Anime Corner: Back Arrow Review

My conviction is ‘I will watch all the anime!’

What’s the Story?

Lingalind is a world enclosed by the Wall. The Wall protects and nurtures the land. The Wall is God. That is until one day when a man falls from the sky and lands in an inconsequential little village in the middle of nowhere. The man calls himself Back Arrow and he makes the impossible claim that he comes from outside the Wall and he wants to return there. His journey will cause the very foundations of Lingalind to be turned on their head as alliances are forged and ancient truths are revealed. Can a man with no conviction of his own really stand up to God though? If he can’t, then the whole of Lingalind will face it’s ultimate destruction. Summon your Briheight and declare your conviction, this is going to be one heck of a fight.

The Review:

I don’t really know where to start with this series. It’s a good show and I enjoyed it from beginning to end, but I don’t feel like it’s made much of an impact on me. By the time you’re reading this the final episode will have aired at least a couple of months ago and, I’m fairly certain, I’ll have forgotten the vast majority of this show. I feel bad saying that. There’s a real nostalgic vibe to this series, whether it’s the character designs or the vibrant, almost plastic, colour scheme, it feels like a show that’s wandered straight out of the early 2000s. Maybe if I’d seen this show back then, in my early teens, it would stick better in my mind. There’s a lot that I typically love in these kind of series, flamboyant characters, a constant and quick sense of escalation and some truly ridiculous twists, there’s a lot to get me cheering. Yet, when the credits of the final episode rolled around my reaction was just a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘that was fun’, and I can’t help but feel this show was wanting more from me.

It’s taken me a while to pin down where I think the problems are, for me at least. Part of it is that I never fully engaged with the events of the series. This show is ridiculous and it makes that clear from the start. I mean the method of summoning each character’s mecha is through the sheer force of their own willpower, which clues you into the fact that a lot of resolutions are going to come down to people just wanting stuff really hard. There are some clever plans and twisting of established rules to win the day, but it never really escapes the feeling that there aren’t all that many consequences to actions.

True, several characters do die, but even then they find their back into the series at the moment they’re most needed, and if death can’t stop our heroes what exactly are the bad guys supposed to do? There’s this constant cycle of the heroes pulling off some trick at the last minute to overpower the enemy, only for the enemy to turn back around and prove their even more powerful than we ever imagined. Rinse and repeat. Add on the quick escalation and things soon get out of hand, the back and forth between the good guys and bad guys just going on and on without any real resolution until the very end.

That’s another problem this series has, some times it holds on to ideas for just a little too long. At the start of the series the villagers that initially find Back Arrow are very reticent to trust him, personified by the grouchy grandpa character. They’ll turn him over to the bad guys at the drop of a hat just for the promise of an easy life and I do get it. It’s made very clear that their village is struggling and unlikely to survive, so the promise of a new home with peace and security is very tempting. Also Back Arrow doesn’t really do much to endear himself to them, he’s only really concerned with his own goal of going back beyond the Wall and he doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions much. If this happened just the once I’d be perfectly fine with it, twice at a push, but it keeps happening throughout the first half of the series! It got to the point where I was really starting to hate the grandpa character because he was always the one complaining and suggesting to throw Arrow under the bus. This isn’t the only plot point that carries on like this though, there are a couple of others and while liked them initially they just went on for a bit too long.

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but bash on this series and I don’t want to. As I said, I’ve enjoyed every episode of this series, even if I’ve not been as invested as I wanted to be, or how often I wanted to wring the grandpa’s neck. I like these characters, Arrow is a charming guy and he gets some much needed development later on to think more about those around him. The rest of the villagers are a lot of fun, as are Prax and the warriors of Rekka. Shu Bi has to be the best character though, the mad genius always with a plan or a scheme and generally ten steps ahead of anyone else. I like the mecha designs and just the whole aesthetic of the show. That’s actually where this series leaves me, I like it, but I don’t love it.

The Verdict:

In the end, Back Arrow is a fun show, but that’s as far as it gets for me. I’m sure there are people out there who will adore this series, and there’s a lot to love. The characters are generally fun and engaging, the mecha designs are great and while the world is ridiculous, it is well built. Where it struggles for me is the constant escalation and a lack of consequences really dent my investment in what’s going on. Add on a couple of repeated or stretched out plot points and some times it’s hard to engage with this show. It’s still worth a watch though and, if nothing else you’ll have some fun.

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: ODDTAXI Review

Where to?

What’s the Story?

Odokawa is a taxi driver who lives a pretty mundane life. He has no family and his only real friends are his doctor and an old classmate from high school. He very much lives for his work, ferrying the somewhat-odd patrons of his taxi around town to wherever it is they want to go. From a college student obsessed with online fame to a struggling comedy duo and even an idol group with some shady connections, there’s all sorts of people he gets to meet. Odokawa’s mundane life isn’t going to last though, as he soon finds himself tangled up further and further in a story of murder, blackmail and warring gangsters. Our innocent walrus is in for one heck of a ride. Let’s hope he survives the journey.

The Review:

Writing is hard guys. It feels self-aggrandising to say it, but it’s true. There’s always the misconception out there that writing a story is easy, that all you need to do is sit down with your laptop and this great master work will come flooding out of you. Well, as a writer I’m here to tell you that’s not how it works. Writing takes time and effort, you’re constantly thinking about the minutia of your world, building the story and characters piece by piece. And that’s before you even try to put it all together, heck that’s before you even know whether what you’re doing is any good or not. The reason I’m going off on this little ramble is because, all hyperbole aside, Oddtaxi has one of the best constructed stories I’ve come across in years and I want everyone to appreciate that.

Oddtaxi’s story structure is, in a word, beautiful and I’m in awe of it. What started off as this funny little show about animal characters getting into comedy skits in the back of a taxi, morphed before my eyes into a tense and complex crime drama! There’s so many different plot threads, so many characters you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no possible way to pull them all together, I certainly did. Yet, somehow, this show manages it. Every character has a purpose, every line, every bit of imagery it all circles around and weaves together into this incredible whole.

