Anime Corner: Orient Review

“It’s like the sword’s going inside me!” – Still one of my favourite out of context quotes from an anime.

What’s the Story?

150 years ago the demonic Kishin descended on humanity. Only powerful swordsmen known as Bushi stood against them, but even their skill wasn’t enough to vanquish these monsters. Now, while there are still roaming bands of Bushi who oppose the Kishin out there, the majority of humanity actually worships these demons. Bushi on the other hand are feared and despised, forced to walk around with their katanas chained to themselves. Despite this, Musashi and Kojiro have talked about forming their own Bushi band ever since they were kids, but as graduation day approaches it’s time for a decision. Despite all his big talk and bigger dreams, Musashi has never actually stood up for the Bushi in public. Meanwhile Kojiro is the known descendant of a Bushi and is ostracised by the community. How far will Musashi go to prove he really means what they’ve talked about all this time? And can an ordinary human really stand up to monsters like the Kishin?

The Review:

I’m always going to be more lenient with shonen series, even when they haven’t really earned that right from me. I can’t help it, I just really like this genre. Even when a shonen series isn’t particularly good I can sit and watch one for hours on end and not get bored. It’s popcorn entertainment for me and, let’s be honest here, I may have aged out of the target demographic a while back, but there’s always going to be a part of my brain that’s fifteen years old. So, how does the newest shonen stack up against the rest? Well, for that I need to talk a little about just how lenient I am with shonen series.

I take it you’ve all heard of the ‘three episode rule’, right? The unofficial length of time that most anime fans give to a series to see whether it’s actually for them or not? Well, most of the time I stick to that rule, but when it comes to shonen series I abide by the ‘six arc rule’, let’s be frank here, no shonen series gives you their very best in the opening couple of arcs. There’s background to lay out, characters to introduction and some series setting up to do before a shonen series can really show you what it’s made of. Don’t believe me? One Piece, my favourite shonen, makes you wait until you get to ‘Arlong Park’ before it starts giving you even a glimpse of how emotional and epic it’s going to be. My Hero Academia doesn’t start firing on all cylinders in my opinion until you get to the ‘U.A. Sports Festival’. Bleach – ‘Soul Society’. Naruto – ‘Chunin Exams’. I can go on and on like this all day, but you get the idea. Orient, with the twelve episodes that make up this first season, I feel is on the cusp of showing what it’s really made of.

I know my bias is showing entirely here, because with any other type of series I’d be complaining about this show spinning it’s wheels for far too long. It’s not that this is a bad series, it’s just not anything spectacular either. The animation is serviceable at best, the characters are mostly fine and, in truth, it was the rocking music score and the weird creature designs that kept me around through the first six or so episodes. Then you get to episode 7 and the third arc of this series and that’s where the potential started to show itself. We got introduced to an ominous antagonist with a unique ability, learnt a bunch about how this world works and even got a few tantalising mysteries for later. We also dug deep into what made our main protagonist tick. The main character with a tragic back story is nothing new for any series, but there’s something about this one that felt genuinely heartbreaking for me. Just seeing Musashi so broken and ground down into nothing. I started rooting for the guy there and then.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this series. In this day and age, with our overwhelming glut of entertainment options, asking someone to sit through twelve episodes on the promise that good things might come later feels like too much. That being said, when this series returns in the summer I’m probably going to check it out. I’m rooting for Musashi now and all the possible plot threads hinted at in the final episode was enough to get my attention. It could just be more wheel-spinning and lacklustre animation, but it could also be the start of a new favourite. We’ll see.

The Verdict:

In the end, Orient is a series with a lot of promise, even if that promise has only been hinted at so far. The animation is serviceable, but nothing spectacular. The characters are all fine, except for our main protagonist whose tragic back story is really heartbreaking, once the show finally decides to get to the point of exploring it. There is a lot of wheel-spinning in these first twelve episodes, but they’ve set up a really intriguing world that is ripe for exploration. With all the pieces now in place though this could become something truly great, or maybe it’ll just be more of the same in its next season. Whether you want to invest the time to find out is entirely up to you, I can’t really recommend it, but I’m going to be sticking around for the next season at least. See you then.

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

Cartoon Corner: The Cuphead Show! Season 1 Review

Do not mess with a Cuphead, ‘nuff said!

What’s the Story?

In the Inkwell Isles, trouble is never far behind where that loveable rascal Cuphead and his long-suffering brother Mugman happen to be. When they come across a carnival in the middle of the forest the two cups decide to ditch their chores and have some fun, not realising that the carnival is a front by the Devil to collect souls! All it takes is one distracted throw and now Cuphead is in debt to Old Scratch, but the Devil isn’t his only problem. Whether its sneaking onto Ribby and Croaks’ party boat, outsmarting dastardly vegetables like the Root Pack or surviving a night in a ghost-filled cemetery it’s just one misadventure after another with these two. Can Cuphead keep hold of his soul? After all, there’s only so many times you can roll the dice before they come up snake eyes.

