand I do like a good myth and stories about them and there’s certainly potential with Setsuna having to figure out what the truth behind a legend. Unfortunately then we get episodes two and three and everything falls apart. The main problem I can see that this series is going to have is that it’s all over the place. There are too many elements to this series, so much so that I’m forgetting what the actual objective is, I mean it took me a while to remember that Setsuna was meant to kill someone. I mean what is the point of so much of this? There’s a character who reveals they have a disease that will kill them if they go out in sunlight and it’s resolved pretty much one episode later! Ugh. Maybe, and it’s a slim maybe, this series can pull all its threads together and not just be introducing random stuff that goes nowhere, but I’m not sure if I have the patient to stay and find out.

The Journey Home

Midge, a sleeping chironomidae insect, wakes up to find he’s no longer on Earth, but instead a space station light years from home. He was brought here as part of an experiment, but now the humans are gone and the insects are left to make a life for themselves. Except Midge doesn’t want to live out his life on the station, he wants to go home and will do whatever it takes to get there, even if it means fighting off security drones and frogs to get there.

First off I’m going to stop anyone that wants to argue that this isn’t an anime, it’s animated and it comes from Japan, that is the most basic definition of anime there is. Anyway, I do like this show. Obviously it’s aim at a younger audience, but if I’d seen this when I was a kid I think I would have loved. It’s colourful, it’s informative and it’s fun. I like the designs of the characters and I like how they tend to think they’re way through situations. There’s no real dumbing down, the insects deal with the situations as any reasonably intelligent character would. There’s not really much else to say other than this has some really good 3D animation. I’m not sure how long I’m going to watch this one for, but for the moment it has my attention.

Chio’s School Road

Chio has an addiction, video games. She just can’t stop playing them until the early hours of the morning, which has a tendency to make her late or tired in a morning. This is a catalogue of the struggles of one girl to make it to school on time, dealing with motorcycle gangsters, horrible businessmen and oblivious classmates. Something tells me this is only the start of the weird.

Comedies are always hard, hard to write and hard to review and recommend because it’s always a matter of your own personal taste. Personally speaking I’m not that into this series, but that’s only because I’m not into the humour it’s going for. Despite some of the ludicrous setups a lot of the humour is based around how anxious and cringe-inducing our main character Chio is. She over thinks everything, having a meltdown at the slightest problem, even whether to walk to school with a popular girl is a huge decision to her. Now the show has gotten a couple of laughs out of me, personally I like the bit with the guy from the biker gang, but I’m not sure how much of this series I’m actually going to watch. Give a watch of a couple of episode to see if the humour suits you.

Angels of Death

When Rachel wakes up in a basement with no idea how she got there, she’s at first confused, then scared when she runs into a scythe-wielding man named Zack who’s covered in bandages. Then something changes in Rachel and instead of running for her life, she’s asking Zack to kill her. Luckily, or maybe not, Zack won’t do it until she has a good, terrified expression on her face. Together the two will have to make their way through the other basements, taking on another deranged killer on each floor. Can they make it out alive? Would that even be a good thing?

I’m sorry, I thought I was watching an anime, but apparently this is just the stitched together cut scenes from some game, or possibly a visual novel. I mean it’s kind of fascinating to examine just how much like a game this is written, I feel like I should be clicking on something to progress to the next scene. It’s a shame the actual story isn’t a bit more interesting. I mean having to get through various floors designed by serial killing psychopaths could be interesting, but honestly it feels so much like the show is just trying to be edgy for edgy’s sake. I’d also like a bit more variety in the psychopaths, I mean I like a cackling madman as much as the next man, but really both of your first two killers are like that? I suppose it would be better if we knew a bit more about why they do what they do. At least they explore their third killer a bit better, a bit. On a last note, prediction for a twist later down the line, Rachel is either a serial killer too, or she at least killed her parents or someone in a brutal way. Just the vibe I’m getting off of her.

Hanebado!

