Anime Corner: Fena: Pirate Princess Review

Lost at Sea.

What’s the Story?

Fena Houtman is an orphan. Eking out a living as a servant in a brothel, she just knows that this isn’t meant to be her lot in life, no matter how many times her escape attempts fail! When two aged knights attempt to rescue her from said brothel, it’s the first step on a journey to uncover her true destiny. First though she has to reunite with her childhood friend, Yukimaru, whose now a skilled swordsman and leads a notorious gang of samurai pirates. With a crew, a submarine and a mystery to solve, Fena will have to follow the clues and track down the place her father tried to take her to all those years ago, ‘Eden’. Fena isn’t the only one searching though, and whether its boundless treasure or something far more biblical waiting them at the end of this journey, it’s going to be one heck of an adventure getting there!

The Review:

What. The. Actual. Fuck. I’m sorry, I don’t usually start off my reviews like this, and I usually try to keep the swearing to a minimum, but those are the only words that are flashing through my head as I sit down to write this review. I have no idea what happened to this show, the first three to four episodes were magnificent, the highlight of my week’s anime watching, and left me waiting with bated breath for the next one. Then the rot started to set in and it continued to set in until we reached a finale that just had me tilting my head. Of course that was when it wasn’t actively annoying me by trying to go for the big feels when it had in no way earned that right. I like Fena, I really do, and I like Yukimari too and under any other circumstances I’d probably be tearing up at their scenes in the final episode, but you don’t get to rush an adventure to its conclusion and act like it’s this grand, masterfully orchestrated tapestry. It’s like trying to tell the whole of One Piece in a twelve episode series and then being shocked when the emotional scenes don’t pay off! You’d have to be insane to think this would work!

Okay, calm down Joynson, let’s act with a little bit of professional dignity here. Taking a step away from that final episode, and the many, many, many, many issues I have with it, I do have to question how many of my problems with this show are mine alone. I am very keen on adventure stories, I’ve already mentioned One Piece which is one of my favourite series of all time. You give me a bunch of colourful characters on an epic quest full of strange lands and age-old mysteries and I’ll be very happy. You throw pirates and samurai into that and you’re pretty much guaranteed a five star rating from me, that’s why I loved the first few episodes of this series so much. They gave me that feeling that early One Piece gave me or any other adventure series I could name, but I think the key difference is that a lot of those series I’m thinking of are all either long-running or stories that haven’t finished yet. They don’t try and tell their whole story in twelve episodes and it’s making me really question, can you really do an epic quest in that short amount of time? Judging by this series the answer is a resounding no.

When I look back over this series it feels like there’s a whole middle chunk missing. We’ve got the beginning of the story and the ending, but we’re missing the part where Fena and the crew bounce around a few crazy locales and just get up to hijinks. There should be another twelve episodes in this series at least. None of the character arcs feel satisfying, when there even is a character arc. Sometimes story lines just come to a dead stop because the narrative doesn’t have time to deal with them any more. The all-women pirate crew who are build up as major antagonists at the start? Literally blown away halfway through the series ‘cause their main job in the plot is done, I guess. What about Shitan thinking Fena is a witch and being ready to kill her if she endangers Yukimaru? They just laugh it off and that’s over. Heck, what even happened to that subplot about the crew being on the run from their own people? That went nowhere! I can see the missing twelve episodes right in front of me, but they’re just not in this series.

That brings me, finally, to my last disappointment with this series, and that’s Fena herself. For a ‘Pirate Princess’ she does precious little pirating, but we’ll leave that to one side for the moment. Much like the series itself she starts off great and then quickly slides into mediocre. In the first few episodes she’s practically bubbling over with personality, bouncing around the place like an excitable puppy and super expressive. I was really falling for her, but then as the series went on the plot started to take hold and that personality began to fade into the background. She still had moments, but so much of her time on screen got taken up by either being possessed or just looking worried at whatever was happening around her. She became a plot device, a fact emphasised by the final episode. Oh it tries to make out like she’s been on this grand epic journey and had to make so many pivotal decisions, when in fact she’s just been to a couple of different islands and got rescued a lot. I can’t remember a single significant she did, a far cry from the girl who had dozens of plans to escape her life in the brothel. This show really needed those twelve missing episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, Fena: Pirate Princess is a crashing disappointment for me. It’s an adventure series with very little actual adventure, and a shocking lack of pirating as well so that’s two very major marks against it. It does look fantastic and has a great soundtrack, but that doesn’t make up for the stunted character arcs and abysmal finale. It tries so hard to be grand and epic, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the time it needs to build the proper foundation to pull that off. I’m raising the sail on this one and getting as far away from it as I can. If you choose to check it out I hope you have a better time than I did.

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 Aquatope on White Sand Review

So long and thanks for all the fish!

What’s the Story?

Fuuka Miyazawa is an idol, or at least she used to be. She’s recently lost her job and, unable to go home and face her family, she finds herself in Okinawa at a little out-of-the-way aquarium called Gama Gama. There she meets Kukuru Misakino, the director of the aquarium, and the two strike up a pretty fast friendship. It turns out that Gama Gama is in a bit of trouble and unless someone comes up with something fast the aquarium is due to be closed down at the end of the summer! Determined to help out her new friend Fuuka is ready to give it her all and lend a hand, but some problems are too big to surmount. Life, as both Fuuka and Kukuru are about to learn, doesn’t always turn out the way you planned, or hoped.

The Review:

This show surprised me in the best possible way. I don’t know if other writers have this problem, but when you obsess over stories as much as I do you can’t help but see the different patterns that people use. I mean it’s a common argument that there are really just seven basic plots out there, the hero’s quest, rags to riches, the tragedy and so on. So when I see a plotline with familiar beats, which is often, I can’t help but make an educated guess at the ending and a fair amount of the time I’m right. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the finer details that make a show interesting and fun, but sometimes you get a show that swerves your expectations. That’s this show. It took me completely by surprise and ended up reaching a deeply personal place for me. Get ready for a gushing because this is one of my favourite series to come out of 2021 and, yes, I know that puts it in the same league as Megalobox 2 and Oddtaxi, but that’s honestly where I feel it belongs.