The Review:

One of these days I’m going to learn not to put my expectations on a show before I even watch a single episode. Admittedly I’m coming at the Cuphead franchise from a weird direction so let’s get some context in place first. Obviously this series is based on the popular game, which I’ve never played and know very little about. I gave up on gaming a while ago, even though Cuphead sounds like a game I might actually like. I enjoy the aesthetic of the character designs and the clear callbacks to the early days of US animation, but its the songs that I enjoy the most. Or to be more specific it’s the songs about the game that I enjoy. Caleb Hyles has done some terrific covers of Cuphead songs and the Cuphead Rap by JT Music is a favourite of mine, I’d recommend listening to all of them in a heartbeat. However, because those are the sole source of my knowledge about Cuphead I’ve built up this weird image of the franchise in my mind. Now I have no idea how accurate this new Netflix series is to the game, but it certainly doesn’t match the picture I have in my head. It made it hard to get into this series at the start, but even after I did finally get over that discrepancy there’s still some issues that I want to talk about.

Now I don’t want to make it sound like this is a bad show. It’s well animated, there’s a good voice cast and a real sense of nostalgia in the way it calls back to classic cartoons. The animation nerd in me went a little giddy seeing some of the classic reaction shots, music cues and even the way the credits show up in the title cards. For a few seconds each episode I was a kid again, watching endless repeats of cartoons from decades past and loving it. The individual episodes of this series are fun, following Cuphead and Mugman as they go on one misadventure after another with a relatively simple over-arching plot in the background, namely the Devil trying to collect Cuphead’s soul through various schemes. As I said, it’s fun, but therein lies the problem. This series is just fun and nothing more. There’s something missing, some spark, some pizazz that I kept waiting for and yet it never came.  

The more I think about it, the more I’m coming to conclusion that this show emulates those classic cartoons a little too well. There’s no real consequences to actions or development of the characters. After each episode, no matter how the previous one ended, Cuphead will still be the same impetuous troublemaker that he was in the last episode and the whole Devil plotline is mainly played for laughs. There’s no threat, no danger, no real reason to care about what’s going to happen. This season ends on a pretty big cliffhanger and, outside of wondering what one character’s deal is, I’d be fine never seeing the conclusion to the story. I still get a kick out of watching classic Bugs Bunny cartoons, but that’s partly nostalgia and partly because I’ve built a connection with Bugs over the decades. I don’t have that same connection with Cuphead and the show never gives me an adequate reason to form one. I think it just expects me to care without putting in the actual effort to make me care.

One last thing I want to talk about is the music, or rather the songs. There are songs throughout this season, but as I sit here writing this I’m struggling to remember even a single one. This is a problem that is hammered home by the fact that I’ve also just recently finished watching ‘The Ghost and Molly McGee’ where each and every song was a toe-tapping hit as far as I’m concerned. I’m still humming the majority of them and, as I pointed out in my earlier paragraph there are already some really good songs about Cuphead out there, so why aren’t the show’s songs up to that same standard at least? It’s another missed opportunity and another way the show fails to make me care.

The Verdict:

In the end, I’m sad to say that The Cuphead Show! Is a disappointment. It’s well animated, there’s a good voice cast and some fun stories with a lot of nostalgic flair, but I feel like it’s trading a little too hard on it’s nostalgia. It expects you to care just because this show is tied to a popular game and it’s emulating classic cartoons, but it’s not doing anything truly memorable or ground-breaking. It’s missing that emotional connection to really get me invested in the plight of the titular character, most of the time it doesn’t feel like he has any plight at all. When the Devil hunting you for your soul is treated with the same glib one-liners as a gang of vegetables taking over your garden you know something is amiss. If you’re a fan of classic cartoons or the Cuphead character then this is a fine way to spend a few hours, just don’t expect to remember any of it in a week’s time. That’s all folks.

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

Cartoon Corner: The Ghost and Molly McGee Season 1 Review

Sweet Baby Corn! It’s time to Enhappify!

What’s the Story?

Scratch is one cantankerous old ghost and, honestly, he wouldn’t have it any other way. His town is miserable so, even if the ghost council wants to, they can never send him to the Flow of Failed Phantoms. What does it matter if all the other ghosts shun him and he eats mainly out of trash cans? The only way things could possible go wrong for him is if some super excitable and worryingly exuberant tween girl happened to move into his house. But even then, Scratch has a full proof plan, he’ll just curse the girl so that he will forever follow her around until she leaves his house for good! It’s not as if this girl, Molly, will interpret the whole ‘follow her wherever she goes’ thing as meaning that Scratch is her new best friend, right? Wait…uh huh. Oh dear. Sorry Scratch, you’ve really only yourself to blame for this one.

The Review:

And once more the Disney train comes a rolling into this station. For however much we fear our corporate overlords I can’t deny they have an eternal grip on my soul, or in other words… like a parasitic worm, they live in my heart! (Sorry for the rather disturbing analogy but this show’s songs are alarmingly catchy and several lines like that are currently stuck in my head). Disney has been on it’s A-game with cartoons in recent years, from Gravity Falls to the Duck Tales reboot they have knocked it out of the park again and again. Admittedly a very noticeable pattern has emerged with these Disney shows, usually focussing on a cast that includes an energetic, if slightly odd, middle school girl, some sort of over-arching mystery and a dark sense of humour. Does ‘The Ghost and Molly McGee’ follow this same pattern? Mostly, I’ll get into the differences in the next paragraph, but the far more important question is, is this another win for Disney? In my humble opinion, absolutely yes.