What makes someone a sporting star? Is it natural talent or is it sheer hard work? Ayano Hanesaki was a natural talent at badminton and looked to go all the way, but now she does everything she can to avoid the sport. Then there’s Nagisa Aragaki, a third year who trains every minute that she can get, but after losing to Ayano has been spiralling out of control, taking out her anger on her fellow team mates and forgetting what she loved about the sport in the first place. Now the two of them find themselves on the same team and maybe, just maybe, they can help one another grow.

Good lord the animation in this show is fantastic, fluid and fast and damn realistic, sometimes I forget I’m not actually watching real people moving around. I want to shake the hands of the team that animate this show, it’s worth watching this show just for that. Luckily though that’s not the only reason to watch this show ‘cause I’m quickly getting sucked into the character’s personal dramas. Both Ayano and Nagisa are easy to invest in, their struggles are understandable and I’m already rooting for them. I also like the other characters that we have on the badminton team and I hope we get to see more of them as the series progresses. Honestly I’m just so grateful to this series because a lot of the first episodes this season (at least the ones I’d watched before I came to this series) ranged from average to ‘what the hell am I watching?’, so that when I came across this it felt like stumbling on to an oasis after a long trek through the desert. My only slight concern is episode four where the episode squarely switches focus to Ayano and Nagisa pretty much falls away into the background. Ayanao’s story is interesting, but I don’t want the other characters to disappear, still that’s a minor thing and I’m definitely sticking with this one.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next week for another round of first impressions, including the anime version of Osmosis Jones, a Mongol invasion and, wait, I’m sure there was another show. Hmmm. What was it? Oh yeah! Attack on Titan season 3! See ya then.

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 Reviews: Incredibles 2

Blog Incredibles 2 Review Title

Pow pow pow!

I love the Incredibles and I mean that with every fibre of my being. It’s one of my favourite animated films of all time. It was, and still is, smart, funny, incredibly creative and found new and interesting angles to look at superheroes from. I mean it’s a Brad Bird film and I have yet to find an animated Brad Bird film that has let me down. But, we’re not here to talk about the original, though I could, for hours. No, we’re here to discuss the sequel. A sequel we’ve been waiting fourteen years to get our hands on. I admit I was a little nervous when the film was first announced, could they recapture the magic, especially after so long? Add on to that the fact that when the original came out they hadn’t exactly flooded the market with superhero films and, well, now they have (There are probably some lucky kids who never had to live through those dark times. Some of us are still scarred by Batman and Robin. Batman and Robin I tell you!) So, can Incredibles 2 live up to over a decade of hype? Yes!!! Sorry, little overexcited there, yes it can, and then some.

The film picks up pretty much where the last one left off, the Incredibles facing off against the Underminer and though they do happen to stop his villainous scheme, they also cause a lot of damage and, well, superheroes are still illegal. Before we go into that though, there are two things I want to bring up. First, this film is flippin’ gorgeous. One benefit of waiting so long for the sequel is that animation technology and skills behind it have come along so far. Every frame of this film is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The colours and all those retro designs wrapped up in perfect shots. I want to hang every frame of this film from my wall, which brings me to my second thing. The action. This film seriously ups the ante when it comes to the number and variety of its actions scenes, whether its racing a runaway train, a helicopter dog fight or even fights against other supers (all of whom I love), no one can accuse this film of being lazy. Also I like that everyone gets a fair share of the action and characters like Frozone and the kids get to join in a lot more than the last film. I do have to admit that although I love the action and the creativity of it, none of the action scenes have the same level of tension and drama as, say, the plane scene from the first film, they’re still tense and dramatic, but I don’t think there’s much that could top that plane scene. I do get to see a hero on hero brawl though, so I’m not complaining.

Back to the story. Our heroes are in trouble with the law and if you remember the end of the last film, they’re also homeless at the minute. Things are looking a bit bleak, up until a wealthy billionaire offers to help make heroes legal again. He’s a huge hero fan, knows all their theme songs (yes there are theme songs now, stay for the credits) and his idea to bring heroes back is to change the public’s perception, to show them the action and excitement of the heroes’ lives, rather than just the burning aftermath. It’s a good idea and the first hero he wants to make a TV star is Elastigirl. This does bruise Mr.Incredible’s ego a little bit (and we all know that’s the most fragile part of him), but he does begrudgingly agree that it’s the right call and while his wife is off saving the day, he’ll stay at home and look after the kids.

