Anime Corner: Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans Review

Blog Iron Orphans Review Title

The iron flower that will never wilt.

What’s the Story?

Mikazuki and his friends live on a poverty stricken Mars, thought of as little more than ‘human debris’ they are expendable labour that their bosses use to do all the dangerous jobs, oh I should probably mention that they’re all kids as well. Things start to change though when the security company they work for agrees to take the head of a movement for Martian independence, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, to Earth. The corrupt Earth security forces, Gjallarhorn, soon attack to get at Kudelia. As Mika pilots a Gundam to save his friends, a journey begins. The kids will leave behind their old world in search of a place where they won’t die in vain. A revolution is beginning, but to reach their destination they must cross a blood-soaked battlefield.

The Review

Intense is one word to describe this anime, brutal would be another, so don’t say you weren’t warned before going in. It can be slightly deceptive at first, the anime starts out not exactly happy, but kind of hopeful. Here’s all these kids that are oppressed and abused and now they’re taking their stand. Now they’re in charge and are off on an adventure to find a place where they can belong and live a life full of meaning. Then people start dying, it never gets gory, but there’s blood in an overabundance and a darkness to this series, especially when people start shouting about revenge. Now Gundam doesn’t exactly shy away from dark subject matter, they are happy to look at the dark side of war, but never quite this, well like I said at the beginning, brutally. It is warranted though when you stop to think about the subject matter, our main characters are child soldiers, our villains are a corrupt military force and we hit themes of slavery, war and revolution. This won’t end well is all I’m saying, or if it does it will be a bleedin’ miracle (emphasise on the bleedin’).

All that being said I won’t hesitate to recommend this series. It’s not perfect I do have to admit that, but it comes damned close. The story runs the gambit between heart-wrenchingly sad to air-punchingly awesome. I have cheered and cried so much at this anime, there have been entire episodes were I’ve been locked in a permanent state of exhilaration. This anime is full of interesting and likeable characters, most of whom are stuck in a grey area where you don’t whether they’re good or bad (this especially applies to our lead character of Mikazuki). You root for all of them, even when they’re verging towards the dark side.

The animation is top notch. The multitude of settings are gorgeous to look at, from the dilapidation of Mars, to the cold expanses of space and finally to the beauty of Earth. You really believe that these are living and breathing worlds. Throw on top of that some mind-blowing action and you have an anime that is a joy to watch. Then you have the music. I wish I had a degree in music or something so I could properly describe the soundtrack to this series, all I can really say is its fantastic and I could listen to it all day. It’s not the music you expect from a Gundam anime, a lot of it has a Spanish vibe to it, but it fits the series so well.

I did mention that this series wasn’t perfect and there are a couple of issue, nothing that derails the anime, but its stuff that could be improved (hopefully in the upcoming second season). My main reservation is with the villain of the piece. Now every Gundam series needs its masked antagonist, and while I appreciate that he technically doesn’t appear until the halfway point he does come right the hell out of nowhere. I get his back story and what the anime was trying to do with him, but doesn’t get enough of the spotlight for me to be properly invested. There’s so much left to be explored with him and I think he could be a great villain if we get that, the ending certainly sets him as a detestable enough character. I really wish Mikazuki got the chance to punch his lights out, but I guess that’s what season 2 is going to be for.

The main cause of this spotlight issue is due to just the sheer amount of characters involved in the story. We’ve got the kids who make up the bulk of the main cast, the various factions of Gjallarhorn, the gangsters that the kids partner up with, politicians of Earth and many more inbetween, and none of these groups are small. It’s a sizeable company this anime keeps and for the most part it does manage to balance everyone. Of course some characters get more spotlight than others, but no one feels like fodder simply there to die at a dramatic point and the anime does a wonderful job of giving everyone a fleshed out personality.

Speaking of the characters, special mention has to go to probably one of the most interesting and possibly unique bromances I’ve seen in anime, Mikazuki and Orga. Individually these are two really interesting characters. Mikazuki is actually quite the little psychopath. He has an air of detachment about himself; he’s never overly emotional and sees the world in very straightforward way. You get the sense that his attention is focussed on a single point off in the distance all of the time, yet when his friends are in danger all that attention focusses in the person trying to hurt them and let’s just say you don’t want to be that guy. Also his budding relationship with Kudelia is a joy to watch.