Let’s get into those differences though, starting with my check list. Energetic, slightly odd middle school girl as a main character? Check. Dark sense of humour? Also check, I’ll refer you back to those song lyrics about the parasitic worm (plus an alarming amount of things die in this series, mostly animals but we do see one old guy die on screen. At least until Scratch grabs his ghost and shoves it back into his body). That just leaves the over-arching mystery and that’s where the checks stop. There is a single plot thread that could become over-arching, but so far it’s only really been important in two episodes and there’s no mystery to it. Outside of that this is very much a slice-of-life style series with each episode consisting of following Molly and Scratch on two different misadventures.

This is a very fun and charming show. Not only is it wittily written, but it has a host of lovable characters to fill up each episode. Molly’s exuberance is infectious and Scratch is a big softie at heart, as much as he tries to hide it. Then of course there’s the turtle-obsessed Libby, Molly’s mad family and all the ghosts and the townsfolk. It’s not a laugh-a-minute, but you won’t have to wait long before the show has you smiling again. Part of that I want to put down to the animation. This is a very expressive show and it isn’t afraid to exaggerate or make things look a little, well, ugly in order to make a joke really land. In a way this series reminds me of a lot of cartoons from the late 90s/early 2000s. There’s something a bit ‘Ren and Stimpy’-like about the way Molly’s face scrunches up from time to time. Throw in some top notch vocal performances and you have the recipe for well-produced comedy that can suck you right into its world.

Talking about those vocal performances though, that brings me to the songs. Each and every episode features at least one song and all of them are some of the catchiest tunes I’ve heard in a while. My hat goes to the performers and the writers that managed to cover a wide array of styles with some odd-yet-killer lyrics. My three personal favourites are ‘Abraham Lincoln’, which gives Hamilton a run for its money, ‘Just Give’ which feels like the Disney theme song in how it demands your money and ‘Awesome Best Friends Day’, which while short perfectly sums up Molly’s personality. There’s also the opening theme which is what got me interested in this show in the first place.

The Verdict:

In the end, The Ghost and Molly McGee is a another winner for Disney’s vast cartoon library. I’m a little sad that they’re stepping away from the more mystery-focused adventure series and back towards slice-of-life comedies, but I have to admit this is a top notch comedy. With catchy songs, witty dialogue and a great cast of characters backed up by some truly expressive animation I really don’t have a single complaint with this show so far, I’ve loved it from beginning to end. However you want to describe this series it certainly can’t be as any sort of a curse. Sign me up for forever with this show!

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

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice League: The New Frontier

Pioneers of the New Frontier.

What’s the Story?

World War 2 has been won, the Nazis menace is defeated and many would claim that all is right again with the world, but is it? Paranoia and mistrust have taken root in America, so much so that not even the costumed ‘superheroes’ can combat it. The Justice Society of America have been forced into retirement, mystery men of all calibres are hunted by the government and both Superman and Wonder Woman are trusted only because they signed a piece of paper. When a threat from the dawn of history begins to stir, spreading its psychic influence across the globe, what heroes will step forward to take the challenge and protect the world? A new era is upon us, a ‘New Frontier’ for those willing and brave enough to explore it.

The Review:

I talked last year about Batman: The Long Halloween (you can read my review of the film adaptation HERE), one of my favourite comics of all time. Now I want to talk about another one, and we’re sticking with DC because I make no apologises about being a die hard DC fanboy. DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke is nothing less than a masterpiece in my opinion. Not only was Mr. Cooke a supremely-talented artist with a breath-taking mastery of sequential art, but he’s also an excellent storyteller. What starts out as a seemingly random set of occurrences and character pieces turns into a neatly woven tapestry with a rousing crescendo. It is both a tribute to the Silver Age of DC comics and an exploration of 50s America, unafraid to shine a light on the social and political issues of the day (most of which are still very relevant today). If I could recommend only one comic for you to go out and read, it would be DC: The New Frontier.

That brings me to the animated adaptation of the book and I’m sorry to say the movie isn’t even in the same league as the comic. I feel really bad writing that because this film is trying so hard, as hard as it possibly can but it’s just not enough to get it over the mountain it’s trying to climb. I’ve had an odd experience re-watching this film, I first saw it years ago before I’d ever even read the comic and I remember coming away liking it but not exactly blown away. Then I read the comic I was well and truly atomised by how good it was. Now, coming back to this film all these years later it’s like I’m watching it with double vision. One part of me can see all the stuff I liked before, while the other is looking into another dimension where all the missing pieces are located that this story needs to be truly fantastic.

I think it’s the runtime that kills this film the most. DC: The New Frontier is roughly 400 pages long and Justice League: The New Frontier is approximately 72 minutes. I think you can see the problem, that’s not a lot of time and there’s an almost overwhelming amount of story to fit into it. Wisely the film chooses to cut out a few subplots and characters, while shifting things around and streamlining events to try and keep things cohesive. Yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that some scenes are on fast forward and others are missing their true dramatic weight. The opening scenes where Hal Jordan is shot down and ends up fighting for his life in a trench is well done, but it’s missing the true harrowing feeling you get in the comic and that’s because the detail is gone. We don’t know Hal at this point, his history of refusing to kill anyone is referenced in one line of dialogue and that’s just not enough to get the point across.