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like the twist is the only good thing about this series, because there’s honestly a lot of good stuff here. It’s a very good looking show with some fun characters that have to deal with a situation-of-the-week and just a dash of one personal crisis or another. It’s very engaging and more than once I found myself tearing up or desperately wanting to give the characters a hug, but I knew it was all going to turn out okay in the end. I’m not sure if this is a part of P.A. Works’ ‘Working’ series, but it definitely feels in the same vein. A show about young women struggling with the trials and tribulations of working life, that’s exactly what this series is. (If you want to read more detailed thoughts on the Working series check out my reviews of Hanasaku Iroha, Shirobako and Sakura Quest).

That’s when we reach the midpoint of this series and suddenly everything swerves into a level of depth and maturity that I wasn’t expecting. Here’s the truth about work, like life, it doesn’t always work out the way you planned and that’s okay. A little bit of personal history, when I left school I wanted to be animator. I studied animation, among other things, at University, but I have yet to find any job in an animations studio. So far I’ve worked at a petrol station, in a call centre and at the time of writing this I’ve just left a job as a data analyst. It’s not the career I imagined as a kid, but I can deal with that. Despite what Hollywood tries to tell us dreams don’t always come true, sometimes you have to find a different dream. Mine is writing, hence this blog.

In case you can’t tell, this show has resonated with me on a deeply personal level. Watching both Fuuka and Kukuru coming to terms with their dreams failing and picking themselves up again has been a special pleasure. I can relate so hard to them doing jobs they’ve never imagined themselves doing, or just doing a job they hate (I am never working in a call centre again). This show just feels so real and visceral at times. Add on a bunch of fantastic single episodes looking at touching issues for the rest of the cast and I have nothing but praise for this series. My personal favourite episode has to be the one about the baby penguin taking its first dive into the pool, it just encapsulates what’s so great about this show. I know not a lot of people where talking about this show when it was airing and we need to change that, if you haven’t checked this show out then get on to it right now!

The Verdict:

In the end, The Aquatope on White Sand, is a series that surprises in all the best possible ways. It has a great look, charming and relatable characters and a lot of heart, but it’s the maturity with which it approaches it’s subject matter that makes this show shine. Yes, sometimes things don’t go the way you want and we can’t get that Hollywood ending, but maybe the place we do end up in is a place that’s just right for us. I can’t sing the praises of this show enough and you should all just stop reading this and go watch it right now. What are you waiting for? Dive right in!

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 Winter 2022 Part 2

And we’re back! No preamble, let’s get straight into these first impressions!

Requiem of the Rose King

As civil war ravages the nation of England, one young man dreams of joining the battlefield and seeing his father crowned as King. Both the House of York, symbolised by the white rose, and the House of Lancaster, symbolised by the red rose, have laid claim to the throne and neither will back down until their country’s fields are filled with blood. This is the period that will one day come to be known as the ‘War of the Roses’ and it will set the course of history for the next century. Young Richard idolises his father and dreams of seeing him, the Duke of York, on the throne, but those aren’t his only dreams. Is Richard truly a cursed child, meant to bring ruin to his house and country? Only time will tell, but in war their are so few who are truly victorious.

I mentioned last week that there was an anime out based on a couple of Shakespeare plays and this is that anime, based on Henry VI part 3 and Richard III respectively. I’ve never read either play (I haven’t read any Shakespeare) so I’ve no idea how loyal this is to it’s source material, nor do I know how historically accurate it is. That last fact does make me feel bad since this is British history. The most I know about the War of the Roses is that it partly inspired Game of Thrones and someone, somewhere is executed by drowning in a vat of wine. So, I’m going into this completely blind and I can’t help but feel that’s to this series’ detriment. There’s a very dream-like quality to the story so far, which feels very Shakespeare, with a plethora of dreams and portents plaguing young Richard. The problem is that it makes things a little hard to get into, especially when the plot keeps throwing events and new characters at us with barely any time to get to know them. Then there’s the animation, which feels like it’s already straining against its budget. There’s been an unreasonable amount of still frames and no matter how artsy the show tries to get, it mostly feels pretty cheap. I’ll give this one another few episodes but I’m not holding out much hope.

Sasaki and Miyano

Miyano is a fan of the Boys’ Love genre, so much so that he’s always buying new manga and fantasying about the other boys in his school getting together as couples. That’s when he meets Sasaki, a tall and unusual senior with a bit of a reputation for getting into trouble. Sasaki says that he wants to get to know Miyano better and the next thing he knows 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?

Sparkle sparkle. Glitter glitter. Sorry, someone seems to have activated a bunch of filters on my screen because there’s just so much stuff floating all over the place. Oh, wait, sorry that’s actually part of the episode. Jokes aside, I am really liking this series. It’s a very slow, but well thought-out and developed romance, or at least it will be by the time the main characters get together. I do like the way the show is taking it’s time about things, with the characters struggling to understand their emerging feelings, almost like a real romance. There’s no real obstacle or complications to things at the minute so if you’re after high melodrama you’d be best looking elsewhere. About the only tension so far is waiting to see if these two knuckle-heads will realise their feelings for one another and actually do something about it. I’ll definitely be sticking around for this one.

Attack on Titan: The Final Season part 2

The final battle for the fate of humanity is upon us. As Marley launches a surprise attack on Paradise Island both Eren and his supporters find themselves on the back foot. Meanwhile Eren’s former friends are freed and argue over their next move, should they fight alongside or against Eren? Will Eren really go through with Zeke’s plan or does he have some ulterior strategy in the works? Whatever happens the world will never be the same again. Not all the mysteries of the Titans have been answered though, just who is the girl in Zeke’s vision?