Then there’s Orga. He’s the boss and sometimes you forget just how young he is as he struggles to carry the burden of leadership. You root for him all the way as he struggles to turn this group of ‘human debris’ into a family and find them a place where they won’t have to live with such inequality and die so meaninglessly. His relationship with Mikazuki is probably the most interesting part of his character though. At first it just appears like Mikazuki is a good soldier, following around Orga because he’s a good general, but as the anime progresses we start to see that these two need one another. Yes Mikazuki needs Orga to lead him, because otherwise he has no idea where he’s going, but Orga also needs Mikazuki. Mikazuki drives Orga to do more, to be better, to fulfil his promise and lead them all to a better place.

The Verdict

In the end Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans is probably one of the darker and brutal additions to the Gundam franchise, but it’s filled with great characters a rich setting and some fantastic action sequences. You get giant robots beating one another up and a great story, what more could you ask for? I can’t wait for the second season.

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

Anime Corner: Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon

Blog 35th Platoon Review Title

A problem shared is a problem solved.

What’s the Story?

In a world where witches have run havoc, the Anti-Magic Academy has been set up to train witch hunters and put an end to magical tyranny. Takeru Kusanagi is a member of the Academy, an expert with a sword and Captain of the 35th test platoon, which has a reputation for being made up of the worst hunters in the entire Academy. Can this bunch of misfits pull it together in time to save the world from magic and destruction? Probably, but there is a greater evil at work here, harems and fanservice!

The Review

Ugh. Here we go again. Okay I’ll to get this over with quickly so I can get to talking about the rest of this anime. More often than not I don’t like harem or fanservice elements in an anime. They can be ok in small doses, but they do have a tendency to take over an anime, as is the case a fair amount of the time here with Anti-Magic Academy. It’s distracting us from what could be a good story, admittedly that’s a pretty big could with this anime, but the principle still stands. If you want me to be invested in a relationship let me get to know the characters, let it develop at a natural pace, don’t throw a bunch of girls at one near-perfect guy and mess me around trying to pick who you want to get together. As for fanservice if you want to throw a bit in, fine, I realised a while ago that it’s never going to disappear completely, but no matter how pretty the woman I have no desire to see her straddling some guy in her underwear, that’s what the internet is for. I don’t need that kind of thing in-universe thank you very much (and yes that scene I described actually does happen in an episode of this anime).

Sorry, I said I’d try to make that quick. Well rant over with let’s take a look at what the rest of this anime has to offer, which is actually very little in my opinion. It’s not that this anime is bad in any way, it just could be better. I’ve know there was something bugging me about this anime for a while (outside of the harem and fanservice stuff), but I think I’ve finally put my finger on what it is. It’s the execution.

On paper there are some really quite good ideas here, especially in the character department. All of our main heroes have some form of tragic back story. There’s Mari, the witch now living and working for the Academy who not only has to put up with being surrounded by people who hate and fear her, but when we first meet her she’s had her memory wiped and has a horrible suspicion that she might have been a bad person before. There’s Usagi who has been blamed for shooting her brother when they were both little. Ikaruga is an immoral genius who was raised in a lab. Ouka’s family were killed by a witch and she may have had to kill her own sister. Then there’s Takeru who at first glance looks to be Mr. Gary Sue, until we get to the scene where his own sister asks him to kill her.

Yeah, not really one for the kids this one. When I actually write some of the arcs down, they sound pretty good, take Ouka for example. She starts off as this revenge-obsessed maniac, killing anyone who has anything to do with magic in order to prevent the tragedy that befell her family happening to anyone else. Then she joins the 35th test platoon, makes friends, starts up a friendly rivalry with a witch and starts to have feelings for her captain, and then by the end forms a contact with her magical guns, not to avenge the past, but to protect those by her side right now. This should be powerful stuff, a heart-warming story of a girl letting go of her trauma and moving forward with her life. In actuality, it’s ok. Her arc, and everyone else’s for that matter, fail to drag any kind of emotion out of me.  I’m not invested in these characters when I should be and that all comes down to the lacklustre way this story is told. There’s too much that feels average or just manages to be competent. This anime never thrilled or intrigued me and it should have, the potential is there that’s what’s so annoying.