The series starts off with a couple of mysteries to hook you in, like a missing girl and Odokawa talking to someone in his closet. While they just sit there and stew, the show spends its time developing its characters and building the connections between them. Before you even realise it suddenly we’re dealing with gangsters, corrupt police and a maniac running around with a gun. It’s like a magician’s trick, distracting you with a funny interaction or one plot thread, before revealing this other part of the story that you hadn’t even noticed yet. Add on the expert way in which this series lays out breadcrumbs for its various mysteries before revealing the answers with perfect timing and this series is something to behold. Seriously the scripts for this show should be dissected in script-writing classes.

Okay, so the story for this series is pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned, but what about everything else? Animation-wise the series is fairly basic and really that’s all it needs to be. The anthropomorphized animals all look cute and have their own distinct looks, there’s nothing overly flashy here and considering the amount of care and thought that’s clearly gone into this series, I can’t help but feel that’s intentional. The stripped back nature of the visual really highlight the story and helps you to keep your focus where the story wants it to be. Plus who doesn’t want to look at a walrus driving a taxi, that’s just a cute image.

I want to go on praising this series forever and ever, because it deserves nothing less, but I should really be wrapping this review up. On a final note, I’ll give a word of praise to the characters. As great as the story is and no matter how much the visuals support that, this show would be nothing without it’s wonderful cast. I’ve well and truly fallen for Odokawa’s charms and I want to do nothing more than take a ride in his taxi and have a conversation with him. Every character gets their own little arc and while some are explored more than others, everyone gets a little bit of the spotlight and some time to shine.

The Verdict:

In the end, Oddtaxi is a master class in story-telling. From the hook of the initial mysteries to the moment when all the many, many plot threads get woven together, this series will grab you and not let go. It’s like staring into a pond and slowly realising just how deep it goes. The attention-to-detail and level of craftsmanship to this series just makes me want to applaud non-stop. Every character has a purpose, every plot is relevant and it all comes together in a satisfying package. What more could you really ask for? If you haven’t already checked this series out then you’ve done yourself a disservice. Check this out 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: Megalobox 2: Nomad Review

Hasta ver la luz.

What’s the Story?

Megalobox, the advanced form of boxing were competitors wear metal frames known as ‘Gear’ to face one another in the ring. When the first ever Megalonia tournament was held, a man, a legend, took to the stage, taking on all comers without any Gear at all and thus the name ‘Gearless’ Joe was etched into history. Even legends must end though and several years later Joe is a shadow of his former self. Using drink and dodgy painkillers to push down the agony he feels, he spends his nights fighting in underground matches. He has nothing and no one, but how did the former champion get this way? What’s more can he possibly face up to his past and make amends to those he wronged? A chance encounter with a fellow boxer might just show him the way. It’s a lonely road, but we all get lost from time to time.

The Review:

I adored the original series of Megalobox (you can check out my review HERE, but honestly just go watch it, you won’t regret it). It’s an incredible show, full of pulse-pounding drama, fantastic music and stylish animation that I just wanted more and more of. So you can imagine how excited I was when this sequel was announced. Still, sequels can be a tough beast to conquer, does Megalobox 2 hold up to the original? Are you kidding me?! It’s even better! This show is absolutely fantastic, if I had a review score higher than ‘Unmissable’ I’d be giving it to this show. Of course all of that is dependent on what you’re expecting to get out of Megalobox 2, if you’re after another tournament arc or even crazier boxing matches, well, then you’re probably going to be disappointed.

The focus for megalobox 2 is set firmly on the characters above everything else. Now the characters in the original series were hardly the most deep or defined, heck we never really learnt anything substantial about Joe or where he comes from. What we did get was enough to understand who he is and why he fights, enough to cheer him on and be overjoyed when we reach his eventual victory. The same can be applied to all the other characters, they each had their own problems and arcs that we explored through each of Joe’s matches. Megalobox 2 however takes a different approach, starting with a time skip. Now don’t worry, I’m sure anyone who saw Promised Neverland 2 is having terrible flashbacks at the mention of a time skip, like I did, but this is how they should be used. The characters have some history to contend with now and though we don’t learn what happened straight away, it’s enough to see them dealing with the ghosts of their regret and guilt.

There’s a very melancholy feeling to Megalobox 2, especially during its first half. Joe is dealing with, or rather refusing to deal with, whatever happened to him and the first arc, as it were, deals with a community of immigrants who just want to have some place to call their own. It’s a harsh world, the world of megalobox, and it’s often shown that people have to fight for every scrap they can get a hold of. This was also the case in the original series, but it’s amplified here and put more under the microscope. Yet, for all the rough edges and struggle, there’s a burgeoning sense of hope that begins to emerge from the series. A parable about a dying man and humming bird is repeated several times in the second half (I’ve no idea whether it’s been made up for this series or if it’s based on a real story, either way it’s good and used well throughout). To me it gives the message that, even if you think you’ve lost everything, there’s still things worth carrying on for and it’s heart-warming to see Joe and a few other characters come to realise that.

That brings me to the music and, again, it’s another winner. There’s a strong Spanish influence to the music, and a lot of the show really, given that all the episode titles are in Spanish. There’s a lot of melancholy tracks to squeeze your heart and carry you way on, as befits the mood of the series, but when it needs to get you pumped up and excited it knows just what to hit you with. I wish I understood more about music so that I could properly explain what makes its so, so good, but I could listen to the soundtracks for both series for the rest of my life and never be happier.

Finally, let’s talk about the animation. It’s still completely top notch, the line work is a little cleaner, but the great character designs and aesthetic remain intact. As I’ve mentioned there isn’t all that much action so the animation doesn’t get as many chances to show off, but there are a plethora of examples of great directing and visual story-telling. That said, when there finally is a match and the animation gets to flex a little, it really flexes. I just want to chef’s kiss this anime until my lips fall off. Go watch it guys, right now!

The Verdict:

In the end, Megalobox 2: Nomad is one of those rare instances where the sequel outmatches the original. The music, animation and directing are as fantastic as they were in the original, but with more of a focus on the characters and their emotional journeys the drama gets turned up to eleven. This is a more melancholy series and there’s less matches if that’s what you were looking for, but the continual gut punches of the story more than make up for that. We even manage to end things on a much more hopeful note and I couldn’t be happier with this series. I would love another series, but if this is where this story ends then I am more than content. Check this out!