A lot of the political situation is shoved off screen as well, the government’s war on superheroes is reduced to the opening credits and a couple of lines from bystanders in a bar. We never see Wonder Woman getting pushed off stage because she was about to say some things the higher ups didn’t want her to say and John Henry’s fight against white supremacists is cut down to a news bulletin. The comic is so rich and detailed and that’s what makes it as great as it is. I get why the film had to cut some of this stuff, but it still hurts me to see this story reduced like this because when the movie gets stuff right it really gets it right. There are scenes lifted directly out of the comic, lines of dialogue that are word-for-word and all rendered in gorgeous animation. It’s those moments when everything just clicks together that makes this movie shine, but it could have been so much more with just a little more time.

The Verdict:

In the end, Justice League: The New Frontier is a good film that stands on the verge of being truly great. The animation is fantastic and the voice cast are giving it their all, but the film is hampered by trying to squeeze so much story into such a short runtime. There are moments that are lifted directly out of the comic and they are fantastic, and yet the film isn’t afraid to make tweaks and move things around to better serve it’s adaptation. It tries the very best it can to make the most of what it has, but unfortunately that’s just not enough when the original source material is so much more rich and detailed. It’s a shame, but this film can’t quite rise to the challenge asked of it.

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

Anime Corner: One Piece Film: Gold Review

Viva la Straw Hats!

What’s the Story?

While out traversing the ocean of the New World, the Straw Hat pirates come across a grand sight. Gran Tesoro, a ship as big as an island, covered in gold and pulled by two giant turtles, this is the self-proclaimed ‘entertainment city’ where anyone can win big in one of its many casinos. Of course big wins also mean big losses and for those unfortunate enough to be duped in the streets of Gran Tesoro a grim fate awaits. When the Straw Hats first arrive they’re given the royal treatment, but pretty soon they’re in masses of debt and Zoro is captured, due to be executed the following day! Can the Straw Hats pull off a daring heist and get back everything they’ve lost? Or is this golden opportunity really just more fool’s gold? With the Navy closing in and CP0 on the scene, things are looking dire and this may be one gamble the Straw Hats can’t win, not that that is going to stop them trying!

The Review:

It’s an exciting time to be a One Piece fan right now. At the time of writing this the Wano arc is hitting an absolute fever pitch with some revelations that have turned the whole series on its head (and I love that after decades of reading this series it can still blow my mind like that). Then there’s the trailer for the next film, One Piece Film: Red, which just dropped with some very juicy reveals that have me bouncing up and down with excitement. On top of that we have episode 1015, which sets a whole new standard for anime (seriously you should all check it out, it has some of the best animated sequences I have ever seen). So, Allow me to indulge myself as I look back at a One Piece movie that I haven’t really talked about before (partly because the DVD has only just been released in the UK, which is a whole rant I could go off on about how poor anime distribution is over here, but I’ll save that for another time).

Anyway, ever since One Piece Film: Strong World, the series’ creator Eiichiro Oda has been a lot more involved in the films and you can feel the palpable difference between more recent films and what came before. In these films there’s a much stronger connection to the wider world of One Piece. There are references to past adventures, cameos hidden all over the place and a sense that key players in the world politics have a stake in the film’s events (even if the films are still largely filler). That can be a bit of a detriment to these more recent films, for a long-term fan like me it’s a lot of fun, but there are several scenes and characters I imagine will be completely lost on newer viewers. Don’t start your One Piece experience here is what I’m saying, but if you must just ignore that stuff and focus on the core story because that you can enjoy without any real context.

At it’s heart, this is a heist film. That’s another thing I really enjoy about all the more recent One Piece films, each one tries to do something a little different. Now the Straw Hats aren’t exactly known for their stellar planning and strategising, let’s face it any plan that involves Monley D. Luffy will quickly go off the rails, but it’s fun to see them all prepping a con like this. It also allows several of the other Straw Hats to get the spotlight for a change. Normally in these films’ limited runtime it’s just Luffy, Zoro and Sanji that get all the coolest moments, with Nami doing some dramatic heavy-lifting if the film needs an emotional core and there isn’t a kid character around (though there’s pretty much always a kid around somewhere). Here, while Nami does get the emotional scenes of the film, she’s also leading the con since she has a background in robbing from pirates. Franky gets paired up with Luffy for a large chunk of the runtime and those two really need to spend more time together in the series because I do enjoy their dynamic. Usopp, the legend that he is, even gets to take down one of the bad guy’s lieutenants and Robin assists Sanji in taking out another one. It feels like a genuine team effort for once and not just the ‘Monster Trio’ hogging all the action.

That brings me to the film’s villain and, honestly, I think he could have been the greatest villain the films have had, if only he wasn’t confined to a film’s runtime. His backstory is tragic with a capital T, the kind that One Piece excels at. When you know it you see how this young, idealistic man got twisted into this greedy, sadistic, broken human being who is hurting so badly and the only thing he knows how to do is hurt others to make them feel like he does. It’s fantastic and plays into so many of the larger themes of One Piece, but so much of that backstory is presented in a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ montage that it robs the scene of the emotional devastation this villain needs. I don’t know how I’d change it, maybe cut out one of the earlier sequences like the race at the beginning and just give us a whole flashback sequence to really let all the information sink in. It’s a shame, because with a change like that this film really could have been pure gold.