A lot of the time the darkness of our character’s stories doesn’t feel earned. The world of Anti-Magic Academy has a sort of grimy texture to it, there’s lots of shadows and a seedy kind of feel to much of the outside world, though this could be because our characters spend a fair amount of time chasing down criminals and breaking up blackmarket magic deals. (With that being said, outside of a couple of psychotic witches, we never really get to see the real scope of the problem as far as magic is concern. Yeah there are some nutjobs with powers running around killing people, but we don’t get to see what’s such a big threat that they built a school for.) Yet the anime tries to balance this alongside episode about magic that makes you act drunk and the gang setting up a cosplay cafe. You may need to file a claim for the tonal whiplash this anime will give you.

I can’t even take that much enjoyment out of the animation. There are a few moments were we manage to get a minute or so of fluid action, but for the most part it does just enough to be passable. Well, that is when the 3D not’s involved. For some reason when the characters swap to their armoured the characters get swapped out for 3D models and they stick out like sore thumbs, and don’t even get me started on that monstrosity from the final episodes. My eyes still haven’t fully recovered.

The Verdict

In the end I can only really advise to skip this anime. It has a few good ideas, but they’re all poorly executed. It’s hampered by barely passable animation, too much fanservice and harem nonsence, and a tonal imbalance as it struggles to juggle the lighter moments with the darker aspects of the world its set in. What this anime has to offer can be found elsewhere, and with better execution. This anime would probably offer to carry half your burden; I think a more prudent measure would be to drop it entirely.

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

Anime Corner: Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation Review

Blog Beautiful Bones Review Title

It’s elementary my dear Shoutarou

What’s the Story?

Sakurako is obsessed by bones. She loves nothing more than studying, cleaning and putting together skeletons of every species, so it’s quite fortunate that no matter where she goes she manages to stumble across bones of some description. With her analytical mind and her trusty high school sidekick, Shoutarou, Sakurako manages to solve mysteries ranging from murder to family curses.

The Review

I’ll admit it, this anime did not turn out how I expected it. When I first saw this anime I thought it was going to be a kind of modern day Sherlock Holmes kind of thing, with Sakurako as Sherlock and Shoutarou as Watson, and while there are elements of that Beautiful Bones is a lot more laid back. The cases that our intrepid detectives tackle are more sedate and small scale, there are no grand schemes or psychopaths on a murder spree like a lot of detective stories tend to go for.  That’s not to say that the cases aren’t dramatic, on the contrary a lot of the stories here back some real emotional punch and I think that’s the strength of this show.

This anime knows how to get at your heart. It can introduce a character for just an episode, or possibly two, make you care for them and their situation and then give you a payoff that at the very least will have you sniffling in a happy/sad way, and all of this while telling effective mysteries as well. This is shown nowhere better than with our leads. Sakurako is the resident genius; she can be blunt to the point of rudeness, obsessed past the point of reasonable and childish in a hilarious way. Yet she never comes across as arrogant or mean. Sometimes it may appear that she cares more for bones than people, but the flashbacks to her mysterious past and clear affection for Shoutarou show that there’s a lot more beneath the surface. Shoutarou is fairly simple on the other hand, he’s the straight man to Sakurako’s mad professor. Sometimes he can come across as just a little too much of the nice guy, or a little bit perfect, but he’s still human. He makes mistakes and has some really emotional moments now and again.

What was a real pleasant surprise was the range of mysteries tackled by this show. I was expecting this to just be a murder of the week show, which there’s nothing wrong with, but it did feel refreshing for that not to be the case here. Yes there’s a death a week, but it’s not always a murder. We have cases like the mystery of why an elderly woman was walking around the woods early in the morning, or the family curse that makes a man believe he’s going to die soon, or why Shoutarou’s grandmother sent him for pudding before he came to the hospital. Not everything was a high octane race against the clock to stop the serial killer complete with explosions and car chases (though I do like those shows). These stories are smaller and more personal.