Do I even have anything to say about this series at this point? If you’ve not checked out Attack on Titan yet this really isn’t the place you should be starting and if you are a fan then you’ll already be watching this. Still, this is the last time I’m going to be talking about this series outside of a full review so let’s do this. This show is good, so good. Yes it has it’s problems but it’s a master of making each and every scene as tense and exciting as they can be. It knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat and considering this final part looks to be mostly just one last massive battle you’re getting that ramped up to eleven. Add on some great animation, performances and a tremendous amount of artistic flair and this show is as top notch as it has ever been. I have no idea how this is all going to end, I can’t even think of any way that this story can get a happy resolution, but I still hold out hope. As false as that hope may turn out to be.

Sabikui Bisco

After an apocalyptic event Japan has become a wasteland, the majority of it’s populace 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 us any and every ingredient he can get his hands on, including illegal substances like mushrooms. That’s when a wanted criminal, Akaboshi Bisco, enters the town, causing giant mushrooms to sprout up wherever he fires his arrows. The last thing Milo is expecting is for said criminal to turn up at his clinic with someone for him to save. But then the lives of both these men will never be the same again after this night is over.

I love it when a show gets weird, as I’ve talked about time and again on this blog it’s what I come to anime for. I can only marvel at the bizarre string of ideas that someone has managed to concoct and then present with complete abandon. It’s incredible. Not only does this show have an archer whose arrows turn into an array of gigantic mushrooms, but all modern vehicles have been replaced with wildly inappropriate animals. We’ve got hippos instead of tanks and giant iguanas in place of bikes and yet despite this string of absurdities, and many others, the world this series has constructed makes perfect sense when you look at the internal logic. The only thing that might put people off though is that this show has a strained relationship with cause and effect. The first episode is told very out of order and while things get more linear across the next couple of episode I can see that being a confusing experience for people. Still, if you can get through it this show is more than worth it and I’m looking forward to where it goes next.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive Season 2

The Gourmet Guild is back! Yuuki, Kokkoro, Pecorine and Karyl are all hungry for an adventure and they’ll go further than they ever have before to find new and exciting dishes! Whether it’s exploring an ocean of flying fishes, helping some friends putting on a concert or even trying to unravel the hidden mysteries of the world, every day is a surprise in Astraea! How long will these happy days last though? Both Pecorine and Karyl are holding tight to their secrets and just what is the supposed lie of this world?

Princess Connect is back! Can it live up to the surprise hit that the first season was? Yes, yes it can. I love this show so much, I would happily spend the rest of my days watching Yuuki, Kokkoro, Pecorine and Karyl going on one crazy adventure after another and that’s exactly what this second season has given me. We’ve got more characters to get to know, more exotic locations and, surprisingly, hints at some plot progression! Honestly I wasn’t expecting the revelation about Pecorine in last season’s finale to be brought up again so soon, or for us to check in with Karyl and the Queen this early, but we have. Throw in the mentions about the lie of this world and it’s hard to ignore the feeling that big things are coming. My theory is that somehow the world got rewritten and places, people and events have either been wiped away or altered with no memory of their past lives. We’ll see if it turns out that way. Either way, whether this show is going on a goofy adventure or laying the groundwork for something grander I can’t wait to see where its taking us!

That’s it for this week, back to regular reviews next time were we’ll be spending some time at an aquarium. 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.

First Impressions Winter 2022 Part 1

Now is the winter of our discontent. While the fool lord dances merry to distract from tales of his revelry and suppings of cheese and wine, the new year dawns on. Though maladies of old still hold firm across this blighted globe the last whispered embers of hope continue to burn and, hark, what light does shine through this magical portal? Why it’s a new season of anime!

Sorry, there’s an anime based on a couple of Shakespeare plays out this season and I think that fact alone has done something to my brain (I’ve never even read any Shakespeare, though I really should at some point). Things are a bit… frustrating over here in the UK right now with our current political situation and I can’t talk about it for too long or I’m likely to explode, but thankfully there’s plenty of new anime to distract me so let’s get to the first impressions!

Orient

150 years ago the otherworldly Oni and their demonic masters, the Kishin, descended on humanity. Now they’re worshipped as heavenly beings that brought peace to the land, but in truth the human race are their slaves. Only one group has the courage and skill to face the Kishin menace, they are the Bushi, travelling bands of samurai who use their flying motorcycles and swords to cut down Oni and Kishin alike. Ever since they were kids Musashi and Kojiro have talked about becoming the strongest Bushi band that there ever was or will be, but as graduation day approaches it becomes time for a fateful decision.

A new shonen anime is here! And it’s from the creator of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic! I’ll be honest I dropped off Magi somewhere after the first season, which is a shame because I remember really liking it and I bought the first two volumes of the manga. I should probably go back and finish that at some point, but we’re not here to talk about that series, this is Orient’s time to shine! So, is it any good? Yeah it’s okay. I feel bad saying that, I am having a lot of fun with this series so far, but it’s also very clearly still in its set up phase. Now I’m a fan of shonen series and I’ll admit I tend to give them a lot more leeway than other shows, mostly because it normally takes a couple of arcs for a shonen series to really find it’s footing and show me what it’s capable of. I’m in this for the long haul is what I’m trying to say and while I appreciate the groundwork it’s laid out for its characters and world so far I’m still waiting to be truly blown away. The music is great though, especially during the action scenes, that’s worth the price of admission alone for me.

Police in a Pod

Officer Mai Kawai is sick of being a police officer. She wasn’t really interested in the job to begin with, she was just after a steady pay check and had failed every other civil servant exam. Could the arrival of a new brilliant detective at the station change her mind though? Whether it’s taking the complaints and insults of the general public, getting lessons from serial burglars or figuring out how to enter sexual terminology into an official form, Officer Kawai still has a lot to learn. And maybe someday she might actually like this job, here’s hoping.