The Verdict:

In the end, One Piece Film: Gold is a lot of fun. It’s not the friendliest to One Piece newbies, with a multitude of cameos and references, but if you know this crew then it will be a delight. It’s great to see the cast go on a different kind of adventure, this one primarily being a heist, with so many of the other crew members getting the spotlight. Heck, this film gets bonus point just for having other Straw Hats fight the bad guy’s lieutenants that aren’t just the ‘Monster Trio’. The villain, while great, could have been so much more if the film dedicated more time to his origins and the tragedy there. That could have taken this film to another level, but as it stands this is another fun adventure with the Straw Hat pirates, filled with heart, spectacle and a whole lot of laughs.

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

Anime Corner: Sakugan Review

Pierce the Heavens With Your Drill or Something!

What’s the Story?

Memempu has spent her whole life underground, living in one of the many human colonies, yet there’s a place that she’s always dreamed of. A place with stars in the sky. She’s convinced it’s real and one way or another she’s going to find it, even if that means crossing the dangerous ‘Labyrinth’ all by herself. This, naturally, makes her father Gagumber very nervous and no matter how hard he tries he just can’t stop her. So Gagumber comes to a decision. If he can’t stop his daughter going off on a suicidal quest, then he’ll just have to go with her and protect her. So begins this father/daughter duo’s journey into the unknown. On the way they’ll meet lots of new people, visit lots of new places and maybe they’ll even learn a thing or two along the way, like how to communicate with one another!

The Review:

This is not going to be a positive review guys, just to give you fair warning. I can see why people would like this series and have fun with it (at the time of writing this the series has 4.5 stars on Crunchyroll. I don’t normally pay attention to that sort of thing but it certainly sounds good). For me though, there are two glaring problems with this series that bury whatever enthusiasm I can garner towards it and I’m going to spend the next thousand words or so trying to explain why they bugged me so much. If you don’t want to know about any of that and just want to keep this show pristine in your mind then walk away now. I’m honestly jealous that you could enjoy this show when I couldn’t, but let’s get down to business.

The first thing I’ll talk about is the direction of the series, not the directing mind you, that’s fine. No, what I want to talk about is the plot and where it decides to go. It took me a while to work out what was bugging me, but eventually I pinned it down to the fact that the end of the series feels a million miles away from where it all started. Now that can be a good thing, it shows that things have progressed, characters are in new places and the setting has evolved, except it hasn’t. The characters are, for the most part, as they were at the start and we’re still going from one colony-of-the-week to another. We have some new information by the end, but I can’t escape this feeling that where the series ended up is not where it intended to be.

This is normally the part where I’d question whether my problems are the result of my own expectations. Did I think this show was something else entirely at the start? Yes, I did, but only because the show led me up that garden path. When the series starts we’ve got attacking kaiju monsters and there’s a lot of talk about exploring the Labyrinth and how dangerous it is. After the opening two-parter and one episode in the Labyrinth though, the series decides to switch gears to a colony-of-the-week format. There are a few more episodes set out in the Labyrinth but none of them feel very important or explore their surroundings all that well. Instead the focus is on retreading character conflict, again and again. It wouldn’t be so bad if the colonies where more interesting, but they’re all generally set around a single idea and there just isn’t enough time to explore that before we leave for the next one. I came here for some exploration damn it, and some mecha-on-kaiju action and I don’t get either! Heck, we barely even see any monsters past the first three episodes!

That brings me to this series’ other major problem, the characters. Here’s an issue for any fiction writers out there, one I’ve come across myself on several occasions, what do you do when your main character is kinda unpleasant to be around? A lot of the time good story-telling requires you to have a character with an arc, and for an arc you need flaws for your character to improve on. The trick is to find the right balance between having those flaws and also having enough redeeming qualities that your audience wants to stick around and watch that character’s journey.

I get both Memempu and Gagumber. Memempu is incredibly smart, too smart for her own good because she’s at exactly the wrong age. She’s old enough to recognise that she knows a lot of things, but not old enough to realise that knowing a lot doesn’t mean she knows everything. She doesn’t consider other people’s feelings or ways of thinking because she doesn’t think she has to. Gagumber on the other hand is just worried about this kid and doesn’t know how to talk to her. There’s also some clear trauma that he’s gone through and never properly processed because Gagumber does not know how to express himself at all. The problem is that because of their overly stubborn personalities they continually butt heads and end up just screaming at one another. Now I put up with that for a little while, I recognise the journey that they’re going to go on, over the course of their quest they’re suppose to come to understand one another and learn how to talk to each other. The trouble is it takes so long for them to make any progress on their arcs, almost the entirety of the series’ twelve episode run, that it stops being fun long before we get to the good stuff. Their continual arguing just grated after a while and whether this series gets a season 2 or not (the last episode is called ‘To Be Continued’) I’m not going to stick around for it.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sakugan is a crushing disappointment. What starts off as a promising journey to explore mysteries places and fight monsters quickly turns into a by the numbers place-of-the-week series. It doesn’t help that we spend the majority of the series with a main characters arguing with one another, which quickly became grating for me. If you enjoyed this series, then power to you and I really am I jealous that you clicked with this series when I didn’t. For me the flaws were just too much for me to get invested. I won’t be coming back for more if there is another season.