While I do like the characters and the stories are a nice change of pace, what sells this is the animation and that music. The animation isn’t ufotable levels of gorgeous, but there’s a reason beautiful is in the title. It really knows how to use light and colour to make some eye-catching imagery. Some of the backdrops and the settings can only be described as works of art. To put it simply, it’s really pretty. Then there’s the music. I don’t normally namedrop tracks off of the soundtrack, but this one deserves special mention. As far as I’m aware the correct translation is ‘A Corpse is Buried Under The Feet’. I mean I get chills up my spine every time I hear it. I’m not a music expert so it’s hard to describe just how good it is, but it hits me right in my musical sweet spot. Just go listen to it.

If I did have to admit to any one part of this anime that’s disappointing, that would be the big bad. Yes, this anime filled with personal and emotional stories does still manage to fit in a crazy serial killer running around for our dynamic duo to match wits with, just not very effectively. The big bad for this series is an interesting one, he’s a killer who doesn’t actually kill people, not with he’s own hands anyway. He prefers to play mind games, using people’s traumas and weaknesses to get them to either kill themselves or other people. As serial killers go that’s a pretty interesting M.O. and could lead into some really interesting cases, not to mention quite the challenge for our heroes, it’s just a shame that we never really get to meet him.

For the entirety of the anime our big bad stays on the periphery. We mostly see him from afar, gradually getting closer as the series progresses, Sakurako and Shoutarou actually managing to interfere in a few of his murder attempts, but he and Sakurako never share the same scene, which is a huge letdown. I really want to see those two battling against one another, genius against genius, Order vs. Chaos. It would be spectacular, but we never get there. The series does end with a pretty big tease that just makes me pray for a second season.

It’s not as if the series finale is a bad one. It’s a very emotional tale of how Sakurako and Shoutarou first met, leading into them reconnecting back in the present. It also gets to the very core of the show’s message, that time doesn’t stand still. We can’t let ourselves be trapped in the past, life moves on and eventually it will end. That’s a fact, you shouldn’t be scared by it. We’ll all be bones in the end; the question is what story we will have to tell?

The Verdict

All in all Beautiful Bones is a great series. It tells effective detective stories with the focus more on the analysis and emotion as opposed to action and high octane drama. It moves at its own pace, telling its story with likeable characters, some fantastic music and gorgeous visuals. The lack of a confrontation with our big bad for the series does hurt this somewhat, but still this anime definitely deserves to be dug up.

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

Anime Corner: The Asterisk War Review

Blog Asterisk War Review Title

The Asterisk War. What Asterisk War?

What’s the Story?

Ayato has just transferred into a special academy where teenagers with special abilities battle it out to earn their heart’s desire (because there’s only a hundred or so other anime that have similar plots). Ayato’s desire is to discover what happened to his beloved older sister who transferred to this academy and then mysteriously disappeared. Ayato teams up with the local tsundere Julis to compete the tournaments known as Festas. Will Ayato uncover the truth behind the tragic fate of his sister? Ah, who cares about that, I know the real question on all of your minds, which member of the harem will Ayato end up? (If you want my honest opinion I doubt we’ll ever get an answer to either of those questions, in the anime at least).

The Review

I mean really, what is the Asterisk War? Did I miss something? Did I slip into a coma while vital information was being given out? (I admit it is possible with this series.) I mean I get that this is basically a tournament anime, but is that technically a war? Is the city called Asterisk, or the academy? If so you may want to reiterate that once in a while. Or is the Asterisk part being left over for the second season?

Also there’s the fact that I’m pretty sure I remember the series opening mentioning a change to morality that society went through when people started getting special powers, yet outside of one instance I can recall this is never explored or focussed on in anyway (it’s that bit where Kirin’s dad is locked up for using his powers, but then that hardly sounds like something that couldn’t happen with current morality). How is this setup any different from your generic teenagers with special abilities and weapons fighting in a tournament shonen anime? Answer: it’s not!

