Anime Corner: The Promised Neverland (Season 2) Review

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What’s the Story?

Having escaped the Grace Field House, Emma, Ray and the rest of the children now have to contend with the dangers and wonders of the outside world. Can they possibly survive in a world full of demons? A world were their only source of information is a pen and the few clues left behind by William Minerva? It won’t be easy, given they’ve got a whole world order to fight against, but who knows, maybe it’ll be exceptionally easy. Maybe everything Emma puts her mind to will come to pass with frighteningly little difficultly. Staging a revolution, enemies turning to staunch allies at the drop of a hat and whatever other obstacles remain quickly disappearing. No, that couldn’t be right, that would tank the whole series. Wouldn’t it?

The Review

I adored the first season of The Promised Neverland. You can read my review of it HERE, but in summary it is a staggeringly well put together show, a perfect puzzle box that continually kept me at the edge of my seat. I’ll still thoroughly recommend it, heck, I even shelled out for the collector’s edition blu ray just so I could own it (and it arrived just in time for me to watch it and remind myself that I actually enjoyed this series at one point in time). If you enjoyed the first season, leave it at that. Treat episode twelve as the final episode and make up your own ending from there. You could of course go read the manga, I’ve heard the next couple of arcs after where the first series left off are actually pretty good, but I haven’t read them so I can’t vouch for that. Whatever you do, do not watch season 2, not unless you want to experience the soul crushing disappointment and rage-inducing frustrations that I just have. If you want to leave this review at this point I don’t mind, from here on out begins the flaying of season 2.

I’m not going to act like continuing the story of The Promised Neverland was ever going to be easy. The ending of season 1 so irrevocably changed the dynamic of the series it’s hard to know where you go from there. We’ve transitioned from this closed off, claustrophobic environment to a wide open world that we know so little about, and somewhere in that the series loses part of that essential spark that made it so great. The first problem to hit season 2 is it’s lack of direction. From the outset of season 1 we had a clear objective for our characters to follow, they had to come up with a way to escape Grace Field House and they did. Season 2, well the end goal is finding a way to the human world, once the characters learn that that exists. The problem is that ‘Reach the Human World’ is a very vague and nebulous goal. We don’t know enough about this world and its rules to clearly establish what our characters can and cannot do. As such the series meanders around for its first few episodes.

It doesn’t help that the looming danger that was so ever-present in the first season has been removed. The kids still aren’t safe, but that danger is now nameless, there’s no central antagonist constantly looking over our heroes’ shoulders, creating that sense of dread in us viewers. Another factor is that the kids don’t actually do anything to face the danger that they do come across. In the first season (and I’m sorry to keep bringing up this comparison, but the two seasons are like night and day and that really is the coffin in which this season is buried), the characters are always thinking, always trying out plans, getting knocked back and coming up with something else. Here, what do they do? Most of the time they’ll run away, either that or Emma will give an impassioned speech about what it is she wants to do. There’s no challenge, where’re all those brilliant, devious little geniuses that I got to know in the first season? When they accomplish something in this season I don’t marvel at how clever they’ve been, I roll my eyes at the plot, yet again, bending over backwards to make things easy for them. It feels like the fangs have been removed from this season for whatever reason.

That brings me to the final nail in the coffin for this season, and that’s the pacing. It really just boggles my mind to think about it, once the show finishes it’s meandering after the first couple of episodes it just suddenly puts its foot to the accelerator and doesn’t let up from there. We get a time skip, reintroduction of characters, sudden heel-turns, back stories are crammed in and a revolution is begun (don’t even get me started on that ending montage. I nearly blacked out with rage once I realised what was going to happen). It’s as if there was some kind of edict from on high that this season also had to be the final season and if someone did make that decision I want to meet them, so I can strangle them with my bare hands! Every plot twist, every moment that if given enough time and development could have been a juicy bit of drama is instead bulldozed over in a mad rush to get to the ending, logic and reason be damned! It’s a sad end for a series that felt so methodically and carefully plotted in its first season.

The Verdict

I don’t know what happened to The Promised Neverland. I’d be really interested in hearing about the behind the scenes on this season, but that wouldn’t change the fact that this show is a pale shadow of its former self. What once was a carefully plotted puzzle, with a continual sense of dread and purpose has become a meandering, rushed toothless mess. The plot twisted itself into knots to get where it needs to go, foregoing logic, reason and, worst of all, character in order to reach its dictated endpoint. Don’t watch this season, leave after the first and let’s all pretend this never happened. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to watch the first season again to remind myself what good anime is again.

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: I’m Standing on a Million Lives Review

I’m Standing on a Million Isekai.

What’s the Story?

Yusuke Yotsuya is an aloof 14-year-old who hates the city and tends to approach everything from a cold, logical point of view. One day he finds himself pulled into a game-like alternate world by people from the future, now he must take part in a series of challenges designed to prevent a terrible fate. In a world where even killing a single goblin proves to be a significant challenge, can Yusuke protect his comrades and make sure they all make it home? More to the point can Yusuke look past his cold outlook and learn the true meaning behind a human life? Judging by the title it might take a while.

The Review

Setting the tone is an important aspect of story-telling that I sometimes feel gets overlooked. This is purely speaking from my own experiences of consuming other people’s stories and creating my own, but if you get the tone wrong for your story you’ll only pay for it later. The tone helps to set your audience’s expectations and lays the foundation both for your world and whatever it is your story is trying to say. If you’re telling a horror story you want to bring in a sense of something spooky and eerie, for a comedy you’d probably want to be light-hearted and energetic, if it’s an adventure try being bombastic, you get the idea. I bring all this up because the tone of this series is so badly mangled I really have no idea what this show was trying to do.

