Anime Corner: Otherside Picnic Review

It just raises too many questions. (Really? I’m quoting Batman Forever? This can’t be a good sign.)

What’s the Story?

Moments from death, Sorawo is saved by the mysterious Toriko. Somehow the two girls have found themselves in the strange and bizarre Otherside, where all manner of urban legends and folklore come to frightening life. Not that Sorawo or Toriko scare that easily, not when Toriko’s former mentor has vanished into this otherworldly wilderness and Sorawo finds herself drawn to Toriko for some reason. Even if the experience leaves them changed, Sorawo now able to see things as they truly are and Toriko with a translucent hand that can grapple with the Otherside, neither of them are giving up just yet. The question is, what’s going to happen first? Will Sorawo and Toriko admit their growing feelings for one another or will the Otherside drive them insane? My money’s on the later at this point.

The Review

I really wanted to love this series. You give me a series about folklore and urban legends and I’ll generally eat it up, admittedly I tend to lean more towards mythology and legends rather than creepypastas, but it’s all good in my book. Throw in a couple of likeable heroines with a cute burgeoning romance and, on paper, this series is right up my street. So why am I so disappointed in it? It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why this series hasn’t connected with me the way I wanted it to, but after some ruminating the best answer I come up with is that it has a split personality problem.

There are two distinct things that this show is trying to do in my opinion, tell fun, creepy horror stories in under twenty minutes, and also tell the growing love story of Sorawo and Toriko. Neither of these goals are mutually exclusive to the other, but the show just never finds the right way to blend them together. There are some moments that have some really creepy, effective atmosphere to them, and other moments where Sorawo and Toriko are super cute together. That’s the problem though, they’re just moments. Neither sticks around long enough to develop a proper vibe for the show and the rest of the time it’s weighed down by clunky dialogue and a shocking amount of vagueness and unanswered questions.

Let’s talk about writing horror for a minute, and I’ll preface all of this by pointing out that I’m not a horror writer, or that big of a horror fan. There are some horror stories I like (At the time of writing this I’m currently re-reading my way through my Hellboy collection), my tastes very much veer more towards the psychological and creepy, which is what this series appears to be aiming for. Part of the problem I’ll put down to the format, it’s really hard to tell an effective horror story in twenty plus minutes (not impossible, but you really have to know what you’re doing). Psychological horror takes time to build, you need to create a sense of dread and impending doom and when you’re doing episodic stories that’s really hard. How do you build that sense of dread when you also need to squeeze in the set up and resolution for this week’s adventure, introduce any new characters, cram in a romance subplot and maybe even explain what this week’s creepypasta is all about. It’s a lot and you need good writers to accomplish it, which this series sadly doesn’t have.

I mentioned explaining the creepypasta-of-the-week, and that is one of my continual frustrations I have with this show. It hardly ever explains what the week’s featured creepypasta is about, it’s origins, anything beyond just a brief summary of a couple of lines. As I said I’m interested in this stuff and I would like to know what they’re about other than some random monster and odd goings on. That’s just a me thing though. I get what the show is trying to do. It thinks by playing up the mystery and keeping things vague that will ramp up the horror. That’s how Lovecraftian horror works after all, beings far beyond our understanding or comprehension. Maybe with better writers it could have worked, but personally I have the opposite reaction. Because I don’t know what’s going on I don’t really see a need to care so instead I just sit back and let the random stream of events wash over me with no reaction whatsoever. I’m fairly certain that’s not the reaction the creators of this series were hoping for.

To finish off, let’s talk about the final nail in the coffin for this series and it does relate to its vagueness. The series, not content to keep the creepypastas vague, they also decided to throw in several mysteries that go precisely nowhere. What happened to the person Toriko is looking? Why does Sorawo look like her when she lets her hair grow out? What was with that time when Sorawo mind-controlled their friend just by looking at her? What exactly are the beings of the Otherside and just why are they so interested in our heroines? Heck if I know. Not to mention the fact that there’s never any resolution to that romance subplot. It does make the series feel entirely pointless and, however much I do actually like Sorawo and Toriko, those two alone aren’t enough to save this show.