Ok, rant over and all of that being said I don’t actually hate this series. I mean if I sit down and actually think about this series it is kind of infuriating seeing all of the potential that is left by the wayside instead going with your stereotypical characters and generic plot elements, but that’s kind of issue with this series, it works better if you don’t think about it. Now I will never advocate that it is the best option for a series to take the lazy action-fest route, but I do acknowledge that every now and again it’s good to just switch off and enjoy some mindless action. You appreciate a good meal a lot better if you eat junk food now and again, if you’ll permit me to put it metaphorically.

Issue wise the plot is a pretty big one. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but there’s not exactly anything that new or original. Like I said, it’s your basic tournament with super-powered teenagers. There’s elements that could be interesting, such as the mystery behind what happened to Ayato’s sister or the reveal that the weapons can influence their wielders to the point of controlling them. There’s clearly something sinister going on in this place, but like with so much of this story, it just doesn’t have enough focus or detail for you to sink your teeth into. We know dangerously little about what could be going on, which makes it hard to get excited about where this is all headed.

A generic plot isn’t the end of a story though. It’s not what the building blocks are, not really, it’s what you do with them. Unfortunately Asterisk War does very little.

That brings me to the characters. I like them well enough, but that’s expressed more with a shrug of my shoulders than any great enthusiasm, which is never a good sign. The characters all have a role to play, and they never really break out of those roles. It’s paint by numbers character creation. Ayato is the nice guy with the awesome superpowers. He’s so badass that he needs a MacGuffin limiter to stop him from just beating everyone without breaking a sweat. There’s also the fact that he attracts girls into his harem like honey attracts bears (possibly with similar results). Julis is our tsundere, Saya is the deadpan childhood friend, Kirin is the shy one and Claudia is…well, she’s fanserivce as far as I can tell (not that we don’t get enough of that from the other girls). No one ever does anything that really wows you, outside of action scenes that is, which makes it hard to invest in them. My favourite character in this series is one of the bad guys, and that’s only because of just how energetic and crazy she clearly is (I’m rooting for you Ernesta!).

The saving grace of this anime is the action and the animation. The animation is of a pretty good quality throughout, everything looks nice and has a lot of eye-catching colours, but it really hits its stride when the fighting starts. The fights are always fun even if sometimes gets a touch ridiculous with just how badass Ayato can be. The only downside to some of the action is that some of the powers can be a bit generic. I’ll give Julis points for having an array of attacks, but fire powers have really been done to death. Can’t you come up with something more original?

By far the most disappointing thing about this anime tough is the ending to this first season. Now as far as I am aware there is another 12 episodes of this anime due to come out in the spring, and while I can appreciate splitting up anime like this to help the budget and production, it really does hurt this anime. I can’t help but feel that this anime is stopping before it’s even started. The final battle is a good one with some really nice action and impressive animation, but the plot still feels likes it’s in its set up phase. What have we really learned? What do we know about where this is all going? What is there to keep us interested in coming back for more? Not much really, unless you absolutely have to know what happened to Ayato’s sister. Across these past 12 episodes we’ve basically been introduced to the main players, learned a few titbits about the world and seen a handful of good fights. We’re so far from anything even resembling the meat of the story, outside of a few characters standing around making vague statements; it’s amazing to me that they thought this was a good point to split the series at.

The Verdict

The Asterisk War isn’t a bad anime, it’s also not one that I’ll go out of my way to recommend. The characters are stereotypical, the plot wasteful and its only really saved by its animation and fight scenes. So if you fancy a decent action romp, switch off your brain and open the popcorn.

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

Anime Corner: The Perfect Insider Review

Blog Perfect Insider Review Title

You can’t smoke underwater

What’s the Story?

When Sohei Saikawa and Moe Nishinosono go on a trip to visit a research lab and its resident mad genius, they find themselves confronted by a bizarre murder. The intrepid duo of wannabe detectives put their grey matter to the test trying to solve a seemingly impossible crime. How did a murderer get into a room that hasn’t been opened in 15 years, let alone get out again? With the lab on lockdown and all communications down for the time being, can they catch the killer before they manage to escape?