Part of me wants to blame my own preconceptions with this series, to tell myself that I’m just mad because it didn’t go in the direction I wanted it to. The rest of me, however, wants to put the blame squarely on this series for leading me up the garden path in the first place. I’ve had my ups and downs with the isekai genre over the years, but I’m always on the lookout for series that approach things a little differently and on first impressions that’s what this show appeared to be. My initial read on Yusuke as a character was that he was a bit of a psychopath. The way he kept going on about hating the city and the cold, logical he went about things, often attributing no value to people’s lives. I thought, okay, he’s clearly got some sort of tragic back story that the show is setting up and over the course of the series he’ll be put in situations that will teach him to value human lives. Okay, I’m in.

The very next episode Yusuke is suddenly transformed into generic protagonist! That bloodthirsty zeal he showed while mowing down goblins to raise his rank has completely vanished and he’s getting on with the girls he’s been teamed up with. I’d put this down to just me misreading the guy, but the show keeps trying to play up the fact that Yusuke is a cold-hearted bastard before reverting him back to a decent enough guy. If you’re going to go for that kind of story then just go for it, you can’t go halves with that type of character. What makes it even more laughable is that the series ends with Yusuke going off on this big rant about how people have no value  and he doesn’t care and, yeah, I don’t buy it. The way you’ve been acting for the previous twelve episodes in no way backs that up, so you’re either lying to yourself or the people on this show don’t know how to write consistent characters.

If the series bothered set to a consistent tone then I might be able to get a grip on what it’s even trying to do, but that ping-pongs around as much Yusuke’s characterisation. One minute we’re burning a religious zealot alive, the next we’re starting an episode with a five minute magical girl parody because that makes perfect sense. In a better show maybe that could work, but this show doesn’t have either the visuals or the writing to be able to pull that kind of gear change off. A lot of the characters are fairly one note and while the world has some potential it’s not enough to distract from the deficiencies on display. It would be something if the series at least had some interesting visuals, but all in all the series’ animation is fairly standard for this kind of production. The more I think about this series the more I wonder how I even made it through twelve episodes.

The Verdict

I’m Standing on a Million Lives is a fairly disappointing series. There are worse anime out there, but one note characters and standard visuals are only the staring point for a series that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The main characters veers between generic and psychotic and the humour sometimes makes it feel like a parody, which is odd in a series where, again, we see a man burnt alive! If you want to check this series out I won’t stop you, but there are much better series to spend your time on out there. Go find one of them instead.

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: Cop Craft Review

Cheese it! It’s the Fuzz!

What’s the Story?

Fifteen years ago a portal opened up to another world, one where fairies, monsters and magic all exist. Now the beings from two worlds mingle in the city of San Teresa, but as the otherworldly visitors bring new technology and culture to the city, they also bring new crimes. Fairy smuggling, new drugs, even porn! To tackle this rising wave of crime is the police force of San Teresa and grizzled detective Kei Matoba has just got a new partner, Tilarna, a knight from the other world. Let the buddy cop shenanigans begin!

The Review

I used to be of the opinion that it doesn’t matter what a show looked like, as long as I was invested in the characters or plot, it could be as cheap looking or dated as it wants. Yes it’s nice when something gets the budget it deserves and you can do some truly jaw-dropping things with animation and special effects, but at the same time I’m a big fan of classic Doctor Who, so I understand that there are times when budget and reality can’t quite stretch as far as the writer’s imagination. Cop Craft is a show that has severely tested this philosophy though, on the one hand I love the set up of this series and both Kei and Tilarna are really likeable leads. On the other, I struggle to call what this show has animation. There are so many still frames, so many moments swallowed up by dark shadows (yes, let’s have the fight with a vampire in a dark subway tunnel so we can’t see anything!) and then there’s the bewildering action sequences where the camera got drunk for several minutes so I don’t have the first clue what happened! The show has plenty of other problems that it develops across it’s run, but the ‘animation’ was the one that had me on the verge of dropping this show time and again.

The show starts off decent enough, both in the animation and story departments. Nothing mind blowing, but perfectly serviceable and, as I said, I really like the set up of this series. Mixing a classic cop show with fantasy elements? Putting together two of my favourite genres? Oh heck yes! This will be awesome! And for a time it was. True the opening story arc doesn’t do anything that original, in fact I’m pretty sure it ticks off most every buddy cop cliché you can think of, but it’s fun. Sometimes tropey things can be fun, that little spark of recognition can give you a few warm fuzzies, and that’s one of the bigger problems of this series, it doesn’t add anything to the tropes so that over time you get bored of it. Yes, Kei and Tilarna don’t get along, but when the chips are down they’ll always have one another’s backs, that’s great, but what else have you got? Grumpy police chiefs? Mysterious conspiracies? Yes, and? I can literally watch any cop show in existence and get that exact same stuff.

In fact, and this is quite a statement from me, my favourite episode has to be the one with the guys smuggling porn mags to the other world. It’s a bizarre concept on paper, I mean considering these cops normally take on drugs and murders, to find them suddenly dealing with truck loads of porn, it feels a bit below their pay grade. Then again it’s a problem that’s unique to this world and I love that. The other world (I keep forgetting what it’s proper name is and honestly my opinion of the show is at rock bottom right now so I really can’t be bothered to google it, so forgive me if I keep referring to it as the other world), doesn’t have photography and therefore no porn. Hence porn is big business. It’s a problem I hadn’t thought of, but the writers clearly did and that’s what this series needed. Plus the conversation between Kei and another officer about tastes in porn was pretty funny, that and Tilarna the car killer as she systemically destroyed Kei’s cars one after another had me laughing. If the series had more episodes like this, taking advantage of the unique world then I’d probably have a higher opinion of this show.