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

The Fish Report: A Quick Update

Hey Guys,

I realise I don’t normally post on Mondays (not unless it’s a tag post and while I do have a couple of those that I’m working on, neither is finished yet), but I’ve been doing some thinking these past couple of weeks and I just wanted to let you know what’s been on my mind, and that there might be some changes coming to this blog.

Now, I’ll state for the record that nothing is going to change here immediately. I have enough reviews written in my usual rambling, context-filled style to last me up until July so everything will be business as usual up until that point. After that? I’m not so sure…. my current plan is for this blog to go on an indefinite break until I’ve come up with a proper plan for going forward. But, ‘why the change?’ I hear you ask (not really, unless you make a habit of talking to your devices while you read). Well, two concurrent events have prompted this, so let’s get into them.

The first I’ll talk about, and this feels really weird to bring up, is the Crunchyroll/Funimation merger that Sony has started rolling out. When it was first announced I was a little worried, as I always am when corporate mergers are announced, but on the whole I was pretty positive. I predominantly use Crunchyroll for my anime streaming needs, so having more stuff in the catalogue could only be good, right? Yeah, then Crunchyroll announced it was doing away with its ad-supported week-later releases of currently airing shows for free users (I’m a free user). There’s a couple of select shows that are still getting released like this, but it’s my understanding that this is going to a stop at episode 3, which is a problem for me. For the past seven years or so my whole routine has been to pick ten to twelve shows out of the current season and watch them a week behind everyone else. I’d then write up all my reviews at the end of the season and that would keep this blog going until the next season. I can no longer do that. (And as a side note, I have tried to upgrade to a premium account but apparently Crunchyroll doesn’t want to accept my UK debit card as a form of payment). So, what this boils down to is that I need to come up with a new routine and way of watching anime, which is going to take time to figure out. That brings me to the second event.

As I was writing my reviews for the last season of anime I found myself struggling with a couple of them and not in the usual way were I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about a series until I finish writing. No, this was more of a case of I felt like I was running out of things to say and, when I was done, I had to ask myself ‘have I said all I have to say about anime?’ I’ve been writing this blog nearly eight years now, with a review every week come rain or shine. I’ve talked about a lot of series, genres and tropes that I love, loathe and am just frustrated by. There have been times recently were I feel like my reviews are just repeating themselves and I don’t want that. I know, eventually, I will come across some gem of a series that will reignite my brain and I’ll realise there’s all this other stuff that I need to talk about that I haven’t yet, or I’ll come up with a new angle to look at things from, but for now I think my brain needs a moment to recharge.

Whichever way I look at it, this blog is going to change. Whether I revamp my style and change my blog to give me a fresh perspective on reviewing, or whether finding my new routine forces me to change how I do things on here. Maybe I should give episodic reviews a chance, even though I’ve always been convinced I couldn’t make them work, or, heck, maybe we pause the reviewing and I start doing more analytical posts about specific characters or elements in series I love. It’s all possibilities at the minute and nothing is definite. I just wanted to let you guys know where my head is at currently and, as I said at the start, the blog is going to stay as it is until July and I will still be apart of the community after that. We’ll see where the future takes us, my thanks to everyone who has read my reviews so far and will continue to read. I have no doubt this blog will carry on in one form or another. See you next Friday for my next review!

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

Anime Corner: The Faraway Paladin Review

Taking the Long Way Round.

What’s the Story?

Reborn as a child in another world, Will first awakens to find he’s in the care of a skeletal warrior, a ghostly sorcerer and a mummified priestess. With nothing else living for miles around, Will is raised by these unusual guardians, learning how to fight and cast spells, about the various gods that inhabit this world and most importantly the value of money and the dangers of booze! His guardians are hiding a secret though and one that could spell the end of their happy little family. With everything he’s learnt though, Will is determined to make his parents proud and face whatever comes his way, even if that means taking on a god! That isn’t the end of Will’s journey though, in fact it’s just the beginning and with his parent’s love and his vow to the goddess Gracefeel, this soon-to-be paladin sets out to make the world a better place.

The Review:

Some stories jump out at you right from the onset. They grab you by the throat and demand your attention, and in our current glut of content and streaming services it’s not hard to see why a lot of storytellers go for that option. The Faraway Paladin is not one of those series. Where some shows try to cram the equivalent of a novel into the first episode in a desperate attempt to make you stick around, The Faraway Paladin instead chooses to take its time. Will’s origin story lasts for five episodes. Five! It takes a special kind of confidence to dedicate nearly half your series length to just introducing the main character, but I have to take my hat off to it. And, look, I know just typing that out has already put some of you off from this series. I get it, time is a precious commodity in our world and asking for a larger than average chunk of it can be a big ask, the three episode rule exists for a reason. The Faraway Paladin isn’t perfect, and I’ll get into that shortly, but in my opinion it’s more than worth it. I had a great deal of fun with this series and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who will listen.

Let’s start the review proper by talking about the benefits of taking your time to flesh out your story. I think it’s fairly safe to say that most isekai (and, yes, this is yet another isekai series so that’s put off another section of the audience. Will there be anyone left by the end of the review?) suffer from the generic protagonist problem. They’re overpowered nice guys with usually a single definable quirk where there personality should be. Now, to a degree, that can also describe Will, but the difference is that thanks to those opening five episodes I really understand what makes him tick. I know his history, the way he thinks, what he values and what his goals are, all of which makes him so much easier to relate to and root for. I enjoyed this series as much as I did because I’m emotionally invested in Will, and I will continue to remember it for the same reason, unlike so many other fantasy anime I can’t mention because they’ve all long since faded out of my memory.