I was really intrigued by this show when I first heard about it. I like cop shows, I prefer a good detective story, but more often than not you can find those in cop shows so I’m always willing to give them a chance. Plus I haven’t seen all that many police shows set in Japan, at least not without some sort of sci-fi or fantasy twist being applied. So it really bums me out to say that this show isn’t clicking with me. I don’t find a lot of the jokes funny and maybe that’s just something that got lost in translation, but it doesn’t help that the series tackles some pretty dark subject matter. I mean one minute the show is making fun of Kawai not knowing how to fill out an official report with all this sexual terminology a suspect has given her, the next it’s got the girl confessing her step-dad has been raping her. That is a serious tone shift and one that needs to be handled with a great deal of skill and finesse, which this show hasn’t been able to pull off so far. I’m out on this one.

Slow Loop

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 to the pier and fish, just like she used to with her dad. That’s when she meets Koharu, an energetic girl with boundless optimism. By a strange coincidence Koharu’s father is just about to remarry as well, wait, they couldn’t be… yep, Hiyori and Koharu are about to become sisters! That’s not all they have to bond over though, since Hiyori just introduced Koharu to the joys, and complicated terminology, of fly fishing she’s well and truly hooked! The family that fishes together stays together, I guess.

Well, I’ve found my chill out anime for the season. I’ve never actually been fishing but there’s just something so calming about the idea of it, I guess it’s all the waiting around you have to do. Anyway, cute is very much the word for this series, the animation is relatively simple, but it’s pretty and I can tell most of the budget has gone into the smooth motion when a character casts, which is probably the best place to put the money in this show. I also like the way all the characters bounce off of one another. Hiyori and Koharu have a great deal of chemistry, but it doesn’t forget about everyone else and gives each character their moment. The one thing that’s concerning me is that I’m worried this show is going to make me cry at some point, episode 3 already came pretty close. There’s an undercurrent of sadness to this show, which is only right considering that both of the main characters recently lost loved ones. It gives the show a slight edge so it’s a little more than your typical cute girls doing cute things show. Looking forward to more of this.

My Dress-Up Darling

Wakana Gojo is a high schooler with a passion, he wants to become a kashirashi – a master craftsman who makes traditional Hina dolls. It’s a unique passion and one not a lot of his friends share so Wakana has a tendency to keep to himself and is really awkward in social situations. It feels like the popular kids, such as Marin Kitagawa, live in a completely different world. Then, one day, Marin happens to find out about Wakana’s passion and reveals she has a passion of her own, cosplay! She wants to become a character she adores from a raunchy erotic game, she just doesn’t have the skills to make a dress. Wakana does though. Worlds are about to collide.

I’ll admit I only started watching this show because everyone online was raving about the first episode, and I’m so glad I got in on this series. This show is so good, it looks great and is just the right amount of funny and earnest, but what’s really invested me in this show is the characters. Both Marin and Wakana are super relatable to me, which is weird when I have barely anything in common with either of them. I didn’t even know what a hina doll was before watching this show, but I get being super passionate about something and yet being scared to talk about it with other people. That was me in school and a fair amount of my college and university days. Nowadays I’m more in the Marin camp, I’m not really into cosplay, but I too will loudly profess my love for things to all and sundry, as well as recommend stuff that people never actually watch. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that can relate to either situation, or both like me, and I can’t wait to see where this show takes these characters.

Tokyo 24th Ward

The Far Eastern Special Administrative Region, also known as the 24th Ward, is a man-made island and soon to be returned to the control of Tokyo. Shuta, Ran and Koki were born and raised there and have been friends since childhood. At least they were until a tragic accident took a dear friend from them. Now, a year later, the three are reunited for the memorial service when each gets a phone call from the friend who died that day. Not only that, but the person on the other end of that call presents them with two possible futures, both terrible, and gives them superpowers in order to avert it. I’ll admit I’ve had worse cold calls.

There’s a lot that I like about this series, but the thing that stands out to me the most is the animation choices. I mean the animation looks great throughout, but there’s some impressive style given to the way certain scenes are depicted. There are moments where a character is brought further into the foreground and highlighted by a white border that really appeals to me for some reason. I don’t want to call it ‘comic book-y’, or ‘manga-y’ which is probably more appropriate, but that’s exactly what I think of when I see it. I also appreciate it that it’s not something that’s overused, it’s just applied when emphasis is needed. Throw in some likeable characters, plenty of good mysteries and a clear display that there are consequences to the characters choices and you’re really on to a winner here.

That’s it for this week. Next week we’ve got that Shakespeare anime I was talking about, the return of the wonderful Gourmet Guild and a guy who shoots arrows that turn into giant mushrooms. I feel like I’m forgetting something…oh that’s right Attack on Titan is back for the final part of it’s final season! 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: Lupin the 3rd: The First Review

First! Wait, can you do that when ‘First’ is literally in the title?!

What’s the Story?

Lupin the 3rd, gentleman thief extraordinaire, has put his mind to correcting a part of history, namely the Bresson Diary. It’s the one item that his grandfather failed to steal so many years ago and that simply can’t stand. They say that whoever manages to unlock the mechanical case that holds the diary will be led to a treasure beyond their wildest dreams and because of that Lupin isn’t the only one with plans to steal it. For starters there’s rookie thief Laetitia and for seconds we’ve got a group of Nazis. This caper will take Lupin across continents, from Paris to Mexico, have him facing off against gravity-defying traps and struggling to survive aerial combat. When all is said and done though, who will the first to reach the treasure?

The Review:

3D animation has come an awfully long way from the days of jerky movements and plastic textures, and there are times I have to remind myself of that. I’ll admit I’m a stan for 2D animation and I always will be, I grew up on Disney films and 90s anime, it’s just a part of who I am. The technology behind CG animation is continually evolving though, with each film I see the textures get a little more realistic, the lighting more natural and the motions more fluid, so much so that they put early CG films to shame. That brings me to this film, Lupin the 3rd: The First, which I can say, hand on heart, is one of the most gorgeous-looking films I have ever seen. I still remember seeing the teaser trailer and being impressed, then the clip of the car chase landed on Youtube and my jaw hit the floor. The perfectly timed speed of the action, the expressive characters, the lighting and texture of everything was just…I don’t like using the word perfect, but that’s exactly what it is. So, how does the rest of the movie stack up?

