Cartoon Corner: Pacific Rim: The Black Review

Mecha. Check. Kaiju. Check. Let them fight.

What’s the Story?

Five years ago Taylor and Hayley barely escaped a Kaiju attack with their parents and a small group of others, taking shelter in a secluded basin. Their parents, Jaeger pilots, then left to try and find help and send it back for them. They never returned. After Hayley discovers a training Jaeger, she and her brother are forced to flee again when their safe haven is destroyed by a Kaiju. Now the brother and sister must step out into the wasteland that remains of Australia, something the locals affectionately call ‘The Black’. Gathering a ragtag team around them, including a mysterious boy found in a lab and a trained killer suffering from an identity crisis, they hope to somehow reach Sydney and maybe even find their parents somewhere along the way. There are many dangers in the Black though, and Kaiju are not the only threat they’ll face. Humans can be just as destructive and what of the Sisters and their Kaiju Messiah?

The Review

Pacific Rim was a great movie. Then the sequel was a critical and financial disaster. To say I was relieved when I heard they were making an animated series is an understatement of kaiju-sized proportions. Pacific Rim is a franchise that deserves to carry on, plus its mecha and kaiju all in one perfect package, what’s not to love? So, how does the series stack up? It’s a good start. There’s only seven episodes up on Netflix at the time of writing this so the series feels more like an animated movie when watching it all in one go. Each episode comes with consequences that are felt throughout the series, even if part of that is purely just sowing seeds for the next season.

Before we move on to the more plot and character specifics, let’s talk about how this show looks. Overall it’s good, there are some really nice shots and the action often has the appropriate sense of weight and impact, something that’s really important when you’ve got such giant combatants throwing down. Of course the series isn’t wall-to-wall action, you’ll find some sort of action sequence in each episode, but they don’t always involve the Jaegers or the Kaiju. While I wouldn’t mind a continual stream of mecha-on-monster action, doing things this way does bring some variety to the series and demonstrates the variety of obstacles the characters have to face. On the design front, the Jaegers and Kaiju all fall in line with the principles set out by the previous films. I would like to see a bit more variety in the designs, we tend to get the same three or four Kaiju across the series and the Jaegers don’t look that different either outside of their colour schemes. This is only season 1 though, and only seven episodes at that, so I’m willing to give them a pass on this, for now.

Let’s talk about the characters. As our leads, Taylor and Hayley are perfectly serviceable. They’re both young so I’ll forgive some of their more idiotic decisions, but that does bring in those consequences I was talking about earlier, which are a great benefit to the characters. After the first episode I was worried that Hayley’s guilt over getting everyone in their community killed was going to fade away, but it’s clearly still there. Her continual insistence on protecting Boy, and I wish they’d just a pick a name for the kid already, is partly out of that guilt and she brings it up when talking to the series’ best character, Mei. Taylor has his own consequences to deal with, not only the after-effects of that time he tried to pilot by himself, but to all of his decisions. They’re the protagonists so we know nothing truly terrible is going to happen to them, but the consequences make sure that we know they won’t necessarily get out unscathed.

Speaking of consequences, this series has one heck of a body count. It’s never gory, everything happens off-screen but there are several times were the characters end up with blood splattering across their faces. I mean they kill off the whole community at the start of the series, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. A few maybe, to hammer home the danger, but all of them? Not to mention the fact that there was one death later on that really made my jaw hit the floor. I did not see it coming and it adds to the sense of danger our characters are facing. Taylor and Hayley will certainly survive, but the same can’t be said for everyone else and the cast isn’t that big yet so it’s more than just fodder that’s biting the dust. The series also isn’t afraid to add to the mythology of the franchise and all of that bundles together to make this a really exciting series. I have no idea where it’s going, but I’m more than happy to enjoy the ride.

The Verdict

In the end, Pacific Rim: The Black is a great start to an animated series in this franchise. There’s plenty of Jaeger-on-Kaiju action without making that the only course this series has to serve. Actions have consequences and there’s a surprising body count to this series that creates a sense of danger around the few characters that do survive. The series isn’t afraid to lay down seeds for later season and add to the mythology of the franchise either. I’m looking forward to season 2, whenever Netflix decides to drop it on us. See you in the drift.

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: Mars Red Review

The Whole World is a Stage…

What’s the Story?

