Anime Corner: Otherside Picnic Review

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

What’s the Story?

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict 

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

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

Cartoon Corner: The Cuphead Show! Season 1 Review

Do not mess with a Cuphead, ‘nuff said!

What’s the Story?

In the Inkwell Isles, trouble is never far behind where that loveable rascal Cuphead and his long-suffering brother Mugman happen to be. When they come across a carnival in the middle of the forest the two cups decide to ditch their chores and have some fun, not realising that the carnival is a front by the Devil to collect souls! All it takes is one distracted throw and now Cuphead is in debt to Old Scratch, but the Devil isn’t his only problem. Whether its sneaking onto Ribby and Croaks’ party boat, outsmarting dastardly vegetables like the Root Pack or surviving a night in a ghost-filled cemetery it’s just one misadventure after another with these two. Can Cuphead keep hold of his soul? After all, there’s only so many times you can roll the dice before they come up snake eyes.

The Review:

One of these days I’m going to learn not to put my expectations on a show before I even watch a single episode. Admittedly I’m coming at the Cuphead franchise from a weird direction so let’s get some context in place first. Obviously this series is based on the popular game, which I’ve never played and know very little about. I gave up on gaming a while ago, even though Cuphead sounds like a game I might actually like. I enjoy the aesthetic of the character designs and the clear callbacks to the early days of US animation, but its the songs that I enjoy the most. Or to be more specific it’s the songs about the game that I enjoy. Caleb Hyles has done some terrific covers of Cuphead songs and the Cuphead Rap by JT Music is a favourite of mine, I’d recommend listening to all of them in a heartbeat. However, because those are the sole source of my knowledge about Cuphead I’ve built up this weird image of the franchise in my mind. Now I have no idea how accurate this new Netflix series is to the game, but it certainly doesn’t match the picture I have in my head. It made it hard to get into this series at the start, but even after I did finally get over that discrepancy there’s still some issues that I want to talk about.

Now I don’t want to make it sound like this is a bad show. It’s well animated, there’s a good voice cast and a real sense of nostalgia in the way it calls back to classic cartoons. The animation nerd in me went a little giddy seeing some of the classic reaction shots, music cues and even the way the credits show up in the title cards. For a few seconds each episode I was a kid again, watching endless repeats of cartoons from decades past and loving it. The individual episodes of this series are fun, following Cuphead and Mugman as they go on one misadventure after another with a relatively simple over-arching plot in the background, namely the Devil trying to collect Cuphead’s soul through various schemes. As I said, it’s fun, but therein lies the problem. This series is just fun and nothing more. There’s something missing, some spark, some pizazz that I kept waiting for and yet it never came.  

The more I think about it, the more I’m coming to conclusion that this show emulates those classic cartoons a little too well. There’s no real consequences to actions or development of the characters. After each episode, no matter how the previous one ended, Cuphead will still be the same impetuous troublemaker that he was in the last episode and the whole Devil plotline is mainly played for laughs. There’s no threat, no danger, no real reason to care about what’s going to happen. This season ends on a pretty big cliffhanger and, outside of wondering what one character’s deal is, I’d be fine never seeing the conclusion to the story. I still get a kick out of watching classic Bugs Bunny cartoons, but that’s partly nostalgia and partly because I’ve built a connection with Bugs over the decades. I don’t have that same connection with Cuphead and the show never gives me an adequate reason to form one. I think it just expects me to care without putting in the actual effort to make me care.

One last thing I want to talk about is the music, or rather the songs. There are songs throughout this season, but as I sit here writing this I’m struggling to remember even a single one. This is a problem that is hammered home by the fact that I’ve also just recently finished watching ‘The Ghost and Molly McGee’ where each and every song was a toe-tapping hit as far as I’m concerned. I’m still humming the majority of them and, as I pointed out in my earlier paragraph there are already some really good songs about Cuphead out there, so why aren’t the show’s songs up to that same standard at least? It’s another missed opportunity and another way the show fails to make me care.