Well, it’s pretty much perfect too, at least in the animation department. Every action sequence, and there are a fair number of them, is fluid and perfectly paced with some gorgeous sweeping shots and the kind of madcap hijinks you expect from the Lupin franchise. It’s a thrill ride and when the film does slow down to give us a few character moments or just some time to breath, it perfectly captures the expressions of the characters. It’s the little things that impress me, the way Fujiko sticks out her tongue when she’s caught and trying to be cute. The way Laetitia sidles up to Lupin after she’s clearly started to fall for the roguish thief, right before being interrupted. The way Goemon protectively clutches his sword or how Jigen calmly puts out a cigarette before pulling some of the most badass marksmanship you’ll ever see on screen (seriously go watch that car chase clip on Youtube).

Okay, enough gushing about how this film looks, let’s talk about the actual story. I still consider myself kinda new to the franchise, having only seen Castle of Cagliostro, Part 4 and part 5 at the time of writing this review, but this feels like a fairly standard entry. Lupin is after some item that he tries to steal, only to have it stolen out from under him and the quest to get it back leads him on to a bigger adventure that ends with a doomsday machine and fighting Nazis. There’s various hijinks and capers along the way, all pulled off with the style and exuberant energy I’ve come to expect from this franchise, but there’s nothing really new here. I called all the ‘twists’ well before the film got to them and there’s no real character growth or exploration. I would have thought a bit more would have been made of Lupin trying to complete his Grandfather’s legacy, but outside of a few bits of dialogue and one sequence where he dons his hat and cane, it never really gets talked about.

Then again, I don’t think this film was ever truly trying to be deep or meaningful, it just wanted to be a fun ride and in that it succeeds with aplomb. Honestly this film reminds me a bit of the Indiana Jones franchise (maybe it’s the fact that Lupin is fighting Nazis this time, or it could be the sequence where he has to work out a series of traps to reach the treasure). It’s a well-made adventurous romp with plenty of action and comedy and no need to delve too deeply into the characters. You know who Indy is. You know who Lupin is. Sure we could have a deep character analysis on either one, or we could just watch them run around being themselves and punching Nazis. Either option is perfectly acceptable.

The Verdict:

In the end, Lupin the 3rd: The First is an adventure romp, full of action, comedy and a little bit of heart. The story is pretty straightforward and easy to guess where it’s going, but the downright gorgeous animation more than makes up for that. This film is a joy to watch from beginning to end and if you’re worried about being a newbie to the franchise, don’t. You can jump straight into this without any real context and you should have a blast. As much as I love 2D animation, if Lupin wants to make the jump to 3D then I more than support it with this level of quality. Here’s to many more Lupin adventures to come!

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: Godzilla Singular Point Review

You’re a robot made by humans, but

Jet Jaguar, Jet Jaguar,

You did it, Jet Jaguar

Go, go to protect peace

We are all surprised at the courage you show

Godzilla and Jaguar punch, punch, punch

Don’t cry, let’s do our best!

What’s the Story?

Investigating strange going on in an abandoned mansion, Yun Arikawa and Haberu Katou find themselves on the path to solving a decades-old puzzle and possibly saving the world. Of course they’ll need help from the likes of young researcher, Mei Kamino, and a host of other characters, including their own pet robot, Jet Jaguar! While Mei travels the globe in search of answers, Yun, Haberu and Jet Jaguar are forced to contend with the numerous kaiju that are appearing across Japan, and soon the world. One kaiju in particular is the real problem though, according to myth he’s the God of Destruction and if one scientist’s peak into the future is any indication that’s exactly what he is. Godzilla is coming and he is the catastrophe that will end the world.

The Review:

And so Kaiju-cember comes to a close with Godzilla Singular Point. At the time of writing this it’s the latest Godzilla anime project from Toho and what first caught my attention about this series was the trailer. I’ve mentioned before in this month that I’m fan of Showa era Godzilla so seeing Jet Jaguar after all these years really made my day (my VHS copy of Godzilla vs. Megalon is staring at me right now, calling out to be watched again). Throw is some quirky-looking anime characters and an animated Godzilla that actually looks like the Godzilla I know and love (even if the 3D animation isn’t the best) and my hopes were raised at last! So, did it manage it? Do I finally have a kaiju anime to gush about? Not exactly.

Don’t get me wrong, out of everything I’ve looked at this month this series is the closest I’ve gotten to finding something I can truly gush about, but there are still some serious issues here. Let’s start with the positives. Maybe I just want a kaiju series that appeals to my nostalgia, because all of my favourite moments in this show appeal directly to the long-term memory centres of my brain. Every time I heard a revamped classic theme or saw Jet Jaguar rolling into action against one of the smaller kaiju, I was suddenly a kid again staring up at my TV from the Living Room carpet. There’s nothing that’s a carbon copy of anything I remember from my childhood, they’re just old ideas presented in a new way and yet they still carry that weight of nostalgia. They’re also really fun action sequences and by far the times I was most engaged in what was happening, it’s classic monster movie stuff. Weak, frail humans struggling against the might of something primeval and almost entirely unstoppable, and yet still somehow making it through with their will and ingenuity. Also I want to applaud the choice of kaiju, avoiding any of the big names like Mothra or Ghidorah and instead going to lesser-used monsters like Anguirus and Kumonga.

Another area I have to praise this series for is the human characters. The non-kaiju characters are often the weakest part in a kaiju story for a lot of people, and yet they’re the characters we often spend the most amount of time with. We spend a lot of time with the humans in this series, some might say too much but I’ll come back to that in a minute, thankfully Singular Point makes the right choice of giving us interesting characters to follow. They may not be the most developed or depth-filled characters, but they’ve all got personality and foibles that make them at least fun to watch. Whether it’s Mei being a complete and utter klutz while at the same time always being the smartest person in the room, or Yun and Haberu’s overzealous geriatric boss, who’s an incredible engineer, I’d happily spend time with any of them.