Now under anyone else this plot could have come across as a little cliché or stale (it feels like I saw a million sitcoms or low budget films about stay at home dads when I was a kid), but this is the Incredibles and if there’s one thing the Incredibles does better than anything else, it’s a sense of maturity and realism to its characters, which is odd in a film where a baby has every superpower going. Yes Mr. Incredible can lift a car over his head and punch his way through a steel door, but he’s a middle-aged man and goes through the same struggles as anyone else. He’s stumped by modern teaching methods, has no idea what to do about his daughter’s boy troubles and then there’s Jack-Jack, who like all babies is a non-stop natural disaster zone, and then you add in the superpowers. It’s almost as if raising three kids is stressful. The other characters all get their own moments in the spotlight too and get to fill up the screen with their personalities. Heart-warming is the best way I have to describe the characters in this film.

Anyway, while Elastigirl is on the job, she comes across a new villain, Screenslaver, who through flashing lights and a hypnotism guide can take control of anyone looking at screen. Like a lot of this film, it’s fairly easy to guess where they’re going with the villain’s plot. In fact from pretty early on in the film you can make a good guess at who the villain is, or at least get a very limited list of options. Not that it diminishes Screenslaver, I think they do have a good gimmick and a really good reasoning behind their plan. Like all good villains they have a rational behind what they do and you can almost agree with them, right up to the point where they start threatening people and trying to kill them. My only complain really is that Screenslaver lacks the impact and the presence of a villain like Syndrome, but I still enjoyed them.

The only really possible complain I can mark against this film is that it’s pretty predictable. From the moment a plot point reared its head I knew pretty much exactly where it was going. When the first Incredibles came out it was something fresh and new and this time around we’re expecting everything that’s coming. It turns the drama and excitement down a notch, but then again, the film is giving me everything that I wanted from an Incredibles sequel so can I really complain? No, not really. Despite the predictably I adored this film from start to finish, it gave me every single thing I wanted to see and so much more besides. This is a sequel more than worthy of standing besides its predecessor. Go watch the original if you haven’t already and then go watch this, you won’t be disappointed.

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

Anime Corner: Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Review

Blog Hakata Review Title

Play Ball!

What’s the Story?

Fukuoka could pass for any other, hectic, thriving city, but this is a city that hides a dark secret. More than any other this is a city of killers, where the majority of the population (at least out of the ones we meet) are professional thugs-for-hire, hitmen or just people that are connected to their industry in one way or another. Rookies, old veterans, assassins, mercenaries, torturers, hackers, they can all be found here and if you need someone killing then there is someone willing to do it for you walking these streets. They even have a few speciality killers like the Submarine Ninja or a samurai who specialises in killing other professional killers. Lin is relatively new to the city, but soon finds himself on the wrong side of a dangerous organisation and crossing paths with a certain samurai and all of this is a wonderful metaphor for baseball! Wait, or is it baseball that’s the metaphor?

The Review

How do you make a hired killer the good guy in your story? Easy. You hire him to kill worse killers than he is (also you never show him hurting innocent people). Yeah, this is a show that likes to sidestep the moral greyness of its characters and instead likes to focus on character-driven and intricate plots, which if it makes a series this good I’m completely okay with. Now fair warning this show can be as dark and violent as a series about a dense population of hitmen should be. It’s not afraid to show just how horrible people can be to one another, but that’s never really the focus of the series.

Instead the series prefers to focus, and finds the must fun, in its characters and how they interact. Murderers, assassins and torturers they may be, but all of them are loveable in their own way and things get even better when they’re together. They bounce off of one another really well and act very much like a bizarre family unit. My one gripe about the series is that only Lin, Banba and Enokida get any real attention, everyone else kind of falls into the background. Now giving Lin and Banba the most attention makes sense seeing as how they are the ‘main couple’ as it were, but it would be nice for the others to get a bit more of the spotlight. Hopefully we can get a season 2 to explore these guys a bit more.