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.

First Impressions Summer 2021 Part 2

And we’re back ! Yes the First Impressions have at last returned so let’s not waste any time and get straight to them!

The Detective Is Already Dead

Kimihiko is a teenager with a peculiar knack for getting himself into trouble. Take the day he was just walking down the road, minding his own business, when suddenly these guys grabbed him, drove him to an airport and told him to take a mysterious package on to a plane. Thankfully it wasn’t as sinister as it sounds, it was just the manipulations of a silver-haired detective named Siesta who needed Kimihiko’s help to thwart a hijacking by a secret criminal organisation! Wait, that still sounds pretty sinister doesn’t it? Oh well, for the next few years Kimihiko joined Siesta as her sidekick, taking on worldwide conspiracies and solving cases. Then, a year ago, Siesta died and that was the end of that. Or is it?

I’m a sucker for a good detective story, unfortunately this isn’t one. I knew I was in trouble the minute Siesta mentioned that a detective should know the answer to a mystery before they even walk in the room. Ok, so we’re doing one of those detective shows, right. In case you don’t know the kind I’m talking about it’s the kind where the detective purposefully holds back key information and just drags you along until the climax when they finally give you the answers that you’d never be able to work out yourself. There are some fun detective series that follow this formula, but for me it does take some of the fun out of it if there’s not even a chance of me solving it before the detective. Still, I was willing to give the series a chance, then the second episode came along. We’re told that Siesta died a year ago and then, only a few minutes later, a new girl explains that she had a heart transplant a year ago and that heart has been in search of someone ever since. You can work out where things go from there. So this series is either going to withhold information and not tell you anything until it wants to or its going to give us such blindingly obvious clues it might as well beat us over the head with a baseball bat. Then the episode ends with another girl turning up, this one with an eye patch. Yeah, no, I see what you’re doing show and I’m not interested in the slightest. I’m out on this one.

The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace

800 years ago the human race was on the brink of annihilation thanks to an unstoppable wave of demons that wanted nothing more than to destroy everything. Then the Idaten, gods of battle, appeared from the heavens and swiftly defeated the demons, sealing them away forever. The world has been at peace ever since, at least as far as the Idaten are concerned, but that means the majority of the current generation have never even seen a demon, let alone know how to fight one. Only the battle-hardened last survivor of the previous generation would stand even the slightest chance if the demons were to suddenly reappear, but that’s impossible. I mean it’s not as if a group of demons have been secretly hiding out in a warring country waiting for their time to return, right?

I’ll warn you now, don’t let the highly saturated colour palette and more stylised character designs fool you, this is one violent series. When there’s not buckets of blood hitting the screen, we’re seeing people tore apart or beaten into pulp, strong stomachs are required here. Also there is a rape scene in the first episode, it’s artistically done and you don’t see any real detail, but the implications are all there so if that’s a turn off for you stay well away from this series. If you can get past all of that though, this is a really fun series. The action is kinetic and fluid, the way this show chooses to use colour is just fascinating and I’m so intrigued about the world it’s presented us with. So far the series has been good about answering questions about how this world works and what things mean, while also laying out a whole load of breadcrumbs for ongoing mysteries. I’ve already used the word, but this show is just fascinating and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Sonny Boy

It was just another listless, average day for Nagara, until his whole high school was sucked into another dimension! Now, alongside 35 other students, he’s adrift in a black, empty void and has no real clue as to what he’s supposed to do about it. Of course that’s when people started developing superpowers just to makes thing extra difficult. Why did this happened? Will they ever find their way home? All good questions, but the most pressing for me is, how long before they start killing one another?

Anime does Lord of the Flies! I have no idea if that’s actually what this series has in store for us, but it’s all I’ve been able to think about since the first episode. The minute the kids decided that they needed to set their own rules and how quickly things spiralled out of control was just a huge red flag to me. Honestly I’m just surprised people didn’t start dropping dead right there and then, but that’s just me putting my own expectations on this series. What this show has actually been about so far is the mystery of how the kids ended up like this, seeing how they all react and working out the rules of the new locations they find themselves in. It’s all solid sci-fi stuff and I can see a lot of people really loving this series, with good reason, but it’s just not clicking with me. I think must of my issues stem from the fact that the first episode started in medias res, with the school already transported to another dimension and people already having powers. Rather than letting me see this all happen, the show decided to just tell me it happened and that doesn’t work for me. I spent so much of the first episode wrapping my head around what had happened that there wasn’t any time left to get invested in the characters. Again, this was just my reaction and I’m sure other people will enjoy this just fine. As for me I might come back to this one later, but I’ll skip it for now.

The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!

In the Dark Realm, the Great Jahy was second only to the demon king himself! Feared and exalted by all, she spent her days in endless pleasure and luxury, but that changed when a magical girl suddenly attacked and destroyed the source of her power! Now she’s trapped in the human realm, eeking out a living in a tiny run-down apartment while she spends her days actually serving people in a bar! But you can’t keep a good demon down and if Jahy can gather enough mana crystals she can not only restore the Dark Realm, but return to her carefree life! All she has to do is find them first…

Let me know if you’ve heard this one before, a high-ranking demon is besieged by a holy warrior. After the confrontation, they find themselves in the human world with very little of their tremendous magical power remaining and are forced to work in the service industry to survive. Yes, I’m getting strong Devil is a Part-Timer vibes from this too, and I’ve seen that comparison a lot in comments, but I’m not entirely sure it’s fair. If you look past the synopsis these two series don’t really have that much in common. Both are comedies sure, but Devil wasn’t what I’d call a ‘gag’ series. It’s humour just naturally came out of the characters and their situation. Great Jahy on the other hand has a definitive set up and punchline to all of its jokes. I’ve no idea what the source material is like but I’m guessing it’s some type of four-panel gag series. This series is a lot of fun and I chuckle at the majority of the jokes, even if I have to admit that Devil is a Part-Timer is more my style of humour. Still, I’m going to stick with this one for a while, I just have one note to give. Can we please give Jahy’s child form some trousers, or shorts at the very least, I’d really appreciate that, thanks.