The Review

This is an interesting one. It’s not perfect, it’s not mind blowing, but it’s definitely interesting. It managed to hold my attention all the way to the end and I never once got truly bored, which is always a plus for a mystery series. The problem comes down to whether I’d recommend this series or not, which is a tough. I certainly don’t think this will be everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee if you prefer), but by the same token it’s worth at least one watch. I suppose I’ll just ramble on for a bit and you can make up your own minds as to whether you want to watch it or not.

We’ll start with a positive. The animation, and just as importantly, the direction are top notch here. The visuals are simply gorgeous to look at. I could happily sit through the whole series again just to watch it. The characters all have this very grounded look to their designs, they look like actual people as opposed to the usual cartooniness (it’s a word) of anime, which while that isn’t something I want all the time, it is a nice change. There isn’t much action in the series, no explosions or car chases to soak up the budget, so the series has a very even spread of quality, though the animation does get to stretch its legs with a couple of fantastic shots and locations. I think the only real hiccup I ever noticed was that damn CGI robot that floats around like an astronaut when its meant to be wheeling across the floor (it’s weightless in other words).

Now I did mention that the series is fairly lacking in action. It’s a very sedate series all in all, it’s happy to move along at its own pace and deal with things as they come. I do imagine that this will be off-putting to some people, but like I said I never really got bored. The anime always managed to have a hold of my attention even when nothing much was happening. A lot of the screen time is taken up by the characters sitting around and talking, sometimes about their theories for the case, sometimes on their philosophical musings. This is another point that may be off putting to some people. Pretty much the entire first episode is just ramblings about life and death, with a few more debates spread throughout the series, which isn’t so bad. I’m interested in these character’s views on life I just wish that knew what they were saying half of the time. I know the words, and they appear to be in a coherent structure, but I have no clue as to what the meaning behind them is. If this show has a meaning or a point that it’s trying to get across I will hold up hands and admit that it’s gone straight over my head.

These philosophical discussions should come across as a pompous waste of air, but I’m just so enraptured by these characters that any insight into how they think that I can gleam is worth it for me. It’s definitely the characters that make this series for me. Our main characters are Saikawa and Moe and I just enjoy spending time in their company. A lot of the time when writing smart people they can come across as arrogant know-it-alls, but that isn’t the case here.

We’ll start with Moe, she’s definitely the most relatable character. Having a crush on your sensei is nothing new to anime, but the character’s emotions feel genuine and the chemistry between the two of them is great. Even if Moe and Saikawa never officially hook up they have a bond that won’t ever be broken. Moe is also really funny and though we can’t have her figure out the mystery ahead of our lead detective Saikawa, she’s not someone who is purely there for things to be explained to, even if that does happen a lot towards the end of the series.

Saikawa is a much odder character. Throughout a lot of the series he looks as if he’s bored, mostly with life in general, as he sits there smoking his 50th cigarette, yet he’s incredibly likeable. He just draws you in with his charm. He never comes across as arrogant or distant. He’s just a nice guy who’s on a different wavelength. He’s not really bored, he just sees the world in a different way and that is endlessly fascinating.

Speaking of interesting minds that brings me to the undisputed star of the show, who I really wish got more screen time, our resident crazy person, Dr. Magata Shiki. She is just fascinating, and although a lot of the show is focussed around her, her life and her work, we spend very little time actually with the character. I don’t really understand her character or her motives for what she’s done, the way she views the world is just so alien and strange and I just want to know what she’s thinking, even though I know I never can. I suppose that puts me in a similar position to Saikawa. She’s a genius yet has spent the past 15 years locked in her lab with no outside contact, and that’s just how she likes it. That did always confuse me, this woman murders her parents when she’s 15 and instead of being sent to prison (or the nearest insane asylum) she gets locked up in a research lab with everything she wants. I still can’t work that one out. Even with that bit of odd set up aside though, it is just great to sit and try and work out what is going on inside her head.

The Verdict

In the end The Perfect Insider is an effective mystery. It sets up an impossible crime and manages to solve it without either making the solution obvious or hide it so much that you’ll never work it out. The visuals are great, though the slow pace and tendency to sit around discussing philosophy probably won’t be to everyone’s tastes.  What sells this most of all though is the characters. They’re all interesting and its worth a bit of your time just to get to know them.

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