Lin and Banba are great together, they have a real chemistry and are always funny. Banba is the cool and quirky one (I see him as Spike from Cowboy Bebop by way of Dazai from Bungo Stray Dogs). Lin on the other hand is the tsundere and it is great to see him develop across the series to the point were he can trust others and even admits he likes the people in this city (especially considering his back story which we learn in latter episodes). Another thing to go on to the season 2 wish list is some of Banba’s back story, thinking about it we learn surprisingly little about he came to be who he is. Where did he learn how to use a sword? Why is he the way he is? What’s the deal with his ex that keeps being mentioned? Not that any of these questions is a detriment to his character in the show, Banba comes to us pretty much fully formed, I’m just curious is all.

The other area where this series excels is in its plotting. Each story arc (every two to four episodes) feels like a little mini movie, with set up for new characters and events leading through to drama and a very satisfying resolution. It’s very much a marvel watching all the different threads set up in the first episode of each arc weaving together in the resolution and all of it feels so natural. It’s a thing that so many shows struggle with and for good reason, getting a satisfactory ending is one of the hardest things to do and yet this show does it effortlessly. The episodes even still work as individual installments, but obviously better as a whole. If you want to know how to do pacing as well as set up and pay off then watch this show.

On a last note, I do have to admit that this isn’t a very action-packed show, well, not as action-packed as you’d guess as a series about professional killers should be. The focus, as I’ve said is on the characters and the plot so the action is pretty fast, but still cool. It gives you the moments you want to see then gets out of the way so that the plot can carry on, which I guess adds a note of realism to the fighting (not that this is a realistic show). As much as my inner ten year old loves long, drawn out battles (I blame Dragonball Z), but real fights tend to be over pretty quickly. We humans are incredibly weak and fragile creatures and are so easy to break. Still, despite the speed of the fights they are always satisfying, giving you just of enough the resolution that you need to leave happy.

The Verdict

There isn’t much more to be said about Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, it kind of gets everything right, from the way the plot threads weave together, to the fun character interactions. Definitely watch the first four episodes as that’s the first arc of the series and will give you a good idea of what this show is capable of. I do get the feeling that this show has flown under a lot of people’s radars and I want to change that. Check this series out.

fish stamp great

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

Anime Corner: Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Review

Blog Death March Review Title

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…

What’s the Story?

Satou is a programmer in the middle of a death march, working non-stop to get a game ready for launch, but when he lies down to take a nap he wakes up in a strange world, a world that is oddly similar to the game he’s been working on. After a using a couple of spells designed to help new players Satou ends up with a level higher than any other character in the game and with an ability to pick up new skills like other people breath, he has it pretty easy in this game. So Satou is going to enjoy his unexpected break, lord knows he doesn’t need to figure out why he’s here or even how he got here or can get home again. No, this is his vacation and if you’ve ever had to sit through someone else showing you their holiday snaps, then you have an inkling as to what is coming.

The Review

You know, this anime is kind of fascinating, not for anything that it does, or any of its characters or plot elements (those are all as dull and lifeless as a blank wall), no what’s fascinating to me is this thing’s mere existence. ‘Cause for the life of me I can’t think what possessed someone to make this anime. I mean this franchise must work in another medium, I think there’s a light novel, and it must be popular for someone to throw money into making a show, but I can’t figure it out. Mediocre is the best word I can use to describe this series, or if I felt like laying into it a bit more I’d call it crushingly boring, I’m still wavering on which to go with. I spent twelve episodes watching this thing, waiting for something to happen and it never did!

Okay let’s try and break this down, as far as the plot is concerned, there is none, moving on! Okay, okay, so the story follows the typical story of a person from modern times waking up in a strange and fantastical world (because that only happens every other anime nowadays. Seriously why will this genre not stop? I can’t rewatch Escaflowne ‘cause I’m so sick of this genre and yet I still watch these shows, so maybe I’m the problem). After that, there’s a bit of drama in the first episode, but once that’s over Satou gets his power boost and takes it easy. I mean, he’s the most powerful guy around, he has loads of money, a harem of girls and women to travel with and can pick up any new skills he needs in a heartbeat. He has nothing to worry about and look, I’ve never worked a death march, but it sounds horrendous and I can’t blame the guy for wanting to take some time off. However, he could try to act like an actual human being because I don’t know about you, but if I suddenly work up in a game that I’d been making, I’d be a little surprised.