The Verdict:

In the end, I’m sad to say that The Cuphead Show! Is a disappointment. It’s well animated, there’s a good voice cast and some fun stories with a lot of nostalgic flair, but I feel like it’s trading a little too hard on it’s nostalgia. It expects you to care just because this show is tied to a popular game and it’s emulating classic cartoons, but it’s not doing anything truly memorable or ground-breaking. It’s missing that emotional connection to really get me invested in the plight of the titular character, most of the time it doesn’t feel like he has any plight at all. When the Devil hunting you for your soul is treated with the same glib one-liners as a gang of vegetables taking over your garden you know something is amiss. If you’re a fan of classic cartoons or the Cuphead character then this is a fine way to spend a few hours, just don’t expect to remember any of it in a week’s time. That’s all folks.

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

Anime Corner: Sakugan Review

Pierce the Heavens With Your Drill or Something!

What’s the Story?

Memempu has spent her whole life underground, living in one of the many human colonies, yet there’s a place that she’s always dreamed of. A place with stars in the sky. She’s convinced it’s real and one way or another she’s going to find it, even if that means crossing the dangerous ‘Labyrinth’ all by herself. This, naturally, makes her father Gagumber very nervous and no matter how hard he tries he just can’t stop her. So Gagumber comes to a decision. If he can’t stop his daughter going off on a suicidal quest, then he’ll just have to go with her and protect her. So begins this father/daughter duo’s journey into the unknown. On the way they’ll meet lots of new people, visit lots of new places and maybe they’ll even learn a thing or two along the way, like how to communicate with one another!

The Review:

This is not going to be a positive review guys, just to give you fair warning. I can see why people would like this series and have fun with it (at the time of writing this the series has 4.5 stars on Crunchyroll. I don’t normally pay attention to that sort of thing but it certainly sounds good). For me though, there are two glaring problems with this series that bury whatever enthusiasm I can garner towards it and I’m going to spend the next thousand words or so trying to explain why they bugged me so much. If you don’t want to know about any of that and just want to keep this show pristine in your mind then walk away now. I’m honestly jealous that you could enjoy this show when I couldn’t, but let’s get down to business.

The first thing I’ll talk about is the direction of the series, not the directing mind you, that’s fine. No, what I want to talk about is the plot and where it decides to go. It took me a while to work out what was bugging me, but eventually I pinned it down to the fact that the end of the series feels a million miles away from where it all started. Now that can be a good thing, it shows that things have progressed, characters are in new places and the setting has evolved, except it hasn’t. The characters are, for the most part, as they were at the start and we’re still going from one colony-of-the-week to another. We have some new information by the end, but I can’t escape this feeling that where the series ended up is not where it intended to be.

This is normally the part where I’d question whether my problems are the result of my own expectations. Did I think this show was something else entirely at the start? Yes, I did, but only because the show led me up that garden path. When the series starts we’ve got attacking kaiju monsters and there’s a lot of talk about exploring the Labyrinth and how dangerous it is. After the opening two-parter and one episode in the Labyrinth though, the series decides to switch gears to a colony-of-the-week format. There are a few more episodes set out in the Labyrinth but none of them feel very important or explore their surroundings all that well. Instead the focus is on retreading character conflict, again and again. It wouldn’t be so bad if the colonies where more interesting, but they’re all generally set around a single idea and there just isn’t enough time to explore that before we leave for the next one. I came here for some exploration damn it, and some mecha-on-kaiju action and I don’t get either! Heck, we barely even see any monsters past the first three episodes!

That brings me to this series’ other major problem, the characters. Here’s an issue for any fiction writers out there, one I’ve come across myself on several occasions, what do you do when your main character is kinda unpleasant to be around? A lot of the time good story-telling requires you to have a character with an arc, and for an arc you need flaws for your character to improve on. The trick is to find the right balance between having those flaws and also having enough redeeming qualities that your audience wants to stick around and watch that character’s journey.