The Verdict 

In the end, Otherside Picnic is anything but a picnic. It’s unfocussed and vague in all the ways that a horror series really shouldn’t be. It never quite decides whether it wants to focus on it’s horror-story-of-the-week or its romance subplot and both elements suffer for it. The leads are likeable enough, but an over abundance of unanswered questions and poorly explained creepypastas leave the story feeling hollow. This one definitely belongs on the Otherside, where the rest of us can forget all about 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: Sabikui Bisco Review

Well, Somebody Certainly Has a Taste for Mushrooms.

What’s the Story?

After an apocalyptic event, Japan has become a wasteland. The majority of it’s populace are infected with a strange disease that makes it appear as if rust is covering their skin. One doctor, Milo, is desperately searching for a cure for his infected sister. He’ll use any and every ingredient he can get his hands on, including illegal substances like mushrooms. That’s when wanted criminal, Akaboshi Bisco, enters the town, causing giant mushrooms to sprout wherever he fires his arrows. The last thing Milo is expecting is for said criminal to turn up at his clinic with someone who needs saving. Even less expected, is that once the chaos of their initial meeting is over, Milo finds himself travelling with Bisco, learning the ropes of what it means to be a Mushroom Keeper and on the hunt for the legendary Rust Eater mushroom.

The Review:

I’ve talked about this quite a few times before, but for anyone new here one of the reasons I love anime as much as I do is just how bizarre it can be. I adore the wealth of different ideas that I’ve never come across anywhere else. Every time I think, ‘that’s it, nothing can surprise me now’, here comes anime to blow my mind. Take this series as a case in point. You’ve got a main character who fires arrows and wherever they hit a giant mushroom grows. There’s also a disease that makes it look like people are slowly rusting themselves to death. Animals like hippos, giant geckos and huge snails take the place of everyday vehicles, though how a snail gets inside a plane and makes it fly I have no idea. Clearly somebody, somewhere, was smoking something and, while I want to stay well away from whatever it was, I’m grateful for all those brain cells they sacrificed to make this (Remember kids, don’t do drugs. Unless they make you creative in which case go right ahead! Wait…that feels like a bad message to give out).

I don’t even know where to start with this series. I will admit the first couple of episodes are a little hard to get through. Apart from the bizarre aspects that make up this world, the first episode is told mostly out of order. Subsequent episodes are told in a progressively more linear fashion and, after the initial arc, the series is almost entirely straight-forward storytelling. I don’t really understand the logic behind this choice, as it really just makes it harder to get a handle on what’s going on at the start, which is something you really want to avoid in story-telling. If, however, you can get through that initial arc then you’re in for a wild, and enjoyable, ride. Sabikui Bisco is a series that likes to put the pedal to the metal and never let up, unless it really has to. It’s a bombastic roller coaster filled with big action, crazy set pieces and a moustache-twirling villain that you just love to see smacked in the face.

A lot the characters are fairly stock, the titular Bisco is the gruff, shouty type with a heart of gold. Milo is a lot more gentler and innocent, and a good counter-balance to Bisco in a lot of ways. Neither of them is the deepest characterisation, but they make up for that by being endlessly badass. Bisco is just a force of nature and, once Milo gets over his learning curve he too has some truly epic moments. The build up to the final episode sees Milo, bloodied and battered, facing down a giant death machine and he doesn’t flinch for a second. I was punching the air so hard I nearly pulled a muscle, It’s just that kind of show. The animation isn’t all that special, it’s good and does everything it needs to, but it’s hardly knocking the doors down. Yet, when the animation is mixed with the dialogue, characters and that rocking soundtrack it just all hits another level. Pumped I believe is the appropriate word for what this series makes me feel.

Lastly, on a world-building front, I was surprised by how much this series managed to cover in just twelve episodes. We go on a long journey, have some epic twists and build up a lot of lore all in a short span of time and, amazingly, none of it feels rushed. Every moment feels like the natural next point from where we’ve just been, while at the same being a completely different place to where I imagined this series going. There is a lot of very good story-telling going on here and I take my hat off to the writers, even if I still want to question them over those first couple of episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sabikui Bisco is a wild ride. The series gets off to a bit of a rocky start with some strange story-telling choices, but if you can get past that there’s a lot of gold waiting for you. This is a colourful and bombastic series, filled with badass characters, crazy ideas and plot twists aplenty. There’s a lot of story and world-building packed into this series without it every feeling like things are being rushed. Everything just gets the right amount of time it needs to make the impression it needs and then we move on. Throw in a rocking soundtrack and this series is a lot of fun. So, if you’re in the mood for something a bit out there, grab your bow and come join in the adventure! Mushrooms are optional of course.