The year is 1923 and a sudden swell in the number of vampires has brought panic to the streets of Japan. The government’s response? To deploy their own unit of vampires, known as Code Zero, who are specially trained to hunt down and either apprehend or exterminate any vampires who would threaten the peace. But what is this new drug called Ascra that vampires are suddenly so addicted to, could it be linked to the sudden swell in their numbers? And what about those whispers that someone in the military is trying to build their own vampire army? The stage is set, the actors have all been given their scripts, whether they recognise their roles or not. Before the dawn arrives Japan will be shook down to its very core and none of these people’s lives will ever be the same again. Then again, life is such a frail thing, especially for a vampire.

The Review:

Okay, I’m going to start this review off a little differently than normal and that’s because I have a quick experiment that I want to run. See I tend to go into series as blind as I can, I’ll look at the promo art and maybe read the series description, but that’s it. So what I’m going to do in the next paragraph is post the description for this series that is currently on Funimation’s website (at time of writing this) and I want you to spend a couple of minutes thinking about what kind of series you think this is. I’ll also throw in that it’s got the action/adventure and drama genre tags. Ready? Here we go.

Its 1923, and until recently, vampires kept to the shadows. When the mysterious blood source Ascra appears, their numbers swell, leaving Japan covered in bodies. In response, the government spawns its own coven to infiltrate the dark. With S-rank vampire Defrott and the rookie Kurusu, this kill squad is made for one reason: to hunt the undead. Bloodsuckers beware; the night belongs to Code Zero!

So what did you guys get? Where you picturing bloody action sequences? Some 20s style broken up by team banter and fighting off hordes of vampires? Maybe a bit of espionage or investigations sprinkled in with a dash of political drama? I’ll admit there are elements of all of that, but if you’re after a fast-paced action bonanza then you’d better look elsewhere because that’s not what this series is about in the least (I also love the way it makes out as if Defrott is a member of Code Zero when he’s not even close to that).

While I’m mad at Funimation for it’s blatantly misleading description, I have to admit I had a heck of a hard time writing my own so I know how hard it is to sum up this series’ story in a single paragraph. You see this series is a lot of things, there is action, good action at that, and there are hordes of vampires by the end, but all of that is interspersed with quite, reflective monologues on the nature of life and immortality. Above everything else, this is a play. I mean that literally, this series is based on a stage reading play by Bunoh Fujisawa, who is also the sound director for this series. What’s a stage reading play? Well, it’s basically a play with very little costumes or set and the actors just give dramatic readings of the script (according to Google anyway, I’ll admit I’ve never seen one of these myself).

From the very first episode this series gives off such a different vibe than you’re typical light-novel adaptation that we see so much these days. The focus is squarely on the characters, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and the series will let them talk to you at length about this. Some of the monologues and the visuals that accompany them are really beautiful and I could watch them again and again. Yet, for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to really love this series. I appreciate it certainly, and I’m really glad that I watched it, the technical skill and talent put on display is well worth the price admission, but I have to admit that I was rarely invested in what was going on.

Part of me wants to put the blame on that description. It gave me such a different idea for what the series was going to be, that by the time I adjusted to what the series was actually giving me, it was too late. Then again perhaps it’s just the theatrical nature of the performances and directions that always felt like it was keeping me at arms length, even when character’s were baring their souls in front of me. There are also a few odd moments throughout the series, such as the several time jumps that happen without the show giving you any indication. A couple of times I had to stop because I just realised that several weeks, if not months, must have pasted and I’d have to backtrack to find the point we skipped forward and re-contextualise everything. There’s not holding your audience’s hand and then there’s just bewildering them.

There’s also a couple of character arcs I still don’t quite understand, I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but one character goes from an apparently reasonable guy to a full-on antagonist in the space of an episode, and all with only a sentence of explanation as to his motives. He really needed some more exploration. Then there’s another character who completely changes into an entirely different beast, quite literally, just to give us a random end boss. It’s so strange when the rest of the character work was really good and it would only take another episode or two to fix.

The Verdict:

In the end, Mars Red, is more of an experience than an action adventure. There’s plenty of drama and some solid character work (for the most part), but you really should go into this knowing that it’s based on a play. Eloquent monologues and dramatic visuals are were this series excels, but it can sometimes require your full attention to make sure you’re keeping track of everything that’s happening. While I can’t say that I loved this series, I’m glad I saw it and the experience is more than worth it. So what are you waiting for? The curtain’s calling it’s time to step on stage.

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: To Your Eternity Review

Beware the Onion Ninjas!

What’s the Story?