I get both Memempu and Gagumber. Memempu is incredibly smart, too smart for her own good because she’s at exactly the wrong age. She’s old enough to recognise that she knows a lot of things, but not old enough to realise that knowing a lot doesn’t mean she knows everything. She doesn’t consider other people’s feelings or ways of thinking because she doesn’t think she has to. Gagumber on the other hand is just worried about this kid and doesn’t know how to talk to her. There’s also some clear trauma that he’s gone through and never properly processed because Gagumber does not know how to express himself at all. The problem is that because of their overly stubborn personalities they continually butt heads and end up just screaming at one another. Now I put up with that for a little while, I recognise the journey that they’re going to go on, over the course of their quest they’re suppose to come to understand one another and learn how to talk to each other. The trouble is it takes so long for them to make any progress on their arcs, almost the entirety of the series’ twelve episode run, that it stops being fun long before we get to the good stuff. Their continual arguing just grated after a while and whether this series gets a season 2 or not (the last episode is called ‘To Be Continued’) I’m not going to stick around for it.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sakugan is a crushing disappointment. What starts off as a promising journey to explore mysteries places and fight monsters quickly turns into a by the numbers place-of-the-week series. It doesn’t help that we spend the majority of the series with a main characters arguing with one another, which quickly became grating for me. If you enjoyed this series, then power to you and I really am I jealous that you clicked with this series when I didn’t. For me the flaws were just too much for me to get invested. I won’t be coming back for more if there is another season.

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

Anime Corner: takt op.Destiny Review

Some Sort Of Musical Reference.

What’s the Story?

For Takt music is his everything, even if it could get people killed. Ever since the D2 fell from the sky music has been banned across the world, since the strange creatures are drawn towards anything musical. If it wasn’t for the Musicarts, women transformed by a power from beyond the stars, the D2 would have wiped out humanity years ago, but now they’re mostly dormant. Still, Takt dreams of bringing music back to the world and practises on his piano every day, that is until Cosette convinces Takt to put on a performance at the local festival. To everyone’s horror the D2 attack, Takt losing his arm and Cosette transformed into the Musicart Destiny, who has no memory of her prior life. So begins a trip across the USA, Takt, Destiny and their friend Anna heading to New York in the hopes of understanding what happened to Cosette. Dark forces are beginning to make their move though, and the D2 are waking once again.

The Review:

First Impressions can be a risky business. Whether you follow the three-episode rule like me or not, you can never really tell how something is going to end until you get there. It might be that a series has a fantastic opening episode, full of tremendous music, pulse-pounding action and jaw-dropping visuals that really gets you excited. Only for you then to later realise that pretty much the entirety of the budget, talent and passion went into that initial opening twenty-three minutes. That’s been my experience with this series I’m sad to say. It started off fantastically, then it dipped a bit which wasn’t too much of an issue, I just had to adjust my expectations of the show. However, then we get to the ending and, even with my lowered expectations, things went so far off the rails they fell down a crevasse and into a bottomless pit. It’s kind of astounding when I think about it.

Let’s start by talking about some of the positives first. Visually this show looks great, the majority of the budget was clearly saved for both the first and last episodes, but there are a couple of cool sequences throughout the show. It’s just a shame that the number of still frames feels like it increases with each new episode. I also like the design of all of the Musicarts we meet throughout the series, especially Destiny who has this gorgeous rose motif. A lot of the designs land on just the right side of having a lot of detail without quite making it too overcomplicated. The music is also fantastic, I can be a sucker for action scenes set to classical music and this show knows exactly how to play that card.