Satou takes everything in his stride, nothing phases him, he has a plan for every occasion and if that fails he can always hit things really hard. I get that he’s an escapist’s power fantasy, but because he’s the way he is, there is no urgency to the plot. He shows no desire to find a way home, or to discover the particulars of how or why he was brought here. He even gives up trying to figure out if this actually is the game he was working on, or some weird parallel world. He doesn’t even want to be the big hero, which part of me likes ‘cause that’s a tiny bit different from the norm, but when you take that out all we’re left with is Satou wandering around doing stuff. I mean occasionally the plot will throw stuff that has potential at us, like the hints of a back story about gods and Satou’s altered memories, or when the undead king shows up and challenges Satou to complete a dungeon or the machinations of corrupt politicians trying to take over a witch’s forest. Yet, with those last two, you have to remember that Satou is pretty much untouchable so any threat they do present is wiped away with a snap of Satou’s fingers. I mean the guy walks through the dungeon without so much as breaking a sweat.

There’s no threat or urgency to this story, no reason to invest in the plight of the characters because there is none. The shows kept teasing me, like maybe this time, this one time, something would happen, but no. Satou is god here and as such none may so much as knock a hair out of place atop his majestic head. I think the biggest sin of this show is that it’s not terrible. There’s nothing outlandishly bad to turn me away, no everything is serviceable, enough that I hope it’ll get better next week, which as I may have mentioned, it doesn’t! If you want to watch a show about an impossibly overpowered main character hanging out with his harem of girls in a generic fantasy world, then this is okay. Not bad, but definitely not good.

The Verdict

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is a serviceable series, that’s as kind as I can be. There’s nothing glaringly bad about this show, but there’s also nothing new, exciting or in anyway original about this series either. You’ve got a bunch of pleasant characters hanging around in a generic fantasy world where nothing can hurt or even threaten them, not as long as Satou is around. There are hints of a deeper story and a potential danger, but the series grinds to a halt long before any of becomes more than some vague mythology in the background. You can watch this show and not hate it, but personally I want all the time back that I wasted watching this!

fish stamp watchable

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

Anime Corner: Fate/Apocrypha Review

Blog Fate Apocrypha Review Title

This is the story of a Holy Maiden and a Boy with the heart of a Hero, literally.

What’s the Story?

This is not the world as we know it. The Third Holy Grail War ended with the Holy Grail stolen, whisked away from Japan, not to be seen again for sixty years. Now, in Romania, a group of mages have declared themselves independent of the Mage’s Association and with the help of the Greater Grail, hope to make their wishes come true. Thus the Great Holy Grail War begins, no longer a battle between seven masters and their magically summoned servants, each one the spirit of a legendary hero, now the battle is between two teams of seven. The Red and Black teams shall clash, each one hoping to make their wish come true, but not everything is as it should be. Something is decidedly wrong with this grail war and its up to Jean D’Arc, summoned as the ruler of his war, and a homunculus boy still trying to figure out what he wants, to save the world from salvation.

The Review

What is it about the fate series that always draws me in? Maybe it’s just that I love the concept of all these great heroes summoned into the modern world to fight over their ideals and their dreams. I mean you can hardly call the depictions of the Heroic Spirits as accurate, but at least we learn a little of their legends and get to see the unique ways this franchise likes to depict its Heroic Spirits in. What matters most though is where I feel the fate franchise often shines the most, and that’s because each series (haven’t seen Extra yet and I’m a little worried, but holding out hope) is a melting pot of ideals and different perspectives. It’s people’s hopes and ambitions and dreams fighting it out in a death match and how can that not be an amazing story, frankly I’m dying with jealously that I didn’t come up with the concept. Now, while this latest instalment, Fate/Apocrypha may lack the raw emotion of Fate/Zero and the mind blowing animation (though this series isn’t exactly a slouch in that department) of Unlimited Blade Works, I still had a fantastic time watching this series.