There are several cool ideas dotted throughout the series, like someone combining Earth technology with the other world’s magic to come up with new weapons, like a camera that transforms into a working gun, or…actually nothing else is springing to mind, but that one’s a cool idea at least. On to a more positive topic though, Kei and Tilarna, honestly these two are the reason I kept watching this series. On paper they’re both fairly stock characters, Kei is the jaded, lazy old detective, and Tilarna is the stuck-up, stickler-for-the-rules newbie, and yet you feel the bond between them. There’s this sense of camaraderie there and you just know that, despite the fact they argue and say some pretty mean things to one another, they have this healthy respect that all buddy cops have. You believe that these two both infuriate one another and yet at the same time are very protective of one another. The final episode of the series was pretty anticlimactic, but I do like the last few scenes between Kei and Tilarna as it perfectly gets that relationship across. I do like the other officers as well, and though you don’t get to know them too well across the series, I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

The Verdict

In the end, Cop Craft is a pretty disappointing show. The animation is barely qualified to be called that and that really is the biggest detriment to the series. Of course the series being so laden with tropes and doing so little with its set up doesn’t help and the show ends up just what it looks like, a mess with a couple of bright spots along the way. There are some smart ideas and both Kei and Tilarna make a likeable pair of leads that can carry you through the show if you decide to try this out, but I can’t really recommend this series. This officer is turning in his badge on this one.

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

Anime Corner: Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note Review

Blog Lord El Melloi Review Title

Welcome to Fate Lore 101, now please turn to page 10,003 of your textbooks.

What’s the Story?

Waver Velvet once fought side by side with the King of Conquerors, Iskandar, during the Fourth Holy Grail War. Now it’s ten years later and a fair few things have changed for our favourite mage, he now bears the title of Lord El-Melloi II and teaches in the Clock Tower, where all the most powerful and prominent families in magedom go to learn their craft. He even has his own apprentice in Gray, a girl who bears a striking resemblance to a certain knight of legend. However, things aren’t all rosy for the new Lord El-Melloi, not only is he up to his eyeballs in debt, but he often finds himself wrapped up in all the magical and mystical mysteries that surround the Clock Tower and the mages within.

The Review

I’m just going to say this upfront, don’t watch this series if you’re not a fan of the Fate series. Then again I consider myself a fairly big Fate fan (I don’t love every series that comes out, but those that I do I generally love with all my heart and soul) and even I had a hard time with this series. This is definitely a series made for hardcore fans by hardcore fans, there’s so many references and characters from other works that it was a challenge to keep up with them all, and I’m pretty sure I missed a load (it doesn’t help that my experience with the Fate franchise is limited to only the stuff that’s been animated so if this is a character’s first time in animation, then I ain’t going to recognise them). It was great seeing the ones I recognised though, especially when some of them got paired up in fun ways. The series also has plenty of interesting new characters that I want to learn more about, like Gray.

Another stumbling block for this series though is just the utter denseness of fate lore and magic. In fairness that’s a problem a lot of the Fate franchises struggles with, there’s just so much information and detail to this universe that I feel like I need to take a five-year course just to grasp the basics of it all. Fortunately a lot of series can avoid having to deal with this by focusing on the epic battles between Heroic Spirits and introducing some non-mage or novice mage characters. Unfortunately that’s not something this series can do. There’s no Holy Grail War here, no Heroic Spirits (well, not really), and the focus is squarely on the mages and the Clock Tower. A lot of the mysteries are based around the magic system of fate and to call it complicated is like calling Game of Thrones a light read. I’m sure if I spent a few hours digging through the various wikis I’d find out all I needed to about magic in Fate, but I’m lazy and a TV show should not require reading material to accompany it. This does work against several of the mysteries in the series because without an understanding of how the magic in this world works, you’ve no chance of working out what the answer is before Waver (I mean you have no chance anyway, but you might be able to pick up on a few things).

Let’s talk about the mysteries in this series though and I think that’s going to be something else that puts people off. The style of mystery this series chooses to go for is the one where our genius detective (Waver) is the only one that gets to put everything together. You’ll see the clues, you’ll be given the suspects, but you’ll never work out the answer until Waver tells you because he’ll be holding on to that one vital piece of information you needed to put it all together, but you don’t get it because you’re not the genius detective. It can be frustrating, and while I generally prefer a mystery that you have a chance of solving alongside the lead detective, I don’t mind these kind of puzzle piece mysteries, as long as in the end I can see how all the pieces fit together. Having said that, I don’t find the majority of these mysteries all that engaging. Between the lack of understanding with the magic and so many references being thrown at the screen, everything just feels so dense and I can’t quite get through it.

All of this being said, I can’t think of many people who I’d recommend this series to it’s market feels very niche, but who is it’s market? Well, Fate/Zero fans for one. If you want to see what happened to Waver after the Holy Grail War, then I will definitely recommend this series. Waver is the best thing about this series, seeing how he’s matured and what he’s had to deal with in the aftermath of his actions in Fate/Zero. I also love his arc throughout the series, seeing how he’s still haunted by the events of Fate/Zero and his slow path to finding peace with that and a way forward. Honestly the ending of this series, with his little dream chat with Iskandar, almost had me in tears.

The Verdict

All in all, Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note (seriously, can we go back to shorter titles for these series?) is a show for die-hard Fate fans, especially fans of Waver Velvet. The lore and the magic is just way too dense for the uninitiated to get through, so if you want to watch this series, then I recommend either watching a few of the other series first, or reading the whole of the Fate wiki. For those die-hard fans though, seeing how Waver has matured and continues to grow is a joy. Add not to that some interesting new characters like Gray and a whole host of cameos from across the franchise and this series is a treat, if only for the fans.

fish stamp avoid

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

Anime Corner: One Piece: The Cursed Holy Sword Review

Better late than never! Sorry this post is going up so late, Christmas kind of got in the way tonight and like an idiot I forgot to schedule this post for release beforehand.

Blog One Piece Cursed Holy Sword Review Title

His Name’s Zoro, he’s just like a samurai!

What’s the Story?