It began life as an orb, cast unto Earth by a mysterious figure with no thoughts, feelings or even a concept of self. For many years it stayed that way, inert and immobile, but then it met the wolf and become said wolf after it’s death. From there it met a human and it was happy for a time, but that soon came to an end. Now it has taken the form of the human, journeying the world with no real plan or goal other than to see the world and experience new things. It will meet many others on it’s journey and it will learn many things about what it means to live. There will, however, also be a lot of heartbreak on this journey, as for every hello there will inevitably be a goodbye.

The Review:

Some shows are designed to make you cry. I know, technically, all shows or films or just stories in general are designed to make you cry, or at the very least get an emotional response out of you. That’s what stories are for, to make us feel and think about things in different ways and it’s the great magic trick of all good storytellers that they can make us feel something for people that don’t really exist. Even if you know what the trick is and how it’s going to be done, if the storyteller plays it right you’ll still feel what they want you to feel. That’s ‘To Your Eternity’ in a nutshell, I knew this was an anime that desperately wanted me to cry from the very first episode, and I did, again and again. Not every story got to me, but a fair majority did and even when I wasn’t breaking down in tears this is still a solidly put together series, with a few exceptions that I’ll get to in a minute.

Let’s start by talking about our main character, Fushi, as they come to be known. Now, admittedly making an audience care about a shape-shifting orb that starts out with no personality, no dreams or desires of their own, is a really tall order and yet this show manages it effortlessly. The start of the series wisely chooses to focus on the people around Fushi, the ones who will teach them and have an impact on their life going forward. All the while Fushi sits in the background, endearing themselves to us as they struggle to wrap their heads around basic concepts like needing to eat to stay alive. Gradually though Fushi starts to take more and more of the focus as their personality develops and they feel the weight of events. It’s a joy to watch and a real master class in character development. By the end of the series Fushi feels like a fully fleshed out person, who I want to follow and see where their journey takes them to next.

Now, unfortunately, this review can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. There are parts of this series that are fantastic and I will continue to praise them, but it does have some definite strengths and weaknesses. In the strengths pile we’ve already got the development of our main character and we can add on to that the emotional gut punches that come from the earlier story arcs (as well as that final episode). That’s not to say the later story arcs weren’t trying to get me to cry, they definitely were, but they never had quite the same impact. For a while I was struggling to puzzle it out. Was I just getting wise to the tricks the show was using to get me emotional? No, I’d known what the show was doing from the first episode. Were the stories just not as good? I wouldn’t say that, there were still plenty of characters I liked and was invested in, plus some really interesting plot developments and decent action. It finally struck me as I was getting towards the end of this first season, the later arcs, they’re longer.

This series is at it’s best when it’s doing shorter, more contained stories. That way the emotions it wants to build towards can steamroller over you and leave you as a weeping puddle on the floor. When the arcs are longer, strangely, they get less emotional. I say strangely because in my brain surely longer story arcs should be more emotional. There’s time to build a connection to the characters and really invest in them, but that didn’t happen while I was watching this. Part of this is down to the fact that the animation quality clearly dips towards the end of the series, but If I had to put money on the real reason, I’d say it was a consequence of watching the show as it aired, week by week. The gap between each episode just gave me time to process and prepare myself so my feels couldn’t gang up on me as they undoubtedly would if I binged this show. So there’s my recommendation for this series, if you’re going to watch it, binge it.

On a final note, I’d just like to talk about the world-building in this series and how much I enjoyed it’s slow-burn approach. We never go into too much detail, there’s just a gradual build of information to give you a sense of different areas, their beliefs and customs, so with each arc the world feels a touch more fleshed out. I also really like the Nokkers as antagonists, they’re really creepy looking and I love that they evolve much like Fushi does. Trying out new tactics and really being the perfect foils for our favourite shape-shifter.

The Verdict:

In the end, To Your Eternity, is a solidly put together and well executed show. It knows exactly what it wants to do, make you cry, and it does it’s level best to achieve that. The later arcs struggle to maintain the same level of emotional intensity due to their length, and some poorer animation, but this could be fixed by binging the show instead of watching it weekly. For me, the development of our main character and the world around them are more than worth the price of admission. Just remember to bring the tissues.

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

Anime Corner: Horimiya Review

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

What’s the Story?

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

Suppose everything was for Lloyd-kun?

What’s the Story?

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

Anime Corner: Talentless Nana Review

Serial Killer’s Got Talent!