I tend to view Fate/Apocrypha as very much a popcorn action fantasy series. I get the feeling I’m going to be watching this series whenever I just want to have a blast. It’s not that it’s lacking for character or drama, despite the large cast all the characters get a chance to let their personalities shine, even if its only for a brief moment. There are some characters here that I truly have grown to love and enjoyed watching, whether that’s the heart-warming bond that develops between Saber of Red and her master (seriously that first fist bump scene had me melting), or the epic fist fight between Archer of Black and Rider of Red (on a plane suspended in midair and no I’m not going to give that scene context because it is awesome and you should go see it). There are so many epic battles in this series, but its not all action.

Thanks to one of our leads, Sieg the homunculus, we get plenty of questioning of humanity and morality and the importance of free will, seeing as how he’s new to the world and trying to figure all this stuff out. Sure these are all topics that are well trodden in fiction and the series doesn’t have all that much new to add to the topic, but they’re still important questions and ones that we should keep asking ourselves. That actually brings me to an interesting topic with the series and that’s how hopeful it is. When I look back at previous series, well, Fate/Zero is a tragedy through and through and so can be as twisted and traumatic as it likes. Fate/Stay Night on the other hand tries to do both, it has its happy, hopeful moments while at the same time having some real tragedies woven into its story. Fate/Apocrypha on the other other hand, while not afraid to have a high body count or look at some of the darker aspects of human nature, it always fights back with the assertion that humans can be better. It’s telling just how many of the servants pass away content with their lot, they may not have had their wishes granted in the way they first envisioned, but each of them finds something in this series (I’m not crying, I swear, damn it Saber why’d you have to make me care so much, you’re as bad as you’re father!)

On the animation front, while there is no way the animation can ever compare to the gods that are Ufotable, A-1 Pictures did an outstanding job with this series. This series looks great and even more so during the battles, though admittedly there are a few hiccups here and there. There are so many moments that feel epic throughout this series, whether it’s the previously mentioned fist fight on a plane, the knockout battle between Ruler and Archer of Red or any of the other great duels littered throughout this series. My only complaint is that the animation isn’t always consistent, there are occasions where it goes off model, or a few times in fights where the camera is just flinging itself around the scene and I honesty have no idea what’s going on. When it counts though, the animation for this series is spot on. Also a shout out to the soundtrack for this series, which is, again, is fantastic. I know I’ve probably used the word epic too many times already in this review, but the songs here really do make so many moments in this show feel as epic as they truly deserve to be.

The Verdict

Fate/Apocrypha, while it doesn’t have the likes of Ufotable backing it up for animation or the raw emotions and depth that previous entries in this franchise have had, it is still an incredibly fun ride. I’ve fallen in love with so many of its characters and I have enjoyed watching their battles and stories unfold (also it was nice to have so many people have happy endings for a change). I used the word one last time, this series has an epic feel to it, from the animation, to the music, to the characters and stories, this is a worthy addition to the fate series.

fish stamp good

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Blog Teen Titans Judas Review Title

Pain is what makes a hero.

Okay, I have to just take a moment and give thanks once again to Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (see my review here) for renewing my optimism about the DC original animated movies because without that I never would have seen this film. So many of the recent DC animated movies just mire themselves in darkness, whether that’s through excessive violence or even a dark and muted colour pallet ‘cause they think that’s what people want. Newsflash! Not everybody wants that! These are super heroes, you’re allowed to let a little light into proceedings. That’s not to say that Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is in any way kid-friendly, it’s not. Leaving aside some of the subject matter of this film for a minute, it has a pretty high body count and there’s a couple of gruesome deaths, though in most cases we’re spared some of the graphicness of the deaths by either only seeing the result or it happening so quickly that we don’t focus on it. Also the language in some scenes, but then again considering the characters involved and the situations, some of the language feels entirely appropriate.