Hearing about a legendary sword, Nami is convinced that there’s treasure to be had, but after Zoro goes missing the crew find themselves chased by Marines and quickly separated in the forest. While Luffy and Usopp confront the navy in a sinister dojo, Nami and the rest of the Straw Hats come across Zoro attacking a peaceful village, alongside the marines! Has Zoro betrayed his crew and friends purely because of a childhood promise? And what of the bloody history of the legendary sword? Surely it can’t be true, can it? When it comes down to it Zoro will have to face his friend, but is this one opponent the future World’s Greatest Swordsman has no chance against?

The Review

Sigh. While the myth about odd-numbered Star Trek films all being bad has engrained itself into popular culture, the same can also be said for the One Piece films (at least until we get to Episode of Alabasta, which I have mixed feelings on at best). The Cursed Holy Sword, for me at least, is one of the worst One Piece films ever produced. On a technical level it’s a fine film, the plot is simple yet makes sense, there’s plenty of fun and action (Zoro especially gets a couple of great sword fights), but as part of the One Piece franchise, this film fails spectacularly. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters and the world of One Piece that just permeates the whole film, so much so that I can’t help but think that the people who worked on this only had a passing knowledge of the franchise.

Let’s talk about the Straw Hats first and while on the surface their characterisation is fine, the way they talk to one another and interact is spot on for the most part, however there are just tiny little moments that bug me, because they don’t feel right. The first one that caught my attention was at the very beginning of the film, with Nami bringing up the legendary sword. Yes, Nami is obsessed with treasure and the mere mention of it will fill her eyes with Berries, but really? A sword? Nami is interested in a sword? It’s just the kind of thing she’d be dismissive of until someone mentioned it was entrusted with jewels or something, then she’d be interested. There’s Luffy as well and while he’s an utter goofball, he’s not stupid and I can’t see him running around a bunch of tunnels enjoying himself after losing a fight and being told that Zoro has left his crew. At that point I imagine him more ticked off and declaring that he’s going to punch the bad guy. Again, it just adds to the feeling that the team behind this film read a brief bio on each of the characters, but never actually got to know any of them.

That brings me to Zoro. Ugh. I really don’t like what this film does with my favourite pirate swordsman and it’s a shame, because the potential was there. A childhood friend of Zoro’s turns up and through circumstance pits him against his friends, there’s the potential for some real drama there and a decent exploration of Zoro (I do like the flashback scenes we get of Zoro and Saga), but again there’s that problem that he’s not really acting like himself. Yes, Zoro is a man of honour and will absolutely keep his word when it is given, but he would never just up and leave his crew without a word. This is the man who wouldn’t let Usopp rejoin the crew unless he apologised first, because as he rightly points out, how can you trust a crewmember that just ups and leaves? This is the man who took on all of Luffy’s pain and injuries after Thriller Bark. This is the man who will one day be the World’s Greatest Swordsman and will let nothing stand in his way! He. Does. Not. Just. Leave! I’m not quite sure how you’d make it work, but definitely not how this film tries to do it. The filler nature of the film doesn’t help either, as we know we’re never going to see most of these characters again and Zoro certainly isn’t leaving the crew.

Let’s talk about the setting of this film as well, because that gets it wrong too. One Piece, for all its fantastical elements, has its own logic to it and always learns more towards science (no matter how many strange fruits that give people special powers there are). In this film though we have magic, demonic possession and the power of prayer, which again feels so out of place. Luffy has been referred to as the natural enemy of God before and has a tendency to punch people who call themselves gods, and yet part of this film’s climax is down to a priestess praying to her gods to stop an evil sword! Honestly the setting of this film feels like some generic fantasy adventure that the Straw Hat pirates have just been pasted into by accident. This film just annoys me on so many levels and yet I do have to give it a bit of credit, Robin gets a prominent role as she gets to put her archaeologist skills to use and even gets to fight one of the bad guy’s named lieutenants (even Nami gets in on the action), which is happens so rarely in the main series that I’m almost willing to give this film a pass, almost.

The Verdict

In the end, One Piece: The Cursed Holy Sword is a serviceable film, as long as you’re not a die-hard One Piece fan. If you’re after a generic fantasy romp with some lively action and funny characters then this will pass the time just fine, but if you come to this wanting to see the Straw Hats in action then I suggest you move along. While these people may look like Straw Hats, that’s clearly not who they are and we shouldn’t treat them as such. I’m going to go read the manga and remind myself why I like this series so much.

fish stamp avoid

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

Anime Corner: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Review

Blog Magical Girl Asuka Review Title

Because the best place for a magically super powered teenager is on the front lines.

What’s the Story?

After being invaded by killer cuddly monsters from another dimension (not the strangest invasion I’ve ever seen in anime it has to be said), young women from across the globe were given magical powers in an effort to fight back. Eventually the war ended, but not everyone survived and for those that did choices had to be made. Despite the war being won, the world was far from at peace, gangs and criminals are on the rise, some of them using weapons left over from those invading monsters. Some of the magical girls have joined up with the military of their home countries in an effort to fight against these criminals, but for Asuka, all she wants is to get back to a normal life, if she can even remember what that is anymore. Yet when her friends’ lives are put on the line, will Asuka return to the fight?

The Review:

I have a problem with this anime. No, scratch that, I have several hundred problems with this anime, but it’s brought to mind a particular question that I’ve had to wrestle with from time to time. Can one good thing save an anime? Usually it crops up with a mediocre series where there’s a character or storyline that I really love, but I’m not too interested in the rest, so I have to decide if I’m willing to go back to the series just for that one thing. This time though, that dilemma is dialled up to eleven. You see I love Asuka and her journey through the series, but the more I think about it, the more I hate everything else in this series. It baffles me slightly that Asuka and her trauma are dealt with so effectively by the series and yet this is the same series that is constantly cramming in intrusive fanservice, gore and more torture than I have ever had the misfortune to watch.

Let’s talk about Asuka and the core concept of this series first (because if I keep thinking about the other stuff I’m going to explode and I think I’ll save that for later). Honestly both are, without doubt, brilliant. There are so many series where we have teenage protagonists going through hell as they battle inter-dimensional aliens or parasitic clothes or whatever, but what happens after the world is saved and the end credits have rolled? Do they just go back to their ordinary lives? Is it even that easy? And I realise that stories like this have been done before, but it’s a good idea and with the rise of Dark Magical Girl genre over the past several years, it’s a story that works incredibly well.