Fena: Pirate Princess

Fena Houtman is a young woman on an adventure. She’s spent most of her life as a prisoner in an island brothel after washing up there as a small child, but with the help of some old friends she finally manages to escape. From there she’s taken to a mist-cloaked island that an elite group of samurai call home. These samurai have sworn themselves to protecting the Houtman family and fulfilling the last request of Fena’s father. But with only a clear glass blcok and a single word, ‘Eden’, to go off of they don’t really have much of a clue as to what it is they’re expected to do. So Fena sets off on a journey with her samurai pirate crew, to discover where it is that her father was taking her all those years ago, and what destiny has in store for her…

Honestly this series had me sold the minute I saw ‘pirate’ in the title. Throw into that some drool-worthy animation, a spunky heroine and, well, the fact that said pirates are actually samurai pirates and I don’t know what more I could ask for from this series. I love how animated Fena is, and I know that’s a weird thing to say about a series that is animated, but she just brings so much energy and personality to every scene she’s in. I’d watch this show just for her and her reactions alone. I’ve only seen the first two episodes at the time of writing this, but the show has already done a lot to impress me. The plot is moving at a fairly quick pace, but it doesn’t feel like anything’s been rushed so far. We’ve got a good idea about each locale before we move on to the next one and I can’t wait to see what comes next. My only real complaint is that I’d really like Yukimaru to stop hitting Fena on the head so much, I’m quickly beginning to dislike the guy (My god, is this what it was like for all those One Piece fans that complained about Nami hitting Luffy all the time back in the day?!).

That’s it for this week, and while there’s plenty of shows that I’ve added to my drop list, there’s also a good few gems that I’ve found as well. Hopefully you have to. Next week I’m back to regular reviews, so grab your gear and get ready to step back into the ring, Megalobox is back baby!

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: Vivy – Fluorite Eye’s Song Review

A Song from the Heart.

What’s the Story?

In the future, A.I. have become an intrinsic part of everyday life. From the many varied humanoid androids who take on all manner of jobs throughout human industry, to the Archive that monitors and records everything, they are everywhere. For a century the world has been at peace and content with this state of being. Then, one day, that all changes. Suddenly the A.I. begin singing and turn on the humans, killing them indiscriminatingly. To try and prevent this from ever happening a specially designed A.I., Matsumoto, is sent back in time a hundred years to alter key moments in history. Of course Matsumoto can’t accomplish this alone and he enlists the help of another A.I., a singer named Vivy. But what can she do to help when she’s struggling to understand her own mission? What does it really mean to make everyone happy with your singing?

The Review:

This series is fantastic. I’m cutting straight to the chase on this one because I am very aware that this post is about to become a full-on gushfest and I thought I should give you all fair warning. Sorry those of you who were hoping for a reasonable, well thought out dissection of the show, but that’s not happening here (then again I don’t know if I’d ever call any of my reviews well thought out, they’re all written stream of consciousness style. I’m getting sidetracked.) There are many aspects of this series that I want to discuss, from the stunning visuals to the blistering action sequences and engaging plot, but there’s one thing that makes me want to stand on the rooftops and sing out my love for this show more than anything else. As corny as it may sound, it’s the heart of this show that’s captivated me.

One of the strongest aspects of Sci-fi for me, is it’s ability to examine the human condition from a different perspective and drill down into the core of what makes people, well, people. Vivy’s struggle in this series, her central one at least, is figuring out what ‘pouring your heart into something’ means and we see her stumble and fumble her way to an answer by the final episode. Despite the fact that Vivy is made out of all sorts of plastics, metals and computer programs, she is one of the most human characters I’ve seen in a while. You feel the effect that each and every one of her missions has upon her, whether that’s for good or ill, and watch as she processes and learns from it. This series is a century’s worth of character development compressed into thirteen episodes and it is brilliant, really anyone who’s interested in writing good character progression should check this series out.

Okay, putting Vivy herself aside for a moment (though if that’s all this series had I’d probably still be gushing about it), what else does this series have to offer? Well there’s the amazing visuals for one. Every frame of this series looks great, from the character designs to the general aesthetic. I particularly like the slight plastic sheen that’s given to all of the A.I. characters so you can always tell who’s human and who’s not. The fight sequences are also fantastic, well choreographed and full of energy and impact. Admittedly some of the action can get a bit too frantic and so the visuals get a little messy sometimes, but even then I feel like that’s on purpose as it as adds to the tension and kinetic power of the scenes. Throw in some good songs and an innate understanding of what visuals to pair with a particular musical sequence and we’re really on to a winner.

That brings me, finally, to the plot of this series and probably the area I could pick the most holes in if I wanted to. Time travel stories are hard, this is an established fact in writing. The minute you start bending the hard rules of causality for your narrative is the moment you’re asking for problems. It immediately opens the door to questions like ‘if they can go back in time why don’t they do it over and over again until they get it right?’. They hang over a series like this and the moment you start picking the whole thing falls apart. I’m not saying you can’t do that with this series, you absolutely can if you’re of a mind to, but the series is very good about providing answers to any question that’s likely to pop into your head.

Why does Matsumoto recruit Vivy into his mission when her own mission has her as a singer not a fighter? What if Vivy wants to change something that isn’t to do with saving the future? Plus a myriad of other questions, the series gives you an answer either just as the question comes up or shortly after. It doesn’t plug every single logical hole, but it’s enough to satisfy and on the surface level everything makes sense and works out. Also I love some of the way the time travel events have been plotted out, so you can see the ramification that earlier missions have had on later events. There has been a lot of thought that has gone into this series, but it’s the feels where this show shines the brightest.

The Verdict:

In the end, Vivy – Fluorite Eye’s Song is a fantastic series and one that I will recommend with every single beat of my heart. It’s story is well thought out and engaging, it looks great with some blistering action sequences and, most importantly of all, the characters are the heart of the series. Vivy’s journey, trying to find the answer to her mission and reconciling all of her myriad experiences and trials is a joy to watch. I’ve fallen hard for this series and I regret nothing. Check this out as soon as you possibly can!