The biggest problem I think this series has is that not enough thought was put into the details of the story. I’ll get to a pretty big example in a minute, but let’s talk about the threat of the D2s to start with. It’s never really quantified how much of a threat they are. The initial attack happened years ago from when this series starts and while it’s said that conventional weaponry didn’t work on them it’s not often we see the military engage with them. Most of the time its Musicarts fighting D2s and they have a tendency to cut through individual D2s like warm butter. It doesn’t really paint them as a major threat. Throw in the fact that human society appears to be well on it’s way to recovery throughout the series and it makes the initial attack look like that wasn’t so bad either. Sure we see a few refugee camps and the like, but people have cars up and running, several cities look to be operating in a business-as-usual kind of fashion and New York is pretty much untouched. Why is everyone so scared of these things again?

That brings me to the real villains of the series, we have a mid-level boss and an end boss and frankly they’re both kind of pathetic (so much so I can’t even be bothered to look up their names). The first villain was so obvious that he might as well have had a flashing neon sign over his head that said ‘Bad Guy!!!’, but at least he had a motivation. It was a stupid and basic motivation, but at least it was something! At the point of writing this I still don’t understand what was driving the Big Bad of this series. Okay so the guy’s clearly had a psychological breakdown, so maybe there’s not supposed to be any logic to his actions, but then why waste time trying to justify what he’s doing? Also, tip for any writers out there, don’t leave explaining the driving force behind your main antagonist until ten minutes before you kill them off! This show is giving me a headache just thinking about it. I was perfectly willing to just treat this show like a silly little bit of popcorn entertainment, but the last couple of episodes just shattered my suspension of disbelief. I’m not even going to get started on Anna and her sudden character change in the last two episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, takt op.Destiny is a show that I can’t really recommend. It’s flashy at the start and has some great visuals and music in places, but there’s not much beyond the surface with this show. There’s very little thought that’s been put into the world and its history, and it’s villains range from obvious with bland motivation to crazy with no motivation whatsoever. I did like the character of Destiny and her arc throughout the series, but that’s not really enough to recommend this show. Maybe if you go into it knowing what you’re going to get you’ll be better off, but for me I’m tuning out of this one.

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

Anime Corner: Fena: Pirate Princess Review

Lost at Sea.

What’s the Story?

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

The Review:

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

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

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

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

The Verdict:

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

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

Anime Corner: Godzilla: The Planet Eater Review

Who Ya Gonna Call?

What’s the Story?

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

The Review:

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

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

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

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

The Verdict:

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

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

Anime Corner: Digimon Adventure: (2020) Review

Going Digital…Again!

What’s the Story?

Bizarre occurrences have been happening all across Tokyo, computer systems suddenly going haywire and acting as if they’ve got minds of their own! When Taichi’s mother and little sister become caught on a runaway train it’s the first gambit in an epic adventure that Taichi and his this friends are never likely to forget. Transported to a strange new world, this ‘Digital World’, the chosen human children and their Digimon partners must overcome a reviving evil. If they fail, both the Digital World and ours will be reduced to nothing.

The Review:

This is not going to be the review I wanted to write for this series. I very much wanted to love this reboot version of the original Digimon Adventure, I want to love every series in the Digimon franchise. True, when I was a kid I was a die hard Pokemon fan and, yes, I was one of those naive fools who thought Digimon was the lesser cousin to the Juggernaut that was Pokemon. Yet as I’ve gotten older the more my interest in Pokeman has faded and my appreciation for Digimon has only grown, heck I dedicated the 5th anniversary year of this blog to reviewing the first three Digimon series, the movie and the Tri films (which you can find HERE). The chance to see the original characters again, but with more modern animation and all the lore that’s been added into the series since it’s inception, just take my money now. And, at first, I was really enjoying this new version of Digmion Adventure. It took things in a very different direction, with a clear focus on the lore and adventure aspect of the series, it felt like an epic quest, which I was totally down for. Unfortunately that didn’t last.