Asuka herself is an incredibly likeable and sympathetic main character. You want her to have a normal life again and you want her to find happiness, but you can also see all the signs that she is well and truly traumatised by what she’s been through and its not going to be that easy. It’s the little things that this series does so well, the way Asuka will instantly jump into a fighting stance when she hears a loud bang or how she keeps herself in shape because that’s what she’s used to now, always being ready for the next battle. I just want to wrap her in a hug and take her to a therapist so she can process and deal with everything she’s experienced properly. It gives the series an interesting struggle as we know at some point Asuka is going to be pulled back into the fighting, because narratively we need to get some action in somehow and Asuka can hardly standby while innocent people are put in danger. Yet at the same time we know that this is just going to lead to more pain and anguish for our dear magical girl.

Now to flip over to a magical girl I’m less enamoured with, mostly because I’m f***ing terrified of her (and you know my feelings are strong for something when I start swearing, even if I am putting the asterisks in), let’s talk about Kurumi. Don’t get me wrong, what Kurumi has been through (even before the invasion of the cuddly monsters) is horrendous and it clearly broke her. She has my utmost sympathy for what she’s been through and I hope she gets the help she so desperately needs, but if she walks into the same room as me I’m emigrating to another country there and then. Kurumi is messed up with a capital M. She needs psychiatric help immediately, she should not be put on the front lines of a battle with sadistic criminals and monsters and she definitely shouldn’t be put in charge of torturing the bad guys after they’ve been defeated! Honestly the tone of this show is so messed up when it plays up Kurumi’s violent and obsessive tendencies I have no clue whether it’s trying to be ironic or if it’s genuinely trying to get a laugh (I hope to god it’s being ironic because the other option is too terrifying to contemplate). They realise they’re making the world’s most powerful serial killer here right? The minute Asuka tells Kurumi that she doesn’t think of her that way, Kurumi is going to snap and murder us all!

Let’s stay on the torture for a minute here (because that’s fun for me to think about). My biggest problem with this series is how exploitative it feels. One minute it’s shoving the girl’s butts into your faces, the next we’ve got a girl having her skin burnt off while strapped to a table. Tone, people, tone, it’s a thing, try to keep it consistent! It’s not as if torture scenes or fanservice are impossible to get right either (though with me you’re always going to have a hard sell with the former and the later it depends on how its done, but get it wrong and you’re on thin ice), but if they’re done right they can be really effective. The torture scenes in particular could really put across the horror of what Asuka is stepping back into, but they happen so often, and the cheap animation doesn’t really help. I always feel more icky than horrified. What this show needed more than anything was a really good director that could take those scenes and ramp up the horror, while also framing them in such a way that I don’t feel I need to scrub my eyeballs after watching an episode.

The Verdict:

All in all Magical Girl Spec Op Asuka is, well, I can’t call it anything other than terrible. The excessive and exploitative use of torture and sexualising its characters is enough to make me want to track down all the copies of this series across the Internet and erase them permanently. It’s not a fun watch for me, the only saving grace is Asuka and her journey as she tries to overcome her trauma. That was enough to pull me through twelve episodes, but I’m never going to watch this series again (or if I do I’m skipping straight to the scenes of Asuka and mentally erasing everything else). If you think you can stomach all the other stuff though then maybe give this a try, but I can’t recommend it in good conscience.

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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: Digimon Adventure Tri: Future Review

Blog Digimon Adventure Tri 6 Review Title

“Coming from Kari it’s probably some kind of prophecy.” – Because Kari’s always been the special one.

What’s the Story?

Tai is lost, Gatomon’s mega level has fused with Meicoomon and created a terrifying monster and the real world looks set to be absorbed into the Digital one. Things have never been more hopeless for the Digidestined, but as Matt struggles with the burden of leadership and Kari deals with losing her brother, their going to have to pull themselves together for one final battle. The fate of two worlds rests on their shoulders, but, hey, look! The 02 Digidestined have finally turned up, well, I say turned up, they at least get name checked, which is more than they have been.

The Review

Sigh. That’s my reaction to this last Digimon Tri film. When I started reviewing this series I was nervous, I knew it had a bad reputation, but, honestly, I enjoyed the first couple of movies. They weren’t perfect, but they were fun, it was great to see some of my favourite characters again and the films were taking the characters in some interesting directions. As the series has gone on though the rot has set it. I’ve talk before about the obvious budget issues this series is having, the cheap animation and the terrible pacing. This film is the apex of that. There’s more still shots and reused animation than ever before and the pacing is completely off kilter. This should be a tense, climatic battle, but instead its drawn out to the point of utter boredom as every snippet of action is swallowed up between scene after scene of talking, most of which is either stuff we’ve gone over before or dull exposition.

I should care, there are plenty of heart-rending moments in this film, Matt struggling with being the leader for a change (and maybe realising he shouldn’t be such an arse to Tai for his decisions), Kari grieving over Tai, the Digimon getting their memories back, the last sacrifice of Nishijima. Heck, Meicoomon’s last moments should have had me balling my eyes out, but they didn’t, because I just don’t care, which is really something special when I remember that I usually adore these characters. I keep thinking back to the series finale of Digimon Tamers and how tense and apocalyptic that felt, just like this film we had a giant monster threatening a city in the real world and our dear Digidestined struggling against impossible odds, the bad guy finding a way to overcome everything they tried. Not to mention that fight was stretched across several episodes and there were several scenes of just talking, but I was never bored.