That brings me to this series’ flaws and there are a couple of things I need to mention here. First let’s talk about the use of Will’s internal monologue. I’ve no idea if this series is adapted from a light novel, but I have a strong suspicion that it was and the monologue is the reason why. Will just won’t shut up sometimes and in a book that’s fine, the entire medium is using the written word, but when you’ve moved over to animation some things really should change. Some of Will’s thoughts are really interesting, giving us detail on the religious or political structure of the world Will finds himself in, or breaking down strategies and plans. But there are other times when it’s just noise filling up the airtime when really a bit of silence would have been so much more effective. It shows a lack of trust in the audience and instead just spoon-feeding them everything because you don’t think they’ll get it on their own.

The other issue with this series is that it kind of lacks a climax. The actual parting scene I really like, this series is often at its best when it’s just focussing on quiet character interactions and that’s exactly how it goes out. Plus it’s always fun to see Will get flustered as he has the full implications of his latest good deed brought out in front of him. (I’m just saying the guy’s going to end up as a king at some point and not realise until someone tells him). No the problem comes in the fact that the final boss of the series goes down fairly easily. There’s a bit of emotional baggage to the start of the episode, but that’s quickly resolved and then the demon problem is taken care of like it was never any issue at all. I suppose this is the problem when the midpoint of your series has your lead facing off against a god. I can’t help but think that just one more episode would have made all the difference and give the fight and the emotional resolution the space they needed to not step on one another’s toes like they do. As much as I love the introduction, maybe it didn’t need to be five whole episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, The Faraway Paladin is a great deal of fun and I’m willing to go adventuring with Will and the gang any time. The series isn’t perfect and, on paper at least, has a lot of things that would normally put me off. However it takes the time to really develop it’s lead character and as such I’m incredibly invested in Will’s journey. He makes this series and is a good introduction to a world that is just begging to be explored more. From the set up with the gods to the political situation there’s so many juicy things left to dig into, but I also just want to see Will again so bring on season 2!

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

Anime Corner: 86 Review

War, what is it good for?

What’s the Story?

Called ‘Juggernauts’, these unmanned combat drones are the main fighting force of the Republic of San Magnolia in their constant battle against the ‘Legion’. Of course this is a lie. The Juggernauts aren’t unmanned, they’re piloted by people, specifically people that the Republic have deemed not to be ‘human’, at least by their standards. Anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘ideals’ of the Republic, i.e. blue hair and blue eyes, is marked as an Eighty-sixer and forced to fight in this hopeless war. One such fighter is Shin, captain of the Spearhead Squadron, a veteran squad with an impressive survival rate. Unfortunately the Eighty-sixers can only survive for so long and Shin is convinced that something big is coming. Can his new Handler, Lena, offer any kind of help? Or is she only able to listen as other people fight and die for her? And even if Shin and co do survive this current battlefield, what waits for them on the other side?

The Review:

I don’t like to use the word perfect, for me there’s really no such thing and that’s okay. As long as we all try to be the best that we can be then that’s more than enough. All that being said, I can’t think of a single thing that I’d change about this series so maybe it’s okay to call this perfect? From the compelling story-telling, the engaging cast of characters and, my god, that animation at times, I just devoured this whole series and I loved every second of it. I didn’t even mind waiting months on end for the final two episodes because if that’s what they needed to get everything just right, then I’ll take it. Just promise me there’ll be a season 2, please. Pretty please.

True, a lot of the elements of this story have been used in other series, the cast of teenagers forced to fight for their lives on a bloody battlefield, the A.I. run amok, even the psychic powers and deeply racist nation victimising a whole group of people for no reason. Think Gundam meets Attack on Titan and you should have some idea of what I’m getting at. Still, you don’t need original elements to be truly great, you just need to make the best use of what you’ve got and that’s exactly what this show does. It understands each and every piece it’s playing with and it knows how to ring every last ounce of drama and emotion out of them.

Let’s talk about the characters for a minute. Our leads are Lena and Shin, they’re two characters that could so easily go wrong in hands that don’t know what they’re doing and yet this series pulls them off with ease. Lena is our naive, privileged viewpoint for the first cour of this series. She has a good heart and she means well, but she doesn’t truly understand the plight of the people she’s trying to help. Now this type of character could very easily come off as condescending or idiotic, but the show walks a brilliant tightrope keeping Lena sympathetic while also not letting her off the hook. We see her exposed to the true horror of what’s going on and transform from a naive young girl to a battle-hardened young woman. It’s a master stroke of character development without ever getting too preachy.