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: Akudama Drive Review

Note to self: If you want the easy life, never try to return someone’s dropped change.

What’s the Story?

Many years ago a great civil war ravaged the country of Japan, leaving it fractured between two regions, Kansai and Kanto. Kanto is said to be a paradise where everyone gets exactly what they want thanks to their advanced technology. Kansai on the other hand is filled with those who would break the law, known as Akudama. When one ordinary citizen runs into an Akudama, she has no idea that her entire world is about to be turned upside down. She’s just been drafted into one of the greatest heists in history, one that will see her breaking into some of the most secure locations in Kansai and even exposing the truth behind Kanto itself. Nothing will be the same again, and all because of one cat and a 500 yen coin.  

The Review:

Some shows you just know you’re not meant to take seriously. Part way through episode one we have one character swinging around the city on their bike like they’re Spider-Man, so we at least know logic and physics don’t apply here. The ‘Rule of Cool’ is very much in effect with this series and that’s no bad thing. In fact, this series is an expert at doing what it does and what it does is being effortlessly cool and badass. Dynamic visuals, a killer soundtrack and cathartic characters arcs make this series a blast from start to finish and I am very much in love with it. It’s not all that deep and the characters very much stick to their archetypes, we don’t even learn their names beyond their roles, Swindler, Brawler, Doctor and so on.

Then again, does a series need to be deep to be great? Don’t get me wrong if every single series out there decided to just be all show and no substance, then I’d have something to complain about, but they’re not. There’s plenty of cerebral shows out there and as long as we treat our viewing habits like maintaining a healthy diet, then a little bit of junk food every now and again can’t do any harm (just as long as it’s not the only thing we eat). All that being said it’s not as if Akudama Drive has nothing to say for itself, it has some clear themes of self-determination, questions about the true nature of justice and how it’s the victors that write the rule books. None of which is all that original, but it’s something and it helps add a little bit of weight to character actions to give them the punch they need.

Let’s talk about the characters for a moment (and for once I don’t have to stop and quickly check character’s names, because I’m really bad with names guys). As I said we don’t learn their names beyond their job role and, outside of Courier, we never really get any kind of exploration of their pasts. A few of them explain their particular philosophies on life, but that’s all we get and, honestly, that’s as much as we need. The characters have enough personality and bombast to make up for any deficiencies they might have elsewhere and while their arcs are simplistic and predictable, they’re also incredibly cathartic. Every character gets exactly what they deserve, especially the Doctor who had me jumping up and down when she got her just deserts. There’s a line Swindler has towards the end of the series about screaming ‘Serves you right.’ into the face of the world and that’s exactly what this feels like. Whether it’s a tragic passing, a heroic last stand or a comeuppance that’s been a long time coming, this show makes sure that every ending feels right and there’s a lot of endings.

That’s one thing I should probably warn you about, this series has a heck of body count and gets really bloody in places. If you watch on Funimation’s site like I did the worst of it is covered by black bars, but this is not a series for the squeamish. One of the characters is called Cutthroat, so I guess it’s not too much of a surprise, still I’d avoid getting attached to too many people.

Let’s round this out by talking about the visuals for a bit. There are shows that look better and have more fluid animation, but when this show wants to put something dynamic and striking up on the screen it pulls out all the stops. We’re presented with a neon-soaked cyberpunk future, where holographic images and traditional Japanese-inspired architecture blend together. Throw in the numerous action set pieces, some crazy locales and even some blimps and you have a feast for the eyes. As I said, I love this series and while I realise it’s not going to have the same impact for everyone, I really don’t want this series to fade into the history books.

The Verdict:

Akudama Drive is a roller coaster thrill ride. It looks great and you’ll quickly find yourself cheering on the majority of the characters, even if it’s not all that deep or original. Everyone gets exactly what they deserve in this series, whether that’s good or bad, but there’s a cathartic punch to events that means you’ll most likely leave this series feeling satisfied even if you’re not as in love with it as I currently am. So let’s give this series what it deserves, for those that have seen it, let’s remember it fondly, and for those who haven’t yet, go check it out!

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

First Impressions Summer 2021 Part 1

And the hallowed time is upon us once more, a new season of anime is here! The sun is blazing and, at the time of writing this, I’m melting into a puddle of my own sweat thanks to a heatwave that’s hitting the UK (Curse you my eternal enemy, the sun!) Thankfully there’s a whole bunch of new anime to keep me distracted, or at least there should be. The summer season is here, but apparently the entire release schedule is out of whack because only half the shows have actually started airing. So, for the first time since I started doing these first impression posts there’s going to be a gap between parts 1 and 2. Obviously you’re reading part 1 now, but part 2 won’t come out until all the other anime I plan on watching hits three aired episodes at least, whenever that will be. Enough preamble, let’s get on to the actual shows!

Peach Boy Riverside

Okay, so like there’s this girl, Sally, whose on a journey to find this person she once knew like. She also has this thing right, where like when she meets ogres, ‘cause ogres are a total thing in this world and they have magic powers that can wipe out whole towns. Anyway, when Sally meets an ogre this peach thing starts glowing in her eye and she gets a proper mad on for killing said ogre, all total gleeful like. She meets this demihuman rabbit who’s super cute and pretty badass in her own right and they travel with this knight and an ogre who had her horn chopped off, by the same person Sally is looking for! It’s mad.

I apologise for the quality of the above summary, I think I might have burst a few brain cells trying to wrap my head around whatever it is this show is trying to do. Admittedly I have a fairly vague understanding of the folklore this show is based on and I’m trying to work out how much of a detriment that is. The problem is this show, up to episode three at least, just point blank refuses to explain it’s character’s back stories. I have no idea who Sally is, why she’s on this journey, what the deal with her eye is or what her connection to Mikoto is. At most I know that ogres are a thing, Mikoto wants to kill them all, for some reason, Sally doesn’t and demihumans are discriminated against. Also Frau is best girl of the season, fight me. I could just watch her munching carrots and kicking ogres all day. Unfortunately that’s not the majority of this show and I care so little about everything else that’s going on that I’m not sticking around. I’m out on this one.