I think the main problem this series has is that it’s not clear on what it wants to do. There are too many extraneous plots that go absolutely nowhere. We’ve got the whole Meicoomon plot with the infected Digimon and King Drasil’s plan for the Digital world to absorb the real one. Then there’s the government agency that is tasked with dealing with Digimon and the original Digidestined, one of whom has gone mad with grief and wants to reboot the Digital World to get her partner back. There’s whole real world being scared of and mistrusting Digimon plot, the main cast dealing with the growing pains of growing up as well as welcoming a new member. The high school hijinks and slice of life stuff, the two factions of the Digital World battling it out over Meicoomon and so on and so on. This story should easily have fill six films, but not way it’s structured.

They tried to give each film it’s own section of the plot, the first film deals with the setup, the second is high school stuff and Joe and Mimi’s development, third deals with infected digimon, fourth is the reboot consequences, fifth is the prelude to the end and the sixth is the final battle. All of that is fine, the problem is that they need to cram more into each film so that’s there’s not so much dead air as we wait for the plot to stop spinning its wheels and get to the point. In my opinion, and these just a couple of suggestions off the top of my head, the fourth film should have had a confrontation Himekawa, while dealing with the memory loss of their partners the Digidestined should have stumbled across her, learnt about the original Digidestined and there should have been a big confrontation between Himekawa and Meiko for all the horrible things she’s put the kids through. Film five should have been a fight with King Drasil so that, one, we actually get to see him, two, we get to learn why he thinks Digimon are so superior. Then the kids can side with Homeostasis, only to learn that she’s not exactly on their side either.

We don’t get any of that though and instead those plot threads are left to fade into obscurity when they should have been some of the meat of the series. They were right there and nothing is done with them! We never even see King Drasil and he’s dealt with off screen by Homeostasis and Himekawa wandered off a long time ago, so instead we’re left with exposition scene after exposition scene and boring platitude after boring platitude while the animators scramble to find enough budget for them to have another two minute fight scene. That’s what annoys me most about this series as a whole, it has so much potential and so many great ideas and it squanders the majority of them.

The Verdict

In the end Digimon Adventure Tri: Future is pretty much on the same level as the films before it. It suffers from the same pacing and budgetary issues that those films had, crippled by the fact that what should be a climatic battle is stretched across an hour and a half with endless talking and exposition stuffed between all the action scenes. This series had potential, a lot of it, there are some great ideas from giving us a peak at the original Digidestined, to showing conflict in the powers of the Digital World and our main characters struggling with growing up. All of that is squandered though, several conflicts and plotlines either crumbling away to nothing or simply reaching an unsatisfactory conclusion (seriously, could no one punch Dark Gennai in the face, even once?). There are moments in these films that have enjoyed, a lot, the aforementioned original Digidestined and I still love the second film for what it does with Mimi, but, overall, unless you’re a hardcore Digimon fan, avoid these films.

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Next month the Digital Year reaches it’s own conclusion with my 5th Anniversary celebration, my review of Digimon the Movie! Somebody please save me!

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

Anime Corner: Digimon Adventure Tri: Coexistence Review

Blog Digimon Adventure Tri 5 Review Title

It’s the end of the world as we know it and that means it’s time for one thing and one thing only… ghost stories!

What’s the Story?

The end is coming, with Meicoomon digivolving to protect Meiko, she’s given in to anger and done exactly what Dark Gennai wanted all along. Now digimon are invading the real world and causing havoc. The Digidestined are powerless to stop it as they’re trapped in a Digital World that appears to be rejecting them with every byte of its data. Even when they do make it back home there’s little they can do as the two factions fighting over the Digital World bring their struggle to the city and the kids have no idea whose side their really on, and when tragedy strikes they realise that they’ve done more harm than good.

The Review

This should have been a trilogy. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to with this film series and I know I still have one more film to go, but I have to say, for the majority of this film I was immensely bored and that should not be happening with the penultimate chapter of an epic showdown with two worlds at stake. The ideas are there, the conflict is there, but it all seems so dull. How do you make giant cyborg dinosaurs, armoured knights and a whole host of other monsters battling it out boring? This film found a way! There are layers of problems to this film, but I think it mostly comes down to pacing and focus.

Let’s start with the pacing. The film spends long, long sequences with characters just talking on and on about the same thing over and over again, you can feel the wheels of the story spinning, but we’re getting precisely nowhere. That’s without even mentioning the goofy antics in the middle where any momentum that the story had managed to gather came screeching to a halt. I liked the high school antics early in the series, but that was because, one, the majority of it was character focussed and, two, it was still early in the story, the stakes were lower and there weren’t Digimon blowing up power stations and threatening the whole world yet! We’re in the endgame now, we should be barrelling towards the conclusion, there should be epic clashes, planning out strategies and confronting villains, not telling one another ghost stories! Ugh. A part of me wonders if this a budget issue, the number of still shots has been increasing with each film and I’m convinced the final film is just going to be pencil sketches so maybe they don’t have the money to animate huge battles and can only manage one talking scene after another. Well, if that’s the case, why are the animating six films?! Make it a trilogy and converse your budget! Again, ugh.

Budget can’t be the whole problem though, because if the animators can only afford to do talking scenes, why don’t they at least get to animate interesting talking scenes. There are plenty of good ideas in this film franchise, I like the idea of different factions fighting it out over the Digital World and I like it even more that both sides can be antagonistic to our heroes, King Drasil wanting Digimon supremacy and Homeostasis wanting balance by any means necessary. Then there’re the human antagonists like Himekawa who has gone completely off the deep end to try and get her partner back. All of these are really interesting opponents for the digidestined to go up against, it’s just a shame we spend barely any time with them. Here’s the thing, the conflict is great on paper, but the Digidestined feel like they’re hardly involved with it. They’d had two conversations with Homeostasis, only one of which was arguing against her actions, the other was vague hints and exposition. We’ve never seen King Drasil and I’m not even sure if the Digidestined are even aware of Himekawa’s descent into madness. These should be big things and the main characters should be confronting the bad guys about their part in everything. In the original Digimon Adventure the gang always had multiple interactions with the main villain of the arc, but here they just stand around looking confused and asking who they should be fighting, which could be interesting. Have the Digidestined argue, fight over who they should side with, but instead they just feel like a bunch of onlookers.