What’s the Story?

Earth is under threat from mysterious creatures known only as the Enemies of Humanity, but plans are already in place to fight against them. Situated on a secret island is a special school tasked with training the next generation of super-powered teens! Known as the ‘Talented’, can this ragtag group learn to control their powers and save the world? They’d better learn fast because something on the island is killing students at an alarming rate! Could the Enemies of Humanity have already infiltrated the island? But who are they and what exactly is it that they’re after?

The Review

Okay, I’m just going to keep this short and sweet. I like this show, it’s a lot of fun and I’m desperately hoping there’s a second season somewhere in the future. I don’t really feel comfortable saying much more than that. The first episode of this series is heavily reliant on you making certain assumptions and then turning those assumptions on their head at the end. Honestly that’s where my enjoyment of this show comes from and I think going in blind into this show is really important to get the full impact of everything. I’ll do my best to keep the rest of this review as spoiler-free as I possibly can, but even by telling you that there’s a twist I feel like I’ve spoiled things just a little bit already. So, if you’re after my recommendation, then you have it. The show isn’t perfect and I’ll try to talk about some of the flaws of this series in the paragraphs that follow, but there are just certain elements that really appeal to me.

Let’s talk about that first episode that I mentioned, honestly I wasn’t all that impressed until we got to the twist. At first glance the series is fairly generic, you’ve got teens with superpowers and a high school setting, but nothing really stands out. There aren’t even really any clues to what’s actually going on, not until we reach that last twist when we see events from a different perspective and suddenly the whole show is cast in a new light. I’ll admit my jaw dropped when we got to it because the show had lulled me into such a false sense of security, that’s why you should really go into this show blind (and this is really my last warning on that subject. Go watch the show guys!)

After the first episode we’re suddenly into a completely different genre. No longer is this a show about super-powered teens, well, okay it is, but we’ve less of a school drama and more of a peculiar murder mystery. Each story arc is now a series of cat and mouse games between a series of different players, trying to work out people’s abilities and how they’re being put to use. Almost every episode ends with a ‘Oh crap, how are they going to get out of this one moment?!’ before we hit the end of an arc and get all the answers explained to us. That is one area I think people might take issue with this series, I’ve called it a mystery but I really doubt you’ll be able to figure it all out before the answers are given. I suppose it is possible, the show doesn’t exactly hide things from you, but it doesn’t really give you any clues either. You really just have to be in it for the ride, which I more than am and the stories always make sense when we look back and slot all the pieces into place.

Having said all that, I do feel the series is pretty clear about where it’s going. I mean it hasn’t come out and said it yet, which is why I’m hoping so much for a season 2, but I have a good idea what’s it’s got planned for the next stage of the story. There’s some really interesting character work in the last couple of episodes, peeling back the layers yet again to show us that there was even more going on that we already thought. I’m excited for where this series is headed and episode thirteen ends in such a heartbreaking spot (please tell me season 2’s been confirmed!).

Now, here’s the part of the review where I wonder just how much of a free pass I’m giving this show because I enjoy its the central gimmick as much as I do. I take such joy out of all those cat and mouse games it makes me wonder just how many flaws I’m overlooking, because there are some flaws that I’ve noticed. I mean the whole supposed premise of the show makes me scratch my head. So there are these ‘Enemies of Humanity’ running around causing trouble and the government, or whoever, decides to send all its powered people off to this remote island. Doesn’t that seem really overly complicated? Also you’d think they’d have better security, or better classes because most of these people just seem to do whatever the heck they want. I mean once you know what’s actually going on it makes a little more sense, but you have to wonder why more members of the cast aren’t poking holes in this plot. It paints a lot of them as idiots and there’s nothing they do that really dissuades that opinion across the series. All the smart characters are the really important characters, which I guess is all that matters. Still, I’m more than happy to suspend my disbelief as long as I need to to enjoy these cat and mouse games!

The Verdict

In the end, Talentless Nana, is a show that is best gone into as blind as possible. The first episode may feel a little lacklustre, but stick with it to the end and it’ll surprise you. It’s not a perfect series, there are a fair few holes that can be poked in the set up and the mysteries of each arc can’t really be fully solved until the end, but I don’t really care. I love the ride of this show, hurtling from one cliffhanger ending to the next. It’s continually engaging and with an interesting, if telegraphed, path forward. I’m really hoping for that second 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: Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle Review

Zzz…Zzz…Zzz…Zzz…Zzz…

What’s the Story?