Scarlet Nexus

One day grotesque organisms known as Others began to fall from the sky and started eating people. To defend against this bizarre enemy, the Other Suppression Force was formed, enlisting soldiers with a wide variety of psychic powers to fight back. Yuito doesn’t have much psychic potential, but he’s been determined to enlist ever since the day a mysterious woman saved him. Is everything quite what it seems though? Just what are the Others and were do they come from? The wheels of fate are turning as Yuito meets Kasane, a girl who’s been having strange dreams of late.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t go into this series with the highest of hopes. I mean it’s a game adaptation for one and those hardly have the best of reputation, but I thought I’d give this a chance and it’s…okay. There’s nothing really wrong with this show, but there’s nothing really spectacular either. It’s a generic science-fantasy. Strange monsters are attacking the human population and it’s up to a bunch of teens with superpowers to turn the tide! Throw in a conspiracy behind the scenes and just the general sense that not everything is as it seems and you have yourself a story that’s been told a dozen times before. Not that that’s too bad a thing, the story is decently told and the animation is suitable for its purposes. If I did have any praise for this series it’s that things appear to be moving at a fairly quick pace. If you’re after a bit of sci-fi action then I’m sure this series will suit a lot of people just fine, but there’s not enough here to keep me interested.

The Case Study of Vanitas

It’s the 19th century and, for the most part, vampires and humans live in peace. Of course sometimes that peace is broken, mostly when a vampire’s true name is corrupted and they’re transformed into a mindless beasts with an insatiable hunger. There is no cure for those who find themselves the bearer of a curse, or at least that’s how the story goes. There is in fact one human doctor who claims he can cure any curse-bearer and he goes by the name Vanitas, a name that holds much fear for the vampires. When young vampire Noe travels to Paris in search of the Book of Vanitas he has no idea the mad genius he is about to meet, or how his life will change.

Now this is more like it. From episode one this show got my attention, I mean it’s from studio Bones so I knew at the very least it was going to look great. Throw in a couple of fun and intriguing leads and a vaguely steampunk setting and I’m all yours. I really love the dynamic between Vanitas and Noe, they’ve got a few more layers than I was expecting and I adore how they both play the straight man for one another. They can both sell a serious moment, but they can also both be utter goofballs, Vanitas getting high off his own ego and Noe staring at everything around him with starry-eyed naivety. I was also surprised by how twisted Vanitas can be, it’s played off as a bit of a joke in the first three episodes, but he’s a lot more amoral than I was expecting. I’m really excited to see where this one is going and if nothing else it’ll look good while it does it, which is enough to keep me around.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S

Miss Kobayashi used to be your average office worker, often over-worked and just a little bit lonely, until one drunken night when she missed her stop on the train. That was when she met Tohru, a dragon, who was just as lonely as she was. A few more drinks later and suddenly Tohru had a live-in maid, who was actually dragon, and it didn’t stop there. More and more dragons turned up in the human world to settle down. Some came to live with her, while others found their own human partners. Now Miss Kobayashi’s life is a bit stranger and a lot more chaotic, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, another dragon is about to turn up and if life was chaotic before, well, just wait ‘til you see what happens next.

The arson attack on Kyoto Animation 2 years ago was a true tragedy. I’ve never been able to find the words to properly talk about it, but it gives me immense pleasure to see the studio back, not only in fighting form, but at the top of their game. I loved the first season of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and so far this sequel hasn’t disappointed. It’s got the quirky humour, the heart and the blistering animation sequences when the show wants to pull out all the stops (which it does often in the first two episodes). I will admit that the story across the first two episodes is a bit hornier than I’m used to with this series, mostly thanks to the introduction of our new dragon and her…overzealous proportions shall we say? That and the thing that happens to Kobayashi at the end of episode one, but that’s quickly resolved. By episode three things are back to the typical slice-of-life hijinks if you’re worried about the show becoming too fanservicey, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a little hard to ignore. I’m just glad to finally have these characters back in my life and I’ll spend as much time with them as I can.

The Aquatope on White Sand

Fuuka Miyazawa just lost her job as an idol, a dream she’d held on to for a very long time but in the end she gave up her chance to someone else. Feeling lost and in no way ready to face her family back home, she takes a different flight on a whim and ends up at an aquarium of all places. There she meets Kukuru Misakino, a high schooler and the temporary director of the aquarium. The aquarium holds a lot of special memories for Kukuru and she’s determined to keep it going, even with the ever-looming possibility that it might finally be closing down for good. Some might even say it’s her dream to keep the place going. Can Fuuka help her accomplish this and maybe reignite her own passions along the way? Something tells me its going to take more than the help of the local god to make things work out!

What’s this? A P.A. Works series about some young women working in the service industry? I feel like I’ve seen that somewhere before, oh yeah, the ‘Working’ series! For those that don’t know P.A. Works has this run of independent series that all share the common theme of following the exploits of working women. Those series are Hanasaku Iroha, Shirobako, Sakura Quest and now I guess this series. I have no idea if this series is an official part of the ‘Working’ line, but it’s definitely giving me that same vibe, which is a good thing considering how much I enjoyed those previous series. Our two leading ladies are very likeable and I’m already rooting for them to succeed. The series itself is a fairly quiet slice of life with the occasional drama brought on by the trails of working in an aquarium, so far we’ve had a feeding mishap and an unexpected birth to deal with. All that being said, I do get the feeling that this show is going to break my heart at some point down the line. I can’t quite put my finger on why I think that, it’s just this premonition I keep getting. For now I’m having fun and I can’t wait to dive into more!

We’ll leave it there for this week. This is usually the part were I’d talk about what impressions are coming next week, but seeing as I don’t yet know when Part 2 is going to be published let’s go with this. At some undetermined point in the future, we’ve got a dead detective, a pirate princess and Lord of the Flies anime style! Next week, a regular review. I’m thinking something a little… criminal, does anyone have a 500 yen coin they could lend me?