Okay, positives, positives, let’s think of some positives. I am starting to like Meiko more and more. I’m not sure how I feel about the film pushing her and Tai together (I’m a Tai x Sora man until I die), but she’s showing more of a personality and being a bit more assertive. I wish she wasn’t such a complete downer so much of the time, but I’m definitely seeing her more as an actual character and not just some walking stereotype. I wish we got to see more of her childhood with Meicoomon as that looked both fun and ominous, with Meicoomon taken away for testing. I want to know what sort of tests they were doing to her and maybe it could have given us more of a peek into how the Government sees Digimon and what measures they’re willing to take against them. Also, wouldn’t it have been an interesting if the experiments were what gave Meicoomon her infection powers in the first place, rather than her just being born as this Libra thing or whatever she is. Also, wouldn’t it have been really interesting if it was made clear to Meiko that Himekawa, someone who Meiko trusted, has been manipulating her to get Meicoomon into the position she’s currently in. Wouldn’t it have been interesting, not to mention dramatic, to see Meiko confront Himekawa over that. Nah, that’s actually interesting, we can’t have that, let’s make some jokes about Matt being scared of ghosts instead.

The Verdict

I won’t say that Digimon Adventure Tri is beyond salvation at this point, but I will say that the final film has a lot to work to do if it wants to me to do anything other than scream at my scream for an hour and a half straight. There are plenty of good ideas in this film, the problem is that it does absolutely nothing with them. This isn’t helped by an endless supply of cyclical conversations and more focus on goofy antics rather than our villains or the conflict with them, we should be barrelling towards our conclusion, but instead there’s a distinct impression of going nowhere fast. Hopefully I’ll feel less ranty with the next, and final, film.

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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: Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Review

Blog Xuan Yuan Review Title

And then the Taibai Empire attacked!

What’s the Story?

The Taibai Empire expands across the land, using their mighty Constructs (giant robots) to conquer all that they see. Many have had their lives torn apart by the Empire, including travelling entertainers Yin and Ning, Ning having lost her arms in an attack on their village years ago. When they come across the ruins of a village Yin finds a strange bamboo writing strip, that begins to glow and a girl magically appears out of. Then there’s Zhao, childhood friend of Yin and Ning. He was taken as a slave, but after befriending the Empress and showing a talent for building Constructs he begins to rapidly rise through the ranks. Neither pair knows of the other, but when they finally do meet there is only tragedy and despair waiting for them.

The Review

Is it wrong to enjoy an anime purely for its concepts rather than its execution? I hope not because that’s pretty much what’s happened with this series. Xuan Yuan is not a good series, its horribly written, riddled with clichés and to call the animation a travesty is an insult to travesties, yet I enjoyed watching this series. I like the characters, or I should say I like the ideas of the characters (it’s hard to like characters with such clunky, lifeless dialogue as this lot spit out). I like the idea of childhood friends finding themselves on different sides of an evil empire, one rising through the ranks of said empire, the other joining the rebellion and having to come to terms with killing for a cause. There’s also the little sister’s slow descent into madness and despair. It’s all good meaty drama rife with potential, all of which is dashed on the rocks on ineptitude that make up so much of this series.

I feel bad for being so harsh with this series because I’m sure the creators put a lot of effort into this series (or maybe they didn’t and this review is exactly what they deserve), either way it doesn’t change the fact that this is a bad show. It’s been an odd viewing experience for certain, on the one hand I’ve been watching a train wreck happen in slow motion for thirteen episodes and yet I’ve never gotten mad at the series, which is unusual for me. Normally when I see a series wasting its potential I get so frustrated that, if I do make it all the way to the end, I’m frothing at the mouth. Yet I’ve enjoyed watching this and I can’t exactly call it a ‘so bad it’s good’ series. True, “laughable” is a good description of the animation, but I do get the feeling that someone, somewhere is putting in some effort. Whether it’s the voice actors or whoever plotted out the series, someone, somewhere is giving it a go, it’s just the rest that doesn’t hold up.

Yes a lot of the story elements in this series has been done before, and better, in one place or another, but I can’t escape the feeling that if someone had scripted some better dialogue and given the animation budget a boost, this could have been a great epic fantasy. Then again maybe not because there are some clear structural issues in this story, most of it coming down to character motivation. Let’s talk about Zhao first. I like the idea of following a slave as he rises through the ranks of an empire that enslaved him, even him bonding with the Empress leads to some good drama and bits of character interactions. The problems come in when the series fails to come up with an adequate explanation as to why he’s happily building the same types of Constructs that destroyed his home. At the beginning there’s no explanation whatsoever and we’re left to assume that Zhao is either impossibly naïve or suffering from memory loss. When we finally do get an explanation it’s that Zhao has become accustomed to power and he wants more of it so that he can protect the people he cares about, except we see no evidence that his thinking is turning that way prior to him mentioning it. Character development shouldn’t really come out of nowhere.

That brings me to Yin and Ning. Yin I feel kind of sorry for. Heroes who don’t want to fight and are troubled by the killing they have to do have been done before and it’s a good character to explore (especially when we have so many series with young protagonists getting involved in wars). Unfortunately for Yin it’s her only note that she gets to play, and even then it’s dropped about halfway through the series. The rebels are honestly the most boring side of this anime, I’d much rather be watching the intrigue around Zhao and the Empress than I bunch of people with no personality and only a colour-coded superpower to distinguish them. Yin never really develops across the series and often comes across as whiney, despite me understanding where she’s coming from, she never seems to really go anywhere. It doesn’t help that her sword and the bamboo scroll get a vague explanation and then we never really explore that part of the series’ mythos.