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: Slow Loop Review

Hooked on a feeling!

What’s the Story?

Hiyori has always been the quiet type, even more so since her father passed away. Now her mother is about to remarry and Hiyori can’t think of what to do except go out and fish, just like her and her dad used to do all the time. That’s when she meets Koharu, an energetic girl with boundless optimism and very little common sense. By a strange coincidence Koharu’s father is also just about to remarry, except that’s not a coincidence at all. Yep, Hiyori and Koharu are about to become sisters! Can Koharu work her magic and help bring Hiyori out of her shell? Only if Hiyori can get Koharu hooked on the joys of fishing and show her all the ropes (or should that be lines?)! Together they might just be exactly what one another was needing, filling in the gaps of each other’s grief with happy memories and new bonds.

The Review:

I feel like ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ shows get a bad rap. I have no concrete proof for that, there’s always at least a couple of them each season so there’s definitely a fanbase (of which I count myself as a member). But, it doesn’t take much for my brain to come up with all the arguments against CGDCT shows. There’s no stakes or drama. There’s hardly any story to speak of and character development is minimal at best. Even the characters can be pretty archetypal, usually with an energetic optimist, a shy quiet one and a smart one mixed into the main cast somewhere. All of this holds true for a lot of the CGDCT shows I’ve seen, but that’s also kind of the point of them. I don’t know about other fans, but for me these series are my twenty plus minutes of chill out each week. It’s a little breather where I don’t have to worry about world-ending threats, heart-breaking drama or what the cliffhanger is going to be, it’s just a bit of sugary fun. And, in my opinion, Slow Loop might just be one of my favourite CGDCT shows I’ve seen so far.

What makes Slow Loop special for me, is that while it holds to a lot of the staples of the genre, it also has this emotional edge that wormed its way into my heart and really got me invested in these girls. I talked in the ‘What’s the Story?’ section about how Hiyori has recently lost her father, and I’ll add to that that Koharu’s mother has passed away as well. Now there’s certainly a really good drama there, two girls both mourning a lost parent and working out how to be a family, but this is a CGDCT show so that means no drama. As such Hiyori and Koharu get along pretty much from the start and everyone is very understanding and comforting to one another. I’d half expected the dead parents never to be mentioned again past the first episode, but Slow Loop is better than that. It saves those mentions for the moments when it can really hit you in the feels.

Throughout the show there’s these quiet moments where the series just takes a breath and Hiyori will wistfully talk about her father, or Koharu will think of her mother. It’s also pretty clear that these girls are still dealing with the emotional scars of what they’ve been through. Koharu in particular has some self-worth issues about not being a burden to others that come to light later on. It’s not just the girls either, at one point there’s a conversation about how Hiyori’s mother was struggling and we have a whole cast of side characters, some of whom have their own little emotional breakthrough across the series. Again, I don’t want to oversell this, there is no drama and no stakes whatsoever in this series, but these moments feel so honest and heartfelt that I can’t help but root for all of these girls.

Throw in the fact that this series is just really good at being a CGDCT show and you’re on to a winner here. Our cast may be made up of a set of familiar archetypes, but they all have terrific chemistry and they all sell their roles flawlessly. The animation is pretty standard and simple, but there are some really lovely bits of scenery put on display, I could almost feel the chill of some of those early mornings. That brings me to the fishing aspects of the show and it finds a good balance between showing, what I’m presuming are, the joys of fishing and handing out informative facts. Honestly, depending on your thoughts about whether fishing counts as a sporting activity or not, this count qualify for the Sports! Genre (though there’s no real competition, just certain characters’ drive to catch fish).

The Verdict:

In the end, Slow Loop is a great example of the ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ genre done right. It ticks all the boxes of the genre, no drama and stakes, archetypal characters and just generally being a warm ball of fuzz to sink into (which, again, if that’s what you’re looking for, like me, this is perfect). Yet, at the same time, it manages to dig a little deeper into its characters than you expect. While there’s no drama to really speak of, that doesn’t mean its characters can’t have open and frank conversations and its those moments that really got me invested in this series. There’s also plenty of fishing and fishing facts for those that care that, but for me it’s the characters that made this show. Now if you’ll excuse me there’s a couple of fictional characters I want to go hug right now.