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: Horimiya Review

From Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, via just about everyone else.

What’s the Story?

To most who know her, Hori is the perfect student and social butterfly, however at home she’s brash and loud, with a love of horror films and spends most of her free time looking after her little brother. Miyamura, on the other hand, is seen as the gloomy loner of the class, but in private he’s a kind and gentle soul. His long hair and constant desire to stay covered up are there to hide the piercings and tattoos he gave himself when he was younger. When these two learn of one another’s other lives a connection is formed that neither of them could have imagined. Could it be that love is in the air?

The Review

I’ve said this before but I don’t typically watch a lot of romance series. I prefer romance as a subplot rather than the main focus, but there have been a couple of series over the years that made me think otherwise. When I first started watching Horimiya I was convinced this was going to be another one of those series. I got really, really invested in the blossiming romance of Hori and Miyamura, their every conversation was just the right mix of awkward and relatable. Then, much to my surprise, they actually got together! One of my common complaints against romance series is that they mostly end just as the main couple get together. We get all that build up, all the trails and struggles, then they finally declare their love for one another and the credits roll as if that’s the end of the story.

I do want to stress before I go on, I do really like Horimiya. From beginning to end I have enjoyed this series, but something weird happened about halfway through that severely dented that enjoyment and it’s what stops me from raving about this series. I’ve always thought that the time after a couple gets together would really be the most ripe for drama, all that adjusting to the new dynamic and learning more about one another’s personal foibles. Horimiya has me questioning that idea though, because once Hori and Miyamura get together they kinda become the least interesting part of the series. They’re still cute together and they have their funny moments, but it very much feels like their story is over and they’re just hanging around because they’re the title characters.  

The main problem, for me at least, comes from the fact that the series isn’t interested in exploring their new relationship past the early stages. This is despite the fact that the series clearly sets up some big issues for the two to tackle, especially on Hori’s side of things. Let’s start by talking about Hori’s jealousy issues, which get treated as a cheap joke, rather than an actual problem. I mean the jealous girlfriend is a trope and a couple of the jokes are cute, but it would have been much better if she got called out on this at least once. She’s very possessive and when you add on the fact that she forces Miyamura to do things he’s clearly not comfortable with, it becomes a problem. We all have our kinks and if Miyamura being mean to her turns Hori on, that’s fine in and of itself, but he’s clearly not happy doing it and forcing your partner to do something is not the way to build a healthy relationship. All it needed was a line or some comment, to show that this was being addressed, but again, the series just treats it like a cheap joke.

Thankfully the series has a better handle on all the other relationships it explores throughout its run. There’s a nice variety to the other characters and not all of them are involved in romantic plots. We get one love triangle, which is really well handled, but we also get to see friendships and sibling dynamics blossom. Once Hori and Miyamura start to slip into the background, these stories very much become the stars of the series, offering sweet little vignettes with the rest of the cast. To me its clear that this series is much happier with the shorter, small interactions between the characters, that’s where the dialogue very much shines. If the series stuck to these smaller stories and, loathe as I am to admit it, dragged out the central plot with Hori and Miyamura, maybe I wouldn’t be as frustrated with it at times. My gripes aside though, I did enjoy this series and I thoroughly recommend it. When this series gets it right, it really gets it right.

The Verdict

In the end, Horimiya is a very entertaining and well made series. It gets an awful lot right, from engaging characters to genuinely heartfelt moments. Unfortunately it’s not too interested in exploring its central couple beyond their initial getting together, which is frustrating. On the other hand, there are plenty of other relationships for the series to explore and not all of them are romantic. Smaller stories and interactions are were this series excels, there’s a real sense of relatability to a lot of the conversations and set ups. It’s worth a watch if nothing else, just don’t expect it to go too deep into the relationships.

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: SK8 the Infinity Review

Sk8 is Gr8!

What’s the Story?

Reki loves skateboards, he loves making them and he loves competing in the top-secret, no-holds-barred downhill race known as ‘S’. Unfortunately while he’s got the spirit, he’s lacking in some of the skills. That’s when he meets new transfer student, Langa, a snowboarder since he was a little kid, he’s looking for something to give him the same thrill when there’s no snow around. Could skateboarding be the answer? With Reki’s enthusiasm and board building skills combined with Langa’s natural talent could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship? Not if the mysterious Adam has anything to say about it, he’s got his eyes on Langa and is convinced he’s the only one who can be a match for me. Trouble is, he’s right.

The Review

I like enthusiastic people. Maybe I’m weird, but I find joy in other people’s enjoyment, even if I don’t particularly care about the subject they’re enjoying so much. Take skateboarding for example, I’m a child of the 90s so it’s ingrained in me that skaters are ‘cool’, but my experience with the sport is limited to about an hour’s play on one Tony Hawks game back in the day. I have more interest in a detailed history of the shoelace than I do skateboarding, which is to say absolutely none. Yet, here comes Reki, our adorable puppy dog of a protagonist whose sheer love of skateboarding is so infectious I can’t help but care. He’s invested, so I’m invested. Throw in a host of colourful characters and some physics-defying races and we’re in for a wild ride here folks.

Fun is the name of the game with this series, both narratively and meta-texturally. It’s a show about the joy of skateboarding and the rule of cool is very much in effect. Part of me wonders why this series didn’t come out in the 90s, because it fits that decade so much. If you’re after a gritty and realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a skateboarder, well you’ll just have to look somewhere else. This is a show were physics are a mere suggestion and the rules aren’t just broken, they’re pulverised. One of the main antagonist’s popular moves is to pick up his skateboard, mid-race, and smack the other guy in the face with it. It’s that kinda show and if you’re willing to go along with it you’ll have as much fun as all the characters involved.