That leaves us with Ning and it says something when it’s the little sister character who gets the most development in a fantasy series, going from bloodthirsty rebel to insane murder machine (actually when I put it like that it doesn’t sound like she changed all that much). When I think about it the main problem with the characters in this series is that it feels like a lot of stuff is happening to them, but its because the plot is dictating their actions, rather than all this being a natural evolution of their characters. I do think a better script for this series would make it a million times better, something that will let us connect with the characters more and really explore their turmoil and follow them as each of them goes off the rails. The potential is all there, but I’ve never wanted a series to get a do over more than this one.

The Verdict

In the end Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary is a series with potential. If it had a better script and better animation is really could have been great, all the pieces are there from the set up to the character drama to make an epic fantasy. Unfortunately that’s not the series we got. The animation is laughable, the script is clunky and lifeless and the characters are little more than puppets of the plot. There isn’t much that I can recommend with this series, except for the series that we could have had, but that’s no reason to watch this one. Skip it.

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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: RErideD – Derrida, Who Leaps Through Time Review

Blog Derrida Review Title

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again!

What’s the Story?

Derrida Yvain is a leading engineer at his father’s company and instrumental in the DZ project, creating the latest autonomous machines. However when he and his colleague Ben discover a flaw in the program they’re warnings go unheard and the next thing they know armed men are chasing after them. On the run, with both his father and best friend dead, Derrida finds himself, somehow, coming across a stasis chamber and falling into it. He wakes up ten years later, the world ravaged by war and the DZs on the rampage. Derrida’s only hope is to find the file that can fix DZs, or maybe not, as he soon learns he can travel through time using his memories!

The Review

This series has me confused. On the one hand I know this isn’t a very good series, in fact in some cases it’s a pretty terrible series, but on the other I have actually enjoyed watching this. It’s not that this series is so bad it’s good, because it’s not. This show just about manages to be competent with some glaring examples of failure along the way. When I think about it, it’s the ideas behind this series that I enjoy, rather than how the show actually executes those ideas.

Take the time travel for example, which is probably the best part of this series. Now time travel stories are usually pretty hard to write, its so easy to get your story into a tangle trying to keep cause and effect in line and not create a giant plot hole that will suck in the whole of the series. Here things are pretty simple, Derrida has to find a way to change the course of history, but he can only do it in small ways, he’s prevented from making big changes and he can only go back to a particular point once, before that moment in time is lost to him. These rules keep things clear and simple and also so how small things can have big effects as we see how Derrida’s actions impact the future when he returns to it. I’ll even give props for how Derrida learns the rules slowly over time, each ‘time ride’ giving him a better understanding of what’s going on. I like that.

Now as for the actual method of time travel, that you just have to roll with. I know the whole ‘time travel’ via memories has been done before *cough* Butterfly Effect *cough*, but I can’t help thinking that it’s such an innately silly idea. What makes it more glaring here is that Derrida does just suddenly get this magic time travel ability, and we don’t get an answer as to how this whole thing happened until the very last episode.

Speaking of this things that need explanation, I think that’s this series’ main problem. There are so many parts that after having watched the series, I just don’t understand and a lot of it comes down to character. I’m going to spoil some things from the first episode here, but here goes, I do not understand the bad guys in this series. Well, I understand they’re pathetic and never really feel like a threat, but as to their motivations I have no clue. The guys in the government and in the company want their robots to go berserk and start a war or escalate a war, it’s only ever explained in passing and the most we ever see of this war is a few planes flying overhead. Here’s my question though, why? What profit to they get out of this? What purpose does it serve that benefits them? One guy talks about them fire blasting the whole country and then rebuilding, but why? Why do you need to destroy absolutely everything in order to do this? Are they just suicidal? Are they insane, okay, clearly they’re insane, but a little better explanation would be nice.

It doesn’t help that the bad guys are mostly shadowy figures and we only meet one government official and one businessman to act as the face of the bad guys. Even then, the businessman is a pathetic, wormy cry baby who just sucks the joy out of every scene he’s in and while the government official starts off as cool and sinister, he quickly devolves into a cackling madman. Don’t even get me started on Donna, for while she’s a cool villain I still don’t understand what the heck happened in her back story and I watched that episode twice.

At least with our main protagonists I can have a bit more fun. Derrida is your typical angst-ridden protagonist, but then again he is stuck in a future where something he built is destroying the world so I think the angst is justified. Yuri I like, although there isn’t much to her other than your typical female lead stuff, but she plays well off of the other characters. Graham, Vidaux and Mayuka are my favourite characters however, Graham the talking car is just a blast and has the best action scenes while Vidaux is a badass and Mayuka is sweet and fun. I also love their back story. In fact I’d much prefer a series following those three traveling through the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

I’d probably like these characters a lot more if they were written better and that’s one of the other big problems with this series, the execution. The dialogue is often dull and repetitive, going over the same points again and again and when it’s not doing that it just jumps a load of exposition on you, probably with some important details in there, you just have to sift through it to get to it. The animation is pretty subpar too. At lot of the times its stiff and muted and as for having a ravaged future world to explore, we hardly ever get any interesting settings to explore, it’s mostly brown wasteland and grey buildings.

If I look at this series in any technical or serious way, it falls flat on its face, yet, as I said, I still enjoyed watching it. I do like the ideas, but more than that I think it’s because I’ve treated this series as a popcorn series, it’s just sit down, turn off your brain and let the action wash over you. Sometimes you just need a half hour to not think about anything and this show worked fine to fill in that gap of time, which is probably the most back handed complement I’ve ever given. There’s was just enough, just, to keep me entertained.

The Verdict

In the end RerideD: Derrida, who leaps through time is not an anime that I can recommend. What good ideas there are gets buried underneath a mountain of poorly written dialogue and even poorer animation. I have enjoyed watching this series, but purely as a ‘turn your brain off and just sit there’ experience, because if you try thinking about it for more than ten seconds you’ll find that the whole thing collapses in on itself. This is one series I won’t be travelling back to see any time soon.

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