Adventure: 2020 has some pretty big problems as far as I’m concerned, but I can’t quite work out whether those problems are born from the series itself, or my own personal biases. I’ve tried to keep 2020 and the original Adventure separate in my head, they are doing very different things as I mentioned, but there were several points I caught myself thinking, ‘I preferred how that was done in the original’ or ‘I wish they’d included that from the original’. I guess we’ll see how much I bring up the original in this review, but starting from this point I’m going to try to talk about just 2020. So let’s begin with some positives, what did I actually like about Adventure: 2020. Well, as I said the first half of this series is pretty solid. It’s an epic quest that slowly gathers together the characters we all know and love and puts them on a grand journey to save this strange land known as the ‘Digital World’. There’s a clear goal from the offset and it adds some real drive to the episodes. Plus it’s great to see the action and digivolution (yes I’m still calling it digivolution, I’ve been calling it that for nearly three decades now, it’s hard to rewire those parts of my brain) sequences done with an actual budget. True, Agumon and Gabumon get the much flashier sequences, but then don’t they always?

Unfortunately, once we hit the halfway mark of the series, I’d say roughly around the fight with Devimon, things start to falter. The thing with an epic quest and having set goals is, once you reach those that’s kind of the end of the story. There’s so much drive and build up towards the fight with Devimon that once he’s finally defeated it feels like the series has hit it’s climax. Of course then we’ve got to deal with the force behind Devimon, but all the momentum suddenly vanishes from the series. Instead of a clear progressing story, the series feels like its just meandering around, slipping into more episodic content while we all just drum our fingers waiting for the final boss fight. It kinda kills the series for me and then once that evil Digimon is dealt with it it’s revealed there’s an even greater force behind them that we have to deal and arrrgh when is this going to end! This series is too long and I put the fault squarely on the pacing of the second half. There’s no flow to the episodes and it misses opportunity after opportunity to use it’s time effectively and develop these characters.

That’s Adventure: 2020 biggest crime in my book, it’s lacklustre treatment of the characters. To a point I get it, this is a much more plot-driven series that other Digimon series, we’re dealing with lore and story progression more than anything else, but when that starts to meander the deficiencies in the characters really start to show. I barely feel like I know any of these characters and when they do get character-focussed episodes it’s to deal with surface level problems. Izzy/Koshiro is my best example, though I need to bring up the original series to demonstrate what I’m talking about. In the original Adventure series we explored how Izzy’s constant questioning and searching for answers was related to his identity issues after finding out he’s adopted. In 2020? He spends an episode learning to rely on his computer less. Do you see the difference there? One is actual character exploration and develop, one’s an issue for a Saturday morning cartoon. Maybe that’s all Adventure: 2020 was trying to be, a nice breezy kids show, but I expect better from Digimon.

It doesn’t help that Taichi gets so much of the spotlight in this series, even episodes that should naturally be about another Chosen One getting their next digivolution, nope, here comes Taichi riding in to save the day. He even gets an alternate Mega digivolution for Agumon long before most of the other characters have even achieved their first Mega digivolution! What is going on here?! I seriously got to the point in later episodes where I wanted to punch Taichi every time he showed up just to get him off screen and give a chance to the other characters for once. I was honestly surprised that the final battle didn’t just turn into Taichi saving everyone, but everyone got something to do at least. I will end this on a positive note by saying that the final episode of the series was suitably epic with some great animated sequences and an orchestral score that really sold the grandeur of everything. It’s a solid ending, it’s just a shame it took so long to get there.

The Verdict:

In the end, Digimon Adventure: 2020 is a disappointment. It starts off well, but the plot begins to meander with constantly shifting end bosses and seriously underdeveloped characters. It doesn’t help that so much time is dedicated to Taichi despite the fact that it never truly explores his character. It is nice to see alternate digivolutions and better quality animation for some sequences, though there’s a noticeable dip as the series goes on. Maybe if you’re not as beholden to the original as I clearly am you can get more enjoyment out of this series, here’s hoping. Until the next trip to the Digital World.

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 Promised Neverland (Season 2) Review

….……………………………………………………………………

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.