A good night’s sleep is really important. So when the princess of the human realm, Sya, is kidnapped by the Demon King of course her top priority is sorting out her sleeping arrangements! Whether it’s raiding the castle’s treasure chests for special items or literally cutting down demons for materials, she’ll do whatever it takes to have the perfect night’s rest! The demons really have no idea what they’ve let themselves in for, honestly, I feel sorry for them.

The Review

Sometimes I see a comedy anime and my immediate thought is, well, that joke is going to wear itself out in no time. I mean, a show about a princess trying to get a good nights rest in a demon castle? How many jokes can you really make out of a premise like that? Turns out quite a lot actually, twelve episodes worth at the very least. I initially skipped this series when it first started airing, but a couple weeks later I started hearing good things about it and so I decided to check it out. I haven’t looked back since. I love this show, it had me laughing each and every week and was one of the shows I looked forward to most during Autumn 2020 when it first aired (and there were a lot of good shows in that season). Whether it was bopping my head along to the series’ opening or sitting in anticipation of the princess’ next crazy quest, this show is an absolute blast from start to finish.

Really this is a comedy of misunderstandings, featuring an eclectic cast of people each of whom all think in their own unique ways. The demons at least get a pass on this front because, well, they’re demons, there’s nothing that says they should think along the same lines as a human. So when they get confused by human behaviour or customs I get it, they have their own quirks and tendencies that make them all lovably odd. The character that worries the me the most is the princess because, well, her thought process is so bizarre at times. I’ll state it again for the record, the central premise of this show is that the princess has been kidnapped by demons and her first concern is for her to get a better quality pillow?!

Maybe it’s her sheltered upbringing, maybe it’s the fact that most of the other human characters we meet down the line are also pretty odd, but sometimes I just don’t get this princess. And that’s what makes her so funny! It’s a two fold punch really, you’ve got the strange way that the princess twists logic followed up by her sheer resourcefulness to get stuff done. Take for example her pillow, any normal person coming across a haunted shroud would at least be hesitant, not the princess, no. She immediately identifies it as a necessary material for her upgraded pillow and proceeds to chop up them up for parts! This princess’ handicraft skills are next level, she can make anything out of anything, demon quills, teddy bear fluff, demonic tree stumps you name it!

What makes this even funnier is all the reactions of the demons trying to cope with a princess who not only doesn’t follow the rules, but doesn’t even know they exist! That’s what I mean when I say this is a comedy of misunderstandings. You’ve got the princess misunderstanding her situation, and basic logic, and the demons misunderstanding human nature and culture. They just compound one another until hilarity ensues. Now none of this would really prevent the comedy from growing stale over time, and maybe for some people it does, but what saves it for me is that it knows when to change things up. The series keeps introducing new demons and new locations, whether we’re exploring different parts of the castle, other castles or even back in the human world every once in a world. It gives us new situations to play with and with new demons added to the roster we get new personalities thrown into the mix.

The final cherry on top for me is just how loveable these characters are. Yes the princess is an oblivious force of nature and can be quite the terror to the demons around her, but she’s never mean about it. She’s just doing what she wants to do and doesn’t think things through. The demons likewise are all adorable dorks in their own way, the Demon King especially. You can really feel the bond that forms between them and the princess and they do actually manage to have some fairly deep moments later on. I just love all these characters and I would quite happily spend the rest of my days with them, how about a spinoff? ‘Sleepy Reviewer in the Demon Castle’ anyone?

The Verdict

In the end, Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, is a show that’s a lot of fun from beginning to end. With a loveable cast and one crazy misreading of a situation after another it’s packed full of laughs and people I could spend all day with. The constant editions to the cast and the changing location help to keep things feelings fresh and made this one of the surprise hits of Autumn 2020 for me. So, if you’re not feeling too sleepy yourself why not check this show out? As for me I think it’s a good time for a nap, now, where did those demon teddy bears go?

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: Amphibia Season 1 Review

Gotta ribbit ribbit, Jump on in it!

What’s the Story?

Anne is just a normal teen, hanging out with her friends Sasha and Marcy, until one day when said friends convince her to steal a weird box from a thrift shop. Now Anne finds herself in a strange world filled with talking amphibians and a whole host of dangers and grossness she is just not prepared for. Luckily she befriends a local family of frogs who take her in and support her as she looks for her human friends and, hopefully, a way home. Of course before that she’s got to survive one madcap adventure after another, because if the giant insects and mind-controlling mushrooms weren’t a giveaway, this place might just kill her!