That brings me to the negatives though and the first one is a dozy. This really should be called Jet Jaguar Singular Point, because the robot is the star of the show and the focus throughout. Godzilla does appear in the series, but we don’t really get a good look at him until about halfway through the series and even then he’s relegated to the background for the majority of this series’ runtime. Heck we don’t even get him in his final form until the last few episodes, and he’s little more than an obstacle that our human heroes and Jet Jaguar have to overcome. There’s no big showdown with him, every fight he has with other monsters and the military is over in a few minutes and the rest of the time he just stands there looking menacing. He’s the titular character for crying out loud, surely we can give him a bit more to do! Hopefully he’ll have a bigger roll in the second season that gets teased at the end.

There’s one last thing to talk about with this series and, honestly it’s this that put me off more than the series relegating Godzilla to a background character. I have no idea if the science presented in this series is in anyway accurate, if it is it’ll be some high-level quantum physics stuff, or if it’s just made up technobabble, either way it’s annoying. I typically don’t mind a series that wants to play around with some big ideas, in fact I encourage it, but you have to deliver it in the right way. Give me a good analogy or break the concept down into smaller ideas that I can wrap my head around. Don’t dumb it down, but present it in a way that doesn’t have my eyes glazing over and my brain switching off like a fuse has just blown. A good example of this is the scene on the plane with Mei, when she pierces a folded over rectangle of jelly with a toothpick to show how something interacting on a higher dimensional level can look to us. If more of the science was explained like this I’d have a lot more leeway for the series, but instead it chooses to give us these massive info-dumps, one after the other, all of which go over the top of my head and leave me disinterested for the majority of scenes, which I’m sure is not what the writers of this wanted.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla Singular Point is a mixed bag (much like everything else I’ve reviewed this month). There are some definite highlights, the characters, both human and not, are all interesting and fun to be around. There’s a great sense of nostalgia to seeing the likes of Jet Jaguar and some of the lesser-used kaiju getting their time in the spotlight for the first time in a long while, but there are negatives too. Godzilla, out title character, is little more than a background decoration. Throw in the overbearing amount of big science/sci-fi ideas that are either poorly exampled or thrown at you with such speed that they’ll quickly overwhelm you and you get a disappointing final product. I did enjoy it, but I probably won’t watch it again unless that teased sequel comes rolling around. Maybe then they can find the right balance between big ideas and kaiju action.

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.

 

That’s it for this year, my thanks to everyone who’s liked, commented or even just viewed one of my posts in 2021. Here’s to the New Year, I hope it’s better for all of us and I’ll see you then for more anime reviews!

Anime Corner: Godzilla: The Planet Eater Review

Who Ya Gonna Call?

What’s the Story?

After surviving the attack of the original Godzilla, Captain Haruo and the remnants of the landing party found their way to the long-forgotten Mechagodzilla. Over the centuries the nano-metal that made up Mechagodzilla had developed into a self-replicating city and with it’s power humanity and their allies hoped to finally take down the King of Monsters. They came so close, but a difference in philosophy between the humans and the Bilusaludo led Haruo to make a deadly choice. He could either defeat Godzilla once and for all, or try to protect the woman he loves. Haruo made his choice and now Godzilla sleeps, but a more dangerous threat is coming towards the Earth. As the survivors of the battle turn to the religion of the Exif in search of a miracle, Metphies begins to show his true colours. What can really challenge a God, except for another God.

The Review:

And so we come to the end of this trilogy of animated Godzilla films, and I have to say even with my lowered expectations they’ve been kinda disappointing. My opinions of the first two films can be summed up as ‘they’re okay, nothing terrible and there are some fun ideas, but nothing that really blew me away ’ (if you want more details you can read my review of ‘Planet of the Monsters’ HERE and ‘City on the Edge of Battle’ HERE). This final films takes on a more melancholy tone than its predecessors as it explores ideas of nihilism, the pain of living on after loss and mankind’s inevitable march towards its own destruction. So fun times all round. I joke, and while I don’t agree with everything that this film has to say on those subjects, they’re at least interesting ideas to chew on, which when I think about it sums up this trilogy pretty well.

There are several problems that plague this film throughout it’s hour and a half runtime, but let’s get the big one out of the way first, fan expectation. Godzilla is a long-running franchise and over the decades its films have built up certain expectations. When you think of Godzilla you imagine buildings crumbling, terrified people running through the streets, atomic breath and so on. When you hear particular names like Mechagodzilla or Ghidorah you get a clear picture in your head of what to expect. For the most part this trilogy has taken those concepts and done its best to subvert them in one way or another. Now there’s nothing wrong with subverting an old idea, in fact I always try to encourage it. Without new twists or perspectives those old ideas can soon become stale and boring, as much as our nostalgia would like to argue otherwise.

Now, admittedly, I did go off on a bit of a rant in my ‘City on the Edge of Battle’ review (HERE) about Mechagodzilla and I admit I have a particular fondness for that monster. That being said I think where a lot of the subversions in these films fall down is that they don’t offer an appealing enough alternative to the original idea. A technologically advance super city is not as appealing as a giant metal dinosaur, I’m sorry. That brings me to Ghidorah in this film. Again this is a completely new take on Monster Zero, but I think it’s interesting. The fact it’s from another universe and therefore interacts with our universe in such a strange way makes it an interesting adversary to square off against for the final battle, at least on paper. I also don’t mind the design, yes it’s three extra long noodle necks coming out of the sky, but they’re gold and have dragon-like heads so we’re at least in the same ballpark as the Ghidorah I know and love (okay, maybe we’re in the car park of the ballpark, but I’ll take what I can get).