That brings me to Shin. At first he appears to be the archetypal brooding silent type that you find in so many mecha/war anime. What makes him work in this though is that we get to see the occasional crack in his facade, the odd smile or witty comeback and before long we’re exposed to the real trauma that made him the way he is. Then in the second cour he takes over the lead character role in its entirety and that’s where his character becomes really interesting to me. That’s where we really get to dig into Shin and ask the bigger questions. What’s really driving him? Where is he headed by the end of this? Why does he keep going on? I’ll warn you now it gets pretty intense as Shin loses himself and then finds his way back and I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

Those two characters alone would make this series something special and have me singing it’s praises all day long, but when you throw in the animation, music, direction and the rest of the cast, well, then you’re on to something truly fantastic. This show is shockingly well put together, I don’t know what the source material is like, but you can tell that everyone who worked on this series came into it with a clear plan. There’s not a foot put wrong, every plot thread, every character, every shot, is crafted to get the maximum reaction out of you, but without feeling like it’s manipulating you. I realise I’m probably hyping this show up way too much, but I’m just astounded by how well constructed this series is. If you’re interested in how to tell a compelling story then you need to study this show, heck, if you’re just after a supremely solid sci-fi series then you need to check this out. Well? What are you waiting for?!

The Verdict:

All in all, 86 is an extremely well put together sci-fi series. It makes the best use of what it has, from compelling character arcs, a solid premise, great animation and direction, what more could you really ask for? True it’s not working with the most original components, but when a show is this good it doesn’t really need them. I was riveted to my seat each and every week and I couldn’t wait for each new episode. I can’t praise this show enough and if you haven’t already check it out then you need to, right now. Get to it!

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

Anime Corner: takt op.Destiny Review

Some Sort Of Musical Reference.

What’s the Story?

For Takt music is his everything, even if it could get people killed. Ever since the D2 fell from the sky music has been banned across the world, since the strange creatures are drawn towards anything musical. If it wasn’t for the Musicarts, women transformed by a power from beyond the stars, the D2 would have wiped out humanity years ago, but now they’re mostly dormant. Still, Takt dreams of bringing music back to the world and practises on his piano every day, that is until Cosette convinces Takt to put on a performance at the local festival. To everyone’s horror the D2 attack, Takt losing his arm and Cosette transformed into the Musicart Destiny, who has no memory of her prior life. So begins a trip across the USA, Takt, Destiny and their friend Anna heading to New York in the hopes of understanding what happened to Cosette. Dark forces are beginning to make their move though, and the D2 are waking once again.

The Review:

First Impressions can be a risky business. Whether you follow the three-episode rule like me or not, you can never really tell how something is going to end until you get there. It might be that a series has a fantastic opening episode, full of tremendous music, pulse-pounding action and jaw-dropping visuals that really gets you excited. Only for you then to later realise that pretty much the entirety of the budget, talent and passion went into that initial opening twenty-three minutes. That’s been my experience with this series I’m sad to say. It started off fantastically, then it dipped a bit which wasn’t too much of an issue, I just had to adjust my expectations of the show. However, then we get to the ending and, even with my lowered expectations, things went so far off the rails they fell down a crevasse and into a bottomless pit. It’s kind of astounding when I think about it.

Let’s start by talking about some of the positives first. Visually this show looks great, the majority of the budget was clearly saved for both the first and last episodes, but there are a couple of cool sequences throughout the show. It’s just a shame that the number of still frames feels like it increases with each new episode. I also like the design of all of the Musicarts we meet throughout the series, especially Destiny who has this gorgeous rose motif. A lot of the designs land on just the right side of having a lot of detail without quite making it too overcomplicated. The music is also fantastic, I can be a sucker for action scenes set to classical music and this show knows exactly how to play that card.

The biggest problem I think this series has is that not enough thought was put into the details of the story. I’ll get to a pretty big example in a minute, but let’s talk about the threat of the D2s to start with. It’s never really quantified how much of a threat they are. The initial attack happened years ago from when this series starts and while it’s said that conventional weaponry didn’t work on them it’s not often we see the military engage with them. Most of the time its Musicarts fighting D2s and they have a tendency to cut through individual D2s like warm butter. It doesn’t really paint them as a major threat. Throw in the fact that human society appears to be well on it’s way to recovery throughout the series and it makes the initial attack look like that wasn’t so bad either. Sure we see a few refugee camps and the like, but people have cars up and running, several cities look to be operating in a business-as-usual kind of fashion and New York is pretty much untouched. Why is everyone so scared of these things again?

That brings me to the real villains of the series, we have a mid-level boss and an end boss and frankly they’re both kind of pathetic (so much so I can’t even be bothered to look up their names). The first villain was so obvious that he might as well have had a flashing neon sign over his head that said ‘Bad Guy!!!’, but at least he had a motivation. It was a stupid and basic motivation, but at least it was something! At the point of writing this I still don’t understand what was driving the Big Bad of this series. Okay so the guy’s clearly had a psychological breakdown, so maybe there’s not supposed to be any logic to his actions, but then why waste time trying to justify what he’s doing? Also, tip for any writers out there, don’t leave explaining the driving force behind your main antagonist until ten minutes before you kill them off! This show is giving me a headache just thinking about it. I was perfectly willing to just treat this show like a silly little bit of popcorn entertainment, but the last couple of episodes just shattered my suspension of disbelief. I’m not even going to get started on Anna and her sudden character change in the last two episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, takt op.Destiny is a show that I can’t really recommend. It’s flashy at the start and has some great visuals and music in places, but there’s not much beyond the surface with this show. There’s very little thought that’s been put into the world and its history, and it’s villains range from obvious with bland motivation to crazy with no motivation whatsoever. I did like the character of Destiny and her arc throughout the series, but that’s not really enough to recommend this show. Maybe if you go into it knowing what you’re going to get you’ll be better off, but for me I’m tuning out of this one.

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