The Review

Disney does isekai! I’m joking of course, though only just. This series does fit the basic definition of the anime genre, in so much that it’s about someone from our Earth transported to another world. It also amuses me that this is one of two ongoing Disney cartoons that have that same basic setup, since The Owl House is also about a teenage girl being transported to another place (but I’ve already talked about the first season of that HERE). That’s about as far as the anime influences go as the rest of this series is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from this current era of Disney cartoons. What do I mean by that? Well, Disney cartoons all have a fairly similar list of ingredients of late. We’ll have wacky characters, episodic adventures that sometimes build into a larger story arc, lessons of the week delivered with a dose of self-awareness and a little bit of a dark edge to the whole series.

It’s a formula that works, as each series that uses it proves, and like anything that can make Disney money they’re going to exploit the hell out of it! (Just on a side note, I don’t want to make every Disney cartoon sound like their all carbon copies of one another because they’re not. They share a formula, that’s all, but just because you’re following the same recipe doesn’t mean you’re going to bake the same cake. Every series creator has their own special ingredients to add, if you’ll allow me to continue the metaphor).

Enough about Disney cartoons in general though, let’s talk Amphibia. When I first signed over my soul for Disney+, Amphibia was one of the series I was looking forward to watching. It took a while for the first season to appear, but when it did I found it was…okay. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, it just didn’t blow me away like I wanted it to. There’s potential with this series though, especially with the way it ended, but I’ll get into that in a little bit. This first season is very much about setting the tone, most of which is about Anne and the Plantar family getting into wacky hijinks, usually with Anne or one of the Plantars learning some sort of lesson along the way. The ongoing plot of Anne trying to find a way home or find her friends is pushed on to the back burner. We do get a couple of glimpses of Sasha, no sign of Marcy so far, and every time Anne tries to find out about the box that brought them to Amphibia she’ll get sidetracked by some sort of deadly danger.

For the most part it works. The episodic adventures are fun, whether it’s Anne getting the Plantars hooked on one of her trashy TV shows, Sprig getting everyone locked in a library because he’s bored or Hop Pop mind-controlling the kids for a moment’s peace, there’s a lot to enjoy. The characters are all fun, each flawed in their own way, but you can feel the bond growing between them. There’s also a nice sense of continuity between the adventures, when the Plantars lose their market stand in one episode it stays lost for several episodes before they find a way to get it back. When Hop Pop tells his sweetheart how he feels, she comes back later as his girlfriend and the same goes for Sprig’s love life.

That’s not what has me really excited this series though, it’s good, certainly, but there’s a couple of things that could push this series into great in the future. My favourite character so far, despite her limited appearances, is Sasha. I’m just fascinated by the relationship she has with Anne and the level of nuance to it. I mean on the one hand, yeah, she is a bully basically coercing Anne into doing whatever she wants. She clearly thinks that she knows best and is a skilled manipulator, easily able to wrap anyone she wants around her little finger. On the other hand, she does seem to care for Anne, she defends her from bullies, and is willing to let Anne go at the end of the series to save her. All that being said, the moment when Anne stands up to Sasha is the first truly epic moment of the series and I’m hoping they’ll be plenty more as I go into season 2 and onwards.

The Verdict

In the end, Amphibia is a fun series and worth checking out, even if I suspect it’s best is yet to come. Season 1 feels very much like a tone setter, letting us get to know the characters and giving us a sense of the world before things get crazier down the line. The conclusion of the series shows a lot of potential, especially in the dynamic between Anne and Sasha, something that I hope will be explored more in future seasons (not to mention we still haven’t seen a hair of what happened to Marcy yet). Give it a chance and hop onboard for this trip to another world.

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

Anime Corner: The Misfit of Demon King Academy Review

Ha! You thought just because you killed the Demon King he’d die? You fool!

What’s the Story?

Two Thousand years ago, Anos Voldigoad was the reviled tyranical Demon King, despised by all but his own subjects. Yet all that changed when he proposed a plan to the human hero Kanon, to split the world into four realms, one for humans, demons, spirits and gods each, all in the hope that when he is eventually reincarnated there will finally be peace. Yet, as Anos is finally reincarnated, he finds the world is not quite as he envisioned it. For one his name has been lost to history and an imposter stands in his place. Even the demons who once served him no longer remember him. Can Anos uncover what has happened to the world and set it back on the path towards peace? Of course he can! He’s our one and only Demon King!