Again though, we come back to what I was saying about expectations. Ghidorah and Godzilla had an epic rivalry across the films and some great battles and yet in this film it’s just…just so boring. I hesitate to even call it a fight, Ghidorah floats around for a bit and just bites Godzilla, that’s it. Godzilla can’t do anything ‘cause it can’t touch Ghidorah and eventually just gets lifted into the air. It doesn’t help that while this is going on Haruo is getting lectured at by Metphies on the dogma of his nihilistic death cult. Also, yes, of course the uber-religious guy turns out to be the big cackling villain at the end, I expected nothing less, now please stop bashing me over the head with the idea that you think religion is a bad thing. I’m getting a headache just remembering those scenes and I’m not even a religious person.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: The Planet Eater is definitely the weakest in this trilogy of animated films. There are some interesting ideas to chew on and, again, I like the world this trilogy has built up, but the characters all remain fairly one-note and the more melancholy tone can make this a much more depressing watch. The lack of action or any real spectacle is also a big detriment to this film, as well as the way it tries to subvert expectations without any real substantive alternative to replace it. I thought going in with lower expectations would improve this film and it’s predecessors, but as it stands I can see why they got all the negative reaction they did. If you’re a kaiju or Godzilla fan in any way, skip these films.

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: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle Review

The Terror of Mechagodzilla…I guess.

What’s the Story?

After defeating Godzilla, Captain Haruo and the last remnants of humanity thought they’d finally secured themselves a future. That was when the one, true Godzilla rose from the ground and brought devastation down on the humans and their allies. Some survived, thanks to the help of a mysterious indigenous species, potentially humanity’s descendants, but what does that change? They may have defeated one Godzilla, but is there any real hope of taking down the true King of Monsters? During the last days of humanity’s time on Earth a project was under way to create a monster capable of taking down Godzilla, but the project was destroyed before it could be completed, or was it? Finding the remains of ‘Mechagodzilla’, humanity and its allies may have found its last hope, or is this just another nightmare?

The Review:

The more I think about this trilogy of Godzilla films, the more I come to realise that they’re really best watched one immediately after the other. I’m watching them only days apart as I write these reviews, but when I imagine having to wait months and months between each film, it’s little wonder they got such a negative reaction at their release. I know I’d have a lot more ire for this film if I’d spent all that time waiting to see this. Not that this film is terrible, in fact I think it’s an improvement over the first film in a lot of regards, even if I’ve just as much to pick apart, but there’s something I need to get out of the way first.

For all the times that it is mentioned in this film, Mechagodzilla never once appears. Yes, I know, the living metal city is technically Mechagodzilla, but I don’t care how many time the script says it or tries to justify it, that is not Mechagodzilla. When you say Mechagodzilla to me I get a very specific image in my mind, a giant mechanical dinosaur very much like a mechanical Godzilla (hence it’s name!). If that’s not what you’re going to give me in your movie then don’t try and sell it to me as that! I’m usually fine with re-imaginings or an author’s new interpretation on an old idea, but there comes a point where you change an idea so much it ceases to be that original idea. Then it’s just something entirely new with a familiar name slapped on it to make it more palatable and that irks me. If you’re going to come up with something new then just call it something new! Don’t trade on my nostalgia.

Okay, rant over. Putting my frustrations about Mechagodzilla to one side, I do think think this film is an improvement over ‘Planet of Monsters’, even if only slightly. The middle act of a story is often the hardest to get right, it’s the point where the story decompresses to give everyone, characters and audience alive, a chance to breath and mull things over. That’s really what helps this film, I said in my last review (HERE) that this trilogy should have been a series and this film just confirms that for me. Without the immediate drive of plotting to take down Godzilla, the characters are allowed a chance to explore the world around them and even develop in some cases. Haruo goes from a walking ball of pent up anger to a real leader, feeling the weigh of his responsibilities and the lives he’s lost, as well as beginning to question himself. The ending of the film is a very clear choice between the anger he’s carried around for so long, and his other obligations and feelings. If I cared about the character more this would probably be a dramatic highlight.

That’s the real problem this film faces. Even though it’s now developing some of its characters and spending more time to fill out the details of its world, everything is still fairly one note. Take our alien allies for instance. The Exif still have an air of mystery about them, but for the most part they’re just offering up vague religious speeches about the nature of species, monsters and pre-destination. I need something a bit more substantive before I can fully invest in them, though I still don’t trust Metphies.

Then there’s the Bilusaludo, who admittedly offer an interesting philosophy in opposition to the Exif and humans. Originally I thought they were just generic technologically-advanced warriors, but in this film we discover that they hold technology to such a high regard that they’re all for abandoning their weak bodies and becoming one with their machines. I applaud the film for having an alien species think so differently to the human counterparts, but the film never spends any time exploring this, heck we don’t even learn about it until just before the final battle of the film. Is it too much to ask to have two characters sit down and talk about this stuff, maybe explain how the Bilusaludo came to this viewpoint. Then again it falls into the typical sci-fi trap of giving an alien species one unique thing and only one unique things. There’s no dissenters among the Bilusaludo? No rival philosophy or opposing factions? Because we humans clearly only have one way of thinking about the nature of life, right? Again, I really do enjoy this world and the concepts its bringing into play, I just wish it devoted more time to exploring those concepts.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is an improvement over Planet of the Monsters, even if it’s still yet to blow me away. There’s more time devoted to exploring this future Earth and the characters we were introduced to in the first film. There are some great ideas here and some impressive action, though I’m still not the biggest fan of the animation. Haruo grows from being just a walking ball of rage to a believable leader, and we do learn some more about our alien allies, but it’s not enough to make this film truly great. Here’s hoping the final film can stick the landing.

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: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review

Persecution of the Masses.

What’s the Story?

One day creatures rose from beneath the surface of the Earth to terrorise humanity. Out of all of these only one inspired true dread and drove humanity to the very edge of extinction, the monster they came to call Godzilla. Even with the aide of two arriving alien species it wasn’t enough to halt Godzilla’s destructive path, forcing what was left of the human race to flee into space. Now, over two decades later, humanity once more faces a grave nightmare. Food rations are running out and with no potential habitable planets to claim as their own, they may just have to return to their abandoned former home. For Haruo this is perfect. He lost everything to Godzilla and blames the creature alone for humanity’s current pitiable state. He’s spent the past two years planning and might just have something that can bring down the King of Monsters, but when has killing Godzilla ever been easy?