Each race featured in the series is thrilling and had me cheering along. Part of this comes from the fact that the series chooses to focus on a core group of skaters, each with their own distinct styles and ways of skating. One relies on technology, while another uses dirty tricks and yet another one uses their clear excess of muscles to pull off some crazy moves. It’s fun to see all these different personalities clash and bounce off of one another, though, for me, the two best boys of this series have to be our leads, Reki and Langa. I’ve already talked about how infectious Reki’s enthusiasm can be, but then there’s Langa whose quiet, innocent joy at discovering skateboarding for the first time is equally infectious. They make for a great pair and really bounce off of one another well. Reki’s experience and fanboy knowledge of skateboarding, coupled up with Langa’s air-headed naivety and natural skill really compliment and complete one another. There’s a reason their third-act split takes up several episodes of the series to resolve.

Let’s talk about that split though, because it’s probably the most interesting aspect of the plot of this series. Maybe I read too much shonen, but I’m used to the enthusiastic hero-type being completely OP in their chosen area, but that’s not the case here. Reki loves skateboarding, but he’s not the most gifted skater and the series makes it clear that no amount of guts and determination is going to make up for that gap in skill. Even when he takes on the series antagonist, Adam, it’s very clear that he stands no chance at all, and Adam wasn’t even going all out against him. This gap between desire and talent has a palpable effect on Reki and he starts to turn away from his friends, because he doesn’t feel like he can measure up against them. It’s a really meaty issue that I wish got explored in more series, and it’s really well handled here. Of course Reki finds his way back to skateboarding, but even then the series doesn’t backtrack. Reki has to find value in his own skating without measuring it against other people. Besides, as the series likes to reiterate towards the end, skateboarding is fun and it doesn’t need to be anything more than that.

The Verdict

In the end, SK8 the Infinity is a blast from beginning to end. It’s impossible not to get sucked in my the enthusiasm of these dopey guys who just like to pull an ollie, or whatever skateboarding jargon you want to thrown in. Fun and the rule of cool is the game as these colourful characters participate in physics-defying races and blatant rule breaking. There’s also a meaty exploration of the effects when a person’s desire doesn’t quite match up with their talent, which is well handled. If you’re looking for a fun time then I can’t recommend a series more than this, and anyone who says otherwise can run a Beef with me right now! Skateboarding is fun!

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: Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies moved to a Starter Town? Review

Suppose everything was for Lloyd-kun?

What’s the Story?

Lloyd has had the same dream ever since he was a little kid, he wants to be a soldier like the hero he read about in a story book oh so long ago. Unfortunately he’s considered the weakest in his whole village and isn’t convinced that he can make the cut, but he’s determined to at least try and so moves to the capital. What Lloyd doesn’t realise is that his village is the mythical Kunlun, whose inhabitants are famed the world over for being able to take on Demon Lords and the like. So while Lloyd may be the weakest in his village, he’s actually a god-tier monster compared to everyone else. Not that he’ll ever notice.

The Review

Sometimes it’s the little things that make an anime. I mean I’m not the hardest viewer to please, give me some likeable characters, a fun world and hints at a progressing story and I’ll generally be a happy camper. That’s precisely what this show gave me and I left each and every episode grinning from ear to ear. It’s a pretty simple show, it’s characters all fit into one archetype or another somewhere along the line and the fantasy world is best described as generic, but I found this show endlessly endearing. Maybe it’s the sheer shining innocence of our protagonist, Lloyd, but I couldn’t help myself cheering him on and there were even moments where I felt *gasp* worried for out pure-hearted protagonist (mostly whenever Selen or Alka where around, but we’ll get on to the harem in a minute). It’s the little things that make this show, so let’s go through some of them.

Since I’ve already mentioned the star of the show, let’s start with Lloyd. He fits pretty snugly into the mould of overpowered protagonists that have been so prevalent in the last few years. He also comes complete with his own harem of characters that adore him, heck even some of the villains are doing what they do for Lloyd’s sake, in their own twisted way. Everyone loves the guy and it’s not hard to see why, he’s so pure and innocent that you just want to protect him. As I said I worried for him whenever Selen and Alka where around, which was often, just because of how aggressively interested they were in Lloyd. If it wasn’t for his literal superpowers he’d be in real trouble. None of that is what makes Lloyd interesting as a protagonist though, no that’s his lack of confidence.

Ninety percent of the time the fact that Lloyd is so oblivious to his talents is played off as joke, and it’s a pretty fun joke as long as you enjoy all the over-the-top reactions that come with it (which I do). However, there’s that other ten percent of the time when it actually manages to wring some drama out of this set up. Lloyd earnestly believes that he’s just not good enough and that fact alone makes me want to put my arm around the kid and point out all the amazing things he can do. It also makes those moments when he tries despite those feelings all the more powerful. Yes, Lloyd is going to punch any opponent he comes across into the sun eventually (though there are actually a couple of opponents that give Lloyd a challenge), but his struggle is not physical it’s in believing in himself. That’s a powerful sentiment and I can’t help but root for the kid to finally recognise how much he can actually do, but we’ll have to see if we get a second season for that kind of thing.

There is one other area that I really have to talk about with regard to this series, and that’s the plot progression. Most comedies I’ve seen with OP protagonists are happy to rest on the same old jokes over and over again, and while this show certainly relies on its running gags to a degree, it also has a continual sense of moving forward. Even though we don’t really get to meet our trio of antagonists until later on in the series, the breadcrumbs of their involvement are there from the start. Each arc pushes us a little closer to figuring out what it is their after and we learn a little bit more about the world at large. None of it is earth-shatteringly original, but it’s a lot more than I expecting and it all fits into this ridiculously loveable world. The season finale does actually feel like a finale of sorts, with several arcs coming together and the stakes rising higher than ever before. My only real compliant is that the actual confrontation with the villains is a little lacking. They do escape at the end, so clearly there’s more story here to be told, I guess I’ll just have to hope for a season 2 for that to happen.

The Verdict

In end, this show (no, I’m not typing out that title any more, could it get any longer?) isn’t going to change the world or inspire anyone with it’s originality, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a simple, generic little show with archetypal characters and standard fantasy tropes, but it does that very well. Lloyd is the definition of pure and with his self-confidence issues I can’t help but root for him and it’s easy to see why so many characters are drawn to him. The over-the-top reactions that this show likes to use for its comedy may not be for everyone, but it’s a bright and fun world and I hope to return to it at some point in the future.

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.