The Review

Stupidly good, that is really the best description I can offer for this series. I mean there were points in this series that should have had the writer in me screaming in frustration, but was I? No, I was clapping and cheering on Anos with the rest of the characters. A couple of times I was even on the verge of joining Anos’ fan union with their songs. Yes, the main character has his own cheering squad that burst into song whenever its a climatic fight, what good power fantasy doesn’t? There’s a point in the series, I won’t say when, where our main character’s source is shattered. Now it’s very clearly established earlier in the series that when someone’s source is destroyed that’s it, they’re gone forever. No resurrection spells will work, there’s no possible come back, nothing. Yet what happens five minutes later? Anos resurrections himself and proceeds to laugh in the bad guy’s face for thinking he was dead. I mean, how can you even be that brazen? I’d call it lazy writing but I’m fairly certain that it’s completely intentional because Anos is a character with god mode switched on 24/7 and he is glorious because of it.  

I know I’ve complained about overpowered protagonists before and, nine times out of ten, they are just utterly boring to me, but this show goes to prove that it’s not what you do, but how you do it. Anos is so ridiculously overpowered that it’s actually hilarious. All the time these stuck up snobs come in bragging about how powerful they are and they challenge Anos, only to end up bleeding on the floor ten seconds later. Then Anos resurrects them and does something really nasty to them. It’s a complete power fantasy and, yeah, I admit it there is something cathartic about seeing close-minded idiots having their backsides handed to them time and again, but that’s not really what makes this series so special. You can find that sort of thing in any power fantasy, so let’s breakdown the Misfit of Demon King Academy’s guide to writing an overpowered character.

Step one, give your character something they can’t just punch away. This was really the point that caught my attention in the first place because at the centre of this series is a mystery, why has Anos’ name been changed in the history books and to what end? Who is this imposter that has taken his title and what exactly are they up to? It’s a great set up, as it means Anos has to play detective, overwhelming power is only really useful when you have a target to aim that power at. Admittedly most of the time Anos is sending off other people to investigate for him and come back with little bits of plot info, but it’s something at least. What really surprised me was that the series even gives us an answer by it’s final episode (no ‘go read the light novel’ ending here. I know, shocking isn’t it?). I mean I’m pretty sure that the answer will completely fall down if we give it any scrutiny whatsoever, but on the surface it works and answers all the relevant questions.

Step two, overpowered, I’ll show you overpowered. I used the word earlier and it really fits this series, brazen. Anos isn’t just overpowered, he is completely overpowered and the series isn’t shy about showing that off. There’s a point early on where Anos takes on the God of Time and beats him without even breaking a sweat, that’s the kind of power we’re talking about. You’re never going to get any kind of tension out of a fight with Anos, you know he’s going to win before the fight even starts. So instead this series pulls it’s entertainment from the fact that it’s going to be completely crazy with Anos’ powers. You want him to warp reality, bend time round his little finger and generally stick two fingers up at the rules of causality? He’ll do it. Each fight gets bigger and bigger, using crazier and crazier techniques until you just have to start laughing because it can’t get any more overpowered than that and yet it finds a way.

Step three, who needs one overpowered character when we can have several! In tandem with the continually raising stakes, we also have a supporting cast who are all ridiculously strong, making mincemeat out of whatever low-grade minion dare stand in Anos’ way. It stops Anos’ displays, I won’t call them fights because they’re really not, from hogging the limelight entirely and ever getting monotonous. Add on to that Anos’ fan club who, as I mentioned earlier, burst into song at appropriate points and you have a recipe for a series that is incredibly stupid and yet so much fun at the same time.

The Verdict

The Misfit of Demon King Academy is, at times, incredibly stupid, poorly written and completely over the top, and it is glorious because of it. I can’t in good conscious call this the greatest series ever, but it is just so much fun, whether it’s seeing Anos pull out another impossible win from his backside, watching some smug villain get his comeuppance or just joining in with the fan union’s songs, there’s so much to enjoy here. This is a series that definitely needs to be experienced to be believed, so do yourself a favourite and check this out!

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

Anime Corner: Deca-Dence Review

Deca-Dence. Decadence. Get it? (It took me an embarrassingly long time to)

What’s the Story?