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: Sasaki and Miyano Review

Let’s Only Think About Love!

What’s the Story?

Miyano is a fan of the Boys’ Love genre, so much so that he’s always fantasying about the other boys in his all-boys school getting together as couples. That’s when he meets Sasaki, a tall and laid back senior with a bit of a reputation for getting into trouble. Sasaki says he wants to get to know Miyano better and before he knows it Sasaki is always hanging around and borrowing manga from his collection. With all of his fantasying could Miyano finally have found himself in a real-life Boys’ Love romance? But how does he really feel about Sasaki? He’s never been attracted to another boy before and he was interested in a girl in middle school. But that doesn’t explain the flutter in his heart when Sasaki is around.

The Review:

Well, I definitely appear to have a type when it comes to the Boys’ Love genre. Mostly it comes down to how much I enjoyed Given (check out my review HERE). So, when I saw another series with a black-haired and a red-haired protagonist couple I was sold immediately. How does the show stack up? It’s…okay. I’ll admit I’m not much of a romance fan, or at least I’m not all that interested when a series is just purely focussed on romance. I prefer my romance mixed in with other genres, but as a standard romance goes this works perfectly well. It’s sweet. Sasaki and Miyano make a cute couple, they have clear chemistry and common interests and are supportive of one another. Sasaki can be a little possessive and overprotective, but what I like about the big lug is that he recognises that about himself and he constantly catches himself to make sure he doesn’t cross a line. He’s also endlessly patient with Miyano who isn’t even sure if he likes other boys in that way. Basically Sasaki is my favourite character in this series, but let’s talk about the rest of the show.

If you’re not a romance fan, or interested in the main couple as I was, then I can easily imagine this series being frustrating for a lot of people. It’s definitely a slow burn, there’s a lot of agonising over feelings and what things mean, especially on Miyano’s part, but no real action until the final episode. Honestly there are very little real obstacles to Miyano and Sasaki’s relationship, everyone is very supportive and accepting of the two. There are couple of brief discussions about some of the issues a same sex couple might face, but no real examples that the main pair have to deal with personally. It’s just a very sweet, wholesome and laid back experience, with a couple of funny characters and a lot of cuteness.

Miyano is definitely the main obstacle to this relationship. He’s an overthinker and questions himself endlessly about what he’s feeling. In any other romance I’d be pulling my hair out over stuff like that, and it’s generally the reason I don’t watch a lot of pure romance series. Here though I’m okay with it because this is the first time that Miyano has found himself attracted to someone of the same sex. That is a big deal and requires a lot of questioning and self-examination, which I think this series handles really well. There’s a clear and natural progression of Miyano coming to understand his feelings and I appreciate the effort put into that. On the whole it feels like a lot of thought and care was put into this series, even if they could have squeezed a heck of a lot more drama out of this situation.

On the animation front, there’s nothing really all that special about this series, but there’s nothing bad either. The animation just does exactly what it needs to do to convey each scene. As I’ve said this is a fairly wholesome and laidback series so there’s lots of long pauses and panning shots just to add to the mood of the piece. There’s no real action so the animators never really get a chance to properly flex, outside of sticking more and more sparkly bits into scenes (which I take it are a staple of the genre). There are some good reaction shots and well-timed gags. I don’t really know what else to say about this series. It’s not overly flashy, but then it’s not trying to be. It’s just a quiet, sweet little romance between two guys.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sasaki and Miyano is a sweet little romance. If that’s what you’re looking for then this will be perfect for you. Likewise if you get yourself invested in the main characters relationship you’ll have some fun here. If, however, you’re not in either of those camps then I feel like there isn’t much this show has to offer. It’s a slow burn with the bulk of the series dedicated to Miyano coming to terms with how he feels about Sasaki. There’s no drama or action outside of that self-examination and all of the supporting cast are just, well, supportive, with no real obstacles in the way. If you’re after something a bit spicier or with a bit of flash then you’re best off looking elsewhere. For me this was a bit of fun, I’m not sure how well I’ll remember in a few months time, but I had a good time while watching it and a show doesn’t really need to do more than that. See you next time!

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: 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.

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.

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.