What stops me getting annoyed at graphicness in this film as opposed to other DC films is that this film has a better balance. It’s very much just something in the background and isn’t rammed down your throat like other films. Instead the focus of this film is exactly where it should be, on the characters and the story, which is what I’m so thankful for. On the character side of things, I haven’t gotten around to seeing the previous film Justice League vs. Teen Titans, yet, but this group of Titans very much feels like a team.

Robin (Damian Wayne) is still surly and way too full of himself, but he’s calmed down a bit since his earlier film appearances and he actually compliments people and offers support to his team mates, even if he does do it in his own special way. Beast Boy is the joker of the pack and way too obsessed with social media (which I can completely see happening to the character). I also would like to commend his voice actor. The scene between him and Terra on the beach and that ending monologue, just damn, unless Kevin Conray and the rest of the old DCAU voice actors are in the mix I don’t normally expect that level of punch to the voice work in these movies. Blue Beetle is struggling with the alien scarab that has attached itself to his back and has a tendency to attack anyone that comes within three feet of him, but also manages to find a way to be a hero without his powers. Starfire is now the leader of the Titans and I have to say that’s not something I’ve seen before, but it really works for the character. It makes me wish this was a TV series and not a movie so I could see more of her in this role. I also like that we get to see a stable, loving relationship between her and Nightwing which is something we don’t see often enough in superhero shows and films in my opinion. Then there’s Raven who, while she’s perfectly serviceable in the film, doesn’t really get much to do. I’ll get to Terra, the new girl, in a minute.

All of the characters interact well and while I would have liked a few more scenes of them all just interacting so we could really see how they play off of one another, I’ll take what I can get. Also it’s good to seem them working as an effective fighting force. There are plenty of action scenes for the team to show their stuff, but the action is mostly there to keep the pace going, a lot of this film is about character. Every member, aside from Raven, gets something to do. Robin gets to have a few choice words with Deathstroke when he turns up. Starfire and Nightwing get to further their relationship while also working out how to lead the team without stepping on one another’s toes. Blue Beetle tries to find a way to get his scarab more accustomed to being around humans so that he can actually see his family in person. These little arcs that run through the story help to humanise the characters and are handled in a pretty mature way, there’s no conflict for the sake of conflict, every problem feels like a natural one that would come out of the situation. I only wish the film had another ten minutes or so, so that we could explore them a bit more because outside of character work they don’t really have that much affect on the main plot.

Speaking of which, Terra. She’s new to the Titans and is a trouble kid with, literally, earth-shaking powers. Now I’m going to try avoiding the plot twist with her character, even though it does come fairly quickly in the film and it’s pretty much famous for comic fans, but I won’t say specifically what it is, but if you want to avoid even a hint of spoilers skip to the next paragraph. There are two ways to do Terra’s character, in the comics she was a complete and total psychopath and in the original Teen Titans cartoon she was more of a tragic figure. Here the film tries to go for somewhere in the middle, though leaning more towards the cartoon version and honestly I think that’s for the best. Terra is an incredibly damaged character, we get flashbacks to her back-story and it is messed up to say the least (and part of the reason this film is not kid-friendly). You can’t help but want the Titans to get through to her, but in the end her pain is just too much and it buries her. Also I just want to applaud Terra’s voice actress. Not only does she give one of the best performances throughout, but those painful, anguish-filled screams at the end, dear lord they were good. I’m surprised the actress has any voice left after that.

When it comes down to it, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, isn’t perfect, but it is good. The main plot of the film is rather generic, evil cultist wants to capture the Titans so he can absorb all their powers, but it’s the characters, the acting and the writing that save this film. The Titans work as a team while also dealing with their own personal problems. The main arc of the story though comes down to Terra’s and it’s a wonderful exploration of a damaged character struggling to overcome the pain of her past. As Beast Boy says, pain can make a hero, like pressuring creating a diamond, or it could just grind you into dust (seriously go watch the beach scene with Terra and that ending, both are worth it.) Also it helps that all of the fight scenes are punchy and energetic. I enjoyed this so much more than I was expecting and you might too so go check it out.

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