Humanity has been brought to the edge of extinction by mysterious creatures known as Gadoll. Now what’s left of the human race cling to life in the moving fortress of Deca-Dence, protected by the Gears, fierce warriors who have made it their mission to fight the Gadoll threat. For Natsume, joining the Gears is her dream and she’ll see it through even if everyone else tells her it’s impossible, which they do. Luckily she meets Kaburagi, a former Gear, now an armour repairman, who takes an interest in her plight. Not all is what it seems though. There’s more to Kaburagi than meets the eye, as there is to the Gadoll and even Deca-Dence itself. The world is a lie and it shall not suffer a bug to live.

The Review

Not for the first time I find myself sat in front of my laptop, having just watched the final episode of a series and trying, desperately, to put all my thoughts into words. Today that series is Deca-Dence and the only words that are coming to me at the minute are ‘it’s complicated’. Deca-Dence is a series that I wanted to love. I did in fact love the first couple of episodes and there are several points throughout this series where I felt myself standing on the precipice of really falling for this show, but I just couldn’t take that final step. There’s always been that one corner of mind reminding of the bits that just aren’t clicking together, and so I find myself in the state that I am. Stupid brain, this is why I can’t have nice things!

This show had so much potential, with just a couple of tweaks I thing it could have been one of the greats, or at least one of my personal greats. As it stands, even without those tweaks there’s still a lot to enjoy. It’s well animated, has some great action sequences, fun characters and a really interesting story, which I’ll get to in a minute. Natsume and Kaburagi are great protagonists. You can’t help but cheer on Natsume as everyone tells her again and again to give up and she just point blank refuses. Not that it’s all just a simple matter of willpower overcoming all, Natsume has a lot to learn if she’s going to take on Gadoll and there are moments where she breaks and her resolve cracks. All good bits of character development and it works to endear Natsume to us. Kaburagi gets the role of the jaded mentor and while that’s just as well-worn an archetype as the plucky rookie, seeing him reignite his lust for life through his interactions with Natsume is a joy to see. All in all, I do recommend this series, it’s worth checking out. There’s just a few things I wished it didn’t do, or at least did differently.

Okay, I’ve held off on this for long enough, let’s finally get to what my issues with this series are, but to do that I’m going to have to talk spoilers for a second. Normally I try to keep these reviews as spoiler-free as possible unless there’s a specific plot point or character aspect that I really need to talk about, even then I try to keep it vague. Here though my issues are connected to a pretty big plot revelation that comes early in the series, if you’ve watched the show you already know what I’m going to talk about. So, this is your last warning, there be spoilers ahead!

I have a bone to pick with the cybrogs. The reveal comes pretty early on (part of me wants to argue that it’s too early) that most of the Gears are actually human-shaped avatars being used by a bunch of cyborgs. Said cyborgs treat the whole of Deca-Dence and humanity’s battle for survival like it’s just a big game, because to them it is. Now, on the whole, I have no issues whatsoever with this plot point. It raises several fascinating questions that are slowly answered across the series and gives the show a wealth of ideas to chew on. What’s more there’s now an added sense of dread to certain events as you see Natsume and her friends risking their live for what is essentially a bit of frivolous entertainment. I mean, have you ever been concerned when an NPC bites it in a game, are you even wondering what’s happening to them while you play?

Where the problem comes in, for me at least, is that Deca-Dence tries to have its cake and eat it too. We get this shocking revelation and we see the cyborg’s side of things from Kaburagi’s point of view, but we’re also still getting Natsume’s dystopian future story at the same time. Both plot lines are great by themselves, but together it feels like the two stories are fighting for the space. I just about get settled into one storyline when suddenly we switch over to the other one and I have to get settled all over again. It doesn’t help that the cyborgs have such a drastically different look to the humans, so much that they really look like they belong in different series. It’s jarring to say the least and while the plotlines do start to properly merge within the last couple of episodes, by then it’s too late. If you love this series, if none of this was a problem for you then I completely get it, and I’m really envious of you, but for me it was the nail in the coffin of this series.

The Verdict

In the end, Deca-Dence is a series that I so wanted to love, but one narrative decision and one aesthetic choice was enough to stop me in my tracks. If you love Deca-Dence then I can completely see why, and again I’m really envious of you, it’s a very good series with plenty of action, fun characters and some really great moments. It’s just that the narrative never quite decides what it wants to be, and as it tries to support two opposing story threads it ends up fumbling them both. Still, it’s worth a watch so if you’re even slightly interested then I’d recommend giving this a shot.

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.