The Review:

In 2017 I was excited to hear that we were getting an animated trilogy of Godzilla films. To me it just made sense, as much as I love the majority of the live-action films, regardless of whether it’s a guy in a rubber suit or not, I can’t help but imagine all that animation could accomplish for the giant atomic-breathed reptile. I mean I can’t be the only one who fondly remembers the cartoon series based on the 1998 film (the film itself has no right to call itself Godzilla in any shape or form, but the cartoon was good). Then the reviews started coming in and they were not good for this film or its sequels and, I know, take other people’s opinions with a pinch of salt. I should have watched the film and made up my own mind, but between the never-ending glut of seasonal shows to keep up with and everything else I try to do in my free time, this film just got pushed further and further down the list. Now though I’ve finally given myself the kick up the butt I needed and sat down and watched the film. So what did I think?

Honestly, I kinda enjoyed it. It’s flawed certainly and very obviously the start of a trilogy so the ending foregoes any sort of real conclusion and instead gives way to set up for the sequel, which can be annoying. I get what put so many people off about this film, but what fascinates me is the world it builds up around itself. I’m a sucker for sci-fi on my best day, so you give me spaceships, mecha and giant monsters and you pretty much have me sold from the start. I like the way it takes concepts we’ve seen in previous Godzilla films and meshes them together in a unique way. Take the alien allies for instances, there are plenty of Godzilla films where aliens show up claiming to be friends, only to then reveal ulterior motives and be swatted away once they try to take on Godzilla himself. This time the aliens are actually here to help, at least that’s how it appears for the majority of movie one, I have my doubts about one of them. They give Earth more advanced technology to combat Godzilla and then help built spaceships when it’s clear there’s no way to win. I could have watched an entire movie about that and been happy.

That’s not the film we got though and I admit I might just be more enamoured with the concepts the film is presenting than the actual meat of the story. Take humanity’s time in space, the talk of rations running out and the older generation volunteering for a desperate mission paint a really dark picture and I wish we got to explore that more, but it’s mostly glossed over. Even the talk about the council forcing those older members on to the mission is quickly brushed aside once we get back to Earth. Maybe this story would have been better served as a series, giving more room to develop these characters and the settings, paint a really vivid picture. As it is the film is mostly technical jargon and action scenes that, while the animation is fit for purpose, it doesn’t wow me (that being said I really don’t like the texture they put on Godzilla, it’s just not very pleasing to look at).

That brings me to what was probably the nail in the coffin for this film for a lot of people, and that’s the main character of Haruo. I get what they were trying to do with the character, his anger is perfectly understandable and seeing it focussed on Godzilla also makes a lot of sense. Heck, one of the main characters of King of the Monsters (my favourite of the recent Godzilla films) was passionately anti-Godzilla. The thing is though is that character went on an arc, Haruo doesn’t. This is the first third of a trilogy so I expect him to change at some point, but so far it’s just unpleasant to spend so much time with someone who’s just angry all the time. It’s not as if any of the other characters get any sort of development, they barely get introduced to us. Imagine Eren from Attack on Titan, but instead of constantly having his ideals challenged and his ego knocked down a peg, Haruo gets built up and he is the one true saviour of us all. I could put up with him for one film, but I have no idea what my reaction is going to be like for the sequel, I guess we’ll see.

The Verdict:

In the end, Godzilla: Planet of Monsters, is a film that is enjoyable but nothing more. It has a lot of flaws, some of them stemming from the fact that this is the start of a trilogy and there’s some missing resolution. Even putting that aside the film has some pretty glaring flaws, like the unpleasant main character, the lack of development for, well, anyone in the cast and a fairly straightforward story that ignores some meaty potential. There are some great ideas in this script and I wish they got more time to be explored, but I guess we’ll see how the sequels handle things now that the set ups out of the way.

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.

Introducing Kaiju-cember!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between, it’s December and as regular followers of this blog should know that means one thing and one thing only, a theme month! I’ve talked about a lot of franchises that I love in Decembers past, Doctor Who, Batman, One Piece, Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo and so on, but this time things are going to be a little different. That’s right, in honour of Godzilla vs. Kong releasing earlier this year (I enjoyed the film a lot, but King of the Monsters is still my favourite) I’m putting on a monster of a month. Instead of just a franchise I’m going to look at a whole genre, welcome to Kaiju-cember!

I find it hard to pin down why it is I instinctively love kaiju as much as I do, maybe it’s just the vicarious thrill of seeing a eighty foot monster stomping around the place. Not that kaiju are all about spectacle, if done correctly they can become a really poignant allegory, like in the original Godzilla all those decades ago. Speaking of the big G, that’s really where my love of the kaiju genre begins. Not the very original film, as I only saw that for the first time fairly recently (it’s a classic for a reason and everyone should watch it at least once). No, my first Godzilla film was ‘The Return of Godzilla’, which I still own to this day on VHS (for all the kids out there, VHS were these magical storage devices that we had before streaming was a thing. You’d buy, or rent, a film on this little box and put it in another machine to watch it on your TV. Think like a DVD, but it’s recorded on tape rather than a disc. Weird I know).

A lot of my younger days were spent trying to procure most of the Showa era Godzilla films on tape (a couple of which I still own) and watching them again and again. As such, it should be no surprise to anyone that the majority of this month is dedicated to the atomic-breathed reptile, but I’ve thrown in a more recent franchise as well as the token representative of other kaiju.

So, here’s what this month is going to look like:

3rd – Pacific Rim: The Black

10th – Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

17th – Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle

24th – Godzilla: The Planet Eater

31st – Godzilla Singular Point

See you on Friday for the first review!

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